On Plato’s Republic, 8

Index to this series

Plato is somehow quite challenging in the present reading, which is the first part (Stephanus 484–502d) of Book VI of the Republic. Socrates tries to work out the third wave from the previous reading. Significant features are several analogies or figures:

  • city as ship whose sailors neither know how to sail nor want to know;
  • people and sophist as beast and zoologist or zookeeper;
  • ruler as painter who compares a canvas with what the mind’s eye sees;
  • philosopher as seed that needs good soil, lest it become a noxious weed.

I concurrently discuss the Republic readings in a group formed through the Catherine Project, which now has the website just linked to. The same was true for Pascal in the winter and Chaucer in the summer.

Bookshelves in morning sun
Ayşecik Sokağı, Fulya, Şişli, İstanbul, October 14, 2021.
The order of the books on the shelves of the cases being like that of words on the lines of pages of an individual book, the ordering is chronological, by birth date of author, editor, or personal subject. The youngest author for now is Sally Rooney, and Zena Hitz is on the same shelf. Plato is on the opposite wall.

I do not know why founder Zena Hitz has given the Catherine Project the name and iconography of the Christian martyr whose legend some have derived from the martyrdom of the neo-Platonist mathematician Hypatia. In Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (2020), Hitz does describe how

I rather casually decided that I should have a religion, having grown up without one. I had experimented for a few years with my ancestral religion, Judaism …

She visited “some mainline Christian churches,” but it was the Roman one that drew her in when

at the local Catholic parish … [i]t occurred to me that there was simply no reason for such a random collection of people to be in the same room.

When reading Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus in the spring with the Catherine Project, I did not try to blog about them; likewise now I am not trying to discuss Rilke’s Duino Elegies here, though I am reading them currently with another Project group, as if in challenge to Socrates’s banishing, in Book III, of poets who don’t toe the line.

Rilke and Plato pose similar challenges, by making me wonder whether I have any idea of what they are trying to do.

In the present post on Plato, the first section takes up the figure of the painter; the second section contrasts Socrates’s arguments with mathematical ones; the remaining two sections review the reading as a whole.

Art and Imitation

Near the beginning (484c–d) of our reading, Socrates describes to Glaucon a process of

looking off, as painters do, toward what is truest, and ever referring to it and contemplating it as precisely as possible.

This is what good rulers have to do, and that is a reason why they need to be philosophers. Socrates takes up the analogy between the philosopher-king and the artist again, near the end of the reading (500b–501c), when he tells Adeimantus:

a man who has his understanding truly turned toward the things that are has no leisure to look down toward the affairs of human beings … If some necessity arises for him to practice putting what he sees there into the dispositions of men … do you suppose he’ll prove to be a bad craftsman of moderation, justice, and vulgar virtue as a whole? … a city could never be happy otherwise than by having its outlines drawn by the painters who use the divine pattern … They would take the city and the dispositions of human beings, as though they were a tablet, which, in the first place, they would wipe clean … After that, I suppose that in filling out their work they would look away frequently in both directions, toward the just, fair, and moderate by nature and everything of the sort, and, again, toward what is in human beings; and thus, mixing and blending the practices as ingredients, they would produce the image of man, taking hints from exactly that phenomenon in human beings which Homer too called god-like and the image of god … And I suppose they would rub out one thing and draw in another again, until they made human dispositions as dear to the gods as they admit of being.

The guardians-in-training will need to be wiped clean, before a new pattern is imposed. This sounds like brainwashing. In Book IV as well, when it was likened to the dying of wool, the training of the guardians involved brainwashing. I mentioned then meditation and boarding school, which could be deleterious, precisely for deleting things, so to speak, from one’s life.

I find no evidence, by the way, that those two similar-sounding words are cognate, but

is from the past-participial stem dēlēt- of the Latin verb dēlēre;
is from the medieval Latin dēlētērios, a transliteration of the Greek δηλητήριος, which is from the verb δηλέομαι.

