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pg 190Chapter 8Philosopher Kings

Plato faces the third wave—the question of the imaginary community's feasibility—and comes up with what is perhaps the most famous (or notorious) proposal a philosopher has ever made: that the only solution to political and personal troubles is for true philosophers to become kings, or for current rulers to become true philosophers. As Plato recognizes, this assertion throws up an urgent need to define what it is to be a true philosopher. A philosopher loves knowledge, but what exactly is knowledge? And then the basic question which will be explored throughout Chapters 8–10, and which connects them to the rest of the book, is the relation between morality and knowledge.


'I get the impression, though, Socrates, that this is the kind of topic where, if no one interrupts you, you'll forget that it is all a digression* from a previous topic—that is, whether this political system is viable, and if so, how. I accept that all these practices, if realized, would be good for any community they were practised in, and I can supplement your account: they are 471highly likely to fight well against enemy forces, in so far as they are highly unlikely to abandon one another, since they regard one another as brothers, fathers, sons, and call one another by these names; if women joined them on a campaign (whether their task was to fight alongside the men or to support them in the rear), they'd have the effect of terrifying the enemy and could come up as reinforcements in an emergency, and I'm sure this would make our militia completely invincible; and I can see all the domestic benefits they'd bring which you haven't mentioned. You can take for granted my agreement that the realization of the constitution would result in all these advantages and innumerable others as well; so you don't have to talk about the actual constitution any more. Let's just try now to convince ourselves that it is viable and to find out how it is viable, and let's not bother with anything else.'

472'I wasn't expecting you to ambush my argument like this,' I pg 191said. 'Can't you sympathize with my procrastination? Perhaps you don't realize that it was hard enough for me to escape from the first two waves, and now you're invoking the largest and most problematic of the set of three waves. When you see it and hear it, then you'll sympathize with me and see that it was perfectly realistic of me to have misgivings and qualms about proposing such a paradoxical idea for investigation.'

'The more you say this kind of thing,' he said, 'the less likely bwe are to let you off discussing how this political system might be realized. Please don't waste any more time: just get on with it.'

'Well, the first thing we have to do,' I said, 'is remember that it's our search for the nature of morality and immorality that has brought us here.'

'All right,' he said. 'So what?'

'Nothing really. It's just that if we do discover what morality is, will we expect a moral man to be indistinguishable from it, cand to be a perfect image of morality? Or will we be satisfied if he resembles it as closely as possible and participates in it more thoroughly than anyone else?'

'Yes, we'll be happy with that,' he said.

'Therefore,' I said, 'it's because we need a paradigm that we're trying to find out what morality is, and are asking whether a perfectly moral man could exist and, if so, what he would be like (and likewise for immorality and an immoral man). We want to be able to look at these men, to see how they stand as regards happiness and misery, and to face the inevitable conclusion about ourselves, that the more we dresemble these exemplars, the more our condition will resemble their condition. In other words, the purpose of our enquiry is not to try to prove that perfect morality or immorality could ever actually exist.'

'True,' he said.

'Do you doubt an artist's competence if he paints a paradigmatically good-looking human being, and portrays everything perfectly well in the painting, but can't prove that a person like that could actually exist?'

'I certainly do not,' he protested.

'Well, aren't we saying that we're trying to construct a theoretical paradigm of a good community?'

pg 192e'Yes.'

'Then do you doubt our competence as theoreticians in this context if we can't prove that a community with our theoretical constitution could actually exist?'

'Of course not,' he said.

'So that's how matters really stand,' I said. 'However, if for your sake I also have to apply myself to proving how and under what circumstances it might get as close as possible to viability,* then although this is a different kind of argument, I must ask you to make the same concession as before.'

'What concession?'

473'Is it possible for anything actual to match a theory? Isn't any actual thing bound to have less contact with truth than a theory,* however much people deny it? Do you agree or not?'

'I do,' he said.

'So please don't force me to point to an actual case in the material world which conforms in all respects to our theoretical construct. If we can discover how a community's administration could come very close to our theory, then let's bsay that we've fulfilled your demands and discovered how it's all viable. I mean, won't you be satisfied if we get that close? I would.'

'I would too,' he said.

'Next, then, I suppose we should try to discover and show what the flaw is in current political systems which stops communities being governed as well as we've described, and what the smallest change is which could enable a community to achieve this type of constitution. By the smallest change, I mean preferably a single change, but if that's impossible, then two changes, or at any rate as few as possible and the least drastic ones possible.'

c'Absolutely,' he said.

'Well,' I said, 'I think there is a single change which can be shown to bring about the transformation. It's not a small change, however, or easy to achieve, but it is feasible.'

'What is it?' he asked.

'I'm now about to confront the difficulty which, in our image, is the largest wave,' I said. 'Still, it must be voiced, even if it's going to swamp us, exactly like a wave, with scornful and contemptuous laughter. Are you ready for me to speak?'

pg 193'Go ahead,' he said.

'Unless communities have philosophers as kings,' I said, 'or dthe people who are currently called kings and rulers practise philosophy with enough integrity—in other words, unless political power and philosophy coincide, and all the people with their diversity of talents who currently head in different directions towards either government or philosophy have those doors shut firmly in their faces—there can be no end to political troubles, my dear Glaucon, or even to human troubles ein general, I'd say, and our theoretical constitution will be stillborn and will never see the light of day. Now you can appreciate what made me hesitate to speak before: I saw how very paradoxical it would sound, since it is difficult to realize that there is no other way for an individual or a community to achieve happiness.'

'What a thing to say, Socrates!' Glaucon said in response. 'This is quite an idea! Now that it's out in the open, you'd better expect hordes of people—and not second-rate people 474either—to fling off their clothes (so to speak), pick up the nearest weapon, and rush naked at you with enough energy to achieve heroic feats. And if you don't come up with an argument to keep them at bay while you make your escape, then your punishment will be to discover what scorn really is.'

'And it'll all be your fault, won't it?' I said.

'I've no regrets,' he replied. 'But that doesn't mean I'll desert you: I'll defend you to the best of my ability. Goodwill and encouragement are my arsenal, and my answers probably suit byou more than someone else's might. You can count on this assistance, so please try to win the sceptics round to your point of view.'

'You're providing such major support that I must make the effort,' I said. 'Now, in my opinion, we'll never escape from the people you mentioned unless we offer them a definition of a philosopher so that it is clear what we mean by our rash claim that philosophers should have political power. When there's no doubt about what it is to be a philosopher, then a defence cbecomes possible, if we can show that some people are made to practise philosophy and to be political leaders, while others shouldn't engage in philosophy and should follow a leader.'

'The definition would be timely,' he remarked.

pg 194'All right. I wonder if this route leads to any kind of adequate clarification. Why don't you join me, and we'll see?'

'Lead on,' he said.

'I'm sure you're aware, without me having to remind you,' I said, 'that if the claim that someone loves something* is to be accurate, he must undeniably love that thing as a whole, not just some aspects of it.'

d'You've got to remind me, apparently,' he said, 'because I don't quite understand.'

'I'd have expected someone else to say that, Glaucon, not you,' I said. 'It's unlike an expert in love to forget that an amorous lover finds some pretext for being smitten and unhinged by every single alluring boy. They all seem to deserve his attention and devotion. I mean, isn't this how you and others like you behave towards good-looking young men? Don't you compliment a snub nose by calling it "pert", describe a hooked nose as "regal", and call one which falls between ethese two extremes "perfectly proportioned"? Don't you call swarthy young men "virile" and pallid ones "children of the gods"? And who do you think invented the term "honey-coloured"? It could only have been some lover glossing over and making light of a sallow complexion, because its possessor was in the alluring period of adolescence. In short, you come up with every conceivable excuse and all kinds of terms to 475ensure that you can give your approval to every alluring lad.'

'If you insist on trying out your ideas of how lovers behave on me,' he said, 'you can have my assent, because I don't want to jeopardize the argument.'

'And haven't you seen people who are fond of drinking behave in exactly the same way?' I went on. 'They make all kinds of excuses for their devotion to wine of every kind.'


'And I'm sure you've noticed that if ambitious people can't get the command of a whole army, they take a company; and if bthey can't win the respect of important and high-powered people, they're happy to be respected by lesser people. It's status in general which they desire.'


'So tell me where you stand on this question. If in our opinion someone desires something, are we to say that he pg 195desires that type of thing as a whole, or only some aspects of it?'*

'The whole of it,' he replied.

'So the same goes for a philosopher too: we're to say that what he desires is the whole of knowledge, not just some aspects of it. True?'


'If someone fusses about his lessons, then, especially when che's still young and without rational understanding of what is and isn't good for him, we can't describe him as a lover of knowledge, a philosopher, just as we can't describe someone who is fussing about his food as hungry, as desiring food, and don't call him a gourmand, but a poor eater.'

'Yes, it would be wrong to call him anything else.'

'On the other hand, if someone is glad to sample every subject and eagerly sets about his lessons with an insatiable appetite, then we'd be perfectly justified in calling him a philosopher, don't you think?'


