previous next
[530a] with regard to equals or doubles or any other ratio.” “How could it be otherwise than absurd?” he said. “Do you not think,” said I, “that one who was an astronomer in very truth would feel in the same way when he turned his eyes upon the movements of the stars? He will be willing to concede that the artisan1 of heaven fashioned it and all that it contains in the best possible manner for such a fabric; but when it comes to the proportions of day and night, and of their relation to the month, and that of the month to the year, and [530b] of the other stars to these and one another, do you not suppose that he will regard as a very strange fellow the man who believes that these things go on for ever without change2 or the least deviation3—though they possess bodies and are visible objects—and that his unremitting quest4 the realities of these things?” “I at least do think so,” he said, “now that I hear it from you.” “It is by means of problems,5 then,” said I, “as in the study of geometry, that we will pursue astronomy too, and [530c] we will let be the things in the heavens,6 if we are to have a part in the true science of astronomy and so convert to right use from uselessness that natural indwelling intelligence of the soul.” “You enjoin a task,” he said, “that will multiply the labor7 of our present study of astronomy many times.” “And I fancy,” I said, “that our other injunctions will be of the same kind if we are of any use as lawgivers.

“However, what suitable studies have you to suggest?” “Nothing,” he said, “thus off-hand.” “Yet, surely,” said I, “motion8 in general provides not one but many forms or species, [530d] according to my opinion. To enumerate them all will perhaps be the task of a wise man,9 but even to us two of them are apparent.” “What are they?” “In addition to astronomy, its counterpart, I replied.” “What is that?” “We may venture to suppose,” I said, “that as the eyes are framed for astronomy so the ears are framed,10 for the movements of harmony; and these are in some sort kindred sciences,11 as the Pythagoreans12 affirm and we admit,13 do we not, Glaucon?” “We do,” he said. [530e] “Then,” said I, since the task is, so great, shall we not inquire of them14 what their opinion is and whether they have anything to add? And we in all this15 will be on the watch for what concerns us.” “What is that?” “To prevent our fosterlings from attempting to learn anything that does not conduce to the end16 we have in view, and does not always come out at what we said ought to be the goal of everything, as we were just now saying about astronomy.

1 δημιουργῷ: an anticipation of the Timaeus.

2 Cf. Bruno apudHöffding, History of Modern Philosophy, i. 125 and 128, and Galileo, ibid. i. 178; also Lucretius v. 302-305.

3 Plato was right against the view that Aristotle imposed on the world for centuries. We should not therefore say with Adam that he would have attached little significance to the perturbations of Neptune and the consequent discovery of Uranus. It is to Plato that tradition attributes the problem of accounting by the simplest hypothesis for the movement of the heavenly bodies and “saving the phenomena.” The alleged contradiction between this and Laws 821 B ff. and Tim. 41 A is due to a misapprehension. That the stars in their movements do not perfectly express the exactness of mathematical conceptions is no more than modern astronomers say. In the Laws passage Plato protests against the idea that there is no law and order governing the movement of the planets, but that they are “wandering stars,” as irregular in their movements as they seem. In the Timaeus he is saying that astronomy or science took its beginning from the sight and observation of the heavenly bodies and the changing seasons. In the RepublicPlato's purpose is to predict and encourage a purely mathematical astronomy and the indicate its place in the type of education which he wishes to give his guardians. There is not the slightest contradiction or change of opinion in the three passages if interpreted rightly in their entire context.

4 The meaning is not appreciably affected by a slight doubt as to the construction of ζητεῖν. It is usually taken with ἄτοπον(regarded as neuter), the meaning being that the Philosophic astronomer will think it strange to look for the absolute truth in these things. This double use of ἄτοπον is strained and it either makes παντὶ τρόπῳ awkward or attributes to Plato the intention of decrying the concrete study of astronomy. I think ζητεῖν etc. are added by a trailing anacoluthon such as occurs elsewhere in the Republic. Their subject is the real astronomer who, using the stars only as “diagrams” or patterns (529 D), seeks to learn a higher exacter mathematical truth than mere observation could yield. Madvig's ζητήσει implies a like view of the meaning but smooths out the construction. But my interpretation of the passage as a whole does not depend on this construction. If we make ζητεῖν depend on ἄτοπον(neuter)ἡγήσεται, the meaning will be that he thinks it absurd to expect to get that higher truth from mere observation. At all events Plato is not here objecting to observation as a suggestion for mathematical studies but to its substitution for them, as the next sentence shows.

