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Plato, Republic
Introduction
SOCRATES: I
went down to the Piraeus yesterday with Glaucon, Ariston’s son, to
pray to the goddess and see how they’d manage her festival, which was being held for
the first time. I thought our local procession was beautiful, though it seemed no nicer
than the Thracians’ procession. When we had prayed and watched the processions we
started back to town. Polemarchus, son of Cephalus, spotted us hurrying home and
ordered his slave to run up and tell us to wait for him. The boy pulled at my cloak
from behind: “Polemarchus tells you to wait,” he said. I turned around and asked where
the master was. “There,” he said, “right behind you. Just wait.”
“We will,” said Glaucon.
A little while later Polemarchus came up with Glaucon’s brother Adeimantus,
Niceratus, son of Nicias, and some others who must have come from the procession.
Polemarchus said: “You seem in a rush to get back to town, Socrates.”
“Not a bad guess,” I replied.
“Do you see how many of us there are?”
“How can I help it?”
“Well,” he said, “either overpower us or stay here.”
“Isn’t there another alternative?” I asked. “We could persuade you to let us go.”
“Can you persuade someone who won’t listen?”
“Hardly,” Glaucon replied.
“Well,” said Polemarchus, “you can be sure that we won’t.”
“Say,” said Adeimantus, “did you know there’s going to be a torch race on horses
for the goddess this evening?”
“On horses?” I said. “That’s something new. You mean a relay race on horses,
handing off torches?”
“Exactly,” said Polemarchus. “They’re having an all-night carnival too, which should be
something to see. We’re going out after supper to watch. There’ll be lots of young men
there to talk to, so stay with us and don’t try anything different.”
“It looks like we’ll have to,” said Glaucon.
“If you think so,” I said, “then that’s what we’ll do.”
So we went home with Polemarchus and found his brothers, Lysias and Euthydemus.
Thrasymachus of Chalcedon was there, Charmantides from Paeania, and Clitophon, son
of Aristonymus. Polemarchus’s father Cephalus was also at home. I hadn’t seen him for a
long time and he seemed very old. He was sitting in a chair on a pillow and wearing a
wreath because he’d just come in from making a sacrifice in the courtyard.
There was a circle of chairs in the room, so we went in and sat down. As soon as he saw
me, Cephalus greeted me and said: “You really ought to come down to the Piraeus and see
us more often, Socrates. If I still had the strength to walk up to town you wouldn’t have to
bother because we’d come and see you. As it is, you’ll have to visit us more often. You
know I love a good talk—in fact, my desire for conversation increases as my bodily
pleasures decline. So please don’t say no—you can get together with these young fellows
and still visit us. Think of us as friends and almost a part of your family.”
“Of course, Cephalus,” I said. “I enjoy talking with old people anyway; they’ve gone
before us down a path that we too may have to walk. I think we should try to find out from
Plato, Republic, Reading I 1
them what it’s like—rocky and difficult or easy and smooth. I’d especially like to hear from
you, Cephalus, since you’re now on what the poets call ‘the threshold of Death.’ What’s
your report? Is it a hard time of life or what?”
“Well, I’ll give you my opinion, Socrates. A few of us old fellows get together now and
then, like regular birds of a feather. Most of us sit and cry about the good old days,
yearning for the pleasures of youth and reminiscing about the joys of sex and parties and
drinking and all that. They fret as though they’d been deprived of something important,
saying that then they lived well and now they’re not even living. Some complain that
their families abuse them, and make that an excuse to bewail old age, as though age were
the cause of all of their miseries.
“Now it seems to me that these people put the blame in the wrong place, Socrates. If
age were the cause, it would have the same effect on me and everyone else who’s old. But
I’ve met old people who aren’t like that. Once I was with the poet Sophocles when someone
asked: ‘How’s your sex life, Sophocles? Are you still able to enjoy a woman?’ ‘Hush!’ said
Sophocles. ‘The greatest happiness of my life was escaping from that cruel and raging
tyrant.’ That seemed like a good reply then, and now it seems even better. Old age frees
you from that sort of thing and gives you peace, and when your desires relax and stop
driving you it’s exactly as Sophocles said: release from bondage to a pack of raging
tyrants. So, Socrates, the cause of a person’s attitude toward these desires is also the cause
of his family’s attitude toward him: not age, but a man’s character. If he’s orderly and
cheerful, old age will be tolerable. If he’s not, Socrates, even youth will be a burden to
him.”
I was delighted to hear him speak like that and wanted to hear more. So to stir him up I
said: “Cephalus, I’ll bet most people won’t accept what you say. They probably think old
age is easy for you because of your money and not your character. The rich have many
consolations, they say.”