In a very important argument (see further pp. xlii–xlv), Plato describes a philosopher as one who perceives things 'in themselves'. A philosopher is awake rather than asleep; he has knowledge, while everyone else has mere belief or opinion, which is fallible and has less access to reality, because it can see no further than the sensible world, which is deceptive and deficient. Knowledge is correlated with the truth of things, which is a property of what each thing is itself, and which never changes; belief is correlated with the less real aspect of things, in which they are no more beautiful (say) than ugly.


d'Then a motley crowd of people will be philosophers,' Glaucon said. 'For instance, sightseers all do what they do because they enjoy learning, I suppose; and it would be very odd to count theatre-goers as philosophers, when they'd never go of their own accord to hear a lecture or spend time over anything like that, but they rush around the festivals of Dionysus to hear every theatrical troupe, as if they were getting paid for the use of their ears,* and never miss a single festival, whether it's being held in town or out of town. Are we to describe all these people and the disciples of other amusements eas philosophers? And what about students of trivial branches of expertise?'

pg 196'No,' I replied, 'they're not philosophers, but they resemble philosophers.'

'Who are the true philosophers you have in mind?' he asked.

'Sightseers of the truth,' I answered.

'That must be right, but what exactly does it mean?' he asked.

'It wouldn't be easy to explain to anyone else,' I said. 'But you'll grant me this, surely.'


'Since beautiful is the opposite of ugly, they are two things.'

476'Of course.'

'In so far as they are two, each of them is single?'


'And the same principle applies to moral and immoral, good and bad, and everything of any type: in itself, each of them is single, but each of them has a plurality of manifestations because they appear all over the place, as they become associated with actions and bodies and one another.'

'You're right,' he said.

'Well,' I continued, 'this is what enables me to distinguish the sightseers* (to borrow your term) and the ones who want to acquire some expertise or other and the men of action from the bpeople in question, the ones who are philosophers in the true sense of the term.'

'What do you mean?' he asked.

'Theatre-goers and sightseers are devoted to beautiful sounds and colours and shapes, and to works of art which consist of these elements, but their minds are constitutionally incapable of seeing and devoting themselves to beauty itself.'

'Yes, that's certainly right,' he said.

'However, people with the ability to approach beauty itself and see beauty as it actually is are bound to be few and far between, aren't they?'


'So does someone whose horizon is limited to beautiful things, with no conception of beauty itself, and who is incapable of following guidance as to how to gain knowledge of beauty itself, strike you as living in a dream-world or in the real world? Look at it this way. Isn't dreaming precisely the state, whether one is asleep or awake, of taking something to pg 197be the real thing, when it is actually only a likeness?'

'Yes, that's what I'd say dreaming is,' he said.

'And what about someone who does the opposite—who does dthink that there is such a thing as beauty itself, and has the ability to see it as well as the things which partake in it,* and never gets them muddled up? Do you think he's living in the real world or in a dream-world?'

'Definitely in the real world,' he said.

'So wouldn't we be right to describe the difference between their mental states by saying that while this person has knowledge, the other one has beliefs?'


'Now, suppose this other person—the one we're saying has beliefs, not knowledge—were to get cross with us and query the truth of our assertions. Will we be able to calm him down eand gently convince him of our point of view, while keeping him in the dark about the poor state of his health?'

'We really ought to,' he said.

'All right, but what shall we say to him, do you think? Perhaps this is what we should ask him. We'll tell him that we don't resent any knowledge he might have—indeed, we'd be delighted to see that he does know something—and then we'll say, "But can you tell us, please, whether someone with knowledge knows something or nothing?" You'd better answer my questions for him.'

'My answer will be that he knows something,' he said.

'Something real or something unreal?'*

477'Real. How could something unreal be known?'*

'We could look at the matter from more angles, but we're happy enough with the idea that something completely real is completely accessible to knowledge, and something utterly unreal is entirely inaccessible to knowledge. Yes?'

'Perfectly happy.'

'All right. But if something is in a state of both reality and unreality, then it falls between that which is perfectly real and that which is utterly unreal, doesn't it?'


'So since the field of knowledge is reality, and since it must be incomprehension whose field is unreality, then we need to find out if there is in fact something which falls between pg 198bincomprehension and knowledge, whose field is this intermediate, don't we?'


'Now, we acknowledge the existence of belief, don't we?'

'Of course.'

'Is it a different faculty from knowledge, or is it the same?'


'Every faculty has its own distinctive abilities, so belief and knowledge must have different domains.'


'Now, since the natural field of knowledge is reality—its function is to know reality as reality … Actually, I think there's something else we need to get clear about first.'


c'Shall we count as a distinct class of things the faculties which give human beings and all other creatures their abilities? By "faculties" I mean things like sight and hearing. Do you understand the type of thing I have in mind?'

'Yes, I do,' he said.

'Let me tell you something that strikes me about them. I can't distinguish one faculty from another the way I commonly distinguish other things, by looking at their colours or shapes or anything like that, because faculties don't have any of those sorts of qualities for me to look at. The only aspect of a faculty dI can look at is its field, its effect. This is what enables me to identify each of them as a particular faculty. Where I find a single domain and a single effect, I say there is a single faculty; and I distinguish faculties which have different fields and different effects. What about you? What do you do?'

'The same as you,' he said.

'Let's go back to where we were before, then, Glaucon,' I said. 'Do you think that knowledge is a faculty, or does it belong in your opinion to some other class?'

'I think it belongs to that class,' he said, 'and is the most powerful of all the faculties.'

e'And shall we classify belief as a faculty, or what?'

'As a faculty,' he said. 'Belief is precisely that which enables us to entertain beliefs.'

'Not long ago, however, you agreed that knowledge and belief were different.'

pg 199'Of course,' he said. 'One is infallible and the other is fallible, so anyone with any sense would keep them separate.'

'Good,' I said. 'There can be no doubt of our position: 478knowledge and belief are different.


'Since they're different faculties, then, they have different natural fields, don't they?'


'The field of knowledge is reality, isn't it? Its function is to know the reality of anything real?'


'And the function of belief, we're saying, is to entertain beliefs?'


'Does it entertain beliefs about the same thing which knowledge knows? Will what is accessible to knowledge and what is accessible to belief be identical? Or is that out of the question?'

'It's ruled out by what we've already agreed,' he said. 'If different faculties naturally have different fields, and if both bknowledge and belief are faculties, and different faculties too, as we said, then it follows that it is impossible for what is accessible to knowledge and what is accessible to belief to be identical.'

'So if it is reality that is accessible to knowledge, then it is something else, not reality, that is accessible to belief, isn't it?'


'Does it entertain beliefs about what is unreal? Or is it also impossible for that to happen? Think about this: isn't it the case that someone who is entertaining a belief is bringing his believing mind to bear on something? I mean, is it possible to have a belief, and to be believing nothing?'

'That's impossible.'

'In fact, someone who has a belief has some single thing in mind, doesn't he?'


'But the most accurate way to refer to something unreal cwould be to say that it is nothing, not that it is a single thing, wouldn't it?'


pg 200'Didn't we find ourselves forced to relate incomprehension to unreality and knowledge to reality?'

'That's right,' he said.

'So the field of belief is neither reality nor unreality?'


'Belief can't be incomprehension or knowledge, then?'

'So it seems.'

'Well, does it lie beyond their limits? Does it shed more light than knowledge or spread more obscurity than incomprehension?'

'It does neither.'

'Alternatively, does belief strike you as more opaque than knowledge and more lucid than incomprehension?'

'Considerably more,' he said.

d'It lies within their limits?'


'Then belief must fall between them.'


'Now, didn't we say earlier that something which is simultaneously real and unreal (were such a thing to be shown to exist) would fall between the perfectly real and the wholly unreal, and wouldn't be the field of either knowledge or incomprehension, but of an intermediate (again, if such a thing were shown to exist) between incomprehension and knowledge?'


'And now we've found that what we call belief is such an intermediate, haven't we?'

'We have.'

e'So the only thing left for us to discover, apparently, is whether there's anything which partakes of both reality and unreality, and cannot be said to be perfectly real or perfectly unreal. If we were to come across such a thing, we'd be fully justified in describing it as the field of belief, on the principle that extremes belong together, and so do intermediates. Do you agree?'


'Let's return, on this basis, to the give and take of 479conversation with that fine fellow who doesn't acknowledge the existence of beauty itself or think that beauty itself has any pg 201permanent and unvarying character,* but takes the plurality of beautiful things as his norm—that sightseer who can't under any circumstances abide the notion that beauty, morality, and so on are each a single entity. What we'll say to him is, "My friend, is there one beautiful thing, in this welter of beautiful things, which won't turn out to be ugly? Is there one moral deed which won't turn out to be immoral? Is there one just act which won't turn out to be unjust?" '

b'No, there isn't,' he said. 'It's inevitable for these things to turn out to be both beautiful and ugly, in a sense, and the same goes for all the other qualities you mentioned in your question.'*

'And there are doubles galore—but they turn out to be halves just as much as doubles, don't they?'


'And do things which are large, small, light, and heavy deserve these attributes any more than they deserve the opposite attributes?'*

'No, each of them is bound to have both qualities,' he said.

'So isn't it the case, then, that any member of a plurality no more is whatever it is said to be than it is not whatever it is said to be?'

'This is like those double entendres one hears at parties,' he csaid, 'or the riddle children tell about the eunuch and his hitting a bat—they make a riddle by asking what he hit it with and what it was on*—in the sense that the members of the plurality are also ambiguous: it is impossible to form a stable conception of any of them as either being what it is, or not being what it is, or being both, or being neither.'

