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Justice and the Fundamental

Question of Plato's Republic


James Butler

To many Plato scholars, the Republic's defense of justice seems primarily


eudaimonist; that is, the challenge given to Socrates in Book II which
he ultimately answers in Book IX is to show that justice itself is better
than injustice because, aside from any advantages a just person may get
from seeming just or having a reputation for justice, the just life is happier
than the unjust life.1 After all, at 361d, Glaucon says of the just person
and the unjust person he wants examined ' ... so that both people
reaching the extreme, one of justice, the other of injustice, we may pass
judgment which of the two is happier.'
But the view that the Republic is eudaimonist is controversial. Mabbott, seizing on the talk of justice being 'welcomed for its own sake'
(357b6), rejects the eudaimonist reading of the Republic in favor of the
following view: In addition to contributing to happiness, justice is good
in itself, where 'good in itself is understood as good regardless of any

1 Advocates for this view of the Republic include Foster, M.B., Mistake in Plato's
Republic', Mind 46 (1937), 386-93, Irwin, Terence, Plato's Ethics (Oxford: Oxford
University Press 1992); Sachs, David, Fallacy in Plato's Republic', Richard Kraut
ed., Plato's Republic: Critical Essays (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing 1997), 1-16; Kraut, Richard, "The Defense of Justice in Plato's Republic', Richard
Kraut ed., The Cambridge Companion to Plato (Cambridge: Cambridge Press 1992),
309-337; White, Nicholas, A Companion to Plato's Republic (Indianapolis: Hackett
Publishing 1979).

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2 James Butler

consequences whatever for the agent's happiness that might flow m any way
from the agent being just.2

This paper will argue, contrary to Mabbott, that the Republic is eudaimonist, so that the way justice is 'welcomed for its own sake' cannot be
by its being desirable apart from happiness. Rather, justice is 'welcomed
for its own sake' as a means to happiness in a perfectly ordinary causal
way: justice produces the happiest life.
1

The Passage and the Project

Interpreters generally agree that the fundamental question of the Republic begins in Book II when, on behalf of Thrasymachus, Glaucon and
Adimantus challenge Socrates to show the superiority of justice even
when the rewards of reputation are set aside. The challenge begins with
Glaucon making a three-fold classification of goods:
Do you agree that there is a kind of good which we would choose to
possess, not from a desire for its after-effects, but welcoming it for its own
sake, as for example, enjoyment and pleasures which are harmless and
where nothing happens because of them in the future, except to keep on
enjoying ... And again there is a kind that we love both for its own sake
and for its consequences, such as understanding, sight, and health ...
And can you discern a third kind of good under which fall exercise and
being healed when sick and the art of healing and money-making generally? For of them we would say that they are irksome, yet beneficial,
and we would not choose to have them for their own sakes, but only for
the rewards and other things that accrue from them. (357b-d)3

Socrates thinks that justice belongs to the second, finest class: those
things that must be welcomed both for their own sake and for their
consequences by anyone who is going to be blessed [
] (358a2-3). Nonetheless, he agrees with Glaucon that most peo-

2 Advocates for this position include Mabbott, J.D., 'Is Plato's Republic Utilitarian?',
Mind 46 (1937), 468-74, (reprinted with revisions in Plato , G. Vlastos ed., Garden
City, NY ([1971] 57-65), Annas, J., An Introduction to Plato's Republic, Oxford: Oxford
University Press (1982), and Devereux, D., "The Structure of Socrates' Argument for
Justice in the Republic (APA Pacific Meeting, Berkeley, March 1999).
3 All translations are based on Shorey with my occasional modifications.

