On Plato’s Republic, 9

Index to this series

We reach now the Analogy of the Sun and the associated Divided Line.

Among pines, a palm tree with highest fronds lit by the setting sun
The highest fronds take the setting sun in Altınova
September 27, 2021

We of the online group are spending two weeks on the current reading, which is the latter part, Stephanus 502d-11e, of Book VI of Plato’s Republic. The Allegory of the Cave will come with the next reading, in Book VII.

Potted Plato

Things must be made visible by the sun, if we are going to see them. Just so must what we are going to know be made intelligible by something, which is the good.

The division of the world into the visible and intelligible parts can be likened to the division of a line segment AB at a point C into two unequal parts, which thus have some ratio. When we divide each of the two parts in that ratio, at D and E respectively, then

DC = CE,

and we make the following correspondences.

images, shadows, reflections;
the objects that produce them;
what we derive from those objects as hypotheses, as the geometer derives conclusions from visible diagrams;
what dialectic grasps in freeing itself from hypotheses.

That’s nice, but what does it do for us? Perhaps we must take the whole dialogue (as reported to us by Socrates) as our example of dialectic; no other is offered. Socrates started the whole thing by questioning the hypothesis of Cephalus about the good life. But then one might say that Thrasymachus tried to free himself from all such hypotheses.

Virtue Signalling

As I said for the first reading, until I checked, I thought the Line and the Cave were all I had read about in the Republic as a freshman in high school, in 1979. Perhaps they are as well known, or as well known of, as Norman Bates’s mother was to me, even before I actually saw Psycho in the summer of 1999 (projected onto an exterior wall in Hamilton, Ontario). All I had known of Mrs. Bates was her name, which may be all of what some people know of the Line and the Cave.

Not Psycho, but Alfred Hitchcock is on “What Literate Americans Know: A Preminary List,” by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph Kett, and James Trefill. I might have expected Plato’s metaphors to be there too. The list is an appendix to Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, which I can consult now, thanks to the Web Archive. I haven’t got a paper copy, though I have a memory of seeing a photocopy of the “Preliminary List.” This must have been in 1987 or so, when the book came out and I graduated from college. The photocopy was in the possession of somebody still in college (a different college).

As must have been written in a periodical publication at the time, if knowledge of the terms on a list of “What Literate Americans Know” is worth having, it should arise naturally from reading, not from memorizing as if for an examination. One’s vocabulary should come that way too, and not from – or not just from – books like

  • Wilfred Funk, Six Weeks to Words of Power (1953);
  • Edward C. Gruber, 2300 Steps to Word Power: Programmed Learning Without a Machine (1963);
  • Ward S. Miller, Word Wealth (1967)

– to name three books in my possession. The last book is school textbook, giving words with definitions, examples, and sometimes related words and additional discussion. Our ninth-grade English teacher Stanley Willis would select and discuss with us the words that he wanted us to learn. This was at St. Albans School for Boys in Washington, of which Mr Willis was an alumnus of the class of 1946. He was a batchelor, and when he told us we were skipping “harlot,” I thought this would ensure that we learned the word anyway.

Three books of words

The twenty nouns that make up Unit 9 of Part I of Word Wealth are arbor, arson, charade, clientele, cloister, echelon, harlot, legion, litany, manacle, maxim, memento, mosaic, nadir, nirvana, prelate, pretension, promenade, sabotage, stipend. It looks as if we were assigned to learn only arbor, echelon, maxim, nadir, nirvana. Defining the last as “state of blessedness, reunion with Brahma,” Miller gives two examples of its use, but I cannot tell whether he made them up or found them. The second is, “Exhausted, he collapsed into the nirvana of sleep”; the first,

An ideal socialist state would be a kind of nirvana, with loss of individuality and a calmness unmarred by wars.

This may describe Socrates’s city in speech, except for the being created precisely in order to wage war over limited resources.

