1. Glaucon’s introduction to philosophy will itself have a prelude. He will discover for himself the meaning of “opinion,” doxa. 

Opinion in its various meanings determines the musical key of the different parts of the dialogue by its absence or presence. The outer ring of logoi is explicitly spoken in a signature appropriate to the absence of the “good opinion” (doxa) of mankind and its homonymous consequence, “reputation (doxa).” Adeimantus had stipulated at the beginning (Book II) that the argument about justice must “remove reputations” (367b5), and Glaucon had provided the magic Ring of Gyges,[1] which will allow the wearer “to do anything”—that is, to be a complete crook, panourgos, without being either seen or blamed. At the end of the argument (Book X), the ring and also the concealing Helmet of Hades, which the argument had been, so to speak, wearing, can be removed (612b5), for even on the supposition that the opinion of men carries no weight, justice has been proved profitable. At the center of the dialogue, however, where an ergon is set into the logos, the opinion of mankind cannot be supposed away, for the many will have to be won to some sort of acceptance of philosophy if anything is to be done.

But it is really as the individual inner source of this public opinion, as the faculty of the soul Glaucon will soon learn to call doxa, that opinion becomes of overwhelming importance at the center, for both the older and the younger lover of wisdom. For about the “greatest learning matter” Socrates himself has, as he repeatedly says, only opinion (506c4, e2, 509c3, 517b7, 533a4; cf. Phaedrus 278d), although opinion so well founded that Glaucon will not be able to follow him without a long course of study. So also the “interest” on the capital Good, its “child” (Socrates plays on the double meaning of tokos: child and interest, as in our phrase “bearing interest”), which he gives to Glaucon, will provide the latter only with opinion. But since the interest is not paid in counterfeit coin and the child is no ####### (507b5), we may infer that Glaucon will conceive not false but “true opinion,” and this is the beginning required if positive learning, as distinct from a preliminary purgative refutation, is to take place. However, throughout the conversation the Good, that one thing which everyone wants in truth and without regard to “seeming” (doxan, 505d8), will have to be approached by opinion: “A man should remember that he is human not only in his fortune but also in his demonstrative knowledge” (quoted from On the Good, Vita Aristotelis Marciano 953b, ed. Bekker).

2. As so often in the Republic, the conversation makes its own mode the object of reflection—in the case of doxa, at its very inception; Socrates’ opinions on the highest matters are prefaced by a inquiry into the meaning of opining.

The “third wave” has just closed in on Socrates (Book V, 473c6); he and Glaucon must now define the philosopher (474b5). Just as there are some who desire love, he says, and some who desire honor, there are some who desire wisdom, and all of it. Glaucon asks whether lovers of wisdom then include lovers of sights and sounds. Socrates answers with a distinction which he would have difficulty, he says, in getting anyone but Glaucon to admit (475e6): The just and the unjust, the good and the bad, are each one by itself, but “in communion with deeds and bodies and one another they are imagined in every way and appear each to be many” (476a4). Now lovers of sights love—and apprehend—beauty in its manyness and are asleep with respect to true beauty itself, being unable to distinguish this one from the many, but the philosopher loves the one true beauty. The “thinking” (dianoia) of the philosopher is knowing and is to be called knowledge, gnome, while the lovers of beauty only opine and have opinion, doxa (476d5). Furthermore, knowledge must be of something which is, and which is “that which is completely,” and which is therefore completely ”to be known,” gnoston, while “what is not” is entirely unknowable,” agnoston (477a1). Now if there is something “between” (metaxy) complete being and complete non-being, then, as knowledge was said to belong to being and ignorance (agnosia) to non-being, so to this “thing between” must correspond something that is itself ”between ignorance and knowledge” (episteme, a10). This is found to be opinion, having an object and a “power” (dynamis) different from both knowledge and ignorance (b8; cf. Symposium 202a). If he and Glaucon can discover what it is that, being more shadowy than being but brighter than non-being, lies between them, they will have found “that which is to be opined,” the doxaston (478e3). Then they will name it, “assigning extremes to extremes and means to means” (e4). They will appeal to the lover of beauty in manyness and ask him if all these things he loves are not also sometimes ugly, and if the same is not true of things just, great, or heavy—that they will all be found at some time to be the opposite, so that they cannot be said to be or not to be one thing or another, but are tossed about in between being and non-being. Lovers of such things should be called “lovers of opinion” and not “lovers of wisdom” (philodoxous: philosophous, 480a11). So ends Book V: becoming, genesis, that “in between thing,” has not been explicitly named, but it will clearly have to play a fundamental role in Socrates’ subsequent presentation.

