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The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Republic, by Plato
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Title: The Republic
Author: Plato
Translator: B. Jowett
Posting Date: August 27, 2008 [EBook #1497]
Release Date: October, 1998
Last Updated: June 22, 2016
Language: English
Produced by Sue Asscher
By Plato
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Note: The Republic by Plato, Jowett, etext #150
The Republic of Plato is the longest of his works with the exception
of the Laws, and is certainly the greatest of them. There are nearer
approaches to modern metaphysics in the Philebus and in the Sophist; the
Politicus or Statesman is more ideal; the form and institutions of
the State are more clearly drawn out in the Laws; as works of art, the
Symposium and the Protagoras are of higher excellence. But no other
Dialogue of Plato has the same largeness of view and the same perfection
of style; no other shows an equal knowledge of the world, or contains
more of those thoughts which are new as well as old, and not of one age
only but of all. Nowhere in Plato is there a deeper irony or a greater
wealth of humour or imagery, or more dramatic power. Nor in any other of
his writings is the attempt made to interweave life and speculation, or
to connect politics with philosophy. The Republic is the centre around
which the other Dialogues may be grouped; here philosophy reaches the
highest point (cp, especially in Books V, VI, VII) to which ancient
thinkers ever attained. Plato among the Greeks, like Bacon among the
moderns, was the first who conceived a method of knowledge, although
neither of them always distinguished the bare outline or form from
the substance of truth; and both of them had to be content with an
abstraction of science which was not yet realized. He was the greatest
metaphysical genius whom the world has seen; and in him, more than in
any other ancient thinker, the germs of future knowledge are contained.
The sciences of logic and psychology, which have supplied so many
instruments of thought to after-ages, are based upon the analyses
of Socrates and Plato. The principles of definition, the law of
contradiction, the fallacy of arguing in a circle, the distinction
between the essence and accidents of a thing or notion, between means
and ends, between causes and conditions; also the division of the mind
into the rational, concupiscent, and irascible elements, or of pleasures
and desires into necessary and unnecessary--these and other great
forms of thought are all of them to be found in the Republic, and were
probably first invented by Plato. The greatest of all logical truths,
and the one of which writers on philosophy are most apt to lose sight,
the difference between words and things, has been most strenuously
insisted on by him (cp. Rep.; Polit.; Cratyl. 435, 436 ff), although he
has not always avoided the confusion of them in his own writings (e.g.
Rep.). But he does not bind up truth in logical formulae,--logic is
still veiled in metaphysics; and the science which he imagines to
'contemplate all truth and all existence' is very unlike the doctrine of
the syllogism which Aristotle claims to have discovered (Soph. Elenchi,
33. 18).
Neither must we forget that the Republic is but the third part of a
still larger design which was to have included an ideal history of
Athens, as well as a political and physical philosophy. The fragment of
the Critias has given birth to a world-famous fiction, second only in
importance to the tale of Troy and the legend of Arthur; and is said as
a fact to have inspired some of the early navigators of the sixteenth
century. This mythical tale, of which the subject was a history of the
wars of the Athenians against the Island of Atlantis, is supposed to be
founded upon an unfinished poem of Solon, to which it would have stood
in the same relation as the writings of the logographers to the poems of
Homer. It would have told of a struggle for Liberty (cp. Tim. 25 C), intended
to represent the conflict of Persia and Hellas. We may judge from the
noble commencement of the Timaeus, from the fragment of the Critias
itself, and from the third book of the Laws, in what manner Plato would
have treated this high argument. We can only guess why the great design
was abandoned; perhaps because Plato became sensible of some incongruity
in a fictitious history, or because he had lost his interest in it, or
because advancing years forbade the completion of it; and we may please
ourselves with the fancy that had this imaginary narrative ever been
finished, we should have found Plato himself sympathising with the
struggle for Hellenic independence (cp. Laws iii. 698 ff.), singing a
hymn of triumph over Marathon and Salamis, perhaps making the reflection
of Herodotus (v. 78) where he contemplates the growth of the Athenian
empire--'How brave a thing is freedom of speech, which has made the
Athenians so far exceed every other state of Hellas in greatness!' or,
more probably, attributing the victory to the ancient good order of
Athens and to the favor of Apollo and Athene (cp. Introd. to Critias).
Again, Plato may be regarded as the 'captain' ('arhchegoz') or leader
of a goodly band of followers; for in the Republic is to be found the
original of Cicero's De Republica, of St. Augustine's City of God,
of the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, and of the numerous other imaginary
States which are framed upon the same model. The extent to which
Aristotle or the Aristotelian school were indebted to him in the
Politics has been little recognised, and the recognition is the
more necessary because it is not made by Aristotle himself. The two
philosophers had more in common than they were conscious of; and
probably some elements of Plato remain still undetected in Aristotle. In
English philosophy too, many affinities may be traced, not only in the
works of the Cambridge Platonists, but in great original writers like
Berkeley or Coleridge, to Plato and his ideas. That there is a truth
higher than experience, of which the mind bears witness to herself, is
a conviction which in our own generation has been enthusiastically
asserted, and is perhaps gaining ground. Of the Greek authors who at the
Renaissance brought a new life into the world Plato has had the greatest
influence. The Republic of Plato is also the first treatise upon
education, of which the writings of Milton and Locke, Rousseau, Jean
Paul, and Goethe are the legitimate descendants. Like Dante or Bunyan,
he has a revelation of another life; like Bacon, he is profoundly
impressed with the unity of knowledge; in the early Church he exercised
a real influence on theology, and at the Revival of Literature on
politics. Even the fragments of his words when 'repeated at second-hand'
(Symp. 215 D) have in all ages ravished the hearts of men, who have seen
reflected in them their own higher nature. He is the father of idealism
in philosophy, in politics, in literature. And many of the latest
conceptions of modern thinkers and statesmen, such as the unity of
knowledge, the reign of law, and the equality of the sexes, have been
anticipated in a dream by him.
The argument of the Republic is the search after Justice, the nature
of which is first hinted at by Cephalus, the just and blameless old
man--then discussed on the basis of proverbial morality by Socrates and
Polemarchus--then caricatured by Thrasymachus and partially explained
by Socrates--reduced to an abstraction by Glaucon and Adeimantus, and
having become invisible in the individual reappears at length in the
ideal State which is constructed by Socrates. The first care of the
rulers is to be education, of which an outline is drawn after the old
Hellenic model, providing only for an improved religion and morality,
and more simplicity in music and gymnastic, a manlier strain of poetry,
and greater harmony of the individual and the State. We are thus led on
to the conception of a higher State, in which 'no man calls anything his
own,' and in which there is neither 'marrying nor giving in marriage,'
and 'kings are philosophers' and 'philosophers are kings;' and there
is another and higher education, intellectual as well as moral and
religious, of science as well as of art, and not of youth only but of
the whole of life. Such a State is hardly to be realized in this world
and quickly degenerates. To the perfect ideal succeeds the government
of the soldier and the lover of honour, this again declining into
democracy, and democracy into tyranny, in an imaginary but regular order
having not much resemblance to the actual facts. When 'the wheel has
come full circle' we do not begin again with a new period of human life;
but we have passed from the best to the worst, and there we end. The
subject is then changed and the old quarrel of poetry and philosophy
which had been more lightly treated in the earlier books of the Republic
is now resumed and fought out to a conclusion. Poetry is discovered to
be an imitation thrice removed from the truth, and Homer, as well as
the dramatic poets, having been condemned as an imitator, is sent into
banishment along with them. And the idea of the State is supplemented by
the revelation of a future life.
The division into books, like all similar divisions (Cp. Sir G.C. Lewis
in the Classical Museum, vol. ii. p 1.), is probably later than the age of Plato. The
natural divisions are five in number;--(1) Book I and the first half
of Book II down to the paragraph beginning, 'I had always admired the
genius of Glaucon and Adeimantus,' which is introductory; the first
book containing a refutation of the popular and sophistical notions of
justice, and concluding, like some of the earlier Dialogues, without
arriving at any definite result. To this is appended a restatement of
the nature of justice according to common opinion, and an answer is
demanded to the question--What is justice, stripped of appearances? The
second division (2) includes the remainder of the second and the whole
of the third and fourth books, which are mainly occupied with the
construction of the first State and the first education. The third
division (3) consists of the fifth, sixth, and seventh books, in which
philosophy rather than justice is the subject of enquiry, and the
second State is constructed on principles of communism and ruled by
philosophers, and the contemplation of the idea of good takes the place
of the social and political virtues. In the eighth and ninth books (4)
the perversions of States and of the individuals who correspond to them
are reviewed in succession; and the nature of pleasure and the principle
of tyranny are further analysed in the individual man. The tenth book
(5) is the conclusion of the whole, in which the relations of philosophy
to poetry are finally determined, and the happiness of the citizens
in this life, which has now been assured, is crowned by the vision of
Or a more general division into two parts may be adopted; the first
(Books I - IV) containing the description of a State framed generally in
accordance with Hellenic notions of religion and morality, while in the
second (Books V - X) the Hellenic State is transformed into an
ideal kingdom of philosophy, of which all other governments are the
perversions. These two points of view are really opposed, and the
opposition is only veiled by the genius of Plato. The Republic, like
the Phaedrus (see Introduction to Phaedrus), is an imperfect whole; the
higher light of philosophy breaks through the regularity of the
Hellenic temple, which at last fades away into the heavens. Whether this
imperfection of structure arises from an enlargement of the plan;
or from the imperfect reconcilement in the writer's own mind of the
struggling elements of thought which are now first brought together
by him; or, perhaps, from the composition of the work at different
times--are questions, like the similar question about the Iliad and
the Odyssey, which are worth asking, but which cannot have a distinct
answer. In the age of Plato there was no regular mode of publication,
and an author would have the less scruple in altering or adding to a
work which was known only to a few of his friends. There is no absurdity
in supposing that he may have laid his labours aside for a time, or
turned from one work to another; and such interruptions would be more
likely to occur in the case of a long than of a short writing. In all
attempts to determine the chronological order of the Platonic writings
on internal evidence, this uncertainty about any single Dialogue being
composed at one time is a disturbing element, which must be admitted
to affect longer works, such as the Republic and the Laws, more than
shorter ones. But, on the other hand, the seeming discrepancies of
the Republic may only arise out of the discordant elements which the
philosopher has attempted to unite in a single whole, perhaps without
being himself able to recognise the inconsistency which is obvious to
us. For there is a judgment of after ages which few great writers have
ever been able to anticipate for themselves. They do not perceive the
want of connexion in their own writings, or the gaps in their systems
which are visible enough to those who come after them. In the beginnings
of literature and philosophy, amid the first efforts of thought and
language, more inconsistencies occur than now, when the paths of
speculation are well worn and the meaning of words precisely defined.
For consistency, too, is the growth of time; and some of the greatest
creations of the human mind have been wanting in unity. Tried by this
test, several of the Platonic Dialogues, according to our modern ideas,
appear to be defective, but the deficiency is no proof that they were
composed at different times or by different hands. And the supposition
that the Republic was written uninterruptedly and by a continuous effort
is in some degree confirmed by the numerous references from one part of
the work to another.
The second title, 'Concerning Justice,' is not the one by which the
Republic is quoted, either by Aristotle or generally in antiquity, and,
like the other second titles of the Platonic Dialogues, may therefore be
assumed to be of later date. Morgenstern and others have asked
whether the definition of justice, which is the professed aim, or the
construction of the State is the principal argument of the work. The
answer is, that the two blend in one, and are two faces of the same
truth; for justice is the order of the State, and the State is the
visible embodiment of justice under the conditions of human society. The
one is the soul and the other is the body, and the Greek ideal of the
State, as of the individual, is a fair mind in a fair body. In Hegelian
phraseology the state is the reality of which justice is the idea. Or,
described in Christian language, the kingdom of God is within, and yet
developes into a Church or external kingdom; 'the house not made with
hands, eternal in the heavens,' is reduced to the proportions of an
earthly building. Or, to use a Platonic image, justice and the State are
the warp and the woof which run through the whole texture. And when the
constitution of the State is completed, the conception of justice is not
dismissed, but reappears under the same or different names throughout
the work, both as the inner law of the individual soul, and finally as
the principle of rewards and punishments in another life. The virtues
are based on justice, of which common honesty in buying and selling
is the shadow, and justice is based on the idea of good, which is the
harmony of the world, and is reflected both in the institutions of
states and in motions of the heavenly bodies (cp. Tim. 47). The Timaeus,
which takes up the political rather than the ethical side of the
Republic, and is chiefly occupied with hypotheses concerning the outward
world, yet contains many indications that the same law is supposed to
reign over the State, over nature, and over man.
Too much, however, has been made of this question both in ancient and
modern times. There is a stage of criticism in which all works, whether
of nature or of art, are referred to design. Now in ancient writings,
and indeed in literature generally, there remains often a large element
which was not comprehended in the original design. For the plan grows
under the author's hand; new thoughts occur to him in the act of
writing; he has not worked out the argument to the end before he begins.
The reader who seeks to find some one idea under which the whole may be
conceived, must necessarily seize on the vaguest and most general. Thus
Stallbaum, who is dissatisfied with the ordinary explanations of the
argument of the Republic, imagines himself to have found the true
argument 'in the representation of human life in a State perfected by
justice, and governed according to the idea of good.' There may be some
use in such general descriptions, but they can hardly be said to express
the design of the writer. The truth is, that we may as well speak of
many designs as of one; nor need anything be excluded from the plan of
a great work to which the mind is naturally led by the association of
ideas, and which does not interfere with the general purpose. What kind
or degree of unity is to be sought after in a building, in the plastic
arts, in poetry, in prose, is a problem which has to be determined
relatively to the subject-matter. To Plato himself, the enquiry 'what
was the intention of the writer,' or 'what was the principal argument
of the Republic' would have been hardly intelligible, and therefore had
better be at once dismissed (cp. the Introduction to the Phaedrus).
Is not the Republic the vehicle of three or four great truths which,
to Plato's own mind, are most naturally represented in the form of the
State? Just as in the Jewish prophets the reign of Messiah, or 'the day
of the Lord,' or the suffering Servant or people of God, or the 'Sun of
righteousness with healing in his wings' only convey, to us at least,
their great spiritual ideals, so through the Greek State Plato reveals
to us his own thoughts about divine perfection, which is the idea of
good--like the sun in the visible world;--about human perfection, which
is justice--about education beginning in youth and continuing in later
years--about poets and sophists and tyrants who are the false teachers
and evil rulers of mankind--about 'the world' which is the embodiment of
them--about a kingdom which exists nowhere upon earth but is laid up
in heaven to be the pattern and rule of human life. No such inspired
creation is at unity with itself, any more than the clouds of heaven
when the sun pierces through them. Every shade of light and dark, of
truth, and of fiction which is the veil of truth, is allowable in a work
of philosophical imagination. It is not all on the same plane; it easily
passes from ideas to myths and fancies, from facts to figures of speech.
It is not prose but poetry, at least a great part of it, and ought not
to be judged by the rules of logic or the probabilities of history. The
writer is not fashioning his ideas into an artistic whole; they take
possession of him and are too much for him. We have no need therefore
to discuss whether a State such as Plato has conceived is practicable or
not, or whether the outward form or the inward life came first into the
mind of the writer. For the practicability of his ideas has nothing to
do with their truth; and the highest thoughts to which he attains may be
truly said to bear the greatest 'marks of design'--justice more than the
external frame-work of the State, the idea of good more than justice.
The great science of dialectic or the organisation of ideas has no real
content; but is only a type of the method or spirit in which the
higher knowledge is to be pursued by the spectator of all time and
all existence. It is in the fifth, sixth, and seventh books that Plato
reaches the 'summit of speculation,' and these, although they fail to
satisfy the requirements of a modern thinker, may therefore be regarded
as the most important, as they are also the most original, portions of
the work.
It is not necessary to discuss at length a minor question which has
been raised by Boeckh, respecting the imaginary date at which the
conversation was held (the year 411 B.C. which is proposed by him will
do as well as any other); for a writer of fiction, and especially a
writer who, like Plato, is notoriously careless of chronology (cp. Rep.,
Symp., 193 A, etc.), only aims at general probability. Whether all the persons
mentioned in the Republic could ever have met at any one time is not
a difficulty which would have occurred to an Athenian reading the work
forty years later, or to Plato himself at the time of writing (any more
than to Shakespeare respecting one of his own dramas); and need not
greatly trouble us now. Yet this may be a question having no answer
'which is still worth asking,' because the investigation shows that we
cannot argue historically from the dates in Plato; it would be useless
therefore to waste time in inventing far-fetched reconcilements of them
in order to avoid chronological difficulties, such, for example, as
the conjecture of C.F. Hermann, that Glaucon and Adeimantus are not the
brothers but the uncles of Plato (cp. Apol. 34 A), or the fancy of Stallbaum
that Plato intentionally left anachronisms indicating the dates at which
some of his Dialogues were written.
The principal characters in the Republic are Cephalus, Polemarchus,
Thrasymachus, Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus. Cephalus appears in the
introduction only, Polemarchus drops at the end of the first argument,
and Thrasymachus is reduced to silence at the close of the first book.
The main discussion is carried on by Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus.
Among the company are Lysias (the orator) and Euthydemus, the sons of
Cephalus and brothers of Polemarchus, an unknown Charmantides--these are
mute auditors; also there is Cleitophon, who once interrupts, where, as
in the Dialogue which bears his name, he appears as the friend and ally
of Thrasymachus.
Cephalus, the patriarch of the house, has been appropriately engaged
in offering a sacrifice. He is the pattern of an old man who has almost
done with life, and is at peace with himself and with all mankind. He
feels that he is drawing nearer to the world below, and seems to linger
around the memory of the past. He is eager that Socrates should come
to visit him, fond of the poetry of the last generation, happy in the
consciousness of a well-spent life, glad at having escaped from the
tyranny of youthful lusts. His love of conversation, his affection, his
indifference to riches, even his garrulity, are interesting traits of
character. He is not one of those who have nothing to say, because their
whole mind has been absorbed in making money. Yet he acknowledges
that riches have the advantage of placing men above the temptation
to dishonesty or falsehood. The respectful attention shown to him by
Socrates, whose love of conversation, no less than the mission imposed
upon him by the Oracle, leads him to ask questions of all men, young and
old alike, should also be noted. Who better suited to raise the question
of justice than Cephalus, whose life might seem to be the expression of
it? The moderation with which old age is pictured by Cephalus as a very
tolerable portion of existence is characteristic, not only of him,
but of Greek feeling generally, and contrasts with the exaggeration of
Cicero in the De Senectute. The evening of life is described by Plato
in the most expressive manner, yet with the fewest possible touches. As
Cicero remarks (Ep. ad Attic. iv. 16), the aged Cephalus would have been out of
place in the discussion which follows, and which he could neither have
understood nor taken part in without a violation of dramatic propriety
(cp. Lysimachus in the Laches).
His 'son and heir' Polemarchus has the frankness and impetuousness of
youth; he is for detaining Socrates by force in the opening scene,
and will not 'let him off' on the subject of women and children.
Like Cephalus, he is limited in his point of view, and represents
the proverbial stage of morality which has rules of life rather than
principles; and he quotes Simonides (cp. Aristoph. Clouds) as his father
had quoted Pindar. But after this he has no more to say; the answers
which he makes are only elicited from him by the dialectic of Socrates.