The Greek and Latin verbs have similar pronunciations and meanings; however, the etymologists report no connection between them. In A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, in the article “Delete,” Skeat does say “See below,” and what is below – even next – is the article “Deleterious.” The Oxford English Dictionary reports that the obsolete English version “deletery” of the Latin dēlētērios was, in the seventeenth century, “often erroneously viewed as a derivative” of dēlēre and therefore confused with “deletory.”

Back to Plato. In the quoted passage, the oblique praise of Homer makes me wonder what Socrates is really trying to do. His account of the artist at work is echoed by Collingwood in The Principles of Art:

Any theory of art should be required to show, if it wishes to be taken seriously, how an artist, in pursuing his artistic labour, is able to tell whether he is pursuing it successfully or unsuccessfully: how, for example, it is possible for him to say, “I am not satisfied with that line; let us try it this way … and this way … and this way … there! that will do.”

This is part of a longer passage quoted in “Freedom”; in “On Knowing Ourselves,” I quoted another part of that longer passage, where still the point is that making a work of art is a process such as Socrates describes: a looking back and forth, so to speak, between what you have done and what you are trying to do. A theme of “Nature” was whether the title entity was trying to do or be anything.

Painting from over her right shoulder of a woman looking at a landscape painting, in portrait orientation, on an easel. Her left hand touches the side of the painting; her right hand holds a mandolin. She has voluminous olive-drab skirts with green bodice and red ribbons around the bun of her dark hair. A dog to her left raises its right foreleg, as if for the woman’s attention. A stovepipe passes left from the woman’s head, before turning towards the ceiling.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Corot’s Studio: Woman Seated Before an Easel, a Mandolin in her Hand, c. 1868
Widener Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington

The artist may also look back and forth more literally, between easel and model or mirror. He or she may then be trying to produce an imitation or representation of what the eye sees.

At the end of the note from The Nation that I quoted for the previous reading, of the latter part of Book V, Shorey says of another scholar:

Throughout he seems to confound, as so many have done, the Platonic and Aristotelian mimesis or imitation of nature and emotion with the later literary doctrine of the imitation of classical models.

Perhaps we are to infer what Platonic mimesis is from such loci as Book III of the Republic. When Socrates there passes from consideration of what the poets are to say (ἅ τε λεκτέον) to how they are to say it (ὡς λεκτέον), he himself says (392d),

Isn’t everything that’s said by tellers of tales or poets a narrative of what has come to pass, what is, or what is going to be? … don’t they accomplish this with a narrative that is either simple or produced by imitation, or by both together?

Only imitators are to be banished from the city, and not even all of these (396c):

when the sensible man comes in his narrative to some speech or deed of a good man, he will be willing to report it as though he himself were that man and won’t be ashamed of such an imitation. He will imitate the good man most when he is acting steadily and prudently; less, and less willingly, when he’s unsteadied by diseases, loves, drink, or some other misfortune. But when he meets with someone unworthy of himself, he won’t be willing seriously to represent himself as an inferior, unless, of course, it’s brief, when the man does something good …

Here the concern is with what today are called performing arts, and I wonder how much it shares with the antitheatricality in Mansfield Park. It is also not clear to me whether Socrates considers performing arts and visual arts as species of a common genus.

Socrates’s distinction between simple and imitative narration may correspond to the distinction in painting and sculpture between the abstract and the figurative or representational. However, the imitative narrator tries to sound like what is being imitated, while it is not the representational painter, but the painting, that is supposed to look like what is being represented. This is perhaps only an artefact of how verba volant, picturae manent.

The artist looks towards us, brush in her raised right hand, palette in her left hand on her lap. She has turned to her right from a painting of a merry fiddler.
Judith Leyster
Self-Portrait, c. 1630
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Collingwood has a chapter of The Principles of Art called “Art and Representation,” in which imitating another work of art is distinguished from representing something in nature, and three degrees of this represention are described: (1) literal, (2) “symbolic” or rather selective, and (3) emotional. Of literal representation,

We find examples in palaeolithic animal-painting or Egyptian portrait-sculpture; though it is well to remember that these things are a great deal more sophisticated than we are apt to suppose.

