republic (books 6 - 10)
The right order, he replied. And now, Socrates, as you re-
buked the vulgar manner in which I praised astronomy before,
my praise shall be given in your own spirit. For everyone, as
I think, must see that astronomy compels the soul to look up-
ward and leads us from this world to another.
Everyone but myself, I said; to everyone else this may be
clear, but not to me.
And what, then, would you say?
I should rather say that those who elevate astronomy into
philosophy appear to me to make us look downward, and not
What do you mean? he asked.
You, I replied, have in your mind a truly sublime conception
of our knowledge of the things above. And I dare say that if
a person were to throw his head back and study the fretted ceil-
ing, you would still think that his mind was the percipient, and
not his eyes. And you are very likely right, and I may be a
simpleton: but, in my opinion, that knowledge only which is
of being and of the unseen can make the soul look upward, and
whether a man gapes at the heavens or blinks on the ground,
seeking to learn some particular of sense, I would deny that he
can learn, for nothing of that sort is matter of science; his soul
is looking downward, not upward, whether his way to knowl-
edge is by water or by land, whether he floats or only lies on his
I acknowledge, he said, the justice of your rebuke. Still, I
should like to ascertain how astronomy can be learned in any
manner more conducive to that knowledge of which we are
I will tell you, I said: The starry heaven which we behold
is wrought upon a visible ground, and therefore, although the
fairest and most perfect of visible things, must necessarily be
deemed inferior far to the true motions of absolute swiftness
and absolute slowness, which are relative to each other, and
carry with them that which is contained in them, in the true
number and in every true figure. Now, these are to be appre-
hended by reason and intelligence, but not by sight.
True, he replied.
The spangled heavens should be used as a pattern and with
a view to that higher knowledge; their beauty is like the beauty
of figures or pictures excellently wrought by the hand of Dae-
dalus, or some other great artist, which we may chance to be-
hold; any geometrician who saw them would appreciate the ex-
quisiteness of their workmanship, but he would never dream of
thinking that in them he could find the true equal or the true
double, or the truth of any other proportion.
No, he replied, such an idea would be ridiculous.
And will not a true astronomer have the same feeling when
he looks at the movements of the stars? Will he not think
that heaven and the things in heaven are framed by the Creator
of them in the most perfect manner? But he will never imag-
ine that the proportions of night and day, or of both to the
month, or of the month to the year, or of the stars to these and
to one another, and any other things that are material and visi-