A Philosopher's Blog

Summary of Plato’s Ring of Gyges

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on December 29, 2009
Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1...
Image via Wikipedia

The “Ring of Gyges” begins with a challenge put forth by Glaucon-he wants Socrates to defend the just life and he wants the defense to show that justice is intrinsically preferable to injustice. For the sake of the argument, Glaucon proposes to present a defense of injustice.

Glaucon begins by asserting that people find it desirable or good to inflict wrongdoings on others but these wrongdoers regarded being on the receiving end of misdeeds as undesirable. When people have been on both ends of misdeeds (giving and receiving), they quickly realize that the pains of being a victim far outweigh the benefits of being the victimizer. To avoid being victims, people come together and forge agreements and dub these agreements with the name “justice.”

Glaucon makes it clear that people do not enter into the agreement that gives rise to justice willingly and that this situation is not regarded as the best. He regards justice as a compromise between what is most desirable to the individual (doing misdeeds with impunity) and what is the most undesirable for the individual (being a hapless victim). He further concludes that people accept justice because they are weak and that a person with the power to successfully carry out misdeeds would be a fool not to do so.

In support of his claims that no one is willingly a follower of justice and that anyone who was free to be unjust would be unjust Glaucon tells the tale of the ring of Gyges. In this tale the shepherd Gyges finds a magical ring of invisibility within a strange bronze horse that has been exposed by an earthquake. Using the power of the ring, he seduces the queen and, with her help, murders the king and takes control of the realm.

Given his tale, Glaucon concludes that if identical rings were given to a just man and an unjust man, then both men would act unjustly. This proves, to his satisfaction, that people act justly only under compulsion. By nature, he claims, all living beings desire more than what they are actually due. Despite this, he does consider the possibility that someone might decline to use the ring to perform misdeeds. While such a person would be praised to her face, she would be regarded as a great fool for not using the power in her possession.

Glaucon finishes his case by presenting the details of his challenge. In this challenge the perfectly unjust man is to be squared off against the just man. The unjust man must be the very pinnacle of injustice and must have all that he needs to be unjust and carry out his misdeeds effectively and secretly. To this end he is, for the sake of the argument, given great skill in the use of both persuasion and force and is equipped with various virtues such as bravery and strength. He is further to be blessed with wealth, companions, and an unblemished (though false) reputation for justice. In short, though he is truly a master of injustice he is regarded by all as a just man.

In stark contrast, the just man, while truly just, is stripped of everything but his justice and his life. He is burdened with a reputation for being unjust, despite his true nobility. After all, as Glaucon points out, the just man must be properly tested to see whether he acts justly for the sake of justice or merely for the sake of the reputation and all that goes with it.

Given this setup, it must be determined which man is happier-the just man or the unjust man.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

46 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Anonymous said, on October 3, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    good summary

  2. Anonymous said, on March 1, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    “While such a person would be praised to her face, she would be regarded as a great fool for not using the power in her possession.”

    Why do you say “her” instead of their,they?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 2, 2011 at 5:33 pm

      I was experimenting with ways of being non-gender biased. At that moment, I was using “her” rather than the usual “his.” Back when I took English, we were taught that “their” was for the plural only and duly marked down for misusing it. I still feel odd using “their” and “they” for the singular.

      Either that or I am an evil Vatican assassin warlock misogynist who uses “her” to express my unrelenting evil and hatred.

      • Anonymous said, on September 9, 2014 at 2:18 pm

        Now, why do you have to use ‘Vatican’ as part of your sarcastic description? Why not ‘Mecca’ or ‘Jerusalem’?

        • Please said, on October 26, 2015 at 9:27 am

          If he used one of the others would you not ask the same question still?

          • Anonymous said, on February 21, 2017 at 11:11 pm

            you could say “his or her”

            • Anonymous said, on April 7, 2017 at 5:47 pm

              Saying “his or her” every time I would need to in an essay for school just makes the essay look poor in my opinion. Sometimes I use “his” and other times I use “hers” I don’t see the point of making it a gender issue when just trying to explain something anyway.

