The Ideal

Index to this series

The noun “idea” came to English in the sixteenth century, via Latin, from Plato’s ἰδέα: so the dictionaries tell me. An older version, “idee,” came from the French idée. The adjective “ideal” came via the French idéal from the Latin ideālis, but this seems to have been a native coinage, derived from no Greek term. Leo Strauss corroborates this in a passage that I quoted in “Nature”: “ ‘ideal’ is not a Platonic term.” Nonetheless, in translations of the Republic that are still in print, Benjamin Jowett and Paul Shorey use the word “ideal.” This may blur the distinction between two activities:

  • Making something, such as a meal or a bookshelf, according to a recipe or plan.
  • Creating something brand-new.

I looked at the first creation myth of Genesis in my previous post, whose title quoted the Bible on God’s judgment of what he had created: “It Was Good.” The goodness of the world, I suggested, did not lie in its fitting a plan, since a plan would have had to be spoken into existence, and this is just how the world itself came to be.

I don’t know about God, but if we have a basis for calling something good, we might call this basis an ideal. However, I also don’t know whether this is what Plato actually has in mind when his translators use the term “ideal.”

Bookshelves on one wall, window on another
Hacıosman, Tarabya, Sarıyer, İstanbul
November 12, 2022

In September of this year (2022), I joined a group who had been working their way through the Republic since June, planning to continue till next May. I have been revising and sometimes adding to the posts that came out of last year’s Republic reading; but the notion of an “ideal” would seem to need its own post.

For last year’s reading, I used mainly the translation by Strauss’s student Allan Bloom; now I read Shorey’s translation, in the old Loeb edition, where a key passage near the beginning of Book VI (484c–d) draws an analogy between the ruler of a city and the painter of a picture:

“Do you think, then, that there is any appreciable difference between the blind and those who are veritably deprived of the knowledge of the veritable being of things, those who have no vivid pattern in their souls and so cannot, as painters look to their models, fix their eyes on the absolute truth, and always with reference to that ideal and in the exactest possible contemplation of it [484d] establish in this world also the laws of the beautiful, the just and the good, when that is needful, or guard and preserve those that are established?”

The basic thesis of the Republic could be here: that we have access to what Collingwood calls “criteria” whereby to assess and guide what we do. The analogy with the painter may tell us all we need to know, so that the diction of the translator is of little importance. And yet this diction may also matter a lot, because of the difference between representational and nonrepresentational painting.

I looked at this distinction when taking up the first part of Book VI last year; more relevant now may be this year’s “Creativity,” as well as the aforementioned “ ‘It Was Good’.” There are two possibilities for what the painter depicts:

  • a particular person, human body, landscape, bowl of fruit, or some such object;
  • something that has never been seen and perhaps never is really seen.

The latter is suggested by words such as “ideal”; but Plato may have the former in mind.

I depicted new things in youth, when I made gestures over sheets of paper with a Japanese brush. I enjoyed this so much that I considered art as a career; then I realized that most people did not understand abstract art, and I would not know how to sell mine. Most people do not understand mathematics either, but at least they recognize that there is something to it.

Every painter—every good painter—depicts something that has never been seen. Here I follow the account of Collingwood in The Principles of Art, which I looked at also in “Feminist Epistemology”:

One paints a thing in order to see it … You see something in your subject, of course, before you begin to paint it … but only a person with experience of painting, and of painting well, can realize how little that is, compared with what you come to see in it as your painting progresses. If you paint badly, of course, that doesn’t happen.

The work of seeing is never finished, as Collingwood learned from his artist-parents and their friends. He told of this in the first chapter of An Autobiography, and I looked at the passage also in the sixth post “On The Human Condition of Hannah Arendt”:

During the same years I was constantly watching the work of my father and mother, and the other professional painters who frequented their house, and constantly trying to imitate them; so that I learned to think of a picture not as a finished product exposed for the admiration of virtuosi, but as the visible record, lying about the house, of an attempt to solve a definite problem in painting, so far as the attempt has gone. I learned … that no ‘work of art’ is ever finished, so that in that sense of the phrase there is no such thing as a ‘work of art’ at all. Work ceases upon the picture or manuscript, not because it is finished, but because sending-in day is at hand, or because the printer is clamorous for copy, or because ‘I am sick of working at this thing’ or ‘I can’t see what more I can do to it’. In myself I found less aptitude for painting than for literature …

I do not know whether Plato shares Collingwood’s experience and understanding. He may not distinguish what the painter does from what Ayşe and I did recently, when boxes from Ikea were delivered to our new flat in Istanbul. We opened them up and assembled the contents while looking at the instructions. Now the bookcases are finished and in use. Perhaps they are only approximations to the “ideal” contained in the instructions; however, this usage seems strained. The bookcases do contain imperfections not contemplated in the instructions; for example, in one of the removable shelves, holes to accommodate pegs in the frame had been wrongly drilled in the top side as well as the bottom.

