But is such a community possible?—as among the animals, so also among men; and if possible, in what way possible? About war there is no difficulty; the principle of communism is adapted to military service. Parents will take their children to look on at a battle, just as potters' boys are trained to the business by looking on at the wheel. And to the parents themselves, as to other animals, the sight of their young ones will prove a great incentive to bravery. Young warriors must learn, but they must not run into danger, although a certain degree of risk is worth incurring when the benefit is great. The young creatures should be placed under the care of experienced veterans, and they should have wings—that is to say, swift and tractable steeds on which they may fly away and escape. One of the first things to be done is to teach a youth to ride.
Cowards and deserters shall be degraded to the class of husbandmen; gentlemen who allow themselves to be taken prisoners, may be presented to the enemy. But what shall be done to the hero? First of all he shall be crowned by all the youths in the army; secondly, he shall receive the right hand of fellowship; and thirdly, do you think that there is any harm in his being kissed? We have already determined that he shall have more wives than others, in order that he may have as many children as possible. And at a feast he shall have more to eat; we have the authority of Homer for honouring brave men with 'long chines,' which is an appropriate compliment, because meat is a very strengthening thing. Fill the bowl then, and give the best seats and meats to the brave—may they do them good! And he who dies in battle will be at once declared to be of the golden race, and will, as we believe, become one of Hesiod's guardian angels. He shall be worshipped after death in the manner prescribed by the oracle; and not only he, but all other benefactors of the State who die in any other way, shall be admitted to the same honours.
The next question is, How shall we treat our enemies? Shall Hellenes be enslaved? No; for there is too great a risk of the whole race passing under the yoke of the barbarians. Or shall the dead be despoiled? Certainly not; for that sort of thing is an excuse for skulking, and has been the ruin of many an army. There is meanness and feminine malice in making an enemy of the dead body, when the soul which was the owner has fled—like a dog who cannot reach his assailants, and quarrels with the stones which are thrown at him instead. Again, the arms of Hellenes should not be offered up in the temples of the Gods; they are a pollution, for they are taken from brethren. And on similar grounds there should be a limit to the devastation of Hellenic territory—the houses should not be burnt, nor more than the annual produce carried off. For war is of two kinds, civil and foreign; the first of which is properly termed 'discord,' and only the second 'war;' and war between Hellenes is in reality civil war—a quarrel in a family, which is ever to be regarded as unpatriotic and unnatural, and ought to be prosecuted with a view to reconciliation in a true phil-Hellenic spirit, as of those who would chasten but not utterly enslave. The war is not against a whole nation who are a friendly multitude of men, women, and children, but only against a few guilty persons; when they are punished peace will be restored. That is the way in which Hellenes should war against one another—and against barbarians, as they war against one another now.
'But, my dear Socrates, you are forgetting the main question: Is such a State possible? I grant all and more than you say about the blessedness of being one family—fathers, brothers, mothers, daughters, going out to war together; but I want to ascertain the possibility of this ideal State.' You are too unmerciful. The first wave and the second wave I have hardly escaped, and now you will certainly drown me with the third. When you see the towering crest of the wave, I expect you to take pity. 'Not a whit.'
Well, then, we were led to form our ideal polity in the search after justice, and the just man answered to the just State. Is this ideal at all the worse for being impracticable? Would the picture of a perfectly beautiful man be any the worse because no such man ever lived? Can any reality come up to the idea? Nature will not allow words to be fully realized; but if I am to try and realize the ideal of the State in a measure, I think that an approach may be made to the perfection of which I dream by one or two, I do not say slight, but possible changes in the present constitution of States. I would reduce them to a single one—the great wave, as I call it. Until, then, kings are philosophers, or philosophers are kings, cities will never cease from ill: no, nor the human race; nor will our ideal polity ever come into being. I know that this is a hard saying, which few will be able to receive. 'Socrates, all the world will take off his coat and rush upon you with sticks and stones, and therefore I would advise you to prepare an answer.' You got me into the scrape, I said. 'And I was right,' he replied; 'however, I will stand by you as a sort of do-nothing, well-meaning ally.' Having the help of such a champion, I will do my best to maintain my position. And first, I must explain of whom I speak and what sort of natures these are who are to be philosophers and rulers. As you are a man of pleasure, you will not have forgotten how indiscriminate lovers are in their attachments; they love all, and turn blemishes into beauties. The snub-nosed youth is said to have a winning grace; the beak of another has a royal look; the featureless are faultless; the dark are manly, the fair angels; the sickly have a new term of endearment invented expressly for them, which is 'honey-pale.' Lovers of wine and lovers of ambition also desire the objects of their affection in every form. Now here comes the point:—The philosopher too is a lover of knowledge in every form; he has an insatiable curiosity. 'But will curiosity make a philosopher? Are the lovers of sights and sounds, who let out their ears to every chorus at the Dionysiac festivals, to be called philosophers?' They are not true philosophers, but only an imitation. 'Then how are we to describe the true?'
You would acknowledge the existence of abstract ideas, such as justice, beauty, good, evil, which are severally one, yet in their various combinations appear to be many. Those who recognize these realities are philosophers; whereas the other class hear sounds and see colours, and understand their use in the arts, but cannot attain to the true or waking vision of absolute justice or beauty or truth; they have not the light of knowledge, but of opinion, and what they see is a dream only. Perhaps he of whom we say the last will be angry with us; can we pacify him without revealing the disorder of his mind? Suppose we say that, if he has knowledge we rejoice to hear it, but knowledge must be of something which is, as ignorance is of something which is not; and there is a third thing, which both is and is not, and is matter of opinion only. Opinion and knowledge, then, having distinct objects, must also be distinct faculties. And by faculties I mean powers unseen and distinguishable only by the difference in their objects, as opinion and knowledge differ, since the one is liable to err, but the other is unerring and is the mightiest of all our faculties. If being is the object of knowledge, and not-being of ignorance, and these are the extremes, opinion must lie between them, and may be called darker than the one and brighter than the other. This intermediate or contingent matter is and is not at the same time, and partakes both of existence and of non-existence. Now I would ask my good friend, who denies abstract beauty and justice, and affirms a many beautiful and a many just, whether everything he sees is not in some point of view different—the beautiful ugly, the pious impious, the just unjust? Is not the double also the half, and are not heavy and light relative terms which pass into one another? Everything is and is not, as in the old riddle—'A man and not a man shot and did not shoot a bird and not a bird with a stone and not a stone.' The mind cannot be fixed on either alternative; and these ambiguous, intermediate, erring, half-lighted objects, which have a disorderly movement in the region between being and not-being, are the proper matter of opinion, as the immutable objects are the proper matter of knowledge. And he who grovels in the world of sense, and has only this uncertain perception of things, is not a philosopher, but a lover of opinion only...
The fifth book is the new beginning of the Republic, in which the community of property and of family are first maintained, and the transition is made to the kingdom of philosophers. For both of these Plato, after his manner, has been preparing in some chance words of Book IV, which fall unperceived on the reader's mind, as they are supposed at first to have fallen on the ear of Glaucon and Adeimantus. The 'paradoxes,' as Morgenstern terms them, of this book of the Republic will be reserved for another place; a few remarks on the style, and some explanations of difficulties, may be briefly added.
First, there is the image of the waves, which serves for a sort of scheme or plan of the book. The first wave, the second wave, the third and greatest wave come rolling in, and we hear the roar of them. All that can be said of the extravagance of Plato's proposals is anticipated by himself. Nothing is more admirable than the hesitation with which he proposes the solemn text, 'Until kings are philosophers,' etc.; or the reaction from the sublime to the ridiculous, when Glaucon describes the manner in which the new truth will be received by mankind.
Some defects and difficulties may be noted in the execution of the communistic plan. Nothing is told us of the application of communism to the lower classes; nor is the table of prohibited degrees capable of being made out. It is quite possible that a child born at one hymeneal festival may marry one of its own brothers or sisters, or even one of its parents, at another. Plato is afraid of incestuous unions, but at the same time he does not wish to bring before us the fact that the city would be divided into families of those born seven and nine months after each hymeneal festival. If it were worth while to argue seriously about such fancies, we might remark that while all the old affinities are abolished, the newly prohibited affinity rests not on any natural or rational principle, but only upon the accident of children having been born in the same month and year. Nor does he explain how the lots could be so manipulated by the legislature as to bring together the fairest and best. The singular expression which is employed to describe the age of five-and-twenty may perhaps be taken from some poet.
In the delineation of the philosopher, the illustrations of the nature of philosophy derived from love are more suited to the apprehension of Glaucon, the Athenian man of pleasure, than to modern tastes or feelings. They are partly facetious, but also contain a germ of truth. That science is a whole, remains a true principle of inductive as well as of metaphysical philosophy; and the love of universal knowledge is still the characteristic of the philosopher in modern as well as in ancient times.
