By Peter Worman
Last week the Sophist was defined as someone who disputes on behalf of someone for a fee. His style of questioning is both bombastic and pugnacious often bordering on violence. He assumes a point of view of knowing all about the subject he argues on yet possesses little true knowledge and resorts to bullying to achieve his objective.
A beautiful argument is recorded in book 1 of Plato’s Republic where various people try their hand at defining Justice none of which satisfies Socrates. Thrasymachus, a bombastic and pugnacious Sophist or professional arguer, says that he will provide the answer. He maintained that justice is whatever is in the interest of the stronger party in a state; justice is thus affected through power by people in power.
People in power make laws; the weaker party (subjects) are compelled to obey the laws, and that is justice: obedience to laws made by the rulers in the interest of the rulers. And this he terms natural Justice. I am sure many of our modern leaders would agree with this definition. Thrasymachus continues to argue that most people are “good” in appearance only; they do “right” things” or try to pursue dike (the way things ought to be) only because they are ignorant, or stupid, or afraid of the punishment of the law.
Strong men and intelligent men have the courage to do wrong; they can out-think simpler citizens and overpower weaker ones, weaker in whatever sense. Injustice then (adikia) is the best course of action; the unjust man can take advantage of his fellows in every instance; he can cheat on his taxes, rob the public coffers and defraud the public, juggle books in a position of trust, and so on. And if one steals, Thrasymachus says, one ought to steal big. The more power, the better: The tyrant’s life is the good life. At this point, Thrasymachus indicated that he would like to leave the debate.
Socrates would have none of this and subjected Thrasymachus to sustained and probing questioning where he used the example of the doctor to demonstrate how the stronger should serve the weaker or the shepherd who from a position of strength, looks after the needs of the sheep who need his protection. Or the parents of children who look after the well-being of their (weaker) children and thus demonstrates that the duty of the strong is to look after the needs of the weaker or more vulnerable.
And this he terms justice. So if you’re a leader of a country your job definition is to look after your subjects especially the poor and downtrodden and the proffered definition of justice is that justice is doing what belongs to oneself, lends credence to this injunction. So a carpenter works with wood and a farmer of crops looks after his crops. If the carpenter tried doing the job of the farmer, he would cease being a carpenter. Likewise, when a leader ceases looking after the interests of the weaker members of his country, he ceases being a leader and straying from justice thus becomes a tyrant. The duty of the leader is to rule with wisdom and a wise person uses reason as his guide.
Most so-called debates in the media between opposing parties follows the route of Thrasymachus but they clearly have a hidden agenda of sorts and so rarely do we see a suitable and truthful outcome. Many of you would recognise this type of discussion having watched politicians being put on the spot and using this type of bluster to prove their point.
The art of Philosopher however is to discover the truth and his art is gently asking leading questions of themselves or others with the intent always being the discovery of the Truth. To prepare one for this pursuit requires purification of one’s inner organ of mind and it is this that we will consider next week. In the meantime, continue with the practice of listening to one’s voice and paying close attention to the speech of others and observe what is seen.