Modern technical terms such as “ideal” and “absolute” may prejudice our thinking about the painter analogy. Bloom avoids those terms, and his version of the passage from Book VI is as follows.

“Well, does there seem to be any difference, then, between blind men and those men who are really deprived of the knowledge of what each thing is; those who have no clear pattern in the soul, and are hence unable—after looking off, as painters do, toward what is truest, and ever referring to it and contemplating it as precisely as possible—to give laws about what is fine, just, and good, if any need to be given, and as guardians to preserve those that are already established?”

Here is all of the original Greek (at least as copied and recopied by scribes, then edited and printed by modern scholars).

ἦ οὖν δοκοῦσί τι τυφλῶν διαφέρειν οἱ τῷ ὄντι τοῦ ὄντος ἑκάστου ἐστερημένοι τῆς γνώσεως, καὶ μηδὲν ἐναργὲς ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ ἔχοντες παράδειγμα, μηδὲ δυνάμενοι ὥσπερ γραφῆς εἰς τὸ ἀληθέστατον ἀποβλέποντες κἀκεῖσε ἀεὶ ἀναφέροντές τε [484δ] καὶ θεώμενοι ὡς οἷόν τε ἀκριβέστατα, οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ ἐνθάδε νόμιμα καλῶν τε πέρι καὶ δικαίων καὶ ἀγαθῶν τίθεσθαί τε, ἐὰν δέῃ τίθεσθαι, καὶ τὰ κείμενα φυλάττοντες σῴζειν;

I compare Bloom with Shorey on the bolded expressions.

  • Bloom’s “knowledge of what each thing is” is plainer than Shorey’s “knowledge of the veritable being of things.” The Greek is recondite; I think the knowledge is literally “of each thing that is, insofar as it is,” or something like that; the Greek phrase here,

    τῷ ὄντι | τοῦ ὄντος | ἑκάστου,

    consists of, in order,

    • the dative case of the neuter or masculine form of the participle “being,”
    • the genitive case of the same,
    • the genitive of “each.”
  • “Pattern” could be “paradigm,” if one wanted to use the English word derived from the Greek one, παράδειγμα, which consists of

    • the preposition or prefix παρά,
    • δεῖγμα “proof” from δεικνυμι “to show.”
  • Where Bloom refers to “looking off, as painters do,” he is translating ὥσπερ γραφῆς … ἀποβλέποντες word for word; that the painters “look to their models” is Shorey’s interpretation. This may be justified by the previous mention of a pattern or paradigm; but one might distinguish between

  • The ellipsis in the Greek just quoted is filled by εἰς τὸ ἀληθέστατον, where the adjective, used nominally, is a superlative form, as in Bloom’s translation, “towards what is truest.” If things can be compared according to truth, then it makes sense that there might be a truest; but I do not know what Shorey means by “absolute truth.”

  • Where Bloom has “referring to it,” Shorey supplies the supposed antecedent “ideal”; however, none is named in the Greek, which is only κἀκεῖσε “thither.”

The end of the passage concerns the “establishing of laws concerning fine, just, and good things.” The verb is τίθημι “set up,” and I see nothing unusual about its use for what is done with laws. Indeed, Socrates uses it twice in Book I.

  • In 338e, “each form of government enacts the laws with a view to its own advantage.”
  • In 339c, “in their attempts at legislation they enact some laws rightly and some not rightly.”

Liddell and Scott cite a similar use of τίθημι in Herodotus I.29, but they seem to be in error; at any rate, the verb in the Loeb edition is not τίθημι, but ποίεω “make”:

As time went on, Croesus subjugated almost all the nations west of the Halys … [29] and after these were subdued and subject to Croesus in addition to the Lydians, all the sages from Hellas who were living at that time … came to Sardis … and among them came Solon the Athenian, who, after making laws for the Athenians at their request, went abroad for ten years, sailing forth to see the world, he said. This he did so as not to be compelled to repeal any of the laws he had made, since the Athenians themselves could not do that, for they were bound by solemn oaths to abide for ten years by whatever laws Solon should make.

