Conversation held on Monday, March 12th 2018, 8 pm Central (9 EST/6 Pacific)
“For surely, Thrasymachus, it’s injustice that produces factions, hatreds, quarrels among themselves, and justice that produces unanimity and friendship. Isn’t that so?”
“Let it be so, so as not to differ from you.”
Summary of 349b-352b
Socrates’ line of questioning has just brought to light Thrasymachus’ ‘real’ view about injustice – not only does he place it in the camp of ‘wisdom and virtue’ but he also regards it as mightier and freer than a life of justice. This answer grips Socrates. Today’s reading involves an examination of both parts of Thrasymachus’ claim.
The conclusion of the first part 349b-350d – once again – turns Thrasymachus’ claim on its head (as at 343a): justice turns out to be good and wise, injustice the opposite. Here Socrates observes that Thrasymachus blushes and he appears to give up, and ceases offering resistance to Socrates.
The second part of today’s reading (351c-352b) begins to take on the ‘more important’ belief that injustice is mightier or ‘stronger’ than justice. As Socrates says:
If justice is indeed both wisdom and virtue, I believe it will easily come to light as being mightier than injustice, since injustice is lack of learning – no one can be ignorant of that. (351a)
Socrates begins to question Thrasymachus, and the notion that justice is a power to accomplish things is raised. Injustice deprives people of this power to accomplish things – whether it be one person, a city, a clan or an army – because it implants hatred and induces faction.
Let us begin by looking at 350d. Socrates observes that Thrasymachus is blushing, a fact which Socrates says “he now saw what he had not seen.” What can we say about his Thrasymachus’ reaction here? Why this detail? Or what does it tell us about Thrasymachus, or the unfolding argument?
Thrasymachus must feel embarrassed in front of the group for having been refuted by Socrates in this manner. As a rhetorician, or one who makes his living giving and teaching speeches, he feels shame. The argument has gotten ‘turned around’ yet again, and Thrasymachus has been unable to avoid it, no matter how emphatically he has made his big points along the way.
We looked at the way the previous argument leads to this reaction of embarrassment. Thrasymachus is not completely satisfied by the conclusion of the argument, as he says at 350e – which could suggest that his argument has not yet been roundly defeated.
Our sense was that Thrasymachus is ‘all in’ here on this one, even though he might have been reluctant to admit he is being exposed in this way at 349b.
We wondered what blushing might imply about Thrasymachus’ character. In his moment of being embarrassed, something has been exposed that was before hidden. One could imagine a sort of character (like a Callicles, for example, in the Gorgias) who would feel no shame in the same situation, while still maintaining a life of injustice. Shame might indicate an aspiration for higher things that would be lacking in someone without shame. It is also a sign of youthfulness, or lack of maturity in someone who is older.
As we have seen, the second half of tonight’s section (351c-352b) examines justice and injustice in terms of the power of accomplishing things – not only in large groups of people, but bands of robbers and also the soul of a single person. According to the argument, injustice stirs hatred and creates faction and discord, while justice binds together and makes people work in concert together. One person suggested that Thrasymachus’ blushing at 350d might indicate that Thrasymachus is divided in himself. Socrates’ refutation has revealed a ‘faction’ within the argument, and – if we take it to be Thrasyamachus’ true belief about the matter – Thrasymachus’ reaction to this refutation reveals a ‘faction’ within his soul.
We observed that Thrasymachus hasn’t somehow peered into the nature of the human soul, but has simply been exposed to problems within his own argument. In the process of arguing, Socrates has gotten the better of Thrasymachus, or bested him, in argument. On the one hand, the two men (as we have observed in previous conversations) seem to be much more alike than we thought – both appear to be trying to best each other. But on the face of it, Socrates is getting the better of Thrasymachus in defense of justice – and he is much better behaved and talks more gently to the others, like Glaucon and Polemarchus – whereas Thrasymachus is trying to get the better of Socrates, for his own advantage – to impress the group, have the reputation of taking down Socrates – or for the sake of his defense of injustice.
A final observation is that the argument near the end of tonight’s reading presents a notion of justice that competes with the Thrasymachean idea, by preserving or accepting his fundamental premise. Socrates might have argued that justice is choiceworthy for its own sake, apart from any goods that accrue to it. Instead he begins to argue that justice is the ultimate power to get the good things of life in a big way – not just in one person but in an entire city.
Next week we shall exercise our power to accomplish things and ‘finish the banquet’ of Book I, 352b to the end.