    • Anonymous said, on November 8, 2012 at 12:29 am

      Actually, in academia, it is quite correct to use “her” in this way or the alternative “his” so don’t take it personally. And the use of ‘their’ would not be correct grammar since “their”, “they” refers to being plural. In reality, the above statement is gender neutral even when using the seemingly specific pronoun ‘her’, or at least ought to be interpreted as such since the key to understanding the statement is “…such a person…” If you want to be technically correct then would you prefer for the writer to have written ..his/her face? Either way, not their or they.

    • Omar A. said, on December 6, 2012 at 10:37 am

      Because the antecedent, a person, is singular so you have to follow the sentence with “she” “he” or a singular pronoun. To use “they” instead would be grammatically incorrect because it’s plural.

      • RFCR said, on December 20, 2015 at 5:50 pm

        That’s true, but an exception is sometimes made to the grammatical rule.

    • Anonymous said, on December 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      Because it’s proper english

      • Pat Griffin said, on February 9, 2013 at 9:49 pm

        English can be changed. It has changed continuously in the past. Additionally, “you” can be used for singular or plural. Why not, parallel to the already proper use of “you,” start using “they” for singular as well as plural, by establishing a rule that “they” can be used as a gender inclusive or gender neutral singular pronoun? That strikes me as better than using “s/he” or alternating between “he” and “she,” both of which strike me as much more awkward (since one isn’t a word, and the other is inconsistently using two different words) than using “they” as a gender inclusive singular.

  3. Mobuto Seseseko said, on March 21, 2011 at 11:59 am

    riveting tale chap

    all i know is that the summary is on dat dere phaggy time. Brought to you by MISC!

  4. eric said, on August 10, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Although I don’t understand how the just man would be regarded by his peers as unjust, this was a great read

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      Glaucon mostly just does that by fiat, but it is easy enough to imagine how a good person could be seen as a bad person. Smear campaigns, misunderstandings and so on. For example, many historical figures that are now regarded as good people were often vilified in their own time.

  5. Suzy said, on December 14, 2011 at 2:23 am

    This whole ring of gyges allegory reminds me of the problematique created through the anonymity of the internet and things people allow themselves given this “invisibility”…. great summary by the way.
    Very well done.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 14, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      That is a good analogy-the internet does allow people to conduct misdeeds (ranging from flaming to criminal hacking) behind a cloak.

  6. Lia said, on September 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    You just made my day! I read the story for Ethics class and could not understand the whole of the story. I understand now everything. Thank you, evil Vatican assassin warlock misogynist who uses “her” to express your unrelenting evil and hatred. 🙂

  7. George Collingwood said, on September 23, 2012 at 10:58 am

    I never read the Republic, but if there is an ideal version of justic somewhere,I can’t imagine what it would look like. And if there isn’t an ideal (or if we can’t say what it looks like) what then?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm

      Plato’s ideal justice is the form of justice, which exists outside of space-time. I don’t buy into that myself but he has some decent arguments for the Platonic forms.

  8. Anonymous said, on November 26, 2012 at 8:12 am

    nice summary!!!

  9. Anonymous said, on January 28, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    What does Glaucon want to demonstrate by giving two people rings?

  10. Sarah said, on March 1, 2013 at 3:53 am

    Reblogged this on breezy and commented:
    The original Lord of The Rings –– Plato’s Ring of Gyges hahaha

  11. syl said, on May 10, 2013 at 12:51 am

    what’s the value of this story?

  12. Susan said, on July 29, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    How would the ring of gyges and the parable of the cave compare and contrast to Jesus’ teachings in Matthe?

  13. […] B3. Een op hol geslagen tram, de dikke man en het “ongeluk” (vgl. Plato’s ring van Gyges) […]

  14. […] (from aphilosopher.wordpress.com) […]

  15. Anonymous said, on March 12, 2014 at 12:02 am


  16. […] of the myths about Gyges was that he was given a magical invisibility ring that let him get away with anything […]

  17. Anonymous said, on January 20, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    philosophers debating over english grammar

  18. ANON said, on February 27, 2015 at 12:24 am

    Thank you for making my homework easier with your understanding. Happy arguing.

