Critical Essays Dealing With Plato's Philosophy on "The Good Life"
|Solonian Justice : the good and the just life|
The Presocratics identify the good life with the just life. Solon envisions justice as a divine power. Vlastos suggests that "Solon is as earnest a moralist as Hesiod," when he juxtaposes Homeric and Hesiodic sanctions of justice such as, "famine and plague, sterility of women, barrenness of land etc..." and Solon's belief that justice will sweep across the entirety of the polis as a plague (Vlastos, 33). The works of Hesiod and Homer recall "the magician-kings who can procure good crops for their people no less than victory in war" (Vlastos, 33). The kings of Hesiod and Homer were imbued with a magical or supernatural, divine power that enabled them to deliver their people from the perils of natural disasters and the calamities of warfare. Similarly, Solon envisions himself as such a divine deliverer. He thinks of justice as a gift the gods give to mortal men, and this too, resembles a Hesiodic concept. Pandora, as described in Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days, was a bewitching gift sent to mortal men as retribution and justice for Prometheus stealing the fire from Zeus. But rather than presenting the people of the polis with the "traditional repertoire of superstitious terrors, [Solon] makes them look at history, considering cause and effect" (Vlastos, 33). It is here that Solon brings nature and politics together. Vlastos quotes Solon in his treatise on Solonian justice stating, "The sea is stirred by the winds; if someone does not move it, it is the justest of all things" (34). Solon reveals his naturalistic approach to politics as he refutes those, such as Semonides, who hold that the sea is "double natured," suddenly changing from a calm state to its opposite. Rather, Solon posits that any agitation in the water is due to a disturbing cause (Vlastos, 34).
In his treatise Vlastos goes on to explain the significance of justice to every member of the polis by examining the common peace and the common freedom. For Solon, any act of injustice is a threat, unintentional though it may be, to the collective polis. Solon uses somatic metaphors when referring to the polis stating, "any act of injustice, impairing the 'good order,' 'good sense,' and 'soundness' of the common life, is a real cause of civil strife; and the distemper of the body politic... is all-comprehensive in its effects" (Vlastos, 38). Here again, Solon fuses naturalistic and Hippocratic thought into his political treatise. The polis is likened to a body; when one person of the collective body of citizens gets a disease, it can spread rapidly, endangering every member of the polis. This thought echoes the earlier Draconian laws where any member of a polis could slay a man who had posed a threat to another member of the body politic. Because injustice affected everybody, justice was everybody's business. For this reason, in Solon's concept of justice, "the precious right of straightening crooked judgments" was no longer left in the hands of the aristocracy, but rested in the hands of the people (Vlastos, 41). Similarly, Solon held that the bondage of any member of the polis threatened the common freedom of every member of that polis. The polis must therefore protect the freedom of everyone against enslavement.
While Vlastos credits Solon as a great innovator in political justice, he seems disappointed in Solon's traditionalist approach to "acquisitive and distributive justice," or the justice of wealth (Vlastos, 47). Solon adhered to the traditional notion of the justice of wealth put forth by Hesiod. Embedded within this Hesiodic concept of wealth is the idea that the gods give wealth and riches and that they can take away wealth just as easily as they give it. Vlastos remarks on Solon's concept of the justice of wealth when he states, "all that can be enjoyed at any given moment of one's life-is true 'wealth' (aphenos). In this respect, the peasant is the equal of the great landowner. For the latter's surplus cannot be converted into immediate satisfaction" (49). The result of this theory of divine dispensation is that there is only security in the enjoyment of the moment.
While Solon continued to respect the nobles of his time who believed that they had expertise and understanding of supernatural justice, he paved the way for justice to become a matter of 'common' or 'public' truth (Vlastos, 56). In this sense, it became available to all men who could understand justice and teach it to others. Vlastos credits Solon as a great innovator of political justice as he concludes, "the most important of Solon's social and economic reforms was prompted by his concept of political justice. Therein lies his greatness: that, despite the traditionalism of his concept of wealth, he was able to envisage this revolutionary concept of justice based on the solidarity of the polis" (56). Thus as Vlastos makes clear, the naturalization of justice explored in his article, is actually the "socialization" of justice where "justice became the common possession of the polis" and the ruler of peoples' life.
Bibliography (Section A)