The Seventh Book of Plato's The Republic, Continued.
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
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
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
That is true, Socrates; but so little seems to be known as yet about these
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
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 fourth.
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
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 understanding.
You mean, I said, those gentlemen who tease and torture the strings and
rack them on the pegs of the instrument: I 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
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
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 (A play upon the Greek word, which means both
'law' and 'strain.'), 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
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 quietus.
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 (Literally 'lines,' probably
the starting-point of a race-course.), having no reason in them, and yet to
be set in authority over the highest matters?
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 questions?
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.
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 him.
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.
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
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
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 them?
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 root.
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 most 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 required.
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.
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?
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
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?
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 enough?
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
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 demigods, but if not, as in any case blessed and
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 being.
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.
End Book VII.