And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is
enlightened or unenlightened: — Behold! human beings living in a
underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all
along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their
legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before
them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above
and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and
the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low
wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in
front of them, over which they show the puppets.
And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of
vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and
various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking,
You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the
shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the
True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were
never allowed to move their heads?
And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would
only see the shadows?
Yes, he said.
And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not
suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the
other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by
spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
No question, he replied.
To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of
That is certain.
And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it^ the prisoners
are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is
liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and
walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare
will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in
his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one
saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when
he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real
existence, he has a clearer vision, — what will be his reply? And you
may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they
pass and requiring him to name them, — will he not be perplexed? Will
he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the
objects which are now shown to him?
And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a
pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the
objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in
reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?
True, he said.
And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and
rugged ascent, and held fast until he 's forced into the presence of the
sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he
approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to
see anything at all of what are now called realities.
Not all in a moment, he said.
He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And
first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other
objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze
upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he
will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light
of the sun by day?
Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him
in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in
another; and he will contemplate him as he is.
He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and
the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in
a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been
accustomed to behold?
Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.
And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and
his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself
on the change, and pity them?
Certainly, he would.
And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on
those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which
of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together;
and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do
you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the
possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,
Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,
and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after
Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than
entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.
Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to
be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes
full of darkness?
To be sure, he said.
And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the
shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his
sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time
which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very
considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he
went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to
think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up
to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to
No question, he said.
This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the
previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of
the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the
journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world
according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed
whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my
opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of
all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to
be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light
and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source
of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon
which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must
have his eye fixed.
I agree, he said, as far as I am able to understand you.
Moreover, I said, you must not wonder that those who attain to this
beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; for their souls
are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell; which
desire of theirs is very natural, if our allegory may be trusted.
Yes, very natural.
And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine
contemplations to the evil state of man, misbehaving himself in a
ridiculous manner; if, while his eyes are blinking and before he has
become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight in
courts of law, or in other places, about the images or the shadows of
images of justice, and is endeavouring to meet the conceptions of those
who have never yet seen absolute justice?
Anything but surprising, he replied.
Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the
eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out
of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's
eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he
sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to
laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the
brighter light, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or
having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And
he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he
will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which
comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in
the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into
That, he said, is a very just distinction.
But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong
when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not
there before, like sight into blind eyes.
They undoubtedly say this, he replied.
Whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning
exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn
from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of
knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the
world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the
sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words,
of the good.
And must there not be some art which will effect conversion in the
easiest and quickest manner; not implanting the faculty of sight, for that
exists already, but has been turned in the wrong direction, and is looking
away from the truth?
Yes, he said, such an art may be presumed.
And whereas the other so-called virtues of the soul seem to be akin to
bodily qualities, for even when they are not originally innate they can be
implanted later by habit and exercise, the of wisdom more than anything
else contains a divine element which always remains, and by this
conversion is rendered useful and profitable; or, on the other hand,
hurtful and useless. Did you never observe the narrow intelligence
flashing from the keen eye of a clever rogue — how eager he is, how
clearly his paltry soul sees the way to his end; he is the reverse of
blind, but his keen eyesight is forced into the service of evil, and he is
mischievous in proportion to his cleverness.
Very true, he said.
But what if there had been a circumcision of such natures in the days of
their youth; and they had been severed from those sensual pleasures, such
as eating and drinking, which, like leaden weights, were attached to them
at their birth, and which drag them down and turn the vision of their
souls upon the things that are below — if, I say, they had been
released from these impediments and turned in the opposite direction, the
very same faculty in them would have seen the truth as keenly as they see
what their eyes are turned to now.
Yes, I said; and there is another thing which is likely. or rather a
necessary inference from what has preceded, that neither the uneducated
and uninformed of the truth, nor yet those who never make an end of their
education, will be able ministers of State; not the former, because they
have no single aim of duty which is the rule of all their actions, private
as well as public; nor the latter, because they will not act at all except
upon compulsion, fancying that they are already dwelling apart in the
islands of the blest.
Very true, he replied.
Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will
be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already
shown to be the greatest of all — they must continue to ascend until
they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we
must not allow them to do as they do now.
What do you mean?
I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be
allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the
den, and partake of their labours and honours, whether they are worth
having or not.
But is not this unjust? he said; ought we to give them a worse life,
when they might have a better?
You have again forgotten, my friend, I said, the intention of the
legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy
above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held
the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors
of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he
created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in
binding up the State.
True, he said, I had forgotten.
Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our
philosophers to have a care and providence of others; we shall explain to
them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to share in
the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their
own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being
self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture
which they have never received. But we have brought you into the world to
be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and
have educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been
educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty. Wherefore
each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground
abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the
habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the
den, and you will know what the several images are, and what they
represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their
truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be a reality, and not a
dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other
States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are
distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good.
Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant
to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in
which they are most eager, the worst.
Quite true, he replied.
And will our pupils, when they hear this, refuse to take their turn at
the toils of State, when they are allowed to spend the greater part of
their time with one another in the heavenly light?
Impossible, he answered; for they are just men, and the commands which
we impose upon them are just; there can be no doubt that every one of them
will take office as a stern necessity, and not after the fashion of our
present rulers of State.
