Relief of Plato Thoemmes Press
About the author…
Other than a few anecdotal accounts, not much is known about Plato's early life. The association with his friend and mentor Socrates was undoubtedly a major influence. Plato's founding of the Academy, a school formed for scientific and mathematical investigation, not only established the systematic beginning of Western science but also influenced the structure of higher education from medieval to modern times. Plutarch once wrote, "Plato is philosophy, and philosophy is Plato."
About the work…
Glaucon, the main speaker of this reading from Plato's The Republic, expresses a widely and deeply-held ethical point of view known as egoism—a view taught by a Antiphon, a sophistic contemporary of Socrates. Egoistic theories are founded on the belief that everyone acts only from the motive of self-interest. For example, the egoist accounts for the fact that people help people on the basis of what the helpers might get in return from those helped or others like them. This view, neither representative of Plato's nor of Socrates's philosophy, is presented here by Glaucon as a stalking horse for the development of a more thoroughly developed ethical theory. Although Socrates held that everyone attempts to act from the motive of "self-interest," his interpretation of that motive is quite different from the view elaborated by Glaucon because Glaucon seems unaware of the attendant formative effects on the soul by actions for short-term pleasure.
According to the Glaucon's brief, why do most persons act justly? Explain whether you think Glaucon's explanation is psychologically correct.
If a person could be certain not only that an action resulting in personal benefit would not be found out but also that if this action were discovered, no punishing consequences would follow, then would there any reason for that person to act morally?
Is it true that sometimes our self-interest is served by not acting in our self-interest? Construct an example illustrating this view, and attempt to resolve the paradoxical expression of the question.
Quite often people are pleased when they can help others. Analyze whether this fact is sufficient to prove that the motive for helping others is ultimately one of pleasure or of self-interest.
According to Glaucon, how does the practice of justice arise? On the view he expresses, would there be any reason prior to living in a society to do the right thing? Does the practice of ethics only make sense in the context of living in a society?
Plato. The Republic. Translated by Benjamin Jowlett. Book II, 358d—361d.