education progress of study1c-d. The activity of this higher logos, dialectic itself, is beyond Glaucon’s present reach and no part of the preliminary survey. To set out on the dialectical road would be to see “no longer an image… but the true itself” (533a3); the “most serious matters” are withheld from Glaucon, and so from any mere reader of the dialogue (cf. Seventh Letter 344c). Instead, Socrates chants his “hymn” in praise of dialectic (532a1), and with that Glaucon must be content. The Republic, in which for pedagogical reasons philosophy appears as the fulfilled love of wisdom, does not resolve for us this question: Has even one human, embodied, soul been able to withdraw entirely into the noetic realm to move “by means of the eidē themselves through them and into them?” Has even one soul ever ad­dressed itself in wordless speech to invisible sights? Or is the human limit perhaps reached when, while seriously exercising our power of provisional thinking and speaking, we have a sudden flash of trust in our own hypotheses?Glaucon has now been given the necessary preliminary synopsis (Seventh Letter 340b8) of these propaedeutic synoptic studies in which the young rulers are to prove their aptitude for dialectic (537c); he has also been given an intimation of ultimate sights. After this, Socrates addresses him as a fellow law-giver, while he rehearses with him what he, Glaucon, would do “if he were ever to nurture in deed those whom he is now nur­turing and educating in speech” (534d3, 8, 535a3, 537c9)—that is, what Glaucon will do once he himself becomes a teacher of rulers. (Here it is interesting to note that Theon, elaborating in great detail Socrates’ allu­sion to philosophy as an initiation into the mysteries in the Phaedrus [250c], makes the fourth stage of the initiation, which follows the full vision, the stage in which the initiate is authorized to transmit his knowledge to others [Hiller, 15, 1 ff.].)

Together, they review once more the virtues required in the nature of the future philosophers. At this point, Socrates again brings up the danger to the “puppies” (539b6; cf. 498) in taking up dialectic too early. In the last image of this central conversation, Socrates likens them to sons who, on growing up discover that their alleged parents are not their true parents and who, consequently, losing trust, begin to ask questions about the tradi­tions in an “eristic” way and to scorn the laws (539a3). Note that in this cautionary image the cause of disillusionment in the precocious dialecti­cians is precisely that Phoenician myth (414c4) which contains the faith of the dog-guardians! We see that philosophical puppies are both more acute and more dangerous than full-grown watch-dogs. The philosophical city, as Alcibiades’ mentor well knows, is always playing with fire.

three generations progress of study2a. This brings them to the final question, which Socrates obviously considers of acute importance in the serious execution of his program. This is the matter about which he had before spoken “as an indignant man will” (536c4); it is the question of age, the fitting of the progress of study and practice to human growth.

Its significance can be gauged by reference to the Laws. There, where the purpose of study is the growth of piety, and its objects are the gods revealed in astronomy (966c) rather than the Good attained by dialectic, the definite and written assignment of ages to studies is said to be useless (968d). It becomes feasible–and, because of the dangers of premature exposure, indeed crucial—only where there is to be a genuine ascent of  the soul. We might say that what Socrates is here talking about is the “biological” development of the human soul and its proper program of nurture (Republic 492a). Why this is so sensitive a matter is made plain in the discussion of the human natures suitable to philosophy that both immediately precedes and follows the central section on the great images (490-496, 535-536). Man being a conflation of body and soul, the soul must, at least in the beginning, live its life in conjunction with the body and exposed to its influence. But the best natures will also be well set up in body (535a-b), in addition to possessing vigorously the virtues that are “somehow close to the body” (518d10). Such vigor, however, is particularly sensitive to disrupting influences (491b ff.). The schedule of studies clearly takes account of this obtrusive parallel life of the body: gymnastics oc­cupies the years of greatest sexual vigor, practical politics the prime of life, and the later years, when the body fails, while also it is no longer possible to learn “many” things (536d1), are given to the contemplation of the single highest thing.