As for selection,

This is certainly the explanation of much ‘primitive’ art which at first sight appears altogether non-representative: spirals, mazes, plaits and so forth.

These things select the pattern of a dance, leaving out the dancers themselves, since they cannot really be shown as moving.

As an example of emotional representation,

The erotic music of a modern dance-band may or may not consist of noises like those made by persons in a state of sexual excitement, but it does most powerfully evoke feelings like those proper to such a state.

All of that may be very interesting, but it is about craft as distinct from art. Collingwood has observed, at the beginning of the chapter, “art proper … cannot be representative.” A work of craft may be representative, and it may also be a work of art.

The artist as such is still trying to do something and may succeed or fail at it. It remains for me a question whether artistic success should be likened to what Socrates describes, in the quotation from (500b–501c), as making something that is “dear to the gods.”


This is about the challenge of understanding the logic of an argument that was created

  • before Aristotle started systematizing such things in general,
  • before Euclid systematized mathematics.

We can always remember too that the arguments of Socrates are directed not at us, but at some quasi-fictional character, like Socrates himself. He tells Glaucon at 485c–d,

It’s not only likely, my friend, but also entirely necessary that a man who is by nature erotically disposed toward someone care for everything related and akin to his boy (οὐ μόνον γε, ὦ φίλε, εἰκός, ἀλλὰ καὶ πᾶσα ἀνάγκη τὸν ἐρωτικῶς του φύσει ἔχοντα πᾶν τὸ συγγενές τε καὶ οἰκεῖον τῶν παιδικῶν ἀγαπᾶν) … Therefore the man who is really a lover of learning must from youth on strive as intensely as possible for every kind of truth.

The genitive case του of the indefinite pronoun could be masculine or neuter; however, I don’t think the genitive τῶν παιδικῶν can refer to anything but a child, probably a boy. Nonetheless, Bloom says there is an ambiguity in the Greek of the first sentence, which Shorey renders as

It is not only likely, my friend, but there is every necessity that he who is by nature enamored of anything should cherish all that is akin and pertaining to the object of his love.

According to Bloom’s note on the passage,

Socrates, in discussion with the erotic Glaucon, uses an ambiguous sentence. It could also be translated: “… a man who is by nature in love with something cares for everything related to the object of his love.” Socrates wishes Glaucon to take it as it appears in the text, or, at least, he wishes the overtones of that sense to affect Glaucon’s response. Socrates himself means the question in the second sense. However, the relation between the sexual love directed toward human beings and the love of wisdom is not to be forgotten. Socrates constantly uses words with a sexual or military connotation in speaking to Glaucon, thus predisposing him to certain answers by appealing to his particular passions.

If Socrates is indeed trying to manipulate his interlocutor, does Plato expect us to notice this, at least if we are among the cognoscenti? In any case, he may be trying to manipulate us, and we ought to be en garde. That’s politics. In mathematics, we can assume that a writer is trying to help us share a thought; however, politics can get involved here too, since, in addition to knowledge, there may be reputation – opinion – at stake too.

The present reading has two more passages (at least) suggesting that what Socrates is doing is far from mathematics. They help distinguish the reading into its two parts, one with Glaucon as Socrates’s counterpart; the other, Adeimantus.


At the end of the last reading, we distinguished the philosopher – the lover of knowledge – from the “philodoxer” or “doxophilist” – the lover of opinion or belief. The latter would seem to be just anybody who is not a philosopher; for Socrates continues at the beginning of the present reading,

And so, Glaucon, through a somewhat lengthy argument, who the philosophers are and who the nonphilosophers has, with considerable effort, somehow been brought to light.

Presently Socrates makes two assertions that Aristotle would presumably have recognized as equivalent:

  • [P]hilosophers are those who are able to grasp what is always the same in all respects, while
  • those who are not able to do so … are not philosophers.

The student of mathematics, at least, ought to recognize the latter clause as the contrapositive of the former and thus as immediately known, once the other is known.