At the end of the fifth book Plato introduces the figment of contingent matter, which has exercised so great an influence both on the Ethics and Theology of the modern world, and which occurs here for the first time in the history of philosophy. He did not remark that the degrees of knowledge in the subject have nothing corresponding to them in the object. With him a word must answer to an idea; and he could not conceive of an opinion which was an opinion about nothing. The influence of analogy led him to invent 'parallels and conjugates' and to overlook facts. To us some of his difficulties are puzzling only from their simplicity: we do not perceive that the answer to them 'is tumbling out at our feet.' To the mind of early thinkers, the conception of not-being was dark and mysterious; they did not see that this terrible apparition which threatened destruction to all knowledge was only a logical determination. The common term under which, through the accidental use of language, two entirely different ideas were included was another source of confusion. Thus through the ambiguity of (Greek) Plato, attempting to introduce order into the first chaos of human thought, seems to have confused perception and opinion, and to have failed to distinguish the contingent from the relative. In the Theaetetus the first of these difficulties begins to clear up; in the Sophist the second; and for this, as well as for other reasons, both these dialogues are probably to be regarded as later than the Republic.
BOOK VI. Having determined that the many have no knowledge of true being, and have no clear patterns in their minds of justice, beauty, truth, and that philosophers have such patterns, we have now to ask whether they or the many shall be rulers in our State. But who can doubt that philosophers should be chosen, if they have the other qualities which are required in a ruler? For they are lovers of the knowledge of the eternal and of all truth; they are haters of falsehood; their meaner desires are absorbed in the interests of knowledge; they are spectators of all time and all existence; and in the magnificence of their contemplation the life of man is as nothing to them, nor is death fearful. Also they are of a social, gracious disposition, equally free from cowardice and arrogance. They learn and remember easily; they have harmonious, well-regulated minds; truth flows to them sweetly by nature. Can the god of Jealousy himself find any fault with such an assemblage of good qualities?
Here Adeimantus interposes:—'No man can answer you, Socrates; but every man feels that this is owing to his own deficiency in argument. He is driven from one position to another, until he has nothing more to say, just as an unskilful player at draughts is reduced to his last move by a more skilled opponent. And yet all the time he may be right. He may know, in this very instance, that those who make philosophy the business of their lives, generally turn out rogues if they are bad men, and fools if they are good. What do you say?' I should say that he is quite right. 'Then how is such an admission reconcileable with the doctrine that philosophers should be kings?'
I shall answer you in a parable which will also let you see how poor a hand I am at the invention of allegories. The relation of good men to their governments is so peculiar, that in order to defend them I must take an illustration from the world of fiction. Conceive the captain of a ship, taller by a head and shoulders than any of the crew, yet a little deaf, a little blind, and rather ignorant of the seaman's art. The sailors want to steer, although they know nothing of the art; and they have a theory that it cannot be learned. If the helm is refused them, they drug the captain's posset, bind him hand and foot, and take possession of the ship. He who joins in the mutiny is termed a good pilot and what not; they have no conception that the true pilot must observe the winds and the stars, and must be their master, whether they like it or not;—such an one would be called by them fool, prater, star-gazer. This is my parable; which I will beg you to interpret for me to those gentlemen who ask why the philosopher has such an evil name, and to explain to them that not he, but those who will not use him, are to blame for his uselessness. The philosopher should not beg of mankind to be put in authority over them. The wise man should not seek the rich, as the proverb bids, but every man, whether rich or poor, must knock at the door of the physician when he has need of him. Now the pilot is the philosopher—he whom in the parable they call star-gazer, and the mutinous sailors are the mob of politicians by whom he is rendered useless. Not that these are the worst enemies of philosophy, who is far more dishonoured by her own professing sons when they are corrupted by the world. Need I recall the original image of the philosopher? Did we not say of him just now, that he loved truth and hated falsehood, and that he could not rest in the multiplicity of phenomena, but was led by a sympathy in his own nature to the contemplation of the absolute? All the virtues as well as truth, who is the leader of them, took up their abode in his soul. But as you were observing, if we turn aside to view the reality, we see that the persons who were thus described, with the exception of a small and useless class, are utter rogues.
The point which has to be considered, is the origin of this corruption in nature. Every one will admit that the philosopher, in our description of him, is a rare being. But what numberless causes tend to destroy these rare beings! There is no good thing which may not be a cause of evil—health, wealth, strength, rank, and the virtues themselves, when placed under unfavourable circumstances. For as in the animal or vegetable world the strongest seeds most need the accompaniment of good air and soil, so the best of human characters turn out the worst when they fall upon an unsuitable soil; whereas weak natures hardly ever do any considerable good or harm; they are not the stuff out of which either great criminals or great heroes are made. The philosopher follows the same analogy: he is either the best or the worst of all men. Some persons say that the Sophists are the corrupters of youth; but is not public opinion the real Sophist who is everywhere present—in those very persons, in the assembly, in the courts, in the camp, in the applauses and hisses of the theatre re-echoed by the surrounding hills? Will not a young man's heart leap amid these discordant sounds? and will any education save him from being carried away by the torrent? Nor is this all. For if he will not yield to opinion, there follows the gentle compulsion of exile or death. What principle of rival Sophists or anybody else can overcome in such an unequal contest? Characters there may be more than human, who are exceptions—God may save a man, but not his own strength. Further, I would have you consider that the hireling Sophist only gives back to the world their own opinions; he is the keeper of the monster, who knows how to flatter or anger him, and observes the meaning of his inarticulate grunts. Good is what pleases him, evil what he dislikes; truth and beauty are determined only by the taste of the brute. Such is the Sophist's wisdom, and such is the condition of those who make public opinion the test of truth, whether in art or in morals. The curse is laid upon them of being and doing what it approves, and when they attempt first principles the failure is ludicrous. Think of all this and ask yourself whether the world is more likely to be a believer in the unity of the idea, or in the multiplicity of phenomena. And the world if not a believer in the idea cannot be a philosopher, and must therefore be a persecutor of philosophers. There is another evil:—the world does not like to lose the gifted nature, and so they flatter the young (Alcibiades) into a magnificent opinion of his own capacity; the tall, proper youth begins to expand, and is dreaming of kingdoms and empires. If at this instant a friend whispers to him, 'Now the gods lighten thee; thou art a great fool' and must be educated—do you think that he will listen? Or suppose a better sort of man who is attracted towards philosophy, will they not make Herculean efforts to spoil and corrupt him? Are we not right in saying that the love of knowledge, no less than riches, may divert him? Men of this class (Critias) often become politicians—they are the authors of great mischief in states, and sometimes also of great good. And thus philosophy is deserted by her natural protectors, and others enter in and dishonour her. Vulgar little minds see the land open and rush from the prisons of the arts into her temple. A clever mechanic having a soul coarse as his body, thinks that he will gain caste by becoming her suitor. For philosophy, even in her fallen estate, has a dignity of her own—and he, like a bald little blacksmith's apprentice as he is, having made some money and got out of durance, washes and dresses himself as a bridegroom and marries his master's daughter. What will be the issue of such marriages? Will they not be vile and bastard, devoid of truth and nature? 'They will.' Small, then, is the remnant of genuine philosophers; there may be a few who are citizens of small states, in which politics are not worth thinking of, or who have been detained by Theages' bridle of ill health; for my own case of the oracular sign is almost unique, and too rare to be worth mentioning. And these few when they have tasted the pleasures of philosophy, and have taken a look at that den of thieves and place of wild beasts, which is human life, will stand aside from the storm under the shelter of a wall, and try to preserve their own innocence and to depart in peace. 'A great work, too, will have been accomplished by them.' Great, yes, but not the greatest; for man is a social being, and can only attain his highest development in the society which is best suited to him.
Enough, then, of the causes why philosophy has such an evil name. Another question is, Which of existing states is suited to her? Not one of them; at present she is like some exotic seed which degenerates in a strange soil; only in her proper state will she be shown to be of heavenly growth. 'And is her proper state ours or some other?' Ours in all points but one, which was left undetermined. You may remember our saying that some living mind or witness of the legislator was needed in states. But we were afraid to enter upon a subject of such difficulty, and now the question recurs and has not grown easier:—How may philosophy be safely studied? Let us bring her into the light of day, and make an end of the inquiry.