On the “Preminary List” of “What Literate Americans Know,” Plato and Socrates appear, but no Divided Line or Cave or Ship of State. Ideas from other writers and thinkers appear, such as “albatross around one’s neck,” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There is “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” but not “All I know is that I know nothing”; “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” but not “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Philosopher Kings

There is a bit more on Plato in The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (2002), by the same three authors, Hirsch, Kett, and Trefill. Their entry on the Republic reads in its entirety,

The best-known dialogue of Plato, in which Socrates is shown outlining an ideal state, ruled by philosopher-kings.

Here is the entry for philosopher-king (hyphenated) in the New Dictionary:

In the Republic, by Plato, the ideal ruler, who has the virtue and wisdom of a philosopher.

A friend of my mother’s was on an athletic team in college called the Philosopher Kings. In Captain Fantastic (2016), parents raising their children in the wilderness want them to be philosopher-kings (you can hear this in the trailer). The philosopher king (unhyphenated) is on the aforementioned “Preliminary List” of Hirsch et al.

The philosopher-king is what we were hearing about in the previous reading, consisting of the first part of Book VI, which Socrates finishes up, at 502c, by saying,

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.

The best lawgiving is by philosophers, and Wikipedia has an article called “Philosopher king,” as it has an article called “Ship of State” on the metaphor from the same reading. Ruling the city, like piloting a ship, needs real knowledge, possessed by philosophers, regardless of what the citizens or sailors may happen to desire.

Although Wikipedia currently confirms this only by not saying otherwise, the compound word “philosopher-king” is absent from the Republic. Beyond my lack of a memory of having seen it, the evidence for my assertion is Shorey’s “Index of Subjects,” which has an entry called not “Philosopher-king,” but “Philosophers must be kings,” only two passages being cited:

  1. In Book V at 473c–d, Socrates tells Glaucon, in Shorey’s translation,

    Unless either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings and rulers take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsorily excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy, for the human race either.

    Shorey calls this “perhaps the most famous sentence in Plato.”

  2. Near the end of Book VII, in our reading to come after the next, at 540d–e, Socrates asks Glaucon, again in Shorey’s translation:

    Well, then, do you admit that our notion of the state and its polity is not altogether a daydream, but that though it is difficult, it is in a way possible and in no other way than that described – when genuine philosophers, many or one, becoming masters of the state scorn the present honors, regarding them as illiberal and worthless, but prize the right and the honors that come from that above all things, and regarding justice as the chief and the one indispensable thing, in the service and maintenance of that reorganize and administer their city?

    Glaucon does not reply, “Didn’t you already explain this, back in Books V and VI?” Instead he asks, “In what way?” Here is Socrates’s chilling response:

    All inhabitants above the age of ten they will send out into the fields, and they will take over the children, remove them from the manners and habits of their parents, and bring them up in their own customs and laws which will be such as we have described.

    Shorey’s note on this passage reads,

    This is another of the passages in which Plato seems to lend support to revolutionaries.

    In “What It Takes,” I noted the Khmer Rouge as an example of such revolutionaries. Unfortunately the version of the Loeb edition at Project Perseus has omitted the original continuation of Shorey’s note, found in the 1980 printing (and presumably in the first printing, in 1935):

    It is what the soviets are said to be doing. Lowell points out that it is what actually happened in the New England of 1630–1660.

    I don’t know which Lowell is meant or whether his reference is to anything more precise than the founding of Puritan colonies (such as the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630).

Quick Yet Steadfast

At the beginning of our current reading, Socrates having said, as quoted above, “what we are saying about lawgiving is best,” Adeimantus agrees: “Yes, that’s the way it turns out.” Socrates proceeds to say what is next:

in what way and as a result of what studies and practices the saviors will take their place within our regime for us and at what ages each will take up each study.

We have just seen how this is going to culminate, after three readings: in the exile of everybody over the age of ten.

Meanwhile, Socrates goes on to remark (502d–3b):

  • “It hasn’t turned out to have been very wise of me to have left aside previously the unpleasantness about the possession of women, nor to have left aside procreation, as well as the institution of the rulers either.”

    More precisely, what he said in Book IV (423e) was that once the guardians were educated properly, everything else would follow easily, including the community of women and children.

  • “The necessity of going through these things nonetheless arose,” as Bloom has it; or Shorey, more clearly, “I am none the less compelled to discuss them” – compelled by Adeimantus, at the insistence of Polemarchus, at the beginning of Book V.

