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By Plato

Circa 360 BCE

Translated by Benjamin Jowett

Republic by Plato: Book 7.


Socrates, who is the narrator; Glaucon; Adeimantus; Polemarchus; Cephalus; Thrasymachus; Cleitophon; And others who are mute auditors. The scene is laid in the house of Cephalus at the Piraeus; and the whole dialogue is narrated by Socrates the day after it actually took place to Timaeus, Hermocrates, Critias, and a nameless person, who are introduced in the Timaeus.

Republic - Plato's Greatest Dialogue, Philosophy - BOOK_7.


And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is
enlightened or unenlightened: -- Behold! human beings living in a
underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching
all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have
their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see
before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their
heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and
between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will
see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which
marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the

I see.

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of
vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and
various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking,
others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the
shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of
the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were
never allowed to move their heads?

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would
only see the shadows?

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not
suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the
other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by
spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of
the images.

That is certain.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it^ the prisoners
are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is
liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and
walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare
will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which
in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one
saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now,
when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards
more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -- what will be his reply?
And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the
objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -- will he not be
perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are
truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Far truer.

And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a
pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the
objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in
reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

True, he said.

And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and
rugged ascent, and held fast until he 's forced into the presence of the
sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he
approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able
to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

Not all in a moment, he said.

He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And
first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and
other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he
will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled
heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the
sun or the light of the sun by day?


Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him
in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in
another; and he will contemplate him as he is.


He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and
the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and
in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have
been accustomed to behold?

Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and
his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate
himself on the change, and pity them?

Certainly, he would.

And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on
those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark
which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were
together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the
future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or
envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,

and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after
their manner?

Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than
entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to
be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his
eyes full of darkness?

To be sure, he said.

And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the
shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his
sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the
time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be
very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that
up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not
even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and
lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they
would put him to death.

No question, he said.

This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the
previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of
the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret
the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual
world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have
expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or
false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good
appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is
also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and
right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world,
and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and
that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in
public or private life must have his eye fixed.

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

Moreover, I said, you must not wonder that those who attain to this
beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; for their
souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to
dwell; which desire of theirs is very natural, if our allegory may be

Yes, very natural.

And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine
contemplations to the evil state of man, misbehaving himself in a
ridiculous manner; if, while his eyes are blinking and before he has
become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight
in courts of law, or in other places, about the images or the shadows of
images of justice, and is endeavouring to meet the conceptions of those
who have never yet seen absolute justice?

Anything but surprising, he replied.

Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the
eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out
of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's
eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when
he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too
ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out
of the brighter light, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the
dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of
light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of
being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the
soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in
this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of
the light into the den.

That, he said, is a very just distinction.

But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong
when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not
there before, like sight into blind eyes.

They undoubtedly say this, he replied.

Whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning
exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn
from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of
knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the
world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the
sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other
words, of the good.

Very true.

And must there not be some art which will effect conversion in the
easiest and quickest manner; not implanting the faculty of sight, for
that exists already, but has been turned in the wrong direction, and is
looking away from the truth?

Yes, he said, such an art may be presumed.

And whereas the other so-called virtues of the soul seem to be akin to
bodily qualities, for even when they are not originally innate they can
be implanted later by habit and exercise, the of wisdom more than
anything else contains a divine element which always remains, and by
this conversion is rendered useful and profitable; or, on the other
hand, hurtful and useless. Did you never observe the narrow intelligence
flashing from the keen eye of a clever rogue -- how eager he is, how
clearly his paltry soul sees the way to his end; he is the reverse of
blind, but his keen eyesight is forced into the service of evil, and he
is mischievous in proportion to his cleverness.

Very true, he said.

But what if there had been a circumcision of such natures in the days of
their youth; and they had been severed from those sensual pleasures,
such as eating and drinking, which, like leaden weights, were attached
to them at their birth, and which drag them down and turn the vision of
their souls upon the things that are below -- if, I say, they had been
released from these impediments and turned in the opposite direction,
the very same faculty in them would have seen the truth as keenly as
they see what their eyes are turned to now.

Very likely.

Yes, I said; and there is another thing which is likely. or rather a
necessary inference from what has preceded, that neither the uneducated
and uninformed of the truth, nor yet those who never make an end of
their education, will be able ministers of State; not the former,
because they have no single aim of duty which is the rule of all their
actions, private as well as public; nor the latter, because they will
not act at all except upon compulsion, fancying that they are already
dwelling apart in the islands of the blest.

Very true, he replied.

Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will
be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have
already shown to be the greatest of all -- they must continue to ascend
until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen
enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.

What do you mean?

I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be
allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the
den, and partake of their labours and honours, whether they are worth
having or not.

But is not this unjust? he said; ought we to give them a worse life,
when they might have a better?

You have again forgotten, my friend, I said, the intention of the
legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy
above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held
the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them
benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to
this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his
instruments in binding up the State.

True, he said, I had forgotten.

Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our
philosophers to have a care and providence of others; we shall explain
to them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to
share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up
at their own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them.
Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a
culture which they have never received. But we have brought you into the
world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other
citizens, and have educated you far better and more perfectly than they
have been educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty.
Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general
underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you
have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the
inhabitants of the den, and you will know what the several images are,
and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just
and good in their truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be
a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit
unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about
shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in
their eyes is a great good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which
the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most
quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.

