Plato's Republic


Socrates proceeds:--The guardians of our state are to be watch-dogs, as we
have already said. Now dogs are not divided into hes and shes--we do not
take the masculine gender out to hunt and leave the females at home to look
after their puppies. They have the same employments--the only difference
between them is that the one sex is stronger and the other weaker. But if
women are to have the same employments as men, they must have the same
education--they must be taught music and gymnastics, and the art of war. I
know that a great joke will be made of their riding on horseback and
carrying weapons; the sight of the naked old wrinkled women showing their
agility in the palaestra [wrestling; athletics in ancient Greece were pretty much a male-only affair]
will certainly not be a vision of beauty, and may
be expected to become a famous jest. But we must not mind the wits; there
was a time when they might have laughed at our present gymnastics. All is
habit: people have at last found out that the exposure is better than the
concealment of the person, and now they laugh no more. Evil only should be
the subject of ridicule.

The first question is, whether women are able either wholly or partially to
share in the employments of men. And here we may be charged with
inconsistency in making the proposal at all. For we started originally
with the division of labour; and the diversity of employments was based on
the difference of natures. But is there no difference between men and
women? Nay, are they not wholly different? THERE was the difficulty,
Glaucon, which made me unwilling to speak of family relations. However,
when a man is out of his depth, whether in a pool or in an ocean, he can
only swim for his life; and we must try to find a way of escape, if we can.

The argument is, that different natures have different uses, and the
natures of men and women are said to differ. But this is only a verbal
opposition. We do not consider that the difference may be purely nominal
and accidental; for example, a bald man and a hairy man are opposed in a
single point of view, but you cannot infer that because a bald man is a
cobbler a hairy man ought not to be a cobbler. Now why is such an
inference erroneous? Simply because the opposition between them is partial
only, like the difference between a male physician and a female physician,
not running through the whole nature, like the difference between a
physician and a carpenter. And if the difference of the sexes is only that
the one beget and the other bear children, this does not prove that they
ought to have distinct educations. Admitting that women differ from men in
capacity, do not men equally differ from one another? Has not nature
scattered all the qualities which our citizens require indifferently up and
down among the two sexes? and even in their peculiar pursuits, are not
women often, though in some cases superior to men, ridiculously enough
surpassed by them? Women are the same in kind as men, and have the same
aptitude or want of aptitude for medicine or gymnastic or war, but in a
less degree. One woman will be a good guardian, another not; and the good
must be chosen to be the colleagues of our guardians. If however their
natures are the same, the inference is that their education must also be
the same; there is no longer anything unnatural or impossible in a woman
learning music and gymnastic. And the education which we give them will be
the very best, far superior to that of cobblers, and will train up the very
best women, and nothing can be more advantageous to the State than this.
Therefore let them strip, clothed in their chastity, and share in the toils
of war and in the defence of their country; he who laughs at them is a fool
for his pains.

The first wave is past, and the argument is compelled to admit that men and
women have common duties and pursuits. A second and greater wave is
rolling in--community of wives and children; is this either expedient or
possible? The expediency I do not doubt; I am not so sure of the
possibility. 'Nay, I think that a considerable doubt will be entertained
on both points.' I meant to have escaped the trouble of proving the first,
but as you have detected the little stratagem I must even submit. Only
allow me to feed my fancy like the solitary in his walks, with a dream of
what might be, and then I will return to the question of what can be.

In the first place our rulers will enforce the laws and make new ones where
they are wanted, and their allies or ministers will obey. You, as
legislator, have already selected the men; and now you shall select the
women. After the selection has been made, they will dwell in common houses
and have their meals in common, and will be brought together by a necessity
more certain than that of mathematics. But they cannot be allowed to live
in licentiousness; that is an unholy thing, which the rulers are determined
to prevent. For the avoidance of this, holy marriage festivals will be
instituted, and their holiness will be in proportion to their usefulness.
And here, Glaucon, I should like to ask (as I know that you are a breeder
of birds and animals), Do you not take the greatest care in the mating?
'Certainly.' And there is no reason to suppose that less care is required
in the marriage of human beings. But then our rulers must be skilful
physicians of the State, for they will often need a strong dose of
falsehood in order to bring about desirable unions between their subjects.
The good must be paired with the good, and the bad with the bad, and the
offspring of the one must be reared, and of the other destroyed; in this
way the flock will be preserved in prime condition. Hymeneal festivals
will be celebrated at times fixed with an eye to population, and the brides
and bridegrooms will meet at them; and by an ingenious system of lots the
rulers will contrive that the brave and the fair come together, and that
those of inferior breed are paired with inferiors--the latter will ascribe
to chance what is really the invention of the rulers. And when children
are born, the offspring of the brave and fair will be carried to an
enclosure in a certain part of the city, and there attended by suitable
nurses; the rest will be hurried away to places unknown. The mothers will
be brought to the fold and will suckle the children; care however must be
taken that none of them recognise their own offspring; and if necessary
other nurses may also be hired. The trouble of watching and getting up at
night will be transferred to attendants. 'Then the wives of our guardians
will have a fine easy time when they are having children.' And quite right
too, I said, that they should.

