BECK index

The Good

by Sanderson Beck
(based on Plato's Republic)

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Scene: Inside the house of Polemarchus. SOCRATES, GLAUCON, ADEIMANTUS, POLEMARCHUS and others are sitting in a circle for a discussion.

In our last discussion, Socrates,
we attempted to discover what justice is
by examining it in the larger picture of the state,
and we looked at how justice and injustice
originate in different types of states.
Now I would like to know
how the just state may be brought about.

That is no easy question, Glaucon.
If you knew how difficult this is to answer,
you would be more ready to admit
that there is reason to hesitate and worry about
how to consider such a paradoxical discussion.

The more excuses you make, the less likely
will you be released by us from telling
how this government can be attained.

Then the first thing to remember is how
searching for justice and injustice brought us here.

It did; but what of it?

Oh nothing;
but if we discover what justice is,
shall we expect that the just person
shouldn't differ from it at all,
but be absolutely just,
or shall we be happy
if someone can come near it
and share in it more than others?

That would content us.

Then for the sake of a model
were we searching for what justice is,
and for the character of the perfectly just person
and also for that of the unjust,
so that whatever we found in them
of happiness and the opposite,
we must admit concerning ourselves,
that whoever was most like them
would have a similar destiny;
but it was not for the sake of showing
how these things could be attained.

That's true.

So do you think one would be any less of an artist
who painted a model of the most beautiful person
and put in everything satisfactorily,
if one wasn't able to prove such a person exists?

By God, not I.

So weren't we claiming to make
a model in logic of a good state?


So do you think we are any less logical,
if we have not proved that
this state can be managed as it was described?

Of course not.

So that's true; but if to please you,
it's shown how it could be realized,
again would you concede to me the same point?


Can anything be realized in practice as told,
or is it the nature of practice
that it attains less truth than description,
even if it doesn't seem like it?
Do you concede this or not?

I concede it.

Then you shouldn't compel me to show in action
everything we went through with logic;
but if we could discover how a state
could be managed most nearly to our description,
apparently we would have discovered
the possibility of realizing what you demanded.
Wouldn't you be content with that?
For I know I would.

I would too.

After this probably we should try to find out
what is now done badly in states,
because of which they're not managed so,
and what is the smallest change
which would bring a state
to this type of government,
preferably one thing or two
or as few as possible.


Then it seems to me there is one change
which would bring about reform,
though it's not small nor easy,
but it's possible.


There is one thing for this greatest of difficulties;
but I'll say it, even if it stimulates laughter.
Consider what I'm about to say.

Say it.

Unless either philosophers lead in states
or those who are said to lead now
are able to pursue wisdom truly and sufficiently,
and political and philosophical ability coincide,
while those many natures
who now follow one without the other
are excluded out of necessity,
there is no rest in states from evils, dear Glaucon,
nor I think for the human race,
unless this government
which we just described in words
grows into power and sees the light of the sun.
This is what I hesitated to say,
seeing that it would be a very paradoxical statement;
for it's hard to see that there is no other happiness
neither in private nor in public.

Socrates, having made
such a statement and argument,
certainly many who are not poor would now strip
and taking weapons would rush at you
prepared to do surprising works;
and unless you defend yourself with logic and escape,
being jeered you'll pay the penalty.

Then aren't you the cause of this?

That's right I am;
however, I won't give you up,
but I'll defend you as best I can;
I can encourage you with good will,
and perhaps I may answer you
with more care than another.
So having such help try to prove to the disbelievers
that it's as you say.

I must try, since you offer so great an alliance.
So it seems necessary to me,
if we're to escape from those you mentioned,
to define for them what is meant by philosophers
whom we dare to claim should lead,
so that when it's made clear
one can defend oneself by showing that it's fitting
that those with the nature of philosophers
are meant to lead in the state,
while the others are meant to follow the leaders.

Look to the definition.

Come then, follow me,
if we may somehow or other
explain it sufficiently.

Go on.

Should I remind you, or do you remember that
when we claim someone loves something,
it should be apparent, if it's meant correctly,
that one likes not just a part of it, but all of it?

Probably I should be reminded,
for I certainly don't understand.

What you say, Glaucon, is fitting for another,
but not for a lover of youths,
for you find a reason to be attracted
to any who are in the bloom of their prime.

If you wish to use me
as an example of such lovers,
I'll admit it for the sake of the argument.

But don't you observe
lovers of wine doing this too?
Aren't they glad for every excuse to drink?

Very much.

And you've seen lovers of honor, I believe,
who if they can't be generals, are local leaders;
if they're not honored by the great and prominent,
they're content to be honored by the small and poor,
because in short they desire being honored.


Then when we say someone desires something,
shall we claim they desire all things of that kind,
or some and not the rest?


Then shall we not claim that a philosopher
is desiring not a part of wisdom, but all of it?


Then those who are annoyed at their studies,
especially when they're young
and don't know what's useful and what isn't,
we'll claim aren't lovers of learning
nor philosophers,
just as we claim those annoyed by food
aren't hungry and don't desire food,
and aren't fond of eating,
but have a bad appetite.
Or what do you think?

We'd be correct in claiming that.

But those who have a taste
for willingly yielding to every study
and gladly going into learning
and are never satisfied,
we'll rightly claim are philosophers.

Then there will be many unusual ones,
for it seems to me all the lovers of spectacles
delight in learning such things,
and it would be most unusual
to put the curious with the philosophers,
who would not be willing to listen to a discussion,
as though they had hired their ears out,
going around to every Dionysian festival
in the cities and towns without missing any.
So shall we claim that all these
and other learners of minor arts are philosophers?

Not at all, but they are like philosophers.

Who do you say are the true ones?

Those who love seeing the truth.

That's correct;
but how do you mean it?
It's not at all easily explained to another;
but I think you would agree with me on this.


