Republic (Plato)

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Isn't anyone who holds a true opinion without understanding like a blind man on the right road?
Perhaps there is a pattern set up in the heavens for one who desires to see it and seeing it, to found one in himself. But whether it exists anywhere or ever exists is no matter; for this is the only commonwealth in whose politics he can ever take part.
The philosopher ... is like one who retires under the shelter of a wall in the storm ... and when he sees the rest of mankind full of wickedness, he is content if only he can live his own life and be pure from evil or unrighteousness, and depart in peace and good will, with bright hopes.
Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.
None of the governments, as they now exist, is worthy of the philosophic nature, and hence we see that nature warped and corrupted; just as a foreign seed, when sown in an alien soil, generally loses its native quality, and tends to be subdued and pass into the plant of the country, even so this philosophic nature, so far from preserving its distinctive power, now suffers a decline and takes on a different character.

The Republic is a Socratic dialogue, written by Plato around 375 BC, concerning justice, the order and character of the just city-state, and the just man. It is Plato's best-known work, and has proven to be one of the world's most influential works of philosophy and political theory, both intellectually and historically. In the dialogue, Socrates talks with various Athenians and foreigners about the meaning of justice and whether the just man is happier than the unjust man.

See also: Allegory of the Cave



Book I

  • A few of us old fellows get together now and then, like regular birds of a feather. Most of us sit and cry about the good old days, yearning for the pleasures of youth and reminiscing about the joys of sex and parties and drinking and all that. They fret as though they'd been deprived of something important, saying that then they lived well and now they're not even living. Some complain that their families abuse them, and make that an excuse to bewail old age, as though age were the cause of all of their miseries. ...Now it seems to me that these people put the blame in the wrong place, Socrates. If age were the cause, it would have the same effect on me and everyone else who's old. But I've met old people who aren't like that.
    • 329 Translated and Edited by Raymond Larson, 1979 (full text)
  • Once I was with the poet Sophocles when someone asked: 'How's your sex life, Sophocles? Are you still able to enjoy a woman?' 'Hush!' said Sophocles. 'The greatest happiness of my life was escaping from that cruel and raging tyrant.' That seemed like a good reply then, and now it seems even better. Old age frees you from that sort of thing and gives you peace, and when your desires relax and stop driving you it's exactly as Sophocles said: release from bondage to a pack of raging tyrants.
    • 329 Translated and Edited by Raymond Larson, 1979
  • So, Socrates, the cause of a person's attitude toward these desires is also the cause of his family's attitude toward him: not age, but a man's character. If he's orderly and cheerful, old age will be tolerable. If he's not, Socrates, even youth will be a burden to him.' I was delighted to hear him speak like that and wanted to hear more. So to stir him up I said: Cephalus, I'll bet most people won't accept what you say. They probably think old age is easy for you because of your money and not your character. The rich have many consolations, they say.
    • 329 Translated and Edited by Raymond Larson, 1979
  • If Polemarchus and I are making a mistake in our investigation it isn't intentional. If we were searching for gold, you know we'd never let politeness and deference keep us from finding it. So don't think that when we're searching for justice, a thing far more precious than gold, we'd be so silly as to defer to each other and not look for it as hard as we can. We're looking, my friend, but I guess we're just not up to it.
    • 336 Translated and Edited by Raymond Larson, 1979
  • Well, even you must know that cities are governed either as tyrannies, democracies, or aristocracies. Of course, I said. And that the government in each has the power... Well, each government frames laws for its own advantage, a democracy for democrats, a tyranny for tyrants, and so on. In so legislating, the rulers represent this-their own advantage-as justice for their subjects, and anyone who breaks their laws is punished as a lawbreaker and a criminal. Therefore I contend that justice is the same thing in every state: the advantage of the established ruling class. And since that presumably is the stronger class, anyone with a brain can calculate that justice is the same thing everywhere -the advantage of the stronger.
    • 339 Translated and Edited by Raymond Larson, 1979 (full text)
  • But tell me, this physician of whom you were just speaking, is he a moneymaker, an earner of fees, or a healer of the sick?
    • 341c
  • When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.
    • 343d
  • Tyranny is not a matter of minor theft and violence, but of wholesale plunder, sacred and profane, private or public. If you are caught committing such crimes in detail you are punished and disgraced; sacrilege, kidnapping, burglary, fraud, theft are the names we give to such petty forms of wrongdoing. But when a man succeeds in robbing the whole body of citizens and reducing them to slavery, they forget these ugly names and call him happy and fortunate, as do all others who hear of his unmitigated wrongly
    • 344a-c, H.D.P. Lee translation, Penguin Books, 1955, p.73.]
  • Mankind censure injustice fearing that they may be the victims of it, and not because they shrink from committing it.
    • 344c
  • τῆς δὲ ζημίας μεγίστη τὸ ὑπὸ πονηροτέρου ἄρχεσθαι, ἐὰν μὴ αὐτὸς ἐθέλῃ ἄρχειν
    • But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule.
    • 347c
    • Paraphrased by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay "Eloquence," published in Society and Solitude (1870) as "The punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of worse men."
  • Consider further - most foolish Socrates - that the just is always a loser in comparison with the unjust. First of all, in private contracts: wherever the unjust is the partner of the just you will find that, when the partnership is dissolved, the unjust entity always has more and the just less. Secondly, in their dealings with the State: when there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the cunning unjust usually less on the same amount of income; and when there is anything to be received, one gains next to nothing and the other much. Observe also what happens when they take an office; there is the just man sit solitaire neglecting his personal affairs and perhaps suffering other losses, and getting nothing out of the public, because he is just; moreover he is probably hated by his friends and acquaintance for refusing to serve them in unlawful ways.
    • 351d

