How to Know a Man is Just–Plato and Jesus

 

PlatoChristianity has always maintained that, in order to restore the relationship between us and God, Jesus Christ had to be without sin—without his own contribution to the human evil that divided humanity from God. Approximately 350 years before, a Greek philosopher laid out his criteria for declaring a man perfectly ‘just.’ If you really think about it, it is a tricky problem–how can we know someone is trying to be good for the sake of goodness itself, or merely trying to be good in order to be admired by others? Is a person truly good if they’re being self-centered? So the philosopher’s requirements for a perfectly just man are fascinating:

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?

Let the unjust man be entirely unjust, and the just man entirely just… [T]he 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….

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… 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.

[T]he just man who is thought unjust will be scourged, racked, bound—will have his eyes burnt out; and, at last, after suffering every kind of evil, he will be impaled: Then he will understand that he ought to seem only, and not to be, just; the words of Aeschylus may be more truly spoken of the unjust than of the just. For the unjust is pursuing a reality; he does not live with a view to appearances –he wants to be really unjust and not to seem only.

– Plato, The Republic, Book 2

Now, of course we don’t follow or apply all of Plato’s logical deductions in The Republic. And the fact Jesus Christ did meet his criteria for a perfectly just man does not mean that Plato was some sort of prophetic figure, looking for a new religion, or anything like that. Some may even argue other historical figures have fulfilled these criteria (Socrates himself is the obvious allusion Plato makes), and certainly these criteria are not exhaustive of what Jesus actually did on earth. However, I am fascinated by the thought Jesus met them. I am fascinated he met the logical criteria someone else proposed. He didn’t have to fulfill any demands for evidence of his goodness that humans proposed, but he did anyway. And if we agree logic is a good part of God’s creation, we can see this confirmed by this as well.

The incredible thing that I derive from this is that a historical philosopher laid out several criteria that would prove to him that another man was perfectly just, and that these criteria were indeed met by Jesus Christ.

There’s your interesting thought for the day. Enjoy!

 

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Filed under The Republic, Plato

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