JUST STATE IN PLATO: A CRITICAL EXPOSITION
BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY.
1.1 Statement of the Problem
The inability of man to satisfy his limitless needs arising from his self-insufficiency drives him to seek the service of others in the society. Hence, the origin of the state is traceable to the fact that man naturally is a social being who cannot but live in the society comprising of other men. It is only in the society that man can realize his being and attain the goal of his existence. Therefore, the state exists for man and not man for the state, since man creates the state. In this regard, it is the function of the state to provide for man’s needs. The primary purpose for establishing the state is to work for the goal of man.
However, the goal for which the state is established is never completely achieved, most often due to man’s egocentric nature, injustice, factionalism, incompetence, etc which leads to disorder in different spheres of the state. For instance, in Athens, the Athenians were undergoing various forms of social perversion ranging from injustice, intimidation, marginalization, and socio-political crises leading to the disrespect of the fundamental human rights. All these were happening in the days of Plato and he was moved to postulate what he thought was the best government for the human society, especially in Athens.
Meanwhile, man as a political animal (ens politikos) and a social being (ens socialis) encounters such problems as to how he should live, who should rule or be ruled, what form of political society to be adopted, what are the ideas for the state? And, many such questions, as we shall see in this work.
1.2 Purpose of the Study.
“Love is the basis of Justice”1 as Augustine would have it, and this agrees with Plato’s idea of harmony between the three classes in the state each performing his duty out of love of each other so as to achieve the common goal (good of the society). Plato and the rest of the moral philosophers who sort for Justice in the world could be called the prophets of social Justice.
Given the nature of this work, it is limited to the most striking points in Plato’s discussion on politics, and the emergence of an ideal state governed in Justice i.e., on how best the state should be governed for the interest of both the state and citizens. This work is directed to solving social political problems that arise in the contemporary politics, following the paradigm, which should be applied in the present day politics,
1.3 Scope of the Study
Plato gives an idealistic interpretation of Justice in his state. Meanwhile, this research work will be based mainly on the theories of ideal state propounded by Plato. The views of other Philosophers will also be entertained as well.
The work is philosophical. The method is expository, descriptive and evaluative in nature. It will examine the relevance of Plato’s just state when applied to Nigerian, and finally conclusion is drawn at the end of this work.
1.5 Division of Work
This work is divided into five chapters. Chapter one takes into consideration the background of the study and the literature review of Justice beginning from the most recognized ancient philosophers till the time of Plato. Chapter two is a brief survey of the key concepts. The definition of state and Justice as the leaven of the ideal state. Chapter three is a brief assessment of the nature of the Just state in Plato. It is further divided into three namely the origin of the state, the citizens of the state. The state should be self- sufficing and capable of protecting its citizens from internal and external problem since it is natural to man and exists for the provision of numerous needs of man. Hence, leadership of the state by competent hand i.e., philosopher king. Chapter four, considers the various forms of political society in Plato showing the bad and good forms, where the former aims at satisfying the selfish interests of the rulers, the later at the good of the state and the entire citizenry. Chapter five deals with evaluation, pointing out Plato’s relevance to the present day (Nigerian) politics, and lastly the conclusion of this research work.
1.6 Literature Review
“No one speaks from nowhere,”2 said Hans Gadamer. It is on this ground that we wish to explore our literature reviews, surveying how some political writers conceived this concept justice, taking cognisance of its definition as the strong and firm will to dish to each that which is his/her due. Meanwhile, their notions of justice differ considerably, especially the sophists, which was one of the major reasons that brought Plato into the scene.
They are teachers who came to Athens to deliberate more on human nature, how knowledge is acquired and how human might order their behaviour. But, in the real sense of it they were political and legal men. Meanwhile, we shall look at two of them.
188.8.131.52 Protagoras (481-410 BC)
He was best known for his statement that “man is the measure of all things, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not”3. For him, knowledge is limited to our various perceptions and these perceptions differ with each other. He maintained that moral judgments are relative. He was willing to admit that the idea of Justice or law reflects a general desire in each culture for a moral order among all people. Nevertheless, he denied that there was any uniform law of nature pertaining to human behaviour that all peoples everywhere could discover. Though, he distinguished between nature and custom or convention and said that law and moral rules are based, not upon nature, but upon convention, thereby taking a conservative position that the state makes the laws and that these laws should be accepted by everyone because they are as good as and that can be made.
Hence, for the interest of a peaceful and orderly society, people should respect and uphold the customs, Laws and moral rules their tradition has carefully nurtured. One should not set his private judgment against the law of the state so that Justice may prevail.
184.108.40.206 Thrasymachus (Late 5th century)
He was a man who asserts that injustice is to be preferred to the life of Justice. He did not look upon injustice as a defect of character. On the contrary, he said, “Justice is pursued by simpletons and leads to weakness”4. For him, people should pursue their own interest aggressively in a virtually unlimited form of self- assertion.
He regards justice as the interest of the stronger and believed that might is right, for laws are made by the ruling party for its own interest. Hence, he defined law as what is right and is the same in all states with the same meaning as the interest of the party established in power. Stumpf affirms that, “what is right is the same everywhere, the interest of the stronger party”5. That is the reduction of morality to power, an inevitable logical consequence of the progressive radicalism of the sophists, which led them to a nihilistic attitude toward truth and ethics.
1.6.2 Socrates (470-399 BC)
He was the first great moral philosopher among the Greeks. Though he wrote nothing, his life and teaching made much impression on his disciples who penned down all about his philosophy and life. He was a man of confounding self- discipline and strong character who lived and died in accordance with his moral principles. Omoregbe states that:
He told the people of Athens that his mission was to do the greatest good to everyone of them, to persuade everyone among you that he must look into himself and seek virtue and wisdom before he looks to his private interests….6
Seeking for the truth helps them to live a good life and knowledge is a means to this moral life. Then, virtue and good actions flow from knowledge, while wrongdoing is the result of ignorance. The goal of life is happiness, and the only path that leads to it is virtue. To sum it up, he was a man of great discipline (justice). He placed justice under the highest kind of virtue. Hence, Justice is a prerequisite for happiness and it culminates into love.
1.6.3 Aristophanes (448-380 BC)
He was a critique of the democracy of his time due to its ridiculous practice of Justice. His attack was highly based on the fact the democrats failed to abolish private property and the institution of marriage. For him, these were the causes of inequalities among the citizens. Thus, he advocates for communism where he believed that righteousness or justice could be maintained. And as he said it, “…will abolish poverty, eliminate the ubiquitous Athenian lawsuits, introduce genuine equality, and destroy crime”7.
For him, there was nothing natural about war, for it destroyed so large a part of Athenian life due to the fact that men had departed from the paths of justice, which had somehow been formerly enshrined in the traditional order8. He advocates for the restoration of old order, thereby eliminating both the disease of the polis internally and the disintegration caused by war in the external scene. Advocating for equal share and proposition of communism where he thought that Justice would be maintained in its fullest.
Cf. S. E. Stumpf, Philosophy: History and Problem 5th Ed (New York: McGraw Hill Inc., 1994), p.4
Cf. T. Okere, African Philosophy: A Historico-Hermeneutical Investigation of the Conditions of its Possibility (USA: University Press of America Inc., 1983), p. 60
Cf. S. E. Stumpf Op. Cit, p. 32
J. I. Omoregbe, Simplified History of Western Philosophy, Op cit, p. 32
Cf. M. Q. Sibley, Political Ideas and Ideologies: A History of Political Thought (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1970), p. 53