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
"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
Republic and Laws.
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
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 philosophy." [66d]
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."
"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."
"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
He then argues that life must come from death and so reincarnation
must be true and so there must be life after death.
He then intimates an elementary understanding of the second
law of thermodynamics - but rejects it as somehow absurd.
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." [78b]
He argues that the soul is not composite and therefore cannot
"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."
"Is it not natural for the body to
dissolve easily and for the soul to be altogether indissoluble, or nearly
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
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!" [90b-c]
"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."
"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."
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?"
"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.'" [94d]
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." [97c]
"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
"Imagine not being able to distinguish
the real cause from 'that without which the cause would not be able to
act as a cause'." [99b]
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."
He concludes that the soul is necessarily immortal.
He then tells a myth about what happens to the soul after
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."
Socrates then takes his leave of his friends,
has 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,
"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. [144b-d]
Socrates suggests that the question "what is knowledge" should
be investigated. [144e-146c]
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]
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 to allay.....
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."
"knowledge 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 subjective. [153e-157c]
Timaeus expresses confusion and even doubt that Socrates
is being serious.
Socrates 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]
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]
my 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. [161c-164b]
"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.
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'."
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]
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." [174b]
"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
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.
He 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
and 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.
"knowledge is true judgement."
"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
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.
He 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]
agrees and then suggests that "knowledge - episteme
- is true judgement - orthodoxy - with an account - logos." [201d]
Socrates welcomes this idea and expands on it.
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."
"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."
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 meaning. [208b]
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".
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.
"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." [210c-d]
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."
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. [318b]
"exactly how will he go away a better
man, and in what will he make progress each and every day he spends with
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."
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 to humans",
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." [323e-324a]
"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."
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.
He concludes by restating his claim to have the ability to
teach virtue. [329a-d]
Socrates expresses his immense gratitude to Protagoras.
He intimates that he has one small difficulty.
"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."
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?" [330b]
"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 disagreement." [331d-e]
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." [334b]
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 [337a-c]
"A good opinion is guilelessly inherent
in the souls of the listeners, but praise is all too often merely a deceitful
verbal expression." [337b]
and Hippias [337c-338b]
"Like is akin to like by nature, but
convention - which tyranizes the human race - often constrains us contrary
Protagoras reluctantly agrees to continue the debate on
Socrates' terms. [338b-e]
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.
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
"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,
and reluctantly Protagoras agrees.
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 this." [348e]
He then invites Protagoras to review what he had said earlier
about the virtues. [349a-d]
"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."
But Protagoras points out that:
"If I was asked if the confident are
courageous.... I would have said, not all af them."
Socrates then asks
"Just insofar as things are pleasurable,
are they not good? I am asking whether pleasure itself is not a good?"
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?"
"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 ignorance." [357d-e]
All the sophists present agree with Socrates' conclusion.
"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'
Socrates then goes on to address the question of courage.
"When the courageous fear, their fear
is not disgraceful." [360a]
"Cowardice is ignorance of what is
and is not to be feared." [360c]
"Wisdom about what is and is not to
be feared is courage." [360d]
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.'"
The two philosophers then part on convivial terms. [361d-362a]
This is Plato's poetic masterpiece. It deals with "sex, love
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
"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."
"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
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 their legislators.
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 honourable." [182b-d]
"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." [184c]
"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." [184c-d]
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."
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." [188d]
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 "original sin"].
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 le5bians
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 two... Love
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!
wise, a poet and an accomplished artist.
the producer of animals. [197a]
the teacher of artisans and professionals.
the settler of all the disputes of the gods.
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
beauty and good, which therefore it cannot possess
of itself, [201a-c]
Agathon agrees, and admits
"I didn't know what I was talking about in that speech."
Socrates comforts him by saying again that it was nevertheless
a beautiful speech. [201c]
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
"messengers 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."
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 wisdom...." [204b]
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
"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 them. [208c]
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.
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." [211c-d]
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. [212c-215a]
"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
I 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.
"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
The doing good to friends and evil to enemies
The advantage of the stronger "Might is Right" [338c-350e].
those 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] and that
".... justice brings friendship and
a sense of common purpose." [351d]
"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]
just 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
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
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
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
Socrates continues his proposals for the constitution of
the ideal state. He
insists upon the control of information and the arts: censorship and propaganda.
He than discusses the kind of myths that should be promoted
in the State
[386a-392c] 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
“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.
“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]
if 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….”
Socrates next briefly considers the regime of physical training.
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?"
He tells a fable designed to inculcate a sense of corporate
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
"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.'" [423e]
"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 affairs etc.
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
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
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 together." [432a]
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],
[442c], 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…."
"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.
[449a] 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
“It is and always will be the finest
saying that the beneficial is beautiful, while the harmful is ugly.”
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.
".... 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
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
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]
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 is and
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 outlook. [492a-497a]
"....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]
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." [496a-e]
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."
Socrates then discusses how one might hope to arrange for
the ideal constitution to be made stable against corrupting influences.
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]
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]
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]
sun 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
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]
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
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
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
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."
Socrates stresses the central importance of mathematics in
a good education.
[521d-527c] Also astronomy
He relates Astronomy to Musical Harmony, on Pythagorean lines.