The ages Socrates assigns to each stage of growth (539d8) are best seen in a chart fitting them to the ascent of the cave image:

progress of study

After fifty, Socrates says, the time has come for the philosophers to “behold” the Good itself and, using it as a “pattern” (540a9), to order (kos­mein, b1) the city and to educate others to live in the city as its guardians. Thereafter, they will spend their lives in philosophy whenever possible, but when their turn comes they will descend and govern, considering it “not as something fair but as necessary” (b4).

The last phrase recalls one last time that for the philosophers, the chief thesis of the dialogue, that justice brings happiness, is suspended—they are just out of mere necessity or, at best, from a Cephalus-like sense of duty owed (cf. 331d2). It also shows why this is: As Aristotle (Politics 1262a35) observes, only incestuous love is not explicitly forbidden in the “fair city;” all other kinds of lovers are prohibited from being together because of the disruptive strength of the pleasure involved. The kallipolis, the “fair city,” has, most deliberately (521a), nothing “fair” for which a philosopher might willingly descend; witness the fact that it is so called insofar as its citizens study solid geometry (527c1, 528c7). In this city geometric is substituted for erotic interest (546; cf. 458d5 and Plutarch’s phrase on the business of the Academy: “to become happy through geometry,” Dion 14, 2; cf. Epinomis 992a4). Here “love” means primarily the ascending love of truth (e.g., Republic 490b2), and human eros is allowed only a subordinate and utilitarian part in it (459-460, 468c; cf. 521b4), though such eros alone can be imagined as sufficiently strong to bring the philosopher down by his own desire. But it is necessary that the commerce of friendship should replace the intercourse of lovers, that private love should be absent here, where the dialogic community is to be displayed as the fundamental political community. Thus, in the Republic the Good and not the Beautiful is the theme—correspondingly in the dialogue “About the Beautiful,” set, in contrast to the Republic, without the walls of Athens, love and philosophy rank above politics (Phaedrus 248d). But Glaucon receives compensation at another time: It is to him that the speeches made about eros at that famous symposium are recounted. He hears them in circumstances that are the direct counterpart of the descent to the Peiraeus which opens the Republic, namely “going up from Phalerum,” Athen’s har­bor in earlier days (Symposium 172a2, c3).

the art of painting progress of study2b. What is most remarkable about the age chart itself is that the rulers’ education, although initially founded if not in, at least on behalf of, the city, leads them initially and recurrently straight out of and beyond it, so that practical experience comes to them late and episodically. In terms of the cave, it is conspicuous that no mention is made of a look behind the scenes of the puppet theater, of something that might be construed as a political apprenticeship. The counterpart of this lack of practical training is the absence from their studies of all political theory, of all formulations that are abstractions from practical polities. In the dialogue called the “Con­stitution” the study of constitutions is not advocated. The reason for this is in the nature of such patterns: the pattern of the just city is not an eidos, a being responsible for what is, but an ideal, significantly located not in the “hypercelestial place” (Phaedrus 247c2) with the eidē, but in the sky (592b2; cf. 529d7) with Cloudcuckooland. A model, or paradeigma, unless it be a causative model or paradeigmatikon aition, is only a schema or a mimesis, having the mode of being of a work of art (501a9, Laws 817b4); it is not an object of dialectic knowledge. Were it otherwise, nothing would be necessary for the young rulers but to be trained in the loyal administra­tion of this best constitution; they would undergo “indoctrination,” and the intellectuals among them would come to possess what is called an “ideology.” Instead, they are to look to the one effectively responsible pat­tern, which is that “beyond being;” the political wisdom of the Republic demands that governing be learned by looking, so to speak, in the other direction, upward; even in practice the rulers will truly look at affairs “in the light of the whole” (540a8). The ability to do this, irreplaceable by any technique or formula, is called human wisdom, phronesis (433dl, 52lb8), the virtue containing the political virtues (Symposium 209a6). Were it on­ly visible, it would be the loveliest of all the virtues (Phaedrus 250d5). “The best thing is that not laws should be in power but a kingly man with human wisdom” (Statesman 294a7). The image of a man possessing phronesis at work, which might be called “Socrates in the city,” is to be found in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, which is intended to be the practical record, the res gestae, of Socrates. Cut off from its philosophical source, phronesis becomes Aristotelian “prudence,” the independent practical virtue of the politician (e.g., Nicomachean Ethics, 1141a30). The different functions of prudence are a just measure of the distance between the Platonic Politeia and the Aristotelian Politika.