In the first place, I say boldly that nothing can be worse than the present mode of study. Persons usually pick up a little philosophy in early youth, and in the intervals of business, but they never master the real difficulty, which is dialectic. Later, perhaps, they occasionally go to a lecture on philosophy. Years advance, and the sun of philosophy, unlike that of Heracleitus, sets never to rise again. This order of education should be reversed; it should begin with gymnastics in youth, and as the man strengthens, he should increase the gymnastics of his soul. Then, when active life is over, let him finally return to philosophy. 'You are in earnest, Socrates, but the world will be equally earnest in withstanding you—no more than Thrasymachus.' Do not make a quarrel between Thrasymachus and me, who were never enemies and are now good friends enough. And I shall do my best to convince him and all mankind of the truth of my words, or at any rate to prepare for the future when, in another life, we may again take part in similar discussions. 'That will be a long time hence.' Not long in comparison with eternity. The many will probably remain incredulous, for they have never seen the natural unity of ideas, but only artificial juxtapositions; not free and generous thoughts, but tricks of controversy and quips of law;—a perfect man ruling in a perfect state, even a single one they have not known. And we foresaw that there was no chance of perfection either in states or individuals until a necessity was laid upon philosophers—not the rogues, but those whom we called the useless class—of holding office; or until the sons of kings were inspired with a true love of philosophy. Whether in the infinity of past time there has been, or is in some distant land, or ever will be hereafter, an ideal such as we have described, we stoutly maintain that there has been, is, and will be such a state whenever the Muse of philosophy rules. Will you say that the world is of another mind? O, my friend, do not revile the world! They will soon change their opinion if they are gently entreated, and are taught the true nature of the philosopher. Who can hate a man who loves him? Or be jealous of one who has no jealousy? Consider, again, that the many hate not the true but the false philosophers—the pretenders who force their way in without invitation, and are always speaking of persons and not of principles, which is unlike the spirit of philosophy. For the true philosopher despises earthly strife; his eye is fixed on the eternal order in accordance with which he moulds himself into the Divine image (and not himself only, but other men), and is the creator of the virtues private as well as public. When mankind see that the happiness of states is only to be found in that image, will they be angry with us for attempting to delineate it? 'Certainly not. But what will be the process of delineation?' The artist will do nothing until he has made a tabula rasa; on this he will inscribe the constitution of a state, glancing often at the divine truth of nature, and from that deriving the godlike among men, mingling the two elements, rubbing out and painting in, until there is a perfect harmony or fusion of the divine and human. But perhaps the world will doubt the existence of such an artist. What will they doubt? That the philosopher is a lover of truth, having a nature akin to the best?—and if they admit this will they still quarrel with us for making philosophers our kings? 'They will be less disposed to quarrel.' Let us assume then that they are pacified. Still, a person may hesitate about the probability of the son of a king being a philosopher. And we do not deny that they are very liable to be corrupted; but yet surely in the course of ages there might be one exception—and one is enough. If one son of a king were a philosopher, and had obedient citizens, he might bring the ideal polity into being. Hence we conclude that our laws are not only the best, but that they are also possible, though not free from difficulty.
I gained nothing by evading the troublesome questions which arose concerning women and children. I will be wiser now and acknowledge that we must go to the bottom of another question: What is to be the education of our guardians? It was agreed that they were to be lovers of their country, and were to be tested in the refiner's fire of pleasures and pains, and those who came forth pure and remained fixed in their principles were to have honours and rewards in life and after death. But at this point, the argument put on her veil and turned into another path. I hesitated to make the assertion which I now hazard,—that our guardians must be philosophers. You remember all the contradictory elements, which met in the philosopher—how difficult to find them all in a single person! Intelligence and spirit are not often combined with steadiness; the stolid, fearless, nature is averse to intellectual toil. And yet these opposite elements are all necessary, and therefore, as we were saying before, the aspirant must be tested in pleasures and dangers; and also, as we must now further add, in the highest branches of knowledge. You will remember, that when we spoke of the virtues mention was made of a longer road, which you were satisfied to leave unexplored. 'Enough seemed to have been said.' Enough, my friend; but what is enough while anything remains wanting? Of all men the guardian must not faint in the search after truth; he must be prepared to take the longer road, or he will never reach that higher region which is above the four virtues; and of the virtues too he must not only get an outline, but a clear and distinct vision. (Strange that we should be so precise about trifles, so careless about the highest truths!) 'And what are the highest?' You to pretend unconsciousness, when you have so often heard me speak of the idea of good, about which we know so little, and without which though a man gain the world he has no profit of it! Some people imagine that the good is wisdom; but this involves a circle,—the good, they say, is wisdom, wisdom has to do with the good. According to others the good is pleasure; but then comes the absurdity that good is bad, for there are bad pleasures as well as good. Again, the good must have reality; a man may desire the appearance of virtue, but he will not desire the appearance of good. Ought our guardians then to be ignorant of this supreme principle, of which every man has a presentiment, and without which no man has any real knowledge of anything? 'But, Socrates, what is this supreme principle, knowledge or pleasure, or what? You may think me troublesome, but I say that you have no business to be always repeating the doctrines of others instead of giving us your own.' Can I say what I do not know? 'You may offer an opinion.' And will the blindness and crookedness of opinion content you when you might have the light and certainty of science? 'I will only ask you to give such an explanation of the good as you have given already of temperance and justice.' I wish that I could, but in my present mood I cannot reach to the height of the knowledge of the good. To the parent or principal I cannot introduce you, but to the child begotten in his image, which I may compare with the interest on the principal, I will. (Audit the account, and do not let me give you a false statement of the debt.) You remember our old distinction of the many beautiful and the one beautiful, the particular and the universal, the objects of sight and the objects of thought? Did you ever consider that the objects of sight imply a faculty of sight which is the most complex and costly of our senses, requiring not only objects of sense, but also a medium, which is light; without which the sight will not distinguish between colours and all will be a blank? For light is the noble bond between the perceiving faculty and the thing perceived, and the god who gives us light is the sun, who is the eye of the day, but is not to be confounded with the eye of man. This eye of the day or sun is what I call the child of the good, standing in the same relation to the visible world as the good to the intellectual. When the sun shines the eye sees, and in the intellectual world where truth is, there is sight and light. Now that which is the sun of intelligent natures, is the idea of good, the cause of knowledge and truth, yet other and fairer than they are, and standing in the same relation to them in which the sun stands to light. O inconceivable height of beauty, which is above knowledge and above truth! ('You cannot surely mean pleasure,' he said. Peace, I replied.) And this idea of good, like the sun, is also the cause of growth, and the author not of knowledge only, but of being, yet greater far than either in dignity and power. 'That is a reach of thought more than human; but, pray, go on with the image, for I suspect that there is more behind.' There is, I said; and bearing in mind our two suns or principles, imagine further their corresponding worlds—one of the visible, the other of the intelligible; you may assist your fancy by figuring the distinction under the image of a line divided into two unequal parts, and may again subdivide each part into two lesser segments representative of the stages of knowledge in either sphere. The lower portion of the lower or visible sphere will consist of shadows and reflections, and its upper and smaller portion will contain real objects in the world of nature or of art. The sphere of the intelligible will also have two divisions,—one of mathematics, in which there is no ascent but all is descent; no inquiring into premises, but only drawing of inferences. In this division the mind works with figures and numbers, the images of which are taken not from the shadows, but from the objects, although the truth of them is seen only with the mind's eye; and they are used as hypotheses without being analysed. Whereas in the other division reason uses the hypotheses as stages or steps in the ascent to the idea of good, to which she fastens them, and then again descends, walking firmly in the region of ideas, and of ideas only, in her ascent as well as descent, and finally resting in them. 'I partly understand,' he replied; 'you mean that the ideas of science are superior to the hypothetical, metaphorical conceptions of geometry and the other arts or sciences, whichever is to be the name of them; and the latter conceptions you refuse to make subjects of pure intellect, because they have no first principle, although when resting on a first principle, they pass into the higher sphere.' You understand me very well, I said. And now to those four divisions of knowledge you may assign four corresponding faculties—pure intelligence to the highest sphere; active intelligence to the second; to the third, faith; to the fourth, the perception of shadows—and the clearness of the several faculties will be in the same ratio as the truth of the objects to which they are related...
Like Socrates, we may recapitulate the virtues of the philosopher. In language which seems to reach beyond the horizon of that age and country, he is described as 'the spectator of all time and all existence.' He has the noblest gifts of nature, and makes the highest use of them. All his desires are absorbed in the love of wisdom, which is the love of truth. None of the graces of a beautiful soul are wanting in him; neither can he fear death, or think much of human life. The ideal of modern times hardly retains the simplicity of the antique; there is not the same originality either in truth or error which characterized the Greeks. The philosopher is no longer living in the unseen, nor is he sent by an oracle to convince mankind of ignorance; nor does he regard knowledge as a system of ideas leading upwards by regular stages to the idea of good. The eagerness of the pursuit has abated; there is more division of labour and less of comprehensive reflection upon nature and human life as a whole; more of exact observation and less of anticipation and inspiration. Still, in the altered conditions of knowledge, the parallel is not wholly lost; and there may be a use in translating the conception of Plato into the language of our own age. The philosopher in modern times is one who fixes his mind on the laws of nature in their sequence and connexion, not on fragments or pictures of nature; on history, not on controversy; on the truths which are acknowledged by the few, not on the opinions of the many. He is aware of the importance of 'classifying according to nature,' and will try to 'separate the limbs of science without breaking them' (Phaedr.). There is no part of truth, whether great or small, which he will dishonour; and in the least things he will discern the greatest (Parmen.). Like the ancient philosopher he sees the world pervaded by analogies, but he can also tell 'why in some cases a single instance is sufficient for an induction' (Mill's Logic), while in other cases a thousand examples would prove nothing. He inquires into a portion of knowledge only, because the whole has grown too vast to be embraced by a single mind or life. He has a clearer conception of the divisions of science and of their relation to the mind of man than was possible to the ancients. Like Plato, he has a vision of the unity of knowledge, not as the beginning of philosophy to be attained by a study of elementary mathematics, but as the far-off result of the working of many minds in many ages. He is aware that mathematical studies are preliminary to almost every other; at the same time, he will not reduce all varieties of knowledge to the type of mathematics. He too must have a nobility of character, without which genius loses the better half of greatness. Regarding the world as a point in immensity, and each individual as a link in a never-ending chain of existence, he will not think much of his own life, or be greatly afraid of death.
