republic (books 6 - 10)
ping their hands, and the echo of the rocks and the place in
which they are assembled redoubles the sound of the praise or
blame--at such a time will not a young man's heart, as they
say, leap within him? Will any private training enable him
to stand firm against the overwhelming flood of popular opin-
ion? or will he be carried away by the stream? Will he not
have the notions of good and evil which the public in general
have--he will do as they do, and as they are, such will he be?
Yes, Socrates; necessity will compel him.
And yet, I said, there is a still greater necessity, which has
not been mentioned.
What is that?
The gentle force of attainder, or confiscation, or death,
which, as you are aware, these new Sophists and educators,
who are the public, apply when their words are powerless.
Indeed they do; and in right good earnest.
Now what opinion of any other Sophist, or of any private
person, can be expected to overcome in such an unequal con-
None, he replied.
No, indeed, I said, even to make the attempt is a great piece
of folly; there neither is, nor has been, nor is ever likely to be,
any different type of character which has had no other train-
ing in virtue but that which is supplied by public opinion--
I speak, my friend, of human virtue only; what is more than
human, as the proverb says, is not included: for I would not
have you ignorant that, in the present evil state of govern-
ments, whatever is saved and comes to good is saved by the
power of God, as we may truly say.
I quite assent, he replied.
Then let me crave your assent also to a further observation.
What are you going to say?
Why, that all those mercenary individuals, whom the many
call Sophists and whom they deem to be their adversaries, do,
in fact, teach nothing but the opinion of the many, that is to
say, the opinions of their assemblies; and this is their wisdom.
I might compare them to a man who should study the tempers
and desires of a mighty strong beast who is fed by him--he
would learn how to approach and handle him, also at what times
and from what causes he is dangerous or the reverse, and what
is the meaning of his several cries, and by what sounds, when
another utters them, he is soothed or infuriated; and you may
suppose further, that when, by continually attending upon him,
he has become perfect in all this, he calls his knowledge wis-
dom, and makes of it a system or art, which he proceeds to
teach, although he has no real notion of what he means by the
principles or passions of which he is speaking, but calls this
honorable and that dishonorable, or good or evil, or just or
unjust, all in accordance with the tastes and tempers of the
great brute. Good he pronounces to be that in which the beast
delights, and evil to be that which he dislikes; and he can give
no other account of them except that the just and noble are the