He has not yet experienced the influence of the Sophists like Glaucon
and Adeimantus, nor is he sensible of the necessity of refuting them; he
belongs to the pre-Socratic or pre-dialectical age. He is incapable of
arguing, and is bewildered by Socrates to such a degree that he does not
know what he is saying. He is made to admit that justice is a thief, and
that the virtues follow the analogy of the arts. From his brother Lysias
(contra Eratosth.) we learn that he fell a victim to the Thirty Tyrants,
but no allusion is here made to his fate, nor to the circumstance that
Cephalus and his family were of Syracusan origin, and had migrated from
Thurii to Athens.
The 'Chalcedonian giant,' Thrasymachus, of whom we have already heard
in the Phaedrus, is the personification of the Sophists, according to
Plato's conception of them, in some of their worst characteristics. He
is vain and blustering, refusing to discourse unless he is paid, fond of
making an oration, and hoping thereby to escape the inevitable Socrates;
but a mere child in argument, and unable to foresee that the next 'move'
(to use a Platonic expression) will 'shut him up.' He has reached the
stage of framing general notions, and in this respect is in advance of
Cephalus and Polemarchus. But he is incapable of defending them in a
discussion, and vainly tries to cover his confusion with banter and
insolence. Whether such doctrines as are attributed to him by Plato were
really held either by him or by any other Sophist is uncertain; in the
infancy of philosophy serious errors about morality might easily grow
up--they are certainly put into the mouths of speakers in Thucydides;
but we are concerned at present with Plato's description of him, and not
with the historical reality. The inequality of the contest adds greatly
to the humour of the scene. The pompous and empty Sophist is utterly
helpless in the hands of the great master of dialectic, who knows how
to touch all the springs of vanity and weakness in him. He is greatly
irritated by the irony of Socrates, but his noisy and imbecile rage
only lays him more and more open to the thrusts of his assailant. His
determination to cram down their throats, or put 'bodily into their
souls' his own words, elicits a cry of horror from Socrates. The
state of his temper is quite as worthy of remark as the process of the
argument. Nothing is more amusing than his complete submission when
he has been once thoroughly beaten. At first he seems to continue the
discussion with reluctance, but soon with apparent good-will, and he
even testifies his interest at a later stage by one or two occasional
remarks. When attacked by Glaucon he is humorously protected by Socrates
'as one who has never been his enemy and is now his friend.' From Cicero
and Quintilian and from Aristotle's Rhetoric we learn that the Sophist
whom Plato has made so ridiculous was a man of note whose writings were
preserved in later ages. The play on his name which was made by his
contemporary Herodicus (Aris. Rhet.), 'thou wast ever bold in
battle,' seems to show that the description of him is not devoid of
When Thrasymachus has been silenced, the two principal respondents,
Glaucon and Adeimantus, appear on the scene: here, as in Greek tragedy
(cp. Introd. to Phaedo), three actors are introduced. At first sight
the two sons of Ariston may seem to wear a family likeness, like the two
friends Simmias and Cebes in the Phaedo. But on a nearer examination
of them the similarity vanishes, and they are seen to be distinct
characters. Glaucon is the impetuous youth who can 'just never have
enough of fechting' (cp. the character of him in Xen. Mem. iii. 6);
the man of pleasure who is acquainted with the mysteries of love; the
'juvenis qui gaudet canibus,' and who improves the breed of animals; the
lover of art and music who has all the experiences of youthful life. He
is full of quickness and penetration, piercing easily below the clumsy
platitudes of Thrasymachus to the real difficulty; he turns out to the
light the seamy side of human life, and yet does not lose faith in the
just and true. It is Glaucon who seizes what may be termed the ludicrous
relation of the philosopher to the world, to whom a state of simplicity
is 'a city of pigs,' who is always prepared with a jest when the
argument offers him an opportunity, and who is ever ready to second
the humour of Socrates and to appreciate the ridiculous, whether in
the connoisseurs of music, or in the lovers of theatricals, or in the
fantastic behaviour of the citizens of democracy. His weaknesses are
several times alluded to by Socrates, who, however, will not allow him
to be attacked by his brother Adeimantus. He is a soldier, and, like
Adeimantus, has been distinguished at the battle of Megara (anno
456?)...The character of Adeimantus is deeper and graver, and the
profounder objections are commonly put into his mouth. Glaucon is more
demonstrative, and generally opens the game. Adeimantus pursues the
argument further. Glaucon has more of the liveliness and quick sympathy
of youth; Adeimantus has the maturer judgment of a grown-up man of
the world. In the second book, when Glaucon insists that justice and
injustice shall be considered without regard to their consequences,
Adeimantus remarks that they are regarded by mankind in general only for
the sake of their consequences; and in a similar vein of reflection he
urges at the beginning of the fourth book that Socrates fails in making
his citizens happy, and is answered that happiness is not the first but
the second thing, not the direct aim but the indirect consequence of
the good government of a State. In the discussion about religion and
mythology, Adeimantus is the respondent, but Glaucon breaks in with a
slight jest, and carries on the conversation in a lighter tone about
music and gymnastic to the end of the book. It is Adeimantus again
who volunteers the criticism of common sense on the Socratic method of
argument, and who refuses to let Socrates pass lightly over the question
of women and children. It is Adeimantus who is the respondent in the
more argumentative, as Glaucon in the lighter and more imaginative
portions of the Dialogue. For example, throughout the greater part
of the sixth book, the causes of the corruption of philosophy and the
conception of the idea of good are discussed with Adeimantus. Glaucon
resumes his place of principal respondent; but he has a difficulty in
apprehending the higher education of Socrates, and makes some false hits
in the course of the discussion. Once more Adeimantus returns with the
allusion to his brother Glaucon whom he compares to the contentious
State; in the next book he is again superseded, and Glaucon continues to
the end.
Thus in a succession of characters Plato represents the successive
stages of morality, beginning with the Athenian gentleman of the olden
time, who is followed by the practical man of that day regulating his
life by proverbs and saws; to him succeeds the wild generalization of
the Sophists, and lastly come the young disciples of the great teacher,
who know the sophistical arguments but will not be convinced by them,
and desire to go deeper into the nature of things. These too, like
Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, are clearly distinguished from one
another. Neither in the Republic, nor in any other Dialogue of Plato, is
a single character repeated.
The delineation of Socrates in the Republic is not wholly consistent. In
the first book we have more of the real Socrates, such as he is depicted
in the Memorabilia of Xenophon, in the earliest Dialogues of Plato, and
in the Apology. He is ironical, provoking, questioning, the old enemy
of the Sophists, ready to put on the mask of Silenus as well as to argue
seriously. But in the sixth book his enmity towards the Sophists abates;
he acknowledges that they are the representatives rather than the
corrupters of the world. He also becomes more dogmatic and constructive,
passing beyond the range either of the political or the speculative
ideas of the real Socrates. In one passage Plato himself seems to
intimate that the time had now come for Socrates, who had passed his
whole life in philosophy, to give his own opinion and not to be always
repeating the notions of other men. There is no evidence that either the
idea of good or the conception of a perfect state were comprehended in
the Socratic teaching, though he certainly dwelt on the nature of
the universal and of final causes (cp. Xen. Mem.; Phaedo); and a deep
thinker like him, in his thirty or forty years of public teaching, could
hardly have failed to touch on the nature of family relations, for
which there is also some positive evidence in the Memorabilia (Mem.) The
Socratic method is nominally retained; and every inference is either put
into the mouth of the respondent or represented as the common discovery
of him and Socrates. But any one can see that this is a mere form, of
which the affectation grows wearisome as the work advances. The method
of enquiry has passed into a method of teaching in which by the help of
interlocutors the same thesis is looked at from various points of view.
The nature of the process is truly characterized by Glaucon, when
he describes himself as a companion who is not good for much in an
investigation, but can see what he is shown, and may, perhaps, give the
answer to a question more fluently than another.
Neither can we be absolutely certain that Socrates himself taught the
immortality of the soul, which is unknown to his disciple Glaucon in the
Republic (cp. Apol.); nor is there any reason to suppose that he used
myths or revelations of another world as a vehicle of instruction,
or that he would have banished poetry or have denounced the Greek
mythology. His favorite oath is retained, and a slight mention is made
of the daemonium, or internal sign, which is alluded to by Socrates as
a phenomenon peculiar to himself. A real element of Socratic teaching,
which is more prominent in the Republic than in any of the other
Dialogues of Plato, is the use of example and illustration (Greek):
'Let us apply the test of common instances.' 'You,' says Adeimantus,
ironically, in the sixth book, 'are so unaccustomed to speak in images.'
And this use of examples or images, though truly Socratic in origin, is
enlarged by the genius of Plato into the form of an allegory or parable,
which embodies in the concrete what has been already described, or is
about to be described, in the abstract. Thus the figure of the cave in
Book VII is a recapitulation of the divisions of knowledge in Book VI.
The composite animal in Book IX is an allegory of the parts of the
soul. The noble captain and the ship and the true pilot in Book VI are
a figure of the relation of the people to the philosophers in the
State which has been described. Other figures, such as the dog, or
the marriage of the portionless maiden, or the drones and wasps in the
eighth and ninth books, also form links of connexion in long passages,
or are used to recall previous discussions.
Plato is most true to the character of his master when he describes him
as 'not of this world.' And with this representation of him the ideal
state and the other paradoxes of the Republic are quite in accordance,
though they cannot be shown to have been speculations of Socrates. To
him, as to other great teachers both philosophical and religious, when
they looked upward, the world seemed to be the embodiment of error and
evil. The common sense of mankind has revolted against this view, or
has only partially admitted it. And even in Socrates himself the sterner
judgement of the multitude at times passes into a sort of ironical pity
or love. Men in general are incapable of philosophy, and are therefore
at enmity with the philosopher; but their misunderstanding of him is
unavoidable: for they have never seen him as he truly is in his own
image; they are only acquainted with artificial systems possessing no
native force of truth--words which admit of many applications. Their
leaders have nothing to measure with, and are therefore ignorant of
their own stature. But they are to be pitied or laughed at, not to be
quarrelled with; they mean well with their nostrums, if they could only
learn that they are cutting off a Hydra's head. This moderation towards
those who are in error is one of the most characteristic features
of Socrates in the Republic. In all the different representations of
Socrates, whether of Xenophon or Plato, and amid the differences of
the earlier or later Dialogues, he always retains the character of the
unwearied and disinterested seeker after truth, without which he would
have ceased to be Socrates.
Leaving the characters we may now analyse the contents of the Republic,
and then proceed to consider (1) The general aspects of this Hellenic
ideal of the State, (2) The modern lights in which the thoughts of Plato
may be read.
BOOK I. The Republic opens with a truly Greek scene--a festival in
honour of the goddess Bendis which is held in the Piraeus; to this is
added the promise of an equestrian torch-race in the evening. The whole
work is supposed to be recited by Socrates on the day after the festival
to a small party, consisting of Critias, Timaeus, Hermocrates, and
another; this we learn from the first words of the Timaeus.
When the rhetorical advantage of reciting the Dialogue has been gained,
the attention is not distracted by any reference to the audience; nor
is the reader further reminded of the extraordinary length of the
narrative. Of the numerous company, three only take any serious part in
the discussion; nor are we informed whether in the evening they went to
the torch-race, or talked, as in the Symposium, through the night.
The manner in which the conversation has arisen is described as
follows:--Socrates and his companion Glaucon are about to leave the
festival when they are detained by a message from Polemarchus, who
speedily appears accompanied by Adeimantus, the brother of Glaucon, and
with playful violence compels them to remain, promising them not only
the torch-race, but the pleasure of conversation with the young, which
to Socrates is a far greater attraction. They return to the house of
Cephalus, Polemarchus' father, now in extreme old age, who is found
sitting upon a cushioned seat crowned for a sacrifice. 'You should come
to me oftener, Socrates, for I am too old to go to you; and at my time
of life, having lost other pleasures, I care the more for conversation.'
Socrates asks him what he thinks of age, to which the old man replies,
that the sorrows and discontents of age are to be attributed to the
tempers of men, and that age is a time of peace in which the tyranny
of the passions is no longer felt. Yes, replies Socrates, but the world
will say, Cephalus, that you are happy in old age because you are rich.
'And there is something in what they say, Socrates, but not so much as
they imagine--as Themistocles replied to the Seriphian, "Neither you, if
you had been an Athenian, nor I, if I had been a Seriphian, would ever
have been famous," I might in like manner reply to you, Neither a good
poor man can be happy in age, nor yet a bad rich man.' Socrates remarks
that Cephalus appears not to care about riches, a quality which he
ascribes to his having inherited, not acquired them, and would like
to know what he considers to be the chief advantage of them. Cephalus
answers that when you are old the belief in the world below grows upon
you, and then to have done justice and never to have been compelled to
do injustice through poverty, and never to have deceived anyone, are
felt to be unspeakable blessings. Socrates, who is evidently preparing
for an argument, next asks, What is the meaning of the word justice? To
tell the truth and pay your debts? No more than this? Or must we admit
exceptions? Ought I, for example, to put back into the hands of my
friend, who has gone mad, the sword which I borrowed of him when he
was in his right mind? 'There must be exceptions.' 'And yet,' says
Polemarchus, 'the definition which has been given has the authority
of Simonides.' Here Cephalus retires to look after the sacrifices,
and bequeaths, as Socrates facetiously remarks, the possession of the
argument to his heir, Polemarchus...
The description of old age is finished, and Plato, as his manner is, has
touched the key-note of the whole work in asking for the definition of
justice, first suggesting the question which Glaucon afterwards pursues
respecting external goods, and preparing for the concluding mythus of
the world below in the slight allusion of Cephalus. The portrait of the
just man is a natural frontispiece or introduction to the long discourse
which follows, and may perhaps imply that in all our perplexity about
the nature of justice, there is no difficulty in discerning 'who is
a just man.' The first explanation has been supported by a saying of
Simonides; and now Socrates has a mind to show that the resolution of
justice into two unconnected precepts, which have no common principle,
fails to satisfy the demands of dialectic.
...He proceeds: What did Simonides mean by this saying of his? Did he
mean that I was to give back arms to a madman? 'No, not in that case,
not if the parties are friends, and evil would result. He meant that you
were to do what was proper, good to friends and harm to enemies.' Every
act does something to somebody; and following this analogy, Socrates
asks, What is this due and proper thing which justice does, and to whom?
He is answered that justice does good to friends and harm to enemies.
But in what way good or harm? 'In making alliances with the one, and
going to war with the other.' Then in time of peace what is the good
of justice? The answer is that justice is of use in contracts, and
contracts are money partnerships. Yes; but how in such partnerships
is the just man of more use than any other man? 'When you want to have
money safely kept and not used.' Then justice will be useful when money
is useless. And there is another difficulty: justice, like the art of
war or any other art, must be of opposites, good at attack as well as
at defence, at stealing as well as at guarding. But then justice is a
thief, though a hero notwithstanding, like Autolycus, the Homeric hero,
who was 'excellent above all men in theft and perjury'--to such a pass
have you and Homer and Simonides brought us; though I do not forget that
the thieving must be for the good of friends and the harm of enemies.
And still there arises another question: Are friends to be interpreted
as real or seeming; enemies as real or seeming? And are our friends to
be only the good, and our enemies to be the evil? The answer is, that
we must do good to our seeming and real good friends, and evil to our
seeming and real evil enemies--good to the good, evil to the evil. But
ought we to render evil for evil at all, when to do so will only make
men more evil? Can justice produce injustice any more than the art of
horsemanship can make bad horsemen, or heat produce cold? The final
conclusion is, that no sage or poet ever said that the just return
evil for evil; this was a maxim of some rich and mighty man, Periander,
Perdiccas, or Ismenias the Theban (about B.C. 398-381)...
Thus the first stage of aphoristic or unconscious morality is shown to
be inadequate to the wants of the age; the authority of the poets is set
aside, and through the winding mazes of dialectic we make an approach
to the Christian precept of forgiveness of injuries. Similar words
are applied by the Persian mystic poet to the Divine being when the
questioning spirit is stirred within him:--'If because I do evil, Thou
punishest me by evil, what is the difference between Thee and me?' In
this both Plato and Kheyam rise above the level of many Christian (?)
theologians. The first definition of justice easily passes into the
second; for the simple words 'to speak the truth and pay your debts' is
substituted the more abstract 'to do good to your friends and harm to
your enemies.' Either of these explanations gives a sufficient rule
of life for plain men, but they both fall short of the precision of
philosophy. We may note in passing the antiquity of casuistry, which not
only arises out of the conflict of established principles in particular
cases, but also out of the effort to attain them, and is prior as well
as posterior to our fundamental notions of morality. The 'interrogation'
of moral ideas; the appeal to the authority of Homer; the conclusion
that the maxim, 'Do good to your friends and harm to your enemies,'
being erroneous, could not have been the word of any great man, are all
of them very characteristic of the Platonic Socrates.
...Here Thrasymachus, who has made several attempts to interrupt, but
has hitherto been kept in order by the company, takes advantage of a
pause and rushes into the arena, beginning, like a savage animal, with a
roar. 'Socrates,' he says, 'what folly is this?--Why do you agree to be
vanquished by one another in a pretended argument?' He then prohibits
all the ordinary definitions of justice; to which Socrates replies that
he cannot tell how many twelve is, if he is forbidden to say 2 x 6, or
3 x 4, or 6 x 2, or 4 x 3. At first Thrasymachus is reluctant to argue;
but at length, with a promise of payment on the part of the company and
of praise from Socrates, he is induced to open the game. 'Listen,' he
says, 'my answer is that might is right, justice the interest of the
stronger: now praise me.' Let me understand you first. Do you mean that
because Polydamas the wrestler, who is stronger than we are, finds the
eating of beef for his interest, the eating of beef is also for our
interest, who are not so strong? Thrasymachus is indignant at the
illustration, and in pompous words, apparently intended to restore
dignity to the argument, he explains his meaning to be that the rulers
make laws for their own interests. But suppose, says Socrates, that the
ruler or stronger makes a mistake--then the interest of the stronger is
not his interest. Thrasymachus is saved from this speedy downfall by his
disciple Cleitophon, who introduces the word 'thinks;'--not the actual
interest of the ruler, but what he thinks or what seems to be his
interest, is justice. The contradiction is escaped by the unmeaning
evasion: for though his real and apparent interests may differ, what the
ruler thinks to be his interest will always remain what he thinks to be
his interest.
Of course this was not the original assertion, nor is the new
interpretation accepted by Thrasymachus himself. But Socrates is not
disposed to quarrel about words, if, as he significantly insinuates,
his adversary has changed his mind. In what follows Thrasymachus does
in fact withdraw his admission that the ruler may make a mistake, for he
affirms that the ruler as a ruler is infallible. Socrates is quite ready
to accept the new position, which he equally turns against Thrasymachus
by the help of the analogy of the arts. Every art or science has an
interest, but this interest is to be distinguished from the accidental
interest of the artist, and is only concerned with the good of the
things or persons which come under the art. And justice has an interest
which is the interest not of the ruler or judge, but of those who come
under his sway.