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Justice and the Fundamental Question of Plato's Republic 3

pie place justice in the third class, as irksome yet 'practiced for the sake
of rewards and reputation stemming from opinion' [ '
] (358a5-6). In an attempt to resolve
the difference of opinion, Glaucon asks Socrates to say 'what justice and
injustice are and what sort of power () each one itself has when
alone in the soul but to leave out the rewards and the things that come
from them' [ ' '
' ]
(358b5-7). Adimantus agrees, asking Socrates to set aside all those rewards that depend upon reputation and show that justice is welcomed
for its own sake (367c).
The nature of the question put to Socrates, especially the distinction
between 'welcomed for its own sake' and 'welcomed for its consequences' is not immediately clear. And for good reason: one is unsure to
what the expressions 'welcomed for its own sake' and 'welcomed for its
consequences' refer. One thing is certain, however: We must take care to
interpret this distinction as Plato intends it, and not simply to read it in
accordance with our modern views.
Mabbott argues that the distinction is between on the one hand those
goods that are 'good in themselves' without any reference to any other
good (including ) and on the other hand those goods that are
welcomed for their consequences.4 Since Socrates places justice in the
second class of goods, his task, according to Mabbott, is two-fold:
the task of Socrates, on my theory, is to show that justice is in "the best
class" good in itself and good for its consequences. In proving the first
half of the thesis all consequences must be eliminated ... In proving the
second, the necessary and inevitable consequences must be brought
back in again. (1937,471)

This view, therefore, divides the Republic into two distinct sections.
Mabbott states that On my view Plato shows in Book IV that justice is
good in itself and in Book IX that it is good for its consequences' (1971,62).
Eudaimonists however, claim that Mabbott is mistaken, for happiness
seems to be an ongoing theme in Socrates' entire discussion. So rather
than dividing Books II-IX into two separate arguments, eudaimonists
argue that the whole discussion is intended to establish that justice

4 See Mabbott (1937), 468-74.

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4 James Butler

should be 'welcomed for its own sake' because justice by itself is a means
to the happiest life. (Book X then establishes that justice is 'welcomed for
its consequences' by producing a good reputation among gods and men.)
As a group, however, eudaimonists are scarcely in agreement about
exactly how Socrates shows that justice by itself is a means to the happiest
life. Foster argues that justice produces two types of beneficial results,
those that follow directly from the possession of justice and those that
follow from justice only in conjunction with circumstances (like reputation).5 Thus, Socrates' project in Books II-IX is to show that justice is
'welcomed for its own sake' because the happy life is the direct result of
justice without the need of any other good.6
Irwin, on the other hand, introduces a distinction widely employed
(certainly since Ackrill7) between instrumental means and component
means, and consequently attacks the talk of happiness as a result of
justice as talk of justice as an instrumental means to happiness. Irwin
suggests that rather than being an instrumental means to happiness,
justice is an essential component or part of happiness. Hence, we might
call Irwin's view 'Component Eudaimonism'. According to Component
Eudaimonism, because justice is a component of happiness, if we say
that we desire the whole (i.e., happiness) 'for its own sake', we are
justified in saying that we desire a part or certainly a part as important
as justice for its own sake.
In this paper I shall primarily take issue with the views of Mabbott
and Irwin. Mabbott is incorrect to think that Socrates is showing justice
is good in itself apart from happiness in Books II through IV. On the other
side, Irwin who is surely correct that the three-fold classification of
goods refers to means to happiness is too quick to dismiss the view
that happiness is a consequence of justice in favor of the view that justice
is an essential part of happiness.

5 For instance, using Glaucon's own example of understanding, knowing arithmetic


has the direct benefit of being able to balance one's checkbook as well as the indirect
reward of getting a good grade in math class contingent upon one's rapport with the
instructor. (This follows Foster's example [387].)
6 See Foster (1937), 387. Foster uses a slightly different terminology: Instead of direct
and indirect consequences, Foster uses the terms 'natural' and 'artificial'.
7 Ackrill, J.L., 'Aristotle on Eudaimonia' in A. Rorty ed, Essays on Aristotle's Ethics,
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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Justice and the Fundamental Question of Plato's Republic 5