Yes, my friend, I said; and there lies the point. You must contrive for
your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler, and
then you may have a well-ordered State; for only in the State which offers
this, will they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in
virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life. Whereas if they
go to the administration of public affairs, poor and hungering after the^
own private advantage, thinking that hence they are to snatch the chief
good, order there can never be; for they will be fighting about office,
and the civil and domestic broils which thus arise will be the ruin of the
rulers themselves and of the whole State.
Most true, he replied.
And the only life which looks down upon the life of political ambition
is that of true philosophy. Do you know of any other?
Indeed, I do not, he said.
And those who govern ought not to be lovers of the task? For, if they
are, there will be rival lovers, and they will fight.
Who then are those whom we shall compel to be guardians? Surely they
will be the men who are wisest about affairs of State, and by whom the
State is best administered, and who at the same time have other honours
and another and a better life than that of politics?
They are the men, and I will choose them, he replied.
And now shall we consider in what way such guardians will be produced,
and how they are to be brought from darkness to light, — as some are
said to have ascended from the world below to the gods?
By all means, he replied.
The process, I said, is not the turning over of an oyster-shell,1
but the turning round of a soul passing from a day which is little better
than night to the true day of being, that is, the ascent from below, which
we affirm to be true philosophy?
And should we not enquire what sort of knowledge has the power of
effecting such a change?
What sort of knowledge is there which would draw the soul from becoming
to being? And another consideration has just occurred to me: You will
remember that our young men are to be warrior athletes?
Yes, that was said.
Then this new kind of knowledge must have an additional quality? What
Usefulness in war.
Yes, if possible.
There were two parts in our former scheme of education, were there not?
There was gymnastic which presided over the growth and decay of the
body, and may therefore be regarded as having to do with generation and
Then that is not the knowledge which we are seeking to discover?
But what do you say of music, which also entered to a certain extent
into our former scheme?
Music, he said, as you will remember, was the counterpart of gymnastic,
and trained the guardians by the influences of habit, by harmony making
them harmonious, by rhythm rhythmical, but not giving them science; and
the words, whether fabulous or possibly true, had kindred elements of
rhythm and harmony in them. But in music there was nothing which tended to
that good which you are now seeking.
You are most accurate, I said, in your recollection; in music there
certainly was nothing of the kind. But what branch of knowledge is there,
my dear Glaucon, which is of the desired nature; since all the useful arts
were reckoned mean by us?
Undoubtedly; and yet if music and gymnastic are excluded, and the arts
are also excluded, what remains?
Well, I said, there may be nothing left of our special subjects; and
then we shall have to take something which is not special, but of
What may that be?
A something which all arts and sciences and intelligences use in common,
and which every one first has to learn among the elements of education.
What is that?
The little matter of distinguishing one, two, and three — in a
word, number and calculation: — do not all arts and sciences
necessarily partake of them?
Then the art of war partakes of them?
To the sure.
Then Palamedes, whenever he appears in tragedy, proves Agamemnon
ridiculously unfit to be a general. Did you never remark how he declares
that he had invented number, and had numbered the ships and set in array
the ranks of the army at Troy; which implies that they had never been
numbered before, and Agamemnon must be supposed literally to have been
incapable of counting his own feet — how could he if he was ignorant
of number? And if that is true, what sort of general must he have been?
I should say a very strange one, if this was as you say.
Can we deny that a warrior should have a knowledge of arithmetic?
Certainly he should, if he is to have the smallest understanding of
military tactics, or indeed, I should rather say, if he is to be a man at
I should like to know whether you have the same notion which I have of
What is your notion?
It appears to me to be a study of the kind which we are seeking, and
which leads naturally to reflection, but never to have been rightly used;
for the true use of it is simply to draw the soul towards being.
Will you explain your meaning? he said.
I will try, I said; and I wish you would share the enquiry with me, and
say "yes" or "no" when I attempt to distinguish in my
own mind what branches of knowledge have this attracting power, in order
that we may have clearer proof that arithmetic is, as I suspect, one of
Explain, he said.
I mean to say that objects of sense are of two kinds; some of them do
not invite thought because the sense is an adequate judge of them; while
in the case of other objects sense is so untrustworthy that further
enquiry is imperatively demanded.
You are clearly referring, he said, to the manner in which the senses
are imposed upon by distance, and by painting in light and shade.
No, I said, that is not at all my meaning.
Then what is your meaning?
When speaking of uninviting objects, I mean those which do not pass from
one sensation to the opposite; inviting objects are those which do; in
this latter case the sense coming upon the object, whether at a distance
or near, gives no more vivid idea of anything in particular than of its
opposite. An illustration will make my meaning clearer: — here are
three fingers — a little finger, a second finger, and a middle
You may suppose that they are seen quite close: And here comes the
What is it?
Each of them equally appears a finger, whether seen in the middle or at
the extremity, whether white or black, or thick or thin — it makes no
difference; a finger is a finger all the same. In these cases a man is not
compelled to ask of thought the question, what is a finger? for the sight
never intimates to the mind that a finger is other than a finger.
And therefore, I said, as we might expect, there is nothing here which
invites or excites intelligence.
There is not, he said.
But is this equally true of the greatness and smallness of the fingers?
