Plato: The Man and His Work I.

By A. E. Taylor

To All True Lovers of Plato, Quick and Dead,
And in Particular to Professor Constantin Ritter

Vagliami il lungo studio e ’grande amore


I hope two classes of readers may find their account in this book — “Honors students” in our Universities, and readers with philosophical interests, but no great store of Greek scholarship. What both classes most need in a work about Plato is to be told just what Plato has to say about the problems of thought and life, and how he says it. What neither needs is to be told what some contemporary thinks Plato should have said. The sense of the greatest thinker of the ancient world ought not to be trimmed to suit the tastes of a modern neo-Kantian, neo-Hegelian, or neo-realist. Again, to understand Plato’s thought we must see it in the right historical perspective. The standing background of the picture must be the social, political, and economic life of the age of Socrates, or, for the Laws, of the age of Plato. These considerations have determined the form of the present volume. It offers an analysis of the dialogues, not a systematization of their contents under a set of subject-headings. Plato himself hated nothing more than system-making. If he had a system, he has refused to tell us what it was, and if we attempt to force a system on a mind which was always growing, we are sure to end by misrepresentation. This is why I have tried to tell the reader just what Plato says, and made no attempt to force a “system” on the Platonic text.

“Find herein just what Plato has to say about the problems
of thought and life, and how he says it —
not what some contemporary thinks Plato should have said.”

My own comments are intended to supply exegesis, based as closely as may be on Plato’s own words, not to applaud nor to denounce. The result, I hope, is a picture which may claim the merit of historical fidelity. For the same reason I have been unusually careful to determine the date and historical setting assumed for each dialogue. We cannot really understand the Republic or the Gorgias if we forget that the Athens of these conversations is meant to be the Athens of Nicias or Cleon, not the very different Athens of Plato’s own manhood, or if we find polemic against Isocrates, in talk supposed to have passed at a time when Isocrates was a mere boy. If it were not that the remark might sound immodest, I would say that the model I have had before me is Grote’s great work on the Companions of Socrates. Enjoying |viii| neither Grote’s superb scholarship nor his freedom from limitations of space, I have perhaps the compensation of freedom from the prejudices of a party. Whatever bias I may have in metaphysics or in politics, I have tried to keep it out of my treatment of Plato.

I must apologize for some unavoidable omissions. I have been unable to include a chapter on the Academy in the generation after Plato and Aristotle’s criticisms of it; I have had to exclude from consideration the minor dubia and the spuria of the Platonic corpus; I have passed very lightly over much of the biology of the Timaeus. These omissions have been forced on me by the necessity of saying what I have to say in one volume of moderate compass. For the same reason I have had to make my concluding chapter little more than a series of hints. This omission will, I trust, be remedied by the publication of a study, “Forms and Numbers,” which will, in part, appear in Mind simultaneously with the issue of this volume. The details of the Timaeus are fully dealt with in a Commentary now in course of printing at the Clarendon Press. A brief account — better than none — of the transmission of the Platonic tradition will be found in my little book, Platonism and its Influence (1924; Marshall Jones Co., Boston, U.S.A.; British Agents, Harrap & Son).

Want of space has sometimes forced me to state a conclusion without a review of the evidence, but I hope I have usually indicated the quarters where the evidence may be sought. May I say, once for all, that this book is no “compilation”? I have tried to form a judgment on all questions, great and small, for myself, and mention of any work, ancient or modern, means, with the rarest of exceptions, that I have studied it from one end to the other.

There remains the grateful duty of acknowledging obligations. I AM a debtor to many besides those whom I actually quote, and I hope I have not learned least from many whose views I feel bound to reject. In some cases I have echoed a well-known phrase or accepted a well-established result without express and formal acknowledgment. It must be understood that such things are mere consequences of the impossibility of excessive multiplication of footnotes, and that I here, once for all, request any one from whom I may have made such a loan to accept my thanks. The recommendations at the ends of chapters are not meant to be exhaustive nor necessarily to imply agreement with all that is said in the work or chapter recommended. The last thing I should wish is that my readers should see Plato through my spectacles. I wish here to make general mention of obligation to a host of scholars of our own time, such as Professors Apelt, Parmentier, Robin, Dr. |ix| Adolfo Levi, the late Dr. James Adam, and others, besides those whose names recur more frequently in my pages. The immense debt of my own generation to scholars of an earlier date, such as Grote, Zeller, Diels, Baeumker, Bonitz, is too obvious to need more than this simple reference.

To two living scholars I must make very special acknowledgment. How much I owe to the published writings of my friend and colleague in Scotland, Professor Burnet, will be apparent on almost every page of my book; I owe even more to suggestions of every kind received during a personal intercourse of many years. I owe no less to Professor C. Ritter of Tübingen, who has given us, as part of the work of a life devoted to Platonic researches, the best existing commentary on the Laws and the finest existing full-length study of Plato and his philosophy as a whole. One cannot despair of one’s kind when one remembers that such a work was brought to completion in the darkest years Europe has known since 1648. It is a great honor to me that Dr. Ritter has allowed me to associate his name with this poor volume. Finally, I thank the publishers for their kindness in allowing the book to run to such a length.

A. E. Taylor
Edinburgh, July 1926

Note to Second Edition

This Second Edition only differs from the first by the correction of misprints, the addition of one or two references and the modification of a few words in two or three of the footnotes.

A. E. Taylor
Edinburgh, March 1927

Note to Third Edition

Apart from minor corrections and some additions to the references appended to various chapters, this edition only differs from its precursors by the presence of a Chronological Table of Dates and an Appendix, dealing briefly with the dubia and spuria of the Platonic tradition. (I have, for convenience’ sake, included in this a short account of a number of Platonic epistles which I myself believe to be neither dubious nor spurious, but have not had occasion to cite in the body of the book.) I should explain that this essay was substantially written in 1926, though it has been revised since.

I take this opportunity of mentioning the following recent works, to which I should have been glad to give more specific references in the text, had they come into my hands a little sooner. All will be found valuable by the serious student of Plato.

Stenzel, J. Platon der Erzieher. Leipzig, 1928.
Solmsen, F. Der Entwichlung der Aristotelischen Logik und Rhetorik. Berlin, 1929.
Walzer, R. Magna Moralia und Aristotelische Ethik. Berlin, 1929.
Toeplitz, O. Das Verhältnis von Mathematik und Ideenlehre bei Plato,
  in Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik I.
i. Berlin, 1929.
Robin, L. Greek Thought and the Origins of the Scientific Spirit.
  E. Tr. from the revised edition of the author’s La Pensée Grecque. London, 1928.

A. E. Taylor
Edinburgh, July, 1929

Note to the Fourth Edition

I have made few changes in this new edition of the text, though I have been led to rewrite one or two paragraphs in the chapter on the Timaeus by study of Professor Cornford’s valuable commentary on his translation of the dialogue. I have tried to remove misprints and detected errors throughout. Among works important for the student of Plato published since the earlier editions of this book I could mention in particular the following:

Frutiger, P. Les Mythes de Platon. Paris, 1930.
Shorey, P. What Plato Said. Chicago, 1933.
Novotný, F. Platonis Epistulae. Brno, 1930.
Harward, J. The Platonic Epistles. E. Tr. Cambridge, 1932.
Field, G. C. Plato and His Contemporaries. London, 1930.
Cornford, F. M. Plato’s Cosmology, the Timaeus of Plato
  translated with a running commentary.
London, 1937.
Schull, P. M. Essai sur la Formation de la Pensée Grecque. Paris, 1934.

