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Saturday, 8 November 2008



Thrasymachus' speeches in Plato's Politeia [passages in italics refer to Socrates' questions] :

"What folly. Socrates, has taken possession of you all? And why, sillybillies, do you knock under to one another? I say that if you want really to know what justice is, you should not only ask but answer, and you should not seek honour to yourself from the refutation of an opponent, but have your own answer; for there is many a one who can ask and cannot answer. And now I will not have you say that justice is duty or advantage or profit or gain or interest, for this sort of nonsense will not do for me; I must have clearness and accuracy... [...]

How characteristic of Socrates! - that's your ironical style! Did I not foresee -- have I not already told you, that whatever he was asked he would refuse to answer, and try irony or any other shuffle, in order that he might avoid answering? ... [...]

Just as if the two cases were at all alike!.. [...]

I presume then that you are going to make one of the interdicted answers? .. [...]

But what if I give you an answer about justice other and better, he said, than any of these? What do you deserve to have done to you? .. [...]

What, and no payment! a pleasant notion! .. [...]

Yes, and then Socrates will do as he always does --refuse to answer himself, but take and pull to pieces the answer of some one else... [...]

Behold, the wisdom of Socrates; he refuses to teach himself, and goes about learning of others, to whom he never even says thank you... [...]

Listen, then,

I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.

And now why do you not applaud me? But of course you won't... [...]

That's abominable of you, Socrates; you take the words in the sense which is most damaging to the argument... [...]

Well, have you never heard that forms of government differ; there are tyrannies, and there are democracies, and there are aristocracies?.. And the government is the ruling power in each state?.. And the different forms of government make laws democratical, aristocratical, tyrannical, with a view to their several interests; and these laws, which are made by them for their own interests, are the justice which they deliver to their subjects, and him who transgresses them they punish as a breaker of the law, and unjust. And that is what I mean when I say that in all states there is the same principle of justice, which is the interest of the government; and as the government must be supposed to have power, the only reasonable conclusion is, that everywhere there is one principle of justice, which is the interest of the stronger... [...] ... A small addition, you must allow,.. [...]

Do you suppose that I call him who is mistaken the stronger at the time when he is mistaken?.. [...]

You argue like an informer, Socrates.

Do you mean, for example, that he who is mistaken about the sick is a physician in that he is mistaken? or that he who errs in arithmetic or grammar is an arithmetician or grammarian at the time when he is making the mistake, in respect of the mistake? True, we say that the physician or arithmetician or grammarian has made a mistake, but this is only a way of speaking; for the fact is that neither the grammarian nor any other person of skill ever makes a mistake in so far as he is what his name implies; they none of them err unless their skill fails them, and then they cease to be skilled artists.

No artist or sage or ruler errs at the time when he is what his name implies; though he is commonly said to err, and I adopted the common mode of speaking. But to be perfectly accurate, since you are such a lover of accuracy, we should say that the ruler, in so far as he is the ruler, is unerring, and, being unerring, always commands that which is for his own interest; and the subject is required to execute his commands; and therefore, as I said at first and now repeat, justice is the interest of the stronger... [...]

... but you will be found out, and by sheer force of argument you will never prevail... [...]

In the strictest of all senses,.. And now cheat and play the informer if you can; I ask no quarter at your hands. But you never will be able, never... [...] ... Why, you made the attempt a minute ago, and you failed... [...]

Tell me, Socrates, have you got a nurse?.. Because she leaves you to snivel, and never wipes your nose: she has not even taught you to know the shepherd from the sheep... Because you fancy that the shepherd or neatherd fattens of tends the sheep or oxen with a view to their own good and not to the good of himself or his master; and you further imagine that the rulers of states, if they are true rulers, never think of their subjects as sheep, and that they are not studying their own advantage day and night. Oh, no; and so entirely astray are you in your ideas about the just and unjust as not even to know that justice and the just are in reality another's good; that is to say, the interest of the ruler and stronger, and the loss of the subject and servant; and injustice the opposite; for the unjust is lord over the truly simple and just: he is the stronger, and his subjects do what is for his interest, and minister to his happiness, which is very far from being their own.