Can sight adequately perceive them? and is no difference made by the
circumstance that one of the fingers is in the middle and another at the
extremity? And in like manner does the touch adequately perceive the
qualities of thickness or thinness, or softness or hardness? And so of the
other senses; do they give perfect intimations of such matters? Is not
their mode of operation on this wise — the sense which is concerned
with the quality of hardness is necessarily concerned also with the
quality of softness, and only intimates to the soul that the same thing is
felt to be both hard and soft?
You are quite right, he said.
And must not the soul be perplexed at this intimation which the sense
gives of a hard which is also soft? What, again, is the meaning of light
and heavy, if that which is light is also heavy, and that which is heavy,
Yes, he said, these intimations which the soul receives are very curious
and require to be explained.
Yes, I said, and in these perplexities the soul naturally summons to her
aid calculation and intelligence, that she may see whether the several
objects announced to her are one or two.
And if they turn out to be two, is not each of them one and different?
And if each is one, and both are two, she will conceive the two as in a
state of division, for if there were undivided they could only be
conceived of as one?
The eye certainly did see both small and great, but only in a confused
manner; they were not distinguished.
Whereas the thinking mind, intending to light up the chaos, was
compelled to reverse the process, and look at small and great as separate
and not confused.
Was not this the beginning of the enquiry "What is great?" and
"What is small?"
And thus arose the distinction of the visible and the intelligible.
This was what I meant when I spoke of impressions which invited the
intellect, or the reverse — those which are simultaneous with
opposite impressions, invite thought; those which are not simultaneous do
I understand, he said, and agree with you.
And to which class do unity and number belong?
I do not know, he replied.
Think a little and you will see that what has preceded will supply the
answer; for if simple unity could be adequately perceived by the sight or
by any other sense, then, as we were saying in the case of the finger,
there would be nothing to attract towards being; but when there is some
contradiction always present, and one is the reverse of one and involves
the conception of plurality, then thought begins to be aroused within us,
and the soul perplexed and wanting to arrive at a decision asks "What
is absolute unity?" This is the way in which the study of the one has
a power of drawing and converting the mind to the contemplation of true
And surely, he said, this occurs notably in the case of one; for we see
the same thing to be both one and infinite in multitude?
Yes, I said; and this being true of one must be equally true of all
And all arithmetic and calculation have to do with number? Yes.
And they appear to lead the mind towards truth?
Yes, in a very remarkable manner.
Then this is knowledge of the kind for which we are seeking, having a
double use, military and philosophical; for the man of war must learn the
art of number or he will not know how to array his troops, and the
philosopher also, because he has to rise out of the sea of change and lay
hold of true being, and therefore he must be an arithmetician.
That is true.
And our guardian is both warrior and philosopher?
Then this is a kind of knowledge which legislation may fitly prescribe;
and we must endeavour to persuade those who are prescribe to be the
principal men of our State to go and learn arithmetic, not as amateurs,
but they must carry on the study until they see the nature of numbers with
the mind only; nor again, like merchants or retail-traders, with a view to
buying or selling, but for the sake of their military use, and of the soul
herself; and because this will be the easiest way for her to pass from
becoming to truth and being.
That is excellent, he said.
Yes, I said, and now having spoken of it, I must add how charming the
science is! and in how many ways it conduces to our desired end, if
pursued in the spirit of a philosopher, and not of a shopkeeper!
How do you mean?
I mean, as I was saying, that arithmetic has a very great and elevating
effect, compelling the soul to reason about abstract number, and rebelling
against the introduction of visible or tangible objects into the argument.
You know how steadily the masters of the art repel and ridicule any one
who attempts to divide absolute unity when he is calculating, and if you
divide, they multiply, taking care that one shall continue one and not
become lost in fractions.
That is very true.
Now, suppose a person were to say to them: O my friends, what are these
wonderful numbers about which you are reasoning, in which, as you say,
there is a unity such as you demand, and each unit is equal, invariable,
indivisible, — what would they answer?
They would answer, as I should conceive, that they were speaking of
those numbers which can only be realised in thought.
Then you see that this knowledge may be truly called necessary,
necessitating as it clearly does the use of the pure intelligence in the
attainment of pure truth?
Yes; that is a marked characteristic of it.
And have you further observed, that those who have a natural talent for
calculation are generally quick at every other kind of knowledge; and even
the dull if they have had an arithmetical training, although they may
derive no other advantage from it, always become much quicker than they
would otherwise have been.
Very true, he said.
And indeed, you will not easily find a more difficult study, and not
many as difficult.
You will not.
And, for all these reasons, arithmetic is a kind of knowledge in which
the best natures should be trained, and which must not be given up.
Let this then be made one of our subjects of education. And next, shall
we enquire whether the kindred science also concerns us?
You mean geometry?
Clearly, he said, we are concerned with that part of geometry which
relates to war; for in pitching a camp, or taking up a position, or
closing or extending the lines of an army, or any other military
manoeuvre, whether in actual battle or on a march, it will make all the
difference whether a general is or is not a geometrician.
Yes, I said, but for that purpose a very little of either geometry or
calculation will be enough; the question relates rather to the greater and
more advanced part of geometry — whether that tends in any degree to
make more easy the vision of the idea of good; and thither, as I was
saying, all things tend which compel the soul to turn her gaze towards
that place, where is the full perfection of being, which she ought, by all
means, to behold.
