Justice is a concept which has received a lot of attention from philosophers and modern thinkers. Ancient wise men, such as Socrates, Polemarchus, Glaucon and Thrasymachus, all offer different accounts on what constitutes true justice and how society should be run by governments. The paper will compare and contrast philosophers' views, proving that true justice is directed towards happiness and goodness, while injustice is evil and must be rooted out.
Socrates starts out by saying that justice is a natural phenomenon which is wanted by all people. It is preferred that individuals do not commit any acts that are harmful to others, but he also mentions that it is unacceptable to do no good deeds either. As such, everyone has moral responsibility to do good if they have an opportunity. Moreover, Socrates stresses that when people abscond from their responsibility to do good, they are committing to evil. This means that everyone is obligated to do things he/she was born to do. This fact can be seen in the thought where he specifies that each person is born with unique skills. Ruling and governmental order would be much easier if people were fully devoted to their vocation. It is also possible to see that Socrates did not believe in democracy or would rather prefer a single ruler (Lycos 154). This comes from the fact that the majority of people cannot steadily and clearly decide what is the best for the whole nation. Therefore, a single person would rule in a wise way and could see the overall picture from a distance. This leads to the point that justice can be found in happiness, because a ruler will be happy doing his/her job, and people will also be happy because their lives will be in the hands of a powerful ruler. An interesting idea is brought up about democracy and true rulers of a nation. If the majority of people are the working class or the less financially stable, then this class will be the ruling one. The question of whether they will be able to decide what true justice is has been brought up because what is good and just for them in their pursuit of happiness might not be the same for the rest of the population (Lycos 156).
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In contrast, Polemarchus talks about justice as being somewhat revengeful. This can be seen in the following example: if someone commits a crime, they are punished, so it can be presented as a form of revenge. If a person takes someone’s life, theirs will be taken also. It might seem a little cruel or farfetched, but, in reality, even the modern society often functions due to this principle. It stands that people are the ones who control and decide justice because even small quarrels with friends or family will require some form of just decision. The governments perform the same action, and this can be seen in wars and alliances that are made. For example, in cases when the United States were attacked or if to consider the Cold War years, governments would punish each other with sanctions and military responses in far off countries. Those nations who supported one side or the other would join forces to have “revenge” in conflict. It is true that this type of justice is present today. Thus, it must be avoided because it does not lead to any productive solutions. Revenge can never be a part of justice because it makes the person deciding to fight back through same measures just as unjust as the one who started the conflict. Of course, it would be wrong to go on as if nothing has happened, but retaliation must be wise and based on justice (Reeve 35).
Thrasymachus talks about a mutual relationship between the government and the people who are governed, as common benefit will lead to justice. This is somewhat similar to Socrates’ view because if all take part in social responsibility, everyone will do his/her job according to knowledge and skill. There are suggestions that those who are strong must decide on what is just or unjust. In case there is injustice, then it is simply due to the fact that those who are in power or represent themselves as just were not strong enough. At the same time, Thrasymachus believes that true justice lies in the obedience to laws, but this brings about a contradiction. There are instances when the strong, who have all power, can allow themselves to deviate from obeying these laws, so they become unjust. Thus, if justice can only be defined through obedience to laws, then there is no way the government which breaks these laws can be just. From one perspective, the government has the right to suspend freedoms or rights of people for the greater good, thus becoming unjust towards some people or groups. As a result, only the strength factor can be seen as true measure of justice, but this is absolutely not the case. Justice must serve the highest moral principles and interests of the majority, and usually, the population does not have the strength that small groups of rulers possess (Reeve 37).
Glaucon considers justice as something that is rather difficult to define universally because there are many perspectives and reasons for the action. Although, he states that consequences and their quality define justice. Sometimes, people lead others to believe that their thoughts and actions are just, but are deceitful in the end and their purposes evil. Those who listen to effective speeches will develop a false sense of justice and follow a set of morals which was purposefully created by the strong to deceive the weak. Socrates offers an interesting definition of justice where happiness is acquired by people knowing their place in own life and within society. It is apparent that each part of life has its own just and ethical system of functioning (Reeve 39). Something that is acceptable in one place might be absolutely unjust in another one. This is where the principle of greater good can be brought in because a person, who has the right to say what is more just, will decide to sacrifice freedom of a number of people to pursue justice. Moreover, is one person’s happiness the most important thing? The most concrete system in determining what is just is a set of laws which is universal for all. This can be observed in the modern world as even those with enormous power can be brought to justice if there is enough evidence of them being unlawful. At the same time, there is no denying that in today’s world power and money allow to be unjust and cheat the system.
In conclusion, true justice has been a long-standing concept which is difficult to define. Every situation is unique, so individual factors must be taken into consideration. The general rule is that people who commit a crime must be punished for it, and this constitutes justice. There are also situations when justice is dictated by the strongest as can be seen in the suspension of rights and freedoms of a number of people in order to save a large part of the population. This has become a common occurrence in the modern world since threats to nations and countries are treated as being much more unjust than those towards a single individual or a small group.