Even so, this is not to imply that I endorse Foster's position. Although
Foster is essentially correct to think that the three-fold classification is
about the causal means to happiness, he is incorrect to think that being
'welcomed for its own sake and for its consequences' contains a distinction between direct and indirect consequences. Instead, the point of the
three-fold classification is that some goods are 'welcomed for their own
sakes' because they are a means to happiness in their immediate aspects
and others are 'welcomed for its consequences' because they are a means
to happiness in their broader aspects. For instance, Glaucon says of those
goods welcomed only for their own sakes (e.g., enjoyment and harmless
pleasures) that 'nothing happens because of them in the future, except to
keep on enjoying.' Glaucon's explanation of these goods suggests that
in their immediate aspects immediate temporal aspects in this case
such goods are an immediate means to happiness, though they provide
nothing as a means to future happiness except perhaps to keep on
enjoying. Similarly, when discussing those goods that are welcomed
merely for their consequences (exercise, money making, etc.) Glaucon
says, 'we would say that they are irksome, yet beneficial'. His statement,
coupled with the contrast between these goods and those 'welcomed for
their own sake', again suggests that in the present goods welcomed
merely for their consequences are irksome and so not a means to happiness, but their later consequences (health, wealth) are a means to happiness. Justice then, being welcomed both for its own sake and for its
consequences, is desirable for two reasons: (i) its immediate aspect (a
well-ordered soul) is a means to happiness and (ii) its broader aspects
(e.g., having a good reputation) are also a means to happiness.
I shall suggest that we can further understand the fundamental question of the Republic by examining where, I believe, Plato answers this
question: the comparison of the just and unjust lives in Book IX. There,
Socrates gives three proofs the third of which he calls 'most decisive'
showing that justice produces a happier life than injustice. Arriving
at this conclusion, Socrates immediately returns to the Book II challenge,
implying that the three proofs constitute his response. The fundamental
challenge of the Republic, therefore, is to show that justice not injustice
produces the happiest life.8

8 One of my referees (who I would like to thank for his extended comments) has
pointed out to me that some scholars may take Socrates' promise in Book IV (435c)

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6 James Butler

I will begin with an explanation and criticism of Mabbott's view and


then turn to an examination of Irwin's view. I follow with a brief account
of the three proofs in favor of the just life in Republic IX. Finally, I suggest
how these three proofs clarify why justice is to be 'welcomed for its own
sake and for its consequences'.

Mabbott

Mabbott believes that when Socrates places justice among the things
'welcomed for their own sake and for their consequences' and Glaucon
seeks to know justice's power 'itself by itself, phrases like 'for its own
sake' and 'itself by itself stand for justice itself regardless of consequences.9

to provide a more complete account of justice which he fulfills in Book VI (504cff)


as a switch from justice as it is in this world (as a harmony of three parts) to the
Form of Justice as it is in another world. And as such, the fundamental question of
the Republic would be about the Form of Justice rather than the justice in this world.
This suggestion, to my mind, would too sharply divide the justice in this world from
the Form of Justice, as if we were to consider the Form of Justice too sublime for
people in this world even when they are just.
I cannot undertake here to defend my position against this worthy suggestion,
only to point out the differences with my view. The Book VI account, as I see it,
requires that the tripartite account of justice be regimented to the Form of the Good.
What is involved in this account is not a turning away from justice as psychological
harmony in Book IV (as the referee supposes) but ensuring that psychological
harmony is made beneficial and useful by means of knowledge of the Good. The
text of the Book VI passage is as follows:
Well then he must take the longer road ... There is something more important
than these virtues. However, even for the virtues themselves, it isn't enough to
look at a mere sketch, as we did before while neglecting the most complete
account ... for you've often heard it said that the form of the good is the most
important thing to learn about and it's by their relation to it that just things and
the others become useful and beneficial (504c-5a)
Plato relates the Form of the Good to just things (including justice itself presumably)
in terms of the latter becoming useful and beneficial. His point, then, is not that the
Form of Justice is something quite other than the psychological harmony found in
Book IV. Rather, the Form of Justice is psychological harmony rendered beneficial
by being regimented to the Form of the Good.
Mabbott (and those who agree with him) fails to acknowledge an important
consequence of reading 'welcomed for its own sake' as 'good in itself regardless of
consequences': Since Glaucon lists enjoyment and harmless pleasures as examples

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Justice and the Fundamental Question of Plato's Republic 7

