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Socrates and Justice

            Book One of Plato’s Republic begins with a scene that depicts two men, Socrates and Glaucon, walking on their way out of town to pray to the goddess Bendis and observe the festival dedicated to her. On their way out of town they are ordered to stop by Polemarchus. Excited by this chance for conversation, Socrates gladly obliges and stops for Polemarchus. The men begin talking about old age and money and the positives and negatives associated with both. This in turn leads to the topic of fairness and justice. Socrates begins to question Cephalus, Polemarchus’ father who believes he understands the meaning of justice. Cephalus explains that justice is simply, “speaking the truth and giving back what one takes.” (331 C) Whether this is the correct definition of justice or not, Socrates, through a series of questions refutes Cephalus’ statement saying that .
             “if someone asserts that it’s just to give what is owed to each man-and he understands by this that harm is owed to enemies by the just man and help to friends-the man who said it was not wise. For he wasn’t telling the truth. For it has become apparent to us that it is never just to harm anyone.” (335 D).
             Then, Socrates maintains that it is apparent that they have not come up with any definition of justice. This is of course Socrates’ intent, never professing to know anything and claiming to be an ignorant man. By asking these questions on the nature of justice, Socrates is attempting to learn himself that which he asks. Can justice be defined? Socrates doesn’t tell, but he effectively proves that even those who think they know the meaning of justice are simply mistaken.
             Thrasymachus, who was listening up to this point, is angered by Socrates’ tactics and the result of the previous conversation. Thrasymachus asks, .
             “If you truly want to know what the just is, don’t only ask and gratify your love of honor by refuting whatever someone answers-you know that it is easier to ask than to answer-but answer yourself and say what you assert the just to be.