I am not sure how well this corroborates what Collingwood says in “Goodness, Rightness, Utility” (the 1940 lectures mentioned and quoted also in “ ‘It Was Good’ ”):

What we call legislation was not a normal function of Greek societies, as it is of modern societies … The Greeks did not recognize that rule-making was a normal human activity; the thing had happened in the case of such men as Lycurgus and Solon; but the fact, though undeniable was paradoxical: it did not fit in with their conception of rule as objective; and consequently reflection upon it led to the conclusion that these lawgivers were not quite human. Either they were ambiguous beings, about whom no one could say whether they were gods or men (that, you remember, is exactly what the Delphic oracle said about Lycurgus, Herodotus, I, 65) or else like Solon they were ‘sages’ or ‘wise-men’, men endowed with qualities that raised them, if not to the level of gods or demigods, certainly above the level of common humanity.

As I said in the previous post, Njal’s Saga is supposed to show (and I think it does) that for the medieval Icelanders too, legislation was not a normal activity, although it did happen.

Let us return to that other modern conception that may not fit Plato. Another key passage of the Republic is back in Book V (472d), when Socrates quotes himself as below, with Shorey’s translation preceeding, and Bloom’s following.

“Do you think, then, that he would be any the less a good painter, who, after portraying a pattern of the ideally beautiful man and omitting no touch required for the perfection of the picture, should not be able to prove that it is actually possible for such a man to exist?”

οἴει ἂν οὖν ἧττόν τι ἀγαθὸν ζωγράφον εἶναι ὃς ἂν γράψας παράδειγμα οἷον ἂν εἴη ὁ κάλλιστος ἄνθρωπος καὶ πάντα εἰς τὸ γράμμα ἱκανῶς ἀποδοὺς μὴ ἔχῃ ἀποδεῖξαι ὡς καὶ δυνατὸν γενέσθαι τοιοῦτον ἄνδρα;

“Do you suppose a painter is any less good who draws a pattern of what the fairest human being would be like and renders everything in the picture adequately, but can’t prove that it’s also possible that such a man come into being?”

Again Shorey turns a superlative, now “most beautiful,” into something more abstract, “ideally beautiful.” He seems to obtain “perfection” from the adverb that Bloom translates more literally as “adequately.” Shorey’s interpretations may be defensible, but in a strict sense they are prejudiced.

Although the Loeb Classical Library has replaced it with a newer one, Shorey’s translation of the Republic is still being published by Princeton University Press in The Collected Dialogues of Plato (edited by Hamilton and Cairns). I mentioned also Jowett’s translation, which is readily available on the web, and also in print in Dover Thrift Editions. (There was a nice article about Dover in Contingent magazine [February 23, 2020], promoted in a tweet, which was followed by an invitation to photograph one’s own Dover books; I did this in a thread of six tweets.)

Even if those old translations of the Republic were out of print, they would still be of interest, if the Republic itself is. For us today, at least:

  1. What is ideal is distinguished from what is real.
  2. An ideal may be unobtainable or “unrealizable.”

However, as far as I understand:

  1. “Real” is not a Platonic term either, but what translators call real, Plato calls true or simply existent; in particular, for Plato, ideas are real.
  2. I achieve something when I put together an Ikea bookshelf according to the instructions.

None of this is to say it is wrong to use any particular word in translating or talking about Plato or anything else. We have to try to understand what is meant by the word.

Let me note a scene where both Shorey and Jowett use “ideal,” albeit in different places. In Book III, 408d–10a, the question is how judges will be selected and regulated in the city that Socrates is planning out with Glaucon and Adeimantus. The following is from 409b–c in particular.

Jowett

Therefore, I said, the judge should not be young; he should have learned to know evil, not from his own soul, but from late and long observation of the nature of evil in others: Knowledge should be his guide, not personal experience.

Yes, he said, that is the ideal of a judge.

Shorey

“Therefore it is,” said I, “that the good judge must not be a youth but an old man, a late learner of the nature of injustice, one who has not become aware of it as a property in his own soul, but one who has through the long years trained himself to understand it as an alien thing in alien souls, and to discern how great an evil it is [409c] by the instrument of mere knowledge and not by experience of his own.”

