Geyserism No. 21 – Geysers of Spirit and Justice

February 16, 2017 by Dr. Geyser

From Plato’s Republic.

• • •

I’m impressed, Thrasymachus, that you don’t merely nod yes or no but give very fine answers.

That’s because I’m trying to please you.

You’re doing well at it, too. So please me some more by answering this question: Do you think that a city, an army, a band of robbers or thieves, or any other tribe with a common unjust purpose would be able to achieve it if they were unjust to each other?

No, indeed.

What if they weren’t unjust to one another? Would they achieve more?


Injustice, Thrasymachus, causes civil war, hatred, and fighting among themselves, while justice brings friendship and a sense of common purpose. Isn’t that so?

Let it be so, in order not to disagree with you.

You’re still doing well on that front. So tell me this: If the effect of injustice is to produce hatred wherever it occurs, then, whenever it arises, whether among free men or slaves, won’t it cause them to hate on another, engage in civil war, and prevent them from achieving any common purpose?


What if it arises between two people? Won’t they be at odds, hate each other, and be enemies to one another and to just people?

They will.

Does injustice lose its power to cause dissension when it arises within a single individual, or will it preserve it intact?

Let it preserve it intact.

Apparently, then, injustice has the power, first, to make whatever it arises in—whether it is a city, a family, an army, or anything else—incapable of achieving anything as a unit, because of the civil wars and differences it creates, and, second, it makes that unit an enemy to itself and to what is in every way its opposite, namely, justice. Isn’t that so?


And even in a single individual, it has by its nature the very same effect. First, it make him incapable of achieving anything, because he is in a state of civil war and not of one mind; second, it makes him his own enemy, as well as the enemy of just people. Hasn’t it that effect?


And the gods too are just?

Let it be so.

So an unjust person is also an enemy of the gods, Thrasymachus, while a just person is their friend?

(Plato, Republic, Book I, 351c-352b)

• • • 

What happens when a person thinks that he has done something unjust? Isn’t it true that the nobler he is, the less he resents it if he suffers hunger, cold, or the like at the hands of someone whom he believes to be inflicting this on him justly, and won’t his spirit, as I say, refuse to be aroused?

That’s true.

But what happens if, instead, he believes that someone has been unjust to him? Isn’t the spirit within him boiling and angry, fighting for what he believes to be just? Won’t it endure hunger, cold, and the like and keep on till it is victorious, not ceasing from noble actions until it either wins, dies, or calms down, called to heel by the reason within him, like a dog by a shepherd.

Spirit is certainly like that.

(Plato, Republic, Book IV, 440c-d)

• • •  

And it is because of the spirited part, I suppose, that we call a single individual courageous, namely, when it preserves through pains and pleasures the declarations of reason about what is to be feared and what isn’t.

That’s right.

And we’ll call him wise because of that small part of himself that rules in him and makes those declarations and has within it the knowledge of what is advantageous for each part and for the whole soul, which is the community of all three parts.


And isn’t he moderate because of the friendly and harmonious relations between these same parts, namely, when the ruler and the ruled believe in common that the rational part should rule and don’t engage in civil wars against it?

Moderation is surely nothing other than that, both in the city and in the individual.

And, of course, a person will be just because of what we’ve so often mentioned, and in that way.


Well, then, is the justice in us at all indistinct? Does it seem to be something different from what we found in the city?

It doesn’t seem so to me.

If there are still any doubts in our soul about this, we could dispel them altogether by appealing to ordinary cases.

Which ones?

For example, if we had to come to an agreement about whether someone similar in nature and training to our city had embezzled a deposit of gold or silver that he had accepted, who do you think would consider him to have done it rather than someone who isn’t like him?

No one.

And would he have anything to do with temple robberies, thefts, betrayals of friends in private life or of cities in public life?

No, nothing.

And he’d be in no way untrustworthy in keeping an oath or other agreement.

How could he be?

And adultery, disrespect for parents, and neglect of the gods would be more in keeping with every other kind of character than his.

With every one.

And isn’t the cause of all this that every part within him does its own work, whether it’s ruling or being ruled?

Yes, that and nothing else.

Then, are you still looking for justice to be something other than this power, the one that produces men and cities of the sort we’ve described?

No, I certainly am not.

Then the dream we had has been completely fulfilled—our suspicion that, with the help of some god, we had hit upon the origin and pattern of justice right at the beginning in founding our city.


Indeed, Glaucon, the principle that it is right for someone who is by nature a cobbler to practice cobblery and nothing else, for the carpenter to practice carpentry, and the same for others is a sort of image of justice—that’s why it’s beneficial.


And in truth justice is, it seems, something of this sort. However, it isn’t concerned with someone’s doing his own externally, but with what is inside him, with what is truly himself and his own. One who is just does not allow any part of himself to do the work of another part or allow the various classes within him to meddle with each other. He regulates well what is really his own and rule himself. He puts himself in order, is his own friend, and harmonizes the three parts of himself like three limiting notes in a musical scale—high, low, and middle. He binds together those parts and any others there may be in between, and from having been many things he becomes entirely one, moderate and harmonious. Only then does he act. And when he does anything, whether acquiring wealth, taking care of his body, engaging in politics, or in private contracts—in all of these, he believes that the action is just and fine that preserves this inner harmony and helps achieves it, and calls it so, and regards as wisdom the knowledge that oversees such actions. And he believes that the action that destroys this harmony is unjust, and calls it so, and regards the belief that oversees it ignorance.

That’s absolutely true, Socrates.

Well, then, if we claim to have found the just man, the just city, and what the justice is that is in them, I don’t suppose that we’ll seem to be telling a complete falsehood.

No, we certainly won’t.

Shall we claim it, then?

We shall.

So be it. Now, I suppose we must look for injustice.


Surely, it must be a kind of civil war between the three parts, a meddling and doing of another’s work, a rebellion by some part against the whole soul in order to rule it inappropriately. The rebellious part is by nature suited to be a slave, while the other part is not a slave but belongs to the ruling class. We’ll say something like that, I suppose, and that the turmoil and straying of these parts are injustice, licentiousness, cowardice, ignorance, and, in a word, the whole of vice.

That’s what they are.

So, if justice and injustice are really clear enough to us, then acting justly, acting unjustly, and doing injustice are also clear.

How so?

Because just and unjust actions are no different for the soul than health and unhealthy things are for the body.

In what way?

Healthy things produce health, unhealthy ones disease.


And don’t just actions produce justice in the soul and unjust one injustice?


To produce health is to establish the components of the body in a natural relation of control and being controlled, one by another, while to produce disease is to establish a relation of ruling and being ruled contrary to nature.

That’s right.

Then, isn’t to produce justice to establish the parts of the soul in a natural relation of control, one by another, while to produce injustice is to establish a relation of ruling and being ruled contrary to nature?


Virtue seems, then, to be a kind of health, fine condition, and well-being of the soul, while vice is disease, shameful condition, and weakness.

That’s true.

(Plato, Republic, Book IV, 442c-444e)

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