A. E. Taylor

I. The Life of Plato1

Plato, son of Ariston and Perictione, was born in the month Thargelion (May-June) of the first year of the eighty-eighth Olympiad by the reckoning of the scholars of Alexandria, 428-7 B.C. of our own era, and died at the age of eighty or eighty-one in Ol. 108.1 (348-7 B.C.). These dates rest apparently on the authority of the great Alexandrian chronologist Eratosthenes and may be accepted as certain. Plato’s birth thus falls in the fourth year of the Archidamian war, in the year following the death of Pericles, and his death only ten years before the battle of Chaeronea, which finally secured to Philip of Macedon the hegemony of the Hellenic world. His family was, on both sides, one of the most distinguished in the Athens of the Periclean age. On the father’s side the pedigree was traditionally believed to go back to the old kings of Athens, and through them to the god Poseidon. On the mother’s side the descent is equally illustrious and more |2| historically certain, and is incidentally recorded for us by Plato himself in the Timaeus. Perictione was sister of Charmides and cousin of Critias, both prominent figures in the brief “oligarchic” anarchy which followed on the collapse of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian war (404-3 B.C.). The grandfather of this Critias, Plato’s maternal great-grandfather, was another Critias, introduced in the Timaeus, whose own great-grandfather Dropides was a “friend and kinsman” of Solon, the great Attic legislator. The father of this Dropides, also called Dropides, the first member of the house who figures in authentic history, was the archon of the year 644 B.C. Besides Plato himself, Ariston and Perictione had at least three other children. These were two older sons, Adimantus and Glaucon, who appear as young men in Plato’s Republic, and a daughter Potone. Ariston appears to have died in Plato’s childhood; his widow then married her uncle Pyrilampes, whom we know from the allusions of the comic poets to have been a personal intimate of Pericles as well as a prominent supporter of his policy. Pyrilampes was already by a former marriage the father of the handsome Demus, the great “beauty” of the time of the Archidamian war; by Perictione he had a younger son Antiphon who appears in Plato’s Parmenides, where we learn that he had given up philosophy for horses.2

These facts are of considerable importance for the student of Plato’s subsequent career. Nothing is more characteristic of him than his lifelong conviction that it is the imperative duty of the philosopher, whose highest personal happiness would be found in the life of serene contemplation of truth, to make the supreme sacrifice of devoting the best of his manhood to the service of his fellows as a statesman and legislator, if the opportunity offers. Plato was not content to preach this doctrine in the Republic; he practiced it, as we shall see, in his own life. The emphasis he lays on it is largely explained when we remember that from the first he grew up in a family with traditions of Solon and accustomed through several generations to play a prominent part in the public life of the State. Something of Plato’s remarkable insight into the realities of political life must, no doubt, be set down to early upbringing in a household of “public men.” So, too, it is important to remember, though it is too often forgotten, that the most receptive years of Plato’s early life must have been spent in the household of his stepfather, a prominent figure of the Periclean régime. Plato has often been accused of a bias against “democracy.” If he had such a bias, it is not to be accounted for by the influence of early surroundings. He must have been originally indoctrinated with “Periclean” politics; his dislike of them in later life, so far as it |3| is real at all, is best intelligible as a consequence of having been “behind the scenes.” If he really disliked democracy, it was not with the dislike of ignorance but with that of the man who has known too much.

The actual history of Plato’s life up to his sixtieth year is almost a blank. In his own dialogues he makes a practice of silence about himself, only broken once in the Apology, where he names himself as one of the friends who urged Socrates to increase the amount of the fine he proposed on himself from one mina to thirty and offered to give security for the payment, and again in the Phaedo, where he mentions an illness as the explanation of his absence from the death-scene.3 Aristotle adds the one further detail that Plato had been “in his youth familiar with” the Heraclitean Cratylus, though we cannot be absolutely sure that this is more than a conjecture of Aristotle’s own. The later writers of the extant Lives of Plato add some details, but these are mainly of a purely anecdotal kind and not to be implicitly trusted. In any case their scraps of anecdote throw no light on Plato’s life or character and we may safely neglect them here. All we can be sure of, down to Plato’s twenty-sixth year, is that the influence of friendship with Socrates must have been the most potent force in the moulding of his mind. (We may add that if Aristotle’s statement about Cratylus4 really is more than an inference, the Heraclitean doctrine, learned from Cratylus, that the world disclosed to us by our senses is a scene of incessant and incalculable mutability and variation, was one which Plato never forgot. He drew, says Aristotle, the conclusion that since there is genuine science, that of which science treats must be something other than this unresting “flux” of sense-appearances.)

The gossiping Alexandrian biographers represented Plato as “hearing” Socrates at the age of eighteen or twenty. This cannot mean that his first introduction to Socrates took place at that age. We know from Plato himself that Socrates had made the close acquaintance of Plato’s uncle Charmides in the year 431, and was even then familiar with Critias.5 Presumably Plato’s acquaintance with Socrates, then, went back as far as he could remember. The Alexandrian tales will only mean that Plato became a “disciple” of Socrates as soon as he was an ἔφηβος or “adolescent,” a period of life currently reckoned as beginning at eighteen and ending at twenty. Even with this explanation the story is probably not accurate. Both Plato and Isocrates, his older contemporary, emphatically deny that Socrates ever had any actual “disciples” whom he “instructed,” and Plato himself, in a letter written nearly at the end of his life, puts the matter in a truer light. He tells us there that at the time of the “oligarchical” usurpation of 404-3, being still a very young man, he was looking forward to a political career and was urged by relatives who were among the revolutionaries (no doubt, Critias and Charmides) to enter public life |4| under their auspices, but waited to see first what their policy would be. He was horrified to find that they soon showed signs of lawless violence, and finally disgusted when they attempted to make his “elderly friend Socrates” the best man of his time, an accomplice in the illegal arrest and execution of a fellow-citizen whose property they intended to confiscate. The leaders of restored democracy did worse, for they actually put Socrates to death on an absurd charge of impiety. This, Plato says, put an end to his own political aspirations. For in politics nothing can be achieved without a party, and the treatment of Socrates by both the Athenian factions proved that there was no party at Athens with whom an honorable man could work. The suggestion clearly made here is that Plato did not regard Socrates as, properly speaking, a master. He loved him personally as a young man loves a revered elder friend, and he thought of him as a martyr. But it was not until the actual execution of Socrates opened his eyes once for all that he gave up his original intention of taking up active political life as his career. His original aspirations had been those of the social and legislative reformer, not those of the thinker or man of science.6

Hermodorus,7 an original member of Plato’s Academy, stated that for the moment the friends of Socrates felt themselves in danger just after his death, and that Plato in particular, with others, withdrew for a while to the neighboring city of Megara under the protection of Euclides of that city, a philosopher who was among the foreign friends present at the death of Socrates and combined certain Socratic tenets with the Eleaticism of Parmenides. This temporary concentration at Megara presumably would only last until the feelings aroused in connexion with the cause célèbre had had time to blow over. The biographers narrate that it was followed by some years of travel to Cyrene, Italy, and Egypt, and that the Academy was then founded on Plato’s return to Athens. How much of this story — none of it rests, like the mention of the sojourn in Megara, on the evidence of Hermodorus — may be true, is very doubtful Plato himself, in the letter already alluded to, merely says that he visited Italy and Sicily at the age of forty and was repelled by the sensual luxury of the life led there by the well-to-do. His language on the whole implies that most of the time between this journey and the death of Socrates had been spent at Athens, watching the public conduct of the city and drawing the conclusion that good government can only be expected when “either true and genuine philosophers find their way to political authority or powerful politicians by the favour of Providence take to true philosophy.” He says nothing of travels in Africa or Egypt, though some of the observations made in the Laws about the art and music, the arithmetic and the games of the Egyptian children have the appearance of being first-hand. The one fateful result of Plato’s “travels,” in any case, is that he won the whole-hearted devotion of a young man of ability and |5| promise, Dion, son-in-law of the reigning “tyrant” of Syracuse, Dionysius I.8

