This is a list of all those dialogues that are generally or largely accepted
as having been written by Plato. It is taken
from ["Plato: Complete Works" Ed J.M. Cooper and
D.S. Hutchinson, pub Hackett (1997)] which also contains various
works, such as "Second Alcibiades" and "Rival Lovers" that are generally
thought to have been written by disciples of Plato rather than the master
himself. I warmly recommend this volume as it has an excellent introduction
which discusses the nature of a truly
Platonic outlook on philosophy and helpful summaries of each dialogue.
I here present the dialogues of Plato in a systematic order with a very
brief account of what each is roughly about. The full text of Plato's works
can be found here Plato's Works.
The texts are somewhat scrambled, however. Better sources for individual
dialogues can be found by following these links:
Protagoras, Gorgias and Meno
Critias, Laches, Lysis, Philebus, Sophist, Republic, Timaeus
Alcibiades, Cratylus, Crito, Euthydemus, Euthyphro, Ion, Lesser Hippias
Parmenides, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Symposium, Theaetetus
The web site of the International Plato Society can be found here.
Bernard Suzanne's site devoted to the dialogues can be found here,
and his links to on-line copies of the dialogues, here.
Over time, I intend to expand this page to include a serviceable summary
of each dialogue complete with key quotes and references. At present [June
2007] this is about three-quarters complete!
I have just published a book: "New Skins for
Old Wine: Plato's Wisdom for Today's World."
Socrates is on his way to being tried for his life, but gets into a conversation
regarding whether piety - a front for "that which is good and approvable"
- is arbitrary and extrinsic (chosen by "the gods") or
else inevitable and intrinsic (recognized for what it is by "the gods").
This is one of my favourite dialogues.
"Consider this: Is the pious being loved by the gods
because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods"
benefit do the gods derive from the gifts they receive from us? What they
give us is obvious to all.... but how are they benefited by what they receive
from us? Or do we have such an advantage in trade that we receive all our
blessings from them and they receive nothing from us?"
The account of Socrates' trial for "corrupting the youth of Athens." The
fact that it was the "Democratic" Athenian party that conspired to accuse,
try, convict and execute Socrates forever disinclined Plato to have much
time for "democratic values" and inclined him to a more aristocratic and
autocratic view of politics, as becomes clear in his two political works:
Socrates explains why he chooses to accept the unjust verdict of the Athenian
Democrats. A discussion of what justice is follows.
The account of the last hours of Socrates, in which he discusses with his
dearest friends the immortality
of the soul. Plato uses
this as a pretext to introduce his doctrine of "The
Eternal Forms". This is intensely moving and Socrates' dignity is truly
inspiring. It is one of my favourite dialogues.
The account is given by Phaedo.
He tells that on the morning of Socrates execution, he found him sitting
with various friends, his wife Xanthippe and his baby. [57a-59e]
Plato was not present, being poorly. [59b]
Xanthippe was very upset and Socrates asked that she be taken home. [60a]
Socrates explains that he has recently taken to writing poetry to discharge
a divine obligation put on him in a dream to "practice
and cultivate the arts." [60b-61c]
He discusses why suicide is wrong, basically because human beings are the
possessions of the gods and do not own their own lives to dispose of as
they will. [61d-63b]
Socrates then speaks of his hope for life after death.
"I have good hope that some future awaits men after
death, as we have been told for years, a much better future for the good
than for the wicked." [63c]
"The one aim of those who practice philosophy in
the proper manner is to practice for dying and for death."
He asserts the superiority of the soul to the body and the difficulty that
the soul experiences in its entanglement with the physical.
"The philosopher - more than other men - frees the
soul from association with the body, as much as possible."
"What again shall we say of the actual acquisition
of knowledge? Is the body, if invited to share in the inquiry, a hinderer
or a helper? I mean to say, have sight and hearing any truth in them? Are
they not, as the poets are always telling us, inaccurate witnesses? And
yet, if even they are inaccurate and indistinct, what is to be said of
the other senses, for you will allow that they are the best of them?....
For in attempting to consider anything in company with the body she is
obviously deceived." [65b]
"All wars are due to the desire to acquire wealth,
and it is the body and the care of it, to which we are enslaved, which
compels us to acquire wealth; and all this makes us too busy to practice
He says that death is no evil, but a boon; being the separation of the
soul from the trappings of the body. [66e-67d]
"If it is impossible to attain any pure knowledge
with the body, then one of two things is true: either we can never attain
knowledge, or we can do so after death." [66e]
"It would be ridiculous for a man who to train himself
in life to live in a state as close to death as possible, and then to resent
it when it comes." [67d]
He says that the basis of true virtue is wisdom. [67e-]
"With wisdom we have real courage and moderation
and justice and, in a word, true virtue; with wisdom, whether pleasures
and fears and all such things be present or absent.... without wisdom such
virtue is only an illusory appearance of virtue; it is in fact fit for
slaves, without soundness or truth, whereas, in truth, moderation and courage
and justice are a purging away of all such things; and wisdom itself is
a kind of cleansing or purification." [69b]
"There are.... many who carry the thyrsus, but the
Bacchants are few." [69d]
Cebes then says:
"Men find it very hard to believe what you said about
the soul. They think that after it has left the body, it no longer exists
anywhere; but that it is destroyed and dissolved..... and.... is dispersed
like breath or smoke.... If indeed it gathered itself together and existed
by itself and escaped these evils.... there would then be much good hope,
Socrates, that what you say is true; but to believe this requires a good
deal of faith and persuasive argument - to believe that the soul still
exists after a man has died and that it still possesses some capability
and intelligence." [70a-b]
Socrates embarks on a proof of the immortality of the soul.
He first discusses opposites, and how one comes from the other.
He then argues that life must come from death and so reincarnation must
be true and so there must be life after death. [71d-72a]
He then intimates an elementary understanding of the second law of thermodynamics
- but rejects it as somehow absurd. [72b-d]
Cebes then intervenes, saying that if learning is recollection the soul
must exist before birth; which corroborates the theory of reincarnation.
[72e-73a] He refers to the demonstration in Meno.
Socrates rehearses a proof for the benefit of Simmias, extending and honing
the theory to claim that what is recalled are the forms themselves. [73b-76d]
He then says that this proves the soul's immortality and independent intelligence.
Simmias and Cebes are still unconvinced of the soul's survival after
death. [77b-78b] Hence, Socrates then
turns to a consideration of the soul's character. [78b-]
"We should then examine to which class of being the
soul belongs, and as a result either fear for the soul or be of good cheer."
He argues that the soul is not composite and therefore cannot de-compose.
"Assume two kinds of existence: the visible and the
invisible.... the invisible always remains the same, whereas the visible
never does." [79a]
"When the soul makes use of the body to investigate
something, be it through hearing or seeing or some other sense - for to
investigate something through the body is to do it through the senses -
it is dragged by the body to the things that are never the same, and the
soul strays and is confused and is dizzy.... but when the soul investigates
by itself it passes into the realm of what is pure, ever existing, immortal
and unchanging; and being akin to this it always stays with it whenever
it is by itself and can do so; it ceases to stray and remains in the same
state as it is in touch with things of the same kind, and its experience
then is what is called wisdom." [79c-d]
"Is it not natural for the body to dissolve easily
and for the soul to be altogether indissoluble, or nearly so?"
He cautions about attatchement to the physical world, as the cause of ignorance,
suffering and re-incarnation. [81b-84b]
"The soul is imprisoned in and clinging to the body....
it wallows in every kind of ignorance.... the worst feature of this imprisonment
is that it is due to desires, so that the prisoner himself is contributing
to his own incarceration most of all.... philosophy gets hold of their
soul in that state, then gently encourages it and tries to free it....
persuading it to withdraw from the senses - in as far as it is not compelled
to use them - and bids the soul.... to trust only itself and whatever reality
- existing by itself - the soul, by itself, understands; and not to consider
as true whatever it examines by other means."
"Every pleasure and every pain provides, as it were,
another nail to rivet the soul to the body.... It makes the soul corporeal,
so that it believes that truth is what the body says it is."
Simmias intimates that he is still not satisfied.
He suggests that the soul is related to the body as the attunement of a
lyre is to the physical instrument. When the lyre is destroyed, so is its
harmony. [84c-86e] He says:
"One should achieve one of these things: learn the
truth about them; or find it for oneself; or, if that is impossible, adopt
the best and most irrefutable of men's theories.
Cebes joins in, pointing out at length that it is not good enough to argue
that the soul is considerably more robust than the body; but that it must
somehow be established that it is absolutely immortal.
"When one who lacks skill in arguments puts his trust
in an argument as being true, then shortly afterwards believes it to be
false - as sometimes it is and sometimes it is not - and so with another
argument and then another. You know how those in particular who spend their
time studying contradiction in the end believe themselves to have become
very wise and that they alone have understood that there is no soundness
or reliability in any object or any argument; but that all that exists
simply fluctuates up and down as if it were in the [violent straits of]
Euripus and does not remain in the same place for any time at all!"
"We should not allow into our minds the conviction
that argumentation has nothing sound about it; much rather we should believe
that it is we who are not yet sound and that we must take courage and be
eager to attain soundness." [90e-91a]
"The uneducated, when they engage in argument about
anything, give no thought to the truth about the subject of discussion,
but are only eager that those present will accept the position they have
set forth." [91a]
"I am thinking.... that if what I say is true, it
is a fine thing to be convinced; if, on the other hand, nothing exists
after death, at least for this time before I die I shall distress those
present less with lamentations, and my folly will not continue to exist....
but will come to an end in a short time."
"Give but little thought to Socrates, but much more
to the truth. If you think that what I say is true, agree with me; if not,
oppose it with every argument and take care that in my eagerness I do not
deceive myself and you." [91c]
Socrates points out that the soul cannot be a harmony of the body if it
exists prior to the body, as Cebes indeed believes.
[91d-92e] He adds that if the soul was derivative of the body, it
is difficult to see how it could govern the body. [93a-95a]
"A harmony does not direct its components, but is
directed by them." [93a]
"Can it be true about the soul that one soul is more
and more fully a soul than another; or is less and less fully a soul -
even to the smallest extent?" [93b]
"If the soul was a harmony, it would never be out
of tune with the stress and relaxation [of the body].... but that it would
follow and never direct them..... it appears to do quite the opposite;
ruling over all the elements of which - one says - it is composed.... as
Homer wrote.... 'Endure, my heart, you have suffered worse than this.'"
Socrates finally turns to the fundamental problem: that of the absolute
immortality of the soul. [95b-]
"Does the brain provide our senses of hearing and
sight and smell, from which come memory and opinion, and from memory and
opinion which has become stable, comes knowledge?"
"I am far, by Zeus, from believing that I know the
cause of any of those things. I will not even allow myself to say that
where one is added to one, either the one to which it is added or the one
that is added become two.... I wonder that, when each of them is separate
from the other, each of them is one - nor are they then two; but that,
when they come near to one another, this is the cause of their becoming
two - the coming together and being placed closer to one another."
"It is Mind that directs, and is the cause of everything."
"If then one wished to know the cause of each thing
- why it comes to be, or perishes or exists - one had to find out what
was the best way for it to be, or to be acted upon, or to act."
"Imagine not being able to distinguish the real cause
from 'that without which the cause would not be able to act as a cause'."
He introduces the theory of forms. [100b-]
"Not only does the opposite not admit its opposite;
but that which brings along some opposite into that which it occupies.
That which brings this along will not admit the opposite to that which
it brings along." [105a]
"Whatever the soul occupies, it always brings to
life.... so the soul will never admit the opposite of that which it brings
along.... so the soul is deathless." [105d-e]
He concludes that the soul is necessarily immortal.
He then tells a myth about what happens to the soul after death.
He interposes an account of the spherical nature of the Earth, [109a-b]
and the finite height of the atmosphere [109c-e]
"No sensible man would insist that these things are
as I have described them, but I think that it is fitting for a man to risk
the belief - for the risk is a noble one - that this, or something like
this, is true about our souls.... That is the reason why a man should be
of good cheer about his own soul, if during his life he has.... seriously
concerned himself with the pleasures of learning, and adorned his soul
not with alien but with its own ornaments, namely: moderation, righteousness,
courage, freedom and truth." [114d-e]
Socrates then takes his leave of his friends, [115a-115e]
a bath, [116a] drinks the hemlock, [116b-117e]
Plato's ground breaking discussion of the question "What
is knowledge?" This is the foundation document of the science of Epistemology.
It is arguably Plato's greatest work. Two ex students of Socrates (who
is now dead) meet. They lament the impending death of Theaetetus, a protégé
of Socrates. One of them - Terpsion - then has a slave read out a book
that he had written some time ago as a record of a conversation between
Socrates, Theodorus and Theaetetus.
Theodorus describes Theaetetus, son of Euphronius of Sunium, as follows:
"If he were beautiful, I should be extremely nervous
of speaking with him with enthusiasm, for fear I might be suspected of
being in love with him. But as a matter of fact.... he is not beautiful
at all, but is rather like you [Socrates], snub-nosed, with eyes that stick
out; though these features are not quite as pronounced in him.... I assure
you that among all the people I have ever met.... I have never yet seen
anyone so amazingly gifted." [143e-144a]
Socrates suggests to Theaetetus that before accepting such praise one should
determine whether the originator has any expertise to justify their expressed
opinion. The implication is that Socrates will test Theaetetus by means
of the dialectic and see for himself whether Theodorus' judgement is accurate.
Socrates suggests that the question "what is knowledge" should be investigated.
Theaetetus proposes some examples of knowledge, but Socrates rejects this
tactic as avoiding the issue. [146d-148e]
Socrates then introduces the idea that he will help Theaetetus to "give
birth" to an idea of what knowledge is, as a midwife. [149a-151d]
"Now my art of
midwifery is just like theirs.... the difference is that I attend men,
not women, and that I watch over the labour of their souls, not of their
bodies. And the most important thing about my art is the ability to apply
all possible tests to the offspring, to determine whether the young mind
is being delivered of a phantom, that is, an error, or a fertile truth...
The common reproach against me is that I am always asking questions of
other people but never express my own views about anything, because there
is no wisdom in me; and that is true enough.... I am not in any sense a
wise man; I cannot claim as the child of my own soul any discovery worth
the name of wisdom. But with those who associate with me it is different.
At first some of them may give the impression of being ignorant and stupid;
but as time goes on.... all whom God permits are seen to make progress....
they discover within themselves a multitude of beautiful things, which
they bring forth into the light. But it is I, with God's help, who deliver
them of this offspring....
There is another point also in which those who
associate with me are like women in child-birth. They suffer the pains
of labour, and are filled day and night with distress; indeed they suffer
far more than women. And this pain my art is able to bring on, and also
And when I examine what you say, I may perhaps
think that it is a phantom and not truth, and proceed to take it quietly
from you and abandon it. Now if this happens, you mustn't get savage with
me.... people have often before now got into such a state with me as to
be literally ready to bite when I take away some nonsense or other from
them. They never believe that I am doing this in goodwill; they are so
far from realizing that no god can wish evil to man, and that even I don't
do this kind of thing out of malice, but because it is not permitted to
me to accept a lie and put away truth." [150c-151c]
Theaetetus then proposes that
is perception". [151e]
Socrates responds to this by linking it with Protagoras'
relativistic claim that "Man is the measure of all things," and Heraclitus
idea that "Being is motion." [152a-153d]
know that he [Protagoras] puts it sometimes like this, that as each
thing appears to me, so it is for me; and as it appears to you, so it is
for you - you and I each being a man?" [152a]
"This is certainly no ordinary theory.... If you
call a thing large, it will reveal itself as small, and if you call it
heavy, it is liable to appear as light, and so on with everything - because
nothing is one or anything or any kind of thing..... the things of which
we naturally say that they 'are', are in process of coming to be.... we
are wrong when we say that they 'are', since nothing is, but everything
is coming to be.... As regards this point of view, all the wise men of
the past - except Parmenides - stand together."
"There is good enough evidence for this theory that
what passes for being and becoming are a product of motion, and that not-being
and passing-away result from a state of rest."
Socrates then points out -at some length - that perceptions are necessarily
Timaeus expresses confusion and even doubt that Socrates is being serious.
claims that he is just helping Timaeus to think things out for himself.
He then points out that one can be mistaken in one's perceptions
- how then can perception be knowledge, for knowledge cannot be falsehood.
[157e-158b] Socrates then points out that we cannot clearly establish
that we are not now dreaming, so all our perceptions may be fantastical.
then returns to his theme that all perceptions are subjective and relative
to the percipient. [158e-160d]
"I'll tell you the kind
of thing that might be said by those people who propose it as a rule that
whatever a man thinks at any time is the truth for him. I can imagine them
putting their position by asking you this question: 'Now, Theaetetus, suppose
you have something which is an entirely different thing from something
else. Can it have in any respect the same powers as the other thing? And
observe, we are not to understand the question to refer to something which
is the same in some respects while it is different in others, but to that
which is wholly different.'" [158e]
perception is true for me - because it is always a perception of that being
that is peculiarly mine; and I am judge, as Protagoras said, of things
that are: that they are, for me; and of things that are not: that they
are not." [160c]
Socrates then congratulates Theaetetus on having - apparently - given birth
to his first child. [160d-161b]
He then proceeds to ruthlessly demolish what he had seemed to approve of.
"If whatever the individual judges by means of perception
is true for him; if no man can assess another's experience better than
he, or can claim authority to examine another man's judgement and see if
it be right or wrong; if, as we have repeatedly said, only the individual
himself can judge of his own world, and what he judges is always true and
correct: how could it ever be, my friend, that Protagoras was a wise man...?
To examine and try to refute each other's appearances and judgements, when
each person's are correct - this is surely an extremely tiresome piece
of nonsense, if the Truth of Protagoras is true, and not merely an oracle
speaking in jest...." [161d-162a]
He points out that it is one thing to see a written language or hear a
spoken one; but another to understand either. [163a-c]
He then insists that knowledge can be associated with memory rather than
any kind of immediate sense perception. [163d-164b]
"Then we have got to say that perception is one thing
and knowledge another." [164b]
Socrates tries to get Theodorus to defend Protagoras,
but he declines to do so. [164c-165a] Socrates
then argues that whereas one can both see and not see something (that is
with one eye and the other) one cannot both know and not know something.
Socrates then tries hard to argue Protagoras' case for him. He tries to
nuance it in a way that might make it morally acceptable. [166a-168c]
"Each one of us is the measure both of what is and
of what is not; but there are countless differences between men for just
this reason, that different things both are and appear to be to different
subjects.... the man whom I call wise is the man who can change the appearances
- the man who in any case where bad things both appear and are for one
of us, works a change and makes good things appear and be for him." [166d]
"When a man's soul is in a pernicious state, he judges
things akin to it, but giving him a sound state of the soul causes him
to think different things, things that are good. In the latter event, the
things which appear to him are what some people, who are still at a primitive
stage, call 'true'; my position, however, is that the one kind are better
than the others, but in no way 'truer'." [167b]
He then once more tries to get Theodorus to defend Protagoras. This time
he succeeds, up to a point. [167c-169d]
Socrates expresses doubt that Protagoras would have agreed with the nuance
that Socrates has just placed on his teaching [169e]
and then argues that Protagoras' basic case is palpably absurd, for Protagoras
has to admit that his proposition is truly false for those who disagree
with him, but those that do not agree with him do not have to make a similar
Socrates then points to the fields of medicine and politics where it is
clear that some people are wiser than others. [171e-172b]
then discusses lawyers, and suggests that the practice of law turns good
men in to villains. [172c-173b] He then contrasts
the case of philosophers and uses this as a pretext to consider the question
of virtue. [173c-177c]
"What is Man? What actions
and passions properly belong to human nature and distinguish it from all
other beings? This is what he wants to know and concerns himself to investigate."
"The philosopher is the object of general derision,
partly for what men take to be his superior manner, and partly for his
constant ignorance and lack of resource in dealing with the obvious."
is not possible.... that evil should be destroyed - for there must always
be something opposed to the good; nor is it possible that it should have
its seat in heaven; but it must inevitably haunt human life, and prowl
about this earth. This is why a man should make all haste to escape from
earth to heaven; and escape means becoming as like God as possible; and
man becomes like God when he becomes just and pure, with understanding."
