After telling everyone the lengthy myth of Er (which you can find out more about in our "Symbols" section), Socrates abruptly wraps things up by hoping, for the good of everyone's soul, that he's been persuasive. Not so surprising, right?
But what is surprising is the fact that Socrates says it doesn't matter whether you choose to believe his complex philosophical proofs or whether you just choose to believe this good story about Er he's just told. Either way, you end up saved. But if this little story is just as meaningful as the incredibly intricate, confusing, and large-scale philosophical debate he's had for over 300 pages, what does that say about philosophy?
Well, it's impossible to know for sure, but it seems pretty hard to believe that Socrates would be suggesting that philosophy is a waste of time. Instead, Socrates is suggesting that the language of philosophy—you know, kind of dense, complicated, sometimes boring—isn't the only way to communicate the ideas of philosophy. The ideas are still important, but you can find simpler and more entertaining ways to make them clear.
Of course, there's maybe a bit of elitism going on here, too. Socrates still thinks the most important way to gain truth is through the rigors and challenges of philosophical speculation, so he thinks the best, smartest people should be capable of handling that. The myth of Er is a story for those who can't comprehend the complexities of philosophy. Those people get this myth instead.
But Socrates's pessimism about the capacity of people to understand philosophical language hasn't really come true. Thousands and thousands of people over many, many centuries have read and struggled through the Republic, facing its challenges head on.
Socrates's attitude toward the myth of Er, by the way, also complicates his statements about poetry. If storytelling can achieve the same or similar ends as philosophical reasoning, what does that say about poetry? Is all poetry imitative? Can even imitative poetry achieve philosophical ends, provided it tells the right kind of story? There are certainly "imitative" aspects of the myth of Er, and yet Socrates is totally okay with this story.
We're not going to get any easy answers on this topic, but we think that Socrates wouldn't mind us questioning him.