09 November 2005

Fallacy or Enthymeme?

I plan to post over the next several days on responses to the famous paper of David Sachs (Phil Rev 1963), in which he argues that there is a fallacy in the basic argument of Plato's Republic. What is the alleged difficulty? What are the best responses to it? Surely it would benefit to 'pool resources' on this difficulty. What do we think about it?

Sachs' difficulty, in a nutshell, is this. Distinguish:

'ordinary justice': A trait of character by which someone consistently avoids committing ordinary injustices (murder, theft, fraud) and carries out ordinary just actions (pays off his debts, shows honor appropriately, acts lawfully).

'internal justice': A trait of character consisting of the apt ordering of the three parts of the soul: the reasoning part rules; the spirited part assists; the appetitive part is duly constrained.
In book I, Socrates and Thrasymachus have a debate about ordinary justice. Socrates argues that ordinary justice brings happiness; Thrasymachus maintains that ordinary injustice leads to happiness. But in books II-X, Socrates argues, rather, that internal justice yields happiness. Thus there is a lack of connection between what the Republic aims to show, and what was necessary to be shown.

To complete the argument, Plato would need also to show:
(A) If a person has internal justice, then he has ordinary justice.
(B) If a person has ordinary justice, then he has internal justice.
Why? Because otherwise Socrates might be wrong: it could be that there were people who were unjust in an ordinary sense but who were happy (because they had internal justice), or just people in an ordinary sense but who were unhappy (because they lacked internal justice).

But (i) Plato seems unaware that he needs to show these things; and (ii) these claims are in any case implausible. Against (A): there seems to be no reason why someone might not commit (say) fraud with internal composure. Against (B): there would seem to be a variety of ways in which someone might succeed in being duly lawful and respecting the rights of others, without yet having the full internal harmony which is internal justice.

3 comments:

Sam Rickless said...

It's been a while since I read the relevant articles on this, but a first thought is that Plato addresses (i) and (ii) at the very end of Book IV. At 443c-e, Socrates says that someone who is internally just "harmonizes the three parts of himself", and "only then does he act". And what he does is perform actions that "preserve this inner harmony and help achieve it". These are the actions he calls "just". On this view, an internally just person performs just actions (i.e., actions that preserve, and help achieve, internal justice), and thus is ordinarily just as long as fraud, murder, and so on are the sorts of actions that preserve, and help achieve, internal justice. We may find this latter assumption implausible, but it's a stretch to say that PLATO would have found it so. One can imagine all sorts of ways in which fraud, murder, etc. are liable to disrupt internal harmony (by giving full rein to appetite and/or spirit in the face of reason). This addresses the worry that an internally just person might not be ordinarily just.

As for the worry that an ordinarily just person might not be internally just... An ordinarily just person, I take it, is one who is disposed to (and hence routinely does) perform just actions. But at 444c-d, Socrates says that, just as healthy things produce health in the body, so just actions produce (internal) justice in the soul. So it's clear, anyway, that Plato thinks that an ordinarily just person will be internally just. Here it must be admitted that Socrates does not elaborate (and I don't know of any other passages in the Republic where Socrates provides more details). One wants to ask: what is the *mechanism* whereby just actions produce internal harmony? If Plato had some answer to this question in mind, he didn't tell us. Are we to suppose, for example, that just actions make friendship possible, that friendship helps to fulfill our appetites, and that this makes it possible for reason to rule?

In any event, I don't think there's any doubt that Plato would not have admitted the existence of a "fallacy" (even if the assumptions that fill the "gap" are insufficiently well developed and defended).

Anonymous said...

Even if Republic 443-444 shows us that Plato recognizes the need to defend the conditional "if i-just, then o-just ", it is remarkable that he virtually glosses over an absolutely crucial premise of the book. We need and want a compelling argument to this end, not obiter dicta.
Can we give Plato the credible argument he needs from the resources of the Republic & earlier dialogues? One way Plato might go is to argue that a brave, temperate, prudent, self-disciplined man cannot entertain the corrupting belief that injustice will be profitable. Certainly this will be easy to argue when our examples of injustice are violent vicious acts like murder & rape & pillage. But the hard cases remain when we turn to examine things like the clever commercial exploitation of others. Why will the i-just soul be allergic to such calculated acts of injustuce?

Martin S. Harbsmeier said...

Thanks for an interesting revival of the alledged Sachs/Grote-problem which, however, seems to me to be based on a misunderstanding of the overall scope of the Republic's argument. (This point was made by Stemmer, ZPhF 1988).

In the original Sachs/Grote-post it is stated - based upon Socrates' dialogue with Thrasymachus - that i) the task of the Republic's overall argument is to show that ordinary justice leads to happiness and that ii) Plato, due to the fact that the argument in Books II-IV deals with internal justice, needs to establish the connection between these two types of justice. Statement i, however, ignores the outline of the Republic's task as set out by Glaucon at the beginning of Book II. By agreeing to categorize justice as an agathon which is beneficial both for extrinsic and intrinsic reasons and at the same time excluding the possibility of arguing in favour of justice on extrinsic grounds because the extrinsic awards can be obtained by the (perfect) unjust person (who will appear to be just) as well (= against B), the brothers force Socrates to establish an argument in favour of justice on purely intrinsic grounds. In other words, it is crucially that Socrates succeeds in demonstrating the happiness of the intrinsic just person independently of all extrinsic consequences.

The Problem whether there is a connection between extrinsic/act-centered justice and intrinsic/agent-centered justice of course persists but it is not relevant to the main argument of the Republic and thus cannot be regarded as a fallacy.

Best regards,

Martin