Home > Philosophy > Texts > Plato’s Republic (reading three)
Source info.
Our selections come from the common Jowett translation of Plato's Republic. For further study, I recommend C.D.C. Reeve's better, albeit non-free, translation for Hackett Publishing, from 2004.
  • Numerals styled like thisreflect 16th century "Stephanus pagination", still standard for references.
  • I've inserted speaker-labels (e.g., Socrates) to indicate the flow of dialogue -- even in cases where Socrates is reporting what the speaker said. Once characters are established, I thin them out.
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Home > Philosophy > Texts > Plato’s Republic (reading three)

Plato’s Republic (reading three)

“Excellences & the Soul”

So far, Plato’s Socrates has agreed to prove that ⦿ it is best to be just, and that ⦿ in a good community, things go best when members fall into the roles to which they are “naturally” suited. He suggests three tiers made up of leaders (“guardians”), soldiers (“auxiliaries”), and those with other skills (“craftsmen”). He next argues that ⦿ the soul has numerous parts, and that ⦿ what we call “good qualities” are defined by essential reference to these parts. Thus, we cannot understand human excellence without understanding the true nature of the soul.

Discussion Prep.
For class, once you’ve read from here through the end of Book IV, prepare responses to the following:

  1. What are the four virtues of the community? How is each defined?
  2. What are the virtues of the individual person? How are the community virtues related to the individual ones? (Hint: Why does Plato have to show that the soul has parts? Why three? What are they? What evidence does he provide in favor of these multiple parts?)
  3. Toward the end of this section, Plato says, “they are like disease and health.” What are like disease and health?


The Virtues in State and Individual

427d Socrates But where, amid all this, is justice? Son of Ariston, tell me where. Now that our city has been made habitable, light a candle and search, and get your brother and Polemarchus and the rest of our friends to help, and let us see where in it we can discover justice and where injustice, and in what they differ from one another, and which of them the man who would be happy should have for his portion, whether seen or unseen by gods and men….

Socrates Well, then, I hope to make the discovery in this way: I mean to begin with the assumption that our State, if rightly ordered, is perfect…. And being perfect, is therefore wise and valiant and temperate and just….

Wisdom of the practical sort, or prudence: φρόνησις (phronēsis).

428b First among the virtues found in the State, wisdom comes into view, and in this I detect a certain peculiarity.

Glaucon What is that?
Socrates The State which we have been describing is said to be wise as being good in counsel?

Glaucon Very true….

Socrates Well, I said, and is there any knowledge in our recently founded State among any of the citizens which advises, not about any particular thing in the State, but about the whole, and considers how a State can best deal with itself and with other States?

428d There certainly is.

Socrates And what is this knowledge, and among whom is it found? I asked.

Glaucon It is the knowledge of the guardians, he replied, and is found among those whom we were just now describing as perfect guardians….

Socrates And so by reason of the smallest part or class, and of the knowledge which resides in this presiding and ruling part of itself, the whole State, being thus constituted according to nature, will be wise; and this, which has the only knowledge worthy to be called wisdom, has been ordained by nature to be of all classes the least [i.e., the smallest].

429 Most true….

Courage: ἀνδρεία (andreia).

Socrates Again, I said, there is no difficulty in seeing the nature of courage, and in what part that quality resides which gives the name of courageous to the State…. [E]veryone who calls any State courageous or cowardly, will be thinking of the part which fights and goes out to war on the State’s behalf….. [T]he rest of the citizens may be courageous or may be cowardly, but their courage or cowardice will not, as I conceive, have the effect of making the city either the one or the other…. The city will be courageous in virtue of a portion of herself which preserves under all circumstances that opinion about the nature of things to be feared and not to be feared in which our legislator educated them; and this is what you term courage….

Temperance or moderation: σωφροσύνη (sōphrosynē). Mnemonic: “Temperance graces the nation / each of whose parts accepts its station.”

430d Socrates Two virtues remain to be discovered in the State – first, temperance, and then justice, which is the end of our search…. [A]s far as I can at present see, the virtue of temperance has more of the nature of harmony and symphony than the preceding.

Glaucon How so? he asked.

Socrates Temperance, I replied, is the ordering or controlling of certain pleasures and desires; this is curiously enough implied in the saying of “a man being his own master;” and other traces of the same notion may be found in language…. 431 ….The meaning is, I believe, that in the human soul there is a better and also a worse principle; and when the better has the worse under control, then a man is said to be master of himself; and this is a term of praise: 431b but when, owing to evil education or association, the better principle, which is also the smaller, is overwhelmed by the greater mass of the worse – in this case he is blamed and is called the slave of self and unprincipled….