God there is no sort of wrong whatsoever; He is supremely just, and
the thing most like Him is the man who has become as just as it lies in
human nature to be." [176c]
else that passes for ability.... [is either] a poor cheap show [or]....
a matter of mechanical routine. If, therefore, one meets a man who practices
injustice.... the best thing for him by far is that one should never
grant that there is any sort of ability about his unscrupulousness....
we must therefore tell them the truth - that their very ignorance of their
true state fixes them the more firmly therein. For they do not know what
is the penalty of injustice, which is the last thing of which a man should
be ignorant." [176c-d]
"There are two patterns set up in reality. One is
divine and supremely happy; the other has nothing of God in it, and is
the pattern of deepest unhappiness.... the evildoer does not see.... that
the effect of his unjust practices is to make him grow more and more like
the one and less and less like the other."
Socrates then discusses whether a democratic
community consensus as to what is "just" is a legitimate basis for "justice."
He treats this in terms of "future utility" and quickly establishes that
the mere fact that a majority decide that something will be useful in the
future does not make it so. [178c-179a]
"When it is a question of what things are good, we
no longer find anyone so heroic that he will venture to contend that whatever
a community thinks useful, and conventionally establishes as such, really
is useful (just so long as it is the established order) unless, of course,
he means that it is simply called 'useful'; but that would be making a
game of our argument, wouldn't it?" [177d]
He then argues that some individuals have a real expertise and should be
deferred to, while others have no such expertise and should be ignored.
He then says that perhaps he is being too harsh, that the whole matter
must be given another chance and proposes going back to its first principle
- Heraclitus' contention that "being is motion." [179c-d]
Theodorus expresses the view that this is impossible, as the Heraclitian
party is disparate and largely manic. [179e-180a]
Socrates defers to Theodorus and then admits that there is - in any case
- an opposing view (that of Parmenides) that all being is Unitary and Static.
suggests that this view should be investigated too. However, he first spends
more words on criticizing the view that all things continually change.
In the event he cries off from analysing Parmenides' position, on the pretext
it would be insulting to do so as an interlude here. [183d-184a]
Socrates then engages again with Theaetetus, and elicits from him the acknowledgement
that the senses are only instrumental in the experience of reality, but
that it is the soul itself that truly perceives [184b-185e]
forms value judgements. [186a-c] Theaetetus
readily concedes that "perception" is not "knowledge", but that knowledge
arises when the soul starts to reason about experience.
Theaetetus then suggests that
is true judgement." [187b]
"If we continue like this, one of two things will
happen. Either we shall find what we are going out after; or we shall be
less inclined to think that we know things which we don't know at all -
and even that would be a reward we could not fairly be dissatisfied with."
is better to achieve a little - well, than a great deal - unsatisfactorily."
Socrates shows that the idea of "false judgement" is self contradictory,
because it is absurd for some one to be wrong about something that he knows
and possible to have a judgement about something of which he is ignorant
or does not exist. [187c-189b]
He then suggests that "false judgement" might consist in mistaking one
thing for another. [189c-190a]
"It seems to me that the soul - when it thinks -
is simply carrying on a discussion.... and when it arrives at something
definite, either by a gradual process or a sudden leap, when it affirms
one thing consistently.... we call this its judgement."
He rejects this on the basis that both things would have to be known, and
so could not be mistaken. [190b-d]
Theaetetus then points out that it is possible to mistake two things that
are similar to each other when they are seen at a distance. Socrates agrees
and suggests that false judgement lies in mis-identifying something that
is being perceived with something else that is being remembered.
[190e-195b] He calls this state of affairs "heterodoxy".
[190e, 193d] In effect he has proposed the "Correspondence Theory
Socrates then doubts the conclusion they have reached, because it seems
to him that there can be error about ideas themselves [195c-196d]
- contrary to what he had earlier asserted. [190b-d,
He points out that they have been trying to determine what knowledge is
- which means that this is presently unknown to them - and yet have regularly
presumed to "know" various other things. [196d-e]
suggests that this is a fundamental difficulty that cannot be avoided in
any straight-forward manner. He therefore proposes to consider what knowledge
is like, rather than what it is. He compares knowledge with the possession
of birds, held captive in an aviary. The birds are ideas and the aviary
the memory. [197a-199a] He points out that
there are two modes of acquiring a bird; first capturing it from the wild
and putting it in the aviary, second catching a bird that is already in
the aviary. The second bird is "possessed" even before it has been caught
in the hand, by virtue of it being already within the aviary and hence
the ownership of the bird keeper. [198d-199a]
Hence it is possible to "know" and "not know" something at the same time,
as there are degrees of immediacy of knowledge. [199c]
Socrates once more pours doubt on this conclusion. He says that it is absurd
that ignorance can arise from knowledge, and when Theaetetus tries to nuance
the aviary model by adding birds that represent falsehoods, Socrates claims
to show that this is no less absurd. [199d-200c]
then suggests that they were perhaps wrong - after all - to discuss heterodoxy
before knowledge. [200d]
Socrates then insists that "true judgement" or orthodoxy is not at all
the same a knowledge, episteme. [201a-c]
Theaetetus agrees and
then suggests that "knowledge - episteme - is true
judgement - orthodoxy - with an account - logos." [201d]
Socrates welcomes this idea and expands on it. [201e-202d]
However, he then points out that an account can only go so far, and that
the underlying concepts upon which it is based cannot be accounted for.
How then, can one be said to know something when the supposed basis of
this knowledge is unknown? [202e-206b]
"Let the complex be a single form resulting from
the combination of the several elements when they fit together; and let
this hold both of language and of things in general."
"If the complex is both many elements and a whole,
with them as its parts, then both complexes and elements are equally capable
of being known and expressed." [205d]
"If anyone maintains that the complex is by nature
knowable and the element is unknowable, we shall regard this as tomfoolery,
whether it is intended to be or not." [206b]
Socrates proceeds to discuss what might be meant by "an account".
The first possibility is "to put one's thought into words."
[206d] Socrates says that anyone can do this, whether they understand
something or not, so this is not the required meaning.
The second possibility is "to answer questions about something by referring
to its detailed makeup." [207a-208a] Socrates
points out that this can be a matter of accident, so this is not the required
The third possibility is "to distinguish something from all other things."
[208c-e] Socrates points out however that differences between things
are just as much the subject of judgement as are similarities, so "distinguishing
something from all other things" is just a part of "orthodoxy" and nothing
to do with "logos". [209a-d]
He then points out that they are on the verge of saying that episteme is
orthodoxy plus..... episteme, which is no help whatsoever.
Socrates and Theaetetus then admit defeat. [210c-d]
"If in the future you should ever attempt to conceive
or should succeed in conceiving other theories, they will be better ones
as the result of this inquiry. And if you remain barren, your companions
will find you gentler and less tiresome; you will be modest and not think
that you know whet you don't know. This is all that my art can achieve
- nothing more. I do not know any of the things that other men know - the
great and inspired men of today and yesterday. But this art of midwifery
my mother and I had allotted to us by God; she to deliver women, I to deliver
men that are young and generous of spirit, all that have any beauty. And
now I must go to the King's Porch to meet the indictment that Meletus has
brought against me; but let us meet here again in the morning, Theodorus."
This is Plato's dramatic masterpiece. It is the foundation document for
Plato's theory of ethics. It deals with the
nature of virtue and discusses whether it is something that can be taught.
Socrates argues that knowledge is
the basis of all virtue, as he does in Meno. He also argues that
rational pursuit of abiding pleasure underpins all ethical action.
This is one of my favourite dialogues.
Socrates encounters an anonymous friend, who accuses him - correctly -
of coming from courting Alcibiades. [309a-b] Socrates
adds that he was distracted from his beloved by having also met Protagoras,
who he describes as having "superlative wisdom"[309b]
and being "the wisest man alive."
[309d] He then procedes to give an account of the encounter.
It all started with Hippocrates rousing Socrates before daybreak,
with the demand that he go and meet with Protagoras so that Hippocrates
could learn by listening to their debate. [310a-311a]
Socrates challenges Hippocrates motivation.
"You are about to hand over your soul for treatment
to a man who is, as you say, a sophist. As to what exactly a sophist is....
you are ignorant of this, you don't know whether you are entrusting your
soul to something good or bad." [312c]
"Those who take their teachings from town to town
and sell them wholesale or retail to anybody who wants them, recommend
ass their wares; but I wouldn't be surprised, my friend, if soem of these
people did not know which of their wares are beneficial and which detrimental
to the soul. Likewise those who buy from them." [313d]
"You and I are still a little too young to get to
the bottom of such a great matter." [314b]
They then go off in search of Protagoras. They find him in the company
of many other sophists and their pupils [314c-315e]
also Alcibiades "the Beautiful". [316a]
Protagoras agrees to talk with Socrates in public, regarding the aspirations
of Hippocrates to become his pupil. [316b-318a] He
then claims to be able to make Hippocrates a better man, day by day.
"exactly how will he go away a better man, and in
what will he make progress each and every day he spends with you?" [318d]
Protagoras claims to teach
"sound deliberation.... how to realize one's maximum
potential for success in political debate and action."
Socrates says that this amounts to be "the art of
citizanship" [319a] and questions whether
this is teachable. He bases his doubt on the Athenian practice of democracy,
which implied that politics and citizanship is not a skill;
[319b-e] and also on the practical inability of virtuous men to
educate their sons in virtue. [320a-b]
"I could mention a great many more, men who are good
in themselves but have never succeeded in making anyone else better; whether
family members or total strangers." [320b]
Protagoras then gives a long speech.
He tells a myth about how the human race came by a share in practical wisdom
(courtesy of Promethius' theft of Athena) and a knowledge of fire
(courtesy of Promethius' theft of Hephaestus), but not political wisdom
(for this was possessed by Zeus, and Promethius was unable to purloin this.
[320c-321e] He says that it is because humanity has a share in divine
wisdom that mankind worships the gods, because they had a kind of kinship
with them; and also that they started to develop civilization.
[322a-b] However, not understanding the art of politics, they wronged
each other and seemed liable to become extinct. [322c]
Zeus had pity on mankind and
"sent Hermes to bring justice and a sense of shame
with each person having an equal share
"For cities would never come to be if only a few
possessed these, as is the case with the other arts."
"It is madness not to pretend to justice, since one
must have some trace of it or not be human."
"In the case of evils that men universally regard
as afflictions due to nature or bad luck, no one ever gets angry with anyone
so afflicted or reproves, admonishes, punishes or tries to correct them.
We simply pity them." [323d]
"In the case of the good things that accrue to men
through practice and training and teaching, if someone does not possess
these goods but rather their corresponding evils, he finds himself the
object of anger, punishment and reproof.... and the reason is clearly that
this virtue is regarded something acquired through practice and teaching."
"No one punishes a wrong-doer in consideration of
the simple fact that he has done something wrong, unless one is exercising
the mindless vindictiveness of a beast. Reasonable punishment is not vengeance
for past wrong - for one cannot undo what has been done - but is undertaken
with a view to the future; to deter both the wrong-doer and whosever sees
him being punished from repeating the crime..... Therefore.... the Athenians
are among those who think that virtue is acquired and taught."
"Does there.... exist one thing which all citizans
must have for there to be a city?..... For is such a thing exists, and
this is.... justice, and temperance and piety - what I may collectively
call the virtue of a man.... and good men give their sons an education
in everything but this, then we have to be amazed at how strangely our
good men behave.... Do you think they so not have them taught this?....
We must think they do, Socrates." [325c]
He then describes at length the efforts made by educators to inculcate
discipline and virtue in their students. [325d-326e]
"It is to our collective advantage that we each possess
justice and virtue, and so we all gladly tell and teach each other what
is just and lawful." [327b]
He argues that the reason that the sons of good men are not necessarily
virtuous is that they happen not to have inherrited the personal disposition
to virtue possessed by their father. [327c-328a]
He concludes by restating his claim to have the ability to teach virtue.
Socrates expresses his immense gratitude to Protagoras.
He intimates that he has one small difficulty. [328d-d]
"Is virtue a single thing, with justice and temperance
and piety its parts, or are the things I have just listed all names for
a single entity?" [329d]
"Virtue is a single entity, and the things you are
asking about are its parts." [329d]
Socrates then asks
"Does each also have its own unique power or function?...
Are they unlike each other, both in themselves and in their powers or functions?....
Then none of the other parts of virtue is like knowledge, or like justice,
or like courage, or like temperance or like piety?"
"Isn't piety the sort of thing that is just, and
isn't justice the sort of thing that is pious?.... Justice is the same
sort of thing as piety, and piety as justice."
Protagoras reluctantly agrees.
"Justice does have some resemblance to piety. Anything
at all resembles any other thing in some way.... but it's not right to
call things similar becuse they resemble each other in some way, however
slight, or to call them dissimilar because there is some slight point of
Socrates then proposes a detailed syllogism which attempst to establish
that wisdom is identical with temporance. [332a-333b]
He than engages Protagoras in a debate about "what is good." Protagoras
objects that it is necessary to define the context before saying that something
is "good". [333c-334c]
"The good is such a mutifaceted and variable thing."
Protagoras and Socrates fall out over their debating styles.
Socrates made to leave; [334d-335c] but was
prevented by Callias, [335d-336b] Alcibiades,
[336b-d] Critas, [336d-e] Prodicus
"A good opinion is guilelessly inherent in the souls
of the listeners, but praise is all too often merely a deceitful verbal
and Hippias [337c-338b]
"Like is akin to like by nature, but convention -
which tyranizes the human race - often constrains us contrary to nature."
Protagoras reluctantly agrees to continue the debate on Socrates' terms.
He quotes the poet Simonides as saying that it is difficult to become good
and then as saying that to say exactly this is false.
Socrates rescues the poet from inconsistency by destinguishing "become
good" from "be good". He says that is hard to become good, but impossible
to remain good once one has attained this state. [340b-d]
Protagoras disagrees. [340e-341e]
Socrates claims that the success of Sparta is based on the practice of
philosophy in that State, which is itself a state secret,
[342a-343b] goes on to claim that Simonides' poem must be analyzed
very carefully and procedes to do so. [343c-347a]
"The good is susceptible to becoming bad.... but
the bad is not susceptible to becoming; it must always be."
"It is impossible to be a good man and continue to
be good, but possible for one and the same person to become good and also
bad; and those are best for the longest time whom the god's love."
"I am pretty sure that none of the wise men think
that any human being willingly makes a mistake or willingly does anything
wrong or bad." [346e]
Socrates insists that the discussion of poetry should give way to a
direct philosophical debate, [347b-348b]
reluctantly Protagoras agrees. [348c]
Socrates flatters Protagoras. [348d-e]
"Not only do you consider yourself to be noble and
good, but unlike others.... you are not only good yourself, but able to
make others good as well.... and you advertise yourself as a teacher of
virtue, the first ever to have deemed it appropriate to charge a fee for
He then invites Protagoras to review what he had said earlier about the
"All these are parts of virtue, and while four of
them are reasonibly close to each other, courage is completely different
from all the rest." [349d]
He then traps Protagoras into saying that:
"Those with the right sort of knowledge are always
more confident than those without it." [350a]
But Protagoras points out that:
"If I was asked if the confident are courageous....
I would have said, not all af them." [350c]
Socrates then asks
"Just insofar as things are pleasurable, are they
not good? I am asking whether pleasure itself is not a good?" [351e]
He explains his purpose in asking:
"Most people think this way about [knowledge], that
it is not a powerful thing, neither a leader nor a ruler. They do not think
of it in that way at all; but rather in this way: while knowledge is often
present in a man, what rules him is not knowledge but rather anything else
- sometimes desire, sometimes pleasure, sometimes pain, at other times
love, often fear; they think of his knowledge as being utterly dragged
around by all these other things as if it were a slave. Now, does the matter
seem like that to you; or does it seem to you that knowledge is a fine
thing capable of ruling a person, and if someone were to know what is good
and bad, then he would not be forced by anything to act otherwise than
knowledge dictates, and intelligence would be sufficient to save a person?"
Protagoras chooses the second option, [352d] and
Socrates agrees. [352e]
Socrates then attempts to give a rational account of"being
overcome by pleasure". [353c]
"Do you hold.... that this happens to you in circumstances
like these - you are often overcome by pleasant things like food or drink
or sex, and your do these things all the while knowing that they are ruinous?....
In what sense do you call these ruinous? Is it that each of them is pleasant
in itself and produces immediate pleasure, or is it that later they bring
about disease and poverty and many other things of that sort? Or even if
it doesn't bring about these things later, but gave only enjoyment, would
it still be a bad thing; just because it gave enjoyment in any way?" [353c-d]
"Does it not seem to you, my good people, as Protagoras
and I maintain, that these things are bad on account of nothing other than
the fact that they result in pain and deprive us of other pleasures?" [353e]
"Would you call these [other] things good for the
reason that they bring about intense pain and suffering, or because they
ultimately bring about health and good condition of bodies and preservation
of cities and power over others and wealth?" [354b]
"These things are good only because they result in
pleasure and in the relief and avoidance of pain? Or do you have some other
criterion in view, other than pleasure and pain, on the basis of which
you would call these things good?" [354b]
"So then you pursue pleasure as being good and avoid
pain as being bad?"
"Is it enough for you to live life pleasantly, without
pain? If it is enough..... then your position will become absurd, when
you say that frequently a man, knowing the bad to be bad, nevertheless
does that very thing, when he is able not to, having been driven and overwhelmed
by pleasure; and again when you say that a man knowing the good is not
willing to do it, on account of immediate pleasure, having been overcome
by it." [355a-b]
He argues that temporally remote pleasure and pain is commensurate with
immediate pleasure and pain. [356b-c] The
difficulty is only that future pleasure and pain is not so clearly perceived
as those in the present; [356c] they are inaccurately
measured [357b] - we have inadequate knowledge
of them, [357c] and so we fail because of
"Those who make mistakes with regard to good and
bad do so because of.... a lack of that knowledge that you agreed was measurement.
And the mistaken act done without knowledge you must know is one done from
All the sophists present agree with Socrates' conclusion. [358a]
"If the pleasant is the good, no-one who knows or
believes there is something else better than what he is doing - something
possible - will go on doing what he has been doing when he could be doing
what is better. To 'give in to oneself' is nothing other than ignorance,
and to 'control onself' is nothing other than wisdom."
Once again, all the sophists present agree with Socrates' conclusion. [358d]
Socrates then goes on to address the question of courage.
"When the courageous fear, their fear is not disgraceful."
"Cowardice is ignorance of what is and is not to
be feared." [360c]
"Wisdom about what is and is not to be feared is
Potagoras then sums up the discussion.
"It seems to me that our discussion has turned on
us.....'Socrates and Protagoras, how ridiculous you are, both of you. Socrates,
you said earlier that virtue cannot be taught - but now you are arguing
the very opposite and have attempted to show that everything is knowledge
- justice, temperance, courage - in which case, virtue would appear to
be eminently teachable. On the other hand, if virtue is anything other
than knowledge, as Protagoras has been trying to say, then it would clearly
be unteachable..... Protagoras maintained at first that it could be taught,
but now he thinks the opposite.'" [361a-c]
The two philosophers then part on convivial terms. [361d-362a]
This is Plato's poetic masterpiece. It deals with "sex, love and friendship",
mostly between and among men and boys.
The topic is further addressed in Phaedrus and
This is one of my favourite dialogues.
This dialogue relates the events at a formal drinking party held in honour
of the tragedian Agathon's first victorious production. The events are
presented to us from the point of view of Aristodemus, a comic poet. [172a-173e]
To honour the event, Socrates both "bathed and put
on his fancy sandals - both very unusual events. [174a]
Socrates persuades Aristodemus to attend even though he had not
received an invitation
[174c] and then hangs
back himself, until it is established that Agathon had tried to find Aristodemus
to invite him to the party, but had failed to get hold of him in time
To gratify Phaedrus, who regrets the neglect of
Eros, the god of love, characteristic of greek poets; each of the company
agrees to give a speech in praise of Eros. Eros encompasses both hetero-
and homo-gender attraction and affection, but the focus here is on the
adult male's role as educator of the adolescent.