Consider further, most foolish Socrates, that the just is always a loser in comparison with the unjust.

First of all, in private contracts: wherever the unjust is the partner of the just you will find that, when the partnership is dissolved, the unjust man has always more and the just less. Secondly, in their dealings with the State: when there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income; and when there is anything to be received the one gains nothing and the other much. Observe also what happens when they take an office; there is the just man neglecting his affairs and perhaps suffering other losses, and getting nothing out of the public, because he is just; moreover he is hated by his friends and acquaintance for refusing to serve them in unlawful ways. But all this is reversed in the case of the unjust man.

I am speaking, as before, of injustice on a large scale in which the advantage of the unjust is more apparent; and my meaning will be most clearly seen if we turn to that highest form of injustice in which the criminal is the happiest of men, and the sufferers or those who refuse to do injustice are the most miserable ---that is to say tyranny, which by fraud and force takes away the property of others, not little by little but wholesale; comprehending in one, things sacred as well as profane, private and public; for which acts of wrong, if he were detected perpetrating any one of them singly, he would be punished and incur great disgrace --- they who do such wrong in particular cases are called robbers of temples, and man-stealers and burglars and swindlers and thieves. But when a man besides taking away the money of the citizens has made slaves of them, then, instead of these names of reproach, he is termed happy and blessed, not only by the citizens but by all who hear of his having achieved the consummation of injustice. For mankind censure injustice, fearing that they may be the victims of it and not because they shrink from committing it.

And thus, as I have shown, Socrates,

injustice, when on a sufficient scale, has more strength and freedom and mastery than justice; and, as I said at first, justice is the interest of the stronger, whereas injustice is a man's own profit and interest.

And do I differ from you, as to the importance of the enquiry?.. [...]

And how am I to convince you, he said, if you are not already convinced by what I have just said; what more can I do for you? Would you have me put the proof bodily into your souls?.. [...]

Think! Nay, I am sure of it... [...]

Yes, that is what I say, and I have given you my reasons... [...]

What a charming notion! So likely too, seeing that I affirm injustice to be profitable and justice not... [...]

No, I would rather say [that justice is ] sublime simplicity... [...]

No; I would rather say [that injustice is] discretion... [...]

Yes, at any rate those of them [i.e., the unjust] who are able to be perfectly unjust [are wise and good], and who have the power of subduing states and nations; but perhaps you imagine me to be talking of cutpurses. Even this profession if undetected has advantages, though they are not to be compared with those of which I was just now speaking. .. [...]

Certainly I do so class [injustice with wisdom and virtue]... [...]

I may be in earnest or not, but what is that to you? --to refute the argument is your business... [...]

[Does the just man try to gain any advantage over the just?] Far otherwise; if he did would not be the simple, amusing creature which he is... [...]

He would think it just [to attempt to gain an advantage over the unjust], and would try to gain the advantage; but he would not be able... [...]

... [the unjust man] claims to have more than all men... [...]

Nothing, can be better than that statement [i.e., the just does not desire more than his like but more than his unlike, whereas the unjust desires more than both his like and his unlike]... [...]

Good again [i.e., the unjust is good and wise, and the just is neither] ... [...]

... he who is of a certain nature, is like those who are of a certain nature; he who is not, not ... [...]

Clearly the musician is wise, and he who is not a musician is foolish... [...]

.... but do not suppose that I approve of what you are saying or have no answer; if however I were to answer, you would be quite certain to accuse me of haranguing; therefore either permit me to have my say out, or if you would rather ask, do so, and I will answer 'Very good,' as they say to story-telling old women, and will nod 'Yes' and 'No.' [...]

I will, to please you, since you will not let me speak. What else would you have? [...]

