17 January 2006

Republic 349b-350c

Here's a question about translation. How should one render, in the argument at Republic 349b-350c, sentences such as the following?

ti/ de\ dh\ o( a)/dikoj; a)=ra a)cioi= tou= dikai/ou pleonektei=n kai\ th=j dikai/aj pra/cewj; (349c4-5)

Here are some options:
“How about the unjust then? Does he claim to overreach and outdo the just man and the just action?” (Shorey)

"And what of the unjust --does he claim to have more than the just man and to do more than is just." (Jowett)

"What about the unjust man? Does he think it right to outdo the just man and the just action?" (Griffith)

"What about an unjust person? Does he claim that he deserves to outdo a just person or someone who does a just action?" (Grube/Reeve)
Of these, Griffith's and Shorey's make no sense: one can't assign any meaning to 'outdoing an unjust action'. Grube/Reeve supply a subject that doesn't exist in the Greek. And Jowett changes the verb.

The problem is that if you take pleonektei=n to mean 'outdo', then it cannot intelligibly take an action as an object.

I have my own view of how this should be handled. I'll share this (and thoughts of a tie-in with Nic. Eth. 9.8) tomorrow. But what are your ideas?


Anonymous said...

don't know why the just actions become unjust in griffith, maybe it's a slip (yours or griffith's i don't know). if i understand your question, the solution may be to translate with "have some advantage over", which makes sense in the case of actions too.


Michael Pakaluk said...

It was my slip with Griffith, and I've corrected it. Thanks.

What would it mean to 'have some advantage over' an action?

Anonymous said...

it could mean that the actions acted by the unjust subject gain some advantage over the just actions, as i think is suggested by 350 a - can't have the exact line at the moment - where it is said that x would take advantage in acts and in words over y. in italian, which is my language, i would translate "prevalere", "avere la meglio su".


Jimmy Doyle said...

Surely “take advantage of” is the right translation here. The same difficulty arises at 349b, where Socrates asks “ti de? Ths dikaias praxews [sc ho dikaios dokei ti soi (Thras) an ethelein pleon ekhein]?” Adam notes “‘To have more than the just action’ means ‘to do more than is just’ (cf pleiw – haireisthai – prattein 350a), outdo, overreach what is just in action. The notion of virtue as a mesoths is implied.” This is totally unconvincing: it requires us to understand pleonektein/pleon ekhein as meaning something completely different according as whether the relata are just people/actions, where it will mean something like supererogation (if I understand Adam right), or the subject is unjust, where it reverts to “outdo” (or “take advantage of”). “Take advantage of” seems to me perfect here, as there is no more strain involved in the idea of taking advantage of a just action than there is in that of taking advantage of a just person. It also makes Socrates touch on the prisoners’ dilemma and contractualism, themes which Glaucon later makes explicit: the problem with acting justly is that if you turn out to be up against an unjust person, your ‘co-operative’ strategy merely makes it easier for him to screw you over. Taking advantage of just actions is the characteristic activity of unjust people.

Macuquinas d' Oro said...


First of all, welcome back to the blogosphere. We’ve missed Dissoi Blogoi.
I rather like Jowett’s translation here. He sees that Plato is cleverly using pleonektein with two different kinds of objects and so is forcing a double meaning on the verb. For clarity’s sake Jowett decides to unpack this double sense with two English verbs: the unjust gains or has more than the just man, and he does more than is just. The second sense is clearly that he exceeds the limit or boundary of just action. Grube tries to imitate Plato’s figure, but the English verb “outdo” is just not as flexible as the Greek verb, because “outdo the just action” doesn’t make much sense. A fortiori, “outreach the just act.” So I think Jowett’s version is quite good.

Michael Pakaluk said...

Oudeis, welcome back as a reader. I found myself exhausted at the end of last semester and needed some weeks of true R&R.

I agree with you that Jowett's rendering is by far the best. And yet, for English of today, 'to do more than is just' means to go beyond the call of duty, which is not what Plato means.


I think a dative rather than a genitive would be more appropriate for the sense of 'taking advantage' you have in mind, since it would be through or by means of an ostensibly just action that an unjust person often achieves some kind of unfair advantage.