'How are you going to cope with them, then?' I asked. 'Can you find a better place to locate them than between real being and unreality? I mean, they can't turn out to be more opaque dand unreal than unreality, or more lucid and real than reality.'

'True,' he said.

'So there we are. We've discovered that the welter of things which the masses conventionally regard as beautiful and so on mill around somewhere between unreality and perfect reality.'

'Yes, we have.'

'But we have a prior agreement that were such a thing to turn up, we'd have to call it the field of belief, not of pg 202knowledge, since the realm which occupies some uncertain intermediate point must be accessible to the intermediate faculty.'

'Yes, we do.'

e'What shall we say about those spectators, then, who can see a plurality of beautiful things, but not beauty itself, and who are incapable of following if someone else tries to lead them to it, and who can see many moral actions, but not morality itself, and so on? That they only ever entertain beliefs, and do not know any of the things they believe?'

'That's what we have to say,' he said.

'As for those who can see each of these things in itself, in its permanent and unvarying nature, we'll say they have knowledge and are not merely entertaining beliefs, won't we?'

'Again, we have to.'

'And won't our position be that they're devoted to and love 480the domain of knowledge, as opposed to the others, who are devoted to and love the domain of belief? I mean, surely we haven't forgotten our claim that these others love and are spectators of beautiful sounds and colours and so on, but can't abide the idea that there is such a thing as beauty itself?'*

'No, we haven't forgotten.'

'They won't think us nasty if we refer to them as "lovers of belief" rather than as philosophers, who love knowledge, will they? Are they going to get very cross with us if we say that now?'*

'Not if they listen to me,' he replied. 'It's not right to get angry at the truth.'

'But the term "believers" is inappropriate for those who are devoted to everything that is real: they should be called philosophers, shouldn't they?'



A philosopher's inherent virtues are displayed. Though they stem from his or her love of knowledge, they coincide with commonly recognized virtues, and are far from incompatible with rulership.


484'It's taken a long and thorough discussion, Glaucon,' I said, 'and it's not been easy, but we've now demonstrated the difference between philosophers and non-philosophers.'

pg 203'A short discussion probably wouldn't have been enough,' he replied.

'I suppose you're right,' I said. 'Anyway, I think the conclusion would have been clearer if that had been the only subject we'd had to discuss, and there weren't plenty of topics left for us to cover if we're to see the difference between a bmoral and an immoral life.'

'What's the next issue for us to look into?' he asked.

'The next one's the one that follows, of course,' I replied.

'Given that philosophers are those who are capable of apprehending that which is permanent and unvarying, while those who can't, those who wander erratically in the midst of plurality and variety, are not lovers of knowledge, which set of people ought to be rulers of a community?'

'What would be a sensible answer for us to give?' he asked.

'That the position of guardianship should be given to whichever set we find capable of guarding the laws and customs cof a community,' I said.

'Right,' he said.

'I assume it's clear whether someone who's going to guard something should be blind or have good eyesight?' I said.

'Of course it is,' he answered.

'Well, imagine someone who really lacks the ability to recognize any and every real thing and has no paradigm to shed light for his mind's eye. He has nothing absolutely authentic to contemplate, as painters do, and use as a reference-point dwhenever he needs to, and gain a completely accurate picture of, before establishing human norms of right, morality, and goodness (if establishing is what is required), and before guarding and protecting the norms that have already been established.* Do you think there's any difference between his condition and blindness?'

'No, there's hardly any difference at all,' he said.

'Is this the type of person you'd prefer us to appoint as guardians? Or shall we appoint those who can recognize every reality, and who not only have just as much practical experience* as the others, but are also at least as good as them in every other respect?'

'If they really are at least equal in every other sphere,' he said, 'and since they are pre-eminent in the sphere you've pg 204mentioned, which is just about the most important one there is, then it would be ridiculous to choose anyone else.'

485'So what we'd better explain is how a single person can combine both sets of qualities, hadn't we?'


'Well, right at the beginning of this argument* we said that the first thing we had to grasp was what it is to be a philosopher. I'm sure that if we reached a satisfactory agreement on that point, we'd also agree that despite being a single person, he can combine both sets of qualities, and that philosophers are the only ones who should rule over communities.'


'Let's start by agreeing that it's natural for philosophers to blove every field of study which reveals to them something of that reality which is eternal and is not subject to the vicissitudes of generation and destruction.'*

'All right.'

'Moreover,' I said, 'we can agree that they're in love with reality as a whole, and that therefore their behaviour is just like that of ambitious people and lovers, as we explained before,* in that they won't willingly give up even minor or worthless parts of it.'

'You're right,' he said.

'The next thing for you to think about is whether there's a cfurther feature they must have, if they're going to live up to our description of them.'

'What feature?'

'Honesty—the inability consciously to tolerate falsehood, rather than loathing it, and loving truth.'

'It makes sense that they should,' he said.

'It doesn't only make sense, my friend: a lover is absolutely bound to love everything which is related and belongs to his beloved.'

'Right,' he said.

'Well, can you conceive of anything more closely related to knowledge than truth?'

'Of course not,' he replied.

'Is it possible, then, for love of knowledge and love of dfalsehood to be found in the same nature?'

pg 205'Definitely not.'

'Then a genuine lover of knowledge will from his earliest years find nothing more attractive than truth of every kind.'


'And we know that anyone whose predilection tends strongly in a single direction has correspondingly less desire for other things, like a stream whose flow has been diverted into another channel.'

'Of course.'

'So when a person's desires are channelled towards learning and so on, that person is concerned with the pleasure the mind feels of its own accord, and has nothing to do with the pleasures which reach the mind through the agency of the ebody, if the person is a genuine philosopher, not a fake one.'*


'He'll be self-disciplined, then, and not mercenary, since he's constitutionally incapable of taking seriously the things which money can buy—at considerable cost—and which cause others to take money seriously.'


486'And here's another point you'd better take into consideration, to help you distinguish a philosophical from a non-philosophical character.'


'You must watch out for the presence of small-mindedness. Nothing stops a mind constantly striving for an overview of the totality of things human and divine more effectively than involvement in petty details.'

'Very true,' he said.

'When a mind has broadness of vision and contemplates all time and all existence, do you think it can place much importance on human life?'

'Impossible,' he said.

b'So it won't find death terrifying either, will it?'

'Not at all.'

'Then a cowardly and small-minded person is excluded from true philosophy, it seems.'

'I agree.'

'Well now, take a person who's restrained and uninterested in money, and who isn't small-minded or specious or cowardly.

pg 206Could he possibly drive hard bargains or act immorally?'


'So when you're trying to see whether or not someone has a philosophical mind, you'll watch out for whether, from his earliest years, he shows himself to be moral and well mannered, or antisocial and uncouth.'


c'And there's something else you won't forget to look out for as well, I imagine.'


'Whether he's quick or slow at learning. I mean, you wouldn't expect someone to be particularly fond of something it hurt him to do and where slight gains were hard to win, would you?'

'I'd never do that.'

'What about if he's incapable of retaining anything he's learnt? Is there any way he can have room for knowledge, when he's full of forgetfulness?'

'Of course not.'

'In the end, don't you think, after all his thankless toil, he's bound to loathe both himself and intellectual activity?'


d'So we'd better count forgetfulness as a factor which precludes a mind from being good enough at philosophy. We'd better make a good memory a prerequisite.'


'Now, isn't it the case that lack of culture and grace in someone can only lead him to lack a sense of proportion?'

'Of course.'

'And do you think that truth is closely related to proportion or to its opposite?'

'To proportion.'

'So we need to look for a mind which, in addition to the qualities we've already mentioned, has an inherent sense of proportion and elegance, and which makes a person instinctively inclined towards anything's essential character.'*

'Of course we do.'

e'All right. Surely you don't think that any of the interconnected qualities we've mentioned are at all inessential for a competent and complete mental grasp of reality?'

pg 207487'No, they're absolutely essential,' he said.

'Can you find any flaw, then, in an occupation like this, which in order to be competently practised requires the following inherent qualities in a person: a good memory, quickness at learning, broadness of vision, elegance, and love of and affiliation to truth, morality, courage, and self-discipline?'

'Not even Momus* could criticize this occupation,' he replied.

'Now, aren't people who, thanks to their education and their age, have these qualities in full the only ones to whom you would entrust your community?'


To the objection that the popular impression of philosophers is that they are either useless or bad, Socrates replies that the 'useless' ones are so described because people simply fail to understand their value, and the 'bad' ones are either those who have been corrupted by the general populace (and the sophists who pander to the general populace), until they use their natural talents for base ends, or those who try to take up philosophy despite their lack of talent. Both are cases where the 'one man, one job' principle is transgressed; in neither case should we really describe these people as philosophers.


bAdeimantus spoke up.* 'Socrates,' he said, 'no one's going to take you up on this point; but that may be due to the fact that there's a particular experience which people who hear you speak on any occasion always have. They get the impression that, because they lack expertise at the give and take of discussion, they're led a little bit astray by each question, and then when all the little bits are put together at the end of the discussion, they find that they were way off the mark and that they've contradicted their original position. They're like unskilled backgammon players, who end up being shut out by cskilled ones and incapable of making a move: they too end up being shut out and incapable of making an argumentative move in this alternative version of backgammon, which uses words rather than counters, since they feel that this is not necessarily a certain route to the truth. From my point of view, what I'm saying is relevant to our current situation. You see, someone might object that his inability to find the words to challenge you doesn't alter the evident fact that the majority of the people pg 208dwho take up philosophy and spend more than just their youth on it—who don't get involved in it just for educational purposes and then drop it—turn out to be pretty weird (not to say rotten to the core), and that the effect of this pursuit you're praising even on those of its practitioners who are supposed to be particularly good is that they become incapable of performing any service to their communities.'

