The Republic

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Republic published in 2000.
Book 2 Quotes
Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

In order to clarify his definition of justice, Socrates describes the conditions of the ideal city. One aspect of such a city, the so-called “kallipolis," is a harsh restriction of certain forms of art.

This section of The Republic is surprising to many contemporary readers because it not only permits censorship, but actually argues that the practice is necessary in a just city. According to Socrates, fictional stories determine the way that members of the kallipolis will act, for these tales dictate their moral sensibilities and give them behavioral models. He therefore reasons that a just populace must be nourished with fictions that themselves cultivate a sense of justice.

That Socrates fixates on the interactions between mothers and children is worth noting here. He sees art as serving a pedagogical role not only for young kids, but also, presumably, for older members of society. In this way, Socrates is using the children as an analogy for the paternalistic way he conceives of all Greek citizens. Sanctioning censorship is thus predicated on an image of a relatively infantile population—one whose behavior can and should be strictly controlled through certain fictions.

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If we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarrelling among themselves as of all things the basest, should any word be said to them of the wars in heaven, and of the plots and fightings of the gods against one another, for they are not true. No, we shall never mention the battles of the giants, or let them be embroidered on garments; and we shall be silent about the innumerable other quarrels of gods and heroes with their friends and relatives. If they would only believe us we would tell them that quarrelling is unholy, and that never up to this time has there been any quarrel between citizens.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

Socrates continues to discuss the importance of censoring artworks. He explains that excluding stories that recount negative behaviors will prevent Greek citizens from repeating those undesirable actions.

This passage defines a causal relationship between the plot events of a story and the actions of those reading that story. For instance, reading of “plots and fightings of the gods” is presumed to encourage a similar “habit of quarreling” in future generations. From this point, Socrates extrapolates that “we shall never mention the battles of the giants”: He relies on a logical link between reading material and personal action as a rational grounding for the necessity of censorship. Here, we have a sense of the way that he builds up his argument—based on a few moral principles that are extended to justify seemingly severe actions. The key claim here is that there is a correspondence between material read and actions performed—a link that continues to be featured today, in spirited debates about video game and movie censorship.

Socrates is relying, notably, less on an argument of intrinsic morality and more on the effects of a given moral system. That is to say, he is not so much concerned with the inherent ethics of censorship and far more with the pragmatic benefits that censorship could bring to the ideal city. This is an important distinction, as Socrates’ philosophy is generally not thought of in these utilitarian terms. Yet by bringing up the concrete dynamics of the ideal city, he transitions into a relatively pragmatic argumentative style.

God is not the author of all things, but of good only.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Socrates furthers his argument that fiction in the ideal city should be censored. He adds that only good artworks could be attributed to God.

This line makes a poignant and contentious theological comment. In denying the fact that a God would be capable of producing negative things, he justifies the idea that certain things—people, objects, fictions, etc.—could be excluded from the ideal city. If Gods were indeed responsible for “all things,” then presumably “all things” would have to be included in the city out of deference to the divine. But if the divine is responsible for “good only,” then bad things are ungodly and can be rejected. This statement is particularly evocative since the Greek Gods were often considered to possess negative characteristics—to themselves embody human follies. Socrates rejects such a model to offer a more idealist image of both Gods and humans.

We also see, here, the importance of religion to Greek philosophy. It is common, today, to consider these two fields to be separate, or even sharply opposed, but during Socrates’ time they were fully integrated. Philosophical arguments were expected to interweave with the Greek Pantheon—and to apply logical formulations to a pre-existing religious structure. Thus the way that Socrates’ work relies on religious tenets should not be taken as a philosophical weakness — but rather a reflection of Greek society at the time.

And if so, we must infer that all things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him, and does it at the right time, and leaves other things.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Related Symbols: The City
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Socrates continues to spell out the conditions for his ideal city. He explains that each citizen should be tasked with a specific duty based on his or her inherent aptitude.

This passage corroborates the way that Socrates envisions a highly authoritarian state. Instead of allowing people to pursue their interests or passions, he focuses on what will maximize utility: what will allow “better quality” in society produced at faster rates and “more easily.” His model does not allow for the presence of human free will, but rather slots each citizen into a specific, almost mechanical, positions to optimize the larger entity.

