The Challenge
The Challenge

The Challenge

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A philosophy worksheet from the FHSU Scholars Repository.

The Challenge

​Socrates thinks that justice is desirable, not only for its consequences, but also for its own sake. Most people grant only that it is desirable for its consequences. So Glaucon asks Socrates to prove that justice is desirable for its own sake. But in order to be absolutely sure that Socrates doesn’t end up appealing in his argument to subtle consequences such as the pleasure people take in being admired as a righteous person in an unrighteous world, Glaucon asks him to prove, in addition, that a just person with a false reputation for injustice – “whipped, stretched on a rack, chained, blinded with a red-hot iron, and . . . impaled” for crimes he did not commit – is actually happier than an unjust person with a false reputation for justice, someone rich, powerful, apparently serving and cared for by the gods, loved by his friends, and respected by his enemies. In other words, Socrates is asked to prove not only that justice is desirable for its own sake, but that it is overwhelmingly desirable, more worth pursuing for its own sake than deathbytortureisworthavoiding. This is a remarkable challenge, and it elicits a remarkable reply. The conclusion is not reached until Book IX.


Can you meet this challenge? On the one hand there is the undetected crime boss, living in his comfortable seaside home, doing what he loves to do (managing his business partnerships), going sailing in his spare time, looked up to by his neighbors for his civic involvement and generous support of local charities, his carefully laundered investments earning steady returns. On the other hand there is the just man, a city council member (and the only one not taking bribes), striving to uphold the dignity of the unfortunate people being trod underfoot by the mob boss and his organization, framed for a hideous crime he did not commit, caught, beaten, spat upon, tried, and facing crucifixion. Which man is happier?


Some people suppose that the mob boss will eventually suffer from a bad conscience and be miserable. What is a conscience? Does everyone have one? Does conscience cause everyone to feel guilty about the same things to the same degree?


There is a scene in chapter 16 of Huckleberry Finn where Huck, having decided not to turn his friend Jim in to the authorities – Jim is an escaped slave on the run – finds himself full of guilt for what he has chosen to do. He knows what he ought to do: turn Jim in. Jim is a slave, and Jim’s owner, old Miss Watson, is a decent white woman. But Huck just can’t bring himself to do it, and so his conscience haunts him. What does justice call for Huck to do in this case? What is Huck’s conscience doing in this case? Is conscience always a force for good in life?


​Philosophy at FHSU Scholars Repository