The parents ought to be in the prime of life, which for a man may be
reckoned at thirty years--from twenty-five, when he has 'passed the point
at which the speed of life is greatest,' to fifty-five; and at twenty years
for a woman--from twenty to forty. Any one above or below those ages who
partakes in the hymeneals shall be guilty of impiety; also every one who
forms a marriage connexion at other times without the consent of the
rulers. This latter regulation applies to those who are within the
specified ages, after which they may range at will, provided they avoid the
prohibited degrees of parents and children, or of brothers and sisters,
which last, however, are not absolutely prohibited, if a dispensation be
procured. 'But how shall we know the degrees of affinity, when all things
are common?' The answer is, that brothers and sisters are all such as are
born seven or nine months after the espousals, and their parents those who
are then espoused, and every one will have many children and every child
many parents.

Socrates proceeds: I have now to prove that this scheme is advantageous
and also consistent with our entire polity. The greatest good of a State
is unity; the greatest evil, discord and distraction. And there will be
unity where there are no private pleasures or pains or interests--where if
one member suffers all the members suffer, if one citizen is touched all
are quickly sensitive; and the least hurt to the little finger of the State
runs through the whole body and vibrates to the soul. For the true State,
like an individual, is injured as a whole when any part is affected. Every
State has subjects and rulers, who in a democracy are called rulers, and in
other States masters: but in our State they are called saviours and
allies; and the subjects who in other States are termed slaves, are by us
termed nurturers and paymasters, and those who are termed comrades and
colleagues in other places, are by us called fathers and brothers. And
whereas in other States members of the same government regard one of their
colleagues as a friend and another as an enemy, in our State no man is a
stranger to another; for every citizen is connected with every other by
ties of blood, and these names and this way of speaking will have a
corresponding reality--brother, father, sister, mother, repeated from
infancy in the ears of children, will not be mere words. Then again the
citizens will have all things in common, in having common property they
will have common pleasures and pains.

Can there be strife and contention among those who are of one mind; or
lawsuits about property when men have nothing but their bodies which they
call their own; or suits about violence when every one is bound to defend
himself? The permission to strike when insulted will be an 'antidote' to
the knife and will prevent disturbances in the State. But no younger man
will strike an elder; reverence will prevent him from laying hands on his
kindred, and he will fear that the rest of the family may retaliate.
Moreover, our citizens will be rid of the lesser evils of life; there will
be no flattery of the rich, no sordid household cares, no borrowing and not
paying. Compared with the citizens of other States, ours will be Olympic
victors, and crowned with blessings greater still--they and their children
having a better maintenance during life, and after death an honourable
burial. Nor has the happiness of the individual been sacrificed to the
happiness of the State; our Olympic victor has not been turned into a
cobbler, but he has a happiness beyond that of any cobbler. At the same
time, if any conceited youth begins to dream of appropriating the State to
himself, he must be reminded that 'half is better than the whole.' 'I
should certainly advise him to stay where he is when he has the promise of
such a brave life.'

But is such a community possible?--as among the animals, so also among men;
and if possible, in what way possible? About war there is no difficulty;
the principle of communism is adapted to military service. Parents will
take their children to look on at a battle, just as potters' boys are
trained to the business by looking on at the wheel. And to the parents
themselves, as to other animals, the sight of their young ones will prove a
great incentive to bravery. Young warriors must learn, but they must not
run into danger, although a certain degree of risk is worth incurring when
the benefit is great. The young creatures should be placed under the care
of experienced veterans, and they should have wings--that is to say, swift
and tractable steeds on which they may fly away and escape. One of the
first things to be done is to teach a youth to ride.

Cowards and deserters shall be degraded to the class of husbandmen;
gentlemen who allow themselves to be taken prisoners, may be presented to
the enemy. But what shall be done to the hero? First of all he shall be
crowned by all the youths in the army; secondly, he shall receive the right
hand of fellowship; and thirdly, do you think that there is any harm in his
being kissed? We have already determined that he shall have more wives
than others, in order that he may have as many children as possible. And
at a feast he shall have more to eat; we have the authority of Homer for
honouring brave men with 'long chines,' which is an appropriate compliment,
because meat is a very strengthening thing. Fill the bowl then, and give
the best seats and meats to the brave--may they do them good! And he who
dies in battle will be at once declared to be of the golden race, and will,
as we believe, become one of Hesiod's guardian angels. He shall be
worshipped after death in the manner prescribed by the oracle; and not only
he, but all other benefactors of the State who die in any other way, shall
be admitted to the same honours.