“You’re right, Socrates, they won’t. There’s some truth in what they say, too, but not as
much as they think. Themistocles put it well when a man from Seriphus was insulting him
and accused him of not being honored for himself but for his city: ‘I wouldn’t be famous
if I were from Seriphus; nor you if from Athens.’ The same for a man who’s not rich and
finds old age difficult: age isn’t easy for a good man if he’s poor, nor will a bad man ever
be cheerful with himself even if he’s rich.”
“Cephalus,” I said, “did you inherit most of your money or make it yourself?”
“What did I make?” he said. “Well, Socrates, at making money I come somewhere
between my grandfather and my father. My grandfather, whom I was named after,
inherited a fortune about the size of mine and increased it many times over. My father
Lysanias made it smaller than it is now. And I’ll be satisfied if I leave my sons here as much
as I inherited, or a little bit more.”
“The reason I asked,” I said, “is that you don’t seem overly fond of money, and that’s
usually true of people who haven’t made it themselves. Self-made men love it twice as
much as others. They’re like poets fond of their own poems or fathers fond of their
children—they take money seriously not only because it’s useful, as everyone does, but
also because it’s their own creation. So they generally make tiresome company because
all they can do is rave about money.”
“That’s true, Socrates.”
“Indeed,” I said. “But tell me, Cephalus, what do you think is the greatest good
Plato, Republic, Reading I 2
you’ve enjoyed from being rich?”
“One that I don’t think many people would believe. But, Socrates, it’s a fact that when a
man faces the thought that he will die, fear comes upon him and he starts thinking about
things that never occurred to him before. The old tales he used to laugh at—about Hades
and how a man must suffer there for any injustice he’s committed here—now begin to
torment his soul with the fear that they might be true. And so, whether because of the
infirmity of age or perhaps because he’s closer to the other world and sees it more clearly,
he’s filled with apprehension and begins to reckon up his life to see if he’s done anyone any
injustice. And the man who finds he has committed much injustice in his life often starts
from sleep in terror, like a child, and lives with evil forebodings. But the man who knows
he has committed no injustice always has sweet hope as his nurse, as Pindar says. He puts
it so gracefully, Socrates, when he says that a man who has lived a just and a holy life
has a sweet, heart-tendering nurse assisting his tottering age: Hope, who chiefly directs
our mortal, faltering purpose.
“That puts it astonishingly well. And it shows what I think is the greatest value of
wealth—not for every man, perhaps, but for one who is decent and orderly: it is a
great help in avoiding even unintentional cheating and lying, and it keeps him from
having to leave life in the fear of owing debts to men or sacrifices to the gods. Of
course money has many other uses, but taking them all in all, Socrates, I’d say for a
sensible man this is its most useful purpose.”
The Question of Justice
“Beautifully put, Cephalus,” I said. “But speaking of justice, do you really think it’s
as simple as telling the truth and returning what you receive, or are both these acts
sometimes just and sometimes unjust? Look at it this way: if you received a weapon
from a friend in his right mind and he asked for it back when he was insane, no one
would say you ought to return it. A just man wouldn’t do that, or tell him the whole
truth either.”
“You’re right,” he said.
“So telling the truth and returning what you receive isn’t the definition of justice.”
“If we’re supposed to believe Simonides it is,” Polemarchus interjected.
“Well,” Cephalus said, “I’ll leave the discussion to you. I’ve got to go and take care
of the sacrifice.”
“You mean I inherit all that’s yours?” asked Polemarchus.
Cephalus laughed. “Of course,” he said, and went out to the sacrifice.
“As heir to the argument,” I said, “what do you think Simonides correctly says
about justice, Polemarchus?”
“That it’s just to give ‘each his due.’ That seems well said to me.”
“It isn’t easy to disbelieve the wise and godlike Simonides,” I said. “Undoubtedly
you know what he means, Polemarchus, but I don’t. He’s obviously not referring to the
example we just used—that you ought to return something to someone not in his right
mind. Yet the thing held in trust is somehow his due, isn’t it?”
“Yes.”
“But it shouldn’t be returned if he’s not in his right mind?”
“No.”
Plato, Republic, Reading I 3
“Then Simonides must have something else in mind when he calls it just to give each
his due.”
“Of course he does, by Zeus. By ‘due’ he means you owe it to your friends to do them
good rather than evil.”
“I see—you don’t return money due to a friend if doing so would harm either of you.
Is that what you think Simonides means?”
“Yes.”
“But you do return what’s due to an enemy?”
