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Plato

Plato

Quotations



Plato [Πλάτων; Plátōn] (c. 427 BC – c. 347 BC) was an immensely influential classical Greek philosopher, student of Socrates, teacher of Aristotle, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens.

Menexenus



  • Let every man remind their descendants that they also are soldiers who must not desert the ranks of their ancestors, or from cowardice fall behind. Even as I exhort you this day, and in all future time, whenever I meet with any of you, shall continue to remind and exhort you, O ye sons of heroes, that you strive to be the bravest of men. And I think that I ought now to repeat what your fathers desired to have said to you who are their survivors, when they went out to battle, in case anything happened to them. I will tell you what I heard them say, and what, if they had only speech, they would fain be saying, judging from what they then said. And you must imagine that you hear them saying what I now repeat to you:

    Sons, the event proves that your fathers were brave men; for we might have lived dishonourably, but have preferred to die honourably rather than bring you and your children into disgrace, and rather than dishonour our own fathers and forefathers; considering that life is not life to one who is a dishonour to his race, and that to such a one neither men nor Gods are friendly, either while he is on the earth or after death in the world below.
    Remember our words, then, and whatever is your aim let virtue be the condition of the attainment of your aim, and know that without this all possessions and pursuits are dishonourable and evil.
    For neither does wealth bring honour to the owner, if he be a coward; of such a one the wealth belongs to another, and not to himself. Nor does beauty and strength of body, when dwelling in a base and cowardly man, appear comely, but the reverse of comely, making the possessor more conspicuous, and manifesting forth his cowardice.
    And all knowledge, when separated from justice and virtue, is seen to be cunning and not wisdom; wherefore make this your first and last and constant and all-absorbing aim, to exceed, if possible, not only us but all your ancestors in virtue; and know that to excel you in virtue only brings us shame, but that to be excelled by you is a source of happiness to us.
    And we shall most likely be defeated, and you will most likely be victors in the contest, if you learn so to order your lives as not to abuse or waste the reputation of your ancestors, knowing that to a man who has any self-respect, nothing is more dishonourable than to be honoured, not for his own sake, but on account of the reputation of his ancestors.
    The honour of parents is a fair and noble treasure to their posterity, but to have the use of a treasure of wealth and honour, and to leave none to your successors, because you have neither money nor reputation of your own, is alike base and dishonourable.
    And if you follow our precepts you will be received by us as friends, when the hour of destiny brings you hither; but if you neglect our words and are disgraced in your lives, no one will welcome or receive you. This is the message which is to be delivered to our children.


Gorgias

  • Rhetoric, it seems, is a producer of persuasion for belief, not for instruction in the matter of right and wrong ... And so the rhetorician's business is not to instruct a law court or a public meeting in matters of right and wrong, but only to make them believe.

  • Then the case is the same in all the other arts for the orator and his rhetoric; there is no need to know the truth of the actual matters, but one merely needs to have discovered some device of persuasion which will make one appear to those who do not know to know better than those who know.

  • The orators — and the despots — have the least power in their cities ... since they do nothing that they wish to do, practically speaking, though they do whatever they think to be best.

Critias

  • I shall argue that to seem to speak well of the gods to men is far easier than to speak well of men to men: for the inexperience and utter ignorance of his hearers about any subject is a great assistance to him who has to speak of it, and we know how ignorant we are concerning the gods.

  • All that is said by any of us can only be imitation and representation.

Phaedrus



  • Oh dear Pan and all the other Gods of this place, grant that I may be beautiful inside. Let all my external possessions be in friendly harmony with what is within. May I consider the wise man rich. As for gold, let me have as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him.
    • Sec. 279 A prayer of Socrates, as portrayed in the dialogue.

  • Friends have all things in common.
    • Sec. 279

  • The eyes which are the windows of the soul.

The Symposium

  • And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is.
    • Sec. 211

  • Beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may.
    • Sec. 212

The Apology

An account of the death of Socrates

  • The unexamined life is not worth living.
    • Socrates, Sec. 38

  • Either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. ...Now if death be of such a nature, I say that to die is to gain; for eternity is then only a single night.
    • Socrates, Sec. 40

  • No evil can happen to a good man, neither in life nor after death.
    • Socrates, Sec. 41

  • The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways — I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows.
    • Socrates, Sec. 42

Phaedo

  • Man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door of his prison and run away... A man should wait, and not take his own life until God summons him.
    • 62

  • Must not all things at the last be swallowed up in death?
    • 72

  • Will you not allow that I have as much of the spirit of prophecy in me as the swans? For they, when they perceive that they must die, having sung all their life long, do then sing more lustily than ever, rejoicing in the thought that they are going to the god they serve.
    • 85

  • False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.
    • 91

The Republic



Book I

  • But tell me, this physician of whom you were just speaking, is he a moneymaker, an earner of fees, or a healer of the sick?
    • 340-C

  • When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.
    • 343-D

  • Mankind censure injustice fearing that they may be the victims of it, and not because they shrink from committing it.
    • 344-C

  • But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule.
    • 347-C

  • The beginning is the most important part of the work.
    • 377-B

Book II

  • And the shoemaker was not allowed by us to be husbandman, or a weaver, a builder — in order that we might have our shoes well made; but to him and to every other worker was assigned one work for which he was by nature fitted, and at that he was to continue working all his life long and at no other; he was not to let opportunities slip, and then he would become a good workman.
    Now nothing can be more important than that the work of a soldier should be well done. But is war an art so easily acquired that a man may be a warrior who is also a husbandman, or shoemaker, or other artisan; although no one in the world would be a good dice or draught player who merely took up the game as a recreation, and had not from his earliest years devoted himself to this and nothing else?
    No tools will make a man a skilled workman, or master of defence, nor be of any use to him who has not learned how to handle them, and has never bestowed any attention upon them. How then will he who takes up a shield or other implement of war become a good fighter all in a day, whether with heavy-armed or any other kind of troops?
    Yes, he [Glaucon] said, the tools which would teach men their own use would be beyond price.

  • Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only.

  • If we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarrelling among themselves as of all things the basest, should any word be said to them of the wars in heaven, and of the plots and fightings of the gods against one another, for they are not true. No, we shall never mention the battles of the giants, or let them be embroidered on garments; and we shall be silent about the innumerable other quarrels of gods and heroes with their friends and relatives. If they would only believe us we would tell them that quarrelling is unholy, and that never up to this time has there been any quarrel between citizens; this is what old men and old women should being by telling children; and when they grow up, the poets also should be told to compose for them in a similar spirit.

  • God is not the author of all things, but of good only.

  • The gods are not magicians who transform themselves; neither do they deceive mankind in any way.

Book III

  • Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him?

  • And we must beg Homer and the other poets not to be angry if we strike out these and similar passages, not because they are unpoetical, or unattractive to the popular ear, but because the greater the poetical charm in them, the less are they meant for the ears of boys and men who are meant to be free, and who should fear slavery more than death.

  • A fit of laughter, which has been indulged to excess, almost always produces a violent reaction.

  • Truth should be highly valued; if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians; private individuals have no business with them.

  • Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity — I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character, not that other simplicity which is only a euphemism for folly.

  • Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul; on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful; and also because he who has received this education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognise and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.

  • When the citizens of a society can see and hear their leaders, then that society should be seen as one.

  • The judge should not be young; he should have learned to know evil, not from his own soul, but from late and long observation of the nature of evil in others: knowledge should be his guide, not personal experience.
    • 409-B

  • Everything that deceives may be said to enchant.
    • 413-C

Book IV

  • Wealth is the parent of luxury and indolence, and poverty of meanness and viciousness, and both of discontent.
    • 422-A

  • The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life.
    • 425-B

Book V

  • Do you know, then, of anything practiced by mankind in which the masculine sex does not surpass the female on all these points? Must we make a long story of it by alleging weaving and the watching of pancakes and the boiling pot, whereon the sex plumes itself and wherein its defeat will expose it to most laughter? ... Then there is no pursuit of the administrators of a state that belongs to a woman because she is a woman or to a man because he is a man. But the natural capacities are distributed alike among both creatures, and women naturally share in all pursuits and men in all.... Shall we, then, assign them all to men and nothing to women?
    We shall rather, I take it, say that one woman has the nature of a physician and another not, and one is by nature musical, and another unmusical? ... Can we, then, deny that one woman is naturally athletic and warlike and another unwarlike and averse to gymnastics? ... And again, one a lover, another a hater, of wisdom? And one high-spirited, and the other lacking spirit? ... Then it is likewise true that one woman has the qualities of a guardian and another not. Were not these the natural qualities of the men also whom we selected for guardians?
    • 455-C to 456-A

  • Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils — no, nor the human race, as I believe — and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.
    • 473-C

Book VII



  • And at first he would most easily discern the shadows and, after that, the likenesses or reflections in water of men and other things, and later, the things themselves, and from these he would go on to contemplate the appearances in the heavens and heaven itself, more easily by night, looking at the light of the stars and the moon, than by day the sun and the sun's light.... And so, finally, I suppose, he would be able to look upon the sun itself and see its true nature, not by reflections in water or phantasms of it in an alien setting, but in and by itself in its own place....
    And at this point he would infer and conclude that this it is that provides the seasons and the courses of the year and presides over all things in the visible region, and is in some sort the cause of all these things that they had seen.
    • 516-A to 516-C; This fragment is also translated as:
And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves, then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven.... Last of all he will be able to see the sun.

  • I have hardly ever known a mathematician who was capable of reasoning.
    • 531-E

  • Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.
    • 536-E

Book VIII



  • Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike.
    • 558-C

  • Democracy passes into despotism.
    • 562-A

  • The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness. ...This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.
    • 565-C

  • When the tyrant has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader.
    • 566-E

Book X

  • No human thing is of serious importance.
    • 604-C

  • We are ready to acknowledge that Homer is the greatest of poets and first of tragedy writers; but we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State....
    And now since we have reverted to the subject of poetry, let this our defence serve to show the reasonableness of our former judgment in sending away out of our State an art having the tendencies which we have described; for reason constrained us. But that she may impute to us any harshness or want of politeness, let us tell her that there is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry; of which there are many proofs, such as the saying of 'the yelping hound howling at her lord,' or of one 'mighty in the vain talk of fools,' and 'the mob of sages circumventing Zeus,' and the 'subtle thinkers who are beggars after all'; and there are innumerable other signs of ancient enmity between them.
    Notwithstanding this, let us assure our sweet friend and the sister arts of imitation that if she will only prove her title to exist in a well-ordered State we shall be delighted to receive her — we are very conscious of her charms; but we may not on that account betray the truth.
    • 607-B
This fragment is also translated as:
Poetry and philosophy are always hostile to each other.

Unsorted

  • As Themistocles answered Seriphian who was abusing him and saying that he was famous not for his own merits but because he was an Athenian: "If you had been a native of my country or I of yours, neither of us would have been famous."

  • If you can discover a better way of life than office-holding for your future rulers, a well-governed city becomes a possibility. For only in such a state will those rule who are truly rich, not in gold, but in the wealth that makes happiness — a good and wise life.
This fragment is also translated as:
You must contrive for your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler, and then you may have a well-ordered State; for only in the State which offers this, will they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life.

  • “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”

Parmenides

  • You cannot conceive the many without the one.
    • 166

Laws

  • The greatest penalty of evildoing is to grow into the likeness of bad men.
    • 728

  • Of all animals, the boy is the most unmanageable.
    • 808

  • You are young, my son, and, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as a judge of the highest matters.
    • 888

  • Not one of them who took up in his youth with this opinion that there are no gods ever continued until old age faithful to his conviction.
    • 888

  • Death is not the worst that can happen to men.

  • Are we assured that there are two things which lead men to believe in the Gods, as we have already stated?
    What are they?
    One is the argument about the soul, which has been already mentioned — that it is the eldest and most divine of all things, to which motion attaining generation gives perpetual existence; the other was an argument from the order of the motion of the stars, and of all things under the dominion of the mind which ordered the universe. If a man look upon the world not lightly or ignorantly, there was never any one so godless who did not experience an effect opposite to that which the many imagine. For they think that those who handle these matters by the help of astronomy, and the accompanying arts of demonstration, may become godless, because they see, as far as they can see, things happening by necessity, and not by an intelligent will accomplishing good.

In Diogenes Laërtius


Misattributed


  • Watch a man at play for an hour and you can learn more about him than in talking to him for a year.
    • Attributed to Plato in Confidence : How to Succeed at Being Yourself (1987) by Alan Loy McGinnis, this is probably a paraphrase of a statement which occurs in Letter of Advice to a Young Gentleman Leaving the University Concerning His Behaviour and Conversation in the World (1907) by Richard Lindgard: "Take heed of playing often or deep at Dice and Games of Chance, for that is more chargeable than the seven deadly sins; yet you may allow yourself a certain easie Sum to spend at Play, to gratifie Friends, and pass over the Winter Nights, and that will make you indifferent for the Event. If you would read a man’s Disposition, see him Game; you will then learn more of him in one hour, than in seven Years Conversation, and little Wagers will try him as soon as great Stakes, for then he is off his Guard."
    • Variants:
    • You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.
      • Attributed to Plato in "Food Is the Frosting-Company Is the Cake (2007) by Maggie Marshall
    • You learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.
    • Attributed to Plato by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as quoted in "Aspiring philosopher Palin quotes 'Plato'" (9 July 2009)

On Plato