Accordingly, Socrates argues in Books II-FV that justice is good in itself


regardless of any consequences and then shifts in Books V-IX to show
that justice produces beneficial results, namely happiness.
Yet why should we think, as Mabbott does, that Plato divides Books
II-1X into two distinct arguments? Mabbott points to the end of Book IV
(444cl-5b7) where Socrates claims to have discovered that justice is 'a
kind of health of the soul ... a natural relation of control' by reason
(444d-e). Mabbott explains this passage as follows:
health was one of the examples given in 357c of something both good
in itself and good for its consequences and the explicit and clearly
developed parallel between health and justice ... seems to me to be the
final piece of evidence that Plato never forgot his promise to put justice
in the "best class", that he takes himself by the end of Book IV to have
accomplished the/irsf and greater part of his task, [emphasis mine] (1937,
473)10

In essence, to support his view that Socrates is arguing that justice is


good in itself regardless of consequences in Book IV, Mabbott connects
two passages: Glaucon's classification of goods at the beginning of Book
II and Socrates' claim that justice is a kind of health of the soul at the end
of Book IV.11 The former passage, Mabbott claims, establishes health as
both good in itself and good for its consequences, while the latter, by
making justice a species of health, shows that justice must be good in

of goods welcomed simply for their own sakes, Mabbott is committed to the view
that harmless pleasures and enjoyment are good in themselves regardless of consequences, contrary to what many modem philosophers (following Kant) have come
to believe.
10 Cf. Annas, An Introduction to Plato's Republic, 68
11 Devereux (14-15) further argues that since just actions are said to be profitable
because they produce just state of the soul (444cl-d2), justice itself must be valuable.
But because at this stage in the argument justice itself is not said to produce
anything, Devereux concludes that justice must have value in itself. We should grant
that just acts are profitable because they produce a just soul, and thus justice must
be valuable, but it does not follow that justice is good in itself. Justice is said to be
profitable as well (445a) and we may ask 'profitable to what?' We could answer, as
the eudaimonist theory would have it, that justice is profitable in contributing to the
happiest life. Thus, justice is not good in itself; it is merely valuable as an intermediate good, leading to the happiest life.

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8 James Butler

itself (at least in part). Then, after establishing that justice is good in itself,
Socrates shifts arguments to show that justice leads directly to the
happiest life. (Then in Book X, he argues that justice provides one with
a good reputation amongst gods and humans).
Mabbott's view, I believe, is untenable and the eudaimonists' criticism
of it is surely correct. Irwin (1992) argues that when Socrates claims that
justice must be welcomed both for its own sake and for its consequences
T?y anyone who is going to be blessed' ( ),
'the clause "to anyone who is going to be blessed" shows that the three
classes of goods are meant to include all the goods that might be
considered as ways of achieving happiness' (1992,190). Thus, Socrates'
comment immediately after the three-fold classification of goods designates happiness as the ultimate reason why such 'goods' are to be
welcomed.
No doubt Mabbott would concede that Socrates does argue in Books
V-IX that justice contributes to happiness, but that particular argument
is wholly separate from the argument that justice is good in itself in Book
IV.12 Yet, if Socrates is indeed giving wholly separate arguments that (i)
justice is good in itself (Books II-IV) and (ii) justice contributes to happiness (Books V-IX), we would expect him not to consider the happiness
of the just life until after showing that justice is good in itself at 444cl-5b7.
We do not find anything of the sort however. Two passages in Book IV,
prior to the crucial link between justice and health at the end of the book,
explicitly tell us that the aim of Socrates' investigation is about happiness;
they mention nothing about justice being good in itself.13 At 420b Socrates states that what he and the brothers have been inquiring into for a
long timepresumably why justice is to be 'welcomed for its own sake'
from Book II is how to make the city as a whole (and analogously the
person) happiest.14 He mentions nothing which suggests that their inquiry has anything to do with justice being good in itself.

