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[402b] in small things or great1 and think it unnecessary to recognize them, but were eager to distinguish them everywhere, in the belief that we should never be literate and letter-perfect till we could do this.” “True.” “And is it not also true that if there are any likenesses2 of letters reflected in water or mirrors, we shall never know them until we know the originals, but such knowledge belongs to the same art and discipline3?” “By all means.” “Then, by heaven, am I not right in saying that by the same token we shall never be true musicians, either—

1 Plato often employs letters or elements (στοιχεῖα) to illustrate the acquisition of knowledge (Theaetetus 206 A), the relation of elements to compounds, the principles of classification (Philebus 18 C, Cratylus 393 D), and the theory of ideas (Politicus 278 A. Cf. Isocrates xiii. 13, Xenophon Memorabilia iv. 4. 7, Blass, Attische Beredsamkeit, ii. pp. 23 f., 348 f., Cicero De or. ii. 130).

2 It is of course possible to contrast images with the things themselves, and to speak of forms or species without explicit allusion to the metaphysical doctrine of ideas. But on the other hand there is not the slightest reason to assume that the doctrine and its terminology were not familiar to Plato at the time when this part of the Republic was written. Cf. Unity of Plato's Thought, pp. 31 ff., 35. Statistics of the use of εἶδος and ἰδέα(Peiper's Ontologica Platonica, Taylor, Varia Socratica, Wilamowitz, Platon, ii. pp. 249-253), whatever their philological interest, contribute nothing to the interpretation of Plato's thought. Cf. my De Platonis Idearum Doctrina, pp. 1, 30, and Class Phil. vol. vi. pp. 363-364. There is for common sense no contradiction or problem in the fact that Plato here says that we cannot be true “musicians” till we recognize both the forms and all copies of, or approximations to, them in art or nature, while in Book X (601) he argues that the poet and artist copy not the idea but its copy in the material world.

3 Plato, like all intellectuals, habitually assumes that knowledge of principles helps practice. Cf. Phaedrus 259 E, 262 B, and 484 D, 520 C, 540 A.

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