Justice is a central theme in Plato’s moral and political philosophy, and bears on many question posed in his early dialogues. In the Gorgias, which is typically dedicated to rhetoric, but essentially discusses justice, Plato claims that justice makes a man happy. He is essentially endorsing the Socratic approach by upholding two propositions: that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit an unjust act; and that it is better for one, who has done wrong, to be punished than to avoid punishment. Although, these arguments are not sufficiently supported, they provide Plato the opportunity to severely attack what he considers to be the common sense of justice of the democratic Athens of Pericles. The question of justice is resolutely met in the Republic, that. Platonic justice hinges on the tripartite division of the human soul into three parts: the appetitive, the spirited, and the rational – a division which correspond to the three classes of the platonic city. Justice, firstly as a political notion, is identified with the harmonious balance of the three classes of the platonic city under the rule of the philosophers-kings; secondly, as an ethical notion, justice is identified with the balance between the three parts of the soul under the rule of the rational part. This definition of justice bears on a previous approach in the same work, where it was conceded that “justice is doing one’s own work and not meddling with what isn’t one’s own”. If each class of the city, and each part of the soul is preoccupied with its own occupations without taking up those of the others, then a certain balance is configured, which is called just.

That the attainment of justice clings primarily on the efficacy of the rulers and of the rational part of the soul is indicated by the fact that Plato dedicates the central books of the Republic not on justice, but on the good. The Idea of good is demonstrated as the basis of reality and knowledge; additionally, the multi-annual education of the guardians aims exactly at their awareness of the good. Consequently, wisdom, which is the virtue of the dominant part of the city and the soul, lies at the basis of Plato’s concept of justice.

Author: Vassilis Kalfas
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