How Plato Defined and Redefined Justice

How Plato Defined and Redefined Justice

Plato described justice differently than most standard definitions. To Plato, justice meant carrying out one’s duty to one’s station, i.e. workers work, auxiliaries guard, and guardians rule. Under this premise, if lying is part of one’s job, it is only just if one lies. The reason the lie is noble is because it is for a noble cause: the good of the people.

Plato raised several questions that are still at the heart of many modern conflicts and heated debates. What is justice? What is goodness? Does a lack of goodness stem from a lack of knowledge about justice? Plato examined these questions as separate aspects of a single theme. He then used his answers to come up with his own rendition of the perfect existence. Plato’s version of the ideal society was one in which all people would trust that their position in life was just, and would carry out the responsibilities of that position without protest. He believed that the power of wisdom is possessed most abundantly in kings and philosophers, and that others should accept the authority of those wise and morally superior leaders.

While there appears to be a logical chain of reasoning to Plato’s suppositions, there is a chasm of doubt when it comes to the workability of his plan. It seems as if he is promoting an elitist, dictatorial society in which the only wise leaders are those who happen to be what he happens to be; a philosopher.

It is also against the grain of human nature to accept direction without question, which is a problem Plato was well aware of, but it is a problem he did not resolve.

Of course, while it may seem that Plato was calling for his own personal version of utopia, a strong argument can be made that Plato was in fact pointing out the weaknesses involved with just such a society. Irony is after all, a remarkably powerful teacher.