12 Mabbott (1937), 471, quoted above.


13 Mabbott (1971) discusses these passages, but suggests, rather implausibly, that if
'' is not taken to be 'happiness', but instead as referring to a virtuous
activity of the soul, these passages need not count as evidence that Plato is focusing
on the consequences of justice.
14 '. We aren't looking to make any one group outstandingly happy, but make the
whole city so, as far as possible. We thought that we'd find justice most easily in such

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Justice and the Fundamental Question of Plato's Republic 9

More importantly at 427b, after establishing the just city, Socrates


examines the analogy between the just city and the just person:
Well, son of Ariston, your city might now be said to be established ...
look inside it and see where the justice and the injustice might be in it,
what the difference between them is and which of the two the person
who is to be happy [ ]15 should possess,
whether its possession is noticed by the gods and people or not. (427d)
[my emphasis]

This second passage is particularly telling: for immediately after


establishing the just polis, Socrates does not ask the brothers anything
about whether justice is good in itself or not. Instead, he asks them to
distinguish between justice and injustice and to discover which of the
two will make a person happy.
Notice also that this passage exactly foretells the remainder of Book
IV: Socrates finds justice in the city (432b-3d), shows a crucial difference
between justice and injustice justice is the natural order of the soul
while injustice is unnatural (444d-e) and then draws out the consequences of these differences to the question of happiness (444e). Thus,
we need not conclude, as Mabbott contends, that Socrates shifts his
argument from justice being good in itself to justice producing happiness; Socrates merely sets out an important difference between justice
and injustice, and then continues with the fundamental question: which
of the two leads to the happier life.
These two passages, both of which precede the end of Book IV, taken
together suggest that contrary to Mabbott's view Socrates will answer
the fundamental question 'why is justice to be welcomed for its own
sake?' by showing that justice will make one happier than injustice.16

a city and injustice, by contrast, in the one that is governed worst and that by
observing both cities, we'd be able to judge the question we've been inquiring into
for so long' (420b; my emphasis).
15 This phrase bears a striking resemblance to Socrates' claim in Book II that one must
welcome justice if one is to be blessed [ ) ]. Just as the
Book II passage (as Irwin points out) makes happiness the context of the three-fold
classification, this Book IV passage is further evidence that Socrates' argument is
about happiness.
16 I mention in passing that I believe that at the end of Book IV, Plato is responding to

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10 James Butler

Irwin

Having dismissed Mabbott's view, we must turn to consider Irwin's


Component Eudaimonism. If eudaimonists are correct that Socrates'
entire argument in Books II-IX is ultimately about the happiness of the
just life, how should we interpret the contrast between 'welcomed for its
own sake' and 'welcomed for its consequences' which lies at the center
of the brother's challenge? We might think, following Foster and White,
that regardless of the way some people might interpret such phrases,17
the brother's challenge and Socrates' subsequent argument make it clear
that 'for its own sake' refers to the direct consequences of justice by itself
and 'for its consequences' refers to those indirect consequences that come
from the reputation for being just.
Irwin rejects Foster's contrast of 'welcomed for its own sake' and
'welcomed for its consequences' since, he believes, such an interpretation would be inconsistent with Glaucon's three-fold classification of
goods. He writes:
This contrast, however does not explain why Plato divides the second
from the third class of goods in the way he does. Exercise is treated as
a good of the third class ... we choose it only for its consequences.
Whether the desirable consequence of exercise is a consequence of
exercise itself seems not to affect the fact that exercise belongs to the
third class. (1992, 190-1)

Presumably, since exercise has good direct consequences 'better


health is the natural and inevitable result of moderate and well-planned
exercise' (190) but is placed in the third class of goods (those welcomed
solely for their consequences), the third class cannot be limited to those
goods which have only indirect consequences. Irwin therefore concludes

the first part of Glaucon's (and Thrasymachus) claim that injustice is good by nature
(348c, 358e) Hence Socrates shows (444d-e) that injustice is contrary to nature, and
justice is in accordance with nature. Yet in establishing this, it is not necessary that
Plato show that it is good in itself; nor is it necessary that such a response is
independent of the relation of justice to happiness.
17 As White (1979) notes: '... by his phrases "for its own sake" and "because of its
consequences", as the Greek expressions are translated, Plato does not intend the
same contrast that we translate and understand him to intend' (79).

