Chapter 1 of Book 6

The True Philosopher

by Socrates Icon

The true philosophers have knowledge, while the false philosophers only have opinion.

Only true philosophers are able to grasp the eternal and unchangeable. Those philosophers who are best able to guard the laws and institutions of our State should be our guardians. The following people are simply blind, those who:

  • lack the knowledge of the true being of each thing
  • have no clear pattern in their souls
  • are unable as with a painter’s eye to look at the absolute truth and repair to the original
  • are unable to have a perfect vision of the other world, order the laws about beauty, goodness, justice, and guard and preserve their order.

Our guardians should have great qualities.

Firstly, the nature of the philosopher has to be ascertained. Such an union of qualities in a person is possible. Only those who have such qualities can be rulers.

Let us suppose that philosophical minds:

  • always love knowledge which shows them the eternal nature, not varying from generation and corruption
  • are lovers of all true being
  • do not renounce any beings, as we said before of the man of ambition
  • love the truth
  • will never intentionally receive falsehood which their detest.

The truth is most akin to wisdom. The true lover of learning then must desire all truth from his earliest youth. But then again, he whose desires are strong in one direction will have them weaker in others. They will be like a stream which has been drawn off into another channel.

Socrates He whose desires are drawn towards knowledge in every form will be absorbed in the pleasures of the soul. He will hardly feel bodily pleasure if he is a true philosopher. He is temperate and not covetous.


Such a person can never be unjust or hard in his dealings. Even in youth, just and gentle, or rude and unsociable, are the signs which distinguish the philosophical nature from the unphilosophical. We must determine whether he has pleasure in learning.

No one will love:

  • that which gives him pain, and
  • that which after much toil he makes little progress.

If he forgets what he learns, the he will be an empty vessel and would have laboured in vain. Thus, we should insist that the philosopher have a good memory.

The truth is akin to proportion, while the inharmonious is akin to disproportion. Thus, we must try to find a naturally well-proportioned and gracious mind, which will move spontaneously towards the true being of everything.


These qualities are necessary to a soul, which is to have a full and perfect participation of being.

We can only entrust the State to those who:

  • have good memory,
  • is quick to learn,
  • noble, gracious,
  • the friend of truth, justice, courage, and temperance

Socrates, no one can reply to these.

But your listeners think that they are led astray little by little due to their own lack of skill in asking and answering questions. These littles accumulate. At the end, all their former notions appear to be turned upside-down.

Unskilful players of draughts are defeated by their more skillful adversaries. Likewise, your listeners find themselves defeated for they have nothing to say in this new game of words. Yet all the time, they are correct.


We might not be able catch up with you because most of the devotees of philosophy become strange monsters when they are educated in philosophy and study it later in life. The best of them are made useless to the world by the very study which you extol.

Then how could you say that cities will not cease from evil until philosophers rule in them, when philosophers are useless?

The Captain


Imagine then a ship with a captain taller and stronger than any of the crew. But he is:

  • a little deaf,
  • has bad eyesight, and
  • his knowledge of navigation is not much better.

The sailors quarrel with each other on the right to steer, though they have never learned the art of navigation.


They throng about the captain, begging to give them the helm and kill the others. They will invite the noble captain to drink or to some drug. They will mutiny, take the ship and use its stores. Eating and drinking, they proceed on their voyage.

They compliment their supporters and abuse the others whom they call a good-for-nothing. But the true pilot must pay attention to the year, seasons, sky, stars, and winds to be really qualified to command a ship.


He will be the steerer, whether people like or not. This union of authority with the steerer’s art has never entered their thoughts.

In mutinies, the true pilot will be regarded as a star-gazer, a good-for-nothing. Similarly, people find that philosophers have no honour in their cities. They are correct in saying that philosophy is useless, but it is useless only to those who will not use them.

Philosophy is the Captain


Philosophy is not useless in itself.

