The Justice of Dharma: A comparison between two seminal concepts of the West and the East

Final Paper Proposal

My final paper will compare the idea of justice as defined in Republic, written by Classical Greek philosopher Plato, to the Hindu concept of dharma. Justice is defined in Republic as balance in society on both the individual and State level, where the desires, emotions, and reasoning of each individual’s mind are balanced and each individual uses his/her natural talents to play his/her role in bettering society. Dharma, a concept originating in Vedic India, can be defined as achieving harmony within the individual and society. These two concepts both deal with justice on the individual and social level; given that they originated on the opposite sides of the world, the Eastern and Western spheres of humanity, why are these ideas so similar? I will attempt to answer this question and more by researching historical contexts, tracing theorized roots, and attempting to make connections between the two ideas as well as the cultures in which they originated.

Relationship between the ruler and ruled

In Plato’s The Republic and More’s Utopia, both writers examine the relationship between ruling class and the ruled within a just society. Within each work, both classes are bound by the mutual sacrifice and duty that perpetuates justice, but the writers’ individual experiences with different forms of governance lead them to diverge when discussing the control that the ruled have over their rulers.

In both Utopia and The Republic, sacrifices on behalf of both the rulers and the ruled forge solidarity between members of the two classes. Plato and More agree that just as every man has a talent to offer, every man must also forsake certain pleasures to promote the functioning of the society as a whole. This is why in neither work do rulers have more wealth or luxury than those they rule over, for justice in both societies demands equal distributions of happiness and material goods among members. Rulers in both works also have a duty to be a guide for other citizens to follow. Just as Plato’s philosopher kings must descend back into the cave to lead others to enlightenment, magistrates in Utopia must encourage industrious spirit among citizens by performing manual labor.

However, their experiences with democracy and monarchy lead Plato and More to defend different forms of government, resulting in different powers that the ruled have over their rulers. Plato critiques democracy and believes that leadership roles ought to be filled by those whose intrinsic talents are best suited to the job. Thus, citizens are unable to elect their rulers. Because each member of society is fated to perform a certain role regardless of his own desires, there is an irreconcilable divide between the rulers and the ruled, for no ruler can ever be removed from power, and no ordinary citizen can ever rise to the level of a ruler. In contrast, More’s version of governance allows for social mobility. After living under a monarchy for his entire life, More promotes a democratic republican form of government wherein citizens elect a number of magistrates who then make decisions – such as selecting the prince – with their interests in mind. The ruled can revoke the power of the magistrates if they are thought be be unjust or abusive. This check on the power of the ruling class ensures balance and an equal distribution of power throughout the society that is essential to maintaining justice.

Compare and Contrast between the ruler and ruled in ‘Utopia’ and ‘The Republic’

‘Real’ Justice

                The word perfect or ideal signifies something that has no flaws and is not prone to objection. Therefore, we can reason that something so intricate probably has no substitute either. However,  learning about the ideal society in More’s Utopia  and Plato’s The Republicmakes my previous statement void of any substance. Although the two philosophers are aiming for the same objective, the structure between the ruler and ruled in their respective worlds could not be more different, which puts us in doubt as to what is ‘real’ justice.

However, there are some parallelisms that we can draw from the texts. They strongly believe that it is important to understand the meaning of justice, in Plato’s case by the philosopher king and in More’s case the general public. They also agree that the perfect society must be modeled in either absolutes: either everyone is good natured or they are morally incompetent. They both want to avoid the abuse of power by either providing an all-knowing central figure or by disregarding personal benefits and desires.

In The Republic, Plato brings forward the idea that it is necessary for someone who is of a higher standing i.e. more learned, to guide the perfect State. He reasons that people are misguided by personal desires and the wrong motives therefore, a savior or “philosopher king” is needed to teach them the right from wrong. Although this constitutes a form of dictatorship he believes the philosopher king will know better than to abuse such power. Plato’s State is built on the centralized figure whose sole responsibility is the functioning of the state.

Contrary to Plato’s belief, More in Utopia reasons that society cannot work solely on the ideology of one person. It has to be the collaboration of people that would help it rise to success. His Utopian people work together disregarding social status, which implies equality and reliance on each other rather than individual work. More shows that his Utopia’s abundant resources are due to everyone sharing the burden. More’s government is more democratically minded because it takes into account the opinion of the people and chooses leaders among them. Even the leaders are no exception to extreme laws and are not in any higher financial standing than the rest. More’s basis is that the good will and their peaceful forward moving attitude will enable them to work towards an Utopia.

Even though the texts are polar opposites of each other, they bring to light that a society needs either a leader or willed people to function well. May be, rather it is a combination of the two that will provide us an answer to the “real” justice.