Ancient History & Civilisation


Plato now returns to the point at which he broke off to describe the provisions for women and children and the training of the Philosopher Ruler (449a–e), and proceeds to describe four imperfect types of society – Timarchy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny. They are described as if they occurred in that order in a historical series; but Plato is concerned with a moral degeneration, and the historical framework should not be taken too literally. To each society there corresponds a type of individual, whose description follows immediately after that of the society. The origin and character of these individual types and of the society to which they correspond are described quite independently (the origin of democracy, for example, is different from that of the ‘democratic man’) and not all individuals in each society can be of the type corresponding to it (there can, for example, strictly speaking only be one ‘tyrant’ in a tyranny); but the traits in the individual will be those admired in the society to which he corresponds, he will be its ideal man, and the description of this ideal serves to throw further light on the society.

1. Recapitulation

Enumeration of the four imperfect societies to be described. The brief recapitulation of Plato’s ideal society with which this section begins may be compared with a similar summary at the beginning of the Timaeus 17–20 ( Timaeus and Critias, Penguin,pp. 29–32), though there is no formal connection between the dialogues.

BK VIII ‘Well that’s that. What we have agreed, Glaucon, is that in the perfect state women and children should be held in common, 543 (a) that men and women should share the same education and the same occupations both in peace and war, and that they should be governed1 by those of their number who are best at philosophy and war.’

‘That is what we have agreed.’ (b)

‘We have agreed too that, when our Rulers are appointed, they will take the soldiers and settle them in accommodation of the kind we described, where there are no private quarters but everything is common to all; and besides these arrangements for accommodation you will remember what we said about property.’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘it was that they should possess none of the things other men now do; they were to train for war and act as (c) Guardians over the community, in return for which they were to get their keep as their annual wage, and devote themselves to the care of their fellow-Guardians and the whole state.’

‘That is right,’ I said. ‘But now we’ve dealt with all that, tell me, where were we when we started off on it? Let us pick up the track again.’

‘That’s easy. You were talking, rather as you were just now, as if you had finished your description of the state, and were (d) saying that the state you had described and the individual corresponding544 (a) to it were what you would call good – though as we have now seen you could do something much better in the way of a description of them. Anyhow, you were saying that if this was the right kind of state, the others must be wrong. And, I remember, you said that the others were four in number, and that it was worth discussing how they and the characters corresponding to them were at fault, so that, having examined the various types of character and agreed which was best and which worst, we could then consider whether the best was the happiest, and the worst the most miserable, or not. I was just asking (b) what the four kinds of society were when Polemarchus and Adeimantus interrupted, and your reply to them has brought us to where we now are.’

‘You’ve a very good memory,’ I said.

‘Well, let’s go back, like a wrestler practising the same hold again, and I will ask you the same question and you try to give me the answer you were going to give.’

‘I will if I can.’

‘Well, I’m particularly anxious myself to hear what these four kinds of society are.’

‘There’s no difficulty about that,’ I replied. ‘The ones I mean (c) have names in common use. There is your much admired Cretan or Spartan type; secondly, and second in common estimation, though it’s burdened with many evils, there is the type called oligarchy; thirdly, and by contrast, follows democracy; and finally comes tyranny, often thought the finest and most outstanding of all, but really the most diseased. Do you know of any other type of society which can be reckoned a distinct species? There are hereditary monarchies, and states where kingship is bought, but these and other similar examples are (d) really crosses between our four types, and are to be found as frequently among barbarians as Greeks.’

‘Yes, there are many odd variations.’

‘You realize, I suppose,’ I went on, ‘that there must be as many types of individual as of society? Societies aren’t made of sticks and stones, but of men whose individual characters, by turning the scale one way or another, determine the direction of (e) the whole.’

‘Yes; society must be formed of individuals.’

‘Then, if there are five types of society, there must presumably be five types of individual character.’


‘But we have already described as truly just and good the type corresponding to our ideal society where the best rule.’

‘Yes, we have.’

‘What we must do next, then, is to go through the inferior 545 (a) types, the competitive and ambitious man who corresponds to the Spartan form of society, and then the other three, the oligarchic and democratic and tyrannic. Thus we can contrast the worst type of man with the best, and complete our inquiry into the relative happiness and unhappiness which pure justice and pure injustice bring to their possessor, and know whether we are to pursue injustice with Thrasymachus, or justice with the (b) argument we are examining.’

‘That is just what we want to do.’

‘We began our discussion of moral qualities by examining them in society before we examined them in the individual, because it made for greater clarity. Shall we do the same thing now? We will take first the ambitious society – I know no current name for it; let us call it “timarchy” or “timocracy” – (c) we will examine it and then look at the corresponding individual beside it; we will then deal similarly with oligarchy and the oligarchic man, go on to take a look at democracy and the democratic man, and finally come to the society governed by a tyranny, and look at it and the tyrannical character. We can then try to form a proper judgement on the question before us.’

‘Yes; that would be the logical order in which to look at them and reach a decision.’

2. Timarchy

In this description Plato has Sparta in mind; it is not easy to relate it to anything in our experience. The Spartans were, in effect, a military aristocracy living in a serf-population, and the characteristics attributed here to Timarchy are those which common opinion at Athens would have attributed to Sparta.

The section opens with an account of how Timarchy originates from the ideal state. The details are explained in the notes; the principle is that the change is due to social strife, however that may start.

‘Then let us try,’ I said, ‘to describe how our ideal state turns into a timocracy. The answer is perhaps simple. Change in any (d) society starts with civil strife among the ruling class; as long as the ruling class remains united, even if it is quite small, no change is possible.’

‘That is true.’

‘Then how will change take place in our state? How will Auxiliaries and Rulers come to fall out with each other or among themselves? Shall we invoke the Muses, like Homer, and ask (e) them to tell us “how the quarrel first began”? Let us imagine that they are talking to us in a rather dramatic, high-flown fashion, pretending to be very much in earnest, though they are really only teasing us as if we were children.’

‘How?’ 546 (a)

‘Like this. – It will be difficult to bring about any change for the worse in a state so constituted; but since all created things must decay, even a social order of this kind cannot last for all time, but will decline. And its dissolution will be as follows. Not only for plants that grow in the earth, but for animals that live on it, there are seasons of fertility and infertility of both mind and body, seasons which come when their periodic motions come full circle, a period of longer duration for the long-lived, shorter for the short-lived. And though the Rulers you have trained for your city are wise, reason and observation will not (b) always enable them to hit on the right and wrong times for breeding; some time they will miss them and then children will be begotten amiss. For the divine creature there is a period contained in a perfect number. For the human creature it is the smallest number in which certain multiplications, dominating and dominated, comprising three distances and four terms, give a final result, by making like and unlike, increasing and decreasing, which is commensurate and rational. Their basic (c) ratio of four to three, coupled with five, and multiplied by three, yields two harmonies, of which one is the product of equal factors and of a hundred multiplied the same number of times, while the other is the product of factors of which some are equal, some unequal, that is, either a hundred squares of diagonal of rational number, each diminished by one, or a hundred squares of irrational number, each diminished by two, and one hundred cubes of three.2

‘This whole geometrical number, controlling the process, determines the quality of births, and when the Guardians ignore (d) this and mate brides and bridegrooms inopportunely, the resulting children will be neither gifted nor lucky. The best of them will be appointed to office by their elders, but won’t really be worthy of it, and so when they come to hold the posts their fathers held will start neglecting us, though they are Guardians, and undervalue the training, first of the mind and then of the body, with the result that your young men will be worse educated. In the next generation Rulers will be appointed who have (e) lost the true Guardian’s capacity to distinguish the metals from which the different classes of your citizens, like Hesiod’s, are 547 (a) made – gold, silver, bronze, and iron; and when iron and silver or bronze and gold are mixed, an inconsistent and uneven material is produced, ‘whose irregularities, wherever they occur, must engender war and hatred. That, then, is the pedigree of strife, wherever it happens.’

‘And we shall assume their answer is right,’ he said. (b)

‘As indeed it must be, coming from the Muses,’ I replied.

‘And what will the Muses say next?’ he asked.

‘Once internal strife has started, the two elements3 pull in different directions; the iron and bronze towards private profit and property in land and houses and gold and silver, the other two, the silver and gold, having true riches in their own hearts, towards excellence and the traditional order of things. The violence of their opposition is resolved in a compromise under which they distribute land and houses to private ownership, (c) while the subjects whom they once guarded as freemen and friends, and to whom they owed their maintenance, are reduced to the status of serfs and menials, and they devote themselves to war and holding the population in subjection.’

‘I agree; that is the origin of the change.’

‘And will not the resultant society,’ I asked, ‘lie between the ideal and oligarchy?’


‘So much for the change. What will be its results? Isn’t it clear (d) that a constitution midway between our earlier society and oligarchy will have some of the features of each as well as certain peculiarities of its own?’


‘Then do you think it will resemble our earlier society in features such as these – respect for authority, the soldier-class abstaining from agriculture, industry, or business, the maintenance of the common messes, and the attention paid to physical and military training?’


‘Its own peculiar characteristics, on the other hand, will be, (e) for example, a fear of admitting intelligent people to office, because intelligence is no longer combined with simplicity and sincerity; it will prefer the simpler, hearty4 types, who prefer 548 (a) war to peace. It will admire the tricks and stratagems which are needed in war, which will be its constant occupation.’


‘A feature it will share with oligarchy,’ I went on, ‘will be its love of money. There will be a fierce and secret passion for gold and silver, now that there are private strongrooms to hide it in, and now that there are the four walls of their private houses – expensive nests in which they can spend lavishly on their wives and anything else they choose.’ (b)

‘That is very true.’

‘They will also be mean about money, because though they love it they may not acquire it openly; but they will be ready enough to spend other people’s moneyfor theirownsatisfaction. They will enjoy their pleasures in secret, avoiding the law like truant children; the reason being that they have been educated by force rather than persuasion, owing to neglect of the true principles of a rational philosophic education and an over- (c) valuation of physical at the expense of intellectual5 training.’

‘The society you are describing is very much of a mixture of good and evil,’ he said.

‘Yes, it is,’ I agreed. ‘But it has one salient feature, due to its emphasis on the strenuous element in us6 – ambition and the competitive spirit.’

‘Very true.’

‘So much, then, for the origin and nature of this kind of society,’ I said. ‘We have only sketched it in outline without filling in the details, because an outline is enough to enable us (d) to distinguish the most just and most unjust types of men, and because it would be an interminable labour to go through all types of society and the individual characters corresponding to them in detail.’

‘You are quite right.’

3. The Timarchic Character

Ambitious, energetic, athletic, but a prey to inner uncertainty and conflict.

‘Then what about the individual corresponding to the society we have just sketched? What is he like and how is he produced?’

‘I suspect,’ said Adeimantus, ‘that he’s rather like Glaucon here as far as the competitive spirit goes.’ (e)

‘Yes, perhaps he is,’ I replied. ‘But there are other features in which he’s not so like him.’

‘What are they?’

‘He must be rather more self-willed, and rather less well-educated, though not without an interest in the arts; ready to listen, but quite incapable of expressing himself. He will be 549 (a) harsh to his slaves, because his imperfect education has left him without a proper sense of his superiority to them; he will be polite to his fellow-freemen and obey the authorities readily. He will be ambitious to hold office himself, regarding as qualifications for it not the ability to speak or anything like that, but military achievements and soldierly qualities, and he’ll be fond of exercise and hunting.’