Quite true, he replied.

And will our pupils, when they hear this, refuse to take their turn at
the toils of State, when they are allowed to spend the greater part of
their time with one another in the heavenly light?

Impossible, he answered; for they are just men, and the commands which
we impose upon them are just; there can be no doubt that every one of
them will take office as a stern necessity, and not after the fashion of
our present rulers of State.

Yes, my friend, I said; and there lies the point. You must contrive for
your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler, and
then you may have a well-ordered State; for only in the State which
offers this, will they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold,
but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life. Whereas
if they go to the administration of public affairs, poor and hungering
after the^ own private advantage, thinking that hence they are to snatch
the chief good, order there can never be; for they will be fighting
about office, and the civil and domestic broils which thus arise will be
the ruin of the rulers themselves and of the whole State.

Most true, he replied.

And the only life which looks down upon the life of political ambition
is that of true philosophy. Do you know of any other?

Indeed, I do not, he said.

And those who govern ought not to be lovers of the task? For, if they
are, there will be rival lovers, and they will fight.

No question.

Who then are those whom we shall compel to be guardians? Surely they
will be the men who are wisest about affairs of State, and by whom the
State is best administered, and who at the same time have other honours
and another and a better life than that of politics?

They are the men, and I will choose them, he replied.

And now shall we consider in what way such guardians will be produced,
and how they are to be brought from darkness to light, -- as some are
said to have ascended from the world below to the gods?

By all means, he replied.

The process, I said, is not the turning over of an oyster-shell,[1] but
the turning round of a soul passing from a day which is little better
than night to the true day of being, that is, the ascent from below,
which we affirm to be true philosophy?

Quite so.

And should we not enquire what sort of knowledge has the power of
effecting such a change?


What sort of knowledge is there which would draw the soul from becoming
to being? And another consideration has just occurred to me: You will
remember that our young men are to be warrior athletes?

Yes, that was said.

Then this new kind of knowledge must have an additional quality?

What quality?

Usefulness in war.

Yes, if possible.

There were two parts in our former scheme of education, were there not?

Just so.

There was gymnastic which presided over the growth and decay of the
body, and may therefore be regarded as having to do with generation and


Then that is not the knowledge which we are seeking to discover?


But what do you say of music, which also entered to a certain extent
into our former scheme?

Music, he said, as you will remember, was the counterpart of gymnastic,
and trained the guardians by the influences of habit, by harmony making
them harmonious, by rhythm rhythmical, but not giving them science; and
the words, whether fabulous or possibly true, had kindred elements of
rhythm and harmony in them. But in music there was nothing which tended
to that good which you are now seeking.

You are most accurate, I said, in your recollection; in music there
certainly was nothing of the kind. But what branch of knowledge is
there, my dear Glaucon, which is of the desired nature; since all the
useful arts were reckoned mean by us?

Undoubtedly; and yet if music and gymnastic are excluded, and the arts
are also excluded, what remains?

Well, I said, there may be nothing left of our special subjects; and
then we shall have to take something which is not special, but of
universal application.

What may that be?

A something which all arts and sciences and intelligences use in common,
and which every one first has to learn among the elements of education.

What is that?

The little matter of distinguishing one, two, and three -- in a word,
number and calculation: -- do not all arts and sciences necessarily
partake of them?


Then the art of war partakes of them?

To the sure.

Then Palamedes, whenever he appears in tragedy, proves Agamemnon
ridiculously unfit to be a general. Did you never remark how he declares
that he had invented number, and had numbered the ships and set in array
the ranks of the army at Troy; which implies that they had never been
numbered before, and Agamemnon must be supposed literally to have been
incapable of counting his own feet -- how could he if he was ignorant of
number? And if that is true, what sort of general must he have been?

I should say a very strange one, if this was as you say.

Can we deny that a warrior should have a knowledge of arithmetic?

Certainly he should, if he is to have the smallest understanding of
military tactics, or indeed, I should rather say, if he is to be a man
at all.

I should like to know whether you have the same notion which I have of
this study?

What is your notion?

It appears to me to be a study of the kind which we are seeking, and
which leads naturally to reflection, but never to have been rightly
used; for the true use of it is simply to draw the soul towards being.

Will you explain your meaning? he said.

I will try, I said; and I wish you would share the enquiry with me, and
say "yes" or "no" when I attempt to distinguish in my own mind what
branches of knowledge have this attracting power, in order that we may
have clearer proof that arithmetic is, as I suspect, one of them.

Explain, he said.

I mean to say that objects of sense are of two kinds; some of them do
not invite thought because the sense is an adequate judge of them; while
in the case of other objects sense is so untrustworthy that further
enquiry is imperatively demanded. 

You are clearly referring, he said, to the manner in which the senses
are imposed upon by distance, and by painting in light and shade.

No, I said, that is not at all my meaning.

Then what is your meaning?

When speaking of uninviting objects, I mean those which do not pass from
one sensation to the opposite; inviting objects are those which do; in
this latter case the sense coming upon the object, whether at a distance
or near, gives no more vivid idea of anything in particular than of its
opposite. An illustration will make my meaning clearer: -- here are
three fingers -- a little finger, a second finger, and a middle finger.

Very good.

You may suppose that they are seen quite close: And here comes the

What is it?