Thrasymachus is on the brink of the inevitable conclusion, when he makes
a bold diversion. 'Tell me, Socrates,' he says, 'have you a nurse?' What
a question! Why do you ask? 'Because, if you have, she neglects you and
lets you go about drivelling, and has not even taught you to know the
shepherd from the sheep. For you fancy that shepherds and rulers never
think of their own interest, but only of their sheep or subjects,
whereas the truth is that they fatten them for their use, sheep and
subjects alike. And experience proves that in every relation of life
the just man is the loser and the unjust the gainer, especially where
injustice is on the grand scale, which is quite another thing from the
petty rogueries of swindlers and burglars and robbers of temples. The
language of men proves this--our 'gracious' and 'blessed' tyrant and the
like--all which tends to show (1) that justice is the interest of the
stronger; and (2) that injustice is more profitable and also stronger
than justice.'
Thrasymachus, who is better at a speech than at a close argument, having
deluged the company with words, has a mind to escape. But the others
will not let him go, and Socrates adds a humble but earnest request that
he will not desert them at such a crisis of their fate. 'And what can I
do more for you?' he says; 'would you have me put the words bodily
into your souls?' God forbid! replies Socrates; but we want you to be
consistent in the use of terms, and not to employ 'physician' in an
exact sense, and then again 'shepherd' or 'ruler' in an inexact,--if the
words are strictly taken, the ruler and the shepherd look only to the
good of their people or flocks and not to their own: whereas you insist
that rulers are solely actuated by love of office. 'No doubt about it,'
replies Thrasymachus. Then why are they paid? Is not the reason, that
their interest is not comprehended in their art, and is therefore the
concern of another art, the art of pay, which is common to the arts in
general, and therefore not identical with any one of them? Nor would any
man be a ruler unless he were induced by the hope of reward or the fear
of punishment;--the reward is money or honour, the punishment is the
necessity of being ruled by a man worse than himself. And if a State (or
Church) were composed entirely of good men, they would be affected by
the last motive only; and there would be as much 'nolo episcopari' as
there is at present of the opposite...
The satire on existing governments is heightened by the simple and
apparently incidental manner in which the last remark is introduced.
There is a similar irony in the argument that the governors of mankind
do not like being in office, and that therefore they demand pay.
...Enough of this: the other assertion of Thrasymachus is far more
important--that the unjust life is more gainful than the just. Now, as
you and I, Glaucon, are not convinced by him, we must reply to him; but
if we try to compare their respective gains we shall want a judge
to decide for us; we had better therefore proceed by making mutual
admissions of the truth to one another.
Thrasymachus had asserted that perfect injustice was more gainful than
perfect justice, and after a little hesitation he is induced by Socrates
to admit the still greater paradox that injustice is virtue and justice
vice. Socrates praises his frankness, and assumes the attitude of one
whose only wish is to understand the meaning of his opponents. At the
same time he is weaving a net in which Thrasymachus is finally enclosed.
The admission is elicited from him that the just man seeks to gain an
advantage over the unjust only, but not over the just, while the unjust
would gain an advantage over either. Socrates, in order to test this
statement, employs once more the favourite analogy of the arts. The
musician, doctor, skilled artist of any sort, does not seek to gain more
than the skilled, but only more than the unskilled (that is to say, he
works up to a rule, standard, law, and does not exceed it), whereas the
unskilled makes random efforts at excess. Thus the skilled falls on the
side of the good, and the unskilled on the side of the evil, and the
just is the skilled, and the unjust is the unskilled.
There was great difficulty in bringing Thrasymachus to the point; the
day was hot and he was streaming with perspiration, and for the first
time in his life he was seen to blush. But his other thesis that
injustice was stronger than justice has not yet been refuted, and
Socrates now proceeds to the consideration of this, which, with the
assistance of Thrasymachus, he hopes to clear up; the latter is at first
churlish, but in the judicious hands of Socrates is soon restored to
good-humour: Is there not honour among thieves? Is not the strength of
injustice only a remnant of justice? Is not absolute injustice absolute
weakness also? A house that is divided against itself cannot stand; two
men who quarrel detract from one another's strength, and he who is at
war with himself is the enemy of himself and the gods. Not wickedness
therefore, but semi-wickedness flourishes in states,--a remnant of
good is needed in order to make union in action possible,--there is no
kingdom of evil in this world.
Another question has not been answered: Is the just or the unjust the
happier? To this we reply, that every art has an end and an excellence
or virtue by which the end is accomplished. And is not the end of
the soul happiness, and justice the excellence of the soul by which
happiness is attained? Justice and happiness being thus shown to be
inseparable, the question whether the just or the unjust is the happier
has disappeared.
Thrasymachus replies: 'Let this be your entertainment, Socrates, at the
festival of Bendis.' Yes; and a very good entertainment with which your
kindness has supplied me, now that you have left off scolding. And yet
not a good entertainment--but that was my own fault, for I tasted of too
many things. First of all the nature of justice was the subject of our
enquiry, and then whether justice is virtue and wisdom, or evil and
folly; and then the comparative advantages of just and unjust: and the
sum of all is that I know not what justice is; how then shall I know
whether the just is happy or not?...
Thus the sophistical fabric has been demolished, chiefly by appealing
to the analogy of the arts. 'Justice is like the arts (1) in having no
external interest, and (2) in not aiming at excess, and (3) justice is
to happiness what the implement of the workman is to his work.' At this
the modern reader is apt to stumble, because he forgets that Plato is
writing in an age when the arts and the virtues, like the moral
and intellectual faculties, were still undistinguished. Among early
enquirers into the nature of human action the arts helped to fill up
the void of speculation; and at first the comparison of the arts and the
virtues was not perceived by them to be fallacious. They only saw the
points of agreement in them and not the points of difference. Virtue,
like art, must take means to an end; good manners are both an art and
a virtue; character is naturally described under the image of a statue;
and there are many other figures of speech which are readily transferred
from art to morals. The next generation cleared up these perplexities;
or at least supplied after ages with a further analysis of them. The
contemporaries of Plato were in a state of transition, and had not yet
fully realized the common-sense distinction of Aristotle, that 'virtue
is concerned with action, art with production' (Nic. Eth.), or that
'virtue implies intention and constancy of purpose,' whereas 'art
requires knowledge only'. And yet in the absurdities which follow from
some uses of the analogy, there seems to be an intimation conveyed that
virtue is more than art. This is implied in the reductio ad absurdum
that 'justice is a thief,' and in the dissatisfaction which Socrates
expresses at the final result.
The expression 'an art of pay' which is described as 'common to all the
arts' is not in accordance with the ordinary use of language. Nor is it
employed elsewhere either by Plato or by any other Greek writer. It is
suggested by the argument, and seems to extend the conception of art to
doing as well as making. Another flaw or inaccuracy of language may be
noted in the words 'men who are injured are made more unjust.' For
those who are injured are not necessarily made worse, but only harmed or
The second of the three arguments, 'that the just does not aim at
excess,' has a real meaning, though wrapped up in an enigmatical form.
That the good is of the nature of the finite is a peculiarly Hellenic
sentiment, which may be compared with the language of those modern
writers who speak of virtue as fitness, and of freedom as obedience to
law. The mathematical or logical notion of limit easily passes into an
ethical one, and even finds a mythological expression in the conception
of envy (Greek). Ideas of measure, equality, order, unity, proportion,
still linger in the writings of moralists; and the true spirit of the
fine arts is better conveyed by such terms than by superlatives.
'When workmen strive to do better than well,
They do confound their skill in covetousness.' (King John.)
The harmony of the soul and body, and of the parts of the soul with
one another, a harmony 'fairer than that of musical notes,' is the true
Hellenic mode of conceiving the perfection of human nature.
In what may be called the epilogue of the discussion with Thrasymachus,
Plato argues that evil is not a principle of strength, but of discord
and dissolution, just touching the question which has been often treated
in modern times by theologians and philosophers, of the negative nature
of evil. In the last argument we trace the germ of the Aristotelian
doctrine of an end and a virtue directed towards the end, which again is
suggested by the arts. The final reconcilement of justice and happiness
and the identity of the individual and the State are also intimated.
Socrates reassumes the character of a 'know-nothing;' at the same time
he appears to be not wholly satisfied with the manner in which the
argument has been conducted. Nothing is concluded; but the tendency of
the dialectical process, here as always, is to enlarge our conception of
ideas, and to widen their application to human life.
BOOK II. Thrasymachus is pacified, but the intrepid Glaucon insists on
continuing the argument. He is not satisfied with the indirect manner
in which, at the end of the last book, Socrates had disposed of the
question 'Whether the just or the unjust is the happier.' He begins
by dividing goods into three classes:--first, goods desirable in
themselves; secondly, goods desirable in themselves and for their
results; thirdly, goods desirable for their results only. He then asks
Socrates in which of the three classes he would place justice. In the
second class, replies Socrates, among goods desirable for themselves and
also for their results. 'Then the world in general are of another mind,
for they say that justice belongs to the troublesome class of goods
which are desirable for their results only. Socrates answers that this
is the doctrine of Thrasymachus which he rejects. Glaucon thinks that
Thrasymachus was too ready to listen to the voice of the charmer, and
proposes to consider the nature of justice and injustice in themselves
and apart from the results and rewards of them which the world is always
dinning in his ears. He will first of all speak of the nature and origin
of justice; secondly, of the manner in which men view justice as a
necessity and not a good; and thirdly, he will prove the reasonableness
of this view.
'To do injustice is said to be a good; to suffer injustice an evil. As
the evil is discovered by experience to be greater than the good, the
sufferers, who cannot also be doers, make a compact that they will have
neither, and this compact or mean is called justice, but is really the
impossibility of doing injustice. No one would observe such a compact
if he were not obliged. Let us suppose that the just and unjust have
two rings, like that of Gyges in the well-known story, which make them
invisible, and then no difference will appear in them, for every one
will do evil if he can. And he who abstains will be regarded by the
world as a fool for his pains. Men may praise him in public out of
fear for themselves, but they will laugh at him in their hearts (Cp.
'And now let us frame an ideal of the just and unjust. Imagine the
unjust man to be master of his craft, seldom making mistakes and easily
correcting them; having gifts of money, speech, strength--the greatest
villain bearing the highest character: and at his side let us place the
just in his nobleness and simplicity--being, not seeming--without name
or reward--clothed in his justice only--the best of men who is thought
to be the worst, and let him die as he has lived. I might add (but
I would rather put the rest into the mouth of the panegyrists of
injustice--they will tell you) that the just man will be scourged,
racked, bound, will have his eyes put out, and will at last be crucified
(literally impaled)--and all this because he ought to have preferred
seeming to being. How different is the case of the unjust who clings to
appearance as the true reality! His high character makes him a ruler;
he can marry where he likes, trade where he likes, help his friends and
hurt his enemies; having got rich by dishonesty he can worship the gods
better, and will therefore be more loved by them than the just.'
I was thinking what to answer, when Adeimantus joined in the already
unequal fray. He considered that the most important point of all had
been omitted:--'Men are taught to be just for the sake of rewards;
parents and guardians make reputation the incentive to virtue. And other
advantages are promised by them of a more solid kind, such as wealthy
marriages and high offices. There are the pictures in Homer and Hesiod
of fat sheep and heavy fleeces, rich corn-fields and trees toppling with
fruit, which the gods provide in this life for the just. And the Orphic
poets add a similar picture of another. The heroes of Musaeus and
Eumolpus lie on couches at a festival, with garlands on their heads,
enjoying as the meed of virtue a paradise of immortal drunkenness.
Some go further, and speak of a fair posterity in the third and fourth
generation. But the wicked they bury in a slough and make them carry
water in a sieve: and in this life they attribute to them the infamy
which Glaucon was assuming to be the lot of the just who are supposed to
be unjust.
'Take another kind of argument which is found both in poetry and
prose:--"Virtue," as Hesiod says, "is honourable but difficult, vice is
easy and profitable." You may often see the wicked in great prosperity
and the righteous afflicted by the will of heaven. And mendicant
prophets knock at rich men's doors, promising to atone for the sins
of themselves or their fathers in an easy fashion with sacrifices and
festive games, or with charms and invocations to get rid of an enemy
good or bad by divine help and at a small charge;--they appeal to books
professing to be written by Musaeus and Orpheus, and carry away the
minds of whole cities, and promise to "get souls out of purgatory;" and
if we refuse to listen to them, no one knows what will happen to us.
'When a lively-minded ingenuous youth hears all this, what will be his
conclusion? "Will he," in the language of Pindar, "make justice his high
tower, or fortify himself with crooked deceit?" Justice, he reflects,
without the appearance of justice, is misery and ruin; injustice has the
promise of a glorious life. Appearance is master of truth and lord of
happiness. To appearance then I will turn,--I will put on the show
of virtue and trail behind me the fox of Archilochus. I hear some one
saying that "wickedness is not easily concealed," to which I reply that
"nothing great is easy." Union and force and rhetoric will do much; and
if men say that they cannot prevail over the gods, still how do we know
that there are gods? Only from the poets, who acknowledge that they may
be appeased by sacrifices. Then why not sin and pay for indulgences out
of your sin? For if the righteous are only unpunished, still they have
no further reward, while the wicked may be unpunished and have the
pleasure of sinning too. But what of the world below? Nay, says the
argument, there are atoning powers who will set that matter right, as
the poets, who are the sons of the gods, tell us; and this is confirmed
by the authority of the State.
'How can we resist such arguments in favour of injustice? Add good
manners, and, as the wise tell us, we shall make the best of both
worlds. Who that is not a miserable caitiff will refrain from smiling at
the praises of justice? Even if a man knows the better part he will not
be angry with others; for he knows also that more than human virtue is
needed to save a man, and that he only praises justice who is incapable
of injustice.
'The origin of the evil is that all men from the beginning, heroes,
poets, instructors of youth, have always asserted "the temporal
dispensation," the honours and profits of justice. Had we been taught in
early youth the power of justice and injustice inherent in the soul, and
unseen by any human or divine eye, we should not have needed others to
be our guardians, but every one would have been the guardian of himself.
This is what I want you to show, Socrates;--other men use arguments
which rather tend to strengthen the position of Thrasymachus that "might
is right;" but from you I expect better things. And please, as Glaucon
said, to exclude reputation; let the just be thought unjust and the
unjust just, and do you still prove to us the superiority of justice'...
The thesis, which for the sake of argument has been maintained by
Glaucon, is the converse of that of Thrasymachus--not right is the
interest of the stronger, but right is the necessity of the weaker.
Starting from the same premises he carries the analysis of society a
step further back;--might is still right, but the might is the weakness
of the many combined against the strength of the few.
There have been theories in modern as well as in ancient times which
have a family likeness to the speculations of Glaucon; e.g. that power
is the foundation of right; or that a monarch has a divine right to
govern well or ill; or that virtue is self-love or the love of power; or
that war is the natural state of man; or that private vices are public
benefits. All such theories have a kind of plausibility from their
partial agreement with experience. For human nature oscillates between
good and evil, and the motives of actions and the origin of institutions
may be explained to a certain extent on either hypothesis according to
the character or point of view of a particular thinker. The obligation
of maintaining authority under all circumstances and sometimes by rather
questionable means is felt strongly and has become a sort of instinct
among civilized men. The divine right of kings, or more generally of
governments, is one of the forms under which this natural feeling is
expressed. Nor again is there any evil which has not some accompaniment
of good or pleasure; nor any good which is free from some alloy of evil;
nor any noble or generous thought which may not be attended by a shadow
or the ghost of a shadow of self-interest or of self-love. We know that
all human actions are imperfect; but we do not therefore attribute
them to the worse rather than to the better motive or principle. Such
a philosophy is both foolish and false, like that opinion of the clever
rogue who assumes all other men to be like himself. And theories of this
sort do not represent the real nature of the State, which is based on a
vague sense of right gradually corrected and enlarged by custom and law
(although capable also of perversion), any more than they describe the
origin of society, which is to be sought in the family and in the
social and religious feelings of man. Nor do they represent the average
character of individuals, which cannot be explained simply on a theory
of evil, but has always a counteracting element of good. And as men
become better such theories appear more and more untruthful to them,
because they are more conscious of their own disinterestedness. A little
experience may make a man a cynic; a great deal will bring him back to
a truer and kindlier view of the mixed nature of himself and his fellow
The two brothers ask Socrates to prove to them that the just is happy
when they have taken from him all that in which happiness is ordinarily
supposed to consist. Not that there is (1) any absurdity in the attempt
to frame a notion of justice apart from circumstances. For the ideal
must always be a paradox when compared with the ordinary conditions of
human life. Neither the Stoical ideal nor the Christian ideal is true as
a fact, but they may serve as a basis of education, and may exercise an
ennobling influence. An ideal is none the worse because 'some one has
made the discovery' that no such ideal was ever realized. And in a
few exceptional individuals who are raised above the ordinary level of
humanity, the ideal of happiness may be realized in death and misery.
This may be the state which the reason deliberately approves, and which
the utilitarian as well as every other moralist may be bound in certain
cases to prefer.
Nor again, (2) must we forget that Plato, though he agrees generally
with the view implied in the argument of the two brothers, is not
expressing his own final conclusion, but rather seeking to dramatize one
of the aspects of ethical truth. He is developing his idea gradually in
a series of positions or situations. He is exhibiting Socrates for the
first time undergoing the Socratic interrogation. Lastly, (3) the word
'happiness' involves some degree of confusion because associated in the
language of modern philosophy with conscious pleasure or satisfaction,
which was not equally present to his mind.
Glaucon has been drawing a picture of the misery of the just and the
happiness of the unjust, to which the misery of the tyrant in Book IX is
the answer and parallel. And still the unjust must appear just; that is
'the homage which vice pays to virtue.' But now Adeimantus, taking up
the hint which had been already given by Glaucon, proceeds to show
that in the opinion of mankind justice is regarded only for the sake of
rewards and reputation, and points out the advantage which is given to
such arguments as those of Thrasymachus and Glaucon by the conventional
morality of mankind. He seems to feel the difficulty of 'justifying the
ways of God to man.' Both the brothers touch upon the question, whether
the morality of actions is determined by their consequences; and both
of them go beyond the position of Socrates, that justice belongs to
the class of goods not desirable for themselves only, but desirable for
themselves and for their results, to which he recalls them. In
their attempt to view justice as an internal principle, and in their
condemnation of the poets, they anticipate him. The common life of
Greece is not enough for them; they must penetrate deeper into the
nature of things.
It has been objected that justice is honesty in the sense of Glaucon and
Adeimantus, but is taken by Socrates to mean all virtue. May we not
more truly say that the old-fashioned notion of justice is enlarged by
Socrates, and becomes equivalent to universal order or well-being, first
in the State, and secondly in the individual? He has found a new answer
to his old question (Protag.), 'whether the virtues are one or many,'
viz. that one is the ordering principle of the three others. In seeking
to establish the purely internal nature of justice, he is met by the
fact that man is a social being, and he tries to harmonise the two
opposite theses as well as he can. There is no more inconsistency in
this than was inevitable in his age and country; there is no use in
turning upon him the cross lights of modern philosophy, which, from some
other point of view, would appear equally inconsistent. Plato does not
give the final solution of philosophical questions for us; nor can he be
judged of by our standard.
