Just State In Plato (A Critical Exposition)

Just State In Plato (A Critical Exposition)



Plato, a native of Athens and the son of Ariston and Perictione was born in 427B.C. His original name was Aristocle while Plato was his nick name in gymnastic. He was from a distinguished family and became a pupil of Socrates at the age of 20. The moral life and principle of Socrates had a great influence on him and so Omoregbe said that, “he could not understand how a man like




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After payment, text the name of the project, email address and your names to 08064502337 Socrates, such a good man, such an excellent philosopher and a moralist could be put to death by the Athenian authority”[1].

Plato is one of the most abstract thinkers in the history of philosophy. He had the best education, which the world then could afford and this earned him the master of all the branches of learning such as: mathematics, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy, science, religion, and other related subjects or courses. The early ambition of Plato was politics but because of the unjust condemnation of his mentor, Socrates, he was disappointed. Omoregbe affirms that, “Plato received the very first shock of his life from this event and was disappointed by the way his master, Socrates was incriminated and put to death on charges of impiety and corruption of the youth”2.

Thus, Plato was disappointed with democracy, the government of his time.  His attitude towards a just and democratic government in Athens was influenced also, by what he saw during the last years of the Peloponnesian war. He hated democracy after seeing its inability to produce great leaders at the time of the war, coupled with the way it treated one of its greatest citizens, Socrates. This very tragic event had an overwhelming impact on Plato’s life and especially on his political ambition.

It could also be stated that the political instability, marginalization, intimidation, and oppression of the citizens in Athens led him into a postulation of the ideal state or the formation of new concept of political leadership rooted in peace, justice, harmony and fair play, whereby authority and knowledge are appropriately combined for the betterment of the state. Having been born and grown up right inside the Athenian political scene, it contributed in no small measure to the shaping of the political mind of the renowned genius for an Ideal state. He achieved this by founding an academy and presiding over it for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, the academy became the first university in the Western Europe.

The importance of education has also been emphasized by Aristotle who said that, “every man desires to know”. He believed that when man has the knowledge of good and evil, he would be able to rise to the cadre of justice in the state. But, when man lacks the appropriate knowledge, justice is then denied to the individual(s) who surround(s) him. Hence, John S. Mill maintained that, “it is a crime punishable by law to bring a child into the world without giving him the basic or necessary education”3. This education is a conditio sine qua non for an ideal state.

This work employs plato’s concept of justice as a critique to Nigerian present society and politics.

 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,

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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.

1.4 Methodology

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 grouliterature 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.

1.6.1 Sophists

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. Protagoras (481-410BC)

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. 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 (470-399BC)

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.

See also  Plato`s concept of the ideal state

1.6.3 Aristophanes (448-380BC)

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.



2.1    Definition of the State

The term “state” is from the Latin root “status” meaning to stand. Then, in relation to our subject matter, state refers to the level of no further search for the means of satisfying man’s needs for a better living. By this exploration, the state becomes the gathering point for the purpose of fulfilling man’s numerous desires. In the words of V. Abia:

A state is a politically organised group of people occupying clearly defined territory with an organised legitimate government of its own devoid of external control, and with coercive power to secure obedience from its citizens and the order within its jurisdiction1.

It is the need to live and pull resources together each man contributing his own quota for the good of all. Aristotle says:

No man can say that he does not need to live in the society. He who is unable to live in society or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself must be either a beast or a god2.

It is only in the state that man can develop his potentials as a human being. The political society exists for man’s needs, to provide man with the necessities of life, which will help him to develop himself and obtain the goal of life. For a community to become a state it must have its own supreme internal order of the law so as to differentiate it from nomadic tribe. It is in this regard that V. Abia asserts that, “…for a nation to attain the status of statehood, it must gain political independence, which clothes it with the supreme power to make and enforce laws”3.

The state is a part that specializes in the interest of the whole. It is not a man or a body of men, rather a set of constitutions joined together into a topmost machines: this kind of art has been built by man and uses the human brain and energies, and is nothing without man, but it is made up of a superior embodiment of reason, an impersonal enduring system, the functioning of which may be said to be rational in the highest sense, provided the reason’s activity is bounded by law and a network of universal regulations. This is abstract and shifted from the contingencies of experience and individuality. J. Maritain writes:

The state is not the supreme incarnation of the idea, as Hegel believed; the state is not a kind of collective superman; the state is but an agency entitled to use power and coercion, and made up of experts or specialists in public order and welfare, an instrument of service of man4.

The state is a natural institution, which is self-sufficient and perfect. It is independent entity having the capacity to achieve its ends on its own. This self-sufficient community or state has all that is necessary for its citizens to live a good life, because “the state is composed of individual men and exists for the leading of the good life…”5 A city is a complete and self-sufficient community aimed at a complete and self-sufficient life that includes all the goods needed for a happy life6.