The founding of the Academy is the turning-point in Plato’s life, and in some ways the most memorable event in the history of Western European science. For Plato it meant that, after long waiting, he had found his true work in life. He was henceforth to be the first president of a permanent institution for the prosecution of science by original research. In one way the career was not a wholly unprecedented one. Plato’s rather older contemporary Isocrates presided in the same way over an establishment for higher education, and it is likely that his school was rather the older of the two. The novel thing about the Platonic Academy was that it was an institution for the prosecution of scientific study. Isocrates, like Plato, believed in training young men for public life. But unlike Plato he held the opinion of the “man in the street” about the uselessness of science. It was his boast that the education he had to offer was not founded on hard and abstract science with no visible humanistic interest about it; he professed to teach “opinions,” as we should say, to provide the ambitious aspirant to public life with “points of view” and to train him to express his “point of view” with the maximum of polish and persuasiveness. This is just the aim of “journalism” in its best forms, and Isocrates is the spiritual father of all the “essayists” from his own day to ours, who practice the agreeable and sometimes beneficial art of saying nothing, or saying the commonplace, in a perfect style. He would be the “Greek Addison” but for the fact that personally he was a man of real discernment in political matters and, unlike Addison, really had something to say. But it is needless to remark that an education in humanistic commonplace has never really proved the right kind of training to turn out great men of action. Plato’s rival scheme meant the practical application to education of the conviction which had become permanent with him that the hope of the world depends on the union of political power and genuine science. This is why the pure mathematics — the one department of sheer hard thinking which had attained any serious development in the fourth century B.C. — formed the backbone of the curriculum, and why in the latter part of the century the two types of men who were successfully turned out in the Academy were original mathematicians and skilled legislators and administrators, |6| a point on which we shall have a word or two to say in the sequel. It is this, too, which makes the Academy the direct progenitor of the medieval and modern university: a university which aims at supplying the State with legislators and administrators whose intellects have been developed in the first instance by the disinterested pursuit of truth for its own sake is still undertaking, under changed conditions, the very task Plato describes as the education of the “philosopher king.” The immediate and perceptible outward sign of the new order of things in the Greek world is that whereas in the age of Plato’s birth aspiring young Athenians had to depend for their “higher education” on the lectures of a peripatetic foreign “sophist” in the Athens of fifty years later aspiring young men from all quarters flocked to Athens to learn from Isocrates or Plato or both. The traveling lecturer was replaced by the university or college with a fixed domicile and a constitution.

Unfortunately the exact date of the foundation of the Academy is unknown. From the obvious connexion between its programme and the conviction Plato speaks of having definitely reached at the time when he visited Italy and Sicily at the age of forty, we should naturally suppose that the foundation took place about this time (388-7 B.C.); and it is easier to suppose that the visit to Sicily preceded it, as the later biographical statements assume, than that it followed directly on its inception. If there is any truth in the statement that the real object of Plato’s journey was to visit the Pythagoreans, who were beginning to be formed into a school again under Archytas of Tarentum, we may suppose that it was precisely the purpose of founding the Academy which led Plato just at this juncture to the very quarter where he might expect to pick up useful hints and suggestions for his guidance; but this can be no more than a conjecture.

We have to think of Plato for the next twenty years as mainly occupied with the onerous work of organizing and maintaining his school. “Lecturing” would be part of this work, and we know from Aristotle that Plato did actually “lecture” without a manuscript at a much later date. But the delivery of these lectures would be only a small part of the work to be done. It was one of Plato’s firmest convictions that nothing really worth knowing can be learned by merely listening to “instruction”; the only true method of “learning” science is that of being actually engaged, in company with a more advanced mind, in the discovery of scientific truth.9 Very little in the way of actual “new theorems” is ascribed to Plato by the later writers on the history of mathematical science, but the men trained in his school or closely associated with it made all the great advances achieved in the interval between the downfall of the original Pythagorean order about the middle of the fifth century and the rise of the specialist schools of Alexandria in the |7| third. In estimating Plato’s work for science it is necessary to take account first and foremost of the part he must have played as the organizer and director of the studies of this whole brilliant group. It was, no doubt, this which induced the first mathematician of the time, Eudoxus of Cnidus, to transport himself and his scholars bodily from Cyzicus to Athens to make common cause with the Academy. Probably we are not to think of Plato as writing much during these twenty years. He would be too busy otherwise, and, as we shall see, there is the strongest reason for thinking that most of his dialogues, including all those which are most generally known today, were all composed by his fortieth year, or soon after, while the important half-dozen or so which must be assigned to a later date most probably belong definitely to his old age.

In the year 367 something happened which provided Plato, now a man of sixty, with the great adventure of his life. Dionysius I of Syracuse, who had long governed his native city nominally as annually elected generalissimo, really as autocrat or “tyrant” died. He was succeeded by his son Dionysius II, a man of thirty whose education had been neglected and had left him totally unfitted to take up his father’s great task of checking the expansion of the Carthaginians, which was threatening the very existence of Greek civilization in Western Sicily. The strong man of Syracuse at the moment was Dion, brother-in-law of the new “tyrant,” the same who had been so powerfully attached to Plato twenty years before. Dion, a thorough believer in Plato’s views about the union of political power with science, conceived the idea of fetching Plato personally to Syracuse to attempt the education of his brother-in-law. Plato felt that the prospect of success was not promising, but the Carthaginian danger was very real, if the new ruler of Syracuse should prove unequal to his work, and it would be an everlasting dishonor to the Academy if no attempt were made to put its theory into practice when the opportunity offered at such a critical juncture. Accordingly, Plato, though with a great deal of misgiving, made up his mind to accept Dion’s invitation.

If the Epistles ascribed in our Plato MSS. to Plato are genuine (as I have no doubt that the great bulk of them are), they throw a sudden flood of light on Plato’s life for the next few years. To understand the situation we must bear two things in mind. Plato’s object was not, as has been fancied, the ridiculous one of setting up in the most luxurious of Greek cities a pinchbeck imitation of the imaginary city of the Republic. It was the practical and statesmanlike object of trying to fit the young Dionysius for the immediate practical duty of checking the Carthaginians10 and, if possible, expelling them from Sicily, by making Syracuse the center of a strong constitutional monarchy to embrace the whole body of Greek communities in the west of the island. Also, Plato’s belief in the value of a hard scientific education for a ruler of men, wise or not, was absolutely genuine. Accordingly, he at once set about the task |8| from the beginning and made Dionysius enter on a serious course of geometry. For a little while things looked promising. Dionysius became attached to Plato and geometry the “fashion” at his court. But the scheme wrecked on a double obstacle. Dionysius was too feeble of character and his education had been left neglected too long, and his personal jealousies of his stronger and older relative were easily awakened. In a few months the situation became strained. Dion had to go into what was virtually banishment and Plato returned to Athens. Relations, however, were not broken off. Dionysius kept up a personal correspondence with Plato about his studies and projects, and Plato endeavoured to reconcile Dionysius and Dion. This proved not feasible when Dionysius not only confiscated Dion’s revenues but forced his wife, for dynastic reasons, to marry another man. Yet Plato made another voyage to Syracuse and spent nearly a year there (361-360) in the hope of remedying the situation. On this occasion something was really done on the task of drafting the preliminaries to a constitution for the proposed federation of the Greek cities, but the influence of the partisans of the old régime proved too strong. Plato seems at one time to have been in real personal danger from the hostility of Dionysius’ barbarian bodyguards, and it was with difficulty and only by the mediation of Archytas of Tarentum that he finally obtained leave to return to Athens (360 B.C.).

At this point Plato’s personal intervention in Sicilian politics ceases. The quarrel between Dion and Dionysius naturally went on, and Dion, whose one great fault, as Plato tells him, was want of “adaptability” and savoir-faire, made up his mind to recover his rights with the strong hand. Enlistment went on in the Peloponnese and elsewhere, with the active concurrence of many of the younger members of the Academy, and in the summer of 357 Dion made a sudden and successful dash across the water, captured Syracuse, and proclaimed its “freedom.” Plato wrote him a letter of congratulation on the success, but warned him of his propensity to carry things with too high a hand and reminded him that the world would expect the “You-know-who’s” (the Academy)11 to set a model of good behavior. Unfortunately Dion was too good and too bad at once for the situation. Like Plato himself, he believed in strong though law-abiding personal rule and disgusted the Syracusan mob by not restoring “democratic” license; he had not the tact to manage disappointed associates, quarrelled with his admiral Heraclides and at last made away with him, or connived at his being made away with. Dion was in turn murdered with great treachery by another of his subordinates, Callippus, who is said by later writers to have been a member of the Academy, though this seems hard to reconcile with Plato’s own statement that the link of association between the two was not “philosophy” but the mere accident of having been initiated together into certain “mysteries.” Plato still believed strongly in the fundamental honesty and sanity of |9| Dion’s political aims and wrote two letters to the remnants of his party, justifying the common policy of Dion and himself and calling on them to be faithful to it, and making suggestions for conciliation of parties which were, of course, not accepted. As he said in one of these letters, the fatal disunion of parties seemed likely to leave Sicily a prey either to the Carthaginians or to the Oscans of South Italy.