‘That’s the spirit of the society he’s living in.’ (b)

‘When he’s young,’ I continued, ‘he will despise money, but the older he grows the keener he will get about it. His nature has a touch of avarice and there are flaws in his character because he has lost his best safeguard.’

‘And what is that?’ asked Adeimantus.

‘A blend of reason and a properly trained imagination,’7 I said. ‘That is the only thing whose presence will preserve the excellence of its possessor intact through life.’

‘A fair answer.’

‘Well, then, that’s the type of young man corresponding to the timocratic society.’

‘Agreed.’ (c)

‘And this is roughly how he’s produced. Suppose a young man, whose father is a good man but lives in a badly run state and avoids office and honours and law-suits and all the bother attached to them, being quite content with a back seat to save himself trouble –’

‘How does that produce our type?’

‘When he hears his mother complaining that her husband isn’t one of the bosses, and that she is slighted by other women (d) because of it; she sees that her husband is not very keen on making money, but avoids the wranglings and bickerings of politics and the law, which he treats very lightly, and keeps his own counsel, while he doesn’t take her unduly seriously, though he does not neglect her. All this annoys her and she says that the boy’s father isn’t a real man and is far too easy-going, and drones on with all the usual complaints women make in the (e) circumstances.’

‘And a dreary lot of them there are too,’ said Adeimantus.

‘And, as you know,’ I went on, ‘servants who seem quite loyal will sometimes repeat the same sort of thing to the children behind their master’s back. And if they see the father failing to prosecute someone who owes him money or has done him some wrong, they tell the son that when he grows up he must have 550 (a) his rights and be more of a man than his father. The boy hears the same sort of thing outside and sees how those who mind their own business are publicly called silly and not thought much of, while those who don’t get all the honour and glory. He hears and sees all this, and on the other hand listens to what his father has to say, and sees his way of life from close to and contrasts it with other people’s; as a result he is torn in two directions, his father’s influence fostering the growth of his (b) rational nature, and that of the others his desire and his ambition.8 And since he’s not really at heart a bad chap, but has merely got into bad company, he takes a middle course between the two, and resigns control of himself to the middle element and its competitive spirit, and so becomes an arrogant and ambitious man.’

‘You seem to me to have given a very complete account of his genesis,’ he said. (c)

‘In that case,’ I replied, ‘the description of our second society and individual is done.’

‘It is.’

4. Oligarchy

A society in which wealth is the criterion of merit and the wealthy are in control. The appearance of a ‘drone’ class of criminals and malcontents.

‘We must go on, as Aeschylus says, to “another man matched with another state”, or rather, if we are to follow our plan, to the state first?’


‘Well, I suppose that the next kind of society is an oligarchy.’

‘And what sort of régime do you mean by an oligarchy?’

‘A society where it is wealth9 that counts,’ I said, ‘and in (d) which political power is in the hands of the rich and the poor have no share of it.’

‘I understand.’

‘We must first describe howoligarchy originates from timocracy – though heaven knows,’ I added, ‘it’s obvious enough even to a blind man.’

‘Tell us how.’

‘The accumulation of wealth in private hands is what destroys timarchy. The men find ways to become extravagant, and for this reason pervert the law and disobey it, and the women follow their example.’

‘That’s all likely enough.’ (e)

‘And mutual observation and jealousy stamps the same character on the ruling class as a whole.’

‘Likely again.’

‘The further they go in the process of accumulating wealth, the more they value it and the less they value goodness. For aren’t wealth and goodness related like two objects in a balance, so that when one rises the other must fall?’

‘Emphatically yes.’

‘So the higher the prestige of wealth and the wealthy, the 551 (a) lower that of goodness and good men will be.’


‘And we practise what we admire and neglect what we despise.’

‘We do.’

‘And so there is a transition from the ambitious, competitive type of man to the money-loving businessman, honour and admiration and office are reserved for the rich, and the poor are despised.’

‘That is so.’

‘At this stage they introduce legislation, the characteristic mark of an oligarchy, which prescribes a certain minimum (b) amount of property–greater or less according to the narrowness of the oligarchy – as a necessary qualification for office, a measure they force through by armed violence, if they have not already got their way by terrorism. Do you agree?’


‘Then that is, briefly, how an oligarchy is set up.’

‘Yes, but what sort of a society is it?’ he asked. ‘What are its characteristic faults?’ (c)

‘In the first place,’ I replied, ‘the principle which characterizes it is unsound. For consider, if one chose ships’ captains on grounds of wealth, and never gave a poor man a command, even if he was the better sailor –’

‘You would have some pretty bad navigation.’

‘And isn’t the same true of any other form of authority?’

‘Personally I should agree.’

‘Except in politics?’ I asked. ‘Or is it true in politics too?’

‘It is truest of all about politics,’ he replied, ‘for political authority is the most difficult and the most important.’

‘That, then, is one very serious fault in oligarchy.’ He agreed, (d) and I went on, ‘But there is another hardly less serious.’


‘That it inevitably splits society into two factions, the rich and the poor, who live in the same place and are always plotting against each other.’

‘Heaven knows that’s just as serious.’

‘Its probable inability to wage war is another discreditable feature. The oligarchs can’t do this because they must either (e) arm the people, whom they fear worse than the enemy, or, if they don’t, have the thinness of their ranks10 shown up by the stress of battle; and at the same time they are too grasping to want to pay the expenses of a war.’

‘Yes, that’s another discreditable feature.’

‘Then what about the fact that the same people engage in 552 (a) many different occupations, farming, business, and war? We condemned this once; do we think it right now?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘Then we come to the worst defect of all, which makes its first appearance in this form of society.’

‘What is it?’

‘That a man can sell all he has to another and live on as a member of society without any real function; he’s neither businessman nor craftsman nor cavalryman nor infantryman,11 but merely one of the so-called indigent poor.’

(b) ‘It’s the first form of society in which this happens,’ he agreed.

‘And there is certainly nothing to prevent it in oligarchies; otherwise you would not get the sharp division between the very rich and the very poor.’


‘There’s another point. When our pauper was rich, did he perform any of the useful social functions we’ve just mentioned simply by spending his money? Though he may have appeared to belong to the ruling class, surely in fact he was neither ruling, nor serving society in any other way; he was merely a consumer of goods.’ (c)

‘That is all he was,’ he agreed, ‘a mere consumer, whatever he seemed to be.’

‘Don’t you think we can fairly call him a drone? He grows up in his own home to be a plague to the community, just as a drone grows in its cell to be a plague to the hive.’

‘An apt comparison, Socrates.’

‘Then would you agree, Adeimantus, that all winged drones have been created by god without stings, but that our two-footed ones vary, some having no stings and some very formidable ones; and that the stingless type end their days as beggars, the stinging type as what we call criminals?’(d)

‘Yes, entirely.’

‘Obviously, then,’ I went on, ‘in any state where there are beggars there are also, hidden away somewhere about the place, thieves and pick-pockets and temple robbers and all such practitioners of crime.’


‘And do you find beggars in an oligarchy?’

‘Most people are beggars except the ruling class.’

‘Then we may suppose there are also plenty of stinging drones, (e) in the shape of criminals whom the government is careful to hold in restraint.’

‘We may indeed,’ he agreed.

‘And the reason for their existence is lack of education, bad upbringing and a bad form of government.’

‘It is.’

‘That, then, is what the oligarchic society is like, and those, or even worse than those, are its faults,’ I said. 553 (a)

‘You have hit it off pretty well,’ he agreed.

‘And so we may regard our account of this type of constitution, in which power is linked with property, and of which oligarchy is the common name, as complete. Let us proceed to the corresponding individual, his origin and character.’

‘Yes, let us.’

5. The Oligarchic Character

His sole object is to make money.

‘The transition from timarchic to oligarchic man takes place, I think, as follows.’

‘Go on.’

‘The timarchic man has a son who at first admires his father and follows in his footsteps; then he sees him suddenly wrecked (b) in some political disaster – he has, perhaps, spent all his substance and energy in some military command or other position of authority, only to be brought into court by informers and put to death, or exiled, or outlawed with the loss of all his property.’

‘That might well happen.’

‘The son sees all this,’ I continued, ‘and, frightened by his sufferings and the loss of property, incontinently dethrones (c) courage and ambition from the place they have held in his heart. Reduced to poverty, and forced to earn his living, by slow and painful economy and hard work he succeeds in amassing a fortune; so won’t he proceed to elevate the element of desire and profit-seeking to the throne, and let it govern like an oriental despot with tiara, chain, and sword?’


(d) ‘While reason and ambition squat in servitude at its feet,12 reason forbidden to make any calculation or inquiry but how to make more money, ambition forbidden to admire or value anything but wealth and the wealthy, ortocompete for anything but the acquisition of wealth and whatever leads to it.’

‘There’s no transition quicker or more violent than that from ambition to avarice,’ he said. (e) ‘And isn’t the man we have described our oligarchic type?’ I asked.

‘He certainly developed from the type corresponding to the society from which oligarchy developed,’ he replied.

‘Then let’s see if he has similar characteristics.’

554 (a) ‘Go on.’

‘The first similarity is in the overriding importance he gives to money.’

‘Of course.’

‘Again, he is economical and hard-working, satisfying only his necessary wants and indulging in no other expenses, but repressing his other desires as pointless.’

‘True again.’

‘Yes, he’s rather a squalid character,’ I said, ‘always on the make and putting something by – a type commonly much admired. And again, surely, we see the similarity to our oligar- (b) chic society.’

‘I agree,’ he said; ‘money is what both chiefly value.’

‘Yes, because I don’t suppose he ever gave any attention to his education.’

‘I should think not; otherwise he wouldn’t have promoted a blind13 actor to play his chief part.’

‘A good point. Now, tell me,’ I went on, ‘I suppose that his lack of education will breed desires in him, like the pauper and (c) criminal drones, which his general carefulness will keep under restraint.’

‘Yes, certainly.’

‘And do you know where to look if you want to see these criminal desires at work?’


‘In his handling of the guardianship of orphans, or of any other matter where he has plenty of scope for dishonesty.’


‘There it becomes quite clear that the high reputation for honesty which he has in other business transactions is due merely to a certain respectable constraint which he exercises (d) over his evil impulses, for fear of their effect on his concerns as a whole. There’s no moral conviction, no taming of desire by reason, but only the compulsion of fear.’

‘Very true.’

‘And what is more, you are pretty sure to find evidence of the presence of these drone desires when a man of this kind is spending other people’s money.’

‘Oh, very much so.’

‘This sort of man, then, is never at peace in himself, but has a kind of dual personality, in which the better desires on the whole master the worse.’(e)


‘He therefore has a certain degree of respectability, but comes nowhere near the real goodness of an integrated and balanced character.’

‘I agree.’

‘And, being a mean fellow, he’s a poor competitor personally for any success or ambitious achievement in public life; he’s 555 (a) unwilling to spend money in the struggle for distinction, and scared of stirring up a whole lot of expensive desires to fight on the side of his ambition. So, like a true oligarch, he fights with only part of himself, and though he loses the battle he saves his money.’

‘Yes, that’s true.’

(b) ‘Then need we hesitate any longer to say that the grasping money-maker corresponds to the oligarchic society?’


