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Giving Thrasymachus his Due: The Political Argument of Republic I and its Reception

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

This paper focuses on the first iteration of Thrasymachus’ claim as reported in Book I of Plato’s Republic that ‘justice is the interest of the stronger’, namely, a ‘political’ interpretation, according to which ‘justice is the interest of the stronger party in each polis as established in the law’. The author contends that this argument is logically and rhetorically distinct from Thrasymachus’ subsequent restatements of his position in Republic I. The ‘political’ version of the Thrasymachean position enjoyed currency after the composition of the Republic — and in a way that was not entirely negative. The current paper examines two cases of this reception: the first, in Plato’s own late work, the Laws, where he reengages with the Thrasymachean doctrine; the second, in the De republica Anglorum of Sir Thomas Smith, an early modern theorist who self-consciously defended Thrasymachus’ theory of justice. The paper’s immediate purpose is to suggest that Thrasymachus’ conception of ‘political’ justice, in particular, has far more coherence and power than the supposed ‘refutation’ of it in the Republic might leads us to believe.


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