His model also posits the existence of inherent aptitude for each person. To assume there is a single thing “which is natural to him” is to presume that each person possesses this natural affiliation for a certain form of work. Indeed, such assumptions are typical of Socrates’ philosophy, which tends to rely on essential virtues and essential qualities in people. Here, the model is that each person has such an essence that when manifested perfectly will result in the optimal functioning of the self and the city. Thus Socrates defines his model of justice as combination of inherent skill and a rigid social system that would maximize that skill.

Book 3 Quotes
Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him?
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

Socrates describes the conditions necessary to form the warrior or guardian class of a city. He explains that they must only hear stories that encourage heroic behavior.

This line furthers Socrates’ earlier claim that the literature a person reads has a direct effect on that person's personality and behavior. He argues that certain stories will cause children to fear death for they will present the afterlife in a negative or frightening way. As a result, those who read these stories will come to fear death more than those who did not — so such stories should be censored from the guardians. Socrates goes further, here, than giving general terms for censorship and instead begins to dictate specific texts that should be read by people of different classes. He thus sees the optimal functioning of society as achieved by a fusion of inherent nature and effective pedagogy: Exposure to certain stories will allow that nature to best manifest.

Instead of relying on pure logic, Socrates opts to use the device of a rhetorical question. This might seem to be a moot point, but this technique shows that his philosophical strategy includes the use of oratorical skills. Excessive emphasis on rhetoric was criticized at Socrates’ time, and Socrates generally cast his philosophy to be purely rational as compared to the more rhetorical Sophists. Here, however, he borrows some of their exact techniques to argue his point, indicating that rational arguments can not be entirely severed from linguistic devices.

And we must beg Homer and the other poets not to be angry if we strike out these and similar passages, not because they are unpoetical, or unattractive to the popular ear, but because the greater the poetical charm in them, the less are they meet for the ears of boys and men who are meant to be free, and who should fear slavery more than death.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Socrates continues to delineate which texts that should be read by the warrior class. He notes that even stories of great literary and popular merit will need to be excluded.

This passages demonstrates that Socrates is willing to censor even highly celebrated artworks in order to achieve his ideal city. He does so, through a somewhat circuitous and quite clever way: by asking forgiveness from the (deceased) poets themselves. The reference to Homer is particularly provocative, as Homer's epics were the foundation and center of Greek culture. That Socrates believes that even these works must be removed from the ideal city shows just how radically he wished to break with the sensibilities of his contemporaries. He was not proposing small modifications to the cultural norm but rather a complete revolution of its most central principles.

Yet this passages goes further than simply claiming that the aesthetic value of these texts should not prevent their censorship. In fact, Socrates argues that this is precisely why they must be expelled from the ideal city: Their “poetical charm” will cause undue attraction and obscure the detrimental effects of the text. Socrates thus casts the very artistic devices that bring meaning to literary works as inherent negative: Not only do they not fulfill the pedagogical role he prefers from these works, but they in fact prevent one from focusing on that educational content.

Again, truth should be highly valued; if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians; private individuals have no business with them.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

While describing why stories should be excluded from the ideal city, Socrates argues that a key drawback is their inclusion of lies. He condemns lying except to certain professions who can make use of mendacity for the general populace.

Once more, Socrates subdivides the citizens into various groups, allotting greater privileges to certain subsets of the population. He revises his earlier condemnation of lying to admit that it could be potentially “useful” in certain situations: That it can be a “medicine to men” means that it can ease the struggles of human nature and make life more palatable. But since Socrates believes that hardship must be administered to many men, he also believes that “medicine” cannot be given out freely.

He uses the analogy of “physicians” here to argue why rulers should be privy to techniques and behaviors that others are not—for they have specialized training based on their inherent qualities. In contrast, he offers the category of “private individuals” who are deemed too inferior to make the proper use of lies. (Despite his general respect for the Greek gods, Socrates notably approves of the use of lies for humans but not for gods—for he deems lies to be “useless” for deities.) Thus Socrates continues to attribute more and more rights to the elect ruling class, here even exempting them from a core tenet of the city: truth.

Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity – I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character, not that other simplicity which is only a euphemism for folly.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Having described the general types of stories that are useful to have circulating in the ideal city, Socrates begins to identify specific desirable features. He argues that beneficial stories are simple and unadorned.

This passage makes a very specific claim on what type of artworks are desirable for Socrates: He contrasts the ornate, lyrical styles of Homer and other poets with “true simplicity.” Whereas the first can distract a reader from the pedagogical value of a text, the second allows a text's ethical meaning to ring through without disruption. Socrates seems to revise his earlier harsh sanctions on all literature to admit that “beauty of style” is indeed desirable in certain cases. Aesthetic merit is thus not inherently negative but only becomes so when it is paired with and thus hides the presence of undesirable content. Indeed, Socrates shows himself to be heavily invested in the specific aesthetics that make a fiction desirable or not, to the extent that he dictates the need for formal simplicity.

Though valuing simplicity might seem to select for texts of an unintellectual or reductive nature, Socrates subdivides the types of simplicity into two categories: False simplicity is just another term for “folly” or idiocy, whereas valuable simplicity actually reflects balance and harmony. Notably, Socrates sees the distinction as steming not from the artwork but rather from the “mind and character” of the person who creates it. He thus believes that good stories will be created by inherently good people—and will reflect their natural character.

Book 4 Quotes
Wealth is the parent of luxury and indolence, and poverty of meanness and viciousness, and both of discontent.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

While specifying the types of behaviors permitted by the guardian and warrior classes, Socrates touches on financial matters. He notes that the rulers are responsible for ensuring citizens stay in a state of economic well-being.

This passage once again argues that certain people in the idea city should engage in behaviors limited only to them. Instead of permitting free economic control, as would have been typical of the contemporary Greek polis, Socrates argues that financial matters should be tightly controlled. Indeed, people of certain subgroups, such as the guardians, should not even be permitted to handle currency, such that their economic status will always remain unchanged. Two extremes are possible—both “wealth” and “poverty” are condemned in a quick phrase—and thus optimizing one’s existence demands a careful calibration between those two poles.

That calibration reaffirms the importance of harmony and balance to Socrates’ ideal world. Much like an artwork is supposed to be simple, or a soul should hold its three parts in equal measure—financial status should remain centered. Optimization, in the kallipolis, is not a question of reaching a pinnacle or extreme, but rather of ensuring that the citizens remain in a constant equilibrium.

The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

In delineating the duties of the guardians, Socrates touches on how they must manage education for the populace. He believes that school has an immense effect on one’s personal development.

This model of education confirms that Socrates believes life in the ideal city should be firmly controlled. The stakes, he explains, are that the education someone receives “will determine his future life”—or entirely dictate someone’s destiny. For Socrates, “Education” refers both to the specific schooling one receives and also more broadly to the types of stories and ethics that a child encounters as he matures. Socrates justifies his highly censored world and tightly controlled education based on the idea that negative content will lead to a negative “direction.” A deterministic model of human development, in which a citizen's character depends largely on what that person experiences, thus requires an equally deterministic social system that strongly controls exactly those experiences. Thus the pivotal role of education is used to justify the need for tight control of pedagogy by the guardian class.

Book 5 Quotes
And he who, having a sense of beautiful things has no sense of absolute beauty, or who, if another lead him to a knowledge of that beauty is unable to follow—of such an one I ask, Is he awake or in a dream only? Reflect: is not the dreamer, sleeping or waking, one who likens dissimilar things, who puts the copy in the place of the real object?
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

While outlining the concept of the philosopher king, Socrates distinguishes between those who love individual beautiful objects and the abstract idea of beauty. He says that people who equate the two are making a fundamental mistake.

The difference between examples and essential forms is one of the most important features of Socrates and Plato’s philosophies. In this model, objects in the human world are only imperfect examples or instances of ideal qualities that exist purely in a world of forms. To believe only “in beautiful things,” then, would be to only comprehend the examples existing in the human world and to lack “knowledge” of the more important dimension of the forms. As a result, one jumbles “a likeliness” with “the thing itself.” Socrates brings up this point to define a hierarchy of humans, in which some can better perceive the forms; thus he makes use of his philosophical model in order to further the social model that sanctions better privileges for the ruling class, made up of those who can perceive the forms.