Since the beautiful is opposite to the ugly,
they are two.

Why not?

Then since they're two, is each of them one?


And concerning the just and unjust, good and bad,
and all ideas the argument is the same,
that each of these is one,
but in combination with actions and bodies
and with one another
each appears everywhere in many appearances.

You're right.

Then I'll distinguish these
whom you just said were lovers
of spectacles and arts and the practical
separately from those of the argument
who alone should be correctly called philosophers.

What do you mean?

The lovers of sights and sounds are attracted
to beautiful tones and colors and shapes
and everything artificially made out of these,
but their understanding is incapable of seeing
and appreciating the nature of the beautiful itself.

That's so.

Wouldn't those who could go to beauty itself
and see it by itself be rare?


So those accustomed to beautiful things,
but not accustomed to beauty itself
nor able to follow
when led to the knowledge of it,
do you think they're dreaming or awake in life?
Isn't it dreaming,
whether they're asleep or awake,
to believe the like is the unlike,
and the same a resemblance?

At least I'd claim that was dreaming.

What about the opposite,
of those thinking something is beauty itself
and can distinguish this
and the things sharing in it,
and thinking the things sharing in it are not it
nor it the things sharing;
do you think they're awake or dreaming in life?

Definitely awake.

Then couldn't we correctly claim that
the understanding of the knowledgeable is knowing,
and that of the believing is opinion?


So what if those we claim believe but don't know
get angry at us and doubt what we said as not true,
is there any way we could console them
and persuade them gently in secret,
that they're not healthy?

There should be.

Come consider what we should say to them.
Or would you question them in this way,
as if no one is jealous of them,
but we'd be glad to see them knowing something,
yet tell us this:
Do those knowing know something or nothing?
So you answer for them.

I'd answer that they know something.

Something that is or is not?

That is; how could what is not be known?

So do we have this sufficiently,
even if we should consider it
from every perspective,
that what completely is
may be completely known,
and what in no way is
in every way is unknown?

Most sufficiently.

Well; if something is thus,
so as to be and not be,
wouldn't it lie in between
what absolutely is and what in no way is?

Yes, in between.

Then since knowledge relates to what is,
and ignorance of necessity to what is not,
for what is in between
should one search for something
in between ignorance and knowledge,
if such a thing happens to exist?


Then is there something we call opinion?

Why not?

Is it another ability than knowledge or the same?


Then opinion has been appointed to one thing
and knowledge to another,
each according to its ability.

That's so.

Then isn't knowing naturally related to what is,
to know how what is is?
But now it seems necessary to me
to distinguish here.


We'll claim abilities are a kind of being,
which enable us and everything else
to be able to do whatever can be done.
For example,
I mean sight and hearing are abilities,
if you understand the kind of thing I mean.

I understand.

Listen then to what is apparent to me about them:
for in an ability
I don't see color, shape or anything,
which when looking at many other things
I distinguish for myself some from others;
but with an ability I look only at
what is related to it and what it affects,
and I call each of them an ability,
and what is related to the same thing
and affects the same thing I call the same,
and another what relates to another
and affects another.
What about you?
How do you do it?

That way.

Here again, good sir,
would you claim knowledge is an ability,
or in what class would you put it?

In that, the most vigorous of all abilities.

What about opinion?
Do you think it's an ability
or in another category?

Not at all, for we have the ability to believe,
which is nothing else but an opinion.

But a while ago you agreed that
knowledge and opinion are not the same.

How could anyone having intelligence
identify the unerring with what is not unerring?

Right, and clearly it was admitted by us
that opinion is different from knowledge.

Yes, different.

Then naturally each different ability
relates to something different.

They must.

Does knowledge relate to what is
to know how it is?


And do we claim opinion is to believe?


Is it the same as knowledge knows,
and is the known and the believed the same?
Or is that impossible?

It's impossible from what was admitted,
if another ability naturally relates to another,
and both opinion and knowledge are abilities,
and each different, as we claim,
the known and believed
aren't allowed to be the same.

Then if what is is known,
something else is believed,
or would it be what is?

No, something else.

Then does one believe what is not?
Or is it impossible to believe what is not?
Doesn't one believing bring an opinion to something?
Or for example, is to believe to believe nothing?


But does the one believing believe something?


But what is not isn't something,
but should most correctly be called nothing.


To what is not we of necessity assigned ignorance,
and to what is, knowing.


Then one believes neither what is nor what is not.


Then opinion would be
neither ignorance nor knowing.

Probably not.

Then is it outside of these going beyond
either knowing in clarity
or ignorance in obscurity?

It's neither.

Does it appear to you
opinion is darker than knowing
and more apparent than ignorance?

Yes, and much.

Then would opinion lie between the two?


Didn't we claim before, that if anything
should appear to be and not be at the same time,
that it lies in between
what purely is and what wholly is not,
it would be neither knowledge nor ignorance,
but appears to be in between them.

That's correct.

Now what is called opinion
has appeared between them.

It has.

So what about those who believe
there is no beauty itself
nor any idea of beauty always staying the same
but who think many things are beautiful,
lovers of spectacles who can't stand anyone claiming
beauty is one and the just is one and so on?
For sometimes won't beautiful things appear ugly,
the just unjust, and the holy unholy?

They must.

Won't even double things
be half of something else?

Of course.

And may large and small things,
light and heavy things
be described by their opposites also?


Then since equivocation is possible with these things,
which are between what is and what isn't,
don't we find that such conventions are opinions?

We do.

Then those who see many beautiful things
but don't perceive beauty itself
and are unable to be led to it,
and who see many just things but not justice itself,
and so on with all the rest,
shall we claim that they believe things
but know nothing about what they believe?

That must be.

But what about those who see the things themselves
always the same and never changing?
Do they know and not believe?

That also must be.

Shall we claim that those who like tones and colors,
but can't stand the reality of beauty itself,
are lovers of opinion,
and will they get angry at us for saying this?