6. Democracy

Equality of political opportunity and freedom for the individual to do as he likes are, for Plato and Aristotle, the salient characteristics of democracy. Plato is writing, of course, about democracy in the ancient city-state, and has Athens particularly in mind (cf. Introduction, pp. xxiii ff.); translation into terms of modern experience must bear this in mind. Compare also the account of the transition from democracy to tyranny , 562a ff., for further characteristics of democracy.

‘Our next subject, I suppose, is democracy. When we know how it originates, and what it is like, we can again identify and pass judgement on the corresponding individual.’

‘That would be consistent with the procedure we’ve been following.’

‘Then doesn’t oligarchy change into democracy in the following way, as a result of lack of restraint in the pursuit of its objective of getting as rich as possible?’

‘Tell me how.’

‘Because the rulers, owing their power to wealth as they do, (c) are unwilling to curtail by law the extravagance of the young, and prevent them squandering their money and ruining themselves; for it is by loans to such spendthrifts or by buying up their property that they hope to increase their own wealth and influence.’

‘That’s just what they want.’

‘It should then be clear that love of money and adequate self-discipline in its citizens are two things that can’t coexist in any society; one or the other must be neglected.’(d)

‘That’s pretty clear.’

‘This neglect and the encouragement of extravagance in an oligarchy often reduces to poverty men born for better things.’

‘Yes, often.’

‘Some of them are in debt, some disfranchised, some both, and they settle down, armed with their stings, and with hatred in their hearts, to plot against those who have deprived them of their property and against the rest of society, and to long for revolution.’ (e)

‘Yes, they do.’

‘Meanwhile the money-makers, bent on their business, don’t appear to notice them, but continue to inject their poisoned loans wherever they can find a victim, and to demand high rates 556 (a) of interest on the sum lent, with the result that the drones and beggars multiply.’

‘A result that’s bound to follow.’

‘Yet even when the evil becomes flagrant they will do nothing to quench it, either by preventing men from disposing of their property as they like, or alternatively by other suitable legislation.’

‘What legislation?’

‘It’s only a second best, but it does compel some respect for decent behaviour. If contracts for a loan were, in general, made by law at the lender’s risk, there would be a good deal less (b) shameless money-making and a good deal less of the evils I have been describing.’

‘Much less.’

‘But as it is the oligarchs reduce their subjects to the state we have described, while as for themselves and their dependants – their young men live in luxury and idleness, physical and (c) mental, become idle, and lose their ability to resist pain or pleasure.’

‘Indeed they do.’

‘And they themselves care for nothing but making money, and have no greater concern for excellence than the poor.’


‘Such being the state of rulers and ruled, what will happen when they come up against each other in the streets or in the course of business, at a festival or on a campaign, serving in the navy or army? When they see each other in moments of danger, (d) the rich man will no longer be able to despise the poor man; the poor man will be lean and sunburnt, and find himself fighting next to some rich man whose sheltered life and superfluous flesh make him puff and blow and quite unable to cope. Won’t he conclude that people like this are rich because their subjects are cowards, and won’t he say to his fellows, when he meets them (e) in private, “This lot are no good; we’ve got them where we want them”?’

‘I’m quite sure he will.’

‘When a person’s unhealthy, it takes very little to upset him and make him ill; there may even be an internal cause for disorder. The same is true of an unhealthy society. It will fall into sickness and dissension at the slightest external provocation, when one party or the other calls in help from a neighbouring oligarchy or democracy; while sometimes faction fights will start without any external stimulus at all.’ 557 (a) ‘Very true.’

‘Then democracy originates when the poor win, kill or exile their opponents, and give the rest equal civil rights and opportunities of office, appointment to office being as a rule by lot.’14

‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘that is how a democracy is established, whether it’s done by force of arms or by frightening its opponents into withdrawal.’

‘What sort of a society will it be?’ I asked, ‘and how will its (b) affairs be run? The answer, obviously, will show us the character of the democratic man.’


‘Would you agree, first, that people will be free? There is liberty and freedom of speech in plenty, and every individual is free to do as he likes.’

‘That’s what they say.’

‘Granted that freedom, won’t everyone arrange his life as pleases him best?’


‘And so there will be in this society the greatest variety of (c) individual character?’

‘There’s bound to be.’

‘I dare say that a democracy is the most attractive of all societies,’ I said. ‘The diversity of its characters, like the different colours in a patterned dress, make it look very attractive. Indeed,’ I added, ‘perhaps most people would, for this reason, judge it to be the best form of society, like women and children when they see gaily coloured things.’

‘Very likely.’

‘And, you know, it’s just the place to go constitution-hunting.’ (d)

‘How so?’

‘It contains every possible type, because of the wide freedom it allows, and anyone engaged in founding a state, as we are doing, should perhaps be made to pay a visit to a democracy and choose what he likes from the variety of models it displays, before he proceeds to make his own foundation.’

‘It’s a shop in which he’d find plenty of models on show.’ (e)

‘Then in democracy,’ I went on, ‘there’s no compulsion either to exercise authority if you are capable of it, or to submit to authority if you don’t want to; you needn’t fight if there’s a war, or you can wage a private war in peacetime if you don’t like peace; and if there’s any law that debars you from political or judicial office, you will none the less take either if they come your way. It’s a wonderfully pleasant way of carrying on in the 558 (a) short run, isn’t it?’

‘In the short run perhaps.’

‘And isn’t there something rather charming about the good-temper of those who’ve been sentenced in court? You must have noticed that in a democracy men sentenced to death or exile stay on, none the less, and go about among their fellows, with no more notice taken of their comings and goings than if they were invisible spirits.’

‘I’ve often seen that.’

‘Then they’re very considerate in applying the high principles (b)

we laid down when founding our state; so far from interpreting them strictly, they really look down on them. We said that no one who had not exceptional gifts could grow into a good man unless he were brought up from childhood in a good environment and trained in good habits. Democracy with a grandiose gesture sweeps all this away and doesn’t mind what the habits and background of its politicians are; provided they (c) profess themselves the people’s friends, they are duly honoured.’

‘All very splendid.’

‘These, then, and similar characteristics are those of democracy. It’s an agreeable anarchic form of society, with plenty of variety, which treats all men as equal, whether they are equal or not.’

‘The description is easy to recognize.’

7. The Democratic Character

Versatile but lacking in principle. Desires necessary and unnecessary.

‘Then let us look at the corresponding individual. Should we first look at his origin, as we did with the society?’

(d) ‘Won’t it be like this? Our mean oligarchic character may have a son, whom he will bring up in his own ways.’

‘So far, so good.’

‘He will forcibly restrain himself from those pleasures that lead to expense rather than profit, the “unnecessary” pleasures as they have been called.’

‘Yes, obviously.’

‘Then do you think that, if we are to avoid arguing in the dark, we had better define the difference between necessary and unnecessary desires?’

‘Yes, I think so.’
(e) ‘Desires we can’t avoid, or whose satisfaction benefits us, can fairly be called necessary, I think. We are bound by our very 559 (a) nature to want to satisfy both, are we not?’


‘And so may surely with justice use the term “necessary” to describe them.’


‘But we can call “unnecessary” all desires which can be got rid of with practice, if we start young, and whose presence either does us no good or positive harm. Isn’t that a fair enough description?’

‘Fair enough.’

‘Shall we give examples of each, to get a general idea of what we mean?’

‘I think we should.’

‘Would you say that the desire to eat enough for health and fitness, and the desire for the bread and meat requisite for the purpose, was necessary?’ (b)

‘Yes, I think so.’

‘And the desire for bread is necessary on both counts, because it benefits us and because it is indispensable to life.’


‘And the desire for meat so far as it conduces to fitness.’


‘But the desire for a more varied and luxurious diet is one which, with discipline and training from an early age, can normally be got rid of, and which is physically harmful and psychologically damaging to intelligence and self-discipline. May it not therefore rightly be called unnecessary?’

‘Quite rightly.’ (c)

‘The first kind of desire we could also call acquisitive, because of its practical usefulness, the second kind wasteful.’


‘And does not the same hold good of sex and the other desires?’


‘Then what we called the drone type will, as we said, be swayed by a mass of such unnecessary pleasures and desires, the (d) thrifty oligarchic type by necessary ones.’


‘Let’s go back to the question how the democratic man originates from the oligarchic. This generally happens, I think, as follows.’


‘When a young man, brought up in the narrow15 economical way we have described, gets a taste of the drones’ honey and gets into brutal and dangerous company, where he can be provided (e) with every variety and refinement of pleasure, with the result that his internal oligarchy starts turning into a democracy.’

‘That’s bound to happen.’

‘In society the change took place when one party brought in sympathizers from outside to help it. Will the change in our young man be brought about when one or other type of desire in him gets assistance from kindred and similar desires outside him?’

‘Yes, certainly.’

‘And I take it that if the oligarchic element in him gets support from a counter-alliance of the remonstrances and criticisms 560 (a) either of his father or of other members of his family, the result is a conflict of factions and a battle between the two parts of himself.’

‘True enough.’

‘And sometimes the democratic element gives way to the oligarchic, and some of his desires are destroyed and some driven out; and a certain sense of decency is produced in the young man’s mind and internal order restored.’

‘Yes, that sometimes happens.’

‘Alternatively the exiled desires are succeeded by others akin to them, which are nursed in secret because of his father’s (b) ignorance of how to bring him up properly, and grow in number and strength.’

‘This is the normal course of events.’

‘These drag him back to his old associates, and breed and multiply in secret.’

‘True again.’

‘In the end they capture the seat of government, having discovered that the young man’s mind is devoid of sound knowledge and practices and true principles, the most effective safeguards the mind of man can be blessed with.’

‘Far the most effective.’

‘The vacant citadel in the young man’s mind is filled instead by an invasion of pretentious fallacies and opinions.’

‘Very much so.’

‘And back he goes to live with the Lotus-eaters.16 If his family send help to the economical element in him, the pretentious invaders shut the gates of the citadel, and will not admit the relieving force, nor will they listen to the individual representations (d) of old and trusted friends. They make themselves masters by force of arms, they call shame silliness and drive it into disgrace and exile; they call self-control cowardice and expel it with abuse; and they call on a lot of useless desires to help them banish economy and moderation, which they maintain are mere provincial parsimony.’

‘All very true.’

‘They expel the lot and leave the soul of their victim swept (e) clean, ready for the great initiation17 which follows, when they lead in a splendid garlanded procession of insolence, licence, extravagance, and shamelessness. They praise them all extravagantly and call insolence good breeding, licence liberty, extravagance generosity, and shamelessness courage. Do you agree,’ I 561 (a) asked, ‘that that’s how a young man brought up in the necessary desires comes to throw off all inhibitions and indulge desires that are unnecessary and useless?’

‘Yes, your description is very clear.’

‘For the rest of his life he spends as much money, time and trouble on the unnecessary desires as on the necessary. If he’s lucky and doesn’t get carried to extremes, the tumult will subside (b) as he gets older, some of the exiles will be received back, and the invaders won’t have it all their own way. He’ll establish a kind of equality of pleasures, and will give the pleasure of the moment its turn18 of complete control till it is satisfied, and then move on to another, so that none is underprivileged and all have their fair share of encouragement.’

‘That’s true.’