Each of them equally appears a finger, whether seen in the middle or at
the extremity, whether white or black, or thick or thin -- it makes no
difference; a finger is a finger all the same. In these cases a man is
not compelled to ask of thought the question, what is a finger? for the
sight never intimates to the mind that a finger is other than a finger.


And therefore, I said, as we might expect, there is nothing here which
invites or excites intelligence.

There is not, he said.

But is this equally true of the greatness and smallness of the fingers?
Can sight adequately perceive them? and is no difference made by the
circumstance that one of the fingers is in the middle and another at the
extremity? And in like manner does the touch adequately perceive the
qualities of thickness or thinness, or softness or hardness? And so of
the other senses; do they give perfect intimations of such matters? Is
not their mode of operation on this wise -- the sense which is concerned
with the quality of hardness is necessarily concerned also with the
quality of softness, and only intimates to the soul that the same thing
is felt to be both hard and soft?

You are quite right, he said.

And must not the soul be perplexed at this intimation which the sense
gives of a hard which is also soft? What, again, is the meaning of light
and heavy, if that which is light is also heavy, and that which is
heavy, light?

Yes, he said, these intimations which the soul receives are very curious
and require to be explained.

Yes, I said, and in these perplexities the soul naturally summons to her
aid calculation and intelligence, that she may see whether the several
objects announced to her are one or two.


And if they turn out to be two, is not each of them one and different?


And if each is one, and both are two, she will conceive the two as in a
state of division, for if there were undivided they could only be
conceived of as one?


The eye certainly did see both small and great, but only in a confused
manner; they were not distinguished.


Whereas the thinking mind, intending to light up the chaos, was
compelled to reverse the process, and look at small and great as
separate and not confused.

Very true.

Was not this the beginning of the enquiry "What is great?" and "What is

Exactly so.

And thus arose the distinction of the visible and the intelligible.

Most true.

This was what I meant when I spoke of impressions which invited the
intellect, or the reverse -- those which are simultaneous with opposite
impressions, invite thought; those which are not simultaneous do not.

I understand, he said, and agree with you.

And to which class do unity and number belong?

I do not know, he replied.

Think a little and you will see that what has preceded will supply the
answer; for if simple unity could be adequately perceived by the sight
or by any other sense, then, as we were saying in the case of the
finger, there would be nothing to attract towards being; but when there
is some contradiction always present, and one is the reverse of one and
involves the conception of plurality, then thought begins to be aroused
within us, and the soul perplexed and wanting to arrive at a decision
asks "What is absolute unity?" This is the way in which the study of the
one has a power of drawing and converting the mind to the contemplation
of true being.

And surely, he said, this occurs notably in the case of one; for we see
the same thing to be both one and infinite in multitude?

Yes, I said; and this being true of one must be equally true of all


And all arithmetic and calculation have to do with number?


And they appear to lead the mind towards truth?

Yes, in a very remarkable manner.

Then this is knowledge of the kind for which we are seeking, having a
double use, military and philosophical; for the man of war must learn
the art of number or he will not know how to array his troops, and the
philosopher also, because he has to rise out of the sea of change and
lay hold of true being, and therefore he must be an arithmetician.

That is true.

And our guardian is both warrior and philosopher?


Then this is a kind of knowledge which legislation may fitly prescribe;
and we must endeavour to persuade those who are prescribe to be the
principal men of our State to go and learn arithmetic, not as amateurs,
but they must carry on the study until they see the nature of numbers
with the mind only; nor again, like merchants or retail-traders, with a
view to buying or selling, but for the sake of their military use, and
of the soul herself; and because this will be the easiest way for her to
pass from becoming to truth and being.

That is excellent, he said.

Yes, I said, and now having spoken of it, I must add how charming the
science is! and in how many ways it conduces to our desired end, if
pursued in the spirit of a philosopher, and not of a shopkeeper!

How do you mean?

I mean, as I was saying, that arithmetic has a very great and elevating
effect, compelling the soul to reason about abstract number, and
rebelling against the introduction of visible or tangible objects into
the argument. You know how steadily the masters of the art repel and
ridicule any one who attempts to divide absolute unity when he is
calculating, and if you divide, they multiply, taking care that one
shall continue one and not become lost in fractions.

That is very true.

Now, suppose a person were to say to them: O my friends, what are these
wonderful numbers about which you are reasoning, in which, as you say,
there is a unity such as you demand, and each unit is equal, invariable,
indivisible, -- what would they answer?

They would answer, as I should conceive, that they were speaking of
those numbers which can only be realised in thought.

Then you see that this knowledge may be truly called necessary,
necessitating as it clearly does the use of the pure intelligence in the
attainment of pure truth?

Yes; that is a marked characteristic of it.

And have you further observed, that those who have a natural talent for
calculation are generally quick at every other kind of knowledge; and
even the dull if they have had an arithmetical training, although they
may derive no other advantage from it, always become much quicker than
they would otherwise have been.

Very true, he said.

And indeed, you will not easily find a more difficult study, and not
many as difficult.

You will not.

And, for all these reasons, arithmetic is a kind of knowledge in which
the best natures should be trained, and which must not be given up.

I agree.

Let this then be made one of our subjects of education. And next, shall
we enquire whether the kindred science also concerns us?

You mean geometry?

Exactly so.

Clearly, he said, we are concerned with that part of geometry which
relates to war; for in pitching a camp, or taking up a position, or
closing or extending the lines of an army, or any other military
manoeuvre, whether in actual battle or on a march, it will make all the
difference whether a general is or is not a geometrician.

