The “Intrinsic Value” of Justice - Limitations of Socrates’ Argument in Plato’s Republic and the Inherent Challenge of Proving Intrinsic Value

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The “Intrinsic Value” of Justice - Limitations of Socrates’ Argument in Plato’s Republic and the Inherent Challenge of Proving Intrinsic Value

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  0   Jung Min Shin Oct. 7, 2013 PSCI 202 Professor Nacol The “ Intrinsic Value ”  of Justice Limitations of Socrates’ Argument in Plato’s  Republic and the Inherent Challenge of Proving Intrinsic Value   Shin 1 Plato’s  Republic , a vivid portrayal of the ancient quest to pin down the elusive ideal of justice, utilizes the logical banter between Socrates and his fellow Athenians to probe various aspects of this complex notion, including the nature of justice’s value . Through Glaucon’s challenge to Socrates in Book II, th e text brings forth the question of whether  justice is good only for its results or worthy in and of itself. Socrates argues that justice  belongs to the “finest”  class of virtues that are both consequentially and intrinsically good (Plato 2004, 36), defining justice in the individual as the “health”  of the tripartite soul (134)  –   the balance between reason, appetite, and spirit (132). Upon analysis, however, Socrates’ assertion fails not only to refute Glaucon’s argument for people’ s reluctance toward justice  but to prove the inherent worth of the notion, as his health analogy relies on an unproven  premise, tenuous parallel, and circular reasoning. Nonetheless, Socrates ’  endeavor sheds light on a greater problem, raising the subject of whether intrinsic value is ever provable. Socrates’ claim on  the inherent worth of justice stems from Glaucon’s  presentation of the three categories of goods: intrinsically good, instrumentally good, or both. Glaucon defines the first category as goods “ we would choose to have, not because we desire its consequences, but because we welcome it for its own sake ”  (36), such as “enjoying” and “harmless pleasures”  (36). As for the instrumentally valuable goods, he describes them as those “we would not choose to have for their own sake, but for the sake of…their consequences ” (3 6), such as physical training. Glaucon also acknowledges that there are “ [goods] we love for [their] own sake, and also for the sake of its consequences ”  (36), such as sight, knowledge and health. Although Glaucon successfully elicits Socrates ’ agreement on these categorizations, when it comes to the labeling of justice, the two starkly differ: Glaucon views justice as only consequentially valuable, while Socrates sees it as both intrinsically and instrumentally good. Glaucon presents a quite compelling case on the exclusively instrumental value of  Shin 2  justice, based on necessity and relative profitability . He argues that those “who practice  justice do so unwillingly as something compulsory”  (37), for they lack the ability to do the opposite with impunity. He characterizes justice as an agreement between individuals to avoid the sufferings of injustice, so as to make their lives more convenient and secure, rather than a sacred notion ingrained in the human soul as Socrates suggests. To substantiate his cl aim on people’s natural tendencies  toward injustice, Glaucon employs the analogy of the Ring of Gyges: an honest and just shepherd discovers a ring of invisibility by chance, which gives him impunity for his actions, and immediately goes on to abuse his power, committing various crimes such as murder and rape (38). Through this analogy, Glaucon illustrates that those who practice justice are compelled to do so only out of the fear of negative consequences, since as soon as this barrier is lifted, they ruthlessly commit evil deeds. Glaucon seals his assertion by adding that justice is only beneficial for the reputation it brings, a claim bolstered by Adeimantus who argues that a just reputation is associated with winning  political offices and good marriages (41). Ultimately, both Glaucon and Adeimantus challenge Socrates to prove that justice is “good for its own sake,”  asking him to disregard the consequential benefits in arguing for its merits (45). In response to this philosophical challenge, Socrates offers a new framework for exploring the question of justice. He proposes to examine the notion first on a macro-scale, at the societal level, and later probe what justice looks like in the individual (46). As a thought experiment, Socrates constructs the ideal city, a stratified society consisting of guardians who rule, auxiliaries who support the guardians, and the working class (112). Socrates claims that the perfect city must have four key virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice (112). Locating these qualities