The remainder of the Republic is developed out of the question of
the sons of Ariston. Three points are deserving of remark in what
immediately follows:--First, that the answer of Socrates is altogether
indirect. He does not say that happiness consists in the contemplation
of the idea of justice, and still less will he be tempted to affirm the
Stoical paradox that the just man can be happy on the rack. But first he
dwells on the difficulty of the problem and insists on restoring man to
his natural condition, before he will answer the question at all. He
too will frame an ideal, but his ideal comprehends not only abstract
justice, but the whole relations of man. Under the fanciful illustration
of the large letters he implies that he will only look for justice in
society, and that from the State he will proceed to the individual. His
answer in substance amounts to this,--that under favourable conditions,
i.e. in the perfect State, justice and happiness will coincide, and that
when justice has been once found, happiness may be left to take care
of itself. That he falls into some degree of inconsistency, when in
the tenth book he claims to have got rid of the rewards and honours
of justice, may be admitted; for he has left those which exist in the
perfect State. And the philosopher 'who retires under the shelter of a
wall' can hardly have been esteemed happy by him, at least not in this
world. Still he maintains the true attitude of moral action. Let a man
do his duty first, without asking whether he will be happy or not, and
happiness will be the inseparable accident which attends him. 'Seek ye
first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things
shall be added unto you.'
Secondly, it may be remarked that Plato preserves the genuine character
of Greek thought in beginning with the State and in going on to the
individual. First ethics, then politics--this is the order of ideas to
us; the reverse is the order of history. Only after many struggles of
thought does the individual assert his right as a moral being. In early
ages he is not ONE, but one of many, the citizen of a State which is
prior to him; and he has no notion of good or evil apart from the law
of his country or the creed of his church. And to this type he is
constantly tending to revert, whenever the influence of custom, or of
party spirit, or the recollection of the past becomes too strong for
Thirdly, we may observe the confusion or identification of the
individual and the State, of ethics and politics, which pervades early
Greek speculation, and even in modern times retains a certain degree of
influence. The subtle difference between the collective and individual
action of mankind seems to have escaped early thinkers, and we too are
sometimes in danger of forgetting the conditions of united human action,
whenever we either elevate politics into ethics, or lower ethics to the
standard of politics. The good man and the good citizen only coincide in
the perfect State; and this perfection cannot be attained by legislation
acting upon them from without, but, if at all, by education fashioning
them from within.
...Socrates praises the sons of Ariston, 'inspired offspring of
the renowned hero,' as the elegiac poet terms them; but he does not
understand how they can argue so eloquently on behalf of injustice while
their character shows that they are uninfluenced by their own arguments.
He knows not how to answer them, although he is afraid of deserting
justice in the hour of need. He therefore makes a condition, that having
weak eyes he shall be allowed to read the large letters first and then
go on to the smaller, that is, he must look for justice in the State
first, and will then proceed to the individual. Accordingly he begins to
construct the State.
Society arises out of the wants of man. His first want is food; his
second a house; his third a coat. The sense of these needs and the
possibility of satisfying them by exchange, draw individuals together on
the same spot; and this is the beginning of a State, which we take the
liberty to invent, although necessity is the real inventor. There must
be first a husbandman, secondly a builder, thirdly a weaver, to which
may be added a cobbler. Four or five citizens at least are required to
make a city. Now men have different natures, and one man will do one
thing better than many; and business waits for no man. Hence there must
be a division of labour into different employments; into wholesale
and retail trade; into workers, and makers of workmen's tools; into
shepherds and husbandmen. A city which includes all this will have far
exceeded the limit of four or five, and yet not be very large. But then
again imports will be required, and imports necessitate exports,
and this implies variety of produce in order to attract the taste of
purchasers; also merchants and ships. In the city too we must have a
market and money and retail trades; otherwise buyers and sellers will
never meet, and the valuable time of the producers will be wasted in
vain efforts at exchange. If we add hired servants the State will be
complete. And we may guess that somewhere in the intercourse of the
citizens with one another justice and injustice will appear.
Here follows a rustic picture of their way of life. They spend their
days in houses which they have built for themselves; they make their
own clothes and produce their own corn and wine. Their principal food is
meal and flour, and they drink in moderation. They live on the best
of terms with each other, and take care not to have too many children.
'But,' said Glaucon, interposing, 'are they not to have a relish?'
Certainly; they will have salt and olives and cheese, vegetables and
fruits, and chestnuts to roast at the fire. ''Tis a city of pigs,
Socrates.' Why, I replied, what do you want more? 'Only the comforts of
life,--sofas and tables, also sauces and sweets.' I see; you want not
only a State, but a luxurious State; and possibly in the more complex
frame we may sooner find justice and injustice. Then the fine arts must
go to work--every conceivable instrument and ornament of luxury will be
wanted. There will be dancers, painters, sculptors, musicians, cooks,
barbers, tire-women, nurses, artists; swineherds and neatherds too for
the animals, and physicians to cure the disorders of which luxury is the
source. To feed all these superfluous mouths we shall need a part of
our neighbour's land, and they will want a part of ours. And this is the
origin of war, which may be traced to the same causes as other political
evils. Our city will now require the slight addition of a camp, and
the citizen will be converted into a soldier. But then again our old
doctrine of the division of labour must not be forgotten. The art of
war cannot be learned in a day, and there must be a natural aptitude
for military duties. There will be some warlike natures who have this
aptitude--dogs keen of scent, swift of foot to pursue, and strong of
limb to fight. And as spirit is the foundation of courage, such natures,
whether of men or animals, will be full of spirit. But these spirited
natures are apt to bite and devour one another; the union of
gentleness to friends and fierceness against enemies appears to be an
impossibility, and the guardian of a State requires both qualities. Who
then can be a guardian? The image of the dog suggests an answer. For
dogs are gentle to friends and fierce to strangers. Your dog is a
philosopher who judges by the rule of knowing or not knowing; and
philosophy, whether in man or beast, is the parent of gentleness. The
human watchdogs must be philosophers or lovers of learning which will
make them gentle. And how are they to be learned without education?
But what shall their education be? Is any better than the old-fashioned
sort which is comprehended under the name of music and gymnastic? Music
includes literature, and literature is of two kinds, true and false.
'What do you mean?' he said. I mean that children hear stories before
they learn gymnastics, and that the stories are either untrue, or have
at most one or two grains of truth in a bushel of falsehood. Now early
life is very impressible, and children ought not to learn what they will
have to unlearn when they grow up; we must therefore have a censorship
of nursery tales, banishing some and keeping others. Some of them are
very improper, as we may see in the great instances of Homer and Hesiod,
who not only tell lies but bad lies; stories about Uranus and Saturn,
which are immoral as well as false, and which should never be spoken of
to young persons, or indeed at all; or, if at all, then in a mystery,
after the sacrifice, not of an Eleusinian pig, but of some unprocurable
animal. Shall our youth be encouraged to beat their fathers by the
example of Zeus, or our citizens be incited to quarrel by hearing or
seeing representations of strife among the gods? Shall they listen to
the narrative of Hephaestus binding his mother, and of Zeus sending him
flying for helping her when she was beaten? Such tales may possibly have
a mystical interpretation, but the young are incapable of understanding
allegory. If any one asks what tales are to be allowed, we will answer
that we are legislators and not book-makers; we only lay down the
principles according to which books are to be written; to write them is
the duty of others.
And our first principle is, that God must be represented as he is; not
as the author of all things, but of good only. We will not suffer the
poets to say that he is the steward of good and evil, or that he has two
casks full of destinies;--or that Athene and Zeus incited Pandarus to
break the treaty; or that God caused the sufferings of Niobe, or of
Pelops, or the Trojan war; or that he makes men sin when he wishes to
destroy them. Either these were not the actions of the gods, or God was
just, and men were the better for being punished. But that the deed was
evil, and God the author, is a wicked, suicidal fiction which we will
allow no one, old or young, to utter. This is our first and great
principle--God is the author of good only.
And the second principle is like unto it:--With God is no variableness
or change of form. Reason teaches us this; for if we suppose a change
in God, he must be changed either by another or by himself. By
another?--but the best works of nature and art and the noblest qualities
of mind are least liable to be changed by any external force. By
himself?--but he cannot change for the better; he will hardly change
for the worse. He remains for ever fairest and best in his own image.
Therefore we refuse to listen to the poets who tell us of Here begging
in the likeness of a priestess or of other deities who prowl about at
night in strange disguises; all that blasphemous nonsense with which
mothers fool the manhood out of their children must be suppressed. But
some one will say that God, who is himself unchangeable, may take a form
in relation to us. Why should he? For gods as well as men hate the lie
in the soul, or principle of falsehood; and as for any other form of
lying which is used for a purpose and is regarded as innocent in certain
exceptional cases--what need have the gods of this? For they are not
ignorant of antiquity like the poets, nor are they afraid of their
enemies, nor is any madman a friend of theirs. God then is true, he is
absolutely true; he changes not, he deceives not, by day or night, by
word or sign. This is our second great principle--God is true. Away
with the lying dream of Agamemnon in Homer, and the accusation of Thetis
against Apollo in Aeschylus...
In order to give clearness to his conception of the State, Plato
proceeds to trace the first principles of mutual need and of division
of labour in an imaginary community of four or five citizens. Gradually
this community increases; the division of labour extends to countries;
imports necessitate exports; a medium of exchange is required, and
retailers sit in the market-place to save the time of the producers.
These are the steps by which Plato constructs the first or primitive
State, introducing the elements of political economy by the way. As
he is going to frame a second or civilized State, the simple naturally
comes before the complex. He indulges, like Rousseau, in a picture of
primitive life--an idea which has indeed often had a powerful influence
on the imagination of mankind, but he does not seriously mean to say
that one is better than the other (Politicus); nor can any inference
be drawn from the description of the first state taken apart from the
second, such as Aristotle appears to draw in the Politics. We should not
interpret a Platonic dialogue any more than a poem or a parable in too
literal or matter-of-fact a style. On the other hand, when we compare
the lively fancy of Plato with the dried-up abstractions of modern
treatises on philosophy, we are compelled to say with Protagoras, that
the 'mythus is more interesting' (Protag.)
Several interesting remarks which in modern times would have a place in
a treatise on Political Economy are scattered up and down the writings
of Plato: especially Laws, Population; Free Trade; Adulteration; Wills
and Bequests; Begging; Eryxias, (though not Plato's), Value and Demand;
Republic, Division of Labour. The last subject, and also the origin of
Retail Trade, is treated with admirable lucidity in the second book of
the Republic. But Plato never combined his economic ideas into a system,
and never seems to have recognized that Trade is one of the great motive
powers of the State and of the world. He would make retail traders
only of the inferior sort of citizens (Rep., Laws), though he remarks,
quaintly enough (Laws), that 'if only the best men and the best women
everywhere were compelled to keep taverns for a time or to carry on
retail trade, etc., then we should knew how pleasant and agreeable all
these things are.'
The disappointment of Glaucon at the 'city of pigs,' the ludicrous
description of the ministers of luxury in the more refined State, and
the afterthought of the necessity of doctors, the illustration of the
nature of the guardian taken from the dog, the desirableness of
offering some almost unprocurable victim when impure mysteries are to be
celebrated, the behaviour of Zeus to his father and of Hephaestus to
his mother, are touches of humour which have also a serious meaning. In
speaking of education Plato rather startles us by affirming that a child
must be trained in falsehood first and in truth afterwards. Yet this is
not very different from saying that children must be taught through
the medium of imagination as well as reason; that their minds can only
develope gradually, and that there is much which they must learn without
understanding. This is also the substance of Plato's view, though he
must be acknowledged to have drawn the line somewhat differently from
modern ethical writers, respecting truth and falsehood. To us, economies
or accommodations would not be allowable unless they were required by
the human faculties or necessary for the communication of knowledge to
the simple and ignorant. We should insist that the word was inseparable
from the intention, and that we must not be 'falsely true,' i.e. speak
or act falsely in support of what was right or true. But Plato would
limit the use of fictions only by requiring that they should have a good
moral effect, and that such a dangerous weapon as falsehood should be
employed by the rulers alone and for great objects.
A Greek in the age of Plato attached no importance to the question
whether his religion was an historical fact. He was just beginning to be
conscious that the past had a history; but he could see nothing beyond
Homer and Hesiod. Whether their narratives were true or false did not
seriously affect the political or social life of Hellas. Men only began
to suspect that they were fictions when they recognised them to be
immoral. And so in all religions: the consideration of their morality
comes first, afterwards the truth of the documents in which they are
recorded, or of the events natural or supernatural which are told of
them. But in modern times, and in Protestant countries perhaps more than
in Catholic, we have been too much inclined to identify the historical
with the moral; and some have refused to believe in religion at all,
unless a superhuman accuracy was discernible in every part of the
record. The facts of an ancient or religious history are amongst the
most important of all facts; but they are frequently uncertain, and we
only learn the true lesson which is to be gathered from them when we
place ourselves above them. These reflections tend to show that the
difference between Plato and ourselves, though not unimportant, is not
so great as might at first sight appear. For we should agree with him
in placing the moral before the historical truth of religion; and,
generally, in disregarding those errors or misstatements of fact which
necessarily occur in the early stages of all religions. We know also
that changes in the traditions of a country cannot be made in a day; and
are therefore tolerant of many things which science and criticism would
We note in passing that the allegorical interpretation of mythology,
said to have been first introduced as early as the sixth century before
Christ by Theagenes of Rhegium, was well established in the age of
Plato, and here, as in the Phaedrus, though for a different reason, was
rejected by him. That anachronisms whether of religion or law, when
men have reached another stage of civilization, should be got rid of by
fictions is in accordance with universal experience. Great is the art of
interpretation; and by a natural process, which when once discovered was
always going on, what could not be altered was explained away. And so
without any palpable inconsistency there existed side by side two forms
of religion, the tradition inherited or invented by the poets and
the customary worship of the temple; on the other hand, there was the
religion of the philosopher, who was dwelling in the heaven of ideas,
but did not therefore refuse to offer a cock to Aesculapius, or to
be seen saying his prayers at the rising of the sun. At length the
antagonism between the popular and philosophical religion, never so
great among the Greeks as in our own age, disappeared, and was only felt
like the difference between the religion of the educated and uneducated
among ourselves. The Zeus of Homer and Hesiod easily passed into
the 'royal mind' of Plato (Philebus); the giant Heracles became the
knight-errant and benefactor of mankind. These and still more wonderful
transformations were readily effected by the ingenuity of Stoics and
neo-Platonists in the two or three centuries before and after Christ.
The Greek and Roman religions were gradually permeated by the spirit of
philosophy; having lost their ancient meaning, they were resolved into
poetry and morality; and probably were never purer than at the time of
their decay, when their influence over the world was waning.
A singular conception which occurs towards the end of the book is
the lie in the soul; this is connected with the Platonic and Socratic
doctrine that involuntary ignorance is worse than voluntary. The lie
in the soul is a true lie, the corruption of the highest truth, the
deception of the highest part of the soul, from which he who is deceived
has no power of delivering himself. For example, to represent God
as false or immoral, or, according to Plato, as deluding men with
appearances or as the author of evil; or again, to affirm with
Protagoras that 'knowledge is sensation,' or that 'being is becoming,'
or with Thrasymachus 'that might is right,' would have been regarded by
Plato as a lie of this hateful sort. The greatest unconsciousness of the
greatest untruth, e.g. if, in the language of the Gospels (John), 'he
who was blind' were to say 'I see,' is another aspect of the state
of mind which Plato is describing. The lie in the soul may be further
compared with the sin against the Holy Ghost (Luke), allowing for the
difference between Greek and Christian modes of speaking. To this is
opposed the lie in words, which is only such a deception as may occur
in a play or poem, or allegory or figure of speech, or in any sort of
accommodation,--which though useless to the gods may be useful to men
in certain cases. Socrates is here answering the question which he had
himself raised about the propriety of deceiving a madman; and he is also
contrasting the nature of God and man. For God is Truth, but mankind can
only be true by appearing sometimes to be partial, or false. Reserving
for another place the greater questions of religion or education, we
may note further, (1) the approval of the old traditional education
of Greece; (2) the preparation which Plato is making for the attack on
Homer and the poets; (3) the preparation which he is also making for the
use of economies in the State; (4) the contemptuous and at the same time
euphemistic manner in which here as below he alludes to the 'Chronique
Scandaleuse' of the gods.
BOOK III. There is another motive in purifying religion, which is to
banish fear; for no man can be courageous who is afraid of death, or who
believes the tales which are repeated by the poets concerning the world
below. They must be gently requested not to abuse hell; they may be
reminded that their stories are both untrue and discouraging. Nor must
they be angry if we expunge obnoxious passages, such as the depressing
words of Achilles--'I would rather be a serving-man than rule over
all the dead;' and the verses which tell of the squalid mansions, the
senseless shadows, the flitting soul mourning over lost strength and
youth, the soul with a gibber going beneath the earth like smoke, or
the souls of the suitors which flutter about like bats. The terrors and
horrors of Cocytus and Styx, ghosts and sapless shades, and the rest
of their Tartarean nomenclature, must vanish. Such tales may have their
use; but they are not the proper food for soldiers. As little can we
admit the sorrows and sympathies of the Homeric heroes:--Achilles, the
son of Thetis, in tears, throwing ashes on his head, or pacing up and
down the sea-shore in distraction; or Priam, the cousin of the gods,
crying aloud, rolling in the mire. A good man is not prostrated at
the loss of children or fortune. Neither is death terrible to him; and
therefore lamentations over the dead should not be practised by men of
note; they should be the concern of inferior persons only, whether women
or men. Still worse is the attribution of such weakness to the gods; as
when the goddesses say, 'Alas! my travail!' and worst of all, when the
king of heaven himself laments his inability to save Hector, or sorrows
over the impending doom of his dear Sarpedon. Such a character of God,
if not ridiculed by our young men, is likely to be imitated by them.
Nor should our citizens be given to excess of laughter--'Such violent
delights' are followed by a violent re-action. The description in the
Iliad of the gods shaking their sides at the clumsiness of Hephaestus
will not be admitted by us. 'Certainly not.'
Truth should have a high place among the virtues, for falsehood, as
we were saying, is useless to the gods, and only useful to men as a
medicine. But this employment of falsehood must remain a privilege of
state; the common man must not in return tell a lie to the ruler; any
more than the patient would tell a lie to his physician, or the sailor
to his captain.
In the next place our youth must be temperate, and temperance consists
in self-control and obedience to authority. That is a lesson which Homer
teaches in some places: 'The Achaeans marched on breathing prowess, in
silent awe of their leaders;'--but a very different one in other places:
'O heavy with wine, who hast the eyes of a dog, but the heart of a
stag.' Language of the latter kind will not impress self-control on the
minds of youth. The same may be said about his praises of eating and
drinking and his dread of starvation; also about the verses in which he
tells of the rapturous loves of Zeus and Here, or of how Hephaestus once
detained Ares and Aphrodite in a net on a similar occasion. There is a
nobler strain heard in the words:--'Endure, my soul, thou hast endured
worse.' Nor must we allow our citizens to receive bribes, or to say,
'Gifts persuade the gods, gifts reverend kings;' or to applaud the
ignoble advice of Phoenix to Achilles that he should get money out of
the Greeks before he assisted them; or the meanness of Achilles himself
in taking gifts from Agamemnon; or his requiring a ransom for the body
of Hector; or his cursing of Apollo; or his insolence to the river-god
Scamander; or his dedication to the dead Patroclus of his own hair which
had been already dedicated to the other river-god Spercheius; or his
cruelty in dragging the body of Hector round the walls, and slaying
the captives at the pyre: such a combination of meanness and cruelty in
Cheiron's pupil is inconceivable. The amatory exploits of Peirithous and
Theseus are equally unworthy. Either these so-called sons of gods were
not the sons of gods, or they were not such as the poets imagine them,
any more than the gods themselves are the authors of evil. The youth who
believes that such things are done by those who have the blood of heaven
flowing in their veins will be too ready to imitate their example.