Adeimantus objects first of all to the form of the Socratic reasoning, thus showing that Plato is aware of the imperfection of his own method. He brings the accusation against himself which might be brought against him by a modern logician—that he extracts the answer because he knows how to put the question. In a long argument words are apt to change their meaning slightly, or premises may be assumed or conclusions inferred with rather too much certainty or universality; the variation at each step may be unobserved, and yet at last the divergence becomes considerable. Hence the failure of attempts to apply arithmetical or algebraic formulae to logic. The imperfection, or rather the higher and more elastic nature of language, does not allow words to have the precision of numbers or of symbols. And this quality in language impairs the force of an argument which has many steps.
The objection, though fairly met by Socrates in this particular instance, may be regarded as implying a reflection upon the Socratic mode of reasoning. And here, as elsewhere, Plato seems to intimate that the time had come when the negative and interrogative method of Socrates must be superseded by a positive and constructive one, of which examples are given in some of the later dialogues. Adeimantus further argues that the ideal is wholly at variance with facts; for experience proves philosophers to be either useless or rogues. Contrary to all expectation Socrates has no hesitation in admitting the truth of this, and explains the anomaly in an allegory, first characteristically depreciating his own inventive powers. In this allegory the people are distinguished from the professional politicians, and, as elsewhere, are spoken of in a tone of pity rather than of censure under the image of 'the noble captain who is not very quick in his perceptions.'
The uselessness of philosophers is explained by the circumstance that mankind will not use them. The world in all ages has been divided between contempt and fear of those who employ the power of ideas and know no other weapons. Concerning the false philosopher, Socrates argues that the best is most liable to corruption; and that the finer nature is more likely to suffer from alien conditions. We too observe that there are some kinds of excellence which spring from a peculiar delicacy of constitution; as is evidently true of the poetical and imaginative temperament, which often seems to depend on impressions, and hence can only breathe or live in a certain atmosphere. The man of genius has greater pains and greater pleasures, greater powers and greater weaknesses, and often a greater play of character than is to be found in ordinary men. He can assume the disguise of virtue or disinterestedness without having them, or veil personal enmity in the language of patriotism and philosophy,—he can say the word which all men are thinking, he has an insight which is terrible into the follies and weaknesses of his fellow-men. An Alcibiades, a Mirabeau, or a Napoleon the First, are born either to be the authors of great evils in states, or 'of great good, when they are drawn in that direction.'
Yet the thesis, 'corruptio optimi pessima,' cannot be maintained generally or without regard to the kind of excellence which is corrupted. The alien conditions which are corrupting to one nature, may be the elements of culture to another. In general a man can only receive his highest development in a congenial state or family, among friends or fellow-workers. But also he may sometimes be stirred by adverse circumstances to such a degree that he rises up against them and reforms them. And while weaker or coarser characters will extract good out of evil, say in a corrupt state of the church or of society, and live on happily, allowing the evil to remain, the finer or stronger natures may be crushed or spoiled by surrounding influences—may become misanthrope and philanthrope by turns; or in a few instances, like the founders of the monastic orders, or the Reformers, owing to some peculiarity in themselves or in their age, may break away entirely from the world and from the church, sometimes into great good, sometimes into great evil, sometimes into both. And the same holds in the lesser sphere of a convent, a school, a family.
Plato would have us consider how easily the best natures are overpowered by public opinion, and what efforts the rest of mankind will make to get possession of them. The world, the church, their own profession, any political or party organization, are always carrying them off their legs and teaching them to apply high and holy names to their own prejudices and interests. The 'monster' corporation to which they belong judges right and truth to be the pleasure of the community. The individual becomes one with his order; or, if he resists, the world is too much for him, and will sooner or later be revenged on him. This is, perhaps, a one-sided but not wholly untrue picture of the maxims and practice of mankind when they 'sit down together at an assembly,' either in ancient or modern times.
When the higher natures are corrupted by politics, the lower take possession of the vacant place of philosophy. This is described in one of those continuous images in which the argument, to use a Platonic expression, 'veils herself,' and which is dropped and reappears at intervals. The question is asked,—Why are the citizens of states so hostile to philosophy? The answer is, that they do not know her. And yet there is also a better mind of the many; they would believe if they were taught. But hitherto they have only known a conventional imitation of philosophy, words without thoughts, systems which have no life in them; a (divine) person uttering the words of beauty and freedom, the friend of man holding communion with the Eternal, and seeking to frame the state in that image, they have never known. The same double feeling respecting the mass of mankind has always existed among men. The first thought is that the people are the enemies of truth and right; the second, that this only arises out of an accidental error and confusion, and that they do not really hate those who love them, if they could be educated to know them.
In the latter part of the sixth book, three questions have to be considered: 1st, the nature of the longer and more circuitous way, which is contrasted with the shorter and more imperfect method of Book IV; 2nd, the heavenly pattern or idea of the state; 3rd, the relation of the divisions of knowledge to one another and to the corresponding faculties of the soul:
1. Of the higher method of knowledge in Plato we have only a glimpse. Neither here nor in the Phaedrus or Symposium, nor yet in the Philebus or Sophist, does he give any clear explanation of his meaning. He would probably have described his method as proceeding by regular steps to a system of universal knowledge, which inferred the parts from the whole rather than the whole from the parts. This ideal logic is not practised by him in the search after justice, or in the analysis of the parts of the soul; there, like Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, he argues from experience and the common use of language. But at the end of the sixth book he conceives another and more perfect method, in which all ideas are only steps or grades or moments of thought, forming a connected whole which is self-supporting, and in which consistency is the test of truth. He does not explain to us in detail the nature of the process. Like many other thinkers both in ancient and modern times his mind seems to be filled with a vacant form which he is unable to realize. He supposes the sciences to have a natural order and connexion in an age when they can hardly be said to exist. He is hastening on to the 'end of the intellectual world' without even making a beginning of them.
In modern times we hardly need to be reminded that the process of acquiring knowledge is here confused with the contemplation of absolute knowledge. In all science a priori and a posteriori truths mingle in various proportions. The a priori part is that which is derived from the most universal experience of men, or is universally accepted by them; the a posteriori is that which grows up around the more general principles and becomes imperceptibly one with them. But Plato erroneously imagines that the synthesis is separable from the analysis, and that the method of science can anticipate science. In entertaining such a vision of a priori knowledge he is sufficiently justified, or at least his meaning may be sufficiently explained by the similar attempts of Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and even of Bacon himself, in modern philosophy. Anticipations or divinations, or prophetic glimpses of truths whether concerning man or nature, seem to stand in the same relation to ancient philosophy which hypotheses bear to modern inductive science. These 'guesses at truth' were not made at random; they arose from a superficial impression of uniformities and first principles in nature which the genius of the Greek, contemplating the expanse of heaven and earth, seemed to recognize in the distance. Nor can we deny that in ancient times knowledge must have stood still, and the human mind been deprived of the very instruments of thought, if philosophy had been strictly confined to the results of experience.
2. Plato supposes that when the tablet has been made blank the artist will fill in the lineaments of the ideal state. Is this a pattern laid up in heaven, or mere vacancy on which he is supposed to gaze with wondering eye? The answer is, that such ideals are framed partly by the omission of particulars, partly by imagination perfecting the form which experience supplies (Phaedo). Plato represents these ideals in a figure as belonging to another world; and in modern times the idea will sometimes seem to precede, at other times to co-operate with the hand of the artist. As in science, so also in creative art, there is a synthetical as well as an analytical method. One man will have the whole in his mind before he begins; to another the processes of mind and hand will be simultaneous.
3. There is no difficulty in seeing that Plato's divisions of knowledge are based, first, on the fundamental antithesis of sensible and intellectual which pervades the whole pre-Socratic philosophy; in which is implied also the opposition of the permanent and transient, of the universal and particular. But the age of philosophy in which he lived seemed to require a further distinction;—numbers and figures were beginning to separate from ideas. The world could no longer regard justice as a cube, and was learning to see, though imperfectly, that the abstractions of sense were distinct from the abstractions of mind. Between the Eleatic being or essence and the shadows of phenomena, the Pythagorean principle of number found a place, and was, as Aristotle remarks, a conducting medium from one to the other. Hence Plato is led to introduce a third term which had not hitherto entered into the scheme of his philosophy. He had observed the use of mathematics in education; they were the best preparation for higher studies. The subjective relation between them further suggested an objective one; although the passage from one to the other is really imaginary (Metaph.). For metaphysical and moral philosophy has no connexion with mathematics; number and figure are the abstractions of time and space, not the expressions of purely intellectual conceptions. When divested of metaphor, a straight line or a square has no more to do with right and justice than a crooked line with vice. The figurative association was mistaken for a real one; and thus the three latter divisions of the Platonic proportion were constructed.
There is more difficulty in comprehending how he arrived at the first term of the series, which is nowhere else mentioned, and has no reference to any other part of his system. Nor indeed does the relation of shadows to objects correspond to the relation of numbers to ideas. Probably Plato has been led by the love of analogy (Timaeus) to make four terms instead of three, although the objects perceived in both divisions of the lower sphere are equally objects of sense. He is also preparing the way, as his manner is, for the shadows of images at the beginning of the seventh book, and the imitation of an imitation in the tenth. The line may be regarded as reaching from unity to infinity, and is divided into two unequal parts, and subdivided into two more; each lower sphere is the multiplication of the preceding. Of the four faculties, faith in the lower division has an intermediate position (cp. for the use of the word faith or belief, (Greek), Timaeus), contrasting equally with the vagueness of the perception of shadows (Greek) and the higher certainty of understanding (Greek) and reason (Greek).