Book II

  • They will feed on barley-meal and flour of wheat, baking and kneading them, making noble cakes and loaves; these they will serve up on a mat of reeds or on clean leaves, themselves reclining the while upon beds strewn with yew or myrtle. And they and their children will feast, drinking of the wine which they have made, wearing garlands on their heads, and hymning the praises of the gods, in happy converse with one another. And they will take care that their families do not exceed their means; having an eye to poverty or war.
    But, said Glaucon, interposing, you have not given them a relish to their meal.
    True, I replied, I had forgotten; of course they must have a relish-salt, and olives, and cheese, and they will boil roots and herbs such as country people prepare; for a dessert we shall give them figs, and peas, and beans; and they will roast myrtle-berries and acorns at the fire, drinking in moderation. And with such a diet they may be expected to live in peace and health to a good old age, and bequeath a similar life to their children after them.
    • 372b-d
  • In my opinion the true and healthy constitution of the State is the one which I have described. But if you wish also to see a State at fever heat, I have no objection. For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way of life. They will be for adding … dainties, and perfumes, and incense, and courtesans, and cakes, all these not of one sort only, but in every variety … And we shall want more servants. Will not tutors be also in request, and nurses wet and dry, tirewomen and barbers, as well as confectioners and cooks; and swineherds, too, who were not needed and therefore had no place in the former edition of our State, but are needed now? They must not be forgotten: and there will be animals of many other kinds, if people eat them.
    And living in this way we shall have much greater need of physicians than before?
    Much greater.
    And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?
    Quite true.
    Then a slice of our neighbours' land will be wanted by us for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth?
    That, Socrates, will be inevitable.
    And so we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?
    Most certainly, he replied.
    Then without determining as yet whether war does good or harm, thus much we may affirm, that now we have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in States, private as well as public.
    • 372e-373e
  • οὐκοῦν οἶσθ᾽ ὅτι ἀρχὴ παντὸς ἔργου μέγιστον
    • the beginning in every task is the chief thing
    • 377a
  • And the shoemaker was not allowed by us to be husbandman, or a weaver, a builder — in order that we might have our shoes well made; but to him and to every other worker was assigned one work for which he was by nature fitted, and at that he was to continue working all his life long and at no other; he was not to let opportunities slip, and then he would become a good workman.
    Now nothing can be more important than that the work of a soldier should be well done. But is war an art so easily acquired that a man may be a warrior who is also a husbandman, or shoemaker, or other artisan; although no one in the world would be a good dice or draught player who merely took up the game as a recreation, and had not from his earliest years devoted himself to this and nothing else?
    No tools will make a man a skilled workman, or master of defence, nor be of any use to him who has not learned how to handle them, and has never bestowed any attention upon them. How then will he who takes up a shield or other implement of war become a good fighter all in a day, whether with heavy-armed or any other kind of troops?
    Yes, he [Glaucon] said, the tools which would teach men their own use would be beyond price.
  • Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only.
  • If we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarrelling among themselves as of all things the basest, should any word be said to them of the wars in heaven, and of the plots and fightings of the gods against one another, for they are not true. No, we shall never mention the battles of the giants, or let them be embroidered on garments; and we shall be silent about the innumerable other quarrels of gods and heroes with their friends and relatives. If they would only believe us we would tell them that quarrelling is unholy, and that never up to this time has there been any quarrel between citizens; this is what old men and old women should being by telling children; and when they grow up, the poets also should be told to compose for them in a similar spirit.
  • God is not the author of all things, but of good only.
  • The gods are not magicians who transform themselves; neither do they deceive mankind in any way.

