Outline of Polemarchus justice debate
here’s my quick summary, etc of the debate between Polemarchus and Socrates on justice (331d – 336c) or pages 976 to 981 in our edition.
below my signature is a detailed outline that helps you follow the debate and turning points more closely.
– polemarchus is the first person Socrates debates on the topic of justice in the republic
– the debate starts after cephalus quotes Pindar and then Socrates asks …is justice speaking the truth and paying whatever debts one has incurred?
– along the way they debate debt repayment, friendship and myriad other topics
– the conclusion: it is never just to harm anyone
– what does it mean to pay debts (if a sane man lends you his weapon and then, when insane, asks for it back, are you obliged to return it?)
– how you define friend (someone who you consider to help you or one who does truly help you whether you realize it or not)
– and, of course, on the key question – what is justice? is justice an “eye for an eye” or is it never just to harm anyone whether real or perceived enemy/unjust person?
– Is justice speaking truth and paying debts?
– giving an insane man a weapon?
– should enemies get what is owed? appropriate?
– “appropriate” leads to “craft”
– P’s redefinition of justice: benefits to friends, harm to enemies
– is justice useful in peace?
– yes….for money matters
– definition of a friend
– P’s definition of justice is shown to have problems
– S offers a redefinition yet again: just to benefit “just” and harm “unjust”
– P redefines friend and enemy
– S then asks whether just people can harm anyone
– Does causing someone harm do good or make them more unjust?
– S makes his crowning point: “It is never just to harm anyone.”
i hope this helps you to follow the debate, to see the moments where Socrates takes important turns and to understand (if not agree on) the logic he uses to eventually prove that “It is never just to harm anyone.”
p.s. detailed outline below
Is justice speaking truth and paying debts?
Polemarchus steps in and takes over for Cephalus and answers Socrates’ question with a strong “yes” (331d)
– P restates
“It is just to give to each what is owed to him” (331e)
giving an insane man a weapon?
– S asks about…giving insane man a weapon
“what about giving an insane man a weapon?” (331e)
– P restates
“…friends owe it to their friends to do good for them, never harm.” (332a)
should enemies get what is owed?
– S changes the question
OK…but “Should one also give one’s enemies whatever is owed to them?” (332b)
– P answers “yes”
Yes…”what enemies owe to each other is appropriately and precisely – something bad.” (332b)
“appropriate” leads to “craft”
– S grabs on to “appropriate” and introduces “craft” discussion
(*note – this turn in the debate is confusing…it took a couple of reads to figure out how Socrates got from responding to enemies deserving bad to a conversation about craft)
– S then asks what the craft called justice gives that’s appropriate (332d)
redefinition of justice: benefits to friends, harm to enemies
– P redefines justice to…
“benefits to friends and harm to enemies” (332d)
– S then asks in what work do you give benefit to friends and harm to enemies
– P answers in wars and alliances (332d)
is justice useful in peace?
– S asks if justice is useless in times of peace (332d)
“To people not at war is a just man useless…what is justice useful for in peacetime? (333a)
– P answers justice is useful in peace for contracts and partnerships
– S asks what kind of contracts
yes….for money matters
– P answers in money matters (333b)
– S asks in what kind of money matters
– P says in “safekeeping” (333c)
– S asks then justice is only useful when money isn’t being used?
– P says yes
– S responds…
“…justice is useless when they are in use but useful when they aren’t?”
– P says yes
– S says justice isn’t worth much (333e)
– S turns this around by…
by noting that the same man who is good at safekeeping is also good at stealing
– P gets frustrated with S and says….
No!….”I don’t know anymore what I did mean, but I still believe that to benefit one’s friends and harm one’s enemies is justice.” (334b)
definition of a friend
– S picks up on P’s restating “benefit one’s friends” and pursues definition of friendship
– S asks an interesting question the difference between belief and reality
“Speaking of friends, do you mean those a person believes to be good and useful to him or those what actually are good and useful, even if he doesn’t think they are…?” (334b/c)
– P answers that what matters is what one considers good (not the reality of whether they are good)
– S counters and pushes P – don’t people make mistakes about this?
“But surely people often make mistakes about this, believing many people to be good and useful when they aren’t…?”
– P agrees
P’s definition of justice is shown to have problems
– S jumps at the logical conclusion of P’s agreement
“And then good people are their enemies and bad ones their friends?”
– P says “That’s right”
– S then uses that agreement to show the problems with P’s definition of justice
“And so it’s just to benefit bad people and harm good ones.”
– P surrenders
“…my account must be a bad one.” (334d)
S offers a redefinition yet again: just to benefit “just” and harm “unjust”
– S redefines justice to…
“It’s just, then, is it, to harm unjust people and benefit just ones?”
– P now likes that better than his earlier definition which substituted just for friend and unjust for enemy
P redefines friend and enemy
– P says the problem was in the definition of friend (334e)
– P offers a new definition of friend
“Someone who is both believed to be useful and is useful is a friend.” (334e/335a)
S then asks whether just people can harm anyone
– “Is it, then, the role of a just man to harm anyone?” (335b)
– P says “certainly”
“…he must harm those who are both bad and enemies.”
Does causing someone harm do good or make them more unjust?
– S explores the impact of harming someone
– S starts by asking about horses
“Do horses become better or worse when they are harmed?”
– P says worse
– S asks are they harmed in respect to dog virtue or horse virtue?
– P says horse virtue
– S then asks about dogs
“And when dogs are harmed, they become worse in the virtue that makes dogs good, not horses?”
– P says “necessarily”
– S uses that agreement in his shift now to humans
“Then won’t we say the same about human beings, too, that when they are harmed they become worse in human virtue?” (335c)
– P agrees
– S uses that agreement to make his case
“Then people who are harmed must become more unjust?”
– P folds “so it seems”
S makes his crowning point: “It is never just to harm anyone.”
– With P’s agreement that people who are harmed become more unj
ust, S then sets up the logic for his crowning point
– S asks about musicians
“Can musicians make people unmusical through music.”
– P says no
– S asks about equestrians
“Or horsemen make people unhorsemanlike through horsemanship?”
– P says no
– S then asks about just people
“…can those who are just make people unjust through justice?” (334d)
– P says no
– S then makes his crowning point
“It is never just to harm anyone.” (334e)
– And to finish things off he makes an interesting point about where the old notion came from
“Do you know to whom I think the saying belongs that it is just to benefit friends and harm enemies?”
– P says “Who?”
– S answers rich men like Xerxes
“I think it belongs to Periander, or Perdiccas, or Xerxes or Ismenias of Corinth, or some other wealthy man who believed himself to have great power.” (336a)