Enough of gods and heroes;--what shall we say about men? What the poets
and story-tellers say--that the wicked prosper and the righteous are
afflicted, or that justice is another's gain? Such misrepresentations
cannot be allowed by us. But in this we are anticipating the definition
of justice, and had therefore better defer the enquiry.
The subjects of poetry have been sufficiently treated; next follows
style. Now all poetry is a narrative of events past, present, or to
come; and narrative is of three kinds, the simple, the imitative, and
a composition of the two. An instance will make my meaning clear.
The first scene in Homer is of the last or mixed kind, being partly
description and partly dialogue. But if you throw the dialogue into the
'oratio obliqua,' the passage will run thus: The priest came and prayed
Apollo that the Achaeans might take Troy and have a safe return if
Agamemnon would only give him back his daughter; and the other Greeks
assented, but Agamemnon was wroth, and so on--The whole then becomes
descriptive, and the poet is the only speaker left; or, if you omit the
narrative, the whole becomes dialogue. These are the three styles--which
of them is to be admitted into our State? 'Do you ask whether tragedy
and comedy are to be admitted?' Yes, but also something more--Is it not
doubtful whether our guardians are to be imitators at all? Or rather,
has not the question been already answered, for we have decided that one
man cannot in his life play many parts, any more than he can act both
tragedy and comedy, or be rhapsodist and actor at once? Human nature
is coined into very small pieces, and as our guardians have their own
business already, which is the care of freedom, they will have enough
to do without imitating. If they imitate they should imitate, not any
meanness or baseness, but the good only; for the mask which the actor
wears is apt to become his face. We cannot allow men to play the parts
of women, quarrelling, weeping, scolding, or boasting against the
gods,--least of all when making love or in labour. They must not
represent slaves, or bullies, or cowards, drunkards, or madmen, or
blacksmiths, or neighing horses, or bellowing bulls, or sounding rivers,
or a raging sea. A good or wise man will be willing to perform good and
wise actions, but he will be ashamed to play an inferior part which he
has never practised; and he will prefer to employ the descriptive style
with as little imitation as possible. The man who has no self-respect,
on the contrary, will imitate anybody and anything; sounds of nature
and cries of animals alike; his whole performance will be imitation of
gesture and voice. Now in the descriptive style there are few changes,
but in the dramatic there are a great many. Poets and musicians use
either, or a compound of both, and this compound is very attractive
to youth and their teachers as well as to the vulgar. But our State in
which one man plays one part only is not adapted for complexity. And
when one of these polyphonous pantomimic gentlemen offers to exhibit
himself and his poetry we will show him every observance of respect,
but at the same time tell him that there is no room for his kind in our
State; we prefer the rough, honest poet, and will not depart from our
original models (Laws).
Next as to the music. A song or ode has three parts,--the subject, the
harmony, and the rhythm; of which the two last are dependent upon the
first. As we banished strains of lamentation, so we may now banish the
mixed Lydian harmonies, which are the harmonies of lamentation; and
as our citizens are to be temperate, we may also banish convivial
harmonies, such as the Ionian and pure Lydian. Two remain--the
Dorian and Phrygian, the first for war, the second for peace; the
one expressive of courage, the other of obedience or instruction or
religious feeling. And as we reject varieties of harmony, we shall
also reject the many-stringed, variously-shaped instruments which give
utterance to them, and in particular the flute, which is more complex
than any of them. The lyre and the harp may be permitted in the town,
and the Pan's-pipe in the fields. Thus we have made a purgation of
music, and will now make a purgation of metres. These should be like the
harmonies, simple and suitable to the occasion. There are four notes
of the tetrachord, and there are three ratios of metre, 3/2, 2/2,
2/1, which have all their characteristics, and the feet have different
characteristics as well as the rhythms. But about this you and I must
ask Damon, the great musician, who speaks, if I remember rightly, of a
martial measure as well as of dactylic, trochaic, and iambic rhythms,
which he arranges so as to equalize the syllables with one another,
assigning to each the proper quantity. We only venture to affirm the
general principle that the style is to conform to the subject and the
metre to the style; and that the simplicity and harmony of the soul
should be reflected in them all. This principle of simplicity has to
be learnt by every one in the days of his youth, and may be gathered
anywhere, from the creative and constructive arts, as well as from the
forms of plants and animals.
Other artists as well as poets should be warned against meanness or
unseemliness. Sculpture and painting equally with music must conform to
the law of simplicity. He who violates it cannot be allowed to work in
our city, and to corrupt the taste of our citizens. For our guardians
must grow up, not amid images of deformity which will gradually poison
and corrupt their souls, but in a land of health and beauty where they
will drink in from every object sweet and harmonious influences. And of
all these influences the greatest is the education given by music,
which finds a way into the innermost soul and imparts to it the sense
of beauty and of deformity. At first the effect is unconscious; but when
reason arrives, then he who has been thus trained welcomes her as the
friend whom he always knew. As in learning to read, first we acquire the
elements or letters separately, and afterwards their combinations,
and cannot recognize reflections of them until we know the letters
themselves;--in like manner we must first attain the elements or
essential forms of the virtues, and then trace their combinations in
life and experience. There is a music of the soul which answers to the
harmony of the world; and the fairest object of a musical soul is the
fair mind in the fair body. Some defect in the latter may be excused,
but not in the former. True love is the daughter of temperance, and
temperance is utterly opposed to the madness of bodily pleasure. Enough
has been said of music, which makes a fair ending with love.
Next we pass on to gymnastics; about which I would remark, that the
soul is related to the body as a cause to an effect, and therefore if we
educate the mind we may leave the education of the body in her charge,
and need only give a general outline of the course to be pursued. In
the first place the guardians must abstain from strong drink, for they
should be the last persons to lose their wits. Whether the habits of
the palaestra are suitable to them is more doubtful, for the ordinary
gymnastic is a sleepy sort of thing, and if left off suddenly is apt to
endanger health. But our warrior athletes must be wide-awake dogs, and
must also be inured to all changes of food and climate. Hence they will
require a simpler kind of gymnastic, akin to their simple music; and for
their diet a rule may be found in Homer, who feeds his heroes on roast
meat only, and gives them no fish although they are living at the
sea-side, nor boiled meats which involve an apparatus of pots and pans;
and, if I am not mistaken, he nowhere mentions sweet sauces. Sicilian
cookery and Attic confections and Corinthian courtezans, which are
to gymnastic what Lydian and Ionian melodies are to music, must be
forbidden. Where gluttony and intemperance prevail the town quickly
fills with doctors and pleaders; and law and medicine give themselves
airs as soon as the freemen of a State take an interest in them. But
what can show a more disgraceful state of education than to have to go
abroad for justice because you have none of your own at home? And yet
there IS a worse stage of the same disease--when men have learned
to take a pleasure and pride in the twists and turns of the law; not
considering how much better it would be for them so to order their lives
as to have no need of a nodding justice. And there is a like disgrace in
employing a physician, not for the cure of wounds or epidemic disorders,
but because a man has by laziness and luxury contracted diseases
which were unknown in the days of Asclepius. How simple is the Homeric
practice of medicine. Eurypylus after he has been wounded drinks a
posset of Pramnian wine, which is of a heating nature; and yet the
sons of Asclepius blame neither the damsel who gives him the drink, nor
Patroclus who is attending on him. The truth is that this modern system
of nursing diseases was introduced by Herodicus the trainer; who,
being of a sickly constitution, by a compound of training and medicine
tortured first himself and then a good many other people, and lived
a great deal longer than he had any right. But Asclepius would not
practise this art, because he knew that the citizens of a well-ordered
State have no leisure to be ill, and therefore he adopted the 'kill
or cure' method, which artisans and labourers employ. 'They must be
at their business,' they say, 'and have no time for coddling: if they
recover, well; if they don't, there is an end of them.' Whereas the rich
man is supposed to be a gentleman who can afford to be ill. Do you know
a maxim of Phocylides--that 'when a man begins to be rich' (or, perhaps,
a little sooner) 'he should practise virtue'? But how can excessive
care of health be inconsistent with an ordinary occupation, and yet
consistent with that practice of virtue which Phocylides inculcates?
When a student imagines that philosophy gives him a headache, he never
does anything; he is always unwell. This was the reason why Asclepius
and his sons practised no such art. They were acting in the interest of
the public, and did not wish to preserve useless lives, or raise up a
puny offspring to wretched sires. Honest diseases they honestly cured;
and if a man was wounded, they applied the proper remedies, and then let
him eat and drink what he liked. But they declined to treat intemperate
and worthless subjects, even though they might have made large fortunes
out of them. As to the story of Pindar, that Asclepius was slain by a
thunderbolt for restoring a rich man to life, that is a lie--following
our old rule we must say either that he did not take bribes, or that he
was not the son of a god.
Glaucon then asks Socrates whether the best physicians and the best
judges will not be those who have had severally the greatest experience
of diseases and of crimes. Socrates draws a distinction between the two
professions. The physician should have had experience of disease in
his own body, for he cures with his mind and not with his body. But
the judge controls mind by mind; and therefore his mind should not be
corrupted by crime. Where then is he to gain experience? How is he to be
wise and also innocent? When young a good man is apt to be deceived by
evil-doers, because he has no pattern of evil in himself; and therefore
the judge should be of a certain age; his youth should have been
innocent, and he should have acquired insight into evil not by the
practice of it, but by the observation of it in others. This is
the ideal of a judge; the criminal turned detective is wonderfully
suspicious, but when in company with good men who have experience, he is
at fault, for he foolishly imagines that every one is as bad as himself.
Vice may be known of virtue, but cannot know virtue. This is the sort of
medicine and this the sort of law which will prevail in our State; they
will be healing arts to better natures; but the evil body will be left
to die by the one, and the evil soul will be put to death by the other.
And the need of either will be greatly diminished by good music which
will give harmony to the soul, and good gymnastic which will give
health to the body. Not that this division of music and gymnastic really
corresponds to soul and body; for they are both equally concerned with
the soul, which is tamed by the one and aroused and sustained by the
other. The two together supply our guardians with their twofold nature.
The passionate disposition when it has too much gymnastic is hardened
and brutalized, the gentle or philosophic temper which has too much
music becomes enervated. While a man is allowing music to pour like
water through the funnel of his ears, the edge of his soul gradually
wears away, and the passionate or spirited element is melted out of
him. Too little spirit is easily exhausted; too much quickly passes into
nervous irritability. So, again, the athlete by feeding and training has
his courage doubled, but he soon grows stupid; he is like a wild beast,
ready to do everything by blows and nothing by counsel or policy. There
are two principles in man, reason and passion, and to these, not to the
soul and body, the two arts of music and gymnastic correspond. He who
mingles them in harmonious concord is the true musician,--he shall be
the presiding genius of our State.
The next question is, Who are to be our rulers? First, the elder must
rule the younger; and the best of the elders will be the best guardians.
Now they will be the best who love their subjects most, and think that
they have a common interest with them in the welfare of the state. These
we must select; but they must be watched at every epoch of life to see
whether they have retained the same opinions and held out against force
and enchantment. For time and persuasion and the love of pleasure may
enchant a man into a change of purpose, and the force of grief and pain
may compel him. And therefore our guardians must be men who have been
tried by many tests, like gold in the refiner's fire, and have been
passed first through danger, then through pleasure, and at every age
have come out of such trials victorious and without stain, in full
command of themselves and their principles; having all their faculties
in harmonious exercise for their country's good. These shall receive the
highest honours both in life and death. (It would perhaps be better to
confine the term 'guardians' to this select class: the younger men may
be called 'auxiliaries.')
And now for one magnificent lie, in the belief of which, Oh that we
could train our rulers!--at any rate let us make the attempt with the
rest of the world. What I am going to tell is only another version of
the legend of Cadmus; but our unbelieving generation will be slow to
accept such a story. The tale must be imparted, first to the rulers,
then to the soldiers, lastly to the people. We will inform them that
their youth was a dream, and that during the time when they seemed to
be undergoing their education they were really being fashioned in the
earth, who sent them up when they were ready; and that they must protect
and cherish her whose children they are, and regard each other as
brothers and sisters. 'I do not wonder at your being ashamed to propound
such a fiction.' There is more behind. These brothers and sisters
have different natures, and some of them God framed to rule, whom he
fashioned of gold; others he made of silver, to be auxiliaries; others
again to be husbandmen and craftsmen, and these were formed by him of
brass and iron. But as they are all sprung from a common stock, a golden
parent may have a silver son, or a silver parent a golden son, and then
there must be a change of rank; the son of the rich must descend, and
the child of the artisan rise, in the social scale; for an oracle says
'that the State will come to an end if governed by a man of brass or
iron.' Will our citizens ever believe all this? 'Not in the present
generation, but in the next, perhaps, Yes.'
Now let the earthborn men go forth under the command of their rulers,
and look about and pitch their camp in a high place, which will be safe
against enemies from without, and likewise against insurrections from
within. There let them sacrifice and set up their tents; for soldiers
they are to be and not shopkeepers, the watchdogs and guardians of the
sheep; and luxury and avarice will turn them into wolves and tyrants.
Their habits and their dwellings should correspond to their education.
They should have no property; their pay should only meet their expenses;
and they should have common meals. Gold and silver we will tell them
that they have from God, and this divine gift in their souls they must
not alloy with that earthly dross which passes under the name of gold.
They only of the citizens may not touch it, or be under the same roof
with it, or drink from it; it is the accursed thing. Should they
ever acquire houses or lands or money of their own, they will become
householders and tradesmen instead of guardians, enemies and tyrants
instead of helpers, and the hour of ruin, both to themselves and the
rest of the State, will be at hand.
The religious and ethical aspect of Plato's education will hereafter
be considered under a separate head. Some lesser points may be more
conveniently noticed in this place.
1. The constant appeal to the authority of Homer, whom, with grave
irony, Plato, after the manner of his age, summons as a witness about
ethics and psychology, as well as about diet and medicine; attempting
to distinguish the better lesson from the worse, sometimes altering
the text from design; more than once quoting or alluding to Homer
inaccurately, after the manner of the early logographers turning the
Iliad into prose, and delighting to draw far-fetched inferences from
his words, or to make ludicrous applications of them. He does not, like
Heracleitus, get into a rage with Homer and Archilochus (Heracl.), but
uses their words and expressions as vehicles of a higher truth; not on
a system like Theagenes of Rhegium or Metrodorus, or in later times the
Stoics, but as fancy may dictate. And the conclusions drawn from them
are sound, although the premises are fictitious. These fanciful appeals
to Homer add a charm to Plato's style, and at the same time they have
the effect of a satire on the follies of Homeric interpretation. To us
(and probably to himself), although they take the form of arguments,
they are really figures of speech. They may be compared with modern
citations from Scripture, which have often a great rhetorical power even
when the original meaning of the words is entirely lost sight of. The
real, like the Platonic Socrates, as we gather from the Memorabilia of
Xenophon, was fond of making similar adaptations. Great in all ages and
countries, in religion as well as in law and literature, has been the
art of interpretation.
2. 'The style is to conform to the subject and the metre to the style.'
Notwithstanding the fascination which the word 'classical' exercises
over us, we can hardly maintain that this rule is observed in all the
Greek poetry which has come down to us. We cannot deny that the thought
often exceeds the power of lucid expression in Aeschylus and Pindar;
or that rhetoric gets the better of the thought in the Sophist-poet
Euripides. Only perhaps in Sophocles is there a perfect harmony of the
two; in him alone do we find a grace of language like the beauty of a
Greek statue, in which there is nothing to add or to take away; at
least this is true of single plays or of large portions of them. The
connection in the Tragic Choruses and in the Greek lyric poets is not
unfrequently a tangled thread which in an age before logic the poet was
unable to draw out. Many thoughts and feelings mingled in his mind, and
he had no power of disengaging or arranging them. For there is a subtle
influence of logic which requires to be transferred from prose to
poetry, just as the music and perfection of language are infused by
poetry into prose. In all ages the poet has been a bad judge of his
own meaning (Apol.); for he does not see that the word which is full
of associations to his own mind is difficult and unmeaning to that of
another; or that the sequence which is clear to himself is puzzling to
others. There are many passages in some of our greatest modern poets
which are far too obscure; in which there is no proportion between style
and subject, in which any half-expressed figure, any harsh construction,
any distorted collocation of words, any remote sequence of ideas is
admitted; and there is no voice 'coming sweetly from nature,' or music
adding the expression of feeling to thought. As if there could be poetry
without beauty, or beauty without ease and clearness. The obscurities
of early Greek poets arose necessarily out of the state of language and
logic which existed in their age. They are not examples to be followed
by us; for the use of language ought in every generation to become
clearer and clearer. Like Shakespere, they were great in spite, not
in consequence, of their imperfections of expression. But there is no
reason for returning to the necessary obscurity which prevailed in
the infancy of literature. The English poets of the last century were
certainly not obscure; and we have no excuse for losing what they had
gained, or for going back to the earlier or transitional age which
preceded them. The thought of our own times has not out-stripped
language; a want of Plato's 'art of measuring' is the rule cause of the
disproportion between them.
3. In the third book of the Republic a nearer approach is made to a
theory of art than anywhere else in Plato. His views may be summed up
as follows:--True art is not fanciful and imitative, but simple and
ideal,--the expression of the highest moral energy, whether in action or
repose. To live among works of plastic art which are of this noble
and simple character, or to listen to such strains, is the best of
influences,--the true Greek atmosphere, in which youth should be brought
up. That is the way to create in them a natural good taste, which will
have a feeling of truth and beauty in all things. For though the
poets are to be expelled, still art is recognized as another aspect of
reason--like love in the Symposium, extending over the same sphere, but
confined to the preliminary education, and acting through the power of
habit; and this conception of art is not limited to strains of music or
the forms of plastic art, but pervades all nature and has a wide kindred
in the world. The Republic of Plato, like the Athens of Pericles, has an
artistic as well as a political side.
There is hardly any mention in Plato of the creative arts; only in two
or three passages does he even allude to them (Rep.; Soph.). He is
not lost in rapture at the great works of Phidias, the Parthenon, the
Propylea, the statues of Zeus or Athene. He would probably have regarded
any abstract truth of number or figure as higher than the greatest of
them. Yet it is hard to suppose that some influence, such as he hopes to
inspire in youth, did not pass into his own mind from the works of art
which he saw around him. We are living upon the fragments of them, and
find in a few broken stones the standard of truth and beauty. But in
Plato this feeling has no expression; he nowhere says that beauty is the
object of art; he seems to deny that wisdom can take an external form
(Phaedrus); he does not distinguish the fine from the mechanical arts.