Book III

  • Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him?
  • And we must beg Homer and the other poets not to be angry if we strike out these and similar passages, not because they are unpoetical, or unattractive to the popular ear, but because the greater the poetical charm in them, the less are they meant for the ears of boys and men who are meant to be free, and who should fear slavery more than death.
  • A fit of laughter, which has been indulged to excess, almost always produces a violent reaction.
  • Truth should be highly valued; if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians; private individuals have no business with them.
  • Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity — I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character, not that other simplicity which is only a euphemism for folly.
    • Variant translation: Good speech, then, good accord, and good grace, and good rhythm wait upon good disposition...
    • 400d–e
  • Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul; on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful; and also because he who has received this education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognise and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.
    • 401d
  • Attention to health is a great obstacle to the practice of virtue and improvement in [life].
    • 407c
  • When the citizens of a society can see and hear their leaders, then that society should be seen as one.
  • The judge should not be young; he should have learned to know evil, not from his own soul, but from late and long observation of the nature of evil in others: knowledge should be his guide, not personal experience.
    • 409b
  • Everything that deceives may be said to enchant.
    • 413c
  • ...the earth, as being their mother, delivered them, and now, as if their land were their mother and their nurse, they ought to take thought for her and defend her against any attack, and regard the other citizens as their brothers and children of the self-same earth. . . While all of you, in the city, are brothers, we will say in our tale, yet god, in fashioning those of you who are fitted to hold rule, mingled gold in their generation, for which reason they are the most precious — but in the helpers, silver, and iron and brass in the farmers and other craftsmen. And, as you are all akin, though for the most part you will breed after your kinds, it may sometimes happen that a golden father would beget a silver son, and that a golden offspring would come from a silver sire, and that the rest would, in like manner, be born of one another. So that the first and chief injunction that the god lays upon the rulers is that of nothing else are they to be such careful guardians, and so intently observant as of the intermixture of these metals in the souls of their offspring, and if sons are born to them with an infusion of brass or iron they shall by no means give way to pity in their treatment of them, but shall assign to each the status due to his nature and thrust them out among the artisans or the farmers. And again, if from these there is born a son with unexpected gold or silver in his composition they shall honor such and bid them go up higher, some to the office of guardian, some to the assistanceship, alleging that there is an oracle that the city shall then be overthrown when the man of iron or brass is its guardian
    • 414e–15c