431e Socrates And if there be any State in which rulers and subjects will be agreed as to the question who are to rule, that again will be our State? …. [W]e were not far wrong in our guess that temperance was a sort of harmony… 432 …because temperance is unlike courage and wisdom, each of which resides in a part only, the one making the State wise and the other valiant; not so temperance, which extends to the whole, and runs through all the notes of the scale, and produces a harmony of the weaker and the stronger and the middle class, whether you suppose them to be stronger or weaker in wisdom, or power, or numbers, or wealth, or anything else. Most truly then may we deem temperance to be the agreement of the naturally superior and inferior, as to the right to rule of either, both in States and individuals.

Glaucon I entirely agree with you.

Socrates And so, I said, we may consider three out of the four virtues to have been discovered in our State. The last of those qualities which make a State virtuous must be justice, if we only knew what that was.

Glaucon The inference is obvious.

Justice: δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē). Mnemonic: “Justice is said of a whole / each of whose parts fulfills its role.”

Socrates The time then has arrived, Glaucon, when, like huntsmen, we should surround the cover, and look sharp that justice does not steal away…. Here I saw something: Halloo! I said, I begin to perceive a track, and I believe that the quarry will not escape…. Truly, I said, we are stupid fellows…. [I]n reality for a long time past we have been talking of Justice, and have failed to recognize her…. 433a ….You remember the original principle which we were always laying down at the foundation of the State, that one man should practise one thing only, the thing to which his nature was best adapted; now justice is this principle or a part of it…. [W]e affirmed that Justice was doing one’s own business, and not being a busybody…. [T]his is the only virtue which remains in the State when the other virtues of temperance and courage and wisdom are abstracted; and, that this is the ultimate cause and condition of the existence of all of them, and while remaining in them is also their preservative….

Mobility within a class can be just, for Plato.

Socrates Think, now, and say whether you agree with me or not. Suppose a carpenter to be doing the business of a cobbler, or a cobbler of a carpenter; and suppose them to exchange their implements or their duties, or the same person to be doing the work of both, or whatever be the change; do you think that any great harm would result to the State?

Not much.

Mobility across classes is unjust, for Plato.

But when the cobbler or any other man whom nature designed to be a trader, having his heart lifted up by wealth or strength or the number of his followers, or any like advantage, attempts to force his way into the class of warriors, or a warrior into that of legislators and guardians, for which he is unfitted, and either to take the implements or the duties of the other; or when one man is trader, legislator, and warrior all in one, then I think you will agree with me in saying that this interchange and this meddling of one with another is the ruin of the State.

Most true.

Seeing, then, I said, that there are three distinct classes, any meddling of one with another, or the change of one into another, is the greatest harm to the State, and may be most justly termed evil-doing?…. And the greatest degree of evil-doing to one’s own city would be termed by you injustice?

Certainly.

This, then, is injustice; and on the other hand when the trader, the auxiliary, and the guardian each do their own business, that is justice, and will make the city just.

I agree with you.

Application to the Individual

"3-Part Soul," by Mitch Francis

“Plato’s 3-Part Soul,” by Mitch Francis

434d We will not, I said, be over-positive as yet; but if, on trial, this conception of justice be verified in the individual as well as in the State, there will be no longer any room for doubt; if it be not verified, we must have a fresh inquiry. First let us complete the old investigation, which we began, as you remember, under the impression that, if we could previously examine justice on the larger scale, there would be less difficulty in discerning her in the individual. That larger example appeared to be the State, and accordingly we constructed as good a one as we could, knowing well that in the good State justice would be found. Let the discovery which we made be now applied to the individual – if they agree, we shall be satisfied….

435 …. I proceeded to ask: When two things, a greater and less, are called by the same, are they like or unlike in so far as they are called the same?

Like, he replied.

The just man then, if we regard the idea of justice only, will be like the just State?

He will.

And a State was thought by us to be just when the three classes in the State severally did their own business; and also thought to be temperate and valiant and wise by reason of certain other affections and qualities of these same classes?

True, he said.

Three-part Soul

And so of the individual; we may assume that he has the same three principles in his own soul which are found in the State; and he may be rightly described in the same terms, because he is affected in the same manner?

Certainly, he said.

How will we establish that there are three?

Once more, then, O my friend, we have alighted upon an easy question – whether the soul has these three principles or not?…. But the question is not quite so easy when we proceed to ask whether these principles are three or one; whether, that is to say, we learn with one part of our nature [the rational principle], are angry with another [the spirited principle], and with a third part desire the satisfaction of our natural appetites [the appetite principle]; or whether the whole soul comes into play in each sort of action – to determine that is the difficulty.

