Sean McAleer

Published On


Page Range

pp. 1-24

Print Length

23 pages

1. Fathers and Sons

Book I

  • Sean McAleer (author)
Chapter of: Plato's 'Republic': An Introduction(pp. 1–24)
Chapter One, ‘Fathers and Sons’, covers the first half of Book I of the Republic, where Socrates raises the Republic’s first question about the nature of justice at the home of Cephalus, a wealthy merchant who lives in a suburb of Athens. Cephalus suggests that justice is paying one’s debts and telling the truth, but Socrates thinks this cannot be the essence of justice, since there are times when one should not return what one has borrowed. This alerts us to an important fact about what Socrates is looking for in an account of justice: the account should be unconditionally correct, with no ifs, ands, or buts. Cephalus’ son Polemarchus jumps into the conversation and offers a revision of his father’s definition, suggesting that justice—right conduct, generally—is benefiting one’s friends and harming one’s enemies. Socrates finds this account has implications that Polemarchus himself cannot accept, so the chapter explores Socrates’ reasoning, especially the assumption that justice, a virtue of character, is a craft or skill. We then discuss Socrates’ more direct argument against Polemarchus’ account, that the just person would not harm anyone.


Sean McAleer