  • Socrates has now dealt (in that book) with the women and children.

  • “What concerns the rulers must be pursued as it were from the beginning.”

  • Nonetheless methods of detecting leadership potential were looked at in Book III.

  • “Philosophers must be established as the most precise guardians” (τοὺς ἀκριβεστάτους φύλακας φιλοσόφους δεῖ καθιστάναι 503b) – echoing the statement of Thrasymachus in the second part of Book I, “The one who is the ruler in the most precise sense” (τὸν τῷ ἀκριβεστάτῳ λόγῳ ἄρχοντα ὄντα, 341b).

Thus, as in the previous reading, we are still dealing with the third wave from the latter part of Book V.

Sea sparkling beneath the sun
September 24, 2021

In Book III, the potential rulers were to be tested for steadfastness – as if this were like the colorfastness of wool taken up in Book IV. In the first part of Book VI, the philosophical guardian was seen to have the desirable property of being a quick study. In short now, what we want are (503c–e) both

natures that are good at learning, have memories, are shrewd and quick and everything else that goes along with these qualities, and are as well full of youthful fire and magnificence


those steady, not easily changeable dispositions, which one would be inclined to count on as trustworthy and which in war are hard to move in the face of fears.

These properties are hard to find together. The nature we want must be tested as before,

and moreover – what we passed over then but mention now – it must also be given gymnastic in many studies to see whether it will be able to bear the greatest studies.

What then are the greatest studies (τὰ μέγιστα μαθήματα)?

The Long and Winding Road

Why leave me standing here, let me know the way
Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried
Any way you’ll never know, the many ways I’ve tried
But still they lead me back, to the long winding road

In Book IV, the city was analyzed into three classes, whereby the virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice could be explained. Asked whether the individual could given the same analysis, Glaucon suggested it was true what they say (435c):

Socrates replied,

It looks like it. But know well, Glaucon, that in my opinion, we’ll never get a precise grasp of it on the basis of procedures such as we’re now using in the argument. There is another longer and further road leading to it.

Now we are on the longer road. We have studied justice and the other virtues. Adeimantus is surprised to learn that there is something above these, and Socrates berates him for this,

since you have many times heard that the idea of the good is the greatest study (ἡ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἰδέα μέγιστον μάθημα 505a) and that it’s by availing oneself of it along with just things and the rest that they become useful and beneficial.

The Best Way to Travel

And you can fly
High as a kite if you want to
Faster than light if you want to
Speeding through the universe
Thinking is the best way to travel

People do not understand the good, but confuse it with either hêdonê or phronêsis (505b):

τοῖς μὲν πολλοῖς ἡδονὴ δοκεῖ εἶναι τὸ ἀγαθόν,
τοῖς δὲ κομψοτέροις φρόνησις.

Here are two translations, illustrating different choices on two different points:

Jowett (the Online Library of Liberty has the best version of his Plato):

Most people affirm pleasure to be the good, but
the finer sort of wits say it is knowledge.


In the opinion of the many the good is pleasure, while
in that of the more refined it is prudence.

The noun ἡδονή is invariably translated as pleasure, but I propose to consider feeling. “Pleasure is the good” or “The good is pleasure” could mean the same thing, but the latter sentence could also mean that the good is a pleasure, or one of the pleasures. We shall come back to this.

I might expect φρόνησις to be thinking, but nobody translates it that way here. Most people use knowledge; among the translations that I have at hand, Bloom’s is unique in using prudence.


The multitude believe pleasure to be the good, and
the finer spirits intelligence or knowledge.


Most people identify the Good with pleasure, whereas
the more enlightened think it is knowledge.


The usual view of goodness is that it’s pleasure, while
there’s a more ingenious view around, that it’s knowledge.

Badiou (as translated from the French by Susan Spitzer):

Most people say: “Only pleasure is true.” Of course,
a few snobs claim that knowledge is our true resource, or the resource of the True.


