Fordham University

 

Home | Ancient History Sourcebook | Medieval SourcebookModern History Sourcebook | Byzantine Studies Page
Other History Sourcebooks: African | East Asian | Global | Indian | IslamicJewishLesbian and Gay | Science | Women's


Ancient History


Full Texts Legal Texts Additions Search Help


Studying History Human Origins Mesopotamia Egypt Persia Israel Greece Hellenistic World Rome Late Antiquity Christian Origins
IHSP Credits

Ancient History Sourcebook:
Plato: The Republic - The philosopher-king


Inasmuch as philosophers only are able to grasp the eternal and unchangeable, and those who wander in the region of the many and variable are not philosophers, I must ask you which of the two classes should be the rulers of our State?

  And how can we rightly answer that question?

  Whichever of the two are best able to guard the laws and institutions of our State--let them be our guardians.

  Very good.

  Neither, I said, can there be any question that the guardian who is to keep anything should have eyes rather than no eyes?

  There can be no question of that.

  And are not those who are verily and indeed wanting in the knowledge of the true being of each thing, and who have in their souls no clear pattern, and are unable as with a painter's eye to look at the absolute truth and to that original to repair, and having perfect vision of the other world to order the laws about beauty, goodness, justice in this, if not already ordered, and to guard and preserve the order of them--are not such persons, I ask, simply blind?

  Truly, he replied, they are much in that condition.

  And shall they be our guardians when there are others who, besides being their equals in experience and falling short of them in no particular of virtue, also know the very truth of each thing?

  There can be no reason, he said, for rejecting those who have this greatest of all great qualities; they must always have the first place unless they fail in some other respect. Suppose, then, I said, that we determine how far they can unite this and the other excellences.

  By all means.

  In the first place, as we began by observing, the nature of the philosopher has to be ascertained. We must come to an understanding about him, and, when we have done so, then, if I am not mistaken, we shall also acknowledge that such a union of qualities is possible, and that those in whom they are united, and those only, should be rulers in the State.

  What do you mean?

  Let us suppose that philosophical minds always love knowledge of a sort which shows them the eternal nature not varying from generation and corruption.

  Agreed.

  And further, I said, let us agree that they are lovers of all true being; there is no part whether greater or less, or more or less honorable, which they are willing to renounce; as we said before of the lover and the man of ambition.

  True.

  And if they are to be what we were describing, is there not another quality which they should also possess?

  What quality?

  Truthfulness: they will never intentionally receive into their minds falsehood, which is their detestation, and they will love the truth.

  Yes, that may be safely affirmed of them.

  "May be." my friend, I replied, is not the word; say rather, "must be affirmed:" for he whose nature is amorous of anything cannot help loving all that belongs or is akin to the object of his affections.

  Right, he said.

  And is there anything more akin to wisdom than truth?

  How can there be?

  Can the same nature be a lover of wisdom and a lover of falsehood?

  Never.

  The true lover of learning then must from his earliest youth, as far as in him lies, desire all truth?

  Assuredly.

  But then again, as we know by experience, he whose desires are strong in one direction will have them weaker in others; they will be like a stream which has been drawn off into another channel.

  True.

  He whose desires are drawn toward knowledge in every form will be absorbed in the pleasures of the soul, and will hardly feel bodily pleasure--I mean, if he be a true philosopher and not a sham one.

  That is most certain.

  Such a one is sure to be temperate and the reverse of covetous; for the motives which make another man desirous of having and spending, have no place in his character.

  Very true.

  Another criterion of the philosophical nature has also to be considered.

  What is that?

  There should be no secret corner of illiberality; nothing can be more antagonistic than meanness to a soul which is ever longing after the whole of things both divine and human.

  Most true, he replied.

  Then how can he who has magnificence of mind and is the spectator of all time and all existence, think much of human life?

  He cannot.

  Or can such a one account death fearful?

  No, indeed.

  Then the cowardly and mean nature has no part in true philosophy?

  Certainly not.

  Or again: can he who is harmoniously constituted, who is not covetous or mean, or a boaster, or a coward--can he, I say, ever be unjust or hard in his dealings?

  Impossible.

  Then you will soon observe whether a man is just and gentle, or rude and unsociable; these are the signs which distinguish even in youth the philosophical nature from the unphilosophical.

  True.

  There is another point which should be remarked.

  What point?

  Whether he has or has not a pleasure in learning; for no one will love that which gives him pain, and in which after much toil he makes little progress.

  Certainly not.

  And again, if he is forgetful and retains nothing of what he learns, will he not be an empty vessel?

  That is certain.

  Laboring in vain, he must end in hating himself and his fruitless occupation?

  Yes.

  Then a soul which forgets cannot be ranked among genuine philosophic natures; we must insist that the philosopher should have a good memory?

  Certainly.

  And once more, the inharmonious and unseemly nature can only tend to disproportion?

  Undoubtedly.

  And do you consider truth to be akin to proportion or to disproportion?

  To proportion.

  Then, besides other qualities, we must try to find a naturally well-proportioned and gracious mind, which will move spontaneously toward the true being of everything.

  Certainly.

  Well, and do not all these qualities, which we have been enumerating, go together, and are they not, in a manner, necessary to a soul, which is to have a full and perfect participation of being?

  They are absolutely necessary, he replied.

  And must not that be a blameless study which he only can pursue who has the gift of a good memory, and is quick to learn--noble, gracious, the friend of truth, justice, courage, temperance, who are his kindred?

  The god of jealousy himself, he said, could find no fault with such a study.

  And to men like him, I said, when perfected by years and education, and to these only you will intrust the State.


Source:

Plato. The Republic.


This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. No representation is made about texts which are linked off-site, although in most cases these are also public domain. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

See Statement about Copyright and Fair Use

See How to Cite these pages in books, term papers, etc.

© Paul Halsall, August 2000
halsall@fordham.edu