- c. 428 BCE
- c. 348 BCE (age c. 80)
- Famous in:
- Follower of:
- Ancient Philosophy
- Dialoges of Socrates
with Athenian men
- Works Online:
- 1. Republic
2. Apology of Socrates
4. First Alcibiades
5. Second Alcibiades
- About Plato:
- 1. Plato | Life and Legends
Republic | Plato
Plato (c. 428 – 348 BC)
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Republic | Book I - Part 1
SOCRATES - GLAUCON
I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess;
and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing. I was delighted with the procession of the inhabitants; but that of the Thracians was equally, if not more, beautiful.
When we had ﬁnished our prayers and viewed the spectacle, we turned in the direction of the city;
and at that instant Polemarchus the son of Cephalus chanced to catch sight of us from a distance as we were starting on our way home, and told his servant to run and bid us wait for him.
The servant took hold of me by the cloak behind, and said:
Polemarchus desires you to wait.
I turned round, and asked him where his master was.
There he is - said the youth - coming after you, if you will only wait.
Certainly we will - said Glaucon;
and in a few minutes Polemarchus appeared, and with him Adeimantus, Glaucon’s brother, Niceratus the son of Nicias, and several others who had been at the procession.
SOCRATES - POLEMARCHUS - GLAUCON - ADEIMANTUS
Polemarchus said to me:
I perceive, Socrates, that you and our companion are already on your way to the city.
You are not far wrong, I said.
But do you see, he rejoined, how many we are?
And are you stronger than all these? for if not, you will have to remain where you are.
May there not be the alternative, I said, that we may persuade you to let us go?
But can you persuade us, if we refuse to listen to you? - he said.
Certainly not, replied Glaucon.
Then we are not going to listen; of that you may be assured.
Adeimantus added: Has no one told you of the torch-race on horseback in honour of the goddess which will take place in the evening?
I replied: That is a novelty. Will horsemen carry torches and pass them one to another during the race?
Yes, said Polemarchus, and not only so, but a festival will be celebrated at night, which you certainly ought to see.
Let us rise soon after supper and see this festival; there will be a gathering of young men, and we will have a good talk. Stay then, and do not be perverse.
Glaucon said: I suppose, since you insist, that we must.
Very good, I replied.
Accordingly we went with Polemarchus to his house;
and there we found his brothers Lysias and Euthydemus, and with them Thrasymachus the Chalcedonian, Charmantides the Paeanian, and Cleitophon the son of Aristonymus.
There too was Cephalus the father of Polemarchus, whom I had not seen for a long time, and I thought him very much aged:
He was seated on a cushioned chair, and had a garland on his head, for he had been sacriﬁcing in the court; and there were some other chairs in the room arranged in a semicircle, upon which we sat down by him.
He saluted me eagerly, and then he said:–
You don’t come to see me, Socrates, as often as you ought:
If I were still able to go and see you I would not ask you to come to me. But at my age I can hardly get to the city, and therefore you should come oftener to the Piraeus.
For let me tell you, that the more the pleasures of the body fade away, the greater to me is the pleasure and charm of conversation.
Do not then deny my request, but make our house your resort and keep company with these young men; we are old friends, and you will be quite at home with us.
There is nothing which for my part I like better, Cephalus, than conversing with aged men;
for I regard them as travellers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of whom I ought to enquire, whether the way is smooth and easy, or rugged and diﬃcult.
And this is a question which I should like to ask of you who have arrived at that time which the poets call the ‘threshold of old age’–Is life harder towards the end, or what report do you give of it?
I will tell you, Socrates, he said, what my own feeling is:
Men of my age ﬂock together; we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says; and at our meetings the tale of my acquaintance commonly is
–I cannot eat, I cannot drink; the pleasures of youth and love are ﬂed away: there was a good time once, but now that is gone, and life is no longer life.
Some complain of the slights which are put upon them by relations, and they will tell you sadly of how many evils their old age is the cause.
