Plato’s Concept of Justice

Plato’s Concept of Justice

Plato had given great prominence to the concept of justice, it was clear fact that he subtitled his book of ‘Republic’ as ‘Concerning justice’, the nature and occupancy of justice was the important issues of Republic.  Plato while explanation his theory of justice, he observed different prevailing theories of justice, after rejecting them he proposed his own views on theory of justice.

Grounds on which Plato Rejected Prevailing Theories:

The following theories of justice were rejected by Plato.

Traditional theory

This theory was produced by Cephalous, and his son Polemarchus, they defined justice as speaking truth and paying what was due to Gods and men.  It was considered that, good is done to friends and harm to the enemies.  Plato disallowed this theory because justice means doing well to all and harm to none, which depends upon the principles of morality.  He further said, it was not possible to distinct between enemies and friends because the appearance would be often deceiving.  Another flaw of his theory was, it treat justice as an individualistic rather than social concept.  Justice cannot differ from person to person and it must have universal application.  This theory was not tolerable because it’s handmaid of those in power and gives sufficient scope for misuse.

Radicalist Theory

This theory was linked to Sophists and produced by Thrasymachus, preserved justice as the interest of the stronger.  It trusts in the principle of might is right.  When the government strongest, it makes laws to the suitability of the rulers and justice for the people, seeking the interest of the ruler rather than follow their own interests.  Sophists said that injustice is better than justice every person would like to promote his own interest would go against interest of ruler. Therefore, Thrasymachus claims that, injustice is better than justice and unjust man is wiser than the just.

Plato had disallowed this theory of justice because firstly, Justice can never be the interest of stronger.  The government is an art and it must aim at the perfection of the material viz., the subjects rather than its own faultlessness.  A ruler must be selfless in his duties as ruler, must work for the progress and governed.  Secondly, justice is always better than injustice because a just man is wiser, durable and better off than an unjust man and knows his limitation.  He tries to work within limits and does his appointed purposes.   Thirdly, Plato condemns the extreme individualism of the Sophists and holds that individual is not an independent unit but a part of an order. Fourthly, there cannot be dual standards for Justice one for the ruler and the other for the subjects.  Thrasymachus could not give any rational justification, this concept has no universal application.

Pragmatic Theory

This theory was proposed by Gloucan, he stated that, justice is an artificial thing, a product of social agreement.  Justice is the child of fear and is founded on the need of the weak.  Therefore, justice is not the interest of the stronger but it is the necessity of weak.  Plato left out and condemned this theory because it considers that justice is something external or an importation.  He said that, justice is rooted in human mind.

Concept of Justice by Plato:

After rejecting those prevailed concepts of Justice, he proposed his own concepts of justice.  He opined that, justice must be present both in individual and in society.  He thought that justice in the state existing in bigger and much noticeable form, he tried to put it with the help of state.  According to Plato, there are three constituents inhuman mind namely reason, sprit and appetite, which are presented by the rulers, soldiers and farmers.  He opined that each of these three makes a valuable contribution for the creation of the state. Justice can be done if the each group performs their duty without interfering each other.  Justice is a bond which holds a society together, pleasant union of individuals, each of whom has found his life work in accordance with his natural fitness and training, it is both public and private virtue.  Plato’s concept of justice was explained by Barker as, social justice many be defined as the principle of society, consisting of different types of men (producing type, military type, ruling type), who have combined with each other to perform their own duties.

Hence, the concept of justice by Plato, based on three principles.  First it works as functional specialization like giving a definite function to each one according to his capacity and merit, second, it works, noninterference of different groups. So that they can concentrate on their own duty.  This sort of work required for the unity and welfare of all the members of sate.  Third, it implies harmony in between the three classes (groups) representing wisdom, courage and temperance respectively.

Criticism of Plato’s Concept of Justice:

The concept of justice by Plato has been exposed to criticism, the following charges are leveled.

First, the concept of justice by Plato is mainly grounded on moral principles. Which lacks legal sanction, hence, is not enforceable. It is based on self- control and self –rejection in the interest of society.  At any stage of history more moral sanction cannot protect the social good.

Second, Plato’s theory of justice could be practical only in the city-state. It toughly enforce the principle of division of labour and except everyone to do his allotted duty to satisfy society.  In the present context, it is not possible nor can be fixed. If duties can be given to the members of each class because the population has increased so much.

Third he said that each individual owns there qualities like, reasons, spirit and appetite, he wants each individual must contribute to the development of only one faculty.  He wants ruler class to develop faculty of reason.  The soldier class to develop faculty of spirit or courage while appetite for the peasant class.

Fourth, his concept of justice gives absolute power to one class like, the philosophers, because they have lot of wisdom.  Thus, there is a scope for inequalities of power and privilege in his concept of justice.  However, he failed to realize grant of absolute power in the hands of any person or class of persons though morally and spiritually trained lead to degeneration on and corruption.

Fifth, to spot the misuse of power by ruling class, he pleaded for communalism of property and wives in complete violation of human psychology.

Sixth, Prof. Popper, said that, Plato’s concept of justice gives rise to totalitarianism and it ignores the humanization principles like equality, freedom and individualism.

Seventh, Plato subordinates individuals completely to the state and shows him a meagre means for the promotion of the interest of the state.

Eighth, his justice gives rise to a class-state in which ruling is the privilege of a particular class.