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Justice and the Fundamental Question of Plato's Republic 11

that when Socrates places justice among the second class of goods, he
cannot have in mind a distinction between direct and indirect consequences; for such a distinction belongs equally to the third class.
What then does Socrates hope to show by placing justice in the second
class, all the while maintaining a connection between justice and happiness? On Irwin's view, since 'welcomed for its own sake' cannot refer to
the direct results of being just, he infers that Socrates is trying to show
that justice is the dominant component of happiness which 'contributes
non-causally to happiness by being a part of it' (193). Irwin bases this
inference on his reading of the analogy between justice and health in
Book IV, where (as he believes) health is shown to be a crucial component
of happiness:18
The absence of health makes life no longer worth living only if I cannot
perform any significant human activities to a worthwhile degree ... In
such a case I am justified in choosing health (more exactly, a sufficient
degree of health to avoid this intolerable condition) over any combination of other bodily or external goods. Health therefore is dominant
over other bodily or external goods. (1992,255)

The point of Socrates' analogy, on Irwin's view, is to show that we


should value justice over all other goods (including physical health)
because justice is the crucial component of happiness.
Irwin's view is suspect for several reasons: First, Irwin fails to present
a passage where Plato directly refers to happiness having parts, or justice
being a part of happiness. Thus, Irwin must infer that Socrates' purpose
is to show that justice is an essential part of happiness and not a cause
of happiness. And when Socrates speaks in a way as to suggest a causal
relation between justice and happiness, Irwin strains to find a way to
explain away such passages. For instance, when the brothers want to
know the power () of justice (358b) and what justice does for the
soul (367b), Irwin argues:
when Plato asks what justice "does" or what its "power" () is,
he may simply be asking ... in what respect a just soul is different from
other souls ... If Plato intends "justice itself" and "what justice does in
the soul" to describe the essential properties of the state of the soul that

18 'Plato believes that the analogy between justice and health helps to explain not only
why justice is an intrinsic good but also why it dominates other goods' (1995,254).

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12 James Butler

is justice ... he is distinguishing these properties from the causal


consequences of justice. (1992,191)"

Irwin's use of '' is curious. Rather than allowing '' (as


it is quite commonly used) to refer to causal 'power', Irwin has it refer
to the essential 'quality' of justice. Yet the context of the challenge before
Socrates especially Glaucon's defense of injustice on behalf of the
many (358bff) clearly implies that the contest between the just person
and unjust person centers on the power ['' 358b5, ' '
359b2] of the each to produce certain results: Unlike the unjust person,
the just person is unable to take revenge (359a7), to do injustice (358e6),
or, as Gyges did, to seduce the queen, kill the king, and take over a
kingdom (359cff) (Moreover, we shall see a similar causal account of
'' in Book IX.)
Moreover, it is not obvious that Irwin is entitled to the distinction
between essential properties and causal properties which lies at the
center of his interpretation of ''. For why can't a causal property
be essential? Surely something, like a heart, has a causal property as one
of its essential properties, namely its ability to pump blood. So, even if
Irwin were correct that Plato is describing 'the essential properties of the
state of the soul that is justice', these properties may still be causal. Thus,
given all the other evidence that '' refers to a causal 'power', we
should assume that the '' of justice refers to its causal 'power'.
Indeed, in his own argument for why Socrates finds health better than
disease (and thus by analogy justice better than injustice), Irwin himself
cannot help but to appeal to causal consequences, claiming that under
diseased conditions one is 'justified in choosing ... a sufficient degree of
health to avoid this intolerable condition' (255). Thus, one should welcome health because it causes a more tolerable (i.e., less painful) condition.20
Finally, Irwin is drawn to the Component Eudaimonism view because
he does not believe that the distinction between 'welcomed for its own
sake' and 'welcomed for its consequences' can be about direct and
indirect causal consequences. For, as he puts it, exercise is placed in the

19 Mabbott's view of '' (1937,470 and 1971, 60) is similar to that of Irwin.
20 We might rhetorically ask Irwin in this case: If health were an intrinsically good part
of happiness, then shouldn't we still choose it even if the intolerable condition
continues?

