Gyges’ Ring: A Reflective Exercise
In Plato’s dialogue, the Republic, his brother
Glaucon employs a thought experiment, supposition, or hypothetical scenario to
prove his view that human beings follow societal standards of justice (or what
is considered morally correct) because they’re forced to do so out of fear
of punishment. In other words, they do so involuntarily, not freely.
Gyges, with the discovery of a ring that renders him invisible, acts according
to his desires, certain in the knowledge that he will not be detected and
therefore not suffer any negative consequences.
Your task: Answer the following questions,
you also possess Gyges’ ring.
B. EXERCISE QUESTIONS
1. What would you do first? Briefly state why you
chose this specific action.
2. What would you do generally, that is, as a matter
of regular practice? Briefly state why you chose this particular course of
3. Do you agree with Glaucon? Do human beings, for the most
part, adhere to moral codes involuntarily, only because of the fear of
getting caught and paying the consequences?
4. Finally, do you agree with Glaucon’s claim that we all
act strictly out of individual self-interest and desire (egoism)? Or is it
possible to act strictly for the benefit of another (altruism)?