Plato’s Basic Nature Of
And what shall be their education? Can we find a better
than the traditional sort? —and this has two divisions,
gymnastic for the body, and music for the soul.
Shall we begin education with music, and go on to gymnastic
By all means.
And when you speak of music, do you include literature
And literature may be either true or false?
And the young should be trained in both kinds, and we
begin with the false?
I do not understand your meaning, he said.
You know, I said, that we begin by telling children stories
which, though not wholly destitute of truth, are in the
main fictitious; and these stories are told them when
they are not of an age to learn gymnastics.
That was my meaning when I said we must teach music before
Quite right, he said.
You know also that the beginning is the most important
part of any work, especially in the case of a young and
tender thing; for that is the time at which the character
is being formed and the desired impression is more readily
And shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any
casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and
to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the
very opposite of those which we should wish them to have
when they are grown up?
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 authorised ones only. Let them fashion the mind with
such tales, even more fondly than they mould the body
with their hands; but most of those which are now in use
must be discarded.
Of what tales are you speaking? he said.
You may find a model of the lesser in the greater, I said;
for they are necessarily of the same type, and there is
the same spirit in both of them.
Very likely, he replied; but I do not as yet know what
you would term the greater. Which stories do you mean,
he said; and what fault do you find with them?
A fault which is most serious, I said; the fault of telling
a lie, and, what is more, a bad lie.
But when is this fault committed?
Whenever an erroneous representation is made of the nature
of gods and heroes. 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 be silent about the innumerable quarrels
of gods and heroes. 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;
For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and
what is literal; anything that he receives into his mind
at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable;
and therefore it is most important that the tales which
the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts.
Very true, he said; but what are these forms of theology
which you mean?
Something of this kind, I replied: —God is always
to be represented as he truly is, whatever be the sort
of poetry, epic, lyric or tragic, in which the representation
And is he not truly good? and must he not be represented
And no good thing is hurtful?
And that which is not hurtful hurts not?
And that which hurts not does no evil?
And can that which does no evil be a cause of evil?
And the good is advantageous?
And therefore the cause of well-being?
It follows therefore that the good is not the cause of
all things, but of the good only?
Then God, if he be good, is not the author of all things,
as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things
only, and not of most things that occur to men. For few
are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and
the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils
the causes are to be sought elsewhere, and not in him.
That appears to me to be most true, he said.
from The Republic, Book II