I responded by asking, 'Do you think this view is right?'

'I don't know,' he replied. 'But I'd be happy to hear what you have to say on the matter.'

'What you'd hear from me is that I think they're telling the truth.'

e'Then how can it be right', he said, 'to say that there'll be no end to political troubles until philosophers have power in their communities,* when we agree that philosophers are no use to them?'

'It'll take an analogy to answer your question,' I said.

'And you never use analogies, of course,' he said.

'What?' I exclaimed. 'It's hard enough to prove my point without you making fun of me as well as forcing me to try. 488Anyway, here's my analogy: now you'll be in a better position to see how inadequate it is. I mean, what society does to the best practitioners of philosophy is so complex that there's no other single phenomenon like it: in order to defend them from criticism, one has to compile an analogy out of lots of different elements, like the goat-stags and other compound creatures painters come up with.

'Imagine the following situation on a fleet of ships, or on a single ship.* The owner has the edge over everyone else on bboard by virtue of his size and strength, but he's rather deaf and short-sighted, and his knowledge of naval matters is just as limited. The sailors are wrangling with one another because each of them thinks that he ought to be the captain, despite the fact that he's never learnt how, and can't name his teacher or specify the period of his apprenticeship. In any case, they all maintain that it isn't something that can be taught, and are ready to butcher anyone who says it is. They're for ever ccrowding closely around the owner, pleading with him and stopping at nothing to get him to entrust the rudder to them. Sometimes, if their pleas are unsuccessful, but others get the pg 209job, they kill those others or throw them off the ship, subdue their worthy owner by drugging him or getting him drunk or something, take control of the ship, help themselves to its cargo, and have the kind of drunken and indulgent voyage you'd expect from people like that. And that's not all: they think highly of anyone who contributes towards their gaining power by showing skill at winning over or subduing the owner, dand describe him as an accomplished seaman, a true captain, a naval expert; but they criticize anyone different as useless. They completely fail to understand that any genuine sea-captain has to study the yearly cycle, the seasons, the heavens, the stars and winds, and everything relevant to the job, if he's to be properly equipped to hold a position of authority in a ship. In fact, they think it's impossible to study and acquire expertise at how to esteer a ship (leaving aside the question of whether or not people want you to) and at the same time be a good captain. When this is what's happening on board ships, don't you think that the crew of ships in this state would think of any true captain 489as nothing but a windbag with his head in the clouds,* of no use to them at all?'

'They definitely would,' Adeimantus replied.

'I'm sure you don't need an analysis of the analogy to see that it's a metaphor for the attitude of society towards true philosophers,' I said. 'I'm sure you take my point.'

'I certainly do,' he said.

'You'd better use it, then, in the first instance, to clarify things for that person who expressed surprise at the disrespect shown to philosophers by society, and try to show him how bmuch more astonishing it would be if they were respected.'

'All right, I will,' he said.

'And that you're right to say that the best practitioners of philosophy are incapable of performing any public service. But you'd better tell him to blame their uselessness on the others' failure to make use of them, rather than on the fact that they are accomplished philosophers. I mean, it's unnatural for the captain to ask the sailors to accept his authority and it's unnatural for wise men to dance attendance on rich men; this story is misleading.* The truth of the matter is that it makes no difference whether you're rich or poor: if you feel ill, you're cbound to dance attendance on a doctor, and if you need to pg 210accept authority, you must dance attendance on someone in authority who is capable of providing it. If he is really to serve any useful purpose, it's not up to him to ask those under him to accept his authority. And you won't be mistaken if you compare present-day political leaders to the sailors in our recent tale, and the ones they call useless airheads to the genuine captain.'

'You're absolutely right,' he said.

'Under these conditions and circumstances, it's not easy for the best of occupations to gain a good reputation, when reputations are in the hands of people whose occupations are dincompatible with it. But by far the worst and most influential condemnation of philosophy comes about as a result of the people who claim to practise it—the ones the critic of philosophy was talking about, in your report, when he described the majority of the people who take up philosophy as rotten to the core (although the best of them are merely useless). And I agreed that you were telling the truth, didn't I?'


'Well, we've described the reasons for the uselessness of the good practitioners, haven't we?'

'We certainly have.'

'Shall we next describe why the corruption of most philosophers is inevitable, and try to explain why this shouldn't ebe blamed on philosophy either, if we can?'


'Let's start our discussion by reminding ourselves of the fundamental points in our description of the kind of character a truly good person will inevitably have. If you remember, above 490all he was led by truth: if he didn't pursue truth absolutely and wholeheartedly, he was bound to be a specious impostor, with nothing whatsoever to do with true philosophy.'

'That's what we said.'

'Well, that in itself is diametrically opposed to current opinion about philosophers, isn't it?'

'It certainly is,' he said.

'Now, our response will be to point out that a genuine lover of knowledge innately aspires to reality, and doesn't settle on ball the various things which are assumed to be real, but keeps on, with his love remaining keen and steady, until the nature of pg 211each thing as it really is in itself has been grasped by the appropriate part of his mind—which is to say, the part which is akin to reality. Once he has drawn near this authentic reality and united with it, and thus fathered intellect and truth, then he has knowledge; then he lives a life which is true to himself; then he is nourished; and then, but not before, he finds release from his love-pangs. Would this be a reasonable response for us to make?'

'Nothing could be more reasonable,' he said.

'And will he be the sort of person to love falsehood or will exactly the opposite be the case, and he'll loathe it?'

c'He'll loathe it,' he said.

'I'm sure we'd insist that no array of evils could follow the leadership of truth.'

'Of course we would.'

'But rather, a character imbued with health and morality, and the self-discipline that accompanies them.'

'Right,' he said.

'Anyway, there's no need for us to have the whole array of the philosopher's characteristics line up all over again. I'm sure you remember how we found that philosophers naturally have courage, broadness of vision, quickness at learning, and a good memory. You interrupted by saying that although our dargument was absolutely incontrovertible, it was still possible for someone to leave arguments out of it and look at the actual people we were talking about, and to conclude that while some philosophers are evidently merely useless, the majority of them are bad through and through. We're trying to uncover the reasons for their bad name, and so we're now up against the question why the majority are bad. That's why we brought the true philosopher's characteristics back in again and felt compelled to provide a clear statement of them.'

e'True,' he said.

'What we have to do', I said, 'is see how this philosophical nature is corrupted and why it is often completely ruined, while immunity from corruption is rare—and these escapees are the people who get called useless, rather than bad. After that, we'll 491turn to pseudo-philosophical natures and the kinds of people who take up the occupation which is proper to a philosophical nature, and we'll try to discern what it is in the make-up of pg 212their minds which drives them towards an occupation which is too good and too sublime for them, so that they commit a wide variety of offences and make everyone, all over the world, think of philosophy in the way you've mentioned.'

'What sources of corruption do you have in mind?' he asked.

'I'll do my best to explain,' I replied. 'I suppose it's indisputable that a fully philosophical nature—of the kind we've described, with the whole array of qualities we lined up bnot long ago—is a rare human phenomenon: there aren't going to be very many of them. Don't you agree?'


'Well, look how heavily these few people are outnumbered by powerful sources of corruption.'

'What are they, though?'

'The most astounding thing of all is that there isn't one of their commendable characteristics which doesn't ruin a mind which possesses it and cause a rift between it and philosophy. I'm talking about courage, self-discipline, and all the qualities we went through.'

'It's not easy to make sense of this idea,' he said.

c'And that's not all,' I said. 'Every single one of the acknowledged good things of life is a factor in its corruption and the rift—good looks, affluence, physical fitness, influential family relationships in one's community, and so on and so forth. I've cut the list short, because you can see what I'm saying.'

'I can,' he said. 'And I wouldn't mind hearing a more detailed explanation.'

'If you grasp the general principle of the matter,' I said, 'everything will fall into place and what I've already said will start to make sense.'

'What are you getting at?' he asked.

d'We know', I said, 'that if any plant or creature, at the stage when it is a seed or a new growth, fails to get the right nourishment or weather or location, then the number of its deficiencies, in respect to properties it should have, is proportionate to its vigour. I mean, bad is the opposite of good, rather than of not-good.'

'Of course.'

'So I suppose it's plausible to think that a very good thing pg 213will end up in a worse state than a second-rate thing if the conditions of its nurture are less suited to its nature.'


e'Well, by the same token, Adeimantus,' I asked, 'won't we claim that if the most gifted minds are subjected to a bad education, they become exceptionally bad? I mean, do you imagine that horrendous crimes and sheer depravity stem from a second-rate nature, rather than from a vigorous one which has been ruined by its upbringing? Could significant benefit or significant harm conceivably proceed from innate weakness?'

'No, you're right,' he said.