True, [i.e., that a state may be unjust and may be unjustly attempting to enslave other states, or may have already enslaved them, and may be holding many of them in subjection ] and I will add the best and perfectly unjust state will be most likely to do so... [...]

(&) [this power which is possessed by the superior state can exist or be exercised] only without justice... [...]

Let us assume that she retains her power.

[the gods are just? ] Granted that they are... [...]

Feast away in triumph, and take your fill of the argument; I will not oppose you, lest I should displease the company... [...]

Let this, Socrates, be your entertainment at the Bendidea... [...]

The Prophet of Injustice
Thrasymachus makes two main statements around which he speechifies: the first claiming that justice "is simply what is in the interest of the stronger party" (338b), and the second that "injustice pays and justice doesn't" (348c).

Thrasymachus gives systems of government as an example of his first dictum that 'justice is to the advantage of the stronger', with the latter being the governing power.
When Thrasymachus says that power is in the hands of the ruling class (338d) this can mislead modern minds into thinking of the ubiquitous elites which we assume are present in all such systems.
However, it seems that what Thrasymachus means by the 'government', or 'ruling class', is that which is classified - theoretically - as the ruling power in a particular system.
Therefore, in a democracy it is 'the people' - the demos - who rule [and not a 'representative' elite as in modern - so-called - 'democracy'].
It is the mass of the 'people' who are the 'ruling class' in a democracy by Thrasymachusian standards.
Therefore each system of government comprises of a 'framework' which encompasses the ruling class and the ruled, the latter obeying laws made by the former 'to their own advantage'.
'Justice' comprises of the ruled obeying the rules set down by their rulers [but not - as we shall see in Thrasymachus' second argument - in the rulers obeying their own rules].
In a democracy then, the ruled are also the rulers; - a perverse system by Thrasymachusian standards, which violates his basic position that 'justice is to the advantage of others and injustice is to the advantage of oneself'.
In a democracy it is unjust for the ruled to disobey the many who both rule and are ruled and to agitate for the rule of a minority - whoever they may be. Theoretically, democracy abolishes all 'order of rank'.
Likewise, in an aristocracy, where 'the best' - necessarily an elite - rule, it is unjust for the ruled [the mediocre and the worse] to agitate against minority rule [or to propose an alternative minority who are not the aristocracy].
It can further be said that no single framework is more or less 'just' than another, although democracy or communism would seem to fall foul of Thrasymachus' logic that there must be rulers and ruled.
A change of framework ['regime change'] will reformulate what is considered 'just' as there is no universal standard of justice outside of the various frameworks. It is rather a case of what type of framework we are dealing with [disregarding Thrasymachus' implied objection to all egalitarian systems as aforesaid].
Political power dominates its attendant frameworks : in a tyranny or a despotism it is concentrated in the hands of one man, while in a democracy it is widely dispersed [and therefore diluted] amongst 'the people'.
To Thrasymachus there must always be the polarity of injustice/justice - there cannot be a state of pure justice [as that would be injustice itself to the strong].

The first argument is the most well-known, but the second [i.e., that injustice is more profitable than justice] was considered "far more important" by Socrates (347e) because it entails that the unjust man is therefore 'happier' than the just man (343c).

There are various schools of thought as to whether the two statements are consistent with one another. Guthrie, for example, thinks they are not, whereas Kerferd thinks that they are. Guthrie points out that the first says that 'justice is the interest of the stronger', while the second says that it is unjust for the stronger to seek his own interest. Kerferd thinks they can both be subsumed under the rubric of 'justice is to the advantage of others, injustice is to the advantage of oneself'.

The second statement throws out a unique challenge to ethical thought, a challenge first taken up by Socrates, who agreed that justice was an "interest" (339b) - and so would concur at least halfway with the first statement - but could never agree with the second that injustice ever "pays better" (354a) than justice.