But to me, Socrates, these complainers seem to blame that which is not really in fault:
For if old age were the cause, I too being old, and every other old man, would have felt as they do. But this is not my own experience, nor that of others whom I have known.
How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles, when in answer to the question, How does love suit with age, Sophocles,–are you still the man you were?
Peace, he replied; most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master.
His words have often occurred to my mind since, and they seem as good to me now as at the time when he uttered them.
For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but of many.
The truth is, Socrates, that these regrets, and also the complaints about relations, are to be attributed to the same cause, which is not old age, but men’s characters and tempers;
for he who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden.
I listened in admiration, and wanting to draw him out, that he might go on
–Yes, Cephalus, I said: but I rather suspect that people in general are not convinced by you when you speak thus;
they think that old age sits lightly upon you, not because of your happy disposition, but because you are rich, and wealth is well known to be a great comforter.
You are right, he replied; they are not convinced: and there is something in what they say; not, however, so much as they imagine.
I might answer them as Themistocles answered the Seriphian who was abusing him and saying that he was famous, not for his own merits but because he was an Athenian:
‘If you had been a native of my country or I of yours, neither of us would have been famous.’
And to those who are not rich and are impatient of old age, the same reply may be made;
for to the good poor man old age cannot be a light burden, nor can a bad rich man ever have peace with himself.
May I ask, Cephalus, whether your fortune was for the most part inherited or acquired by you?
Acquired! Socrates; do you want to know how much I acquired? In the art of making money I have been midway between my father and grandfather:
for my grandfather, whose name I bear, doubled and trebled the value of his patrimony, that which he inherited being much what I possess now;
but my father Lysanias reduced the property below what it is at present: and I shall be satisﬁed if I leave to these my sons not less but a little more than I received.
That was why I asked you the question, I replied, because I see that you are indifferent about money, which is a characteristic rather of those who have inherited their fortunes than of those who have acquired them;
the makers of fortunes have a second love of money as a creation of their own, resembling the affection of authors for their own poems, or of parents for their children, besides that natural love of it for the sake of use and proﬁt which is common to them and all men.
And hence they are very bad company, for they can talk about nothing but the praises of wealth.
That is true, he said.
Yes, that is very true, but may I ask another question? What do you consider to be the greatest blessing which you have reaped from your wealth?
One, he said, of which I could not expect easily to convince others:
For let me tell you, Socrates, that when a man thinks himself to be near death, fears and cares enter into his mind which he never had before;
the tales of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here were once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented with the thought that they may be true:
either from the weakness of age, or because he is now drawing nearer to that other place, he has a clearer view of these things; suspicions and alarms crowd thickly upon him, and he begins to reﬂect and consider what wrongs he has done to others.
And when he ﬁnds that the sum of his transgressions is great he will many a time like a child start up in his sleep for fear, and he is ﬁlled with dark forebodings.
But to him who is conscious of no sin, sweet hope, as Pindar charmingly says, is the kind nurse of his age:
Hope, he says, cherishes the soul of him who lives in justice and holiness and is the nurse of his age and the companion of his journey;
– hope which is mightiest to sway the restless soul of man.
How admirable are his words!
And the great blessing of riches, I do not say to every man, but to a good man, is, that he has had no occasion to deceive or to defraud others, either intentionally or unintentionally;
and when he departs to the world below he is not in any apprehension about offerings due to the gods or debts which he owes to men.
Now to this peace of mind the possession of wealth greatly contributes;
and therefore I say, that, setting one thing against another, of the many advantages which wealth has to give, to a man of sense this is in my opinion the greatest.
Well said, Cephalus, I replied; but as concerning justice, what is it? – to speak the truth and to pay your debts–no more than this? And even to this are there not exceptions?
Suppose that a friend when in his right mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to give them back to him?
No one would say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so, any more than they would say that I ought always to speak the truth to one who is in his condition.
