31 January 2006

The Republic an Apologia?

In general I've been enjoying the slight liberties Tom Griffith takes in his translation of Plato's Republic (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought), since they make the dialogue more natural and idiomatic. But the passage below annoyed me, because it seemed misleading.

Why? Because it changes the genre of the Republic, turning it into an apologia, when that is not the character of the work. The Republic is not a 'defense' of justice against charges. One simple reason is that the dialogue is just as much an investigation into injustice, and it carries out an extended comparison between justice and injustice. And the conclusion reached at the end of Book IV is not that justice is blameless, but rather that it is more profitable.

Yet that raises the question: What is the nature of its investigation into justice and justice?

Here's the passage, 368a5-c5; it occurs just after Glaucon and Adeimantus have completed their speeches at the beginning of book II.

tou=to/ moi, w)= fi/loi, eu)= dokei= e)/xein: pa/nu ga\r qei=on pepo/nqate, ei) mh\ pe/peisqe a)diki/an dikaiosu/nhj a)/meinon ei)=nai, ou(/tw duna/menoi ei)pei=n u(pe\r au)tou=. dokei=te dh/ moi w(j a)lhqw=j ou) pepei=sqai. tekmai/romai de\ e)k tou= a)/llou tou= u(mete/rou tro/pou, e)pei\ kata/ ge au)tou\j tou\j lo/gouj h)pi/stoun a)\n u(mi=n.--o(/sw| de\ ma=llon pisteu/w, tosou/tw| ma=llon a)porw= o(/ti xrh/swmai. ou)/te ga\r o(/pwj bohqw= e)/xw: dokw= ga/r moi a)du/natoj ei)=nai-- shmei=on de/ moi, o(/ti a(\ pro\j Qrasu/maxon le/gwn w)/|mhn a)pofai/nein w(j a)/meinon dikaiosu/nh a)diki/aj, ou)k a)pede/casqe / mou--ou)/t' au)= o(/pwj mh\ bohqh/sw e)/xw: de/doika ga\r mh\ ou)d' o(/sion h)=| parageno/menon dikaiosu/nh| kakhgoroume/nh|.

o(/ te ou)=n Glau/kwn kai\ oi( a)/lloi e)de/onto panti\ tro/pw| bohqh=sai kai\ mh\ a)nei=nai to\n lo/gon, a)lla\ diereunh/sasqai ti/ te/ e)stin e(ka/teron kai\ peri\ th=j w)feli/aj au)toi=n ta)lhqe\j pote/rwj e)/xei.

Here is Griffith's translation. I highlight the phrases that trouble me, which come largely from rendering bohqei=n as 'defend' rather than 'aid' vel sim. (I suspect Griffith is misled by Socrates' mention of a battle just prior to this passage, at 368a3. Of course even in a battle it's possible to give aid, without defending--for instance, by supplying someone with ammunition.)
A fair description, I think, my friends. There was certainly something inspired about your performance just now--to be able to speak like that in favour of injustice without being convinced it is a better thing than justice. And judging by the evidence of your whole way of life, I believe you when you say you are really not convinced, though from what you actually said I wouldn't have believed you. The trouble is, the more firmly I believe you, the less certain I am what to do next. I can't defend justice. I don't think I have the ability. I say that because you have rejected the arguments by which I thought I had proved to Thrasymachus that justice was something better than injustice. On the other hand, I can't not defend her, since I can't help feeling it is wrong to stand idly by when I hear justice coming under attack, and not come to her defense for as long as I have breath in my body and a tongue in my head. So the best thing is to make what defense I can.

Well, Glaucon and the rest of them insisted that they wanted me to make a defense, and not abandon the argument. They wanted me to make a full investigation into what justice and injustice both were, and what the true position was concerning the benefit they both brought.


Macuquinas d' Oro said...

I agree that "Boethein" is more strictly to help or aid rather than to defend or protect, and so I would prefer “on the other hand, I cannot refuse to help “ (Jowett) to “I cannot not defend.” But hasn’t the agenda up to this point been to come to aid of justice by defending her against Thrasymachus’ charge that injustice is better? Wasn’t that just restated in the passage quoted? Directly this will open up into a broader inquiry into the nature of justice (because only by doing so can we answer Thrasymachus and Glaucon). But I don’t see that Griffith’s translation badly misrepresents things as they stand at 368 a-c.

Michael Pakaluk said...


Perhaps the distinction I'd wish to make is too subtle to be important. I take it to be similar to that between the 'right' and the 'good'. One might say: is the Republic an exercise in justification ('why Socrates and others are right to seek virtue above all'), or does it, rather, aim to set before us objects of a choice?

For instance, in the Phaedo, Socrates truly does appropriate the language of the courtroom: he is going to put himself on 'trial' and submit to questioning, in order to explain why he is justified in not being bothered by his approaching death.

The Republic, in contrast, takes the reality, so to speak, of justice and injustice for granted--they are there in the world, and people acquire one or the other of these traits--and what is at issue is which is preferable, and on what grounds.

There may be nothing to this, but my sense is that this way of conceiving of the dialogue is rather different from that which talks about the 'immoralist', etc. And I thought that the Griffith translation obscured this.

Michael Pakaluk said...


I wanted to add: Depending upon how we in this way conceive of the nature of the dialogue, we'll look for an answer of a certain sort.

If we take the dialogue to be an apologia, then it succeeds or fails depending upon whether it gives a faultless argument or not.

If we take it to be giving the objects of a choice, then it succeeds if it exhibits those objects correctly.