2c. Having come to the end of life, the philosopher-kings will at last be allowed to depart permanently to the Isles of the Blessed, and the city will honor them with memorials and sacrifices—if the Pythia permits, as divinities (daimosī), otherwise as happy men (eudaimosi 540c1). Socrates, speaking from beyond the grave, as it were, is ending the conversation with a sly reference to himself: He has indeed just advocated (to be sure, with the permission of the friendly Delphic oracle) the introduction of “other new divinities” into the city, exactly as the indictment against him was to state (Apology 24c1; cf. 21a6; he was also, incidentally, honored in Athens after his own death very nearly as he here prescribes, e.g., Diogenes Laer­tius, II, 43; cf. also Xenophon, Apology 15). And he has also, outrageously, implied that to be an eudaimōn is a greater thing than to be a mere middling daimōn (cf. Symposium 202e1), for to be happy is to live in the mode of “the happiest side of being” (Republic  526e3), the Good.

2d. And now Socrates and Glaucon are emerging from their deeply private dialogue back into the context of that city which had been developed for the whole company, the “city in speech,” the just or guardian city. Socrates himself recalls this city, a revolutionary community of men and women, by a smiling rejoinder to Glaucon, who had allusively praised Socrates’ ancestral demiurgic skill as a “maker of men-statues” (540c4; cf. Euthyphro 11b9); he reminds Glaucon that he can shape women too, for they were to share in this city (540c5). Socrates now founds this guardian city quickly and with charming offhandedness: All inhabitants over ten years are to be driven out “into the wilds;” this forced emigration will leave a clean slate for the lawgiver (541a1; cf. 501a).

Glaucon recalls accurately where they had been when they digressed: Socrates, like the wrestler he is (Heracles, we recall, is the master of all wrestlers [56]) is to put himself into his former position so as to continue to wrestle with the account of the city in its degenerating forms.

Socrates, by descending with Glaucon into the mythical setting of the Peiraic underworld, has shown him that he lives his life as one imprisoned in a mortal Hades. But this demonstration is itself a release, the first step of the rescue; unlike the poets, who fail to wrest from Hades the shade they desire (Symposium 179d), Socrates, a new Heracles, knows the way to bring his Theseus back up to the world of light.

Yet Glaucon’s later life is almost a blank for us. He seems to have done little in his time, and no reputation, either good or bad, has survived him; certainly, he founded no new Athens. We may be sure that this fact, presumably already evident when Plato was writing the Republic, is meant to reflect on the dialogue. It forces us to ask whether in the face of this fact the labor of Socrates must not be considered altogether lost. Then we ought to remind ourselves that while Socrates is speaking to Glaucon, the dialogue itself is speaking to us. And consequently it may happen that Socrates’ words are “not fruitless but have seeds, whence others arise in the soil of other souls,” so that Plato’s “imitation of Socrates” may suc­ceed where he himself failed.

This is the tenth and final essay in this series. The other essays may be found here: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX. We highly recommend Eva Brann’s The Music of the Republic: Essays on Socrates’ Conversations and Plato’s Writings. 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. Miss Brann welcomes questions/comments via mail: Dr. Eva Brann, St. John’s College, 60 College Avenue, Annapolis, MD, 21401-1655 (she does not use computers).


[56] Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopaedie der klassischen Altertumuswissenschaft (Stuttgart 1937), Suppl. III, p.1007


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