Why utter both clauses then? Raymond Smullyan is onto something in What Is the Name of This Book? (1978) when he recalls, in the chapter called “Logic and Life,”

I once saw the following sign outside a restaurant.


Do these two sentences say the same thing or different things?

The answer is that logically speaking, they say exactly the same thing; they are both equivalent to the statement that no food is both good and cheap. Though these statements are logically equivalent, I would say that psychologically they suggest different things; when I read the first sentence, I picture good expensive food; when I read the second, I think of cheap rotten food. I don’t think my reaction is atypical.

I think Collingwood is already onto more in The Principles of Art when, in the section of the “Language” chapter called “The Logical Analysis of Language,” he criticizes

the principle of homolingual translation … [a]ccording to [which], one sentence may have precisely the same meaning as another single sentence, or group of sentences taken together, in the same language, so that one may be substituted for the other without change of meaning … The preferred version is preferred because it is one which the rules of the logician’s technique enable him to manipulate.

the logician’s modification of [language] can be to a certain extent carried out … language is subjected to a strain tending to pull it apart into two quite different things, language proper and symbolism. If the division could be completed, the result would be the state of things which Dr. Richards is presumably trying to describe when he distinguishes ‘the two uses of language’ … Dr. Richards assumes, apparently without realizing that any one could do otherwise, that language is not an activity, but something which is ‘used’, and can be ‘used’ in quite different ways while remaining the same ‘thing’, like a chisel that is used either for cutting wood or for lifting tacks.

If language were a thing that could be used for different purposes, then the same sentence might be used to express what one person knew, while another only opined it. However, as Glaucon answered Socrates at 478b in the previous reading, though I didn’t discuss it then,

it’s not admissible that the knowable and the opinable be the same.
οὐκ ἐγχωρεῖ γνωστὸν καὶ δοξαστὸν ταὐτὸν εἶναι.

Logical Drift

When Adeimantus interrupts at 487b, he points out that being good at arguing doesn’t make a person right:

Socrates, no one could contradict you in this. But … those who hear what you now say … believe that because of inexperience at questioning and answering, they are at each question misled a little by the argument; and when the littles are collected at the end of the arguments, the slip turns out to be great and contrary to the first assertions … However, the truth isn’t in any way affected by this.

Computations with physical quantities may work that way, with errors compounding at each step; but the falsehood of a mathematical argument can always be traced to single steps.

As Adeimantus also says though, an argument does not make something true, and that is true, even in mathematics.

A mathematical argument may be the only way that we do know whether something is true. This is another way that what we are doing in the Republic is not mathematics; thus for example Socrates knew Thrasymachus still did not really believe what had been proved to him, as people who don’t understand how mathematics works apparently reject Cantor’s diagonal argument.

Socrates to Glaucon: Philosophers Rule

At the beginning of Book VI, Socrates wishes identifying the philosophers and nonphilosophers were enough,

and there weren’t many things left to treat for one who is going to see what the difference is between the just life and the unjust one.

Though Socrates does not name it explicitly here, his third wave, the desirability of the coincidence of philosophy and political power, still needs to be justified.

As guardians who are not blind are desired, so are those who “know what each thing is” (484d). This is because (484b–c)

Those who look as if they’re capable of guarding the laws and practices of cities should be established as guardians // ὁπότεροι ἄν … δυνατοὶ φαίνωνται φυλάξαι νόμους τε καὶ ἐπιτηδεύματα πόλεων, τούτους καθιστάναι φύλακας.

The ellipse stands for ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, “I said,” but Bloom leaves it out, probably by oversight. Socrates’s reliance on appearance here seems odd.

Actually two things are required. Referring to “those men who are really deprived of the knowledge of what each thing is; those who have no clear pattern in the soul,” Socrates asks,

Shall we set these men up as guardians rather than those who

  • not only know what each thing is
  • but also don’t lack experience or fall short of the others in any other part of virtue?