Book IV

  • If the sandal stitchers degenerate and pretend to be the craftsmen they aren’t, that’s not so awful; but if the guardians of the laws and the city aren’t what they seem, you see that they’ll utterly destroy the whole city, just as they alone are crucial to happiness and good government.’
    • 421a Translated by Raymond Larson, 1979 (full text)
  • Examine the other craftsmen too and see if two things corrupt them and make them bad workmen... Wealth and poverty...Like this: if a potter gets rich...He’ll become lazy and careless compared to what he was, and not as good a potter... Whereas if poverty prevents him from acquiring the tools and materials of his trade he won’t turn out good work, or teach his sons and apprentices to be good workmen.
    • 421d Translated by Raymond Larson, 1979
  • So both wealth and poverty cause bad work and workmen, and it seems we’ve found two more things for our guardians to keep from slipping into...: wealth, because it produces luxury and laziness; poverty, because it causes slavishness, crime, and bad work. Both encourage innovation and revolution.
    • 422a Translated by Raymond Larson, 1979
  • If an insignificant offspring springs from the guardians, pack him off with the others; and if a significant one comes from the others, put him with the guardians. That was to show that our other citizens also must get each the one job he’s naturally fit for, one for one, so that by pursuing his one proper pursuit each will become one and not many, and the whole city will naturally grow to be one
    • 423d Translated by Raymond Larson, 1979
  • Our commands will all be insignificant rather than big and many, so that the guardians may guard the proverbial ‘one big thing;’ or rather not ‘big,’ but ‘sufficient.’ What’s that? ‘‘
    • 423e Translated by Raymond Larson, 1979
  • Education and upbringing. If they’re well educated and become moderate men they’ll easily discern this and everything we’re leaving out, like marriage, mating, and the possession of wives, and see that all these must conform as closely as possible to the old saying: ‘The things of friends are common.’ ...And if our regime once gets a good Start it will continue to grow like a circle.' Good education and upbringing, if preserved, will produce good natures which in turn, if they partake of good education, will grow better than their predecessors in breeding and everything else, like any other living thing.”
    • 424a Translated by Raymond Larson, 1979
  • The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life.
    • 425B
  • Look, ye wretches, take your fill of the fair sight.
    • Quoting Leontius when he couldn't resist the desire to see some dead corpses. Available at Wikisource.