Yes, I said, but for that purpose a very little of either geometry or
calculation will be enough; the question relates rather to the greater
and more advanced part of geometry -- whether that tends in any degree
to make more easy the vision of the idea of good; and thither, as I was
saying, all things tend which compel the soul to turn her gaze towards
that place, where is the full perfection of being, which she ought, by
all means, to behold.

True, he said.

Then if geometry compels us to view being, it concerns us; if becoming
only, it does not concern us?

Yes, that is what we assert.

Yet anybody who has the least acquaintance with geometry will not deny
that such a conception of the science is in flat contradiction to the
ordinary language of geometricians.

How so?

They have in view practice only, and are always speaking? in a narrow
and ridiculous manner, of squaring and extending and applying and the
like -- they confuse the necessities of geometry with those of daily
life; whereas knowledge is the real object of the whole science.

Certainly, he said.

Then must not a further admission be made?

What admission?

That the knowledge at which geometry aims is knowledge of the eternal,
and not of aught perishing and transient.

That, he replied, may be readily allowed, and is true.

Then, my noble friend, geometry will draw the soul towards truth, and
create the spirit of philosophy, and raise up that which is now
unhappily allowed to fall down.

Nothing will be more likely to have such an effect.

Then nothing should be more sternly laid down than that the inhabitants
of your fair city should by all means learn geometry. Moreover the
science has indirect effects, which are not small.

Of what kind? he said.

There are the military advantages of which you spoke, I said; and in all
departments of knowledge, as experience proves, any one who has studied
geometry is infinitely quicker of apprehension than one who has not.

Yes indeed, he said, there is an infinite difference between them.

Then shall we propose this as a second branch of knowledge which our
youth will study?

Let us do so, he replied.

And suppose we make astronomy the third -- what do you say?

I am strongly inclined to it, he said; the observation of the seasons
and of months and years is as essential to the general as it is to the
farmer or sailor.

I am amused, I said, at your fear of the world, which makes you guard
against the appearance of insisting upon useless studies; and I quite
admit the difficulty of believing that in every man there is an eye of
the soul which, when by other pursuits lost and dimmed, is by these
purified and re-illumined; and is more precious far than ten thousand
bodily eyes, for by it alone is truth seen. Now there are two classes of
persons: one class of those who will agree with you and will take your
words as a revelation; another class to whom they will be utterly
unmeaning, and who will naturally deem them to be idle tales, for they
see no sort of profit which is to be obtained from them. And therefore
you had better decide at once with which of the two you are proposing to
argue. You will very likely say with neither, and that your chief aim in
carrying on the argument is your own improvement; at the same time you
do not grudge to others any benefit which they may receive.

I think that I should prefer to carry on the argument mainly on my own

Then take a step backward, for we have gone wrong in the order of the

What was the mistake? he said.

After plane geometry, I said, we proceeded at once to solids in
revolution, instead of taking solids in themselves; whereas after the
second dimension the third, which is concerned with cubes and dimensions
of depth, ought to have followed.

That is true, Socrates; but so little seems to be known as yet about
these subjects.

Why, yes, I said, and for two reasons: -- in the first place, no
government patronises them; this leads to a want of energy in the
pursuit of them, and they are difficult; in the second place, students
cannot learn them unless they have a director. But then a director can
hardly be found, and even if he could, as matters now stand, the
students, who are very conceited, would not attend to him. That,
however, would be otherwise if the whole State became the director of
these studies and gave honour to them; then disciples would want to
come, and there would be continuous and earnest search, and discoveries
would be made; since even now, disregarded as they are by the world, and
maimed of their fair proportions, and although none of their votaries
can tell the use of them, still these studies force their way by their
natural charm, and very likely, if they had the help of the State, they
would some day emerge into light.

Yes, he said, there is a remarkable charm in them. But I do not clearly
understand the change in the order. First you began with a geometry of
plane surfaces?

Yes, I said.

And you placed astronomy next, and then you made a step backward?

Yes, and I have delayed you by my hurry; the ludicrous state of solid
geometry, which, in natural order, should have followed, made me pass
over this branch and go on to astronomy, or motion of solids.

True, he said.

Then assuming that the science now omitted would come into existence if
encouraged by the State, let us go on to astronomy, which will be

The right order, he replied. And now, Socrates, as you rebuked the
vulgar manner in which I praised astronomy before, my praise shall be
given in your own spirit. For every one, as I think, must see that
astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world
to another.

Every one but myself, I said; to every one else this may be clear, but
not to me.

And what then would you say?

I should rather say that those who elevate astronomy into philosophy
appear to me to make us look downwards and not upwards.

What do you mean? he asked.

You, I replied, have in your mind a truly sublime conception of our
knowledge of the things above. And I dare say that if a person were to
throw his head back and study the fretted ceiling, you would still think
that his mind was the percipient, and not his eyes. And you are very
likely right, and I may be a simpleton: but, in my opinion, that
knowledge only which is of being and of the unseen can make the soul
look upwards, and whether a man gapes at the heavens or blinks on the
ground, seeking to learn some particular of sense, I would deny that he
can learn, for nothing of that sort is matter of science; his soul is
looking downwards, not upwards, whether his way to knowledge is by water
or by land, whether he floats, or only lies on his back.

