What is Justice According to Plato What is Justice According to Plato

What is Justice According to Plato? His Philosophy on Justice in 5 Simple Points

When we delve into the realm of philosophy, few concepts are as pervasive and enduring as justice. It’s a thread weaving through the fabric of society, touching every aspect of human life.

This quest for understanding justice is brilliantly encapsulated in the works of Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher whose influence continues to echo through time.

Plato’s intricate theory of justice is not just a minor footnote in his philosophical teachings; it is a cornerstone, a fundamental piece that helps us decipher his broader vision of a well-ordered society and individual conduct.

In attempting to grasp Plato’s perspective on justice, we embark on a journey that requires us to scrutinize the very essence of justice within the scaffolding of society and its intricate connection to the individual.

1. Introduction to Plato’s Theory of Justice

The notion of justice, according to Plato, stretches far beyond the confines of legal disputes or the administration of laws. It is a virtue, a state of being that must infuse the collective consciousness of a city-state as well as the soul of its citizens.

This exploration is pivotal to appreciating the depth of Plato’s thoughts. His seminal work, The Republic, serves as a grand stage where he meticulously dissects the principles and nature of justice.

In The Republic, Socrates, Plato’s protagonist, argues for a just city under the rule of philosopher-kings, where the virtuous condition of the soul reigns supreme, and the rational part governs the whole. This conception echoes the belief that a just life is akin to a well-ordered soul, reflecting the balance and harmony that define health in a body.

Within the pages of The Republic, justice emerges as a tapestry woven from various threads – each representing a cardinal virtue. Wisdom, courage, and temperance join justice as the pillars upon which a just society stands.

These virtues, intricately linked, form the bedrock of Plato’s philosophical outlook and remain just as pertinent today as they were in ancient times.

And so, our journey begins at the confluence of the individual and society, where the search for justice is both a personal quest and a collective endeavor.

2. Plato’s Concept of Justice as Harmony

In considering Plato’s vision of justice, one may ponder: what makes his interpretation so distinctive? For Plato, justice wasn’t just a matter of legal fairness or retributive balance; it was about the intrinsic harmony of the whole.

Just as a well-tuned instrument produces a melody that is greater than the sum of its notes, Plato believed that a just society operated in a similar fashion.

Harmonious Strength: More Than Might

It was a core belief of Plato that justice represented a harmonious strength. He observed that strength alone, the kind that overpowers others, could not be the foundation of justice.

Rather, justice was seen as a strength in equilibrium. It’s this idea that sets the stage for a society where each individual plays their part in creating a cohesive and stable community.

This harmonious strength ensures that the collective operates effectively, similar to the various components of a symphony working together to produce a beautiful piece of music.

The Soul’s Symphony

To understand justice as Plato saw it, imagine the soul as akin to the body’s health. Health is not merely the absence of illness but a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.

In the same vein, Plato viewed justice not just as the absence of conflict or unfairness, but as the soul’s overall proper functioning and balance.

According to Plato, when all parts of the soul are in agreement and the rational part is in charge, justice manifests both within the individual and, by extension, within society.

Justice Beyond Fairness

For Plato, justice extended beyond the concept of fairness; it was about the entire soul working in harmony.

Each part of the soul—rational, spirited, and appetitive—had its role, and justice was achieved when these parts functioned in their right order. The rational part should lead, guiding the spirited part to enforce its decisions while the appetitive part follows, ensuring that desires do not overthrow reason.

This inner balance is reflective of the societal balance Plato envisioned, where each class within the state mirrored the soul’s structure, working together to maintain the health of the whole community.

school of Athens
Source- Shutterstock

3. Plato’s Dualistic Perspective on Justice

Delving into the dualistic nature of justice according to Plato, we encounter a philosophical stance that is as profound as it is intriguing.

Plato, in his seminal work, ‘The Republic‘, posits the existence of two distinct realms: the world of ideals and the world of phenomena. But what does this mean for our understanding of justice?

The Two Worlds of Plato

Imagine for a moment two worlds: one invisible and perfect, the other visible and imperfect.

In the first, there exists an ideal form of everything, including justice—immutable and eternal. It’s this perfect version that we strive to comprehend and emulate in our flawed physical world.

The phenomena, or the sensory world we experience through our senses, offer only a shadowy imitation of these perfect forms.

This distinction is crucial in grasping how Plato views justice as something more than what we see and experience in everyday life.

Ideal Justice vs. Real-World Manifestations

Justice, in its purest form, resides in the realm of ideals, according to Plato. However, the justice we observe in society—with its laws and institutions—is but an imperfect copy of this transcendent ideal.

There is a persistent duality: the justice of the ideal world versus the often flawed and inconsistent justice of our reality.

Plato doesn’t dismiss the importance of real-world justice, but he encourages us to recognize its limitations and to always reach for the ideal.

The Soul’s Role in Justice

Extending this duality further, Plato sees the soul as the bridge between these two worlds. The soul, eternal in nature, yearns for the justice of the ideal realm. It is through the soul’s alignment with rationality and virtue that individuals can aspire to enact justice in their lives.

In this sense, justice becomes not just a societal concept but an intensely personal pursuit of harmony between the body and the mind, with the soul guiding the way.

In essence, Plato’s theory of justice is a call to elevate our understanding and practice of justice beyond the confines of our immediate senses.

It is an invitation to consider the broader implications of our actions both on ourselves and on society, aiming for a harmony that resonates with the perfect forms of the ideal world.