True, he said.
Then if geometry compels us to view being, it concerns us; if becoming
only, it does not concern us?
Yes, that is what we assert.
Yet anybody who has the least acquaintance with geometry will not deny
that such a conception of the science is in flat contradiction to the
ordinary language of geometricians.
They have in view practice only, and are always speaking? in a narrow
and ridiculous manner, of squaring and extending and applying and the like
— they confuse the necessities of geometry with those of daily life;
whereas knowledge is the real object of the whole science.
Certainly, he said.
Then must not a further admission be made?
That the knowledge at which geometry aims is knowledge of the eternal,
and not of aught perishing and transient.
That, he replied, may be readily allowed, and is true.
Then, my noble friend, geometry will draw the soul towards truth, and
create the spirit of philosophy, and raise up that which is now unhappily
allowed to fall down.
Nothing will be more likely to have such an effect.
Then nothing should be more sternly laid down than that the inhabitants
of your fair city should by all means learn geometry. Moreover the science
has indirect effects, which are not small.
Of what kind? he said.
There are the military advantages of which you spoke, I said; and in all
departments of knowledge, as experience proves, any one who has studied
geometry is infinitely quicker of apprehension than one who has not.
Yes indeed, he said, there is an infinite difference between them.
Then shall we propose this as a second branch of knowledge which our
youth will study?
Let us do so, he replied.
And suppose we make astronomy the third — what do you say?
I am strongly inclined to it, he said; the observation of the seasons
and of months and years is as essential to the general as it is to the
farmer or sailor.
I am amused, I said, at your fear of the world, which makes you guard
against the appearance of insisting upon useless studies; and I quite
admit the difficulty of believing that in every man there is an eye of the
soul which, when by other pursuits lost and dimmed, is by these purified
and re-illumined; and is more precious far than ten thousand bodily eyes,
for by it alone is truth seen. Now there are two classes of persons: one
class of those who will agree with you and will take your words as a
revelation; another class to whom they will be utterly unmeaning, and who
will naturally deem them to be idle tales, for they see no sort of profit
which is to be obtained from them. And therefore you had better decide at
once with which of the two you are proposing to argue. You will very
likely say with neither, and that your chief aim in carrying on the
argument is your own improvement; at the same time you do not grudge to
others any benefit which they may receive.
I think that I should prefer to carry on the argument mainly on my own
Then take a step backward, for we have gone wrong in the order of the
What was the mistake? he said.
After plane geometry, I said, we proceeded at once to solids in
revolution, instead of taking solids in themselves; whereas after the
second dimension the third, which is concerned with cubes and dimensions
of depth, ought to have followed.
That is true, Socrates; but so little seems to be known as yet about
Why, yes, I said, and for two reasons: — in the first place, no
government patronises them; this leads to a want of energy in the pursuit
of them, and they are difficult; in the second place, students cannot
learn them unless they have a director. But then a director can hardly be
found, and even if he could, as matters now stand, the students, who are
very conceited, would not attend to him. That, however, would be otherwise
if the whole State became the director of these studies and gave honour to
them; then disciples would want to come, and there would be continuous
and earnest search, and discoveries would be made; since even now,
disregarded as they are by the world, and maimed of their fair
proportions, and although none of their votaries can tell the use of them,
still these studies force their way by their natural charm, and very
likely, if they had the help of the State, they would some day emerge into
Yes, he said, there is a remarkable charm in them. But I do not clearly
understand the change in the order. First you began with a geometry of
Yes, I said.
And you placed astronomy next, and then you made a step backward?
Yes, and I have delayed you by my hurry; the ludicrous state of solid
geometry, which, in natural order, should have followed, made me pass over
this branch and go on to astronomy, or motion of solids.
True, he said.
Then assuming that the science now omitted would come into existence if
encouraged by the State, let us go on to astronomy, which will be fourth.
The right order, he replied. And now, Socrates, as you rebuked the
vulgar manner in which I praised astronomy before, my praise shall be
given in your own spirit. For every one, as I think, must see that
astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to
Every one but myself, I said; to every one else this may be clear, but
not to me.
And what then would you say?
I should rather say that those who elevate astronomy into philosophy
appear to me to make us look downwards and not upwards.
What do you mean? he asked.
You, I replied, have in your mind a truly sublime conception of our
knowledge of the things above. And I dare say that if a person were to
throw his head back and study the fretted ceiling, you would still think
that his mind was the percipient, and not his eyes. And you are very
likely right, and I may be a simpleton: but, in my opinion, that knowledge
only which is of being and of the unseen can make the soul look upwards,
and whether a man gapes at the heavens or blinks on the ground, seeking to
learn some particular of sense, I would deny that he can learn, for
nothing of that sort is matter of science; his soul is looking downwards,
not upwards, whether his way to knowledge is by water or by land, whether
he floats, or only lies on his back.
I acknowledge, he said, the justice of your rebuke. Still, I should like
to ascertain how astronomy can be learned in any manner more conducive to
that knowledge of which we are speaking?