‘If anyone tells him that some pleasures, because they spring from good desires, are to be encouraged and approved, and others, springing from evil desires, to be disciplined and (c) repressed, he won’t listen or open his citadel’s doors to the truth, but shakes his head and says all pleasures are equal and should have equal rights.’

‘Yes, that’s just how he feels and just what he does.’

‘In fact, ’I said, ‘he lives from day today, indulging the pleasure of the moment. One day it’s wine, women and song,19 the next water to drink and a strict diet; one day it’s hard physical training(d), the next indolence and careless ease, and then a period of philosophic study. Often he takes to politics and keeps jumping to his feet and saying or doing whatever comes into his head. Sometimes all his ambitions and efforts are military, sometimes they are all directed to success in business. There’s no order or restraint in his life, and he reckons his way of living is pleasant, free and happy, and sticks to it through thick and thin.’

(e) ‘A very good description of the life of one who believes in liberty and equality,’ he commented.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘and I think that the versatility of the individual, and the attractiveness of his combination of a wide variety of characteristics, match the variety of the democratic society. It’s a life which many men and women would envy, it contains patterns of so many constitutions and ways of life.’

‘It does indeed.’
562 (a) ‘This, then, is the individual corresponding to the democratic society, and we can fairly call him the democratic man.’


8. Tyranny20

The conflict of rich and poor in democracy, and the tyrant’s rise as popular champion; his private army and the growth of oppression.

‘We’ve still got the most splendid society and individual of all to describe,’ I said, ‘tyranny and the tyrant.’

‘Yes, we have.’

‘Well, my dear Adeimantus, what is the nature of tyranny? It’s obvious, I suppose, that it arises out of democracy.’


‘Then isn’t it true that tyranny arises out of democracy in the same sort of way that democracy arises out of oligarchy?’ (b)

‘How do you mean?’

‘The main objective of oligarchy, for the sake of which it was established, was, I think we agreed, wealth.’


‘And its fall was due to the excessive desire for wealth, which led to the neglect of all other considerations for the sake of making money.’


‘Then does not democracy set itself an objective, and is not excessive desire for this its downfall?’

‘And what is this objective?’

‘Liberty,’ I said. ‘You must have heard it said that this is the greatest merit of a democratic society, and that for that reason (c) it’s the only society fit for a man of free spirit to live in.’

‘It’s certainly what they often say.’

‘Then, as I was just saying, an excessive desire for liberty at the expense of everything else is what undermines democracy and leads to the demand for tyranny.’


‘A democratic society in its thirst for liberty may fall under the influence of bad leaders, who intoxicate it with excessive (d) quantities of the neat spirit; and then, unless the authorities are very mild and give it a lot of liberty, it will curse them for oligarchs and punish them.’

‘That is just what a democracy does.’

‘It goes on to abuse as servile and contemptible those who obey the authorities and reserves its approval, in private life as well as public, for rulers who behave like subjects and subjects who behave like rulers. In such a society the principle of liberty is bound to go to extremes, is it not?’ (e)

‘It certainly is.’

‘What is more,’ I said, ‘it will permeate private life and in the end infect even the domestic animals with anarchy.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘it becomes the thing for father and son to change places, the father standing in awe of his son, and the son neither respecting nor fearing his parents, in order to assert what he calls his independence; and there’s no distinction between citizen and alien and foreigner.’

‘Yes, these things do happen.’

‘They do,’ I said, ‘and there are other more trivial things. The 563 (a) teacher fears and panders to his pupils, who in turn despise their teachers and attendants; and the young as a whole imitate their elders, argue with them and set themselves up against them, while their elders try to avoid the reputation of being disagree-(b) able or strict by aping the young and mixing with them on terms of easy good fellowship.’

‘All very true.’

‘The extreme of popular liberty is reached in this kind of society when slaves – male and female – have the same liberty as their owners – not to mention the complete equality and liberty in the relations between the sexes.’ (c) ‘Let’s have the whole story while we’re at it, as Aeschylus21 says.’

‘Right,’ I said; ‘you shall. You would never believe – unless you had seen it for yourself – how much more liberty the domestic animals have in a democracy. The dog comes to resemble its mistress, as the proverb has it,22 and the same is true of the horses and donkeys as well. They are in the habit of walking about the streets with a grand freedom, and bump into (d) people they meet if they don’t get out of their way. Everything is full of this spirit of liberty.’

‘You’re telling me!’ he said. ‘I’ve often suffered from it on my way out of town.’

‘What it all adds up to is this,’ I said; ‘you find that the minds of the citizens become so sensitive that the least vestige of restraint is resented as intolerable, till finally, as you know, in their determination to have no master they disregard all laws, written or unwritten.’ (e) ‘Yes, I know.’

‘Well, this is the root from which tyranny springs,’ I said; ‘a fine and vigorous beginning.’

‘Vigorous indeed; but what happens next?’ he asked.

‘The same disease which afflicted and finally destroyed oligarchy afflicts democracy, in which it has more scope, still more virulently and enslaves it. Indeed, any extreme is liable to produce a violent reaction; this is as true of the weather and plants and animals as of political societies.’ 564 (a)

‘It’s what one would expect.’

‘So from an extreme of liberty one is likely to get, in the individual and in society, a reaction to an extreme of subjection.’

‘Likely enough.’

‘And if that is so, we should expect tyranny to result from democracy, the most savage subjection from an excess of liberty.’

‘That’s quite logical.’

‘But I haven’t answered your question, which was, what is the disease whose growth enslaves democracy and oligarchy (b) alike?’

‘Yes, that’s what I asked.’

‘You remember me talking about a class of thriftless idlers, whom I compared to drones, their energetic leaders to drones with stings, the more inert mass of followers to drones without stings.’

‘An apt comparison too.’

‘Whenever these two elements appear in society they cause trouble,’ I said, ‘as phlegm and bile do in the body. The good doctor and the good lawgiver must make provision against both in advance, just as the bee-keeper who knows his job will try to (c) prevent drones being bred at all, and if they are bred cut them out at once, cells and all.’

‘A very necessary operation.’

‘Then, in order that we may be in a better position to make the judgement we want let us proceed as follows.’


‘Let us suppose a democratic society falls into three groups, (d) as indeed it does. First comes the group we have mentioned, larger than in an oligarchy because of the freedom it gets.’


‘And indeed a good deal more energetic.’

‘How is that?’

‘In an oligarchy it is despised and kept from power, and so lacks practice and strength. In a democracy practically all the leaders are drawn from it. Its more energetic elements do the talking and acting, the remainder sit buzzing on the benches (e) and won’t let anyone else speak, so that all public business, with trifling exceptions, is in their hands.’

‘Quite true.’

‘Then there’s a second group which continually emerges from the mass.’

‘What is that?’

‘Everyone’s on the make, but the steadiest characters will generally be most successful in making money.’

‘Very likely.’

‘And the drones find them a plentiful and most convenient source to extract honey from.’

‘There’s not much to be extracted from poor men.’

‘And so this group, on which the drones batten, are called the rich.’

‘That’s about it.’
565 (a) ‘The third group is the mass of the people, who earn their own living, take little interest in politics, and aren’t very well off. They are the largest class in a democracy, and once assembled are supreme.’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but they won’t assemble often unless they are given their share of honey.’

‘They get their share all right,’ I replied. ‘Their leaders rob the rich, keep as much of the proceeds as they can for themselves, and distribute the rest to the people.’ (b) ‘Yes, that’s how they get their share.’

‘Those whom they’ve plundered are forced to defend themselves, by speaking in the Assembly and doing the best they can elsewhere.’

‘They can’t avoid it.’

‘They are then accused by their rivals of plotting against the people and being reactionaries and oligarchs, even though in fact they may have no revolutionary intentions.’

‘That’s true.’

‘In the end, when they see the people trying to wrong them, not with intent, but out of ignorance and because they’ve been misled by the slanders spread by their leaders, why then they’ve (c) no choice but to turn oligarchs in earnest, not because they want to, but again because the drones’ stings have poisoned them.’

‘Perfectly true.’

‘There follow impeachments and trials in which the two parties bring each other to court.’

‘There do indeed.’

‘In this struggle don’t the people normally put forward a single popular leader, whom they nurse to greatness?’

‘Yes, as a rule.’

‘Then it should be clear,’ I said, ‘that this leadership is the (d) root from which tyranny invariably springs.’

‘Perfectly clear.’

‘Then how does the popular leader start to turn into a tyrant? Isn’t it, clearly, when he starts doing what we hear about in the story about the shrine of Zeus Lykaeus in Arcadia?’

‘What is the story?’

‘That the man who tastes a single piece of human flesh, mixed in with the rest of the sacrifice, is fated to become a wolf. Surely you’ve heard the tale?’ (e)

‘Yes, I have.’

‘The same thing happens with the popular leader. The mob will do anything he tells them, and the temptation to shed a brother’s blood is too strong. He brings the usual unjust charges against him, takes him to court and murders him, thus destroying a human life, and getting an unholy taste of the blood of his fellows. Exiles, executions, hints of cancellation of debts and redistribution of land follow, till their instigator is inevitably 566 (a) and fatally bound either to be destroyed by his enemies, or to change from man to wolf and make himself tyrant.’

‘That is an inevitable necessity.’

‘It is he who leads the class war against the owners of property.’

‘It is.’

‘And if he’s exiled, and then returns in spite of his enemies, he returns a finished tyrant.’


(b) ‘And if they are unable to banish him, or set the citizens against him and kill him, they form a secret conspiracy to assassinate him.’

‘That’s what usually happens,’ he agreed.

‘Then follows the notorious gambit which all tyrants produce at this stage of their career, the demand for a personal bodyguard to preserve their champion for the people.’
(c) ‘True indeed.’

‘And this the people grant him without misgiving, because they fear for his safety.’

‘True again.’

‘This is the time for anyone who is rich, and under suspicion of being an enemy of the people as well, to act on the oracle given to Croesus, and

flee by Hermus’ pebbled shore,
nor fear the shame of coward more.’23

‘He certainly won’t get a second chance to be ashamed.’

‘No,’ I agreed, ‘it’ll be death if he’s caught.’

‘Certain death.’

‘Meanwhile there’s clearly no question of our champion (d) “measuring his towering length in the dust”;24 he overthrows all opposition and grasps the reins of state, and stands, no longer champion, but the complete tyrant.’

‘That’s the inevitable conclusion,’ he agreed.

‘Then shall we describe the happy condition of this man, and of the state in which a creature like him is bred?’

‘Yes, please, let us.’

‘In his early days he has a smile and a kind word for everyone; (e) he says he’s no tyrant, makes large promises, public and private, frees debtors, distributes land to the people and to his own followers, and puts on a generally mild and kindly air.’

‘He has to.’

‘But I think we shall find that when he has disposed of his foreign enemies by treaty or destruction, and has no more to fear from them, he will in the first place continue to stir up war in order that the people may continue to need a leader.’

‘Very likely.’

‘And the high level of war taxation will also enable him to 567 (a) reduce them to poverty and force them to attend to earning their daily bread rather than to plotting against him.’


‘Finally if he suspects anyone of having ideas of freedom and not submitting to his rule, he can find an excuse to get rid of them by handing them over to the enemy. For all these reasons a tyrant must always be provoking war.’

‘Yes, he must.’ (b)

‘But all this lays him open to unpopularity.’


