Thrasymachus’ Revenge

The following is a brief excerpt from Plato’s Republic on the Unjust Man and the doctrine that ‘Might makes Right’. I have added an ending to this dialogue which situates the discussion in the context of the current state of justice in the world.

Socrates:

Then I will repeat the question which I asked before, in order that our examination of the relative nature of justice and injustice may be carried on regularly. A statement was made that injustice is stronger and more powerful than justice, but now justice, having been identified with wisdom and virtue, is easily shown to be stronger than injustice, if injustice is ignorance; this can no longer be questioned by any one. But I want to view the matter, Thrasymachus, in a different way: You would not deny that a state may be unjust and may be unjustly attempting to enslave other states, or may have already enslaved them, and may be holding many of them in subjection?

Thrasymachus:

True, he replied; and I will add the best and perfectly unjust state will be most likely to do so.

Socrates:

I know that such was your position; but what I would further consider is, whether this power which is possessed by the superior state can exist or be exercised without justice.

Thrasymachus:

If you are right in you view, and justice is wisdom, then only with justice; but if I am right, then without justice.

Socrates:

I am delighted, Thrasymachus, to see you not only nodding assent and dissent, but making answers which are quite excellent.

Thrasymachus:

That is out of civility to you.

Socrates:

You are very kind; and would you have the goodness also to inform me, whether you think that a state, or an army, or a band of robbers and thieves, or any other gang of evil-doers could act at all if they injured one another?

Thrasymachus:

No, indeed, they could not.

Socrates:

But if they abstained from injuring one another, then they might act together better?

Thrasymachus:

Yes.

Socrates:

And this is because injustice creates divisions and hatreds and fighting, and justice imparts harmony and friendship; is not that true, Thrasymachus?

Thrasymachus:

I agree, because I do not wish to quarrel with you.

Socrates:

How good of you; but I should like to know also whether injustice, having this tendency to arouse hatred, wherever existing, among slaves or among freemen, will not make them hate one another and set them at variance and render them incapable of common action?

Thrasymachus:

Certainly.

Socrates:

And even if injustice be found in two only, will they not quarrel and fight, and become enemies to one another and to the just.

Thrasymachus:

They will.

Socrates:

And suppose injustice abiding in a single person, would your wisdom say that she loses or that she retains her natural power?

Thrasymachus:

Let us assume that she retains her power.

Socrates:

Yet is not the power which injustice exercises of such a nature that wherever she takes up her abode, whether in a city, in an army, in a family, or in any other body, that body is, to begin with, rendered incapable of united action by reason of sedition and distraction; and does it not become its own enemy and at variance with all that opposes it, and with the just? Is not this the case?

Thrasymachus:

Yes, certainly.

Socrates:

And is not injustice equally fatal when existing in a single person; in the first place rendering him incapable of action because he is not at unity with himself, and in the second place making him an enemy to himself and the just? Is not that true, Thrasymachus?

Thrasymachus:

Yes.

Socrates:

And O my friend, surely the gods are just?

Thrasymachus:

Granted that they are.

Socrates:

But if so, the unjust will be the enemy of the gods, and the just will be their friend?

Thrasymachus:

Feast away in triumph, and take your fill of the argument; I will not oppose you, lest I should displease the company.

At this point Thrasymachus, enraged by Socrates, retired from the gathering and walked along a pathway toward a midnight Bacchanalia celebrating Dionysus. All at once, in a flash of light, the God Ares appeared to Thrasymachus. Swirling around Thrasymachus as a vortex, Ares bellowed: ‘Do not allow your spirit to be drained by the bloodless dialectic of Socrates, my most excellent devotee. I will conjure for you the one who will come and will compel all to submit to the terrible truth of your argument. Yours is an argument that cannot be a mere saying, but must act, show itself in its insurmountable truth.” At this point, a vision emerged from the swirl of vapour, showing the one who would come, the Unjust Man.

Thrasymachus smiled, happy in his revenge.

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