in various parts of the  polis  - wisdom in the guardians (113), courage in the auxiliaries (114-115), and temperance in the citizens’ agreement on who should rule (117)  –   Socrates finally finds justice, which he concludes as the harmony created by  Shin 3 “everyone doing their own work  , ”  (120) each class faithfully keeping to their roles, so as to allow the three aforementioned qualities to flourish. Having defined justice in a larger context, Socrates zooms into the individual to do the same. He reasons that like the three classes in the city, an individual has a tripartite soul, governed by three forces that are each charged with different functions (122). Socrates describes the first and lowest component, the appetitive part, as the irrational voice striving for basic necessities in life, such as food and sex (122). He then juxtaposes this force to the rational element, analogous to the city’s guardian class, which seeks to moderate the appetitive part and rule the soul with reason (127). Lastly, he introduces the spirited segment, which acts as auxiliaries that support the rational force to overcome the appetitive one, empowering it with passion (128-129). Socrates argues that similar to the city, justice in the soul exists when these three components each properly serves its function, like “the three defining notes of the octave ” (132). In contrast, he describes injustice as the “meddling and interfering” of the soul’s elements with one another’s roles , the “rebellion of a part of the soul against the whole in order to rule in it inappropriately ”  (133). Having defined justice in the soul, Socrates then resolves to establish the intrinsic goodness of the notion, through his analogy between health and justice. To portray the parallel between the two ideas, Socrates describes health as “[putting] elements that are in the body in their natural relations of mastering and being m astered by one another” (133 ), and justice as “[establishing] the elements in the soul in a natural relation of mastering and being mastered by one another  ”  (134). He also states that just as healthy actions engender health in the body, just actions create a just soul (133). Socrates, therefore, argues that justice is essentially the “health” of the soul, which is equivalent to claiming the notion’s intrinsic  value, since health is one of the examples cited by Glaucon as a good that is both consequentially and inherently good. Unfortunately, Socrates’  quest to define justice and establish its intrinsic value  Shin 4 mainly consists of denials and declarative statements rather than logical refutations against arguments presented by Glaucon and Adeimantus. Although Socrates provides a definition of  justice -- the proper functioning of each component to maintain the balance in the whole  –   in an attempt to demonst rate that it is obviously a “good state” for the soul, he fails to explain why humans seem naturally reluctant toward justice, as claimed by Glaucon, if it is such a desirable condition. At best, Socrates seems to imply that those who naturally lean toward injustice have imbalanced souls, yet even this idea is not explicitly mentioned in his reply. The major shortcoming in Socrates’ attempt to prove justice’s inherent goodness is revealed in his analogy between justice and health, in which he takes the intrinsic goodness of the latter as a given. Socrates operates on the unproven premise that health is inherently valuable because it is a natural state, the  placement of “elements…i n their natural relations ”  (133). The philosopher, however, does not explain how the “naturalness” of   a virtue makes it “intrinsically good.” Socrates’ failure to sufficiently demonstrate the truthfulness of this  premise severely weakens his argument, since he claims justice to be the “health” of the soul to prove its intrinsic goodness. Interestingly though, Socrates’ challengers , Glaucon and Adeimantus, fall to the same trap of this unsubstantiated proposition. When the two challenge Socrates to prove the intrinsic value of justice, Adeimantus cites other examples of inherently good virtues, “such as seeing, hearing, knowing, being healthy and of course and all the others that are  genuine goods by nature   and not simply by repute” ( 45). By placing intrinsically valuable goods in the category of “genuine goods by nature,” one can see that Adeimantus, and most likely Glaucon too, believe that the naturalness of a virtue is highly relevant and even necessary for its intrinsic goodness, without proving why it is so. Yet, although both the inquirers and the replier are at fault in regards to this point, it does not change Socrates ’ mistaken assumption  that  justice’ s parallel to health automatically proves its intrinsic goodness.  
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