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Philosophy 12: Ethics

Summer 2004

Ernesto Rodriguez


Extra Credit 2: Chapter 2, Plato. Highlight key ideas. What was the chapter about?  


Chapter two discusses Plato's ideas on the issue of ethics. What where one of, if not the, most influential philosopher's thoughts on the concept of justice? How did Plato define what was just versus unjust? The answers to these questions comes in the form of Plato's classic Socratic Dialogue, where we find Socrates engaged in a debate against the Sophists on the nature and merits of Justice.


Plato considered Justice to be one of four ideal forms. That is, he believed in the existence of a single, absolute and eternal form of justice. A form of justice that never changes regardless of the time or the circumstances. According to Plato, this ideal justice was the form by which the integrity, the measure of just or unjust, of a society or an individual was to be determined.


The sophists' argue that man is inherently unjust, and that to be unjust, is to have the advantage over those who are just and ultimately live happier and more fulfilled than those just. They feel that given the opportunity, the individual will naturally do what is unjust in the pursuit of personal gain. Thrasymachus points out that the unjust have particular advantages over the just, allowing them more power and control to achieve those things that bring them pleasure, something of great importance to the Sophists. But Socrates refutes them on the grounds that those advantages afforded by unjust ways, bring only immediate pleasure and instant gratification, not Plato's ideal form of Good.


This is the point where Socrates engages Callicles in a brilliant bout of reductio ad absurdum, where he asks Callicles question after question until through his own answers, Callicles has proved his own argument to be wrong and absurd. The first point that Socrates makes is that a man cannot be both good and evil, just and unjust in the same instance. Good and evil may not exist simultaneously. But, on the contrary, pleasure and pain may occur simultaneously. So, by this logic, pleasure does not equate to good; and pain does not equate to evil.


Plato moves on to his idea of the three virtues, wisdom, temperance, and justice. Wisdom is the virtue of making decisions based on logic and rationale above all things. Temperance is the virtue of letting reason overcome the compulsion of desire. Plato reiterates his point that the idea of justice is the same with the individual, as it is with the state.