The philosophy of Socrates


BEFORE this digression we were on the point of discussing the four vitiated forms of the state and the corresponding individual types. The four types of state, as we know them in Hellas, are: the Spartan, where personal ambition and honour rule, which we call timocracy; the oligarchical, where wealth rules; the democratic; and the arbitrary rule of the individual, which we call tyranny. The comparison of this last--the supremely unjust--with our own--the supremely just--will show whether justice or injustice be the more desirable.

The perfect state degenerates to timocracy when the state's numerical law of generation [an unsolved riddle] has not been properly observed, and inferior offspring have entered in consequence into the ruling body. The introduction of private property will cause them to assume towards the commonalty the attitude, not of guardians, but of masters, and to be at odds among themselves; also in their education, gymnastic will acquire predominance over music. Ambition and party spirit become the characteristic features. When, in an ill-ordered state, a great man withdraws from the corruption of politics into private life, we see the corresponding individual type in the son of such a one, egged on by his mother and by flattering companions to win back for himself at all costs the prestige which his father had resigned; personal ambition becomes his dominant characteristic.

Oligarchy is the next outcome of the introduction of private property; riches outweigh virtue, love of money the love of honour, and the rich procure for themselves the legal monopoly of political power. Here the state becomes divided, against itself--there is one state of the rich and another of the poor--and the poor will be divided into the merely incompetent and the actively dangerous, or predatory. And your corresponding individual is he whose father had won honours which had not saved him from ultimate ruin; so that the son rejects ambition and makes money his goal, till, for the sake of money, he will compass any baseness, though still only under a cloak of respectability.

In the oligarchy the avaricious encourage and foster extravagance in their neighbours. Men, ruined by moneylenders, turn on their moneyed rulers, overthrow them and give everyone a share in the government. The result is that the state is not one, nor two, but divers. Folk say what they like and do what they like, and anyone is a statesman who will wave the national flag. That is democracy. Such is the son of your miserly oligarch; deprived of unnecessary pleasures, he is tempted to wild dissipation. He has no education to help him to distinguish, and the vices of dissipation assume the aspect and title of virtue. He fluctuates from one point of view to another--is one thing to-day and another to-morrow.

And last we come to tyranny and the tyrannical man. Democratic licence develops into sheer anarchy. Jack is as good as his master. The predatory population become demagogues; they squeeze the decent citizens and drive them to adopt oligarchical methods; then the friend of the people appears; the protector, champion and hero by a familiar process becomes a military autocrat, who himself battens, as must also his mercenary soldiery, on the citizens; and our unhappy Demos finds that it has jumped out of the reek into the fire. Now, our democratical man was swayed by the devices and moods of the moment; his son will be swayed by the most irrational and most bestial of his appetites; be bully and tyrant, while slave of his own lusts. Your thorough blackguard of every species comes of this type, and the worst of all is he who achieves the tyranny of a state. See, then, how, even as the tyrannic state is the most utterly enslaved, so the tyrannic man is of all men the least free; and, beyond all others, the tyrant of a state.

PROCLAIM it, then, son of Ariston, that the most just of men is he who is master of himself, is of all men the happiest, whether gods and men recognize him or no.


Now for second proof. Three kinds of pleasure correspond to the three elements of the soul-reason, spirit, desire. In each man one of the three is in the ascendant. One counts knowledge vain in comparison with the advantages of riches, another with those of honour; to the philosopher only truth counts. But he is the only one of them who makes his choice from experience of all three kinds. And he, the only qualified judge, places the satisfaction of the spirit second, and of desire lowest.

And yet a third proof. I fancy the only quite real pleasures are those of the philosopher. There is an intermediate state between pleasure and pain. To pass into this from pleasure is painful, and from pain is pleasurable. Now, the pleasures of the body are really nothing more than relief from pains of one kind or another. And, next, the pleasures of the soul, being of the eternal order, are necessarily more real than those of the body, which are fleeting--in fact, mere shadows of pleasure.

Much as I love and admire Homer I think our regulations as to poetry were particularly sound; but we must inquire further into the meaning of imitation. We saw before that all particular things are the presentations of some universal idea. There is one ultimate idea of bed, or chair, or table. What the joiner makes is a copy of that. All ideas are the creation of the master artificer, the demi-urge; of his creations all material things are copies. We can create things in a way by catching reflections of them in a mirror. But these are only copies of particular things from one point of view, partial copies of copies of the idea.

Such precisely are the creations of the painter, and in like manner of the poet. What they know and depict is not the realities, but mere appearances. If the poets knew the realities they would have left us something other than imitations of copies. Moreover, what they imitate is not the highest but the lower; not the truth of reason, but emotions of all sorts, which it should be our business not to excite but to control and allay. So we continue to prohibit the poetry which is imitation, however supreme, and allow only hymns to the gods, and praises of great men. We must no more admit the allurements of poesy than the attractions of ambition or of riches.

Greater far are the rewards of virtue than all we have yet shown; for an immortal soul shall heed nothing that is less than eternal.

"What, is the soul, then, immortal? Can you prove that?"

Yes, of a surety. In all things there are good and evil; a thing perishes of its own corruption, not of the corruption of aught external to it. If disease or injury of the body cannot corrupt the soul, a fortiori they cannot slay it; but injustice, the corruption of the soul, is not induced by injury to the body. If, then, the soul be not destroyed by sin, nothing else can destroy it, and it is immortal. The number of existing souls must, then, be constant; none perish, none are added, for additional immortal souls would have to come out of what is mortal, which is absurd.

Now, hitherto we have shown only that justice is in itself best for the soul, but now we see that its rewards, too, are unspeakably great. The gods, to whom the just are known, will reward them hereafter, if not here; and even in this world they have the better lot in the long run.

Let us, then, believing that the soul is indeed immortal, hold fast to knowledge and justice, that it may be well with us both here and hereafter.

Return to Outline of Great Books Volume I