4. Analyzing Plato’s Theory of Justice in the Context of Ancient Athens

Justice word engraved on the pediment of the courthouse
Source- Depositphotos

As we ponder on Plato’s theory of justice, it becomes essential to explore the backdrop of Ancient Athens, a city-state rife with social and political upheaval. The fabric of Athenian society during Plato’s time was one of tension and transformation, an era that undoubtedly left its mark on his philosophical treatises.

This landscape of change provided fertile ground for Plato’s thoughts on achieving societal harmony through justice.

Social and Political Tensions in Ancient Athens

The Athens of Plato’s day was far from the tranquil setting one might imagine of a civilization known for its contributions to art and philosophy.

It was, in fact, a cauldron of social and political strife. The Peloponnesian War had not long passed, leaving in its wake a society grappling with the consequences of prolonged conflict, including economic instability and class divisions.

These pressures compelled Athenians to confront fundamental questions about the nature of justice. It is within this milieu that Plato’s reflections on justice took shape, as he sought solutions to quell the unrest and discord that characterized his city.

Influence of Economic Crisis and Partisan Strife

The economic crisis and partisan strife prevalent in Ancient Athens played a pivotal role in shaping Plato’s conception of justice.

As citizens faced inequality and the polis suffered fragmentation, Plato observed the urgent need for social cohesion.

His theory of justice emerged as a response to these societal woes, proposing a justice that could serve as the bedrock for social peace.

By advocating for a system where each individual plays their part according to their nature and capacity, Plato’s justice aimed to restore stability in a deeply divided society.

Plato and Solon’s Impartiality and Fairness

During these turbulent times, the figure of Solon, an Athenian statesman, loomed large.

Appointed as a mediator amidst the civil unrest, Solon implemented sweeping reforms aimed at balancing the scales between the wealthy aristocrats and the less fortunate.

His efforts to mitigate the severity of debt on the poor and ensure fairer representation in the political system offered a concrete model of impartiality and fairness.

Plato, in observing the effects of Solon’s laws, saw the potential for a just society—one that harmonizes the competing interests of its citizens.

Through Solon’s enactments, we witness the echoes of Plato’s tripartite division of the soul—reason, spirit, and appetite—mirrored in the structure of the state.

Just as Solon sought to establish equilibrium among the classes, so too did Plato envision a society where each class performed its role in accordance with the greater good, undergirded by the virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice itself.

5. Applying Plato’s Theory of Justice in Modern Societies

Despite being conceptualized over two millennia ago, Plato’s theory of justice still echoes with contemporary relevance. One might ponder how ancient philosophical ideas could possibly have a bearing on the complexities of modern societies.

Yet, it is precisely the timeless nature of Plato’s insights that allows them to inform and guide the ethical frameworks that underpin our social and political institutions today.

A Harmonious Blueprint for Modern Issues

The notion that justice equates to a form of harmony remains a compelling metaphor for the functioning of any society.

Just as Plato envisioned justice as the harmonious operation of the various parts of the soul, so too can we apply this concept to the diverse and interdependent components of a modern state.

The intricate balance between personal freedoms and societal responsibilities, or between economic prosperity and environmental sustainability, requires a harmonious approach akin to that advocated by Plato.

In striving for this balance, societies can create conditions where every individual has the opportunity to fulfill their role and contribute to the greater good, echoing the ideal state Plato describes in The Republic.

Justice as Balance in Social Discourse

The principle of balance, central to Plato’s theory, is particularly relevant in today’s polarized political climate. Discussions surrounding social justice often grapple with finding an equilibrium between competing interests and values.

Plato’s vision encourages us to seek a middle ground where differing perspectives are reconciled and the welfare of the community is prioritized over individual gain.

This Platonic ideal challenges us to consider not just what is fair, but what will promote the overall health and stability of society.

Striving for a Just and Harmonious Existence

Understanding Plato’s theory of justice can empower individuals and leaders alike to pursue policies and actions that foster a more equitable world.

By internalizing the idea that each person has a distinct but crucial role within the social fabric, we can appreciate the importance of ensuring that everyone has access to education, healthcare, and opportunity.

Such an integral approach aligns with the organic theory of society Plato described, where every citizen contributes to the state’s well-being, much like organs work together for the health of the body.


What was Plato’s concept of justice?

Plato’s concept of justice is deeply intertwined with his broader philosophical system, emphasizing harmony, the proper ordering of society and the soul, and the pursuit of the good through an understanding of eternal forms.

What role does justice play in Plato’s ideal state?

In Plato’s ideal state, as depicted in “The Republic,” justice plays a central role in ensuring the proper functioning and overall health of the society. Plato’s conception of an ideal state is built upon the principle of specialization, where each class within the society has a specific role that corresponds to the natural aptitudes and capabilities of its members.

Did Plato believe that individuals should prioritize personal justice or societal justice?

Plato believed in the cultivation of personal justice as a foundation for societal justice. The virtues developed by individuals—wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice—are the same virtues that should characterize the state.

This symbiotic relationship means that there is no clear line where personal justice ends and societal justice begins; they are two sides of the same coin, each essential for the realization of the other.

How did Plato’s views on justice influence later philosophical and political thought?

Plato’s views on justice have had a profound and lasting impact on both philosophical and political thought throughout history. His conceptualization of justice as harmony within the state and the soul has influenced various areas, including ethics, political philosophy, and theories of social organization.

What is Justice According to Plato?

For Plato, it means living in accordance with the virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice itself. It means acting in a way that benefits both oneself and others, rather than just pursuing one’s own self-interest.

Also, having a deep understanding of what is truly good and right and acting on that understanding. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Not only do we improve ourselves and our own happiness, but we also contribute to a better, more just society as a whole. And that, according to Plato, is the true meaning of justice – not just a concept, but a way of life.