Ancient History & Civilisation


1. The Ideal and the Actual

Socrates is again reminded of his promise to demonstrate the practicability of his State. He starts by distinguishing the ideal from the approximations to it which are the best that can be achieved in practice, and maintaining that even if the ideal he has sketched cannot be realized in every detail, it has still been worth describing as a standard to aim at. He then goes on to assert that the only hope of realizing it, even imperfectly, is for political power to be put in the hands of ‘philosophers’.

‘But it seems to me, Socrates, that if we let you go on like this [471] you will forget that you still have to show that the state we have described is a practical possibility, and if so how; all you’ve just been saying has merely been putting the question off. I’ll admit that your state would be ideal if it existed, and I’ll fill in the gaps in your description myself. I know that the mutual loyalty the citizens would feel because they know they can call each other brothers, fathers, and sons, would make them most formidable (d)enemies; and that the presence of their women on campaign, whether they fought with them or acted as a reserve, would make them altogether invincible, because of the panic it would cause in their enemies and the support it would give in case of need. I can see also how many domestic advantages they would 471 (e) have that you have left unmentioned. I grant all this, and a thousand other things too, if our state existed, and I don’t want to hear any more details. Let us forget them and concentrate now on the job of proving to ourselves that it can exist and how it can exist.’

472 (a) ‘This is a very sudden attack,’ I countered, ‘and you’ve no mercy on my delays. I’ve just escaped two waves; but the third, which you are trying to bring on me now, is the biggest and the most difficult of the three, though you may not know it. When you have seen and heard it, you will forgive me and see how reasonable was the hesitation which made me afraid to put forward and examine such a paradoxical theory.’

‘The more of these excuses we hear,’ he replied, ‘the less likely (b) we are to let you off explaining how this social system can be realized. Get on, and don’t waste time.’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘perhaps I ought to remind you first of all that we started our discussion by trying to find out what justice and injustice are.’

‘Yes – what of it?’ he asked.

‘I was only going to ask whether, when we find out what justice is, we shall require the just man to answer the description precisely, and be an exact counterpart of what justice is. Or (c) shall we be content if he approximates to it very closely and has a bigger share1 of it than other men?’

‘That will content us.’

‘Then it is an ideal pattern1 we were looking for when we tried to say what justice and injustice are in themselves, and to describe what the perfectly just or perfectly unjust man would be like if he ever existed. By turning our eyes to them and seeing what measure of happiness or its opposite2they would enjoy, we would be forced to admit that the nearer we approximate to (d) them the more nearly we share their lot. That was our purpose, rather than to show that the ideal could be realized in practice, was it not?’

‘That is quite true.’

‘If a painter, then, paints a picture of an ideally beautiful man, complete to the last detail, is he any the worse painter because he cannot show that such a man could really exist?’

‘No, certainly not.’

(e) ‘But haven’t we been painting a word-picture of an ideal state?’


‘Is our picture any the worse drawn, then, because we can’t show how it can be realized in fact?’


‘That, then, is the truth of the matter. But if I’m to go on, to oblige you, and try to show how and under what conditions we can get nearest our ideal, I must ask you to admit that the same principles apply to my exposition.’

‘What principles?’

‘Does practice ever square with theory? Is it not in the nature 473 (a) of things that, whatever people think, practice should come less close to truth than theory? Do you agree or not?’

‘I agree.’

‘Then don’t insist on my showing that every detail of our description can be realized in practice, but grant that we shall have met your demand that its realization should be possible if we are able to find the conditions under which a state can most (b) closely approximate to it. Will you be content with that? I would.’

‘And so will I.’

‘The next thing, I suppose, is to try to show what fault it is in the constitutions of existing states that prevents them from being run like ours, and what is the least change that would bring them into conformity with it – a single change if possible, failing that two, or as few and as small as may be.’


‘I think we can show that the transformation can be effected by a single change,’ I said, ‘but it’s hardly a small or easy one, though it is possible.’

‘Tell us what it is.’

‘I’m now facing what we called the biggest wave,’ I replied. ‘I’ll tell you what it is, even if it swamps me in a surge of laughter and I’m drowned in contempt; so listen to what I’m going to say.’

‘Go on.’

‘The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles 473 (d) of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself,3 till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands, 473 (e) while the many natures now content to follow either to the exclusion of the other are forcibly debarred from doing so. This is what I have hesitated to say so long, knowing what a paradox it would sound; for it is not easy to see that there is no other road to real happiness4 either for society or the individual.’

Glaucon’s reply to this was to exclaim, ‘My dear Socrates, if 474 (a) you make pronouncements of that sort, you can’t be surprised if a large number of decent people take their coats off, pick up the nearest weapon, and come after you in their shirt sleeves to do something terrible to you. If you can’t find an argument to hold them off and escape, you’ll learn to your cost what it is to be laughed at.’

‘But it’s all your doing,’ said I.

‘And I’ve done very well too,’ he retorted. ‘But I won’t desert you, and will give you what help I can, though it won’t amount to more than goodwill and encouragement; and maybe I’m better attuned to your questions than others. So you must try to (b) convince the sceptics of the truth of what you say with that amount of help.’

‘You’re such a powerful ally that I must make the attempt,’ I replied.

2. Definition of the Philosopher

The word ‘philosophos’ was by no means unambiguous in Greek, and Plato proceeds to define what he means by it and to explain the qualities of character he demands in his true philosopher. The philosopher is the man who loves (Greek philein ) wisdom (sophia) in the widest sense, including especially learning, knowledge and truth. To explain this Plato has to bring in his own philosophical beliefs, and in particular his theory of ‘forms’. The word ‘form’ is now the common rendering of the Greek eidos or idea. The older rendering, ‘idea’, is avoided because of its misleading suggestion of a purely subjective notion.

Unfortunately Plato never gives in his dialogues a full or direct exposition of the theory; we have to reconstruct it from allusions and from the passages such as the present, where it is, in effect, assumed and used for the purpose of a particular argument. In places, indeed, it is difficult to be certain, because Plato never developed a set technical terminology, whether the forms are referred to or not (cf. Part III, note 74). Only the briefest explanation can be attempted here. It can well begin with a quotation from Cornford’s translation (p. 176). Plato, he says, is concerned with knowledge of unchanging objects: ‘in this respect the Forms resemble the laws of nature sought by modern natural science: a law is an unseen intelligible principle, a unit underlying an unlimited multiplicity of similar phenomena, and supposed to be unalterable. The Forms, however, are not laws of the sequence or co-existence of phenomena, but ideals or patterns, which have a real existence independent of our minds and of which the many individual things called by their names in the world of appearances are like images or reflections.’ To this may be added the account given by Aristotle (himself a pupil and member of the Academy) of the origin and purpose of the theory (Metaphysics A, ch. 6). He tells us that Plato at an early stage fell under the influence of the doctrines of the Heracleitean school, who believed ‘that all sensible things are in a state of flux and that there is no such thing as knowledge of them’. Plato was also, he says, influenced by Socrates, who was interested in ethical questions and not in the natural world, and who was concerned to find definitions of ethical terms. Plato generalized Socrates’ procedure and supposed that definitions of the right kind in any field must, because they yielded knowledge in the full sense, refer to a level or realm of reality other than the sensible world of which such full knowledge was not possible. Another influence to which Aristotle refers elsewhere is that of mathematics; this comes in the main from the Pythagoreans. Mathematical propositions and theorems are in an important sense independent of the sensible world; the theorems of Euclid for instance are proved by reasoning, not by measuring lines and angles. (Such knowledge is often traditionally called a priori.) It is not surprising that Plato, reflecting on this, should have been reinforced in the view that there is a level of reality more ultimate than the senses show us, and a corresponding knowledge attainable only by reason.

To apply all this to the Republic: - we have both in this section and in the similes of the Divided Line (Part VII, section 6) and Cave (Part VII, section 7) the contrast between two levels of reality. The unchanging forms, which are the objects of the philosopher’s knowledge, are what is ultimately real. The world perceived by the senses, the world of change, though not unreal, has a lower status ontologically than the realm of forms. (The contrast between ultimate reality and the world as it appears to the senses is of course familiar in philosophy, and was already familiar in Plato’s day. Parmenides had contrasted reality and appearance, and Plato’s contemporary Democritus, from a very different point of view, regarded the world revealed by the senses as having only a secondary reality compared with the ultimate realities, atoms and void.) The difference between the two realms is marked, and indeed for Plato demonstrated, in this section and in the Line simile, by a difference in mode of apprehension. On the one hand there is ‘knowledge’ (episteme ). The Greek word is used in a number of senses. It can mean knowledge, ‘how to’, professional skill and the organized body of knowledge which goes with it (cf350a where it bears this meaning); for Plato it came to mean knowledge in the full sense, thorough understanding, reached and accounted for by rational argument, as for example in mathematics (though it has an element, which appears in the Line, of direct intuitive perception). Contrasted with knowledge is ‘opinion’ or ‘belief ( doxa ). Neither word translates it adequately, because neither brings out the basic contrast between full knowledge and mere supposition, however confident. Doxa is cognate to the verb dokein which means ‘to seem’ and is used in phrases which we translate as ‘I think so’, ‘it seems to me’. But however confident and correct the judgement so expressed, it still lacks authenticity because its foundations are inadequate.

Though Plato as we have seen never developed a set terminology there are certain words and expressions which he is in the habit of using about the forms. We have already (note 1 above) seen him use the word paradeigma, indicating that the form is a pattern or standard. The pattern–likeness relation recurs in the Timaeus; the particular instances of it are then ‘images’ (eikones) or ‘likenesses’ (homoiomata). The form as standard is important particularly in ethics and mathematics. More commonly in the Republic the form is called the so-and-so, or so-and-so ‘in itself’ – the beautiful, or beauty in itself (or simply beauty itself): sometimes, as on507b, what beauty [really] is. This is sometimes translated as ‘absolute beauty’; ‘absolute’, however, has later philosophical associations and is perhaps best avoided. But the two most characteristic words are those from which the theory takes its name , idea and eidos, which originally meant ‘shape’, ‘appearance’, and came to be used non-visually of any common characteristic and so to mean ‘type’, ‘essential structure or nature’, ‘quality’. So we are told in Part X (596a) that there is a form for ‘each set of particular things, to which we apply the same name’. The relation of forms to particulars is often said to be one of ‘presence’ in them (parousia)and particulars are said to ‘share in’ or ‘partake of’ the form (metechein): ‘just acts’ are ‘just’ because they share or partake in the form of justice, which gives them their common quality, though it is not to be identified with it (just acts are not perfectly just nor drawn circles perfectly circular).

Briefly therefore we may say that the forms are objects of knowledge (as opposed to opinion), are what is ultimately real (as opposed to what appears or seems), are standards or patterns to which different but similar particulars approximate, though imperfectly (this meaning is particularly relevant in morals and mathematics), and are the common factor in virtue of which we give groups of particular things a common name.

1. The Philosopher and the Two Orders of Reality

The philosopher is in love with truth, that is, not with the changing world of sensation, which is the object of opinion, but with the unchanging reality which is the object of knowledge. (Plato seems to use epistēmē and gnoōsis interchangeably for ‘knowledge’, and both are so translated: cf. opening note for Part VII, section 6.)

In much of this section the argument centres round the Greek word einai. This has a wider range of meaning than the English ‘to be’, normally used to translate it. It may be used in the common predicative sense (‘Socrates is wise’); it may assert or imply existence (there is no separate Greek verb for ‘to exist’); it may be used to speak of what really is, what is ultimately and genuinely real, as opposed to what merely appears to be so; and in suitable contexts it can be used to refer to what is true (what is so, as opposed to what is not). Plato, his predecessors and contemporaries were much occupied with the consequent ambiguities, with many of which Plato dealt in his later dialogue, the Sophist.

