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The Republic | Quotes


I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess ... ; and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing.

Socrates, Book 1

As the narrator of the entire dialogue, Socrates sets the scene in a matter-of-fact, almost casual manner, as if he were a sightseer rather than a philosopher. The main verb Plato uses in this sentence, translated as "went down," resonates later in the dialogue with the spatial movements of the philosopher as he descends from daylight back into the cave to attempt to enlighten his fellow human beings.


And so, you and Homer and Simonides are agreed that justice is an art of theft; to be practised however 'for the good of friends and for the harm of enemies,'—that was what you were saying?

Socrates, Book 1

Socrates uses his typical method of question and answer to examine the definition of justice offered by Polemarchus. This examination results in elenchus, or refutation.


'How characteristic of Socrates!' he replied, with a bitter laugh; '—that's your ironical style! Did I not foresee—have I not already told you, that whatever he was asked he would refuse to answer, and try irony or any other shuffle, in order that he might avoid answering?'

Thrasymachus, Book 1

Thrasymachus bitterly accuses Socrates of using the "shuffle" (pretense) of eironeia, or irony. He implies such a pose on Socrates's part is dishonest and illegitimate. The outburst vividly captures the frustration and hostility Socratic irony may have provoked in many of Socrates's interlocutors.


For my own part I openly declare that I am not convinced, and that I do not believe injustice to be more gainful than justice, even if uncontrolled and allowed to have free play. For, granting that there may be an unjust man who is able to commit injustice either by fraud or force, still this does not convince me of the superior advantage of injustice, and there may be others who are in the same predicament with myself.

Socrates, Book 1

Thrasymachus has brazenly claimed injustice "has more strength and freedom and mastery" than justice. In his solemn response Socrates affirms injustice never enjoys a superior advantage over justice. Socrates's vindication of his own position will not be complete until Book 9 of the dialogue.


For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal; anything that he receives into his mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts.

Socrates, Book 2

Socrates's concern for the education of youth is one of the most important motives for his attack on much of traditional Greek poetry and myth, whose portrayal of the gods and goddesses was highly anthropomorphic.


And therefore let us put an end to such tales, lest they engender laxity of morals among the young.

Socrates, Book 3

In the quotation Socrates appears to favor severe censorship that will rule out freedom of speech or creative freedom in the arts. Critics of Plato, such as the Austrian-British 20th-century philosopher Karl Popper, have reproached him for authoritarianism and censorship, citing the banishment of poetry from the ideal state, as well as a number of other features of Plato's utopian framework, for example the communal ownership of property, women, and children.


The time then has arrived, Glaucon, when, like huntsmen, we should surround the cover, and look sharp that justice does not steal away, and pass out of sight and escape us; for beyond a doubt she is somewhere in this country: watch therefore and strive to catch a sight of her, and if you see her first, let me know.

Socrates, Book 4

Socrates is made to use an elaborate simile to dramatize the hunt for the true nature of justice. In an example of situational irony, Plato may have borrowed this technique from Homer, who was celebrated for his vivid, extended similes in the Iliad and Odyssey. The motif of the hunt is common in these epic comparisons.


Very good; and if we were to affirm that we had discovered the just man and the just State, and the nature of justice in each of them, we should not be telling a falsehood?

Socrates, Book 4

This passage marks a major turning point in the dialogue as a whole, since the original goal of the discussion was to pin down a satisfactory definition of justice. Note the step-by-step parallel between the just state and the just individual. The just state has its three classes of citizens (guardians, auxiliaries, and workers), and the just individual's soul consists of three parts (reason, the desire for honor, and the pursuit of sensual appetites).


The law ... which is the sequel of this and of all that has preceded, is to the following effect,—'that the wives of our guardians are to be common, and their children are to be common, and no parent is to know his own child, nor any child his parent.'

Socrates, Book 5

Socrates's provision for the mandatory communal sharing of wives and children in the ideal state had no parallel in the ancient Greek world. In modern times the Oneida Community in upstate New York, founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848, featured such communal practices, and "group marriage" has figured in a number of science fiction tales, especially those of Robert A. Heinlein.


