• Plato's Myth of Gyges answers the age-old question: "Why do people do what they do?" "Why are people just?" (1) Do people act as they do because of the the pleasure it eventually yields ( there is a joy in giving, in leads to a refined intellect and a good position in the working world) (2) OR Do people do what they do out of fear of getting caught?
  • According to the legend, Gyges of Lydia was a shepherd in the service of King Candaules of Lydia. After an earthquake, a cave was revealed in a mountainside where Gyges was feeding his flock. Entering the cave, Gyges discovered that it was in fact the tomb of an enthroned corpse who wore a golden ring, which Gyges pocketed. Gyges then arranged to be chosen as one of the messengers who reported to the king as to the status of the flocks. Arriving at the palace, Gyges used his new power of invisibility to seduce the queen, and with her help he murdered the king, and became king of Lydia himself. King Croesus, famous for his wealth, was Gyges' descendant. The moral of the story: In The Republic, Plato puts the tale of the ring of Gyges in the mouth of Glaucon, who uses it to make the point that no man is so virtuous that he could resist the temptation of being able to steal at will by the ring's power of invisibility. In contemporary terms, Glaucon argues that morality is a social construction, whose source is the desire to maintain one's reputation for virtue and honesty; when that sanction is removed, moral character would evaporate. However, Glaucon does not actually hold this belief; he merely produces this tale so that Socrates' argument for justice can be made stronger: Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another's, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another's faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice. They say that to do injustice is, by nature, good; to suffer injustice, evil; but that the evil is greater than the good. And so when men have both done and suffered injustice and have had experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and obtain the other, they think that they had better agree among themselves to have neither; hence there arise laws and mutual covenants; and that which is ordained by law is termed by them lawful and just. This they affirm to be the origin and nature of justice; --it is a mean or compromise, between the best of all, which is to do injustice and not be punished, and the worst of all, which is to suffer injustice without the power of retaliation; and justice, being at a middle point between the two, is tolerated not as a good, but as the lesser evil, and honoured by reason of the inability of men to do injustice. For no man who is worthy to be called a man would ever submit to such an agreement if he were able to resist; he would be mad if he did. Such is the received account, Socrates, of the nature and origin of justice. If a person could be certain not only that an action resulting in personal benefit would not be discovered but also that if this action were discovered, no punishing consequences would follow, then would there any reason for that person to act morally? In Book I of that work, Socrates opposes the sophist Thrasymachus's view that justice is that which is in the interest of the stronger agency. Thrasymachus holds, in effect, that the person who acts "unjustly" (in this sense, to one's own advantage) is normally happier than the just person. In our reading, Plato turns his attention to Glaucon's view that persons are, at heart, selfish, or, at least, egoistic. (Historically, Glaucon is Plato's older brother.) Is it so? Altruism is the ethical doctrine that each individual should place the interest of others before that individual's own interest. An action is right if it benefits others. Quite often people are pleased when they can help others. Is this fact sufficient to prove that the motive for helping others is ultimately one of pleasure or of self-interest? Glaucon's argument is used as a stalking horse for Socrates to expalin in a later part of The Republic that justice in the individual person can be understood by examining justice in an ideal state.
  • I went on a mens retreat once. We never found out who it was but that gas was no myth!

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