Year 11 Philosophy
“Ring of Gyges” – Article
Without consequences would you do anything you want?
“With great power, comes great responsibility” was famously said to Peter Parker in the first Spiderman film. What if, the ‘great power’ was an invisible ring? And the ‘responsibility’ was to remain/become a good person. Is it possible? Well Spiderman certainly managed to anonymously fight crime and be a good person, but is this only in comic books?
Are people good only when they get credit for it? Or are too scared to do anything bad for the fear of punishment and judgement?
These are fundamentally the questions that are raised by the story of Gyges Ring told by Glaucon (an ancient Athenian and the philosopher). The story begins with a challenge put forth by Glaucon, who wants Socrates to defend the just life and he wants the defence to show that justice is intrinsically preferable to injustice. For the sake of the argument, Glaucon proposes to present a defence of injustice.
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 barer of the ring 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.
Imagine yourself in that situation, you have the power of the most extreme anonymity, invisibility. What do you do? Glaucon believed that even if against their will, everyone is at the core a self-interested person. So! Do you- A) Steal a car and rob a bank?
B) Stop a robbery and save lives?
C) Or not take the ring at all
I would love to believe in the power of good natured humans to restrain from corrupting this hypothetical ring, but is that a feasible feat?
However, as Lord Acton once said “absolutely power corrupts absolutely” and this comment agrees with Glaucon view of the human condition; people are fundamentally bad and self-interested beings. This idea is supported by option A from above, where Glaucon says that when using the ring, one would become corrupt and unjust in their using of such power. Glaucon discusses in the story of the “Ring of Gyges” the notion that people are only good and just when they fear consequences of their actions and without these consequences, humans would become corrupt and essentially unjust.
One could argue that humans are at their essence self-interested and callous beings, everything we do no matter how kind and ‘genuine’ has an underlying hidden self-agenda. It may sound cynical but it is part of human nature and in the way of a “Ring of Gyges” I believe I would cave and probably steal a nice convertible and maybe rob a bank but I would also like to think that my moral compass would stop me…