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Philosophy Project Topic: The Concept of Justice in Plato’s Political Philosophy Vis-À-Vis Nigerian Situation


1.0                   INTRODUCTION              

1.1                   Historical Background of Plato’s Conception of Justice

X-raying the background from which Plato had his conception of justice; it would be fruitful to refer to the social conditions that prevailed in Greece at that time. Greece was composed of a number of small city-states, which had autonomous governments. These states engaged in constant warfare with one another, and even with such large powerful nations as Persia. Most of them also suffered from a great deal of internal strife, hence, life for the average citizen was precarious. It was in this condition that Plato found his society.

Plato was born in 428/427 B.C., into an aristocratic Athenian family. Due to his family influence, he learned much about public life and developed at his early stage a sense of responsibility for public political service. Nevertheless, his attitude towards Athenian democracy changed due to what he experienced during the last stages of the poleponnesian war (War between the Athenians and Spartans): he saw how inept the democracy of his era was in producing great leaders. More so, it was within the same democratic milieu that one of the greatest Athenian citizens, Socrates was executed. These entire outward events made him to withdraw from public life. Enoch Stumpf made this point clear when he observed that:

The collapse of Athens and the execution of his master Socrates could well have led Plato to despair of democracy and to begin formulating a new conception of political leadership in which authority and knowledge are appropriately combined.[1]

Plato was influenced by Socrates undying quest for justice. This was most evident during the trial of Socrates which was time when Plato and his three friends offered to pay a substantial fine to the court as an alternative to the death penalty imposed on Socrates but to Plato’s dismay, this attempt failed. More so, his friends represented by Crito came and told him that they were ready to help him escape from prison and go into exile. Crito asked him to escape to Thessaly. But Socrates due to his high sense of justice turned down the plot by his friends to help him escape from the prison for his dear life, with a conviction that the escape would be to defy and injure Athens and its procedural law. Accordingly, he confirmed his respect for the law and its procedure in prosecuting cases by complying with the court sentence. This Socrates’ notion of justice to a great extent influenced Plato. As a result, Plato has to withdraw from public life and service with the conviction that politicians were suffering from ignorance. Socrates’ fate also taught him that good people will not survive unless society itself is transformed. Consequently, many questions haunted him: What kind of society was it that could not tolerate a Socrates in its midst? What kind of society ought we to have if philosophical wisdom is to prevail in human life? What will an ideal society be like if it could be brought into existence? Consequently, he spent the rest of his life trying to answer these questions.

1.2       Statement of the Problem

Can one be just for its own sake? Can action be just and unjust at the same time? What does one mean when he says “I am just”? Is justice a subjective or objective concept? All these questions govern virtually all our civic and cultural lives. For all intents and purposes, the minds of the masses, the oppressed, the down-trodden and the slaves are yearning for justice. Justice as a term is as old as man; it is a legal, ethical and ontological term. It is a common and living concept. The question of justice is a perennial one. The problem of justice arises as a societal issue in an attempt to settle and reconcile the conflicting claims and interests between individuals. Any given conception of justice is often determined to a large extent by the prevailing worldview concerning the universe, the nature of man, the society and man’s perceived place, and relationship with it; that is why the question of justice is a controversial one. Some justify their actions even when it is unjust, while some others hanker for justice only when it is by all standards advantageous to them. But can each make a legitimate demand for justice?

The problem that surrounds our study, when contextualized in our country Nigeria seems to be very conspicuous. The problem of injustice ravaging the national fabric results as it were from the ineptitude of our leaders to enthrone responsible leadership; gross insatiability and egocentric desire which are deep seated in both the rulers and the ruled. Anyone who judges the realities encountered in everyday life in Nigeria by standard of justice will clearly see the pains and sufferings our country is undergoing. These vices though with many names are the indices of injustice. This, more or less is exemplified in the alarming rate of crimes, lawlessness, and displacement of values, insecurity, marginalization caused by certain denial of rights that characterize the system of governance in Nigeria. The underlying reason for these is that there is an institutionalized injustice in all facets of the Nigerian sector; this is simply because the system made it so as Achebe rightly pointed out that Nigerians are corrupt because the systems under which they live today make corruption easy and profitable.[2]

We will make a comprehensive exposé of injustice; that has eaten deep into the fabrics of our nation with particular reference to her political, socio-economic and educational system in chapter four of this work

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[1] Samuel Stumpf, Philosophy, History and Problem.6, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 48.

[2] Chinua Achebe, The Trouble with Nigeria (Enugu: Fourth Dimension, 1983), 48.


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