I will tell you, I said: The starry heaven which we behold is wrought
upon a visible ground, and therefore, although the fairest and most
perfect of visible things, must necessarily be deemed inferior far to the
true motions of absolute swiftness and absolute slowness, which are
relative to each other, and carry with them that which is contained in
them, in the true number and in every true figure. Now, these are to be
apprehended by reason and intelligence, but not by sight.
True, he replied.
The spangled heavens should be used as a pattern and with a view to that
higher knowledge; their beauty is like the beauty of figures or pictures
excellently wrought by the hand of Daedalus, or some other great artist,
which we may chance to behold; any geometrician who saw them would
appreciate the exquisiteness of their workmanship, but he would never
dream of thinking that in them he could find the true equal or the true
double, or the truth of any other proportion.
No, he replied, such an idea would be ridiculous.
And will not a true astronomer have the same feeling when he looks at
the movements of the stars? Will he not think that heaven and the things
in heaven are framed by the Creator of them in the most perfect manner?
But he will never imagine that the proportions of night and day, or of
both to the month, or of the month to the year, or of the stars to these
and to one another, and any other things that are material and visible can
also be eternal and subject to no deviation — that would be absurd;
and it is equally absurd to take so much pains in investigating their
I quite agree, though I never thought of this before.
Then, I said, in astronomy, as in geometry, we should employ problems,
and let the heavens alone if we would approach the subject in the right
way and so make the natural gift of reason to be of any real use.
That, he said, is a work infinitely beyond our present astronomers.
Yes, I said; and there are many other things which must also have a
similar extension given to them, if our legislation is to be of any value.
But can you tell me of any other suitable study?
No, he said, not without thinking.
Motion, I said, has many forms, and not one only; two of them are
obvious enough even to wits no better than ours; and there are others, as
I imagine, which may be left to wiser persons.
But where are the two?
There is a second, I said, which is the counterpart of the one already
And what may that be?
The second, I said, would seem relatively to the ears to be what the
first is to the eyes; for I conceive that as the eyes are designed to look
up at the stars, so are the ears to hear harmonious motions; and these are
sister sciences — as the Pythagoreans say, and we, Glaucon, agree
Yes, he replied.
But this, I said, is a laborious study, and therefore we had better go
and learn of them; and they will tell us whether there are any other
applications of these sciences. At the same time, we must not lose sight
of our own higher object.
What is that?
There is a perfection which all knowledge ought to reach, and which our
pupils ought also to attain, and not to fall short of, as I was saying
that they did in astronomy. For in the science of harmony, as you probably
know, the same thing happens. The teachers of harmony compare the sounds
and consonances which are heard only, and their labour, like that of the
astronomers, is in vain.
Yes, by heaven! he said; and 'tis as good as a play to hear them talking
about their condensed notes, as they call them; they put their ears close
alongside of the strings like persons catching a sound from their
neighbour's wall — one set of them declaring that they distinguish an
intermediate note and have found the least interval which should be the
unit of measurement; the others insisting that the two sounds have passed
into the same — either party setting their ears before their
You mean, I said, those gentlemen who tease and torture the strings and
rack them on the pegs of the instrument: might carry on the metaphor and
speak after their manner of the blows which the plectrum gives, and make
accusations against the strings, both of backwardness and forwardness to
sound; but this would be tedious, and therefore I will only say that these
are not the men, and that I am referring to the Pythagoreans, of whom I
was just now proposing to enquire about harmony. For they too are in
error, like the astronomers; they investigate the numbers of the harmonies
which are heard, but they never attain to problems — that is to say,
they never reach the natural harmonies of number, or reflect why some
numbers are harmonious and others not.
That, he said, is a thing of more than mortal knowledge.
A thing, I replied, which I would rather call useful; that is, if sought
after with a view to the beautiful and good; but if pursued in any other
spirit, useless. Very true, he said.
Now, when all these studies reach the point of inter-communion and
connection with one another, and come to be considered in their mutual
affinities, then, I think, but not till then, will the pursuit of them
have a value for our objects; otherwise there is no profit in them.
I suspect so; but you are speaking, Socrates, of a vast work.
What do you mean? I said; the prelude or what? Do you not know that all
this is but the prelude to the actual strain which we have to learn? For
you surely would not regard the skilled mathematician as a dialectician?
Assuredly not, he said; I have hardly ever known a mathematician who was
capable of reasoning.
But do you imagine that men who are unable to give and take a reason
will have the knowledge which we require of them?
Neither can this be supposed.
And so, Glaucon, I said, we have at last arrived at the hymn of
dialectic. This is that strain which is of the intellect only, but which
the faculty of sight will nevertheless be found to imitate; for sight, as
you may remember, was imagined by us after a while to behold the real
animals and stars, and last of all the sun himself. And so with dialectic;
when a person starts on the discovery of the absolute by the light of
reason only, and without any assistance of sense, and perseveres until by
pure intelligence he arrives at the perception of the absolute good, he at
last finds himself at the end of the intellectual world, as in the case of
sight at the end of the visible.
Exactly, he said.
Then this is the progress which you call dialectic?
