Read the following selection from Plato’s The Republic.
Write an essay (about 500 words) in which you explain the view of justice illustrated by the story of Gyges’ ring and tell why you agree or disagree with that
They say that to do injustice is, by nature, good; to suffer
injustice, evil; but that the evil is greater than the good.
And so when men have both done and suffered injustice and have had
experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and obtain
the other, they think that they had better agree among themselves
to have neither; hence there arise laws and mutual covenants;
and that which is ordained by law is termed by them lawful and just.
This they affirm to be the origin and nature of justice;–it is a mean
or compromise, between the best of all, which is to do injustice
and not be punished, and the worst of all, which is to suffer injustice
without the power of retaliation; and justice, being at a middle point
between the two, is tolerated not as a good, but as the lesser evil,
and honoured by reason of the inability of men to do injustice.
For no man who is worthy to be called a man would ever submit to such
an agreement if he were able to resist; he would be mad if he did.
Such is the received account, Socrates, of the nature and origin
Now that those who practise justice do so involuntarily and because
they have not the power to be unjust will best appear if we
imagine something of this kind: having given both to the just
and the unjust power to do what they will, let us watch and see
whither desire will lead them; then we shall discover in the very
act the just and unjust man to be proceeding along the same road,
following their interest, which all natures deem to be their good,
and are only diverted into the path of justice by the force of law.
The liberty which we are supposing may be most completely
given to them in the form of such a power as is said to have
been possessed by Gyges the ancestor of Croesus the Lydian.
According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service
of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an earthquake made
an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock.
Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening, where,
among other marvels, he beheld a hollow brazen horse, having doors,
at which he stooping and looking in saw a dead body of stature,
as appeared to him, more than human, and having nothing on but a
gold ring; this he took from the finger of the dead and reascended.
Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, that they
might send their monthly report about the flocks to the king;
into their assembly he came having the ring on his finger, and as he
was sitting among them he chanced to turn the collet of the ring inside
his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company
and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present.
He was astonished at this, and again touching the ring he turned
the collet outwards and reappeared; he made several trials of the ring,
and always with the same result-when he turned the collet inwards he
became invisible, when outwards he reappeared. Whereupon he contrived
to be chosen one of the messengers who were sent to the court;
where as soon as he arrived he seduced the queen, and with her help
conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom.
Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put
on one of them and the unjust the other;,no man can be imagined
to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice.
No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could
safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses
and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison
whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men.
Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust;
they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may
truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly
or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually,
but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely
be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts
that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice,
and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right.
If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible,
and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would
be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they
would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances
with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.
Enough of this.