The one undeniable difference between the Sophists and Socrates is the fact that the former charged fees and the latter did not. Plato made much of this, and is said to have referred to the earnings of the Sophists at least thirty-one times in his works, this in a culture that had "a prejudice against wage-earning in general".
Against such a background, Thrasymachus' claim that injustice "pays better" assumes an added importance. Indeed, the whole of this encounter is infused with references to, and puns on, money-making, beginning with the banter between them. Thrasymachus suggests that his superior definition of justice will make Socrates pay the penalty of his ignorance, and that - being a Sophist - Socrates will have to pay a fee to him for his teaching too (337d).

Further on Socrates introduces the curious notion of wage-earning being a separate profession or skill (τεχνη,346c) in his elenchus: curious as money is merely a means of exchange, by all accounts. While, after Thrasymachus' long second speech, he implores him to stay and explain it further as it won't be a "bad investment". When Thrasymachus says that "injustice is the profit (ξυμφερον) of oneself" (344c), Socrates returns his statement back to him - not using sumpheron, but kerdaleos instead, saying "I don't think that injustice pays better" (κερδαλεωτερον, 345a). Whereas Thrasymachus' preferred sumpheron has an underlying connotation of mutuality, deriving from sym-pheron, to 'bring together, to bear jointly', Socrates' kerdaleos has the sense of 'gain, wages, greediness, cunning, and tricks’.

And yet it is power that is at the heart of Thrasymachus' position, as he will extol the virtues of the tyrant as the exemplar of his dictum:
The tyrant "is the man to study if you want to find how much more profit (ξυμφερει) there is in wrong-doing than in right" (343e-344a).

Thrasymachus notes that whereas the petty criminal is despised and punished, when injustice is committed on a large enough scale by the 'tyrant' he is rather acclaimed as "happy and fortunate" (ευδαιμονες και μακαριοι,344b).
'Profit' increases according to the degree of power, and the tyrant has the most concentrated form of power of all.

Some commentators detect an air of disillusionment in Thrasymachus here, who they say in fact is offering a sardonic critique on the immoralism of his times, such as is reflected in the writings of Thucydides [compare the Melian Dialogue V.89,: "the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel, and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept" ]. However, this is more interpretation than text.

And what is the 'standard of justice' in 5th century Athens referred to by Thucydides?
The Republic's subtitle is 'about justice', and the Greek word usually translated as 'justice' is dikaiosune, which has less of a legal and more of a moral sense. Indeed, some argue that 'morality' would be a preferable translation of dikaiosune.
This may help us to appreciate the full force of Thrasymachus' statement, which can be seen as an outright affirmation of immoralism, taking 'unjust' to mean 'immoral'.

A persistent theme running through Sophistic thinking concerned the opposition of nomos and physis, the former being 'law', or 'convention', and the latter 'nature'.
The Sophist Antiphon, for example, stated that "the majority of things which are just by nomos are in a state of open warfare with nature".

For Thrasymachus then, justice was a nomos, whereas for Plato it was a physis. In the latter case injustice would be against nature (444d).
But from the Thrasymachusian perspective, injustice is 'natural' justice; it being 'right' - as Pindar has it - that the strong should rule the weak ['might is right'].
By this criterion right and wrong are nothing other than synonyms for [natural] benefit [or profit] and [natural] damage [or loss] respectively, all from the viewpoint of the strong.

Socrates' various arguments to debunk this immoralist thesis largely miss the mark because they assume a moral view of justice which is not shared by the Sophist. For example, Socrates says that the unjust cannot work together as they would be at each other's throats it being a "function of injustice to produce hatred" (εργον αδικιας μισος,351d).

