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Ancient Philosophy on Gyges - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 309
Gyges/Ancient philosophy/Keyt/Miller: [in Plato’s Republic] on Glaucon's view of justice as a necessary evil and a shackle of natural desires, no one is just willingly: people practise justice 'as something necessary, not as something good' (Rep. II.358c16-17).
Gyges‘ ring: this is the point of the story of Gyges' ring, the ring that makes its possessor 'equal to a god among men' (Rep. II.360c3) by giving him the power of invisibility. Glaucon claims that the possessor of such a ring would exploit its power to satisfy his natural desires unrestrained by justice.
The story of Gyges' ring poses the problem that Plato addresses in the rest of the Republic, and echoes through the history of Western philosophy.
Today: Contemporary contractualists like Gauthier (1986)(1) continue to worry about it, and Hobbes' Foole seems to be a descendant of Gyges. >Contractualism/Gauthier.
Gaus I 310
Amoralism: the challenge of amoralism posed by Callicles and Polus in the Gorgias is reiterated by Thrasymachus and Glaucon in the Republic; but the response in the Republic outstrips that in the Gorgias by as much as a nuclear eclipses a chemical explosion. The challenge of Gyges' ring is to show that justice pays, that it is not a necessary evil but an intrinsic good. ((s) Cf. >Intrinsicness/Philosophy). >Justice/Plato, >Plato/Political Philosophy.
Justice/Socrates/Republic: (...) Socrates infers that the psyche has three parts analogous to the three parts of the just polis, and then, following a principle of isomorphism, defines a just psyche as one with the same structure as a just polis. Thus, in a just psyche each of the psychic elements sticks to its own work: reason rules the psyche; spirit, or thymos, defends it from insult; and the appetites provide for its bodily support (Rep. IV.441d-442b). Psychic justice turns out to be something like mental health, an intrinsic good no one wants to be without, so the challenge of Thrasymachus and Glaucon is answered (Rep. IV .444c-445b).
Problem: there is an ongoing controversy, however, over the cogency of Socrates' response.
For it is unclear that the Platonically 'just' man is just in the sense of the problem of Gyges' ring. What prevents the Platonically just man from harming others? (The controversy, stoked by Sachs, 1963(2), has generated an enormous literature. Dahl 1991(3) , is a good representative of the current state of the debate.)


1. Gauthier, David (1986) Morals by Agreement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2. Sachs, David (1963) 'A fallacy in Plato's Republic'. Philosophical Review, 72: 141-58.
3. Dahl, Norman O. (1991) 'Plato's defense of justice'. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research,
51: 809-34.

Keyt, David and Miller, Fred D. jr. 2004. „Ancient Greek Political Thought“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Ancient Philosophy
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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