No, for it's not right to get angry at the truth.

And may those who love knowledge
and welcome reality
be called lovers of wisdom or philosophers?

By all means.

Since the philosophers are capable
of understanding the eternal and unchanging,
shouldn't they be leaders in the state?

That would be appropriate.

For surely we wouldn't want to appoint those
who are blind to the beautiful and just and good.

No, by God.

We should agree on the qualities of the philosophers.

What other qualities should the philosophers have
in order to be good leaders of the state?

Not lying and never being willing to accept falsehood,
but hating it and loving the truth.

That's likely.

Not only likely, my friend,
but it's completely necessary
that anyone who loves something
should naturally cherish all of it.

That's correct.

So could you find anything
more related to wisdom than truth?

How could I?

Then the lover of wisdom must from youth
reach for all kinds of truth.


Surely we realize that desires flowing in one direction
are weakened for other things.

Of course.

So the philosopher's desires will flow to learning
and the pleasures of the soul rather than the body.

That definitely must be so.

Such will be prudent
and not money-lovers nor illiberal,
which are contrary to the soul which always seeks
divine and human wholeness and integrity.

Most true.

Then will they think death is terrible?

Least of all.

For the cowardly and illiberal don't share
the nature of the true philosopher.

I don't think so.

In addition to being courageous
won't the philosopher be just and gentle
rather than unsocial and rude?


They'll be quick learners and have good memories,
or else forgetting they'd lose interest in wisdom;
and they'll have harmony, proportion and grace
in order to be guided to the ideal realities.

Blame itself could not fault these qualities.

Then if such were perfected
by education and maturity,
wouldn't you entrust the state to them?

no one could contradict these arguments,
but those who listen to them
think because of their inexperience in answering
that a little at a time they're led astray
to a conclusion opposite
to what they declared at first,
like a checkers player who eventually can't move.
I say this,
since most who study philosophy beyond youth
become cranks, if not complete rascals,
and those thought the best
are made useless to society
by the pursuits which you praise.

That's apparently true.

So how can it be right
that states won't stop evils
until philosophers,
whom we admit are useless, lead?

Your question requires
an answer through a parable.
For so hard is the experience
of the best in the state
that there is nothing else like it.
Imagine this happening on many ships or one:
A shipmaster is taller and stronger
than all on board;
but he's slightly deaf and also has impaired vision,
and his knowledge of navigation is similar.
Sailors fight with each other
for control of the helm,
each thinking he should steer,
though they never learned the skill
nor did they ever study it nor were they taught.
Furthermore they claim it can't be taught,
and they're ready to put down
anyone who says it can.
They gather around the shipmaster,
asking for the helm to be turned over to them.
Sometimes not convincing him,
others are preferred,
whom they either kill or throw off the ship,
and after binding and drugging
the noble shipmaster,
they take over the ship, use the supplies,
and sail on in a similar way.
Whoever is most clever at convincing or forcing
the shipmaster to let them lead,
is praised and called a navigator;
and whoever doesn't, they blame as useless,
not realizing that the true pilot
must take care of the time of year,
the seasons, the sky, winds, stars,
and everything related to that skill,
if one is to be a leader on the ship;
but as for piloting,
if some wish it and some don't,
neither this skill nor caring what is thought
can be done at the same time as navigation.
On such a ship wouldn't a true pilot
be called a stargazer, an idle talker, and useless
by those who had taken over the ship in this way?


I think you understand how this relates
to the true philosopher in the state.

I do.

Then teach this parable to those
who are surprised
that philosophers aren't honored in our states,
and try to convince them that
it would be much more surprising
if they were honored.

I will.

So it's true the best philosophers are useless,
yet don't blame them
but those who don't use them.
A pilot shouldn't have to beg sailors
to be led by him,
nor should the wise go to the doors of the rich.
But the sick, whether rich or poor,
should go to the door of the physician,
and everyone wanting to be led
should go to those who can lead.
Our present political leaders
are like those sailors,
and those whom we call
useless, idealistic stargazers
are like the true pilots.

That's correct.

Among these the best pursuit
is not well thought of
by those whose pursuits are opposite,
but the greatest and strongest slander of philosophy
is what you said about most being cranks and rascals,
which I agreed with you is true.
Haven't we explained the reason for the uselessness?


Next shall I explain why philosophy
is not the cause of the majority's corruption?


Didn't we say a philosopher
must seek truth above all?

We did.

Lovers of learning won't be distracted by details
and the many opinions about them,
but love will lead on to the nature of each reality,
which may be grasped by the soul,
producing intelligence and truth,
in order to truly know how to live and grow;
and not till then will their travail be relieved.

That is most fair.

Then when truth leads,
I think we could claim that it's followed by
courage, generosity, learning, and memory.
Now we're contemplating why
the nature of most philosophers becomes corrupted,
and only a few escape
to be called not bad but useless.

What corruptions do you mean?

I'll try to explain them for you.
First I think everyone agrees that
a philosophic nature is rare;
or don't you think so?

Most definitely.

Consider how many things corrupt them.
Most surprising of all is how natural gifts
such as courage, prudence and all the rest
can be diverted and corrupt the soul,
as do all things said to be good,
such as beauty, wealth, bodily strength, and status.

I'd like to know how.

Every seed needs the right food, seasons, and place;
so it's natural that the best natures do worse
in a bad environment than the mediocre;
for weak natures don't cause anything great,
neither good nor bad.

That's so.

Thus the philosophic nature nurtured well
will grow into complete excellence,
but in the wrong environment will be the opposite,
unless some god happens to help.
Some believe sophists corrupt the young,
but the majority with their applause and criticism
may sweep away the young to do their bidding;
then sophists inculcate those opinions,
as if by acquiring knowledge of the beast's desires
it may be tamed or made fierce,
believing whatever pleases the beast is good
and whatever doesn't is bad.
Before God, wouldn't they be strange educators?