“That at any rate,” he said, “appears to be the noblest kind of judge.”

Bloom

“That, you see, is why,” I said, “the good judge must not be young but old, a late learner of what injustice is; he must not have become aware of it as kindred, dwelling in his own soul. Rather, having studied it as something alien in alien souls, over a long time, he has become thoroughly aware of how it is naturally bad, having made use of knowledge, not his own personal experience.”

“Well,” he said, “a judge who’s like that seems to be most noble.

As usual, Bloom is most literal, although I think “a judge who’s like that” could be “such a judge”; what Glaucon says in Greek is,

γενναιότατος γοῦν ἔοικεν εἶναι ὁ τοιοῦτος δικαστής.

When Jowett has Glaucon speak of “the ideal of a judge,” one might imagine his adding, “but we are never going to be able to satisfy this ideal.” At 409d, it is Shorey with the extraneous use of “ideal”:

Jowett

Then the good and wise judge whom we are seeking is not this man, but the other.

Shorey

“Well then,” said I, “such a one must not be our ideal of the good and wise judge but the former.”

Bloom

“Then it’s not in such a man that the good and wise judge must be looked for but in the former,” I said.

Now Jowett is more direct than Bloom and the Greek, which is,

οὐ τοίνυν, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, τοιοῦτον χρὴ τὸν δικαστὴν ζητεῖν τὸν ἀγαθόν τε καὶ σοφόν, ἀλλὰ τὸν πρότερον.

Shorey often uses “ideal” in his notes on the Republic in the old Loeb edition. I found ten passages where he uses “ideal” in the translation itself. I list them all in the Appendix below, along with the Greek and the translation of Strauss’s student Allan Bloom, who never uses “ideal” in his translation. (These claims are based on computer searches of electronic files.)

In the introduction to Volume I of the Loeb Republic (pages xl–xli), Shorey says,

The metaphysics of the Idea of Good will be treated in the introduction to the second volume. Here it is enough to quote Mr. Chesterton, who, whether by accident or design, in a lively passage of his Heretics, expresses the essential meaning of the doctrine in the political, ethical, and educational philosophy of the Republic quite sufficiently for practical purposes.

The passage of Heretics to be quoted is from the chapter “On the Negative Spirit.” I use the text available from Standard Ebooks:

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”

Thus Chesterton. I can believe people have said such things as he rightly criticizes. What they ought to say is something more like the following:

Let us indeed discuss what is good. If we disagree, then none of us is a priori more likely to be correct than another. Thus we ought to have the liberty to say what we think. This liberty is indeed inseparable from the responsibility to listen to what others have to say. Education should teach this responsibility. That is the way to progress.

That is what I say (and I said some of it in a post called “Freedom to Listen” in 2017). I don’t know whether Plato says it; however, what he has written for us is not lectures, but dialogues, perhaps to be taken as models for what we ourselves ought to engage in.

Shorey himself continues:

Plato’s Idea of Good, then, means that the education of his philosophic statesmen must lift them to a region of thought which transcends the intellectual confusion in which these dodges and evasions alike of the ward boss and the gushing settlement-worker dwell. He does not tell us in a quotable formula what the good is, because it remains an inexhaustible ideal. But he portrays with entire lucidity his own imaginative conception of Greek social good in his Republic and Laws.

The notion of an inexhaustible ideal is strange to me. I would understand better an unattainable or ineffable ideal. Plato’s metaphor for the good, taken up in the latter part of Book VI, is the sun, which is an inexaustible source.

Appendix

Here are all of the passages of the Republic that I could find where Shorey uses the word “ideal” in his translation (as distinct from his introductions and notes, where there are many more). I searched electronic files obtained from the Internet Archive, and there could have been errors in the OCR. The second translation in each case is Bloom’s.

  1. Book III, on who should be the judges (409d):

    “Well then,” said I, “such a one must not be our ideal of the good and wise judge but the former.”

    οὐ τοίνυν, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, τοιοῦτον χρὴ τὸν δικαστὴν ζητεῖν τὸν ἀγαθόν τε καὶ σοφόν, ἀλλὰ τὸν πρότερον.

    “Then it’s not in such a man that the good and wise judge must be looked for but in the former,” I said.