Obviously not, but Glaucon notes the importance of meeting the second criterion as well as the first. Socrates proceeds to demonstrate that whoever meets the first meets the second, starting with (485a–b):

About philosophic natures, let’s agree that they are always in love with that learning which discloses to them something of the being that is always and does not wander about, driven by generation and decay. (Bloom)

We must accept as agreed this trait of the philosophical nature, that it is ever enamored of the kind of knowledge which reveals to them something of that essence which is eternal, and is not wandering between the two poles of generation and decay. (Shorey)

τοῦτο μὲν δὴ τῶν φιλοσόφων φύσεων πέρι ὡμολογήσθω ἡμῖν ὅτι μαθήματός γε ἀεὶ ἐρῶσιν ὃ ἂν αὐτοῖς δηλοῖ ἐκείνης τῆς οὐσίας τῆς ἀεὶ οὔσης καὶ μὴ πλανωμένης ὑπὸ γενέσεως καὶ φθορᾶς.

After an argument, Socrates concludes:

“Is there any way, then, in which you could blame a practice like this that a man could never adequately pursue if he were not by nature a rememberer, a good learner, magnificent, charming, and a friend and kinsman of truth, justice, courage, and moderation?”

“Not even Momus,” he said, “could blame a practice like that.”

“When such men,” I said, “are perfected by education and age, wouldn’t you turn the city over to them alone?”

Adeimantus to Socrates: Why?

Glaucon doesn’t get to answer before Adeimantus jumps in to say what we looked at, that people think Socrates leads them astray with his arguments. People cannot contradict him, but can see for themselves that those who pursue philosophy beyond youth become strange (ἀλλόκοτος 487d), if not utterly bad (παμπόνηρος), or else just useless (ἄχρηστος):

most become quite queer, not to say completely vicious; while the ones who seem perfectly decent, do nevertheless suffer at least one consequence of the practice you are praising – they become useless to the cities.

Socrates agrees, while still averring that the philosophers must rule.

The Useless

Adeimantus ridicules Socrates when he says his explanation of why philosophers are thought useless will come in an εἰκών (487e) – an image, a figure, an analogy. Adeimantus is apparently convinced by the figure, which he says he will share – or at least he will share the conclusion.

The figure is that of a ship whose owner is big and strong, but hard of hearing and seeing and knowing. Each sailor wants to pilot, without having learned how, and even denying that learning is possible. The “useless” person to them is the one who cannot help give them command, though he himself may have all the knowledge needed to pilot the ship. It’s not his job to get to take control; the others should be begging him to.

So it’s no surprise that philosophers are thought useless.

A difficulty of summarizing is that every detail of the original may matter. Literally, the question of Adeimantus that Socrates has set out to answer is (487e),

how can it be good to say that the cities will have no rest from evils before the philosophers, whom we agree to be useless to the cities, rule in them?

The Vicious

There is a suggestion that the persons who give philosophy a bad name are not really philosophers, but only “pretenders to that way of life,” as Shorey has it. Bloom is plainer, but perhaps thus more literal: those persons are “those who claim to practice such things” (τοὺς τὰ τοιαῦτα φάσκοντας ἐπιτηδεύειν 489d).

What Socrates has agreed with Adeimantus about is not that most philosophers are vicious, and the rest useless, but that people say they are. Socrates has explained why those who are considered useless are so considered, but perhaps to be considered useless is to be useless, since nobody will in fact use you. In any case, Adeimantus agrees to Socrates’s saying,

Haven’t we gone through the cause of the uselessness of the decent ones? // οὐκοῦν τῆς μὲν τῶν ἐπιεικῶν ἀχρηστίας τὴν αἰτίαν διεληλύθαμεν;

Adeimantus also agrees to what Socrates proposes next, although it seems to shift the focus from the people who do philosophy to those who judge them:

Do you want us next to go through the necessity of the viciousness of the many and to try to show, if we are able, that philosophy isn’t to blame for that? // τῆς δὲ τῶν πολλῶν πονηρίας τὴν ἀνάγκην βούλει τὸ μετὰ τοῦτο διέλθωμεν, καὶ ὅτι οὐδὲ τούτου φιλοσοφία αἰτία, ἂν δυνώμεθα, πειραθῶμεν δεῖξαι;