The next question is, How shall we treat our enemies? Shall Hellenes be
enslaved? No; for there is too great a risk of the whole race passing
under the yoke of the barbarians. Or shall the dead be despoiled?
Certainly not; for that sort of thing is an excuse for skulking, and has
been the ruin of many an army. There is meanness and feminine malice in
making an enemy of the dead body, when the soul which was the owner has
fled--like a dog who cannot reach his assailants, and quarrels with the
stones which are thrown at him instead. Again, the arms of Hellenes should
not be offered up in the temples of the Gods; they are a pollution, for
they are taken from brethren. And on similar grounds there should be a
limit to the devastation of Hellenic territory--the houses should not be
burnt, nor more than the annual produce carried off. For war is of two
kinds, civil and foreign; the first of which is properly termed 'discord,'
and only the second 'war;' and war between Hellenes is in reality civil
war--a quarrel in a family, which is ever to be regarded as unpatriotic and
unnatural, and ought to be prosecuted with a view to reconciliation in a
true phil-Hellenic spirit, as of those who would chasten but not utterly
enslave. The war is not against a whole nation who are a friendly
multitude of men, women, and children, but only against a few guilty
persons; when they are punished peace will be restored. That is the way in
which Hellenes should war against one another--and against barbarians, as
they war against one another now.

'But, my dear Socrates, you are forgetting the main question: Is such a
State possible? I grant all and more than you say about the blessedness of
being one family--fathers, brothers, mothers, daughters, going out to war
together; but I want to ascertain the possibility of this ideal State.'
You are too unmerciful. The first wave and the second wave I have hardly
escaped, and now you will certainly drown me with the third. When you see
the towering crest of the wave, I expect you to take pity. 'Not a whit.'

Well, then, we were led to form our ideal polity in the search after
justice, and the just man answered to the just State. Is this ideal at all
the worse for being impracticable? Would the picture of a perfectly
beautiful man be any the worse because no such man ever lived? Can any
reality come up to the idea? Nature will not allow words to be fully
realized; but if I am to try and realize the ideal of the State in a
measure, I think that an approach may be made to the perfection of which I
dream by one or two, I do not say slight, but possible changes in the
present constitution of States. I would reduce them to a single one--the
great wave, as I call it. Until, then, kings are philosophers, or
philosophers are kings, cities will never cease from ill: no, nor the
human race; nor will our ideal polity ever come into being. I know that
this is a hard saying, which few will be able to receive. 'Socrates, all
the world will take off his coat and rush upon you with sticks and stones,
and therefore I would advise you to prepare an answer.' You got me into
the scrape, I said. 'And I was right,' he replied; 'however, I will stand
by you as a sort of do-nothing, well-meaning ally.' Having the help of
such a champion, I will do my best to maintain my position. And first, I
must explain of whom I speak and what sort of natures these are who are to
be philosophers and rulers. As you are a man of pleasure, you will not
have forgotten how indiscriminate lovers are in their attachments; they
love all, and turn blemishes into beauties. The snub-nosed youth is said
to have a winning grace; the beak of another has a royal look; the
featureless are faultless; the dark are manly, the fair angels; the sickly
have a new term of endearment invented expressly for them, which is 'honey-
pale.' Lovers of wine and lovers of ambition also desire the objects of
their affection in every form. Now here comes the point:--The philosopher
too is a lover of knowledge in every form; he has an insatiable curiosity.
'But will curiosity make a philosopher? Are the lovers of sights and
sounds, who let out their ears to every chorus at the Dionysiac festivals,
to be called philosophers?' They are not true philosophers, but only an
imitation. 'Then how are we to describe the true?'