    There is no correspondent to “ideal” in the Greek.

  2. Book IV, in response to Adeimantus’s complaint that the guardians will not be happy (421b):

    “If then we are forming true guardians [421b] and keepers of our liberties, men least likely to harm the commonwealth, but the proponent of the other ideal is thinking of farmers and ‘happy’ feasters as it were in a festival and not in a civic community, he would have something else in mind than a state.”

    εἰ μὲν οὖν ἡμεῖς μὲν φύλακας ὡς ἀληθῶς [421β] ποιοῦμεν ἥκιστα κακούργους τῆς πόλεως, ὁ δ᾽ ἐκεῖνο λέγων γεωργούς τινας καὶ ὥσπερ ἐν πανηγύρει ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐν πόλει ἑστιάτορας εὐδαίμονας, ἄλλο ἄν τι ἢ πόλιν λέγοι.

    Now if we’re making true guardians, men least likely to do harm to the city, and the one who made that speech is making some farmers and happy banqueters, like men at a public festival and not like members of a city, then he must be speaking of something other than a city.

    There is no correspondent to “ideal” in the Greek.

  3. Book V, second wave (465e–6a):

    “Do you recall,” said I, “that in the preceding argument the objection of somebody or other rebuked us for not making our guardians happy … and we, I believe, replied … that at present we were making our guardians guardians and the city as a whole as happy as possible, and that we were not modeling our ideal of happiness with reference to any one class?”

    μέμνησαι οὖν, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, ὅτι ἐν τοῖς πρόσθεν οὐκ οἶδα ὅτου λόγος ἡμῖν ἐπέπληξεν ὅτι τοὺς φύλακας οὐκ εὐδαίμονας [466α] ποιοῖμεν … ἡμεῖς δέ που εἴπομεν ὅτι … νῦν δὲ τοὺς μὲν φύλακας φύλακας ποιοῖμεν, τὴν δὲ πόλιν ὡς οἷοί τ᾽ εἶμεν εὐδαιμονεστάτην, ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ εἰς ἓν ἔθνος ἀποβλέποντες ἐν αὐτῇ τοῦτο [τὸ] εὔδαιμον πλάττοιμεν;

    “Do you remember,” I said, “that previously an argument—I don’t know whose—reproached us with not making the guardians happy … We said, I believe … that now we were making the guardians guardians and the city as happy as we could, but we were not looking exclusively to one group in it and forming it for happiness.

    Shorey says in a note that if the bracketed τό is omitted (Project Perseus omits both this and the note), then the translation is “that we were not fixing our eyes on any one class, and portraying that as happy.” This and Bloom’s translation give the verb πλάσσω a double object, as in “make me one with everything,” interpreted as a Buddhist prayer, rather than an order to the hot-dog vendor. I’m not sure the best translation of τοῦτο εὔδαιμον πλάττοιμεν isn’t “[we] make it happy.”

  4. Book V, third wave (472b–d); omitting Glaucon’s responses, I take up Socrates’s comments in three parts.

    “… if we do discover what justice is, are we to demand that the just man shall differ from it in no respect, [472c] but shall conform in every way to the ideal? Or will it suffice us if he approximate to it as nearly as possible and partake of it more than others?”

    ἐὰν εὕρωμεν οἷόν ἐστι δικαιοσύνη, ἆρα καὶ ἄνδρα τὸν δίκαιον ἀξιώσομεν μηδὲν δεῖν αὐτῆς ἐκείνης διαφέρειν, ἀλλὰ πανταχῇ τοιοῦτον εἶναι οἷον δικαιοσύνη [472ξ] ἐστίν; ἢ ἀγαπήσομεν ἐὰν ὅτι ἐγγύτατα αὐτῆς ᾖ καὶ πλεῖστα τῶν ἄλλων ἐκείνης μετέχῃ;

    “… if we find out what justice is like, will we also insist that the just man must not differ at all from justice itself but in every way be such as it is? Or will we be content if he is nearest to it and participates in it more than the others?”

    Neither translation is exact. In place of “the ideal,” Shorey might have repeated his phrase, “what justice is,” unless there is some subtle distinction between οἷόν ἐστι δικαιοσύνη and οἷον δικαιοσύνη ἐστίν. Bloom could have interchanged pronoun and noun, though with loss of clarity: “… the just man must not differ at all from it itself but in every way be such as justice is.”