‘If we are somehow to escape the attack which you say threatens us, we must define these philosophers who we dare to claim should be rulers. When they stand clearly revealed we shall be able to defend ourselves by showing that there are some who (c) are naturally fitted for philosophy and political leadership, while the rest should follow their lead but let philosophy alone.’

‘It’s time for a definition,’ he said.

‘Then follow my lead,’ I replied, ‘and we will see if we can reach a satisfactory explanation some how or other.’

‘Lead on.’

‘Well, I hardly need to remind you,’ said I, ‘that if a man can be properly said to love something, it must be clear that he feels affection for it as a whole, and does not love part of it to the exclusion of the rest.’ (d)

‘I’m afraid I do need reminding,’ he replied, ‘because I’m not quite with you.’

‘I hardly expected that answer from you, Glaucon,’ I replied; ‘anyone as susceptible as you should surely remember that those of your amorous temperament are always getting bitten with a passion for boys in the bloom of youth, and think they all deserve attention and affection. You know how it is. You (e) praise a snub nose by calling it charming, a Roman nose you call commanding, and one between the two beautifully proportioned; a dark complexion is manly, a fair one divine. And who do you think invented the description “honey-pale” but some lover making fond excuses for pallor on the cheek of youth? In fact there’s no pretext you won’t make and nothing you won’t say to avoid rejecting youth at its flower.’475 (a)

‘If you insist on attributing these habits of lovers to me, I’ll agree for the sake of argument.’

‘Well then,’ I said, ‘it’s just the same with people who love wine. Haven’t you noticed how with them any pretext is good enough to recommend any wine?’

‘Yes indeed.’

‘And I expect you’ve noticed too how those who love honour, if they can’t get command of any army, will take a battalion, and if the more important people don’t look up to them, are content if the smaller fry do, so passionately keen are they on (b) prestige of any sort.’

‘That’s very true.’

‘Then tell me this – when we say someone has a passion for something or other, don’t we mean that he wants everything of that particular kind, and not some things only?’


‘And so a philosopher’s passion is for wisdom of every kind without distinction?’


‘Then we shan’t regard anyone as a lover of knowledge or wisdom who is fussy about what he studies, especially if he is (c) young and has not yet the judgement to know what is good for him and what is not, just as we don’t say that anyone who is fussy about his food has a good appetite or a passion for eating, but call him a poor eater and not a food-lover.’

‘And we shall be quite right.’

‘But the man who is ready to taste every branch of learning, is glad to learn and never satisfied – he’s the man who deserves to be called a philosopher, isn’t he?’

‘That description covers a lot of peculiar people,’ was (d) Glaucon’s reply to this. ‘For those who love looking and listening enjoy learning about things, and so fall under your description; but they’re a peculiar lot to class as philosophers, because nothing would induce them to spend time on any kind of serious argument. They run round the city and country Dionysia, never missing a festival, as if they were under contract to listen to every performance. Are we to call all those who share such (e) tastes, or are devotees of the minor arts, philosophers?’

‘Certainly not, though there is some resemblance.’

‘Then who are the true philosophers?’ he asked.

‘Those who love to see the truth.’

‘That is clearly right; but what does it mean?’

‘It would be difficult,’ I said, ‘to explain it to anyone else; but you, I think, will agree with me on the following point.’

‘What point?’

‘That, since beauty and ugliness are opposites, they are two .’ 476 (a)

‘Of course.’

‘And as they are two , each of them is single.’

‘That is so.’

‘The same is true of justice and injustice, good and evil, and all qualities;5 each of them is in itself single, but they seem to be a multiplicity because they appear everywhere in combination with actions and material bodies and with each other.’

‘That is true.’ (b)

‘I use this principle to distinguish your sight-lovers and art-lovers and practical men from the philosophers in the true sense, who are the subject of our discussion.’

‘And how do you do it?’

‘Those who love looking and listening are delighted by beautiful sounds and colours and shapes, and the works of art which make use of them, but their minds are incapable of seeing and delighting in the essential nature of beauty itself.’

‘That is certainly so,’ he agreed.

‘And those who can reach beauty itself and see it as it is in itself are likely to be few.’ (c) ‘Very few indeed.’

‘Then what about the man who recognizes the existence of beautiful things, but does not believe in beauty itself, and is incapable of following anyone who wants to lead him to a knowledge of it? Is he awake, or merely dreaming? Look; isn’t dreaming simply the confusion between a resemblance and the reality which it resembles, whether the dreamer be asleep or awake?’

‘I should certainly say that a man in that state of mind was dreaming.’

‘Then what about the man who, contrariwise, believes in (d) beauty itself and can see both it and the particular things which share6 in it, and does not confuse particular things and that in which they share? Do you think he is awake or dreaming?’

‘He is very much awake.’

‘And so, because he knows, we can rightly call his state of mind one of knowledge; and that of the other man, who holds opinions only, opinion.’


‘And if the man who we say holds opinions but does not know is annoyed, and questions the truth of our statement, can we manage to soothe him and win him over gently, without (e) letting him know the extent of his disease?’

‘We certainly must.’

‘Let’s think what to say to him. Shall we begin our inquiry by telling him that we don’t in the least grudge him any knowledge he has, and are indeed delighted he knows anything; and then go on to ask him if he will answer this question, “Does a man who knows, know something or nothing?” You answer for him.’

‘I shall answer that he knows something.’

‘Something which is, or which is not?’7

‘Something which is; how could he know something that was 477 (a) not?’8

‘Then are we satisfied that, whichever way we look at it, what fully is is fully knowable, what in no way is is entirely unknowable?’

‘Quite satisfied.’

‘Good. Then if there is anything whose condition is such that it both is and is not, would it not lie between what absolutely is and what altogether is not ?’

‘It would.’

‘Then since knowledge is related to what is , and ignorance, necessarily, to what is not , we shall have to find out whether to what lies between them there corresponds something between ignorance and knowledge, if there is such a thing.’(b)


‘Isn’t there something we call opinion?’

‘Of course.’

‘Is it the same faculty9 as knowledge or different?’


‘So opinion and knowledge must have different correlates corresponding to their difference of faculty.’

‘They must.’

‘Then knowledge is related to what is, and knows10 what is as it is. But there’s a distinction I think I should make before I go on.’

‘What is it?’ (c)

‘Let us class together as “faculties” the powers in us, and in other things that enable us to perform all the various functions of which we are capable. Thus I call sight and hearing faculties – do you understand the type of thing I mean?’

‘Yes, I understand.’

‘Then let me tell you what I think about them. A faculty has neither colour, nor shape, nor any of the similar qualities by (d) observation of which I distinguish other things one from another; I can only identify a faculty by watching its field and its effects, and I call faculties the same if their field and effects are the same, different if these are different. What about you? What do you do?’

‘The same as you.’

‘Let us go back, then,’ I said. ‘Tell me, do you think knowledge is a faculty? Could you classify it otherwise?’

‘No; it is the most powerful of all faculties.’ (e)

‘And should opinion be classified as a faculty?’

‘Yes, it is the power which enables us to hold opinions.’

‘But a little while ago you agreed that knowledge and opinion were different.’

‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘because no reasonable person would identify the infallible with the fallible.’

‘Splendid,’ I said; ‘we are clearly agreed that opinion and 478 (a) knowledge are different.’

‘We are.’

‘Each therefore has a different natural field and a different capacity.’

‘That follows.’

‘But, of course, knowledge is related to what is; it knows11 what is as it is.’


‘While the characteristic of opinion is to form opinions, didn’t we say?’


‘Is its subject-matter the same as that of knowledge? And are the fields of knowledge and opinion the same? Or is that impossible?’

‘It’s impossible on the principles we’ve agreed. If different faculties have different natural fields, and belief and knowledge are two separate faculties, as we maintain, then it follows that the fields of knowledge and opinion must be different.’(b)

‘Then if the field of knowledge is what is, the field of opinion must be something other than what is.’


‘Is it what is not? Or is it impossible even to hold an opinion about what is not? Consider. An opinion is surely related to something. Or is it possible to hold an opinion and yet grasp nothing?’12

‘No, that’s impossible.’

‘So a man who holds an opinion grasps something.’


‘But what is not can hardly be called something – it is, properly speaking, nothing.’


‘Now, we were compelled to correlate ignorance with what is not , knowledge with what is .’13

‘Quite right.’

‘So a man who holds an opinion is concerned with neither?’


‘So opinion is neither ignorance nor knowledge.’

‘So it seems.’

‘Then does it lie beyond them? Is it clearer than knowledge, or less clear than ignorance?’


‘Then in that case,’ I asked, ‘do you think it is darker than knowledge, but clearer than ignorance?’

‘Very much so.’ (d)

‘Does it lie between the two?’


‘Opinion is in fact intermediate between them.’


‘Now we said before14 that if there was anything that appeared both to be and not to be, it would be of a kind to lie between what fully is and what absolutely is not , and would be correlated neither with knowledge nor ignorance but with what appears to be between them.’


‘And we now see that what we call opinion occupies that intermediate position.’

‘That is so.’ (e)

‘It remains for us to discover something that has its share both of being and not-being, and cannot be said to have the characteristics of either without qualification; if we find it we can fairly say that it is the object of opinion, thus correlating extremes to extremes and intermediate to intermediate. Do you agree?’


479 (a) ‘Having established these principles, I shall return to our friend who denies that there is any beauty in itself or any eternally unchanging form of beauty, that lover of sights, who loves visible beauty but cannot bear to be told that beauty is really one, and justice one, and so on – I shall return to him and ask him, “Is there any of these many beautiful objects of yours that may not also seem ugly? Or of your just and righteous acts that may not appear unjust and unrighteous?”’

(b) ‘No,’ replied Glaucon, ‘they are all bound to seem in a way both beautiful and ugly; and the same is true of the other things you mention.’

‘And what about the many things which are double something else? If they are double one thing can’t they be equally well regarded as half something else?’


‘And things which we say are large or small, light or heavy, may equally well be given the opposite epithet.’

‘Yes; they may all be given both.’

‘Then can we say that any of these many things is , any more than it is not , what anyone says it is?’

‘They are ambiguous like the puzzles people ask at parties,’ he replied, ‘or the children’s riddle about the eunuch hit ting the bat and what he threw at it and what it was sitting on.15(c) They have a similar ambiguity, and one can’t think of them definitely either as being or as not-being, or as both, or as neither.’

‘Can you think of any better way to treat them, then, than place them between being and not-being? They are not so dark as to be less real than what is not, or so luminously clear as to be more real than what is.’(d)


‘Our conclusion, therefore, it seems, is that the many conventional views held by most people about beauty and the rest hover somewhere between what is not and what fully is.’


‘And we agreed earlier that, if there appeared to be anything of the sort, it should be called the field of opinion and not of knowledge, the fluctuating intermediate realm being apprehended by the intermediate faculty.’

‘Yes, we did.’

‘Those then who have eyes for the multiplicity of beautiful (e) things and just acts, and soon, but are unable, even with another to guide them, to see beauty itself and justice itself, may be said in all cases to have opinions , but cannot be said to know any of the things they hold opinions about.’

‘That follows.’

‘And what about those who have eyes for the eternal, unchanging things? They surely have knowledge and not opinion.’

‘That follows too.’

‘And they set their hearts on the field of knowledge, while the 480 (a) other type set theirs on the field of opinion – for, as you will remember, we said that their eyes and hearts were fixed on the beautiful sounds and colours and so on, and that they could notbear even the suggestion that there was such a thing as beauty itself.’