Yes, he said; there lies the difficulty…..

A “Principle of Conflict” distinguishes parts of the soul.

I replied as follows: The same thing clearly cannot act or be acted upon in the same part or in relation to the same thing at the same time, in contrary ways; and therefore whenever this contradiction occurs in things apparently the same, we know that they are really not the same, but different…. 437 ….Well, I said, would you not allow that assent and dissent, desire and aversion, attraction and repulsion, are all of them opposites, whether they are regarded as active or passive (for that makes no difference in the fact of their opposition)?

Yes, he said, they are opposites….

The drink example

439 …. Socrates Then the soul of the thirsty one, in so far as he is thirsty, desires only drink; for this he yearns and tries to obtain it?…. And if you suppose something which pulls a thirsty soul away from drink, that must be different from the thirsty principle which draws him like a beast to drink; for, as we were saying, the same thing cannot at the same time with the same part of itself act in contrary ways about the same.

Impossible….

439c Socrates And might a man be thirsty, and yet unwilling to drink?

Yes, he said, it constantly happens.

Socrates And in such a case what is one to say? Would you not say that there was something in the soul bidding a man to drink, and something else forbidding him, which is other and stronger than the principle which bids him?…. And the forbidding principle is derived from reason, and that which bids and attracts proceeds from passion and disease?

Clearly.

439d Socrates Then we may fairly assume that they are two, and that they differ from one another; the one with which a man reasons, we may call the rational principle of the soul; the other, with which he loves, and hungers, and thirsts, and feels the flutterings of any other desire, may be termed the irrational or appetitive, the ally of sundry pleasures and satisfactions?

Yes, he said, we may fairly assume them to be different.

A third part of the soul

The corpse example

Socrates Then let us finally determine that there are two principles existing in the soul. And what of … spirit? Is it a third, or akin to one of the preceding?…. [T]here is a story which I remember to have heard, and in which I put faith. The story is, that Leontius, the son of Aglaion, coming up one day from the Piraeus, under the north wall on the outside, observed some dead bodies lying on the ground at the place of execution. He felt a desire to see them, 440 and also a dread and abhorrence of them; for a time he struggled and covered his eyes, but at length the desire got the better of him; and forcing them open, he ran up to the dead bodies, saying, Look, ye wretches, take your fill of the fair sight.

I have heard the story myself, he said.

The just-payback example

The moral of the tale is, that anger at times goes to war with desire, as though they were two distinct things…. And are there not many other cases in which we observe that when a man’s desires violently prevail over his reason, he reviles himself, and is angry at the violence within him, and that in this struggle, which is like the struggle of factions in a State, his spirit is on the side of his reason…. Suppose that a man thinks he has done a wrong to another, the nobler he is, the less able is he to feel indignant at any suffering, such as hunger, or cold, or any other pain which the injured person may inflict upon him – these he deems to be just, and, as I say, his anger refuses to be excited by them…. But when he thinks that he is the sufferer of the wrong, then he boils and chafes, and is on the side of what he believes to be justice…. His noble spirit will not be quelled until he either slays or is slain; or until he hears the voice of the shepherd, that is, reason, bidding his dog bark no more.

The illustration is perfect, he replied; and in our State, as we were saying, the auxiliaries were to be dogs, and to hear the voice of the rulers, who are their shepherds….

441b ….Socrates And so, after much tossing, we have reached land, and are fairly agreed that the same principles which exist in the State exist also in the individual, and that they are three in number.

Glaucon Exactly.

The soul is a three-part community

“Universal virtues in parallel particulars”: Because the virtues of the State and of the Individual are instances of the same universal Forms, Plato infers the structure of the (unknown) soul from the structure of the (known) society.

Socrates Must we not then infer that the individual is wise in the same way, and in virtue of the same quality which makes the State wise?…. Also that the same quality which constitutes courage in the State constitutes courage in the individual…? And the individual will be acknowledged by us to be just in the same way in which the State is just?…. We cannot but remember that the justice of the State consisted in each of the three classes doing the work of its own class?…. [T]he individual in whom the several qualities of his nature do their own work will be just, and will do his own work?

Glaucon Yes, he said, we must remember that too.

[O]ught not the rational principle, which is wise, and has the care of the whole soul, to rule, and the … spirited principle to be the subject and ally?

