Quotations by Plato


We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
(Attributed)
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The visible is a shadow cast by the invisible.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
(Attributed)

Quoted in Martin Luther King, Jr, Strength to Love, ch. 9 (1963)

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You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
(Spurious)

Frequently attributed to Plato, starting in the 1950s, but not found in his works. Earliest citation is as a Portuguese proverb, in A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs, tr. Henry G. Bohn (1857): "Mais descobre huma hora de jogo, que hum anno de conversação." For more see here.
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I shall assume that your silence gives consent.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
Cratylus, xli
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I would fain grow old learning many things.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
Laches, 189 A
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Laws are partly formed for the sake of good men, in order to instruct them how they may live on friendly terms with one another, and partly for the sake of those who refuse to be instructed, whose spirit cannot be subdued, or softened, or hindered from plunging into evil.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
Laws, Book IX [Athenian Stranger] (360 BC)

Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Full text.
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Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
Phaedrus, 279 [tr. Jowett (1894)]
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Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
Republic, Book 1, 347c

Alt. trans.:
  • "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors."
  • The Constitution Party (1952-68) used on their letterhead the variant, "The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."
  • Emerson paraphrased this as "Plato says that the punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is, to live under the government of worse men." ("Eloquence," Society and Solitude (1870)).
In context (Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 [tr. Shorey (1969)]):
[346e] "Then, Thrasymachus, is not this immediately apparent, that no art or office provides what is beneficial for itself -- but as we said long ago it provides and enjoins what is beneficial to its subject, considering the advantage of that, the weaker, and not the advantage the stronger? That was why, friend Thrasymachus, I was just now saying that no one of his own will chooses to hold rule and office and take other people's troubles in hand to straighten them out, but everybody expects pay for that, [347a] because he who is to exercise the art rightly never does what is best for himself or enjoins it when he gives commands according to the art, but what is best for the subject. That is the reason, it seems, why pay must be provided for those who are to consent to rule, either in form of money or honor or a penalty if they refuse." "What do you mean by that, Socrates?" said Glaucon. "The two wages I recognize, but the penalty you speak of and described as a form of wage I don't understand." "Then," said I, "you don't understand the wages of the best men [347b] for the sake of which the finest spirits hold office and rule when they consent to do so. Don't you know that to be covetous of honor and covetous of money is said to be and is a reproach?" "I do," he said. "Well, then," said I, "that is why the good are not willing to rule either for the sake of money or of honor. They do not wish to collect pay openly for their service of rule and be styled hirelings nor to take it by stealth from their office and be called thieves, nor yet for the sake of honor, [347c] for they are not covetous of honor. So there must be imposed some compulsion and penalty to constrain them to rule if they are to consent to hold office. That is perhaps why to seek office oneself and not await compulsion is thought disgraceful. But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule. It is from fear of this, as it appears to me, that the better sort hold office when they do, and then they go to it not in the expectation of enjoyment nor as to a good thing, but as to a necessary evil and because they are unable to turn it over to better men than themselves [347d] or to their like. For we may venture to say that, if there should be a city of good men only, immunity from office-holding would be as eagerly contended for as office is now, and there it would be made plain that in very truth the true ruler does not naturally seek his own advantage but that of the ruled; so that every man of understanding would rather choose to be benefited by another than to be bothered with benefiting him. "
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You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic
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The true creator is necessity, which is the mother of our invention.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic, 2.369 [tr. Jowett (1894)]

Popularly: "Necessity is the mother of invention."
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Those who are destitute of philosophy may be compared to prisoners in a cave, who are only able to look in one direction because they are bound, and who have a fire behind them and a wall in front. Between them and the wall there is nothing; all that they see are shadows of themselves, and of objects behind them, cast on the wall by the light of the fire. Inevitably they regard these shadows as real, and have no notion of the objects to which they are due. At last, some man succeeds in escaping from the cave to the light of the sun; for the first time he sees real things, and becomes aware that he had hitherto been deceived by shadows. If he is the sort of philosopher who is fit to become a guardian, he will feel it is his duty to those who were formerly his fellow prisoners to go down again into the cave, instruct them as to the truth, and show them the way up. But he will have difficulty in persuading them, because, coming out of the sunlight, he will see shadows less clearly than they do, and will seem to them stupider than before his escape.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic, 7.514

Summ. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, ch. 15 (1946)
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When riches and virtue are placed together in the scales of the balance, the one always rises as the other falls.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic, 8.550 [tr. Jowett (1894)]
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You remember what people say when they are sick? What do they say? That after all, nothing is pleasanter than health. But then they never knew this to be the greatest of pleasures until they were ill.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic, Book 9
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Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic, Book VII.536
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We should consider it a lesser evil to suffer great wrongs and outrages than to do them.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
Plato, Epistles, 7.335.a [tr. Harward (1932)]
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The first and highest form of the state and of the government and of the law is that which there prevails most widely the ancient saying, that “Friends have all things in common.”

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
Plato, Laws, 5.739 [tr. Jowett (1894)]
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