‘Yes, I remember.’

‘So we shall be making no mistake to call them lovers of opinion rather than lovers of wisdom or philosophers. Do you think they will be very annoyed with us for saying so?’

‘Not if they take my advice,’ he replied; ‘they have no right to be annoyed at the truth.’

‘And those whose hearts are fixed on the true being of each thing are to be called philosophers and not lovers of opinion?’

‘Yes, certainly.’

2. The Qualities of Character Required in the Philosopher

The philosopher is shown to require, as philosopher, all the qualities that could be asked for in a good ruler.

BK VI ‘Well, Glaucon,’ I said, ‘we can now see, at last, what a philosopher is and what he is not, but we’ve had to go a long 484 (a) way round to find out.’

‘I doubt if we could have done it more shortly,’ he replied.

‘I don’t think we could. Though I think we could have managed better if it had been the only subject we were discussing, (b) and we hadn’t so much else to get through before we can see the difference between a just life and an unjust.’

‘Then where do we go from here?’

‘The next question is this. If philosophers have the capacity to grasp the eternal and immutable, while those who have no such capacity are not philosophers and are lost in multiplicity and change, which of the two should be in charge of a state?’

‘What would be a reasonable line to take?’ he asked. (c)

‘To say that we will appoint as Guardians whichever of them seem able to guard the laws and customs of society.’


‘And isn’t it obvious whether it’s better for a blind man or a clear-sighted one to guard and keep an eye on anything?’

‘There’s not much doubt about that,’ he agreed.

‘But surely “blind” is just how you would describe men who have no true knowledge of reality, and no clear standard16 of perfection in their mind to which they can turn, as a painter turns to his model, and which they can study closely before they (d) start laying down rules in this world about what is admirable or right or good where such rules are needed, or maintaining, as Guardians, any that already exist.’

‘Yes, blind is just about what they are.’

‘Shall we make them Guardians then? Or shall we prefer the philosophers, who have learned to know each true reality, and have no less practical experience, and can rival them in all departments of human excellence.’

‘It would be absurd not to choose the philosophers, if they are not inferior in all these other respects; for in the vital quality of knowledge they are clearly superior.’

‘Then oughtn’t we to show how knowledge can be combined 485 (a) with these other qualities in the same person?’


‘As we said at the beginning of our discussion, the first thing is to find out what their natural character is. When we have agreed about that we shall, I think, be ready to agree that they can have those other qualities as well, and that they are the people to put in charge of society.’


‘One trait in the philosopher’s character we can assume is his love of any branch of learning that reveals eternal reality, the (b) realm unaffected by the vicissitudes of change and decay.’


‘He is in love with the whole of that reality, and will not willingly be deprived even of the most insignificant fragment of it – just like the lovers and men of ambition we described earlier on.’17

‘Yes, you are quite right.’

‘Then if the philosopher is to be as we described him, must he not have a further characteristic?’(c)


‘Truthfulness. He will never willingly tolerate an untruth, but will hate it, just as he loves truth.’

‘That seems likely enough.’

‘It’s not only likely,’ I replied, ‘it is an absolutely necessary characteristic of the lover that he should be devoted to everything closely connected with the object of his love.’


‘And is there anything more closely connected with wisdom than truth?’


‘So it’s hardly possible to combine in the same character a (d) love of wisdom and a love of falsehood.’

‘Quite impossible.’

‘So the man who has a real love of learning will yearn for the whole truth from his earliest years.’


‘But we know that if a man’s desires set strongly in one direction, they are correspondingly less strong in other directions, like a stream whose water has been diverted into another channel.’


‘So when the current of a man’s desires flows towards the acquisition of knowledge and similar activities, his pleasure will (e) be in things purely of the mind, and physical pleasures will pass him by – that is if he is a genuine philosopher and not a sham.’

‘That most certainly follows.’

‘And he will be self-controlled and not grasping about money. Other people are more likely to worry about the things which make men so eager to get and spend money.’ 486 (a)


‘And of course, when you are distinguishing the philosophic from the unphilosophic character there is something else you must look for.’

‘What is that?’

‘You must see it has no touch of meanness; pettiness of mind is quite incompatible with the constant attempt to grasp things divine or human as a whole and in their entirety.’

‘Very true.’

‘And if a man has greatness of mind and the breadth of vision to contemplate all time and all reality, can he regard human life as a thing of any great consequence?’

‘No, he cannot.’

‘So he won’t think death anything to be afraid of.’ (b)


‘And so mean and cowardly natures can’t really have any dealings with true philosophy.’

‘No, they can’t.’

‘And a well-balanced man, who is neither mean nor ungenerous nor boastful nor cowardly, can hardly be difficult to deal with or unjust.’


‘So when you are looking for your philosophic character you will look to see whether it has been, from its early days, just and civilized or uncooperative and savage.’


‘There’s something else you won’t overlook.’

‘What is that?’

‘Whether it learns easily or not. You can’t expect anyone to have much love for anything which he does with pain and difficulty and little success.’

‘No, you can’t.’

‘And can a man avoid being entirely without knowledge if he can’t retain anything he’s learnt, and has no memory at all?’

‘How can he?’

‘So he will labour in vain and in the end be driven to hate himself and the whole business of learning.’


‘So we can’t include a forgetful man as one qualified for (d) philosophy; we must demand a good memory.’

‘Yes, certainly.’

‘Again, a nature that has no taste or style will tend inevitably to lack a sense of proportion.’

‘It will.’

‘And isn’t a sense of proportion nearly related to truth?’

‘Yes, it is.’

‘So we want, in addition to everything else, a mind with a grace and sense of proportion that will naturally and easily lead it on to see the form18 of each reality.’

‘I agree.’

‘Do you agree, then, that we have now been through a list of (e) characteristics, which all go together, and which the mind must have if it is to have a sufficiently full apprehension of reality?’ 487 (a)

‘Yes, it must certainly have them all.’

‘Can you, then, possibly find fault with an occupation for the proper pursuit of which a man must combine in his nature good memory, readiness to learn, breadth of vision and grace, and be a friend of truth, justice, courage, and self-control?’

‘Momus19 himself could find no fault there.’

‘Grant, then, education and maturity to round them off, and aren’t they the only people to whom you would entrust your state?’

3. The Prejudice Against Philosophy and the Corruption of the Philosophic Nature in Contemporary Society

Adeimantus objects that however well all this sounds in theory, in practice philosophers are either useless or dangerous. Socrates replies that the better type of philosopher is useless because contemporary democratic society has no use for him, and so he has no alternative but to stand aside from the corruption of political life; and that the philosophic character is only dangerous when corrupted. Besides, there are plenty of charlatans who will take the place of the true philosopher, and will bring out the worst in the public they flatter.

Two things should be remembered in this section. First, Plato’s distrust of the working of democracy as he had seen it at Athens; there are few more vivid condemnations of the ways of democratic politicians than the similes of the sea-captain (488ae) and of the ‘large and powerful animal’ (493b). Today we should also remember the operations of the ‘mass media’. Second, his dislike of the educational tradition represented by the contemporary school of Isocrates. Isocrates continued the tradition, started by the Sophists, of a general education centred upon rhetoric, the art of public speaking and self-expression. Plato, who, it should be remembered, also regarded his Academy as a school for statesmen, insisted on a more rigorous intellectual discipline of the kind to be outlined in Book vii. Isocrates thought Plato unrealistic, Plato thought Isocrates superficial.

Here Adeimantus interrupted. ‘Of course no one can deny (b) what you have said, Socrates. But whenever people hear you talking like this they have an uneasy feeling that, because they’re not very experienced in this procedure of question and answer, each question in the argument leads them a little further astray, until at the end of it all their small admissions are added up and they come a cropper and are shown to have contradicted themselves; they feel your arguments are like a game of draughts in which the unskilled player is always in the end hemmed in (c) and left without a move by the expert. Like him they feel hemmed in and left without anything to say, though they are not in the least convinced by the conclusion reached in the moves you have made in the game you play with words. Look at our present discussion. It might well be said that it was impossible to contradict you at any point in argument, but yet that it was perfectly plain that in practice people who study philosophy too long, and don’t treat it simply as part of their early education and then drop it, become, most of them, very odd birds, not to say thoroughly vicious; while even those who(d) look the best of them are reduced by this study you praise so highly to complete uselessness as members of society.’20

When he had finished, I asked him whether he thought these charges untrue, to which he replied, ‘I don’t know; I’d like to hear what you think.’ I answered that, if he wanted to know, they seemed to me perfectly true. ‘Then how,’ he asked, ‘can you possibly say that society’s troubles will never cease until it (e) is ruled by philosophers, if you agree that they’re useless members of society?’

‘To answer that question,’ I said, ‘I must give you an illustration.’

‘A thing which, of course, you never normally do!’

‘There you go,’ I said, ‘pulling my leg when you’ve landed 488 (a) me with such a difficult point to prove. But you listen to my illustration, and see just how greedy I am for comparisons. For there’s really no single thing one can use to illustrate the plight of the better type of philosopher in contemporary society; one must draw on several sources for one’s illustrations in defence of him, like a painter combining two or more animals into a goat-stag or similar monster.

‘Suppose the following to be the state of affairs on board a ship or ships. The captain21 is larger and stronger than any of (b) the crew, but a bit deaf and short-sighted, and similarly limited in seamanship. The crew are all quarrelling with each other about how to navigate the ship, each thinking he ought to be at the helm; they have never learned the art22 of navigation and cannot say that anyone ever taught it them, or that they spent any time studying it; indeed they say it can’t be taught and are (c) ready to murder anyone who says it can. They spend all their time milling round the captain and doing all they can to get him to give them the helm. If one faction is more successful than another, their rivals may kill them and throw them overboard, lay out the honest captain with drugs or drink or in some other way, take control of the ship, help themselves to what’s on board, and turn the voyage into the sort of drunken pleasure(d) cruise you would expect. Finally, they reserve their admiration for the man who knows how to lend a hand in controlling the captain by force or fraud; they praise his seamanship and navigation and knowledge of the sea and condemn everyone else as useless. They have no idea that the true navigator must study the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the winds and (e) all the other subjects appropriate to his profession if he is to be really fit to control a ship; and they think that it’s quite impossible to acquire the professional skill needed for such control (whether or not they want it exercised) and that there’s no such thing as an art of navigation. With all this going on aboard aren’t the sailors on any such ship bound to regard the true 489 (a) navigator as a word-spinner and a star-gazer, of no use to them at all?’

‘Yes, they are,’ Adeimantus agreed.

‘I think you probably understand, without any explanation, that my illustration is intended to show the present attitude of society towards the true philosopher.’

‘Yes, I understand.’

‘Then you must tell it to anyone who is surprised that society does not value its philosophers, and try first to convince him that it would be far more surprising if it did.’(b)

‘I will,’ he said.

‘And tell him it’s quite true that the best of the philosophers are of no use to their fellows; but that he should blame, not the philosophers, but those who fail to make use of them. For it is not natural for the master to request the crew to be ruled by him or for the wise to wait on the rich (the author of that epigram was wrong23); the true and natural order is for the sick man, whether rich or poor, to wait on the doctor, and for those (c) in need of direction to wait on him who can give it, if he’s really any use, and not for him to beg them to accept direction.24 And you won’t be far wrong if you compare the politicians who at present rule us to the sailors in our illustration, and those whom they call useless visionaries to the true navigators.’

‘That is very true.’