441e And ought not the rational principle, which is wise, and has the care of the whole soul, to rule, and the … spirited principle to be the subject and ally?…. And, as we were saying, the united influence of music and gymnastics will bring them into accord, nerving and sustaining the reason with noble words and lessons, and moderating and soothing and civilizing the wildness of passion by harmony and rhythm? 442 And these two, thus nurtured and educated, and having learned truly to know their own functions, will rule over the concupiscent [the appetitive], which in each of us is the largest part of the soul and by nature most insatiable of gain; over this they will keep guard, lest, waxing great and strong with the fullness of bodily pleasures, as they are termed, the concupiscent soul, no longer confined to her own sphere, should attempt to enslave and rule those who are not her natural-born subjects, and overturn the whole life of man?…. Both together will they not be the best defenders of the whole soul and the whole body against attacks from without; the one counselling, and the other fighting under his leader, and courageously executing his commands and counsels?

Glaucon True.

"Virtue Vinny," by Mitch Francis. Vinny's working on Plato's "Big Four"!

“Virtue Vinny,” by Mitch Francis. Vinny’s working on Plato’s “Big Four”!

Socrates And he is to be deemed courageous whose spirit retains in pleasure and in pain the commands of reason about what he ought or ought not to fear?…. And him we call wise who has in him that little part which rules, and which proclaims these commands; that part too being supposed to have a knowledge of what is for the interest of each of the three parts and of the whole?…. And would you not say that he is temperate who has these same elements in friendly harmony, in whom the one ruling principle of reason, and the two subject ones of spirit and desire, are equally agreed that reason ought to rule, and do not rebel?

Certainly, he said, that is the true account of temperance whether in the State or individual.

And surely, I said, we have explained again and again how and by virtue of what quality a man will be just.

That is very certain….

[H]e has bound all these together, and is no longer many, but has become one.

443d But in reality justice was such as we were describing, being concerned, however, not with the outward man, but with the inward, which is the true self and concernment of man: for the just man does not permit the several elements within him to interfere with one another, or any of them to do the work of others – he sets in order his own inner life, and is his own master and his own law, and at peace with himself; and when he has bound together the three principles within him, which may be compared to the higher, lower, and middle notes of the scale, and the intermediate intervals – when he has bound all these together, and is no longer many, but has become one entirely temperate and perfectly adjusted nature, then he proceeds to act, if he has to act, whether in a matter of property, or in the treatment of the body, or in some affair of politics or private business; always thinking and calling that which preserves and co-operates with this harmonious condition just and good action, and the knowledge which presides over it wisdom, and that which at any time impairs this condition he will call unjust action, and the opinion which presides over it ignorance.

You have said the exact truth, Socrates….

Now for the flip-side of the virtues – the vices.

And now, I said, injustice has to be considered.

Clearly.

444b Must not injustice be a strife which arises among the three principles – a meddlesomeness, and interference, and rising up of a part of the soul against the whole, an assertion of unlawful authority, which is made by a rebellious subject against a true prince, of whom he is the natural vassal – what is all this confusion and delusion but injustice, and intemperance, and cowardice, and ignorance, and every form of vice?…. Why, I said, they are like disease and health; being in the soul just what disease and health are in the body…. 444d ….And the creation of health is the institution of a natural order and government of one by another in the parts of the body; and the creation of disease is the production of a state of things at variance with this natural order?

True.

And is not the creation of justice the institution of a natural order and government of one by another in the parts of the soul, and the creation of injustice the production of a state of things at variance with the natural order?

Exactly so, he said.

Then virtue is the health, and beauty, and well-being of the soul, and vice the disease, and weakness, and deformity, of the same?

True.

And do not good practices lead to virtue, and evil practices to vice?

Assuredly.

Checking in with Glaucon’s challenge…

445 Still our old question of the comparative advantage of justice and injustice has not been answered: Which is the more profitable, to be just and act justly and practise virtue, whether seen or unseen of gods and men, or to be unjust and act unjustly, if only unpunished and unreformed?

In my judgment, Socrates, the question has now become ridiculous. We know that, when the bodily constitution is gone, life is no longer endurable, though pampered with all kinds of meats and drinks, and having all wealth and all power; and shall we be told that when the very essence of the vital principle is undermined and corrupted, life is still worth having to a man, if only he be allowed to do whatever he likes with the single exception that he is not to acquire justice and virtue, or to escape from injustice and vice; assuming them both to be such as we have described?

Yes, I said, the question is, as you say, ridiculous….. The argument seems to have reached a height from which, as from some tower of speculation, a man may look down and see that virtue is one, but that the forms of vice are innumerable; there being four special ones which are deserving of note.

What do you mean? he said.

I mean, I replied, that there appear to be as many forms of the soul as there are distinct forms of the State…. There are five of the State, and five of the soul, I said….

Book V


Show more on the roles of men and women...