To make this point, Socrates uses the metaphor of a dream, an analogical device that recurs often in his philosophy. The dreaming world, by this account, is the physical human one, whereas the “wakened state” would grant one access to the ideal forms or essences. This has nothing to do with whether one is actually asleep or awake, as both states can leave one stuck in the world of likenesses. But the metaphor allows Socrates to articulate the way that two forms of perception may co-mingle, one of which is less accurate than the other.

Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils—no, nor the human race, as I believe—and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

When asked about the feasibility of his ideal city, Socrates claims that it depends on the identities of the rulers. To successfully create this society, there must exist a class of philosopher kings.

Two directions are possible to lead to the development of this class: either, Socrates explains, philosophers may take on the roles of rulers, or the current rulers must immerse themselves in the study and life of a philosopher. Both roles are significant in their own ways. A king holds “political greatness” while a philosopher holds “wisdom,” but only in their fusion are they truly competent. Pursued alone, each end reflects only the “commoner natures.” Thus Socrates’ model of political rule returns once more to the question of balance, here between intellect and political control. The proper relationship between these two things, he believes, can be found in the role of the philosopher king, who in his inherently just nature will bring a city into a similarly just existence.

Much has been written and debated about the efficacy of Socrates’ rulership model, and a few of the criticisms of it are worth pointing out here. For instance, why must a ruler necessarily be intellectual or philosophical? Other qualities like charisma and diplomacy are perhaps more essential—while intellectual questions could be left to a team of specialized advisors. Or consider, for instance, that the just nature of a ruler may not necessarily lead to a just society: Socrates tends to a assume a one-to-one relationship between internal identity and external results, but a ruler must navigate complex social systems and bureaucracies. These endeavors may take skills like cunning and compromise not attributed to the philosopher king. Finally, we should note that Socrates chooses to elevate his own profession over those of all other citizens. Though he argues that this is a just practice that will benefit all, it also smacks of self-aggrandizement and power-seeking. Thus while his model may be appealing, the merits of its idealism should be treated with skepticism.

Book 6 Quotes
But that the true pilot must pay attention to the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds, and whatever else be longs to his art, if he intends to be really qualified for the command of a ship, and that he must and will be the steerer, whether other people like or not—the possibility of this union of authority with the steerer’s art has never seriously entered into their thoughts or been made part of their calling. Now in vessels which are in a state of mutiny and by sailors who are mutineers, how will the true pilot be regarded? W ill he not be called by them a prater, a star-gazer, a good-for-nothing?
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 153-154
Explanation and Analysis:

Adeimantus challenges Socrates on how much philosophers actually benefit society. Socrates responds that this criticism only reflects the flawed viewpoint of that society, rather than any issue with philosophers themselves.

His argument makes use of yet another well-composed allegory. Here, a society is a ship and its ruler a captain or pilot, in which case the philosopher king would be a “true pilot.” Socrates explains that while an ordinary captain is overly attentive to the voices around him and does not pay sufficient attention to environmental factors, a “true pilot” observes all the forces surrounding the ship as well. He considers his “steerer's art” not just to be the narrow question of naval mobility, but rather a process that demands constant and careful attention to “the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds.” This is an analogy for how the philosopher king must be deeply concerned with knowledge in and of itself—carefully understanding the natural and human worlds before proceeding in his undertakings.

The crux of this metaphor is that external, normal observers would likely consider this “true pilot” to be mad for investing too much of his time in learning knowledge that seems unrelated to the actual job of piloting. The pilot would seem overly distracted by the natural world and insufficiently attentive to the desires of the ship’s inhabitants. Yet Socrates believes this behavior is precisely what is required by a just ruler: the ability to stand apart from the crowd and attune one’s thoughts more directly to rational reality. Socrates thus brilliantly turns Adeimantus’ criticism on its head—considering the unconventional views of philosophers not only acceptable, but also the very grounds for their merit.

Book 7 Quotes
But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Sun
Page Number: 179-180
Explanation and Analysis:

Education, Socrates explains, is essential to develop the sensibilities of the philosopher king. He explains that Truth must be illuminated through education, just as physical objects are lit by the sun.