But the release of the prisoners from chains, and their translation from
the shadows to the images and to the light, and the ascent from the
underground den to the sun, while in his presence they are vainly trying
to look on animals and plants and the light of the sun, but are able to
perceive even with their weak eyes the images in the water (which are
divine), and are the shadows of true existence (not shadows of images cast
by a light of fire, which compared with the sun is only an image) —
this power of elevating the highest principle in the soul to the
contemplation of that which is best in existence, with which we may
compare the raising of that faculty which is the very light of the body to
the sight of that which is brightest in the material and visible world —
this power is given, as I was saying, by all that study and pursuit of the
arts which has been described.
I agree in what you are saying, he replied, which may be hard to
believe, yet, from another point of view, is harder still to deny. This,
however, is not a theme to be treated of in passing only, but will have to
be discussed again and again. And so, whether our conclusion be true or
false, let us assume all this, and proceed at once from the prelude or
preamble to the chief strain,2 and
describe that in like manner. Say, then, what is the nature and what are
the divisions of dialectic, and what are the paths which lead thither; for
these paths will also lead to our final rest?
Dear Glaucon, I said, you will not be able to follow me here, though I
would do my best, and you should behold not an image only but the absolute
truth, according to my notion. Whether what I told you would or would not
have been a reality I cannot venture to say; but you would have seen
something like reality; of that I am confident.
Doubtless, he replied.
But I must also remind you, that the power of dialectic alone can reveal
this, and only to one who is a disciple of the previous sciences.
Of that assertion you may be as confident as of the last.
And assuredly no one will argue that there is any other method of
comprehending by any regular process all true existence or of ascertaining
what each thing is in its own nature; for the arts in general are
concerned with the desires or opinions of men, or are cultivated with a
view to production and construction, or for the preservation of such
productions and constructions; and as to the mathematical sciences which,
as we were saying, have some apprehension of true being — geometry
and the like — they only dream about being, but never can they behold
the waking reality so long as they leave the hypotheses which they use
unexamined, and are unable to give an account of them. For when a man
knows not his own first principle, and when the conclusion and
intermediate steps are also constructed out of he knows not what, how can
he imagine that such a fabric of convention can ever become science?
Impossible, he said.
Then dialectic, and dialectic alone, goes directly to the first
principle and is the only science which does away with hypotheses in order
to make her ground secure; the eye of the soul, which is literally buried
in an outlandish slough, is by her gentle aid lifted upwards; and she uses
as handmaids and helpers in the work of conversion, the sciences which we
have been discussing. Custom terms them sciences, but they ought to have
some other name, implying greater clearness than opinion and less
clearness than science: and this, in our previous sketch, was called
understanding. But why should we dispute about names when we have
realities of such importance to consider?
Why indeed, he said, when any name will do which expresses the thought
of the mind with clearness?
At any rate, we are satisfied, as before, to have four divisions; two
for intellect and two for opinion, and to call the first division science,
the second understanding, the third belief, and the fourth perception of
shadows, opinion being concerned with becoming, and intellect with being;
and so to make a proportion:
As being is to becoming, so is pure intellect to opinion. And as
intellect is to opinion, so is science to belief, and understanding to the
perception of shadows.
But let us defer the further correlation and subdivision of the subjects
of opinion and of intellect, for it will be a long enquiry, many times
longer than this has been.
As far as I understand, he said, I agree.
And do you also agree, I said, in describing the dialectician as one who
attains a conception of the essence of each thing? And he who does not
possess and is therefore unable to impart this conception, in whatever
degree he fails, may in that degree also be said to fail in intelligence?
Will you admit so much?
Yes, he said; how can I deny it?
And you would say the same of the conception of the good? Until the
person is able to abstract and define rationally the idea of good, and
unless he can run the gauntlet of all objections, and is ready to disprove
them, not by appeals to opinion, but to absolute truth, never faltering at
any step of the argument — unless he can do all this, you would say
that he knows neither the idea of good nor any other good; he apprehends
only a shadow, if anything at all, which is given by opinion and not by
science; — dreaming and slumbering in this life, before he is well
awake here, he arrives at the world below, and has his final quietus.
In all that I should most certainly agree with you.
And surely you would not have the children of your ideal State, whom you
are nurturing and educating — if the ideal ever becomes a reality —
you would not allow the future rulers to be like posts,3
having no reason in them, and yet to be set in authority over the highest
Then you will make a law that they shall have such an education as will
enable them to attain the greatest skill in asking and answering
Yes, he said, you and I together will make it.
Dialectic, then, as you will agree, is the coping-stone of the sciences,
and is set over them; no other science can be placed higher — the
nature of knowledge can no further go?
I agree, he said.
But to whom we are to assign these studies, and in what way they are to
be assigned, are questions which remain to be considered?
You remember, I said, how the rulers were chosen before?
Certainly, he said.
The same natures must still be chosen, and the preference again given to
the surest and the bravest, and, if possible, to the fairest; and, having
noble and generous tempers, they should also have the natural gifts which
will facilitate their education.
And what are these?
Such gifts as keenness and ready powers of acquisition; for the mind
more often faints from the severity of study than from the severity of
gymnastics: the toil is more entirely the mind's own, and is not shared
with the body.
Very true, he replied.
Further, he of whom we are in search should have a good memory, and be
an unwearied solid man who is a lover of labour in any line; or he will
never be able to endure the great amount of bodily exercise and to go
through all the intellectual discipline and study which we require of him.