Socrates reviews the argument that he has just made to Glaucon. To explain the uselessness of philosophers, apparently Socrates thinks the figure of the ship was not enough; for he now returns to the problem (490e–1a):

Then we must look at the corruptions of this nature and see how it is destroyed in many, while a small number escape – just those whom they call not vicious but useless. And after that, in turn, we must look at the natures of the souls that imitate (μιμουμένας) the philosophic nature and set themselves up in its practice, and see what sort they are who approach a practice that is of no value for them and beyond them, and who often strike false notes, thereby attaching to philosophy everywhere and among all men a reputation such as you say.

Socrates proceeds to use another figure, now of a seed, prefiguring the Parable of the Sower (491c–2a):

the more vigorous it is, the more it is deficient in its own properties when it doesn’t get the food, climate, or place suitable to it. For surely bad is more opposed to good than to not-good … if the nature we set down for the philosopher chances on a suitable course of learning, it will necessarily grow and come to every kind of virtue; but if it isn’t sown, planted, and nourished in what’s suitable, it will come to all the opposite, unless one of the gods chances to assist it.

In the Gospel, the seed is the Gospel; in the Republic, the potential philosopher. In either case, the soil is the people. It is they who cause corruption, while sophistically blaming it on those who are called sophists (492a–b):

Or do you too believe, as do the many, that certain young men are corrupted by sophists, and that there are certain sophists who in a private capacity corrupt to an extent worth mentioning? Isn’t it rather the very men who say this who are the biggest sophists, who educate most perfectly and who turn out young and old, men and women, just the way they want them to be?

The people tell the young person how to be, enforcing words with action: “they punish the man who’s not persuaded with dishonor, fines, and death” (492d). Only a god can save that man.

In yet another figure, the people are “a great, strong beast” (493a), which the sophist studies how to deal with, as if zoology could show us how to live:

When he has learned all this from associating and spending time with the beast, he calls it wisdom and, organizing it as an art, turns to teaching. Knowing nothing in truth about which of these convictions and desires is noble, or base, or good, or evil, or just, or unjust, he applies all these names following the great animal’s opinions – calling what delights it good and what vexes it bad.

It may be my modern interpretation, but I think the point is that natural science can only tell us how things are; however, this is not the kind of being, known to the philosopher, that Bloom italicizes, as when he has Socrates ask (493e–4a),

Can a multitude accept or believe that the fair itself, rather than the many fair things, or that anything itself, is, rather than the many particular things?

Science may claim to tell us the way things must be. Natural laws are not optional. However, that they are so is our absolute presupposition. Somehow this seems compatible, at least, with what Socrates goes on to say about necessity, when he talks about the error of the sophist (493c):

He … calls the necessary just and noble, neither having seen nor being able to show someone else how much the nature of the necessary and the good really differ // τἀναγκαῖα δίκαια καλοῖ καὶ καλά, τὴν δὲ τοῦ ἀναγκαίου καὶ ἀγαθοῦ φύσιν, ὅσον διαφέρει τῷ ὄντι, μήτε ἑωρακὼς εἴη μήτε ἄλλῳ δυνατὸς δεῖξαι.

Adeimantus goes on to agree with Socrates that (494a):

  • “it’s impossible (ἀδύνατον) that a multitude be philosophic”;
  • “those who do philosophize are necessarily (ἀνάγκη) blamed by them.”

So now, it seems, we are supposed to have understand why philosophers are called vicious.


The focus subtly shifts; or perhaps not so subtly, and yet Adeimantus does not complain when Socrates turns from explaining the ill repute of philosophers to the question (494a),

what salvation do you see for a philosophic nature so that it will remain in its practice and reach its end? // ἐκ δὴ τούτων τίνα ὁρᾷς σωτηρίαν φιλοσόφῳ φύσει, ὥστ᾽ ἐν τῷ ἐπιτηδεύματι μείνασαν πρὸς τέλος ἐλθεῖν;

Because of the virtues that have already been shown to accompany the philosophic nature, family and friends will try to take advantage of it, and the possessor of it who tries to remain devoted to philosophy will be punished. If we recall the figure of the seed (“the more vigorous it is, the more it is deficient in its own properties when it doesn’t get the food, climate, or place suitable to it”), we have now confirmed how fitting it is (495b).