I acknowledge, he said, the justice of your rebuke. Still, I should like
to ascertain how astronomy can be learned in any manner more conducive
to that knowledge of which we are speaking?

I will tell you, I said: The starry heaven which we behold is wrought
upon a visible ground, and therefore, although the fairest and most
perfect of visible things, must necessarily be deemed inferior far to
the true motions of absolute swiftness and absolute slowness, which are
relative to each other, and carry with them that which is contained in
them, in the true number and in every true figure. Now, these are to be
apprehended by reason and intelligence, but not by sight.

True, he replied.

The spangled heavens should be used as a pattern and with a view to that
higher knowledge; their beauty is like the beauty of figures or pictures
excellently wrought by the hand of Daedalus, or some other great artist,
which we may chance to behold; any geometrician who saw them would
appreciate the exquisiteness of their workmanship, but he would never
dream of thinking that in them he could find the true equal or the true
double, or the truth of any other proportion.

No, he replied, such an idea would be ridiculous.

And will not a true astronomer have the same feeling when he looks at
the movements of the stars? Will he not think that heaven and the things
in heaven are framed by the Creator of them in the most perfect manner?
But he will never imagine that the proportions of night and day, or of
both to the month, or of the month to the year, or of the stars to these
and to one another, and any other things that are material and visible
can also be eternal and subject to no deviation -- that would be absurd;
and it is equally absurd to take so much pains in investigating their
exact truth.

I quite agree, though I never thought of this before.

Then, I said, in astronomy, as in geometry, we should employ problems,
and let the heavens alone if we would approach the subject in the right
way and so make the natural gift of reason to be of any real use.

That, he said, is a work infinitely beyond our present astronomers.

Yes, I said; and there are many other things which must also have a
similar extension given to them, if our legislation is to be of any
value. But can you tell me of any other suitable study?

No, he said, not without thinking.

Motion, I said, has many forms, and not one only; two of them are
obvious enough even to wits no better than ours; and there are others,
as I imagine, which may be left to wiser persons.

But where are the two?

There is a second, I said, which is the counterpart of the one already

And what may that be?

The second, I said, would seem relatively to the ears to be what the
first is to the eyes; for I conceive that as the eyes are designed to
look up at the stars, so are the ears to hear harmonious motions; and
these are sister sciences -- as the Pythagoreans say, and we, Glaucon,
agree with them?

Yes, he replied.
But this, I said, is a laborious study, and therefore we had better go
and learn of them; and they will tell us whether there are any other
applications of these sciences. At the same time, we must not lose sight
of our own higher object.

What is that?

There is a perfection which all knowledge ought to reach, and which our
pupils ought also to attain, and not to fall short of, as I was saying
that they did in astronomy. For in the science of harmony, as you
probably know, the same thing happens. The teachers of harmony compare
the sounds and consonances which are heard only, and their labour, like
that of the astronomers, is in vain.

Yes, by heaven! he said; and 'tis as good as a play to hear them talking
about their condensed notes, as they call them; they put their ears
close alongside of the strings like persons catching a sound from their
neighbour's wall -- one set of them declaring that they distinguish an
intermediate note and have found the least interval which should be the
unit of measurement; the others insisting that the two sounds have
passed into the same -- either party setting their ears before their

You mean, I said, those gentlemen who tease and torture the strings and
rack them on the pegs of the instrument: might carry on the metaphor and
speak after their manner of the blows which the plectrum gives, and make
accusations against the strings, both of backwardness and forwardness to
sound; but this would be tedious, and therefore I will only say that
these are not the men, and that I am referring to the Pythagoreans, of
whom I was just now proposing to enquire about harmony. For they too are
in error, like the astronomers; they investigate the numbers of the
harmonies which are heard, but they never attain to problems -- that is to
say, they never reach the natural harmonies of number, or reflect why
some numbers are harmonious and others not.

That, he said, is a thing of more than mortal knowledge.

A thing, I replied, which I would rather call useful; that is, if sought
after with a view to the beautiful and good; but if pursued in any other
spirit, useless. Very true, he said.

Now, when all these studies reach the point of inter-communion and
connection with one another, and come to be considered in their mutual
affinities, then, I think, but not till then, will the pursuit of them
have a value for our objects; otherwise there is no profit in them.

I suspect so; but you are speaking, Socrates, of a vast work.

What do you mean? I said; the prelude or what? Do you not know that all
this is but the prelude to the actual strain which we have to learn? For
you surely would not regard the skilled mathematician as a dialectician?

Assuredly not, he said; I have hardly ever known a mathematician who was
capable of reasoning.

But do you imagine that men who are unable to give and take a reason
will have the knowledge which we require of them?

Neither can this be supposed.

And so, Glaucon, I said, we have at last arrived at the hymn of
dialectic. This is that strain which is of the intellect only, but which
the faculty of sight will nevertheless be found to imitate; for sight,
as you may remember, was imagined by us after a while to behold the real
animals and stars, and last of all the sun himself. And so with
dialectic; when a person starts on the discovery of the absolute by the
light of reason only, and without any assistance of sense, and
perseveres until by pure intelligence he arrives at the perception of
the absolute good, he at last finds himself at the end of the
intellectual world, as in the case of sight at the end of the visible.

Exactly, he said.

Then this is the progress which you call dialectic?


