Glaucon and Thrasymachus Plato s Republic has six main characters, Glaucon, Adeimantus, Thrasymachus, Cephalus, Polymarchus and Socrates. The Republic is a dialogue between Socrates and each of these five men, the topic is justice, what it means to be just, who is just and why they choose to be just. Each man holds his own opinion and tries to convince Socrates that theirs is the correct answer. For the use of this paper I will be discussing in depth the characters of Thrasymachus and Glaucon.
These two characters have very different insights as to the question of justice, they are in effect opposites. The first of these two men that Socrates speaks with is Thrasymachus. When Socrates has a dialogue with someone he uses a system called refutation. Refutation is best described as a four-fold process.
First Socrates will get his opponent to elicit an opinion, then he will ask for clarification of the opinion given, he will then point out some obvious flaws in the argument of his opponent and then he will give this other person a way out, before he tears their argument to pieces. The first mistake that one can make when talking to Socrates is to give a strong opinion right off the bat, this gives the appearance that this person thinks that he has great knowledge of this subject. Socrates knows that one can not possible know every angle of something and therefor begins to cut down the opinion held. Thrasymachus makes this mistake very early on. The opinion stated by him is that justice is the advantage of the strong, or might makes right. To Thrasymachus justice is only universal in the it is always the stronger who control it, no matter the culture or society.
Thrasymachus puts himself in immediate danger of Socrates by stating thi strong opinion so early on. Thrasymachus also goes on to say that given the chance every man is unjust, and that justice is less profitable then injustice is to man. Thrasymachus says that the just man everywhere has less then the unjust man (342 e). This idea of Thrasymachus relates directly to Aristotle s Nicomachea n Ethics. Aristotle says that everything lawful is in a sense just (1129 b, 10).
Assuming that the laws are created by those who are in power, this quote directly coincides with what Thrasymachus is saying. Thrasymachus appears to be an un virtuous man, greedy and power-hungry. He (Thrasymachus) appears at first glance to be an intellectual man, however in seeing him talk with Socrates we watch his strong opinion crumble into a pile of doubts and questions. Glaucon takes on this dialogue with Socrates a little differently from how Thrasymachus had gone about it.
Glaucon has been listening to Socrates take on these other men, and he thinks that he kind of understands Socrates way of questioning. Instead of posing a direct opinion as Thrasymachus, Cephalus and Polymarchus had done, Glaucon tries to play along with Socrates game, he does not mention any opinion of his own. After the discussions with Thrasymachus and the other two men, Socrates believes that he has conquered the dialogue and that now he may retreat back to his home. Glaucon and Adeimantus, realizing that really nothing substantial about whether or not it is better to be just or unjust has been established, asks Socrates if he had wanted only to have seemed to persuade them, or if he really had wanted to persuade them. Socrates, never able to back down from a good discussion, admits that he would love to be able to truly persuade the men to believe that justice is better than injustice. Glaucon shows us immediately that he is a knowledgeable man, first in that he calls Socrates on this and second that he does not make a statement of his own opinion.
Glaucon merely restates and argues Thrasymachus opinion again. Glaucon tells a story that backs up what Thrasymachus said about everyone, given the chance, would be unjust. In doing this we see that Glaucon is even more wise than we thought, he uses a technique that was used by homer and the other pre-Pre-Socratic's, that of story telling. By the time we got to Plato this art of telling a story to teach, rather than lecturing is basically lost. The story told is that of the Ring of Gages, in the story a man goes down into a hole in the earth and encounters a hollow bronze horse, and within the horse there is a corpse.
Upon the corpse a ring is found that gives the bearer of it the ability to become invisible. This man, who had appeared to be just in his life, proceeded to kill the king, sleep with the queen and take over his kingdom. This story is great for Thrasymachus argument that if given the chance, any just man will do the same as an unjust man would. Basically saying that we are only just because people are watching, the idea of justice that we have is superficial being that we only abide by it to keep ourselves from looking bad and getting into trouble. It appears that Glaucon is trying to be a virtuous man, in the dialogue we see that he is in pursuit of knowledge and that he does not consider himself wise in the least; to me knowing that you do not know is a virtue in itself. Both Socrates and Glaucon share this virtue of not knowing.
It also appears that Glaucon is courageous, Socrates undoubtedly carries a reputation with him of cutting seemingly great men up in to little pieces. Glaucon put himself on the line, he risked his honor, which to the ancient Greeks was the most important thing. Had Glaucon made a fool of himself in this dialogue that is how he would have been remembered throughout time, and being remembered as a fool was obviously a very shameful thing to the ancient Greeks. In having this courage Glaucon shows us again that he is a virtuous man. Thrasymachus and Glaucon are two very different characters who bring two very different points of view to the dialogue.
One thinking himself to be wise and finding out otherwise, by drowning himself in his own opinions; the other, satisfied with knowing that he is not wise, but in the same still striving to learn from others and the world around him.