The difference between understanding and mind or reason (Greek) is analogous to the difference between acquiring knowledge in the parts and the contemplation of the whole. True knowledge is a whole, and is at rest; consistency and universality are the tests of truth. To this self-evidencing knowledge of the whole the faculty of mind is supposed to correspond. But there is a knowledge of the understanding which is incomplete and in motion always, because unable to rest in the subordinate ideas. Those ideas are called both images and hypotheses—images because they are clothed in sense, hypotheses because they are assumptions only, until they are brought into connexion with the idea of good.
The general meaning of the passage, 'Noble, then, is the bond which links together sight...And of this kind I spoke as the intelligible...' so far as the thought contained in it admits of being translated into the terms of modern philosophy, may be described or explained as follows:—There is a truth, one and self-existent, to which by the help of a ladder let down from above, the human intelligence may ascend. This unity is like the sun in the heavens, the light by which all things are seen, the being by which they are created and sustained. It is the IDEA of good. And the steps of the ladder leading up to this highest or universal existence are the mathematical sciences, which also contain in themselves an element of the universal. These, too, we see in a new manner when we connect them with the idea of good. They then cease to be hypotheses or pictures, and become essential parts of a higher truth which is at once their first principle and their final cause.
We cannot give any more precise meaning to this remarkable passage, but we may trace in it several rudiments or vestiges of thought which are common to us and to Plato: such as (1) the unity and correlation of the sciences, or rather of science, for in Plato's time they were not yet parted off or distinguished; (2) the existence of a Divine Power, or life or idea or cause or reason, not yet conceived or no longer conceived as in the Timaeus and elsewhere under the form of a person; (3) the recognition of the hypothetical and conditional character of the mathematical sciences, and in a measure of every science when isolated from the rest; (4) the conviction of a truth which is invisible, and of a law, though hardly a law of nature, which permeates the intellectual rather than the visible world.
The method of Socrates is hesitating and tentative, awaiting the fuller explanation of the idea of good, and of the nature of dialectic in the seventh book. The imperfect intelligence of Glaucon, and the reluctance of Socrates to make a beginning, mark the difficulty of the subject. The allusion to Theages' bridle, and to the internal oracle, or demonic sign, of Socrates, which here, as always in Plato, is only prohibitory; the remark that the salvation of any remnant of good in the present evil state of the world is due to God only; the reference to a future state of existence, which is unknown to Glaucon in the tenth book, and in which the discussions of Socrates and his disciples would be resumed; the surprise in the answers; the fanciful irony of Socrates, where he pretends that he can only describe the strange position of the philosopher in a figure of speech; the original observation that the Sophists, after all, are only the representatives and not the leaders of public opinion; the picture of the philosopher standing aside in the shower of sleet under a wall; the figure of 'the great beast' followed by the expression of good-will towards the common people who would not have rejected the philosopher if they had known him; the 'right noble thought' that the highest truths demand the greatest exactness; the hesitation of Socrates in returning once more to his well-worn theme of the idea of good; the ludicrous earnestness of Glaucon; the comparison of philosophy to a deserted maiden who marries beneath her—are some of the most interesting characteristics of the sixth book.
Yet a few more words may be added, on the old theme, which was so oft discussed in the Socratic circle, of which we, like Glaucon and Adeimantus, would fain, if possible, have a clearer notion. Like them, we are dissatisfied when we are told that the idea of good can only be revealed to a student of the mathematical sciences, and we are inclined to think that neither we nor they could have been led along that path to any satisfactory goal. For we have learned that differences of quantity cannot pass into differences of quality, and that the mathematical sciences can never rise above themselves into the sphere of our higher thoughts, although they may sometimes furnish symbols and expressions of them, and may train the mind in habits of abstraction and self-concentration. The illusion which was natural to an ancient philosopher has ceased to be an illusion to us. But if the process by which we are supposed to arrive at the idea of good be really imaginary, may not the idea itself be also a mere abstraction? We remark, first, that in all ages, and especially in primitive philosophy, words such as being, essence, unity, good, have exerted an extraordinary influence over the minds of men. The meagreness or negativeness of their content has been in an inverse ratio to their power. They have become the forms under which all things were comprehended. There was a need or instinct in the human soul which they satisfied; they were not ideas, but gods, and to this new mythology the men of a later generation began to attach the powers and associations of the elder deities.
The idea of good is one of those sacred words or forms of thought, which were beginning to take the place of the old mythology. It meant unity, in which all time and all existence were gathered up. It was the truth of all things, and also the light in which they shone forth, and became evident to intelligences human and divine. It was the cause of all things, the power by which they were brought into being. It was the universal reason divested of a human personality. It was the life as well as the light of the world, all knowledge and all power were comprehended in it. The way to it was through the mathematical sciences, and these too were dependent on it. To ask whether God was the maker of it, or made by it, would be like asking whether God could be conceived apart from goodness, or goodness apart from God. The God of the Timaeus is not really at variance with the idea of good; they are aspects of the same, differing only as the personal from the impersonal, or the masculine from the neuter, the one being the expression or language of mythology, the other of philosophy.
This, or something like this, is the meaning of the idea of good as conceived by Plato. Ideas of number, order, harmony, development may also be said to enter into it. The paraphrase which has just been given of it goes beyond the actual words of Plato. We have perhaps arrived at the stage of philosophy which enables us to understand what he is aiming at, better than he did himself. We are beginning to realize what he saw darkly and at a distance. But if he could have been told that this, or some conception of the same kind, but higher than this, was the truth at which he was aiming, and the need which he sought to supply, he would gladly have recognized that more was contained in his own thoughts than he himself knew. As his words are few and his manner reticent and tentative, so must the style of his interpreter be. We should not approach his meaning more nearly by attempting to define it further. In translating him into the language of modern thought, we might insensibly lose the spirit of ancient philosophy. It is remarkable that although Plato speaks of the idea of good as the first principle of truth and being, it is nowhere mentioned in his writings except in this passage. Nor did it retain any hold upon the minds of his disciples in a later generation; it was probably unintelligible to them. Nor does the mention of it in Aristotle appear to have any reference to this or any other passage in his extant writings.
BOOK VII. And now I will describe in a figure the enlightenment or unenlightenment of our nature:—Imagine human beings living in an underground den which is open towards the light; they have been there from childhood, having their necks and legs chained, and can only see into the den. At a distance there is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners a raised way, and a low wall is built along the way, like the screen over which marionette players show their puppets. Behind the wall appear moving figures, who hold in their hands various works of art, and among them images of men and animals, wood and stone, and some of the passers-by are talking and others silent. 'A strange parable,' he said, 'and strange captives.' They are ourselves, I replied; and they see only the shadows of the images which the fire throws on the wall of the den; to these they give names, and if we add an echo which returns from the wall, the voices of the passengers will seem to proceed from the shadows. Suppose now that you suddenly turn them round and make them look with pain and grief to themselves at the real images; will they believe them to be real? Will not their eyes be dazzled, and will they not try to get away from the light to something which they are able to behold without blinking? And suppose further, that they are dragged up a steep and rugged ascent into the presence of the sun himself, will not their sight be darkened with the excess of light? Some time will pass before they get the habit of perceiving at all; and at first they will be able to perceive only shadows and reflections in the water; then they will recognize the moon and the stars, and will at length behold the sun in his own proper place as he is. Last of all they will conclude:—This is he who gives us the year and the seasons, and is the author of all that we see. How will they rejoice in passing from darkness to light! How worthless to them will seem the honours and glories of the den! But now imagine further, that they descend into their old habitations;—in that underground dwelling they will not see as well as their fellows, and will not be able to compete with them in the measurement of the shadows on the wall; there will be many jokes about the man who went on a visit to the sun and lost his eyes, and if they find anybody trying to set free and enlighten one of their number, they will put him to death, if they can catch him. Now the cave or den is the world of sight, the fire is the sun, the way upwards is the way to knowledge, and in the world of knowledge the idea of good is last seen and with difficulty, but when seen is inferred to be the author of good and right—parent of the lord of light in this world, and of truth and understanding in the other. He who attains to the beatific vision is always going upwards; he is unwilling to descend into political assemblies and courts of law; for his eyes are apt to blink at the images or shadows of images which they behold in them—he cannot enter into the ideas of those who have never in their lives understood the relation of the shadow to the substance. But blindness is of two kinds, and may be caused either by passing out of darkness into light or out of light into darkness, and a man of sense will distinguish between them, and will not laugh equally at both of them, but the blindness which arises from fulness of light he will deem blessed, and pity the other; or if he laugh at the puzzled soul looking at the sun, he will have more reason to laugh than the inhabitants of the den at those who descend from above. There is a further lesson taught by this parable of ours. Some persons fancy that instruction is like giving eyes to the blind, but we say that the faculty of sight was always there, and that the soul only requires to be turned round towards the light. And this is conversion; other virtues are almost like bodily habits, and may be acquired in the same manner, but intelligence has a diviner life, and is indestructible, turning either to good or evil according to the direction given. Did you never observe how the mind of a clever rogue peers out of his eyes, and the more clearly he sees, the more evil he does? Now if you take such an one, and cut away from him those leaden weights of pleasure and desire which bind his soul to earth, his intelligence will be turned round, and he will behold the truth as clearly as he now discerns his meaner ends. And have we not decided that our rulers must neither be so uneducated as to have no fixed rule of life, nor so over-educated as to be unwilling to leave their paradise for the business of the world? We must choose out therefore the natures who are most likely to ascend to the light and knowledge of the good; but we must not allow them to remain in the region of light; they must be forced down again among the captives in the den to partake of their labours and honours. 'Will they not think this a hardship?' You should remember that our purpose in framing the State was not that our citizens should do what they like, but that they should serve the State for the common good of all. May we not fairly say to our philosopher,—Friend, we do you no wrong; for in other States philosophy grows wild, and a wild plant owes nothing to the gardener, but you have been trained by us to be the rulers and kings of our hive, and therefore we must insist on your descending into the den. You must, each of you, take your turn, and become able to use your eyes in the dark, and with a little practice you will see far better than those who quarrel about the shadows, whose knowledge is a dream only, whilst yours is a waking reality. It may be that the saint or philosopher who is best fitted, may also be the least inclined to rule, but necessity is laid upon him, and he must no longer live in the heaven of ideas. And this will be the salvation of the State. For those who rule must not be those who are desirous to rule; and, if you can offer to our citizens a better life than that of rulers generally is, there will be a chance that the rich, not only in this world's goods, but in virtue and wisdom, may bear rule. And the only life which is better than the life of political ambition is that of philosophy, which is also the best preparation for the government of a State.