It is not necessary to follow the miserable story of events in Syracuse beyond the point where Plato’s concern with them ends. But it is worthwhile to remark that Plato’s forecast of events was fully justified. The “unification of Sicily,” when it came at last, came as a fruit of the success of the Romans in the first two Punic wars; and, as Professor Burnet has said, this was the beginning of the long series of events which has made the cleavage between Eastern Europe, deriving what civilization it has direct from Constantinople, and Western Europe with its latinized Hellenism. If Plato had succeeded at Syracuse, there might have been no “schism of the churches” and no “Eastern problem” today.

Nothing is known, beyond an anecdote or two not worth recording, of Plato’s latest years. All that we can say is that he must still have gone on from time to time lecturing to his associates in the Academy, since Aristotle, who only entered the Academy in 367, was one of his hearers, and that the years between 360 and his death must have been busily occupied with the composition of his longest and ripest contribution to the literature of moral and political philosophy, the Laws. Probably also, all the rest of the dialogues which manifestly belong to the later part of Plato’s life must be supposed to have been written after his final return from Sicily. A complete suspension of composition for several years will best explain the remarkable difference in style between all of them and even the maturest of those which preceded. It may be useful to remember that of the years mentioned as marking important events in Plato’s life, the year 388 is that of the capture of Rome by the Gauls, 367 the traditional date of the “Licinian rogations” and the defeat of the Gauls at Alba by Camillas, 361 that of the penetration of the Gauls into Campania.

See further:

Burnet, J. Greek Philosophy, Part I, Chapters xii, xv.
Burnet, J. Platonism, 1928.
Friedlander, P. Platon: Eidos, Paideia, Dialogos, 1928.
Grote, G. Plato and the other Companions cf Socrates, Chapter v.
Ritter, C. Platon, i., Chapters i-v. Munich, 1914.
Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, U. v. Platon. Ed. 2. Berlin, 1920.
Sienzel, J. Platon der Erzieher. Leipzig, 1928.

The general historical background of Plato’s life may be studied in any good history of Greece. Specially excellent is
Meyer, E. Geschichte des Altertums, vol. v. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1902.
Robin, L. Platon, pp. 1-8.

Top ↑


1^ The chief extant lives are: (a) Apuleius, de Platone, i. 1-4; (b) Diogenes Laertius, iii. i (critical edition, Basle, 1907); (c) Olympiodorus (Platonis Opera, ed. Hermann, vi. 190-195). The least bad of these is (b), which appears to have been originally composed for a lady amateur of Platonic philosophy (φιλοπλάτωνι δέ σοι δικαίως ὐπαρχούση, §47), not before the latter part of the first century of our era. The one or two references to the scholar Favourinus of Arles may possibly be later marginal annotations by an owner or copier of the text. If they are original, they would bring down the date of the Life to the latter part of the second century A.D. In the main Diogenes Laertius appears to give the version of Plato’s life accepted by the literati of Alexandria. But we can see from what we know of the work of Alexandrians like Sotion, Satyrus, and Hermippus, that biographies were already being ruined by the craze for romantic or piquant anecdote before the end of the third century B.C. In Plato’s case there is a peculiar reason for suspicion of Alexandrian narratives. The writers were largely dependent on the assertions of Aristoxenus of Tarentum, a scholar of Aristotle who had known the latest generation of the fourth century Pythagoreans. Aristoxenus has long been recognized as a singularly mendacious person, and he had motives for misrepresenting both Socrates and Plato. See Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Part I, p. 153.

2^ See the family tree in Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Part I, Appendix I, p. 357. For Pyrilampes, cf. Charmides, 158a, and for Demus, Gorgias, 481d 5, Aristophanes, Wasps, 98. According to Epinomis xiii 361e, Perictione was still alive at the date of writing (i.e. about 366), but her death was expected, as Plato speaks of the expense of the funeral as one which he will shortly have to meet. Nothing is known of Pyrilampes after the battle of Delium (424 B.C.).

3^ Apology, 38b 6, Phaedo, 59b 10.

4^ Aristotle, Metaphysics 987a 32.

5^ See the opening pages of the Charmides.

6^ See the full explanation of all this at Epinomis vii 324b 8-326b 4.

7^ Diogenes Laertius, iii 6.

8^ I have said nothing of the story related, e.g., in Diogenes Laertius, iii., 18-21, that Dionysius I had Plato kidnapped and handed over to a Spartan admiral who exposed him for sale at Aegina, where he was ransomed by an acquaintance from Gyrene. The story, though quite possible, seems not too probable, and looks to be no more than an anecdote intended to blacken the character of Dionysius, who in fact, though masterful enough, was neither brute nor fool. In spite of the counter-assertion of Diels, it is pretty certainly not referred to in Aristotle, Physics, B 199b 13. Simplicius seems clearly right in supposing that Aristotle’s allusion is to some situation in a comedy. The statement that Dionysius attempted to kidnap Plato is made earlier by Cornelius Nepos, Dion, c. 2, and perhaps comes from the Sicilian historian Timaeus.

9^ Epinomis, vii. 341d-e. See the comments on this passage in Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Part I, 220-222.

10^ Epinomis vii. 333a i, viii. 353a.

11^ Epinomis iv. 320 c-e, and for Dion’s want of “tact,” ibid. 321b, vii. 328b.

II. The Platonic Writings

§ I. Plato is the one voluminous author of classical antiquity whose works seem to have come down to us whole and entire. Nowhere in later antiquity do we come on any reference to a Platonic work which we do not still possess. It is true that we know nothing of the contents of Plato’s lectures except from a few scanty notices in Aristotle or quotations preserved from contemporaries of Aristotle by the Aristotelian commentators. But the explanation of this seems to be that Plato habitually lectured without any kind of manuscript. This explains why Aristotle speaks of certain doctrines as taught in the “unwritten teaching” (ἄγραφα δόγματα) of his master, and why at least five of the auditors of a particularly famous lecture (that on “The Good), including both Aristotle and Xenocrates, published their own recollections of it. We must suppose that Plato’s written dialogues were meant to appeal to the “educated” at large and interest them in philosophy; the teaching given to Plato’s personal associates depended for its due appreciation on the actual contact of mind with mind within the school and was therefore not committed to writing at all. As we shall see later on, this has had the (for us) unfortunate result that we are left to learn Plato’s inmost ultimate convictions on the most important questions, the very thing we most want to know, from references in Aristotle, polemical in object, always brief, and often puzzling in the highest degree.