Despite finding rigor and structure to be necessary in education, Socrates argues that truth will be essentially self-evident when revealed to someone. To substantiate this point, he uses the metaphor of light shining onto physical objects: those objects are entirely obscure at first, but as soon as they are revealed, no question remains of their existence. The phenomenon of light therefore allows Socrates to articulate how something could be both obvious and obscured—and thus corroborates the critical role of education. For while a philosopher king may have a set of naturally just qualities within himself, these characteristics will not be able to manifest without the proper education.

Socrates also implies that there is a normative weight to any truth once it is glimpsed. Put another way, when someone comes into contact with what is “beautiful and right,” he will not be able to deny its efficacy and must conform his behavior to it. Other models of knowledge would argue that truth is more or less appealing based on one’s character or on the way in which one experiences it, but Socrates believes that truth carries an inherent significance that will be felt no matter how it is perceived.

Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

After outlining the allegory of the cave, Socrates reaffirms the importance of education. He contrasts the benefits of forced physical endeavors with the drawbacks of a similarly strict pedagogy.

This comparison responds to the potential criticism that Socrates’ model of education is limiting and authoritarian. He argues, instead, that “compulsion” is only beneficial to certain classes and that it will have detrimental effects on those seeking real truth. Beginning with the point that “bodily exercise” benefits someone even when it is forced upon them, Socrates extrapolates that a similar exercise of the mind will not aid the person educated. In particular, that it “obtains no hold on the mind” implies that an overly tyrannical pedagogy will not allow knowledge to be fixed in the learner’s mind.

Socrates seeks to mediate, then, between two educational models. On one hand, he desires a strict and specified curriculum that only makes use of certain texts and ideas. While at the same time, he believes that “compulsion” will not best cultivate the minds of the philosopher kings. He thus differentiates once more between the types of existences desirable for members of various subsets of the population, further granting freedom of inquiry only to the philosopher kings.

Book 9 Quotes
But now that he is under the dominion of Love, he becomes always and in waking reality what he was then very rarely and in a dream only.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:

While delineating between different forms of flawed governments, Socrates describes the character of the tyrant. He explains how passions such as love occlude the vision and mental acuity of a tyrant.

Socrates returns to the metaphor of dreams and sleep in order to draw clear lines between relative states of awareness. He believes that erotic love causes one’s perceptions to warp as they normally would while asleep. They become increasingly distant from the world of forms and are only able to invest in or connect with the superficial occurrences of the perceivable world.

More broadly, this condemnation of the “dominion of love” speaks to the way that Socrates demands that one resist his appetites and adopt a stoic relationship to the world. Denying the value of pleasure, Socrates contends that the passions prevent one from behaving rationally and justly: they cause one to focus on illusory and temporary desires instead of more significant questions of justice. As a result, they are associated with tyranny, for the tyrant will similarly seek only to further his own pleasure. A just society, therefore, must be ordered by those who are emancipated from personal pleasure and who will therefore be motivated by rational thought rather than narrow desires.

Book 10 Quotes
Then the imitator, I said, is a long way off the truth, and can do all things because he lightly touches on a small part of them, and that part an image.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

In The Republic’s final book, Socrates returns to the question that opened the text: the value of the arts. He argues that art is a type of imitation and therefore less valuable than both the Forms and human reality.

Having outlined his theory of the Forms, Socrates can now offer a more complete condemnation of art. Whereas before he simply noted that certain works of fiction could have a negative pedagogical effect on people, here he takes issue with the inherent nature of poetry. He argues that if our physical reality is an imitation of the world of Forms, then art is an imitation of our reality. It is therefore two steps removed from the Forms, so those who produce art are proceeding in the opposite direction of philosophy—further away from truth and closer to an “image,” to non-reality.

This argument turns on the way that Socrates defines “imitation.” He believes that whereas a form comprises a complete totality, an imitation only “touches on a small part” of that totality. For instance, the form of a bed includes the existences and qualities of all potential beds, whereas a specific example of a bed is only one small part of that totality. By extension, a painting of the bed only gives one physical angle and one artist’s perspective of the bed, so it is an even smaller subset of the totality held by the Form of the bed. This passage not only offers a full condemnation of art, then, but also verifies the central role that completeness plays in Socrates’ philosophy.

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