The Republic

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Truth Theme Analysis

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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Republic, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Truth Theme Icon

Truth is a core virtue of the city and of the philosopher-king. Literature that shows gods and men behaving untruthfully is forbidden. Deceit is forbidden, except for the guardians who may tell falsehoods for the good of the city. True knowledge, and true philosophy, says Socrates, require an understanding of the Forms, since everything else is simply a shadowy reflection of the Forms. For instance, the Form of Beauty is the abstract, ideal, perfect, changeless Idea of Beauty. Beauty in the physical world is affected by time and change. But the Form of Beauty, in the world of ideas, is unchanging, and perfect, and true. Only the Form of Beauty is truly beautiful, since individual examples of beauty are poor copies of the Form, lacking the perfection of the Form.

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Truth ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Truth appears in each section of The Republic. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Truth Quotes in The Republic

Below you will find the important quotes in The Republic related to the theme of Truth.
Book 2 Quotes
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.


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Book 3 Quotes
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.

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.

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.