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Style Study: Plato


"Well said, Cephalus," I replied; "but as concerning justice, what is it?
-- to speak the truth and to pay your debts -- no more than this? And
even to this are there not exceptions? Suppose that a friend when in his
right mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is
not in his right mind, ought I to give them back to him? No one would
say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so, any more than
they would say that I ought always to speak the truth to one who is in
his condition."

"You are quite right," he replied.

"But then, I said, speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a
correct definition of justice."

"Quite correct, Socrates, if Simonides is to be believed," said
Polemarchus interposing.

"I fear," said Cephalus, that I must go now, for I have to look after the
sacrifices, and I hand over the argument to Polemarchus and the company."

"Is not Polemarchus your heir?" I said.

"To be sure," he answered, and went away laughing to the sacrifices.

"Tell me then, O thou heir of the argument, what did Simonides say, and
according to you truly say, about justice?"

"He said that the repayment of a debt is just, and in saying so he
appears to me to be right."

"I should be sorry to doubt the word of such a wise and inspired man, but
his meaning, though probably clear to you, is the reverse of clear to
me. For he certainly does not mean, as we were now saying that I ought
to return a return a deposit of arms or of anything else to one who asks
for it when he is not in his right senses; and yet a deposit cannot be
denied to be a debt."

"True."

"Then when the person who asks me is not in his right mind I am by no
means to make the return?"

"Certainly not."

"When Simonides said that the repayment of a debt was justice, he did not
mean to include that case?"

"Certainly not; for he thinks that a friend ought always to do good to a
friend and never evil."

"You mean that the return of a deposit of gold which is to the injury of
the receiver, if the two parties are friends, is not the repayment of a
debt -- that is what you would imagine him to say?"

"Yes."

"And are enemies also to receive what we owe to them?"

"To be sure," he said, "they are to receive what we owe them, and an enemy,
as I take it, owes to an enemy that which is due or proper to him --
that is to say, evil."

"Simonides, then, after the manner of poets, would seem to have spoken
darkly of the nature of justice; for he really meant to say that justice
is the giving to each man what is proper to him, and this he termed a
debt."

"That must have been his meaning," he said.

"By heaven! I replied; and if we asked him what due or proper thing is
given by medicine, and to whom, what answer do you think that he would
make to us?"

"He would surely reply that medicine gives drugs and meat and drink to
human bodies."

"And what due or proper thing is given by cookery, and to what?"

"Seasoning to food."

"And what is that which justice gives, and to whom?"

"If, Socrates, we are to be guided at all by the analogy of the preceding
instances, then justice is the art which gives good to friends and evil
to enemies."


--Plato, Excerpt from The Republic. Translated Benjamin Jowett.

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