2.2       The Meaning of Justice

The word justice has for a long time now remained a controversial issue and has attracted the attentions of some good intellectuals and philosophers beginning from the ancient period till date. This idea of justice lies at the heart of moral and political philosophy. Though, throughout the history of man, there have been numerous jurisprudential speculations by philosophers such as Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Ambrose, and Augustine to the Roman jurist as the nature and notion of justice. This term justice is an abstract concept more easily described than defined.

The term “Justice” is derived from the Greek word “Thermis” meaning fairness. This concept “Justice” has always been on the lips of men throughout the ages. The ordinary man, the politicians, ideologists, reformers, philosophers and other great thinkers have references to it even when their notions differ individually. It is a necessary virtue of individuals in their interactions with others, and the principal virtue of social institutions although not the only one. However, we are being challenged to re-examine our attitude towards the very existence and basis of human person and his interpersonal relationship with other men. Hence, the definition each gives to justice will automatically help to reshape the worldview of such a person. Meanwhile, William Wallace defined justice as “the strong and firm will to give each his due”7. And traditionally speaking the Latin tagged it “Suum cuique tribuere” to allocate to each his own.

Plato in his definition of justice explained it from the objective point of view as a social institution. He rejected the inappropriate definition of justice given by his friends. This, he calls conventional views of justice, for instance

Thrasymachus says that, “Justice or right is simply what is in the interest of the stronger party”8. That is, might is right. Plato’s emphasis was on the equality of service in the voluntary acceptance of natural inequalities, not the equality of rights and reward. In consonance with Plato, B. Eboh has this to say:

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Justice entails the notion of equality, of equal distribution, of measure for measure, of live and let live9.

Justice insists on strict equality between giving and taking, on the equality of individuals before the law, on equal distribution of rights and duties in the community. It is a demand for an equation in human affairs, a wish to establish or to restore equality in a world of inequalities.

For Plato, justice is achieved when the three classes of people in the state do their respective duties without interfering in another’s duty. He equally equated these to the three parts of the soul: the appetitive, spirited and rational parts performing their functions in a harmonious way. Hence, the reflection of individual personality that there should be an equitable share of the fruits of the earth so that they can contribute to the general well-being of the community and thus enhance their right to live in a manner worthy of human beings.

2.3       Justice as Virtue

Plato towed the line of his mentor, Socrates by saying that the goal of human life is happiness and the only way that leads to it is through virtuous life. So, only a virtuous man can be happy. He equally equates virtue with knowledge. A virtuous man is a wise man and a wicked man is a foolish and ignorant man. No man does evil knowingly, for evil is done out of ignorance.  Wisdom is the virtue of rational part of the soul; courage is that of self-mastery whereas temperance is the subordination of both the spirited and the appetitive parts.

Throughout his deliberation on morality, he considered the good life as the life of the inner harmony, of well-being, and of happiness. And so, goodness and virtue were intimately connected with the mode of behaviour that produces well-being and harmony. And he asserts:

Harmony could be achieved only if the parts of the soul were doing what the nature of each required that it do. Each part of the soul has a special function and … a thing’s function is the work that it alone can do or can do better than anything else10.

Plato was convinced that virtue is not a matter of custom or opinion but that, which is grounded in the very nature of the soul. Justice is an embracing virtue and the greatest of all the four virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. All these virtues are fundamentally one for they are different expressions of the rule of reason, over the rest of man. They are inter-related and so; one cannot have a virtue and lack the other. When reason is in control of the whole man and all human activities, then all the virtues are present. And so, the moderation in pleasure and desires, for instance, leads to the virtue of temperance.

When the energy of the will, which issue from the spirited part of the soul, is kept within limits, avoiding impetuous action and becomes a trustworthy power in an aggressive and defensive behaviour, then the virtue of courage is achieved. When reason remains undisturbed by on drive appetites, and continue to see the true ideals in spite of the constant changes experienced in daily life, then virtue of wisdom is achieved. When each of these virtues fulfils its functions then justice as the final virtue is born:

At the same time, each part of the soul has its own function, and when each is in fact fulfilling its special function, a fourth virtue, justice is attained11.

Thus, the appetites and the spirit must be subjected to the sovereignty of the rational element, which directs one’s dynamic capacities and orders the desires and affections according to intelligence. The virtue of justice is the perpetual and constant will of giving everyone his due.

2.4       Justice as the Leaven of the Ideal State

Long before the dawn of society, the soul of man had always longed for justice. As a general virtue of a moral man, justice is also that which characterizes the good society. Even in the Hobbesian State of nature, it was man’s individual sense of justice that determined and propelled man’s action to fight other men in self-preservation.

Plato is of the opinion that the state is man’s leaven or man writ large. And so, a state comes into existence due to the individual’s self-insufficiency, for we all have many needs. It is only in a state that man can develop his potentialities as human being. As Appadorai asserts that; “the state according to Aristotle originates for the sake of life, continues for the sake of the best li


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