In origin, Bloom’s “prudence” would seem to be a contraction of “providence,” thus meaning foresight. The sight part, “vid-,” shares its Indo-European root *weid- with Greek words like εἶδος, ἰδέα, and ἱστορία, thus English words like kaleidoscope, idea, and history, and others like advice, guide, twit, wise (= having seen), wise (= manner), and wit.

By translating φρόνησις as prudence, Bloom follows that one of the definitions of Liddell and Scott whereby the meaning is “practical wisdom, prudence in government and affairs.” The lexicographers cite some Platonic passages for this, even in the Republic – not the present one, but 460e–1a in (the latter part of) Book V:

“The women,” I said, “beginning at the age of twenty, shall bear for the state to the age of forty, and the man shall beget for the state from the time he passes his prime in swiftness in running to the age of fifty-five.”

“That is,” he said, “the maturity and prime for both of body and mind.” (ἀμφοτέρων γοῦν, ἔφη, αὕτη ἀκμὴ σώματός τε καὶ φρονήσεως.)

That’s Shorey; but being committed to translating φρόνησις as prudence, Bloom renders Glaucon’s remark thus:

“Of course,” he said, “this is the prime of body and prudence for both.”

In English, people say “body and soul,” or “body and mind”; nobody says “body and prudence.” If such an expression gives pause, Bloom might say that is the whole point. He pretty much does say that in his Preface:

It is not usually understood how difficult it is to see the phenomena as they were seen by the older writers. It is one of the most awesome undertakings of the mind, for we have divided the world up differently, and willy-nilly we apply our terms, and hence the thoughts behind them, to the things discussed.

Mentioning a translation (not one that I have) that renders “examining the beautiful and the good” as “discussing moral values,” Bloom says the translator

shares with Cornford and many other translators the assurance that they have a sufficient understanding of Plato’s meaning, and that that meaning is pretty much the kind of thing Englishmen or Americans already think. However, it might be more prudent to let the reader decide whether “the beautiful and the good” are simply equivalent to “moral values.” If they are the same, he will soon enough find out. And if they are not, as may be the case, he will not be prevented from finding that out and thereby putting his own opinions to the test.

We are going to see some evidence that they are not the same.


Before continuing, let us note Heraclitus’s use of φρόνησις in DK B2, which is now D2 in the Loeb edition of Laks and Most, who give a bit of context from Sextus Empiricus in R59 (bold emphasis of Heraclitus’s words as in the original):

After he has indicated explicitly … that it is by participation in divine reason that we do and think everything, a little later he adds that therefore we ought to follow what is in common (for xunos [i.e. the Ionic term] means “in common”): “But although the account is on common, most people live as though they had their own thought” (τοῦ λόγου δ’ ἐόντος ξυνοῦ ζώουσιν οἱ πολλοὶ ὡς ἰδίαν ἔχοντες φρόνησιν).

The noun φρόνησις is from the verb φρόνε-ω, which Heraclitus uses in DK B113, or D29 for Laks and Most (now with my bold emphasis, as usual):

ξυνόν ἐστι πᾶσι τὸ φρονέειν
Thinking is in common for all.

To φρόνε-ω add σῶς “safe, healthy, intact,” and you get σωφρόνε-ω, used by Heraclitus in DK B116, LM D30:

ἀνθρώποισι πᾶσι μέτεστι γινώσκειν ἑωυτοὺς καὶ σωφρονεῖν
All humans have a share in knowing themselves and in thinking with moderation.

The verb φρόνε-ω comes in turn from φρήν, referring to the midriff, or an organ therein, perceived as the seat of thinking; I looked at Homer’s use of this in “On Translation.”

There’s an instance of φρόνε-ω in Book VI of the Iliad where Homer would seem to have Helenus make the point that Socrates is going to make. Here is Caroline Alexander’s translation of lines 77–85.

Aeneas and you too Hector, since on you both above all rests
the Trojans’ and Lycians’ toil of war, because you are the best
in every course, both fighting and strategy (μάχεσθαί τε φρονέειν τε) –
take your stand here, check your people before the gates,
patrol in every direction, before they fall, fleeing back
into the arms of their women, and become a source of joy to our enemies.

As fighting can be better or worse, so can strategizing, or thinking in general.


