Matthew Tyler Vance
Thrasymachus makes a serious claim regarding morality and its effect on people. If it were true, then why would civilizations have started in the first place? If rules did not benefit the majority of the people then A) new rulers would be chosen B) people would leave the area which follows said rules C) people would break those rules. How could laws forbidding murder or stealing harm the individuals (disregarding thieves and murderers, yet these laws still protect them amongst themselves)? Furthermore how could these rulers continue to be elected if their laws did not have the best interest?
Before civilizations were formed, there were no rules or boundaries. It was an anything goes type of world, full of dangers and risk. Hobbes calls this the state of nature, which exists "during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called warre; and such a warre as is of every man against every man". While other philosophers describe the state of nature in other terms, they all share the basic idea that any form of civilization is better. So even with rules that mainly benefit the ruler, that is still preferable to any alternative.
An argument that shows some support for Thrasymachus’s statement would look at pre-modern Europe. The 1500’s to 1800’s marked a time where Europe was following the monarchy system. These rulers collected taxes from their citizens, lived with excessive luxury, and led the land. Thrasymachus was correct for these scenarios, with rulers exclusively having their own best interest in mind. People followed them because of their divine right to rule. Basically they claimed that God chose them personally to rule. They even had support from the Catholic Church (originally, some separated from it for other personal reasons). The royal class enjoyed this excess of luxury for a while, yet this only lasted temporarily and eventually they were all overthrown, usually ending with their execution.
Even in modern day politics, corruption can easily be found. Lobbyists have a tremendous amount of swing in D.C. and influence these law makers. Yet for the most part, they must please their constituents (to a certain extent) to keep their job. Even in Thrasymachus’s time representatives were publically selected. One has to be helpful and pass popular legislation to keep their position. Therefore for the rules to truly benefit the rulers they must also benefit the subjects. While these rulers may be passing corrupt or unfair laws they are not omnipotent and therefore cannot completely enforce it. After Henry VIII broke England away from the Catholic Church he mandated that his people also changed their religion. Then his daughter, Mary, attempted to bring back Catholicism. Neither were completely successful and it was left for Queen Mary’s successor, Elizabeth to repair the damages. Which she did by combining aspects of both Protestantism and Catholicism to create the new Church of England: Evangelism. Instead of giving up their beliefs both Catholics and Protestants left England to go to start a new life in the new world: the American colonies. Their lack of complacency did not benefit Queen Elizabeth, although debatably not hurt her either. They could not foresee all the difficulties and hardships in colonizing the new, yet they accepted the risk of these instead of suffering under unfair laws that they thought would hinder their eternal salvation.
In other instances, people refused to follow rules that were unfair. In the 1950’s segregation was in full swing, with buses having separate sections for Caucasian people and African Americans. In 1955 Rosa Parks, a work African American lady originally sat in the front row of the “Black” seats at the back of the bus; however further along the route the driver extended the white section to incorporate her row. But she refused to leave...
References: Richter, D. (2008). Why be good?. Oxford University Press, Inc.
Kay, C. (1997, January 20). selections from ulilitariansm by john stuart mill. Retrieved from http://webs.wofford.edu/kaycd/ethics/mill.htm
Chapter 13 - of the naturall condition of mankind, as concerning their felicity, and mis. (n.d.). Retrieved from
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