Phaedrus is a passionate admirer of rhetoric. He says that love tends to
produce virtuous behaviour out of a desire to appear well to the object
of one's affection and a desire not to be ashamed before him.
"I cannot say what greater good there is for a young
boy than a gentle lover; or for a lover than a boy to love." [178c]
"Besides, no one will die for you but a lover, and
a lover will do this even if she's a woman." [179b]
"Therefore I say Eros is the most ancient of the
gods, the most honoured and the most powerful in helping men gain virtue
and blessedness, whether they are alive or have passed away." [180b]
Eryximachus' speech. [185d-188e]
Pausanius is Agathon's lover. He says that there are two kinds of love
and that the goddess Aphrodite is dual: Urania and Pandemos.
is not in himself noble and worthy of praise: that depends on whether the
sentiments he produces in us are themselves noble." [181a]
Pandemos is basically sexual and carnal. The love she favours is vulgar
and ignoble. Urania is concerned only with the love of men for adolescent
boys. The love she favours is basically intellectual and concerned with
the soul. It is heavenly and noble.
"I am convinced that a man who falls in love with
a young man of this age [i.e. an older adolescent]
is generally prepared to share everything with the one he loves - he is
eager, in fact, to spend the rest of his own life with him." [181d]
.... places .... which are subject to the barbarians .... the love of youths
shares an evil repute with philosophy and gymnastics, because they are
inimical to tyranny. The interests of such rulers require that their
subjects should be poor in spirit and that there should be no strong bonds
of friendship or attachments among them, which such love, above all other
motives, is likely to inspire. Our Athenian tyrants learned this by experience:
for the love of Aristogeiton and the constancy of Harmodius had a strength
which undid their power.
Therefore, the ill-repute into which these attachments
have fallen is to be ascribed to the poor character of those who condemn
them: that is to say, to the self-seeking of the governors and the cowardice
of the governed. On the other hand, the indiscriminate honour which they
are given in some countries is attributable to the mental indolence of
In our own country a far better principle prevails,
but .... its description is not straightforward. For open loves are held
to be more honourable than secret ones, and the love of the noblest and
highest sort of person, even if they are not so handsome, is especially
"Our customs, then, provide for only one honourable
way of taking a man as a lover.... we allow that there is one.... reason
for willingly subjecting oneself to another.... for the sake of virtue."
"When a lover and a youth come together and....
the lover realizes that he is justified in doing anything for the youth
who grants him favours, and when the youth understands that he is justified
in performing any service for a lover who can make him wise and virtuous....
then, and only then.... is it ever honourable for a youth to accept a lover."
value to the city as a whole and to the citizens is immeasurable, for he
compels the lover and his beloved alike to make virtue their central concern."
Aristophanes' speech. [189a-194e]
Eryximachus is a physician and scientist. He says that love is not simply
characteristic of the human soul but "occurs everywhere
in the universe.Love is a
deity of the greatest importance: he directs everything that occurs."
"What is the origin of all impiety? Our refusal to
gratify the orderly kind of Love, and our deference to the other sort,
when we should have been guided by the former sort of Love in every action...."
"Such is the power of Love... even so it is far
greater when Love is directed, in temperance and justice, towards the good;
whether in heaven or on earth. Happiness and good fortune, the bonds of
human society, concord with the gods above - all these are among his gifts."
Agathon's speech. [194e-197e]
Aristophanes is a comic poet. He says
that ".... people have entirely missed the power
of Eros.... For he loves the human race more than any other god; he stands
by us in our troubles, and he cures those ills we humans are most happy
to have mended." [189c-d]
language is echoed in many texts of the Greek Orthodox Liturgy.
He tells a fable of the origination of human love in terms of the splitting
up of spherical whole beings who dared to attack the gods [in effect, committing
since their natural form had been cut in two [cf Eve being created
from Adam's rib], each one longed for its own other
half, and so they would throw their arms about each other, weaving themselves
together, wanting to grow together.... Then, however, Zeus took pity on
them.... he moved their genitals around to the front.... the purpose of
this was so that when a man embraced a woman, he would cast his seed and
they would have children; but when a male embraced male, they would at
least have the satisfaction of intercourse.... This then is the source
of our desire to love each other. Eros is born into every human being;
it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make
one out of two and heal the wound of human nature....
That is why a man who is split from the double
sort .... runs after women. Many lecherous men have come from this class,
and so do the lecherous women who run after men. Women who are split from
a purely female original, however, pay no attention to men; they are oriented
more towards women, and lesbians come from this class. Men who are split
from a purely male original are male-oriented.... those are the best of
boys and youths, because they are the most manly in their nature."
"And so, when a person meets their other
half.... something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses
by love; by a sense of belonging to each other, and by desire, and they
don't want to be separated from each other, not even for a moment. These
are the people who finish out their lives together.... No-one would
think .... that mere sex
is the reason each lover takes so great and deep a joy in being with the
"Suppose ... Hephaestus ...asks them ... 'Is this
your heart's desire, then - for the two of you to become parts of the same
whole .... I'd like to weld you together and join you into something that
is naturally whole, so that the two of you are made into one' .....no
one who received such an offer would turn it down... everyone would think
that he'd found out at last what he had always wanted: to come together
and melt together with the one he loves, so that one person emerged from
is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete."
"I say there is just one way for the human race
to flourish: we
must bring love to its perfect conclusion; and each of us must win the
favours of his very own youth, so that he can recover his original nature.... Eros
promises the greatest hope of all: if we treat the gods with due reverence,
he will restore to us our original nature, and by healing us, he will make
us blessed and happy." [193c-d]
Agathon, the party's host, is a dramatist and hence a master of words.
He gives a speech "part of it in fun and part in
moderate seriousness" [198a] extolling
the virtues of Eros.
He claims that Eros is:
forever young and hates old age. [195b]
delicate and gentle and eschews harshness. [195d-e]
fluid and supple of shape, graceful and of great beauty; continually
at war with ugliness. [196a-b]
opposed to injustice and violence. [196b]
moderate, because he is the strongest of all the passions.
brave: for the same reason! [196d]
wise, a poet and an accomplished artist. [196e]
the producer of animals. [197a]
the teacher of artisans and professionals. [197a]
the settler of all the disputes of the gods. [197b]
our saviour. [197e]
Socrates comments that this speech was very beautifully worded.
[198b-c] He says, ironically, how foolish he is to think "that
you should tell the truth about whatever you praise."[198d]
Socrates points out that love is not obviously an absolute, but rather
is relative to a desired object. [199c-201a]
He then points out that love cannot be beautiful or good, for love desires
and good, which therefore it cannot possess of itself, [201a-c]
agrees, and admits "I didn't know what I was talking
about in that speech." [210c]
Socrates comforts him by saying again that it was nevertheless a beautiful
Socrates gives his own speech over to reporting a discourse on love that
he heard from a wise woman called Diotima.
He says that he had spoken much as Agathon and had been refuted by Diotima
in just the way that he has just refuted Agathon.
She then pointed out that Eros
cannot be a god as it is need of what it desires. [202a-d] She suggests
that Eros is a "great spirit", one of the
who shuttles back and forth between [heaven and earth] conveying prayer
and sacrifice from men to gods, while to men they bring commands from the
gods and gifts in return for sacrifices." [202e] The
Roman Canon of the Mass has a prayer invoking just such an "angel".
She characterizes Eros as being intermediate between virtue and vice. [203b-204b]
"Eros .... is in love with what is beautiful, and
wisdom is extremely beautiful. It follows that Eros must be a lover of
She says that the purpose of possessing good and beautiful things is to
attain happiness. [205a]
She says that love for the good can be either mediated through many lesser
goods or be directly addressed to what is ultimately good and beautiful.
"What is it precisely that [lovers] do? ....
It is giving birth in beauty, whether in body or soul"
Love wants is not beauty.... but reproduction and birth in beauty.... because
reproduction goes on forever; it is what mortals have in place of immortality."
She says that men and women also live on the memories of those who loved
She then says that some folk primarily seek immortality through physical
offspring, while the more noble seek immortality through artistic creativity
or - best of all political philosophy. [209a-b]
She says that such are drawn
to handsome youths "if
he also has the luck to find a soul that is beautiful and noble and well
formed, and is even more drawn to this combination; such a man makes him
instantly teem with ideas and arguments about virtue... and so he tries
to educate him.... such people.... have much more to share than do the
parents of human children, and have a firmer bond of friendship, because
the 'children' in whom they have a share are more beautiful and more immortal....
Even you, Socrates, could probably come to be initiated into these
rites of love; but as for the purpose of these rites.... that is the final
and highest mystery, and I don't know if you are capable of it."
She explains how it is necessary to perceive beauty in itself beyond the
beauty of things; even the beauty of the human soul.
"So when someone rises by these stages, through
loving boys correctly, and begins to see this beauty, he has almost grasped
his goal.... one goes always upwards, for the sake of this beauty: starting
out from beautiful things.... to all beautiful bodies, then .... to beautiful
customs.... to learning beautiful things.... and from these lessons he
arrives in the end at this lesson, which is learning of this very Beauty,
so that in the end he comes to know just what it is to be beautiful."
what.... if man had eyes to see true beauty - divine beauty, I mean, pure
and dear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollutions of mortality and
all the colours and vanities of human life - thither looking, and holding
converse with true beauty simple and divine? Do you think it would be a
poor life for a human being to look there and to behold it by that which
he ought, and be with it? Remember how.... in that communion only, beholding
beauty with the eye of the soul, he will be enabled to bring forth, not
images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but
of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become
of God and be immortal,
if mortal man may." [211e-212a]
After some banter among Socrates, Alcibiades
and Agathon, a new crowd of revellers arrives, some of the original participants
leave and Aristodemus falls asleep. He later wakes to see Socrates talking
with Agathon and Aristophanes about drama. Eventually, Agathon and Aristophanes
fall asleep and Socrates wanders off into the dawn. Aristodemus follows
him to the Lyceum where he bathes and commences the new day's affairs without
any sleep. [222c-223d]
Alcibiades who used to be Socrates' beloved
youth now gate-crashes the party. He proposes to give a speech in praise
of Socrates, though he makes it plain that he is no longer a sincere admirer.
"When he starts to speak, I am beside myself: my
heart starts leaping in my chest, the tears come streaming down my face...
nothing like this ever happened to me [no-one else ever] upset me so deeply
that my very own soul started protesting that my life was no better than
the most miserable slaves.... So I refuse to listen to him.... for, like
the Sirens, he could make me stay by his side till I die....
My whole life has become one constant effort
to escape from him and keep away... sometimes I think I would be happier
if he were dead, and yet I know that if he dies I'll be even more miserable.
can't live with him, and I can't live without him!....
He is crazy about beautiful boys; he constantly
follows them around in a perpetual daze. Also he likes to say that he is
ignorant... his whole life is one big game... I once caught.... a glimpse
of the figures he keeps hidden within: they were godlike.... I just had
to do whatever he told me.
What I thought at the time was that he really
wanted was me.... I had a lot of confidence in my looks.... My idea, naturally,
was that he'd take advantage of the opportunity.... but no such luck!....
Socrates had his usual sort of conversation with me, and at the end of
the day he went off!...
I got nowhere.... I managed to persuade him to
spend the night at my house.... I said... 'It would be really stupid not
to give you anything you want...'
I slipped underneath the cloak and put my arms
about this man - this
utterly un-natural, this extra-ordinary man - and spent the whole night
next to him.... But.... this hopelessly arrogant, this unbelievably insolent
man turned me down!
I was deeply humiliated, but also I couldn't
help admiring his natural character, his moderation, his fortitude - here
was a man whose strength and wisdom went beyond my wildest dreams!... I
couldn't bear to lose his friendship... I had no idea what to do, no purpose
in life; ah, no one else has ever known the real meaning of slavery!"
He goes on to praise Socrates' military exploits. [220b-221d]
He then praises Socrates method of argument. [221e-222a]
"He has deceived us all: he presents himself as your
lover, and before you know it, you're in love with him yourself! I warn
you, Agathon, don't let him fool you! Remember our torments; be on your
guard: don't wait .... to learn your lesson from your own misfortune."
This is Plato's epic work. It consists of ten "books", each as large as
a typical dialogue. Its overall topic is Justice. It is famous for containing
a description of the Ideal State, its governance (by an aristocracy of
Philosopher-Magistrates) and constitution. This is mostly of theoretical
interest. As a blue-print for a real State it is entirely impractical,
because it makes no allowance for human instincts and in particular "the
family unit" and romanto-erotic love. This is surprising given the
emphasis that Plato elsewhere places on eroticism
as a sound (while not the best) foundation for philosophical training.
The nature of Justice is discussed. Cases are made for Justice being:
The doing good to friends and evil to enemies [331e-335e].
The advantage of the stronger "Might is Right" [338c-350e].
who are just make people unjust through justice? .... it has become clear
to us that it is never just to harm anyone."
Both are rejected emphatically. It is countered that:
Defending this position, the sophist Thrasymachus argues that: "No
craftsman, expert or ruler ever errs at the moment when he is ruling....
A ruler, insofar as he is a ruler, never makes errors and infallibly decrees
what is best for himself, and this his subjects must do." [341a]
Instead, it is argued that justice is a virtue of the soul [353e]
".... justice brings friendship and a sense of common
"First, injustice makes even a single individual
incapable of achieving anything, because he is in a state of civil war
and not of one mind; second, it makes him his own enemy, as well as the
enemy of just people." [352a]
a just person is the friend of the gods."[353b]
person is happy and every unjust person is wretched." [354a]
Socrates' teaching is challenged [357a-367e].
It is argued that :
Socrates responds by suggesting that the topic of Justice should be pursued
on a larger scale, in terms of the ordering of a community of citizens
Justice is onerous [358a-359c].
Justice is only valued because of the advantage of the good reputation
that it gives the just man, but it is even more advantageous for the unjust
man to be thought to be just [359d-361d].
For justice to be valuable in itself, it must be demonstrated that this
is true even if the just man is thought by his fellows to be unjust [362e-363e].
It is the cunning and wicked who generally succeed in living successful
and happy lives [363e-364a].
The gods do not care about justice, for they can be propitiated by sacrifice
It is therefore necessary to decide exactly what justice is, rather than
relying on any common-sense view of the matter [366c-367e].
He suggests that in a city it is best for each individual live "minding
his own business on his own" [370a]
for in this way each will contribute to the whole in accordance with his
native talent [369e-373d].
He suggests that there is a need for governors that are both "spirited"
and "gentle", like well trained guard dogs [373e-377a].
He suggests that in a healthy society, theological myths must be censored
to ensure that injustice is never attributed to the gods [377b-385c].
Socrates continues his proposals for the constitution of the
ideal state. He insists upon the control of information and the arts:
censorship and propaganda. [386-401c]
He than discusses the kind of myths that should be promoted in the State
in order that “future generations should not …. take
their friendship with one another lightly.”
"If it is appropriate for anyone to use falsehoods
for the good of the city.... it is the rulers. But everyone else must keep
away from them...." [389b]
“We certainly won't …. allow it to be said that ….
any hero and son of a god dared to do any of the terrible and impious deeds
that they are now falsely said to have done. We'll compel the poets either
to deny that the heroes did such things, or else to deny that they were
children of the gods. They mustn't say both, or attempt to persuade our
young people that the gods bring about evil or that heroes are no better
than humans. As we said earlier, these things are both impious and untrue,
for we demonstrated that it is impossible for the gods to produce bad things.”
“We'll agree about what stories should be told about
human beings only when we've discovered what sort of thing justice is and
how by nature it profits the one who has it, whether he is believed to
be just or not.” [392b-c]
He then discusses style in drama, music, painting and sculpture. [392c-403c]
“If a man, who through clever training can become
anything and imitate anything, should arrive in our city, wanting to give
a performance of his poems, we should bow down before him as someone holy,
wonderful and pleasing; but we should tell him that there is no one like
him in our city and that it isn't lawful for there to be. We should pour
myrrh on his head, crown him with wreaths, and send him away to another
city. But, for our own good, we ourselves should employ a more austere
and less pleasure giving poet and storyteller, one who would imitate the
speech of a decent person….” [398a-b]
“…. we rather seek out craftsmen who are by nature
able to pursue what is fine and graceful in their work, so that our young
people will live in a healthy place and be benefited on all sides, and
so that something of those fine works will strike their eyes and ears like
a breeze that brings health from a good place, leading them unwittingly,
from childhood on, to resemblance, friendship and harmony with the beauty
of reason.” [401b-d]
“If someone's soul has a fine and beautiful character
and his body matches it in beauty and is thus in harmony with it, so that
both share in the same pattern; wouldn't that be the most beautiful sight
for anyone who has eyes to see?” [402d]
a lover can persuade a boy to let him, then he may kiss him, be with him,
and touch him – as a father would a son – for the sake of what is fine
and beautiful, but – turning to the other things – his association with
the one he cares about must never seem to go any further than this….” [403b]
Socrates next briefly considers the regime of physical training. [404d-e]
He passes on to discuss the practice of law and medicine. [405a-
410b] He argues that medicine that simply prolongs life without
effecting a cure is inappropriate.
“It isn't possible for a soul to be nurtured among
vicious souls from childhood, to associate with them, to indulge in every
kind of injustice, and come through it able to judge other people's injustices
from its own case; as it can diseases of the body. Rather, if it is to
be fine and good, and a sound judge of just things, it must itself remain
pure and have no experience of bad character when it's young. That's the
reason, indeed, that decent
people appear simple and easily deceived by unjust ones when they are young.
It's because they have no models in themselves of the evil experiences
of the vicious to guide their judgements….. Therefore, a good judge must
not be a young person but an old one, who has learned late in life what
injustice is like and who has become aware of it not as something at home
in his own soul, but as something alien and present in others, someone
who, after a long time, has recognized that injustice is bad by nature,
not from his own experience of it, but through knowledge.”
“… as for the ones whose bodies are naturally unhealthy
or whose souls are incurably
evil, won't they let the former die of their own accord and put the latter
to death?” [410a]
He then argues that education should be designed to balance the intellect,
emotions and appetites. [410b-412b]
He than discusses who should rule in the State. [412c-417b]
He argues that they should be those who can identify with the good of all
and who are tenacious in holding on to what is true and just. He divides
the rulers into two classes: the guardians and the auxiliaries.
loves something most of all when he believes that the same things are advantageous
to it as to himself, and supposes that if it does well, he'll do well,
and that if it does badly, then he'll do badly too." [412d]
"Isn't being deceived about the truth a bad thing,
while possessing the truth is good?" [413a]
He tells a fable designed to inculcate a sense of corporate identity. [415a-d]
He insists that it is absolutely necessary that the guardians and auxiliaries
are given a good education in order to equip them for their roles [416a-d]
and also that they hold their goods in common. [416d-417b]
Socrates suggests that both affluence and poverty corrupt people [421d-422a],
and that a state that is at peace with itself is many times more effective
for its size than one that is riven by envy and conflict [422b-423b].
He says that the basis of right conduct is a good education and upbringing
"If by being well educated they become reasonable
men, they will easily see these things for themselves …. That marriage,
the having of wives, and the procreation of children must be governed as
far as possible by the old proverb: 'Friends possess everything in common.'"
"Those in charge must cling to education and see
that it isn't corrupted without their noticing it, guarding it against
everything. Above all, they must guard as carefully as they can against
any innovation in music and poetry or in physical training that is counter
to the established order." [424b]
Socrates says that once the basic laws have been laid down, it is not right
to enact detailed regulations regarding private contracts and business
isn't appropriate to dictate to men who are fine and good. They'll easily
find out for themselves whatever needs to be legislated about such things…..