492'Now, in my opinion, if it receives a suitable education, the philosophical nature we proposed is bound to grow and arrive at perfect goodness. However, if its germination and growth take place in an unsuitable educational environment, then without divine intervention its destination will inevitably be completely the opposite. Or do you follow the masses and believe that there are members of the younger generation who are corrupted by professional teachers, and that there are professional teachers who, despite being private citizens, can be a source of corruption to any degree worth mentioning? Don't you think, rather, that it is the very people who make this claim who are the most influential teachers, and who provide the most thorough education and form men and women of all ages into any shape they want?'

'When do they do this?' he asked.

'When a lot of them huddle together on seats in the assembly or lawcourt or theatre,' I said, 'or when they convene for military purposes, or when there's any other general public gathering, and the boos and applause of their criticism or praise (excessive in both cases) of whatever is being said or done make a terrible din, and it's not only them—the rocks and their surroundings double the noise of their approval and cdisapproval by echoing it. In a situation like this, how do you think a young man's heart, as they say, will be affected? How can the education he received outside of this public arena stand up to it, do you suppose, without being overwhelmed by criticism or praise of this kind and swept away at the mercy of the current? Won't he end up just like them, with the same moral standards and the same habits as them?'

pg 214d'He's bound to, Socrates,' he said.

'And we haven't yet mentioned the most irresistible pressure they bring to bear,' I said.

'What is it?' he asked.

'It's the concrete pressure these consummate professional educators apply when they turn to action, if their words have failed to indoctrinate someone. I mean, surely you're aware that they punish disobedience with forfeiture of rights, and with fines and death?'

'Yes, I'm certainly well aware of that,' he said.

'Can you think of any teacher or any kind of privately received instruction with the strength to hold out against these pressures?'

e'I think it's impossible,' he said.

'Yes, and it's extremely stupid even to try to be that kind of teacher,' I said. 'You see, it's quite impossible, as the present and the past show, for any educational programme to alter anyone's character, as far as goodness is concerned, contrary to the conditioning he receives in the public arena*—by "anyone" I mean any human, of course, Adeimantus: as the proverb recommends, we'd better make an exception of divinity. I 493mean, I can tell you that you'd be quite right to see God at work when anything does retain its integrity and fulfil its potential within current political systems.'

'That's what I think too,' he said.

'And I wonder whether you agree with me on a further point as well,' I said.


'Even though they call it knowledge, every one of those private fee-charging individuals—the ones who are called sophists* and are regarded as rivals by these educators we've been talking about—teaches nothing but the attitudes the masses form by consensus. Imagine that the keeper of a huge, strong beast notices what makes it angry, what it desires, how bit has to be approached and handled, the circumstances and conditions under which it becomes particularly fierce or calm, what provokes its typical cries, and what tones of voice make it gentle or wild. Once he's spent enough time in the creature's company to acquire all this information, he calls it knowledge, forms it into a systematic branch of expertise, and starts to pg 215teach it, despite total ignorance, in fact, about which of the creature's attitudes and desires is commendable or deplorable, cgood or bad, moral or immoral. His usage of all these terms simply conforms to the great beast's attitudes, and he describes things as good or bad according to its likes and dislikes, and can't justify his usage of the terms any further, but describes as right and good things which are merely indispensable, since he hasn't realized and can't explain to anyone else how vast a gulf there is between necessity and goodness.* Wouldn't you really and truly find someone like this implausible as a teacher?'

'Yes, I would,' he said.

'Well, do you think there's anything to choose between him dand someone who's noticed what makes the motley masses collectively angry and happy and thinks he has knowledge—whether it's in the field of painting or music or government? I mean, whenever someone's relationship with the masses consists of displaying his composition (or whatever product it may be) or his political service to them, and giving them power over him—or rather, more power than they need have—then the proverbial necessity of Diomedes* forces him to compose things of which they approve. Sometimes one of the sophists might argue that what the masses like coincides with what is genuinely good and fine, but this argument always comes across as utterly absurd, don't you think?'

e'It always has and it always will, in my opinion,' he said.

'So, against this background, please remember what we were saying before. Is it possible for the masses to accept or conceive of the existence of beauty itself, rather than the plurality of beautiful things? Or anything in itself, rather than the plurality 494of instances of each thing?'

'Not at all,' he said.

'It's impossible, then, for the masses to love knowledge,' I said.

'Yes, it is.'

'They're bound to run philosophers down, then, as well.'

'That's inevitable.'

'And so are those individuals whose relationship with the masses consists of wanting to please them.'


'In this context, can you see how any innate philosopher will pg 216preserve the integrity of his nature, and consequently stay with the occupation and see it through to the end? Look at it in the bcontext of what we were saying earlier. We agreed that a philosopher has quickness at learning, a good memory, courage, and broadness of vision.'


'From his earliest years, then, he'll outclass other children at everything, especially if he's as gifted physically as he is mentally, won't he?'

'Of course,' he answered.

'So when he grows up, his friends and fellow citizens will want to make use of him for their own affairs.'


c'They'll be a constant presence, then, with their requests and courtesies, as they flatter him and try to get him on their side in anticipation of the influence that will one day be his.'

'Yes, that's what invariably happens,' he said.

'What do you imagine he'll do in this situation,' I asked, 'especially if he happens to come from a wealthy and noble family within a powerful state, and is also good-looking and well built? Don't you think he'll be filled with unrealizable hopes, and will expect to be capable one day of managing the affairs not only of Greece, but of the non-Greek world as well? dIn these circumstances, won't he get ideas above his station and puff himself up with affectation and baseless, senseless pride?'

'He certainly will,' he said.

'Now, suppose someone gently approaches him while he's in this frame of mind and tells him the truth—that he's taken leave of his senses and should try to dispel this inanity, but that he won't gain intelligence unless he works like a slave for it—do you think it's going to be easy for the message to penetrate all these pernicious influences and get through to him?'

'No, far from it,' he said.

'And', I went on, 'supposing his innate gifts and his affinity ewith the rationality of what's being said do enable him to pay attention at all, and he is swayed and attracted towards philosophy, what reaction would you expect from those others, when they think they're losing his services and his friendship? Won't they do and say absolutely anything to stop him being pg 217won over? And as for the person who's trying to win him over, won't they come up with all kinds of private schemes and public court-cases to stop him succeeding?'*

495'Inevitably,' he said.

'What chance does this young man have of becoming a philosopher?'

'No chance, really.'

'So, as you can see,' I went on, 'we were right to say* that it is, in fact, the actual ingredients of a philosophical nature which are in a sense responsible (given a pernicious educational environment) for someone being deflected from his occupation, and that the acknowledged good things of life—affluence and similar resources—are also responsible. Do you agree?'

'Yes,' he said. 'We were quite right.'

'There we are, then, Adeimantus,' I said. 'Those are the bpowerful factors which ruin and corrupt anyone who is, by nature, best suited for the best occupation—and such people are rare anyway, as we said. Moreover, these are the men who have the potential to do the greatest harm to communities and to individuals, and the greatest good too, if that's the course they happen to take. An insignificant person, however, never has any effect of any significance on any individual or society.'

'You're quite right,' he said.

'So that's how the most appropriate people are deflected and cdesert philosophy, without consummating the relationship. They end up living a life which is inappropriate for them and which isn't true to their natures, and they leave philosophy, like an orphan with no relatives, to the mercy of others who aren't good enough for her, and who defile her and gain her the kind of tarnished reputation you say her detractors ascribe to her—for going about with people who are either worthless or obnoxious.'

'Yes, that's the usual view,' he said.

'And it's not unreasonable,' I said. 'You see, when the abandonment of this territory is noticed by others—inferior members of the human race—and when they also see how rich dit is in renown and status, they behave like escaped convicts who take sanctuary in temples: they break away from their professions, with no regrets, and encroach on philosophy. In fact, they're the ones who do have some facility at their own pg 218paltry professions, because in spite of this treatment, philosophy still remains more prestigious than other occupations; and this prestige attracts a lot of people—immature people, who have been physically deformed by their ejobs and work, and are mentally just as warped and stunted by their servile business. Don't you think that's inevitable?'

'It certainly is.'

'Do you think the impression they give', I went on, 'is any different from that of a small, bald metalworker who's come into some money? He's just got himself out of debtors' prison, he's had a bath and is wearing brand-new clothes and a bridegroom's outfit, and he's about to marry his master's daughter because she's hard up and has no one to look after her.'

496'No, they're exactly the same, really,' he said.

'What sort of offspring are they likely to father, then? Second-rate half-breeds, don't you think?'


'Now, when people who are unworthy of education force their presumptuous attentions on her, what sorts of ideas and thoughts do they produce, would you say? Isn't it perfectly appropriate to call them sophisms, and to claim that they are all illegitimate and lacking in true intelligence?'*

'Absolutely,' he said.