5 That is just what the mathematical astronomy of today does, and it is a πολλαπλάσιον ἔργον compared with the merely observational astronomy of Plato's day. Cf. the interesting remarks of Sir James Jeans, apudS. J. Woolf, Drawn from Life, p. 74: “The day is gone when the astronomer's work is carried on only at the eyepiece of a telescope. Naturally, observations must be made, but these must be recorded by men who are trained for that purpose, and I am not one of them,” etc. Adam's quotation of Browning's “Abt Vogler” in connection with this passage will only confirm the opinion of those who regard Plato as a sentimental enemy of science.

6 Cf. also Phileb. 59 A, Aristot.Met. 997 b 35οὐδὲ περὶ τὸν οὐρανὸν ἀστρολογία τόνδε. This intentional Ruskinian boutade has given great scandal. The Platonist, we are told ad nauseam, deduces the world from his inner consciousness. This is of course not true (Cf. Unity of Plato's Thought, p. 45). But Plato, like some lesser writers, loves to emphasize his thought by paradox and surprise, and his postulation and of a mathematical astronomy required emphasis. Cf. my Platonism and the History of Science, pp. 171-174. This and similar passages cannot be used to prove that Plato was unscientific, as many hostile or thoughtless critics have attempted to do. Cf. e.g. the severe strictures of Arthur Platt, Nine Essays,Cambridge Univ. Press, 1921, pp. 12-16, especially p. 16: “Plato being first and foremost a metaphysician with a sort of religious system would not have us study anything but metaphysics and a kind of mystic religion.” Woodbridge Riley, From Myth to Reason, p. 47: “ . . . Plato...was largely responsible for turning back the clock of scientific progress. To explain the wonders of the world he preferred imagination to observation.” Cf. also Benn, Greek Philosophers, vol. i. pp. 173 and 327, Herrick, The Thinking Machine, p. 335, f. C. s. Schiller, Plato and he Predecessors, p. 81: “ . . . that Plato's anti-empirical bias renders him profoundly anti-scientific, and that his influence has always, openly or subtly, counteracted and thwarted the scientific impulse, or at least diverted it into unprofitable channels.” Dampier-Whetham, A History of Science, pp. 27-28: “Plato was a great philosopher but in the history of experimental science he must be counted a disaster.” Such statements disregard the entire context of the Platonic passages they exploit, and take no account of Plato's purpose or of other passages which counteract his seemingly unscientific remarks. Equally unfair is the practice of comparing Plato unfavorably with Aristotle in this respect, as Grote e.g. frequently does (Cf. Aristotle, p. 233). Plato was an artist and Aristotle an encyclopaedist; but Plato as a whole is far nearer the point of view of recent science than Aristotle. Cf. my Platonism and the History of Science, p. 163; also 532 A and on 529 A, p. 180, note a and What Plato Said, p. 236.

7 Cf. Phaedr. 272 Bκαίτοι οὐ σμικρόν γε φαίνεται ἔργον.

8 Plato here generalizes motion as a subject of science.

9 The modesty is in the tone of the Timaeus.

10 For πέπηγεν cf. 605 A.

11 The similar statement attributed to Archytas, Diels i.3 p. 331, is probably an imitation of this.

12 Pythagoras is a great name, but little is known of him. “Pythagoreans” in later usage sometimes means mystics, sometimes mathematical physicists, sometimes both. Plato makes use of both traditions but is dominated by neither. For Erich Frank's recent book, Plato und die sogenannten Pythagoreer, cf. my article in Class. Phil. vol. xxiii. (1928) pp. 347 ff. The student of Plato will do well to turn the page when he meets the name Pythagoras in a commentator.

13 For this turn of phrase cf. Vol. I. p. 333, 424 C, Protag. 316 A, Symp. 186 E.

14 For the reference to experts Cf. 400 B, 424 C. Cf. also What Plato Said, p. 484, on Laches 184 D-E.

15 παρά of course here means “throughout” and not “contrary.”

16 I take the word ἀτελές etymologically (cf. pp. 66-67, note b, on 500 A), with reference to the end in view. Others take it in the ordinary Greek sense, “imperfect,” “incomplete.”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Notes (James Adam)
load focus Greek (1903)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1928 AD (1)
1921 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: