Philosophia & Misero from the Mantegna engravings
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Socrates addressing Adeimantus.
…/…‘Socrates: ’Can the majority in any way tolerate or accept the reality of the beautiful itself, as opposed to the many beautiful things, or the reality of each things itself, as opposed to the corresponding many?
Adeimantus: Not in any way.
Socrates: Then the majority cannot be philosophic.
Adeimantus: They cannot.
Socrates: Hence they inevitably disapprove of those who practice philosophy?
Socrates: And so do all private individuals who associate with the majority and try to please them.
Socrates: Then, because of all that, do you see any salvation for someone who is by nature a philosopher, to insure that he’ll practice philosophy correctly to the end? Think about what we’ve said before. We agreed that ease in learning, a good memory, courage, and high-mindedness belong to the philosophic nature.
Socrates: And won’t someone with a nature like that be first among the children in everything, especially if his body has a nature that matches that of his soul.
Adeimantus: How could he not be?
Socrates: Then I supposed that, as he gets older, his family and fellow citizens will want to make use of him in connection with their own affairs.
Adeimantus: Of course.
Socrates: Therefore they’ll pay court to him with their requests and honors, trying by their flattery to secure for themselves ahead of time the power that is going to be his.
Adeimantus: That’s what usually happens, at any rate.
Socrates: What do you think someone like that will do in such circumstances especially if he happens to be from a great city, in which he’s rich, well born, good looking, and tall? Won’t he be filled with impractical expectations and think himself capable of managing the affairs, not only of himself, but of others as well? And as a result, won’t he exalt himself to great heights and be trimming with pretention and pride that is empty and lacks of understanding?
Adeimantus: He certainly will.
Socrates: And if someone approaches a young man in that condition and gently tells him the truth, namely, that there’s no understanding in him, that he needs it, and that it can’t be acquired unless he works like a slave to attain it, do you think it will be easy for him to listen when he’s in the midst of so many evils?
Adeimantus: Far from it.
Socrates: And even if a young man of that sort somehow sees the point and is guided and drawn to philosophy because of his noble nature and his kinship with reason, what do you think those people will do, if they believe that they are using their use of him and his companionship? Is there anything they won’t do or say to him to prevent him from being persuaded? Or anything they won’t do or say about his persuader-whether plotting against him in private or publicly bringing him into court-to prevent him from such persuasion?
Adeimantus: There certainly isn’t.
Socrates: Then, is there any chance that such a person will practice philosophy?
Adeimantus: None at all.
Socrates: Do you see, then, that we weren’t wrong to say that, when someone with a philosophic nature is badly brought-up, the very components of his nature-together with other so-called goods, such as wealth and other similar advantages-are themselves in a way the cause of his falling away from philosophic pursuit?
Adeimantus: I do, and what we said was right.
Socrates: These, then, are the many ways in which the best nature-which is already rare enough, as we said-is destroyed and corrupted, so that it cannot follow the best pursuits. And it is among these men that we find the ones who do the greatest evils to cities and individuals and also-if they happen to be swept that way by the current-the greatest good, for a petty nature will never do anything great, either to an individual or a city.
Adeimantus: That’s very true.
Socrates: When these men, for whom philosophy is most appropriate, fall away from her (philosophy), they leave her desolate and unwed, and they themselves lead lives that are inappropriate and untrue. Then others, who are unworthy of her, come to her as to an orphan deprived of the protection of kinsmen and disgrace her. These are the ones who are responsible for the reproaches that you say are cast against philosophy by those who revile her, namely that some of those who consort with her are useless, while the majority deserves to suffer many bad things.
Adeimantus: Yes, that is indeed what is said.
Socrates: And it’s a reasonable thing to say, for other little men-the ones who are most sophisticated at their own little craft-seeing that this position, which is full of fine names and adornments, is vacated, leap gladly from those little craft to philosophy, like prisoners escaping from jail who take refuge in a temple. Despite her present poor state, philosophy is still more high-minded than these other crafts, so that many people with defective natures desire to possess her, even though their souls are cramped and spoiled by the mechanical nature of their work, in just the way that their bodies are mutilated by their crafts and labors. Isn’t that inevitable?
Adeimantus: It certainly is.
Socrates: Don’t you think that a man of this sort looks exactly like a little bald-headed tinker who has come into some money and, having been just released from jail, has taken a bath, put on a new cloak, got himself up as a bridegroom, and about to marry the boss’s daughter because she is poor and abandoned?
Adeimantus: They’re exactly the same.
Socrates: And what kind of children will that marriage produce? Won’t they be illegitimate and inferior?
Adeimantus: They have to be.
Socrates: What about when men who are unworthy of education approach philosophy and consort with her unworthily? What kind of thoughts and opinions are we to say they beget? Won’t they truly be what are properly called sophisms, things that have nothing genuine about them or worthy of being called true wisdom?
Adeimantus: That’s absolutely right.
Socrates: Then there remains, Adeimantus, only a very small group who consort with philosophy in a way that’s worthy of her: A noble and well brought-up character, for example, kept down in exile, who remains with philosophy according to his nature because there is no one to corrupt him, or a great soul living in a small city, who disdains the city’s affairs and looks beyond them. A very few might be drawn to philosophy from other crafts that they rightly despise because they have good natures. And some might be held back by the bridle that restrains our friend Theages-for he’s in every way qualified to be tempted away from philosophy, but his physical illness restrains him by keeping him out of politics. Finally, my own case is hardly worth mentioning-my daemonic sign (his higher nature, manifestation of the higher self)-because it has happened to no one before me, or to only very few. Now, the members of this small group have tasted how sweet and blessed a possession philosophy is, and at the same time they’ve also seen the madness of the majority and realized in a word, that hardly anyone acts sanely in public affairs and that there is no ally with whom they might go to the aid of justice and survive, that instead they’d perish before they could profit either their city or their friends and be useless both to themselves and to others, just like a man who has fallen amongst wild animals and is neither willing to join them in doing injustice nor sufficiently strong to oppose the general savagery alone. Taking all this into account, they lead a quiet life and do their own work. Thus, like someone who takes refuge under a little wall from a storm of dust or hail driven by the wind, the philosopher-seeing others filled with lawlessness-is satisfied if he can somehow lead his present life free from injustice and impious acts and depart from it with good hope, blameless and content.’
Lo Scarabeo edition of the Mantegna engravings
‘Republic’, Chapter VI,
from 494 to 496, Page 1116 to 1118
of the 1997 Hackett edition of Plato’s ‘Collected Works’.
English translation by G.M.A. Grube, revised by C.D.C. Reeve.