'That leaves us with only a tiny number of people, bAdeimantus,' I said, 'who have the right to consort with philosophy. A person of high character and sound education might fortuitously have been exiled, and so have remained true to his nature and faithful to philosophy by being out of the reach of corrupting influences; or occasionally a great mind is born in some backwater of a community and finds the politics petty and beneath him. And I suppose a few, because of their natural gifts, do have the right to find some other occupation demeaning and to turn from it to philosophy. Then there is also the bridle of our friend Theages, which can act as a curb: cTheages was in all other respects well equipped to be deflected from philosophy, but he had to pamper his physical ailment and so he was curbed and prevented from taking up politics. It's not worth mentioning my own case—the communications I receive from my deity*—because there's either very little or no precedent for the phenomenon.

pg 219'When the few members of this band have glimpsed the joy and happiness to be found in mastering philosophy and have also gained a clear enough impression of the madness of the masses; when they've realized that more or less every political action is pernicious and that if someone tries to assist morality dthere will be no one to back him up and see that he comes out unscathed, but it would be like an encounter between a human being and wild beasts; since he isn't prepared to join others in their immorality and isn't capable, all alone, of standing up to all those ferocious beasts, but would die before doing his community or his friends any good, and so would be useless to himself and to everyone else—once he has grasped all this with his rational mind, he lies low and does only what he's meant to do. It's as if he's taken shelter under a wall during a storm, with the wind whipping up the dust and rain pelting down; lawlessness infects everyone else he sees, so he is content if he can find a way to live his life here on earth without becoming etainted by immoral or unjust deeds, and to depart from life confidently, and without anger and bitterness.'

497'If he could do that,' he said, 'he'd really have done something with his life.'


Despite the gloomy realism of the previous section, Plato now argues that his imaginary community could, in principle, exist. It would take a correct educational programme, which did not trivialize philosophy but made it the acme of one's life; it would take a correct assessment of the value of philosophy; and it would take radical political changes. However, it is still clear that Plato regards the possibility of all this actually happening as extremely remote; he is more interested in the principle than the practical reality.


'But he could do much more with his life', I replied, 'if he just lived in a suitable political system, which enabled him to develop more and to preserve the integrity of public business as well as his own affairs. Anyway, I think we've said enough about why philosophy has a bad name, and why it doesn't deserve it, unless you've got something to add.'

'No, I've nothing to add on this issue,' he said. 'But which contemporary political system do you think is suitable for philosophy?'

b'Not a single one,' I replied. 'That's exactly what I'm critical pg 220of—that no current political system is good enough for a philosophical nature to grow in without getting modified and altered. It's like a seed which has been brought from its native land and planted in foreign soil: its vitality tends to become drained, and the species becomes absorbed into the dominant local variety. In the same way, this type of person can't retain his native qualities, but is deflected and assumes properties that don't really belong to him. If he comes across a political system cwith the same degree of excellence as his character, then the divinity of the philosophical character will become apparent, as distinct from the humanity of all other natures and occupations. Now, your next question is obviously going to be what this political system is.'

'You've got me wrong there,' he said. 'I wasn't going to ask that, but whether the community we're founding and describing is the one you mean, or whether there's another candidate.'

'On the whole, it's our community,' I said. 'But there's an earlier point that needs repeating,* that the community would have to contain an element which understands the rationale of the dpolitical system and keeps to the same principles which you as legislator followed when you made the laws.'

'Yes, that did come up,' he agreed.

'I didn't make it sufficiently clear, however,' I said, 'because I was worried about the objections you were raising which have shown how long and complicated an argument it takes to prove the point. And what we're still faced with is hardly the easiest part of the account.'

'What is it?'

'How a community can engage in philosophy and survive. I mean, great enterprises are always hazardous, and anything fine really is, as the saying puts it, difficult.'

e'All the same,' he said, 'the account won't be complete until this point has been cleared up. So we'd better explore it.'

'The only thing that could stop us doing so is lack of ability,' I said. 'It won't be lack of will, and you'll be an eyewitness to my determination. Look at it now, in fact—and how I'm prepared to stick my neck out and say that our community should turn the current approach to philosophy upside down.'

'What do you mean?'

'At the moment,' I said, 'those who actually do engage in it pg 221are young men, scarcely out of childhood. In the interval before 498they take up estate-management and moneymaking, they dabble in the most difficult aspect of philosophy—the bit which has to do with rational argument*—and then they drop it. And they are supposed to be the most advanced philosophers! After that, they count it as no mean achievement actually to accept an invitation to listen to a philosophical debate, since they think that philosophy should be merely an incidental occupation. And in old age they are—with a few exceptions—snuffed out more thoroughly than Heraclitus' sun, since they are never rekindled later.'*

'Whereas they should do what?' he asked.

'Exactly the opposite. While they're young, they should be educated and should study philosophy in a way which suits their age. Their bodies are growing and developing during this period, and they should concentrate on getting them into a state where they minister to philosophy.* In due course of time, when their minds are beginning to mature, they should put more effort into mental exercise; and when their physical strength starts to wane and they are too old to play a public cpart in the community or to serve in the militia, they should be allowed to roam free and graze at will, and to concentrate on philosophy, with everything else being incidental. This is the correct programme for people who are going to live a happy life and guarantee for themselves circumstances in the next world, after their death, which match the life they lived here.'

'You certainly give the impression of being wholehearted about this, Socrates,' he said. 'But I think most of the people who hear you express these views will be even more wholehearted about challenging them, since they won't be convinced in the slightest. And Thrasymachus will take the lead in this, I imagine.'

'Please don't cause trouble between me and Thrasymachus,' I dsaid, 'when we've only just become friends—not that we were enemies before. I'll spare no effort until I've either won him and everyone else over to my point of view—or at least done something to prepare them in case they ever meet these arguments again in future incarnations!'

'You're thinking in the short term, then!' he remarked.

'It's nothing compared with eternity,' I responded. 'But I'm pg 222not at all surprised that most people find what I'm saying incredible: after all, it's never been within their experience. eThey're used to carefully assimilated phrases, rather than hearing words tumbling out without preparation as they are now. And they've never come across even a single case of a man who is, in both his actions and his words, as perfectly identified and assimilated* with goodness as is possible, and 499who is in a position of authority in an equally good community. Do you think they have?'

'Definitely not.'

'Then again, Adeimantus, they've not been adequately exposed to discussions which aren't dishonourable and mean, but are designed for a thorough and intense quest for the truth, for the sake of knowledge, and which are hardly on nodding terms with those subtleties and eristic tricks whose sole purpose, whether they occur during lawsuits or private conversations, is to increase the speaker's reputation and his chances of winning the argument.'

'No, they haven't,' he said.

'These are the reasons and considerations', I said, 'which led bme earlier, despite my anxieties—since the truth left me no option—to claim that no community or political system, and by the same token no person either, could ever attain perfection until some accident forced those few philosophers (the ones who are currently called useless, rather than the ones who are called rotten) to take charge of a community whether or not they wanted to, and made the citizens obey them, or alternatively until, thanks to divine providence, either current ckings and rulers or their sons were gripped by authentic love for authentic philosophy. In my opinion, it's unreasonable to claim that either or both of these alternatives are impossible; if this were so, then we'd deserve to be ridiculed for our empty assertions, our wishful thinking. Don't you agree?'


'So whether the outstanding practitioners of philosophy were compelled to take charge of a community at some point in the infinity of past time, or whether they are now being compelled to do so in some foreign land which lies far beyond the limits of dour awareness, or whether they will be compelled to do so in the future, we are prepared to insist that the political system pg 223we've described either did or does or will exist, whenever it is that the Muse of philosophy gains control of a community. The point is that the compulsion is feasible, and we aren't talking about unrealizable theories—though we're the first to admit that it wouldn't be easy.'

'I agree,' he said.

'Most people don't, however, wouldn't you say?' I asked.

'I suppose so,' he said.

'Adeimantus,' I said, 'you really shouldn't condemn the emasses like that. They'll change their minds if you don't approach them argumentatively. You mustn't rub them up the wrong way while trying to remove their low opinion of intellectualism. You must show them who you mean by philosophers, and explain (as we did just now) what it takes to 500be a philosopher and what the pursuit involves, so that they realize that you're not talking about the people they think of as philosophers. I mean, do you think that, even if they see things this way, they won't change their minds and adopt a different position? Do you think that someone open-minded and even-tempered can get angry unless he's in the presence of anger, or can be resentful unless he's in the presence of resentment? I won't even let you reply before telling you my opinion: this kind of intransigence is a rare phenomenon, and the majority of people don't have it.'

'I agree,' he said, 'without hesitation.'

b'Do you also agree that responsibility for the usual disparagement of philosophy is to be laid at the door of those gate-crashers who barge in where they have no right to be, call one another names, behave offensively, and constantly gossip about people, which is a highly unphilosophical activity?'

'Definitely,' he replied.

'The point is, of course, Adeimantus, that someone whose mind really is fixed on reality has no time to cast his gaze cdownwards on to the affairs of men and to enter into their disputes (and so be infected with resentment and malice). His eyes are occupied with the sight of things which are organized, permanent, and unchanging, where wronging and being wronged don't exist, where all is orderly and rational; and he makes this realm the model for his behaviour, and assimilates himself to it as much as is feasible. I mean, don't you think that pg 224one's behaviour is bound to resemble anyone or anything whose company one enjoys?'

'Inevitably,' he said.

'So because a philosopher's links are with a realm which is ddivine and orderly, he becomes as divine and orderly as is humanly possible. Even so, he still meets with plenty of criticism from all quarters.'


'Now, if a philosopher were compelled not to restrict his modelling to himself, but to work both publicly and in his private life to stamp men's characters with what he sees in that realm, do you think he'd make a poor artisan of self-discipline, morality, and in general of what it is to be, in ordinary terms, a good person?'

'Not at all,' he answered.

'And if people realize that what we're saying about him is the etruth, will they still get angry at philosophers? Will they still doubt our claim that there is no way in which a community is going to be happy unless its plan is drawn up by artists who refer to a divine model?'

'No, they won't get angry if they realize that,' he said. 'But 501how will these artists go about their work?'