Whether or no, like some writers, he felt more than he expressed, it
is at any rate remarkable that the greatest perfection of the fine arts
should coincide with an almost entire silence about them. In one very
striking passage he tells us that a work of art, like the State, is a
whole; and this conception of a whole and the love of the newly-born
mathematical sciences may be regarded, if not as the inspiring, at any
rate as the regulating principles of Greek art (Xen. Mem.; and Sophist).
4. Plato makes the true and subtle remark that the physician had better
not be in robust health; and should have known what illness is in his
own person. But the judge ought to have had no similar experience of
evil; he is to be a good man who, having passed his youth in innocence,
became acquainted late in life with the vices of others. And therefore,
according to Plato, a judge should not be young, just as a young man
according to Aristotle is not fit to be a hearer of moral philosophy.
The bad, on the other hand, have a knowledge of vice, but no knowledge
of virtue. It may be doubted, however, whether this train of reflection
is well founded. In a remarkable passage of the Laws it is acknowledged
that the evil may form a correct estimate of the good. The union of
gentleness and courage in Book ii. at first seemed to be a paradox,
yet was afterwards ascertained to be a truth. And Plato might also have
found that the intuition of evil may be consistent with the abhorrence
of it. There is a directness of aim in virtue which gives an insight
into vice. And the knowledge of character is in some degree a natural
sense independent of any special experience of good or evil.
5. One of the most remarkable conceptions of Plato, because un-Greek and
also very different from anything which existed at all in his age of
the world, is the transposition of ranks. In the Spartan state there had
been enfranchisement of Helots and degradation of citizens under
special circumstances. And in the ancient Greek aristocracies, merit
was certainly recognized as one of the elements on which government was
based. The founders of states were supposed to be their benefactors, who
were raised by their great actions above the ordinary level of humanity;
at a later period, the services of warriors and legislators were held to
entitle them and their descendants to the privileges of citizenship and
to the first rank in the state. And although the existence of an ideal
aristocracy is slenderly proven from the remains of early Greek history,
and we have a difficulty in ascribing such a character, however the idea
may be defined, to any actual Hellenic state--or indeed to any state
which has ever existed in the world--still the rule of the best was
certainly the aspiration of philosophers, who probably accommodated a
good deal their views of primitive history to their own notions of good
government. Plato further insists on applying to the guardians of his
state a series of tests by which all those who fell short of a fixed
standard were either removed from the governing body, or not admitted
to it; and this 'academic' discipline did to a certain extent prevail in
Greek states, especially in Sparta. He also indicates that the system of
caste, which existed in a great part of the ancient, and is by no means
extinct in the modern European world, should be set aside from time
to time in favour of merit. He is aware how deeply the greater part of
mankind resent any interference with the order of society, and therefore
he proposes his novel idea in the form of what he himself calls a
'monstrous fiction.' (Compare the ceremony of preparation for the two
'great waves' in Book v.) Two principles are indicated by him: first,
that there is a distinction of ranks dependent on circumstances prior to
the individual: second, that this distinction is and ought to be broken
through by personal qualities. He adapts mythology like the Homeric
poems to the wants of the state, making 'the Phoenician tale' the
vehicle of his ideas. Every Greek state had a myth respecting its own
origin; the Platonic republic may also have a tale of earthborn men. The
gravity and verisimilitude with which the tale is told, and the analogy
of Greek tradition, are a sufficient verification of the 'monstrous
falsehood.' Ancient poetry had spoken of a gold and silver and brass and
iron age succeeding one another, but Plato supposes these differences
in the natures of men to exist together in a single state. Mythology
supplies a figure under which the lesson may be taught (as Protagoras
says, 'the myth is more interesting'), and also enables Plato to touch
lightly on new principles without going into details. In this passage he
shadows forth a general truth, but he does not tell us by what steps the
transposition of ranks is to be effected. Indeed throughout the Republic
he allows the lower ranks to fade into the distance. We do not know
whether they are to carry arms, and whether in the fifth book they are
or are not included in the communistic regulations respecting property
and marriage. Nor is there any use in arguing strictly either from a
few chance words, or from the silence of Plato, or in drawing inferences
which were beyond his vision. Aristotle, in his criticism on the
position of the lower classes, does not perceive that the poetical
creation is 'like the air, invulnerable,' and cannot be penetrated by
the shafts of his logic (Pol.).
6. Two paradoxes which strike the modern reader as in the highest degree
fanciful and ideal, and which suggest to him many reflections, are to
be found in the third book of the Republic: first, the great power of
music, so much beyond any influence which is experienced by us in modern
times, when the art or science has been far more developed, and has
found the secret of harmony, as well as of melody; secondly, the
indefinite and almost absolute control which the soul is supposed to
exercise over the body.
In the first we suspect some degree of exaggeration, such as we may
also observe among certain masters of the art, not unknown to us, at the
present day. With this natural enthusiasm, which is felt by a few only,
there seems to mingle in Plato a sort of Pythagorean reverence for
numbers and numerical proportion to which Aristotle is a stranger.
Intervals of sound and number are to him sacred things which have a law
of their own, not dependent on the variations of sense. They rise above
sense, and become a connecting link with the world of ideas. But it is
evident that Plato is describing what to him appears to be also a fact.
The power of a simple and characteristic melody on the impressible
mind of the Greek is more than we can easily appreciate. The effect of
national airs may bear some comparison with it. And, besides all this,
there is a confusion between the harmony of musical notes and the
harmony of soul and body, which is so potently inspired by them.
The second paradox leads up to some curious and interesting
questions--How far can the mind control the body? Is the relation
between them one of mutual antagonism or of mutual harmony? Are they
two or one, and is either of them the cause of the other? May we not at
times drop the opposition between them, and the mode of describing them,
which is so familiar to us, and yet hardly conveys any precise meaning,
and try to view this composite creature, man, in a more simple manner?
Must we not at any rate admit that there is in human nature a higher
and a lower principle, divided by no distinct line, which at times
break asunder and take up arms against one another? Or again, they are
reconciled and move together, either unconsciously in the ordinary work
of life, or consciously in the pursuit of some noble aim, to be attained
not without an effort, and for which every thought and nerve are
strained. And then the body becomes the good friend or ally, or servant
or instrument of the mind. And the mind has often a wonderful and almost
superhuman power of banishing disease and weakness and calling out a
hidden strength. Reason and the desires, the intellect and the senses
are brought into harmony and obedience so as to form a single human
being. They are ever parting, ever meeting; and the identity or
diversity of their tendencies or operations is for the most part
unnoticed by us. When the mind touches the body through the appetites,
we acknowledge the responsibility of the one to the other. There is a
tendency in us which says 'Drink.' There is another which says, 'Do
not drink; it is not good for you.' And we all of us know which is the
rightful superior. We are also responsible for our health, although into
this sphere there enter some elements of necessity which may be beyond
our control. Still even in the management of health, care and thought,
continued over many years, may make us almost free agents, if we do
not exact too much of ourselves, and if we acknowledge that all human
freedom is limited by the laws of nature and of mind.
We are disappointed to find that Plato, in the general condemnation
which he passes on the practice of medicine prevailing in his own day,
depreciates the effects of diet. He would like to have diseases of a
definite character and capable of receiving a definite treatment. He is
afraid of invalidism interfering with the business of life. He does
not recognize that time is the great healer both of mental and bodily
disorders; and that remedies which are gradual and proceed little by
little are safer than those which produce a sudden catastrophe. Neither
does he see that there is no way in which the mind can more surely
influence the body than by the control of eating and drinking; or any
other action or occasion of human life on which the higher freedom of
the will can be more simple or truly asserted.
7. Lesser matters of style may be remarked.
(1) The affected ignorance of music, which is Plato's way of expressing
that he is passing lightly over the subject.
(2) The tentative manner in which here, as in the second book, he
proceeds with the construction of the State.
(3) The description of the State sometimes as a reality, and then again
as a work of imagination only; these are the arts by which he sustains
the reader's interest.
(4) Connecting links, or the preparation for the entire expulsion of the
poets in Book X.
(5) The companion pictures of the lover of litigation and the
valetudinarian, the satirical jest about the maxim of Phocylides, the
manner in which the image of the gold and silver citizens is taken
up into the subject, and the argument from the practice of Asclepius,
should not escape notice.
BOOK IV. Adeimantus said: 'Suppose a person to argue, Socrates, that you
make your citizens miserable, and this by their own free-will; they are
the lords of the city, and yet instead of having, like other men, lands
and houses and money of their own, they live as mercenaries and are
always mounting guard.' You may add, I replied, that they receive no
pay but only their food, and have no money to spend on a journey or a
mistress. 'Well, and what answer do you give?' My answer is, that
our guardians may or may not be the happiest of men,--I should not be
surprised to find in the long-run that they were,--but this is not the
aim of our constitution, which was designed for the good of the whole
and not of any one part. If I went to a sculptor and blamed him for
having painted the eye, which is the noblest feature of the face, not
purple but black, he would reply: 'The eye must be an eye, and you
should look at the statue as a whole.' 'Now I can well imagine a fool's
paradise, in which everybody is eating and drinking, clothed in purple
and fine linen, and potters lie on sofas and have their wheel at hand,
that they may work a little when they please; and cobblers and all the
other classes of a State lose their distinctive character. And a State
may get on without cobblers; but when the guardians degenerate into boon
companions, then the ruin is complete. Remember that we are not talking
of peasants keeping holiday, but of a State in which every man is
expected to do his own work. The happiness resides not in this or that
class, but in the State as a whole. I have another remark to make:--A
middle condition is best for artisans; they should have money enough to
buy tools, and not enough to be independent of business. And will not
the same condition be best for our citizens? If they are poor, they will
be mean; if rich, luxurious and lazy; and in neither case contented.
'But then how will our poor city be able to go to war against an enemy
who has money?' There may be a difficulty in fighting against one enemy;
against two there will be none. In the first place, the contest will be
carried on by trained warriors against well-to-do citizens: and is not a
regular athlete an easy match for two stout opponents at least? Suppose
also, that before engaging we send ambassadors to one of the two cities,
saying, 'Silver and gold we have not; do you help us and take our share
of the spoil;'--who would fight against the lean, wiry dogs, when they
might join with them in preying upon the fatted sheep? 'But if many
states join their resources, shall we not be in danger?' I am amused
to hear you use the word 'state' of any but our own State. They are
'states,' but not 'a state'--many in one. For in every state there are
two hostile nations, rich and poor, which you may set one against the
other. But our State, while she remains true to her principles, will be
in very deed the mightiest of Hellenic states.
To the size of the state there is no limit but the necessity of unity;
it must be neither too large nor too small to be one. This is a matter
of secondary importance, like the principle of transposition which was
intimated in the parable of the earthborn men. The meaning there implied
was that every man should do that for which he was fitted, and be at
one with himself, and then the whole city would be united. But all these
things are secondary, if education, which is the great matter, be duly
regarded. When the wheel has once been set in motion, the speed is
always increasing; and each generation improves upon the preceding, both
in physical and moral qualities. The care of the governors should be
directed to preserve music and gymnastic from innovation; alter the
songs of a country, Damon says, and you will soon end by altering its
laws. The change appears innocent at first, and begins in play; but
the evil soon becomes serious, working secretly upon the characters of
individuals, then upon social and commercial relations, and lastly upon
the institutions of a state; and there is ruin and confusion everywhere.
But if education remains in the established form, there will be no
danger. A restorative process will be always going on; the spirit of law
and order will raise up what has fallen down. Nor will any regulations
be needed for the lesser matters of life--rules of deportment or
fashions of dress. Like invites like for good or for evil. Education
will correct deficiencies and supply the power of self-government. Far
be it from us to enter into the particulars of legislation; let the
guardians take care of education, and education will take care of all
other things.
But without education they may patch and mend as they please; they will
make no progress, any more than a patient who thinks to cure himself by
some favourite remedy and will not give up his luxurious mode of living.
If you tell such persons that they must first alter their habits, then
they grow angry; they are charming people. 'Charming,--nay, the very
reverse.' Evidently these gentlemen are not in your good graces, nor the
state which is like them. And such states there are which first ordain
under penalty of death that no one shall alter the constitution, and
then suffer themselves to be flattered into and out of anything; and
he who indulges them and fawns upon them, is their leader and saviour.
'Yes, the men are as bad as the states.' But do you not admire their
cleverness? 'Nay, some of them are stupid enough to believe what the
people tell them.' And when all the world is telling a man that he is
six feet high, and he has no measure, how can he believe anything
else? But don't get into a passion: to see our statesmen trying their
nostrums, and fancying that they can cut off at a blow the Hydra-like
rogueries of mankind, is as good as a play. Minute enactments are
superfluous in good states, and are useless in bad ones.
And now what remains of the work of legislation? Nothing for us; but to
Apollo the god of Delphi we leave the ordering of the greatest of all
things--that is to say, religion. Only our ancestral deity sitting upon
the centre and navel of the earth will be trusted by us if we have any
sense, in an affair of such magnitude. No foreign god shall be supreme
in our realms...
Here, as Socrates would say, let us 'reflect on' (Greek) what has
preceded: thus far we have spoken not of the happiness of the citizens,
but only of the well-being of the State. They may be the happiest of
men, but our principal aim in founding the State was not to make them
happy. They were to be guardians, not holiday-makers. In this pleasant
manner is presented to us the famous question both of ancient and modern
philosophy, touching the relation of duty to happiness, of right to
First duty, then happiness, is the natural order of our moral ideas. The
utilitarian principle is valuable as a corrective of error, and shows
to us a side of ethics which is apt to be neglected. It may be admitted
further that right and utility are co-extensive, and that he who makes
the happiness of mankind his object has one of the highest and noblest
motives of human action. But utility is not the historical basis of
morality; nor the aspect in which moral and religious ideas commonly
occur to the mind. The greatest happiness of all is, as we believe, the
far-off result of the divine government of the universe. The greatest
happiness of the individual is certainly to be found in a life of virtue
and goodness. But we seem to be more assured of a law of right than we
can be of a divine purpose, that 'all mankind should be saved;' and
we infer the one from the other. And the greatest happiness of the
individual may be the reverse of the greatest happiness in the ordinary
sense of the term, and may be realised in a life of pain, or in a
voluntary death. Further, the word 'happiness' has several ambiguities;
it may mean either pleasure or an ideal life, happiness subjective or
objective, in this world or in another, of ourselves only or of
our neighbours and of all men everywhere. By the modern founder of
Utilitarianism the self-regarding and disinterested motives of action
are included under the same term, although they are commonly opposed
by us as benevolence and self-love. The word happiness has not the
definiteness or the sacredness of 'truth' and 'right'; it does
not equally appeal to our higher nature, and has not sunk into the
conscience of mankind. It is associated too much with the comforts and
conveniences of life; too little with 'the goods of the soul which we
desire for their own sake.' In a great trial, or danger, or temptation,
or in any great and heroic action, it is scarcely thought of. For these
reasons 'the greatest happiness' principle is not the true foundation of
ethics. But though not the first principle, it is the second, which is
like unto it, and is often of easier application. For the larger part of
human actions are neither right nor wrong, except in so far as they tend
to the happiness of mankind (Introd. to Gorgias and Philebus).
The same question reappears in politics, where the useful or expedient
seems to claim a larger sphere and to have a greater authority. For
concerning political measures, we chiefly ask: How will they affect
the happiness of mankind? Yet here too we may observe that what we term
expediency is merely the law of right limited by the conditions of human
society. Right and truth are the highest aims of government as well as
of individuals; and we ought not to lose sight of them because we cannot
directly enforce them. They appeal to the better mind of nations; and
sometimes they are too much for merely temporal interests to resist.
They are the watchwords which all men use in matters of public policy,
as well as in their private dealings; the peace of Europe may be said
to depend upon them. In the most commercial and utilitarian states
of society the power of ideas remains. And all the higher class of
statesmen have in them something of that idealism which Pericles is said
to have gathered from the teaching of Anaxagoras. They recognise that
the true leader of men must be above the motives of ambition, and
that national character is of greater value than material comfort and
prosperity. And this is the order of thought in Plato; first, he expects
his citizens to do their duty, and then under favourable circumstances,
that is to say, in a well-ordered State, their happiness is assured.
That he was far from excluding the modern principle of utility in
politics is sufficiently evident from other passages; in which 'the most
beneficial is affirmed to be the most honourable', and also 'the most
We may note
(1) The manner in which the objection of Adeimantus here, is designed to
draw out and deepen the argument of Socrates.
(2) The conception of a whole as lying at the foundation both of
politics and of art, in the latter supplying the only principle of
criticism, which, under the various names of harmony, symmetry, measure,
proportion, unity, the Greek seems to have applied to works of art.
(3) The requirement that the State should be limited in size, after the
traditional model of a Greek state; as in the Politics of Aristotle, the
fact that the cities of Hellas were small is converted into a principle.
(4) The humorous pictures of the lean dogs and the fatted sheep, of
the light active boxer upsetting two stout gentlemen at least, of the
'charming' patients who are always making themselves worse; or again,
the playful assumption that there is no State but our own; or the grave
irony with which the statesman is excused who believes that he is six
feet high because he is told so, and having nothing to measure with
is to be pardoned for his ignorance--he is too amusing for us to be
seriously angry with him.
(5) The light and superficial manner in which religion is passed over
when provision has been made for two great principles,--first, that
religion shall be based on the highest conception of the gods, secondly,
that the true national or Hellenic type shall be maintained...
Socrates proceeds: But where amid all this is justice? Son of Ariston,
tell me where. Light a candle and search the city, and get your brother
and the rest of our friends to help in seeking for her. 'That won't do,'
replied Glaucon, 'you yourself promised to make the search and talked
about the impiety of deserting justice.' Well, I said, I will lead the
way, but do you follow. My notion is, that our State being perfect will
contain all the four virtues--wisdom, courage, temperance, justice. If
we eliminate the three first, the unknown remainder will be justice.
First then, of wisdom: the State which we have called into being will be
wise because politic. And policy is one among many kinds of skill,--not
the skill of the carpenter, or of the worker in metal, or of the
husbandman, but the skill of him who advises about the interests of the
whole State. Of such a kind is the skill of the guardians, who are a
small class in number, far smaller than the blacksmiths; but in them
is concentrated the wisdom of the State. And if this small ruling class
have wisdom, then the whole State will be wise.
Our second virtue is courage, which we have no difficulty in finding
in another class--that of soldiers. Courage may be defined as a sort
of salvation--the never-failing salvation of the opinions which law and
education have prescribed concerning dangers. You know the way in which
dyers first prepare the white ground and then lay on the dye of purple
or of any other colour. Colours dyed in this way become fixed, and no
soap or lye will ever wash them out. Now the ground is education, and
the laws are the colours; and if the ground is properly laid, neither
the soap of pleasure nor the lye of pain or fear will ever wash them
out. This power which preserves right opinion about danger I would ask
you to call 'courage,' adding the epithet 'political' or 'civilized'
in order to distinguish it from mere animal courage and from a higher
courage which may hereafter be discussed.