I think so.

Could the majority ever tolerate and believe in
beauty itself instead of many beautiful things?

Not at all.

Then philosophy is impossible for the crowd.


Then won't the natural born philosopher
likely be tempted, flattered and led astray
by petitions and honors of those
who want to sway that ability?

That's likely.

Won't ambitious hopes
make him proud and foolish?


If such a person is told the truth
that he needs intelligence
and must work hard for it,
do you think he'll listen
when surrounded by evils?


So even if someone due to a good nature
and an affinity for logic understands somehow
and is drawn toward philosophy,
won't those afraid of losing influence
act to keep him from being persuaded,
and won't they disable anyone who tries,
either by private intrigue or public prosecution?

It's inevitable.

So could such a person be a philosopher?

Certainly not.

So usually talented people do the greatest harm,
or when well directed they do the greatest good;
but those with little talent never do anything great.


But if the unfit and vulgar try to be philosophers
don't they produce sophisms and other nonsense?

I'm afraid so.

A very few worthy to join with philosophy
may somehow escape corruption
in exile or a small town,
as Theages was held back from politics by illness,
and I by my divine sign,
which rarely occurred before.
These few taste its pleasures and blessings,
and seeing the madness of the majority enough
realize that present politics is not healthy
and no one's help could save justice,
but it would be like falling among wild beasts,
nor could one hold out against all the cruelty;
and aware one couldn't benefit the state or friends,
but would be throwing away one's life,
these all remain quiet and mind their own business;
seeing others filled with lawlessness,
content to keep free of injustice and unholy deeds,
they live life here and depart with fair hope.

Those are no small accomplishments.

Not the greatest though, which can only be done
if one is in an appropriate state
where one may save oneself and the common good.
Yet thus far a perfectly virtuous person
leading a similar state has never been seen.
Or do you think it ever has happened?


Neither do people listen
to fine and free discussions
whose whole effort is
to seek the truth and knowledge.
I'm afraid we must say then
that no person nor state will ever be perfect
until the philosophers who now are called useless
take care of the state,
whether they wish to or not,
or until sovereigns and those in power
are divinely inspired by the love of true philosophy.
Though we admit this is difficult,
it's not impossible.

I think so too.

But will you say the majority doesn't think so?


But my friend, don't condemn all the people.
They'll change their minds, if not in strife
they're encouraged gently not to dislike learning,
and if you show them
what you mean by philosophers,
so they won't think
you mean the rascals and cranks.
I think most are not so ungentle and harsh,
but their anger toward philosophy
comes from those who are abusive
and criticize people instead of things.

I agree.

For the one whose mind is truly on what is
has no time to look down on human business
nor to be filled with envy in struggling with them
but looks at the eternal realities of the cosmos,
seeing that they neither wrong nor are wronged,
but all live in harmony according to reason;
these one should imitate as best one can.
Thus the philosopher relating to the divine order
becomes as divine and orderly as a human can.
Then will many be angry at such a philosopher,
and would they deny that a state
could be drawn in life from a heavenly model?

They would not be angry if they perceived it.
But in what way would they draw that?

First wiping the slate clean,
wouldn't they sketch the constitution?

Of course.

Looking to the nature of justice,
beauty and prudence,
they would create these among humans,
making them as friendly to God as they can.

That would be the most beautiful painting.

Can we persuade them
such a political artist exists,
and will they become gentler
when they hear this?

Much gentler, if they are prudent.

Will they deny philosophers love the truth,
or that their nature is the best?

That would be absurd.

So persuaded and made gentle,
will they agree?


Now for perfection
the philosopher must study the greatest thing of all.

Is anything greater than justice,
wisdom, courage, and prudence?

Yes, greater, and it must be drawn most perfectly;
for it's the idea of the good by which justice
and the others become useful and beneficial.
Now you realize we don't know it adequately.
Unless we know what is good,
we don't know if we have anything of value.
Or do you think there is any profit
in acquiring everything except the good?
or in understanding all things
without understanding the good?

No, by God.

You know many think pleasure is the good,
but can pleasure be the good
when some pleasures are bad?

Of course not.

The orderly think knowledge is the good,
but in the end they must admit
it's knowledge of the good which is best.


Is anyone satisfied
with the appearance of the good?
Surely everyone wants the reality.


Do you think it's right to talk as if knowing
when one doesn't know?

Not as knowing, but as one thinks.

But haven't you observed that
opinion without knowledge is shameful?
Even the best opinions are blind;
or do you think opinion without truth
is different than traveling the road blindly?

No, I don't.

Before God, Socrates,
as you're near the goal,
explain the good
as you have justice and prudence.

My friend, I'm afraid I'm not equal to it,
for I don't think I could fly that high today;
but I'm willing to discuss
the offspring of the good
and what it's most like, if you wish.

Do that, and describe the father later.

I wish I could make you a payment
and not just the interest,
but accept the interest
and the offspring of the good;
and be careful I don't render a false account.

We'll be careful; only go on.

Let's remind ourselves that we've often claimed
that there are many beautiful and good things,
and there is also beauty itself and the good itself
which we've put forward as single ideas of what is.

That's so.

We claim the many may be seen but not thought,
while the ideas are thought but not seen.


So what do we see visible things with?

With sight.

Don't we hear things with hearing
and perceive all other things with the other senses?

Of course.

Have you ever noticed that
seeing requires something
besides the things seen and sight?


Color can't be seen without what you call light.

That's true.

Then what joins together the visible
and the ability to see is more valuable,
unless light is without value.

But it's far from being without value.

Which of the gods in heaven
is the lord causing this,
whose light makes our sight
see visible things best?

It's clear your question refers to the sun.

Then the sun is not sight,
but as the cause of sight, is it seen by it?

