Political Thoughts, Quotes and Comment

QUOTES --------------------------------------COMMENT

PLATO (circa 428 - 347BC)

The Republic of Plato

On Justice and Development of Society

1. "You have agreed that justice belongs to the highest class of good things which are worth having not only for their consequences, but much more for their own sakes -- things like sight and hearing, knowledge, and health, whose value is genuine and intrinsic, not dependent upon opinion. So I want you in commending justice, to consider only how justice, in itself, benefits a man who has it in him, and how injustice harms him, leaving rewards and reputation out of account.... You must not content merely to prove that justice is superior to injustice, but explain how one is good, the other evil, in virtue of the intrinsic effect each has on its possessor, whether gods or men see it or not."

2. "a state comes into existence because no individual is self-sufficing; we all have many needs."

3. "So, having all these needs, we call in one another's help to satisfy our various requirements; and when we have collected a number of helpers and associates to live together in one place, we call that settlement a state."

4. "no two people are born exactly alike. There are innate differences which fit them for different occupations." "we agreed that no one man can practise many trades or arts satisfactorily."

5. "So if a state is constituted on natural principles, the wisdom it possesses as a whole will be due to the knowledge residing in the smallest part, the one which takes the lead and governs the rest."

6. "Everyone ought to perform the one function in the community for which his nature best suited him. Well, I believe that that principle, or some form of it, is justice."

7. "when each order -- tradesman, Auxiliary, Guardian -- keeps to its own proper business in the commonwealth and does its own work, that is justice and what makes a just society."

Psychological Elements of the Individual

1. "We may call the part of the soul whereby it reflects, rational; and the other with which it feels hunger and thirst and is distracted by sexual passion and all the other desires, we will call irrational appetite, associated with pleasure in the replenishment of certain wants."

2. "anger is sometimes in conflict with appetite, as if they were two distinct principles. Do we not often find a man whose desires would force him to go against his reason, reviling himself and indignant with this part of his nature which is trying to put constraint on him? It is like a struggle between two factions, in which indignation takes the side of reason. But I believe you have never observed, in yourself or anyone else, indignation make common cause with appetite in behavior which reason decides to be wrong."

3. "Is it (anger, indignation), then, distinct from the rational element or only a particular form of it, so that the soul will contain no more than two elements, reason and appetite? Or, is the soul like the state, which had three orders to hold it together, traders, Auxiliaries, and counselors? Does the spirited element make a third, the natural auxiliary of reason, when not corrupted by bad upbringing?"

4. "We are fairly agreed that the same three elements exist alike in the state and in the individual soul."

5. "we shall conclude that a man is just in the same way that a state was just. And we have surely not forgotten that justice in the state meant that each of the three orders in it was doing its own proper work..... each one of us likewise will be a just person, fulfilling his proper function, only if the several parts of our nature fulfill theirs."

6. "it will be the business of reason to rule with wisdom and forethought on behalf of the entire soul; while the spirited element ought to act as its subordinate and ally. The two will be brought into accord, as we said earlier, by that combination of mental and bodily training which will tune up one string of the instrument and relax the other, nourishing the reasoning part on the study of noble literature and allaying the other's wildness by harmony and rhythm."

7. "so we call an individual brave in virtue of this spirited part of his nature, when, in spite of pain or pleasure, it holds fast to the injunctions of reason about what he ought or ought not to be afraid of."

8. "when there is no internal conflict between the ruling element and its two subjects (spirited and appetite), all are agreed that reason should be ruler."

9. "The just man does not allow the several elements in his soul to usurp one another's functions; he is indeed one who sets his house in order, by self-mastery and discipline coming to be at peace with himself, and bringing into tune those three parts,"


1. "must surely be a sort of civil strife among the three elements, whereby they usurp and encroach upon one another's functions and some one part of the soul rises up in rebellion against the whole, claiming a supremacy to which it has no right because its nature fits it only to be the servant of the ruling principle. Such turmoil and aberration we shall, I think, identify with injustice, intemperance, cowardice, ignorance, and in a word with all wickedness."

