(Republic By Plato) War In Relation To Justice, Injustice, And The Just City Essay, Research Paper
November 16, 2000
War in Relation to Justice, Injustice, and the Just City
Beginning in Book I Socrates states clearly that injustice causes war and justice causes the opposite, but by Book V he seems to have a completely different perspective on whether war is just or not. His mind apparently begins to change in Book II when he introduces the second class of people, namely the guardians, with the purpose of defending the city. Throughout Books II, IV and V Socrates discusses the topic of war in light of justice and finally concludes that war is the outworking of the perfectly just city.
In Book I, Socrates states that “Injustice… causes civil war, hatred, and fighting among themselves, while justice brings friendship and a sense of common purpose.” So, according to Socrates in this first book, injustice leads to war. In relation to war Socrates later says that “injustice has the power, first, to make whatever it arises in… incapable of achieving anything as a unit, because of the civil wars and differences it creates, and, second, it makes that unit any enemy to itself and to what is in every way its opposite, namely, justice” (351e-352a). An objection to this argument may be this: If injustice arises in a city, is the city incapable of achieving a civil war as a unit? The differences in the city may be the cause of the war rather than the war the cause of the differences. There are bound to be differences in a city, and those differences could be large enough to cause two opposing groups to emerge, causing a civil war. These differences could have nothing to do with injustice. I do not see how Socrates has any basis for his claim that injustice causes civil war.
Later in Republic, Socrates seems to stay consistent with his idea that injustice causes war. In Book II, he talks about how their city will run out of room for pastures and plough land, so they will have to seize some of their neighbors’ land. In 373e Socrates says that the origin of war basically comes from “desires that are most of all responsible for the bad things that happen to cities and the individuals in them.” Later in Book IV Socrates is explaining the three parts of the mind: reason, spirited, and desire. He says that a man is just and will act justly when the reason and spirited parts of the mind rule over the desire and keep it in balance. If desire ever takes control of the person’s mind, then injustice will result, and the same will result if the workmen take control over the city. Tying this into the idea of war, remember Socrates stated in 373e (paraphrased) that origin of war is when bad desires take control of the individuals and the cities. This is consistent with his previous ideas about the cause of war being that of injustice.
Although, Socrates seems to promote the idea of war when he later creates the “guardians” as the ones who will go to war and protect the city. Socrates and Glaucon agree in 374b that warfare is a profession. They go on to create a job description or profile for this second class of people in the make-believe city. Looking ahead to Book IV where Socrates concludes that a city is just when each person performs his or her own job, it would cause the city to be just when a guardian is performing his job by fighting in a war to protect the city. So here at the end of Book II, Socrates is implying that it is just for a city to engage in war by creating the guardians. This is definitely contradictory to his stance on war in Book I.
Socrates continues this opposite view of war in Book V. He and Glaucon discuss the rules for war in the city from 467a to 471b. The whole time they are obviously assuming that the city will be fighting in wars against both other Greek cities and foreigners. If Socrates is assuming that this city is the epitome of a just city, and he is assuming that this city will be fighting in wars, we can conclude that he must believe that it is just for a city to be at war with another city. To support this point, again look to what Socrates defines as justice-in-a-city in Book IV of the Republic. He says that a just city is one in which every person is carrying out his or her job or function properly. The jobs of the guardians are to protect and defend the city, implying they must engage in war at some point to defend the city. Therefore, there is justice in a city when the guardians are doing their jobs by fighting in war. This is opposite his view of war in Book I where he states that war is a result of injustice.
From Books IV and V alone, the conclusion about war is that it results from a perfectly just city, contradictory to what Socrates first believed about the origins of war. According to these books, the good city will fight wars. This will not be unjust because the guardians are merely performing their duties properly, which makes the city just, according to Book IV. “It turns out that this doing one’s own work – provided that it comes to be in a certain way – is justice,” stated Socrates in 433b while talking about justice in a city. How can a city be just if its guardians are not doing their own work by protecting the city? It cannot, and that is why Socrates is discussing the terms and rules of war in Book V.
In coming to Book V, I do not think that Socrates now thinks that there is injustice in all wars. He definitely believes that it is just for guardians to fight because he suggests that the children be taken to watch battles from a young age so they will learn the art of war. Socrates and Glaucon also agree that a guardian who distinguishes himself in battle should be given rewards, so that he will be more eager to win the rewards by fighting well (468b-d). A bit later they discuss specific rules of war. They think it is “best for the guardians not to acquire a Greek slave” (469c), and that the guardians may not “strip corpses or refuse the enemy permission to pick up their dead” (469d). Then they decide that the soldiers should not ravage the land of other Greeks or burn their houses, but only destroy that year’s harvest. Socrates wants the soldiers’ attitudes toward the city that they are fighting to be that they will “one day be reconciled and won’t always be at war” (470e). Socrates does not say how he considers this just, other than the fact that the soldiers are doing their jobs. But Socrates makes no mention about it being unjust at all, so it is assumed that he believes wars to be just because he is making up all kinds of rules for them.
There is a connection between Socrates’ account of justice in Book IV versus his original account of the cause of war in Book I. In Book IV Socrates concludes that justice-in-a-city is when every person is performing their job properly. He says this brings about perfect harmony within the city. This is in conjunction with his original statement of “justice brings friendship and a sense of common purpose.” Although after Book I he discusses the proper way for soldiers to be raised so they will feel like brothers and sisters and be united in the common purpose of protecting the city. This example seems to be opposite of Socrates’ original proposal about war, injustice, and justice. If this common purpose results in war, according to Book I this would be injustice, but according to Book IV it would be just. It seems Socrates has changed his mind about how he thinks of war in relation to justice and injustice from Book I to Book IV.
In conclusion, Socrates starts out being adamant about injustice causing war and fighting, but in the end he sees it as being the result of perfect justice being played out in a city. This change in thinking seems to have taken place in Book II when he introduces the idea of creating a second group of people in the city called the guardians. From this point on, Socrates seems to promote war in the city and describing it as being just. By Book V Socrates is completely into making laws regarding war and promoting it within the just city. Although Socrates starts out strongly promoting his thoughts about how war originates, he completely changes his mind by Book V and believes war to be just in his ideal city.