In the first portions of Book V, Socrates agrees to discuss “the family life of … citizens – how they will bring children into the world, and rear them when they have arrived, and, in general, what is the nature of this community of women and children.” There are radical ideas here: the sexes have significant equality, breeding is arranged, the community is conceived as composed of kin, and convention is dismissed:

Socrates …the most ridiculous thing of all will be the sight of women naked … exercising with the men, especially when they are no longer young; they certainly will not be a vision of beauty, any more than the enthusiastic old men who, in spite of wrinkles and ugliness, continue to frequent the gymnasia.

Yes, indeed, he said: according to present notions the proposal would be thought ridiculous.

Socrates But … we must not fear the jests of the wits which will be directed against this sort of innovation; how they will talk of women’s attainments, both in music and gymnastics, and above all about their wearing armour and riding upon horseback!…. Not long ago, as we shall remind them, the Hellenes were of the opinion, which is still generally received among the barbarians, that the sight of a naked man was ridiculous and improper; and when first the Cretans… introduced the custom, the wits of that day might equally have ridiculed the innovation.

In following such reforms, citizens “will do what is best, and will not violate, but preserve, the natural relation of the sexes.” Moreover, the Guardians are “stripped” of wealth as well!:

Socrates And this agrees with the other principle which we were affirming – that the guardians were not to have houses or lands or any other property; their pay was to be their food, which they were to receive from the other citizens, and they were to have no private expenses…. Both the community of property and the community of families, as I am saying, tend to make them more truly guardians; they will not tear the city in pieces by differing about “mine” and “not mine;” each man dragging any acquisition which he has made into a separate house of his own, where he has a separate wife and children and private pleasures and pains; but all will be affected as far as may be by the same pleasures and pains because they are all of one opinion about what is near and dear to them, and therefore they all tend toward a common end….

Socrates bears ever in mind that the findings pertaining to the just community apply as well to the just individual:

449 Socrates Such is the good and true city or state, and the good and true man is of the same pattern; and if this is right every other is wrong; and the evil is one which affects not only the ordering of the State, but also the regulation of the individual soul….

And if this is unrealistic… ?

Socrates Let me begin by reminding you that we found our way hither in the search after justice and injustice…. I was only going to ask whether, if we have discovered them, we are to require that the just man should in nothing fail of absolute justice; or may we be satisfied with an approximation, and the attainment in him of a higher degree of justice than is to be found in other men?

Glaucon The approximation will be enough.

The image of justice here is a “measuring stick,” a standard.

Socrates We were inquiring into the nature of absolute justice and into the character of the perfectly just, and into injustice and the perfectly unjust, that we might have an ideal. We were to look at these in order that we might judge of our own happiness and unhappiness according to the standard which they exhibited and the degree in which we resembled them, but not with any view of showing that they could exist in fact…. Would a painter be any the worse because, after having delineated with consummate art an ideal of a perfectly beautiful man, he was unable to show that any such man could ever have existed?

Glaucon He would be none the worse.

Socrates Well … is our theory a worse theory because we are unable to prove the possibility of a city being ordered in the manner described?

Glaucon Surely not, he replied.

Socrates That is the truth, I said. But if, at your request, I am to try and show how and under what conditions the possibility is highest, I must ask you… 473 … whether ideals are ever fully realized in language? Does not the word express more than the fact, and must not the actual, whatever a man may think, always, in the nature of things, fall short of the truth?…

Glaucon I agree.

Socrates Then you must not insist on my proving that the actual State will in every respect coincide with the ideal: if we are only able to discover how a city may be governed nearly as we proposed, you will admit that we have discovered the possibility which you demand; and will be contented….

Socrates Let me next endeavour to show what is that fault in States which is the cause of their present maladministration…. I go to meet that which I liken to the greatest of the waves; yet shall the word be spoken, even though the wave break and drown me in laughter and dishonour; and do you mark my words.

Glaucon Proceed.

473d Socrates I said:

Philosopher kings!

Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils – no, nor the human race, as I believe – and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.

Show more on philosophers' qualifications...
Such was the thought, my dear Glaucon, which I would fain have uttered if it had not seemed too extravagant; for to be convinced that in no other State can there be happiness private or public is indeed a hard thing…. [W]e must explain … whom we mean when we say that philosophers are to rule in the State; then we shall be able to defend ourselves: There will be discovered to be some natures who ought to study philosophy and to be leaders in the State; and others who are not born to be philosophers, and are meant to be followers rather than leaders.

….Socrates [T]hose who see the many beautiful, and who yet neither see absolute beauty, nor can follow any guide who points the way thither; who see the many just, and not absolute justice, and the like – such persons may be said to have opinion but not knowledge?…. But those who see the absolute and eternal and immutable may be said to know, and not to have opinion only?