When we turn to the contents of our manuscripts, the first problem which awaits us is that of weeding out from the whole collection what is dubious or certainly spurious. We may start with the fact that certain insignificant items of the collection were already recognized as spurious when the arrangement of the dialogues which we find in our oldest Plato MSS. was made. By counting each dialogue great or small as a unit, and reckoning the collection of Epistles also as one dialogue, a list of thirty-six works was drawn up, arranged in “tetralogies” or groups of four. It is not absolutely certain by whom or when this arrangement was made, though it certainly goes back almost to the beginning of the Christian era and perhaps earlier. It is commonly ascribed by later writers to a certain Thrasylus or to Thrasylus and Dercylides. The date of |11| neither of these scholars is known with certainty. Thrasylus has been usually identified with a rhetorician of that name living under Augustus and Tiberius. But it is notable that Cicero’s contemporary, the antiquary M. Terentius Varro, refers1 to a passage of the Phaedo as occurring in the “fourth roll” of Plato, and the Phaedo actually happens to be the fourth dialogue of the first “tetralogy.” Hence, it has been suggested that the arrangement is older than Varro. If this is correct, it will follow that either Thrasylus has been wrongly identified or the arrangement was merely adopted, not originated, by him. On the other hand, this grouping cannot be earlier than the first or second century B.C. For Diogenes Laertius2 informs us that an earlier arrangement of the dialogues in “trilogies” had been attempted, though not carried completely through, by the famous third-century scholar Aristophanes of Byzantium. There is no hint anywhere that the “tetralogies” of Thrasylus admitted any work not regarded as Platonic by Aristophanes or excluded any which he had admitted. We may fairly conclude that the thirty-six “dialogues” were currently regarded as genuine by the librarians and scholars of the third century B.C. As far as the extant dialogues omitted from the “tetralogies” go, there is no question that they are one and all spurious, and no one proposes to reverse the judgment of antiquity on any of them. The same thing is true of the collection of “definitions” also preserved in Plato MSS. There is no doubt that in the main the definitions of the collection are genuinely ancient and Academic. Some of them are actually extracted from the Platonic dialogues; others are shown to be Academic by their coincidence with Academic definitions used or commented on by Aristotle in his Topics. But since some of them can be pretty clearly identified with definitions we can prove to be characteristic of Plato’s immediate successors, Speusippus and Xenocrates, we cannot regard the collection as the work of Plato. Our only real problem is whether the list of the thirty-six dialogues must not be further reduced by the elimination of spurious items. Even in antiquity there were doubts about one or two dialogues. The Alcibiades II3 was thought to be unauthentic by some, and the Neoplatonist Proclus wished to reject the Epinomis. In modern times doubt has been carried much farther. In the middle of the nineteenth century, especially in Germany, the “athetizing” of Platonic dialogues became a fashionable amusement for scholars; the Laws was pronounced spurious by Ast and, at one time, by Zeller, the Parmenides, Sophistes, and Politicus by Ueberweg and others; extremists wished to limit the number of genuine dialogues to nine. Fortunately the tide has turned, since the elaborate proof of the genuineness of the Sophistes and Politicus by Lewis Campbell. There is now a general agreement that every dialogue of any length and interest in the list of the thirty-six |12| is Platonic, and an equally general agreement about the spuriousness of a number of the smaller and less interesting, though there still remain one or two works about which opinion is divided. Thus, there is little doubt of the un-Platonic character of the following works: Alcibiades II, Hipparchus, Amatores (or Rivales), Theages, Clitophon, Minos. Opinion may be said to be divided about Alcibiades I, Ion, Menexenus, Hippias Major, Epinomis, Epistles. The scope of the present work allows me only to make one or two very brief remarks on the subject.

As to the now generally rejected dialogues it may be observed that they are all brief and of no great moment. Our conception of Plato as a thinker and a writer is not seriously affected by the rejection of any of them. If it were possible to put in a word on behalf of any of these items, I should like personally to plead for the short sketch called the Clitophon, which seems to be in any case a mere unfinished fragment, the main purport of which can only be conjectured. The style and verve are not unworthy of Plato, and I believe I could make out a case for the view that the point to which the writer is working up is also Platonic, as well as important. Yet there is the difficulty that the little work appears on the face of it to be in form a criticism of the parts played by Socrates and Thrasymachus in Republic I, and it is hard to think of Plato as thus playing the critic to one of his own writings.

About all these dialogues we may say at least two things. There is only one of them (the Alcibiades II) which does not seem to be proved by considerations of style and language to be real fourth-century work. And again, there is no reason to regard any of them as “spurious” in the sense of being intended to pass falsely for the work of Plato. They are anonymous and inferior work of the same kind as the lighter Platonic dialogues, and probably, in most cases, contemporary with them or nearly so, not deliberate “forgeries.” Hence, this material may rightly be used with caution as contributing to our knowledge of the conception of Socrates current in the fourth century. Alcibiades II is probably an exception. It is the one dialogue in the list which exhibits anything very suspicious on linguistic grounds, and it appears also to allude to a characteristic Stoic paradox.4 But, even in this case, there is no ground to suppose that the unknown writer intended his work to pass current as Plato’s. A little more must be said of the dialogues which are still rejected by some scholars, but defended by others. The Alcibiades I has nothing in its language which requires a date later than the death of Plato, and nothing in its |13| contents which is not thoroughly Platonic. In fact, it forms, as the Neoplatonic commentators saw, an excellent introduction to the whole Platonic ethical and political philosophy. It is just this character which is really the most suspicious thing about the dialogue. It is far too methodical not to suggest that it is meant as a kind of “textbook,” the sort of thing Plato declared he would never write. And the character-drawing is far too vague and shadowy for Plato even in his latest and least dramatic phase. In the interlocutors, though they bear the names Socrates and Alcibiades, there is no trace of any genuine individuality — far less than there is even in the anonymous speakers in the Laws. It is a further difficulty that on grounds of style and manner the dialogue, if genuine, would have to be assigned to a late period in Plato’s life when he is hardly likely to have been composing such work. On the whole, it seems probable that Alcibiades I is the work of an immediate disciple, probably written within a generation or so of Plato’s death and possibly even before that event.

The Ion, so far as can be seen, has in its few pages nothing either to establish its authenticity or to arouse suspicion. It may reasonably be allowed to pass as genuine until some good reason for rejecting it is produced.

The Menexenus offers a difficult problem. It is referred to expressly by Aristotle in a way in which he never seems to quote any dialogues but those of Plato, and it seems clear that he regarded it as Platonic.5 On the other hand, the contents of the work are singular. It is mainly given up to the recital by Socrates of a “funeral discourse” on the Athenians who fell in the Corinthian war. Socrates pretends to have heard the discourse from Aspasia and to admire it greatly. Apparently the intention is to produce a gravely ironical satire on the curious jumble of real and spurious patriotism characteristic of the λόγοι ἐπιτάφιοι (funeral orations), which are being quietly burlesqued. The standing mystery for commentators is, of course, the audacious anachronism by which Socrates (and, what is even worse, Aspasia) is made to give a narrative of events belonging to the years after Socrates’ own death. To me it seems clear that this violation of chronological possibility, since it must have been committed at a time when the facts could not be unknown, must be intentional, however hard it is to divine its precise point, and that Plato is more likely than any disciple in the Academy to have ventured on it. (As the second part of the Parmenides proves, Plato had a certain “freakish” humor in him which could find strange outlets.) And I find it very hard to suppose that Aristotle was deceived on a question of Platonic authorship. Hence, it seems best to accept the traditional ascription of the Menexenus, however hard we may think it to account for its character.

The Hippias Major, though not cited by name anywhere in Aristotle, is tacitly quoted or alluded to several times in the Topics in a way which convinces me that Aristotle regarded it as a Platonic |14| work.6 As the “athetizers” have really nothing to urge on the other side except that the dialogue is not Plato at his best, and that there are an unusual word or two to be found in it (as there are in many Platonic dialogues), I think Aristotle’s allusions should decide the question of genuineness favourably.

The Epinomis and Epistles are much more important. If the Epinomis is spurious, we must deny the authenticity of the most important pronouncement on the philosophy of arithmetic to be found in the whole Platonic corpus. If the Epistles are spurious, we lose our one direct source of information for any part of Plato’s biography, and also the source of most of our knowledge of Sicilian affairs from 367 to 354. (As E. Meyer says, the historians who reject the Epistles disguise the state of the case by alleging Plutarch’s Life of Dion as their authority, while the statements in this Life are openly drawn for the most part from the Epistles.) Documents like these ought not to be surrendered to the “athetizer” except for very weighty reasons.

