Plato’s Concept Of Justice In Antigone Essay

“Justice is served” is the cliche line heard in courtrooms throughout the world of fantasy. What justice is proves to be more difficult to define. Many definitions state it as an action that is the result or punishment for a negative action. The trouble lies in what defines what is just, the law, society or morality. Plato’s use of Socrates in “Crito” argues that justice is defined as the laws of a city or state as well as what a person’s own perception of justice is. Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere’s play Tartuffe argues that justice is both a moral concept as well as a way of reprimanding wrongdoing by a higher political power.

Antigone is Sophocles’ description of justice which lies in the social repercussions for those who break the laws of a higher power. These authors address different aspects of law, power, and justice and where the ultimate power over justice resides. Socrates often debated on the definition of justice, but in essence it was to not cause harm or commit unjust actions upon others. Those who have performed unjust actions have caused self-harm by corrupting their body and soul. “One should never do wrong in return, nor do any man harm, no matter what he may have done to you” (Plato 52).

This harm leads to the destruction of one’s virtue, and the destruction of virtue is the loss of understanding what is just. The obligation to adhere to the concepts of justice by following the laws of the state is yet another aspect of the arguments. Even though the laws are often written by a majority who does not understand the true meaning of justice it is still just to follow these laws. When someone voluntarily decides to live in a city or state they therefore agree to abide by the laws of said city.

One is obliged to follow the laws when, “So decisively did you choose us and agree to be a citizen under us” (Plato 55). This argument is referring to Socrate’s refusal to flee Athens after he is sentenced to death in a court of law for corrupting the youth of Athens and for his supposed impiety. He decided to be a citizen of Athens and will adhere to their laws and decisions in a court. Even though many believed him wrong to refuse to flee, which would lead to the abandonment of his family when he died, he stated that the majority is not the voice of justice.

Rather, it is the individual who understands justice and is correct in their assessment of Socrates’ actions. He explains in the statement, “We should not then think so much of what the majority will say about us, but what he will say who understands justice and injustice, the one, that is, and the truth itself. So that, in the first place, you were wrong to believe that we should care for the opinion of the many about what is just, beautiful, good, and their opposites” (Plato 510).

While it is the majority who makes the laws the individual decides what is truly just, that is what does not cause harm. The people may be unjust but the individual agrees to follow the laws of the majority when he decides to live in the city. An individual may be able to discern what is just but he is bound to follow what may be unjust laws as this in itself is just. The ideals of the individual as well as the laws created by the majority ultimately hold the power of justice. Political justice is a broader issue than the justice within a courtroom.

Justice as defined politically is a form of power used by a higher authority, in this instance a prince or king, to punish those who do not follow the laws, or in the case of Orgon give mercy to those who deserve it. This can be put to use even in situations where those in power are not required to act in this manner or may be breaking their own law, yet a higher authority are able to overrule the laws of the majority to maintain what they perceive as just. Those in control use this ability to enforce this form of justice to gain more power and notoriety.

Such is the case of the prince in Moliere’s Tartuffe. The false piety of Tartuffe as the “Director of Conscience” for the Pernelle family is the cause for the justice ordered by the prince. Tartuffe’s hypocrisy led him to attempt to seduce his patron’s wife, Elmier, swindle her husband Orgon out of his home by tricking him to sign over his estate to him, and nearly get the same man arrested as a traitor for keeping papers belonging to a man who tried to rebel against the state. A man of the church would never have committed acts such as these.

When Tartuffe brought these matters to the Prince the royal was able to discern what Tartuffe was plotting. As Tartuffe is arrested for his crimes the officer explains the actions of the Prince in this: We serve a Prince to whom all sham is hateful, A Prince who sees into our inmost hearts, And can’t be fooled by any trickster’s arts. His royal soul, though generous and human, Views all things with discernment and acumen; His sovereign reason is not lightly swayed, And all his judgements are discreetly weighed. He honors righteous men of every kind,

And yet his zeal for virtue is not blind, Nor does his love of piety numb his wits And make him tolerant of hypocrites (Moliere Act 5 Scene 7 lines 46-56). What is spoken here by the officer of the law explains the prince’s stance on what is just. The prince takes into account not only what is lawfully just but also what is morally just. Actions implemented by the prince enforced political justice. What is lawful is not always moral, but what is moral is often useful in political maneuverings as well as to expand the power of those who make these decisions, in this instance the prince.

Morally he did not allow an impious man to ruin an honest one through trickery and fraud. He also politically dealt justice as the prince’s position allowed him to make the decision whether Tartuffe could confiscate the land of a traitor or whether the prince would show mercy on the traitor and punish the hypocrite. The prince’s decision allowed him to strengthen his position politically by allowing morality to prevail. Rather than punishing Orgon, who had served the prince in the previous civil war, he pardoned him and rewarded him for his service.