Book V

  • Do you know, then, of anything practiced by mankind in which the masculine sex does not surpass the female on all these points? Must we make a long story of it by alleging weaving and the watching of pancakes and the boiling pot, whereon the sex plumes itself and wherein its defeat will expose it to most laughter? … Then there is no pursuit of the administrators of a state that belongs to a woman because she is a woman or to a man because he is a man. But the natural capacities are distributed alike among both creatures, and women naturally share in all pursuits and men in all.... Shall we, then, assign them all to men and nothing to women?
    We shall rather, I take it, say that one woman has the nature of a physician and another not, and one is by nature musical, and another unmusical? … Can we, then, deny that one woman is naturally athletic and warlike and another unwarlike and averse to gymnastics? … And again, one a lover, another a hater, of wisdom? And one high-spirited, and the other lacking spirit? … Then it is likewise true that one woman has the qualities of a guardian and another not. Were not these the natural qualities of the men also whom we selected for guardians?
    • 455c–456a
  • “How, then, would the greatest benefit result? Tell me this, Glaucon. I see that you have in your house hunting-dogs and a number of pedigree cocks.1 Have you ever considered something about their unions and procreations?” “What?”2 he said. “In the first place,” I said, “among these themselves, although they are a select breed, do not some prove better than the rest?” “They do.” “Do you then breed from all indiscriminately, or are you careful to breed from the best?” “From the best.” “And, again, do you breed from the youngest or the oldest, or, so far as may be, from those in their prime?” “From those in their prime.” “And if they are not thus bred, you expect, do you not, that your birds and hounds will greatly degenerate?” “I do,” he said. “And what of horses and other animals?” I said; “is it otherwise with them?” “It would be strange if it were,” said he. “Gracious,” said I, “dear friend, how imperative, then, is our need of the highest skill in our rulers, if the principle holds also for mankind. “From the best.” “And, again, do you breed from the youngest or the oldest, or, so far as may be, from those in their prime?” “From those in their prime.” “And if they are not thus bred, you expect, do you not, that your birds and hounds will greatly degenerate?” “I do,” he said. “And what of horses and other animals?” I said; “is it otherwise with them?” “It would be strange if it were,” said he. “Gracious,” said I, “dear friend, how imperative, then, is our need of the highest skill in our rulers, if the principle holds also for mankind.” 459d] for the benefit1 of their subjects. We said, I believe, that the use of that sort of thing was in the category of medicine.” “And that was right,” he said. “In our marriages, then, and the procreation of children, it seems there will be no slight need of this kind of ‘right.'” “How so?” “It follows from our former admissions,” I said, “that the best men must cohabit with the best women in as many cases as possible and the worst with the worst in the fewest...
    • 459a-d
  • And have not been quite swept away by it in ordaining that our guardians and female guardians must have all pursuits in common, but that in some sort the argument concurs with itself in the assurance that what it proposes is both possible and beneficial.” “It is no slight wave that you are thus escaping.” “You will not think it a great one,” I said, “when you have seen the one that follows.” “Say on then and show me,” said he. “This,” said I, “and all that precedes has for its sequel, in my opinion, the following law.” “What? “That these women shall all be common to all the me
    • 457c
  • “I think, then,” said I, “that the rulers, if they are to deserve that name, and their helpers likewise, will, the one, be willing to accept orders,1 and the other, to give them, in some things obeying our laws, and imitating2 them in others which we leave to their discretion.” “Presumably.” “You, then, the lawgiver,” I said, “have picked these men and similarly will select to give over to them women as nearly as possible of the same nature. And they, having houses and meals in common, and no private possessions of that kind. will dwell together, and being commingled in gymnastics and in all their life and education, will be conducted by innate necessity to sexual union. Is not what I say a necessary consequence?” “Not by the necessities of geometry,” he said, “but by those of love, which are perhaps keener and more potent than the other to persuade and constrain the multitude.”
    • 458b-d
  • "Now we'll clearly direct elders to rule and punish the young; but unless the rulers command it, no young man will be likely to try to strike his elder or use any force with him or show him any other disrespect. We have two strong guardians to prevent that: fear and shame. Shame forbids molesting a parent, and fear warns that the others will rush to the victim's defense as his sons, brothers, and fathers. Thus in every way our laws will ensure that the men live in peace with each other."
    • 465 Translated by Raymond Larson, 1979 (full text)
  • "For the sake of decorum I hesitate even to mention the minor evils they'll be rid of-the poor man's flattery of the rich, the financial embarrassments that arise from having to support a home and a family, the borrowings, the disavowals, the procuring of money by any means to hand over to the women and servants to budget and spend-the indignities they suffer are clear enough, my friend, and they're both ignoble and unworthy of mention." "Clear to a blind man," he said. "They'll be rid of all that and lead a life more blissful than the blissful life of an Olympic victor."
    • 465 Translated by Raymond Larson, 1979
  • Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils — no, nor the human race, as I believe — and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.
    • 473c