‘These are the causes and conditions which make it difficult for the best of all pursuits to get a good reputation from men whose practice runs contrary to it. But far the most damaging (d) reproach to philosophy is brought on it by those who pretend to practise it, and whom your critic has in mind when he says that most people who resort to it are vicious, and the best of them useless – a criticism with which I agreed, did I not?’


‘Well, we have explained the reason for the uselessness of the best of them.’

‘Yes, we have.’

‘Shall we go on to explain why the majority of them are necessarily corrupted, and show, if we can, that it’s not (e)philosophy’s fault?’

‘Yes, please do.’

‘Let’s begin our discussion by recalling how we described25 the character that anyone who is to be a really good man must have. Its first requisite, if you remember, was truth, which he 490 (a) must pursue at all costs on pain of becoming an impostor and being excluded from true philosophy.’

‘That was what we said.’

‘This alone is a startling paradox in view of common opinion.’

‘It certainly is,’ he agreed.

‘Then shall we not fairly plead in reply that our true lover of (b) knowledge naturally strives for reality, and will not rest content with each set of particulars which opinion takes for reality, but soars with undimmed and unwearied passion till he grasps the nature of each thing as it is,26 with the mental faculty fitted to do so, that is, with the faculty which is akin to reality, and which approaches and unites with it, and begets intelligence and truth as children, and is only released from travail when it has thus attained knowledge and true life and fulfilment?’

‘That is as fair a reply as we can make.’

‘Then can such a man love falsehood? Must he not hate it?’ (c) ‘He must.’

‘And where truth gives the lead we shan’t expect a company of evils to follow.’

‘How could they?’

‘But we shall expect a just, sound character and self-discipline as well.’

‘Very true.’

‘Then I don’t think we need insist on a review of the company of other qualities the philosophic nature must have. You will remember we found that they also included courage, greatness of mind, quickness to learn and a good memory. At that point (d) you interrupted to say that, while everyone would be compelled to agree with what we said, if he turned from the argument and looked at the people we were talking about, he would say that he saw that some philosophers were useless and others complete rogues. In our attempt to find the cause of this reproach we are now faced with the question, why are most philosophers rogues? And that is why we have been compelled to bring our definition of the nature of the true philosopher in again.’

(e)‘That is so,’ he agreed.

‘This, then, is the philosophic nature whose deterioration we must examine; in most cases it is completely ruined, but sometimes it survives, and then, as you said, men say it’s no use, 491 (a) though quite harmless. After that we must examine the nature of the characters27 that imitate it and set out on a way of life for which they are quite unsuited and which is quite beyond them, and by their many mistakes bring philosophy into the universal disrepute you have described.’

‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘about this deterioration.’

‘I will try to describe it if I can,’ I replied. ‘I think everyone will agree that the combination of qualities we have required in the character of our ideal philosopher will occur, men being (b) what they are, very seldom.’

‘Very seldom indeed.’

‘Yet think of the many powerful factors that may cause its deterioration in these rare characters.’

‘What are they?’

‘Most extraordinary of all is that each one of the qualities we praised in it – courage, self-discipline and the rest – corrupts its possessor and distracts him from philosophy.’

‘I’m surprised to hear that.’

‘What is more,’ I went on, ‘what are commonly called the (c) good things of life all contribute to ruin and distract him – good looks, wealth, physical strength, powerful social and family connections, and all the rest – you know the type of thing I mean.’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But I’d like to know more precisely what you’re getting at.’

‘Grasp it as a whole,’ I replied, ‘and it will be clear enough, and you won’t think these preliminaries so odd.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘We know that any seed or growth, plant or animal, depends (d) on the right nourishment and climate and soil; and the more robust it is the more the lack of them will hinder its proper growth, as a bad environment is more inimical to the good than to the indifferent.’


‘So it’s reasonable to expect that very high natural quality will come off worse in an unfavourable environment than poor quality.’

‘Yes, reasonable enough.’

‘Well then, Adeimantus,’ I said, ‘on this principle, must we (e) not say that the most gifted characters become particularly bad if they are badly brought up? Or do you suppose that great wrongs and unmixed wickedness are the product of a feeble nature rather than of a robust nature ruined by its upbringing? Is a weak nature likely to be responsible for anything of consequence, good or bad?

‘No; I agree with you,’ he said.

‘The philosophic nature we have postulated, therefore, if it is properly taught, must in the course of its growth develop every excellence, but if it is sown and grows in unsuitable soil, the 492 (a) very opposite will happen, unless providence intervenes. Or do you share the common view that some of our young men are corrupted by Sophists? Can the influence of individual Sophists really corrupt them to any extent? Isn’t it really the public who (b) say this who are themselves Sophists on a grand scale, and give a complete training to young and old, men and women, turning them into just the sort of people they want?’

‘When do they do that?’ he asked.

‘When they crowd into the seats in the assembly or law courts or theatre, or get together in camp or any other popular meeting place, and, with a great deal of noise and a great lack of moderation, shout and clap their approval or disapproval of whatever (c) is proposed or done, till the rocks and the whole place re-echo, and redouble the noise of their boos and applause. Can a young man’s heart remain unmoved by all this? How can his individual training stand the strain? Won’t he be swamped by the flood of popular praise and blame, and carried away with the stream till he finds himself agreeing with popular ideas of what is admirable or disgraceful, behaving like the crowd and becoming one of them?’

(d) ‘Yes, that’s bound to happen,’ he agreed.

‘And yet we’ve still said nothing about the most compelling force of all.’

‘What?’ he asked.

‘The punishments – disfranchisement, fines, or death – which these educational experts inflict on those who won’t listen to them, imposing sanctions where persuasion has failed.’

‘Yes, punish they certainly do.’

‘Then what success can private teaching or any individual Sophist have against such pressure?’

‘None, I’m afraid,’ he said.(e)

‘None at all,’ I agreed, ‘and it’s sheer folly to make the attempt. To produce a different type of character, educated for excellence on standards different from those held by public opinion, is not, never has been, and never will be possible – in terms, that is, of human possibility, and short of a miracle as they say. For, make 493 (a) no mistake, to escape harm and grow up on the right lines in our present society is something that can fairly be attributed to divine providence.’

‘I agree,’ he said.

‘Then I hope you will agree to this too.’ When he asked what it was, I went on, ‘All those individuals who make their living by teaching, and whom the public call “Sophists” and envy for their skill, in fact teach nothing but the conventional views held and expressed by the mass of the people when they meet; and this they call a science.28 What I mean is this. Suppose a man was in charge of a large and powerful animal, and made a study (b) of its moods and wants; he would learn when to approach and handle it, when and why it was especially savage or gentle, what the different noises it made meant, and what tone of voice to use to soothe or annoy it. All this he might learn by long experience and familiarity, and then call it a science, and reduce it to a system and set up to teach it. But he would not really know which of the creature’s tastes and desires was admirable(c) or shameful, good or bad, right or wrong; he would simply use the terms on the basis of its reactions, calling what pleased it good, what annoyed it bad. He would have no rational account to give of them, but would call the inevitable demands of the animal’s nature right and admirable, remaining quite blind to the real nature of and difference between inevitability and goodness, and quite unable to tell anyone else what it was. He would make a queer sort of teacher, wouldn’t he?’

‘Very queer.’

‘But is there really any difference between him and the man who thinks that the knowledge of the passions and pleasures of (d) the mass of the common people is a science, whether he be painter, musician, or politician? If he keeps such company, and submits his poems or other productions, or his public services, to its judgement, he is going out of his way to make the public his master and to subject himself to the fatal necessity29 of producing only what it approves. And have you ever heard any serious argument to prove that such productions have any genuine merit?’ (e) ‘No, and I don’t expect I shall.’

‘Bearing all this in mind, let us recall our earlier distinction between beauty itself and particular beautiful things, and 494 (a) between what is in itself and the many particulars. Do you think the common man will allow it? Will he ever believe anything of the sort?’

‘He certainly won’t.’

‘So philosophy is impossible among the common people.’

‘Quite impossible.’

‘And the common people must disapprove of philosophers.’


‘So also will all individuals who mix with the crowd and want to be popular with it.’

‘That is obvious.’

‘What hope can you see in all this that the philosophic nature will remain true to its vocation and persevere to the end? You (b) will remember that we agreed earlier that it must be quick to learn, have a good memory, and be brave and generous.’ He agreed, and I went on, ‘With such gifts a man is bound from childhood to take the lead among his fellows, especially if he is as gifted physically as mentally.’

‘Yes, that’s bound to happen.’

‘And his friends and fellow-citizens will want to use him for their own purposes when he grows up.’

‘Of course they will.’

(c) ‘They will be very submissive when they ask favours or express their admiration, flattering in anticipation the power that will one day be his.’

‘That is the way of the world,’ he said.

‘Then, in the circumstances, how do you expect him to behave?’ I asked. ‘Especially if his native country is a great one and he is himself a man of wealth and family, and well-built and good-looking into the bargain. Isn’t he sure to be filled with boundless ambition, and think himself capable of running the affairs of Greece, and of all the world30 besides; won’t he become (d) very high and mighty and full of senseless ostentation and inane pride?’31

‘Yes, he will.’

‘Suppose someone approaches him while he is falling into this state, and gently tells him the truth – that he’s completely lacking in understanding, and won’t acquire it unless he works for it like a slave; do you think he’ll find it easy to listen, beset with so many evil influences?’

‘No, he’ll find it very difficult.’

‘If, however,’ I went on, ‘his natural gifts and his natural bent for reason make him susceptible to its influence, and incline and (e) draw him towards philosophy, what reaction must we expect from his companions, who think they are going to be deprived of his support and society? There’s nothing they won’t do or say to prevent him from being won over, or to hinder his adviser 495 (a) by private intrigue and public prosecution.’32

‘That is inevitable.’

‘Then how can he possibly be a philosopher?’

‘He can’t possibly.’

‘Do you see, then,’ I concluded, ‘that we were quite right to say that the very constituents of the philosophic nature were in a way responsible, when it is badly brought up, for its fall from its proper calling, to which riches and all other so-called goods of the same kind also contribute?’

‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘we were quite right.’

‘These, then, are the many influences that destroy the best natures – which are rare enough in any case, as we said – and (b) spoil them for the highest of all pursuits. And it is men so gifted who inflict the deepest injuries on communities and individuals, and indeed, if their inclinations run that way, do them the greatest good. Small natures never do much good or harm to either.’

‘Very true.’

‘So Philosophy is abandoned by those who should be her true (c) lovers, who leave her deserted and unwed to pursue a life that does not really suit them, while she, like an abandoned orphan, suffers at the hands of second-rate interlopers all the shame and abuse which you have said her detractors accuse her of, when they say that half her companions are worthless and the other half downright wicked.’

‘That is what is commonly said.’

‘And quite rightly,’ I replied. ‘For when they see so good a (d) piece of territory, with all its titles and dignities, unoccupied, a whole crowd of squatters gladly sally out from the meaner trades, at which they have acquired a considerable degree of skill, and rush into philosophy, like a crowd of criminals taking refuge in a temple. For philosophy, abused as it is, still retains a far higher reputation than other occupations, a reputation which these stunted natures covet, their minds being as cramped (e) and crushed by their mechanical lives as their bodies are deformed by manual trades. This all follows, doesn’t it?’


‘They are for all the world like some bald-headed little tinker who’s just got out of prison and come into money, and who has a bath and dresses himself up in a newsuit, like a bridegroom, and sets off to marry his boss’s daughter because her family’s fallen on hard times.’ 496 (a) ‘The comparison is fair enough.’

‘What sort of children are they likely to produce? A mean and misbegotten lot, I think.’


‘And when men who are unfit for education have intimate dealings (which they don’t deserve) with philosophy, are not the thoughts and opinions they produce fairly called sophistry, with nothing legitimate nor any trace of true wisdom among them?’