Certainly, he said; he must have natural gifts.
The mistake at present is, that those who study philosophy have no
vocation, and this, as I was before saying, is the reason why she has
fallen into disrepute: her true sons should take her by the hand and not
What do you mean?
In the first place, her votary should not have a lame or halting
industry — I mean, that he should not be half industrious and half
idle: as, for example, when a man is a lover of gymnastic and hunting, and
all other bodily exercises, but a hater rather than a lover of the labour
of learning or listening or enquiring. Or the occupation to which he
devotes himself may be of an opposite kind, and he may have the other sort
Certainly, he said.
And as to truth, I said, is not a soul equally to be deemed halt and
lame which hates voluntary falsehood and is extremely indignant at herself
and others when they tell lies, but is patient of involuntary falsehood,
and does not mind wallowing like a swinish beast in the mire of ignorance,
and has no shame at being detected?
To be sure.
And, again, in respect of temperance, courage, magnificence, and every
other virtue, should we not carefully distinguish between the true son and
the bastard? for where there is no discernment of such qualities States
and individuals unconsciously err and the State makes a ruler, and the
individual a friend, of one who, being defective in some part of virtue,
is in a figure lame or a bastard.
That is very true, he said.
All these things, then, will have to be carefully considered by us; and
if only those whom we introduce to this vast system of education and
training are sound in body and mind, justice herself will have nothing to
say against us, and we shall be the saviours of the constitution and of
the State; but, if our pupils are men of another stamp, the reverse will
happen, and we shall pour a still greater flood of ridicule on philosophy
than she has to endure at present.
That would not be creditable.
Certainly not, I said; and yet perhaps, in thus turning jest into
earnest I am equally ridiculous.
In what respect?
I had forgotten, I said, that we were not serious, and spoke with too
much excitement. For when I saw philosophy so undeservedly trampled under
foot of men I could not help feeling a sort of indignation at the authors
of her disgrace: and my anger made me too vehement.
Indeed! I was listening, and did not think so.
But I, who am the speaker, felt that I was. And now let me remind you
that, although in our former selection we chose old men, we must not do so
in this. Solon was under a delusion when he said that a man when he grows
old may learn many things — for he can no more learn much than he can
run much; youth is the time for any extraordinary toil.
And, therefore, calculation and geometry and all the other elements of
instruction, which are a preparation for dialectic, should be presented to
the mind in childhood; not, however, under any notion of forcing our
system of education.
Because a freeman ought not to be a slave in the acquisition of
knowledge of any kind. Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to
the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold
on the mind.
Then, my good friend, I said, do not use compulsion, but let early
education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to find out
the natural bent.
That is a very rational notion, he said.
Do you remember that the children, too, were to be taken to see the
battle on horseback; and that if there were no danger they were to be
brought close up and, like young hounds, have a taste of blood given them?
Yes, I remember.
The same practice may be followed, I said, in all these things —
labours, lessons, dangers — and he who is most at home in all of them
ought to be enrolled in a select number.
At what age?
At the age when the necessary gymnastics are over: the period whether of
two or three years which passes in this sort of training is useless for
any other purpose; for sleep and exercise are unpropitious to learning;
and the trial of who is first in gymnastic exercises is one of the most
important tests to which our youth are subjected.
Certainly, he replied.
After that time those who are selected from the class of twenty years
old will be promoted to higher honour, and the sciences which they learned
without any order in their early education will now be brought together,
and they will be able to see the natural relationship of them to one
another and to true being.
Yes, he said, that is the only kind of knowledge which takes lasting
Yes, I said; and the capacity for such knowledge is the great criterion
of dialectical talent: the comprehensive mind is always the dialectical.
I agree with you, he said.
These, I said, are the points which you must consider; and those who
have most of this comprehension, and who are more steadfast in their
learning, and in their military and other appointed duties, when they have
arrived at the age of thirty have to be chosen by you out of the select
class, and elevated to higher honour; and you will have to prove them by
the help of dialectic, in order to learn which of them is able to give up
the use of sight and the other senses, and in company with truth to attain
absolute being: And here, my friend, great caution is required.
Why great caution?
Do you not remark, I said, how great is the evil which dialectic has
What evil? he said.
The students of the art are filled with lawlessness.
Quite true, he said.
Do you think that there is anything so very unnatural or inexcusable in
their case? or will you make allowance for them?
In what way make allowance?
I want you, I said, by way of parallel, to imagine a supposititious son
who is brought up in great wealth; he is one of a great and numerous
family, and has many flatterers. When he grows up to manhood, he learns
that his alleged are not his real parents; but who the real are he is
unable to discover. Can you guess how he will be likely to behave towards
his flatterers and his supposed parents, first of all during the period
when he is ignorant of the false relation, and then again when he knows?
Or shall I guess for you?
If you please.
Then I should say, that while he is ignorant of the truth he will be
likely to honour his father and his mother and his supposed relations more
than the flatterers; he will be less inclined to neglect them when in
need, or to do or say anything against them; and he will be less willing
to disobey them in any important matter.
But when he has made the discovery, I should imagine that he would
diminish his honour and regard for them, and would become more devoted to
the flatterers; their influence over him would greatly increase; he would
now live after their ways, and openly associate with them, and, unless he
were of an unusually good disposition, he would trouble himself no more
about his supposed parents or other relations.