You would acknowledge the existence of abstract ideas, such as justice,
beauty, good, evil, which are severally one, yet in their various
combinations appear to be many. Those who recognize these realities are
philosophers; whereas the other class hear sounds and see colours, and
understand their use in the arts, but cannot attain to the true or waking
vision of absolute justice or beauty or truth; they have not the light of
knowledge, but of opinion, and what they see is a dream only. Perhaps he
of whom we say the last will be angry with us; can we pacify him without
revealing the disorder of his mind? Suppose we say that, if he has
knowledge we rejoice to hear it, but knowledge must be of something which
is, as ignorance is of something which is not; and there is a third thing,
which both is and is not, and is matter of opinion only. Opinion and
knowledge, then, having distinct objects, must also be distinct faculties.
And by faculties I mean powers unseen and distinguishable only by the
difference in their objects, as opinion and knowledge differ, since the one
is liable to err, but the other is unerring and is the mightiest of all our
faculties. If being is the object of knowledge, and not-being of
ignorance, and these are the extremes, opinion must lie between them, and
may be called darker than the one and brighter than the other. This
intermediate or contingent matter is and is not at the same time, and
partakes both of existence and of non-existence. Now I would ask my good
friend, who denies abstract beauty and justice, and affirms a many
beautiful and a many just, whether everything he sees is not in some point
of view different--the beautiful ugly, the pious impious, the just unjust?
Is not the double also the half, and are not heavy and light relative terms
which pass into one another? Everything is and is not, as in the old
riddle--'A man and not a man shot and did not shoot a bird and not a bird
with a stone and not a stone.' The mind cannot be fixed on either
alternative; and these ambiguous, intermediate, erring, half-lighted
objects, which have a disorderly movement in the region between being and
not-being, are the proper matter of opinion, as the immutable objects are
the proper matter of knowledge. And he who grovels in the world of sense,
and has only this uncertain perception of things, is not a philosopher, but
a lover of opinion only...



And now I will describe in a figure the enlightenment or
unenlightenment of our nature:--Imagine human beings living in an
underground den which is open towards the light; they have been there from
childhood, having their necks and legs chained, and can only see into the
den. At a distance there is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners
a raised way, and a low wall is built along the way, like the screen over
which marionette players show their puppets. Behind the wall appear moving
figures, who hold in their hands various works of art, and among them
images of men and animals, wood and stone, and some of the passers-by are
talking and others silent. 'A strange parable,' he said, 'and strange
captives.' They are ourselves, I replied; and they see only the shadows of
the images which the fire throws on the wall of the den; to these they give
names, and if we add an echo which returns from the wall, the voices of the
passengers will seem to proceed from the shadows. Suppose now that you
suddenly turn them round and make them look with pain and grief to
themselves at the real images; will they believe them to be real? Will not
their eyes be dazzled, and will they not try to get away from the light to
something which they are able to behold without blinking? And suppose
further, that they are dragged up a steep and rugged ascent into the
presence of the sun himself, will not their sight be darkened with the
excess of light? Some time will pass before they get the habit of
perceiving at all; and at first they will be able to perceive only shadows
and reflections in the water; then they will recognize the moon and the
stars, and will at length behold the sun in his own proper place as he is.
Last of all they will conclude:--This is he who gives us the year and the
seasons, and is the author of all that we see. How will they rejoice in
passing from darkness to light! How worthless to them will seem the
honours and glories of the den! But now imagine further, that they descend
into their old habitations;--in that underground dwelling they will not see
as well as their fellows, and will not be able to compete with them in the
measurement of the shadows on the wall; there will be many jokes about the
man who went on a visit to the sun and lost his eyes, and if they find
anybody trying to set free and enlighten one of their number, they will put
him to death, if they can catch him. Now the cave or den is the world of
sight, the fire is the sun, the way upwards is the way to knowledge, and in
the world of knowledge the idea of good is last seen and with difficulty,
but when seen is inferred to be the author of good and right--parent of the
lord of light in this world, and of truth and understanding in the other.
He who attains to the beatific vision is always going upwards; he is
unwilling to descend into political assemblies and courts of law; for his
eyes are apt to blink at the images or shadows of images which they behold
in them--he cannot enter into the ideas of those who have never in their
lives understood the relation of the shadow to the substance. But
blindness is of two kinds, and may be caused either by passing out of
darkness into light or out of light into darkness, and a man of sense will
distinguish between them, and will not laugh equally at both of them, but
the blindness which arises from fulness of light he will deem blessed, and
pity the other; or if he laugh at the puzzled soul looking at the sun, he
will have more reason to laugh than the inhabitants of the den at those who
descend from above. There is a further lesson taught by this parable of
ours. Some persons fancy that instruction is like giving eyes to the
blind, but we say that the faculty of sight was always there, and that the
soul only requires to be turned round towards the light. And this is
conversion; other virtues are almost like bodily habits, and may be
acquired in the same manner, but intelligence has a diviner life, and is
indestructible, turning either to good or evil according to the direction
given. Did you never observe how the mind of a clever rogue peers out of
his eyes, and the more clearly he sees, the more evil he does? Now if you
take such an one, and cut away from him those leaden weights of pleasure
and desire which bind his soul to earth, his intelligence will be turned
round, and he will behold the truth as clearly as he now discerns his
meaner ends. And have we not decided that our rulers must neither be so
uneducated as to have no fixed rule of life, nor so over-educated as to be
unwilling to leave their paradise for the business of the world? We must
choose out therefore the natures who are most likely to ascend to the light
and knowledge of the good; but we must not allow them to remain in the
region of light; they must be forced down again among the captives in the
den to partake of their labours and honours. 'Will they not think this a
hardship?' You should remember that our purpose in framing the State was
not that our citizens should do what they like, but that they should serve
the State for the common good of all. May we not fairly say to our
philosopher,--Friend, we do you no wrong; for in other States philosophy
grows wild, and a wild plant owes nothing to the gardener, but you have
been trained by us to be the rulers and kings of our hive, and therefore we
must insist on your descending into the den. You must, each of you, take
your turn, and become able to use your eyes in the dark, and with a little
practice you will see far better than those who quarrel about the shadows,
whose knowledge is a dream only, whilst yours is a waking reality. It may
be that the saint or philosopher who is best fitted, may also be the least
inclined to rule, but necessity is laid upon him, and he must no longer
live in the heaven of ideas. And this will be the salvation of the State.
For those who rule must not be those who are desirous to rule; and, if you
can offer to our citizens a better life than that of rulers generally is,
there will be a chance that the rich, not only in this world's goods, but
in virtue and wisdom, may bear rule. And the only life which is better
than the life of political ambition is that of philosophy, which is also
the best preparation for the government of a State.

