Discuss In Detail The Plato’s Concept Of Justice


CSS Solved Political Science Past Papers | Discuss In Detail The Plato’s Concept Of Justice.

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  • ✔ Introduction
  • ✔ Understanding Plato’s Concept of Justice
  • ✔ Four Cardinal Virtues of Plato’s theory of Justice
  • ✔ The cornerstone of Plato’s theory of Justice: Philosopher-King
  • ✔ Similarity between Plato’s and Aristotle’s views on Justice
  • ✔ Application of Plato’s concept of Justice in the contemporary world 
  • ✔ Critical Analysis
  • ✔ Conclusion

Answer to the Question


Justice is a core concept in every society, whether ancient, medieval or modern. Justice has been the most crucial part of a person’s morality since immemorial. The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, held the same view. He considered it crucial to reach a theory of justice. He wrote a book, “The Republic,” describing the concept of justice. Moreover, Plato wanted to discover the concept of justice and its principles. In the Republic, he figured out the universal definition of justice. Plato’s Republic is a dialogue between his mentor Socrates and other political philosophers such as Cephalus, Polemarchs, Thrasymachus, Glucagon, and others to accomplish the justice definition. Finally, with his deliberate efforts, Plato provided the ideal concept of justice for all world societies. He developed his theory based on the imagination of the ideal state and not on actual surveys of any particular area. It faced criticism, but it became a torch bearer in the long run. Today, the words “justice” and “fairness” are often used interchangeably because they mean the same thing. 

Justice was “one class, one duty; one man, one work.” 


Plato’s Theory of Justice

Greek philosophers believed that morality was a crucial component of philosophy and that the state was created and should exist for the sake of a meaningful life. Plato trusted in the same dictum and held the view that the core purpose behind the existence of the state was to fulfil the necessities of human life. Only the state holds the authority and responsibility to fulfil human necessities.

Unlike other living things, humans primarily want to live a good life rather than survive. Therefore, justice is an essential requirement for leading a good life. A person cannot lead a good life without meeting their needs, and the only possible way to meet one’s needs is through the prevalence of justice in the state.

In the Republic, Plato discussed the concept of justice through dialogue. It is known as the Dialectical Method, which Plato borrowed from his mentor, Socrates. The dialogue occurs between Socrates, Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, Glaucon etc.

Initially, Cephalus shed light on the notion of justice. Justice, according to him, is returning the items that were borrowed from others. Socrates disagreed, arguing that it would be dangerous to give a knife back to someone who is currently insane. Therefore, giving him the knife back will hurt him. And justice would not cause harm to anyone.

Then, Polymarchus gave another definition of justice. He believed that justice was doing good with friends and wrong with enemies. Socrate again rejected this definition. He asked how a person could know the other person was his enemy or friend.

Then, Thrasymachus came and said justice could be defined on the basis of power. Therefore, justice is in the interest of the stronger. He held that justice has no clear definition; it only depends on its definer. For instance, A person, party or whoever holds power will come under the definition of justice. For instance, in North Korea, Kim Jong-un is more powerful. Similarly, in Pakistan and India, people have the power, and in China, one party-Communist Party of China, has the power. So, justice is defined by those who hold power. Socrates again rejected it by saying that a person, party or people cannot correctly define justice. Socrates wanted to have one universal definition of justice. Thrasymachus felt humiliated and left the conversation by saying that

 “Injustice is superior to Justice. An unjust person lives a happier life than a just person”.

– Thrasymachus

To deny this concept, Glucagon joined the conversation. He stated that there are three types of goods

  •  Goods that are desirable for their own sake (Harmless Pleasure).
  •  Goods that are desirable not for themselves but for the consequences. 
  • ✔ Goods that are desirable for their sake and consequences.

According to Glucagon, Justice is the second type of good (Goods that are desirable not for themselves but for the consequences). But Socrates said that justice is the third type of sound (Goods that are desirable for their sake and consequences). To prove this, Socrates decided first to define justice at the city level and then on an individual level. Because “the city is the individual writ large”, Socrate constructed an ideal city in speech named- “Kalipolis.”

It was a simple city that originated on people’s basic needs, centred around fulfilling basic needs and organized around the division of labour. When people get their necessities, they will not go further. But Glucagon denied it and said it is a simple city. Glucagon developed a city named “Feverish City,” where people go beyond having necessities of life to get luxuries and relishes in life. He asked Socrates to describe justice in his Feverish City. 

In the Feverish City, people, in order to fulfil their needs, want a class- Warrior class to contain the lands of others. Similarly, a class is required to guide this Warrior class on which land is to be attacked and which is not. Simply, a Ruling class with Consciousness/ Reason guides them toward the right goals. Another class developed in the city with the desire/appetite, the Working class.

So, a city is constructed and is called an Ideal City. Socrate said just like a city, an individual also has these three parts. Reason, Courage and Appetite. A person driven by them in the same way as in the city is an ideal individual. In this way, he proved that a just person is superior to an injust because a just person always does things in sequence, and an unjust person has a disharmonious soul. His parts of the soul are not in proper order; either spirit, courage or appetite dominate. A just person has a harmonious soul, spirit, and appetite under the dominion of reason.

Plato held the concept that changing human nature is difficult, but the state can be changed to the ideal state. Imperfect, just human being placed into an ideal state to make the Human beings an ideal. 