3. The foregoing argument cannot help reminding Glaucon of an earlier one (Book IV), in which it had been concluded that cities derive their constitutions from the individual constitutions of their citizens.[2] Socrates had then asked whether the three capacities of the soul, desire, spiritedness, and reasoning, belong to three different parts or whether each of these belongs to the whole soul (436a8). To show that they are indeed three separate parts, Socrates and Glaucon had posited a strict correspondence between desires and their objects. If a man wants at the same time to drink and not to drink because he knows that he ought not to, then his soul must contain opposing parts: a “bidding” and a “forbidding” part (439c6). There are then two parts, the rational part or logistikon “with which a man calculates” (logizetai), and the desiring part or epithymetikon which is “unreasoning” (alogiston) and in which desire (epithymia) is located (439d). Between these two, the “forms” (eide, e2) that are ordinarily recognized, Socrates inserts a third (e3), the spirited part or thymoeides. Glaucon, obviously listening to the name, thinks that it is more akin to desire than to reason. But Socrates points out that it can be an “auxiliary” of the reasoning part, since it makes us feel high-minded anger, or thymos (440e). Finally, these three parts are arranged within us as the “three terms of a musical proportion” (443d6), and thymos becomes “the in-between power” (479d8), which, while itself obedient to reason, can in turn govern the body (403d, 411e6).

Glaucon had therefore been asked long before the present argument to distinguish the parts of the soul by means of their relative objects and to understand one of these parts as a mean between two extremes. If we juxtapose the results of both exercises we get the following result:

Book IV              Book V

logistikon :         gnōsis

thymoeidēs :      doxa

epithymētikon : agnōsia

For the middle parts, this correlation is indeed tacitly but unmistakably made in the dialogue. For instance, a chief characteristic of the warriors, who as a class of the just city correspond to the spirited part of the soul, is the “preservation of law-abiding opinions” (433c7) within them; in fact, as Aristotle points out (Politics 1327b40), their thymos is the source of their discernment. Also, in a timocracy, which represents spiritedness among the degenerating cities and is emphatically presented as lying “between” aristocracy and oligarchy (545c6, d1), the chief characteristic of citizens is love of honor (548c7), which implies an interrelation of the thymos with the external doxa called reputation.

4. The logistikon, on the other hand, is not quite coextensive with gnosis. Here we must stop to observe the name itself. In the traditional double division of the soul into a rational and an irrational part, the first, as having “reason” (logos), that is, the power of giving accounts (Nicomachean Ethics, 1102a30), was quite properly called logikon, a term evidently used already by the Pythagoreans.[3] Why then does Socrates call it the logistikon, connecting it explicitly with the verb logizesthai, to reckon or calculate (439d5), rather than with the logos of dialegesthai (511b4, 534c3)? It is because the logistikon is a restricted power, a power of planning, whose specific “work” later turns out to be calculation (cf. Nichomachean Ethics 1139a13), measuring, and weighing—in short, whatever corresponds only to the lower part of the knowing power, to that power of mathematical thinking which Glaucon will discover later, once again as a mean between opinion and knowledge; and will learn to call dianoia. We must remember that the guardians as dog-philosophers have an admixture of ignorance in their knowing power, since they recognize the city’s enemies by the criterion of their own ignorance of them (376b5). Moreover, their service as soldiers and administrators requires a knowledge of applied mathematics, an ability to be correct in matters sensual, which forms a part, although a secondary one, even of the philosophers’ education (522c).

The lowest capacity, on the other hand, the epithymetikon, might well be said to correspond to ignorance in a certain way, since the object of the first, pleasure, partakes, as Socrates later shows Glaucon, of the object of the second, non-being (585)—though actually “ignorance… is a voidness in the condition of the soul” (b3) and no capacity at all.

It follows that the tripartite soul of Book IV, although it has a coextensive middle part, both begins and ends on a level below the soul described in the central conversation. How is this new soul to be understood?

5. At the very beginning of the articulation of the first soul Socrates had warned that nothing accurate could come “from such proceedings” (methodon, 435d1) and that a “longer and fuller way” (d3) would be needed, a requirement repeated at a crucial moment in Book VI (504b2). With the discovery of doxa Socrates has started Glaucon on this longer way. The soul that now emerges is the soul as “the organ by which each man learns” (518c5; cf. 527d8), analogous in its passive openness to an organ of sense. The parts of this soul are specifically called “powers” (477b, c, e) when first introduced, and, this describes them completely—they are nothing but the soul’s capability of taking in, without modification, beings of a different degree, of “having ideas” in the original sense; this is why in a crucial place (511d7) they can as easily be called “receptivities” (pathemata) in the soul. Compared to this learning soul, the three parts of the first soul sink to mere tendencies, dispositions, or appetites (cf. Nicomachean Ethics, 1102b30). Indeed, the alternate name of the logistikon is “the wisdom-loving part” (philosophon, 586e4), and the love of wisdom is often called an epithymia, a desire, in the central books (e.g., 475b4, 8; 517b6). And of course, the very name of the thymos, with its allusion to epithymia, implies a kind of reflexive desire, as opposed to the desire that goes out upon an object. This means that in a sense all these parts function as desires, as activating human wants, and so it fits very well that the wisdom-loving part should not be coextensive with the knowing part, since when the soul truly knows, it no longer desires the objects of knowledge but has attained and moves among them. Thus, once the learning soul has come into focus, the terms of the tripartite soul are used mostly to distinguish temperaments or ”lovers.” The philosopher, for instance, is defined by means of a division of men into lovers of erotic pleasure and wine, lovers of honor, and lovers of wisdom (474c8; cf. 435e7). Again, the degenerate cities are characterized by different prevailing appetites, and when tyranny is discussed the three parts of the fast soul are even explicitly connected to three “pleasures” or “desires” (580d). This restlessly desiring tripartite soul is the embodied soul, a monstrous, precariously conflated unity (588d); it turns into a single rising organ of love only at the sight of beauty (Phaedrus 249d ff.), under the influence of that divine madness (244) which induces visions of the invisible. In contrast, the increasingly more receptive soul of the center, although still using the senses, is more nearly the soul by itself, whose oneness, presumably similar to that of the Whole, is a subject, as Socrates says, for a more advanced inquiry.

6. The “division” of the soul is the pre-dialectical “exercise,” the gymnasia (Parmenides 135c8, d4, 7), of the Republic. Almost every reference to the dialectical process of “dividing” refers to distinguishing the parts or the objects of the soul (454a, 476a, 523a, 580d, 571a-b, 595a-b, 618c). “Division” or diairesis is not here a very formal undertaking, as can be gathered from the numerous names given to these parts: eide, gene, mere, pathe (435b, c, e, 439e, 441c, 443d, 442b, c, 612a5). In the course of the central conversation, a quadripartite learning soul will emerge, but Socrates indicates that more divisions might be made in a more complete study (534a7) and that the question whether the soul is ultimately “many or one in kind” (612a4; cf. 443d7) has not really been settled. An important aspect of this dialectic exercise is the finding of the “in between,” the metaxy, which Glaucon immediately recognizes as analogous to the mathematical problem of “finding the mean.” The ability to discover means is the chief gift necessary to the dialectician (Philebus 16e1). The soul becomes the object of this exercise, not only because, as we have seen, the philosopher’ s version of the definition of justice is “Know Thyself,”[4] but also because the politically indispensable “art of leading souls,” rhetoric, depends on a knowledge of the divisions of the soul (Phaedrus 271d; in the Republic Thrasymachus is told to acquire this art—Socrates is teaching him his own business, as it were). However, the undertaking remains a mere exercise because, as we shall see, Socrates must exclude true dialectic from the Republic.


1-2. Adeimantus, named the “Dauntless,” who has heard and is shaken by every current doubt (cf. 362e, 419a), interposes an objection (487b): Socrates’ argument about the excellence of philosophers is convincing in words, but in deed everyone knows that these people end up either scoundrelly or impotent, especially if they keep philosophizing past their youth. Socrates proceeds to win Adeimantus and the rest of the crowd—there are, besides Glaucon, eight named and several nameless auditors—”in deed” (327c, 328b). He does not deny the accusation, but he will justify his demand for the rule of the philosophers by an image (487e5) and its explication (489a4); the image is that of a mutinous crew and the good but powerless captain. There follows a series of images that show that the greatest of all sophists, the Many, is in fact the greatest corrupter of natures, who corrupts the best most deeply; this Public Sophist is like a great brute that the little private sophists know how to propitiate (492a-493d). Thus philosophy is left desolate and any little tinker may, as it were, take her to wife (495e). There are, however, some good natures who are for various reasons incorruptible—Socrates here cites as one such reason his own “divine sign,” the daimonion (496c4); when soon after he speaks of a “well­ born and well-bred ethos” (b2) one can scarcely help thinking of the Heraclitean saying that “ethos is a man’s daimon” (Diels, Vorsokratiker, Fr. 119). Such a nature will run to shelter as from a storm and will live—and die—in private. Thus such a man will do great deeds but not the greatest, which can only be done within a suitable constitution (497a).

Adeimantus’s worries about the slanders of philosophy he has heard are allayed. They return to the question of the possibility of the city, and now Adeimantus wants to know whether any of the contemporary cities are suitable to philosophy (497a9). Not a single one, says Socrates (who, however, as we know, himself lives and acts as a philosopher in Athens), not even the city in speech that we have just founded, because it too is deficient without the addition of a man, of a living law-giver (497d)—the very one they were talking about when Adeimantus interrupted. This man’s main problem will be how philosophy may be pursued in such a way as not to ruin the city; the solution, as announced by Socrates, is that not the young but those advanced in life must most devote themselves to philosophy. Adeimantus remarks how serious Socrates seems to be here, but he thinks that most of his hearers will object just as earnestly, and Thrasymachus most of all. Socrates says reprovingly, “Do not make a quarrel between me and Thrasymachus, who have just become friends—although we were not enemies before” (498c9). Thrasymachus approves this remark by his silence (cf.450a5). It is no wonder, Socrates goes on, that the people are hard to persuade, for they have never seen a virtuous man rule in a similarly virtuous city. This is why no city or constitution will ever become perfect until either some necessity forces the lover of wisdom to take care of the city, or the true eros of philosophy falls on princes. This may very well happen; in fact, it may already have happened if there is now some “barbaric place” (499c9), or if there ever was or will be a situation, where a virtuous man rules: “The constitution we discussed has come into being and was and will be, whenever this Muse is in power in the city” (d2). We must not attack the many, for they will then become gentle and will believe that no city can be happy which is not painted by an artist looking “to the divine pattern” (500e3). Such an artist will begin with a clean slate, painting on it a constitution whose model is both the just and the beautiful and the temperate itself and the actual condition of men (501b), and the many will accept him. So a conclusion has been reached: Our law-giving is difficult but not impossible (502c).

In this interlude with Adeimantus, Socrates completes the practical foundation of his city. Having been voted into office, he succeeds by his oratory in allaying the popular fears of the “philosophical clan” (501e3); his persuasiveness is due to his ability to present a persuasive example of the uncorrupted lover of wisdom—himself. In defending what appears to both of them a crucial matter, the life-long pursuit of philosophy, he even becomes, as he himself remarks in retrospect, a spirited orator who speaks “as an indignant man will” (thymotheis, 536c4). He is anxious for, and successful in, preserving the peace with Thrasymachus, the single sophist who represents that brutal public sophist, the people (cf. 336b5). And when he imagines that their city may at this very moment exist in some barbarian spot, we must recall that the dialogue must by now have been going for well over ten hours; it is night, and we may imagine the barbaric sounds of a Thracian orgy beginning to penetrate into the house, the celebration the company had come to attend but which they will now miss as they sit through the rest of the night under Socrates’ spell.

3. Socrates is now actually finished with Adeimantus. He will use him as an interlocutor only once more, in the discovery of the degenerate cities (548d8-576b10), for Adeimantus is the expert on accounts of the worst. However, they continue a little beyond. Socrates reviews the three waves he has faced and ends by daring to formulate the “possible city” boldly in terms of the guardian city: “Guardians in the accurate sense, it must be ordained, are philosophers” (503b5). These must be at once quick and gentle and able to undertake the “greatest learning matters” (503e4). Adeimantus wants to know what these are, and Socrates reminds him of their former study of the soul and its virtues and how they then said that a longer road must be taken to reach better things (504e). But what are these things? Adeimantus asks insistently. Socrates is annoyed that Adeimantus either does not understand or is trying to make trouble, “since you have often heard this—that ‘the idea of the Good’ is the greatest study” (505a2), for this alone is what everyone wants not in seeming but in truth. Although Socrates has already said that this Good cannot be either knowledge or pleasure (505c), Adeimantus presses to be told whether it is either of these or yet something else. A sarcastic exchange follows, in which Socrates denounces Adeimantus’ s unwillingness to hear, and Adeimantus scores Socrates’ propensity for repeating the opinion of others (!); this ends in Socrates’ refusing to talk to him about the Good (506c11). Now Glaucon returns to the conversation and implores Socrates not to stop just as the consummation of the argument is ahead; they will be satisfied if Socrates speaks of the Good as he did before of the virtues (d2). Glaucon does not realize that they have, in fact, already set out on the “longer path.”

This is the fifth essay in this series. The other essays may be found here: I, II, III, IV, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X. This essay originally appeared in the St. John’s Review (Volume 39, Number 1 and 2, 1989 – 1990) and is republished here with gracious permission of the author.

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[1] Glaucon’s Gyges story is a witty transformation of Herodotus’s version. In the latter, what is right and lawful is for every man to keep private things private or “to scan his own” (I, 8, 16); this barbarian counterpart of justice, a sense of shame, is tacitly transformed into the definition of what is just in Greek cities, namely “to do one’s own,” i.e., to find one’s political place. Furthermore the main fact about Gyges’ crime in Herodotus, that he is forced to do injustice precisely because he is seen in the act imposed on him by the king, is inverted in Glaucon’s story, where by reason of the invisibility afforded by his ring Gyges becomes a criminal voluntarily and with impunity.

[2] Note that in this context Socrates first acknowledges the natural world as the setting and source of human nature. The character of peoples is, as in Herodotean ethnology, dependent on the clime under which they live: Thracians, Scythians, and northerners in general are lovers of honor, Phoenicians and Egyptians are lovers of money, and the Hellenes in the middle are lovers of knowledge (435e; Timaeus 24c; Epinomis 987d). Even the geographic place of philosophy is the center.

[3] See Adams op. cit (supra, N. 1) I, p. 144, note on 435b.

[4] See Charmides 164d5 for Critias’s version of the Delphic background of this saying.

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