If not, they'll spend their lives enacting a lot of other laws and then
amending them, believing that in this way they'll attain the best." [425e]
Socrates disclaims any expertise on religious matters and assigns responsibility
for such matters to the Delphic Oracle [427a-c].
Socrates seeks to identify in what way a city might be said to be "wise,
courageous, moderate and just" [427e].
These four virtues are characteristic of Platonism.
Wisdom is identified with knowledge, especially of how to govern [428b-e].
Courage is identified with a species of faith [429a-430c].
"Courage is a kind of preservation …. Of the belief
that has been inculcated by the law through education about what things
and sorts of things are to be feared …. Preserving it and not abandoning
it because of pains, pleasures, desires or fears." [429d]
Moderation is identified with a species of love. It consists of harmony
or right relationship between the various parts of the state [430d-432b].
the expression 'self-control' ridiculous? The stronger self that does the
controlling is the same as the weaker self that gets controlled, so that
only one person is referred to in all such expressions." [430e]
"Moderation spreads throughout the whole. It makes
the weakest, the strongest, and those in between …. All sing the same song
It is suggested that Justice is that state of affairs in which everyone
minds his own business, in other words where everyone exercises their own
expertise and meddling and interference do not exist. [432c-434a]
is doing one's own work and not meddling with what isn't one's own." [433a]
Socrates argues that injustice is the greatest evil that could afflict
the state, and will infallibly bring it to ruin [434a-434d]
He than argues that just as the Ideal State has three parts: the guardians,
auxiliaries and workers; so the soul has three parts: the intellect, the
emotions and the appetites [434e-441c]. He
adds that the individual is wise [442c], courageous
moderate [442d] and just [442d-e]
in a manner that is in each case analogous to the manner in which the State
might possess these virtues
He says that for a man to be just, the intellect and emotions must be brought
into an alliance by good education and then together govern and direct
the appetites [441e-443e].
"These two, having been nurtured in this way, and
having truly learned their own roles and been educated in them, will govern
the appetitive part…. They'll watch over it to see that it…. doesn't become
so big and strong that it no longer does its own work but attempts to enslave
and rule over the classes it isn't fitted to rule…." [442a]
"One who is just does not allow any part of himself
to do the work of another part…. He regulates well what is really his own
and rules himself. He puts himself in order, is his own friend, and harmonizes
the three parts of himself…. He binds together those parts…. and from having
been many things he becomes entirely one, moderate and harmonious. Only
then does he act…. he believes that the action is just and fine that preserves
this inner harmony…. and regards as wisdom the knowledge that oversees
such actions. He believes that the action that destroys this harmony is
unjust, and calls it so, and regards the belief that oversees it as ignorance."
The book concludes with a comparison of justice and injustice, looking
forward to a wider discussion of injustice in the next book. [444-445]
"Even if one has every kind of [good]…. Life is not
thought to be worth living when the body's nature is ruined. So even if
someone can do whatever he wishes - except what will free him from vice
and injustice, and make him acquire justice and virtue - how can it be
worth living when his soul (the very thing by which he lives) is ruined
and in turmoil?" [445a-b]
Socrates promises to classify all wicked souls and cities into four types.
In fact this is postponed for quite a while!
Socrates proposes the communal
breeding, upbringing and education of children, with the entire destruction
of the ideas of marriage and family. [449b-461e]
part of this programme, Socrates argues that because men
and women are "by nature the same" [456a],
women should play an equal part with men in every aspect of civic life
(including government and the military), with due allowance for the fact
that women are generally physically weaker. [451c-457c]
"It is foolish to take seriously any standard of
what is fine and beautiful other than what is the good."
"If the male sex is seen to be different from the
female.... only in this respect, that the females bear children while the
males beget them, we'll say that there has been no kind of proof that women
are different from men with respect to what we're talking about, and we'll
continue to believe that [they].... must have the same way of life." [454d]
“It is and always will be the finest saying that
the beneficial is beautiful, while the harmful is ugly.” [457b]
He proposes a eugenics style breeding programme. [459a-461c]
Socrates compares the ideal city to a single human body, as the Apostle
Paul would later account the Church to be the Body
of Christ. [462c-e]
He argues that his communal breeding programme would break down kinship
barriers within the State and give everyone an equal affiliation with the
community as a whole. [463c-e] He concludes
that this would bring about the great good of a sense of commonality and
belonging and corporate identity. [464a-b]
This would be enhanced if the guardians were not allowed to own personal
wealth, but only to hold possessions in common, like monastics. [464c-e]
He argues that the guardians should hold all possessions communally, and
in any case should not be wealthy. [464c-465c]
They should find their reward in the prosperity and security of the city
as a whole. [465c-466c]
He then considers some aspects of military training, in brief together
with how warfare should be executed. [466e-471e]
Socrates now turns to the question of the practicality of his proposals,
and how they might be brought about in reality. [472a-472e]
asserts that they can only be brought about were the ruling class to be
composed exclusively of philosophers. [473a-e]
philosophers rule as kings, or those who are now called kings and leading
men genuinely and adequately philosophize.... cities will have no rest
from evils.... nor will the human race."
He then goes on to discuss the character of the philosopher. [474b-480]
".... the philosopher doesn't desire one part of
wisdom rather than another, but desires the whole thing." [475b]
who are the true philosophers? Those who love the sight of truth." [475e]
about someone who believes in beautiful things, but doesn't believe in
the beautiful itself .... don't you think that he is living in a dream
rather than a wakened state?" [476c]
"Someone who …. Believes in the beautiful itself,
can see both it and the things that participate in it and doesn't believe
that the participants are it or that it itself is the participants – is
he living in a dream or is he awake?”
"He's very much awake."
"So we'd be right to call his thought knowledge…"
He carefully distinguishes between knowledge, opinion or belief and ignorance.
"For those who study the many beautiful things but
do not see the beautiful itself ....these people, we shall say, opine about
everything but have no knowledge of anything they opine." [479e]
"For those who in each case embrace the thing itself,
we must call them philosophers, not lovers of opinion?"
Socrates continues to develop his argument that Philosophers should govern
the State. [484a-484e]
He then seeks to establish and clarify the character of the true philosopher.
In doing so, he tells the parable
of the Ship and its True Captain. [488a-489b]
"The natural thing is .... for anyone who needs to
be ruled is to knock at the door of the one who can rule him. It isn't
for the ruler, if he's truly any use, to beg the others to accept his rule.
Tell him that he'll make no mistake in likening those who rule in our cities
at present to the sailors we mentioned just now, and those who are called
useless stargazers to the true captains." [489c]
"....it is the nature of
the real lover of learning to struggle towards what is, not to remain with
any of the many things that are believed to be, that, as he moves on, he
neither loses nor lessens his erotic love until he grasps the being of
each nature itself, with the part of his soul that is fitted to grasp it,
because of its kinship with it, and that, once getting near what really
having intercourse with it and having begotten understanding
and truth, he knows, truly lives, is nourished, and - at that point,
but not before - is relieved from the pains of giving birth." [490b]
Socrates points out the difficulty of attaining a truly philosophical spirit
and considers how easily the philosophical nature can be corrupted, and
philosophy be brought into disrepute. [490e-491e]
won't we say.... that those with the best natures become outstandingly
bad when they receive a bad upbringing? Or do you think that great injustices
and pure wickedness originate in an ordinary nature rather than a vigorous
one that has been corrupted by its upbringing? Or that a weak nature is
ever the cause of either great good or great evil?"
He argues that socialization
and peer pressure are profoundly corrupting influences, and that only
the outcast or marginalized is liable to attain the truly philosophical
"....and yet we haven't mentioned the greatest compulsion
of all.... it's what these educators and sophists impose by their actions
if their words fail to persuade. Or don't you know that they punish anyone
who isn't persuaded, with disenfranchisement, fines or death? .... it would
be very foolish even to try to oppose them, for there isn't now, hasn't
been in the past, nor ever will be in the future anyone with a character
so unusual that he has been educated to virtue in spite of the contrary
education he received from the mob - I mean a human character; the divine,
as the saying goes, is an exception to the rule. You should realize that
if anyone is saved and becomes what he ought to be under our present constitutions,
he has been saved - you might rightly say - by a divine dispensation."
"When these men, for whom philosophy is most appropriate,
fall away from her, they leave her desolate and unwed, and they themselves
lead lives that are inadequate and untrue. Then others, who are unworthy
of her, come to her as to an orphan deprived of the protection of kinsmen
and disgrace her." [495c]
Socrates discounts all the constitutions
of States that then existed as unworthy of the true philosopher and
recommends a monkish style of life.
"Then there remains, Adeimantus, only a very small
group who consort with philosophy in a way that's worthy of her: a noble
and well brought-up character, for example, kept down by exile, who remains
with philosophy according to his nature because there is no one to corrupt
him, or a great soul living in a small city, who dislikes the city's affairs
and looks beyond them.... Now the members of this small group have tasted
how sweet and blessed a possession philosophy is, and at the same time
they've also seen the madness of the majority and realized, in a word,
that hardly anyone acts sanely in public affairs and that there is no ally
with whom they might go to the aid of justice and survive, that instead
they'd perish before they could profit either their city or their friends
and be useless both to themselves and to others.... taking all this into
account, they live a quiet life and do their own work.... the philosopher....
is satisfied if he can somehow lead his present life free from injustice
and impious acts and depart from it with good hope, blameless and content."
He then tells a parable that is very
similar to Our Lord's parable of the Sower.
"None of our present constitutions is worthy of the
philosophic nature, and, as a result, this nature is perverted and altered,
for, just as a foreign seed, sown in alien ground, is likely to be overcome
by the native species and to fade away among them, so the philosophic nature
fails to develop its full power and declines into a different character.
But if it were to find the best constitution, as it is itself the best,
it would be clear that it is really divine and that other natures and ways
of life and merely human." [497b-c]
Socrates then discusses how one might hope to arrange for the ideal constitution
to be made stable against corrupting influences. [497d-504e]
".... no city, constitution,
or individual man will ever become perfect until either some chance event
compels those few philosophers who aren't vicious .... to take charge of
a city .... and compels the city to obey them, or until a god inspires
the present rulers and kings or their offspring with a true erotic love
for true philosophy." [499b]
"Then the philosopher,
by consorting with what is ordered and divine and despite all the slanders
around that say otherwise, himself becomes as divine and ordered as a human
being can." [500c]
"One such individual
would be sufficient to bring to completion all the things that now seem
so incredible, providing that his city obeys him."
He then starts to develop the notion of
the Form of the Good, possession of which is the goal that motivates the
true philosopher. [505a-509b]
we don't know it, even the fullest possible knowledge of other things is
of no benefit to us, any more than if we acquire any possessions without
the good of it." [505a]
soul pursues the good and does whatever it does for its sake. It divines
that the good is something but it is perplexed and cannot adequately grasp
what it is or acquire the sort of stable beliefs it has about other things,
and so it misses the benefit, if any, that even those other things may
you think it's right to talk about things one doesn't know as if one does
"Not as if one knows them," he said, "but one
ought to be willing to state one's opinions as such."
"What? Haven't you noticed that opinions without
knowledge are shameful and ugly things? .... do you think that those who
express a true opinion without understanding are any different from blind
people who happen to travel the right road?"
Socrates speaks of things visible
and invisible: the physical world and the realm of the Forms.
"And beauty itself, and good itself .... we set down
according to a single form of each, believing that there is but one, and
calling it 'the being' of each.... and we say that the many beautiful things
and the rest are visible, but not intelligible; while the forms are intelligible
but not visible." [507b]
is not sight, but isn't it the cause of sight itself and seen by it? ...
this is what I call the offspring of 'the good', which 'the
good' begot as its analogue. What the good itself is in the intelligible
realm, in relation to understanding and intelligible things, the sun is
in the visible realm, relation to sight and visible things.... when [the
soul] focuses on something illuminated by truth and what is; it understands,
knows and apparently possesses understanding, but when it focuses on what
is mixed with obscurity - on what comes to be and passes away - it opines
and is dimmed, changes its opinions this way and that, and seems bereft
of understanding.... So that what gives truth to the things known and the
power to know to the knower is the form of the good. And though it is the
cause of knowledge and truth, it is also an object of knowledge. Both knowledge
and truth are beautiful things, but the good is other and more beautiful
than they. In the visible realm, light and sight are rightly considered
sun like; but it is wrong to think that they are the sun, so here it is
right to think of knowledge and truth as good like but wrong to think that
either of them is 'the good' - for 'the good' is yet more prized!" [508b-e]
not only do the objects of knowledge owe their being known to 'the good',
but their being is also due to it, although 'the good' is not being, but
superior to it in rank and power." [509b]
Socrates then discusses in some detail the four kinds of knowledge: Understanding;
Thought; Belief and Imagination [511e]. He
does this in terms of a doubly divided line. [509c-511e]
Socrates: "…by the other subsection of the intelligible
[the object of episteme, true knowledge],
I mean that which reason itself grasps by the power of dialectic [rational
discussion or argument]. It [human reason]
does not [properly] consider these hypotheses
[which are obtained by the dialectical process]
as first principles [basic and inviolable axioms]
but truly [and only] as hypotheses – but as
stepping stones to take off from [using the imagination or intuition]
– enabling it [human reason] to reach [one
can hope, but not know for sure as a matter of deductive certainty]
the unhypothetical [objective] first principle
of everything. Having grasped this principle, it [human reason]
reverses itself and, keeping hold of what follows [deductively]
from it [this objective principle],
comes down to a conclusion [about some particular issue, matter
or question] without making use of anything visible
[sense data etc] at all, but only of forms
[objective principles] themselves; moving
on [by reasonable deduction] from forms to forms, and ending in
forms [that is, objective reality].”
Adeimantus: “I understand... that you want to
distinguish the intelligible part of 'that which is' (the part studied
by the science of dialectic) as clearer than the the part studied by the
so-called sciences [geometry and the like, not physics and so on],
for which their hypotheses [axioms] are [inviolable]
first principles [that are simply “given” and unquestionable but
do not necessarily relate to reality]… those who
study the objects of these sciences [their axioms and the implications
of the same] are forced to do so by means of thought
rather than sense perception, still… you don't think that they understand
them [with episteme], even though… they [the
axioms] are intelligible… you… call the state of
the geometers thought but not understanding, thought being intermediate
between opinion [doxa] and understanding [episteme].”
Socrates: “Your exposition is most adequate.”
Socrates now presents the famous Parable
of the Cave. He uses this to explain the true aim of philosophy or
dialectic: which is Knowledge of the Good. [514a-518a]
"In the knowable realm, the form of the good
is the last thing to be seen, and it is reached only with difficulty. Once
one has seen it, however, one must conclude that it is the cause of all
that is correct and beautiful in anything .... and that in the intelligible
realm it controls and provides truth and understanding, so that anyone
who is to act sensibly in private or public must see it." [517c]
He proceeds to develop his ideas about an education intended to nurture
those who might become true philosophers. [518b-519b]
"Education isn't .... putting knowledge into souls
that lack it, like putting sight into blind eyes.... The power to learn
is present in everyone's soul and .... the instrument with which each learns
is like an eye that cannot be turned around from darkness to light without
turning the whole body.... Education is the craft concerned with doing
this very thing, this turning around, and with how the soul can most easily
and effectively be made to do it..... Education takes for granted that
sight is there but that it isn't turned the right way or looking where
it ought to look, and it tries to redirect it appropriately."
"... the other so-called virtues of the soul are
akin to those of the body, for they really aren't there beforehand but
are added later by habit and practice. However, the virtue of reason seems
to belong above all to something more divine, which never loses its power...."
These would then be ideal rulers of the State, if only they can be induced
to apply their theoretical wisdom to mundane matters. [519c-521c]
"A city whose prospective rulers are least eager
to rule must of necessity be most free from civil war, whereas a city with
the opposite kind of rulers is governed in the opposite way." [520d]
Socrates stresses the central importance of mathematics in a good education.
Also astronomy [527d-528e]
He relates Astronomy to Musical Harmony, on Pythagorean lines. [529a-533a]
"Then isn't this .... the song that dialectic sings?
It is intelligible, but it is limited by the power of sight.... sight tries
at last to look at the animals themselves, the stars themselves, and in
the end, at the sun itself. In the same way, whenever someone tries through
argument and apart from all sense perceptions to find the being itself
of each thing and doesn't give up until he grasps the good itself with
understanding itself, he reaches the end of the intelligible, just as the
other reached the end of the visible." [532
He proceeds to contrast the study of mathematics and philosophy with; on
the one hand the experimental sciences, [533b-534d]
and on the other with mere argumentativeness [537d-539d]:
neither of which he has much time for. In doing so, he identifies a number
of virtues that should be present in rulers of the State. [535b-536b]
"...and as for the rest - I mean geometry and the
subjects that follow it - we described them as to some extent grasping
what is - for we saw that, while they do dream about what is, they are
unable to command a waking view of it as long as they make use of hypotheses
that they leave untouched and that they cannot give any account of. What
mechanism could possibly turn any agreement into knowledge when it begins
with something unknown and puts together the conclusion and the steps in
between from what is unknown?" [533b]
Socrates then makes some practical recommendations about the conduct of
"...nothing taught by force stays in the soul....
don't use force to train the children .... use play instead. That way you'll
also see better what each of them is naturally fitted for."
He once more insists that women should have an equal opportunity to become
philosopher-magistrates as they share a common humanity with their male
Socrates describes the different types of civic constitutions that exist
and how each in turn degenerates into the one that typically succeeds it.
The constitutions he considers are: Aristocracy, Timocracy [545a-550b],
Oligarchy [550c-556e], Democracy [557a-561e]
and Tyranny [562a-569c].
He relates these to equivalent personality types.
He claims that the final temptation that leads to the worst kind of personality
is unfettered erotic love and
general dissipation. [559b-e]
"....doesn't the young man change when one party
of his desires receives help from external desires that are akin to them
and of the same form?" [559e]
He claims that democracy is the second worst kind
of constitution, for in it all is governed in accordance with short-term
self interest, with no concern for long-term survival.
"A teacher in such a community is afraid of his students
and flatters them, while the students despise their teachers or tutors."
"One part is this class of idlers, that grows...
because of the general permissiveness.... in a democracy... this class
is the dominant one. Then there's a second class.... everybody is trying
to make money, those who are naturally most organized generally become
the wealthiest.... The 'people' - those who work with their own hands -
are the third class. They take no part in politics.... but, when they are
assembled, they are the largest and most powerful class in a democracy....
but they aren't willing to assemble often unless they get a share of the
money.... and they always do, though the leaders, in taking the wealth
of the rich and distributing it to the people, keep the greater part for
themselves.... The people act as they do because they are ignorant and
are deceived by the drones and the rich act as they do because they are
driven to it by the stinging of the same drones."[565a-c]
He then sketches out how democracy tends inevitably
to tyranny. [565c-569c]
"Extreme freedom can't be expected to lead to anything
but a change to extreme slavery, whether for a private individual or for
a city..... tyranny evolves from .... democracy - the most severe and cruel
slavery from the utmost freedom." [564a]
"Aren't the people always in the habit of setting
up one man as their special champion, nurturing him and making him great?....
when a tyrant arises, this special leadership is the sole root from which
Socrates describes in detail the character of the vicious man: the analogy
of the tyrannical state.
He begins by discussing the passions and appetites.
"Our dreams make it clear that there is a dangerous,
wild, and lawless form of desire in everyone, even in those of us who seem
to be entirely moderate or measured." [572b]
He returns to the idea that erotic love is the typical cause for a man
to become vicious. [572c-575a]
"....these clever enchanters... plant in him a powerful
erotic love, like a great winged drone... and when the other desires....
buzz around the drone.... they plant the sting of longing in it. Then this
leader of the soul adopts madness as his bodyguard and becomes frenzied.
If it finds any beliefs or desires in the man that are thought to be good
or that still have some shame, it destroys them and throws them out, until
it's purged him of moderation and filled him with imported madness....
Is this the reason that erotic love has long been called a tyrant? ....