Thus, a state has three parts, and when all the parts are equal, it is said that there is justice. In this state, every class perform its functions separately. No part interferes with the working of the other part. 

Thus, justice is the Tripartite division of the city soul.

  •   The correct ordering of the city (Each part achieving its fullest potential)
  •   The proper ordering of the soul (Each part attending excellence of perfection)
  •  A harmonious balance among all three parts (Each part doing its work)

The state in which all the classes, Ruling, Warrior and Working class, are organized in this particular order is the ideal State of Plato.

Every human has all three emotions, but the degree to which these are present varies. According to Plato, restless and rapacious are fit for trade. Others driven by their emotion or spirit are best suited to become soldiers. Lastly, few find no pleasure in worldly pursuits or victory and are satisfied in mediation. Such beings yearn to learn. They remained in search of truth, and according to Plato, only these men of Wisdom are fit to rule.

Plato thinks that just like the perfect individual is the one who has the ideal combination of desire, emotion and knowledge, a just state is the one that has individuals as its citizens for trade and soldiers to rule. In the perfect state, individuals driven by desire will lead to growth and production but would not rule; the military armies would maintain security but not rule. Only the individuals with no appetite to gain material possession or power and are forces of knowledge would become the rulers.

Thus, the dialogue ended, and if one were allowed to suppress another, there would be complete anarchy. Therefore, to save themselves from suffering and prevent injustice, men enter into a contract to prevent injustice upon themselves or others.

Four Cardinal Virtues of Plato’s theory of justice

In his idea of justice, Plato identifies virtues that suit each social class. In the social class of traders, whose dominant trait is desire, the befitting virtue of traders is temperance. In the social class of soldiers, whose dominant trait is spirit or emotion, the befitting virtue of soldiers is courage. In the social class of Philosophers, whose dominant trait is knowledge or intellect, Wisdom is the consistent virtue of Philosophers. Hence, justice is the virtue that befits the state, creates harmony in all three social classes and is an essential aspect of human happiness.

The first three virtues belong to the respective three social classes; however, the fourth is a manifestation of harmony between all three classes. Therefore, these four virtues are also referred to as the four Cardinal Virtues of Plato’s theory of justice.

The cornerstone of Plato’s theory of Justice: Philosopher-King

Plato is renowned for his unique concept of the philosopher kings. He prescribed that the reins of government should remain with a minimal class of philosopher-kings who represent reason. According to ‘The story of Philosophy’ by Will DurantThe industrial forces would produce, but they would not rule; the military forces would protest, but they would not rule; the forces of knowledge and science and philosophy would be nourished and protected, and they would rule.

The similarity between Plato’s and Aristotle’s views on justice

Both Plato and Aristotle worked on the concept of justice because, according to them, if society lacks justice, it will suffer. Justice requires both goodness and a willingness to follow the rules. In human relationships, justice represents the pinnacle of perfection. Additionally, the spirit drove men to carry out their responsibilities ethically. In his book Republic Plato wrote that:

“Justice is a soul quality that enables people to put aside their irrational desire to experience all pleasures and to derive a selfish satisfaction from everything in favour of adapting to the performance of a single task for the good of all.”

He further argued that:

“Justice is giving to each person what they rightfully deserve, or, in more formal terms, their due”. 

Plato drew a parallel between the three social classes and the three elements of the human soul. Each soul had a corresponding social class. A just society recognizes and educates every individual talent according to the dominant element in one’s soul.

Giving each person what they deserve, or, more formally, giving each person their due, is what justice means—the application of Plato’s concept of justice in the contemporary world. Plato regards education as a man to achieve education; at present, the one who unlocks the shekel of freedom is justified. 

Application of Plato’s concept of justice in the contemporary world 

Plato’s justice philosophy is still applicable to all ages today since it is based on moral principles, clarifies virtues, and divides social classes. However, in the contemporary world, it is also seen that states which are practising the virtue of justice are more democratic and peaceful than those which are not practising justice. For instance: In Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, people face hardships because of no justice.

Critical Analysis

Plato’s concept of justice, as outlined in his famous work “The Republic,” is one of the most widely discussed and debated ideas in Western philosophy. Plato argues that justice is a universal concept that applies to both individuals and society as a whole. He asserts that justice is achieved when each person performs the role for which they are best suited, leading to a harmonious and well-functioning society. Some critics, though, say that Plato’s idea of justice is too simple and does not consider how complicated and nuanced people and society are. Plato’s idea of justice may be seen as a form of social engineering, where individuals are expected to conform to a pre-determined societal structure regardless of their desires or aspirations. In any case, Plato’s concept of justice continues to be a subject of much discussion and study.


The Philosophy of Justice is well-known by the name of Plato’s theory of Justice. He gives the concept that each structural component is assigned to a different artisan throughout construction, but the architect mixes them to contribute to the building’s final design and enhance its beauty. The three social classes in the state: Trader, Soldier, and Philosopher would nurture the three cardinal virtues of temperance, courage, and Wisdom. In contrast, Justice, the fourth virtue, would serve as the architect for creating an ideal society. Plato’s idea is also known as the Architectonic Theory of Justice because of the correlation between architecture and the structure of society. Plato believes that Justice is a prerequisite for living a decent life, to sum up. It supports people’s happiness. His most well-known work, The Republic, illuminates his view of Justice.

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