As to the Epinomis, the case stands thus. It was certainly known in antiquity generally and regarded as genuine. Cicero, for example, quotes it as “Plato.” On the other hand, the Neoplatonic philosopher Proclus (410-485 A.D.) wished to reject it as spurious because of an astronomical discrepancy with the Timaeus. Diogenes Laertius also tells us that Plato’s Laws were “copied out from the wax” by the Academic astronomer Philippus of Opus, adding “and his too, as they say, is the Epinomis.” It has become common in recent times to assert, on the strength of this remark, that the Epinomis is an appendix to the Laws composed by Philippus. It ought, however, to be noted that Proclus was apparently unaware that any doubt had been felt about the Epinomis before his own time, since he based his rejection wholly on argument, not on testimony. His argument is, moreover, a bad one, since the “discrepancy with the Timaeus” of which he complained is found as much in the Laws as in the Epinomis. The internal evidence of style seems to reveal no difference whatever between the two works. And it may be urged that since the state of the text of the Laws shows that the work must have been left at Plato’s death without the author’s final revision and then circulated without even the small verbal corrections which the editor of a posthumous work commonly has to make in the interests of grammar, it is most unlikely that disciples who treated the ipsissima verba of a dead master with such scrupulous veneration would have ventured on adding a “part the last” to the work on their own account. Hence, it seems to me that Hans Raeder is right in insisting on the genuineness of the Epinomis, and that the remark of Diogenes about Philippus of Opus only means |15| that he did for this work was also transcribed by, or perhaps dictated to, him, (the now customary disparagement of the Epinomis seems to me due to mere inability to follow the mathematics of the dialogue.7

Professor Werner Jaeger8 has incidentally done a service to the student of the Epinomis in his recent work on the development of Aristotle’s thought by showing that there is an intimate connexion between the Laws and Epinomis and Aristotle’s work περὶ φιλοσϕίας (On Philosophy), of which only fragments are now extant. In particular, as he shows, there is an immediate connexion between the “fifth” or “etherial” bodily region of the Epinomis and Aristotle’s famous “celestial matter” of which the “heavens” are assumed to be made (the essentia quinta (fifth essence) or materia coelestis (lighter than air)). Professor Jaeger interprets the connexion thus. We have first the Laws circulated promptly after Plato’s death, then Aristotle’s proposals for modifications of Platonic doctrine in the περὶ φιλοσφίας, finally (all in the course of a year or two), the Epinomis, rejoining to Aristotle, and composed by Philippus. While I regard Professor Jaeger’s proof of the intimate relation between Epinomis and περὶ φιλοσφίας as important, I think it more natural to interpret the facts rather differently by supposing the Laws and Epinomis together to have been transcribed and circulated shortly after the death of Plato, and then followed by Aristotle’s criticism of Platonic doctrine in the περὶ φιλοσφίας. This at least leaves Aristotle more leisure than Professor Jaeger’s hypothesis for the composition of a work which, as we know it ran to three “books,” must have been of considerable compass. Whatever the truth about the Epinomis may be, I AM at least sure that it is premature to assume that it is known not to be Plato’s.

As for the Epistles, it is not necessary now to argue the case for their genuineness as elaborately as one would have had to do some years ago. Since Wilamowitz in his Platon declared for the genuineness of the very important trio VI, VII, VIII, those who depend on “authority” for their opinions have been in a hurry to protest that these three at least must be accepted. But the acceptance of the three logically carries with it recognition of the correspondence between Plato and Dionysius (II, III, XIII) and the letter of congratulation and good advice to Dion (IV); and when these are accepted as Platonic, there remains no good ground for rejecting any of the thirteen letters of our MSS. except the first, which is written in a style wholly unlike the others, and by some one whose circumstances, as stated by himself, show that he can be neither Plato nor Dion, nor have any intention of passing for either. Presumably this letter got into the correspondence by some mistake at a very early date. The twelfth letter (a mere note of half a dozen lines) was apparently suspected in later antiquity, since our |16| best MSS. have a note to that effect. No grounds have ever been produced for questioning the authenticity of any of the rest which will bear examination. Most of the difficulties raised in modern times, especially those alleged in connexion with II and XIII, rest on mere misunderstandings. It is safe to say that the present tendency to accept only VI, VII, VIII is a consequence of mere servile deference to the name of Wilamowitz. None of these documents should have needed the imprimatur of a professor as a recommendation; their acceptance is bound to lead logically to that of the rest with the exception of I and possibly XII. As far as external testimony goes, it is enough to say that Aristophanes of Byzantium included in his “trilogies” Epistles (pretty obviously our thirteen, or we should have heard more about the matter), and that Cicero quotes IV, IX, and especially VII (nobilissima illa epistula, as he calls it) as familiar Platonic material. This, taken together with the thoroughly Platonic style of the letters, disposes of the notion that they can be “forgeries.” The art of writing such prose was already dead in half a century after Plato’s death, and the revival of “Atticism,” which might make such a production barely conceivable, belongs to a time some generations later than Cicero.9

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§ II. To understand a great thinker is, of course, impossible unless we know something of the relative order of his works, and of the actual period of his life to which they belong. What, for example, could we make of Kant if we did not know whether the Critique of Pure Reason was the work of ambitious youth or of ripe middle age, whether it was written before or after the discourse on the Only Possible Demonstration of the Being of a God or the Dreams of a Ghost-seer? We cannot, then, even make a beginning with the study of Plato until we have found some trustworthy indication of the order in which his works, or at least the most significant of them, were written. Even when we have fixed this order, if it can be fixed, we need, for a completer understanding, to be able also to say at what precise period of life the most important dialogues were written, |17| whether in early manhood, in midlife, or in old age, and again whether they are an unbroken series of compositions or whether there is evidence of a considerable gap or gaps in Plato’s literary activity. These are the questions which we have now to face.

The external evidence supplied by trustworthy testimony only assures us on one point. Aristotle tells us (Politicus 1264b 26), what could in any case never have been doubted, that the Laws is later than the Republic. There was also an ancient tradition, mentioned by Proclus and implied in the statement of Diogenes Laertius about Philippus of Opus, that the Laws was left by Plato “in the wax” and the “fair copy” for circulation made after his death. The statement is borne out by the frequency in the dialogue of small grammatical difficulties which cannot reasonably be ascribed to later “corruption” but are natural in a faithfully copied first text which has never received the author’s finishing touches. Trustworthy testimony takes us no farther than this. Comparison of certain Platonic dialogues with one another yields one or two other results. Thus, the Republic must be earlier than the Timaeus, where it is referred to and the argument of its first five books briefly recapitulated. The Politicus must be not earlier than the Sophistes, to which it is the professed sequel; and the Sophistes, for the same reason, later than the Theaetetus. These are all the certain indications furnished by the matter of the dialogues themselves. There may be an allusion in the Phaedo to a point more fully explained in the Meno, and the Republic has been supposed to allude to both. Both the Theaetetus and the Sophistes refer to a meeting between Socrates, then extremely young, and the great Parmenides; and there must be some connexion between these references and the fact that the Parmenides professes ostensibly to describe this encounter. But we cannot say that the allusions enable us to determine with certainty whether the Parmenides is earlier than both the others, later than both, or intermediate between the two. Raeder has tried to show at length that the Phaedrus contains allusions which would only be intelligible to readers who already knew the Republic; but there are gaps in his argument, and it has not completely convinced some prominent Platonic scholars. Clearly, if we are to arrive at results of any value, we need a clue to the order of composition of the dialogues which will take us much farther than the few certain indications we have so far found.

In the earlier part of the nineteenth century more than one unsatisfactory attempt was made to provide such a clue. Thus, it was at one time held that we can detect signs of comparative youth in the gorgeous rhetoric of certain dialogues, and the Phaedrus in particular was often assumed to be the earliest of the dialogues on this ground. But it is obvious that reasoning of this kind is inherently untrustworthy, especially in dealing with the work of a great dramatic artist. Inferences from the manner of the Phaedrus are, for example, to be discounted partly on the ground that its rhetoric is largely parody of the rhetoricians, partly because so |18| much of its content is imaginative myth which lends itself naturally to a high-flown diction. The assumption that works in which there is a large element of semi-poetical myth must be “juvenile” obviously rests on another assumption, for which we have no evidence at all, that we know independently what the personal temperament of the youthful Plato was. We have only to think of the known chronological order of the works of Goethe to see how unsound a method must be which would require us to regard the second part of Faust or Wilhelm Meister’s Wanderjahre as juvenile productions. A still more arbitrary assumption underlies the attempt of E. Munk to arrange the dialogues in order on the assumption that the age ascribed to Socrates in a dialogue is an indication of its date. On the theory that dialogues which represent Socrates as a young man must be early, those which represent him as old, late, we should have to put the Parmenides, where Socrates is “very young” at the opening of the series, the Theaetetus, which narrates a conversation held just before his trial, at the other end, though the allusion in the one dialogue to the meeting which provides the setting for the other shows that they are probably not to be separated by too long an interval.