  19. Anonymous said, on March 10, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    This really helped me with my Ethics assignment. Greatly appreciated!

  20. Ernie said, on June 22, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Glaucon’s Dilemma
    © 2015, Ernie Lee
    I lie thrust upon the horns of a paradox
    that three thousand years has posed.
    Is it better to be an unjust man who is thought to be good
    or, to be a just man and thought not to be?
    Is there anywhere a third option?
    One that lies somewhere between?
    What of a man that is neither, and thought to be either?
    Could he slip between the horns of Glaucon’s bull and somehow survive?
    Or would he be gored to death trying to prove his own stilted truth?
    Would he take up the ring of Gyges to hide from verity,
    Or to disprove the lie?

  21. Eileen Cameron said, on August 19, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Nobody knows what is the nature of ideal justice. Is it equality? Freedom? God’s command? The commands of whichever ruler or popular ideology is current at the time of asking?

    Man’s quest for the good is conducted by blind men who have no maps or compasses. That there are no maps or compasses is a possibility. The good is therefore always and invariably something that men aspire to. The aspiration to the good (and to justice) is what is good. Therefore what is good (or just) is not what satisfies the immediate pleasure.

  22. […] until they are stopped by some legal means–or rather by someone with the legal means. The Tale of Gyges comes to mind. Was Bayh-Dole simply a law to free university administrators from the values if not […]

  23. Imagine | Research Enterprise said, on October 8, 2016 at 9:30 am

    […] and free-loading mediocre parasites away. Well, that’s interesting. It’s sort of like a ring of power. The question is, what happens to you when you put it on? (Oh, okay, this clip […]

  24. […] the non-religious idealist tradition, Plato stresses on his Myth of Gyges, and considers human beings to have a very powerful set of forces that lead them to […]

  25. Anonymous said, on May 10, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Which is why the Ring must be destroyed.

  26. Credibility and Plagiarism said, on January 9, 2018 at 11:37 am

    […] is a very interesting summary of Plato’s Ring of Gyges, which you can read about here. But in summary, the person who is ‘just’ and the one who is ‘unjust’, may not be so black […]

  27. doctoredmond said, on January 18, 2018 at 10:12 am

    Good luck my people.i have something to share with everyone who will be opportune to come across this post.my name is Becky Diof who hails from Ivory Coast. I am here to share a testimony on how I came in contact with a friend who has been helped by one spiritual doctor in Nigeria with a magic ring that has given him unending wealth, fame, connection etc. The friend am talking about is by name Sarah from Cameroon,one of the best business morgue in Ivory Coast. As a good friend he offer to take me out on a journey to prosperity of which I embacked on earlier this month,getting to his temple I was given procedures in getting one of his magic rings for money.i did all that was required as I was lectured by my friend all that will be needed. with this, the process was easy. I was asked to come back in four days later. Behold when I went back to him my ring was already fortified with power to give me wealth, fame, longlife etc. which am using till date. The mystery about this ring is that I did not perform any form of bloody sacrifices to make the ring work. it seems the ring is the one used in production of currency because it dispense money like a machine combining it with the pot of success that was also given me apart from this money it dispense, I can also order the ring in the magic pot to do anything I wished to in this world such as getting promoted in any area of life, winning bet games, lotto, lotteries, visas, getting scholarships,speak and obey, getting money spiritually from any organisation and you can also use it to draw back/bring back the love of your life and ex lovers to yourself, if you love a particular person and the person is not giving you attention, with this ring you are bound to win him or her back and other lots more too numerous to list. I shared this online because what doctor Edmond did for me,money is not enough to appreciate him and his wife so I decided to let the people know that with him our life is sure and brighter. doctor Edmond is from Nigerian who travels worldwide. Though, I went to Nigeria from Ivory Coast to consult him. You can also make him your choice if you are wise by contacting him on this email; doctoredmondrings@gmail.com or call and whatsaap these numbers on; +2348147745661.+13135096661.Thank you for your time in going through this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: