Plato, Republic

Plato, Republic

Prelude: The Context and Meaning within the Allegory of the Cave and Divided Line

[506c] “But then,” said I, “do you think it right to speak as having knowledge about things one does not know?” “By no means,” he said, “as having knowledge, but one ought to be willing to tell as his opinion what he opines.” “Nay,” said I, “have you not observed that opinions divorced from knowledge are ugly things? The best of them are blind. Or do you think that those who hold some true opinion without intelligence differ appreciably from blind men who go the right way?” “They do not differ at all,” he said. “Is it, then, ugly things that you prefer. (47) [506d] to contemplate, things blind and crooked, when you might hear from others what is luminous and fair?” “Nay, in heaven’s name, Socrates,” said Glaucon, “do not draw back, as it were, at the very goal. For it will content us if you explain the good even as you set forth the nature of justice, sobriety, and the other virtues.” “It will right well content me, my dear fellow,” I said, “but I fear that my powers may fail and that in my eagerness I may cut a sorry figure and become a laughing-stock. Nay, my beloved, (48) [506e] let us dismiss for the time being the nature of the good in itself; for to attain to my present surmise of that seems a pitch above the impulse that wings my flight today. But of what seems to be the offspring of the good and most nearly made in its likeness I am willing to speak if you too wish it, and otherwise to let the matter drop.” “Well, speak on,” he said, “for you will duly pay me the tale of the parent another time.” “I could wish,” (49) [507a] I said, “that I were able to make and you to receive the payment and not merely as now the interest. But at any rate receive this interest and the offspring of the good. Have a care, however, lest I deceive you unintentionally with a false reckoning of the interest.” (50)

“We will do our best,” he said, “to be on our guard. Only speak on.” “Yes,” I said, “after first coming to an understanding with you and reminding you of what has been said here before and often on other occasions.” (50) [507b] “What?” said he. “We predicate ‘to be’ of many beautiful things and many good things, saying of them severally that they are, and so define them in our speech.” “We do.” “And again, we speak of a self-beautiful and of a good that is only and merely good, and so, in the case of all the things that we then posited as many, we turn about and posit each as a single idea or aspect, assuming it to be a unity and call it that which each really is. “It is so.” “And the one class of things we say can be seen but not thought, (51) [507c] while the ideas can be thought but not seen.” “By all means.” “With which of the parts of ourselves, with which of our faculties, then, do we see visible things?” “With sight,” he said. “And do we not,” I said, “hear audibles with hearing, and perceive all sensibles with the other senses?” “Surely.” “Have you ever observed,” said I, “how much the greatest expenditure the creator of the senses has lavished on the faculty of seeing and being seen? “Why, no, I have not,” he said. “Well, look at it thus. Do hearing and voice stand in need of another medium so that the one may hear and the other be heard, (52) [507d] in the absence of which third element the one will not hear and the other not be heard?” “They need nothing,” he said. “Neither, I fancy,” said I,” do many others, not to say that none require anything of the sort. Or do you know of any?” “Not I,” he said. “But do you not observe that vision and the visible do have this further need?” “How?” “Though vision may be in the eyes and its possessor may try to use it, and though color be present, yet without (53) [507e] the presence of a third thing specifically and naturally adapted to this purpose, you are aware that vision will see nothing and the colors will remain invisible.” “What is this thing of which you speak?” he said. “The thing,” I said, “that you call light.” “You say truly,” he replied. “The bond, then, that yokes together (54)

[508a] visibility and the faculty of sight is more precious by no slight form that which unites the other pairs, if light is not without honor.” “It surely is far from being so,” he said. (55)

“Which one can you name of the divinities in heaven as the author and cause of this, whose light makes our vision see best and visible things to be seen?” “Why, the one that you too and other people mean,” he said; “for your question evidently refers to the sun.” “Is not this, then, the relation of vision to that divinity?” “What?” “Neither vision itself nor is its vehicle, which we call the eye, identical with the sun.” (55) [508b] “Why, no.” “But it is, I think, the most sunlike of all the instruments of sense.” “By far the most.” “And does it not receive the power which it possesses as an influx, as it were, dispensed from the sun?” “Certainly.” “Is it not also true that the sun is not vision, yet as being the cause thereof is beheld by vision itself?” “That is so,” he said. “This, then, you must understand that I meant by the offspring of the good which the good (56) [508c] begot to stand in a proportion with itself: as the good is in the intelligible region to reason and the objects of reason, so is this in the visible world to vision and the objects of vision.” “How is that?” he said; “explain further.” “You are aware,” I said, “that when the eyes are no longer turned upon objects upon whose colors the light of day falls but that of the dim luminaries of night, their edge is blunted and they appear almost blind, as if pure vision did not dwell in them.” “Yes, indeed,” he said. “But when, I take it, (57) [508d] they are directed upon objects illumined by the sun, they see clearly, and vision appears to reside in these same eyes.” “Certainly.” (58)

“Apply this comparison to the soul also in this way. When it is firmly fixed on the domain where truth and reality shine resplendent it apprehends and knows them and appears to possess reason; but when it inclines to that region which is mingled with darkness, the world of becoming and passing away, it opines only and its edge is blunted, and it shifts its opinions hither and thither, and again seems as if it lacked reason.” (58) [508e] “Yes, it does,” “This reality, then, that gives their truth to the objects of knowledge and the power of knowing to the knower, you must say is the idea of good, and you must conceive it as being the cause of knowledge, and of truth in so far as known. Yet fair as they both are, knowledge and truth, in supposing it to be something fairer still than these you will think rightly of it. But as for knowledge and truth, even as in our illustration (59) [509a] it is right to deem light and vision sunlike, but never to think that they are the sun, so here it is right to consider these two their counterparts, as being like the good or boniform, but to think that either of them is the good is not right. Still higher honor belongs to the possession and habit of the good.” “An inconceivable beauty you speak of,” he said, “if it is the source of knowledge and truth, and yet itself surpasses them in beauty. For you surely cannot mean that it is pleasure.” “Hush,” said I, “but examine (60) [509b]the similitude of it still further in this way.” “How?” “The sun, I presume you will say, not only furnishes to visibles the power of visibility but it also provides for their generation and growth and nurture though it is not itself generation.” “Of course not.” “In like manner, then, you are to say that the objects of knowledge not only receive from the presence of the good their being known, but their very existence and essence is derived to them from it, though the good itself is not essence but still transcends essence in dignity and surpassing power.” (61)

[509c] And Glaucon very ludicrously said, “Heaven save us, hyperbole can no further go.” “The fault is yours,” I said, “for compelling me to utter my thoughts about it.” “And don’t desist,” he said, “but at least expound the similitude of the sun, if there is anything that you are omitting.” “Why, certainly,” I said, “I am omitting a great deal.” “Well, don’t omit the least bit,” he said. “I fancy,” I said, “that I shall have to pass over much, but nevertheless so far as it is at present practicable I shall not willingly leave anything out.” “Do not,” (62)