That may be what Socrates has in mind when he says (505b), of those who believe the good to be phronêsis, that they

οὐκ ἔχουσι δεῖξαι ἥτις φρόνησις,
not can explain whatever phronêsis

ἀλλ᾽ ἀναγκάζονται τελευτῶντες τὴν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ φάναι
but are-forced ending-up that-which-is of-the good to-say.

The key question is how to fill out the elliptical clause “whatever phronêsis.” Let’s go through the translators again.


cannot explain what they mean by knowledge,
but are obliged after all to say knowledge of the good.


are not able to point out what knowledge it is
but are finally compelled to say that it is the knowledge of the good.


cannot tell us what knowledge they mean,
but are reduced at last to saying, ‘knowledge of the Good.’


can’t point out what kind of prudence it is,
but are finally compelled to say ‘about the good.’


are incapable of explaining exactly what knowledge constitutes goodness,
but are forced ultimately to say that it is knowledge of goodness.


are incapable of explaining what knowledge is.
They end up saying that knowledge is the knowledge of … the True.

Thus the translators go both ways on ἥτις φρόνησις, which apparently could mean either of

  • what [kind of] phronêsis is [good],
  • what phronêsis is.

One can make the choice on the basis of syntax or semantics, so to speak:

  • how the same grammatical form is used elsewhere, or
  • the kind of argument, in any language, that actually makes sense here.

On the latter approach,

  • if people think goodness is precisely knowledge, this gets them nowhere, since they cannot explain what knowledge is, except by referring back to goodness;
  • if they think goodness is a kind of knowledge, they cannot say what kind, except the good kind; so they have got almost nowhere.

Featuring the indefinite pronoun ὅστις, ήτις, ὅ τι, the clause at issue is an indirect question, like Socrates’s repetition of a question about his accuser Meletus, raised at 2b–c by the title character of the Euthyphro (the subject of my post called “Piety”):

ἀλλὰ δὴ τίνα γραφήν σε γέγραπται; // But what is the charge that he brings against you? // But what sort of an indictment has he brought against you?
ἥντινα; // What is the charge? // What sort?

I have given the translations of Jowett and of (in the Loeb edition) Harold North Fowler. See also the Meno (71a–c), where Socrates says he is a typical Athenian, who would tell you about virtue,

ἐγὼ δὲ τοσοῦτον δέω εἴτε διδακτὸν εἴτε μὴ διδακτὸν εἰδέναι, ὥστ᾽ οὐδὲ αὐτὸ ὅτι ποτ᾽ ἐστὶ τὸ παράπαν ἀρετὴ τυγχάνω εἰδώς. // For I literally do not know what virtue is, and much less whether it is acquired by teaching or not. // So far am I from knowing whether it can be taught or not, that I actually do not even know what the thing itself, virtue, is at all.

Incredulous, Meno asks,

ἀλλὰ σύ, ὦ Σώκρατες, ἀληθῶς οὐδ᾽ ὅτι ἀρετή ἐστιν οἶσθα …; // But are you in earnest, Socrates, in saying that you do not know what virtue is? // But is it true, Socrates, that you do not even know what virtue is?

Again the translations are of Jowett and the Loeb edition, now by W. R. M. Lamb.

The examples from the Euthyphro and the Meno suggest that either of the proposed interpretations of ἥτις φρόνησις is possible. However, in the Meno, in ὅτι ἀρετή ἐστιν, the ὅτι is not in the feminine gender of ἀρετή. That’s as much as I have found out.


As for those who say that pleasure is the true good, Socrates says of them, as his words are translated by Bloom (505c), “aren’t they too compelled to agree that there are bad pleasures?” Again, the Greek word rendered as pleasure here is ἡδονή, from the verb ἥδομαι “to rejoice,” which shares an Indo-European root with sweet and (through Latin) with suave and persuasion.

Shorey sees in Socrates’s question

A distinct reference to Callicles’ admission in Gorgias 499 b τὰς μὲν βελτίους ἡδονάς, τὰς δὲ χείρους.

In the Loeb translation by Lamb, what Callicles says is,

So you suppose that I or anybody else in the world does not regard some pleasures as better, and others worse!