Here Socrates reveals his propensity to universalise moral terms. There is no reason in the realist world of the Sophist for the unjust [i.e. the strong] not to behave equably towards one another while they exercise injustice on a grand scale over the weak [i.e. the just] (344c) - they care nothing for universal moral consistency, but rather only recognise parity among equals.
To the strong, equality pertains only amongst the strong - it does not extend to the weak who by their very nature must bow down to their masters.
Here is the root of Nietzsche's distinction between 'master morality' and 'slave morality'. Only in the latter is an 'egalitarian' morality [based on the resentment of the weak towards the strong] espoused. Socrates therefore marks the preliminary steps towards a slave morality; it is not the full-blown version for the reason I indicate later in this essay.
That Thrasymachus himself recognises the master's limited 'justice' inter pares is shown when he says that the just man will be detested by his "relations and friends" because - unlike the unjust man - his "honesty will prevent him from appropriating public funds" to "do them a service" (343e).

Socrates attempts to suggest that the unjust individual will have a conflict within his own self that will render him incapable of action, and therefore make him 'an enemy' to himself (352a) .
Here Socrates is inferring some kind of 'injustice in the soul'. But would such 'self-hatred' [cf. 351d above] really be a case of the so-called "just soul" (δικαια ψυχη) (353e) being corrupted by 'injustice'? Would it not rather be an example of a psychopathy that can be suffered by both the just and the unjust alike, and so unrelated to the common notion of justice? Surely a man can be 'just' in his actions, but full of 'self-hatred' - one does not preclude the other. And it can also be said that justice - as well as injustice - can engender hatred.
Nietzsche points out that the [unjust] aristocracy frequently title themselves as the 'happy' ones - able to unleash injustice upon the weak while joyfully oblivious to the suffering of the latter. Indeed, in some cases they may even take pleasure in inflicting cruelty.

Socrates says to Thrasymachus; "we agreed, did we not" that justice is excellence (αρετην) of "soul" (ψυχης) (353e). And yet this is not the case, as a check through the text indicates.
Even more, how can Socrates say here that justice is "excellence of the soul" when he will say only a few lines later (354c) that he "doesn't know" what justice is? Is it really coherent to say that this unknown justice is an excellence and therefore the 'good functioning' (353b) of a 'soul'? Socrates admits this failure in the last lines of Book 1(354c).

That justice is 'other-regarding', is recognised by Thrasymachus when he says that justice is really the "good" (αγαθον) of "someone else", while "injustice is the contrary and rules those who are simple (ευηθικων) in every sense of the word and just" (δικαιων) (343c).
Thrasymachus' word eu-ethikon ['good-natured, simple, silly'] can be compared to Nietzsche's observation: "wherever slave morality gains the upper hand, language shows a tendency to make a closer association of the words 'good' and 'stupid' ".
The just then "promote" the "happiness" (ευδαιμονα) of the unjust "to the complete exclusion of their own" (343d). This is a 'zero-sum' equation, as injustice's gain is always justice's loss, and vice versa, as in Thucydides' "equality of power", where you are either 'hammer or anvil'.

In a culture of virtue ethics which aims at self-regarding arete ['excellence and good disposition'], and eudaimonia ['the state of having an objectively desirable life'], someone like Socrates - who is enmeshed in those same values - will have difficulty in convincing a Thrasymachus that justice is arete, when the latter sees it as "simple-mindedness", and conversely sees injustice as a matter of "good judgement" or "common sense" (ευβουλιαν εφη) (348c-d).
Socrates even admits as much when he says that "every man of understanding would rather choose to be benefited by another than to be bothered with benefiting him" (347d).

Therefore in such a culture "injustice" [i.e. strength] "pays" and "justice" [i.e. weakness] "doesn't" (348c). Shorey notes that this is Thrasymachus' 'Umwertung aller Werte' - a clear reference to Nietzsche's 'transvaluation of all values', which "reverses" "normal” [or rather 'slave'] morality .
It is also a reaffirmation of the Homeric values of "power and success" [i.e. 'master morality'] in the face of Socrates' own (unsuccessful at this stage) attempt to subvert them.
As Nietzsche wrote: " The Sophists are no more than realists ... they possess the courage of all strong spirits to know their own immorality", while "Socrates represents a moment of the profoundest perversity in the history of values".

