Justice is a concept that seems to have a clear definition, but it is still a rather controversial question of what exactly justice and injustice mean. In Plato’s Republic, an animated discussion of justice is held between Socrates and Thrasymachus, both of them having their viewpoints on that account. Thrasymachus considers that justice is “nothing other than the advantage of the stronger,” whereas Socrates argues that even thieves require justice (338c). These two opinions seem quite contradictory, but a careful analysis of the two philosophers’ arguments allows concluding that their views are compatible. Justice for both philosophers is seen as a balance, either for society or the individual, serving as the cohesive element which regulates social dynamics and personal goodness.
Although it may seem at first that Thrasymachus’s idea of justice is straightforward, it appears not to be such. As Thrasymachus posits it, justice is the advantage of the stronger. Personally, I find this opinion hard to agree with since I view justice as equality between people with different abilities and possibilities. Hence, I cannot support Thrasymachus’s definition because it already contains injustice in its very essence. I suppose I would rather support Socrates’s argument since he says that “the just is the advantageous,” but adding “of the stronger” to the definition is wrong (339a). For Socrates, justice was a virtue that goes beyond the state, but focused on the internal harmony. In his words, a just man is good (349b), it is a virtue of excellence and happiness (352d), and justice is necessary to prevent internal disharmony (351b).
To a great extent, the controversy between the two speakers lies in their understanding of the city and its government, which they associate with justice or its lack, respectively. Thrasymachus argues that democracy, aristocracy, and tyranny as types of government each have their own laws (338d). Thus, according to him, every ruling class creates laws “to its own advantage” (338d). Thrasymachus then argues that justice is the same in all cities since it is “the advantage of the established rule” (338e). He also argues that based on this context that justice is socially constructed paradigm, the unjust, such as tyrants for example, profit on the advantage using the knowledge to manipulate. Acquiring power and wealth, and not being punished for it, essentially makes such a man happier.
Socrates disagrees with this interpretation on all three counts suggesting that knowledge is irrelevant if it is used in ignorance (350a). He also argues that every part of the body has a purpose, with the soul having an essence of virtue, in which only justice can make a man happy. Socrates also offers the argument of the band of thieves suggesting that even in their unjust action, they require justice among themselves to divide the plunder. That is unsustainable in unjust men, and the band falls apart from a position of strength to weakness (351d).
However, despite evident differences between the two philosophers’ opinions, there is a point when Socrates, even though indirectly, agrees with Thrasymachus. Socrates states that “a city, an army, a band of robbers or thieves, or any other tribe with a common unjust purpose” must be based on justice in order to gain their goals (351c). Socrates emphasizes that without justice, hatred and wars emerge, while justice brings agreement. I cannot but agree with such a statement since indeed, all adverse events are driven by injustice and by the desire of one person or group of people to take away something from the others. Also, injustice can drive those whose rights are being violated to rise and oppose their offenders. Hence, the arguments of Socrates and Thrasymachus are compatible in that everyone requires justice, and justice is an advantage. Although Thrasymachus adds “of the stronger” to his definition, one aspect remains the same: both philosophers find it impossible to gain a productive level of life for people without treating them fairly (338c). At the same time am inclined to support Socrates’ view more than that of Thrasymachus, but both speakers’ opinions make sense.
Thrasymachus positions his argument in the context of situational ethics where injustice serves as a method power. Meanwhile, Socrates relies strongly on analogy to build his thesis. The band of thieves argument in particular is meant to support that even in injustice, justice is necessary to maintain communal strength. No matter, the context, injustice will create destruction, ranging from society to the internal virtue state of a person. At the same time, Thrasymachus believes more in the individual isolationist state of man, while Plato values community. However, even Thrasymachus is forced to agree that the state of ignorance and disharmony would be disastrous in both contexts of social and personal harmony.
Having seemingly contradictory opinions on some issues does not mean that people cannot engage in a constructive dialogue to listen to each other’s arguments. Socrates is slightly harsh in his attempts to outwit Thrasymachus, but in the end, it is evident that the two speakers’ views are compatible to some extent. I side with Socrates in that equality is needed to gain peace and friendship. I support Thrasymachus in that the rulers frequently neglect the needs of ordinary people to reach their own goals. I believe that both interpretations deserve respect, and despite a striking difference in the two philosophers’ approaches, it is possible to find a grain of compatibility between them.