Then a man becomes tyrannical in the precise sense of the term when either
his nature or his way of life or both of them together make him drunk,
filled with erotic desire, and mad..... erotic love lives like a tyrant
within him, in complete anarchy and lawlessness as his sole ruler, and
drives him, as if he were a city, to dare anything that will provide sustenance
for itself and the unruly mob around it" [572e-575a]
He says that such a man can have no friend.
"So someone with a tyrannical nature lives his whole
life without being friends with anyone, always a master to one man or a
slave to another and never getting a taste of either freedom or true friendship."
He argues that because such a man is internally at war with himself and
has no knowledge of what is truly good for him, he cannot possibly attain
any kind of happiness. Even if he uses cunning and deceit to obtain wealth
and prestige and power, he neither has any clear idea of how to benefit
from these, nor of when in fact they are harmful to him.
He contrasts the true King - who is concerned with justice, and is happy
- with the tyrant - who is driven by passion, and is wretched. [580b-c]
Socrates then proposes that the soul can be divided into three parts, each
with its own characteristic pleasure. The first is the intellect (with
which we learn), the second is the emotionality (he calls this "the spirited
part") and the third is the appetite and desires. He then suggests that
there are three kinds of people. In each kind, one of the aspects of the
soul dominates. He calls these: lovers of wisdom, power and money and contrasts
them as some length. [580d-583a]
He then discusses the relationship between pleasure and pain, their purpose
in motivating behaviour and the effects of disorder. [583b-588a]
"Therefore, if being filled with what is appropriate
to our nature is pleasure, that which is more filled with things 'that
are more' enjoys more really and truly a more true pleasure, while that
which partakes of things 'that are less' is less truly and surely filled
and partakes of a less trustworthy and less true pleasure." [585d-585e]
"Therefore, those who have no experience of reason
or virtue.... are brought down.... and wander in this way throughout their
lives.... they are not filled with what really is and never taste any stable
or pure pleasure. Instead they always look at the ground, like cattle....
their desires are insatiable. For the part that they are trying to fill
is like a vessel full of holes, and neither it nor the things they are
trying to fill it with are among the things that are." [586a-b]
"Then isn't it necessary for these people to live
with pleasures that are mixed with pains, mere images and shadow paintings
of true pleasures? And doesn't the juxtaposition of these pleasures and
pains make them appear intense, so that they give rise to mad erotic passions
in the foolish and are fought over in just the way that Stesichorus tells
us the pleasure of Helen was fought over at Troy by men ignorant of the
Socrates then returns to the proposition that "injustice
profits a completely unjust person who is believed to be just" [588b]
seeks to show that this is an absurdity. [588b-591e]
"...we say that he ought to be the slave of that
best person who has a divine ruler within himself. It isn't to harm the
slave that we say he must be ruled, which is what Thrasymachus thought
to be true of all subjects, but because it is better for everyone to be
ruled by divine reason, preferably within himself and his own, otherwise
imposed from without, so that as far as possible all will be alike and
friends, governed by the same thing." [590d]
Only the just man who has some appreciation of what is truly good and beneficial
to himself can possibly attain fulfilment and happiness. Socrates argues
that the just man would certainly not wish to be involved in the politics
of any state other than the
ideal state that he has described in Books II-V.
He supposes that even if such a state never exists on Earth, still it exists
as an Idea in Heaven.
"Perhaps... there is a model of it in heaven, for
anyone who wants to look at it and to make himself its citizen on the strength
of what he sees." [592b]
So, in effect he admits that he has been attempting to elucidate the constitution
of "The Heavenly Kingdom
of the Just". From a Catholic perspective, this is imperfectly manifested
within this world as the Church.
Socrates now discusses the Theory of Forms again. He points out
that there is first the Idea of The Table; then many real examples of physical
tables; and finally images of tables. [595a-597b]
He say that the form of The Bed is of Divine construction. [597c]
artisans only make particular beds. [597d]
and painters only make appearances of beds [597e-598d].
He then argues that the writings of the epic poets, however masterful and
apparently admirable, are no guide to morality and truth.
[598e-599e]. He contrasts the life-style and vocation of Pythagarus
and Homer [600a-600d]. He asserts that the
expertise of the epic poets is in deceit (making something apparent that
is not truly present: "designing to deceive" [Neil
Peart, lyricist of RUSH: "Superconductor"]) rather than truth. [601a-603b]
"Aren't the virtue or excellence, the beauty and
correctness of each manufactured item, living creature, and action related
to nothing but the use for which each is made or naturally adapted?"
"... an imitator has no worthwhile knowledge of the
things he imitates.... imitation is ... not something to be taken seriously,
and that all the tragic poets... are as imitative as they could possibly
".... the part [of the soul] that puts its trust
in measurement and calculation is the best part of the soul".
He argues that it is necessary to take life as it comes "Roll the Bones"
[Neil Peart, lyricist of RUSH] and that poetry
tends to make us dwell on matters that we cannot change. [604d]
For this reason, also, it is deceptive. [603c-605c]
"....it is best to keep as quiet as possible in misfortunes
and not get excited about them. First, it isn't clear whether such things
will turn out to be good or bad in the end; second, it doesn't make the
future any better to take them hard; third, human affairs aren't worth
taking very seriously; and, finally, grief prevents the very thing we most
need in such circumstances from coming into play as quickly as possible....
Deliberation. We must accept what has happened as we would the fall of
the dice, and then arrange our affairs in whatever way reason determines
to be best. We mustn't hug the hurt part and spend our time weeping and
wailing like children when they trip. Instead, we should always accustom
our souls to turn as quickly as possible to healing the disease and putting
the disaster right, replacing lamentation with cure."
Harking back to his argument in favour of media censorship in book
III, Socrates further suggests that in dwelling upon the character
flaws of heroes, a poet corrupts the conscience and judgement of his listeners
by accustoming them to attitudes and behaviour that they would otherwise
deplore. There is a clear application to pornography and contemporary
"media culture" which (for example) uses images of sexual and other
forms of self-indulgence to market commercial products.
He then presents an argument in favour of the immortality of the soul,
pointing out that the soul is more properly considered apart from its entanglement
with the body. He uses language with regards to the entanglement of the
soul with the body that could be interpreted as meaning that the physical
body per se is the cause of the ills of the soul, [611d-e]
but is compatible also with a notion of "original sin".
Socrates next asserts again that justice inevitably leads to happiness
and prosperity, but concedes that the inevitable divine reward might be
postponed beyond death. [612a-614a]
The dialogue is concluded (quite abruptly) with a myth "the tale of Er,
the son of Armenias" regarding the judgement of souls after death; their
punishment or reward according to the character of their mortal life and
the way in which they are reincarnated. [614b-621d]
This dialogue is a self critique of the theory of Forms previously presented
in Phaedo, Symposium, Timaeus,
and Republic. Suggestions are made as to how it
might be corrected and improved.
This is a discussion of friendship:
its purpose and the conditions for it to truly exist. It should be read
alongside Symposium and Phaedrus.
Socrates meets a group of handsome young men at a wrestling school. One
of them, Hippothales is head over heels in love with a younger youth, Lysis:
to the point of boring all his companions with talk of him. [203a-205d]
cautions Hippothales, that it is not wise to eulogize and flatter someone
that you love. At the very least, this will make them conceited and vain
- and harder to woo! [205e-206b] Socrates
volunteers to show Hippothales how to speak to the object of his affection.
He engages Lysis, and his friend Menexenus in conversation, but very soon
Menexenus has to leave. [207c-d] Socrates
then starts to question Lysis about love and friendship. He points out
that his parents - who love him dearly - strictly curtail his freedom in
any number of regards. [207e-209a] He then
points out that people in general allow - and in fact require - people
to take responsibility for those matters in which they have understanding
Socrates then asks "...are we going to be anyone's
friend, or is anyone going to be our friend in those areas in which we
are good for nothing?" [210c]
He then suggests that it is necessary to be wise in order to be a friend
or be befriended and to this end it is necessary to have a teacher. [210d-e]
is speaking with Lysis in this way to show Hippothales that he should cut
his beloved down to size and put him in his place, rather than spoiling
him. [210e] Unexpectedly, Lysis asks Socrates
to teach Menexenus (who has just returned) this lesson. Socrates that he
should do it himself, and Lysis agrees to do so later on. However, he urges
Socrates to talk with Menexenus about some other matter, so that he might
listen to the discussion and so that Hippothales might be taught a lesson.
Socrates then engages Menexenus in a discussion on friendship.
would rather posses a friend than all King Darius' gold or even than
King Darius himself!" [211e]
"I don't even know how one person becomes the friend
of another, which is what I want to question you about, since you have
experience of it." [212a]
"Is the lover the friend of the beloved, whether
he is loved in return, or is even hated? Or is the beloved the friend of
the lover.... or is neither the friend of the other?"
"So the beloved is a friend of the lover... whether
it loves the lover or hates him. Babies, for example, who are too young
to show love but not too young to show hate when they are disciplined by
their mother or father, are at that moment - even though they hate their
parents then - their very dearest friends." [212e-213a]
Socrates rejects this possibility as absurd. [213b]
if this is impossible, that would make the lover the friend of the beloved.....
then.... one is frequently a friend to a non friend, and even an enemy."
Socrates then turns to Lysis in order to continue the discussion.
He now suggests that friends are like to each other. [213e-214d]
the good person can be a friend; and then only to another good person;
while the bad never enter into true friendship."
He finds this doubtful: "When something.... is like
something else, how can it benefit or harm its like.... or what could be
done to it by its like that could not be done to it by itself? Can such
things be prized by each other when they cannot give each other assistance?"
"Couldn't the good still be friend to the good insofar
as he is good, not insofar as he is like?"
who don't place much value on each other couldn't be friends!"
He suggests that likeness is, in fact , generally a cause of antagonism.
He explores the possibility that opposites are in fact friends, but rejects
this as absurd. [216a-216b]
Socrates then explores the possibility, with Menexenus that
"what is neither totally good nor yet totally bad is a friend of what is
beautiful and good.... or else to something like itself."
He pursues this at length. [217a-218c]
"When something is not entirely bad; although evil
is present within it, this presence of evil makes the thing desire what
is good." [217e]
who are already wise no longer desire wisdom.... nor do those desire it
who are so ignorant that they are entirely bad.... There remain only those
who have this bad thing, ignorance, but have not yet been made entirely
stupid by it. They are conscious of not knowing what they don't know."
"We have discovered for sure what is a friend and
what it is a friend to.... that which is imperfect is - because of the
presence within it of evil - is a friend of the good."
Socrates then purports to have discovered a flaw in his argument. He supposes
that "the good" is itself a type of friend and so concludes that his analysis
of friendship involves an indefinite regression. [218c-219d]
"When we talk about all the things that are our friends....
it is clear that we are misusing the word 'friend'. The real friend is
surely that in which all these so-called 'friendships' terminate."
This ultimate and true
friend is "the good" itself. [220b]
And yet: "Isn't the good by nature loved on account
of the bad by those who are midway between good and bad; but by itself
and for its own sake it has no use at all?"
"Take away the enemy and it seems that the good is
no longer a friend!" [220e]
"Is it possible to desire and love something passionately
without feeling friendly towards it?" [221b]
"It looks like some other cause of loving and being
loved has appeared." [221d]
Socrates then explores the possibility that mere desire is the cause of
thing desires that which is deficient in, right?" [221e]
He then suggests that there is a sense in which lovers recognize an objective
consonance that exists between them, that they simply belong together per
se. "If one person desires another, my boys, or loves
him passionately, he would not desire or love him passionately or as a
friend unless he somehow belonged to his beloved either in his soul or
in some characteristic, habit, or aspect of his soul." [222a]
"Then the genuine - and not the pretended - lover
must be befriended in turn by his beloved boy."
He insists that if "belonging to" can be shown to be similar to, but not
identical with, "like" then progress has been made in understanding the
basis of friendship. [222b-c]
Nevertheless, the dialogue ends in apparent confusion.
"Now we've done it, Lysis and Menexenus - made fools
of ourselves.... we are friends of one another - for I count myself in
with you - but what a friend is, we have not yet been able to find out."
This dialogue belongs with Symposium and Lysis
in that it deals with the excellence of friendship
and homo-erotic love.
It belongs with Gorgias in that it discusses and
delineates the nature and failings of rhetoric. There is a most inspiring
and moving mythical account of the origins, qualities and outcomes of eroticism
and how such love is related to the practice of philosophy. This is one
of my favourite dialogues.
Socrates goes on a walk
in the countryside with his friend Phaedrus, a great admirer of oratory.
They start to discuss oratory and erotic love.[227a-230e]
Socrates confides: "I am still unable, as the Delphic
inscription orders, to know myself; and it really seems to me ridiculous
to look into other things before I have understood that. This is why I
do not concern myself with them. I accept what is generally believed...."
Phaedrus recounts a speech that he has just heard given by Lysias, son
of Cephalus. Lysias is one of the best orators of Athens, but no philosopher.
Phaedrus is very taken with its form and style. The burden of the speech
is that it is better for a youth to grant sexual favours to Lysias, who
is not in love him; than to some other man who is. [230e-234c]
Phaedrus says: "....the time will never come for
a man who's not in love to change his mind.... the favours he does for
you are not forced but voluntary...." [231a]
"A lover will admit that he's more sick than sound
in the head. He is well aware that he is not thinking straight; but
he'll say he can't get himself under control. So when he does start thinking
straight, why would he stand by decisions he made when he was sick?" [231d]
"A lover is easily annoyed, and whatever happens,
he'll think it was designed to hurt him. This is why a lover prevents his
boy from spending time with other people. He's afraid that wealthy men
will outshine him with their money, while men of education will turn out
to have the advantage of greater intelligence..... Once he's persuaded
you to turn those people away, he'll have you completely isolated from
friends; and if you show more sense than he does in looking after your
own interests, you'll come to quarrel with him." [232
"Lovers generally start to desire your body before
they know your character.... with the result that they can't tell whether
they'll still want to be friends with you after their desire has passed."
"A lover will
praise what you say and what you do far beyond what is best, partly
because he is afraid of being disliked, and partly because desire has impaired
his judgement." [233b]
you been thinking that there can be no strong friendship in the absence
of erotic love? Then you ought to remember that we would not care so much
about our children if that were not so, or about our fathers and mothers."
it were true that we ought to give the biggest favour to those who need
it the most, then we should all be helping out the poorest people, not
the best ones; because people we've saved from the worst troubles will
give us the most thanks. For instance, the right people to invite to
a dinner party would be beggars and people who need to sate their hunger,
because they're the ones who'll be fond of us, follow us, knock on our
doors... and pray for our success." [233d-e]
Socrates condemns the speech as being self-serving and almost entirely
false. He agrees with Lysias regarding the insanity of erotic love, however.
Phaedrus then cajoles and bullies [236b-237a]
Socrates into giving a speech of his own on the subject of erotic love.
Socrates' First Speech.
Socrates begins by telling the story of a lover who tried to seduce a youth
by pretending not to be in love with him.
The lover said: "You must know what any decision
is about, or else you are bound to miss your target altogether. Ordinary
people cannot see that they do not know the true nature of a particular
subject, so they carry on as is they did; and .... wind up as you would
expect - in conflict with themselves and each other." [237c]
"How shall we distinguish between a man who is in
love and is not?.... When judgement is in control and leads us by reasoning
towards what is best, that .... is called 'being in your right mind'; but
when desire takes command in us and drags us without reasoning towards
pleasure, then its command is known as 'outrageousness'"
Socrates then continues: "What benefit or harm is
liable to come from the lover or non-lover to the boy who grants him favours?...
lover will not willingly put up with a boy-friend who is his equal or superior...
a lover will be delighted to find ... mental defects ... in his boy; and
if he does not, he will have to supply them.... he will be jealous and
keep the boy away from the good company of anyone who would make a better
man of him.... He will have to invent other ways, too, of keeping the boy
in total ignorance, and so in total dependence on himself.... So
it will not be of any use to your intellectual development to have as your
mentor and companion a man who is in love with you!.... a lover's first
wish will be for a boy who has lost his dearest, kindliest and godliest
possessions - his mother and father and other close relatives. He
would be happy to see the boy deprived of them, since he would expect them....
to block him from the sweet pleasure of the boy's company.... wealth in
a boy-friend will cause his lover to envy him...
he will wish for the
boy to stay wifeless, childless and homeless for as long as possible."
He then points out that infatuation dies and that once dead, the ex-lover
is liable to reject the boy that he once adored; leaving him with nothing
but regrets. [240b-241d]
Socrates then pauses in mid-flight and claims that he has said enough -
though all he has really done is re-present Lysias' argument and take it
a bit further. On being prompted by Phaedrus, he contradicts himself and
claims that both Lysias' speech and his own were horrible [242d],
shameless [243c] and close to impious [242d].
He says that Eros
is divine and so "cannot be bad in any way" [242e],
which is in fact the main import of all that has been said up to now. He
undertakes to expiate his impiety by speaking the truth about Eros. [243a-244a]
Socrates' Second Speech.
He begins by saying that not all "madness" is bad. [244b-245b]
He then asserts that every soul is immortal and a kind of "prime mover".
He then describes
the human soul in terms of a charioteer and two horses, one noble and docile
and the other of wild and hardly trainable stock.
He then talks of a soul as having wings
[246c] and describes the daily journey of all spirits to Heaven,
the realm of the Ideals [246d-247e] and back
"home". The "gods" regularly attain Heaven, but lesser beings generally
fail and are damaged in the attempt. [248a-b]
Now the wings are nourished by the sight of Heaven, and those beings that
do not attain this sight can by accident (not any fault) begin to forget
the Forms and become prone to sin. [248c] They
than lose their wings and become incarnate.
He then talks of re-incarnation, based on the moral character of the previous
life lived: with philosophers having an early chance to re-grow their wings
and so return to the heavenly circuit. [249a-249e]
"... only a philosopher's mind grows wings, since
its memory always keeps it as close as possible to those realities ....
He stands outside human concerns and draws close to the divine; ordinary
people think that he is disturbed and rebuke him for this, unaware that
he is possessed by a god." [249d]
"This is the best and noblest of all the forms that
possession by a god can take.... and when someone who loves beautiful boys
is touched by this madness he is called a lover." [249e]
Some souls - who at least glimpsed Heaven before falling to Earth - are
just able to recognize the Forms in the material objects that manifest
them, but many others entirely forget them. [250a]
Of all the forms,
that of beauty is the most radiant and the easiest to spy in material objects.
‘Beauty was radiant to see at that time when the
souls… were ushered into the mystery that we may rightly call the most
blessed of all… Now beauty, as I said, was radiant among the other objects,
and… here we grasp it sparkling through the clearest of our senses. Vision,
of course, is the sharpest of our bodily senses, although it does not see
wisdom. It would awaken a terribly powerful love if an image of wisdom
came through our sight as clearly as beauty does… but now beauty alone
has this privilege, to be the most clearly visible and the most loved.’
The recognition of beauty in another human being awakes Eros within him
and stimulates the regrowth of the soul's wings, which is itself a painful
process akin to "teething". This is the madness that is called love. [250e-252b]
If the lover is a devotee of Zeus, he bears the pain of love with dignity;
but if of Ares he may turn violent. [252c]
In all cases, a lover seeks out a boy who reminds him of the god to which
he is specially devoted, and then attempts to communicate to him the devotion
to and fellowship with the god that they serve. [252d-253c]
Socrates then returns to deal with the
tripartite division of the soul. He says that the noble horse is still
well controlled, even when the soul is in love; but that the wild horse
is now only interested in sex, and is only with great difficulty and much
suffering restrained. [253d-254e] However, if he is restrained, the lover
will win over his boy, who comes to realize that the friendship that he
offers is of superlative value and falls in love with him too. [255a-e]
He then says that if the two lovers refrain from sex they will be rewarded
with lives of bliss, re-grow their wings and be able to regain Heaven.
[256a-b] However, even if they do make physical love, and:
that act which ordinary people would take to be the happiest choice of
all; and when they have consummated it once, they go on doing this for
the rest of their lives, but sparingly, since they have not approved of
what they are doing with their whole minds. So these two also live in mutual
friendship (though weaker than the philosophical pair), both while they
are in love and after they have passed
beyond it, because they realize they have exchanged such
firm vows that it would be forbidden for them ever to break them and become
enemies. In death they are wingless when they leave the body, but their
wings are bursting to sprout, so the
prize they have won from the madness of love is considerable; because those
who have begun the sacred journey in lower heaven may not by law be sent
into darkness for the journey under the earth; their
lives are bright and happy as they travel together, and thanks to their
will grow wings together when the time comes." [256c-d]
Socrates then summarizes his poem to Eros by observing that the lover's
companionship is extravagant and doesn't count costs. It therefore brings
with it divine gifts. The companionship of others is paltry in comparison
and cannot help in the pursuit of enlightenment and salvation. He then
prays to Eros to forgive them for making their earlier speeches. [257a-b]
Socrates and Phaedrus' discussion
of rhetoric and literature.
Socrates points out that orators are mostly concerned with impressing others,
in order to win power; not with the truth. [258a-c] Still, he says that
the writing of speeches is not wrong in itself. [258d-259b]
What is important is for the speech writer to be concerned to deal with
the truth. [259e]
Phaedrus replies that he has heard it said that what is really necessary
is to be concerned only with what will seem to one's hearers to be true.
rebuts this, arguing that in order to deceive others well one needs to
have a good understanding of the truth. [260b-262c]
He then proposes that they analyse Lysias' speech.
He introduces the analytical "method of division" [263a-d]
and criticizes Lysias for not using it. [263e-266b]
Socrates then describes the form of the perfect speech.
He then criticizes teachers of oratory for not knowing what their subject
really is. [268a-269c]
He then argues that to be a master of persuasive speaking, one must have
an understanding of the human soul. [269d-272b]
Socrates then returns to "the plausible"
or "the conventional" as a supposed basis of rhetoric. [272c-273b]
"Tisius wrote that if a weak but spunky man is taken
to court because he beat up a strong but cowardly one .... neither should
tell the truth. The coward must say that the spunky man had accomplices,
while the defendant must .... fall back on that well-worn plea: 'How could
a weak man like me attack a strong man like him?' The strong man, naturally,
will not admit his cowardice...." [273c]
He then repeats his contention that it is necessary to understand the human
soul - and seek to please the gods - in order to become a good orator.
Socrates then turns to the question of what makes for good writing.
He tells a fable of the Egyptian gods Thoth and Ammon, in which he argues
that the written word detracts from the exercise of wisdom; for wisdom
is internal and a property of the soul, while writing is extrinsic to the
soul and tends not to induce understanding. [274d-275b]
He argues that writing - like painting - is
only an appearance of what it attempts to manifest. In the case of writing,
this is "a discourse that is written down, with knowledge,
in the soul of the listener; it can defend itself; and it knows for whom
it should speak and for whom it should remain silent." [276a]
words cannot chose their reader, whereas the living teacher:
"chooses a proper soul and plants and sows within
it discourse accompanied by knowledge - discourse capable of helping itself
as well as the man who planted it, which is not barren but produces a seed
from which more discourse grows in the character of others. Such discourse
the seed forever immortal and renders the man who has it as
happy as any human being can be." [277a]
Socrates then summarizes the conclusions that have been reached. [277c]
He says that anyone who writes anything in the belief that it embodies
knowledge of lasting importance" is worthy of reproach, for mere
words - devoid of love and a personal relationship - can not do so. [277d]
However, someone that treats speechmaking more lightly and is convinced
that the written word is at best only capable of reminding its reader of
what he already knows; and who uses speech only to communicate what is
noble and good" is to be commended and is a true philosopher.
Socrates tells Phaedrus to inform Lysias of their conclusions and says
that he will himself invite his own friend, the young and beautiful Isocrates
- a famous orator - to follow the path of philosophy. [278e-279b]
Socrates then offers
"O dear Pan and all the other gods of this place;
grant that I may be beautiful within. Let all my possessions be in friendly
harmony with what is within. May I consider the wise man rich. As for gold,
let me as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him.
Do we need anything else, Phaedrus? I believe
my prayer is enough for me."
"Make it a prayer for me as well. Friends have
everything in common."
"Let's be off!" [279c]
This is a dialogue between Socrates and his
own "heart-throb", the statesman Alcibiades. They discuss the nature
of virtue, friendship
and statesmanship. Socrates convinces Alcibiades that he should become
his pupil so that he might discover what it takes to be a wise and just
leader of men. It is not not generally agreed by scholars that Plato is
the author of this dialogue.
"Well then, Alcibiades, what about a
city? What is it that is present and what will be absent when a city is
in a better condition and getting better management and treatment?"
"The way that I look at it, Socrates, mutual
friendship will be present and hatred and insurrection will be absent."
This is a discussion of the nature of rhetoric, justice and the proper
basis for the good life. In it Plato champions the idea that justice and
the virtues are objective
realities, not subject to human
manipulation. It concludes with a myth that serves as an affirmation
of the immortality of the soul and a final
Divine judgement. This is one of my favourite dialogues.
Callicles invites Socrates to visit him at home, where the orator Gorgias
is staying. [447a]
Socrates is keen to take up this invitation, claiming to wish "to find
out from the man what his craft can accomplish, and what it is that he
both makes claims about and teaches." [447b-d]
On arrival, Chaerephon asks Gorgias if he makes claims "about
answering any question anyone might ask", and Gorgias agrees. [447e-448a]
Chaerephon then points out that this would make Gorgias a physician and
a painter - and a practitioner of innumerous trades and professions.
Gorgias apprentice, Polus tries to defend his master, claiming that oratory
is the most admirable craft. [448c-e]
Socrates replies that this is all well and good, but what is oratory? [449a-c]
Gorgias then discusses with Socrates the
nature of oratory.
Gorgias claims that oratory is knowledge about making speeches. [449d]
Socrates asks speeches about what? [449e-451c]
Gorgias rejoins that oratory concerns itself with "The
greatest of human concerns, and the best." [451d]
Socrates challenges this, suggesting that a physician, a physical trainer
and a financier would each argue that their specific expertise was of greater
worth than that of the orator. [451e-452d]
Gorgias claims to be a producer of
"...the thing that is in actual fact the greatest
good, Socrates. It is the source of freedom for humankind itself and at
the same time it is for each person the source of rule over others in one's
own city.... I am referring to the ability to persuade by speeches judges
in a law court, councillors in a meeting and assemblymen in.... any political
gathering that might take place." [452e]
Socrates insists that persuasion must be persuasion about something. [453a-454a]
Gorgias agrees and says that its subject matter is justice. [454b]
Socrates says of his questioning.
"It's not you I'm after; it's to prevent our getting
in the habit of second-guessing and snatching each other's statements away
ahead of time. It's to allow you to work out your assumptions in any way
you want to." [454c]
Socrates then asks if "to learn" and "to be convinced" are the same, and
Gorgias says no. They agree that while there are true and false convictions there
cannot be false knowledge. Hence they agree there must be two
kinds of persuasion: teaching - which proceeds from knowledge and leads
to learning; and oratory which proceeds from ignorance and leads to conviction.
Nevertheless, Gorgias proceeds to claim [455d-457c] that oratory "encompasses
and subordinates to itself just about everything that can be accomplished."
[456b] He claims - in passing - that oratory can be used in the
service of injustice, though it should not be so employed.
Socrates responds by obliquely questioning Gorgias' sincerity.
Gorgias insists that he is quite willing to proceed with the discussion
on Socrates' terms. [458c-d]
Socrates then asks if Gorgias believes that he could train anyone to be
persuasive about anything, and Gorgias says that this is so.
[458e] - PJH very hurtfully claimed once that
it was my ability to be persuasive about anything. He had originally said
that I was wise.
Socrates then points out that Gorgias seems to be saying that knowledge
about a subject is no aid to being persuasive about that subject.
"Does the orator employ devices to produce persuasion....
so that even though he doesn't know, he seems to - among those who don't
know either - know more than someone who actually does know? Or is it necessary
for him to know?" [459d]
Gorgias responds by saying that he'll teach any apprentice everything that
he needs to know. Inconsistently, he now agrees with Socrates that for
someone to be an orator they must know what is just and what is unjust.
Socrates then points out that anyone who has learned what justice is must
be just, and yet Gorgias had previously said that an orator could act unjustly
- though he shouldn't do so. [460b-461a]
Polus then launches to Gorgias' defence. [461b-480a]
Socrates confesses that
he doesn't think that oratory is any kind of craft
[462b] but only a knack [462c] and
of some business that isn't admirable at all." [463a]
think that there's a practice that's not craftlike, but one that a mind
given to making hunches takes to, a mind that's bold and naturally clever
at dealing with people. I call it flattery, basically..... I call oratory
a part of this, too, along with cosmetics and sophistry.... By my reasoning,
oratory is an image of a part of politics.... it's a shameful thing....
In politics, the counterpart of gymnastics [for the body]
is legislation [for the soul], and the part
that corresponds to medicine [for the body]
is justice [for the soul].... Now flattery
takes notice of them and.... divides itself into four, masks itself with
each of the parts and then pretends to be the characters of the masks.
It takes no thought at all of whatever is best.... pastry-baking has put
on the mask of medicine.... it guesses at what's pleasant with no consideration
for what's best. And I say it is not a craft, but a knack - because it
has no account of the nature of whatever things it applies.... so that
it's unable to state the cause of each thing.... Cosmetics is the flattery
that wears the mask of gymnastics.... so as to make people assume an alien
beauty and neglect their own, which comes through gymnastics.... you follow
me now.... that what pastry-baking is to medicine, oratory is to justice."
Socrates than says that orators - like tyrants - while seeming to have
power over others, in fact are powerless and to be pitied. This is because
they are only able to do what they "see fit" to do, not what is actually
beneficial to themselves and should want to do. [466b-4772e]
"Do you think
that when people do something, they want the thing that they're doing at
the time, or the thing for the sake of which they do what they're doing?
Do you think that people who take medicine proscribed by their doctors,
for instance, want what they're doing - the act of taking the medicine,
with all its discomfort - or do they want to be healthy; the thing for
the sake of which they're taking it?" [467c]
"So it is because
we pursue what's good that we walk whenever we walk; we suppose that it's
better to walk; and conversely, whenever we stand still, we stand still
for the sake of the same thing: what's good.... And don't we put a person
to death, if we do; or banish him and confiscate his property because we
suppose that doing these things is better for us than not doing them?...
Hence, it's for the sake of what's good that those who do all these things
do them." [468b]
the one who is put to death unjustly is the one who's both to be pitied
and is miserable!"
"Less so than the one putting him to death, Polus,
and less than the one who is justly put to death."
"How can that be, Socrates?"
"It's because doing what is unjust is actually
the worst thing there is."
"Really? Is that the worst? Isn't suffering what's
unjust still worst?
"No, not in the least."
be very grateful.... to you if you refute me and rid me of this nonsense[,
Polus]. Please don't falter now in doing a friend
a good turn. Refute me." [470c]
"I say that the admirable and good person, man or
woman, is happy; but that the one who's unjust and wicked is miserable."
"On my view of it, Polus, a man who acts unjustly
- a man who is unjust - is thoroughly miserable; the more so if he doesn't
get his due punishment for the wrongdoing he commits, the less so if he
pays and receives what is due at the hands of both gods and men."
Socrates says that the fact that the majority of mankind would disagree
with him is of no account, for truth does not depend on votes. [473a-474a]
is true is never refuted." [473b]
I disregard." [474a]
He then attempts to demonstrate that it is better to receive just punishment
for wickedness than to avoid it. [474b-480a]
"When you call admirable things admirable.... don't
you call them admirable either in virtue of their usefulness - relative
to whatever it is that each is useful for; or else in virtue of some pleasure
- if it makes the people who look at them get some enjoyment from looking
at them?" [474d]
"Whenever one of two admirable things is more admirable
than the other, it is so because it surpasses the other one either in one
of these: pleasure or benefit, or in both..... and whenever one of two
shameful things is more shameful than the other, it will be so because
it surpasses the other either in pain or in badness."
"Because it surpasses it in badness, doing what is
unjust would be worse than suffering it."
one paying what is due has good things being done to him."
"Hence he's being benefited?"
"Is the benefit the one I take it to be? Does
his soul undergo improvement if he's justly disciplined?"
"Yes, that's likely."
"Hence, one who pays what is due gets rid of
something bad in his soul?"
"Do you believe that there's also some corrupt condition
of the soul.... and don't you call this condition injustice, ignorance,
cowardice, and the like?... Which of these states of corruption is the
most shameful? Isn't it injustice, and corruption of one's soul in general?....
The reason that corruption of one's soul is the most shameful of them all
is that it surpasses the others by some monstrously great harm and astounding
badness..... Injustice, then, lack of discipline and all other forms of
corruption of the soul are the worst thing there is."
Socrates then refers approvingly to the idea of being "self-controlled".
This is in tension with other teaching.
wasn't paying what's due getting rid of the worst thing there is: corruption....
because such justice makes people
self-controlled, I take it, and
more just. It proves to be a treatment against corruption..... The happiest
man, then, is the one who doesn't have any badness in his soul.... and
second, I suppose, is the man who gets rid of it.... This is the man who
gets lectured and lashed; the one who pays what is due."[478d-e]
"Those who avoid paying what is due.... focus on
its painfulness, but are blind to its benefit and are ignorant of how much
more miserable it is to live with an unhealthy soul than with an unhealthy
body; a soul that's rotten with injustice and impiety."
"What a man should guard himself against most of
all is doing what is unjust; knowing that he will have trouble enough if
he does." [480a]
Callicles then takes up the task of arguing with Socrates.
"Tell me, Socrates; are we to take you as being in
earnest now, or joking? For if you are in earnest, and these things you're
saying are really true, won't this human life of ours be turned upside
down, and won't everything we do evidently be the opposite of what we should
And Socrates defends himself:
"If human beings
didn't share common experiences; some sharing one, others sharing another
- but one of us had some unique experience not shared by others, it wouldn't
be easy for him to communicate what he experienced to the other."
"You keep shifting back and forth [Callicles].
If you say anything in the Assembly and the populous of Athens denies it;
you shift your ground and say what it wants to hear."
"You're bound to hear me say things like that too,
and instead of being surprised at my saying them, you must stop my beloved
- philosophy - from saying them. For she always says what you now hear
me say, my dear friend; and she's by far less fickle than any other beloved.
As for Alcibiades - that son of Clinias - [who
I also love (481d)]
what he says differs from one time to the next!"
"I think that it's better to have my lyre or a chorus
that I might lead out of tune and dissonant, and have the vast majority
of men disagree with me and contradict me; than to be out of harmony with
myself, to contradict myself, though I'm only one person!"
Callicles then accuses Socrates of using
oratory to present falsehood as truth and to contradict the natural
"Nature shows that this is so in many places; both
among the other animals and in whole cities and races of men; it shows
that this is what justice has been decided to be: that the superior rule
the inferior and have a greater share than they.... I believe that these
men do these things in accordance with the nature of what's just
- yes, by Zeus, in accordance with the law of nature, and presumably
not with the one we institute." [483d-e]
is no doubt a delightful thing, Socrates - as long as one is exposed to
it in moderation at the appropriate time of life; but if one spends more
time with it than he should, it's a man's undoing. For.... he can't help
but turn out to be inexperienced in everything that a man who's to be admired
and good and well thought of is supposed to be experienced in..... so when
he ventures into some.... activity, he becomes a laughingstock.... To partake
of as much philosophy as your education requires is an admirable thing,
and it's not shameful to practice philosophy when you're a boy, but when
you still do so after you've grown older and become a man; the thing gets
to be ridiculous, Socrates!.... When I see an older man still engaging
in philosophy and not giving it up; I think such a man by this time needs
Socrates replies, thanking Callicles for his frankness [487a-b], as a friend
"What is it that you and Pindar hold to be true of
just by nature? That the superior should take by force what
belongs to the inferior; that the better should rule the worse and that
the more worthy have a greater share than the less worthy?"
Socrates then traps him in his confusion regarding the basis of value.
"Are 'superior', 'better' and 'stronger' the same,
or are they different?" [488d]
"Aren't the many superior by nature to the one? They're
the ones who in fact impose the laws upon the one.... so the rules of the
many are the rules of the superior.... the rules of the better.... and
aren't the rules of these people admirable by nature, seeing that they
are the superior ones? Now, isn't it a rule of the many that it's just
to have an equal share.... it's not only by law, then, that doing what's
unjust is more shameful than suffering it, or just to have an equal share;
but it's so by nature, too. So it looks as though you weren't saying
what's true earlier.... when you said that nature and law were opposed
to each other." [489b]
Socrates then admits:
"I don't really suppose that you [Callicles]
think that two are better than one, or that your slaves are better than
you just because they're stronger than you.... Won't you say whether by
'the better' and 'the superior' you mean 'the more intelligent'....?
"Yes, by Zeus, they're very much the ones I mean."
"So on your reasoning it will often be the case
that a single intelligent person is superior to countless unintelligent
ones; that this person should rule and they be ruled - and that the one
ruling should have a greater share than the ones being ruled...."
"Yes, that's what I do mean. This is what I take
the just by nature to be: that the better one - the more intelligent one,
that is, both rules over and has a greater share than his inferiors." [489d-490a]
"What does the superior, the more intelligent man
have a greater share of, and have it justly?"
"Tell me.... whom do you mean by the better and superior,
and what they're better and superior in."
"But what of themselves, my friend?"
"What of what?"
"Ruling or being ruled?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean each individual ruling himself. Or is
there no need at all for him to rule himself, but only to rule others?"
"What do you mean, rule himself?"
"Nothing very subtle. Just what the many mean.....
being master of oneself, ruling the pleasures and appetites within oneself."
"....You mean the stupid ones!"
Callicles then argues in favour of unrestricted
"The truth of it, Socrates - the thing you claim
to pursue - is like this: wantonness, lack of discipline, and freedom (if
available in good supply) are excellence and happiness; as for these other
things, these fancy phrases, these contracts of men that go against nature:
they're worthless nonsense!" [492c]
Socrates once more commends
Callicles on his frankness.
"I want to persuade you [Callicles]....
to chose the orderly life, the life that is adequate to and satisfied with
its circumstances at any given time - instead of the insatiable, undisciplined
life.... those who are orderly are happier than those who are undisciplined...."
He argues that contentment is the basis of happiness.
[493d-494a] Callicles disagrees:
"The man who has filled himself up has no pleasure
any more.... that's living like an [inanimate] stone.... rather, living
pleasantly consists in this: having as much as possible flow in."
Socrates challenges this, arguing that good is not the same as pleasure:
"Isn't the climax of this sort of thing, the life
of a catamite, a frightfully shameful and miserable one?"
"Surely, the good isn't just unrestricted enjoyment."
"Do you agree that every deficiency and appetite
is painful?" [496d]
"So feeling enjoyment isn't the same as doing well,
and being in pain isn't the same as doing badly.... It turns out that good
things are not the same thing as pleasant ones, and bad things not the
same as painful ones. For pleasant and painful things come to a stop simultaneously;
whereas good things and bad ones do not - because they are in fact different
things. How then could pleasant things be the same as good ones, and painful
things the same as bad ones?" [497a-497d]
Callicles then concedes that
"some pleasures are better and others worse."
"The good ones [are]
the beneficial ones, and the bad ones the harmful ones."
Socrates then asks:
"Is it for every man to pick out which kinds of pleasures
are good ones and which are bad ones, or does this require a craftsman
in each case?" [500a]
He then points out that, in reality:
"Our discussion is about.... the way we're supposed
to live. Is it.... to engage in these 'manly' activities. to make speeches....
practice oratory, and to be active in.... politics...? Or is it the life
spent in philosophy?" [500c]
He then returns, at length to his theme that oratory is a type of flattery,
and extends this to poetry and tragic drama. [500d-502c]
Callicles then objects that:
"there are those who say what they do because they
do care for the citizens, and there are also those like the ones you're
talking about." [503a]
but admits that the former kind are few and far
between and that he cannot name any contemporary examples. [503b]
He suggests that Pericles and a few others were just men, however. [503c]
"As long as [the soul]
is corrupt, in that it's foolish, undisciplined, unjust and impious, it
should be kept away from its appetites and not be permitted to do anything
other than what will make it better." [505b]
"All of us ought to be contentiously eager to know
what's true and what's false about the things we're talking about. That
it should become clear is a good common to all."
"The things I say I certainly don't say with any
knowledge at all; no, I'm searching together with you so that if my opponent
clearly has a point, I'll be the first to concede it."
"The best way
in which the excellence of each thing comes to be present in it.... is
due to to whatever organization, correctness and craftsmanship is bestowed
on each.... so it's due to organization that the excellence of each thing
is something which is organized and has order.... so it's when a certain
order, the proper one for each thing, comes to be present in it that makes
each of the things there are, good.... so a soul, which has its own order
is better than a disordered one." [506d-e]
Socrates goes on to extol the virtue of "the self controlled man", saying
that he is just, pious, brave and altogether good. [507a-c]
He then claims (without explanation) that
"a person who wants to be happy must evidently pursue
and practice self-control." [507d]
He says that the undisciplined man
"could not be dear to another man or to a god; for
he cannot be a partner, and where there's no partnership there's no friendship."
He continues to criticize Callicles' outlook:
"Wise men claim that
partnership and friendship; orderliness, self-control and justice hold
together heaven and earth; and gods and men, and that is why they call
this universe a world order, my friend and not an undisciplined world-disorder."
equality has great power among both gods and men.... you[, Callicles]
suppose that you ought to practice getting the greater share.... because
you neglect geometry." [508a]
The dialogue then returns to the central topic of which is the worse: to
be affected by injustice or to effect it? [508b-509e]
"We say that doing it is worse and suffering it is
less bad." [509c]
"What about doing what is unjust? Is it when he doesn't
wish to do it, is that sufficient - for he won't do it - or should he procure
a power and a craft for this, too, so that he learns and practices it,
he will commit injustice?.... We should procure a certain power and craft
against this too, evidently, so that we won't do what's unjust."
Socrates ironicaly suggests that the way of avoiding the effects of injustice
is to become unjust oneself. [510a-511b]
He then lists various types of expertise that preserve life, but are not
thereby accounted "grand". [511c-512d]
"Perhaps one who is truly
a man should stop thinking about how long he will live. He should not be
attached to life, but should commit these concerns to the god, and believe
the women who say that not one single person can escape fate. He should
thereupon give consideration to how he might live the part of his life
still before him as well as possible." [512e]
"Each group of people takes delight in speeches that
are given in its own character, and resents those given in an alien manner."
"Shouldn't we then attempt to care for the city and
its citizens with the aim of making the citizens themselves as good as
Socrates then stresses the importance of true expertise, demonstrated by
objective evidence. [514a-e]
He then asserts that even Pericles corrupted the
character of the Athenians. [515d-516d] Similarly
Cimon, Themistocles and Miltiades. [516d] Even
though they were all relatively good me, they were bad politicians.
He then repeats a discussion of the difference between true benefit and
apparent benefit. [517c-519a]
He points out the absurdity of anyone who claims to make others just complaining
about being treated unjustly by their students. [519b-520e]
Socrates insists that what Callicles approves of is flattery, not education
in virtue, and Callicles reluctantly agrees. [521b]
Socrates then admits that
he does not think that his attitude will protect him from injustice, quite
"I know this well, that if I do come to court involved
in one of these perils which you mention; the man who brings me will be
a wicked man - for no good man would bring in a man who is not a wrongdoer
- and it wouldn't be at all strange if I were to be put to death.... I'm
one of a few Athenians.... to take up the true political craft and practice
the true politics. This is because the speeches that I make.... do not
aim at gratification but at what's best..... I'll be judged the way a doctor
would be judged by a jury of children if a pastry chef were to bring accusations
against him..... What do you think that a doctor, caught in such an evil
predicament, could say?.... Nor will I be able to say what's true if someone
charges that I ruin younger people by confusing them, or abuse older people
by speaking bitter words against them in public or private.... so presumably
I'll get whatever comes my way." [521d-522c]
He then tells a myth about the final judgement to justify his own attitudes.
He says that Zeus decreed that:
"What we must do first.... is to stop them knowing
their death ahead of time..... Next, they must be judged when they're stripped
naked of all these things, for they should be judged when they're dead.
The judge too should be naked, and dead, and with only his soul he should
study only the soul of each person immediately upon his death.... so that
the judgement may be a just one." [523d-e]
I think, is actually nothing but the separation of two things from each
other; the soul and the body. So, after they're separated, each of them
stays in a condition not much worse than what it was in when the person
was alive. The body retains its nature, and the care it had received as
well as the things that have happened to it are all evident..... I think
that the same thing, therefore, holds true also for the soul, Callicles.
All that's in the soul is evident after it has been stripped naked of the
body..... things that the person came to have in his soul as a result of
his pursuit of each objective." [524b-d]
is appropriate for everyone who is subject to punishment rightly inflicted
by another either to become better and profit from it, or else to be made
an example for others; so that when they see him suffering whatever it
is he suffers, they may be afraid and become better. Those who are benefited,
who are made to pay their due by gods and men, are the ones whose errors
are curable; even so, their benefit comes to them; both here and in Hades,
by way of pain and suffering, for there is no other possible way to get
rid of injustice. From among those who have have committed the ultimate
wrongs and who because of such crimes have become incurable come the ones
who are made examples of. These persons themselves no longer derive any
profit from their punishment, because they're incurable. Others, however,
do profit from it when they see them undergoing for all time the most grievous,
intensely painful and frightening sufferings for their errors.... visible
warnings to unjust men." [525b-525c]
"The fact is,
Callicles, that those persons who become extremely wicked do come from
the ranks of the powerful; although there's certainly nothing to stop good
men from turning up even among the powerful - and those who do turn up
there deserve to be enthusiastically admired. For it's a difficult thing,
Callicles, and one that merits much praise, to live your whole life justly
when you've found yourself having ample freedom to do what's unjust." [525e-526a]
"I disregard the things held in honour by the majority
of people, and by practising truth I really try, to the best of my ability,
to be and to live as a very good man, and when I die, to die like that."
"As it is.... you're not able to prove that there's
any other life one should live other than the one which will clearly turn
out to be advantageous in that world, too." [527a-b]
"Doing what's unjust is more to be guarded against
than suffering it, and that it's not seeming to be good but being good
that a man should take care of more than anything.... and that if a person
proves to be bad in some respect, he's to be disciplined, and that the
second best thing after being just is to become just by paying one's due
- by being disciplined; and that every form of flattery, both the form
concerned with oneself and that concerned with others, whether they're
few or many, is to be avoided, and that oratory and every other activity
is always to be used in support of what's just." [527b-c]
"Listen to me and follow
me to where I am, and when you've come here you'll be happy both during
life and at its end..... let
someone despise you as a fool and throw dirt on you, if he likes.... confidently
let him deal you that demeaning blow. Nothing terrible will happen to you
if you really are an admirable and good man; one who practices excellence."
"Let us use the account that has now been disclosed
to us as our guide; one that indicates to us that this way of life is the
best: to practice justice and the rest of excellence both in life and in
death. Let us follow it, then, and call on others to do so, too, and let's
not follow the one that you believe in and call on me to follow. For that
one is worthless, Callicles." [527e]
A discussion of what a sophist (someone who claimed to teach philosophy
for monetary reward) really is, and how he differs from a true philosopher.
It leads to a discussion of what it means for something either to be or
not to be. It makes much use of Plato's "method of division" first
introduced in Phaedrus.
The dangerous man who knows nothing and yet thinks that he is an expert
"And surely struggle against him we must in every
possible way who would annihilate knowledge and reason and mind, and yet
ventures to speak confidently about anything." [249c]
"Aren't thought and speech the same, except that
what we call thought is speech that occurs without the voice, inside the
soul in conversation with itself?" [263e]
A discussion of what a Politician ought to be and what in fact he typically
is. Its tone is markedly different from that of Republic
and anticipates the more pragmatic outlook presented in Laws.
It makes further use of Plato's "method of division" first introduced
This is a discussion of what it is the basis of
good and excellence in human life. The relative claims of pleasure
are assessed and it is concluded that neither of these will serve, though
knowledge gets a lot closer. The implication is that wisdom, the skill
of correctly ordering things is fundamental.
The dialogue starts by discussing whether virtue can be taught or whether
it is innate.
Socrates says that first of all one must know what virtue is, before deciding
what any of its properties might be. He says that this amounts to knowing
what the form of virtue is. [70a-72d]
He identifies justice and moderation as the pre-eminent characteristics
of virtue. [72e-74a]
A geometric analogy is then pursued. [74b-76a]
And then the nature of colour is discussed. [76b-76d]
The question of the basic nature of virtue
is then returned to. [76e-80d]
"Do you not think, my good man, that all men desire
good things?" [77c]
"It is clear then, that those who do not know things
to be bad do not desire what is bad, but they desire those things that
they believe to be good but are in fact bad. It follows that those who
have no knowledge of these things and believe them to be good clearly desire
good things." [77e]
Socrates insists that he really is ignorant, and
not just claiming to think so:
"Now if the torpedo fish is itself numb and so makes
others numb, then I resemble it, but not otherwise; for I myself do not
have the answer when I perplex others, but I am more perplexed than anyone
when I cause perplexity in others. So now, I do not know what virtue is;
perhaps you knew before you contacted me, but now you are certainly like
one who does not know." [80c]
Meno: Why, on what lines will you look, Socrates,
for a thing of whose nature you know nothing at all? Pray, what sort of
thing, amongst those that you know not, will you treat us to as the object
of your search? Or even supposing, at the best, that you hit upon it, how
will you know it is the thing you did not know?
Socrates: I understand the point you would
make, Meno. Do you see what a captious argument you are introducing - that,
forsooth, a man cannot inquire either about what he knows or about what
he does not know? For he cannot inquire about what he knows, because he
knows it, and in that case is in no need of inquiry; nor again can he inquire
about what he does not know, since he does not know about what he is to
Meno: Now does it seem to you to be a good
Socrates: It does not.
Meno: Can you explain how not?
Socrates: I can; for I have heard from wise
men and women who told of things divine that -
Meno: What was it they said ?
Socrates: Something true, as I thought, and
Meno: What was it? And who were the speakers?
Socrates: They were certain priests and priestesses
who have studied so as to be able to give a reasoned account of their ministry;
and Pindar also and many another poet of heavenly gifts. As to their words,
they are these: mark now, if you judge them to be true. They say that the
soul of man is immortal, and at one time comes to an end, which is called
dying, and at another is born again, but never perishes. Consequently one
ought to live all one's life in the utmost holiness.
For from whomsoever Persephone
shall accept requital for ancient wrong,
the souls of these she restores
in the ninth year to the upper sun again;
from them arise glorious kings
and men of splendid might and surpassing wisdom,
and for all remaining time
are they called holy heroes amongst mankind.
[Pind. Fr. 133 Bergk]
Socrates: Seeing then that the soul is immortal
and has been born many times, and has beheld all things both in this world
and in the nether realms, she has acquired knowledge of all and everything;
so that it is no wonder that she should be able to recollect all that she
knew before about virtue and other things. For as all nature is akin, and
the soul has learned all things, there is no reason why we should not,
by remembering but one single thing - an act which men call learning -
discover everything else, if we have courage and faint not in the search;
since, it would seem, research and learning are wholly recollection. So
we must not hearken to that captious argument: it would make us idle, and
is pleasing only to the indolent ear, whereas the other makes us energetic
and inquiring. Putting my trust in its truth, I am ready to inquire with
you into the nature of virtue. [80d-81e]
Now follows a memorable mathematical interlude
in which Socrates shows a slave how to construct a square double in area
to any given square. [82b-85c]
This is used as a pretext for arguing that the soul is immortal and that
all learning is a form of rediscovery (or recollection)
of what one had previously known intuitively or by implication (in a life
prior to one's physiological conception). [85d-86c]
This epistemological theory is further discussed in Phaedo.
Socrates argues in this dialogue also that all virtue
is a kind of knowledge. This ethical theory is further discussed in
"I do not insist that my argument is right in all
other respects, but I would contend at all costs both in word and deed
as far as I could that we will be better - braver and less idle - if we
believe that one must search for the things that one does not know, rather
than if we believe that it is not possible to find out what we do not know
and that we must not look for it." [86b-c]
The dialogue once more resumes the task of determining whether virtue is
The question of whether virtue is a kind of knowledge is discussed.
"If then virtue
is something in the soul and it must be beneficial; it must be knowledge,
since all the qualities of the soul are in themselves neither beneficial
nor harmful, but accompanied by wisdom or folly they become beneficial
or harmful. This argument shows that virtue, being beneficial, must be
a kind of wisdom." [88d]
Socrates then casts doubt on his own conclusion. He argues that if virtue
was teachable, there would exist teachers of virtue. However, the sophists
- who claim this role - are manifestly defective at it. Moreover, there
is no track record of virtuous fathers producing virtuous sons. [88e-96c]
Socrates then argues that virtue must be divinely inspired true opinion.
This is because true opinion is just as beneficial as knowledge, just more
It is arguable that true opinion cannot be taught - because it has no rationale
to back it up. This would explain why neither sophists nor virtuous men
succeed at teaching it. Hence Socrates' hypothesis answers all the experiential
opinion is in no way a worse guide to correct action than knowledge."[97c]
"True opinions, as long as they remain, are a fine
thing and all that they do is good, but they are not willing to remain
long, and they escape from a man's mind, so that they are not worth much
until one ties them down by an account of the reason why. And that, Meno
my friend, is recollection, as we have previously agreed. After they are
tied down, in the first place they become knowledge, and then they remain
in place." [98a]
In this dialogue, Socrates discusses with a beautiful youth (Plato's maternal
uncle) the nature of temperance and modesty.
In this dialogue, Socrates discusses with two generals the nature of manliness
This dialogue deals with the basis on which anything may be said to be
of value or be beautiful, noble, admirable or excellent. It is not not
generally agreed by scholars that Plato is the author of this dialogue.
In this dialogue the question as to whether it is better to act wrongly
through ignorance or through wilfulness. This corresponds to a modern discussion
of culpability and blame.
This is a brief discussion of poetics and "inspiration".
This is a reconsideration of the character of the Ideal State, as first
attempted in Republic, but with more regard to
practicalities. It consists of twelve "books", each as large as a typical
dialogue. In Laws Plato adopts an even more anti-erotic stance than he
had taken in Republic. He appears to disvalue love, regrets
the facts of marriage and family, seems to state that homo-gender sexual
activity is "contrary to nature".
He insists that the only purpose of
sex is procreation, and from this concludes that barren marriages should
be dissolved. He furthermore argues that procreation should be organized
on a eugenic basis by the government with the sole objective of providing
soldiers and other functionaries of the State.
I started reading this book with relatively low expectations, but became
more and more enthused as I persevered. It is far from clear how seriously
Plato intends some of the statements of the protagonist "The Athenian"
to be taken. He continually hints by use of words and phrases such as "seems"
that what "The Athenian" asserts is by no means the last word. On a number
of occasions, Plato outlines doctrines that anticipate Catholic Dogma.
Plato's vision for education, friendship, play and religion merit careful
consideration. As I continued with my reading, I felt less and less willing
to summarize Plato's words and found myself simply wanting to quote key
The purpose of Law is discussed. It is decided that it is the well ordering
of the State in time of peace. The Spartan constitution is held up as a
Both male and female homosexuality
seem to be condemned as "un-natural crimes of
the first rank."[636c] See also Book
The problem of drunkenness and the proper regulation of access to alcohol
is discussed at length.
Education is described as
"a training which produces a keen desire to become
a perfect citizen who knows how to rule and be ruled as justice demands."
The apparently innocuous subject of drinking parties is further discussed.
This passes on to the proper judgement of works of art and musical or dramatic
performances, and how such should be regulated.
Plato then returns to the argument that he earlier made in Republic
that the unjust man can never in any way be truly happy.
The origin and purpose of constitutional laws is discussed. The history
of Troy, Greece and Persia is reviewed for examples.
The Persians are condemned for a too authoritarian
rule which "destroyed all friendship
and community spirit in the state." [697d]
It is concluded that a certain moderation between the excesses of authoritarianism
and libertarianism is characteristic of the ideal state.
Now the business of applying abstract principles to the constitution of
a supposed real state is commenced.
It is stated that the only justification of law is the establishment of
It is argued that it is easiest to establish a just state if the process
is under the control of a benevolent dictator. [710e]
True justice is contrasted with the theory "Might is Right" [714b-d]
used to bolster any political establishment.
The virtue of moderation
is then explored and extolled. [711e-719e] A
Christ-like figure is described. [711e] The
moderate man is called "God's
"In our view, it is God who is pre-eminently the
'measure of all things,' much more than any 'man,' as they say..... on
this principle the moderate man is God's friend, being like Him, whereas
the immoderate and unjust man is not like Him, and is His enemy." [716d]
The pointlessness of piety divorced from justice is insisted upon, while
the virtue of a piety based on justice is extolled. [716e-717e]
The first specific law to be proposed is one forcing
all men to marry by the age of thirty-five or suffer financial penalty.
"Mankind is immortal because it always leaves later
generations behind to preserve its unity and identity for all time: it
gets its share of immortality by means of procreation. It is never a holy
thing voluntarily to deny oneself this prize, and he who neglects to take
a wife and have children does precisely that." [721c]
A prologue to the Corpus of Law is now declaimed. It extols the soul,
 its honour [728c]and
its well-being as the prime concern of any (wo)man.
"Truth heads the
list of all things good." [730c]
It is argued that
"every unjust man is unjust against his will. No
man on earth would ever deliberately embrace any of the supreme evils."
"the excessive love of self is in reality the source
in each man of all offences; for the lover is blinded about the beloved,
so that he judges wrongly of the just, the good, and the honourable, and
thinks that he ought always to prefer himself to the truth." [731e]
The danger of conceit is stressed:
"Anyone with aspirations to greatness must admire,
not himself .... but acts of justice," [732a]
man should steer clear of extreme self love." [732b]
The Platonic virtues of Wisdom,
Self-control and Courage are praised [733e]
and it is argued that they lead to a pleasant and good life characterized
by moderate pleasures and minimal suffering. 
Next, the process of setting up the ideal state is described. This should
begin with a purge of "undesirable elements", who should be sent off to
form a colony of their own. [735b-c]
The excellence of a communist
style economy, where all property - including wives and children - is held
in common is extolled; [739c] but this model
is, with regret, dismissed as unachievable. A second best, where extreme
poverty and riches are forbidden is next described. [739d-744b]
"The whole point of our legislation was to allow
the citizens to live supremely happy lives in the
greatest possible mutual friendship." [743d]
The manner of appointing senior state officials is next described. [751-756e]
Next the concept of "equality" is discussed.
Mathematical equality is contrasted with social and political equality
and the second discounted as dangerous and irrational. The practice of
conferring high recognition and responsibility on those persons of great
virtue and passing over the mass of the population as of lesser account
is commended.  In all things justice
must be the guiding principle, [757c] as moderated
by compassion and toleration. [757d]
The lower ranks of administrators are next described. [758-768]
The necessity of educating those charged with administering the laws into
the frame of mind required for adding to the original framework is then
addressed. The following "mission Statement" is proposed for them to adhere
aim in life should be goodness and the spiritual virtue appropriate
to mankind.... Rather than have the state .... be ruled by unworthy hands,
it may be absolutely necessary to allow it to be destroyed
.... rather than permit a change to the sort
of political system which will make men worse." [770d-e]
The three basic appetites of
mankind: for food, drink and sex are identified.
