Analysis of Thrasymachus Throughout "The Republic" there exist different characters that each holds a unique importance towards the development of certain philosophies, in this case, the meaning of "justice." Thrasymachus is such a character, which could be considered a cynic by some; he plays an imperative role in the quest for the meaning of justice in the first book of "The Republic." While Cephalus and his son Polemarchus are unsuccessful in providing Socrates with an adequate definition of justice, Thrasymachus presents himself annoyed with the dialogue between Socrates and Polemarchus, and furthermore demands an answer from Socrates in what he believes that justice is, instead of simply questioning the rhetoric of others. While Socrates in essence does not provide an answer, Thrasymachus confidently agrees to describe his position on the subject. In actuality, Thrasymachus not only provides his own definition of justice, but yet questions the actual value of being a just person in a society or culture by presenting an argument against the just life. Furthermore it is interesting what Thrasymachus reveals about himself in being inconsistent concerning his eagerness to speak out against justice and his argument about justice.
Thrasymachus' view of justice is that justice is the advantage of the stronger. By this Thrasymachus means that from place to place certain forms of government rule, for example, tyranny, aristocracies, and democracies; and whoever are in power or the strongest make the laws and perpetually make the laws to their own financial and political advantage. Therefore just rulers rule to the benefit of the strongest, specifically themselves." Don't you know," he said, that some cities are ruled by tyrannically, some democratically, and some aristocratically?" ... "And each ruling group sets down laws for its own advantage; a democracy sets down democratic laws, a tyranny, tyrannic laws; and the others do the same. And they declare that what they have set down-their own advantage- is just for the ruled, and the man who departs from it they punish as a breaker of the law and a doer of the unjust deeds.
This, best of men, is what I mean: in every city the same thing is just, the advantage of the established ruling body. It surely is master; so the man who reasons rightly concludes that everywhere justice is the same thing, the advantage of the stronger." (Republic, 338 d) Socrates then proceeds by arguing Thrasymachus' view by insisting that rulers command certain acts on their subjects which sometimes mistake their own best interest causing themselves harm. But more important Socrates brings up the argument that to rule is like any other craft and the practitioner of such craft conducts that craft in the interest of and to the benefit of the weakest, explicitly their clients or customers. For example, in the field of medicine, it can be said that a physician "rules" over or has sort of authority in the practice of medicine.
In a patient/ physician relationship, the physician can be seen as the stronger since he or she has expertise in the field and is not sick while the patient is the weaker since the patient is sick and does not have a comparable amount of knowledge in the field of medicine as the physician. But the end result of the physician is to provide medicine and the good of the craft is the cure. However the benefit goes to the weaker since the patient is cured and not the physician, thus in medicine the authority rules for the benefit of the weak. Thrasymachus proceeds in the discourse with an explanation comparing sheepherders and sheep to rulers and their citizens. His explanation involves the underlying motive of the sheepherder, watching, protecting, and feeding his sheep, not in the interest of the sheep, but so that the sheep can be slaughtered for his profit. Socrates counters by differentiating between the crafts of a profit driven person and that of other craftsmen, like a physician.
The profit driven craftsmen is indeed self interested, but that craft must not be confused with that of the physician, where a physician is only a physician when he or she actually cures patients. Of course the physician would only receive compensation if he or she actually did cure a patient, that is, to achieve the advantage of the weakest. Thus a ruler is only compensated if not all of the advantage goes to him, but instead most of the advantage goes to the citizens. As the discourse continues, Thrasymachus drops the pretense of seeking to define the meaning of justice and instead claims that even though justice is virtuous and beneficial to others the unjust life has superior advantages. Thrasymachus believes that there are two types of people, the just and the unjust, the unjust being those who exploit and oppress others in their own benefit. Furthermore, Thrasymachus believes that the "just" are stupid or ignorant in their ways because of the fact that they play by the rules and ultimately amount to nothing.
Thrasymachus metaphorically describes the just person that to be a butler or a maid, a position of inferiority when one doesn't have to choose to be that. Furthermore, Thrasymachus believes that no common good is shared by all, but only private good and that in a world where there isn't a common good, one should find your own private good and become well practiced in that good or skill. According to Thrasymachus, the just man leads a good life because he is fearful of the repercussions of his actions; While the unjust man is not fearful of these repercussions because he is stronger and more intelligent that the average person. These traits allow him to avoid social retaliation for his unjust actions and so the more unjust a man becomes, the stronger he becomes. And while Thrasymachus feels a bit of bitterness towards a tyrant or an oppressor he goes on to praise the tyrant, a man whom is unjust in such an impressive way. Thrasymachus expresses that such a man will pay fewer taxes than the just man, receive far more benefits from contracts than the honest man that ignorantly enters into the contracts with the unjust, while the unjust man profits from his influences on others.
But what I find to be the most interesting or intriguing during this particular section of the discourse is in the way that Thrasymachus compares the just life as a restriction or societal boundary and norm. Furthermore, he explains that the unjust man is in essence is more free than the just. Essentially he believes that the unjust man is living outside the law; he will lead a happier and more rewarding life because he is free from the social constraints of society. In analyzing Thrasymachus as a character of the Republic, I believe it is evident how inconsistent his argument is about justice with his eagerness to speak out against justice.
How is it that Thrasymachus can be so eager to speak against justice, claiming that justice is for fools since the just life ultimately does not pay off compared to the unjust life, which is full of exploitation and oppression of the weak; But from his original argument, Thrasymachus describes justice as the advantage of the stronger party. This inconsistency reveals that even though Thrasymachus himself denies this in his speech, he himself does have an understanding of the common good that is shared in society of some underlying values or ideas of what justice is. Therefore, I as the reader, become to realize that even though Thrasymachus might portray himself as a wise and eloquent speaker, he is not as wise as he believes. From this inconsistency, Thrasymachus appears to be more concerned with the articulation in his rhetoric and the defeat of Socrates, than actually contributing to the discussion and actually finding the true meaning of justice. I believe that Thrasymachus is an imperative character in "The Republic." Even if his views are somewhat cynical, he is necessary in the evolution of the discussion concerning justice.
Thrasymachus is the cause for the biggest turning point in Book one, where the theme of the dialogue changes from the meaning of justice, to the value of actually living a just life. And even though Socrates is pleased that Thrasymachus has calmed down and quieted a bit by his arguments, he in the end has to recognize the discontent with the discussion. In his eagerness to defend the advantages of the just life, he was unable to provide a definition for justice, thus how could he recommend the just life without having an accurate representation of what it exactly is to live the just life. Even with this inconclusiveness, I as a reader and a student of this book, find it as a necessary introduction and stage in process of finding the meaning of justice and furthermore find myself satisfied with what Thrasymachus, Socrates and the other gave explored in this philosophical arena in Book one.