02 November 2005

Thrasymachus Is Like Chesterton

So that explains why the argument gets derailed in Republic I!

Can you identify the source?

The fact is that Thrasymachus, like Mr. Shaw and Mr. Chesterton, has the journalist's trick of facile expression. He is too good a journalist to be an esprit juste, and the consequence is that he lands himself in a dilemma. If his 'sovereign', who has a view only to the interests of 'number one', is meant to be an actual person or body of persons, it is obvious, as Socrates says, that he is not infallible....But if you assume that the sovereign is always alive to his own interests and always embodies them in his regulations, your sovereign is a creature of theory, an 'ideal', and you lay yourself open at once to the line of argument adopted by Socrates to show that his worth depends on fulfilling a social function, independently of the question of whether he gets any private advantage from his position or not.
I also ask: Has this person correctly captured why it is that Thrasymachus gets refuted? The question might be put in this way. Thrasymachus of course needs to say that justice is what works to the benefit of the stronger, but he gets into trouble only because he also says that justice is a matter of following the law (hence something set down in law may not after all work out to the advantage of the stronger, that is, the lawgiver--and the same action may be both just and unjust). But why should he grant that?


Michael Pakaluk said...

Does no one have not even a guess about this?

Wes DeMarco said...

Okay, twist my arm....

Thrasymachus is stuck with the second premise because--like Epicurus (and Lucretius, and Hobbes), he has no other appeal than convention. He is stuck, as we would say today, with legal positivism. And the appeal to positive law is all Socrates needs to advance to the pertinent riposte.

Now Plato, and more clearly Aristotle, ought to be understood with a threefold distinction: physis, nomos, *and* ethos. Ethos is its own category, reducible neither to nature nor to convention and mediating betweeen them.

(There are people--Hume among the moderns and Wittgenstein among recent thinkers come to mind--who so lean on this mediating middle that pure phusis and pure nomos seem almost to disappear. But that is another story....)

Michael Pakaluk said...

By the way, the answer to the question of the source of this quotation, is that it comes from A.E. Taylor's book on Plato.

I can't believe that Taylor read either Shaw or Chesterton very carefully.