The Republic is slowly unfolding.
I have apparently read the definition of justice. I had to backtrack and read the section again; it was rather anticlimactic. The suspense built up over the dozens of previous pages, so that when during a very short dialogue Socrates reveals his definition of justice I almost missed it.
Still, there was some poetry to its simplicity.
Justice, he says, is symmetry of talent and vocation, a harmony between one’s strengths and one’s work. Justice is finding and possessing one’s place as a part of society, contributing and taking responsibility for something meaningful to that society.
Can this be so? And if yes, why is it that in Western culture we deviate so greatly from the Athenian ideal?
First, to back up a bit, the Athenian ideal found expression in a single word, arete, which finds its closest English partner in the word excellence.
Second, Socrates and (in his early work) Plato advocated the ideal, but never saw this ideal realized. They were rational dreamers; they wished and taught, but ultimately the animal nature of human society made its appearance.
Putting this together, understanding and using one’s individual excellence within society serves the individual and the society. Social awareness is in this context serving in the capacity for which one is best suited by nature, not by birth.