Download A Summary of Glaucon`s Argument

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As we open Book II of Plato’s Republic we are introduced to Glaucon, a
philosopher concerned with the value of justice. He has gotten stuck trying to decide if
there’s any value in simply being a just person; when all he comes across are the
consequences of being just, he finds no reason to prevent a person from being unjust if
they can get away with it. Glaucon thus challenges Socrates to prove the goodness of
being just after he forcibly argues his two main points against it.
Glaucon’s first point supports Thrasymachus’ argument from Book I: a belief that
everything good and of value in the world can be presented through taxonomy of value
and placed into one of three different categories. The first of its three categories is meant
for the things that are “a kind of good we like for its own sake (Plato 33)”. The second
category is for what’s good as a result of their consequences- such as exercise for fitness
and sex for pleasure and children. The highest category is for things that are both good in
themselves and because of their consequences. When Socrates was questioned as to
where justice belonged, his answer fell into this latter category, “among the finest goods
(34)”. Glaucon argued that nothing’s good if it fails to sort into one of these three groups.
The weakness in his argument, however, is that everything- from going to work to having
sex, is still good for its own sake, thus destabilizing the second category and his second
point. However, Plato includes the entire case verbatim in his book of virtue-based ethics
as a means of having a more intelligent and effective argument for Socrates to challenge
in the future.
Continuing the challenge and reinforcing his second point, Glaucon tries to
eliminate any remaining shreds of the idea that justice may possess any intrinsic value.
He now argues that justice is only valuable because of its good consequences and not
because of what it’s inherently worth (Plato 32). Glaucon then places justice in the
second category of his taxonomy where he begins his first step in arguing that justice has
no inherent goodness due to the basis of its origins. He believes justice was created as a
result of the laws and covenants that were formed by those who suffered injustice but
were too weak to inflict it themselves- thus creating a compromise that serves as the most
profitable alternative for the majority. Glaucon proceeds to argue a second point, where
“…all who practice it [justice] do so unwillingly (35)”. He tells a story where a just man
finds a ring that can make him invisible. Having no consequences for doing wrong he
delves into his inhibitions and is as immoral as he pleases. This leads up to Glaucon’s
third point, where he argues, “…the life of an unjust person is, they say, much better than
that of a just one (34).” In his example, the just man undergoes a torturous lifetime of
humility and poverty, whereas the unjust man assimilates enough power and luxury that it
enables him to purchase the title of a just man.
Glaucon’s premises offer good logic; and though they lack real merit, they do an
effective job of presenting a strengthened argument in Plato’s Republic. With the end of
Book II the plot has thickened, and Socrates will have to answer to a stronger challenge.