"Give a man a correct education and these instincts
will lead him to virtue, but educate him badly and he'll end up at the
other extreme." [782e]
These instincts must be directed towards the supreme good, and kept in
check by: fear, law and persuasion. [783b]
The regulation of marriage is next discussed. [783d-785]
Because the purpose of marriage and sex is procreation,
"if a couple remain childless .... they should part
and .... decide terms of divorce ...." [784b]
Education is now considered.
an education is to qualify as 'correct', it simply must show that it is
capable of making our souls and bodies as fine and as handsome as they
can be." [788c]
An unrealistic goal of universal ambidexterity is proposed. [774d-795d]
The virtue of continuity and social stability is extolled [797d-778e]
except in something evil, is extremely dangerous."
[797d] and the offices of religion should be called upon to inculcate
a respect for tradition. [799a,b]
The amazing statement then follows:
"all men of good will should put God at the centre
of their thoughts....
.... has been created as a toy for God ... this is the great
point in his favour. So every man and woman should play this part
and order their whole life accordingly.... What, then, will be the right
way to live?...
is .... the most important activity of all.
man should spend his whole life at play - sacrificing, singing,
dancing - so that he can win the favour of the gods ....
species is not worthless, but something rather important!"
"Education must be compulsory, 'for every man and
boy', because they belong to the state first and their parents second."
[804d] "so far as possible .... the
female sex should be on the same footing as the male." [805d]
To avoid indolence,
"every gentleman must have a timetable prescribing
what he is to do every minute of his life." [807e]
The contents of the curriculum are next discussed. [809e-822c]
book then concludes with a brief discussion of hunting. [822d-824]
The religious calendar,  arrangements
for regular military manoeuvres [829-830]
and athletic competitions [831-834] are next
The discussion next turns to the
regulation of sexual activity. It is remarked that the forbearance of Crete
and Sparta towards homosexuality is "totally opposed" to the present train
of thought. The option of following "nature's rule" [836c]
that forbids homosexual activity is now considered.
"Suppose you follow nature's rule.... You'd argue
that one may have sexual intercourse with a woman but not with men or boys.
As evidence for your view, you'd point to the animal world, where (you'd
argue) the males do not have sexual relations with each other, because
such a thing is unnatural. But in Crete or Sparta your argument would not
go down well.... However another argument is that such practices are incompatible
with [virtue].... Will the spirit of courage spring to life in the sould
of the seduced person? Will the soul of the seducer learn habits of self-control?....
Everyone will cesure the weakling who yields to temptation, and condemn
his all-too-effeminate partner who plays the role of the woman."[836c-e]
It is argued that sexual activity (characterized as "seduction") is of
itself contrary to the virtue of self-control [836d]
(but the principle is then only applied to male-male sexual activity).
The discussion then turns to an
analysis of friendship.
"When two people are virtuous and alike, or when
they are equals, we say that one is a friend of the other; but we also
speak of the poor man's friendship for the man who has grown rich, even
though they are poles apart. In either case, when the friendship is particularly
ardent, we call it love." [837a] "And
a violent and stormy friendship it is when a man is attracted to someone
widely different to himself, and only seldom do we see it reciprocated."
A contrast is then set up between a spiritual love of friendship based
on "a mature and genuine desire of soul for soul"
and a carnal lust "which shows no consideration for
the beloved's character and disposition." [837c]
reasons that are unclear, this analysis is only applied to the relationships
between males. I can only presume that this is because Plato considers
that the sole legitimate motive for sexual activity between males and females
is procreation [838d] and that sexual activity
between females never occurs.
A discussion of the effectiveness of feelings of shame [838c],
adverse public opinion [838d & 839c], religious
taboo [839c & 841c] and athletic training
in constraining socially unwanted sexual activity (in particular male-male
intercourse, masturbation and sexual intercourse with an unsuitable woman
The type of law that Plato seems to recommend, he here characterizes as
[839a] and to be understood as opposing
"raging fury of the sexual instinct that so often
leads to adultery." [839a]
"... this law of ours which permits the sexual
act only for its natural purpose, procreation, and forbids not only
relations, in which the human race is deliberately murdered, but also
the sowing of seed on rocks and stone, where it will never take root and
mature into a new individual; and we should also keep away from any femail
'soil' in which we'd be sorry to have the seed develop....The first point
in its favour is that it is a natural law." [838e-839a]
It is then conceded that the standard being proposed is unrealistic and
that a lower one in which heterosexual adultery (alone) is condoned as
long as the husband manages not to be found out! [841e]
The subject of communal eating is then reverted to [842b]and
the question of the regulation of agriculture addressed. [842c-846c]
The regulation of crafts and trades is then discussed. [866d-850a]
Finally, the treatment and arrangements for the naturalization of resident
aliens is discussed. [850b-c]
The discussion now turns to the regulation of legal proceedings and the
penalties to be imposed for various crimes.
"The mere idea that a state of this kind could give
rise to a man affected by the worst forms of wickedness found in other
countries.... is in a way a disgrace... we have to lay down laws against
these people.... when they appear, on the assumption that they will certainly
do so.... we
are not framing laws for heroes and sons of gods.... but we are human beings,
legislating in the world today for the children of humankind, and we shall
give no offence by our fear that one of our citizens will turn out to....
resist softening; powerful as our laws are, they may not be able to tame
such people...." [853c-d]
A form of the doctrine of original
sin is outlined
"this evil influence .... comes from a source ....
innate in mankind as a result of crimes of long ago that remain unexpiated
.... you should take precautions against it .... seek the rites that free
a man from guilt .... seek the company of men who [are] virtuous .... run
from the company of the wicked .... if by doing so, you find that your
disease abates somewhat, well and good; if not then you should look on
death as the preferable alternative." [854b]
The platonic doctrine of punishment is then asserted
penalty imposed by [our] law has an evil purpose, but generally achieves
one of two effects: it makes the person who pays the penalty either more
virtuous or less wicked." [854d]
The necessity of explaining and justifying law is insisted upon
"Should the regulations appear in the light of a
loving and prudent father and mother? Or should they act the tyrant and
despot, posting their orders and threats on walls and leaving it at that?"
The relationship between "good" and "just" is than explored, leading to
the notion that involuntary evils are not culpable acts of injustice at
".... the unjust man is doubtless wicked; but the
wicked man is in that state only against his will .... to suppose that
a voluntary act is performed involuntarily makes no sense .... I allow
one acts unjustly except against his will" [860e]"....
no one should describe all these injuries as acts of injustice .... if
someone hurts someone else involuntarily .... I shall refuse to put down
such an injury under the heading of 'injustice' at all"
[862a] ".... when atonement has been made
by compensation [the legislator] must try by his laws to make the criminal
and the victim .... friends instead of enemies."
[862c] "... the
law will combine instruction and constraint, so that in the future the
criminal will never again dare to commit such a crime voluntarily, or he
will do it a very great deal less often .... we may use absolutely any
means to make him hate injustice and embrace true justice - or at any rate
not hate it. But suppose that the lawgiver finds a man who is beyond cure
.... he will recognize that the best thing for all such people is to cease
to live - best even for themselves .... this is why the lawgiver
should prescribe the death penalty
in such cases - but in no other case whatever." [862d-863a]
Ignorance is proposed as the cause of wrongdoing [863c]
".... no matter how states or individuals think that
they can achieve the good, it is a
conception of what the good is that should govern every man and hold sway
in his soul, even if he is a little mistaken." [864a]
The categories of murder and manslaughter, and their punishment, are then
"Vengeance is exacted for these crimes in the after-life,
and when a man returns to this world again he is ineluctably obliged to
pay the penalty prescribed by the law of nature - to undergo the same treatment
as he himself meted out to his victim, and to conclude his earthly existence
by encountering a similar fate at the hands of someone else." [870e]
The fundamental rationale of all legislation is then stated
"the proper object of true political skill is not
the interest of private individuals but the common good.... then the individual
and the community alike are benefited." [875b]
if ever, by the grace of God, some natural
genius were born, and had the chance to assume [the rule of the state]
he would have no need of laws to control him. Knowledge is unsurpassed
by any law or regulation; reason, if it is genuine and really enjoys its
natural freedom, should have universal power .... but as it is, such a
character is nowhere to be found, except a hint of it here and there. That
is why we need to choose the second alternative: law and regulation...."
The categories of physical assault and bodily harm, and their punishment
are then delineated [875d-882c]
"Some laws. it seems, are made for the benefit of
honest men, to teach them the rules of association that have to be observed
if they are to live in friendship;
others are made for those who refuse to be instructed and whose naturally
tough natures have not been softened enough to stop them turning to absolute
"Death, however, is not an extreme and final penalty;
the sufferings said to be in store ... in the world to come are much more
extreme than that. But although the threat of these sufferings is no idle
one, it has no deterrent affect at all on souls like these." [881a]
The categories of theft, vandalism and sacrilege are next discussed. [844-845b]
This quickly develops into a discussion of the basis of theism. [845c
"It's vital that somehow or other we should make
out a plausible case for supposing that gods
do exist, that they are good, and that they respect justice more than men
It is argued that whatever changes must be dependent upon what changes
it; so while matter must be dependent upon "soul", "soul" need not be dependent
upon matter. Hence, the origin of the material Cosmos must be looked for
in terms of "soul", and this "soul" is what mankind calls God or the gods.
"when we find one thing producing a change in another
.... will there ever be in such a sequence, an
original cause of change? How could anything whose motion is transmitted
to it from something else be the first thing to effect an alteration? .....
entire sequence of their movements must surely spring from some initial
principle; which can hardly be anything except the change effected by self-generated
It is proposed that "the entity which we call soul
is precisely that which is defined by the expression 'self generating motion'"
[896a], and also that the soul has
"All things that contain soul change,
of their change lying within themselves, and as they change they move
according to the ordinance and law of destiny." [904c]
It is then argued - from the existence of both moral and physical evil
(disorder) - that there must be some sort of demonic agent at work in the
It is vigorously asserted (somewhat at variance with the last deduction!)
that the gods are good and omniscient [899d-904]
and that (wo)men are invariably rewarded and punished according to their
moral behaviour; either in their present life or in a future life after
"And since a soul is allied with different bodies
at different times, and perpetually undergoes all manner of changes, either
self-imposed or produced by some other soul, the divine checkers player
has nothing else to do except promote a soul with a promising character
to a better situation, and relegate one that is deteriorating to an inferior,
as is appropriate in each case, so that they all meet the fate they deserve."
"...he contrived a place for each constituent where
it would most easily and effectively ensure the triumph of virtue and the
defeat of vice throughout the universe.... he has worked out what sort
of position.... should be assigned to a soul to match its changes of character;
but he left it to the individual's acts of will to determine the direction
of these changes" [904b]
It is finally argues that the gods are not susceptible to bribery, but
are absolutely committed to justice and to invariably caring for the best
interests of (wo)mankind. [905d-907b]
The book concludes with a number of specific laws regarding piety.
The deceitful misappropriation and use of goods belonging to others is
next considered, leading on to a discussion of trade and its regulation.
The making of wills is then discussed, [922b-924c]
to do if a man dies intestate, [924d-925d]
and what provisions should be made for orphans. [925e-930e]
The importance of caring for aged parents is then asserted. [930e-932d]
Laws relating to bodily harm due to poison or magic charms, short of death,
are then proposed. [932e-933e]
Laws relating to defamation are next proposed. [934e-936b]
Finally the regulation of the practice of Law itself is discussed. [934e-938c]
The practice of dishonestly pleading suits contrary to a knowledge of what
is true is condemned in the strongest terms. [937e-938c]
Laws relating to diplomats and theft of public property are next proposed,
followed by laws relating to military service. [942b-945b]
The discussion then turns to the way in which the most senior magistrates:
"the Scrutineers" should be chosen and should conduct themselves. [945b-948b]
Then the conduct of trials is discussed, including the standing of surety.
".... the presiding officials at a trial are not
to give a man a hearing if he tries to win belief by swearing oaths ....
but only if he states his lawful claims, and listens to those of the other
side with decency and decorum." [949b]
As an interlude, the conduct of diplomatic relations with foreign states
is discussed. [949e-953e]
Next the conduct of funerals and burials is discussed. [958d-960b]
"We should trust .... especially the doctrine that the
soul has an absolute superiority over the body, and that while I am alive
I have nothing to thank for my individuality except my soul." [959a]
"Our real self - our immortal soul, as it is called
- departs.... to the gods below to give an account of itself." [959b]
Finally, the constitution of the highest Council of State, the "Guardians
of the Laws" is debated. [960c-969d] To this
end the question of the fundamental nature of virtue is raised, but not
adequately answered. It is asserted that the regularity of the behaviour
of the heavenly bodies (i.e. stars and planets) demonstrates the working
of "reason" rather than "necessity" [966e-968b] however
the difference between the two is not elucidated.
The book ends rather abruptly, with the thought that the exact way
in which the "Guardians" should be educated and conduct their business
would best be left to be determined on the basis of practical experience.
The definite impression is given that this book was "under construction"
when Plato died, and there is ancient testimony to this effect.
The spurious text "Epinomis" - probably authored by the same person who
transcribed "The Laws" from wax tablets to scrolls is an inadequate attempt
to resolve the issues left unanswered here.
This is Plato's attempt at Natural Science.
It is fascinating as outlining the Pythagorean "research program" (later
advanced by Newton and Einstein) based on the idea that fundamentally the
physical and material world is about numbers and geometry. This was
the only work of Plato's that was available to Medieval Western Scholarship
and was central to philosophical debate in that period.
First, Socrates reviews the material covered in Republic, which he presents
as having been delivered the previous day. [17a-20d]
Then Critias responds by telling a story about Solon's visit to
He mentions the flood. [22b]
Also a terrible scorching. [22c-d]
Also the fact that the flood was one of a sequence.
He says that representatives of the human race escapes extinction only
by good fortune and by being in the right place at the right time.
The ancient laws of Egypt are then compared with those of Athens and found
to be similar, as both being inspired by the goddess Athene.
The kingdom of Atlantis is mentioned,
and a great conflict between Athens and Atlantis is described, which ended
in Atlantis sinking beneath the waves. [24e-25d]
launches into a protracted monologue about Natural
He first destinguished between necessary being and contingent being.
"Everything that comes to be must - of necessity
- come to be by the agency of some cause; for it is impossible for anything
to come to be without a cause." [28a]
He askes whether the Comos is eternal or had some beginning in time. He
asserts that though it is changeable, it is modelled on that which is unchanging,
and it is this that makes it intelligible. [28c-29d]
"It is a work of craft, modelled after that which
is changeless and is grasped by a rational account, that is by wisdom."
"Keeping in mind that
both I, the speaker, and you, the judges are only human. So we should accept
the likely tale on these matters. It behoves us not to look for anything
beyond this." [29c-d]
He says that God's motive for creating was to make all things good by bringing
order out of disorder. [29e-30c]
"It wasn't permitted.... that one who is supremely
good should do anything but what is best. Accordingly, the god.... put
intelligence in soul, and soul in body.... he wanted to produce a piece
of work that would be as excellent and supreme as its nature would allow."
He says that the Cosmos as a whole is a living organism.
He asks if there is only one Cosmos, or many and concludes that there can
only be one. [30d-31b]
He argues that the Comos both had to be three-dimensional and be composed
of four elements. [31c-32d]
He claims that the Cosmos is spherical, [33b-d] and
spinning on an axis [33e-34b] and is possessed
of a soul. [34b-35c]
He describes the construction of the Soul of the Cosmos in some mathematical
detail, claiming that it is constructed from "sameness" and "difference"
in precise proportions and pattern. [35d-36d] The
motions of "the same" and "the different" are supposed to explain the motion
of the stars and the planets. [36c-d] The
influence of "the same" and "the different" on the human mind is supposed
to give rise to understanding, knowledge and true belief.
He describes the creation of time as a context for the Cosmos to exist
"When the Father who had begotten the universe observed
it set in motion and alive.... he was well pleased, and in his delight....
he set himself to bringing this universe to completion.... so he began
to think of making a moving image of eternity.... an eternal image, moving
according to number, of eternity remaining in unity. This number, of course,
is what we now call 'time'." [37c-d]
The motion of the planets, moon and Sun is next described.
He then describes the creation and role of the gods, which he identifies
with the planets. [39e-40d] He mentions other
spiritual beings - the daimones [40d] and gives an account of the "family
tree" of the gods. [40e-41a]
God is then said to have addressed the gods enjoining them to make and
care for mortals. [41b-d, 42d-e] He himself,
however, created the souls of mortal men, assigning each one to a particular
heavenly star. [41d]
He then decreed that those who lived just lives would immediately on their
death be united with their star and live an eternal life of happiness there,
but those who lived unjustly would be reincarneted as a lesser mortal -
a women or wild animal. [41e-42d]
The first period of mortal life is next described, when the soul is confused
by the buffetings of unfamiliar sense perception and has yet to develop
any understanding of the world in which it exists.
He then attempts to offer justification for the human form and anatomy,
and especially the eyes. [44d-47e]
He then turns his attention to necessary being. [48a-55c
He proposes the idea of "the receptacle" [49a] -
which is pure potentiality, [50c-51b] and
is later identified with space. [52b-d]
"Space.... exists always and cannot be destroyed.
It provides a fixed state for all things that come to be. It is itself
apprehended by a kind of bastard reasoning that does not involve sense
perception, and it is hardly even an object of conviction. We look at it
as in a dream when we say that everything that exists must be somewhere,
in some place and occupying some space; and that which doesn't exist somewhere
- whether on earth or in heaven - doesn't exist at all."
"There are being, space and becoming; three distinct
things which existed even before the universe came to be."
He discusses the four elements, [49b-49c] with
a digression into the right and wrong use of "this" and "that" with respect
to imperminent physical phenomena. [49d-50a]
He then discusses the theory of forms. [51c-61b]
"It is through instruction that we come to have understanding,
and through persuasion that we come to have true belief..... Of true belief,
it must be said, all men have a share, but of understanding, only the gods
and a small group of people do." [51e]
He further addresses the properties of the
four elements. [52e-56b] He relates them to
geometry, [54c-56b] in doing so delineating
the set of "Platonic Solids." [54e-55c]
He then outlines the Atomic
Theory of matter. [56c-57d]
"It is difficult - or rather impossible - for something
to be moved without something to set it in motion, or something to set
a thing in motion without something to be moved by it."
He attempts to use this to explain the processes of chemical and physical
change. [58a-61b] This account is the foundation
of the pseudo-science of Alchemy.
He next discusses the sensory properties of the four elements. [61e-68d]
He then distinguishes between necessary causes and the divine cause.
[68e-69a] Necessary causes are matters of inescapable logic and
self-consistency. The divine cause is the purpose of God's action. Necessary
causes both constrain and enable the divine cause; as the skeleton constrains
and enables the body.
He says that the immortal spiritual soul is contained within the head and
that a sepparate mortal soul - the seat of the passions and appetites -
is contained (in two parts) within the chest and abdomen.
"[The gods] imitated [the Creator]: having taken
the immortal origin of the soul, they.... gave it the entire body as its
vehicle. and within the body they built another kind of soul as well; the
mortal kind....they scrupled to stain the divine soul only to the extent
that this was absolutely necessary.... In this way the best part among
them all can be left in charge. [69c-70b]
In passing, he describes the role of the heart as a pump to circulate he
He then says that the lungs form a type of cooling or air-conditioning
system for the body. [70c-d]
He describes the liver as a means of controlling the most base instincts
and appetites. [70e-72d]
"Our account is surely at least a 'likely' one."
He continues to describe the human anatomy. [72e-80c]
In a brief interlude he discusses plants. [77a-77c]
He then discusses senility, death, [80d-e] disease
[82a-86a] and mental disorder. [86b-87b]
He then says that to remain healthy, what is required is due proportion.
Hence a balence between mental and physical exercise is necessary.
He concludes by discussing human reproduction [90e-d]
- very briefly - the animal kingdom.
This is Plato's attempt at a Cosmology. It
is famous for containing the myth
of Atlantis [108e,113c]].
This is an ironic study of valid and invalid methods of argument in philosophy.
This is Plato's attempt at an oration in praise of Athens and those who
have died in her defence.
A dreary discussion of the origin, correctness and significance of the
names of various things.