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2020 was a year of few winners. Jeff Bezos was one, whose wealth grew from $74 to $189 billion over the course of the year. Elon Musk saw similar gains. Joe Biden won, of course, and somehow. And it was a banner year for the sob story.

The sob story serves one of the many ploys in the conman’s kit. And for good reason: it confers sympathy upon the teller. But that’s just the beginning. All successful sleights rely on misdirection. By plying you with a sob story, the conman successfully diverts your attention from his actions. Because once you’ve…


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7. A Pit Stop on Good Rulers

Socrates remains unpersuaded. Socrates recapitulates his previous argument about political rule: the same way a doctor cares not for his benefit as a doctor but for his patient, a ruler cares not for his own benefit but for the people over which he rules. Political rule seen this way looks like a hassle: you have to involve yourself in the care of others and their troubles. And that’s why, Socrates goes on, people ask for payment to rule — whether in money or honor. …


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6. The Virgin Just Man vs. The Chad Unjust Man

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the discussion of paternalism transitions to a discussion of the shepherd, the age-old archetype of benevolent, paternal authority. But Thrasymachus subverts the image. Socrates has been going on about the captain of the state who governs out of care and concern for his subjects. But doesn’t he recognize the difference between sheep and shepherd?

Thrasymachus points out, as a metaphor between governor and governed, shepherds care for their sheep out of self-interest. Socrates thus makes a mistake about the self-interest of rulership, which means he is “far off…


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5. Art and Interest

Socrates accepts Thrasymachus’ repositioning. But Socrates has a request: “[M]ake it clear whether you meant by the ruler and stronger the man who is such only in common parlance or the man who is such in precise speech, whose advantage you said a moment ago it will be just for the weaker to serve because he is stronger?” (341b). Socrates wants to take up the idea of the stronger “in the precise sense” for two reasons. First, it appears to Thrasymachus that Socrates finally understands what he’s saying. When Thrasymachus spoke of “the stronger” he meant…


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4. Knowledge and Advantage

Once Socrates has Thrasymachus’ consent he makes a crucial maneuver. Socrates asks him if he thinks rulers make mistakes when they lay down laws. No fool, Thrasymachus assents. But Socrates then relates that to his previous point. If rulers make mistakes, then sometimes they legislate to their disadvantage, which means that subjects in obedience to those laws (a just act in and of itself) actually harm the regime. Thus, justice can’t simply be the advantage of the stronger and that conception of justice can’t necessarily work in tandem with recognizing obedience as justice. First, it seemed…


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2. Irony as Cowardice

Thrasymachus bursts into the conversation having held his tongue for most of Socrates’ and Polemarchus’ discussion. And he’s frustrated. “If you truly want to know what the just is, don’t only ask and gratify your love of honor by refuting whatever someone answers — you know that is is easier to ask then to answer — but answers yourself and say what you assert the just to be,” (336c). Socrates, according to Thrasymachus, hides behind a veil of irony, always disingenuous so as to trap his interlocutors thus winning honor over them by defeating their arguments…


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Thrasymachus is perhaps the most important interlocutor Socrates encounters in The Republic. His argument (and it feels more like an argument than a discussion) with Socrates instigates the rest of the action. The conceptions of justice he poses and fails to defend continue to trouble Glaucon and Adeimantus who in turn demand from Socrates greater and deeper explanation. But before we dive into their dispute, we need to understand who he is and why he’s in The Republic.

1. The Wolf of the Republic

A sophist by trade, Thrasymachus hailed from Chalcedon, a vital trading port at the mouth of…


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2. The Problem of Power

We learn from their back and forth that justice doesn’t make lyre players better lyre players, carpenters better carpenters, etc. Polemarchus states that justice might be good for guarding things, like money or weapons. Socrates counters that justice only becomes useful when tools are useless. Socrates suggests they take a different tack: “Let’s look at it this way. Isn’t the man who is cleverest at landing a blow in boxing, or any other kind of fight, also the one cleverest at guarding against it?” (333e).

Anyone who’s done some fighting might take issue with the…


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At the beginning of the campaign season, I worked as a tutor in Los Angeles. I spent my nights threading my disintegrating 2000 VW Beetle through rush hour traffic to arrive at the mansions of various wealthy elites so that I could help their children organize their binders, write papers, etc. It paid poorly and eventually the woman who ran the company had a mental breakdown, leaving me out of a job and out of clients.

But a couple of months before that happened, I pulled into a driveway where the manager to a famous popstar waxed his Aston Martin…


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Polemarchus does indeed inherit his father’s position — at first. He recapitulates his father’s argument, which he sees as identical to something the renowned wise man Simonides said, “That it is just to give each what is owed,” (331e). Noticeably, this isn’t quite what Cephalus put forward. In fact, this is a much-reduced definition of justice. Cephalus maintained that justice was “speaking the truth and giving back what one takes,” (331d). Polemarchus’ (and Simonides’) definition of justice doesn’t hold onto the spoken truth. His position is yet more transactional than his father’s. …

Emmet

All men desire to no. Twitter: @dumbaristotle. Podcast: https://exhaust.fireside.fm/.

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