‘So only a very small remnant survives, Adeimantus, of all (b) those worthy to have any dealings with philosophy – perhaps some honest man saved by the circumstance of exile from the influences that would corrupt his natural loyalty to her, or some great mind born in a petty state and so despising politics; and there may be a gifted few who turn to philosophy from other occupations which they rightly despise. I suppose, too, that there are some who are handicapped like our friend The ages33(c) who had every other temptation to desert philosophy, but was prevented by bad health from going into public life. My own divine sign,34 I think, hardly counts, as hardly anyone before me has had it. This small company, then, when they have tasted the happiness of philosophy and seen the frenzy of the masses, understand that political life has virtually nothing sound about it, and that they’ll find no ally to save them in the fight for justice; (d) and if they’re not prepared to join others in their wickedness, and yet are unable to fight the general savagery single-handed, they are likely to perish like a man thrown among wild beasts, without profit to themselves or others, before they can do any good to their friends or society. When they reckon all this up, they live quietly and keep to themselves, like a man who stands under the shelter of a wall during a driving storm of dust and hail; they see the rest of the world full of wrongdoing, and are (e) content to keep themselves unspotted from wickedness and wrong in this life, and finally leave it with cheerful composure and good hope.’

‘If they do that it will be no small achievement,’ he said.>497 (a)

‘Yes, but how much greater it might be in a suitable society, where they could develop more fully, to their own salvation and that of the community.’

4. The Philosopher Ruler Not Impossible

There is nothing inherently impossible in the idea of a philosopher ruler. Philosophers might gain political power, or an existing ruler might become a philosopher; and the public would soon be persuaded of the benefits of philosophic rule. But the philosophic training must be the right one, and the changes in society would have to be radical.

Plato’s own attempts to carry his ideal into the world of practical politics on the lines suggested in this section have been referred to in the Introduction, pp. xviii ff.

‘But I think we’ve said enough about the reasons for the bad reputation of philosophy and how unjust it is – or have you anything to add?’

‘No, I’ve nothing more; but I’d like to know which of existing (b) societies you think suits it.’

‘There isn’t one,’ I replied; ‘which is just my complaint. There’s no existing form of society good enough for the philosophic nature, with the result that it gets warped and altered, like a foreign seed sown in alien soil under whose influence it commonly degenerates into the local growth. In exactly the same way the philosophic type loses its true powers, and falls into habits alien to it. If only it could find a social structure whose excellence matched its own, then its truly divine quality (c) would appear clearly, and all other characters and ways of life stand revealed as merely human. But I know you’re going to ask what this social structure is.’

‘You’re wrong,’ he said, ‘I’m not. I was going to ask whether it was the state whose foundation we have been describing.’

‘In all other respects, it is,’ I replied; ‘but we did say at the time35 that there must be in our state some authority with the (d) same idea of how society should be constituted as that you embodied in your legislation.’

‘Yes, that was what we said,’ he agreed.

‘But we did not make the point clear enough. I was afraid of what your criticisms had already shown to be a long and difficult demonstration; and the hardest part of it is still to come.’

‘And what is that?’

‘How a state can handle philosophy without destroying itself. All great undertakings are risky, and, as they say, what is worth while is always difficult.’ (e) ‘None the less,’ he said, ‘we must clear the point up and so complete our demonstration.’

‘It’s not the will but the ability that may be lacking,’ I rejoined. ‘You’ll see for yourself how ready I am to try. Watch me now, I’m going to be bold enough to risk saying that the state should tackle philosophy in a way quite opposite to the present.’


‘At present,’ I said, ‘those who do take it up are quite young, and study it in the interval before they go on to set up house 498 (a) and earn their living; they start on the most difficult part (I mean abstract argument) and give it up when they’ve barely touched it, and are then considered complete philosophers. Later in life, if they accept an invitation to listen to a philosophic discussion by others, they think it quite an event, the sort of thing one does in one’s spare time, and by the time they are old any spark they have in them is extinguished even more finally than Heraclitus’ (b) sun36 – it will never be relit.’

‘And what’s the right way to approach it?’ he asked.

‘The exact opposite. When they are young, children should only tackle the amount of philosophic training their age can stand; while they are growing to maturity they should devote a good deal of attention to their bodies, if they are to find them a useful equipment for philosophy. When they are older and their minds begin to mature, their mental training can be intensified. Finally, when their strength begins to fail, and they are no longer (c) fit for political or military service, they can be given their head, and devote all their main energies to philosophy – that is if their life is to be a happy one and their final destiny after death to match their life on earth.’

‘You certainly speak boldly enough, Socrates,’ said Adeimantus; ‘but I think that the majority of your audience will be all the bolder to contradict you, and remain quite unconvinced, not least Thrasymachus.’

‘Now don’t start a quarrel between me and Thrasymachus, when we’ve just become friends – not that we were ever really enemies. I shan’t give up trying till we have convinced him and (d) the rest of them, or at any rate done something to prepare them for a future incarnation when they will meet these arguments again.’

‘That’s rather a long time ahead.’

‘Not so long compared with the whole of time. But there’s no reason to be surprised if we can’t convince the majority of people. They have never seen our words come true. They are used to carefully matched phrases,37 not the kind of spontaneous (e) argument we are having now; and as to a man who will live up to our ideal of excellence and do his best to match it both in word and deed, and who rules a state as good as himself – that, 499 (a) surely, is a thing of which they’ve never seen a single instance.’

‘Never indeed.’

‘Nor have they heard enough free and fair discussion, which strains every nerve to discover the truth out of sheer desire for knowledge, and gives a wide berth to subtle tricks of argument whose only object is to make an effect or contest a point, whether in law-court or lecture-room.’

‘No, they’ve not,’ he agreed.

‘It was for these reasons and with all this in view,’ I said, ‘that (b) we felt bound in all honesty, though with some trepidation, to say that there would never be a perfect state or society or individual until some chance compelled this minority of uncorrupted philosophers, now called useless, to take a hand in politics, willy-nilly, and compelled society to listen to them; or else until providence inspired some of our present rulers and kings, or their sons, with a genuine love of true philosophy. There is (c) no reason to suppose that either or both of these things is impossible; if there were, I think you will agree that there would be some justification for laughing at us for day-dreaming.’

‘Yes, there would.’

‘We are therefore ready to maintain that, whether it be in the infinity of past time, or in the future, or even at the present in some foreign38 country beyond our horizons, whenever men skilled in philosophy are somehow forced to take part in politics, (d) then the society we have described either exists or existed or will exist, and the spirit of philosophy herself gain control. No impossibility is involved. What we have described is admittedly difficult, but it is not impossible.’

‘I agree with you.’

‘But you don’t expect most people to do so?’

‘Probably not.’

‘You know, my dear Adeimantus,’ I rejoined, ‘you mustn’t (e) make accusations like that against the common run of men. They’ll change their minds if instead of bullying them you are gentle with them, and try to remove their prejudice against 500 (a) learning and show them what you mean by philosophers, defining their character and habits in the terms we used just now and showing that you don’t mean what they think you mean. Or do you think that people who are really amiable and good-tempered will show spite or anger if you don’t show it yourself? Let me say at once that I don’t think this sort of perversity is characteristic of the majority of men, but only of comparatively few.’

‘And of course I agree with you.’

‘Do you agree too that the popular dislike of philosophy is (b) due to that disorderly gang of gate-crashers, their mutual abuse and jealousy, and their unphilosophic preoccupation with personalities?’

‘Very much so.’

‘Because the true philosopher, as you know, Adeimantus, whose mind is on higher realities, has no time to look at the affairs of men, or to take part in their quarrels with all the (c) jealousy and bitterness they involve. His eyes are turned to contemplate fixed and immutable realities, a realm where there is no injustice done or suffered, but all is reason and order, and which is the model which he imitates and to which he assimilates himself as far as he can. For is there any way to stop a man assimilating himself to anything with which he enjoys dealing?’


‘So the philosopher whose dealings are with the divine order himself acquires the characteristics of order and divinity so far (d) as a man may; though as always he will have his detractors.’

‘That is all very true.’

‘Then if the philosopher is compelled to try to introduce the standards which he has seen there, and weave them not into himself only, but into the habits of men both in their private and public lives, will he lack the skill to produce self-discipline and justice and all the other ordinary virtues?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘And if the public discover that we are telling the truth about philosophers, will they still be angry with them and disbelieve (e) us when we say that no state can find happiness unless the artists drawing it use a divine pattern?’

‘If they do make the discovery, they will stop being angry. But what sort of drawing do you mean?’ 501 (a)

‘The first thing our artists must do,’ I replied, ‘– and it’s not easy – is to wipe the slate of human society and human habits clean. For our philosophic artists differ at once from all others in being unwilling to start work on an individual or a city, or draw out laws, until they are given, or have made themselves, a clean canvas.’

‘They are quite right.’

‘After that the first step will be to sketch in the outline of the social system.’

‘Yes, and then?’

(b) ‘Our artist will, I suppose, as he works, look frequently in both directions, that is, at justice and beauty and self-discipline and the like in their true nature,39 and again at the copy of them he is trying to make in human beings, mixing and blending traits to give the colour of manhood, and judging by that quality in men that Homer too called godly and godlike.’

‘Quite right.’

‘He will sometimes delete and draw again, of course, but will go on till he has made human nature as acceptable to God as (c) may be.’

‘It should be a very beautiful picture.’

‘Do you think,’ I asked, ‘we are beginning to persuade the would-be attackers of whose assault you warned us40 of the skill of that artist in social constitutions41 whose praises we sang to them, and into whose hands we were going to put our states, which made them so angry? Will they listen to us less impatiently now?’

‘Certainly, if they have any sense.’

(d) ‘What objections have they left to bring? Can they say that the philosopher does not love reality and truth?’

‘That would be quite absurd.’

‘Can they deny that the character we have described is at home with the best?’42


‘Or that such a character, given suitable scope, will make the perfectly good philosopher, if any will? Will they prefer the other lot whom we excluded?’ (e) ‘Certainly not.’

‘Will they still be angry when we say that until society is controlled by philosophers there will be no end to the troubles of states or their citizens, and no realization in practice of the institutions43 we have described in theory?’

‘Less angry than they were perhaps.’

‘Then do you mind if we go further and say that they are altogether reconciled and won over? That should shame them into agreement if anything will.’ 502 (a)

‘Very well then.’

‘Then let us assume that we have convinced them so far,’ I said. ‘Do you think that any of them will object that kings’ or rulers’ sons cannot possibly have the philosophic character?’

‘No; no one would say that.’

‘And will anyone be able to argue that anyone so born must inevitably be corrupted? We admit that it is difficult to avoid corruption; but will anyone object that not a single individual (b) could avoid it in the whole of time?’


‘But one is enough for our purpose,’ I said; ‘if society obeys him, he can set all our doubts at rest.’

‘He can.’

‘Because once he has power and institutes all the laws and customs we have described, there’s no impossibility in supposing that the citizens would be ready to carry them out.’

‘None at all.’

‘And would it be an impossible miracle if others agreed with (c) our opinion?’

‘I think not.’

‘We have, then, already shown adequately enough in our discussion that our proposals, if practicable, are the best that can be devised.’

‘Yes, we have.’

‘The conclusion seems to be that our proposed legislation, if put into effect, would be the ideal, and that to put it into effect, though difficult, would not be impossible.’

‘That is our conclusion.’

5. The Good as Ultimate Object of Knowledge

Plato proceeds to the education of the philosopher, with which the rest of this Part and the whole of the next Part are concerned.