2. "virtue and wickedness are brought about by one's way of life, honorable or disgraceful."

The Traits of the State's Leaders

1. "One form of constitution will be the form we have been describing, though it may be called by two names: monarchy, when there is one man who stands out above the rest of the Rulers; aristocracy, when there are more than one."

2. "Since the philosophers are those that can apprehend the eternal and unchanging, while those who cannot do so, but are lost in the maze of multiplicity and change, are not philosophers, which of the two ought to be in control of the state?"

3. "One trait of the philosophic nature we may take as already granted: a constant passion for any knowledge that will reveal to them something of that reality which endures for ever and is not always passing into and out of existence."

4. "Is there not another trait which the nature we are seeking cannot fail to possess -- truthfulness, a love of truth and a hatred of falsehood that will not tolerate untruth in any form?"

5. "such a one will be temperate and no lover of money; for he will be the last person to care about the things for which money is eagerly sought and lavishly spent."

6. "Again, in seeking to distinguish the philosophic nature, you must not overlook the least touch of meanness. Nothing could be more contrary than pettiness to a mind constantly bent on grasping the whole of things, both devine and human..... A mean and cowardly nature, then, can have no part in the genuine pursuit of wisdom."

7. "you will observe whether, from youth up, he is fair-minded, gentle, and sociable."

8. "the born philosopher will be distinguished by quickness of understanding, good memory, courage, and generosity."

Education of the Philosophic Leader

1. "besides testing it (leadership qualities) by hardship and danger and by the temptations of pleasure, we may now add that its strength must be tried in many forms of study, to see whether it has the courage and endurance to pursue the highest kind of knowledge, without flinching as others flinch under physical trials."

2. "the highest object of knowledge is the essential nature of the Good from which everything that is good and right derives its value for us."

3. "When its gaze (the soul) is fixed upon an object irradiated by truth and reality, the soul gains understanding and knowledge and is manifestly in possession of intelligence."

The Allegory of the Cave

1. "Imagine the condition of men living in a sort of cavernous chamber underground, with an entrance open to the light and a long passage all down the cave. Here they have been from childhood chained by the leg and also by the neck, so that they cannot move and can see only what is in front of them, because the chains will not let them turn their heads. At some distance higher up is the light of a fire burning behind them; and between the prisoners and the fire is a track with a parapet built along it, like the screen at a puppet-show, which hides the performers while they show their puppets over the top."

2. "behind this parapet imagine persons carrying along various artificial objects, including figures of men and animals in wood or stone or other materials, which project above the parapet. Naturally, some of these persons will be talking, others silent..... prisoners so confined would have seen nothing of themselves or of another, except the shadows thrown by the fire-light on the wall of the Cave facing them...... When one of the people crossing behind them spoke, they could only suppose that the sound came from the shadow passing before their eyes." "In every way, then, such prisoners would recognize as reality nothing but the shadows of those artificial objects."

3. "Suppose one of them set free and forced suddenly to stand up, turn his head, and walk with with eyes lifted to the light; all these movements would be painful, and he would be too dazzled to make out the objects whose shadows he had been used to see. What do you think he would say, if someone told him that what he had formerly seen was meaningless illusion, but now, being somewhat nearer to reality and turned towards more real objects, he was getting a truer view? Suppose further that he were shown the various objects being carried by and were made to say, in reply to questions, what each of them was. Would he not be perplexed and believe the objects now shown to him to be not so real as what he formerly saw?.......if he were forced to look at the fire-light itself, would not his eyes ache, so that he would try to escape and turn back to the things which he could see distinctly, convinced that they really were clearer than these other objects now being shown to him?"

4. "suppose someone were to drag him away forcibly up the steep and rugged ascent and not let him go until he had hauled him out into the sunlight, would he not suffer pain and vexation at such treatment, and, when he had come out into the light, find his eyes so full of its radiance that he could not see a single one of the things that he was now told were real?.... At first it would be easiest to make out shadows, and then the images of men and things reflected in water, and later on the things themselves. After that, it would be easier to watch the heavenly bodies and the sky itself by night, looking at the light of the moon and stars rather than the Sun and the Sun's light in the day-time."

5. "Then if he called to mind his fellow prisoners and what passed for wisdom in his former dwelling-place, he would surely think himself happy in the change and be sorry for them. They may have had a practice of honoring and commending one another, with prizes for the man who had the keenest eye for the passing shadows and the best memory for the order in which they followed or accompanied one another, so that he could make a good guess as to which was going to come next. Would our released prisoner be likely to covet those prizes or to envy the men exaulted to honor and power in the Cave? Would he not feel like Homor's Achilles, that he would far sooner 'be on earth as a hired servant in the house of a landless man' or endure anything rather than go back to his old beliefs and live in the old way?"

6. "imagine what would happen if he went down again to take his former seat in the Cave. Coming suddenly out of the sunlight, his eyes would be filled with darkness. He might be required once more to deliver his opinion on those shadows, in competition with the prisoners who had never been released, while his eyesight was still dim and unsteady; and it might take some time to become used to the darkness. They would laugh at him and say that he had gone up only to come back with his sight ruined; it was worth no one'd while even to attempt the ascent. If they could lay hands on the man who was trying to set them free and lead them up, they would kill him."


1. "First of all they are free, liberty and free speech are rife everywhere; anyone is allowed to do what he likes."

2. "That being so, every man will arrange his own manner of life to suit his pleasure. The result will be a greater variety of individuals than under any other constitution.  So it may be the finest of all, with its variegated pattern of all sorts of characters.  Many people may think it the best, just as women and children might admire a mixture of colors of every shade in the pattern of a dress."

3. "Here, too, you are not obliged to be in authority, however competent you may be, or to submit to authority, if you do not like it; you need not fight when your fellow citizens are at war, nor remain at peace when they do, unless you want peace;...  A wonderfully pleasant life, surely, for the moment."

4. "There is so much tolerance and superiority to petty considerations; such a contempt for all those fine principles we laid down in founding our commonwealth; as when we said that only a very exceptional nature could turn out a good man, if he had not played as a child among things of beauty and given himself only to creditable pursuits.  A democracy tramples all such notion under foot; with a magnificent indifference to the sort of life a man has led before he enters politics, it will promote to honor anyone who merely calls himself the people's friend.... These then, and such as these, are the features of a democracy, an agreeable form of anarchy with plenty of variety and an equality of a particular kind for equals and unequals alike."

5. "When he (the citizen in a democracy) is told that some pleasures should be sought and valued as arising from desires of a higher order, others chastised and enslaved because the desires are base, he will shut the gates of the citadel against the messengers of truth, shaking his head and declaring that one appetite is as good as another and all must have their equal rights.  So he spends his days indulging the pleasure of the moment, now intoxicated with wine and music, and then taking to a spare diet and drinking nothing but water; one day in hard training, the next doing nothing at all, the third apparently immersed in study.  Every now and then he takes a part in politics, leaping to his feet to say or do whatever comes into his head.  Or he will set out to rival someone he admires, a soldier it may be, or, if the fancy takes him, a man of business.  His life is subject to no order of restraint, and he has no wish to change an existence which he calls pleasant, free, and happy."

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On Justice and Development of Society.

Plato was one of the most brilliant philosophers of his time. To arrive at the truth or, higher understanding, he used a method which he called the dialectic. This was a process where he would entertain discussions with his students and, continually question their beliefs. Through their answers and their conclusions, incorrect thoughts, or false beliefs, were exposed and seen for what they really were. Plato's students would eventually arrive at the truth or, at least a higher understanding of the particular subject or issue at hand. Like many philosophers, Plato addresses the question of how and why society began. He believes that it was natural for humans to come together in society because, men had different skills and therefore, needed each other for the performance of the many tasks of living. It was through this need of others and, their skills, that society was established.
Plato closely examines justice and its importance. He sees justice as the cement that binds the properly ordered society together. Unlike some of his students, who identified justice as whatever the powerful say it is or, giving to each individual what is considered his own, Plato is the first to develop the concept of the three elements of the human mind, which is then extrapolated into the three basic types of individuals who exist in society. For Plato, justice was, for each of the different types of people (tradesmen, Auxileries, and Guardians) to perform their duties within society and, not attempt to usurp the positions of others. For a man of appetite (tradesman), to strive to become an Auxiliary or Guardian would be, according to Plato, unjust because they did not possess the qualities necessary to properly conduct themselves in these positions. Men of appetite, to Plato, were those who possessed a strong desire to acquire wealth. These individuals became the shopkeepers, merchants and other businessmen within society. It was in these positions that they could best exercise their appetite or desire for money and material wealth and, yet contribute materially to the health of the society. Men of appetite were also called the men of bronze, or traders, in other areas of Plato's writing. The Auxiliaries were the men of silver or, men of spirit, whose purpose was to become the warriors and protectors of the society. This class of citizen possessed a strong love of country and a desire to defend and protect it at all cost. The Auxiliaries were those who strongly believe in duty, honor and country. Men of silver cared much less about material wealth and money than the men of bronze or appetite. Their prime concern was for reputation and that reputation came through the respect afforded them by other citizens for their service to their country. The last group of individuals in the society were the smallest of the three classes and the most elite. They were the most educated in both mind and body and, due to their high intellect and ability to know the truth, were best suited to rule the republic. To rule was their destiny and, they were required to do it whether they were desirous of the position or not. There could be one individual who would rule (monarchy) or, a group of individuals (an aristocracy). This would depend somewhat on the temperment of the people being ruled. These Guardians or philosopher kings were groomed throughout their lives in the knowledge of what was best for their people. It was through their flawless logic that they were able to know the truth and never be led astray through their emotion or desire for reputation like the other two classes. These were the men of gold, the philosopher kings or guardians. They were the leaders of their nation and had little desire for personal gain. Their goal was the welfare of their republic and of their citizens. A According to Plato, for them to be in any other position, than rulers, would have been an injustice to them and, their society. .

Psychological Elements of the Individual.

As mentioned above, Plato was the first to develop the concept of the three part psychic of man. Much later, Freud would call these three elements of the human psychic the superego, ego and id. Later yet, Eric Berne in his book, The Games People Play, would introduce us to the psychic elements of the parent, adult, and child. Again, these concepts were likely formed from the earlier thoughts of Plato.
Plato believed that a just man was much like a just state. In the state, justice was gained by each individual performing the task for which he was most suited. In the individual, the three elements of the human psychic had to be functioning in harmony for the individual to be happy. For Plato, the three elements of the human psychic were the appetite, the spirited element, and the rational element. The rational element was the key to the properly order psychic. It was this element that would keep the emotional, and many times irrational, appetite in check. The spirited element, might be defined as the do's and don'ts instilled in the individual by parents and the educational system, during the individual's formative years. The spirited element was to work in concert with the rational element to temper the desires of the appetite within the individual. It was always the rational element that was the final authority in the properly ordered psychic.
Plato believed that different individuals had different dominant elements within their psychic and that this fixed their just place within the republic. The least formed psychic would be composed of individuals who were dominated more by their emotions and desires than by rationality. He saw these individuals as the least developed and, those who would become the workers in the society. While these men of appetite were free men, they took little part in the functioning of the republic of which they were an important part. The second type of individuals were those whose desires and appetites were tempered by what was learned in school and, from their parents and other influential friends and relatives. These individuals were dominated by the spirited element of their psychic rather than by the irrational and emotional appetite. These individuals learned the concept of right and wrong from their education but, had not progressed to the level of those who were dominated by rationality. These men of spirit would become the auxiliaries -- the military arm of the republic -- the individuals who were bound by the concepts of duty, honor and country taught to them in their schooling and upbringing. It is these men of spirit who work in support of, but who are subservient to, those who are at the highest level of education and reason -- those dominated by the rational element. It was the individuals who were dominated by the rational element who would be the leaders of society. They were the elite group who had learned all, and were now the philosopher kings of the republic. These men of gold were not concerned with material wealth or glory. They were only concerned for the welfare of the republic and it's citizens. It was their flawless logic and in depth education that allowed them to know the truth and earn their place as the leaders of the republic. These philosopher kings were the only individuals who could justly rule the republic.
So, in both the individual and, in the republic, it was the rational element that had to be in charge and rule. It was the spirited element, both in the individual and in the republic, who would work in concert with and subordinate to the rational element, to maintain harmony within the individual or to protect the republic. Finally, it was the element of appetite that would produce the workers within the society and the desires within the individual. It was always the two higher elements that had to temper this appetite in order to produce a happy, content individual or a properly functioning republic. This was viewed as justice within the individual and within the society.

The Allegory of the Cave

Imagine that you are seated in a dark theater and can only look at the movie screen. People behind you, whom you have never seen, are making shadow animals on the screen with their hands and, are making appropriate sounds for each of the shadow animals. You have been in this position since you were a young child and have never known anything else. To you, and those with you, these shadow figures and sounds are your only reality. There is nothing else! Over time, some of you will become talented at knowing which shadow figure will come next and, which sound is associated with each figure. Through this ability, you will gain status within your group. Because you know nothing of the real world, you gain satisfaction with your elevated status and even wish to protect it. For these people, what exists is a wonderful life.
Finally, one of you are taken away and introduced to the individuals who are producing the shadow figures and they show you how they hold their hands to produce the various shadow animals. You are also told that, there are actual animals that look like the shadow figures that make the sounds that you associate with them. You are taken outside and, suddenly you experience the reality of the sun, sky, birds, dogs, cats, buildings, trees, cars, etc., etc., but, the sun hurts your eyes and makes everything difficult to see. You may even want to return to your old comfortable state of ignorance within the theater. If you do go back, and try to tell others what you saw, they would, likely, not believe you and perhaps even call you mad or insane. The brightness from outside would probably make it difficult for you to now see the shadow figures and, those who were best at identifying the shadow figures, would criticize you for your loss of ability. You would become an outcast among your own.
What is this all about? The people who only see the shadow figures represent the mass of ignorant individuals within a society. The problem is, they don't know that they are ignorant. In their own mind, they are intelligent because they are able to quickly identify the shadow figures and their people afford them some status for their skill. When one of their kind is exposed to a higher level of reality or understanding, it is difficult for their friends to accept. Those with the higher knowledge and understanding may even be ostracized from their community to protect the status of the skilled shadow watchers. Many would probably discard the new knowledge rather than face rejection within their community. Imagine how difficult it would be for the one who was taken outside and exposed to the reality of the world as we know it. This person would seem insane to those in the theater. How could he ever convince the shadow watchers that their entire life was wasted on something that was only an illusion. There would always be those among the shadow watchers who would want to protect the status quo so that their status was maintained regardless of what was the truth. These people would ridicule the new knowledge and cry out that it was false or a lie. They would want to convince the others in their group that what they knew was the truth to protect their status. These individuals would fight against truth to maintain their status and halt any progress that could have been made by exploring the new revelation. This allegory demonstrates how difficult it is for humankind to progress. While there may be quantum leaps in knowledge, the progress of society can only be made in small incremental steps if it is to be accepted by the vast majority.

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