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    Socrates’ Definition of Justice Compared to That of Polymarchus

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    I will start by saying that I believe that Socrates’ definition of justice compared to Polymarchus’ definition, Socrates’ definition is truer. That is as it would not be just to harm anyone at all. Now Socrates’ definition here is not really what one would call a ‘full’ definition or a final statement, but would rather be referred to as a ‘partial’ definition. Socrates never provided a full definiton for what he thinks justice is, so in regards to Polymarchus’ definition, I shall only use Socrates’ partial definition as a statement that would be the ‘lesser of two evils’. Although the consequences to Socrates’ partial definition of justice on whether it would be justified of Socrates to escape from prison or not, the answers could be that of -it could be unjust of him to escape prison, and at the same time, it could only be just of him if he escaped prison. I will elaborate on these arguments in the following paragraphs.

    Socrates says that justice can sometimes require you to question doing something that could be just or unjust to help out a friend (Plato. et al.). For example, if my friend lent me his gun, and when it’s time to give it back, and he seems unstable to me in the sense that he could injure himself or others; it would be unjust of me to return the gun. I am the fixed variable at the moment, I borrowed the gun when I was sane, and when I wanted to return it I was still sane –but my friend isn’t. One can argue and say that it is his gun and I should give it to him regardless of wher I think his state of mind is at, but in this scenario I would be just by not giving it back, because the possibility of harm that could be done, in a way, lies on my behalf (Plato. et al.).

    This in my opinion begs a question; are friends, as Polymarchus or anyone would consider a friend, people that would be considered just human beings, or are they simply people we like to associate ourselves with because they seem to be just? I personally think that people often befriend people that they think are just. And that’s partly problematic because, if Socrates taught us anything, it’s that people are often wrong and mistaken –and in this case, possibly wrong about their friends and enemies too. Unknowingly, a just person could sometimes possibly be harmful to their friends, and be just to their unjust friends, in which the unjust friends here could be regarded to as enemies. So because most people are often mistaken about their friends and enemies, justice could sometimes be seen as being unjust towards friends and being just towards enemies.

    For that reason, we can say that friends are not those who seem to be just, but rather, friends are those who seem to be just and are being just. And the opposite is true, an enemy isn’t necessarily an unjust person solely because they seem to be unjust, but rather, for they seem to be unjust and are being unjust.

    Should we always harm people who we consider enemies? It’s never just to harm anyone. That is the conclusion that both Socrates and Polymarchus eventually arrive on at the end of their discussion. It’s never just to harm anyone as justice does not harm, only the opposite does. For instance, hurting dogs or horses only makes them worse, and not better(). In practicing music and horsemanship, a person does not get worse by doing it constantly –they improve and become better at their craft (). Then, it would be natural to think that harming humans does not make them better either, and so forth they only become worse. Let’s take ‘X’ and ‘Y’ as two different people. If ‘X’ harms ‘Y’, it would make ‘Y’ worse, and ‘X’ is being unjust for doing the harm. If ‘X’ however, is not harming ‘Y’, he is not making ‘Y’ worse or less just. If ‘X’ is not harming anyone, he is therefore a just person. So if a person isn’t harming anyone, that person can be considered just. By that I can say that it isn’t just to harm anyone at all. Heat doesn’t cool, wet doesn’t dry, and justice doesn’t harm -only its opposite does. So this conclusion completely contradicts Polymarchus’ definition, as it is never just to harm anyone (Plato. et al.).

    Can we consider Socrates’ decision to stay in prison a just act? I often think that Socrates chose the quite confusing, but probably correct decision to stay in prison. Now we know that Socrates was offered by his friends their help to get him to escape, so it was never a lack of financial ability and whatnot, but a matter of Socrates’ understanding of what would be just of him to do, and Socrates clearly thought he should die in prison (Plato., and Grube). It seems to me that Socrates stood by his stance of thinking that doing injustice is always wrong, even if it is to counter some other injustice. Socrates believed he was innocent, but justly convicted. So he chose to abide by the laws, and by doing so he would still be unjust. He would be unjust towards his friends and family. Crito and other friends cried to Socrates as to what would people say about them. His friends were implying that they would have a bad reputation as to they were friends and they couldn’t help him.

    Crito also tried to justify his offer by explaining how his kids would grow up to suffer without their father. Socrates himself also said that you should listen to the words of the wise only, and not those of foolish men (Plato., and Grube). And those who convicted him were foolish by those terms. By staying in prison he’d be betraying his friends and family. Another possible scenario would have been to go for exile. He could have aimed to have a chance outside Athens. However I do think that Socrates is already old enough and if he goes he wouldn’t be able to do much. Plus, he would set up a bad image for his family –if he left them behind that is, and would possibly have them at risk of being executed as a form of retaliation. If he escaped and took his family with him he’d find it difficult for him and his family to adapt to the different environment that they would find themselves in (Turkey). And lastly, he’d be failing his beloved state, a state that he grew up in and promised to be loyal to as a citizen.

    All these injustices Socrates was responsible for towards his friends and family by staying in definitely amount to be valid. But it would be more unjust to escape prison, Socrates thought. Firstly, it would be unjust towards him. He would be contradicting himself in that sense, and he always despised hypocrisy. By leaving prison he’d be going against all values he believed in. He said that one can try to persuade or change the law, and if one fails to do so, he or she must abide by whatever the city and its laws instruct you to do, and he failed (Plato., and Grube). I take from that a form of being just is to do the things one agreed to do. Socrates formed and maintained this agreement by living as an adult citizen in Athens to respect and obey the law. If Socrates did escape prison he’d be harming the city by influence. If he leaves you can consider the repercussions that could follow if it was deemed acceptable to break his agreement with the city’s laws. Any murderer or thief could, at any time, refuse to respect the law and deny its right to punish them, and that’s definitely an influence that could cause havoc.

    In conclusion, I think a truer definition of justice is Polymarchus’ corrected definition by Socrates, which is to benefit one’s friends and not harm your enemies, as it’s never just to harm anyone at all. Moreover, this glimpse that we get of what justice could be creates a blurry atmosphere to whether Socrates should have stayed or left prison. And in my opinion I think that Socrates has done the right decision by staying in prison, while keeping in mind the injustices he’d be doing towards his friends and family. I think it’s the right decision because it’s the lesser of two evils and by that he’s being more just as a person thus maintaining a fewer negative impact of consequences with regards to our Socrates’ truer definition of justice against Polymarchus’.

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    Socrates’ Definition of Justice Compared to That of Polymarchus. (2022, Nov 27). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/socrates-definition-of-justice-compared-to-that-of-polymarchus/

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