Book VI

  • "Since philosophers are those who are capable of apprehending that which is eternal and unchanging, while those who are incapable of this, but lose themselves and wander amid the multiplicities of multifarious things, are not philosophers, which of the two kinds ought to be the leaders in a state?” . . . “Which_ ever,’ I said, “ appear competent to guard the laws and pursuits of society, these we should establish as -guardians.”’ Part I
  • “Is this, then,” said I,“ clear, whether the guardian who is to keep watch over anything ought to be blind or keen of sight ?”’ “Of course it is clear,” he said. “‘ Do you think, then, that there is any appreciable difference between the blind? and those who are veritably deprived of the knowledge of the veritable being of things, those who have no vivid pattern in their souls and so cannot, as painters look to their models, fix their eyes on the absolute truth, and always with reference to that ideal and in the exactest possible contemplation of it establish in this world also the laws of the beautiful, the just and the good, when that is needful, or guard and preserve those that are established?” Part I
    • Translated by Paul Shorey, University of Chicago (1930)
  • "Consider, then, next whether the men who are to meet our requirements must not have this further quality in their natures.... The Spirit of truthfulness, reluctance to admit falsehood in any form, the hatred of it and the love of truth.”..."Then the true lover of knowledge must, from childhood up, be most of all a striver after truth in every form.” . . . “So, when a man’s desires have been taught to flow in the channel of learning and all that sort of thing, they will be concerned, I presume, with the pleasures of the soul in itself, and will be indifferent to those of which the body is the instrument, if the man is a true and not asham philosopher.” “That is quite necessary.”’ Part II
    • Translated by Paul Shorey, University of Chicago (1930)
  • "And there is this further point to be considered in distinguishing the philosophical from the unphilosophical nature. . . . You must not overlook any touch of illiberality."... "A cowardly and illiberal spirit, it seems, could have no part in genuine philosophy.” “ I think not.” “What then? Could a man of orderly spirit, not a lover: of money, not illiberal, nor a braggart nor a coward, ever prove unjust, or a driver of hard bargains?” “Impossible.”’ “‘This too, then, is a point that in your discrimination of the philosophic ie unphilosophic soul you will observe-whether Soh is from youth up just and gentle or unsocial tae ὰ Assuredly.” “Νor will you overlook “this, I fancy.” “What ?” ‘Whether he is - quick or slow to learn. Part II
    • Translated by Paul Shorey, University of Chicago (1930)
  • Each of these private teachers who work for pay ... inculcates nothing else than these opinions of the multitude which they opine when they are assembled and calls this knowledge wisdom.
    • 493a, Plato: The Collected Dialogues (Princeton: 1961), p. 729
  • There may be a few who, having a gift for philosophy, leave other arts, which they justly despise, and come to her. ... Those who belong to this small class have tasted how sweet and blessed a possession philosophy is, and have also seen and been satisfied of the madness of the multitude, and known that there is no one who ever acts honestly in the administration of States, nor any helper who will save any one who maintains the cause of the just. Such a savior would be like a man who has fallen among wild beasts—unable to join in the wickedness of his fellows, neither would he be able alone to resist all their fierce natures, and therefore he would be of no use to the State or to his friends, and would have to throw away his life before he had done any good to himself or others. And he reflects upon all this, and holds his peace, and does his own business. He is like one who retires under the shelter of a wall in the storm of dust and sleet which the driving wind hurries along; and when he sees the rest of mankind full of wickedness, he is content if only he can live his own life and be pure from evil or unrighteousness, and depart in peace and good will, with bright hopes.
  • None of the governments, as they now exist, is worthy of the philosophic nature, and hence we see that nature warped and corrupted; just as a foreign seed, when sown in an alien soil, generally loses its native quality, and tends to be subdued and pass into the plant of the country, even so this philosophic nature, so far from preserving its distinctive power, now suffers a decline and takes on a different character. But on the other hand, in case philosophy shall find a constitution whose excellence is the counterpart of her own perfection, then will it be shown that she is indeed divine, while all other things, whether the natures of men or their occupations, are but human.
  • ἢ δοκοῦσί τί σοι τυφλῶν διαφέρειν ὁδὸν ὀρθῶς πορευομένων οἱ ἄνευ νοῦ ἀληθές τι δοξάζοντες;
    • Isn't anyone who holds a true opinion without understanding like a blind man on the right road?
  • The Good therefore may be said to be the source not only of the intelligibility of the objects of knowledge, but also of their existence and reality; yet it is not itself identical with reality, but is beyond reality, and superior to it in dignity and power.
    • 508e-509b