Then now comes the question,--How shall we create our rulers; what way is
there from darkness to light? The change is effected by philosophy; it is
not the turning over of an oyster-shell, but the conversion of a soul from
night to day, from becoming to being. And what training will draw the soul
upwards? Our former education had two branches, gymnastic, which was
occupied with the body, and music, the sister art, which infused a natural
harmony into mind and literature; but neither of these sciences gave any
promise of doing what we want. Nothing remains to us but that universal or
primary science of which all the arts and sciences are partakers, I mean
number or calculation. 'Very true.' Including the art of war? 'Yes,
certainly.' Then there is something ludicrous about Palamedes in the
tragedy, coming in and saying that he had invented number, and had counted
the ranks and set them in order. For if Agamemnon could not count his feet
(and without number how could he?) he must have been a pretty sort of
general indeed. No man should be a soldier who cannot count, and indeed he
is hardly to be called a man. But I am not speaking of these practical
applications of arithmetic, for number, in my view, is rather to be
regarded as a conductor to thought and being. I will explain what I mean
by the last expression:--Things sensible are of two kinds; the one class
invite or stimulate the mind, while in the other the mind acquiesces. Now
the stimulating class are the things which suggest contrast and relation.
For example, suppose that I hold up to the eyes three fingers--a fore
finger, a middle finger, a little finger--the sight equally recognizes all
three fingers, but without number cannot further distinguish them. Or
again, suppose two objects to be relatively great and small, these ideas of
greatness and smallness are supplied not by the sense, but by the mind.
And the perception of their contrast or relation quickens and sets in
motion the mind, which is puzzled by the confused intimations of sense, and
has recourse to number in order to find out whether the things indicated
are one or more than one. Number replies that they are two and not one,
and are to be distinguished from one another. Again, the sight beholds
great and small, but only in a confused chaos, and not until they are
distinguished does the question arise of their respective natures; we are
thus led on to the distinction between the visible and intelligible. That
was what I meant when I spoke of stimulants to the intellect; I was
thinking of the contradictions which arise in perception. The idea of
unity, for example, like that of a finger, does not arouse thought unless
involving some conception of plurality; but when the one is also the
opposite of one, the contradiction gives rise to reflection; an example of
this is afforded by any object of sight. All number has also an elevating
effect; it raises the mind out of the foam and flux of generation to the
contemplation of being, having lesser military and retail uses also. The
retail use is not required by us; but as our guardian is to be a soldier as
well as a philosopher, the military one may be retained. And to our higher
purpose no science can be better adapted; but it must be pursued in the
spirit of a philosopher, not of a shopkeeper. It is concerned, not with
visible objects, but with abstract truth; for numbers are pure
abstractions--the true arithmetician indignantly denies that his unit is
capable of division. When you divide, he insists that you are only
multiplying; his 'one' is not material or resolvable into fractions, but an
unvarying and absolute equality; and this proves the purely intellectual
character of his study. Note also the great power which arithmetic has of
sharpening the wits; no other discipline is equally severe, or an equal
test of general ability, or equally improving to a stupid person.