‘So won’t some of the bolder characters among those who helped him to power, and now hold positions of influence, begin to speak freely to him and to each other, and blame him for what is happening?’

‘Very probably.’

‘Then, if he is to retain power, he must root them out, all of them, till there’s not a man of any consequence left, whether friend or foe.’

‘That’s obvious.’

‘So he must keep a sharp eye out for men of courage or vision or intelligence or wealth; for, whether he likes it or not, it is his happy fate to be their constant enemy and to intrigue until he (c) has purged them from the state.’

‘A fine kind of purge,’ he remarked.

‘Yes,’ I returned, ‘and the reverse of a purge in the medical sense. For the doctor removes the poison and leaves the healthy elements in the body, while the tyrant does the opposite.’

‘Yet it seems inevitable, if he’s to remain in power.’

‘He is compelled to make the happy choice,’ I said, ‘between (d) a life with companions most of whom are worthless and all of whom hate him, and an inevitable death.’

‘That is his fate.’

‘And the greater the unpopularity of this policy, the larger and the more trustworthy must his bodyguard be.’


‘Where will he look for men on whom he can rely?’ I asked.

‘They will flock to him of their own accord,’ he answered, ‘if he pays them.’

‘In the dog’s name!’25 I exclaimed, ‘do you mean another (e) mixed swarm of drones from abroad?’

‘That’s what I mean.’

‘But won’t he also want to recruit on the spot?’

‘How will he do that?’

‘By robbing the citizens of their slaves, freeing them, and enrolling them in his bodyguard.’

‘That’s true; and very faithful members of it they will be.’

‘What an enviable lot the tyrant’s is,’ I exclaimed, ‘if these are 568 (a) the trusty friends he must employ after destroying his earlier supporters.’

‘Well, that’s how it is,’ he said.

‘And I suppose these newly made citizens, whose company he keeps, admire him very much, though all decent men detest and avoid him.’

‘Of course.’

‘No wonder, then, that tragedy in general and Euripides in particular among tragedians have such a reputation for wisdom.’

‘How so?’

‘Because of that profound remark of his about tyrants being (b) “wise because they keep company with the wise.” He meant, no doubt, by the wise the companions we’ve described.’26

‘Yes, and what is more he calls tyranny godlike, and praises it in many other ways. But so do the other poets.’

‘And therefore,’ I said, ‘the tragic poets will perhaps, in their wisdom, forgive us and states whose constitution is like ours, if we refuse to admit them because they sing the praises of tyranny.’ (c) ‘I think those who have any wits will forgive us,’ he said.

‘Yes, and I expect they will make a tour of other states, where they will hire actors, with their fine persuasive voices, to play their works to large audiences, and sway them over to tyranny or democracy.’

‘I expect so.’

‘They will, of course, get money for their services and make a great reputation, particularly, one would expect, with tyrants, but also, though to a lesser degree, with democracies. But the higher up our series of constitutions they go, the more their reputation fails them, as if it were short of breath and couldn’t (d) climb farther.’

‘Very true.’

‘But we are digressing,’ I said. ‘We must go back to what we were saying about our tyrant’s private army. How is he to maintain the changing ranks of this splendid and motley gang?’

‘Obviously he’ll use any temple treasures there are, so long as they last, and the property of his victims.27 That will enable him to tax the people less.’

‘And when these sources fail?’ (e)

‘Then he and his gang, boy-friends and girl-friends, will live on his parents’ estate.’

‘I see,’ I said. ‘You mean that the people who have bred him will have to maintain him and his crew.’

‘They will have no option.’

‘No option?’ I said. ‘But what if they get annoyed and say that it’s not right for a father to keep his son when he’s grown up – it’s the son should keep the father: and that they never 569 (a) intended, when they bred him and set him up, that when he grew greatthey should been slaved to their own slaves, and have to keep him and his servile rabble; on the contrary, he was to be their champion and free them from the power of the wealthy and so-called upper classes? What if they then order him and his partisans to leave the country, like a father ordering his son out of the house with his riotous friends?’

‘Then,’ said he with emphasis, ‘people will find out soon enough what sort of a beast they’ve bred and groomed for (b) greatness. He’ll be too strong for them to turn out.’

‘What?’ I exclaimed. ‘Do you mean that the tyrant will dare to use violence against the people who fathered him, and raise his hand against them if they oppose him?’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘when he has disarmed them.’

‘So the tyrant is a parricide,’ said I, ‘and little comfort to his old parent. In fact, here we have real tyranny, open and avowed, and the people find, as the saying is, that they’ve jumped out of the frying-pan of subjection to free men into the fire of subjection (c) to slaves, and exchanged their excessive and untimely freedom for the harshest and bitterest of servitudes, where the slave is master.’

‘That is exactly what happens.’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I think we can fairly claim to have given an adequate description of how democracy turns to tyranny and what tyranny is like.’

‘I think we can.’

9. The Tyrannical Character

Its essential similarity to the criminal type. 28

BK IX ‘We’ve still to describe the individual of tyrannical character and see how he develops from the democratic man, what he’s 571 (a) like, and whether his life is a happy or miserable one.’

‘Yes, we’re still left with him.’

‘There’s something else I want to do too.’


‘I don’t think our classification of the nature and number of the desires is complete. And as long as that’s incomplete the (b) object of our investigation will remain obscure.’

‘Well, now’s your chance.’

‘Good. What I want to get clear about is this. I think that some of the unnecessary pleasures and desires are lawless and violent. Perhaps we are all born with them, but they are disciplined by law and by a combination of reason and the better desires till in some people they are got rid of altogether, or (c) rendered few and feeble, though in some they retain their numbers and strength.’

‘But what are the desires you mean?’

‘The sort that wake while we sleep, when the reasonable and humane part of us is asleep and its control relaxed, and our fierce bestial nature, full of food and drink, rouses itself and has its fling and tries to secure its own kind of satisfaction. As you know, there’s nothing too bad for it and it’s completely lost to all sense and shame. It doesn’t shrink from attempting inter- (d) course (as it supposes) with a mother or anyone else, man, beast or god, or from murder or eating forbidden food. There is, in fact, no folly nor shamelessness it will not commit.’

‘That’s perfectly true.’

‘But a man of sound and disciplined character, before he goes to sleep, has wakened his reason and given it its fill of intellectual argument and inquiry; his desires he has neither starved (e) nor indulged, so that they sink to rest and don’t plague the highest part of him with their joys and sorrows, but leave it to 572 (a) pursue its investigations unhampered and on its own, and to its endeavours to apprehend things still unknown to it, whether past, present or future; the third, spirited, part of him he calms and keeps from quarrels so that he sleeps with an untroubled temper. Thus he goes to rest with the other two parts of him quietened, and his reasoning element stimulated, and is in a state to grasp the truth undisturbed by lawless dreams and (b) visions.’

‘That’s exactly what happens.’

‘We’ve been digressing, I know, but my point is this – that even in the outwardly most respectable of us there is a terribly bestial and immoral type of desire, which manifests itself particularly in dreams. Do you think I’m talking sense, and do you agree?’

‘Yes, I agree.’

‘Then let’s go back to the character of our democratic man. He was produced, you remember, by an early upbringing under an economical father, whose desires centred entirely on (c) business, and who had no use for the “unnecessary” desires for either amusement or elegance.’

‘Yes, I remember.’

‘But he got into the company of men with more sophisticated tastes and desires of the kind we described, took to their ways because of his dislike of his father’s meanness, and was driven to all sorts of excesses; yet at heart he was a better man than his corrupters, and so effected what he thought was a very reasonable compromise between the competing attractions of (d) the two lives, getting the best of both and avoiding both meanness and extravagance – in fact, he turned into a democratic character from an oligarchic.’

‘Yes, I still think that’s true.’

‘Suppose, then,’ I went on, ‘he has in due course a son whom he brings up in his own ways.’

‘Suppose it.’

‘Suppose, further, that the same thing happens to the son as (e) to the father; he’s drawn towards complete licence (which his tempters call complete liberty), his father and family support moderation,29 and his tempters come in on the other side. And when the wicked wizards who want to make him a tyrant despair of keeping their hold on the young man by other means, 573 (a) they contrive to implant a master passion in him to control the idle desires that divide his time between them, like a great winged drone – unless you can think of a better description for such a passion?’

‘No – that describes it very well.’

‘The other desires buzz round it, loading it with incense and perfume, flowers and wine, and all the pleasures of a dissolute life, on which they feed and fatten it until at last they produce in it the sting of mania. Then the master passion runs wild and takes madness into its service; any opinions or desires with a (b) decent reputation and any feelings of shame still left are killed or thrown out, until all discipline is swept away, and madness usurps its place.’

‘A very complete description of the genesis of the tyrannical man.’

‘Isn’t this the reason,’ I asked, ‘why the passion of sex has for so long been called a tyrant?’

‘Maybe.’ (c) ‘And isn’t there also a touch of the tyrant about a man who’s drunk?’


‘And the madman whose mind is unhinged imagines he can control gods and men and is quite ready to try.’

‘That’s certainly true.’

‘Then a precise definition of a tyrannical man is one who, either by birth or habit or both, combines the characteristics of drunkenness, lust, and madness.’


‘So much, then, for his origin. And how does he live?’

‘I must pass the ball back to you; you tell me.’ (d)

‘I will,’ I said. ‘When a master passion within has absolute control of a man’s mind, I suppose life is a round of extravagant feasts and orgies and sex and so on.’

‘It’s bound to be.’

‘And there will be a formidable extra crop of desires growing day by day and night by night and needing satisfaction.’

‘There will indeed.’

‘So whatever income he has will soon be expended,’ I said, and, when he agreed, added, ‘and next of course he’ll start (e) borrowing and drawing on capital.’


‘When these sources fail, his large brood of fierce desires will howl aloud, and he will inevitably be stung to madness by them, and still more by the master passion under which they all do armed service, and will cast about to find someone to rob by 574 (a)force or fraud.’

‘That’s sure to happen,’ he said.

‘Plunder he must have from all available sources or his life will be torment and agony.’

‘He must.’

‘In his own life it’s always been the later pleasure that has had the better of it at the expense of the earlier, and so he considers that his mother and father, as the older generation, should take second place to him and that, when his share of the family estate is exhausted, he should help himself to their property.’ (b)

‘Of course.’

‘If they don’t give in to him, I suppose he’ll try first to get his way by fraud and deceit.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘And if he can’t, will he proceed to robbery and violence?’

‘I think he will.’

‘And if his old mother and father put up a resistance and show fight, will he feel any scruple about playing the tyrant to them?’

‘I wouldn’t give much for his parents’ chances,’ said Adeimantus. (c) ‘Do you really mean that he will strike his own mother and his ageing father, to whom he is bound by ties of birth and long affection, and, if they’re all under the same roof, subordinate them to his latest mistress or his latest young favourite, who have no claims on him at all?’

‘That is just what I mean.’

‘What a lucky thing it is,’ I said, ‘to have a tyrant for a son!’