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Justice and the Fundamental Question of Plato's Republic 13

third class even though it has both direct and indirect consequences. But
Irwin (like Foster) misconstrues the distinction between 'welcomed for
its own sake' and 'welcomed for its consequences'. The distinction (as I
suggested above) is between something (i) being a means to happiness
in its immediate aspects and (ii) being a means to happiness in its broader
aspects.21 Thus, nothing prevents these means of achieving happiness
from being causal means. Justice is accordingly welcomed for its own
sake because its immediate aspects (a well-adjusted soul) causes happiness right away and its broader aspects (building a good reputation)
causes happiness in the future.
In conclusion, Irwin is correct in thinking that the fundamental question of the Republic is ultimately about happiness: justice is to be welcomed because it is a means to the happiest life. Yet, he has given
insufficient grounds for believing that justice is a means to the happy life
by being a part of happiness, rather than by producing happiness.
4

Book IX

So if Mabbott and Irwin's interpretations fail to give a convincing


interpretation of the fundamental question of the Republic, how are we
to find precisely what is being asked of Socrates? I suggest that we look
in Book IX where Socrates directly compares the happiness of the just
and unjust lives.
In Book IX, Socrates presents three proofs in favor of the just life. The
first proof, which begins in Book VIII (544a), concludes,' ... The son of
Ariston pronounced the best man and the most just is the happiest
[] ... and declared the worst and the most unjust is the
most unhappy' (580b9-c3).22 Socrates then says, "This then would be one
of our proofs; but examine this second one to see if there is anything in it'

21 My way of reading the distinction, unlike Foster's, escapes Irwin's criticism: In its
immediate aspects (e.g., sweat, toil, and pain) exercise is not a means to happiness,
but in its broader (perhaps even direct) aspects (health) it is a means to happiness.
Thus exercise belongs in the third class.
22 It is clear from the text of the first proof that the tyrant's unhappy life is filled with
pain (578a, 579b-c, and esp. 579d9-e6). These references to the tyrant's life being
painful in the first argument, we shall see, cast some doubt on other interpreters'
contention that the first argument is about happiness but the second and third are
only about pleasure
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14 James Butler

[emphasis mine] (580c9-dl) and proceeds to a second (and indeed a


third) argument that the just life is the most pleasant.
Many other eudaimonist interpreters have suggested that between
the first and second arguments, Socrates is switching topics, from showing that the just life is happiest in the first proof to showing that the just
life is most pleasant and not that it is happiest in both the second and
third.23 But as I have argued elsewhere,24 Socrates' move from a proof
about justice and happiness to proofs that the just life is most pleasant is
best understood as Plato believing that the happiest life just is the most
pleasant life. For when Socrates claims that the first argument is One of
our proofs', we might ask One of our proofs for what?' Without looking
forward to the second and third arguments, there could be no question
that the first argument is a proof that the just life is happier than the unjust
life. But if so, men the second and third arguments which Socrates
introduces without any suggestion that he is switching topics should
be proofs about precisely that conclusion, even though they focus on
pleasure. Therefore, on this reading all three arguments are given as
proofs for the same conclusion: the just life is happiest.
Briefly, the third proof which Plato calls the 'most decisive' argument in favor of the just life comes to the following conclusions: (i)
being filled with knowledge, reason, and the Forms (which are only
available to the just person) is truly pleasant (585d-e) and (ii) the just
soul, having reason in charge of the other two parts of the soul, attains
the best and truest pleasures throughout its life (586e). Socrates concludes that the just person's life is more pleasant than the thoroughly
unjust person (the tyrant), whose life is dominated by confusion, unfulfilled desire, and pain. But more than that, Socrates claims that pleasure
makes one's life virtuous, elegant, and beautiful:
Then if a good and just person has decisively that much more pleasure
than the bad and unjust person, will he not also have a life incalculably
greater in elegance, beauty and virtue? (588a)

Evidently, Socrates believes that he has established, by means of the

23 See Kraut (1992), 309-37; Murphy (1951), 207; Gosling and Taylor (1982), ch. 6; White
(1979), 226, and Cross and Woozley (1964), ch. 11.
24 See Butler (1999), 37-48.

