The Blushing Argument
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The Blushing Argument
Thrasymachus admits explicitly that he thinks it preferable to be an unjust person and above the laws than a just person and bound by them. Socrates then proceeds, by force of argument, to bring him to admit that unjust people are “ignorant and bad.” The key premise occurs when they agree that “in any branch of knowledge or ignorance . . . a good and wise person does not want to do better than someone like himself, but someone both unlike and opposite to himself.” Socrates seems to have in mind something like this: Suppose you are an expert – in obstetrics, let’s say – and you encounter someone not so good in your area of expertise. If you see them botching up a delivery, you will want to step in and say, “Wait a minute, stop, let me show you how it’s done.” You will want to uphold the standards of excellence of your craft and do better than the incompetent person. If, however, the other person is also an expert, you may attend the delivery, but you won’t be stepping in and correcting them. Socrates thinks that all true experts are like this, including expert rulers. Only incompetent people are so stupid as to try to outdo competent people. And so, since unjust people – and tyrants above all – are indiscriminate with respect to whom they try to outdo, they are stupid. Thrasymachus blushes in irritation and humiliation, but he remains unconvinced.
What about athletes? Don’t good athletes try to do better than one another? And don’t we admire the amateur athletes who compete with and occasionally beat the pros? Similarly, don’t good generals strive to outdo one another on the battlefield? Shouldn’t they? Isn’t warfare by its very nature competitive? What about people involved in commercial enterprises? Is it right to describe competition among good companies as “ignorant and bad”?
What has Socrates’ argument achieved so far, beyond irritating and perhaps humiliating someone? Has Thrasymachus learned anything? Have we?
The Republic is Plato’s composition. That Plato realizes Socrates has offered a weak defense of his position becomes clear at the beginning of Book II when he has Glaucon say as much. Why then does he have Socrates give a weak argument in the first place? What does Plato want us to be thinking?
Philosophy at FHSU Scholars Repository