Thrasymachus outline part 1


Below is my beginning of an outline of the debate with Thrasymachus. I only cover from 336c to 341c – only the first part of the debate. I’ll try to finish this outline tomorrow, Tuesday but don’t hold me to it.

Outlining the debate with Thrasymachus is more difficult for several reasons:

– it’s longer than the Polemarchus debate
– it’s more complex
– and it’s some of the most demanding reading in The Republic

I hope that at least this outline from the first few sections help you in your reader. Note that Thrasymachus’ definition of justice – advantage of the stronger – comes right out of the Melian dialogue in Thucydides.




T – Thrasymachus
P – Polemarchus
S – Socrates

quick outline

– T roars
– T’sjustice: advantage of the stronger
– S pursues whether it’s just to obey the rulers
– S traps T in a logical error

Thrasymachus roars

– P and S are frightened as T “roared into our midst” (336 c)
“What nonsense have you two been talking, Socrates? Why do you act like idiots by giving way to one another? If you truly want to know what justice is, don’t just ask questions and then refute the answers simply to satisfy your competitiveness or love of honor.”

– S protests and says they were not willingly “giving way” but if anything incapable (336d)
“Don’t be too hard on us, T, for if P and I made an error in our investigation, you should know that we do so unwillingly.”

– S says justice is more valuable than even gold and for gold they would not willingly give up
“If we were searching for gold, we’d never willingly give way to each other, if by doing so we’d destroy our chance of finding it. So don’t think that in searching for justice, a thing more valuable than even a large quantity of gold, we’d mindlessly give way to one another or be less than completely serious about finding it.”

– S says rather they should be considered incapable (337a)
“Hence it’s surely far more appropriate for us to be pitied by you clever people than to be given rough treatment.”

– T laughs at S
“I knew, and I said so to these people earlier, that yu’d be unwilling to answer and that, if someone questioned you, you’d be ironical and do anything rather than give an answer.”

– S responds by saying the question was a setup (337b)
“You knew very well that if you ask someone how much twelve is, and, as you ask, you warn him by saying “Don’t tell me, man that twelve is twice six, or three times four, or six times two, or four times three, for I won’t accept such nonsense.”

– On it goes

T finally offers his definition of justice: advantage of the stronger

– T: “Justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger.” (338c)

– T explains that each city makes laws to its own advantage (338e)
“Democracy makes democratic laws, tyranny makes tyrannical laws…And they declar what they havemade-what is to their own advantage-to be just for their subjects, and they punish anyone who goes against this as lawless and unjust. This, then, is what I say justice is, the same in all cities, the advantage of the established rule.

– S agrees that just is some kind of advantage
“I agree that the just is some kind of advantage.” (339b)

– But S wonders about “of the stronger”
“But you add that it’s “of the stronger.” I don’t know about that. We’ll have to look into it.

S pursues whether it’s just to obey the rulers

– S to T: “Don’t you also say that it is just to obey the rulers?”

– T: “I do”

– S to T: are rulers infallible or liable to err? (339 c)

– T: “No doubt they are liable to error.”

– S: then some laws are right, some wrong?

– T: yes

– S asks definition of good or bad, right or wrong law (339 d)
“And a law is correct if it prescribes what is to the rulers’ own advantage and incorrect if it prescribes what is to their disadvantage?”

– T: yes

S traps T in a logical error

– S then springs his trap
“Then, according to your account, it is just to do not only what is to the advantage of the stronger, but also the opposite, what is not to their advantage.”

– Others debate the logic and whether T is trapped
P says “T himself agrees that the rules sometimes order what is bad for themselves and that it is just for the others to do it.” (340 a)

T denies it and calls S a false witness

– T denies S’s trap (340 d)
“That’s because you are a false witness in arguments, S. When someone makes an error in the treatment of patients, do you call him a doctor in regard to that very error?”

– T tightens up his definition (341a)
“A ruler, insofar as he is a ruler, never makes errors and unerringly decrees what is best for himself, and this his subject must do. Thus, as I said from the first, it is just to do what is to the advantage of the stronger.”

– T challenges S to “practice your harm-doing and false witnessing” on his new definition (341c)

– S responds: “Do you think that I’m crazy enough to try to shave a lion or to bear false witness against T?”

01. September 2008 by Arrian
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