Plato's Republic Book 2 Summary and Analysis


Book 2 Summary and Analysis

1. Justice as a Convenience (357–367e)

Glaucon, playing devil’s advocate, argues that justice is a good that is unenthusiastically practiced for the benefits it brings. Justice and law are established by men acting in common in order to avoid being on the receiving end of injustice. Glaucon gives the story of Gyges’ ring of invisibility to show that every man would prefer to act unjustly if removed from fear of punishment, adding that anyone who didn’t would be considered an idiot.

Glaucon then contrasts the life of a perfectly unjust man with a reputation for being just to the life of a perfectly just man with a reputation for injustice. Glaucon says it is clear that the just man will be miserable and the unjust blessed, proving that it is better to seem rather than to be just; and, thanks to the unjust man’s ability to propitiate the gods, he will be favored by them as well.

Adeimantus joins in, arguing that justice is valued for the benefits that come from it: first, from the good reputation it gives; and second, for the blessings it leads the gods to bestow in this life and the next. He concludes by asking Socrates, who has spent his life studying this matter, to compare justice to injustice, showing that justice is superior, not by virtue of its material benefits, but by virtue of its positive effect on a man’s soul.

According to Desmond Lee, Plato here returns to Thrasy¬machus’ arguments because “the view which he represents needs a clearer statement and a fairer treatment” (Lee, 1974:102). This gives Socrates an opportunity to defeat Thrasymachus’ views through more than rationalization.

While expanding Thrasymachus’ basic argument, Glaucon adds to it what would now be called a “social contract” explanation for the origin of justice. Its story of a people choosing obedience to the law as preferable to anarchy and injustice is not unique (see Hobbes’ The Leviathan), but the idea of the people themselves making these laws is—especially at this time—typically Greek.

This section also provides an arena for Plato to discuss the question of reputation. Throughout his works, Plato criticizes the great importance Athenians placed on good reputation and appearance. Plato preferred that people focus on who they are inside rather than wasting time worrying about what other people thought of them.

2. Primitive Social Organization: The City of Pigs (368–372d)

Socrates decides to first examine justice on the scale of the community. Socrates claims that society is formed because individuals are not self-sufficient. Within the social context, it is best that each member practice the single skill at which he excels. The town is allowed...

(The entire section is 1165 words.)