Book VI

484 Socrates ….Inasmuch as philosophers only are able to grasp the eternal and unchangeable, and those who wander in the region of the many and variable are not philosophers, I must ask you which of the two classes should be the rulers of our State?

Glaucon And how can we rightly answer that question?….

What does Plato take to be the practical use of knowing “the true being of each thing,” grasping its “clear pattern”? Hint: note his allusion in the words, “to repair.”

Socrates [A]re not those who are verily and indeed wanting in the knowledge of the true being of each thing, and who have in their souls no clear pattern, and are unable as with a painter’s eye to look at the absolute truth and to that original to repair, and having perfect vision of the other world to order the laws about beauty, goodness, justice in this, if not already ordered, and to guard and preserve the order of them – are not such persons, I ask, simply blind?

Socrates argues that in true philosophers such knowledge is united with “the other excellences”: “philosophical minds always love knowledge of a sort which shows them the eternal nature not varying from generation and corruption”; “they are lovers of all true being” rather than men of ambition; they are truthful, wise, hardly one to succumb to bodily pleasure; he is “temperate and the reverse of covetous,” hiding “no secret corner of illiberality”; he is “harmoniously constituted” and unafraid of death, neither boaster, nor a coward, nor forgetful; “he… is just and gentle.”

Adeimantus ….[H]ow can you be justified in saying that cities will not cease from evil until philosophers rule in them, when philosophers are acknowledged by us to be of no use to them?….

494 Socrates [L]et me ask you to consider further whether the world will ever be induced to believe in the existence of absolute beauty rather than of the many beautiful, or of the absolute in each kind rather than of the many in each kind?

Certainly not.

Socrates Then the world cannot possibly be a philosopher?…. And therefore philosophers must inevitably fall under the censure of the world?…. Then, do you see any way in which the philosopher can be preserved in his calling to the end?….

Here’s another reference to Socrates’ “internal sign”…

Then, Adeimantus, I said, the worthy disciples of philosophy will be but a small remnant: perchance some noble and well educated person, detained by exile in her service, who in the absence of corrupting influences remains devoted to her; or some lofty soul born in a mean city, the politics of which he contemns and neglects; and there may be a gifted few who leave the arts, which they justly despise, and come to her….. My own case of the internal sign is hardly worth mentioning, for rarely, if ever, has such a monitor been given to any other man. Those who belong to this small class have tasted how sweet and blessed a possession philosophy is, and have also seen enough of the madness of the multitude; and they know that no politician is honest, nor is there any champion of justice at whose side they may fight and be saved…..

Socrates [F]or in a State which is suitable to [the true philosopher], he will have a larger growth and be the saviour of his country, as well as of himself.

Nothing more on that subject, he replied; but I should like to know which of the governments now existing is in your opinion the one adapted to her.

Not any of them, I said; and that is precisely the accusation which I bring against them – not one of them is worthy of the philosophic nature, and hence that nature is warped and estranged….. 497c. But if philosophy ever finds in the State that perfection which she herself is, then will be seen that she is in truth divine….

The world has never seen a “perfectly moulded” community governed by the “perfectly moulded” soul; but, yes, The Republic is close!

…I was going to ask … whether it is the State of which we are the founders and inventors, or some other?

Yes, I replied, ours in most respects…. I do not wonder that the many refuse to believe; for they have never seen that of which we are now speaking realized; they have seen only a conventional imitation of philosophy, consisting of words artificially brought together, not like these of ours having a natural unity. But a human being who in word and work is perfectly moulded, as far as he can be, into the proportion and likeness of virtue – such a man ruling in a city which bears the same image, they have never yet seen, neither one nor many of them – do you think that they ever did?

499 No indeed.

No, my friend, and they have seldom, if ever, heard free and noble sentiments…. There is no impossibility in all this; that there is a difficulty, we acknowledge ourselves.

My opinion agrees with yours, he said.

Socrates But do you mean to say that this is not the opinion of the multitude?

I should imagine not, he replied.

Do you see here a little more explicitly why Plato argues that philosophers will be better equipped to rule?

500 Socrates O my friends, I said, do not attack the multitude: they will change their minds, if, not in an aggressive spirit, but gently and with the view of soothing them and removing their dislike of over-education, you show them your philosophers as they really are and describe as you were just now doing their character and profession, and then mankind will see that he of whom you are speaking is not such as they supposed – if they view him in this new light, they will surely change their notion of him, and answer in another strain. Who can be at enmity with one who loves him, who that is himself gentle and free from envy will be jealous of one in whom there is no jealousy? …. [H]is eye is ever directed toward things fixed and immutable… all in order moving according to reason; these he imitates, and to these he will, as far as he can, conform himself…. And if a necessity be laid upon him of fashioning, not only himself, but human nature generally, whether in States or individuals, into that which he beholds elsewhere, will be, think you, be an unskilful artificer of justice, temperance, and every civil virtue?