‘A real bit of luck,’ he agreed. (d) ‘And I suppose that when he comes to the end of his father’s and mother’s resources, having by now a pretty considerable swarm of pleasures collected in himself, he’ll start by burgling a house or holding someone up at night, and go on to clean out a temple. Meanwhile the older beliefs about honour and dishonour, which he was brought up to accept as right, will be overcome by others, once held in restraint but now freed (e) to become the bodyguard of his master passion. When he was still democratically minded and under the influence of the laws and his father, they only appeared in his dreams; but under the tyranny of the master passion he becomes in his waking life what he was once only occasionally in his dreams, and there’s 575 (a) nothing, no taboo, no murder, however terrible, from which he will shrink. His passion tyrannizes over him, a despot without restraint or law, and drives him (as a tyrant drives a state) into any venture that will profit itself and its gang, a gang collected partly from the evil company he keeps and partly from impulses within himself which these same evil practices have freed from restraint. Do you think that’s the sort of life he will lead?’

‘Yes, I think so.’

‘And if there are only a few characters of this kind in a state (b) and the bulk of the people are law-abiding, they will emigrate and take service with a tyrant elsewhere, or else fight as mercenaries in any war there is going on. In times of complete peace, they stay at home and commit a lot of minor crimes.’

‘Such as?’

‘They become thieves, burglars, pick-pockets, footpads, temple robbers, and kidnappers; or, if they have a ready tongue, they turn informers and false witnesses or take bribes.’

‘I suppose you call all these minor crimes so long as the (c) criminals are few.’

‘Minor is a relative term,’ I replied, ‘and so far as the welfare or wickedness of the community goes, crimes like these don’t come anywhere near tyranny. But when the criminals and their followers increase in numbers and become aware of their strength, the folly of the people helps them to produce a tyrant, and they pick the man who is at heart the complete stand most absolute tyrant.’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘for he’s likely to be best fitted for tyranny.’

‘And if the people submit to him, well and good. If not, he’ll (d) punish his country, if he can, just as he punished his parents. He will bring his home country, his once dear motherland as the Cretans call it, under the control of the gang of upstart followers whom he introduces, and keep it in subjection to them. Which was the object of all his ambitions, was it not?’

‘Yes, it was.’ (e)

‘Men of his kind behave in the same sort of way in private life, before they have gained power. Their companions are parasites in every way subservient to them, and they are themselves always prepared to give way and put on the most extravagant 576 (a) act of friendship if it suits their purpose, though once that purpose is achieved their tune changes.’

‘It does indeed.’

‘So tyrannical characters pass their lives without a friend in the world; they are always either master or slave, and never taste true friendship or freedom.’


‘So we shall be right to call them faithless men.’

‘We shall.’

‘And if our definition of justice was correct, perfect specimens of injustice.’ (b)

‘And our definition was quite correct.’

‘We can sum it all up by saying that the worst type of man behaves as badly in his waking life as we said some men do in their dreams.’

‘We can.’

‘And that is just what happens when a natural tyrant gains absolute power, and the longer he holds it the truer he runs to type.’

‘That is inevitable,’ said Glaucon, who took up the argument at this point.

10. The Types of Character and Their Degrees of Happiness

Having sketched the four types of imperfect society and the four corresponding types of character, Plato proceeds to rank them in order of happiness, and in particular to contrast the perfectly just man, the Philosopher Ruler, with the completely unjust man, the Tyrant, thereby answering the original question asked by Glaucon and Adeimantus.

1. On the evidence provided by the descriptions given it is shown that they rank in happiness in the order in which they were discussed, with the tyrant as the most unhappy.

‘Now isn’t it clear,’ I asked, ‘that the wickedest man will also (c) prove to be the unhappiest? And that therefore, in fact, the longer and more extensive a tyrant’s power, the greater and more lasting his unhappiness really is, whatever most people may think?’

‘It must be so.’

‘And does not the tyrannical man correspond to the state governed by a tyranny, the democratic man to a democratic state, and so on?’


‘And so in excellence and happiness the relations between the different types of individual will correspond to the relations between the different types of state?’

‘Of course.’ (d)

‘Then what is the relative excellence of a state governed by a tyrant and one governed by philosopher kings as we first described?’

‘They are opposite extremes,’ he replied; ‘one is the best and one the worst possible.’

‘I won’t ask you which is which,’ I said, ‘as I think that is obvious. But would you make the same judgement about their relative happiness and unhappiness? And we must not be overawed by the sight of the tyrant himself and his immediate following, but examine the whole society, plunging in and hav- (e) ing a thorough look round before giving our answer.’

‘That’s a fair challenge. And it is obvious that there is no more unhappy society than that ruled by a tyrant, and none happier than our philosopher kingship.’

‘It would, I think, be fair for us to make the same challenge when dealing with the corresponding individuals. We should 577 (a) expect the true judge to have an understanding that can penetrate below the surface into the man’s character, and not be overawed like a child by the pomp and circumstance of the tyrant’s life, but see through them. He will then be competent to form a judgement, to which we should listen, particularly if he has also lived with a tyrant and seen how he behaves in his own house and with his own family – the best place to catch him stripped of all his dramatic paraphernalia – as well as seeing (b) him in the emergencies of public life.30 So should we ask him to tell us about the relative happiness and unhappiness of the tyrant’s life compared with the others?’

‘That’s a very fair challenge too.’

‘Then shall we pretend that we ourselves have the necessary judgement and experience, so that we may have someone to answer our questions?’

‘All right.’

‘Let us approach the question by dealing with the characteristics(c) of the state and of the individual one by one, in the light of the analogy between them.’

‘What characteristics?’

‘To begin with the state, is a state ruled by a tyrant in a condition of freedom or slavery?’

‘It is in complete slavery.’

‘And yet it contains some who are masters and free men.’

‘Yes, but they are a minority. The mass of the people and the best elements in it are miserable slaves without rights.’

(d) ‘Well, then,’ I said, ‘if the individual is analogous to the state, he must be similarly placed. His mind will be burdened with servile restrictions, because the best elements in him will be enslaved and completely controlled by a minority of the lowest and most lunatic impulses.’

‘Yes, that must be so.’

‘Then is such a man in a condition of freedom or slavery?’

‘Of slavery, obviously.’

‘And is not the state enslaved to a tyrant least able to do as it wishes?’

‘Yes.’ (e)

‘So the mind in which there is a tyranny will also be least able to do what, as a whole, it wishes, because it is under the compulsive drive of madness, and so full of confusion and remorse.’

‘Of course.’

‘Is a state under a tyranny rich or poor?’


578 (a) ‘So the corresponding character must be poverty-stricken and unsatisfied.’


‘Both state and individual, again, must be haunted by fear.’

‘They must be.’

‘And will there be any state in which you will find more complaints and anguish and mourning and pain?’

‘There will not.’

‘Will not the same be true of the corresponding individual under the mad tyranny of his desires and passions?’

‘It will.’

(b) ‘With all these reasons and many others in mind, you decided that the state ruled by a tyrant was the unhappiest of all.’

‘And wasn’t I right?’ he asked. ‘Perfectly right,’ I answered. ‘And with all these reasons in mind, what have you to say about the tyrannical man?’

‘He’s clearly far the unhappiest of all men.’

‘There,’ I said, ‘you are wrong.’

‘Why?’ he asked.

‘I think,’ I said, ‘that you will perhaps agree –’


‘– that the tyrannical individual is even unhappier if he’s not (c) left to live as a private citizen, but has the misfortune to be thrust by circumstances to supreme power.’

‘I should guess from what we’ve already said that that is true.’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but we are concerned with the most important of issues, the choice between a good and an evil life, and guessing isn’t good enough; we must examine the arguments thoroughly.’

‘Yes, you’re quite right.’

‘Then consider. I think we ought to start from the following considerations.’ (d)

‘Well, what are they?’

‘Let us consider a wealthy private slave-owner with a large number of slaves. The control of large numbers is a point of likeness to tyranny; the difference is one of degree.’


‘Such slave-owners, as you know, don’t live in fear of their slaves.’

‘Why should they?’

‘There’s no reason at all; but do you know why?’

‘Because the individual has the support of society as a whole.’

‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘But imagine now that some god were to (e) take a single man who owned fifty or more slaves and were to transport him and his wife and children, his goods and chattels and his slaves, to some desert place where there would be no other free man to help him; wouldn’t he be in great fear that he and his wife and children would be done away with by the slaves?’

‘In very great fear indeed.’

‘So he’d have to curry favour with some of these very slaves, 579 (a) make them large promises, and give them their freedom, much against his will, till he became the parasite of his own servants.’

‘It would be his only alternative to destruction,’ he said.

‘Then suppose the god surrounded him with a lot of neighbours who would not tolerate the claims of any man to control another, and would punish with utmost severity anyone attempting to do so.’ (b) ‘That would make his predicament still worse, because he would be surrounded by enemies on all sides.’

‘Yet this is just the sort of predicament in which the tyrant is imprisoned. He is naturally a prey to fears and passions of every sort, as we have described; and he’s the only person in the state who can’t travel abroad or attend the festivals the ordinary free man loves to see, much as in his heart he longs to, but must lurk in the shelter of his home, like a woman, and envy the (c) freedom with which other men can travel and see things worth seeing.’

‘Very true.’

‘The tyrannical character, therefore, whom you judged to be the most wretched of men because of the harvest of evils produced by the disorder prevailing within him, is in all these ways still worse off when he ceases to be a private citizen, and is compelled by fate to become a real tyrant and to control others though he cannot control himself. It’s just as if you compelled (d) an invalid or paralytic to spend his life on military service or in athletic competitions instead of living quietly at home.’

‘Yes, that’s a very apt comparison, Socrates.’

‘And so, my dear Glaucon, will you agree that the actual tyrant’s condition is utterly wretched, and his life harder than the one you thought hardest?’

‘I entirely agree.’

‘So, whatever people may think, the truth is that the real (e) tyrant is really a slave of the most abject kind dependent on scoundrels. He can never satisfy his desires, and behind his multitudinous wants you can see, if you know how to survey it as a whole, the real impoverishment of his character; his life is haunted by fear and – if the condition of the state he rules is any 580 (a) guide, as we know it is – torn by suffering and misery. Do you agree?’

‘Very much so,’ he replied. ‘Add to all that what we said before, that his power will make him still more envious, untrustworthy, unjust, friendless, and godless, a refuge and home for every iniquity, and you can see that he’s a source of misery above all to himself, but also to his neighbours.’

‘No one who has any sense could deny it.’

‘Come on, then,’ I said, ‘you must act as final judge for us, and give us your verdict how these five types – the philosopher (b) king, the timocratic, the oligarchic, the democratic and the tyrannical man – stand in order of happiness.’

‘The verdict is easy,’ he replied. ‘I rank the competitors in the order of their appearance, not only in happiness but also in degree of excellence.’

‘Then shall we hire a herald,’ I asked, ‘or shall I proclaim the judgement of the son of Ariston myself – that the supremely happy man is the one who is justest and the best, that is, the philosopher king who is sovereign over himself, and that the (c) supremely wretched man is the one who is unjustest and worst, that is, again, the man who is most tyrannical and who tyrannizes completely both over himself and over his own country?’

‘You may proclaim it,’ he said.

‘And may I add,’ I asked, ‘that the judgement remains true whether their true characters are known to men and gods or not?’

‘You may.’

2. On the basis of the threefold classification of the elements in the human mind made earlier (Part V, section 2 ff.), it is shown that the life of the just man and the philosopher is pleasanter than any other.

‘Well, there is one of our proofs,’ I said. ‘Let us see what you (d) make of the second one.’

‘What is it?’