Then now comes the question,—How shall we create our rulers; what way is there from darkness to light? The change is effected by philosophy; it is not the turning over of an oyster-shell, but the conversion of a soul from night to day, from becoming to being. And what training will draw the soul upwards? Our former education had two branches, gymnastic, which was occupied with the body, and music, the sister art, which infused a natural harmony into mind and literature; but neither of these sciences gave any promise of doing what we want. Nothing remains to us but that universal or primary science of which all the arts and sciences are partakers, I mean number or calculation. 'Very true.' Including the art of war? 'Yes, certainly.' Then there is something ludicrous about Palamedes in the tragedy, coming in and saying that he had invented number, and had counted the ranks and set them in order. For if Agamemnon could not count his feet (and without number how could he?) he must have been a pretty sort of general indeed. No man should be a soldier who cannot count, and indeed he is hardly to be called a man. But I am not speaking of these practical applications of arithmetic, for number, in my view, is rather to be regarded as a conductor to thought and being. I will explain what I mean by the last expression:—Things sensible are of two kinds; the one class invite or stimulate the mind, while in the other the mind acquiesces. Now the stimulating class are the things which suggest contrast and relation. For example, suppose that I hold up to the eyes three fingers—a fore finger, a middle finger, a little finger—the sight equally recognizes all three fingers, but without number cannot further distinguish them. Or again, suppose two objects to be relatively great and small, these ideas of greatness and smallness are supplied not by the sense, but by the mind. And the perception of their contrast or relation quickens and sets in motion the mind, which is puzzled by the confused intimations of sense, and has recourse to number in order to find out whether the things indicated are one or more than one. Number replies that they are two and not one, and are to be distinguished from one another. Again, the sight beholds great and small, but only in a confused chaos, and not until they are distinguished does the question arise of their respective natures; we are thus led on to the distinction between the visible and intelligible. That was what I meant when I spoke of stimulants to the intellect; I was thinking of the contradictions which arise in perception. The idea of unity, for example, like that of a finger, does not arouse thought unless involving some conception of plurality; but when the one is also the opposite of one, the contradiction gives rise to reflection; an example of this is afforded by any object of sight. All number has also an elevating effect; it raises the mind out of the foam and flux of generation to the contemplation of being, having lesser military and retail uses also. The retail use is not required by us; but as our guardian is to be a soldier as well as a philosopher, the military one may be retained. And to our higher purpose no science can be better adapted; but it must be pursued in the spirit of a philosopher, not of a shopkeeper. It is concerned, not with visible objects, but with abstract truth; for numbers are pure abstractions—the true arithmetician indignantly denies that his unit is capable of division. When you divide, he insists that you are only multiplying; his 'one' is not material or resolvable into fractions, but an unvarying and absolute equality; and this proves the purely intellectual character of his study. Note also the great power which arithmetic has of sharpening the wits; no other discipline is equally severe, or an equal test of general ability, or equally improving to a stupid person.
Let our second branch of education be geometry. 'I can easily see,' replied Glaucon, 'that the skill of the general will be doubled by his knowledge of geometry.' That is a small matter; the use of geometry, to which I refer, is the assistance given by it in the contemplation of the idea of good, and the compelling the mind to look at true being, and not at generation only. Yet the present mode of pursuing these studies, as any one who is the least of a mathematician is aware, is mean and ridiculous; they are made to look downwards to the arts, and not upwards to eternal existence. The geometer is always talking of squaring, subtending, apposing, as if he had in view action; whereas knowledge is the real object of the study. It should elevate the soul, and create the mind of philosophy; it should raise up what has fallen down, not to speak of lesser uses in war and military tactics, and in the improvement of the faculties.
Shall we propose, as a third branch of our education, astronomy? 'Very good,' replied Glaucon; 'the knowledge of the heavens is necessary at once for husbandry, navigation, military tactics.' I like your way of giving useful reasons for everything in order to make friends of the world. And there is a difficulty in proving to mankind that education is not only useful information but a purification of the eye of the soul, which is better than the bodily eye, for by this alone is truth seen. Now, will you appeal to mankind in general or to the philosopher? or would you prefer to look to yourself only? 'Every man is his own best friend.' Then take a step backward, for we are out of order, and insert the third dimension which is of solids, after the second which is of planes, and then you may proceed to solids in motion. But solid geometry is not popular and has not the patronage of the State, nor is the use of it fully recognized; the difficulty is great, and the votaries of the study are conceited and impatient. Still the charm of the pursuit wins upon men, and, if government would lend a little assistance, there might be great progress made. 'Very true,' replied Glaucon; 'but do I understand you now to begin with plane geometry, and to place next geometry of solids, and thirdly, astronomy, or the motion of solids?' Yes, I said; my hastiness has only hindered us.
'Very good, and now let us proceed to astronomy, about which I am willing to speak in your lofty strain. No one can fail to see that the contemplation of the heavens draws the soul upwards.' I am an exception, then; astronomy as studied at present appears to me to draw the soul not upwards, but downwards. Star-gazing is just looking up at the ceiling—no better; a man may lie on his back on land or on water—he may look up or look down, but there is no science in that. The vision of knowledge of which I speak is seen not with the eyes, but with the mind. All the magnificence of the heavens is but the embroidery of a copy which falls far short of the divine Original, and teaches nothing about the absolute harmonies or motions of things. Their beauty is like the beauty of figures drawn by the hand of Daedalus or any other great artist, which may be used for illustration, but no mathematician would seek to obtain from them true conceptions of equality or numerical relations. How ridiculous then to look for these in the map of the heavens, in which the imperfection of matter comes in everywhere as a disturbing element, marring the symmetry of day and night, of months and years, of the sun and stars in their courses. Only by problems can we place astronomy on a truly scientific basis. Let the heavens alone, and exert the intellect.
Still, mathematics admit of other applications, as the Pythagoreans say, and we agree. There is a sister science of harmonical motion, adapted to the ear as astronomy is to the eye, and there may be other applications also. Let us inquire of the Pythagoreans about them, not forgetting that we have an aim higher than theirs, which is the relation of these sciences to the idea of good. The error which pervades astronomy also pervades harmonics. The musicians put their ears in the place of their minds. 'Yes,' replied Glaucon, 'I like to see them laying their ears alongside of their neighbours' faces—some saying, "That's a new note," others declaring that the two notes are the same.' Yes, I said; but you mean the empirics who are always twisting and torturing the strings of the lyre, and quarrelling about the tempers of the strings; I am referring rather to the Pythagorean harmonists, who are almost equally in error. For they investigate only the numbers of the consonances which are heard, and ascend no higher,—of the true numerical harmony which is unheard, and is only to be found in problems, they have not even a conception. 'That last,' he said, 'must be a marvellous thing.' A thing, I replied, which is only useful if pursued with a view to the good.
All these sciences are the prelude of the strain, and are profitable if they are regarded in their natural relations to one another. 'I dare say, Socrates,' said Glaucon; 'but such a study will be an endless business.' What study do you mean—of the prelude, or what? For all these things are only the prelude, and you surely do not suppose that a mere mathematician is also a dialectician? 'Certainly not. I have hardly ever known a mathematician who could reason.' And yet, Glaucon, is not true reasoning that hymn of dialectic which is the music of the intellectual world, and which was by us compared to the effort of sight, when from beholding the shadows on the wall we arrived at last at the images which gave the shadows? Even so the dialectical faculty withdrawing from sense arrives by the pure intellect at the contemplation of the idea of good, and never rests but at the very end of the intellectual world. And the royal road out of the cave into the light, and the blinking of the eyes at the sun and turning to contemplate the shadows of reality, not the shadows of an image only—this progress and gradual acquisition of a new faculty of sight by the help of the mathematical sciences, is the elevation of the soul to the contemplation of the highest ideal of being.