You are quite right, he replied.
But then, I said, speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a correct deﬁnition of justice.
CEPHALUS - SOCRATES - POLEMARCHUS
Quite correct, Socrates, if Simonides is to be believed, said Polemarchus interposing.
I fear, said Cephalus, that I must go now, for I have to look after the sacriﬁces, and I hand over the argument to Polemarchus and the company.
Is not Polemarchus your heir? I said.
To be sure, he answered, and went away laughing to the sacriﬁces.
SOCRATES - POLEMARCHUS
Tell me then, O thou heir of the argument, what did Simonides say, and according to you truly say, about justice?
He said that the repayment of a debt is just, and in saying so he appears to me to be right.
I should be sorry to doubt the word of such a wise and inspired man, but his meaning, though probably clear to you, is the reverse of clear to me.
For he certainly does not mean, as we were now saying that I ought to return a return a deposit of arms or of anything else to one who asks for it when he is not in his right senses; and yet a deposit cannot be denied to be a debt.
Then when the person who asks me is not in his right mind I am by no means to make the return?
When Simonides said that the repayment of a debt was justice, he did not mean to include that case?
Certainly not; for he thinks that a friend ought always to do good to a friend and never evil.
You mean that the return of a deposit of gold which is to the injury of the receiver, if the two parties are friends, is not the repayment of a debt,–that is what you would imagine him to say?
And are enemies also to receive what we owe to them?
To be sure, he said, they are to receive what we owe them, and an enemy, as I take it, owes to an enemy that which is due or proper to him– that is to say, evil.
Simonides, then, after the manner of poets, would seem to have spoken darkly of the nature of justice; for he really meant to say that justice is the giving to each man what is proper to him, and this he termed a debt.
That must have been his meaning, he said.
By heaven! I replied; and if we asked him what due or proper thing is given by medicine, and to whom, what answer do you think that he would make to us?
He would surely reply that medicine gives drugs and meat and drink to human bodies.
And what due or proper thing is given by cookery, and to what?
Seasoning to food.
And what is that which justice gives, and to whom?
If, Socrates, we are to be guided at all by the analogy of the preceding instances, then justice is the art which gives good to friends and evil to enemies.
That is his meaning then?
I think so.
And who is best able to do good to his friends and evil to his enemies in time of sickness?
Or when they are on a voyage, amid the perils of the sea?
And in what sort of actions or with a view to what result is the just man most able to do harm to his enemy and good to his friends?
In going to war against the one and in making alliances with the other.
But when a man is well, my dear Polemarchus, there is no need of a physician?
And he who is not on a voyage has no need of a pilot?
Then in time of peace justice will be of no use?
I am very far from thinking so.
You think that justice may be of use in peace as well as in war?
Like husbandry for the acquisition of corn?
Or like shoemaking for the acquisition of shoes,–that is what you mean?
And what similar use or power of acquisition has justice in time of peace?
In contracts, Socrates, justice is of use.
And by contracts you mean partnerships?
But is the just man or the skilful player a more useful and better partner at a game of draughts?
The skilful player.
And in the laying of bricks and stones is the just man a more useful or better partner than the builder?
Quite the reverse.
Then in what sort of partnership is the just man a better partner than the harp-player, as in playing the harp the harp-player is certainly a better partner than the just man?
In a money partnership.
Yes, Polemarchus, but surely not in the use of money; for you do not want a just man to be your counsellor the purchase or sale of a horse; a man who is knowing about horses would be better for that, would he not?
And when you want to buy a ship, the shipwright or the pilot would be better?
Then what is that joint use of silver or gold in which the just man is to be preferred?
When you want a deposit to be kept safely.
You mean when money is not wanted, but allowed to lie?
That is to say, justice is useful when money is useless?
That is the inference.
And when you want to keep a pruning-hook safe, then justice is useful to the individual and to the state; but when you want to use it, then the art of the vine-dresser?
