Plato on Music

You always hear that Plato is a rationalist, the great promoter of brains in the sky.  He certainly didn’t want man’s emotions getting in the way, and thus he didn’t appreciate the arts or music.

I have some idea of where this came from, but it has to be said that it is demonstrably false.  Here’s Socrates from Plato’s Republic, book III:

And therefore, I said, Glaucon, musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the sound, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful: and also because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justify blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.

Yes, he said, I quite agree with you in thinking that it is for such reasons that they should be trained in music…

Oh to have more Platonism in schools these days!

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About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

7 thoughts on “Plato on Music

  1. Catherine Pickstock (I know, evil RO) wrote an interesting essay on Augustine’s platonic streams in *De Musica.* Is there an English edition of *De Musica* anywhere online?

    Kreeft also notes that political revolutions are usually preceded by musical revolutions.

  2. I can’t find an English translation online, but there is an English translation by W.F. Jackson Knight.

    The Latin text is online (e.g., here:, but the only modern-language translation I’ve found is Italian, at the same site (

    Regarding your second point, have you seen the documentary ‘The Singing Revolution’ (about Estonia)? It’s very interesting.

  3. Important to note though, that Plato may accept music but a little later he gets more specific on what he would expect. A musical form existed and musicians shouldn’t seek to step outside that form and innovate, and thus bring disorder and addiction to novelty into the Republic.

    But I don’t think he ever heard the Clash. Or Radiohead.

  4. Plato is wrong about everything because he rejected the essence/energies distinction.

    Also, he whispered in Augustine’s ear – Augie was just his stenographer.

    Also, he’s Greek, not Hebrew.

    So, you see, like, there!

  5. Plato seems to have had a bit of foresight in this musical matter. His claim that music, when not properly ordered or governed by his ‘philosopher kings’, incites anarchy and rebellion among the lower class. It seems to be the obvious way to explain a movement such as the roaring 20’s, which is referred to as the Jazz age. Or even Woodstock. It could also explain why there seem to be so few artists today who will make a lasting impact on our culture. The rebellion against the pearls and heals of the 50’s has been completed. We are now at a peace period in our society. The music has nothing against which to rebel. Now would seem like the perfect point for Christians to rise up and cause this seemingly very effective rebellion. Psalms, anyone?

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