That's so.

Now by the offspring of the good I mean that
as the good is in the intelligible world
to the mind and mental things,
so is the sun in the visible world to the things seen.

How? Explain it to me.

You know that when the eyes turn to objects
on whose colors the light of day no longer shines,
at night they are dim and almost blind,
but when directed to objects illuminated by the sun,
they see clearly and apparently have vision.

Of course.

Now apply this to the soul:
when it rests on what truth and reality shine on
it understands them
and apparently has intelligence;
but when it's been mixed in the dark
with what becomes and passes away,
it has opinions and is dulled;
and it changes its opinions up and down
as though it had no intelligence.

It does.

Now this which provides truth to what is known
and ability to the knower
you must claim is the idea of the good
and the real cause of knowledge and truth
as they're known by the mind.
As beautiful as knowing and truth are,
you'll correctly think of this as more beautiful.
Just as it's correct to think of light and sight
as like the sun,
but not to think they are the sun,
so here it's correct
to consider knowledge and truth
as like the good,
but not to think they are the good;
but the good is of still greater value.

You mean an extraordinary beauty,
if it's the source of knowledge and truth,
and yet goes beyond them in beauty.

As the sun is considered
the origin of visible things,
so things known are not only provided by the good
with their being known,
but their reality itself is provided by the good;
yet it transcends that reality in dignity and power.

Spirit may transcend no farther!

You're the cause for compelling me
to talk about this.

Don't stop,
but explain what the sun is most similar to,
if anything is left.

I am leaving much out.

Don't even omit a little.

I think there is much,
but as far as it's presently possible
I won't willingly leave out anything.


Observe then, as we were saying,
there are these two,
one is sovereign over the intelligible
and the other over the visible.
Now take a line divided into two unequal sections,
again cut each section into the same ratio,
both the visible and the intelligible,
and in clearness and unclearness to each other
one section of the visible will be images.
By images I mean first shadows,
then reflections in water and smooth surfaces
and all such things, if you understand.

I do.

Then assume the other is what this is like,
the animals around us and all the plants
and the whole category of artificial things.

I assume it.

Would you be willing to claim it's divided
into truth and what is not,
as opinion is to knowing,
so the similar is to what it's similar to?

I would.

Consider then how the intelligible section is cut.


Then one section is cut
so that the soul is compelled
to search by using likeness from hypotheses,
not to a principle but to a conclusion,
but in the other it advances from hypothesis
above hypothesis to a principle without those images
but does it through the system of ideas themselves.

I don't adequately understand what you mean.

You'll understand more easily from geometry.
I think you know they postulate
lines, angles, and figures as hypotheses,
taking it for granted they're obvious to everyone;
starting from these
the rest is explained and concluded.

Certainly; I know that.

Though they talk about visible forms,
such as a square or diagonal, which have images,
they draw them not as things and images
but to represent those ideas themselves,
which can only be seen by the mind.


Now by these I mean the intelligible section
where the soul must use hypotheses in searching,
not principles, since it can't rise above hypotheses,
and using as images the physical things
which are clearer than their visible reflections.

I understand how geometry and related arts do this.

Now by the other section of the intelligible
understand that I mean the reason itself
attaining the ability to discuss,
not using hypotheses as principles but as hypotheses
in order to rise above them to the principle of all,
attaining that, and again what that has,
going down to the conclusion,
using none of the senses,
but going from ideas themselves through ideas
and in the end to an idea.

I understand, not adequately,
for it's much work;
yet you wish to distinguish clearer being
by the discussion of real knowledge
and the intelligible contemplated
from the so-called arts
which must begin with hypotheses and thought,
but the ones contemplating them don't perceive
because they don't go back
to consider the principle,
but from hypotheses
they don't seem to you to understand intelligence,
although being intelligent with a principle.
You seem to call the thought of geometers thought
as being in between opinion and intelligence.

I approve your understanding as most adequate.
For these four sections
accept four experiences occurring in the soul:
intelligence the highest, thought second,
third assign belief, and finally images;
and arrange them in order as it's believed
they share in truth and their objects in clearness.

I understand, concur, and arrange them as you say.

Next compare the nature of our experience
concerning education and lack of education.
For look,
humans dwell in a kind of underground cave
open to the light all along the cave;
in it from childhood
their legs and necks are in chains
so that they stay seeing only in front,
and they're unable to turn their heads around;
the light of a fire above and distant from them
is burning behind them,
and between the fire and the chained is a road
along which a low wall has been built,
like screens are set before wonder-workers
in front of people,
above which they show the wonders.

I see.

Now see people along this wall
carrying all kinds of artifacts above the wall
and human statues and stone and wooden animals;
some carrying them speak, and others are silent.

You tell of unusual images and prisoners.

Similar to us, for first do you think
they would see anything
of themselves and each other
except the shadows from the fire
on the cave wall in front of them?

How could they,
if they're forced to keep their heads
unmoved throughout their life?

So if they could converse with each other,
don't you think they would believe
they're naming the things present as seen?

They must.

If their prison had an echo
from the opposite wall,
when a passer-by spoke,
do you think they would believe
the passing shadow was the speaker?

By God, I do.

Then in every way they would consider the truth
nothing but the shadows of the artifacts.

It's quite necessary.

Now consider what would naturally happen
if some of them were released
and healed from the chains and thoughtlessness:
When they're released
and suddenly compelled to stand up
and turn around and slowly go
and look up at the light,
feeling pain while doing all this,
and due to the glare being unable to look upon
those objects whose shadows they had seen,
what do you think they would say,
if someone said that things seen then were illusions,
but that now nearer to reality
turning to the more real
they would be looking more correctly?
And being shown each passing thing
if they were compelled to answer what it is,
don't you think they would be in doubt
and believe that what was seen before is more true
than what is shown now?

Much more.