It is not the pilot’s nature to beg the sailors to be commanded by him. The wise do not go to the doors of the rich.

When a man is ill, he must go to the physician. A person who wants to be governed must go to the person who is able to govern.


A good ruler should not beg his subjects to be ruled by him. The present governors of mankind may be compared to the mutinous sailors. The true helmsmen can be compared to those who are called by them as good-for-nothings. This is why among such men, philosophy is not likely to be much esteemed.

The greatest and most lasting injury is done, not by the opponents of philosophy, but by her own followers. Those followers accuse that most philosophers are arrogant rogues, and the best are useless.


The corruption of the majority is unavoidable but philosophy should not be blamed for this.

Truth was the philosopher’s leader, whom he followed always.

Failing in this, he became an impostor and turned into a fake philosopher. His quality as an imposter greatly differs with present notions of him. We cannot say in his defence, that the true lover of knowledge is always striving after being—that is his nature.

He will not rest in the multiplicity of individuals which is an appearance only. Instead, he will go on.


The keen edge will not be blunted, nor the force of his desire abate until he has attained the knowledge of the true nature of every essence by a sympathetic and kindred power in the soul.

By that power, he will draw near with the very being, having mind and truth. He will have knowledge and will live and grow truly. Then will he cease from his travail.

When truth is the captain, we cannot suspect any evil of the band which he leads.

Justice and health of mind will be of the company, and temperance will follow after. There is no reason why I should list the philosopher’s virtues, since courage, magnificence, apprehension, memory, were his natural gifts.


Why do many philosophers become useless?

A true philosopher is a rare plant that has perfected all the qualities needed in a philosopher. There are infinite and powerful causes that tend to destroy these rare natures!

  • First and the most specific cause are their own virtues, courage, temperance, and other praiseworthy qualities. These destroy and distract their soul from philosophy.
  • Then there are all the ordinary positives of life= beauty, wealth, strength, rank, and great connections in the State. These also have a corrupting and distracting effect.

Grasp the truth as a whole and in the right way. Then you will understand the preceding remarks.

All seeds, whether vegetable or animal, are all the more sensitive to bad environments when they fail to get the proper nutrition, climate, or soil, relative to their vigour.

Evil is a greater enemy to what is good than to what is not good.

The finest natures, when under alien conditions, receive more injury than the inferior conditions because the contrast is greater.


The most gifted minds, when they are ill-educated, become pre-eminently bad.

Great crimes and the spirit of pure evil spring out of a fullness of nature ruined by education, rather than from any inferiority.

Whereas weak natures cannot do any very great good or very great evil.

Our philosopher is like a plant which, having proper nurture, must necessarily grow and mature into all virtue.

But, if sown and planted in an alien soil, he becomes the most noxious of all weeds unless he be preserved by some divine power.

Adeimantus Do you really think that our youth are corrupted by Sophists?

The public, who say these things, are the greatest of all Sophists.

They educate to perfection the young, old, men, and women and fashion them after their own hearts whenever they meet together.

The world sits down at an assembly, a court of law, a theatre, a camp, or any other popular resort.

They praise some things and blame other things, equally exaggerating both, shouting and clapping their hands. The echo of the rocks and the place in which they are assembled redoubles the sound of the praise or blame.

The Sophists


This makes a young man’s heart leap within. Private training will not enable him to stand firm against the overwhelming flood of popular opinion.

  • He will be carried away by the stream.
  • He will have the notions of good and evil which the public in general have.

Yet there is a still greater necessity, which has not been mentioned.

When the words of these new Sophists are powerless, they apply the gentle force of attainder, confiscation, or death.

No one will be foolish to give a contrary opinion in such an unequal contest.

Sophists are mercenary individuals who teach nothing but the opinion of the many. Their virtue is only sourced from public opinion. A Sophist is like a man who studies the tempers and desires of a strong beast that he feeds.


He would learn:

  • how to approach and handle the beast,
  • when and from what causes he is dangerous or the not dangerous,
  • what is the meaning of his several cries, and
  • what sounds make the best soothed or infuriated.

He then:

  • makes such knowledge as his art and teaches it, even if he has no real notion of what he means by its principles
  • calls this good or that evil, just or unjust, according to the tastes and tempers of the great brute.
  • calls good whatever the beast delights in
  • calls evil whatever it dislikes
  • deems the just and noble as the necessary even if he cannot explain why.

He would be a rare educator.

When a man’s service for the State is judged by the people, the so-called necessity of Diomede will oblige him to produce whatever they praise.

Yet the reasons of his notions of ‘honourable’ and ‘good’ are utterly ludicrous. It would prevent the world from believing in the existence of absolute beauty. Rather, they will believe in many beauties in each kind.

Thus, the world cannot possibly be a philosopher.

Therefore, philosophers must inevitably fall under the censure of the world and those who consort with the mob and seek to please them.

How to Support Philosophy


How can the philosopher be preserved in his calling to the end?

He is to have quickness, memory, courage, and magnificence. From his early childhood, he will be first among all especially if his bodily endowments are like his mental ones.

His friends and fellow-citizens will want to use him as he gets older for their own purposes.

They fall at his feet and flatter him because they want to get into their hands the power which he will one day possess.

This will make him full of boundless aspirations.



  • will fancy himself able to manage the affairs of Hellenes and of barbarians
  • will elevate himself in the fulness of vain pomp and senseless pride
  • will not listen to those who call him a fool

His friends will not do anything as they think that will likely lose the advantage from his companionship. They will prevent him from yielding to his better nature. Thus, he can never be a philosopher.

Thus, the very qualities which make a man a philosopher may divert him from philosophy if he is ill-educated.

  • These qualities are like the riches and goods in life.

Thus, those with the best natures can also be brought to ruin and failure.


The authors of the greatest good or evil in States and individuals come from this philosopher class. But a small man never does any great thing to individuals or to States.

And so, philosophy is left desolate, with her marriage rite incomplete.

  • Her own philosphers have fallen away and forsaken her by leading a false and unbecoming life.
  • Other unworthy persons see that she has no protectors, so they enter and dishonour her.
  • They blame her devotees as good for nothing and say that the majority deserve the severest punishment.
  • Such puny creatures see this land open to them, stocked with fair names and showy titles.
  • They leap out of their trades into philosophy like prisoners running out of prison into a sanctuary.

Philosophy becomes evil in this case. But still there remains a dignity around her which is not found in the arts.


Philosophy thus attract many whose:

  • natures are imperfect, and
  • whose souls are maimed and disfigured by their meannesses, as their bodies are by their trades and crafts.

They are like poor people who have come into a fortune. They marry philosophy’s daughter, creating a vile and bastard marriage.

Adeimantus What ideas will such a marriage generate?
Socrates They will gemerate sophisms captivating to the ear, have anything genuine or akin to true wisdom.

The Resistance to Sophistry


A small class of people have tasted true philosophy and have also seen enough of the madness of the multitude. Examples are:

  • some noble and well-educated person would remain devoted to philosophy, in the absence of corrupting influences
  • some lofty soul born in a mean city will condemn its politics
  • a few gifted people might leave the business that they justly despise, and come to philosophy
  • some people who keep away from politics because of ill-health, like Theages. Everything in the life of Theages conspired to divert him from philosophy.

These people know that:

  • no politician is honest, and
  • there is no champion of justice at whose side they may fight and be saved.

Such people may be compared to a man who has fallen among wild beasts. He will not join in the wickedness of his fellows. But he is also unable to singly resist all their fierce natures. He is content to live his own life and be pure from evil and depart in peace and good-will with bright hopes.

Adeimantus Yes, he will have done a great work before he departs.
Socrates A great work, yes. But a greater work is for him to find a suitable State where he will have a larger growth and be the saviour of his country, as well as of himself.


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