Plato: Is morality an intrinsic good?
I promised more from Plato's Republic, so here I shall deliver. This extract really challenged me when I read it. I was dumbfounded as to how to respond. I'm intrigued to know what you guys would say if someone asked you this. Unfortunately the online translation I've copied here isn't quite as easy to follow as the hard copy I've got (translation by Robin Waterfield). Basically what is being said is this:
The character wants to know whether it is intrinsically better to be moral or immoral. Everyone agrees it is good to be moral in general because people trust you, are nicer to you etc. But the question he wants to explore is: Is morality inherently good or is it just useful for its external benifits? So he does a thought experiment, which contrasts a super-moral person against a super-immoral person. But in this thought experiment, all the people of the city think the saint is a sinner and the super-sinner is a saint: Thus the sinner gets the external benifits that morality would have conveyed and vice versa. In this case is the saint truly better off than the sinner (due to morality being inherently better)? If so, why?
(From Book 2)
Now, if we are to form a real judgment of the life of the just and unjust, we must isolate them; there is no other way; and how is the isolation to be effected? I answer: Let the unjust man be entirely unjust, and the just man entirely just; nothing is to be taken away from either of them, and both are to be perfectly furnished for the work of their respective lives.
First, let the unjust be like other distinguished masters of craft; like the skilful pilot or physician, who knows intuitively his own powers and keeps within their limits, and who, if he fails at any point, is able to recover himself. So let the unjust make his unjust attempts in the right way, and lie hidden if he means to be great in his injustice (he who is found out is nobody): for the highest reach of injustice is: to be deemed just when you are not. Therefore I say that in the perfectly unjust man we must assume the most perfect injustice; there is to be no deduction, but we must allow him, while doing the most unjust acts, to have acquired the greatest reputation for justice. If he have taken a false step he must be able to recover himself; he must be one who can speak with effect, if any of his deeds come to light, and who can force his way where force is required his courage and strength, and command of money and friends.
And at his side let us place the just man in his nobleness and simplicity, wishing, as Aeschylus says, to be and not to seem good. There must be no seeming, for if he seem to be just he will be honoured and rewarded, and then we shall not know whether he is just for the sake of justice or for the sake of honours and rewards; therefore, let him be clothed in justice only, and have no other covering; and he must be imagined in a state of life the opposite of the former. Let him be the best of men, and let him be thought the worst; then he will have been put to the proof; and we shall see whether he will be affected by the fear of infamy and its consequences. And let him continue thus to the hour of death; being just and seeming to be unjust.
When both have reached the uttermost extreme, the one of justice and the other of injustice, let judgment be given which of them is the happier of the two.