'So far, I agree with you. But now, leaving the prelude, let us proceed to the hymn. What, then, is the nature of dialectic, and what are the paths which lead thither?' Dear Glaucon, you cannot follow me here. There can be no revelation of the absolute truth to one who has not been disciplined in the previous sciences. But that there is a science of absolute truth, which is attained in some way very different from those now practised, I am confident. For all other arts or sciences are relative to human needs and opinions; and the mathematical sciences are but a dream or hypothesis of true being, and never analyse their own principles. Dialectic alone rises to the principle which is above hypotheses, converting and gently leading the eye of the soul out of the barbarous slough of ignorance into the light of the upper world, with the help of the sciences which we have been describing—sciences, as they are often termed, although they require some other name, implying greater clearness than opinion and less clearness than science, and this in our previous sketch was understanding. And so we get four names—two for intellect, and two for opinion,—reason or mind, understanding, faith, perception of shadows—which make a proportion— being:becoming::intellect:opinion—and science:belief::understanding: perception of shadows. Dialectic may be further described as that science which defines and explains the essence or being of each nature, which distinguishes and abstracts the good, and is ready to do battle against all opponents in the cause of good. To him who is not a dialectician life is but a sleepy dream; and many a man is in his grave before his is well waked up. And would you have the future rulers of your ideal State intelligent beings, or stupid as posts? 'Certainly not the latter.' Then you must train them in dialectic, which will teach them to ask and answer questions, and is the coping-stone of the sciences.
I dare say that you have not forgotten how our rulers were chosen; and the process of selection may be carried a step further:—As before, they must be constant and valiant, good-looking, and of noble manners, but now they must also have natural ability which education will improve; that is to say, they must be quick at learning, capable of mental toil, retentive, solid, diligent natures, who combine intellectual with moral virtues; not lame and one-sided, diligent in bodily exercise and indolent in mind, or conversely; not a maimed soul, which hates falsehood and yet unintentionally is always wallowing in the mire of ignorance; not a bastard or feeble person, but sound in wind and limb, and in perfect condition for the great gymnastic trial of the mind. Justice herself can find no fault with natures such as these; and they will be the saviours of our State; disciples of another sort would only make philosophy more ridiculous than she is at present. Forgive my enthusiasm; I am becoming excited; but when I see her trampled underfoot, I am angry at the authors of her disgrace. 'I did not notice that you were more excited than you ought to have been.' But I felt that I was. Now do not let us forget another point in the selection of our disciples—that they must be young and not old. For Solon is mistaken in saying that an old man can be always learning; youth is the time of study, and here we must remember that the mind is free and dainty, and, unlike the body, must not be made to work against the grain. Learning should be at first a sort of play, in which the natural bent is detected. As in training them for war, the young dogs should at first only taste blood; but when the necessary gymnastics are over which during two or three years divide life between sleep and bodily exercise, then the education of the soul will become a more serious matter. At twenty years of age, a selection must be made of the more promising disciples, with whom a new epoch of education will begin. The sciences which they have hitherto learned in fragments will now be brought into relation with each other and with true being; for the power of combining them is the test of speculative and dialectical ability. And afterwards at thirty a further selection shall be made of those who are able to withdraw from the world of sense into the abstraction of ideas. But at this point, judging from present experience, there is a danger that dialectic may be the source of many evils. The danger may be illustrated by a parallel case:—Imagine a person who has been brought up in wealth and luxury amid a crowd of flatterers, and who is suddenly informed that he is a supposititious son. He has hitherto honoured his reputed parents and disregarded the flatterers, and now he does the reverse. This is just what happens with a man's principles. There are certain doctrines which he learnt at home and which exercised a parental authority over him. Presently he finds that imputations are cast upon them; a troublesome querist comes and asks, 'What is the just and good?' or proves that virtue is vice and vice virtue, and his mind becomes unsettled, and he ceases to love, honour, and obey them as he has hitherto done. He is seduced into the life of pleasure, and becomes a lawless person and a rogue. The case of such speculators is very pitiable, and, in order that our thirty years' old pupils may not require this pity, let us take every possible care that young persons do not study philosophy too early. For a young man is a sort of puppy who only plays with an argument; and is reasoned into and out of his opinions every day; he soon begins to believe nothing, and brings himself and philosophy into discredit. A man of thirty does not run on in this way; he will argue and not merely contradict, and adds new honour to philosophy by the sobriety of his conduct. What time shall we allow for this second gymnastic training of the soul?—say, twice the time required for the gymnastics of the body; six, or perhaps five years, to commence at thirty, and then for fifteen years let the student go down into the den, and command armies, and gain experience of life. At fifty let him return to the end of all things, and have his eyes uplifted to the idea of good, and order his life after that pattern; if necessary, taking his turn at the helm of State, and training up others to be his successors. When his time comes he shall depart in peace to the islands of the blest. He shall be honoured with sacrifices, and receive such worship as the Pythian oracle approves.
'You are a statuary, Socrates, and have made a perfect image of our governors.' Yes, and of our governesses, for the women will share in all things with the men. And you will admit that our State is not a mere aspiration, but may really come into being when there shall arise philosopher-kings, one or more, who will despise earthly vanities, and will be the servants of justice only. 'And how will they begin their work?' Their first act will be to send away into the country all those who are more than ten years of age, and to proceed with those who are left...
At the commencement of the sixth book, Plato anticipated his explanation of the relation of the philosopher to the world in an allegory, in this, as in other passages, following the order which he prescribes in education, and proceeding from the concrete to the abstract. At the commencement of Book VII, under the figure of a cave having an opening towards a fire and a way upwards to the true light, he returns to view the divisions of knowledge, exhibiting familiarly, as in a picture, the result which had been hardly won by a great effort of thought in the previous discussion; at the same time casting a glance onward at the dialectical process, which is represented by the way leading from darkness to light. The shadows, the images, the reflection of the sun and stars in the water, the stars and sun themselves, severally correspond,—the first, to the realm of fancy and poetry,—the second, to the world of sense,—the third, to the abstractions or universals of sense, of which the mathematical sciences furnish the type,—the fourth and last to the same abstractions, when seen in the unity of the idea, from which they derive a new meaning and power. The true dialectical process begins with the contemplation of the real stars, and not mere reflections of them, and ends with the recognition of the sun, or idea of good, as the parent not only of light but of warmth and growth. To the divisions of knowledge the stages of education partly answer:—first, there is the early education of childhood and youth in the fancies of the poets, and in the laws and customs of the State;—then there is the training of the body to be a warrior athlete, and a good servant of the mind;—and thirdly, after an interval follows the education of later life, which begins with mathematics and proceeds to philosophy in general.
There seem to be two great aims in the philosophy of Plato,—first, to realize abstractions; secondly, to connect them. According to him, the true education is that which draws men from becoming to being, and to a comprehensive survey of all being. He desires to develop in the human mind the faculty of seeing the universal in all things; until at last the particulars of sense drop away and the universal alone remains. He then seeks to combine the universals which he has disengaged from sense, not perceiving that the correlation of them has no other basis but the common use of language. He never understands that abstractions, as Hegel says, are 'mere abstractions'—of use when employed in the arrangement of facts, but adding nothing to the sum of knowledge when pursued apart from them, or with reference to an imaginary idea of good. Still the exercise of the faculty of abstraction apart from facts has enlarged the mind, and played a great part in the education of the human race. Plato appreciated the value of this faculty, and saw that it might be quickened by the study of number and relation. All things in which there is opposition or proportion are suggestive of reflection. The mere impression of sense evokes no power of thought or of mind, but when sensible objects ask to be compared and distinguished, then philosophy begins. The science of arithmetic first suggests such distinctions. The follow in order the other sciences of plain and solid geometry, and of solids in motion, one branch of which is astronomy or the harmony of the spheres,—to this is appended the sister science of the harmony of sounds. Plato seems also to hint at the possibility of other applications of arithmetical or mathematical proportions, such as we employ in chemistry and natural philosophy, such as the Pythagoreans and even Aristotle make use of in Ethics and Politics, e.g. his distinction between arithmetical and geometrical proportion in the Ethics (Book V), or between numerical and proportional equality in the Politics.