Anything but unskilful.

And if the world perceives that what we are saying about him is the truth, will they be angry with philosophy? Will they disbelieve us, when we tell them that no State can be happy which is not designed by artists who imitate the heavenly pattern?

They will not be angry if they understand, he said. But how will they draw out the plan of which you are speaking?….

Show more on conformity to 'the heavenly pattern'...
A parallel snippet from Plato's Timaeus, 90.
[I]f a man has seriously devoted himself to the love of learning and to true wisdom, if he has exercised these aspects of himself above all, then there is absolutely no way that his [c] thoughts can fail to be immortal and divine, should truth come within his grasp. And to the extent that human nature can partake of immortality, he can in no way fail to achieve this: constantly caring for his divine part as he does, keeping well-ordered the guiding spirit that lives within him, he must indeed be supremely happy. Now there is but one way to care for anything, and that is to provide for it the nourishment and the motions that are proper to it. And the motions that have an affinity to the divine part within us are the thoughts and revolutions of the universe. These, [d] surely, are the ones which each of us should follow. We should redirect the revolutions in our heads that were thrown off course at our birth, by coming to learn the harmonies and revolutions of the universe, and so bring into conformity with its objects our faculty of understanding, as it was in its original condition. And when this conformity is complete, we shall have achieved our goal: that most excellent life offered to humankind by the gods, both now and forevermore.” (From the Donald Zeyl translation, published by Hackett in 2000.)

The Sun

“The Many” – instances of beauty, goodness, triangles, trees, etc.

507b ….Socrates The old story, that there is many a beautiful and many a good, and so of other things which we describe and define; to all of them the term “many” is implied.

Glaucon True, he said.

“The One,” in which the Many are unified.

Socrates And there is an absolute beauty and an absolute good, and of other things to which the term “many” is applied there is an absolute; for they may be brought under a single idea, which is called the essence of each…. The many, as we say, are seen but not known, and the ideas are known but not seen.

Glaucon Exactly.

Socrates And what is the organ with which we see the visible things?

Glaucon The sight, he said….

Socrates But you see that without the addition of some other nature there is no seeing or being seen?…. Sight being, as I conceive, in the eyes, and he who has eyes wanting to see; colour being also present in them, still unless there be a third nature specially adapted to the purpose, the owner of the eyes will see nothing and the colours will be invisible.

Glaucon Of what nature are you speaking?

Socrates Of that which you term light, I replied. 508 Noble, then, is the bond which links together sight and visibility…. And which, I said, of the gods in heaven would you say was the lord of this element? Whose is that light which makes the eye to see perfectly and the visible to appear?

Glaucon You mean the sun, as you and all mankind say.

Socrates May not the relation of sight to this deity be described as follows?…. And the power which the eye possesses is a sort of effluence which is dispensed from the sun?…. Then the sun is not sight, but the author of sight who is recognized by sight?

True, he said.

The sun is the allegorical child of the Good, and plays parallel roles as the ground of knowledge and of being.

And this is he whom I call the child of the good, whom the good begat in his own likeness, to be in the visible world, in relation to sight and the things of sight, what the good is in the intellectual world in relation to mind and the things of mind:

Will you be a little more explicit? he said.

[T]he soul is like the eye: when resting upon that on which truth and being shine, the soul perceives and understands, and is radiant with intelligence; but when turned toward the twilight of becoming and perishing, then she has opinion only.

Why, you know, I said, that the eyes, when a person directs them toward objects on which the light of day is no longer shining, but the moon and stars only, see dimly, and are nearly blind; they seem to have no clearness of vision in them?…. But when they are directed toward objects on which the sun shines, they see clearly and there is sight in them?…. And the soul is like the eye: when resting upon that on which truth and being shine, the soul perceives and understands, and is radiant with intelligence; but when turned toward the twilight of becoming and perishing, then she has opinion only, and goes blinking about, and is first of one opinion and then of another, and seems to have no intelligence?

Glaucon Just so.

508e Socrates Now, that which imparts truth to the known and the power of knowing to the knower is what I would have you term the idea of good, and this you will deem to be the cause of science, and of truth in so far as the latter becomes the subject of knowledge; beautiful too, as are both truth and knowledge, you will be right in esteeming this other nature as more beautiful than either; and, as in the previous instance, light and sight may be truly said to be like the sun, and yet not to be the sun, so in this other sphere, science and truth may be deemed to be like the good, but not the good; the good has a place of honour yet higher.