Punishing Tartuffe, a hypocrite, bolstered his stance as a prince who was concerned not only with morality but justice for those who have committed great atrocities and “how much he prizes merit, and how he makes/More of men’s virtues than of their mistakes”(Moliere Act 5 Scene 7 lines 83-84). A political use of justice, such as the type used by the prince, not only aids in promoting the public opinion of a just ruler but allows for the promotion of justice for subjects who follow the law or, in Orgon’s case, those who have been beneficial to those in power.

When Tartuffe’s sentencing is spoken of by Cleante, Orgon’s brother-in-law, he suggests that they, “Move our king to moderate his sentence. /Meanwhile, go kneel before your sovereign’s throne/And thank him for the mercies he has shown”(Moliere Act 5 Scene 7 lines 94-96). This reinforces the idea that the Prince’s demonstration of mercy and justice allows his people to see him as a fair ruler whose council is both sound and just. Justice, in the sense of doing what is honorably and paying for wrongful actions, also effects the social relationships in the production of Tartuffe.

The deeds of Valere in protecting his beloved Mariane’s family during the crisis of the eviction of the Pernelle family and the attempt to have Orgon arrested proved his loyalty. His efforts led to permission to marry Mariane as his righteous action was repaid in kind. Whereas Valere’s conduct led to happiness Orgon’s behavior toward his son led to another aspect of this form of justice. When Orgon disinherited his son, Damis, and banished him from the house for trying to caution him about Tartuffe’s motives he was punished for his actions.

Tartuffe’s movements against Orgon concerning his estate, his wife, and the possibility of prison can be viewed as justice for wrongfully disinheriting a son who was only concerned with the welfare of the family. This exemplifies that justice in a social setting can lead to either favorable or adverse consequences. The tragedy of Antigone is one of social repercussions for those who believe their power is greater than the highest power, such as the gods. Rulers who consider themselves as the highest power who can inflict any law they wish upon their subjects must pay penance for disregarding the laws of higher authorities.

When King Kreon sentences his niece and future daughter-in-law, Antigone, to die in a tomb for the crime of giving her traitorous brother the proper funeral rites against Kreon’s declaration he violated the laws of the gods. He has sentenced one who is alive to perish among the dead when he, “… dishonored a living soul with exile in the tomb,/hurling a member of this upper world below. /You are detaining here, moreover,/a dead body, unsanctified, and so unholy,/a subject of the nether gods. /The matter is out of your hands and those of the gods above.

A crime of violence is being done and you are commanding it” (Sophocles 62 lines 1243-1249). This occasion has the gods playing the role of the hand of justice and that of the higher power as, “the gods are swift to strike. They cut fools’ hesitations short” (Sophocles 64 lines 1280-1281). Due to his foolish hesitation to right his wrong Kreon paid dearly. His penance was watching his son Haimon commit suicide as he held the body of his love, Antigone. Upon hearing this news his wife Eurydice also killed herself.

As he laments his loss while holding his son’s body Kreon cries out, “Mindless, hard, deadly crime! /Look: the killer and the kill, a father and son. /Poor and worthless counsel, my own. /My boy, young/and death come soon. /Gone, gone! /I was wrong, not you” (Sophocles 70 lines 1458-1464). He is answered by the chorus with the statement, “Now you see what Justice is. Too late, it seems”(Sophocles 70 lines 1465). The king has now paid for his social indiscretion of thinking that he possessed greater authority than the gods.

Kreon’s pride did not allow him to do what was honorable which led to the punishment of losing those he loved. Kreon’s refusal to adhere to social morays and the hierarchy of power provoked the wrath of justice. Whether it is social, political, or judicial, justice has a way of being enacted. It may be as payment given for wrongdoings. This is witnessed in the death of Kreon’s family to pay for his actions when he punished one in a manner that was unmerited in the eyes of society or Orgon disinheriting his son and then nearly losing his estate.

Reward for righteous actions also occur as Valere’s measures to save his beloved’s family resulted in him being allowed to wed Mariane. The Prince in Tartuffe exemplifies the use of justice in political maneuverings to gain respect from his people and, consequently, additional power. Laws as the keepers of justice is defended by Socrates. He refuses to flee the judicial ruling of the unjust masses and their laws by arguing that in following the laws he agreed to as a citizen he was being just.

What may be seen as unjust to many does not matter as long as the individual who knows what true justice is follows what he deems to be so. Overall, it is those who possess the ability to wield justice as the power it is who decide what is considered true justice. It may be the people, the prince, or an omniscient higher being, but true power is those who can control what people perceive to be just and moral within a society. Justice may be difficult to define in its entirety, but it is often served in its many forms.