Well, all that is very probable. But how is the image applicable to the
disciples of philosophy?
In this way: you know that there are certain principles about justice
and honour, which were taught us in childhood, and under their parental
authority we have been brought up, obeying and honouring them.
That is true.
There are also opposite maxims and habits of pleasure which flatter and
attract the soul, but do not influence those of us who have any sense of
right, and they continue to obey and honour the maxims of their fathers.
Now, when a man is in this state, and the questioning spirit asks what
is fair or honourable, and he answers as the legislator has taught him,
and then arguments many and diverse refute his words, until he is driven
into believing that nothing is honourable any more than dishonourable, or
just and good any more than the reverse, and so of all the notions which
he most valued, do you think that he will still honour and obey them as
And when he ceases to think them honourable and natural as heretofore,
and he fails to discover the true, can he be expected to pursue any life
other than that which flatters his desires?
And from being a keeper of the law he is converted into a breaker of it?
Now all this is very natural in students of philosophy such as I have
described, and also, as I was just now saying, most excusable.
Yes, he said; and, I may add, pitiable.
Therefore, that your feelings may not be moved to pity about our
citizens who are now thirty years of age, every care must be taken in
introducing them to dialectic.
There is a danger lest they should taste the dear delight too early; for
youngsters, as you may have observed, when they first get the taste in
their mouths, argue for amusement, and are always contradicting and
refuting others in imitation of those who refute them; like puppy-dogs,
they rejoice in pulling and tearing at all who come near them.
Yes, he said, there is nothing which they like better.
And when they have made many conquests and received defeats at the hands
of many, they violently and speedily get into a way of not believing
anything which they believed before, and hence, not only they, but
philosophy and all that relates to it is apt to have a bad name with the
rest of the world.
Too true, he said.
But when a man begins to get older, he will no longer be guilty of such
insanity; he will imitate the dialectician who is seeking for truth, and
not the eristic, who is contradicting for the sake of amusement; and the
greater moderation of his character will increase instead of diminishing
the honour of the pursuit.
Very true, he said.
And did we not make special provision for this, when we said that the
disciples of philosophy were to be orderly and steadfast, not, as now, any
chance aspirant or intruder?
Suppose, I said, the study of philosophy to take the place of gymnastics
and to be continued diligently and earnestly and exclusively for twice the
number of years which were passed in bodily exercise — will that be
Would you say six or four years? he asked.
Say five years, I replied; at the end of the time they must be sent down
again into the den and compelled to hold any military or other office
which young men are qualified to hold: in this way they will get their
experience of life, and there will be an opportunity of trying whether,
when they are drawn all manner of ways by temptation, they will stand firm
And how long is this stage of their lives to last?
Fifteen years, I answered; and when they have reached fifty years of
age, then let those who still survive and have distinguished themselves in
every action of their lives and in every branch of knowledge come at last
to their consummation; the time has now arrived at which they must raise
the eye of the soul to the universal light which lightens all things, and
behold the absolute good; for that is the, pattern according to which they
are to order the State and the lives of individuals, and the remainder of
their own lives also; making philosophy their chief pursuit, but, when
their turn comes, toiling also at politics and ruling for the public good,
not as though they were performing some heroic action, but simply as a
matter of duty; and when they have brought up in each generation others
like themselves and left them in their place to be governors of the State,
then they will depart to the Islands of the Blest and dwell there; and the
city will give them public memorials and sacrifices and honour them, if
the Pythian oracle consent, as demi-gods, but if not, as in any case
blessed and divine.
You are a sculptor, Socrates, and have made statues of our governors
faultless in beauty.
Yes, I said, Glaucon, and of our governesses too; for you must not
suppose that what I have been saying applies to men only and not to women
as far as their natures can go.
There you are right, he said, since we have made them to share in all
things like the men.
Well, I said, and you would agree (would you not?) that what has been
said about the State and the government is not a mere dream, and although
difficult not impossible, but only possible in the way which has been
supposed; that is to say, when the true philosopher kings are born in a
State, one or more of them, despising the honours of this present world
which they deem mean and worthless, esteeming above all things right and
the honour that springs from right, and regarding justice as the greatest
and most necessary of all things, whose ministers they are, and whose
principles will be exalted by them when they set in order their own city?
How will they proceed?
They will begin by sending out into the country all the inhabitants of
the city who are more than ten years old, and will take possession of
their children, who will be unaffected by the habits of their parents;
these they will train in their own habits and laws, I mean in the laws
which we have given them: and in this way the State and constitution of
which we were speaking will soonest and most easily attain happiness, and
the nation which has such a constitution will gain most.
Yes, that will be the best way. And I think, Socrates, that you have
very well described how, if ever, such a constitution might come into
Enough then of the perfect State, and of the man who bears its image —
there is no difficulty in seeing how we shall describe him.
There is no difficulty, he replied; and I agree with you in thinking
that nothing more need be said.
1. In allusion to a game in which two
parties fled or pursued according as an oyster-shell which was thrown into
the air fell with the dark or light side uppermost.
2. A play upon the word nomos, which
means both "law" and "strain".
3. Literally "lines",
probably the starting-point of a race-course.
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