    “A pattern, then,” said I, “was what we wanted when we were inquiring into the nature of ideal justice and asking what would be the character of the perfectly just man, supposing him to exist, and, likewise, in regard to injustice and the completely unjust man. We wished to fix our eyes upon them as types and models, so that whatever we discerned in them of happiness or the reverse would necessarily apply to ourselves [472d] in the sense that whosoever is likest them will have the allotment most like to theirs. Our purpose was not to demonstrate the possibility of the realization of these ideals.

    παραδείγματος ἄρα ἕνεκα, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, ἐζητοῦμεν αὐτό τε δικαιοσύνην οἷόν ἐστι, καὶ ἄνδρα τὸν τελέως δίκαιον εἰ γένοιτο, καὶ οἷος ἂν εἴη γενόμενος, καὶ ἀδικίαν αὖ καὶ τὸν ἀδικώτατον, ἵνα εἰς ἐκείνους ἀποβλέποντες, οἷοι ἂν ἡμῖν φαίνωνται εὐδαιμονίας τε πέρι καὶ τοῦ ἐναντίου, ἀναγκαζώμεθα καὶ περὶ ἡμῶν αὐτῶν ὁμολογεῖν, ὃς ἂν ἐκείνοις ὅτι [472δ] ὁμοιότατος ᾖ, τὴν ἐκείνης μοῖραν ὁμοιοτάτην ἕξειν, ἀλλ᾽ οὐ τούτου ἕνεκα, ἵν᾽ ἀποδείξωμεν ὡς δυνατὰ ταῦτα γίγνεσθαι.

    “It was, therefore, for the sake of a pattern,” I said, “that we were seeking both for what justice by itself is like, and for the perfectly just man, if he should come into being, and what he would be like once come into being; and, in their turns, for injustice and the most unjust man. Thus, looking off at what their relationships to happiness and its opposite appear to us to be, we would also be compelled to agree in our own cases that the man who is most like them will have the portion most like theirs. We were not seeking them for the sake of proving that it’s possible for these things to come into being.”

    Now the whole of Shorey’s “nature of ideal justice” could be his earlier “what justice is.” The closing “ideals” stands for a pronoun, which Bloom properly renders “these things.”

    “Do you think, then, that he would be any the less a good painter, who, after portraying a pattern of the ideally beautiful man and omitting no touch required for the perfection of the picture, should not be able to prove that it is actually possible for such a man to exist?”

    οἴει ἂν οὖν ἧττόν τι ἀγαθὸν ζωγράφον εἶναι ὃς ἂν γράψας παράδειγμα οἷον ἂν εἴη ὁ κάλλιστος ἄνθρωπος καὶ πάντα εἰς τὸ γράμμα ἱκανῶς ἀποδοὺς μὴ ἔχῃ ἀποδεῖξαι ὡς καὶ δυνατὸν γενέσθαι τοιοῦτον ἄνδρα;

    “Do you suppose a painter is any less good who draws a pattern of what the fairest human being would be like and renders everything in the picture adequately, but can’t prove that it’s also possible that such a man come into being?”

    Looked at earlier.

  5. Book VI, why the philosopher should rule (484c–5a); three comments, two by Socrates, one by Glaucon. We have looked at the first one:

    “Do you think, then, that there is any appreciable difference between the blind and those who are veritably deprived of the knowledge of the veritable being of things, those who have no vivid pattern in their souls and so cannot, as painters look to their models, fix their eyes on the absolute truth, and always with reference to that ideal and in the exactest possible contemplation of it [484d] establish in this world also the laws of the beautiful, the just and the good, when that is needful, or guard and preserve those that are established?”

    ἦ οὖν δοκοῦσί τι τυφλῶν διαφέρειν οἱ τῷ ὄντι τοῦ ὄντος ἑκάστου ἐστερημένοι τῆς γνώσεως, καὶ μηδὲν ἐναργὲς ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ ἔχοντες παράδειγμα, μηδὲ δυνάμενοι ὥσπερ γραφῆς εἰς τὸ ἀληθέστατον ἀποβλέποντες κἀκεῖσε ἀεὶ ἀναφέροντές τε [484δ] καὶ θεώμενοι ὡς οἷόν τε ἀκριβέστατα, οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ ἐνθάδε νόμιμα καλῶν τε πέρι καὶ δικαίων καὶ ἀγαθῶν τίθεσθαί τε, ἐὰν δέῃ τίθεσθαι, καὶ τὰ κείμενα φυλάττοντες σῴζειν;

    “Well, does there seem to be any difference, then, between blind men and those men who are really deprived of the knowledge of what each thing is; those who have no clear pattern in the soul, and are hence unable—after looking off, as painters do, toward what is truest, and ever referring to it and contemplating it as precisely as possible—to give laws about what is fine, just, and good, if any need to be given, and as guardians to preserve those that are already established?”

