Plato's Republic IV
The first definition of justice
Let’s jump ahead just a little to a question related to the relative importance of wealth and character in bearing old age well. Socrates eventually asks Cephalus:
“What do you suppose is the greatest good that you have enjoyed from possessing great wealth?”
Cephalus provides us with a extended response to the question, one which is illuminating of how he chose to live his life:
“‘What I say wouldn’t persuade many perhaps. For know well, Socrates,’ he said, ‘that when a man comes near to the realization that he will be making an end, fear and care enter him for things to which he gave no thought before. The tales told about what is in Hades — that the one who has done unjust deeds 18 here must pay the penalty there — at which he laughed up to then, now make his soul twist and turn because he fears they might be true. Whether it is due to the debility of old age, or whether he discerns something more of the things in that place because he is already nearer to them, as it were — he is, at any rate, now full of suspicion and terror; and he reckons up his accounts and considers whether he has done anything unjust to anyone. Now, the man who finds many unjust deeds in his life often even wakes from his sleep in a fright as children do, and lives in anticipation of evil. To the man who is conscious in himself of no unjust deed, sweet and good hope is ever beside him — a nurse of his old age, as Pinder puts it. For, you know, Socrates, he put it charmingly when he said that whoever lives out a just and holy life: Sweet hope accompanies / Fostering his heart, a nurse of his old age / Hope which most of all pilots / The ever-turning opinion of mortals. For this I count the possession of money most worth-while, not for any man, but for the equitable and orderly one. The possession of money contributes a great deal to not cheating or lying to any man against one’s will, and, moreover, to not departing for that other place frightened because one owes some sacrifices to a god or money to a human being. It also has many other uses. But, still, one thing reckoned against another, I wouldn’t count this as the least thing, Socrates, for which wealth is very useful to an intelligent man.’”
What does this tell us about how Cephalus lived his life? Did he acquire his wealth entirely justly? No. What is the greatest good he has enjoyed from possessing great wealth? He has been able to make right the wrongs he committed. What we see here is Cephalus’s solution to the problem faced by us all: you need both good character and wealth to bear old age; you know nice guys finish last; so you first get the money, then become a nice guy.