If they were compelled to look at the light itself,
wouldn't their eyes be in pain
and turning away escape to those things
which they can look upon and are accustomed to
as more clear than the things shown?

That's so.

If someone dragged them from there by force
up the steep ascent and didn't let go
until they were drawn out into the sun's light,
wouldn't they suffer pain and struggle,
and when they came to the light,
their eyes being full of sunbeams
wouldn't they be unable to see
even one of the things now called true?

At least not suddenly.

I think they'd need
to get used to seeing things above:
first the shadows would be easy to look upon,
after this images in water,
and last the things themselves;
from these at night they would go on
to view things in heaven and heaven itself,
looking at the light of the stars and moon more easily
than by day the sun and its light.

Why not?

Finally they'd be able
to look upon and view the sun,
not in water nor phantoms of it in other settings,
but itself by itself in its own place.

That's necessary.

After this they'd conclude about it
that this is what provides the seasons and years
and presides over all things in the visible region
and somehow is the cause of all those things
which they had seen.

It's clear they would come to that next.

So remembering their first dwelling
and what passed for wisdom there with the prisoners,
don't you think they'd be happy with the change
and pity them?


And if some were honored
and praised by each other then
and given prizes for seeing those passing by sharpest,
and for remembering their habitual moving sequences,
and for being most able to predict their future return,
do you think they would want to have these
and would envy those honored and successful,
or with Homer would they definitely prefer being
a serf to another landless man and endure anything
rather than believe those and live in that way?

I think they'd accept anything rather than that.

Notice this too.
If they went down again
and sat on their old seat,
wouldn't their eyes be full of darkness,
suddenly coming out of the sunlight?

Very much.

If they had to compete
in discerning those shadows again
with those perpetual prisoners while dim-sighted,
before the eyes adjusted,
the habit's time certainly not being short,
then wouldn't they provoke laughter,
and wouldn't those say about them,
that having gone up
they returned with eyes ruined,
and that it's not worth even trying to go up?
And if those could lay their hands on them
and kill them
for attempting to release and lead up any,
would they kill them?


Now this image, dear Glaucon,
applies to everything said before,
comparing the setting revealed through sight
to living in the prison,
and the light of the fire in it to the sun's power;
and if you assume the ascent and the view above
is the soul's way up to the intelligible region
you'll not mistake my hope,
since you want to hear this;
but God knows if it happens to be true.
So the phenomena appear thus to me:
in the known the idea of the good is the ultimate
and is seen with difficulty,
and having been seen the conclusion is that
it's the cause of all things correct and beautiful,
generating light and lord of this in the visible;
in the intelligible it's the lord
providing truth and intelligence,
and those intending to act sensibly
either in private or public should see this.

I'm following as best I can.

Come then and follow here
and don't be surprised
that the ones coming to this
are not willing to act in human affairs,
but their souls always urge them
to spend time above;
for this is likely if the comparison holds.

It's likely.

Do you think it's surprising
if someone returning from the divine view
to evil human affairs is put to shame
and appears quite ridiculous while dim-sighted
and before becoming adequately adjusted
to the dark environment
is compelled to contend in courtrooms or elsewhere
about the shadows of the just or of the statues,
and to debate about this when these undertaking them
have never seen justice itself?

It wouldn't be surprising.

Then if this is true, we should consider that
education is not really what some claim it is;
for they claim they can put knowledge into the soul
that doesn't have it, like sight into the blind.

So they claim.

But now logic indicates this ability is in each soul,
and the instrument by which each understands
is like an eye
which can't turn from light to darkness
unless it turns the whole body,
so with the whole soul it's to be turned around
from becoming until it can endure
viewing the brightest of the real;
and this we claim is the good, or don't we?


Now wouldn't there be
an art of turning it around
in the easiest and most effective way,
not of creating sight,
but as one already has it of bringing about
what was turned and looking incorrectly.


While other virtues are near the body
and are created by habit and practice,
that of thought is more divine
and never loses its ability,
and by its direction
becomes useful and beneficial
or useless and harmful.
Or haven't you noticed how
those said to be bad are smart
and focus their little soul on its interests,
not with poor sight,
but it's forced to serve evil,
so that the sharper the vision
the more evil it does?


Yet if such a nature
from childhood may be cut loose
of the lead weights of pleasures and greed
which turn the sight of the soul down,
and be converted to truth,
it would be sharpest on this
as now it is on those.


Isn't it probable and necessary from what was said,
that the uneducated and inexperienced in truth
could not preside adequately over a state
nor would those allowed to be educated to the end;
the first because they don't have one purpose in life
to which all private and public actions should be aimed,
and the others because they're not willing to act,
believing they're already living with the blessed?


So our work is to encourage the best natures
to learn what we claim is the greatest,
to see the good and ascend to that;
when they've ascended
we shouldn't let them stay there,
but we should encourage them to go down
among the prisoners
to share their labors and honors.

Should we wrong them
and make them live a worse life
when they can do better?

Have you forgot that we care about the whole state
and harmonizing all the citizens by persuasion
so that each can benefit the others
in whatever they can give the community?

That's true; I forgot.

Consider, Glaucon,
that we're not wronging philosophers
if we ask them to serve the state
in exchange for the education they have received.
Those with more education
are more capable of sharing;
they should go down
to live with those viewing shadows;
for once accustomed to them
they'll know them best,
having seen the truth
of the beautiful, just, and good.
So our state will live awake,
not in a dream like most now
where they fight in shadows to lead,
as if that were a great good;
but the truth is that the state
in which those lead who least want to lead
is the most undisturbed.


When those lead who are wealthy, not in money,
but in the happiness of a good and thoughtful life,
a well-governed state becomes possible.
But when offices become prizes of contention,
such warfare destroys both them and the state.


Does any other life look down on political leaders
except that of the true philosophers?

No, by God.

