Keats ended his Ode to a Grecian Urn with the lines:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know

When was the equivalence, or relation between beauty and truth posited? I've taken it to be a feature of neo-Platonism but is this in fact true?

Is it in any of Plato's own work (which would be strange given his description of art as mimesis) or in Plotinus?

Or is it an interpretation from the Romantic period in literary and artistic circles? A partial explication of it is given in the beginning of Hardy's (the novelist and poet) last novel, The Well-Beloved.

A similar discourse about truth and beauty is there in mathematics. Hardy (the mathematician) said for example:

There is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics

Of course Hardy himself might be recalling romantic discourse here.


1 Answer 1


The beautiful, the true, the good, the just - they are the typical ideas which Plato uses to illustrate his theory of forms.

The only candidate I know from Plato for identifying the beautiful (kalon) and the true (alethes) is Symposion 212a.

On the other hand, in Symposion Plato often combines the beautiful and the good (agathon). For the closest relationship see 202c.

In the politeia Plato distinguishes all ideas. In addition, he promotes the good to a position higher than the other ideas. The parable of the sun (Politeia 508ff) compares the idea of the good with the sun. Because of the sunlight we can see the objects. Secondly, the sun supports the life of all livings. An analogous role is ascribed to the idea of the good in the realm of forms.

In my opinion, one should distinguish the ideas when speaking as a philosopher. But a poet is free to mix the concepts and to evoke associations as may best please him.

G.H. Hardy, when doing mathematics, is even stricter in his concepts and in his wording than a philosopher. But apparently, also Hardy sometimes enjoyed to speak in a poetical manner.

  • 'Evoke arbitrary associations': they generally rely on tradition to provide symbols, metaphors and images; it's only with Dada that arbitrary associations were allowed, but these later become signified in their own way. Jul 2, 2015 at 7:52
  • I changed the term
    – Jo Wehler
    Jul 2, 2015 at 7:57

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