“Of course you do,” he said, “—what’s due to him. And what’s due, I think, is
something appropriate to an enemy— something bad.”
“Simonides seems to speak like a poet,” I said, “—in riddles. He apparently intends to
say that justice consists in giving each man what’s appropriate to him, but he calls it his
‘due.’ ”
“Well, why not?”
“By Zeus, Polemarchus, what do you think Simonides would say if we asked him,
‘What due and appropriate thing does the craft called medicine give, and to what?’ ”
“Obviously that it gives food, drink, and drugs to the body.”
“And cooking?”
“Flavor to food.”
“Then what due and appropriate thing does the craft called justice give, and to
what?”
“If we have to follow your examples, Socrates, then it must give help and harm to
friends and enemies.”
“So he means justice is helping your friends and harming your enemies?”
“I think so.”
“Who can best help his friends and harm his enemies in regard to health and illness
when they’re sick?”
“A doctor.”
“And in regard to dangers at sea when they’re sailing?”
“A captain.”
“What about a just man? In what activity and in what regard is he the best man to help
his friends and harm his enemies?”
“I’d say in fighting against them and in being an ally.”
“All right, Polemarchus. But a doctor is useless when people aren’t sick.”
“True.”
“And a captain when people aren’t sailing.”
“Yes.”
“Therefore a just man is useless when people aren’t fighting.”
“I don’t think so, Socrates.”
“Justice is useful even in peacetime?”
“Yes, it is.”
“So is farming, isn’t it?”
“Yes.”
“Because it provides us with food.”
“Yes.”
“And shoemaking, because it provides us with shoes.”
Plato, Republic, Reading I 4
“Of course.”
“Well, what need, would you say justice provides for to make it useful in
peacetime?”
“For contracts, Socrates.”
“By contracts do you mean partnerships, or what?”
“Exactly—partnerships.”
“Who would make a better partner for playing checkers —a just man or a skilled
player?”
“A skilled player.”
“What about laying bricks, Polemarchus? Would the just man be a more useful
building partner than a bricklayer?”
“No.”
“Well then, in what kind of partnership would a just man be better than a bricklayer
or a lyre player?—the way the lyre player would be a better music partner than the just
man.”
“In one involving money, I think.”
“Not for using it, I’ll bet. If you had to buy or sell a horse I think a trainer would be
more useful; if a ship, a shipbuilder or a captain. Isn’t that right?”
“It seems so.”
“Then for what joint use of money is the just man the most useful partner?”
“For depositing it and keeping it safe, Socrates.”
“You mean when you’re not using it, but letting it lie idle?”
“Yes.”
“So justice is useful for money when money is useless.”
“It looks like it.”
“And justice is jointly and individually useful for storing a pruning knife, but to use it
you need viniculture, and it’s useful for storing a shield or a lyre, but to use them you need
military science and music. Is that right?”
“It seems to follow.”
“Generally speaking then, justice is useless when things are in use, useful when
they are not.”
“I guess so.”
“Justice can’t be very serious, my friend, if it’s only useful for useless things. But
examine this: isn’t the fighter who’s the most skillful at throwing a punch also the best at
guarding against one?”
“Of course.”
“And a doctor who can guard against a disease is also the best at secretly causing it, just
as the best man for guarding an army is the one who can steal a march on the enemy and
also his plans.”
“Certainly.”
“So a good guard of something is also a good thief of it.”
“So it seems.”
“Then if a just man is good at guarding money he’s also good at stealing it.”
“According to the argument, at least.”
“Therefore, it seems, the just man is exposed as a kind of thief. You must’ve learned
that from Homer, Polemarchus. He admires Odysseus’s grandfather Autolycus, you
Plato, Republic, Reading I 5
know, for excelling all men ‘in thievery and bearing false witness. According to you and
Simonides and Homer then, justice seems to be a kind of stealing; done, to be sure, to
help ,friends and harm enemies. Is that what you meant?”
“No, by Zeus,” he said. “I don’t know any more what I meant. But this much still seems
right to me: justice is helping your friends and harming your enemies.”
“By friends do you mean men who seem honest or men who are honest even if they
don’t seem so, and the opposite for enemies?”
“You’d expect a man to love people he thinks honest and hate those who seem bad.”
“But don’t people often make mistakes and think men honest when they’re not, and
vice versa?”
“Yes, they do.”
“So for them good men are enemies and bad men are friends.”
“Yes.”
“And justice for them means helping bad men and harming good ones.”
“Apparently.”
“Surely good men are just and do no wrong.”
“True.”