The modern mathematician will readily sympathise with Plato's delight in the properties of pure mathematics. He will not be disinclined to say with him:—Let alone the heavens, and study the beauties of number and figure in themselves. He too will be apt to depreciate their application to the arts. He will observe that Plato has a conception of geometry, in which figures are to be dispensed with; thus in a distant and shadowy way seeming to anticipate the possibility of working geometrical problems by a more general mode of analysis. He will remark with interest on the backward state of solid geometry, which, alas! was not encouraged by the aid of the State in the age of Plato; and he will recognize the grasp of Plato's mind in his ability to conceive of one science of solids in motion including the earth as well as the heavens,—not forgetting to notice the intimation to which allusion has been already made, that besides astronomy and harmonics the science of solids in motion may have other applications. Still more will he be struck with the comprehensiveness of view which led Plato, at a time when these sciences hardly existed, to say that they must be studied in relation to one another, and to the idea of good, or common principle of truth and being. But he will also see (and perhaps without surprise) that in that stage of physical and mathematical knowledge, Plato has fallen into the error of supposing that he can construct the heavens a priori by mathematical problems, and determine the principles of harmony irrespective of the adaptation of sounds to the human ear. The illusion was a natural one in that age and country. The simplicity and certainty of astronomy and harmonics seemed to contrast with the variation and complexity of the world of sense; hence the circumstance that there was some elementary basis of fact, some measurement of distance or time or vibrations on which they must ultimately rest, was overlooked by him. The modern predecessors of Newton fell into errors equally great; and Plato can hardly be said to have been very far wrong, or may even claim a sort of prophetic insight into the subject, when we consider that the greater part of astronomy at the present day consists of abstract dynamics, by the help of which most astronomical discoveries have been made.
The metaphysical philosopher from his point of view recognizes mathematics as an instrument of education,—which strengthens the power of attention, developes the sense of order and the faculty of construction, and enables the mind to grasp under simple formulae the quantitative differences of physical phenomena. But while acknowledging their value in education, he sees also that they have no connexion with our higher moral and intellectual ideas. In the attempt which Plato makes to connect them, we easily trace the influences of ancient Pythagorean notions. There is no reason to suppose that he is speaking of the ideal numbers; but he is describing numbers which are pure abstractions, to which he assigns a real and separate existence, which, as 'the teachers of the art' (meaning probably the Pythagoreans) would have affirmed, repel all attempts at subdivision, and in which unity and every other number are conceived of as absolute. The truth and certainty of numbers, when thus disengaged from phenomena, gave them a kind of sacredness in the eyes of an ancient philosopher. Nor is it easy to say how far ideas of order and fixedness may have had a moral and elevating influence on the minds of men, 'who,' in the words of the Timaeus, 'might learn to regulate their erring lives according to them.' It is worthy of remark that the old Pythagorean ethical symbols still exist as figures of speech among ourselves. And those who in modern times see the world pervaded by universal law, may also see an anticipation of this last word of modern philosophy in the Platonic idea of good, which is the source and measure of all things, and yet only an abstraction (Philebus).
Two passages seem to require more particular explanations. First, that which relates to the analysis of vision. The difficulty in this passage may be explained, like many others, from differences in the modes of conception prevailing among ancient and modern thinkers. To us, the perceptions of sense are inseparable from the act of the mind which accompanies them. The consciousness of form, colour, distance, is indistinguishable from the simple sensation, which is the medium of them. Whereas to Plato sense is the Heraclitean flux of sense, not the vision of objects in the order in which they actually present themselves to the experienced sight, but as they may be imagined to appear confused and blurred to the half-awakened eye of the infant. The first action of the mind is aroused by the attempt to set in order this chaos, and the reason is required to frame distinct conceptions under which the confused impressions of sense may be arranged. Hence arises the question, 'What is great, what is small?' and thus begins the distinction of the visible and the intelligible.
The second difficulty relates to Plato's conception of harmonics. Three classes of harmonists are distinguished by him:—first, the Pythagoreans, whom he proposes to consult as in the previous discussion on music he was to consult Damon—they are acknowledged to be masters in the art, but are altogether deficient in the knowledge of its higher import and relation to the good; secondly, the mere empirics, whom Glaucon appears to confuse with them, and whom both he and Socrates ludicrously describe as experimenting by mere auscultation on the intervals of sounds. Both of these fall short in different degrees of the Platonic idea of harmony, which must be studied in a purely abstract way, first by the method of problems, and secondly as a part of universal knowledge in relation to the idea of good.
The allegory has a political as well as a philosophical meaning. The den or cave represents the narrow sphere of politics or law (compare the description of the philosopher and lawyer in the Theaetetus), and the light of the eternal ideas is supposed to exercise a disturbing influence on the minds of those who return to this lower world. In other words, their principles are too wide for practical application; they are looking far away into the past and future, when their business is with the present. The ideal is not easily reduced to the conditions of actual life, and may often be at variance with them. And at first, those who return are unable to compete with the inhabitants of the den in the measurement of the shadows, and are derided and persecuted by them; but after a while they see the things below in far truer proportions than those who have never ascended into the upper world. The difference between the politician turned into a philosopher and the philosopher turned into a politician, is symbolized by the two kinds of disordered eyesight, the one which is experienced by the captive who is transferred from darkness to day, the other, of the heavenly messenger who voluntarily for the good of his fellow-men descends into the den. In what way the brighter light is to dawn on the inhabitants of the lower world, or how the idea of good is to become the guiding principle of politics, is left unexplained by Plato. Like the nature and divisions of dialectic, of which Glaucon impatiently demands to be informed, perhaps he would have said that the explanation could not be given except to a disciple of the previous sciences. (Symposium.)
Many illustrations of this part of the Republic may be found in modern Politics and in daily life. For among ourselves, too, there have been two sorts of Politicians or Statesmen, whose eyesight has become disordered in two different ways. First, there have been great men who, in the language of Burke, 'have been too much given to general maxims,' who, like J.S. Mill or Burke himself, have been theorists or philosophers before they were politicians, or who, having been students of history, have allowed some great historical parallel, such as the English Revolution of 1688, or possibly Athenian democracy or Roman Imperialism, to be the medium through which they viewed contemporary events. Or perhaps the long projecting shadow of some existing institution may have darkened their vision. The Church of the future, the Commonwealth of the future, the Society of the future, have so absorbed their minds, that they are unable to see in their true proportions the Politics of to-day. They have been intoxicated with great ideas, such as liberty, or equality, or the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or the brotherhood of humanity, and they no longer care to consider how these ideas must be limited in practice or harmonized with the conditions of human life. They are full of light, but the light to them has become only a sort of luminous mist or blindness. Almost every one has known some enthusiastic half-educated person, who sees everything at false distances, and in erroneous proportions.
With this disorder of eyesight may be contrasted another—of those who see not far into the distance, but what is near only; who have been engaged all their lives in a trade or a profession; who are limited to a set or sect of their own. Men of this kind have no universal except their own interests or the interests of their class, no principle but the opinion of persons like themselves, no knowledge of affairs beyond what they pick up in the streets or at their club. Suppose them to be sent into a larger world, to undertake some higher calling, from being tradesmen to turn generals or politicians, from being schoolmasters to become philosophers:—or imagine them on a sudden to receive an inward light which reveals to them for the first time in their lives a higher idea of God and the existence of a spiritual world, by this sudden conversion or change is not their daily life likely to be upset; and on the other hand will not many of their old prejudices and narrownesses still adhere to them long after they have begun to take a more comprehensive view of human things? From familiar examples like these we may learn what Plato meant by the eyesight which is liable to two kinds of disorders.
Nor have we any difficulty in drawing a parallel between the young Athenian in the fifth century before Christ who became unsettled by new ideas, and the student of a modern University who has been the subject of a similar 'aufklarung.' We too observe that when young men begin to criticise customary beliefs, or to analyse the constitution of human nature, they are apt to lose hold of solid principle (Greek). They are like trees which have been frequently transplanted. The earth about them is loose, and they have no roots reaching far into the soil. They 'light upon every flower,' following their own wayward wills, or because the wind blows them. They catch opinions, as diseases are caught—when they are in the air. Borne hither and thither, 'they speedily fall into beliefs' the opposite of those in which they were brought up. They hardly retain the distinction of right and wrong; they seem to think one thing as good as another. They suppose themselves to be searching after truth when they are playing the game of 'follow my leader.' They fall in love 'at first sight' with paradoxes respecting morality, some fancy about art, some novelty or eccentricity in religion, and like lovers they are so absorbed for a time in their new notion that they can think of nothing else. The resolution of some philosophical or theological question seems to them more interesting and important than any substantial knowledge of literature or science or even than a good life. Like the youth in the Philebus, they are ready to discourse to any one about a new philosophy. They are generally the disciples of some eminent professor or sophist, whom they rather imitate than understand. They may be counted happy if in later years they retain some of the simple truths which they acquired in early education, and which they may, perhaps, find to be worth all the rest. Such is the picture which Plato draws and which we only reproduce, partly in his own words, of the dangers which beset youth in times of transition, when old opinions are fading away and the new are not yet firmly established. Their condition is ingeniously compared by him to that of a supposititious son, who has made the discovery that his reputed parents are not his real ones, and, in consequence, they have lost their authority over him.
The distinction between the mathematician and the dialectician is also noticeable. Plato is very well aware that the faculty of the mathematician is quite distinct from the higher philosophical sense which recognizes and combines first principles. The contempt which he expresses for distinctions of words, the danger of involuntary falsehood, the apology which Socrates makes for his earnestness of speech, are highly characteristic of the Platonic style and mode of thought. The quaint notion that if Palamedes was the inventor of number Agamemnon could not have counted his feet; the art by which we are made to believe that this State of ours is not a dream only; the gravity with which the first step is taken in the actual creation of the State, namely, the sending out of the city all who had arrived at ten years of age, in order to expedite the business of education by a generation, are also truly Platonic. (For the last, compare the passage at the end of the third book, in which he expects the lie about the earthborn men to be believed in the second generation.)