No little nature ever does anything great either to private man or city (σμικρὰ δὲ φύσις οὐδὲν μέγα οὐδέποτε οὐδένα οὔτε ἰδιώτην οὔτε πόλιν δρᾷ) … So these men, for whom philosophy is most suitable, go thus into exile and leave her abandoned and unconsummated (οὗτοι μὲν δὴ οὕτως ἐκπίπτοντες, οἷς μάλιστα προσήκει, ἔρημον καὶ ἀτελῆ φιλοσοφίαν λείποντες).

“Alone and unfinished” might be a more literal translation of ἔρημον καὶ ἀτελῆ, but Shorey has “forlorn and unwedded.” The entity in this condition has feminine gender; such is πόλις, in addition to φιλοσοφία. Where Bloom has “her,” the Greek has “philosophy”; where Bloom has “philosophy,” the Greek has no separate word, but the implicit ungendered subject, “it,” “she,” or “he,” of a third-person verb. Perhaps Bloom chooses “exile” to suggest literal exile from the city; but a figurative exile from philosophy seems to be what is literally meant!

A more literal translation of what Bloom casts as a sentence might be, “So then, going thus away, [those] whom [she] most concerns, leaving philosophy alone and incomplete …” In the original, this is not a complete sentence, but a participial phrase, introducing what is to come, which is an explanation of how the situation is unsatisfactory for all concerned:

They themselves live a life that isn’t suitable or true; while, after them, other unworthy men come to her – like an orphan bereft of relatives – and disgrace her. These are the ones who attach to her reproaches such as even you say are alleged by the men who reproach her – namely, that of those who have intercourse with her, some are worthless and the many worthy of many bad things.

Philosophy still has a “magnificent station” (ἀξίωμα μεγαλοπρεπέστερον 495d), so unworthy people come to it, like criminals who take sanctuary in temples. Instead of prison, their problem is that they are

with imperfect natures – just as their bodies are mutilated by the arts and crafts (τῶν τεχνῶν τε καὶ δημιουργιῶν), so too their souls are doubled up and spoiled as a result of being in mechanical occupations (τὰς βαναυσίας).

As another seeming example of classism, Shorey mentions Ecclesiasticus 38, which turns out to have an account of the stratified city that gives the working class a philosophy in the sense of knowledge of a pattern:

24 The wisdom of a learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure: and he that hath little business shall become wise.
25 How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plough, and that glorieth in the goad, that driveth oxen, and is occupied in their labours, and whose talk is of bullocks?
26 He giveth his mind to make furrows; and is diligent to give the kine fodder.
27 So every carpenter and workmaster, that laboureth night and day: and they that cut and grave seals, and are diligent to make great variety, and give themselves to counterfeit imagery, and watch to finish a work:
28 The smith also sitting by the anvil, and considering the iron work, the vapour of the fire wasteth his flesh, and he fighteth with the heat of the furnace: the noise of the hammer and the anvil is ever in his ears, and his eyes look still upon the pattern of the thing that he maketh; he setteth his mind to finish his work, and watcheth to polish it perfectly:
29 So doth the potter sitting at his work, and turning the wheel about with his feet, who is always carefully set at his work, and maketh all his work by number;
30 He fashioneth the clay with his arm, and boweth down his strength before his feet; he applieth himself to lead it over; and he is diligent to make clean the furnace:
31 All these trust to their hands: and every one is wise in his work.
32 Without these cannot a city be inhabited: and they shall not dwell where they will, nor go up and down:
33 They shall not be sought for in publick counsel, nor sit high in the congregation: they shall not sit on the judges’ seat, nor understand the sentence of judgment: they cannot declare justice and judgment; and they shall not be found where parables are spoken.
34 But they will maintain the state of the world, and [all] their desire is in the work of their craft.

