The Republic and the Nicomachean Ethics

PHI 420. Writing Assignments.

Each assignment has two questions (which may themselves have multiple parts). In the file you submit, clearly separate your answers to each of the two questions. One good way do this is to copy and paste the question before each answer. Your answers should demonstrate your understanding of the historical and philosophical issues. They should be written in a way that someone who does not know the answer can learn it from what you have written.

Remember you can discuss the assignments and post questions about them before you submit your answers. It is hard to write coherently about material you do not understand.

Assignment #1

Arguments have premises and a conclusion. The function of the premises is to support the truth of the conclusion.

(An argument is different from a proof. The premises and the conclusion constitute the argument. A proof shows that an argument is valid. It does so by exhibiting the reasoning from the premises that establishes the conclusion.)

• To "present" an argument is to state its premises and its conclusion. In these assignments, which function as studies, you should present the argument formally by listing the premises and the conclusion. Further, you should quote the passages in the text in which you take the premises and conclusion to occur. This shows that the argument you attribute to the author is one the author gives.

• To "explain" an argument is to explain the technical terms and present the evidence for the truth of the premises.

The technical terms are the terms in the argument whose meanings are not immediately clear.

There are two sorts of evidence for the premises. The first is evidence the author of the argument presents. You should quote the passages in which the author presents this evidence. The second is the evidence the author does not present explicitly but seems to assume.

• To "evaluate" an argument is to determine whether it is sound. An argument is valid just in case its conclusion cannot be false if its premises are true. An argument is sound just in case it is valid and its premises are true.

In general, soundness is difficult to determine in an argument. You should provide reasons for your assessment.
• In book I of the Republic, as part of an argument to show that "injustice is never more profitable than justice," Socrates gets Thrasymachus to agree that the soul has a function and that justice is the virtue of the soul. Present, explain, and evaluate the argument. Explain what Socrates has in mind so that it is plausible for him to think and suggest to Thrasymachus that the soul performs its function well if and only if it is just and that therefore justice is the virtue of the soul.

• In Book II of the Republic, Glaucon sets out a view many hold about the origin and nature justice, and he challenges Socrates to refute it. Explain this understanding of the origin and nature of justice. Identify the part of this conception of justice that Glaucon wants Socrates to refute.

Assignment #2

• Socrates argues that a certain way of organizing human beings into a city constitutes justice in the city. Explain what this organization is and why he thinks it is justice in the city.

• Once Socrates and his interlocutors have found what justice is in a city, they search for what justice is in an individual human being. On the basis of a principle about the use of words, they conclude that the soul must have parts like the city. This leads them to take up the question of what the parts of the soul are and how these parts work together to produce action. In answer, Socrates argues that the soul is tripartite. Present, explain, and evaluate the argument.

Assignment #3

• In Book IX of the Republic, as part of his attempt to meet the challenge Glaucon and Adeimantus set out, Socrates argues that the just life is more pleasurable than the unjust life because the just have the "truest possible" pleasures. Present, explain, and evaluate his argument.

• Set out a question about some aspect of the Republic. The question should be one whose answer you think a student should know if he or she is to understand the argument in the Republic.

Assignment #4

"To say that the best good is happiness is apparently something generally agreed, and what we is a clearer statement of the best good is. Perhaps then we shall find the best good if we first find the function of man (τὸ ἔργον τοῦ ἀνθρώπου)" (Nicomachean Ethics I.7.1097b).

"choice" (προαίρεσις)
"wish" (βούλησις)
"deliberation" (βούλευσις)
• Aristotle gives an argument on the basis of the function to show that happiness for a human being consists in some sort of life of "reason." Present, explain, and evaluate his argument.

• Aristotle thinks that "choice" involves "wish" and "deliberation." Explain what he thinks choice, wish, and deliberation are and how they are connected.

Assignment #5

• Aristotle thinks that the best life available to a human being is a life in which reason in its "practical wisdom" (φρόνησις) arranges things so there is "contemplation" (θεωρία), that contemplation is necessary for "happiness" (εὐδαιμονία), and that the more contemplation this life contains the happier it is. Present, explain, and evaluate Aristotle's argument

• Set out a question about the Nicomachean Ethics. The question should be one whose answer you think a student should know if he or she is to understand the argument in the Nicomachean Ethics.


The bibliography project is a summary of five journal articles or book chapters from the scholarly literature on issues related to the Republic or the Nicomachean Ethics. In your summary, you should outline the main argument in the paper and make a judgment about its plausibility.

In this way, the bibliography project is a set of notes about what you have read and to which you can return in the future. Here is an example of what an entry might look like.

• "A Fallacy in Plato's Republic," David Sachs.
The Philosophical Review, Vol. 72, No. 2. (Apr., 1963), pp. 141-158.

In this paper, David Sachs argues that Socrates commits a fallacy that Sachs himself calls the the "fallacy of irrelevance" (141). Glaucon asks Socrates to prove that the just life is better. In this request, according to Sachs, Glaucon has in mind what Sachs calls the "vulgar" conception of justice (141). Socrates agrees to Glaucon's request and thus argues that the just life is better. The problem, however, according to Sachs, is that Socrates' argument is not about the "vulgar" conception of justice. It is about what Sachs calls the "Platonic" conception of justice (142). Sachs maintains that this equivocation "wrecks the Republic's main argument" (141).

It seems to me that this difference in the conceptions of justice is present in the Republic, just as Sachs claims, but it is unclear to me that this "wrecks" the argument. From Socrates' point of view, the vulgar conception of justice is a misunderstanding of what justice is.

go back go back