Thrasymachus' First Argument
Framing, Argument Analysis, and Argument Reconstruction
Contact: Dr. Jan Garrett
Last revised date: January 20, 2005
This is an illustration of the sort of thing I am looking for in the Passage Analysis Assignment. The items in this color are explanatory and addressed to you but would not be included in a finished product to be handed in.
The text under discussion conveys (part of) Thrasymachus' view of justice. It is taken from Plato's Republic, in the translation in M. Velasquez, Philosophy: A Text with Readings, 9th edition, p. 24 (4th and 5th entry attributed to Thrasymachus).
You would not need these section headings if it is clear where the two major parts of the paper start and end.
I. Framing the Analysis of the Thrasymachus Passage
This passage is taken from Plato's Republic, Book I. Socrates and the other figures in the dialogue are discussing the nature of justice. Socrates has just refuted accounts (definitions) of justice put forward by two other characters. Thrasymachus is annoyed by Socrates' practice of refuting proposed definitions of justice but not offering a positive theory himself.
Still, Socrates does not (at this point) offer a definition of his own. So Thrasymachus offers his account of justice. It's one based upon a theory of the nature of the state in terms of two parts, rulers and ruled. (We get the idea of ruling and being ruled from our experience of the relationships between parents and their children. A ruler is a metaphorical parent. Most people are so accustomed to this metaphor that they do not recognize that it is a metaphor.)
Velasquez says (p. 25) that Thrasymachus is a cynical philosopher. Thrasymachus holds that those with (political) power make the rules, i.e., define what justice is. Apparently, that's fine with him. A familiar modern idea related to this is the "Golden" rule, according to which those who have the gold--the money (which tends to bring power along with it)--make the rules.
In the passages given in Velasquez following the passage quoted and discussed below, Socrates gets Thrasymachus to agree to premises which Socrates then uses to show that Thrasymachus' account of justice cannot be correct.
Awareness of the later books of Plato's Republic would tell us that Plato has Thrasymachus introduce his view at this point in order to provide a contrast with the theory of justice [Plato's character] Socrates will later defend. In Plato's theory of justice, it is to everyone's advantage to be just and to do the just thing. This is in direct contrast to Thrasymachus' view that justice is merely what is to the advantage of the stronger (the ruling) party.
This section would not be included in the finished product. I include it here to illustrate a step you should go through on your way to the analysis in the third section.
II. Separating the Logical from the Nonlogical PartsThe original text:First, leave aside the parts that don't do any logical work. Following is what would be left in Thrasymachus' argument:
"Listen up, then. I say that justice is nothing more than whatever is advantageous to the stronger. Well, why don't you praise me. But no, you'd never do that.
"As you must know, Socrates, some nations are ruled by tyrants, others are ruled by a democratic majority, and still others are ruled by a small aristocracy. . . . Whoever rules-the ruling party-is the stronger in each nation . . . . And in each nation, whoever rules passes the laws that are to their own-the rulers' advantage. After they pass these laws, they say that justice is obeying the law. Whoever fails to keep the law is punished as unjust and a lawbreaker. So that, my good man, is what I say justice is. Justice is the same in all nations: whatever is to the advantage of the ruling group. The ruling group, you must admit, is the stronger. So if one reasons correctly, one will conclude that everywhere justice is the same: it is whatever is advantageous to the stronger.""--- justice is nothing more than whatever is advantageous to the stronger.--
"---some nations are ruled by tyrants, others are ruled by a democratic majority, and still others are ruled by a small aristocracy. . . . Whoever rules-the ruling party-is the stronger in each nation . . . . And in each nation, whoever rules passes the laws that are to their own-the rulers' advantage. After they pass these laws, they say that justice is obeying the law. Whoever fails to keep the law is punished as unjust and a lawbreaker. So that . . . is what I say justice is. Justice is the same in all nations: whatever is to the advantage of the ruling group. The ruling group --- is the stronger. So --- everywhere justice is the same: it is whatever is advantageous to the stronger."
Since you will not include a Section II like the one directly above in your output, this section would be section II.
III. The Argument Analysis Proper
Pick out the final conclusion. Here the conclusion is clear, it has been stated up front, and it is repeated at the end of the argument. Most of what Thrasymachus says seems to converge on it as alleged justification for it:(FC) Justice is everywhere whatever is advantageous to the stronger.From the context, we know that "stronger" refers to one of two parts of a society. The two parts are the ruling part and the ruled part. Thrasymachus tells us (it is one of his ultimate premises) that(1, P) The ruling group or person is the stronger of the parts of a society.Thrasymachus tells us also that(2) the ruling part passes laws that are to its own advantage . . . and punishes those who break the laws.He also says that this is true everywhere. In other words,(3) The ruling part of any nation passes [and enforces] laws that are to its own advantage.
(2) is included in (3) and probably can be ignored as an independent step.
(3) is based on alleged observation of three types of regime--tyranny, aristocracy, democracy--and on the unstated assumption that these are the only types. We can consider 3 as an intermediate conclusion.(3a, P) In a tyranny the (ruling) tyrant passes [and enforces] laws to his advantage.
(3b, P) In an aristocracy the (ruling) aristocrats [and enforce] pass laws to their advantage.
(3c, P) In a democracy the (ruling) masses pass [and enforce] laws to their advantage.
(3d, A) [assumed] There are no other types of regime.
(3, IC) The ruling part of any nation passes [and enforces] laws that are to its own advantage.
(3 rests upon 3a, 3b, 3c and 3d, which are ultimate premises or assumptions.)
We have to get justice into the conclusion, but how? Thrasymachus does this through the connection between law and justice. He tells us that(4a) the ruling party defines justice as obeying the law.In his own definition of justice "the ruling party defines" drops out. So he probably assumes that(4b) However all ruling parties agree to define justice is justice.Thus he seems to reason(4a, P) Every ruling party defines justice as obeying the law
(4b, A) However all ruling parties agree on defining justice is the correct definition.
So, (4, IC) Justice is obeying the law.
[implied intermediate conclusion strongly
suggested by "That is what I say justice is."]
Given (4) and (3), one might reasonably conclude that(5, IC) Justice is everywhere to the advantage of the ruling party.
Given (5) and (1) one can plausibly reach the final conclusion that(FC) Justice is everywhere [to] the advantage of the stronger.
Your argument analysis could stop at this point.
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See Thrasymachus' First Argument Reconstructed for a more completely formalized argument analysis of this argument.