What a wonder of beauty that must be, he said, which is the author of science and truth, and yet surpasses them in beauty; for you surely cannot mean to say that pleasure is the good?

God forbid, I replied; but may I ask you to consider the image in another point of view?

509b Glaucon In what point of view?

Socrates You would say, would you not? that the sun is not only the author of visibility in all visible things, but of generation and nourishment and growth, though he himself is not generation?…. In like manner the good may be said to be not only the author of knowledge to all things known, but of their being and essence, and yet the good is not essence, but far exceeds essence in dignity and power….

The Divided Line

509d You have to Imagine… that there are two ruling powers, and that one of them is set over the intellectual world, the other over the visible…. Now take a line which has been cut into two unequal parts, and divide each of them again in the same proportion, and suppose the two main divisions to answer, one to the visible and the other to the intelligible, and then compare the subdivisions in respect of their clearness and want of clearness, and you will find that the first section in the sphere of the visible consists of images. And by images I mean, in the first place, shadows, and in the second place, reflections in water and in solid, smooth and polished bodies and the like: Do you understand?

Yes, I understand.

Imagine, now, the other section, of which this is only the resemblance, to include the animals which we see, and everything that grows or is made.

Very good.

Would you not admit that both the sections of this division have different degrees of truth, and that the copy is to the original as the sphere of opinion is to the sphere of knowledge?

Most undoubtedly.

Next proceed to consider the manner in which the sphere of the intellectual is to be divided.

In what manner?

Thus: There are two subdivisions, in the lower of which the soul uses the figures given by the former division as images; the inquiry can only be hypothetical, and instead of going upward to a principle descends to the other end; in the higher of the two, the soul passes out of hypotheses, and goes up to a principle which is above hypotheses, making no use of images as in the former case, but proceeding only in and through the ideas themselves.

I do not quite understand your meaning, he said.

Then I will try again; you will understand me better when I have made some preliminary remarks. You are aware that students of geometry, arithmetic, and the kindred sciences assume the odd, and the even, and the figures, and three kinds of angles, and the like, in their several branches of science; these are their hypotheses, which they and everybody are supposed to know, and therefore they do not deign to give any account of them either to themselves or others; but they begin with them, and go on until they arrive at last, and in a consistent manner, at their conclusion?

Yes, he said, I know.

And do you not know also that although they make use of the visible forms and reason about them, they are thinking not of these, but of the ideals which they resemble; not of the figures which they draw, but of the absolute square and the absolute diameter, and so on – the forms which they draw or make, and which have shadows and reflections in water of their own, are converted by them into images, but they are really seeking to behold the things themselves, which can only be seen with the eye of the mind?

That is true.

And of this kind I spoke as the intelligible, although in the search after it the soul is compelled to use hypotheses; not ascending to a first principle, because she is unable to rise above the region of hypothesis, but employing the objects of which the shadows below are resemblances in their turn as images, they having in relation to the shadows and reflections of them a greater distinctness, and therefore a higher value.

I understand, he said, that you are speaking of the province of geometry and the sister arts.

And when I speak of the other division of the intelligible, you will understand me to speak of that other sort of knowledge which reason herself attains by the power of dialectic, using the hypotheses not as first principles, but only as hypotheses – that is to say, as steps and points of departure into a world which is above hypotheses, in order that she may soar beyond them to the first principle of the whole; and clinging to this and then to that which depends on this, by successive steps she descends again without the aid of any sensible object, from ideas, through ideas, and in ideas she ends.

I understand you, he replied; not perfectly, for you seem to me to be describing a task which is really tremendous; but, at any rate, I understand you to say that knowledge and being, which the science of dialectic contemplates, are clearer than the notions of the arts, as they are termed, which proceed from hypotheses only: these are also contemplated by the understanding, and not by the senses: yet, because they start from hypotheses and do not ascend to a principle, those who contemplate them appear to you not to exercise the higher reason upon them, although when a first principle is added to them they are cognizable by the higher reason. And the habit which is concerned with geometry and the cognate sciences I suppose that you would term understanding, and not reason, as being intermediate between opinion and reason.

You have quite conceived my meaning, I said; and now, corresponding to these four divisions, let there be four faculties in the soul – reason answering to the highest, understanding to the second, faith (or conviction) to the third, and perception of shadows to the last – and let there be a scale of them, and let us suppose that the several faculties have clearness in the same degree that their objects have truth.

I understand, he replied, and give my assent, and accept your arrangement.




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