The Craft of Justice
The Craft of Justice

The Craft of Justice

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A philosophy worksheet from the FHSU Scholars Repository.

The Craft of Justice

​Seeking a deeper understanding of justice, Socrates invites Polemarchus to compare justice to a wide range of crafts ( techne in the Greek), each of which involves a distinctive way of being knowledgeable and effective in the world: medicine, cooking, seamanship, farming, shoemaking, checker playing, house building, vine pruning, lyre playing, horse breeding, boat building, and soldiering. Supposing for the sake of argument that the just person benefits friends and harms enemies, the question then is what ways of benefiting and harming are characteristic of justice. What, in other words, does the just person know how to do insofar as he is just? Polemarchus struggles to come up with a good answer. At first he suggests that the just person is characteristically knowledgeable and effective in “wars and alliances.” But when Socrates asks about justice in peacetime, he changes his mind and says that the just person’s area of expertise is entering into business partnerships. The inquiry then turns to determining the aspect about which a just person is more knowledgeable and effective than someone with expert knowledge about the actual goods or services being traded. Regarding the business of buying and selling horses, for instance, to have mastered the craft of horse breeding is plainly relevant and helpful. But what good is having mastered justice? Polemarchus ends up saying that justice is characteristically useful when it comes to safeguarding deposited money, that it is not especially useful when it comes to actually using money, and that, as a craft, justice must be similar to stealing, in that guardians of money and thieves of money need to know the same sorts of things. But he admits to being confused about this.


In what ways are just people characteristically more knowledgeable and effective than unjust people? What does justice enable a person to do?


Crafts can be taught. A master cook, for instance, can take an apprentice under her wing and, in time, teach him how to cook. Can justice similarly be taught?


Certain people appear to have special gifts (talents) for certain crafts. There are gifted cooks, gifted musicians, and soon. They work hard at what they do, but they appear to achieve more than most of us would for the time and effort they put in. Are some people similarly gifted at being just?


​Philosophy at FHSU Scholars Repository