Socrates is not able to make the step toward a morality of selflessness, or even disinterestedness, because he is committed to Greek 'virtue ethic' eudaimonia in which there needs to be a good outcome for the agent at some level. As he says: "it never pays to be miserable, but to be happy" (ευδαιμονα) (354a), and so ends the dialogue with Thrasymachus in the aforementioned aporia.

In conclusion, the challenge of Thrasymachus' second statement remains: for what good reason should the strong and fearless man pass up the happy profits of injustice? What would he want with the meagre pickings of other-regarding justice?
As Nietzsche asked rhetorically, "doesn't life mean ... being unjust?"

Despite the avowals of some modern day statesmen of an "ethical foreign policy", does not an analysis of their actual political actions reveal only national self-interest lurking just beneath the surface? Thrasymachus need not to have "blushed" (350d), as the road of Realpolitik leads back - via Machiavelli - to the "mighty man of Chalcedon ”.

Some refs:
Guthrie, W. (1971) The Sophists, CUP Kerferd, G. (1981) The Sophistic Movement, CUP
Plato, (1937) The Republic, Loeb Greek-English trans. P. Shorey, Harvard

Thrasymachus ('bold in battle')


Thrasymachus (ca. 459-400 BCE) was a sophist of Ancient Greece best known as a character in Plato's Republic.

The Historical Thrasymachus

Thrasymachus was a citizen of Chalcedon, on the Bosphorus. His career appears to have been spent as a sophist, at Athens as far as we know, though there is no concrete evidence that he was a sophist. He is credited with an increase in the rhythmic character of Greek oratory, especially the use of the paeonic rhythm in prose; also a greater appeal to the emotions through gesture.

Aristophanes makes what is the most precisely dateable of references to Thrasymachus, in a passing joke from a lost play dated to 427.[1] Nils Rauhut of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy concludes from this passage that Thrasymachus must have been teaching in Athens[2] A further fragment, this time from Clement of AlexandriaMacedonian Archelaus. "And while Euripides says in the Telephus, 'Shall we who are Greeks be slaves to barbarians?', Thrasymachus says in his speech For the People of Larisa, 'Shall we become slaves to Archelaus, Greeks as we are, to a barbarian?'"[3] Rauhut therefore declares it evident that Thrasymachus became most prominent in the last three decades of the fifth century.[2] Dillon and Gergel posit the alternate possibility that the speech was composed by the second-century AD Herodes Atticus, of whom we have extracts similar in spirit to Clement's fragment, and sound authentically fifth-century, exhibiting detailed knowledge of Thessalian politics.[4] for several years before this point. provides some further context, by placing Thrasymachus contrary to the

A fragment of his work On Constitutions survives, which contains the maxim that the ancestral constitution is common to all. The meaning of this is debatable; one suggestion is that every orator can claim to speak for it, no matter what he is advocating.

There is a man by the same name mentioned in Aristotle's Politics who overthrew the democracy at Cyme, but nothing is known of this event, nor can it be said with any degree of certainty that they are the same man.[5] Aristotle mentions a Thrasymachus again in his De Sophisticis Elenchis, where he credits him with a pivotal role in the development of rhetorical theory. Quoting the W. A. Pickard-Cambridge text: "For it may be that in everything, as the saying is 'the first start is the main part'... This is in fact what has happened in regard to rhetorical speeches and to practically all the other arts: for those who discovered the beginnings of them advanced them in all only a little way, whereas the celebrities of to-day are the heirs (so to speak) of a long succession of men who have advanced them bit by bit, and so have developed them to their present form, Tisias coming next after the first founders, then Thrasymachus after Tisias, and Theodorus next to him, while several people have made their several contributions to it: and therefore it is not to be wondered at that the art has attained considerable dimensions."[6] Dillon and Gergel are cautious not to read this as stating that this makes Thrasymachus a student of Tisias, just as it does not make Theodorus a student of Thrasymachus.[7]