Then must not a philosopher
be able to define with logic
and abstract from all other things
the idea of the good,
as though in battle being tested,
and endeavor to examine everything
according to reality and not opinion?
For whoever lacks this ability
doesn't know the good itself
nor any particular good.

By God, I agree with you.

Also a philosopher must be diligent in learning,
and loving truth
will hate even involuntary falsehood,
and will be prudent, courageous, generous and just.
For you know the soul has three parts,
each with its corresponding pleasures and virtues.

What are they?

First the appetites for food, drink, sex and desires
are also related to money-loving,
since money is used to gratify these desires;
this pleasure we could call
the love of gain or profit.
Can you name the corresponding virtue?

Certainly; it's prudence or self-control.

Next the emotional part
seeks victory and reputation
and can be called ambitious or honor-loving.
What virtue is associated with that?

Clearly courage.

Finally the intelligence seeks learning and knowledge
and can be said to love truth and wisdom.

And wisdom would be the ideal virtue sought.

Now don't the money-lovers
and the lovers of honor and the philosophers
disagree as to which pleasures are best?

They certainly do,
for money-lovers care nothing
for honor or knowledge if they bring no gain,
and the ambitious look down
on wealth and education,
while a lover of wisdom
rises above gain and honor.

But which of these can judge
which pleasure is best?
Do the lovers of wealth and honor
ever experience the pleasures of knowledge?

Not really.

For only a philosopher
understands both gain and honor
and yet has entered the reality of being and truth,
and thus using the ability of intelligence
can best judge between the three different values.

That's true.

For the appetites relate to the body,
which we found is far from reality
but always changing,
and the emotions are dependent on opinions,
which also are below the realm of knowledge;
but intelligence is able to know true being,
and so the whole soul
is best guided by its wisdom,
while courage and prudence govern the rest.


To use a metaphor we might say that
the appetites are like a many-headed beast,
emotion like a lion,
and intelligence like a human.
If the desires take over, then the beast rages;
if the ambitious lion takes charge, conflict results;
but if human reason has dominion,
then we'll have harmony inside and justice outside.
For the human will use the courage of the lion
to restrain the many lusts of the beast;
providing what is needed all will be friendly,
and every part of the soul and everyone in society
will grow and prosper as is proper to their natures.
Thus it's better for everyone
to be led by divine intelligence.
Therefore we have laws
and constitutional government,
and children are guided
by those responsible for them
until they develop this leadership inside themselves
and learn how to be responsible
for their own freedom.

That's clear.

But the unjust and inharmonious
become worse people,
and those who get away with wrong still worse;
while those who are caught may be corrected,
and by discipline the brutish part can be tamed
so that the gentle part is liberated,
and the whole soul may return to its best nature
in prudence and justice and thoughtfulness,
just as the body gains strength when it's healthy.
Now as the soul is greater than the body,
the intelligent will care more about virtue
and less about bodily pleasures and even health
except insofar as the body is attuned to harmony
for the sake of the balance in the soul.

Absolutely, if one intends to be a true musician.

So one will relate to wealth and offices
only as these are for the highest good of the whole,
and the individual, like the ideal state,
will be led by a higher principle, the good.

I think that state doesn't exist on earth.

But perhaps there is a model of it in heaven,
and those seeing it may live in it nonetheless.

That's likely.

We haven't described the greatest rewards of virtue.

You must mean something inconceivably great,
if it's greater than what was already said.

What could be great in a short time
compared to all of eternity?


Haven't you perceived that
our souls are immortal
and never are destroyed?

By God, not I.
Do you mean you hold this?

I do and you should too, for it's not hard.

I'd like to hear about that.

Don't you call things good and bad?

I do.

Does the bad corrupt and destroy,
while the good preserves and benefits?


Now if disease corrupts and destroys the body,
as mildew does wood and rust iron,
then what about the evils of the soul,
do you know them?

They're opposite to the virtues
we already discussed:
injustice, intemperance, cowardice, and ignorance.

These may corrupt,
but do any destroy the soul?
Does wrong make a soul die,
like disease does a body?

but does disease in the body kill the soul too?

No, disease in the body may cause the body to die,
but vice in the soul may corrupt but doesn't kill;
just like bad food won't kill the body
unless it first causes disease in the body;
but disease in the body
doesn't necessarily cause vice,
and vice surely doesn't cause death to that person,
even though a vicious person
might murder another.

You're right.

Thus neither a fever nor a knife to the throat
nor even chopping up the body into bits
can cause the soul to be destroyed.
So if the soul is not destroyed by itself or another,
it's clear it always exists and must be immortal.

It must be.

To view the soul in truth,
we must observe her
not when joined to the body and its evils,
but see her with reason in her original purity;
and you'll find she is far more beautiful
and will better distinguish justice and injustice
and everything we've discussed.


Now we must restore the rewards to the just,
for certainly the character of the just and unjust
does not escape the notice of the gods?

Let's do so.

For even if the just person falls into poverty
or disease or any other supposed evil,
for that person these will in the end
prove good in life and in death;
for such a person
will never be neglected by the gods.
Even in human relations don't people tend to
treat the just well and offer them offices,
while the unjust even if they escape when young
in the end are caught and punished somehow?

Certainly what you say is just.

But the rewards and blessings in life are nothing
in comparison to those awaiting the just after death.

I'd like to know more about that.