And when you want to keep a shield or a lyre, and not to use them, you would say that justice is useful; but when you want to use them, then the art of the soldier or of the musician?
And so of all the other things; –justice is useful when they are useless, and useless when they are useful?
That is the inference.
Then justice is not good for much. But let us consider this further point: Is not he who can best strike a blow in a boxing match or in any kind of ﬁghting best able to ward off a blow?
And he who is most skilful in preventing or escaping from a disease is best able to create one?
And he is the best guard of a camp who is best able to steal a march upon the enemy?
Then he who is a good keeper of anything is also a good thief?
That, I suppose, is to be inferred.
Then if the just man is good at keeping money, he is good at stealing it.
That is implied in the argument.
Then after all, the just man has turned out to be a thief:
And this is a lesson which I suspect you must have learnt out of Homer; for he, speaking of Autolycus, the maternal grandfather of Odysseus, who is a favourite of his, aﬃrms that
He was excellent above all men in theft and perjury.
And so, you and Homer and Simonides are agreed that justice is an art of theft; to be practised however ‘for the good of friends and for the harm of enemies,’
–that was what you were saying?
No, certainly not that, though I do not now know what I did say; but I still stand by the latter words.
Well, there is another question:
By friends and enemies do we mean those who are so really, or only in seeming?
Surely, he said, a man may be expected to love those whom he thinks good, and to hate those whom he thinks evil.
Yes, but do not persons often err about good and evil: many who are not good seem to be so, and conversely?
That is true.
Then to them the good will be enemies and the evil will be their friends? True.
And in that case they will be right in doing good to the evil and evil to the good?
But the good are just and would not do an injustice?
Then according to your argument it is just to injure those who do no wrong?
Nay, Socrates; the doctrine is immoral.
Then I suppose that we ought to do good to the just and harm to the unjust?
I like that better.
But see the consequence:
–Many a man who is ignorant of human nature has friends who are bad friends, and in that case he ought to do harm to them; and he has good enemies whom he ought to beneﬁt; but, if so, we shall be saying the very opposite of that which we aﬃrmed to be the meaning of Simonides.
Very true, he said: and I think that we had better correct an error into which we seem to have fallen in the use of the words ‘friend’ and ‘enemy.’
What was the error, Polemarchus? I asked.
We assumed that he is a friend who seems to be or who is thought good.
And how is the error to be corrected?
We should rather say that he is a friend who is, as well as seems, good; and that he who seems only, and is not good, only seems to be and is not a friend;
and of an enemy the same may be said.
You would argue that the good are our friends and the bad our enemies?
And instead of saying simply as we did at ﬁrst, that it is just to do good to our friends and harm to our enemies, we should further say: It is just to do good to our friends when they are good and harm to our enemies when they are evil?
Yes, that appears to me to be the truth.
But ought the just to injure any one at all?
Undoubtedly he ought to injure those who are both wicked and his enemies.
When horses are injured, are they improved or deteriorated?
Deteriorated, that is to say, in the good qualities of horses, not of dogs?
Yes, of horses.
And dogs are deteriorated in the good qualities of dogs, and not of horses?
And will not men who are injured be deteriorated in that which is the proper virtue of man?
And that human virtue is justice?
To be sure.
Then men who are injured are of necessity made unjust?
That is the result.
But can the musician by his art make men unmusical?
Or the horseman by his art make them bad horsemen?
And can the just by justice make men unjust, or speaking general can the good by virtue make them bad?
Any more than heat can produce cold?
Or drought moisture?
Nor can the good harm anyone?
And the just is the good?
Then to injure a friend or anyone else is not the act of a just man, but of the opposite, who is the unjust?
I think that what you say is quite true, Socrates.
Then if a man says that justice consists in the repayment of debts, and that good is the debt which a man owes to his friends, and evil the debt which he owes to his enemies,–to say this is not wise; for it is not true, if, as has been clearly shown, the injuring of another can be in no case just.