"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 education. [536c-541b]
"...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 counterparts. [540c]
Socrates describes the different types of civic constitutions
that exist and how each in turn degenerates into the one that typically
succeeds it. [543a-569c]
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
"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 he sprouts." [565d]
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"
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." [576a]
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.
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 truth?"" [586b-586c]
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.
Human 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
"... 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 be. [602b]
".... 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 p0rn0graphy
and contemporary "media culture" which
(for example) uses images of sexual and other forms of self-indulgence
to market commercial products. [605d-608b]
He then presents an argument in favour of the immortality
of the soul,
[608c-611c] 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.
Socrates 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]
Socrates 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
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
"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. [215c-215e]
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." [216c-e]
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'
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?"
"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 friendship.
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
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.
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
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." [232e]
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
Phaedrus then cajoles and bullies [236b-237a]
Socrates into giving a speech of his own on the subject of erotic love.
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
A 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...
will wish for the boy to stay wifeless, childless and homeless for as long
as possible." [238e-240a]
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]
He begins by saying that not all "madness" is bad. [244b-245b]
He then asserts that every soul is immortal and a kind of
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]
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.’ [250b-e]
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
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.
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.
Socrates 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. [262d-e]
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.
"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
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."
Written 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 makes 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.
He says that anyone who writes anything in the belief that
"clear 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]
then offers a prayer:
"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
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."
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.
Socrates asks speeches about what?
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
Gorgias agrees and says that its subject matter is justice.
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
"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
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.
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]
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]
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." [470e]
"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." [472e]
Socrates says that the fact that the majority of mankind
would disagree with him is of no account, for truth does not depend on
is true is never refuted." [473b]
majority 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 do?" [481c]
And Socrates defends himself:
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." [481d]
"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 law. [482c-486c]
"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 [487c-e].
"What is it that you and Pindar hold
to be true of what's
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
"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
"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 hedonism. [491e-492c]
"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]
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." [494b]
Socrates challenges this, arguing that good is not the same
as pleasure: [494c-499]
"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
"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?"
Callicles then concedes that
"some pleasures are better and others
"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.
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."
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." [507e]
He continues to criticize Callicles' outlook:
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
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." [509e]
Socrates ironicaly suggests that the way of avoiding the
effects of injustice is to become unjust oneself.
He then lists various types of expertise that preserve life,
but are not thereby accounted "grand". [511c-512d]
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."
"Each group of people takes delight
in speeches that are given in its own character, and resents those given
in an alien manner." [513c]
"Shouldn't we then attempt to care
for the city and its citizens with the aim of making the citizens themselves
as good as possible?" [513e]
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
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.
Socrates insists that what Callicles approves of is flattery,
not education in virtue, and Callicles reluctantly agrees. [521b]
admits that he does not think that his attitude will protect him from injustice,
quite the opposite.
"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
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."
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]
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]
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 is mentioned:
"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 inquire.
Meno: Now does it seem to you
to be a good argument, Socrates?
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 admirable.
Meno: What was it? And who were
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
the souls of these she restores
in the ninth year to the upper
from them arise glorious kings
and men of splendid might and surpassing
and for all remaining time
are they called holy heroes amongst
[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 teachable. [86d-87b]
The question of whether virtue is a kind of knowledge is
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 fickle. [96d-98a
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 realities. [98b-100b]
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 and courage.
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
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 extracts directly.
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 good example.
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
The apparently innocuous subject of drinking parties is further
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 virtue. [705e]
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.
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
"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.
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 to:
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." [837b]
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, ma5turbation and
sexual intercourse with an unsuitable woman
The type of law that Plato seems to recommend, he here characterizes
and to be understood as opposing the
of the sexual instinct that so often leads to adultery."
"... this law of ours which permits
the sexual act only for its natural purpose, procreation, and forbids
homosexual 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."
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
"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?" [859a]
The relationship between "good" and "just" is than explored,
leading to the notion that involuntary evils are not culpable acts of injustice
".... 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 delineated [865-875d]
"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
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 vice." [880e]
"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
The categories of theft, vandalism and sacrilege are next
This quickly develops into a discussion of the basis of theism.
[845c - 907d]
"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 free-will.
"All things that contain soul change,
cause 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 world. [897c]
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
The deceitful misappropriation and use of goods belonging
to others is next considered, leading on to a discussion of trade and its
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.
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
Laws relating to diplomats and theft of public property are
[941a-942a] 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.
Then the conduct of trials is discussed, including the standing
".... 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."
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 Egypt. [20e-26d]
He mentions the flood.
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.
then launches into a protracted monologue about Natural
He first destinguished between necessary being and contingent
"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."
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.
"It is a work of craft, modelled after
that which is changeless and is grasped by a rational account, that is
by wisdom." [29a]
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
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 within. [37d-38d]
"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'."
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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.
In passing, he describes the role of the heart as a pump
to circulate he blood. [70b]
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'
He continues to describe the human anatomy. [72e-80c]
In a brief interlude he discusses plants.
He then discusses senility, death,
[80d-e] disease [82a-86a] and mental
He then says that to remain healthy, what is required is
due proportion. Hence a balence between mental and physical exercise is
He concludes by discussing human reproduction
and - 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
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.