Philosophy Department Colloquium: Timothy Clarke (UC Berkeley), "Justice in Simpler Times"

Event Date: 

Friday, March 4, 2022 - 4:00pm

Event Location: 

  • South Hall 5617
Plato's Republic approaches the question of what it is for a person to be just by first trying to locate justice in the city or polis. The idea is that justice will be easier to discern when it is manifested at a larger scale – the scale of an entire city, as opposed to that of a single individual. With this in mind the dialogue's interlocutors set about constructing a hypothetical city. Once it is complete, they will ask what makes it just. They will then use their account of political justice to guide their investigation of justice on the smaller scale, in the soul of the individual. My starting point in this talk is the passage in Book IV where political justice is identified for the first time (432b-434c). In this passage Socrates argues that the city's justice consists in the fact that each of its citizens 'does their own'. That is, each of them devotes themselves to the civic task for which they are naturally best suited. Socrates' arguments for this conclusion all rely, as we should expect, on the preceding account of Callipolis, the ideal city of producers, auxiliaries, and rulers. But the passage also seems to hint, surprisingly, that we could have arrived at this same account of justice much sooner, and independently of the account of the ideal city. I shall argue that this is the implication of Socrates' remark that, in looking for justice, we have been like people who go looking for what they are holding in their hands (432de). My aim is to follow up this surprising hint, and to trace out its consequences for the Republic's theory of justice.