But the release of the prisoners from chains, and their translation from
the shadows to the images and to the light, and the ascent from the
underground den to the sun, while in his presence they are vainly trying
to look on animals and plants and the light of the sun, but are able to
perceive even with their weak eyes the images in the water (which are
divine), and are the shadows of true existence (not shadows of images
cast by a light of fire, which compared with the sun is only an image)
-- this power of elevating the highest principle in the soul to the
contemplation of that which is best in existence, with which we may
compare the raising of that faculty which is the very light of the body
to the sight of that which is brightest in the material and visible
world -- this power is given, as I was saying, by all that study and
pursuit of the arts which has been described.

I agree in what you are saying, he replied, which may be hard to
believe, yet, from another point of view, is harder still to deny. This,
however, is not a theme to be treated of in passing only, but will have
to be discussed again and again. And so, whether our conclusion be true
or false, let us assume all this, and proceed at once from the prelude
or preamble to the chief strain,[2] and describe that in like manner.
Say, then, what is the nature and what are the divisions of dialectic,
and what are the paths which lead thither; for these paths will also
lead to our final rest?

Dear Glaucon, I said, you will not be able to follow me here, though I
would do my best, and you should behold not an image only but the
absolute truth, according to my notion. Whether what I told you would or
would not have been a reality I cannot venture to say; but you would
have seen something like reality; of that I am confident.

Doubtless, he replied.

But I must also remind you, that the power of dialectic alone can reveal
this, and only to one who is a disciple of the previous sciences.

Of that assertion you may be as confident as of the last.

And assuredly no one will argue that there is any other method of
comprehending by any regular process all true existence or of
ascertaining what each thing is in its own nature; for the arts in
general are concerned with the desires or opinions of men, or are
cultivated with a view to production and construction, or for the
preservation of such productions and constructions; and as to the
mathematical sciences which, as we were saying, have some apprehension
of true being -- geometry and the like -- they only dream about being,
but never can they behold the waking reality so long as they leave the
hypotheses which they use unexamined, and are unable to give an account
of them. For when a man knows not his own first principle, and when the
conclusion and intermediate steps are also constructed out of he knows
not what, how can he imagine that such a fabric of convention can ever
become science?

Impossible, he said.

Then dialectic, and dialectic alone, goes directly to the first
principle and is the only science which does away with hypotheses in
order to make her ground secure; the eye of the soul, which is literally
buried in an outlandish slough, is by her gentle aid lifted upwards; and
she uses as handmaids and helpers in the work of conversion, the
sciences which we have been discussing. Custom terms them sciences, but
they ought to have some other name, implying greater clearness than
opinion and less clearness than science: and this, in our previous
sketch, was called understanding. But why should we dispute about names
when we have realities of such importance to consider?

Why indeed, he said, when any name will do which expresses the thought
of the mind with clearness?

At any rate, we are satisfied, as before, to have four divisions; two
for intellect and two for opinion, and to call the first division
science, the second understanding, the third belief, and the fourth
perception of shadows, opinion being concerned with becoming, and
intellect with being; and so to make a proportion:

As being is to becoming, so is pure intellect to opinion. And as
intellect is to opinion, so is science to belief, and understanding to
the perception of shadows.

But let us defer the further correlation and subdivision of the subjects
of opinion and of intellect, for it will be a long enquiry, many times
longer than this has been.

As far as I understand, he said, I agree.

And do you also agree, I said, in describing the dialectician as one who
attains a conception of the essence of each thing? And he who does not
possess and is therefore unable to impart this conception, in whatever
degree he fails, may in that degree also be said to fail in
intelligence? Will you admit so much?

Yes, he said; how can I deny it?

And you would say the same of the conception of the good? Until the
person is able to abstract and define rationally the idea of good, and
unless he can run the gauntlet of all objections, and is ready to
disprove them, not by appeals to opinion, but to absolute truth, never
faltering at any step of the argument -- unless he can do all this, you
would say that he knows neither the idea of good nor any other good; he
apprehends only a shadow, if anything at all, which is given by opinion
and not by science; -- dreaming and slumbering in this life, before he
is well awake here, he arrives at the world below, and has his final

In all that I should most certainly agree with you.

And surely you would not have the children of your ideal State, whom you
are nurturing and educating -- if the ideal ever becomes a reality --
you would not allow the future rulers to be like posts,[3] having no
reason in them, and yet to be set in authority over the highest matters?

Certainly not.

Then you will make a law that they shall have such an education as will
enable them to attain the greatest skill in asking and answering

Yes, he said, you and I together will make it.

Dialectic, then, as you will agree, is the coping-stone of the sciences,
and is set over them; no other science can be placed higher -- the
nature of knowledge can no further go?

I agree, he said.

But to whom we are to assign these studies, and in what way they are to
be assigned, are questions which remain to be considered?

Yes, clearly.

You remember, I said, how the rulers were chosen before?

Certainly, he said.

The same natures must still be chosen, and the preference again given to
the surest and the bravest, and, if possible, to the fairest; and,
having noble and generous tempers, they should also have the natural
gifts which will facilitate their education.

And what are these?

Such gifts as keenness and ready powers of acquisition; for the mind
more often faints from the severity of study than from the severity of
gymnastics: the toil is more entirely the mind's own, and is not shared
with the body.

Very true, he replied.

Further, he of whom we are in search should have a good memory, and be
an unwearied solid man who is a lover of labour in any line; or he will
never be able to endure the great amount of bodily exercise and to go
through all the intellectual discipline and study which we require of

Certainly, he said; he must have natural gifts.