Writing more specifically in the Rhetoric, Aristotle attributes to Thrasymachus a witty simile. "A simile works best when it is in effect a metaphor, for it is possible to say that a shield is like the drinking-cup of Ares, or that a ruin is like the tattered rag of a house, and to say that Niceratus is like a Philocreres bitten by Pratys - the simile made by Thrasymachus when he saw Niceratus, who had been beaten by Pratys in a recitation competition, still going around with his hair uncut and unkempt."[8] A further reference to Thrasymachus in the Rhetoric finds Herodicus punning on Thrasymachus' name. "Herodicus said of Thrasymachus, 'You are always bold in battle (thrasymakhos)!'"[9] Dillon and Gergel suggest that this might explain Plato's choice of Thrasymachus as the "combative and bombastic propounder of the 'might is right' theory" for his Republic.[10]

Plato mentions Thrasymachus as a successful rhetorician in his Phaedrus, but attributes nothing significant to him.[11] The Byzantine Suda gives a brief description of Thrasymachus affirming his position as a rhetorical theorist. "A Chalcedonian sophist, from the Chalcedon in Bithynia. He was the first to discover period and colon, and he introduced the modern kind of rhetoric. He was a pupil of the philosopher Plato and of the rhetor Isocrates. He wrote deliberative speeches; an Art of Rhetoric; paegnia; Rhetorical Resources."[12] Dillon and Gergel state that the second sentence is a "preposterous statement, both as concerns Plato and Isocrates." They further declare that emending 'pupil' (mathêtês) for 'teacher' (kathêgêtês) is equally foolish. They themselves suggest a lacuna in the text, wherein Thrasymachus is declared the pupil of another, and a rival of Plato and Isocrates.[13]

Dionysius of Halicarnassus praises Thrasymachus for various rhetorical skills in his On Isaeus, finding Thrasymachus "pure, subtle, and inventive and able, according as he wishes, to speak either with terseness or with an abundance of words." Dionysus but still found Thrasymachus a second-rate orator beside the "incisive" and "charming" Lysias, because he left no forensic speeches to posterity, only handbooks and display-speeches.[14]

In Plato

Thrasymachus' current importance derives mainly from his being a character in Plato's dialogue. He is noted for his unabashed, even reckless, defense of injustice and for his famous blush at the end of Book 1, after Socrates has tamed him. The meaning of this blush, like that of Socrates' statement in Book 6 that he and Thrasymachus "have just become friends, though we weren't even enemies before" (498c), is a source of some dispute.

There is a long philosophical tradition of exploring what exactly Thrasymachus meant in Republic I, and of taking his statements as a coherent philosophical assertion, rather than as Plato's straw man.

In the Republic I, Thrasymachus violently disagreed with the outcome of Socrates' discussion with Polemarchus about justice. Demanding payment before speaking, he claims that "justice is the advantage of the stronger" (338c) and that "injustice, if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice'" (344c). Socrates counters by forcing him to admit that there is some standard of wise rule — Thrasymachus does claim to be able to teach such a thing — and then arguing that this suggests a standard of justice beyond the advantage of the stronger. The rest of the dialogue is occasioned by Glaucon's dissatisfaction with Socrates' refutation.

His name means fierce fighter, which may have influenced his role in the dialogue.

In Leo Strauss's interpretation, Thrasymachus and his definition of justice represent the city and its laws, and thus are in a sense opposed to Socrates and to philosophy in general. As an intellectual, however, Thrasymachus shared enough with the philosopher to potentially act to protect philosophy in the city.


338c: Ἄκουε δή, ἦ δ᾽ ὅς. φημὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ εἶναι τὸ δίκαιον οὐκ ἄλλο τι ἢ τὸ τοῦ κρείττονος συμφέρον. συμφέρον.[1] (“Listen—I say that justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger.”)