I agree with you, said Polemarchus.
Then you and I are prepared to take up arms against anyone who attributes such a saying to Simonides or Bias or Pittacus, or any other wise man or seer?
I am quite ready to do battle at your side, he said.
Shall I tell you who’s I believe the saying to be?
I believe that Periander or Perdiccas or Xerxes or Ismenias the Theban, or some other rich and mighty man, who had a great opinion of his own power, was the ﬁrst to say that justice is ‘doing good to your friends and harm to your enemies.’
Most true, he said.
Yes, I said; but if this deﬁnition of justice also breaks down, what other can be offered?
Several times in the course of the discussion Thrasymachus had made an attempt to get the argument into his own hands, and had been put down by the rest of the company, who wanted to hear the end. But when Polemarchus and I had done speaking and there was a pause, he could no longer hold his peace; and, gathering himself up, he came at us like a wild beast, seeking to devour us. We were quite panic-stricken at the sight of him.
SOCRATES - POLEMARCHUS - THRASYMACHUS
He roared out to the whole company: What folly. Socrates, has taken pos- session of you all? And why, sillybillies, do you knock under to one another? I say that if you want really to know what justice is, you should not only ask but answer, and you should not seek honour to yourself from the refutation of an opponent, but have your own answer; for there is many a one who can ask and cannot answer. And now I will not have you say that justice is duty or advantage or proﬁt or gain or interest, for this sort of nonsense will not do for me; I must have clearness and accuracy.
I was panic-stricken at his words, and could not look at him without trem- bling. Indeed I believe that if I had not ﬁxed my eye upon him, I should have been struck dumb: but when I saw his fury rising, I looked at him ﬁrst, and was therefore able to reply to him.
Thrasymachus, I said, with a quiver, don’t be hard upon us. Polemarchus and I may have been guilty of a little mistake in the argument, but I can assure you that the error was not intentional. If we were seeking for a piece of gold, you would not imagine that we were ‘knocking under to one another,’ and so losing our chance of ﬁnding it. And why, when we are seeking for justice, a thing more precious than many pieces of gold, do you say that we are weakly yielding to one another and not doing our utmost to get at the truth? Nay, my good friend, we are most willing and anxious to do so, but the fact is that we cannot. And if so, you people who know all things should pity us and not be angry with us.
How characteristic of Socrates! he replied, with a bitter laugh;– that’s your ironical style! Did I not foresee–have I not already told you, that whatever he was asked he would refuse to answer, and try irony or any other shuﬄe, in order that he might avoid answering?
You are a philosopher, Thrasymachus, I replied, and well know that if you ask a person what numbers make up twelve, taking care to prohibit him whom you ask from answering twice six, or three times four, or six times two, or four times three, ‘for this sort of nonsense will not do for me,’–then obviously, that is your way of putting the question, no one can answer you. But suppose that he were to retort, ‘Thrasymachus, what do you mean? If one of these numbers which you interdict be the true answer to the question, am I falsely to say some other number which is not the right one?–is that your meaning?’ –How would you answer him?
Just as if the two cases were at all alike! he said.
Why should they not be? I replied; and even if they are not, but only appear to be so to the person who is asked, ought he not to say what he thinks, whether you and I forbid him or not?
I presume then that you are going to make one of the interdicted answers?
I dare say that I may, notwithstanding the danger, if upon reﬂection I ap- prove of any of them.
But what if I give you an answer about justice other and better, he said, than any of these? What do you deserve to have done to you?
Done to me!–as becomes the ignorant, I must learn from the wise– that is what I deserve to have done to me.
What, and no payment! a pleasant notion!
I will pay when I have the money, I replied.
SOCRATES - THRASYMACHUS - GLAUCON
But you have, Socrates, said Glaucon: and you, Thrasymachus, need be under no anxiety about money, for we will all make a contribution for Socrates.
