The discussion with Cephalus Republic, I FebruaryThis page is part of the "e-mail archives" section of a site, Plato and his dialoguesdedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "e-mail archives" section includes HTML edited versions of posts that I submitted on various e-mail discussion lists about Plato and ancient philosophy. This set of posts was part of a "slow reading" of the Republic started in early on the plato-republic list.
For me, it serves the role of foreshadowing much that is to come in the same way that things are foreshadowed say, in the beginning of the movie, The Wizard of Oz.
Once the main argument of the Republic is finished end of Book IXone can return to Book I and appreciate just how much it anticipated and hinted at what was to follow.
So much so that I find it absolutely absurd that A review of socrates and cephalus views regarding justice scholars could claim that Book I was written separately from the rest of the book and tacked onto it hastily in order to make it look like a standard Socratic dialogue.
Still, Book I is extremely important and can, I think, be used all by itself to raise important and interesting questions about justice. But before examining the arguments, a bit of background is needed. The setting of the Republic is the home of Cephalus and Polemarchus.
Cephalus is a well-off, even perhaps wealthy, merchant and businessman and Polemarchus is his son. Cephalus and Polemarchus live in the Piraeus, which is where nonresident aliens roughly, people who are not Athenian citizens reside, a point that is significant and related to the respective answers they give to the question of "What is Justice?
Cephalus says that as far as his business activities go, he lies somewhere between his grandfather and his father, the former amassing a great deal of wealth and the latter squandering much of it. Cephalus is also said to be in the twilight of his life.
He admits that old age is not the greatest time of life but also says that he has not found it nearly the burden many do. Cephalus says that many of his old chums complain that they are no longer able to enjoy the pleasures of sex, drink and feasts as they once did, and thus life is not quite what it used to be.
Remember, this takes place long before the discovery of Viagra! But Cephalus thinks that old age is not such a bad time of life and suggests that his buddies are guilty of assuming that life is all about food, drink and sex. Cephalus quotes Sophocles the playwright and poet as follows: Can you still make love to a woman?
Cephalus is pretty clearly intended by Plato to represent an honest and moderate merchant, someone who prizes wealth and who pretty much behaves himself for that very reason, for many desires can be very expensive to satisfy.
If one remembers the old tale about the industrious ant and the shiftless and lazy grasshopper, Cephalus can be said to be ant and his chums the grasshoppers. Socrates suggests that perhaps Cephalus has an easy time with old age because of his wealth. To this Cephalus says that there is perhaps something to this but wealth is not nearly as important in old age as some suppose.
Socrates then asks what is the greatest benefit Cephalus has received from the enjoyment of wealth.
Cephalus says, roughly, peace of mind, i. At this point, Socrates asks Cephalus whether justice dikaiosyne--pronounced: Before going on, a word or two about the Greek term, dikaiosyne, translated as justice or right.
It is obviously the key notion of the Republic. I tell my students that it means, "right behavior", in the broadest possible sense, especially right behavior toward others. The root of the term, dike, means way or manner of, and was often used to designate the proper way of behaving for particular groups, including soldiers, kings, slaves, farmers, etc.
That is, a king would have his dike, or standard manner of behavior, a soldier would have a dike, or manner of behavior, and so on. Back to Socrates and Cephalus. Instead, Socrates insists straightaway that there is a problem with taking justice to be telling the truth and paying back debts, viz.
To take a simple case, returning a gun or other weapon to someone intent on using it to murder another would not be the right thing to do. Cephalus agrees with Socrates that truth telling and paying back debts does not make for a proper definition of justice.
Although it is early in the game and there is much more to come, I still find this opening move by Socrates to be very important indeed, for several reasons. I regard the moral of this little Socratic maneuver then to be that knowing the right thing to do in any particular case is not, and probably cannot be, a matter of blindly following rules.
Doing the right thing will always be a result of a proper assessment of the particularities of the case at hand. Rules or principles are handy guides but typically their application will involve judgment calls on our part.
The upshot is that we cannot simply close our eyes and "calculate" our way to the right thing by mechanical application of our prized principles.
Relatedly, life is obviously messy and one will very likely make incorrect assessments and judgments about people and situations and events. As such, one may think one is doing the right thing but in retrospect one can come to appreciate that what one did was not in fact the right thing in the particular case.
Such "mistakes" can be a result of using the wrong principles or a mistaken assessment of the details of the case at hand.What is Aristotle’s view of the relation between experience and virtue? Cephalus’s definition of morality/justice Speaking the truth and paying your debts Socrates rejects Cephalus’s statement because is not universal and generalizable, therefore incorrect.
Cephalus replies that money has allowed him "to tell the truth and pay one's debts" ( b). Nevertheless, Socrates believes this does not portray an accurate description of what justice is.
The rest of the first book is a discussion of the definition of justice, mainly that of Thrasymachus' definition.4/4(1).
I suspect that many suppose, incorrectly I believe, that Socrates is committed to the view that justice is a craft.
But there is no warrant for such a belief. As noted above, the fact that Socrates asks Polemarchus what the craft of justice does and to whom, does not mean that he . After Cephalus and Socrates agree that truth-telling and paying back debts is not a proper definition of justice, Polemarchus jumps in for his father and says that it is a proper definition, if, that is, the poet Simonides is to be believed.
According to Socrates, justice is the virtue of the soul. The virtue of the soul is equivalent to the health of the soul. Justice therefore should be a desirable object as it means good health of the soul, which is something positive that people desire. Socrates makes justice seem appealing, and good at the same time.
By acquiescing to the injustice, Socrates upheld the Laws and Justice and therefore, the State built upon them. Failure to do so would have destroyed all the ideals, truths and forms he held dear.
This is why Socrates had to die.