344c: οὕτως, ὦ Σώκρατες, καὶ ἰσχυρότερον καὶ ἐλευθεριώτερον καὶ δεσποτικώτερον ἀδικία δικαιοσύνης ἐστὶν ἱκανῶς γιγνομένη, καὶ ὅπερ ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἔλεγον, τὸ μὲν τοῦ κρείττονος συμφέρον τὸ δίκαιον τυγχάνει ὄν, τὸ δ᾽ ἄδικον ἑαυτῷ λυσιτελοῦν τε καὶ συμφέρον. [2] ("Thus, Socrates, injustice on a sufficiently large scale is a stronger, freer, and a more masterful thing than justice, and, as I said in the beginning, it is the advantage of the stronger that is the just, while the unjust is what profits man's self and is for his advantage.")


  1. ^ Father: Well, you'll get your come-uppance in time, my lad! Son: Ha! That 'get your come-uppance' is from the rhetoricians. Father: Where will all these fine phrases of yours land you in the end? Son: 'Land you in the end' - you got that from Alcibiades! Father:hypotekmairei) and slandering people who are just trying to practise decency? Son: Oho, ho! O Thrasymachus! Which of the law-men came up with that piece of Jargon? Dillon, John; Gergel, Tania (2003). The Greek Sophists. Great Britain: Penguin Group, 205. ISBN 0-14-043689-8. Why do you keep making insinuations ( Hypotekmairei is a hapax legomenon, and occurs nowhere else in surviving literature. Dillon and Gergel assume that the word had some technical definition, possibly given to it by Thrasymachus
  2. ^ a b Rauhut, Nils (2006). "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Thrasymachus". Retrieved on September 2, 2006.
  3. ^ Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis VI 1. In Dillon, John; Gergel, Tania (2003). The Greek Sophists. Great Britain: Penguin Group, 213. ISBN 0-14-043689-8.
  4. ^ Dillon, John; Gergel, Tania (2003). The Greek Sophists. Great Britain: Penguin Group, 212. ISBN 0-14-043689-8.
  5. ^ Aristotle, Politics V, 1304b-1305a.
  6. ^ Aristotle, On Sophistical Refutations 183b22-34. In Pickard-Cambridge, W. A. [1941] (2001). in Richard McKeon: The Basic Works of Aristotle, De Sophisticis Elenchis (On Sophistical Refutations). New York: Modern Library, 211. ISBN 0-375-75799-6.
  7. ^ Dillon, John; Gergel, Tania (2003). The Greek Sophists. Great Britain: Penguin Group, 383, n.7. ISBN 0-14-043689-8.
  8. ^ Aristotle, Rhetoric III 11, 1413a5-10 = A5, extended. In Dillon, John; Gergel, Tania (2003). The Greek Sophists. Great Britain: Penguin Group, 205. ISBN 0-14-043689-8.
  9. ^ Aristotle, Rhetoric II 23, 1400b17-23 = A6, extended. In Dillon, John; Gergel, Tania (2003). The Greek Sophists. Great Britain: Penguin Group, 206. ISBN 0-14-043689-8.
  10. ^ Dillon, John; Gergel, Tania (2003). The Greek Sophists. Great Britain: Penguin Group, 206. ISBN 0-14-043689-8.
  11. ^ Plato, Phaedrus 266c.
  12. ^ Suda, s.v. Thrasymakhos. Θ, 462. Tr. Ada Adler, 1928-1938
  13. ^ Dillon, John; Gergel, Tania (2003). The Greek Sophists. Great Britain: Penguin Group, 383, n.3. ISBN 0-14-043689-8.
  14. ^ Dionysus of Halicarnassus, On Isaeus 20. In Dillon, John; Gergel, Tania (2003). The Greek Sophists. Great Britain: Penguin Group, 209. ISBN 0-14-043689-8.

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