“According to your argument then, it’s just to injure men who do no wrong.”
“Never, Socrates. The argument must be wrong.”
“Maybe it’s just to harm the unjust and help the just.”
“That sounds better.”
“Then for the many bad judges of character, Polemarchus, it turns out to be just to harm
friends, who are bad, and to help enemies, who are good. So we’ll say justice is the exact
opposite of what we said Simonides said.”
“It surely does turn out that way,” he said. “But let’s back up; I’ll bet our definition of
‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ was false.”
“Which definition was that?”
“When we said a friend is one who seems good.”
“How would you put it now, Polemarchus?”
“A friend is one who not only seems good, but is good. One who seems good but isn’t is
only a seeming friend. And so for an enemy.”
“By this definition, it seems, a good man is a friend and a bad one is an enemy.”
“Yes.”
“And you want to add that to our earlier definition and say justice is helping a friend if
he’s good and harming an enemy if he’s bad. Is that correct?”
“Yes. I think that’s very well said, Socrates.”
“Polemarchus,” I said, “does a just man ever harm anyone?”
“Certainly,” he said. “He ought to harm bad enemies.”
“If you harm a horse do you make him better or worse?”
“Worse.”
“By impairing his excellence as a dog?”
“No, as a horse.”
“But if you harm a dog you impair his excellence as a dog.”
“Necessarily.”
“Then shouldn’t we say that if you harm a man you impair his human excellence?”
“Of course.”
Plato, Republic, Reading I 6
“Is justice a human excellence, Polemarchus?”
“That’s necessary too.”
“So when you harm someone you necessarily make him less just.”
“It seems so.”
“Can musicians use music to make people unmusical, or trainers use horsemanship to
make them poor riders?”
“Impossible.”
“But the just can use justice to make people unjust and, in a word, the good can use
excellence to make people bad. Is that correct?”
“No, that’s impossible too.”
“I don’t think cooling is a function of heat, but of the opposite.”
“Yes.”
“And wetting isn’t a function of dryness, but of the opposite.”
“Of course.”
“Then harming isn’t a function of the good, but of the opposite.”
“So it seems.”
“Is a just man good?”
“Of course.”
“Then, Polemarchus, harming someone, a friend or anyone else, isn’t a function of the
just man, but of his opposite, the unjust man.”
“That seems perfectly true to me, Socrates.”
“So if someone says justice is giving each man his due and by ‘due’ means help to friends
and harm to enemies, he’s not a very wise man. Because it isn’t true—we’ve proved that it’s
never just to harm anyone.”
“I agree,” he said.
“And if anyone claims that Simonides or any other of the wise and blessed dead said
that, we’ll make common cause and fight him tooth and nail.”
“I’ll be your partner in that fight, Socrates.”
“Do you know who I think is really the author of the saying that it’s just to help friends
and harm enemies?”
“Who?”
“I think it was some rich man who thought he had great power.”
“You’re absolutely right,” he said.
“Well,” I said, “we’ve shown that this isn’t justice either. Does someone else have
another suggestion?”
Justice as the Advantage of the Stronger
Several times during our discussion Thrasymachus had been about to jump in, but the
others had prevented him because they wanted to hear how it would end. But now,
during the pause after my last words, he held his peace no longer. He bunched himself up
like an animal and pounced on us as if to tear us apart.
Polemarchus and I shrank back in terror. Thrasymachus roared into the group:
“Socrates, what kind of asinine foolishness is this? Why do you scrape and bow to each
other like a couple of imbeciles? If you really want to know what justice is, don’t ask
questions to show off and make your answerer look like an ass. You know it’s easier to ask
Plato, Republic, Reading I 7
than to answer. So answer: what do you say justice is? And make it clear and precise: none
of this nonsense about benefit, profit, gain, duty, or advantage. I won’t tolerate those
barren vapidities!”
His words staggered me and his looks filled me with terror. I think I’d have been
speechless if I hadn’t seen him before he saw me. “Don’t be angry with us, Thrasymachus.
If Polemarchus and I are making a mistake in our investigation it isn’t intentional. If we
were searching for gold, you know we’d never let politeness and deference keep us from
finding it. So don’t think that when we’re searching for justice, a thing far more precious
than gold, we’d be so silly as to defer to each other and not look for it as hard as we can.
We’re looking, my friend, but I guess we’re just not up to it. So we really deserve pity
rather than anger from clever fellows like you.”
He laughed sarcastically and said: “Oh, exquisite—the famous Socratic irony I warned
these fellows about! I knew if someone asked you a question you’d act ignorant or do
anything to get out of answering …
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