Two virtues remain; temperance and justice. More than the preceding
virtues temperance suggests the idea of harmony. Some light is thrown
upon the nature of this virtue by the popular description of a man as
'master of himself'--which has an absurd sound, because the master is
also the servant. The expression really means that the better principle
in a man masters the worse. There are in cities whole classes--women,
slaves and the like--who correspond to the worse, and a few only to the
better; and in our State the former class are held under control by the
latter. Now to which of these classes does temperance belong? 'To both
of them.' And our State if any will be the abode of temperance; and
we were right in describing this virtue as a harmony which is diffused
through the whole, making the dwellers in the city to be of one mind,
and attuning the upper and middle and lower classes like the strings of
an instrument, whether you suppose them to differ in wisdom, strength or
And now we are near the spot; let us draw in and surround the cover and
watch with all our eyes, lest justice should slip away and escape. Tell
me, if you see the thicket move first. 'Nay, I would have you lead.'
Well then, offer up a prayer and follow. The way is dark and difficult;
but we must push on. I begin to see a track. 'Good news.' Why, Glaucon,
our dulness of scent is quite ludicrous! While we are straining our eyes
into the distance, justice is tumbling out at our feet. We are as bad
as people looking for a thing which they have in their hands. Have you
forgotten our old principle of the division of labour, or of every man
doing his own business, concerning which we spoke at the foundation
of the State--what but this was justice? Is there any other virtue
remaining which can compete with wisdom and temperance and courage in
the scale of political virtue? For 'every one having his own' is the
great object of government; and the great object of trade is that
every man should do his own business. Not that there is much harm in a
carpenter trying to be a cobbler, or a cobbler transforming himself into
a carpenter; but great evil may arise from the cobbler leaving his last
and turning into a guardian or legislator, or when a single individual
is trainer, warrior, legislator, all in one. And this evil is injustice,
or every man doing another's business. I do not say that as yet we are
in a condition to arrive at a final conclusion. For the definition
which we believe to hold good in states has still to be tested by the
individual. Having read the large letters we will now come back to the
small. From the two together a brilliant light may be struck out...
Socrates proceeds to discover the nature of justice by a method of
residues. Each of the first three virtues corresponds to one of the
three parts of the soul and one of the three classes in the State,
although the third, temperance, has more of the nature of a harmony than
the first two. If there be a fourth virtue, that can only be sought for
in the relation of the three parts in the soul or classes in the State
to one another. It is obvious and simple, and for that very reason has
not been found out. The modern logician will be inclined to object that
ideas cannot be separated like chemical substances, but that they run
into one another and may be only different aspects or names of the
same thing, and such in this instance appears to be the case. For the
definition here given of justice is verbally the same as one of the
definitions of temperance given by Socrates in the Charmides, which
however is only provisional, and is afterwards rejected. And so far
from justice remaining over when the other virtues are eliminated,
the justice and temperance of the Republic can with difficulty be
distinguished. Temperance appears to be the virtue of a part only, and
one of three, whereas justice is a universal virtue of the whole soul.
Yet on the other hand temperance is also described as a sort of harmony,
and in this respect is akin to justice. Justice seems to differ from
temperance in degree rather than in kind; whereas temperance is the
harmony of discordant elements, justice is the perfect order by which
all natures and classes do their own business, the right man in the
right place, the division and co-operation of all the citizens. Justice,
again, is a more abstract notion than the other virtues, and therefore,
from Plato's point of view, the foundation of them, to which they
are referred and which in idea precedes them. The proposal to omit
temperance is a mere trick of style intended to avoid monotony.
There is a famous question discussed in one of the earlier Dialogues of
Plato (Protagoras; Arist. Nic. Ethics), 'Whether the virtues are one
or many?' This receives an answer which is to the effect that there
are four cardinal virtues (now for the first time brought together in
ethical philosophy), and one supreme over the rest, which is not like
Aristotle's conception of universal justice, virtue relative to others,
but the whole of virtue relative to the parts. To this universal
conception of justice or order in the first education and in the moral
nature of man, the still more universal conception of the good in the
second education and in the sphere of speculative knowledge seems to
succeed. Both might be equally described by the terms 'law,' 'order,'
'harmony;' but while the idea of good embraces 'all time and all
existence,' the conception of justice is not extended beyond man.
...Socrates is now going to identify the individual and the State. But
first he must prove that there are three parts of the individual soul.
His argument is as follows:--Quantity makes no difference in quality.
The word 'just,' whether applied to the individual or to the State, has
the same meaning. And the term 'justice' implied that the same three
principles in the State and in the individual were doing their own
business. But are they really three or one? The question is difficult,
and one which can hardly be solved by the methods which we are now
using; but the truer and longer way would take up too much of our time.
'The shorter will satisfy me.' Well then, you would admit that the
qualities of states mean the qualities of the individuals who compose
them? The Scythians and Thracians are passionate, our own race
intellectual, and the Egyptians and Phoenicians covetous, because
the individual members of each have such and such a character; the
difficulty is to determine whether the several principles are one or
three; whether, that is to say, we reason with one part of our nature,
desire with another, are angry with another, or whether the whole soul
comes into play in each sort of action. This enquiry, however, requires
a very exact definition of terms. The same thing in the same relation
cannot be affected in two opposite ways. But there is no impossibility
in a man standing still, yet moving his arms, or in a top which is fixed
on one spot going round upon its axis. There is no necessity to mention
all the possible exceptions; let us provisionally assume that opposites
cannot do or be or suffer opposites in the same relation. And to the
class of opposites belong assent and dissent, desire and avoidance.
And one form of desire is thirst and hunger: and here arises a new
point--thirst is thirst of drink, hunger is hunger of food; not of warm
drink or of a particular kind of food, with the single exception of
course that the very fact of our desiring anything implies that it is
good. When relative terms have no attributes, their correlatives have
no attributes; when they have attributes, their correlatives also have
them. For example, the term 'greater' is simply relative to 'less,' and
knowledge refers to a subject of knowledge. But on the other hand, a
particular knowledge is of a particular subject. Again, every science
has a distinct character, which is defined by an object; medicine, for
example, is the science of health, although not to be confounded with
health. Having cleared our ideas thus far, let us return to the original
instance of thirst, which has a definite object--drink. Now the thirsty
soul may feel two distinct impulses; the animal one saying 'Drink;'
the rational one, which says 'Do not drink.' The two impulses are
contradictory; and therefore we may assume that they spring from
distinct principles in the soul. But is passion a third principle, or
akin to desire? There is a story of a certain Leontius which throws some
light on this question. He was coming up from the Piraeus outside the
north wall, and he passed a spot where there were dead bodies lying
by the executioner. He felt a longing desire to see them and also an
abhorrence of them; at first he turned away and shut his eyes, then,
suddenly tearing them open, he said,--'Take your fill, ye wretches, of
the fair sight.' Now is there not here a third principle which is often
found to come to the assistance of reason against desire, but never
of desire against reason? This is passion or spirit, of the separate
existence of which we may further convince ourselves by putting the
following case:--When a man suffers justly, if he be of a generous
nature he is not indignant at the hardships which he undergoes: but when
he suffers unjustly, his indignation is his great support; hunger and
thirst cannot tame him; the spirit within him must do or die, until the
voice of the shepherd, that is, of reason, bidding his dog bark no
more, is heard within. This shows that passion is the ally of reason. Is
passion then the same with reason? No, for the former exists in children
and brutes; and Homer affords a proof of the distinction between them
when he says, 'He smote his breast, and thus rebuked his soul.'
And now, at last, we have reached firm ground, and are able to infer
that the virtues of the State and of the individual are the same. For
wisdom and courage and justice in the State are severally the wisdom and
courage and justice in the individuals who form the State. Each of the
three classes will do the work of its own class in the State, and each
part in the individual soul; reason, the superior, and passion, the
inferior, will be harmonized by the influence of music and gymnastic.
The counsellor and the warrior, the head and the arm, will act together
in the town of Mansoul, and keep the desires in proper subjection. The
courage of the warrior is that quality which preserves a right opinion
about dangers in spite of pleasures and pains. The wisdom of the
counsellor is that small part of the soul which has authority and
reason. The virtue of temperance is the friendship of the ruling and the
subject principles, both in the State and in the individual. Of justice
we have already spoken; and the notion already given of it may
be confirmed by common instances. Will the just state or the just
individual steal, lie, commit adultery, or be guilty of impiety to
gods and men? 'No.' And is not the reason of this that the several
principles, whether in the state or in the individual, do their own
business? And justice is the quality which makes just men and just
states. Moreover, our old division of labour, which required that there
should be one man for one use, was a dream or anticipation of what was
to follow; and that dream has now been realized in justice, which
begins by binding together the three chords of the soul, and then acts
harmoniously in every relation of life. And injustice, which is the
insubordination and disobedience of the inferior elements in the soul,
is the opposite of justice, and is inharmonious and unnatural, being to
the soul what disease is to the body; for in the soul as well as in the
body, good or bad actions produce good or bad habits. And virtue is the
health and beauty and well-being of the soul, and vice is the disease
and weakness and deformity of the soul.
Again the old question returns upon us: Is justice or injustice the
more profitable? The question has become ridiculous. For injustice, like
mortal disease, makes life not worth having. Come up with me to the hill
which overhangs the city and look down upon the single form of virtue,
and the infinite forms of vice, among which are four special ones,
characteristic both of states and of individuals. And the state which
corresponds to the single form of virtue is that which we have been
describing, wherein reason rules under one of two names--monarchy and
aristocracy. Thus there are five forms in all, both of states and of
In attempting to prove that the soul has three separate faculties, Plato
takes occasion to discuss what makes difference of faculties. And
the criterion which he proposes is difference in the working of the
faculties. The same faculty cannot produce contradictory effects. But
the path of early reasoners is beset by thorny entanglements, and he
will not proceed a step without first clearing the ground. This leads
him into a tiresome digression, which is intended to explain the nature
of contradiction. First, the contradiction must be at the same time and
in the same relation. Secondly, no extraneous word must be introduced
into either of the terms in which the contradictory proposition is
expressed: for example, thirst is of drink, not of warm drink. He
implies, what he does not say, that if, by the advice of reason, or by
the impulse of anger, a man is restrained from drinking, this proves
that thirst, or desire under which thirst is included, is distinct
from anger and reason. But suppose that we allow the term 'thirst' or
'desire' to be modified, and say an 'angry thirst,' or a 'revengeful
desire,' then the two spheres of desire and anger overlap and become
confused. This case therefore has to be excluded. And still there
remains an exception to the rule in the use of the term 'good,' which is
always implied in the object of desire. These are the discussions of
an age before logic; and any one who is wearied by them should remember
that they are necessary to the clearing up of ideas in the first
development of the human faculties.
The psychology of Plato extends no further than the division of the soul
into the rational, irascible, and concupiscent elements, which, as far
as we know, was first made by him, and has been retained by Aristotle
and succeeding ethical writers. The chief difficulty in this early
analysis of the mind is to define exactly the place of the irascible
faculty (Greek), which may be variously described under the terms
righteous indignation, spirit, passion. It is the foundation of courage,
which includes in Plato moral courage, the courage of enduring pain, and
of surmounting intellectual difficulties, as well as of meeting dangers
in war. Though irrational, it inclines to side with the rational: it
cannot be aroused by punishment when justly inflicted: it sometimes
takes the form of an enthusiasm which sustains a man in the performance
of great actions. It is the 'lion heart' with which the reason makes
a treaty. On the other hand it is negative rather than positive; it
is indignant at wrong or falsehood, but does not, like Love in the
Symposium and Phaedrus, aspire to the vision of Truth or Good. It is the
peremptory military spirit which prevails in the government of honour.
It differs from anger (Greek), this latter term having no accessory
notion of righteous indignation. Although Aristotle has retained the
word, yet we may observe that 'passion' (Greek) has with him lost its
affinity to the rational and has become indistinguishable from 'anger'
(Greek). And to this vernacular use Plato himself in the Laws seems to
revert, though not always. By modern philosophy too, as well as in our
ordinary conversation, the words anger or passion are employed almost
exclusively in a bad sense; there is no connotation of a just or
reasonable cause by which they are aroused. The feeling of 'righteous
indignation' is too partial and accidental to admit of our regarding
it as a separate virtue or habit. We are tempted also to doubt whether
Plato is right in supposing that an offender, however justly condemned,
could be expected to acknowledge the justice of his sentence; this is
the spirit of a philosopher or martyr rather than of a criminal.
We may observe how nearly Plato approaches Aristotle's famous thesis,
that 'good actions produce good habits.' The words 'as healthy practices
(Greek) produce health, so do just practices produce justice,' have
a sound very like the Nicomachean Ethics. But we note also that an
incidental remark in Plato has become a far-reaching principle in
Aristotle, and an inseparable part of a great Ethical system.
There is a difficulty in understanding what Plato meant by 'the longer
way': he seems to intimate some metaphysic of the future which will not
be satisfied with arguing from the principle of contradiction. In the
sixth and seventh books (compare Sophist and Parmenides) he has given
us a sketch of such a metaphysic; but when Glaucon asks for the final
revelation of the idea of good, he is put off with the declaration
that he has not yet studied the preliminary sciences. How he would have
filled up the sketch, or argued about such questions from a higher point
of view, we can only conjecture. Perhaps he hoped to find some a priori
method of developing the parts out of the whole; or he might have asked
which of the ideas contains the other ideas, and possibly have stumbled
on the Hegelian identity of the 'ego' and the 'universal.' Or he may
have imagined that ideas might be constructed in some manner analogous
to the construction of figures and numbers in the mathematical sciences.
The most certain and necessary truth was to Plato the universal; and to
this he was always seeking to refer all knowledge or opinion, just as in
modern times we seek to rest them on the opposite pole of induction and
experience. The aspirations of metaphysicians have always tended to
pass beyond the limits of human thought and language: they seem to have
reached a height at which they are 'moving about in worlds unrealized,'
and their conceptions, although profoundly affecting their own minds,
become invisible or unintelligible to others. We are not therefore
surprized to find that Plato himself has nowhere clearly explained his
doctrine of ideas; or that his school in a later generation, like his
contemporaries Glaucon and Adeimantus, were unable to follow him in
this region of speculation. In the Sophist, where he is refuting the
scepticism which maintained either that there was no such thing as
predication, or that all might be predicated of all, he arrives at the
conclusion that some ideas combine with some, but not all with all. But
he makes only one or two steps forward on this path; he nowhere attains
to any connected system of ideas, or even to a knowledge of the most
elementary relations of the sciences to one another.
BOOK V. I was going to enumerate the four forms of vice or decline in
states, when Polemarchus--he was sitting a little farther from me
than Adeimantus--taking him by the coat and leaning towards him, said
something in an undertone, of which I only caught the words, 'Shall we
let him off?' 'Certainly not,' said Adeimantus, raising his voice. Whom,
I said, are you not going to let off? 'You,' he said. Why? 'Because
we think that you are not dealing fairly with us in omitting women and
children, of whom you have slily disposed under the general formula
that friends have all things in common.' And was I not right? 'Yes,'
he replied, 'but there are many sorts of communism or community, and
we want to know which of them is right. The company, as you have just
heard, are resolved to have a further explanation.' Thrasymachus said,
'Do you think that we have come hither to dig for gold, or to hear you
discourse?' Yes, I said; but the discourse should be of a reasonable
length. Glaucon added, 'Yes, Socrates, and there is reason in spending
the whole of life in such discussions; but pray, without more ado, tell
us how this community is to be carried out, and how the interval between
birth and education is to be filled up.' Well, I said, the subject has
several difficulties--What is possible? is the first question. What is
desirable? is the second. 'Fear not,' he replied, 'for you are speaking
among friends.' That, I replied, is a sorry consolation; I shall
destroy my friends as well as myself. Not that I mind a little innocent
laughter; but he who kills the truth is a murderer. 'Then,' said
Glaucon, laughing, 'in case you should murder us we will acquit you
beforehand, and you shall be held free from the guilt of deceiving us.'
Socrates proceeds:--The guardians of our state are to be watch-dogs, as
we have already said. Now dogs are not divided into hes and shes--we do
not take the masculine gender out to hunt and leave the females at home
to look after their puppies. They have the same employments--the only
difference between them is that the one sex is stronger and the other
weaker. But if women are to have the same employments as men, they must
have the same education--they must be taught music and gymnastics, and
the art of war. I know that a great joke will be made of their riding
on horseback and carrying weapons; the sight of the naked old wrinkled
women showing their agility in the palaestra will certainly not be a
vision of beauty, and may be expected to become a famous jest. But we
must not mind the wits; there was a time when they might have laughed at
our present gymnastics. All is habit: people have at last found out that
the exposure is better than the concealment of the person, and now they
laugh no more. Evil only should be the subject of ridicule.
The first question is, whether women are able either wholly or partially
to share in the employments of men. And here we may be charged with
inconsistency in making the proposal at all. For we started originally
with the division of labour; and the diversity of employments was based
on the difference of natures. But is there no difference between men
and women? Nay, are they not wholly different? THERE was the difficulty,
Glaucon, which made me unwilling to speak of family relations. However,
when a man is out of his depth, whether in a pool or in an ocean, he can
only swim for his life; and we must try to find a way of escape, if we
The argument is, that different natures have different uses, and the
natures of men and women are said to differ. But this is only a verbal
opposition. We do not consider that the difference may be purely nominal
and accidental; for example, a bald man and a hairy man are opposed in a
single point of view, but you cannot infer that because a bald man is
a cobbler a hairy man ought not to be a cobbler. Now why is such an
inference erroneous? Simply because the opposition between them is
partial only, like the difference between a male physician and a female
physician, not running through the whole nature, like the difference
between a physician and a carpenter. And if the difference of the sexes
is only that the one beget and the other bear children, this does not
prove that they ought to have distinct educations. Admitting that women
differ from men in capacity, do not men equally differ from one another?
Has not nature scattered all the qualities which our citizens require
indifferently up and down among the two sexes? and even in their
peculiar pursuits, are not women often, though in some cases superior to
men, ridiculously enough surpassed by them? Women are the same in kind
as men, and have the same aptitude or want of aptitude for medicine
or gymnastic or war, but in a less degree. One woman will be a good
guardian, another not; and the good must be chosen to be the colleagues
of our guardians. If however their natures are the same, the inference
is that their education must also be the same; there is no longer
anything unnatural or impossible in a woman learning music and
gymnastic. And the education which we give them will be the very best,
far superior to that of cobblers, and will train up the very best women,
and nothing can be more advantageous to the State than this. Therefore
let them strip, clothed in their chastity, and share in the toils of war
and in the defence of their country; he who laughs at them is a fool for
his pains.
The first wave is past, and the argument is compelled to admit that men
and women have common duties and pursuits. A second and greater wave is
rolling in--community of wives and children; is this either expedient
or possible? The expediency I do not doubt; I am not so sure of the
possibility. 'Nay, I think that a considerable doubt will be entertained
on both points.' I meant to have escaped the trouble of proving the
first, but as you have detected the little stratagem I must even submit.
Only allow me to feed my fancy like the solitary in his walks, with a
dream of what might be, and then I will return to the question of what
can be.
