Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Plato's Popular Quotes (Meaningful Misquotes Quote #2)

Ah yes, this quote. I'll be frank, I'm not usually one for inspirational quotes, but this is one of the few I honestly really like. I've seen a lot of quotes on Pinterest that are attributed to Plato, and a friend was asking about another quote which sent me searching. Turns out a lot of Plato's quotes that you see on Pinterest aren't actually Plato's... go figure.

Over at Quote Investigator, O'Toole looks at the history of this quote. Turns out the first record of it was in 1897, and was penned by a man named John Watson who published under the name of Ian Maclaren:

“IAN MACLAREN,” along with other celebrities, was asked to send a Christmas message to an influential religious weekly in England. He responded by sending the short but striking sentence: “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.” No message is more needed in our days of stress and storm, of selfish striving and merciless competition.

I'm sure we've all seen this one as well on Pinterest and on Facebook.

But at Honey and Locusts, John actually traces down the original text from Plato:

“Laws are made to instruct the good, and in the hope that there may be no need of them; also to control the bad, whose hardness of heart will not be hindered from crime.” [Book IX]

Which when broken into layman's terms sounds kinda like the quote we've all seen, but knowing how Plato thought seems to actually push the quote into a different direction. As John says in his post about the Plato quotes:

"While it’s true that Plato did say something vaguely similar in, I think the paraphrase misrepresents what Plato was really saying. The “good” need the law, both for instruction in what is right, and for the restraining of the “bad'"

So there you go. I'm sure there are probably dozens, if not hundreds of quotes on the internet that are miscredited, this is merely one of many. But if you're interested in reading more of Plato's work, you can either download a free copy over at or buy it on Amazon.


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