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Justice and the Fundamental Question of Plato's Republic 15

pleasure arguments, that the just person's life is happier and also more
virtuous, elegant and beautiful than the unjust.
Having reached these conclusions, Socrates immediately moves the
discussion back to the Book challenge:
Since we've reached this point in the argument, let us return to the first
things we said, since they are what led us here. / think someone said at
some point that injustice profits a completely unjust person who is believed to
be just. Isn't that so? ... Now let us discuss this with him, since we've
agreed on the respective powers () that justice and injustice have.
(588b) [emphasis mine]

Socrates' suggestion clearly recalls 360e where Glaucon asks for a


judgment between the unjust person who appears to be just and the just
person who appears to be unjust. Revisiting the Book challenge at this
point in the discussion indicates a completion of Socrates' task:25 he has
shown that the just life is happiest. But since Socrates has just given three
proofs for the happiness of the just life, the third of which using pleasure
as the 'most decisive' authority by which to compare lives, it is plausible
to believe that Socrates' answer to 'which life is happiest?' is ultimately
resolved by answering the question 'which life is most pleasant?'
Moreover, Socrates states that they have now reached an agreement
on another issue from Book : the power () of justice and injustice
in the soul (358b, 366e). But what is this power on which they all agree?
Since the agreement immediately follows proofs that the just person lives
most pleasantly (i.e., happily), it is natural to assume that justice has the
power to produce the most pleasant life.26 For it is difficult to conceive
how the just life would be most pleasant without thinking at the same
time that pleasure comes as a consequence of being just.27

25 Jowett and Campbell (1894) seem to agree:


Socrates, not without the air of triumph returns to the source of the discussion,
which is finally disposed of, the old argument of Thrasymachus ... (434)
26 There is little to suggest that we can read '' here in a way consistent with
Irwin's suggested use of '' as a non-causal 'quality'. Rather, it seems clear
from the passage that the challenge is to show the 'power' of justice by showing that
justice results in the most pleasant life. Instead of positing an ambiguity in Plato's
term '', I suggest that we consistently translate '' as 'power'.
27 I do not mean to suggest that pleasure resulting from justice
is a feeling or sensation
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16 James Butler

So since, as I have argued, the fundamental question of the Republic


is about happiness, and Socrates' arguments that the just life is happiest
are decisively resolved by an appeal to pleasure, it seems that the
fundamental question of the Republic is whether the just life results in a
more pleasant life than the unjust life.

Conclusion
I hope that I have given plausible reasons to read the Republic as thoroughly eudaimonistic: From the outset of the challenge to Socrates in
Book II to the final judgment in favor of the just life in Book IX, Plato is
ultimately concerned to show that justice is better than injustice because
justice produces a happier life than injustice. But more than that, because
Socrates uses pleasure as the ultimate authority when comparing the just
and the unjust lives, he believes that what makes a life happiest is that it
is most pleasant. The Book IX proofs, therefore, tell us Socrates' reason
why justice should be 'welcomed for its own sake': justice results in the
most pleasant life. Thus we may plausibly conclude that when Glaucon
and Adimantus ask Socrates to show that justice is 'welcomed for its own
sake' but to leave aside the rewards of reputation, Socrates understands
this as a request to show that justice produces the most pleasant life.28
Department of Philosophy
Berea College
Berea, KY
U.S.A.
jim_butler@berea.edu

of pleasure which attends on a just state of the soul. Rather, as Ryle points out (1949,
107-110) pleasure is taken in things which only the just soul has access to, e.g.,
knowledge, reason and the Forms.
28 I would like to thank Amber Ross, Daniel Devereux, Nicholas Smith, Naomi
Reshotko, Tony Chu, Pat Mooney, George Rudebusch, and two anonymous Apeiron
referees, all of whom offered valuable comments on this paper. In particular, I
would like to thank Terry Penner for his invaluable guidance and helpful discussion
during all stages of this paper.

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Justice and the Fundamental Question of Plato's Republic 17

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