Then let me tell you a story
about a warrior named Er.
Having died in a war,
on the tenth day the decayed corpses were taken up;
but his was healthy,
and on the twelfth day
laying on the funeral pyre he revived;
and coming back to life he told what he saw there.
He said when the soul went out
it traveled with many
and came to a mysterious place
with two openings in the earth
and two in heaven above;
between these sat judges
who after judgment ordered
the just to move to the right and up to heaven
with the signs of their judgment attached,
and the unjust to the left and down into the earth
wearing the signs of what they'd done on their backs.
Himself approaching he was told that
he should be a messenger to people from there,
and they directed him to listen
and observe everything in the place.
He saw souls departing after judgment,
while from the earth came dusty souls
and down from heaven clean and bright ones;
they went to a meadow
and discussed their experiences,
some lamenting how dreadful things
were under the earth,
and others telling of indescribable heavenly visions.
To relate it all would take too long,
but for every wrong they had done to anyone
they had to pay a penalty ten times for each;
and if they had done acts of kindness
and had been holy and just
they received a reward in the same measure.
He saw some dictators and great criminals coming up,
but they were thrown back down into Tartarus again.

After seven days in the meadow they traveled on
and in four days came to where a pillar of light
extended from above all through heaven and earth,
like a rainbow, only brighter and purer.
They came to this after another day's journey
and saw in the middle of the light
the connections stretched from heaven,
for this light binds together all the orbits of heaven.
From the heights stretched the spindle of Necessity
surrounded by the orbits
of the planets, sun and moon,
each sounding a note and all seven in harmony.
Sitting around the throne were the three Fates,
the daughters of Necessity, dressed in white
singing together the music of the Sirens:
Lachesis what was, Clotho what is,
and Atropos what is to be.

So when they arrived they went to Lachesis.
A prophet taking lots and life plans from Lachesis
went up on a high platform to say:
"Souls of a day, death-bringing birth
is the beginning of another mortal cycle.
Your spirit will not be by lot,
but you will choose your spirits.
Let the first by lot choose a life,
which you will live with from necessity.
Virtue having no master,
as you honor or dishonor her
each will have more or less of her.
The chooser is responsible, not God."
Saying this the lots were thrown among them all,
and each picked one up,
except Er wasn't allowed to.
After this the life plans were laid out before them,
many more than those present and of all kinds:
lives of all animals and various human lives:
tyrannies ending in early death, poverty, and exile;
there were lives of men famous
for their forms, beauty, strength, and noble birth,
and others infamous for the same things,
and in the same way for women.
But the quality of soul was not determined,
because a different choice
produced a different life;
and mixed together were wealth and poverty,
sickness and health,
and intermediate conditions too.
That probably, dear Glaucon,
is the entire human risk,
and this is why each of us should be careful,
neglecting other studies for this one,
if one can learn and find someone
who will create the ability and knowledge
to distinguish a useful life from a poor one,
and always choose the best possible,
taking into account everything we've discussed,
to know how combining or separating these
will affect the virtue of the life:
either beauty with poverty
or how wealth affects good and bad
with what kinds of souls,
high and low birth and private life
and leadership and strength and weakness
and aptitude and dullness
and all such natural and acquired gifts of the soul,
so that one can choose looking at the soul's nature
between the worse and the better life,
the worse producing injustice and the better justice,
disregarding everything else;
for we have seen this is the best choice
both in living and dying.
One should go into Hades
having this adamantine faith,
so that not falling into tyrannies and such
one won't do bad works and suffer greatly,
but will know how
to choose the moderate life always
and avoid either extreme in this life and the next,
for this produces the happiest human.

So then the messenger from there reported
the prophet spoke thus:
"Even for the one coming last,
with an intelligent choice, living diligently
there is a lovable life that's not bad.
Let not the beginning chooser be careless
nor the last be discouraged."
Having said this, the first by lot
immediately came and chose the greatest tyranny,
and in thoughtlessness and greed
didn't examine the choice adequately, not noticing
it involved eating his children and other evils;
considering it at leisure he regretted the choice,
not heeding the warning by the prophet;
for he didn't blame himself,
but luck and spirits and everything but himself.
He had come down from heaven,
having lived in an orderly state in his previous life,
accustomed to virtue by habit without philosophy.
Not a few were so caught coming from heaven,
as unexercised in pain;
but most from the earth
had suffered and seen others,
and they didn't make their choice suddenly.
Yet always if at each return to this life
one was a sound philosopher
and didn't have the last choice,
from what was reported from there
not only are they happy here
but the journey there
wouldn't be underground and rough
but smooth and in heaven.
For he said the sight was worth seeing
how each chose their lives;
for it was pitiful and ridiculous and surprising;
for most chose
according to the previous life's habits.
But when all the souls had chosen their lives
they went to Lachesis who sent with each
the life's guardian spirit and the choice's completer,
who first led them to Clotho to ratify the destiny,
and then to Atropos to make it irreversible;
from there they went under the throne of Necessity
and traveled to the plain of Oblivion
through stifling and terrible heat;
for no trees or plants were growing,
and they camped along the Careless river.
They were all compelled
to drink a measure of water;
and as they drank they forgot everything.
When they had slept, in the middle of the night,
there was thunder and an earthquake;
and from there
they suddenly were taken up to birth,
like shooting stars.
But Er was prevented from drinking the water;
yet how he returned to his body he didn't know;
but suddenly looking up at dawn
he saw himself laying on the pyre.
And so, Glaucon,
the story was preserved and not lost,
and it will save us if we believe it,
and we'll cross Oblivion
and keep our souls undefiled.
But if we're convinced by me,
believing the soul is immortal
and can endure all evils and all goods,
we'll always follow the upward course
and pursue justice in every thoughtful way
so that we may be friends
to ourselves and the gods,
both staying here
and when we receive our reward
in the journey which was described;
then we shall do well.


Copyright 1996, 2008 by Sanderson Beck

SOCRATES: A Series of Philosophical Plays is now published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.

"Know Yourself"
The Sophists
Prudence and Courage
The Lover
The Banquet
The Good
The Trial
Prison and Death

Introduction to Socrates and Plato
CRITO by Plato
PHAEDO by Plato

The Socratic Problem
Life of Socrates
Attitudes of Socrates
How Socrates Taught
What Socrates Taught
Did Socrates Practice It?
Influence of Socrates

BECK index