'They must treat a community and people's characters like a painting-board,' I said, 'and their first job is to wipe it clean. This isn't a particularly easy thing to do, but you'll appreciate that the main way they differ from everyone else is in refusing to deal with an individual or a community, and not being prepared to sketch out a legal code, until they've either been given a clean slate or have made it so themselves.'

'Yes, and they're right,' he said.

'Next they'll make an outline of the constitution, don't you think?'

'Of course.'

b'I imagine the next stage would involve their constantly looking this way and that as they work—looking on the one hand towards that which is inherently moral, right, self-disciplined, and so on, and on the other hand towards what they're creating in the human realm. By selecting behaviour-patterns and blending them, they'll produce a composite human likeness, taking as their reference-point that quality which pg 225Homer too called "godly" and "godlike"* in its human manifestation.'

'Right,' he said.

'And I suppose they'd rub bits out and paint them in again, cuntil they've done all they can to create human characters which stand the best chance of meeting the gods' approval.'

'It should be a very beautiful painting, anyway,' he remarked.

'Well,' I asked, 'are we making any progress towards persuading those energetic opponents of ours, the ones you mentioned,* that this is the kind of painter of constitutions we were recommending to them before? They got angry with him then, because we were putting political power in his hands, but are they rather more mollified now that they've heard our account?'

'They'll be much less upset,' he said, 'if they've got any sense.'

d'I mean, how could they have any reservations? Could they doubt that philosophers are lovers of reality and truth?'

'Hardly,' he said.

'But could they doubt the affiliation of the philosophical nature we described to excellence?'

'No, they couldn't doubt that either.'

'Well, could they argue against the idea that, under the right circumstances, this sort of person is more likely than anyone to become perfectly good and a consummate philosopher? Will our critic maintain that the other lot—the ones we ruled out—are more likely?'

e'Of course not.'

'Will they stop getting cross at us, then, for saying that until philosophers gain political power, there'll be no end to troubles for communities or their citizens, and our fictional political system will never become a full-fledged reality?'

'They might be less upset,' he said.

'How about if we say that they are completely mollified and 502utterly convinced,' I suggested, 'rather than that they might be less upset? That should shame them into agreeing with us, if they can't do so for any other reason.'

'All right,' he said.

'Even if we can assume, then, that we've convinced them of pg 226this point,' I said, 'will they still argue that there's no chance of the children of kings or rulers being born with the philosophical characteristics?'

'They couldn't do that,' he said.

'Could they claim that these philosophical children of kings and rulers are absolutely bound to be corrupted? I mean, even we are admitting that it's difficult for them to preserve their bintegrity, but is it plausible to argue that, out of all of them, not even a single one could ever, in the entire passage of time, remain unspoilt?'

'Of course not.'

'If even one remains uncorrupted', I said, 'in a community which is prepared to obey him, then that is enough: everything which is now open to doubt would become a full-fledged reality.'

'Yes, one would do,' he agreed.

'Because if he, as ruler, establishes the laws and practices we've described,' I went on, 'then it's surely not inconceivable that the citizens of the community will be prepared to carry them out.'

'Of course it isn't.'

'But is it unimaginable and inconceivable that others might agree with our point of view?'

c'I don't think so,' he said.

'And our earlier discussion* of the question whether our proposals are for the best (if they are feasible) was, in my opinion, adequate.'

'Yes, it was.'

'So what we've found by now is this, apparently: if our proposed legislation were actually to happen, it would be impossible to improve on it; and its realization may be difficult, but is not impossible.'

'Yes, that's what we've found,' he said.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
471c    a digression: see 466d.
Editor’s Note
472e    to viability: Plato vacillates on this issue: sometimes he effectively admits the impossibility of the imaginary community ever becoming actualized (472a–e, 592b); sometimes he assumes that it could happen (502c, 540d–541b; and this is the pretext for the whole argument of Chapters 8–10). Yet if Plato was interested in external politics, he would have made up his mind on this issue above all. The issue is, in short, not important for Plato: as he has just argued, he only has to show that the community is possible in principle, and that will (it is to be hoped) act as a paradigm to spur us to be more moral ourselves.
Editor’s Note
473a    than a theory: a gnomic and, on the face of it, rather implausible idea, which is allowed to stand as if it were a matter of common agreement. It must, therefore, refer to the kind of gloomy view of the world which is colloquially called (in the UK these days) Murphy's Law: 'Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.' The world is imperfect, but we can fantasize perfection.
Critical Apparatus
473a6    Bywater's ἄν‎ is unnecessary.
Critical Apparatus
473c6    I follow all the best MSS in reading ἐπʼ αὐτὸ … εἶμι … προσεικάζομεν‎.
Editor’s Note
474c    loves something: this is not an abrupt new topic: a philosopher is literally a 'lover of wisdom' or 'lover of knowledge'.
Editor’s Note
475b    some aspects of it: but is a 'true' collector one who collects everything in a given area indiscrimately, or one who specializes? Plato is thinking of an alcoholic rather than a wine-lover, a sex maniac rather than someone with an ordinary sex drive. Note, then, that philosophy, as Plato understands it, is not a dry academic pursuit, but a lifelong overwhelming passion. For a valiant attempt to resurrect this notion of philosophy in modern times see J. Needleman, The Heart of Philosophy (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982).
Editor’s Note
475d    use of their ears: theatre-going counts as use of ears rather than eyes because that was the emphasis in Greek theatre. At one of the really big theatres, like that of Epidaurus, from the back seats the actors would appear tiny. Festivals of Dionysus were the occasions of dramatic performances.
Editor’s Note
476a    sightseers: literally, 'lovers of spectacles'. There has been controversy over whether 'the many beautifuls' (the literal translation) that this class of people is said to recognize are beautiful things or conceptions of beauty (see, for instance, the exchanges between J. C. B. Gosling and F. C. White in Phronesis, 1960, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 1977, and Phronesis, 1978). Plato is usually, however, concerned to contrast types with the things of this world. In fact, I am not sure the distinction between particulars and conceptions would have interested Plato much in this context, since his primary distinction is between an unchanging realm and a changing one, whatever its inhabitants. Thus at 479d he does suddenly mention conventional views about beauty. Adherence to convention is, in its way, just as unreliable a guide to the truth as adherence to sense-impressions, since convention is equally subject to alteration.
Editor’s Note
476d    partake in it: this is one of the metaphors Plato tries out for the relation between 'things in themselves' or 'types' or 'characters' (see note on 479a) and their instances. Other metaphors are that the type 'is present in' the instances, and that the instances 'imitate' the type (imitation has just occurred at 476c, and is prominent in Chapters 9 and 13, for instance). The difficulty is the difficulty of explaining how a single thing can appear all over the place and yet remain single.
Editor’s Note
476e    something unreal: the Greek is, literally, 'Something which is or something which is not?' This is ambiguous. According to which of the relevant senses of the Greek verb einai ('to be') is preferred, 'what is' could mean 'what exists' or 'what is true' or (where X is some predicate) 'what is X'. I have tried to retain at least some of this ambiguity throughout the following argument, and yet provide a smooth translation, by turning 'what is' into 'what is real' or 'what really is' or even just 'reality'. As a matter of fact, the predicative sense of the verb provides the most coherent and straightforward way of reading the argument: 'what is real' is 'what really is what it is'; 'what both is and is not real' is 'what both does and does not securely possess its attributes'. For discussion, see pp. xlii–xlvii. At the same time, the translation also captures an important subsidiary implication—that of dependability. Something is reliable, and therefore a suitable object of knowledge, if it genuinely is what it is.
Editor’s Note
477a    be known: as commonly interpreted, Plato is thinking of knowing as a kind of direct apprehension of an object, as in 'I know Joan.' He is therefore overlooking the other main kind of knowing—propositional knowledge, as in 'I know that two and two make four'—because it is far from clear that talk of reality and unreality makes any sense in this case: is a 'that …' clause real or unreal?
Editor’s Note
479a    permanent and unvarying character: Plato's technical usages of the Greek word idea and its cognate eidos are usually nowadays translated 'Form'—as in Plato's famous Theory of Forms. This is unsatisfactory, however: the word 'form' is opaque in contexts like 'the form of beauty'; and it implies physical appearance alone, whereas the Greek word implies 'what enables us to identify something', which is far broader than just physical appearance. There is no finally satisfying translation; I use 'character' for idea, and 'type' for eidos. The following definitions of 'type' from my dictionary are relevant: 'a distinguishing mark; a foreshadowing; an exemplar; a model or pattern; a kind; the general character of a class.' The philosophical type-token distinction is also useful: in the word 'aardvark' there is one type of the letter 'a', but three tokens (see 402c, for instance). The words have occurred in Republic before this, the first clearly technical usage: they have most commonly been translated 'category' (or synonyms), as at 357c, or 'appearance', as at 380d. As often as possible, 'type' has been used as a synonym of 'category', because that points up the evolutionary background of the technical term: 'type' in the technical metaphysical sense is originally a short form for 'type of thing' (see especially 435b and 476a, where the familiar sense of the word almost breaks through into the technical sense). The connection between these various senses of the words can easily be seen by thinking about identification: a physical thing's 'appearance' enables us to identify it, and it is things of a certain 'type' or 'character' that we put together into a single set and identify as belonging together.
Editor’s Note
479b    in your question: since this is the main point of contrast between particular things and the reality of the types, then Plato is committed to thinking that the type is a kind of super-particular: it really and unalterably is beautiful (or whatever), whereas nothing else is absolutely beautiful (or whatever). This is Plato's notorious 'self-predication assumption' which (as he came to see by the time he wrote Parmenides) may lead to a vicious regress: if the type of beauty is itself beautiful, and if the presence of beauty in anything is to be explained as the presence of a type, then the beauty of the type of beauty itself must be explained by a further type of beauty, and so on.
Editor’s Note
479b    opposite attributes: it is important to understand how Plato envisages things as deserving opposite attributes; otherwise, one might think he has transgressed the principle enunciated at 436b and 436e–437a. There is no transgression, because particulars here bear opposite predicates in different respects: Helen of Troy may appear beautiful to me, but not to you; she may be beautiful compared with a face that launches only a hundred ships, but she is not compared with Aphrodite; and so on. A later passage (522c–524d) is worth comparing on these 'incomplete' (evaluative or relational) predicates, although the idea that they are somehow puzzling does not play a part here. For further discussion see (apart from works in the bibliography) pp. xlii–lii, and C. A. Kirwan, 'Plato and Relativity', Phronesis, 19 (1974), 112–29.
Editor’s Note
479c    what it was on: the riddle is: 'A man who was not a man hit a bird which was not a bird with a stone which was not a stone as it was sitting on a twig which was not a twig.' The solution is: 'A eunuch hit a bat with a pumice-stone as it was sitting on a reed.'
Editor’s Note
480a    beauty itself: Plato believes that our usual view of things is unsatisfactory because it makes them no more F (where F is some predicate such as 'big') than not-F. He has argued for this, but he merely assumes the next step—that there must therefore be something which is perfectly F. The assumption seems natural to him because the underlying issue is one of identification (see note on 479a): there must be something which is securely F, otherwise I would not have a paradigm to enable me to recognize even unsatisfactorily F things as F.
Editor’s Note
480a    if we say that now: see 476d.
Editor’s Note
484d    established: there is an implied reference back to 412c, where it was argued that the best rulers are the best guardians of a community. The concern of philosophers with paradigms is effectively the main theme of Chapters 9 and 10.
Editor’s Note
484d    practical experience: because philosophers do not live in some other world, even if their concerns sometimes seem other-worldly. It has in fact been assumed so far that philosophic intelligence is practical intelligence, of the kind that might be required for ruling a community (428b–429a; see also 488a–489a). Later, however, when it has been argued that philosophers are really interested in abstract thinking (e.g. 500b), we will find that they have to be forced to gain practical experience (e.g. 539e–540a; but on this conceit see pp. lvi–lviii). 'In Plato's educational theory, as in his own life, there is a certain wavering between the ideal of action and that of contemplation' (Barker, 203). See also notes on 441e and 520e.
Editor’s Note
485a    the beginning of this argument: 474b.
Editor’s Note
485b    vicissitudes of generation and destruction: very literally, 'and does not wander as a result of coming-to-be and ceasing-to-be'. By 508d Plato feels he can characterize the whole of the visible world as subject to these processes. Since the things of the visible world do not bear their predicates reliably, Plato is hesitant to say that they are big or beautiful or whatever; he says instead that they come to be or become big etc. for some person in some respect. In shorthand, he talks of the world of 'becoming' or 'coming-to-be' or 'generation'.
Editor’s Note
485b    explained before: 474c–475b. The idea that philosophers are intellectual omnivores paves the way for the transition (see note on 484d) from practical wisdom to theoretical knowledge.
Editor’s Note
485e    not a fake one: this (with an equivalent passage at 588e–589b) is a very important paragraph. It has already been referred to in the note on 439e. It enables us to go some way towards reconciling a conflict, and at the same time to see an important way in which these central chapters of the book deepen Plato's views on morality. The conflict is the one mentioned in the note on 432a, between whether Plato expects the desires/workers to need controlling or to acquiesce in being ruled. The answer is that the more energy is diverted into the activities of the rational mind (the more the philosophers' role in the community is valued), the less actual heavy-handed control of one's baser desires (the workers) will be required, and the more the situation is describable as acquiescence.
Editor’s Note
486d    essential character: see note on 479a. Since the type of anything is its truest feature, and since proportion and truth are related (in plain terms, a truthful person doesn't exaggerate, but sees things as they are), then the sequence of thought of this sentence becomes clear.
Editor’s Note
487a    Momus: the personification of criticism.
Editor’s Note
487b    spoke up: the topic Socrates raised is now delayed until 497b.
Editor’s Note
487e    in their communities: see 473c–d.
Editor’s Note
488a    single ship: the image is not applicable to all kinds of constitution (as it strictly should be, in this context): Plato has in mind the Athenian democratic system. The passage is in fact typical of his (and Socrates') attitude towards Athenian democracy.
Editor’s Note
489a    clouds: there may be a slight reference to the comic poet Aristophanes' portrait of Socrates in Clouds; but the image of the star-gazing philosopher failing to notice what is right before his eyes had already entered popular lore.
Editor’s Note
489b    misleading: according to Diogenes Laertius (2. 69), Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, was teasing Aristippus by asking why philosophers dance attendance on rich men rather than rich men on philosophers. Aristippus quipped in reply, 'Because philosophers know what they want and the others don't.' But the author of the story is unknown.
Editor’s Note
492e    public arena: how thorough is Plato's pessimism on this point? Does he mean that even the educational programme he outlines in Chapter 10 would be ineffective? I doubt that this is his meaning: all the pessimism of this section of the book is about current practice in the real world (see 497a).
Editor’s Note
493a    sophists: the same word was recently translated 'professional teachers' (492a,d), but here it clearly carries some of the pejorative connotations it came to acquire. The sophists were literally just professional teachers, offering (at a price) an education to supplement what was conventionally available. They came to be regarded as subversive of traditional morals, as teachers of alternative standards of excellence from the conventional norms. By far the best general account of their work can be found in Kerferd, The Sophistic Movement (note on 369a). Plato's point here—that the sophists only pander to the values of the societies they teach in—is very ironic, since they clearly saw themselves as important, and even revolutionary. The basic point is that they charged for their services: if people are to want a product, then the product has to fit into their existing frames of reference.
Editor’s Note
493c    necessity and goodness: true goodness requires free will and rational choice, rather than blind adherence to any standards. This is always the message of Socratic work: see my Xenophon: Conversations of Socrates (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), 63–6.
Editor’s Note
493d    necessity of Diomedes: the origin of the proverb is unclear. Of the many stories we know about the hero Diomedes, none is the obvious provenance and several could be.
Editor’s Note
494e    to stop him succeeding: this argument has undoubtedly been based on Socrates' relationship with the brilliant young Alcibiades. The best account—because by a master story-teller—is Plutarch's, in his Life of Alcibiades 4–7.
Editor’s Note
495a    right to say: at 491b–c.
Editor’s Note
496a    in true intelligence: another category of second-rate practitioner of philosophy is mentioned at 539b–c, after the reintroduction of the image of bastardy at 535c.
Editor’s Note
496c    from my deity: Plato held the view (perhaps Pythagorean in origin in the West) that everyone had a personal deity: in Republic, see 617e and 620d. Socrates could somehow know some things in advance: above all, when something bad was going to happen, he would know it and avoid it. He attributed this warning function to his deity; the phenomenon is frequently mentioned in both Plato's and Xenophon's Socratic works. For ancient speculation on the phenomenon see Plutarch's essay 'On Socrates' Personal Deity', Moralia 579 f–582 c and 588 b–589 f. The particular point of its mention here is that it apparently forbade him to take much part in Athens' political life (Plato, Apology 31d).
Editor’s Note
497c    needs repeating: the closest Plato gets to this earlier is at 412a–b, 423e, and 458c.
Editor’s Note
498a    rational argument: note that 'philosophy' often means little more than 'higher education' or 'intellectual work', as opposed to what we call philosophy, which is what Plato here calls 'rational argument'. So we can retranslate Plato's words here as: '… the most difficult aspect of intellectual work—i.e. philosophy …'
Editor’s Note
498b    never rekindled later: as opposed to Heraclitus' sun, which was a bowl filled with fire: exhalations from the earth extinguished it every night, and it was rekindled at dawn.
Editor’s Note
498b    minister to philosophy: particularly by not interrupting it with physical demands. See 518b, but especially Phaedo 66b ff.
Editor’s Note
498e    identified and assimilated: Plato is punning: the two words used also had technical meanings within rhetoric. The first, parisōsis, refers to the technique of composing clauses of equal length; the second, homoiōsis, to all kinds of rhetorical assimilation, especially assonance. On the ideal of assimilation to goodness, and to God, see also 500c–d and 613b.
Critical Apparatus
500a2–4    Burnet's excision of this whole sentence is far too drastic. Baiter's τʼ οὐ‎ instead of τοι‎, with the sentence read as a question, is an easy solution.
Critical Apparatus
501b3–4    Reading πρὸς ἐκεῖνο αὖ ὃ ἐν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἐμποιοῖεν‎ (Adam).
Editor’s Note
501b    "godly" and "godlike": Plato uses two epithets which Homer used of his heroes.
Editor’s Note
501c    you mentioned: 474a.
Editor’s Note
502c    our earlier discussion: 450c–466d.
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