Selected Passages from Plato's Dialogues

The Just Life is Better

The just life is a life in which the three parts of the soul (reason, spirit, appetite) are properly organized. Socrates argues that this life is "happier" (εὐδαιμονέστερος) and more pleasurable than a life in which the parts of the soul are not properly organized.

Republic I.353d

"to manage things, rule, deliberation" (τὸ ἐπιμελεῖσθαι καὶ ἄρχειν καὶ βουλεύεσθαι)

  "We not admit that sometimes it is better to do those things that we were mentioning just now—to put people to death and banish them and deprive them of property—while sometimes it is not?
  To be sure, Socrates.
  Then here is a point, it seems, that is admitted both on your side and on mine.
  Then when do you say it is better to do these things? Tell me where you draw the line.
  No, I would rather that you, Socrates, answered that.
  Well then I say, Polus, if you prefer to hear it from me, that it is better when these things are done justly, and worse when unjustly" (Gorgias 470b).
The soul, has it a work which you couldn't accomplish with anything else in the world, as for example, to manage things, rule, deliberation, and the like, is there anything else than soul to which you could rightly assign these and say that they were its peculiar work?
  Nothing else.
  And again life? Shall we say that too is the function of the soul?
  Most certainly.
  And do we not also say that there is a virtue of the soul?
  We do.
  Will the soul ever accomplish its own work well if deprived of its own virtue, or is this impossible?
  It is impossible.
  Of necessity, then, a bad soul will govern and manage things badly while the good soul will in all these things do well.
  Of necessity.
  And did we not agree that the virtue of the soul is justice and its defect injustice?
  Yes, we did.

Notes on the Text

The soul has a function. Justice is its virtue.

Why justice?

In the Gorgias, Socrates argued that the life it benefits us most to live is the live in which we act "justly" or "rightly" (δικαίως). So if the soul has justice, then it will function in a way that the choices we make will be aimed at living the life it is most beneficial for us to live.

Republic I.353e

  The just soul and the just man then will live well and the unjust badly?
  So it appears by your reasoning, Socrates.
  But surely he who lives well is blessed and happy (μακάριός τε καὶ εὐδαίμων), and he who does not the contrary.
  Of course.
  Then the just is happy and the unjust miserable.
  So be it, Socrates.
  But it surely does not pay to be miserable, but to be happy.
  Of course not.
  Never, then, most worshipful Thrasymachus, can injustice be more profitable than justice.

Notes on the Text

The function of the soul is "to manage things, rule, deliberation." Things function well when they have their virtues. Justice is the virtue of the soul. So the just man (the human being whose soul has the virtue of justice) executes the function better than the unjust man.

Mistakes in managing their lives do not impede the just from doing what they are doing.

What, though, is the just man doing? Why, too, is doing this living the good life?

Republic IV.445a

"admittedly intolerable (δοκεῖ οὐ βιωτὸν εἶναι)." Or "seems not to be lived."

"ruined constitution of (τῆς φύσεως διαφθειρομένης)." Or "utterly destroyed nature of."

"disordered and corrupted (ταραττομένης καὶ διαφθειρομένης)." The parts do not do their own jobs, so the soul does not function properly.

"vice and injustice (κακίας μὲν καὶ ἀδικίας)"

"justice and virtue (δικαιοσύνην δὲ καὶ ἀρετὴν)"
I think, Socrates, that from this point our inquiry becomes absurd—if, while life is admittedly intolerable with a ruined constitution of body even though accompanied by all the food and drink and wealth and power in the world, we are yet to be asked to suppose that, when the constitution of that whereby we live is disordered and corrupted, life is going to be worth living, if a man can only do as he pleases, and pleases to do anything but rid him of vice and injustice and make him possessed of justice and virtue—now that the two have been shown to be as we have described them.

Notes on the Text

Given that justice in an individual consists in the harmonious arrangement of the parts of the soul, Glaucon thinks it is obvious that the justice is better.

Socrates agrees. He continues the investigation to make the point as clear as possible.

We might wonder, though, just what Glaucon is thinking.

His idea, it seems, is that if the soul is not doing its work well, not managing things well, then this is so harmful that nothing can be added to the life to make the person happy.

What is the argument for this?

Presumably there does come a point when we are in so much pain from sickness or other problems of the body that life is no longer worth living, but it is not clear that this extreme case corresponds to what is true of the soul in every case in which it is not just.