Book VII

  • And at first he would most easily discern the shadows and, after that, the likenesses or reflections in water of men and other things, and later, the things themselves, and from these he would go on to contemplate the appearances in the heavens and heaven itself, more easily by night, looking at the light of the stars and the moon, than by day the sun and the sun's light.... And so, finally, I suppose, he would be able to look upon the sun itself and see its true nature, not by reflections in water or phantasms of it in an alien setting, but in and by itself in its own place....
    And at this point he would infer and conclude that this it is that provides the seasons and the courses of the year and presides over all things in the visible region, and is in some sort the cause of all these things that they had seen.
    • 516a–516c; This fragment is also translated as:
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.... Last of all he will be able to see the sun.
  • The knowledge at which geometry aims is the knowledge of the eternal.
    • 527
  • The ludicrous state of solid geometry made me pass over this branch.
    • 528
  • I have hardly ever known a mathematician who was capable of reasoning.
    • 531e
  • Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.
    • 536e
  • Μὴ τοίνυν βίᾳ, εἶπον, ὦ ἄριστε, τοὺς παῖδας ἐν τοῖς μαθήμασιν ἀλλὰ παίζοντας τρέφε, ἵνα καὶ μᾶλλον οἷός τ᾽ ᾖς καθορᾶν ἐφ᾽ ὃ ἕκαστος πέφυκεν.
    • 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.
    • Variant translation:
    • Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.
  • For the most part, each one spends his time in philosophy, but when his turn comes, he drudges in politics and rules for the city's sake, not as though he were doing a thing that is fine, but one that is necessary. And thus always educating other like men and leaving them behind in their place as guardians of the city, they go off to the Isles of the Blessed and dwell. The city makes public memorials and sacrifices to them as to demons, if the Pythia is in accord; if not, as to c = happy^i and divine men."
    • 540


  • When our pauper was rich, did he perform any of the useful social functions we've just mentioned simply by spending his money? Though he may have appeared to belong to the ruling class, surely in fact he was neither ruling, nor serving society in any other way; he was merely a consumer of goods. ... Don't you think we can fairly call him a drone? He grows up in his own home to be a plague to the community, just as a drone grows in its cell to be a plague to the hive.
  • Then a democracy, I fancy, comes into being when the poor have gained the day; some of the opposite party they kill, some they banish, with the rest they share citizenship and office on equal terms; and, as a general rule, office in the city is given by lot.
  • ταῦτά τε δή, ἔφην, ἔχοι ἂν καὶ τούτων ἄλλα ἀδελφὰ δημοκρατία, καὶ εἴη, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἡδεῖα πολιτεία καὶ ἄναρχος καὶ ποικίλη, ἰσότητά τινα ὁμοίως ἴσοις τε καὶ ἀνίσοις διανέμουσα.
    • Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.
      • 558c
  • Democracy passes into despotism.
    • 562a
  • The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness. ...This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.
    • 565c
  • When the tyrant has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader.
    • 566e

Book IX

  • Then we may begin by assuming that there are three classes of men—lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, lovers of gain?
  • The inexperienced in wisdom and virtue, ever occupied with feasting and such, are carried downward, and there, as is fitting, they wander their whole life long, neither ever looking upward to the truth above them nor rising toward it, nor tasting pure and lasting pleasures. Like cattle, always looking downward with their heads bent toward the ground and the banquet tables, they feed, fatten, and fornicate. In order to increase their possessions they kick and butt with horns and hoofs of steel and kill each other, insatiable as they are.
    • 586a-b
  • ἀλλ᾽, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, ἐν οὐρανῷ ἴσως παράδειγμα ἀνάκειται τῷ βουλομένῳ ὁρᾶν καὶ ὁρῶντι ἑαυτὸν κατοικίζειν. διαφέρει δὲ οὐδὲν εἴτε που ἔστιν εἴτε ἔσται: τὰ γὰρ ταύτης μόνης ἂν πράξειεν, ἄλλης δὲ οὐδεμιᾶς.
    • Perhaps there is a pattern set up in the heavens for one who desires to see it and seeing it, to found one in himself. But whether it exists anywhere or ever exists is no matter; for this is the only commonwealth in whose politics he can ever take part.
      • 592b, as quoted in Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (1974), p. 401