And so philosophy is left desolate, with her marriage rite incomplete: for her own have fallen away and forsaken her, and while they are leading a false and unbecoming life, other unworthy persons, seeing that she has no kinsmen to be her protectors, enter in and dishonour her; and fasten upon her the reproaches which, as you say, her reprovers utter, who affirm of her votaries that some are good for nothing, and that the greater number deserve the severest punishment.

Socrates, Book 6

The extended metaphor here is remarkable for its poignant vividness. Philosophy is doubly attacked, first by her devotees and then by her critics. Readers should note Plato, through Socrates, takes great pains to distinguish the genuine philosopher from the pretender, or charlatan. The superficial resemblances between Socrates and some of the Sophists may have influenced Plato's expression here. On the surface Socrates's unconventional theories and methods of argument may have reminded some observers of Sophist practices. Plato also reminds his audience of the historical tragic fate of Socrates at the hands of his Athenian accusers.


This entire allegory ... 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.

Socrates, Book 7

Socrates's lucid explanation of the Allegory of the Cave is one of the highlights of the Republic. Yet readers can't be blamed if they have some unanswered questions. For example, who or what releases some of the prisoners? What, precisely, is the long-awaited idea of good? Rather than explaining these aspects of the story, Plato focuses on the dramatic interaction of the liberated prisoners with those who are still held captive. He vividly portrays the bitterness and hostility directed at the released prisoners. This portrayal, in turn, accords with the dangers and suffering experienced by the true philosopher.


This, then, seems likely to be the fairest of States, being an embroidered robe which is spangled with every sort of flower. And just as women and children think a variety of colours to be of all things most charming, so there are many men to whom this State, which is spangled with the manners and characters of mankind, will appear to be the fairest of States.

Socrates, Book 8

The similes here furnish the key to Socrates's tone, which displays a situational irony. The spangled colors of democracy make it appear to be the fairest type of government, especially to women and children, but the reality is otherwise. It seems likely Plato's reference to women and children here is condescending, implying they can easily be dazzled and deceived.


They are the opposite extremes ... for one is the very best and the other is the very worst.

Glaucon, Book 9

Socrates has just asked which is the more virtuous, a monarchy or a tyranny.

Although tyranny is here singled out as the very worst form of government, readers should keep in mind ancient Greek city-states, on many occasions, were ruled by relatively enlightened, benevolent tyrants.


Well, I will tell you, although I have always from my earliest youth had an awe and love of Homer, which even now makes the words falter on my lips, for he is the great captain and teacher of the whole of that charming tragic company; but a man is not to be reverenced more than the truth, and therefore I will speak out.

Socrates, Book 10

Socrates's praise of Homer in this passage is understandable, considering the epic poet's universal recognition and cultural authority among the ancient Greeks. As for the tragic poets, Athens in particular fostered tragedy, with elaborate annual festivals serving as the venue for dramatic competition. It is notable Plato calls Homer "the great captain and teacher" of the tragic playwrights. Aeschylus (c. 525–456 BCE) referred to his tragedies as "slices from the banquet of Homer," while Aristotle considered the Iliad to be the prototype of tragedy and the Odyssey as the prototype of comedy.


But that [poetry] may not impute to us any harshness or want of politeness, let us tell her that there is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry.

Socrates, Book 10

Platonic doctrine indicates a schism between philosophy and poetry is inevitable and necessary. The quarrel, he says, is an ancient one. A number of the pre-Socratic philosophers, such as Parmenides and Empedocles, had chosen to express themselves in verse, as did lawgivers such as Solon of Athens (c. 638–558 BCE). And while Xenophanes of Colophon (c. 570–475 BCE) pointedly criticized Homer and Hesiod for their portrayals of divinities, he chose to do so himself in verse. Perhaps the most striking conjunction of poetry and philosophy in all of classical literature is the epic poem De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) by the Roman poet Lucretius. It was written to expound the philosophy of Epicurus (341–270 BCE). In the Republic, however, Plato finds little merit in works of poetry as a way of establishing truths.

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