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PLATO’S NOTION OF JUSTICE VIS-À-VIS THE REALISATION OF OUR SOCIETAL HUMAN POTENTIALS

Philosophy Project Topic: Plato’s Notion of Justice Vis-À-Vis the Realisation of Our Societal Human Potentials


CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.0     Background of Study

The notion of justice is as old as man. Prior to this paper, the issue of justice had attracted the interests of ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary scholars. But in spite of their unanimous acceptance of the existence of the problem of justice and their concerted efforts to alleviate it, there have been discordant voices of the origin of the problem. As many notions about justice are scattered by various scholars of various epochs mentioned above, we have decided to use the views of some outstanding scholars one from each of the major epochs to form the literature review of this work. We shall also try to evaluate the workability of Plato’s notion if it should be applied whole and entire in our present day’s conditions. This borders on the question occupying my mind, that is, “why our society remained so poor amidst numerous human and natural resources?

Thus, ideology of the people affects their social structure as the social structure affects the ideologies of the people. Adopting Plato’s view, our task becomes to evaluate how historical antecedent has affected our present ideology and how our present ideology contributes to our present predicament when the notion of justice is considered in the realisation of our societal human potentials.

1.1     Statement of the Problem:

Plato holds that human beings have different fields of endavour according to talents. Thus, once the proper potential of an individual is discovered, the issue of realising it is half solved. This raises problems:

  1. On what bases or criteria shall we adopt justice in order to realize our human potentials in our society?
  2. Can we obtain justice about the future by studying the past?
  3. What roles can concept of justice play in the realisation of our   societal potentials?
  4. As each society has a unique experience, can we view justice universally?

These are basic issues we shall attempt to resolve briefly in this project.

1.2     Thesis Statement:

We wish to relate in this work that though Plato assigns functions to individuals in the society according to talents and capabilities in his notion of justice, there are still elements of utopia in relation to our present days’ societal ethico-political setting which will not negate our affirmation of their impact in a topic like ours.

1.3     Purpose of Study:

In this work, we wish to carry out a study on impact of justice on the realisation of our societal potentials and also to suggest better ways we can integrate the various existing ideologies for effective development of self and society.

1.4     Scope of Study:

Our concern in this research is to make a proper study of Plato’s notion of justice and see how relevant it would be in the realisation of our societal ideological human potentials.

But due to the volume specification of this work, we shall limit ourselves to the impact of justice in actualising (realising) our individual talents for the good of our society.

1.5     Significance of Study:

This work is important as it exposes the importance of justice in the development of our human society. In this manner, it does not only add to the available literature discussing the notion of justice and its importance, but also acts as a source of motivation and strength for those who wish to fulfill their human nature. The work will also be a source of reference for other researchers.

1.6     Methodology:

Our main sources are original works of Plato such as the Republic, the Laws, other documents from libraries and the internet. We shall try to make a synthesis of the ideas presented by different authors as they relate to the topic under discussion. In this view, materials obtained are carefully analysed and properly organised. We shall however employ the methods of hermeneutics, comparative analysis and phenomenology in our interpretations.

1.7     Explication of the term Justice as used by         Plato:

According to Soccio whose quotes are used in quotations 1 to 8, Plato argued that “a reciprocal relationship exists between the individual and the kind of society he or she lives in.” 1 But justice in the context does not mean quite what it does today. Philosophy’s translator, H.D.P. Lee says that the Greek roots of what is usually translated as justice cover a cluster of meanings that no single English word does3. According to Lee, justice in the Republic is a broad term covering right conduct or morality in general; the verb from the same root can mean to act “rightly” or “justly.” 4

For Plato, justice involved much more than fairness under the law; it went beyond a legalistic limit. Historian of Ancient Greece, B.A.G. Fuller further says “that what Plato is interested in is nothing less than the whole sphere of moral action, both external and internal5.”

Various limited and specific definitions of justice are offered during the course of the Republic. The first one is that justice is paying our debt, and telling the truth. Over the course of the dialogue, a variety of modifications and alternatives are discussed and rejected, the Republic contrasts two views of morality. One assents that right and wrong must be determined by the consequences our acts produce, and the other holds that they can be understood only in terms of their effects on our overall functioning as human beings. The first view is known as instrumental theory of morality. Therefore, Right and wrong are treated as means or instruments of getting something else. Be good get x. Be bad get y. Plato characterizes the instrumental view: “for fathers tell their sons as well do pastors and masters of all kinds urge their charge to be just not because they value justice for itself, but for the social prestige it brings, they want them to secure by a show of justice the power of family connections and other things which (were) enumerated, all of which are procured by the just man of good reputation.” 6

Plato by contrast, argues for a functional theory of morality in which each kind of thing (including human beings) has a “natural purpose or function.” 7 The rest of the Republic reveals Plato’s view of our nature as active beings and what human nature needs to function properly. A good life can live the best possible life controlled and crushed by a repressive, irrational society. Conversely, no one can live a truly good life without some social activities, obligations, and concerns. Thus, a life of extreme individual repression. Plato’s goal was to discover the kind of society that nurtures the essential nature of each individual.

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