Justice – with Socrates, Glaucon and Adeimantus


Kofi Anan

It is not so much what we say, but how we act; it is not enough to ‘seem’ but to actually be.

In the debate on which between justice and injustice is more beneficial, Glaucon and his brother Adeimantus play the devils advocates and argue that injustice was much more beneficial than justice. They claim that persons who claim to love justice, only do so because they want the praise of men, or because they have not had the opportunity to perpetuate injustice without being caught; or simply because they are afraid of becoming victims of injustice themselves. They claim that if individuals possessed the power to benefit from injustice, without being caught, all would take the path of injustice. They claim the benefits of being unjust have been well documented including riches, honour and even a claim of divine pardon as the unjust are wealthier and can offer more befitting sacrifices and atonement for sins than the just person, whose pathway is usually one of hardship and poverty, and ironically being tagged as unjust. They claimed no one would willingly accept such if they could have their way.

Glaucon buttressed his point with the story of a ring which could make one invisible, and thus commit acts of injustice without ever being caught. The possession of this ring he said, would be the true test for the just, and none would pass that test. I would not attempt to summarise the response of Socrates to these two brothers, because attempting to do so, would be attempting to summarise the entire Republic of Plato. Much of The Republic was centred on this theme of justice. Indeed before proceeding to start his response, the great Socrates himself agreed it was not going to be an easy task. It took the creation of a new state (The Republic), in other to describe justice in large enough quantity for the short sighted like ourselves to see. It was at the beginning of the creation of this new state that this his famous quote came about: “Then, I said, let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our inventions.” Socrates had to go this long route because the disputation did not begin with Glaucon and Adeimantus, but with Thrasymachus whom Socrates had replied when he claimed injustice was superior to justice; and thought he had won the debate when Thrasymachus conceded only for Glaucon to pick it up again. (Refer to The Consolation on this same blog).

In any case, my main interest in writing this piece is not the response of Socrates, but the content of what Glaucon and Adeimantus are saying. It is usually said that what we do in secret demonstrates who really are; and we can go further to say what we do when given power also shows who we really are. As much as many will claim not to agree with the brothers, their actions have shown us that they not only agree with them but have even gone beyond the expectations of the brothers on the advantages of injustice. This conclusion is being made as people no longer pretend to be just when given power, but are blatantly unjust with no shame or remorse. For those who will read the excerpt below to the end, you will know on which side you belong based on your desires, actions in secret or when given power. I hope for the sake of humanity, that Glaucon and Adeimantus would be proved wrong in your case, should you be given possession of the ring of Gyges.

Socrates' Golden Quote

Dr Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher


With these words I was thinking that I had made an end of the discussion; but the end, in truth, proved to be only a beginning. For Glaucon, who is always the most pugnacious of men, was dissatisfied at Thrasymachus’ retirement; he wanted to have the battle out. So he said to me: Socrates, do you wish really to persuade us, or only to seem to have persuaded us, that to be just is always better than to be unjust?

I should wish really to persuade you, I replied, if I could.

Then you certainly have not succeeded….”

I wish, he said, that you would hear me as well as him, and then I shall see whether you and I agree. For Thrasymachus seems to me, like a snake, to have been charmed by your voice sooner than he ought to have been; but to my mind the nature of justice and injustice have not yet been made clear. Setting aside their rewards and results, I want to know what they are in themselves, and how they inwardly work in the soul. If you, please, then, I will revive the argument of Thrasymachus. And first I will speak of the nature and origin of justice according to the common view of them. Secondly, I will show that all men who practise justice do so against their will, of necessity, but not as a good. And thirdly, I will argue that there is reason in this view, for the life of the unjust is after all better far than the life of the just—if what they say is true, Socrates, since I myself am not of their opinion. But still I acknowledge that I am perplexed when I hear the voices of Thrasymachus and myriads of others dinning in my ears; and, on the other hand, I have never yet heard the superiority of justice to injustice maintained by any one in a satisfactory way. I want to hear justice praised in respect of itself; then I shall be satisfied, and you are the person from whom I think that I am most likely to hear this; and therefore I will praise the unjust life to the utmost of my power, and my manner of speaking will indicate the manner in which I desire to hear you too praising justice and censuring injustice. Will you say whether you approve of my proposal?

Indeed I do; nor can I imagine any theme about which a man of sense would oftener wish to converse.”

“Now that those who practise justice do so involuntarily and because they have not the power to be unjust will best appear if we imagine something of this kind: having given both to the just and the unjust power to do what they will, let us watch and see whither desire will lead them; then we shall discover in the very act the just and unjust man to be proceeding along the same road, following their interest, which all natures deem to be their good, and are only diverted into the path of justice by the force of law. The liberty which we are supposing may be most completely given to them in the form of such a power as is said to have been possessed by Gyges, the ancestor of Croesus the Lydian. According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening, where, among other marvels, he beheld a hollow brazen horse, having doors, at which he stooping and looking in saw a dead body of stature, as appeared to him, more than human, and having nothing on but a gold ring; this he took from the finger of the dead and reascended. Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, that they might send their monthly report about the flocks to the king; into their assembly he came having the ring on his finger, and as he was sitting among them he chanced to turn the collet of the ring inside his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. He was astonished at this, and again touching the ring he turned the collet outwards and reappeared; he made several trials of the ring, and always with the same result—when he turned the collet inwards he became invisible, when outwards he reappeared. Whereupon he contrived to be chosen one of the messengers who were sent to the court; whereas soon as he arrived he seduced the queen, and with her help conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom. Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice. Enough of this.”

Ring of Gyges


… “In the first place, he is thought just, and therefore bears rule in the city; he can marry whom he will, and give in marriage to whom he will; also he can trade and deal where he likes, and always to his own advantage, because he has no misgivings about injustice; and at every contest, whether in public or private, he gets the better of his antagonists, and gains at their expense, and is rich, and out of his gains he can benefit his friends, and harm his enemies; moreover, he can offer sacrifices, and dedicate gifts to the gods abundantly and magnificently, and can honour the gods or any man whom he wants to honour in a far better style than the just, and therefore he is likely to be dearer than they are to the gods. And thus, Socrates, gods and men are said to unite in making the life of the unjust better than the life of the just.

Excerpts from: Plato, “The Republic.” iBooks


The Symbol of Justice