1. He begins with a reminder of the qualities of character which the philosopher must have, and goes on to emphasize that those qualities must be based on knowledge, ultimately on knowledge of the good, which for him means, as this passage makes clear, the form of the good. After dismissing briefly the views of those who believe the good is pleasure or knowledge, Socrates refuses to give a direct statement of his own view of it, and instead offers to describe it in a simile.

‘Well, then, that part of our job is done – and it’s not been easy; we must now go on to the next, and ask about the studies (d) and pursuits which will produce these saviours of our society. What are they to learn and at what age are they to learn it?’

‘Yes, that’s our next question.’

‘I didn’t really gain anything,’ I said, ‘by being clever and putting off the difficulties about the possession of women, the production of children and the establishment of Rulers till later. I knew that my true society would give offence and be difficult to realize; but I have had to describe it all the same. I’ve dealt with the business about women and children, and now I’ve got 503 (a) to start again on the Rulers. You will remember that we said they must love their country, and be tested both in pleasure and pain, to ensure that their loyalty remained unshaken by pain or fear or any other vicissitude; those who failed the test were to be rejected, but those who emerged unscathed, like gold tried in the fire, were to be established as rulers and given honours and rewards both in life and after death.44 This is roughly what we (b) said, but we were afraid of stirring up the problems we are now facing, and our argument evaded the issue and tried to get by without being seen.’

‘Yes, I remember,’ he said.

‘You know, I hesitated before to say the rash things I’ve said,’

I replied; ‘but now let me be brave and say that our Guardians, in the fullest sense, must be philosophers.’

‘So be it.’

‘Think how few of them there are likely to be. The elements in the character which we said45 they must have don’t usually combine into a whole, but are normally found separately.’

‘What do you mean?’ (c)

‘Readiness to learn and remember, quickness and keenness of mind and the qualities that go with them, and enterprise and breadth of vision, aren’t usually combined with readiness to live an orderly, quiet and steady life; their keenness makes such temperaments very unpredictable and quite devoid of steadiness.’


‘And again, steady, consistent characters on whom you can rely, and who are unmoved by fear in war, are equally unmoved (d) by instruction. Their immobility amounts indeed to numbness and, faced with anything that demands intellectual effort, they yawn and sink into slumber.’

‘That’s all quite true.’

‘But we demand a full and fair share of both sets of qualities from anyone who is to be given the highest form of education and any share of office or authority.’

‘And rightly.’

‘So the character we want will be a rare occurrence.’

‘It will.’

‘And we must not only test it in the pains and fears and (e) pleasures we have already described, but also try it out in a series of intellectual studies which we omitted before, to see if it has the endurance to pursue the highest forms of knowledge, 504 (a) without flinching as others flinch in physical trials.’

‘A fair test; but what,’ he asked, ‘are these highest forms of knowledge?’

‘You remember,’ I answered, ‘that we distinguished46 three elements in the mind, and then went on to deal with justice, self-control, courage and wisdom.’

‘If I didn’t remember that,’ he said, ‘I shouldn’t have any claim to hear the rest of the argument.’

‘Then do you remember what we said just before we dealt with these subjects?’47


(b) ‘We said that a really clear view of them could only be got by making a detour for the purpose, though we could give some indication on the basis of our earlier argument. You said that was good enough, and so our subsequent description fell short, in my view, of real precision; whether it was precise enough for you, is for you to say.’

‘I thought you gave us fair measure, and so, I think, did the others.’

(c) ‘My dear Adeimantus, in matters like this nothing is fair measure that falls short of the truth in any respect,’ I replied. ‘You can’t use the imperfect as a measure of anything – though people are sometimes content with it, and don’t want to look further.’

‘Yes, but it’s usually because they’re too lazy.’

‘A most undesirable quality in a Guardian of state and laws.’

‘A fair comment.’

‘Then he must take the longer way round,’ I said, ‘and must (d) work as hard at his intellectual training as at his physical; otherwise, as we’ve just said, he will never finally reach the highest form of knowledge, which should be peculiarly his own.’

‘The highest?’ he asked. ‘But is there anything higher than justice and the other qualities we discussed?’

‘There is,’ I said. ‘And we ought not to be content with the sight of a mere sketch even of these qualities, or fail to complete (e) the picture in detail. For it would be absurd, would it not, to devote all our energies to securing the greatest possible precision and clarity in matters of little consequence, and not to demand the highest precision in the most important things of all?’

‘Quite absurd,’ he agreed. ‘But you can hardly expect to escape cross-questioning about what you call the highest form of knowledge and its object.’

‘I don’t expect to escape from you,’ I returned; ‘ask your questions. Though you’ve heard about it often enough, and 505 (a) either don’t understand for the moment, or else are deliberately giving me trouble by your persistence – I suspect it’s the latter, because you have certainly often been told that the highest form of knowledge is knowledge of the form of the good, from which things that are just and so on derive48 their usefulness and value. You know pretty well that that’s what I have to say, and that I’m going to add that our knowledge of it is inadequate, and that if we are ignorant of it the rest of our knowledge, however perfect, can be of no benefit to us, just as it’s no use possessing anything if you can’t get any good out of it. Or do you think (b) there’s any point in possessing anything if it’s no good? Is there any point in having all other forms of knowledge without that of the good, and so lacking knowledge about what is good and valuable?’49

‘I certainly don’t think there is.’

‘And you know of course that most ordinary people think that pleasure is the good, while the more sophisticated think it is knowledge.’


‘But those who hold this latter view can’t tell us what knowledge they mean, but are compelled in the end to say they mean knowledge of the good.’

‘Which is quite absurd.’

‘An absurdity they can’t avoid, if, after criticizing us for not knowing the good, they then turn round and talk to us as if we c did know it; for they say it is “knowledge of the good” as if we understood what they meant when they utter the word “good”.’

‘That’s perfectly true.’

‘Then what about those who define good as pleasure? Is their confusion any less? Aren’t they compelled to admit that there are bad pleasures?’

‘Of course they are.’

‘And they thus find themselves admitting that the same things are both good and bad, don’t they?’

‘Yes.’ (d)

‘So it’s obvious that the subject is highly controversial.’

‘It is indeed.’

‘Well, then, isn’t it obvious too that when it’s a matter of justice or value many people prefer the appearance to the reality, whether it’s a matter of possession and action or of reputation; but that no one is satisfied to have something that only appears to be good, but wants something that reallyis, and has no use here for appearances?’

‘Absolutely true.’

‘The good, then, is the end of all endeavour, the object on (e) which every heart is set, whose existence it divines, though it finds it difficult to grasp just what it is; and because it can’t handle it with the same assurance as other things it misses any value those other things have. Can we possibly agree that the 506 (a) best of our citizens, to whom we are going to entrust everything, should be in the dark about so important a subject?’

‘It’s the last thing we can admit.’

‘At any rate a man will not be a very useful Guardian of what is right and valuable if he does not know in what their goodness consists; and I suspect that until he does no one can know them adequately.’

‘Your suspicions are well founded.’

‘So our society will be properly regulated only if it is in the (b) charge of a Guardian who has this knowledge.’

‘That must be so,’ he said. ‘But what about you, Socrates? Do you think that the good is knowledge or pleasure? Or do you think it’s something else?’

‘What a man!’ I exclaimed. ‘It’s been obvious for some time that you wouldn’t be satisfied with other people’s opinions!’

‘But I don’t think it’s right, Socrates,’ he protested, ‘for you (c) to be able to tell us other people’s opinions but not your own, when you’ve given so much time to the subject.’

‘Yes, but do you think it’s right for a man to talk as if he knows what he does not?’

‘He has no right to talk as if he knew; but he should be prepared to say what it is that he thinks.’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘haven’t you noticed that opinion without knowledge is always a poor thing? At the best it is blind – isn’t anyone who holds a true opinion without understanding like a blind man on the right road?’


‘Then do you want a poor, blind, halting display from me, (d) when you can get splendidly clear accounts from other people?’

‘Now, for goodness’ sake don’t give up when you’re just at the finish, Socrates,’ begged Glaucon. ‘We shall be quite satisfied if you give an account of the good similar to that you gave of justice and self-control and the rest.’

‘And so shall I too, my dear chap,’ I replied, ‘but I’m afraid it’s beyond me, and if I try I shall only make a fool of myself and be laughed at. So please let us give up asking for the present what the good is in itself; I’m afraid that to reach what I think (e) would be a satisfactory answer is beyond the range of our present inquiry. But I will tell you, if you like, about something which seems to me to be a child of the good, and to resemble it very closely - or would you rather I didn’t?’

‘Tell us about the child and you can owe us your account of the parent,’ he said.

‘It’s a debt I wish I could pay back to you in full, instead of 507 (a) only paying interest50 on the loan,’ I replied. ‘But for the present you must accept my description of the child of the good as interest. But take care I don’t inadvertently cheat you by forging my account of the interest due.’

‘We’ll be as careful as we can,’ he said. ‘Go on.’

2. The Simile of the Sun. This simile compares the Form of the Good to the Sun, and may be set out in tabular form as follows:

Visible World

Intelligible World

The Sun

The Good

Source of { growth and light

Source of { reality and truth,

which gives

which gives

visibility to objects of sense

intelligibility to objects of thought



the power of seeing to

the power of knowing to

the eye.

the mind.

The faculty of sight.

The faculty of knowledge.

‘I must first get your agreement to, and remind you of something we have said earlier in our discussion,51 and indeed on many other occasions.’

(b) ‘What is it?’ he asked.

I replied, ‘We say that there are many particular things that are beautiful, and many that are good, and so on, and distinguish between them in our account.’

‘Yes, we do.’

‘And we go on to speak of beauty-in-itself, and goodness-in-itself, and so on for all the sets of particular things which we have regarded as many; and we proceed to posit by contrast a single form, which is unique, in each case, and call it “what really is” each thing.’52

‘That is so.’

‘And we say that the particulars are objects of sight but not of intelligence, while the forms are the objects of intelligence but not of sight.’


(c) ‘And with what part of ourselves do we see what we see?’

‘With our sight.’

‘And we hear with our hearing, and so on with the other senses and their objects.’

‘Of course.’

‘Then have you noticed,’ I asked, ‘how extremely lavish the designer of our senses was when he gave us the faculty of sight and made objects visible?’

‘I can’t say I have.’

‘Then look. Do hearing and sound need something of another kind in addition to themselves to enable the ear to hear and the (d) sound to be heard – some third element without which the one cannot hear or the other be heard?’


‘And the same is true of most, I might say all, the other senses. Or can you think of any that needs anything of the kind?’

‘No, I can’t.’

‘But haven’t you noticed that sight and the visible do need one?’


‘If the eyes have the power of sight, and its possessor tries to use this power, and if objects have colour, yet you know that he (e) will see nothing and the colours will remain invisible unless a third element is present which is specifically and naturally adapted for the purpose.’

‘What is that?’ he asked.

‘What you call light,’ I answered.


‘Then the sense of sight and the visibility of objects are yoked by a yoke a long way more precious than any other – that is, if 508 (a) light is a precious thing.’

‘Which it most certainly is.’

‘Which, then, of the heavenly bodies53 do you regard as responsible for this? Whose light would you say it is that makes our eyes see and objects be seen most perfectly?’

‘I should say the same as you or anyone else; you mean the sun, of course.’

‘Then is sight related to its divine source as follows?’


‘The sun is not identical with sight, nor with what we call the eye in which sight resides.’ (b)


‘Yet of all sense-organs the eye is the most sunlike.’

‘Much the most.’

‘So the eye’s power of sight is a kind of infusion dispensed to it by the sun.’


