Plato on Today’s Social Sciences, Perhaps

“Suppose a man was in charge of a large and powerful animal, and made a study of its moods and wants; he would learn when to approach and handle it, when and why it was especially savage or gentle, what the different noises it made meant, and what tone of voice to use to soothe or annoy it. All this he might learn by long experience and familiarity, and then call it a science, and reduce it to a system and set up to teach it. But he would not really know which of the creature’s tastes and desires was admirable or shameful, good or bad, right or wrong; he would simply use the terms on the basis of its reactions calling what pleased it good, what annoyed it bad. He would have no rational account to give of them, but would call the inevitable demands of the animal’s nature right and admirable, remaining quite blind to the real nature of and difference between inevitability and goodness, and quite unable to tell anyone else what it was. he would make a queer sort of teacher, wouldn’t he?”

“Very queer.”

“But is there really any difference between him and the man who thinks that the knowledge of the passions and pleasure of the mass of the common people is a science, whether he be painter, musician, or politician? If he keeps such company, and submits his poems or other productions, or his public services, to its judgment, he is going out of this way to make the public his master and to subject himself to the fatal necessity of producing only what it approves.”

Republic 493


  1. That is a great quote. Which edition of The Republic did it come from (noting your page number)? I might have some use for it in some upcoming papers.

  2. Pages 227-28 in the Penguin Classics 1987 translation by Desmond Lee.

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