I think I now understand Plato’s theory of the greater good. I believe that all of this is interwoven with justice, and that if he is able to teach people to follow his “rule” or example then, in this sense, a community can be created in which people strive to achieve a public good that goes beyond the individual need. This idea, however, is limited to the notion that people must hope and believe in this type of society, or else it couldn’t exist. I believe that most of the fundmental flaws in modern day society are a result of people drastically failing to work for the common good, instead branching off on their own uncharted and dangerous path to achieve success, fame, money, or all three of these while compromising societal growth.
I disagree completely with this ideal that Plato has in The Republic. How could he have possibly conceived of a society where humans are motivated for the happiness of something other than themselves, something completely unified and together like a society? I think the irony in a society is that, although it agrees for the most part on legislation, certain norms, it is also composed of individuals who have completely opposing viewpoints to its main “objective”. If a society were true to its function, then nobody would speak of the “society” in any negative way because everyone would attempt to follow the common “agreement”. However, this is not the way the world runs: we are all individuals, from different parents and places, and I believe that there is no way this “unified State” idea is in any way conceivable. In many ways, I actually believe that it is far more interesting when individuals do not have to strive to please their community to be happy. Capitalism has produced some of the world’s greatest inventions and technological innovation, all because of personal incentives to do better and compete against other people in the same field. How would I be typing on this MacBook if it weren’t for Steve Jobs’ desire to become more successful and well known than Bill Gates for his advancement of the Apple product? Clearly, we’ve seen capitalism trump communism in the downfall of the Soviet Union and expansion of America’s economy because of democratic functions and private sector industries (not to sound too obnoxiously patriotic, but this is the truth). Everything that is relevant to my life runs on this simple concept, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just habitual for humans to behave like this. Plato’s idea is far too idealistic, and I think that he fails to recognize a fundamental human characteristic, which is our need to survive and therefore be selfish to a certain degree.
“Shall I by justice reach the higher stronghold, or by deceit, and live entrenched securely?”
Quoted from Plato’s The Republic.
Today in class, we talked extensively about ethical relativism and subjectivity in terms of defining broad terms like “justice”. Although I understand what Alex and many other people are trying to argue when they say that a person’s definition of justice is entirely subjective to themselves, I politely disagree: there is such a thing as justice, and this entity is a byproduct of both our personal beliefs, what has been ingrained as living human beings, and other people’s interpretations and acceptance/denial of our view. Why do I think it is wrong to steal? Quite honestly, I was never born with this pre-existing ethical belief that stealing is wrong. Rather, I know if I were to steal from someone, I would probably take away something that they had worked hard to buy, or perhaps even strip away their right to eat food, or survive (if I stole food). And because I am human and value the importance of life, I am able logically interpret this action as detrimental to someone else, which makes me want to do it less. That’s not to say that I am some perfectly kind or altruistic human being, because I believe that everyone has their flaws, but because of my personal recognition I am able to identify a right and a wrong. In addition to this, society has instituted laws and consequences to stealing, which decreases my desire to do it. Lastly, I know that my family members would most likely condone and judge me for my actions, which forms a sense of “denial” or “lack of agreement” with my ethical decision, weakening my effort to steal in the future because their opinion matters to me.
I guess my point after this long rant is to say that justice cannot exist solely based on an individual’s view. Like Hegel said, we are all aware of ourselves and able to access our sub-conscious only through the mutual recognition of another person’s consciousness. If we rely on human beings to survive, then how can we think up justice entirely on our own? Mustn’t we hinge at least a little on the opinions of others, and societies rules? It’s nice to conceive of a world where society does not govern our thinking, but unfortunately, I doubt that such a world exists, because we are simply too dependent on one another to survive, be happy, and lead a successful life.
I now understand what this means more than ever, and I can now relate to this more than ever.