‘We divided the mind of the individual into three elements, corresponding to the three classes in the state. This makes a further proof possible.’

‘And how does it proceed?’

‘As follows. Each of the three elements has its own particular pleasures, and similarly its own desires and its own governing principles.’31

‘How do you mean?’

‘We saw,’ I said, ‘that one element in a man gives him understanding, another spirit and enterprise, while the third shows itself in too many forms for us to be able to describe it in a (e) single word. We accordingly called it after its most salient characteristics, “desire”, because of the violence of the desires for food and drink and sex and the like, or “acquisitiveness”, because wealth is the means of satisfying desires of this kind.’ 581 (a)

‘And we were quite right,’ he said.

‘Now if we want, for purposes of clarity, to settle on a single heading under which to refer to this third element in the mind, would it not be best to say that its pleasures and affections were centred in gain? So we could correctly describe it by saying that its motive was love of profit or gain.’

‘Yes, I think we could.’

‘Similarly the element of spirit is entirely devoted to the achievement of success and reputation.’


‘Could we not therefore appropriately say that its motives are ambition and love of honour?’

(b) ‘Very appropriately.’

‘And of course it is obvious that the element of understanding is solely directed to the discovery of the truth, and is least concerned with wealth or reputation.’

‘That’s absolutely clear.’

‘And so we may say that the corresponding motives here are love of knowledge and wisdom.’

‘I agree.’

‘Then in the human mind does not one or other of these three (c) sets of motives predominate, according to circumstances?’

‘It does.’

‘That is why we divide men into three basic types, according to whether their motive is knowledge, success or gain.’


‘And each type, of course, has its appropriate pleasures.’

‘Yes, certainly.’

‘If you asked each of these three types in turn which of the three lives was the pleasantest, he would, of course, give the highest praise to his own. Will the money-maker set any value on the pleasures of honour or knowledge compared with his (d) profits, unless they have a cash value?’

‘None at all.’

‘And what about the man who loves honour?’ I asked. ‘Doesn’t he think the pleasures of money-making rather vulgar, and those of learning, unless they bring him honour, mere idle nonsense?’


‘And what are we to suppose the philosopher thinks of other pleasures compared with that of knowing the truth and being (e) always engaged in the pursuit of it? Won’t he rank them far lower, regarding them as “necessary” in the strict sense, things he’d do without if they weren’t unavoidable?’

‘There can be no doubt of that.’

‘When therefore there is dispute about the three types of pleasure and three types of life, and they are being compared simply on the grounds of the amount of pleasure they give and 582 (a) without any reference to how admirable or how good or bad they are, how are we to know what is the truth?’

‘I’m sure I don’t know,’ he said.

‘Look at it in this way. What do we need if we are to judge fairly? Can you suggest any better standards than experience, intelligence, and reason?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘Then look. Which of the three men we have described has the greatest experience of all three types of pleasure? Is the gain-lover’s knowledge of the truth such that you would rank his experience of the pleasures of knowledge above the philosopher’s experience of the pleasures of gain?’(b)

‘Far from it,’ he said. ‘The philosopher cannot help tasting the pleasures of gain from his earliest years; but the gain-lover is under no necessity to taste or experience the sweetness of the pleasure of knowing the truth – indeed, he would find it difficult to do so even if he wished.’

‘Then the philosopher has the advantage over the gain-lover in his experience of both kinds of pleasure.’

‘A very considerable advantage.’

(c)‘And how does he compare with the man who loves honour? Has he less experience of the pleasures of honour than the ambitious man of the pleasures of knowledge?’

‘No. Honour comes to all, if they attain the object of their several efforts, for the rich man and the brave man and the wise man are all widely respected. All three therefore have experience of the pleasures of honour; but only the philosopher can taste the pleasure of contemplating reality and truth.’

(d) ‘As far as experience goes, then,’ I said, ‘the philosopher is in the best position to judge.’

‘Much the best.’

‘And he is the only one in whom intelligence is joined with experience.’


‘And besides, it is the philosopher, and not either of the other two, who has the necessary tools.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘We said our judgement must be reached through reason.’


‘And rational argument is the philosopher’s special tool.’

‘That’s true.’

‘Now, if wealth and profit were our best criteria, the preferences (e) and dislikes of the gain-lover would inevitably contain the highest degree of truth.’


‘And if our criteria were honour, success and courage, the same would be true of the man of honour and ambition.’


‘But since we are judging by experience, intelligence and reason…?’

‘It follows that truth is to be found in the preferences of the philosopher and man of reason.’

583 (a) ‘Of the three types of pleasure, therefore, the pleasantest is that which belongs to the element in us which brings us know-

ledge, and the man in whom that element is in control will live the pleasantest life.’

‘It must be so,’he agreed. ‘The wise man speaks with authority when he prefers his own life.’

‘And which life and which type of pleasure will his judgement rank second?’

‘Obviously that of the ambitious, soldierly type. It is nearer his own than the money-maker’s is.’

‘So the pleasures of gain come last, I suppose.’

‘Of course they do.’

3. The philosopher’s pleasures are the most real of all pleasures: all others are to some extent mixed with pain and therefore illusory, particularly the pleasures of the tyrant.

‘Well, the just man has beaten the unjust in two successive (b) rounds; now for the third, before which wrestlers atthe Olympic Games invoke Olympian Zeus the Saviour. Look – I think I’ve heard some wise man say that only the pleasures of the intelligence are entirely true and unadulterated, and all others an empty sham.32 A fall in this final round should settle the matter.’

‘It should. But tell me how you mean.’

‘I will explain,’ I said, ‘but you must help by answering my (c) questions.’

‘You have only to ask them.’

‘Tell me, then,’ I asked, ‘is not pleasure the opposite of pain?’

‘Most certainly.’

‘And is there not a state in which we feel neither enjoyment, nor pain?’

‘There is.’

‘It will lie between the two, I suppose, giving the mind rest from both. Do you agree?’


‘Do you remember,’ I went on to ask, ‘what patients always say when they are ill?’


‘That there is nothing pleasanter than health, though they (d) had not realized its supreme pleasure till they were ill.’

‘Yes, I remember.’

‘And haven’t you heard people in pain saying that there is no greater pleasure than relief from pain?’

‘I have.’

‘You must, in fact, have noticed many similar cases in which the pain we suffer makes us glorify freedom and rest from pain as the highest pleasure, rather than any positive enjoyment.’

‘Perhaps,’ he suggested, ‘it is because in those circumstances rest is welcomed as definitely pleasurable.’

(e) ‘Then when enjoyment ceases,’ I replied, ‘the rest from pleasure will be painful.’

‘May be.’

‘In that case rest, which we said was our intermediate state between pleasure and pain, will itself at times be both, pleasure and pain.’


‘But can something which is neither of two things be both of them?’

‘I think not.’

‘What is more, both pleasure and pain when they occur are processes of mental change ,33 are they not?’


‘But didn’t we see just now that to feel neither pleasure nor 584 (a) pain is to be in a state of rest between the two?’

‘We did.’

‘Then can it be right to suppose that absence of pain is pleasure or absence of enjoyment pain?’

‘No, it can’t.’

‘It cannot therefore, in fact, be so. The state of rest must appear pleasant by contrast with previous pain or painful by contrast with previous pleasure; but, judged by the standard of true pleasure, neither appearance can be genuine, but must be some sort of conjuring trick.’

‘That is what the argument indicates.’

(b) ‘To rid you of any lingering idea you may still have that pleasure really is the cessation of pain, and pain the cessation of pleasure, look at pleasures that don’t follow pain.’

‘Where do I look for them and what are they?’ he asked.

‘There are a lot of them,’ I answered, ‘but the best example, if you think of it, is the pleasures of smell. These are very intense, come quite suddenly without any previous pain, and leave no pain behind when they cease.’

‘That’s perfectly true.’

‘So we must not let ourselves believe that pure pleasure consists (c) in relief from pain, or pure pain in the cessation of pleasure.’


‘And yet,’ I went on, ‘the majority of the intensest pleasures, so called, which we experience through the body, are of this kind, being in some sense relief from pain.’34

‘Yes, they are.’

‘And the same applies, does it not, to the pleasures and pains of anticipation that precede them?’


‘Do you know what I think the character of these pleasures is (d) and what they most closely resemble?’

‘No, tell me.’

‘Do you agree that in the natural world there is a top, a bottom, and a middle?’


‘Then won’t anyone who rises from the bottom to the middle think he has risen towards the top? And as he stands in the middle and looks down to where he came from, won’t he think he’s at the top, never having seen the real top?’

‘I don’t see how he could think anything else.’

‘And suppose he then went down again, he would suppose he (e) was going down to the bottom, and would be right.’


‘And would not all this happen to him because he had no experience of what top, middle, and bottom really were.’


‘Then is it surprising that the views of men who lack experience of the truth should be as unsound about pleasure and pain and the neutral state between them as they are about a good 585 (a) many other things? When they are subjected to pain, they will think they are in pain and their pain will be real. But they will be convinced that the transition from pain to the neutral state brings satisfaction and pleasure, whereas in fact their lack of experience of true pleasure leads them to make a false contrast between pain and the absence of pain, just as someone who had never seen white might similarly contrast grey with black.’

‘That’s none of it in the least surprising,’ he said. ‘In fact, it would be surprising if it were otherwise.’

‘Then consider; aren’t hunger and thirst and the like states of (b) physical depletion?’

‘Of course.’

‘And ignorance and empty-headedness states of mental depletion?’


‘And they can be satisfied by replenishing the body with food and the mind with understanding?’

‘They can.’

‘And don’t we get truer replenishment from replenishing what is more rather than what is less real?’

‘Yes, obviously.’

‘Then which group has a fuller share of pure reality, things like bread, meat and drink and food generally, or things like (c) judgement, knowledge, understanding and, in brief, all excellencies of mind? Put the question this way – which do you think is more truly real, something which belongs to the realm of unchanging and eternal truth, exists in it and is of its nature, or something which belongs to the realm of change and mortality, exists in it and is of its nature?’

‘That which belongs to the unchanging realm is much more real.’

‘And is the reality of the unchanging any more real than it is knowable?’


‘Nor true?’

‘Nor true.’35

(d) ‘And a lesser degree of truth means a lesser degree of reality?’ ‘Necessarily.’

‘So in general the sort of thing that supplies the needs of the body is less true and less real than the sort of thing that supplies the needs of the mind.’

‘Much less.’

‘And isn’t the same true of the body itself as compared with the mind?’

‘I should say so.’

‘But the more real the means of replenishment and the thing replenished, the greater, presumably, the reality of the replenishment.’

‘I agree.’

‘It follows that, if we experience pleasure when our natural needs are suitably replenished, the more real the thing replenished and the means of replenishment, the more genuine and (e) truly real the consequent enjoyment and pleasure; whereas when there is a lesser degree of reality the less truly and certainly we are satisfied and the less reliable and less true our pleasure.’

‘That is inevitable.’

‘Those, therefore, who have no experience of wisdom and 586 (a) goodness, and do nothing but have a good time, spend their life straying between the bottom and middle in our illustration, and never rise higher to see or reach the true top, nor achieve any real fulfilment or sure and unadulterated pleasure. They bend over their tables, like sheep with heads bent over their pasture and eyes on the ground, they stuff themselves and copulate, and in their greed for more they kick and butt each other with hooves (b) and horns of steel, and kill each other because they are not satisfied, as they cannot be while they fill with unrealities a part of themselves which is itself unreal and insatiable.’

