Republic Slow Reading project, day 4

Today, we continue discussing the spirited and testy exchange between Socrates and Thrasymachus (342a – 350d). If you haven’t looked at the previous days of slow reading, catch up and come back. Same rules apply as before. Be sure to read the comments, since that is where the conversation is.

By the way, if you a little behind and are still thinking about the Polemarchus dialogue that we discussed on Day 2 for instance, then go ahead and comment there on that. I will be sure to respond. You can slow your own reading down as slow as you want thereby!

An remember, we can only become virtuous by attempting to be virtuous, so dare to be be courageous and post a comment — participate in the conversation!


1. At 345b, Socrates urges Thrasymachus to “stick to what you said, or if you change what you set down, make it clear that you are doing so.” (345b) Thrasymachus starting out saying that justice is the advantage of the stronger, but is now defending a version that says that the unjust person is stronger . Pay attention to how he is led to change his position from one of redefining justice to defending injustice.

2. Socrates and Thrasymachus disagree as to whether a ruler looks to the advantage of the ruled. Who’s argument is more cogent?

3. Every so often, Thrasymachus turns to ad hominem arguments against Socrates (as in 343a). Why does he do this, do you think?

4. One argument of Socrates is that “the man who is both good and wise will not want to get the better of the like, but of the unlike and its opposite…But the bad and unlearned will want to get the better of both the like and its opposite…” (350a-b) What is he talking about by “getting the better of”? Do you understand what this means?

I will stop there for now. Please see comments for more later in the day.

9 thoughts on “Republic Slow Reading project, day 4

  1. on your 4th note im lost im afraid. I read several times tring to pull from the context of the conversation…. I very much like soc’s arugment that leads to the ruler looking to the intrest of his subjects, doctor to the body, captin to the sailors etc. This seems to me that justice is a service to the subject which means that despite ones understanding of what is the best for the subject one still still strives to serve. A doctor might make a mistake but he is still a doctor. I also like the distinction that payment is an art that complements the service but not the aim. Even when the doc. does pro bono he still is rewarded. This makes more complete the previous definations. as soc pointed out early that the definition cant be just to return debts as one may not return his friends sword if not in the right mind. Its a distinction between a more legalistic approach to a more full and comprehensive understanding of virtue.

  2. On the 4th note: “getting the better of” translates the “pleonektein” which has the root meaning of trying to grab more than one’s share. But the idea is that the good person will be at odds with the bad person in the business of virtue — the good person may even impede, frustrate or attempt to correct the bad person’s vicious behaviors. However, the good person will not in any way try to impede, frustrate or correct the activity of another good person; indeed the good person will positively encourage and aid him/her. There will be no attempt to “get the better of” him/her. They will be allies by nature. Get it?

    From the side of the bad person, there will be an attempt to impede or frustrate the activities of both the good and the bad. The vicious person cannot really ally with another vicious person — the two are ultimately at odds. If there is an alliance, it will be based on each using the other as a tool to further his/her aims, a tool that can be thrown away when those aims are accomplished. A group of people motivated by self-regarding viciousness are always in a situation of strife, internal rot and civil war.

    The upshot is that community is only possible when comprised of at least a modicum of virtuous participants. A city divided against itself cannot stand.

  3. RE your item 4 (350a-b) my translation says “to gain more” instead of “get the better of”. I believe he is talking about winning the arguments. The sophists use this rhetoric as a game where one side wins. The goal is to come up with the truth. (this is just my opinion offered for discussion)

  4. In general, it seems to me that Thrasymachus is arguing for something that is a completely different topic than “Justice”. He sees power and gain and success as Justice. In the real world Justice may or may not go along with these things but they are not the same. One may have power and be just, etc.

  5. The notion of outdoing or getting and having more is a cause of injustice. It leads one to get what belongs to them and what isn’t one’s own. This seems to be connected to the very confusing passage in (350a-b) “getting the better of”.

    • Thanks for the comment. I think you are right, but notice that in the passage the just person *does* want to get the better of the unjust. Of course, what is “better” to each is quite different!

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