Essay on The Conceptualization of Justice by Early Western Philosophers

2021-05-25 21:29:50
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The modern society owes its approach on social issues to early philosophers. Some of the factors early thinkers worked on include justice and politics, aspects that are central to the harmonious functioning of society. One of the early conceptualizations posits that a just society is related to the happiness of people. This was an argument put forth by Socrates. To argue further on the issue of justice, the main agenda of this discussion is to analyze the varying views of three philosophers on the issue. The three thinkers examined in this paper are Socrates, Plato, and Thrasymachus, the sophist.

Socrates Views on Justice

Within his famous dialogues, The Republic, Plato presents a series of ideologies and arguments put forth by Socrates before his death. From his perspective and a rational advocation to create a balanced society where good prevails against all the odds, Socrates described justice from three perspectives. The first component of his conceptualization is that a just man is wise and good while the unjust man is ignorant and dangerous. The insinuation of this indicates that only real people, rich in wisdom can embrace justice and a logical way of doing things. By using power as an example, Socrates first definition shows that only a wise man can use such immense capabilities to develop the society by helping those in need first (Dobbs, 1985). When an unjust man is given the same power, Socrates views indicate that there is a high probability that bad things will happen.

The second and third components of Socrates definition state Injustice produces internal disharmony which prevents effective action and Virtue is excellence at a things function, and the just person lives a happier life than the unjust person, because he performs the various roles of the human soul well (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d). When all these derivations are put together, Socrates idealized a just society as a happy one. With justice, good people are expected to do wise, relevant and only good actions. On the contrary, an unjust man is associated with negative activities. As such, Socrates views can be summarized as doing well to those who deserve it and paying back bad to those who do bad.

Thrasymachus definition of Justice

Within a group argument guided by Socrates regarding the rational definition of justice, Thrasymachus asserted his view on the issue. He stated that Justice is an advantage to the stronger (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d). This definition can be translated to insinuate that Thrasymachus was against a just society, but according to the political disposition that existed at that particular time, this concept made sense; only that it was not a good representative of what justice was supposed to be. The main notion backing Thrasymachuss derivation is that it does not pay to be just in a chaotic society where the strong practically survive of the weak. In the advanced development of this, Thrasymachus indicates that justice favors the other person and not the one who gives it. Powerless individuals are left with no chance to bask in the status of happiness as do powerful people since all potential channels are blocked. In a world populated by different social classes, the upper class with much stamina continues to thrive while the lower social level languishes in unsurvivable conditions. The rules and regulations made are only meant to serve the stronger.

With such a conceptualization, Thrasymachus asserts that there is no need to continue adhering to justice. According to the sophist, justice is a convention imposed on humanity which only benefits those in power. The desire to have more is what makes justice a non-beneficial to all. As such, he perpetuates the notion that injustice is good for all. The sophist views, although not unpopular in Athens at that specific time, are not well taken by Socrates who formulates an argument against it. By promoting injustice, Socrates deems it as a deviation from the path of wisdom. Besides this, a world where no justice prevails would be inhabitable to the human species, specifically the weak ones.

Platos Views on Justice

After seeing that Athens was crumbling down under poor political leadership with democracy losing its meaning, Plato deems it necessary to define what a just society should look like. Besides the deterioration of the city, Socrates death was another motivational aspect that pushed Plato into developing his own account. According to Plato, justice needs to be defined from two perspectives; individually and socially.

From an individual point of view, Plato points out that justice is a virtue. It is supposed to be self-consistent and good. From this angle, Plato insinuates that justice is a process that should begin by a personal effort. It embraces the condition of specialization, whereby an individual can freely determine whether to be good or not. Platos conceptualization comes after he took the time to analyze the arguments put forth by Cephalus, Polymarchus, Thrasymachus, and Glaucon (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d). According to him, all these thinkers treated justice as an external process. By eliminating the problems that arise when justice is treated as an external process, the inner perspective of justice is revealed. As such, Plato covers three distinct elements that an individual can follow to live a just life. These elements include reason, spirit, and appetite (Bhandari, 1998). Thus, an individual is said to be just when his souls function without negatively affecting the three elements. Personally, the spirit is supposed to be guided by thought. Plato indicates that through wisdom and forethought, reason needs to lead the way for the spirit. When the two factors combine, they dictate the appetite of a person, which forms a greater part of the soul. This means that the cooperation between spirit and reason need to shut some appetites that make a person lust for unjust things.

Socially, Plato views justice as consciousness that makes a society internally harmonious and good. When individuals opt to specialize in the way of living that is guided by the core principles of justice, the society will then become a better place for all. Similarly to the individual aspect, Plato also categorizes the society into three classes. These are the philosopher or the ruling class (which represent reason), a group of warriors and defenders of the country (which represents the spirit), and the element of appetite in the community (which is represented by farmers and occupants of the lower social class) (Bhandari, 1998). It is after this categorization that Plato deduces the term functional specialization. With functional specialization, each class of the society is supposed to stick to its relevant functions and stop meddling in the affairs of other classes. When such a harmonious occurrence is achieved, the society can be labeled as just.


The three thinkers discussed had different perspectives on what justice is. Regardless of the intellectual elements that make the difference, Platos and Socrates concepts define what justice is supposed to be as opposed to the account given by Thrasymachus. A society with no justice would be very chaotic for the benefit of only the stronger. However, that would be living like animals. By being created with the power to think and alienate good from bad, human beings have the power of making a just society. Socrates conceptualization of justice is that it should make the society a good place for all. Platos ideology also thrives on the same basis. A just society is the one that has core components that define good. From the three, Plato best describes what justice is. This selection does not diminish the work of Socrates in any way. It is rational to indicate that Plato only developed on the idea that was sparked by Socrates. Justice is supposed to be both an individual and a societal mandate to make sure that a habitable ecosystem is developed. A just society can only thrive if the aspects deduced by Plato are closely followed.


The modern societal approach to justice needs to adhere closely to the views of Socrates and Plato. A just society is where people choose to do good to create a harmonious environment for all. Despite this being the much-needed conceptualization of justice; it is only a part of a larger equation. The current western society has made good steps towards making sure that justice prevails. It is a mandate for individuals and the society, in general, to make sure that justice prevails.


Bhandari, D. R. (1998). Platos concept of justice: An analysis. Ancient Philosophy., D. (1985). The Justice of Socrates' Philosopher Kings. American Journal of Political Science, 809-826.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (n.d). Plato: The Republic.

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