‘My dear Socrates,’ said Glaucon, ‘you sound as if you were delivering an oracle on the life of the common man.’

‘And are not the pleasures of such a life inevitably mixed with pain, and so an empty sham36 and mere phantoms of true pleasure? Both owe their apparent intensity to mutual contrast, (c) and breed mad desires in the hearts of fools, who fight about them as Stesichorus said the heroes fought at Troy about a mere phantom of Helen because they were ignorant of the truth.’37

‘Something of the sort is inevitable.’

‘Then what about the element of spirit? Isn’t it inevitably the same story again, when a man seeks his fill of honour or success or ambition without sense or reason, and in the achievement of (d) satisfaction the desire for honour and success leads to envy and violence, ambition to discontent?’

‘Yes, inevitably again.’

‘I think, then,’ I said, ‘that we may venture to conclude that if our desire for gain and our ambition will follow the guidance of knowledge and reason, and choose and pursue only such pleasures as wisdom indicates, the pleasures they achieve will be the truest of which they are capable, because truth is their guide, and will also be those proper to them – for isn’t what is (e) proper to a thing what is best for it?’

‘Yes, that’s certainly so.’

‘Then if the mind as a whole will follow the lead of its philosophic element, without internal division, each element will be just and in all other respects perform its own function, and in addition will enjoy its own particular pleasures, which 587 (a) are the best and truest available to it.’

‘Absolutely true.’

‘But when either of the other two elements is in control, it cannot achieve its own proper pleasure, and compels the other two to pursue a false pleasure that is not their own.’


‘And won’t this effect be produced most markedly by the elements furthest removed from philosophy and reason?’

‘Very much so.’

‘And is not what is furthest removed from reason furthest removed also from law and order?’


‘And didn’t we see that the passionate and tyrannical desires (b) were the furthest from law and order?’

‘Much the furthest.’

‘And the orderly and kingly desires the nearest?’


‘So the tyrant is furthest removed from man’s true and proper pleasure, the philosopher king nearest it.’


‘And the tyrant therefore leads the most unpleasant, the philosopher king the most pleasant of lives.’ ‘That necessarily follows.’

4. Finally it is shown that the tyrant is 729 times more unhappy than the philosopher king .38

‘Do you know,’ I asked, ‘just how much unhappier the tyrant is than the philosopher king?’

‘No, tell me.’

‘There appear to be three types of pleasure,’ I replied, ‘one genuine, two spurious.39 The tyrant, in his flight from law and (c) reason, trespasses beyond the bounds of the spurious types, surrounding himself with an armed gang of slavish pleasures, and the degree of his inferiority is not easy to describe. One might do it as follows.’


‘The tyrant was third in order from the oligarch, the democratic type intervening between them.’


‘So (if our argument is correct) the pleasure he enjoys will be a phantom three times further from reality than the oligarch’s.’


‘The oligarch, again, was third in order from the philosopher king (assuming philosopher kingship and the rule of the best to (d) be identical40).’

‘He was.’

‘So the distance of the tyrant’s pleasure from true pleasure can be expressed numerically as three times three.’

‘So it seems.’

‘The tyrant’s phantom pleasure is, therefore, in spatial terms a plane number.’41


‘Square this and then cube it and it becomes obvious how great the distance is.’42

‘Obvious to a mathematician anyway!’

‘Conversely, you will find, if you work out the cube, that the (e) measure of difference between the two in terms of true pleasure is that the philosopher king lives seven hundred and twenty-nine times more pleasantly than the tyrant, and the tyrant the same amount more painfully than the philosopher king.’

‘What a terrific calculation,’ he exclaimed, ‘and all to show how much difference there is between the just and unjust man 588 (a) in terms of pleasure and pain!’

‘But it’s quite correct,’ I replied, ‘and fits human life, if human life is measured by days and nights and months and years.’43

‘As of course it is.’

‘And if the good and just man is so much superior to the bad and unjust man in terms of pleasure, will not his superiority be infinitely greater in terms of grace and beauty of life and of excellence?’

‘Infinitely greater,’ he replied emphatically.

11. Conclusion

Wrongdoing and injustice therefore cannot pay, and goodness brings its own reward. But it is doubtful if the ideal society described, where goodness would have full scope, will ever exist on earth.

(b) ‘So far so good,’ I said. ‘Having got so far in the argument, let us recall what it was that started us off. It was, I think, the assertion that wrongdoing paid the man who combined complete injustice with a reputation for justice.’44

‘That was it.’

‘Well, now that we have agreed what the effects of just and unjust conduct are, we can have a word with its author.’

‘What shall we say?’ he asked.

‘Let us construct a model of the human personality, to show him what his assertion really implies.’ (c) ‘What sort of model?’

‘Like one of those composite beasts in the old myths, Chi-maera and Scylla and Cerberus and all the rest, which combine more than one kind of creature in one.’

‘I know the stories.’

‘Imagine a very complicated, many-headed sort of beast, with heads of wild and tame animals all round it, which it can produce and change at will.’

‘Quite a feat of modelling,’ he replied; ‘but fortunately it’s (d) easier to imagine than it would be to make.’

‘Add two other sorts of creature, one a lion, the other a man. And let the many-headed creature be by far the largest, and the lion the next largest.’

‘That’s rather easier to imagine.’

‘Then put the three together and combine them into a single creature.’


‘Then give the whole the external appearance of one of the three, the man, so that to eyes unable to see anything beneath the outer shell it looks like a single creature, a man.’(e)

‘That is done too.’

‘Then let us point out that to say that it pays this man to do wrong and not to do right, is to say that it pays him to give the many-headed beast a good time, and to strengthen it and the lion and all its qualities, while starving the man till he becomes 589 (a) so weak that the other two can do what they like with him; and that he should make no attempt to reconcile them and make them friends, but leave them to snarl and wrangle and devour each other.’

‘That is just what it means to approve injustice and wrongdoing.’

‘On the other hand, to say that it pays to be just is to say that we ought to say and do all we can to strengthen the man within us, so that he can look after the many-headed beast like a farmer, (b) nursing and cultivating its tamer elements and preventing the wilder ones growing, while he makes an ally of the lion and looks after the common interests of all by reconciling them with each other and with himself.’

‘That, again, is exactly what it means to approve of justice.’

‘The glorification of injustice is therefore wrong on all counts, and the glorification of justice right. For, whether you look to (c) pleasure or profit or reputation, to praise justice is to tell the

truth, to disparage it to talk in ignorance of what you are disparaging, and entirely unsound.’

‘Yes, I agree.’

‘But let us deal gently with our opponent; his mistake isn’t deliberate. “My dear chap,” let us say to him, “what is the origin and purpose of the conventional notions of fair and foul? Does not the one subject the beast in us to our human, or perhaps I should say our divine, element, while the other enslaves our (d) humaner nature to the beast?” He’s bound to agree with that, isn’t he?’

‘Yes, if he listens to me.’

‘Then on this reckoning,’ I asked, ‘can it possibly pay anyone to make money by doing wrong, if the result of his so doing is (e) to enslave the best part of himself to the worst? No one would say it paid to sell his son or daughter as a slave to harsh and wicked masters, however high the price; if one ruthlessly enslaves the divinest part of oneself to the most godless and abominable, is it not a miserable piece of bribery, with results 590 (a) far more fatal than Eriphyle’s sale of her husband’s life for a necklace?’45

‘If I may answer for him,’ said Glaucon, ‘I should say it was far more fatal.’

‘And why has self-indulgence always been censured? Isn’t it because it gives too much freedom to the monstrous multiform creature within us?’


‘And are not obstinacy and bad temper censured for increasing (b) and intensifying the strength of the lion and dragon in us to too high a pitch?’


‘Similarly are not luxury and effeminacy censured for relaxing it till it grows slack and cowardly?’


‘And we blame flattery and meanness when they subordinate the spirited element in us to the unruliness of the beast, and when, to gratify the beast’s greed and love of money, they school the lion to put up with insults and turn it into an ape.’

(c) ‘True.’

‘And why do we despise manual work as vulgar? Isn’t it because it indicates a certain weakness in our higher nature, which is unable to control the animal part of us, and can only serve and learn how to pander to it?’

‘Yes, I think so.’

‘To ensure that people of this type are under the same authority as the highest type, we have said that they should be subjected to that highest type, which is governed by its divine (d) element; but this control is not exercised, as Thrasymachus thought, to the detriment of the subject, but because it is better for every creature to be under the control of divine wisdom. That wisdom and control should, if possible, come from within; failing that it must be imposed from without, in order that, being under the same guidance, we may all be friends and equals.’46

‘That is all very right.’

‘And this is plainly the intention of the law, in the support it (e) gives to all citizens, and of the control we exercise over children, not letting them run free till we have established some kind of constitutional government in them, and have educated the best 591(a) in them to be their guardian and ruler and to take over from the best in us: then we give them their freedom.’

‘That is clearly so.’

‘Then how, my dear Glaucon,’ I asked, ‘can we possibly argue that it pays a man to be unjust or self-indulgent or do anything base that will bring him more money and power but make him a worse man?’

‘We can’t possibly.’

‘And how can it pay him to escape the punishment of wrongdoing by not being found out? If he escapes doesn’t he merely (b) become worse? And if he’s caught and punished isn’t the beast in him calmed and tamed, and his humaner part set free? And doesn’t that mean that he is making the best of his natural gifts, and, by forming a character in which self-control and justice and understanding are combined, getting something worth more than physical strength and health and good looks, just as the mind is worth more than the body?’

‘Perfectly true.’

(c) ‘This, then, will be the object of the intelligent man’s life-long endeavours. The only studies he will value will be those that form his mind and character accordingly.’

‘That’s clear enough.’

‘And as for his physical condition and training – he won’t live for the indulgence of brutish and irrational pleasures, indeed he won’t even make health his primary concern; strength and health and good looks will mean nothing to him unless they conduce (d) to self-control, and we shall always find him attuning his body to match the harmony of his mind and character.’

‘He must if he’s to be a true musician.’47

‘And won’t he observe the same principle of harmony and order in acquiring wealth? He won’t be dazzled, will he, by popular ideas of happiness and make endless troubles for himself by piling up a fortune?’

‘I should think not.’ (e) ‘Because, in so far as he is able to save or spend, he will do so under the watchful guidance of the principles of self-government in his own heart; and his only concern will be to prevent them being upset either because he possesses too much or too little.’


592 (a) ‘He will follow the same principles over honours, private or public. If he thinks they will make him a better man he will accept and enjoy them, if he thinks they will destroy the order within him, he will avoid them.’

‘If that is his object, he won’t enter politics,’ he said.

‘Oh yes, he will,’ I replied, ‘very much so, in the society where he really belongs; but not, I think, in the society where he’s born, unless some miracle happens.’

‘I see what you mean,’ he said. ‘You mean that he will do so in the society which we have been describing and which we have (b) theoretically founded; but I doubt if it will ever exist on earth.’

‘Perhaps,’ I said, ‘it is laid up as a pattern in heaven, where he who wishes can see it and found it in his own heart.48 But it doesn’t matter whether it exists or ever will exist; in it alone, and in no other society, could he take part in public affairs.’

‘I expect you are right.’

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