Book X

  • No human thing is of serious importance.
    • 604c
  • We are ready to acknowledge that Homer is the greatest of poets and first of tragedy writers; but we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State....
    And now since we have reverted to the subject of poetry, let this our defence serve to show the reasonableness of our former judgment in sending away out of our State an art having the tendencies which we have described; for reason constrained us. But that she may impute to us any harshness or want of politeness, let us tell her that there is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry; of which there are many proofs, such as the saying of 'the yelping hound howling at her lord,' or of one 'mighty in the vain talk of fools,' and 'the mob of sages circumventing Zeus,' and the 'subtle thinkers who are beggars after all'; and there are innumerable other signs of ancient enmity between them.
    Notwithstanding this, let us assure our sweet friend and the sister arts of imitation that if she will only prove her title to exist in a well-ordered State we shall be delighted to receive her — we are very conscious of her charms; but we may not on that account betray the truth.
    • 607b
      • This fragment is also translated as:
  • Virtue owns no master: he who honors her shall have more of her, and he who slights her, less. The responsibility lies with the chooser. Heaven is guiltless.
    • 617d–617e
  • Wherefore my counsel is that we hold fast ever to the heavenly way and follow after justice and virtue always, considering that the soul is immortal and able to endure every sort of good and every sort of evil. Thus shall we live dear to one another and to the gods.

Quotes about The Republic

  • Practically everyone wants reason to rule, and no one thinks a man like Socrates should be ruled by inferiors or have to adjust what he thinks to them. What the Republic actually teaches is that none of this is possible and that our situation requires both much compromise and much intransigence, great risks and few hopes. The important thing is not speaking one’s own mind, but finding a way to have one’s own mind.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1988), p. 266
  • Demo: … If the best-qualified experts disagree, why should we make them guardians? Incidentally, how would your guardians settle their disagreements--by majority rule?
    Aristos: A nice debating point. But you mustn't assume that expert technicians are qualified to be guardians. Most of them probably aren't. The guardians would have to be carefully trained and carefully selected for their special qualities of knowledge and virtue. Plato devotes an extraordinary amount of attention in The Republic to the education of the guardians, and every serious advocate of guardianship since then has done likewise. Unlike the haphazard process of selecting leaders in your democratic system, recruiting and educating the future guardians is a central element in the idea of guardianship.
    Demo: But how would you go about that? Your solution gets more and more demanding. It's not for nothing that Plato's Republic is generally dismissed as a utopia.
    • Robert A. Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics (1989), Ch. 4 : Guardianship
  • American thinker Russell Kirk (1918­–1994) was among the few commentators, and possibly the only one among non-specialists, to underline that Plato’s “The Republic” is not a blueprint for political action. It is rather a philosophical metaphor on the ideal city of men and women. It must not be taken literally, but it serves its purpose best when considered as a mythical description of the theoretical coordinates that should limit and shape public life to obtain the highest level of decency for human beings. Plato’s endeavor in “The Republic” is in fact highly moral. In that book, the Greek philosopher aims at setting the standards that a community of human beings must observe to prosper, benefiting each of its members. And Plato aptly describes the “polis” as a “macroanthropos.”
  • Almost all accounts of the history of political thinking begin with Plato. This is a paradox, because Plato’s political thought is Antipolitical. Readers of his Republic see that in the polis of Plato’s imagination, there is no politics, and are puzzled; but throughout European history there has been a current of thought that seeks the resolution of the conflicts that “ordinary politics” resolves in the creation of a such a degree of social harmony that the conflicts which everyday politics resolves have simply disappeared, and politics with them.
    • Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present (2012), Ch. 2 : Plato and Antipolitics
  • Plato’s Republic, whatever its contributions to political theory or its suggestiveness to the practical politician or social reformer, is not a treatise on political science or a text-book of civics. It is the City of God in which Plato’s soul sought refuge from the abasement of Athenian politics which he felt himself impotent to reform. The philosopher, he says with unmistakable reference to Socrates (Apology 31 ©) and apology for himself, knows that no politician is honest nor is there any champion of justice at whose side he may fight and be saved. He resembles a man fallen among wild beasts. He is unwilling to share and impotent singly to oppose their rapine. He is like one who in a driving storm of dust and sleet stands aside under shelter of a wall and seeing others filled full with all iniquity, must be content to live his own life, keep his soul unspotted from the world, and depart at last with peace and good will and gracious hopes. This is something. But how much more could he accomplish for himself and others, Plato wistfully adds, in a society in harmony with his true nature.

See also

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