The mistake at present is, that those who study philosophy have no
vocation, and this, as I was before saying, is the reason why she has
fallen into disrepute: her true sons should take her by the hand and not

What do you mean?

In the first place, her votary should not have a lame or halting
industry -- I mean, that he should not be half industrious and half
idle: as, for example, when a man is a lover of gymnastic and hunting,
and all other bodily exercises, but a hater rather than a lover of the
labour of learning or listening or enquiring. Or the occupation to which
he devotes himself may be of an opposite kind, and he may have the other
sort of lameness.

Certainly, he said.

And as to truth, I said, is not a soul equally to be deemed halt and
lame which hates voluntary falsehood and is extremely indignant at
herself and others when they tell lies, but is patient of involuntary
falsehood, and does not mind wallowing like a swinish beast in the mire
of ignorance, and has no shame at being detected?

To be sure.

And, again, in respect of temperance, courage, magnificence, and every
other virtue, should we not carefully distinguish between the true son
and the bastard? for where there is no discernment of such qualities
States and individuals unconsciously err and the State makes a ruler,
and the individual a friend, of one who, being defective in some part of
virtue, is in a figure lame or a bastard.

That is very true, he said.

All these things, then, will have to be carefully considered by us; and
if only those whom we introduce to this vast system of education and
training are sound in body and mind, justice herself will have nothing
to say against us, and we shall be the saviours of the constitution and
of the State; but, if our pupils are men of another stamp, the reverse
will happen, and we shall pour a still greater flood of ridicule on
philosophy than she has to endure at present.

That would not be creditable.

Certainly not, I said; and yet perhaps, in thus turning jest into
earnest I am equally ridiculous.

In what respect?

I had forgotten, I said, that we were not serious, and spoke with too
much excitement. For when I saw philosophy so undeservedly trampled
under foot of men I could not help feeling a sort of indignation at the
authors of her disgrace: and my anger made me too vehement.

Indeed! I was listening, and did not think so.

But I, who am the speaker, felt that I was. And now let me remind you
that, although in our former selection we chose old men, we must not do
so in this. Solon was under a delusion when he said that a man when he
grows old may learn many things -- for he can no more learn much than he
can run much; youth is the time for any extraordinary toil.

Of course.

And, therefore, calculation and geometry and all the other elements of
instruction, which are a preparation for dialectic, should be presented
to the mind in childhood; not, however, under any notion of forcing our
system of education.

Why not?

Because a freeman ought not to be a slave in the acquisition of
knowledge of any kind. Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to
the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no
hold on the mind.

Very true.

Then, my good friend, I said, do not use compulsion, but let early
education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to find
out the natural bent.

That is a very rational notion, he said.

Do you remember that the children, too, were to be taken to see the
battle on horseback; and that if there were no danger they were to be
brought close up and, like young hounds, have a taste of blood given

Yes, I remember.

The same practice may be followed, I said, in all these things --
labours, lessons, dangers -- and he who is most at home in all of them
ought to be enrolled in a select number.

At what age?

At the age when the necessary gymnastics are over: the period whether of
two or three years which passes in this sort of training is useless for
any other purpose; for sleep and exercise are unpropitious to learning;
and the trial of who is first in gymnastic exercises is one of the most
important tests to which our youth are subjected.

Certainly, he replied.

After that time those who are selected from the class of twenty years
old will be promoted to higher honour, and the sciences which they
learned without any order in their early education will now be brought
together, and they will be able to see the natural relationship of them
to one another and to true being.

Yes, he said, that is the only kind of knowledge which takes lasting

Yes, I said; and the capacity for such knowledge is the great criterion
of dialectical talent: the comprehensive mind is always the dialectical.

I agree with you, he said.

These, I said, are the points which you must consider; and those who
have most of this comprehension, and who are more steadfast in their
learning, and in their military and other appointed duties, when they
have arrived at the age of thirty have to be chosen by you out of the
select class, and elevated to higher honour; and you will have to prove
them by the help of dialectic, in order to learn which of them is able
to give up the use of sight and the other senses, and in company with
truth to attain absolute being: And here, my friend, great caution is

Why great caution?

Do you not remark, I said, how great is the evil which dialectic has

What evil? he said.

The students of the art are filled with lawlessness.

Quite true, he said.

Do you think that there is anything so very unnatural or inexcusable in
their case? or will you make allowance for them?

In what way make allowance?

I want you, I said, by way of parallel, to imagine a supposititious son
who is brought up in great wealth; he is one of a great and numerous
family, and has many flatterers. When he grows up to manhood, he learns
that his alleged are not his real parents; but who the real are he is
unable to discover. Can you guess how he will be likely to behave
towards his flatterers and his supposed parents, first of all during the
period when he is ignorant of the false relation, and then again when he
knows? Or shall I guess for you?

If you please.

Then I should say, that while he is ignorant of the truth he will be
likely to honour his father and his mother and his supposed relations
more than the flatterers; he will be less inclined to neglect them when
in need, or to do or say anything against them; and he will be less
willing to disobey them in any important matter.

He will.

But when he has made the discovery, I should imagine that he would
diminish his honour and regard for them, and would become more devoted
to the flatterers; their influence over him would greatly increase; he
would now live after their ways, and openly associate with them, and,
unless he were of an unusually good disposition, he would trouble
himself no more about his supposed parents or other relations.

Well, all that is very probable. But how is the image applicable to the
disciples of philosophy?

In this way: you know that there are certain principles about justice
and honour, which were taught us in childhood, and under their parental
authority we have been brought up, obeying and honouring them.

That is true.

There are also opposite maxims and habits of pleasure which flatter and
attract the soul, but do not influence those of us who have any sense of
right, and they continue to obey and honour the maxims of their fathers.


Now, when a man is in this state, and the questioning spirit asks what
is fair or honourable, and he answers as the legislator has taught him,
and then arguments many and diverse refute his words, until he is driven
into believing that nothing is honourable any more than dishonourable,
or just and good any more than the reverse, and so of all the notions
which he most valued, do you think that he will still honour and obey
them as before?


And when he ceases to think them honourable and natural as heretofore,
and he fails to discover the true, can he be expected to pursue any life
other than that which flatters his desires?

He cannot.

And from being a keeper of the law he is converted into a breaker of it?


Now all this is very natural in students of philosophy such as I have
described, and also, as I was just now saying, most excusable.

Yes, he said; and, I may add, pitiable.

Therefore, that your feelings may not be moved to pity about our
citizens who are now thirty years of age, every care must be taken in
introducing them to dialectic.


There is a danger lest they should taste the dear delight too early; for
youngsters, as you may have observed, when they first get the taste in
their mouths, argue for amusement, and are always contradicting and
refuting others in imitation of those who refute them; like puppy-dogs,
they rejoice in pulling and tearing at all who come near them.

Yes, he said, there is nothing which they like better.

And when they have made many conquests and received defeats at the hands
of many, they violently and speedily get into a way of not believing
anything which they believed before, and hence, not only they, but
philosophy and all that relates to it is apt to have a bad name with the
rest of the world.

Too true, he said.
But when a man begins to get older, he will no longer be guilty of such
insanity; he will imitate the dialectician who is seeking for truth, and
not the eristic, who is contradicting for the sake of amusement; and the
greater moderation of his character will increase instead of diminishing
the honour of the pursuit.

Very true, he said.

And did we not make special provision for this, when we said that the
disciples of philosophy were to be orderly and steadfast, not, as now,
any chance aspirant or intruder?

Very true.

Suppose, I said, the study of philosophy to take the place of gymnastics
and to be continued diligently and earnestly and exclusively for twice
the number of years which were passed in bodily exercise -- will that be

Would you say six or four years? he asked.

Say five years, I replied; at the end of the time they must be sent down
again into the den and compelled to hold any military or other office
which young men are qualified to hold: in this way they will get their
experience of life, and there will be an opportunity of trying whether,
when they are drawn all manner of ways by temptation, they will stand
firm or flinch.

And how long is this stage of their lives to last?

Fifteen years, I answered; and when they have reached fifty years of
age, then let those who still survive and have distinguished themselves
in every action of their lives and in every branch of knowledge come at
last to their consummation; the time has now arrived at which they must
raise the eye of the soul to the universal light which lightens all
things, and behold the absolute good; for that is the, pattern according
to which they are to order the State and the lives of individuals, and
the remainder of their own lives also; making philosophy their chief
pursuit, but, when their turn comes, toiling also at politics and ruling
for the public good, not as though they were performing some heroic
action, but simply as a matter of duty; and when they have brought up in
each generation others like themselves and left them in their place to
be governors of the State, then they will depart to the Islands of the
Blest and dwell there; and the city will give them public memorials and
sacrifices and honour them, if the Pythian oracle consent, as demi-gods,
but if not, as in any case blessed and divine.

You are a sculptor, Socrates, and have made statues of our governors
faultless in beauty.

Yes, I said, Glaucon, and of our governesses too; for you must not
suppose that what I have been saying applies to men only and not to
women as far as their natures can go.

There you are right, he said, since we have made them to share in all
things like the men.

Well, I said, and you would agree (would you not?) that what has been
said about the State and the government is not a mere dream, and
although difficult not impossible, but only possible in the way which
has been supposed; that is to say, when the true philosopher kings are
born in a State, one or more of them, despising the honours of this
present world which they deem mean and worthless, esteeming above all
things right and the honour that springs from right, and regarding
justice as the greatest and most necessary of all things, whose
ministers they are, and whose principles will be exalted by them when
they set in order their own city?

How will they proceed?

They will begin by sending out into the country all the inhabitants of
the city who are more than ten years old, and will take possession of
their children, who will be unaffected by the habits of their parents;
these they will train in their own habits and laws, I mean in the laws
which we have given them: and in this way the State and constitution of
which we were speaking will soonest and most easily attain happiness,
and the nation which has such a constitution will gain most.

Yes, that will be the best way. And I think, Socrates, that you have
very well described how, if ever, such a constitution might come into

Enough then of the perfect State, and of the man who bears its image --
there is no difficulty in seeing how we shall describe him.

There is no difficulty, he replied; and I agree with you in thinking
that nothing more need be said.


1. In allusion to a game in which two parties fled or pursued according
as an oyster-shell which was thrown into the air fell with the dark or
light side uppermost.

2. A play upon the word nomos, which means both "law" and "strain".

3. Literally "lines", probably the starting-point of a race-course.

Republic - Plato's Greatest Dialogue, Philosophy Book 7

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The Republic, a dialogue by Plato, Book 7.