In the first place our rulers will enforce the laws and make new ones
where they are wanted, and their allies or ministers will obey. You, as
legislator, have already selected the men; and now you shall select
the women. After the selection has been made, they will dwell in common
houses and have their meals in common, and will be brought together by
a necessity more certain than that of mathematics. But they cannot be
allowed to live in licentiousness; that is an unholy thing, which
the rulers are determined to prevent. For the avoidance of this, holy
marriage festivals will be instituted, and their holiness will be in
proportion to their usefulness. And here, Glaucon, I should like to ask
(as I know that you are a breeder of birds and animals), Do you not take
the greatest care in the mating? 'Certainly.' And there is no reason to
suppose that less care is required in the marriage of human beings. But
then our rulers must be skilful physicians of the State, for they will
often need a strong dose of falsehood in order to bring about desirable
unions between their subjects. The good must be paired with the good,
and the bad with the bad, and the offspring of the one must be reared,
and of the other destroyed; in this way the flock will be preserved in
prime condition. Hymeneal festivals will be celebrated at times fixed
with an eye to population, and the brides and bridegrooms will meet at
them; and by an ingenious system of lots the rulers will contrive that
the brave and the fair come together, and that those of inferior breed
are paired with inferiors--the latter will ascribe to chance what is
really the invention of the rulers. And when children are born, the
offspring of the brave and fair will be carried to an enclosure in a
certain part of the city, and there attended by suitable nurses; the
rest will be hurried away to places unknown. The mothers will be brought
to the fold and will suckle the children; care however must be taken
that none of them recognise their own offspring; and if necessary other
nurses may also be hired. The trouble of watching and getting up
at night will be transferred to attendants. 'Then the wives of our
guardians will have a fine easy time when they are having children.' And
quite right too, I said, that they should.
The parents ought to be in the prime of life, which for a man may be
reckoned at thirty years--from twenty-five, when he has 'passed the
point at which the speed of life is greatest,' to fifty-five; and at
twenty years for a woman--from twenty to forty. Any one above or below
those ages who partakes in the hymeneals shall be guilty of impiety;
also every one who forms a marriage connexion at other times without the
consent of the rulers. This latter regulation applies to those who are
within the specified ages, after which they may range at will, provided
they avoid the prohibited degrees of parents and children, or
of brothers and sisters, which last, however, are not absolutely
prohibited, if a dispensation be procured. 'But how shall we know the
degrees of affinity, when all things are common?' The answer is, that
brothers and sisters are all such as are born seven or nine months after
the espousals, and their parents those who are then espoused, and every
one will have many children and every child many parents.
Socrates proceeds: I have now to prove that this scheme is advantageous
and also consistent with our entire polity. The greatest good of a State
is unity; the greatest evil, discord and distraction. And there will be
unity where there are no private pleasures or pains or interests--where
if one member suffers all the members suffer, if one citizen is touched
all are quickly sensitive; and the least hurt to the little finger of
the State runs through the whole body and vibrates to the soul. For the
true State, like an individual, is injured as a whole when any part is
affected. Every State has subjects and rulers, who in a democracy are
called rulers, and in other States masters: but in our State they are
called saviours and allies; and the subjects who in other States are
termed slaves, are by us termed nurturers and paymasters, and those who
are termed comrades and colleagues in other places, are by us called
fathers and brothers. And whereas in other States members of the same
government regard one of their colleagues as a friend and another as an
enemy, in our State no man is a stranger to another; for every citizen
is connected with every other by ties of blood, and these names and
this way of speaking will have a corresponding reality--brother, father,
sister, mother, repeated from infancy in the ears of children, will not
be mere words. Then again the citizens will have all things in common,
in having common property they will have common pleasures and pains.
Can there be strife and contention among those who are of one mind; or
lawsuits about property when men have nothing but their bodies which
they call their own; or suits about violence when every one is bound
to defend himself? The permission to strike when insulted will be an
'antidote' to the knife and will prevent disturbances in the State. But
no younger man will strike an elder; reverence will prevent him from
laying hands on his kindred, and he will fear that the rest of the
family may retaliate. Moreover, our citizens will be rid of the
lesser evils of life; there will be no flattery of the rich, no sordid
household cares, no borrowing and not paying. Compared with the
citizens of other States, ours will be Olympic victors, and crowned
with blessings greater still--they and their children having a better
maintenance during life, and after death an honourable burial. Nor has
the happiness of the individual been sacrificed to the happiness of the
State; our Olympic victor has not been turned into a cobbler, but he
has a happiness beyond that of any cobbler. At the same time, if any
conceited youth begins to dream of appropriating the State to himself,
he must be reminded that 'half is better than the whole.' 'I should
certainly advise him to stay where he is when he has the promise of such
a brave life.'
But is such a community possible?--as among the animals, so also among
men; and if possible, in what way possible? About war there is no
difficulty; the principle of communism is adapted to military service.
Parents will take their children to look on at a battle, just as
potters' boys are trained to the business by looking on at the wheel.
And to the parents themselves, as to other animals, the sight of their
young ones will prove a great incentive to bravery. Young warriors must
learn, but they must not run into danger, although a certain degree of
risk is worth incurring when the benefit is great. The young creatures
should be placed under the care of experienced veterans, and they should
have wings--that is to say, swift and tractable steeds on which they may
fly away and escape. One of the first things to be done is to teach a
youth to ride.
Cowards and deserters shall be degraded to the class of husbandmen;
gentlemen who allow themselves to be taken prisoners, may be presented
to the enemy. But what shall be done to the hero? First of all he shall
be crowned by all the youths in the army; secondly, he shall receive the
right hand of fellowship; and thirdly, do you think that there is any
harm in his being kissed? We have already determined that he shall have
more wives than others, in order that he may have as many children
as possible. And at a feast he shall have more to eat; we have the
authority of Homer for honouring brave men with 'long chines,' which is
an appropriate compliment, because meat is a very strengthening thing.
Fill the bowl then, and give the best seats and meats to the brave--may
they do them good! And he who dies in battle will be at once declared to
be of the golden race, and will, as we believe, become one of Hesiod's
guardian angels. He shall be worshipped after death in the manner
prescribed by the oracle; and not only he, but all other benefactors
of the State who die in any other way, shall be admitted to the same
The next question is, How shall we treat our enemies? Shall Hellenes be
enslaved? No; for there is too great a risk of the whole race passing
under the yoke of the barbarians. Or shall the dead be despoiled?
Certainly not; for that sort of thing is an excuse for skulking, and has
been the ruin of many an army. There is meanness and feminine malice in
making an enemy of the dead body, when the soul which was the owner has
fled--like a dog who cannot reach his assailants, and quarrels with
the stones which are thrown at him instead. Again, the arms of Hellenes
should not be offered up in the temples of the Gods; they are a
pollution, for they are taken from brethren. And on similar grounds
there should be a limit to the devastation of Hellenic territory--the
houses should not be burnt, nor more than the annual produce carried
off. For war is of two kinds, civil and foreign; the first of which is
properly termed 'discord,' and only the second 'war;' and war between
Hellenes is in reality civil war--a quarrel in a family, which is ever
to be regarded as unpatriotic and unnatural, and ought to be prosecuted
with a view to reconciliation in a true phil-Hellenic spirit, as of
those who would chasten but not utterly enslave. The war is not against
a whole nation who are a friendly multitude of men, women, and children,
but only against a few guilty persons; when they are punished peace will
be restored. That is the way in which Hellenes should war against one
another--and against barbarians, as they war against one another now.
'But, my dear Socrates, you are forgetting the main question: Is such a
State possible? I grant all and more than you say about the blessedness
of being one family--fathers, brothers, mothers, daughters, going out
to war together; but I want to ascertain the possibility of this ideal
State.' You are too unmerciful. The first wave and the second wave I
have hardly escaped, and now you will certainly drown me with the third.
When you see the towering crest of the wave, I expect you to take pity.
'Not a whit.'
Well, then, we were led to form our ideal polity in the search after
justice, and the just man answered to the just State. Is this ideal at
all the worse for being impracticable? Would the picture of a perfectly
beautiful man be any the worse because no such man ever lived? Can any
reality come up to the idea? Nature will not allow words to be fully
realized; but if I am to try and realize the ideal of the State in a
measure, I think that an approach may be made to the perfection of which
I dream by one or two, I do not say slight, but possible changes in the
present constitution of States. I would reduce them to a single one--the
great wave, as I call it. Until, then, kings are philosophers, or
philosophers are kings, cities will never cease from ill: no, nor the
human race; nor will our ideal polity ever come into being. I know that
this is a hard saying, which few will be able to receive. 'Socrates,
all the world will take off his coat and rush upon you with sticks and
stones, and therefore I would advise you to prepare an answer.' You got
me into the scrape, I said. 'And I was right,' he replied; 'however, I
will stand by you as a sort of do-nothing, well-meaning ally.' Having
the help of such a champion, I will do my best to maintain my position.
And first, I must explain of whom I speak and what sort of natures these
are who are to be philosophers and rulers. As you are a man of pleasure,
you will not have forgotten how indiscriminate lovers are in their
attachments; they love all, and turn blemishes into beauties. The
snub-nosed youth is said to have a winning grace; the beak of another
has a royal look; the featureless are faultless; the dark are manly, the
fair angels; the sickly have a new term of endearment invented expressly
for them, which is 'honey-pale.' Lovers of wine and lovers of ambition
also desire the objects of their affection in every form. Now here comes
the point:--The philosopher too is a lover of knowledge in every form;
he has an insatiable curiosity. 'But will curiosity make a philosopher?
Are the lovers of sights and sounds, who let out their ears to every
chorus at the Dionysiac festivals, to be called philosophers?' They
are not true philosophers, but only an imitation. 'Then how are we to
describe the true?'
You would acknowledge the existence of abstract ideas, such as justice,
beauty, good, evil, which are severally one, yet in their various
combinations appear to be many. Those who recognize these realities are
philosophers; whereas the other class hear sounds and see colours,
and understand their use in the arts, but cannot attain to the true or
waking vision of absolute justice or beauty or truth; they have not the
light of knowledge, but of opinion, and what they see is a dream only.
Perhaps he of whom we say the last will be angry with us; can we pacify
him without revealing the disorder of his mind? Suppose we say that,
if he has knowledge we rejoice to hear it, but knowledge must be of
something which is, as ignorance is of something which is not; and there
is a third thing, which both is and is not, and is matter of opinion
only. Opinion and knowledge, then, having distinct objects, must also
be distinct faculties. And by faculties I mean powers unseen and
distinguishable only by the difference in their objects, as opinion
and knowledge differ, since the one is liable to err, but the other
is unerring and is the mightiest of all our faculties. If being is
the object of knowledge, and not-being of ignorance, and these are the
extremes, opinion must lie between them, and may be called darker than
the one and brighter than the other. This intermediate or contingent
matter is and is not at the same time, and partakes both of existence
and of non-existence. Now I would ask my good friend, who denies
abstract beauty and justice, and affirms a many beautiful and a
many just, whether everything he sees is not in some point of view
different--the beautiful ugly, the pious impious, the just unjust? Is
not the double also the half, and are not heavy and light relative terms
which pass into one another? Everything is and is not, as in the old
riddle--'A man and not a man shot and did not shoot a bird and not a
bird with a stone and not a stone.' The mind cannot be fixed on either
alternative; and these ambiguous, intermediate, erring, half-lighted
objects, which have a disorderly movement in the region between being
and not-being, are the proper matter of opinion, as the immutable
objects are the proper matter of knowledge. And he who grovels in the
world of sense, and has only this uncertain perception of things, is not
a philosopher, but a lover of opinion only...
The fifth book is the new beginning of the Republic, in which the
community of property and of family are first maintained, and the
transition is made to the kingdom of philosophers. For both of these
Plato, after his manner, has been preparing in some chance words of Book
IV, which fall unperceived on the reader's mind, as they are supposed
at first to have fallen on the ear of Glaucon and Adeimantus. The
'paradoxes,' as Morgenstern terms them, of this book of the Republic
will be reserved for another place; a few remarks on the style, and some
explanations of difficulties, may be briefly added.
First, there is the image of the waves, which serves for a sort of
scheme or plan of the book. The first wave, the second wave, the third
and greatest wave come rolling in, and we hear the roar of them. All
that can be said of the extravagance of Plato's proposals is anticipated
by himself. Nothing is more admirable than the hesitation with which he
proposes the solemn text, 'Until kings are philosophers,' etc.; or the
reaction from the sublime to the ridiculous, when Glaucon describes the
manner in which the new truth will be received by mankind.
Some defects and difficulties may be noted in the execution of the
communistic plan. Nothing is told us of the application of communism
to the lower classes; nor is the table of prohibited degrees capable of
being made out. It is quite possible that a child born at one hymeneal
festival may marry one of its own brothers or sisters, or even one of
its parents, at another. Plato is afraid of incestuous unions, but at
the same time he does not wish to bring before us the fact that the city
would be divided into families of those born seven and nine months after
each hymeneal festival. If it were worth while to argue seriously about
such fancies, we might remark that while all the old affinities are
abolished, the newly prohibited affinity rests not on any natural or
rational principle, but only upon the accident of children having been
born in the same month and year. Nor does he explain how the lots could
be so manipulated by the legislature as to bring together the fairest
and best. The singular expression which is employed to describe the age
of five-and-twenty may perhaps be taken from some poet.
In the delineation of the philosopher, the illustrations of the nature
of philosophy derived from love are more suited to the apprehension
of Glaucon, the Athenian man of pleasure, than to modern tastes or
feelings. They are partly facetious, but also contain a germ of truth.
That science is a whole, remains a true principle of inductive as well
as of metaphysical philosophy; and the love of universal knowledge is
still the characteristic of the philosopher in modern as well as in
ancient times.
At the end of the fifth book Plato introduces the figment of contingent
matter, which has exercised so great an influence both on the Ethics and
Theology of the modern world, and which occurs here for the first time
in the history of philosophy. He did not remark that the degrees of
knowledge in the subject have nothing corresponding to them in the
object. With him a word must answer to an idea; and he could not
conceive of an opinion which was an opinion about nothing. The influence
of analogy led him to invent 'parallels and conjugates' and to overlook
facts. To us some of his difficulties are puzzling only from their
simplicity: we do not perceive that the answer to them 'is tumbling out
at our feet.' To the mind of early thinkers, the conception of not-being
was dark and mysterious; they did not see that this terrible apparition
which threatened destruction to all knowledge was only a logical
determination. The common term under which, through the accidental use
of language, two entirely different ideas were included was another
source of confusion. Thus through the ambiguity of (Greek) Plato,
attempting to introduce order into the first chaos of human thought,
seems to have confused perception and opinion, and to have failed to
distinguish the contingent from the relative. In the Theaetetus the
first of these difficulties begins to clear up; in the Sophist the
second; and for this, as well as for other reasons, both these dialogues
are probably to be regarded as later than the Republic.
BOOK VI. Having determined that the many have no knowledge of true
being, and have no clear patterns in their minds of justice, beauty,
truth, and that philosophers have such patterns, we have now to ask
whether they or the many shall be rulers in our State. But who can doubt
that philosophers should be chosen, if they have the other qualities
which are required in a ruler? For they are lovers of the knowledge of
the eternal and of all truth; they are haters of falsehood; their meaner
desires are absorbed in the interests of knowledge; they are spectators
of all time and all existence; and in the magnificence of their
contemplation the life of man is as nothing to them, nor is death
fearful. Also they are of a social, gracious disposition, equally free
from cowardice and arrogance. They learn and remember easily; they have
harmonious, well-regulated minds; truth flows to them sweetly by nature.
Can the god of Jealousy himself find any fault with such an assemblage
of good qualities?
Here Adeimantus interposes:--'No man can answer you, Socrates; but every
man feels that this is owing to his own deficiency in argument. He is
driven from one position to another, until he has nothing more to say,
just as an unskilful player at draughts is reduced to his last move by
a more skilled opponent. And yet all the time he may be right. He may
know, in this very instance, that those who make philosophy the business
of their lives, generally turn out rogues if they are bad men, and fools
if they are good. What do you say?' I should say that he is quite right.
'Then how is such an admission reconcileable with the doctrine that
philosophers should be kings?'
I shall answer you in a parable which will also let you see how poor a
hand I am at the invention of allegories. The relation of good men to
their governments is so peculiar, that in order to defend them I must
take an illustration from the world of fiction. Conceive the captain
of a ship, taller by a head and shoulders than any of the crew, yet a
little deaf, a little blind, and rather ignorant of the seaman's art.
The sailors want to steer, although they know nothing of the art; and
they have a theory that it cannot be learned. If the helm is refused
them, they drug the captain's posset, bind him hand and foot, and take
possession of the ship. He who joins in the mutiny is termed a good
pilot and what not; they have no conception that the true pilot must
observe the winds and the stars, and must be their master, whether
they like it or not;--such an one would be called by them fool, prater,
star-gazer. This is my parable; which I will beg you to interpret for
me to those gentlemen who ask why the philosopher has such an evil name,
and to explain to them that not he, but those who will not use him, are
to blame for his uselessness. The philosopher should not beg of mankind
to be put in authority over them. The wise man should not seek the rich,
as the proverb bids, but every man, whether rich or poor, must knock at
the door of the physician when he has need of him. Now the pilot is
the philosopher--he whom in the parable they call star-gazer, and the
mutinous sailors are the mob of politicians by whom he is rendered
useless. Not that these are the worst enemies of philosophy, who is far
more dishonoured by her own professing sons when they are corrupted by
the world. Need I recall the original image of the philosopher? Did we
not say of him just now, that he loved truth and hated falsehood, and
that he could not rest in the multiplicity of phenomena, but was led by
a sympathy in his own nature to the contemplation of the absolute? All
the virtues as well as truth, who is the leader of them, took up their
abode in his soul. But as you were observing, if we turn aside to view
the reality, we see that the persons who were thus described, with the
exception of a small and useless class, are utter rogues.
The point which has to be considered, is the origin of this corruption
in nature. Every one will admit that the philosopher, in our description
of him, is a rare being. But what numberless causes tend to destroy
these rare beings! There is no good thing which may not be a cause of
evil--health, wealth, strength, rank, and the virtues themselves,
when placed under unfavourable circumstances. For as in the animal or
vegetable world the strongest seeds most need the accompaniment of good
air and soil, so the best of human characters turn out the worst when
they fall upon an unsuitable soil; whereas weak natures hardly ever
do any considerable good or harm; they are not the stuff out of which
either great criminals or great heroes are made. The philosopher follows
the same analogy: he is either the best or the worst of all men. Some
persons say that the Sophists are the corrupters of youth; but is not
public opinion the real Sophist who is everywhere present--in those very
persons, in the assembly, in the courts, in the camp, in the applauses
and hisses of the theatre re-echoed by the surrounding hills? Will not
a young man's heart leap amid these discordant sounds? and will any
education save him from being carried away by the torrent? Nor is this
all. For if he will not yield to opinion, there follows the gentle
compulsion of exile or death. What principle of rival Sophists or
anybody else can overcome in such an unequal contest? Characters there
may be more than human, who are exceptions--God may save a man, but not
his own strength. Further, I would have you consider that the hireling
Sophist only gives back to the world their own opinions; he is the
keeper of the monster, who knows how to flatter or anger him, and
observes the meaning of his inarticulate grunts. Good is what pleases
him, evil what he dislikes; truth and beauty are determined only by
the taste of the brute. Such is the Sophist's wisdom, and such is the
condition of those who make public opinion the test of truth, whether in
art or in morals. The curse is laid upon them of being and doing what
it approves, and when they attempt first principles the failure is
ludicrous. Think of all this and ask yourself whether the world is more
likely to be a believer in the unity of the idea, or in the multiplicity