20 Jan 2010

Sample Essay: The Power Of The Gyges Ring

As we look at the beginning of Book II of the Republic, Thrasymachus has just finished arguing that the unjust man is the successful man. This is because the unjust man employs his intelligence to use injustice as his source of strength to bring happiness into his life, even if it means using others for selfish gain. Socrates, however, counters that happiness, goodness, and justice must work hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. In order for man to have a good life, he must live in virtue, being just in his acts toward his fellowmen. Without goodness, there is no happiness (Plato’s Ring of Gyges).

The argument continues: justice vs. injustice

In response to Socrates’ counter statement against Thrasymachus’ argument, it is Glaucon who this time argues that human beings are, by nature, egoists, and are therefore strongly inclined to pursue their own selfish interests. It is only because they do not have the power or freedom to do wrong that they are forced to do just things against their will (The Republic by Plato). Glaucon further states that man’s inherent nature is not to be good because it is only out of fear that man is good. Do children listen to their parents because they want to? Or because they are simply afraid of being punished if they get caught doing wrong? Do people pay their taxes because they really want to? Or because they fear the possibility of what will happen if they do not? Man’s goodness, therefore, is nothing but a show which just acts as a mask to cover up his cowardice to want to do wrong.

Relation of the Gyges ring to injustice

Thrasymachus had earlier disagreed violently on the outcome of the discussion Socrates had with Polemarchus on the issue of justice. Thrasymachus had insisted that justice is simply the advantage of the stronger man, and that injustice will remain to be more masterly than justice (The Republic by Plato). Following his line of argument, Glaucon now relates the legend of Gyges, a common shepherd, who one day discovered a ring that gave him the power to become invisible. Glaucon argues that no man would think twice about doing something unjust if he had the opportunity to do it without being punished. As in the story, Gyges, now with the power to become invisible, is able to enter the royal chambers unchallenged. Thereafter, he seduces the queen, murders the king, and takes over the kingdom (Cohen, Curd, Reeve 363). Glaucon further argues that the just man would do exactly the same as Gyges did if he could do so without fear of punishment because that is the only thing that actually hinders man from doing anything unjust. It is just a matter of man being forced to accept a compromise not to do any injustice to others as long as others would not do any injustice to him. However, if man was to be given the chance to do unjustly things without having to fear punishment as a result, he would never enter into such an agreement or compromise (Cohen, Curd, Reeve 362).

Glaucon strengthens his argument

Glaucon presents Socrates with two major points. First is on the origin of justice. In the beginning, there were no laws to dictate to man what he could or could not do. Man simply did as he wanted. But as time passed and the strong started taking advantage of the weak, people came to the decision that life would be much safer and better if there were laws to protect them. Therefore, the need for laws and justice came about only for the sole purpose of protection rather than for a sense of righteousness (Cohen, Curd, Reeve 362).

The second point Glaucon presents is on the difference between the just and the unjust man. Glaucon insists that if two rings, with the same power to make one invisible, existed and one is given to a just man, the other to an unjust man, both men would end up doing exactly the same thing. The unjust man would still continue to do wrong as he has always done. On the other hand, the just man this time would see no need to continue being just in his acts because there would no longer be any reason for him to fear doing wrong (Cohen, Curd, Reeve 363). Therefore, the good acts of man are only the result of man’s fear of the possible consequences of doing wrong.

Socrates presents his side

Having presented his points of argument, Glaucon now challenges Socrates to defend his position that the life of a just man is still better than that of an unjust man. Socrates then points out that man is known to act according to reward or punishment. And because of man’s physical nature, his ultimate decisions are usually based on whether the end would result to either pleasure or pain. However, man has also been given the gift of rational intellect. Thus, he would be willing to endure pain or suffering if the end result would be sacrifice for the well-being of a loved one or for the greater good of his fellowmen (Plato’s Ring of Gyges). To cite an example, despite knowing the danger he will face, a man would not hesitate to rush into a burning building in order to save a loved one. Therefore, it is not fear that dictates man to do good things. Man will do a good thing because it is simply the right thing to do, in spite of the possible consequences involved. In countering Glaucon’s arguments, Socrates has likewise countered that of Thrasymachus.

Personal views

If I had the Gyges ring, I believe I would still continue to act justly in the things I do. Unlike Gyges, I would instead use the power of the ring to bring to justice those who do wrong against others in this world and are unjustly able to get away with it. Thrasymachus may say to me, “The weak follow the rules, serve the interests of others, are just, but are miserable. The strong make the rules, serve themselves, are unjust, but are happy.” And I would simply say to him, “Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow, and then for ourselves.” (Helen Keller) Therefore, without the goodness in man, there simply can be no happiness.

Works Cited

Cohen, S. Marc, and Patricia Curd, and C. D. C. Reeve. Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy from Thales to Aristotle. 3rd ed. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 2005.

Plato’s Ring of Gyges. 24 Mar. 2008. Gyges. 24 Mar. 2008 <http://www.walkupsway.com/Gyges.htm>

The Republic by Plato. Ed. Benjamin Jowett. 28 Mar. 2008. The Internet Classics Archive. 28 Mar. 2008 <http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.mb.txt>

Helen Keller. 28 Mar. 2008. Wisdom Quotes. 28 Mar. 2008 <http://www.wisdomquotes.com/002666.html>

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