translated by Benjamin Jowett
Book VII - On Shadows and Realities in Education
SOCRATES - GLAUCON
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 puppets.
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
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?
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
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 now
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 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
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
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 trusted.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
By all means, he replied.
The process, I said, is not the turning over of an oyster-shell,
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?
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
Yes, that was said.
Then this new kind of knowledge must have an additional
Usefulness in war.
Yes, if possible.
There were two parts in our former scheme of education, were
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 corruption?
Then that is not the knowledge which we are seeking to
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
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
I should say a very strange one, if this was as you say.
Can we deny that a warrior should have a knowledge of
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
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.
You may suppose that they are seen quite close: And here comes
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
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.
Was not this the beginning of the enquiry 'What is great?' and
'What is small?'
And thus arose the distinction of the visible and the
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
Yes, I said; and this being true of one must be equally true
of all number?
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.
Let this then be made one of our subjects of education. And
next, shall we enquire whether the kindred science also concerns
You mean geometry?
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
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
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.
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?
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
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 behalf.
Then take a step backward, for we have gone wrong in the order
of the sciences.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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: 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
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, 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
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
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
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
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, 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
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 bastards.
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
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 of education.
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.
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
Yes, he said, that is the only kind of knowledge which takes
Yes, I said; and the capacity for such knowledge is the great
criterion of dialectical talent: the comprehensive mind is always
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 introduced?
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
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
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
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
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 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 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
There is no difficulty, he replied; and I agree with you in
thinking that nothing more need be said.
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