I alluded to this in my own review of the argument of the Gorgias in “Doing and Suffering.” Callicles has already tried to dismiss a preliminary argument, that that pleasant is different from the good, because pleasures – as of drinking – can be accompanied by pains – as of being thirsty; I quoted that in reviewing “Hunger and Love,” Chapter VIII of Collingwood’s New Leviathan.

As not all pleasures are good to have, so not all thinking is good to do. These are different from the respective assertions,

  • not all feelings are pleasant,
  • not all thinking is well done.

Today there is a lot of thinking that may or may not be well done, but in any case is not good to do, about how to get

  • a lot of people to look at advertisements (and act on them);
  • a few people to go to Mars.

Thinking about how to get to Mars may be fine in itself. It is not so fine to hire people, in the name of longtermism, to think about colonizing Mars, rather than about getting carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, or getting a philosopher king in office.

In “Reading Shallow and Deep,” I looked at an essay that bemoaned the decline of the latter kind of reading, backing up its case by citing Henry Kissinger, whose thinking supported, among other things, the 1973 coup in Chile.

The Sun

Everybody would be content with a reputation for justice or beauty, but with goodness they want the reality. This seems to be the argument, at any rate (505d). If it doesn’t sound right, maybe that’s a sign such as Bloom pointed out in the passage from his Preface: a sign that goodness in the Republic is not a “moral” value.

People know there’s a good they pursue, but they cannot say just what it is (505e). However, the rulers of our city are going to have to know why the just and fair are indeed good (506a).

Socrates starts out saying that he will not be giving his opinion about what goodness is. This is important, because he would seem to end up giving it anyway, at least insofar as it can be given. Meanwhile, he will make an analogy, telling of “what looks like a child of the good and most similar to it” ὃς δὲ ἔκγονός τε τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ φαίνεται καὶ ὁμοιότατος ἐκείνῳ (506e). This will be the sun (508a). The argument is like this.

  • There can be many things of one kind (507b). Actually there is no word for “kind” in the Greek here, although in Bloom’s translation,

    We both assert that there are, and distinguish in speech, many fair things, many good things, and so on for each kind of thing. // πολλὰ καλά, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, καὶ πολλὰ ἀγαθὰ καὶ ἕκαστα οὕτως εἶναί φαμέν τε καὶ διορίζομεν τῷ λόγῳ.

  • “We also assert that there is a fair itself, a good itself, and so on” καὶ αὐτὸ δὴ καλὸν καὶ αὐτὸ ἀγαθόν, καὶ οὕτω περὶ πάντων ἃ τότε ὡς πολλὰ ἐτίθεμεν.

  • “We refer them to one idea of each as though the idea were one” κατ᾽ ἰδέαν μίαν ἑκάστου ὡς μιᾶς οὔσης τιθέντες.

  • The many fair or good things are seen (ὁρᾶσθαί), but not “intellected” (νοεῖσθαι); the ideas, the other way around.

  • We are able to see, thanks to the sun.

There is apparently no living English verb “to intellect.” We may use such a verb anyway, as Bloom does; but I find it in no current dictionary, and the Oxford English Dictionary (Compact Edition, 1971) calls it obsolete and rare, giving illustrative quotations from a single work, Richard Linche, The Fovntaine of Ancient Fiction, 1599.

In the Republic, we now identify the fourth term in a proportion:

visible : sun :: known : the good.

As Socrates puts it (508b–c):

Well, then, say that the sun is the offspring of the good I mean – an offspring the good begot in a proportion with itself: as the good is in the intelligible region with respect to intelligence and what is intellected, so the sun is in the visible region with respect to sight and what is seen.

Adeimantus wants more explanation, and Socrates gives it. When what

  • our eyes regard is illuminated

    • by the sun, they see clearly;
    • by the “gleams of night” (Bloom) or the “dim luminaries of night” (Shorey), they see, let us say, “through a glass darkly”;
  • our soul fixes itself on is

    • “illumined by truth and that which is, it intellects, knows, and appears to possess intelligence” (ἐνόησέν τε καὶ ἔγνω αὐτὸ καὶ νοῦν ἔχειν φαίνεται 508d);
    • “mixed with darkness, on coming into being and passing away, it opines and is dimmed, changing opinions up and down, and seems at such times not to possess intelligence.”