‘Then, moreover, though the sun is not itself sight, it is the cause of sight and is seen by the sight it causes.’

‘That is so.’

‘Well, that is what I called the child of the good,’ I said. ‘The good has begotten it in its own likeness, and it bears the same (c) relation to sight and visible objects in the visible realm that the good bears to intelligence and intelligible objects in the intelligible realm.’

‘Will you explain that a bit further?’ he asked.

‘You know that when we turn our eyes to objects whose colours are no longer illuminated by daylight, but only by moonlight or starlight, they see dimly and appear to be almost blind, as if they had no clear vision.’


(d) ‘But when we turn them on things on which the sun is shining, then they see clearly, and obviously have vision.’


‘Apply the analogy to the mind. When the mind’s eye is fixed on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and knows them, and its possession of intelligence is evident; but when it is fixed on the twilight world of change and decay, it can only form opinions, its vision is confused and its opinions shifting, and it seems to lack intelligence.’

‘That is true.’

(e) ‘Then what gives the objects of knowledge their truth and the knower’s mind the power of knowing is the form54 of the good. It is the cause of knowledge and truth, and you will be right to think of it as being itself known, and yet as being something other than, and even more splendid55than, knowledge and truth, splendid as they are. And just as it was right to think of light 509 (a) and sight as being like the sun, but wrong to think of them as being the sun itself, so here again it is right to think of knowledge and truth as being like the good, but wrong to think of either of them as being the good, whose position must be ranked still higher.’

‘You are making it something of remarkable splendour if it is the source of knowledge and truth, and yet itself more splendid than they are. For I suppose you can’t mean it to be pleasure?’ he asked.

‘A monstrous suggestion,’ I replied. ‘Let us pursue our analogy further.’

(b) ‘Go on.’

‘The sun, I think you will agree, not only makes the things we see visible, but causes the processes of generation, growth and nourishment, without itself being such a process.’


‘The good therefore may be said to be the source not only of the intelligibility of the objects of knowledge, but also of their being and reality; yet it is not itself that reality, but is beyond it, and superior to it in dignity and power.’

(c) ‘It really must be miraculously transcendent,’ remarked Glaucon to the general amusement.

‘Now, don’t blame me,’ I protested; ‘it was you who made me say what I thought about it.’

‘Yes, and please go on. At any rate finish off the analogy with the sun, if you haven’t finished it.’

‘I’ve not nearly finished it.’

‘Then go on and don’t leave anything out?’

‘I’m afraid I must leave a lot out,’ I said. ‘But I’ll do my best to get in everything I can in present circumstances.’

‘Yes, please do.’

6. The Divided Line

The analogy of the Divided Line is, Plato makes clear, a sequel to the Sun simile, its purpose being to illustrate further the relation between the two orders of reality with which the Sun simile dealt. But it does so from a particular point of view, that of the states of mind (pathēmata: 511d) in which we apprehend these two orders or realms. The purpose of the Line, therefore, is not, primarily, to give a classification of objects. Both of the two states of mind correlated with the intelligible realm deal with the same kind of object (the forms), though each deals with them in a different way; and though in the physical world there is a difference between physical things and their shadows, that difference is used primarily to illustrate degrees of ‘truth’ or genuineness in what is apprehended – we know very little about a thing if our knowledge is confined to shadows or images of it or, for that matter, to its superficial appearance. The simile may be set out in the form of the table overleaf.

Broadly speaking, the mental states comprised by the four sub-divisions are: (A) Intelligence. Full understanding, culminating in the vision of ultimate truth. This understanding is reached by philosophy, or as Plato often calls it ‘dialectic’; a term whose modern associations are quite misleading in interpreting the Republic, but which, with that caution, remains a convenient translation. (B) Reason. The procedure of mathematics, purely deductive and uncritical of its assumptions. (C) Belief. Commonsense beliefs on matters both moral and physical, which are a fair practical guide to life but have not been fully thought out. (Later, in the Timaeus , Plato includes the natural sciences in this sub-section, as they can never reach ultimate truth, being concerned with a changeable world.) (D) Illusion. All the various illusions, ‘secondhand impressions and opinions’56of which the minds of ordinary people are full. In this section ‘illusion’ merely appears as the perception of shadows and reflections. But the wider interpretation is demanded by the Cave simile, which elaborates in a more graphic form the classification set out in the Line. And it is also clearly implied in Book x(595 below) that all works of poetry and art are to be included in this sub-section.


To look forward for a moment, Plato is not entirely consistent in his use of terms (see Part VIII, note 23). In Part VII, section 2.1 ff. the contrast is frequently between doxa and gnosis , another word for knowledge . Noēsis is sometimes used of subsection A of the Line, but, perhaps because the content of the whole ‘region’ AB is called noēton , it is also used of intellectual operations more generally. And at one place (a) epistēmē is used of sub-section A. The content of CD, commonly referred to in the Line as to horāton , the visible, is in this diagram also called the physical world. Though there is an emphasis in the simile on purely visual terms, Plato instances animals, plants and manufactured objects as examples in sub-section C, and for example a donkey eating hay in a barn is not a purely visual object. Besides, it is made quite clear in Part VIII that CD is the world perceived by our senses ( aisthēton ), the world of material change ( genesis ). The diagram assumes that both noēsis and dianoia deal with forms and that dianoia has no separate type of object. It is sometimes claimed that Plato implies that there are special mathematical objects in sub-section B; but his language at 510d suggests rather that the mathematicians deal with forms, but in a not fully adequate way. See also Part viii, note 9.

This brief dogmatic summary can hardly do justice to the problems raised by the Line and its two companion similes and to the controversies which they have occasioned. Some suggestions for further reading will be found in the endmatter (References and Sources, see especially Cross and Woozley, Chs. 9 and 10). But the reader should first study what Plato himself has to say about the way in which the similes are to be interpreted and linked: see especially 517bd, and note 78 , 532ab and cf. Appendix I.

‘You must suppose, then,’ I went on, ‘that there are these two [509] d powers57 of which I have spoken, and that one of them is supreme over everything in the intelligible order or region, the other over everything in the visible region – I won’t say in the physical universe or you will think I’m playing with words.58 At any rate you have before your mind these two orders59 of things, the visible and the intelligible?’

‘Yes, I have.’

‘Well, suppose you have a line divided into two unequal parts, and then divide the two parts again in the same ratio,60 to represent the visible and intelligible orders. This gives you, in 510 (a) terms of comparative clarity and obscurity, in the visible order one sub-section of images (D): by “images” I mean first shadows, then reflections in water and other close-grained, polished surfaces, and all that sort of thing, if you understand me.’

‘I understand.’

‘Let the other sub-section (C) stand for the objects which are the originals of the images – the animals around us, and every kind of plant and manufactured object.’

‘Very good.’

‘Would you be prepared to admit that these sections differ in that one is genuine,61 one not, and that the relation of image to original is the same as that of the realm of opinion to that of knowledge?’

(b) ‘I most certainly would.’

‘Then consider next how the intelligible part of the line is to be divided.’


‘In one sub-section (B) the mind uses the originals of the visible order in their turn as images, and has to base its inquiries on assumptions62 and proceed from them not to a first principle but to a conclusion: in the other (A) it moves63 from assumption to a first principle which involves no assumption, without the images used in the other sub-section, but pursuing its inquiry solely by and through forms themselves.’

‘I don’t quite understand.’

(c) ‘I will try again, and what I have just said will help you to understand. I think you know that students of geometry and calculation and the like begin by assuming there are odd and even numbers, geometrical figures and the three forms of angle, and other kindred items in their respective subjects; these they regard as known, having put them forward as basic assumptions which it is quite unnecessary to explain to themselves or anyone (d) else on the grounds that they are obvious to everyone. Starting from them, they proceed through a series of consistent steps to the conclusion which they set out to find.’

‘Yes, I certainly know that.’

‘You know too that they make use of and argue about visible figures,64 though they are not really thinking about them, but about the originals which they resemble; it is not about the square or diagonal which they have drawn that they are arguing, but about the square itself or diagonal itself, or whatever the figure may be. The actual figures they draw or model, which themselves cast their shadows and reflections in water – these they treat as images only, the real objects of their investigation being invisible except to the eye of reason.’65511 (a)

‘That is quite true.’

‘This type of thing I called intelligible, but said that the mind was forced to use assumptions in investigating it, and did not proceed to a first principle, being unable to depart from and rise above its assumptions; but it used as illustrations the very things (C) which in turn have their images and shadows on the lower level (D), in comparison with which they are themselves respected and valued for their clarity.’

‘I understand,’ he said. ‘You are referring to what happens in (b) geometry and kindred sciences.’66

‘Then when I speak of the other sub-section of the intelligible part of the line you will understand that I mean that which the very process of argument grasps by the power of dialectic; it treats assumptions not as principles, but as assumptions in the true sense, that is, as starting points and steps in the ascent to something which involves no assumption and is the first principle of everything; when it has grasped that principle it can again descend, by keeping to the consequences that follow from it, to a conclusion. The whole procedure involves nothing in the sensible world, but moves solely through forms to forms, and (c) finishes with forms.’

‘I understand,’ he said; ‘though not fully, because what you describe sounds like a long job. But you want to distinguish that part (A) of the real and intelligible (A + B) which is studied by the science67 of dialectic as having greater clarity than that (B) studied by what are called “sciences”.68These sciences treat their assumptions as first principles and, though compelled to use reason69 and not sense-perception in surveying70 their (d) subject-matter, because they proceed in their investigations from assumptions and not to a first principle, they do not, you think, exercise intelligence on it, even though with the aid of a first principle it is intelligible.71 And I think that you call the habit of mind of geometers and the like reason but not intelligence, meaning by reason something midway between opinion (C + D) and intelligence (A).’

‘You have understood me very well,’ I said. ‘So please take it that there are, corresponding to the four sections of the line,

(e) these four states of mind; to the top section intelligence, to the second reason, to the third belief, and to the last illusion.72 And you may arrange them in a scale, and assume that they have degrees of clarity corresponding to the degree of truth possessed by their subject-matter.’

‘I understand,’ he replied, ‘and agree with your proposed arrangement.’

7. The Simile of the Cave

This is a more graphic presentation of the truths presented in the analogy of the Line; in particular, it tells us more about the two states of mind called in the Line analogy Belief and Illusion. We are shown the ascent of the mind from illusion to pure philosophy, and the difficulties which accompany its progress. And the philosopher, when he has achieved the supreme vision, is required to return to the cave and serve his fellows, his very unwillingness to do so being his chief qualification.

As Cornford pointed out, the best way to understand the simile is to replace ‘the clumsier apparatus’ of the cave by the cinema, though today television is an even better comparison. It is the moral and intellectual condition of the average man from which Plato starts; and though clearly the ordinary man knows the difference between substance and shadow in the physical world, the simile suggests that his moral and intellectual opinions often bear as little relation to the truth as the averagefilm or television programme does to real life.

‘I want you to go on to picture the enlightenment or ignorance BK VII of our human condition somewhat as follows. Imagine an underground chamber like a cave, with a long entrance open to the 514 (a) daylight and as wide as the cave. In this chamber are men who have been prisoners there since they were children, their legs and necks being so fastened that they can only look straight ahead of them and cannot turn their heads. Some way off, (b) behind and higher up, a fire is burning, and between the fire and the prisoners and above them runs a road, in front of which a curtain-wall has been built, like the screen at puppet shows between the operators and their audience, above which they show their puppets.’

‘I see.’

‘Imagine further that there are men carrying all sorts of gear along behind the curtain-wall, projecting above it and including figures of men and animals made of wood and stone and all (c) sorts of other materials, and that some of these men, as you 515 (a)would expect, are talking and some not.’