For Socrates, “it’s a very small group which remains to keep company with philosophy in a way that’s worthy” (496a–b). Possible members include:

  • “a noble and well-reared disposition” who “remains by her side … for want of corruptors”;
  • a “great soul” in a “little city” who “looks out beyond”;
  • “a very few men from another art”;
  • a person like Theages whose sickliness keeps him from engaging in politics;
  • a person like Socrates with a daimon.

Such a person keeps quiet, as if sheltering under a wall in a storm (496d),

content if somehow he himself can live his life here pure of injustice and unholy deeds, and take his leave from it graciously and cheerfully with fair hope.

The Suitable Regime

Adeimantus objects to the self-righteousness of the philosopher who holds himself aloof. He will die, “having accomplished not the least of things” (497a).

“But not the greatest either,” says Socrates, “if he didn’t chance upon a suitable regime (πολιτεία).” I don’t know if this means any more than that the person in question might have accomplished the greatest things, if he had grown up in a suitable polity.

Socrates suggests immediately that he has explained why philosophy is slandered, “unless you have something else to say.”

What Adeimantus now wants to know is, “which of the current regimes do you say is suitable for it?”

None, says Socrates, but if the class of philosophic natures did take hold in the best regime, then things would be great.

Now there is a somewhat curious exchange. Socrates says Adeimantus is going to ask which regime is great. We may try to imagine what might have ensued, had Adeimantus agreed; would Socrates have said, “I already told you”?

Adeimantus anticipates this by saying he wants to know whether the regime suitable for the philosopher is the one that Socrates has described. It is, except that Socrates has been afraid of taking up the problem (497d),

How a city can take philosophy in hand without being destroyed. For surely all great things carry with them the risk of a fall, and, really as the saying goes, fine things are hard (τὸ λεγόμενον τὰ καλὰ τῷ ὄντι χαλεπά).

Glaucon brought up the same saying in Book IV, faced with the question of whether there were parts of the soul corresponding to the three classes in the city.

Socrates now suggests that education is backwards. Young people take up the hardest part of philosophy, then abandon it when they have to get a job. They may come back to it, later in life, but only as listeners, for a hobby – perhaps like some people in the room with Socrates now, though he doesn’t say this. Young people ought instead to be taught a suitable philosophy, along with gymnastics; later in life they can take up the heavy stuff.

Adeimantus agrees, but thinks others will not, particularly Thrasymachus. Socrates will not rest until he persuades them or at least get them ready for the next life.

“That’s a short time you are speaking about,” says Adeimantus (498d). The remark would seem to be ironic.

Socrates takes it literally: “No time at all,” he says, “if you compare it to the whole.”

The problem is that nobody has seen a reality to match the words. This is why the philosophers who are not vicious, but are considered useless, must nonetheless take charge, “whether they want to or not” (499b), or else the “a true erotic passion for true philosophy” must arise in the existing rulers or their sons.

It will be hard, but not impossible. Adeimantus should try to tell people who the real philosophers are. Most people will listen. The problem is people like those who interrupt the Symposium (500b–e):

those men from outside who don’t belong and have burst in like drunken revelers, abusing one another and indulging a taste for quarreling, and who always make their arguments about persons, doing what is least seemly in philosophy … if the many become aware that what we are saying about this man is true, will they then be harsh with the philosophers and distrust us when we say that a city could never be happy otherwise than by having its outlines drawn by the painters who use the divine pattern?

We looked at this pattern-following earlier. Adeimantus expects the many not to be harsh, “provided they do gain this awareness.”

The basic point is agreed (502b):

Now, then, as it seems, it turns out for us that what we are saying about lawgiving is best if it could come to be, and that it is hard for it to come to be; not, however, impossible.

There has been some further discussion. Socrates says in particular (502b),

the birth of one, if he has an obedient city, is sufficient for perfecting everything that is now doubted.

This would seem to be the kind of thinking that animates religious sectarianism. If the Christ or the Prophet is thought to be that one, he may still need our help to make everybody else obedient.

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