There has also been discussion of how seeing is special among the senses, precisely for needing the sun. Hearing needs nothing more than a sound. One might suggest that the reverse turns out to be true, since while seeing and hearing both rely on vibrations, the heard vibrations come to us in the air, while the seen vibrations require no medium. However, let bats have a word for wisdom that is cognate with their word for hearing, rather than for seeing. They may still argue analogically for the good.

Meanwhile, especially because Plato is actually mentioned in the Chronicles of Narnia, I think C. S. Lewis may be getting his readers ready for Socrates’s analogical argument for the good by taking it down one level in The Silver Chair. I can easily quote this, thanks to Distributed Proofreaders Canada and Faded Page. The speakers are deep under ground.

“What is this sun that you all speak of? Do you mean anything by the word?”

“Yes, we jolly well do,” said Scrubb.

“Can you tell me what it’s like?” asked the Witch …

“Please it your Grace,” said the Prince, very coldly and politely. “You see that lamp. It is round and yellow and gives light to the whole room; and hangeth moreover from the roof. Now that thing which we call the sun is like the lamp, only far greater and brighter. It giveth light to the whole Overworld and hangeth in the sky.”

“Hangeth from what, my lord?” asked the Witch; and then, while they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs: “You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children’s story.”

Against such arguments as the Witch’s, I may say, as I pretty much did in “Anthropology of Mathematics,” that mathematical truth is more real than the world of the lamp or even the sun. Nonetheless, Puddleglum’s argument may be sufficient:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world.

But let me acknowledge the anguish of such mathematicians as Piper H, currently going on Twitter as DR. ABOLISH THE POLICE, who starts a long recent thread by saying, “EVERYTHING IS GARBAGE, NOW WHAT?” She says later, for example,

Looking at the white men who were the first presidents of AMS, I know that whatever their “contributions” were, they were not right.

Not if there is no record of them fighting for Black inclusion or Indigenous sovereignty.

I do wonder which people we can blame for not fighting climate change or not being vegetarian.

The Divided Line

For now I am going to let my potted summary stand as all I shall try to say about the Divided Line.

Cultural Literacy

I made the following selections from the aforementioned work, From E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, and James Trefil, The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (2002), “The Theory Behind the Dictionary: Cultural Literacy and Education,” pages xii–xv. It all makes sense, but I question the weakness of the conclusion:

The novelty that my book introduced into this discussion is its argument that true literacy depends on a knowledge of the specific information that is taken for granted in public discourse.

An important key to solving the twin problems of learning and literacy is to attain the broadly shared background knowledge I have called “cultural literacy.” My book argues that the content of this literate background knowledge is not a mystery, and that it can be taught systematically to all our students.

We know from the history of Europe that national schools can achieve high literacy for everyone in a multicultural population.

One important cause of the decline has been the use of “skills-oriented,” “relevant” materials in elementary and secondary grades. The consequent disappearance from the early curriculum of literate culture (that is, traditional history, myth, and literature) has been a mistake of monumental proportions.

Those who evade this inherent conservatism of literacy in the name of multicultural antielitism are in effect elitists of an extreme sort. Traditionally educated themselves, and highly literate, these self-appointed protectors of minority cultures have advised schools to pursue a course that has condemned minorities to illiteracy.

We hope this dictionary will be a useful tool … our analysis of reading and learning suggests the paradox that broad, shallow knowledge is the best route to deep knowledge … True literacy has always opened doors – not just to deep knowledge and economic success, but also to other people and other cultures. [END]

Does not true literacy open doors to – happiness? I imagine this is the reason for the fictional Digory’s complaint about the neglect of Plato in schools, on one of the last pages of The Last Battle, the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia:

“The Eagle is right,” said the Lord Digory. “Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia, which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.” His voice stirred everyone like a trumpet as he spoke these words: but when he added under his breath “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!”

I’ve written in “Narnia” and “Return to Narnia” about how some people are horrified by Lewis. Right now I am more horrified by what I understand of longtermism.

5 Trackbacks

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