Study Guide

The Republic Wisdom and Knowledge

By Plato

Wisdom and Knowledge

Here is the wisdom of Socrates; unwilling himself to teach, he goes around learning from others, and does not even give thanks to them. (338b)

Here, Thrasymachus expresses his negative take on Socrates's abilities as an educator. He suggests that Socrates only pretends to be teaching; he's actually just trying to figure out what everyone else knows. Do you think Socrates would be able to explain his ideas in a plain old essay? Would this method of argumentation be as effective as a dialogue?

So shall we be bold and assert that a human being too, if he is going to be gentle to his own and those known to him, must by nature be a philosopher and a lover of learning?" (376b-c)

According to Socrates, a general desire to learn, coupled with a rigorous pursuit of philosophy, is crucial to being a good person. What is the connection between goodness and a desire to learn?

"The city we described really is wise, in my opinion. That's because of its good counsel, isn't it?" (428b)

Socrates imagines that wisdom is something that an entire city can possess—but only if the city is set up like the republic, with a philosopher-king at the helm. Otherwise, Socrates thinks there's very little wisdom to be found in crowds of people.

“When knowledge of constructing houses came to be, didn't it differ from the other kinds of knowledge and was thus called house building?" (438d)

Even though Socrates is often speaking of wisdom in the abstract, sometimes he likes to use very basic, everyday examples to prove his point. In fact, for a philosopher, Socrates is surprisingly interested in pragmatic types of wisdom. You know, like house construction. Even that can be philosophical, in Socrates's view.

“Isn't it proper for the calculating part to rule, since it is wise and has forethought about all of the soul, and for the spirited part to be obedient to it and its ally?" (441e)

Championing wisdom yet again, Socrates makes it very clear that wisdom needs to be what guides us when we make decisions—not that excitable, spontaneous "spirited" part of us.

"...what is entirely, is entirely knowable; and what in no way is, is in every way unknowable." (477a)

If you weren't convinced that Socrates could get seriously abstract, here you go. Basically, he's communicating that wisdom and existence are interconnected ideas: if something exists, then it can be known.

"Therefore the man who is really a lover of learning must from youth on strive as intensely as possible for every kind of truth." (485d)

Like any meaningful education, Socrates stresses that philosophy is no cakewalk: it's an intense lifelong commitment that begins in childhood and takes dedication and persistence to pursue throughout your life. Nothing good comes easily, right?

"Haven't you noticed that all opinions without knowledge are ugly? The best of them are blind." (506c)

The fact that Socrates uses such vivid images here—of both ugliness and blindness—to describe the effect of opinion shows just how strongly he feels about making sure opinions are backed by knowledge.

"Isn't it one great precaution not to let [future philosophers] taste of arguments while they are young? I suppose you aren't unaware that when lads get their first taste of them, they misuse them as though it were play..." (539b)

If argumentation is going to be an effective method for encouraging wisdom, young children can't be allowed to abuse it. Instead of wanting to expose children to this practice early, Socrates advocates for saving it for later. He doesn't want them to just imitate what they're seeing; he wants them to really understand the point of what they're doing.

"Now here, my dear Glaucon, is the whole risk for a human being, as it seems. And on this account each of us must, to the neglect of other studies, above all see to it that he is a seeker and student of that study by which he might be able to learn and find out who will give him the capacity and the knowledge to distinguish the good and the bad life..." (618b-c)

Relating the myth of Er, Socrates insists that wisdom and knowledge are the only things that will save you from choosing a terrible, unhappy life in the underworld. You wanted some high stakes? Voilà.

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