    The formatting of the following is mine (fleurons added manually so that pandoc will properly interpret the quotation marks as directional).

    “Shall we, then, appoint these blind souls as our guardians, rather than those
    ☙ who have learned to know the ideal reality of things and
    ☙ who do not fall short of the others in experience and are not second to them in any part of virtue?”

    τούτους οὖν μᾶλλον φύλακας στησόμεθα ἢ τοὺς

    • ἐγνωκότας μὲν ἕκαστον τὸ ὄν,
    • ἐμπειρίᾳ δὲ μηδὲν ἐκείνων ἐλλείποντας μηδ᾽ ἐν ἄλλῳ μηδενὶ μέρει ἀρετῆς ὑστεροῦντας;

     
    “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?”

    I don’t know that Bloom’s “what each thing is” is more accurate than “each thing that is.” I think the meaning of Shorey’s “ideal reality of things” can only be whatever Plato means; it has no clear independent meaning.

    “It would be strange indeed,” he said, “to choose others than the philosophers, provided they were not deficient in those other respects, for this very knowledge [485a] of the ideal would perhaps be the greatest of superiorities.”

    ἄτοπον μεντἄν, ἔφη, εἴη ἄλλους αἱρεῖσθαι, εἴ γε τἆλλα μὴ ἐλλείποιντο: τούτῳ γὰρ αὐτῷ σχεδόν τι τῷ μεγίστῳ ἂν προέχοιεν.

    “It would be strange to choose others,” he said, “if, that is, these men don’t lack the rest. For the very thing in which they would have the advantage is just about the most important.”

    Shorey replaces Glaucon’s pronouns with their supposed antecedent.

  6. Book VI (486e):

    “Then in addition to our other requirements we look for a mind endowed with measure and grace, whose native disposition will make it easily guided [486e] to the aspect of the ideal reality in all things.

    ἔμμετρον ἄρα καὶ εὔχαριν ζητῶμεν πρὸς τοῖς ἄλλοις διάνοιαν φύσει, ἣν ἐπὶ τὴν τοῦ ὄντος ἰδέαν ἑκάστου τὸ αὐτοφυὲς εὐάγωγον παρέξει.

    “Then, besides the other things, let us seek for an understanding endowed by nature with measure and charm, one whose nature grows by itself in such a way as to make it easily led to the idea of each thing that is.

    For once the word ἰδέα is behind the “ideal” of Shorey, who says in a note, “ἰδέαν is not exactly ‘idea.’ ”

  7. Book VII (521b):

    “Can you name any other type or ideal of life that looks with scorn on political office except the life of true philosophers?”

    ἔχεις οὖν, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, βίον ἄλλον τινὰ πολιτικῶν ἀρχῶν καταφρονοῦντα ἢ τὸν τῆς ἀληθινῆς φιλοσοφίας;

    “Have you,” I said, “any other life that despises political offices other than that of true philosophy?”

    There is no correspondent to “ideal” in the Greek.

  8. Book VIII (555c–d):

    “And is it not at once apparent in a state that this honouring of wealth is incompatible with a sober and temperate citizenship, but that one or the other of these two ideals is inevitably neglected.”

    οὐκοῦν δῆλον ἤδη τοῦτο ἐν πόλει, ὅτι πλοῦτον τιμᾶν καὶ σωφροσύνην ἅμα ἱκανῶς κτᾶσθαι ἐν τοῖς πολίταις [555δ] ἀδύνατον, ἀλλ᾽ ἀνάγκη ἢ τοῦ ἑτέρου ἀμελεῖν ἢ τοῦ ἑτέρου;

    “Isn’t it by now plain that it’s not possible to honor wealth in a city and at the same time adequately to maintain moderation among the citizens, but one or the other is necessarily neglected?”