Republic VIII.544e

   Now we have already described the man corresponding to the rule of the best, "the rule of the best" (ἀριστοκρατία)

Laconia (ἡ Λακωνική) is the land in the Peloponnesus ruled by the Spartans.



whom we correctly say is the good and just man.
   We have.
   Must we not, then, next after this, survey the inferior types, the man who is contentious and covetous of honor, corresponding to the Laconian constitution, and the oligarchical man in turn, and the democratic and the tyrant, in order that, after observing the most unjust of all, we may oppose him to the most just, and complete our inquiry as to the relation of pure justice and pure injustice in respect of the happiness and wretchedness of the possessor, so that we may either follow the counsel of Thrasymachus and pursue injustice or the present argument and pursue justice?
   Assuredly, Socrates.

Notes on the Text

To make it clearer that justice is better, Socrates considers forms of injustice in the soul.

Republic IX.577d

   Then the tyrannized soul—to speak of the soul as a whole—will least of all do what it wishes, but being always forcibly dragged by the stings of a "disorder and regret (ταραχῆς καὶ μεταμελείας)" gadfly [the appetite], it will be full of disorder and regret.
   Of course, Socrates.

Notes on the Text

Republic IX.580b

  [S]o do you declare who in your opinion is first in happiness and who second, and similarly judge the others, all five in βασιλικόν

succession, the royal, the timocratic, the oligarchic, the democratic, and the tyrannical man.
  The decision is easy. For as if they were choruses I judge them in the order of their entrance, and so rank them in respect of virtue and vice, happiness and its contrary.
  Shall we hire a herald, then, or shall I myself make proclamation that the son of Ariston pronounced the best man and the most just to be the happiest (εὐδαιμονέστατον), and that he is the most kingly, the one who most rules like a king over himself; and declared that the worst and most unjust is the most unhappy, and that he is the most tyrannical, the one who is most a tyrant over himself and the city he rules?
  Let it have been so proclaimed.
  Shall I add the clause ‘alike whether their character is known to all men and gods or is not known’?
  Add that to the proclamation.
  Very good, this, then, would be one of our proofs.

Notes on the Text

Socrates gives several proofs that the just life is better.

In the first proof, Glaucon gives his opinion about the four unjust lives Socrates has described. He thinks that the "royal" man is happiest. This is the just man.

The other proofs show that justice is better in another way too. It is more pleasurable.

Republic IX.582e

  But since the tests are experience and wisdom and reason, what follows?
  Of necessity, that the things approved by the lover of wisdom and the "the lover of wisdom" (ὁ φιλόσοφός)

"the lover of reason" (ὁ φιλόλογος)

"the part of the soul by which we learn" (μέρους τῆς ψυχῆς ᾧ μανθάνομεν)
lover of reason are most true.
  Then of the three kinds of pleasure, the pleasure of that part of the soul whereby we learn is the sweetest, and the life of the man in whom that part dominates is the most pleasurable?
  How could it be otherwise, Socrates?

Notes on the Text

The lover of wisdom knows the pleasures that are possible for the parts of the soul. He thinks that the pleasures of reason are the sweetest.

Republic IX.586d

"the wisdom-loving part" (τὸ φρόνιμον)

"the honor-loving part" (τὸ φιλόνικον)

"the profit-loving part" (τὸ φιλοκερδὲς

"to be filled with what befits nature is pleasure" (Republic IX.585d).

"[The many have not ever] been really filled with real things, nor ever tasted stable and pure pleasure, but with eyes ever bent upon the earth and heads bowed down over their tables they feast like cattle, grazing and copulating, ever greedy for more of these delights; and in their greed kicking and butting one another with horns and hooves of iron they slay one another in sateless avidity, because they are vainly striving to satisfy with things that are not real the unreal and incontinent part of their souls" (Republic IX.586a).
Let us confidently assert that those desires of even the profit-loving and honor-loving parts of the soul, which follow knowledge and reason and pursue with their help those pleasures which intelligence prescribes, will attain the truest pleasures possible for them, since they are following the truth. These pleasures are proper to them, if that which is best for each thing may be said to be most proper to it. So if the whole soul follows the wisdom-loving part and there is no internal dissension, then each part will be able to fulfill its own task and be just in other respects, and also each will reap its own pleasures, the best and the truest as far as possible. And when one of the other two [parts of the soul] gets the mastery the result for it is that it does not find its own proper pleasure and constrains the others to pursue an alien pleasure and not the true.

Notes on the Text

Socrates argues that each part of the soul in the just gets the pleasures that are proper to them.

He thinks, it seems, that when appetite or spirit is in control, our life centers around desires that we do not get much pleasure no matter what we do to satisfy them.

"[T]hat part of the soul where the desires are, the licentious and fissured part, he named a leaky jar in his allegory, because it is so insatiate" (Gorgias 493b). In the Gorgias, he talks about a leaky jar to make a similar point against Callicles. Filling the jar corresponds to satisfying certain desires. We cannot do it because the jar leaks like a sieve. So we do not get very much pleasure from whatever we do to satisfy such desires.

Things are different when reason is in control. Hence the just life is more pleasurable.

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