Yes, he replied, and then Socrates will do as he always does– refuse to answer himself, but take and pull to pieces the answer of some one else.
Why, my good friend, I said, how can any one answer who knows, and says that he knows, just nothing; and who, even if he has some faint notions of his own, is told by a man of authority not to utter them? The natural thing is, that the speaker should be someone like yourself who professes to know and can tell what he knows. Will you then kindly answer, for the ediﬁcation of the company and of myself?
Glaucon and the rest of the company joined in my request and Thrasymachus, as any one might see, was in reality eager to speak; for he thought that he had an excellent answer, and would distinguish himself. But at ﬁrst he to insist on my answering; at length he consented to begin. Behold, he said, the wisdom of Socrates; he refuses to teach himself, and goes about learning of others, to whom he never even says thank you.
That I learn of others, I replied, is quite true; but that I am ungrateful I wholly deny. Money I have none, and therefore I pay in praise, which is all I have: and how ready I am to praise anyone who appears to me to speak well you will very soon ﬁnd out when you answer; for I expect that you will answer well.
Listen, then, he said; I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger. And now why do you not me? But of course you won’t.
Let me ﬁrst understand you, I replied. justice, as you say, is the interest of the stronger. What, Thrasymachus, is the meaning of this? You cannot mean to say that because Polydamas, the pancratiast, is stronger than we are, and ﬁnds the eating of beef conducive to his bodily strength, that to eat beef is therefore equally for our good who are weaker than he is, and right and just for us?
That’s abominable of you, Socrates; you take the words in the sense which is most damaging to the argument.
Not at all, my good sir, I said; I am trying to understand them; and I wish that you would be a little clearer.
Well, he said, have you never heard that forms of government differ; there are tyrannies, and there are democracies, and there are aristocracies?
Yes, I know.
And the government is the ruling power in each state?
And the different forms of government make laws democratical, aristocrat- ical, tyrannical, with a view to their several interests; and these laws, which are made by them for their own interests, are the justice which they deliver to their subjects, and him who transgresses them they punish as a breaker of the law, and unjust. And that is what I mean when I say that in all states there is the same principle of justice, which is the interest of the government; and as the government must be supposed to have power, the only reasonable conclusion is, that everywhere there is one principle of justice, which is the interest of the stronger.
Now I understand you, I said; and whether you are right or not I will try to discover. But let me remark, that in deﬁning justice you have yourself used the word ‘interest’ which you forbade me to use. It is true, however, that in your deﬁnition the words ‘of the stronger’ are added.
A small addition, you must allow, he said.
Great or small, never mind about that: we must ﬁrst enquire whether what you are saying is the truth. Now we are both agreed that justice is interest of some sort, but you go on to say ‘of the stronger’; about this addition I am not so sure, and must therefore consider further.
I will; and ﬁrst tell me, Do you admit that it is just or subjects to obey their rulers?
But are the rulers of states absolutely infallible, or are they sometimes liable to err?
To be sure, he replied, they are liable to err.
Then in making their laws they may sometimes make them rightly, and sometimes not?
When they make them rightly, they make them agreeably to their interest; when they are mistaken, contrary to their interest; you admit that?
And the laws which they make must be obeyed by their subjects,– and that is what you call justice?
Then justice, according to your argument, is not only obedience to the in- terest of the stronger but the reverse?
What is that you are saying? he asked.
I am only repeating what you are saying, I believe. But let us consider: Have we not admitted that the rulers may be mistaken about their own interest in what they command, and also that to obey them is justice? Has not that been admitted?
Then you must also have acknowledged justice not to be for the interest of the stronger, when the rulers unintentionally command things to be done which are to their own injury. For if, as you say, justice is the obedience which the subject renders to their commands, in that case, O wisest of men, is there any escape from the conclusion that the weaker are commanded to do, not what is for the interest, but what is for the injury of the stronger?
Nothing can be clearer, Socrates, said Polemarchus.