    The antecedents of Socrates’s pronouns are “honoring of wealth” and “sober and temperate citizenship”; rather than as ideals, they might be described as activities or practices.

  9. Book VIII (558a–c):

    “And the tolerance of democracy, [558b] its superiority to all our meticulous requirements, its disdain for our solemn pronouncements made when we were founding our city, that except in the case of transcendent natural gifts no one could ever become a good man unless from childhood his play and all his pursuits were concerned with things fair and good,—how superbly it tramples under foot all such ideals, caring nothing from what practices and way of life a man turns to politics, but honoring him [558c] if only he says that he loves the people!”

    ἡ δὲ συγγνώμη καὶ οὐδ᾽ ὁπωστιοῦν σμικρολογία αὐτῆς, ἀλλὰ καταφρόνησις ὧν ἡμεῖς ἐλέγομεν σεμνύνοντες, ὅτε τὴν πόλιν ᾠκίζομεν, ὡς εἰ μή τις ὑπερβεβλημένην φύσιν ἔχοι, οὔποτ᾽ ἂν γένοιτο ἀνὴρ ἀγαθός, εἰ μὴ παῖς ὢν εὐθὺς παίζοι ἐν καλοῖς καὶ ἐπιτηδεύοι τὰ τοιαῦτα πάντα, ὡς μεγαλοπρεπῶς καταπατήσασ᾽ ἅπαντ᾽ αὐτὰ οὐδὲν φροντίζει ἐξ ὁποίων ἄν τις ἐπιτηδευμάτων ἐπὶ τὰ πολιτικὰ ἰὼν πράττῃ, ἀλλὰ τιμᾷ, [558ξ] ἐὰν φῇ μόνον εὔνους εἶναι τῷ πλήθει;

    “And this regime’s sympathy and total lack of pettiness in despising what we were saying so solemnly when we were founding the city—that unless a man has a transcendent nature he would never become good if from earliest childhood his play isn’t noble and all his practices aren’t such—how magnificently it tramples all this underfoot and doesn’t care at all from what kinds of practices a man goes to political action, but honors him if only he says he’s well disposed toward the multitude?”

    Again, if Socrates’s pronoun needs the antecedent spelled out, I think it is not “ideals,” but “our solemn pronouncements” or “what we were saying so solemnly.”

  10. Book IX (592a–b):

    “I understand,” he said; “you mean the city whose establishment we have described, the city whose home is in the ideal; [592b] for I think that it can be found nowhere on earth.”

    “Well,” said I, “perhaps there is a pattern of it laid up in heaven for him who wishes to contemplate it and so beholding to constitute himself its citizen. But it makes no difference whether it exists now or ever will come into being. The politics of this city only will be his and of none other.”

    μανθάνω, ἔφη: ἐν ᾗ νῦν διήλθομεν οἰκίζοντες πόλει λέγεις, τῇ ἐν λόγοις κειμένῃ, ἐπεὶ γῆς γε οὐδαμοῦ οἶμαι [592β] αὐτὴν εἶναι.

    ἀλλ᾽, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, ἐν οὐρανῷ ἴσως παράδειγμα ἀνάκειται τῷ βουλομένῳ ὁρᾶν καὶ ὁρῶντι ἑαυτὸν κατοικίζειν. διαφέρει δὲ οὐδὲν εἴτε που ἔστιν εἴτε ἔσται: τὰ γὰρ ταύτης μόνης ἂν πράξειεν, ἄλλης δὲ οὐδεμιᾶς.

    “I understand,” he said. “You mean he will in the city whose foundation we have now gone through, the one that has its place in speeches, since I don’t suppose it exists anywhere on earth.”

    “But in heaven,” I said, “perhaps, a pattern is laid up for the man who wants to see and found a city within himself on the basis of what he sees. It doesn’t make any difference whether it is or will be somewhere. For he would mind the things of this city alone, and of no other.”

    On the phrase “the ideal,” Shorey has a long note that begins,

    Lit. “in words.” This is one of the most famous passages in Plato, and a source of the idea of the City of God among both Stoics and Christians.

    Even Bloom seems influenced by this subsequent history. The city is more literally laid down in words (or speeches); saying its place is in speeches suggests that, rather than creating it, words illuminate it the way a candle lights up what is in front of you at night. Also, rather than “heaven,” one could translate ούρανός as “sky.”

Edited November 20, 2022

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