‘An odd picture and an odd sort of prisoner.’

‘They are drawn from life,’73 I replied. ‘For, tell me, do you think our prisoners could see anything of themselves or their fellows except the shadows thrown by the fire on the wall of the cave opposite them?’

‘How could they see anything else if they were prevented from moving their heads all their lives?’ (b)

‘And would they see anything more of the objects carried along the road?’

‘Of course not.’

‘Then if they were able to talk to each other, would they not assume that the shadows they saw were the real things?’


‘And if the wall of their prison opposite them reflected sound, don’t you think that they would suppose, whenever one of the passers-by on the road spoke, that the voice belonged to the shadow passing before them?’

‘They would be bound to think so.’

‘And so in every way they would believe that the shadows of (c) the objects we mentioned were the whole truth.’74

‘Yes, inevitably.’

‘Then think what would naturally happen to them if they were released from their bonds and cured of their delusions. Suppose one of them were let loose, and suddenly compelled to stand up and turn his head and look and walk towards the fire; (d) all these actions would be painful and he would be too dazzled to see properly the objects of which he used to see the shadows. What do you think he would say if he was told that what he used to see was so much empty nonsense and that he was now nearer reality and seeing more correctly, because he was turned towards objects that were more real, and if on top of that he were compelled to say what each of the passing objects was when it was pointed out to him? Don’t you think he would be at a loss, and think that what he used to see was far truer75 than the objects now being pointed out to him?’

‘Yes, far truer.’

(e) ‘And if he were made to look directly at the light of the fire, it would hurt his eyes and he would turn back and retreat to the things which he could see properly, which he would think really clearer than the things being shown him.’


‘And if,’ I went on, ‘he were forcibly dragged up the steep and rugged ascent and not let go till he had been dragged out into 516 (a) the sunlight, the process would be a painful one, to which he would much object, and when he emerged into the light his eyes would be so dazzled by the glare of it that he wouldn’t be able to see a single one of the things he was now told were real.’76

‘Certainly not at first,’ he agreed.

‘Because, of course, he would need to grow accustomed to the light before he could see things in the upper world outside the cave. First he would find it easiest to look at shadows, next at the reflections of men and other objects in water, and later on at the objects themselves. After that he would find it easier to observe the heavenly bodies and the sky itself at night, and (b) to look at the light of the moon and stars rather than at the sun and its light by day.’

‘Of course.’

‘The thing he would be able to do last would be to look directly at the sun itself, and gaze at it without using reflections in water or any other medium, but as it is in itself.’

‘That must come last.’

‘Later on he would come to the conclusion that it is the sun that produces the changing seasons and years and controls everything in the visible world, and is in a sense responsible for (c) everything that he and his fellow-prisoners used to see.’

‘That is the conclusion which he would obviously reach.’

‘And when he thought of his first home and what passed for wisdom there, and of his fellow-prisoners, don’t you think he would congratulate himself on his good fortune and be sorry for them?’

‘Very much so.’

‘There was probably a certain amount of honour and glory to be won among the prisoners, and prizes for keensightedness for those best able to remember the order of sequence among the passing shadows and so be best able to divine their future (d)appearances. Will our released prisoner hanker after these prizes or envy this power or honour? Won’t he be more likely to feel, as Homer says, that he would far rather be “a serf in the house of some landless man”,77 or indeed anything else in the world, than hold the opinions and live the life that they do?’

‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘he would prefer anything to a life like (e) theirs.’

‘Then what do you think would happen,’ I asked, ‘if he went back to sit in his old seat in the cave? Wouldn’t his eyes be blinded by the darkness, because he had come in suddenly out of the sunlight?’


‘And if he had to discriminate between the shadows, in competition with the other prisoners, while he was still blinded and 517 (a) before his eyes got used to the darkness – a process that would take some time – wouldn’t he be likely to make a fool of himself? And they would say that his visit to the upper world had ruined his sight, and that the ascent was not worth even attempting. And if anyone tried to release them and lead them up, they would kill him if they could lay hands on him.’

‘They certainly would.’

‘Now, my dear Glaucon,’ I went on, this simile must be (b) connected throughout with what preceded it.78 The realm revealed by sight corresponds to the prison, and the light of the fire in the prison to the power of the sun. And you won’t go wrong if you connect the ascent into the upper world and the sight of the objects there with the upward progress of the mind into the intelligible region. That at any rate is my interpretation, which is what you are anxious to hear; the truth of the matter is, after all, known only to god.79 But in my opinion, for what it is worth, the final thing to be perceived in the intelligible region, (c) and perceived only with difficulty, is the form of the good; once seen, it is inferred to be responsible for whatever is right and valuable in anything, producing in the visible region light and the source of light, and being in the intelligible region itself controlling source of truth and intelligence. And anyone who is going to act rationally either in public or private life must have sight of it.’

‘I agree,’ he said, ‘so far as I am able to understand you.’

‘Then you will perhaps also agree with me that it won’t be surprising if those who get so far are unwilling to involve themselves in human affairs, and if their minds long to remain (d) in the realm above. That’s what we should expect if our simile holds good again.’

‘Yes, that’s to be expected.’

‘Nor will you think it strange that anyone who descends from contemplation of the divine to human life and its ills should blunder and make a fool of himself, if, while still blinded and unaccustomed to the surrounding darkness, he’s forcibly put on trial in the law-courts or elsewhere about the shadows of justice or the figures80 of which they are shadows, and made to dispute (e) about the notions of them held by men who have never seen justice itself.’

‘There’s nothing strange in that.’

518 (a) ‘But anyone with any sense,’ I said, ‘will remember that the eyes may be unsighted in two ways, by a transition either from light to darkness or from darkness to light, and will recognize that the same thing applies to the mind. So when he sees a mind confused and unable to see clearly he will not laugh without thinking, but will ask himself whether it has come from a clearer world and is confused by the unaccustomed darkness, or whether it is dazzled by the stronger light of the clearer world (b) to which it has escaped from its previous ignorance. The first condition of life is a reason for congratulation, the second for sympathy, though if one wants to laugh at it one can do so with less absurdity than at the mind that has descended from the daylight of the upper world.’

‘You put it very reasonably.’

‘If this is true,’ I continued, ‘we must reject the conception of education professed by those who say that they can put into the mind knowledge that was not there before – rather as if they (c) could put sight into blind eyes.’

‘It is a claim that is certainly made,’ he said.

‘But our argument indicates that the capacity for knowledge is innate in each man’s mind, and that the organ by which he learns is like an eye which cannot be turned from darkness to light unless the whole body is turned; in the same way the mind as a whole must be turned away from the world of change until its eye can bear to look straight at reality, and at the brightest of all realities which is what we call the good. Isn’t (d) that so?’


‘Then this turning around of the mind itself might be made a subject of professional skill,81 which would effect the conversion as easily and effectively as possible. It would not be concerned to implant sight, but to ensure that someone who had it already was not either turned in the wrong direction or looking the wrong way.’

‘That may well be so.’

‘The rest, therefore, of what are commonly called excel- lences82 of the mind perhaps resemble those of the body, in that (e) they are not in fact innate, but are implanted by subsequent training and practice; but knowledge, it seems, must surely have a diviner quality, something which never loses its power, but 519 (a) whose effects are useful and salutary or again useless and harmful according to the direction in which it is turned. Have you never noticed how shrewd is the glance of the type of men commonly called bad but clever? They have small minds, but their sight is sharp and piercing enough in matters that concern them; it’s not that their sight is weak, but that they are forced to serve evil, so that the keener their sight the more effective that evil is.’

‘That’s true.’

‘But suppose,’ I said, ‘that such natures were cut loose, when (b) they were still children, from all the dead weights natural to this world of change and fastened on them by sensual indulgences like gluttony, which twist their minds’ vision to lower things, and suppose that when so freed they were turned towards the truth, then this same part of these same individuals would have as keen a vision of truth as it has of the objects on which it is at present turned.’

‘Very likely.’

‘And is it not also likely, and indeed a necessary consequence of what we have said, that society will never be properly governed either by the uneducated, who have no knowledge of the (c) truth, or by those who are allowed to spend all their lives in purely intellectual pursuits? The uneducated have no single aim in life to which all their actions, public and private, are to be directed; the intellectuals will take no practical action of their own accord, fancying themselves to be out of this world in some kind of earthly paradise.’


‘Then our job as lawgivers is to compel the best minds to attain what we have called the highest form of knowledge, and to ascend to the vision of the good as we have described, and (d) when they have achieved this and see well enough, prevent them behaving as they are now allowed to.’

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘Remaining in the upper world, and refusing to return again to the prisoners in the cave below and share their labours and rewards, whether trivial or serious.’

‘But surely,’ he protested, ‘that will not be fair. We shall be compelling them to live a poorer life than they might live.’

(e) ‘The object of our legislation,’ I reminded him again, ‘is not the special welfare of any particular class in our society, but of the society as a whole;83 and it uses persuasion or compulsion 520 (a) to unite all citizens and make them share together the benefits which each individually can confer on the community; and its purpose in fostering this attitude is not to leave everyone to please himself, but to make each man a link in the unity of the whole.’

‘You are right; I had forgotten,’ he said.

‘You see, then, Glaucon,’ I went on, ‘we shan’t be unfair to our philosophers, but shall be quite fair in what we say when we compel them to have some care and responsibility for others. (b) We shall tell them that philosophers born in other states can reasonably refuse to take part in the hard work of politics; for society produces them quite involuntarily and unintentionally, and it is only just that anything that grows up on its own should feel it has nothing to repay for an upbringing which it owes to no one. “But,” we shall say, “we have bred you both for your own sake and that of the whole community to act as leaders and king-bees in a hive; you are better and more fully educated than the rest and better qualified to combine the practice of philosophy and politics. You must therefore each descend in (c) turn and live with your fellows in the cave and get used to seeing in the dark; once you get used to it you will see a thousand times better than they do and will distinguish the various shadows, and know what they are shadows of, because you have seen the truth about things admirable and just and good. And so our state and yours will be really awake, and not merely dreaming like most societies today, with their shadow battles and their struggles for political power, which they treat as some great prize. The truth is quite different: the state whose prospective (d) rulers come to their duties with least enthusiasm is bound to have the best and most tranquil government, and the state whose rulers are eager to rule the worst.”’84

‘I quite agree.’

‘Then will our pupils, when they hear what we say, dissent and refuse to take their share of the hard work of government, even though spending the greater part of their time together in the pure air above?’

‘They cannot refuse, for we are making a just demand of just (e) men. But of course, unlike present rulers, they will approach the business of government as an unavoidable necessity.’

‘Yes, of course,’ I agreed. ‘The truth is that if you want a well-governed state to be possible, you must find for your future 521 (a) rulers some way of life they like better than government; for only then will you have government by the truly rich, those, that is, whose riches consist not of gold, but of the true happiness of a good and rational life. If you get, in public affairs, men whose life is impoverished and destitute of personal satisfactions, but who hope to snatch some compensation for their own inadequacy from a political career, there can never be good government. They start fighting for power, and the consequent internal and domestic conflicts ruin both them and society.’

‘True indeed.’

(b) ‘Is there any life except that of true philosophy which looks down on positions of political power?’

‘None whatever.’

‘But what we need is that the only men to get power should be men who do not love it, otherwise we shall have rivals’ quarrels.’

‘That is certain.’

‘Who else, then, will you compel to undertake the responsibilities of Guardians of our state, if it is not to be those who know most about the principles of good government and who have other rewards and a better life than the politician’s?’

‘There is no one else.’

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