The serious scientific investigation of the internal evidence for the order of composition of the dialogues really begins in 1867 with Lewis Campbell’s philological proof of the genuineness of the Sophistes and Politicus. It has been further developed, sometimes with too much confidence in its results, by a whole host of writers, notably Dittenberger and C. Ritter in Germany, and W. Lutoslawski in this country. The underlying and sound principle of the method may be simply stated thus. If we start with two works which are known to be separated by a considerable interval and exhibit a marked difference in style, it may be possible to trace the transition from the writer’s earlier to his later manner in detail, to see the later manner steadily more and more replacing the earlier, and this should enable us to arrive at some definite conclusions about the order of the works which occupy the interval. The conclusion will be strengthened if we take for study a number of distinct and independent peculiarities and find a general coincidence in the order in which the various peculiarities seem to become more and more settled mannerisms. The opportunity for applying this method to the work of Plato is afforded by the well-authenticated fact that the Laws is a composition of old age, while the Republic is one of an earlier period, and forms with certain other great dialogues, such as the Protagoras, Phaedo, Symposium, a group distinguished by a marked common style and a common vigor of dramatic representation which experience shows we cannot expect from a writer who is not in the prime of his powers. Growing resemblance to the manner of the Laws, if made out on several independent but consilient lines of inquiry, may thus enable us to discover which of the Platonic dialogues must be intermediate between the Laws and the Republic. There are several different peculiarities we may obviously select for |19| study. Thus, one obvious contrast between Republic and Laws is to be found in the marked decline of dramatic power. A second is that the Laws conforms carefully to a whole number of the graces of style introduced into Attic prose by Isocrates, the Republic and the other great dramatic dialogues neglect these elegancies. A third line of study which has been very minutely pursued, especially by Lutoslawski, is the examination of special uses of connecting particles throughout the dialogues. Without going into detail, it is enough to say here that the result of these converging lines of study has been to convince students of Platonic language and idiom, almost without an exception, that we can definitely specify a certain group of very important dialogues as belonging to the post-Republic period of Plato’s life. The group comprises Theaetetus, Parmenides, Sophistes, Politicus, Timaeus, Philebus, Laws. The identification of this group of “later” dialogues may be taken as a pretty assured and definite result, not likely ever to be seriously modified.

It is another question whether the employment of the same method would enable us to distinguish more precisely between the earlier and later dialogues belonging to either of the two great groups, so as to say, e.g., whether the Philebus is earlier or later in composition than the Timaeus, the Symposium than the Phaedo. When two works belong to much the same period of an author’s activity, a slight difference of style between them may easily be due to accidental causes. (Thus in dealing with the Symposium we should have to remember that a very large part of it is professed imitation or parody of the styles of others.) Lutoslawski in particular seems to me to have pushed a sound principle to the pitch of absurdity in the attempt, by the help of the integral calculus, to extract from considerations of “stylometry” a detailed and definite order of composition for the whole of the dialogues. It may fairly be doubted whether “stylometric” evidence can carry us much beyond the broad discrimination between an earlier series of dialogues of which the Republic is the capital work and a later series composed in the interval between the completion of the Republic and Plato’s death.

It is possible, however, that some supplementary considerations may take us a little further. Plato himself explains, in the introductory conversation prefixed to the Theaetetus, that he has avoided the method of indirect narration of a dialogue for that of direct dialogue in order to avoid the wearisomeness of keeping up the formula of a reported narrative. Now the greatest dialogues of the earlier period, the Protagoras, Symposium, Phaedo, Republic, are all reported dialogues, and one of them, the Symposium, is actually reported at second-hand. So again is the Parmenides, where the standing formula, as Professor Burnet calls it, is the cumbrous “Antiphon told us that Pythodorus said that Parmenides said.” The original adoption of this method of narration of a conversation is manifestly due to the desire for dramatic life and colour. |20| It permits of the sort of record of the by-play between the personages of the story which contributes so much to the charm of the Phaedo. But the labour required to keep up the “formula” is so great that it is not surprising that Plato finally dropped it, and that the Theaetetus and all the works we find reason to place later are in the form of direct dialogue. To me it seems highly probable, though not certain, that it was the special complication of the formula required for the Parmenides which led to the final abandonment of the method, and that we may plausibly infer that the Parmenides was written either simultaneously with the Theaetetus or immediately before it. Another inference which I should draw with some confidence is that, since no young writer is likely to have made his first prentice experiments in dialogue with so difficult a form, the popular view that the Protagoras is one of the earliest of the Platonic dialogues must be erroneous. The certainty and vigor of the dramatic handling of the characters there should prove that the Protagoras belongs as a fourth with the Phaedo, Symposium, and Republic to the period of Plato’s supreme excellence as a dramatist and stylist. In particular, it must be a considerably later work than the comparatively undramatic and rather unduly diffuse Gorgias, a point which has some bearing on the interpretation of the purpose and ethical teaching of the Protagoras.

We may turn next to the question whether it is possible to fix any definite date in Plato’s life as a terminus ad quem for the earlier series of dialogues, or a terminus a quo for the later. Something, I believe, may be done to settle both these questions. I have already referred in the last chapter to the statement made by Plato in Epinomis vii., written after the murder of Dion in the year 354, that he came to Sicily in his forty-first year already convinced that the salvation of mankind depends on the union of the philosopher and the “ruler” in one person. The actual words of the letter are that Plato had been driven to say this “in a eulogy on true philosophy” and this seems an unmistakable allusion to the occurrence of the same statement in Republic 499 ff. It should follow that this most philosophically advanced section of the Republic was already written in the year 388-7, with the consequence that the Republic, and by consequence the earlier dialogues in general, were completed at least soon after Plato was forty and perhaps before foundation of the Academy. If we turn next to the dialogue which seems to prelude to the later group, the Theaetetus, we get another indication of date. The dialogue mentions the severe and dangerous wound received by the mathematician Theaetetus in a battle fought under the walls of Corinth which cannot well be any but that of the year 369. It is assumed tacitly all through that Theaetetus will not recover from his injuries and is clear that the discourse was composed after his death and mainly as a graceful tribute to his memory. Thus, allowing for the time necessary for the completion of so considerable a work, we may suppose the dialogue to have been written just before Plato’s first departure on his important practical enterprise |21| at Syracuse. This, as Professor Burnet has said, seems to be the explanation of the magnificent eulogy of the retired and contemplative life, a passage confessed by Plato himself to be an irrelevance so far as the argument of the dialogue is concerned. Plato is giving expression to the reluctance with which he leaves the Academy, at the bidding of duty and honor, for the turmoil and sordidness of the political arena.

Once more, the Sophistes seems to give us an approximate date. It is the first of the series of dialogues in which the deliberate adoption of the Isocratean avoidance of hiatus occurs. This would naturally suggest a probable break of some length in Plato’s activity as a writer just before the composition of the Sophistes. Now it is antecedently probable that there must have been such an interruption between 367 and 360, the year of Plato’s last return from Syracuse. His entanglements with Dionysius and Sicilian affairs, combined with his duties as head of the Academy, are likely to have left him little leisure for literary occupation in these years.

Thus, we may say with every appearance of probability that there are two distinct periods of literary activity to be distinguished in Plato’s life. The first cannot have begun before the death of Socrates; apart from the absurdity of the conception of Plato as “dramatizing” the sayings and doings of the living man whom he revered above all others, it is fairly plain that the original motive for the composition of “discourses of Socrates” by the viri Socratici was to preserve the memory of a living presence which they had lost. It apparently continued down to Plato’s fortieth or forty-first year and the opening of the Academy, and it includes all the work in which Plato’s dramatic art is most fresh and vigorous. The main object of this incessant activity seems to be to immortalize the personality of Socrates. For twenty years after the foundation of the Academy Plato seems to have written nothing, unless the Phaedrus, a difficult dialogue to account for on any theory, falls early in this period. This is as it should be: the President of the Academy would for long enough after its foundation be far too busy to write. Then, probably on the eve of the Sicilian adventure, after twenty years of work the Academy is sufficiently organized to leave its head, now a man of some sixty years, leisure to write the Theaetetus and Parmenides; but an opportunity for continuous writing does not present itself until Plato’s final withdrawal from active personal participation in “world politics.” The composition of five such works as Sophistes, Politicus, Timaeus, Philebus, Laws, is a notable achievement for any man between the ages of sixty-seven and eighty-one. But we must think of this work as being executed simultaneously with regular oral exposition of the doctrine described by Aristotle as the “philosophy of Plato.” It is an entire misconception to relegate this last stage in the development of Plato’s thought, as the textbooks often seem to do, to a “senile” year or two subsequent to the close of Plato’s activity as a writer. It must have been contemporary with the writing of the whole |22| “later” group of dialogues, and the man who was still at his death labouring on the Laws can never have sunk into “senility.”

See further:

Burnet, J. Platonism, Ch. I, 4.
Campbell, L. “Sophistes” and “Politicus” of Plato. 1867, General Introduction.
Hackforth, R. The Authorship of the Platonic Epistles. Manchester, 1913.
Raeder, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung. Leipzig, 1905.
Lutoslawski, W. Origin and Growth of Plato’s Logic. 1897.
Parmentier, L. La Chronologie des dialogues de Platon. Brussels, 1913.
Ritter, C. Untersuchungen ueber Platon. Stuttgart, 1882;
  Neue Untersuchungen ueber Platon. Munich, 1910.
Levi, A. Sulle interpretazioni immanentistiche della filosofia di Platone. Turin, N.D.
Shorey, P. The Unity of Plato’s Thought. Chicago, 1903.
Shorey, P. What Plato Said, pp. 58-73.
Robin, L. Platon, pp. 19-48.
Novotný, F. Platonis Epistulae.
Harward, J. The Platonic Epistles, Introduction.

Note. I do not deny that Plato’s “first period” may have extended into the opening years of his career in the Academy. On my own reasoning this must be so if the Phaedo should, after all, be later than the Republic. It has been argued (e.g. by M. Parmentier) that the Symposium must be later than 385, the year of the death of Aristophanes. I doubt, however, whether too much has not been made of the supposed Platonic rule not to introduce living persons as speakers. Callias was alive and active years after any date to which we can reasonably assign the Protagoras. Euclides, who was alive and apparently well when Theaetetus received his wound, is more likely than not to have survived the writing of the Theaetetus. Socrates “the younger” can hardly be taken to have been dead when the Politicus was written. Gorgias may have lived long enough to read the Gorgias. Simmias, if we may believe Plutarch de genio Socratis, was alive and active in 379. That the majority of Plato’s personages are characters already dead when his dialogues were written, seems to me a mere consequence of the fact that the dialogues deal with Socrates and his contemporaries.

[It might be urged against the reasoning of the first paragraph of p. 20 supra that several, if not all, of the dialogues of Aeschines (certainly the Aspasia, Alcibiades, Callias, Axiochus) were of the “narrated” type. But they were narrations of the simplest kind of which the Charmides and Laches are examples, and such evidence as we have suggests that they are all later in date of composition than the earliest work of Plato.]


1^ Varro, de lingua Latina, vii. 88.

2^ Diogenes Laertius, iii. 61-62.

3^ Athenaeus (506e) records an opinion which ascribed the dialogue to Xenophon.

4^ There seems to be a definite polemic running through the dialogue against the Stoic thesis that everyone but the Stoic “sage” is insane. Cf. in particular Alcibiades II, 139c-140d. (Personally I regard the attack on this paradox as the main object of the work.) Hence it cannot date from any period of the Academy before the presidency of Arcesilaus (276-241 B.C.), with whom anti-Stoic polemic became the main public interest of the school For a discussion of the question see Appendix, pp. 528-9.

5^ Aristotle. Rhetoric, 1415b 30.

6^ Twice for the unsatisfactory definition of τὸ καλόν as τὸ πρέπον (Topics, A5. 102a 6, E5. 135a 13); once for the still worse definition of καλόν as το δι’ ὄψεως ἢ ἀκοης ἡδύ (Topics, Z6. 146A 22). That both these bad attempts at definition occur in the dialogue seems to make it clear that Aristotle is alluding to it and not to any other source.

7^ For a good recent defense of the dialogue see the discussion in H. Raeder, Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 413 ff. and cf. infra, pp. 497-8.

8^ Jaeger, Aristoteles, c. 2.

9^ The reader will find an elaborate collection of linguistic and other arguments against the Epistles in the section devoted to them in H. Richards’ Platonica, 254-298, and, as regards most of the series, in C. Ritter, Neue Untersuchungen ueber Platon, 327-424. Most of the alleged objections appear frivolous, or at best based on misreading of the Syracusan situation. Why the German critics in general think that it is in some way “unworthy” of Plato to have had a “business settlement” with Dionysius such as that to which Epinomis xiii. relates is to me as unintelligible as Wilamowitz’s assertion that the statements of the same letter about the great age of Plato’s mother and the existence of four nieces for whom he may have to provide must be fiction. Old ladies do sometimes live to over ninety, and any man of sixty may quite well have four nieces. The names of Bentley, Cobet, Grote, Blass, E. Meyer, are enough to show that there is plenty of good “authority” for belief in the Epistles. See Appendix, pp. 541-544, for further discussion.

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Lovers of great literature have every reason to be wholeheartedly thankful that once in the world’s history a supreme philosophical thinker should also have been a superb dramatic artist. But what is to them pure gain is, in some ways, gain at the expense of the average student of “metaphysics.” For several reasons it is quite impossible to construct a neatly arranged systematic handbook to the “Platonic philosophy.” In the first place, it is doubtful whether there ever was a “Platonic philosophy” at all, in the sense of a definite set of formulated doctrines about the omne scibile. Plato has done his best to make it quite clear that he took no great interest in “system-making.” To him philosophy meant no compact body of “results” to be learned, but a life spent in the active personal pursuit of truth and goodness by the light of one or two great passionate convictions. It is not likely that, even at the end of his life of eighty years, he fancied himself to have worked out anything like a coherent, clearly articulated “theory of everything.” Systematization of this kind commonly has to be paid for by intellectual stagnation; the vitality and progressiveness of Platonism is probably largely owing to the fact that, even in the mind of its originator, it always remained largely tentative and provisional. If there ever was a Platonic “system,” at least Plato himself resolutely refused to write an exposition of it,1 and we of later times, who do not possess any record of the oral teaching which was clearly intended to be the vehicle of Plato’s most personal and intimate thinking, are not in a position to make the lack good. The dialogues will tell us something of Plato’s fundamental life-long |24| convictions; of his “system” if he had one, they hardly tell us anything at all. With Aristotle we are in a very different position. We have lost the “works” in which he recommended his “views” to the world at large, and possess the manuscripts of courses of lectures in which we see him, for the most part, feeling his way to his results through the criticism of others.

Further special difficulties are created for us by certain peculiarities of Plato’s literary temperament. Unlike Aristotle, he does not introduce himself and his opinions into his dialogues. He is, in fact, at great pains, with the instinct of the great dramatist, to keep his own personality completely in the background. Socrates is present as one of the speakers in all the dialogues except the Laws, and in all except those which we have seen reason to regard as written in late life, Socrates is not only the chief speaker but dominates the whole dialogue by his vivid and strongly marked personality. It can hardly be doubted that in the long list of works written before Plato had found his real vocation as head of the Academy, the main conscious object of the writer is to preserve a faithful and living portrait of the older philosopher.

Even if we accept the view originated about the beginning of the nineteenth century, that Plato has transfigured the personality and teaching of Socrates out of recognition, we are bound, I think, to hold that the transfiguration has been unconscious. We cannot seriously ascribe to Plato deliberate and pointless mystification. This means, of itself, that Plato carefully devotes himself to reproducing the life and thought of a generation to which he did not himself belong, and that whatever indications he may have given us of his personal doctrines have to be given under restrictions imposed by this selection of a vanished age as the background of the dialogues. (Thus we cannot read the Republic intelligently unless we bear carefully in mind both that the whole work presupposes as its setting the Athens of the Archidamian war and that this setting had vanished into the past by 413, when Plato was still no more than a boy. So to understand the Protagoras, we have to remember that we are dealing with a still earlier time, Athens under Pericles shortly before the outbreak of the great war, and that Plato was not even born at the date of the gathering of the “wits” in the house of Callias.) There are only two characters among the host of personages in Plato’s dialogues of whom one can be certain that they are not actual historical figures of the fifth century, the unnamed Eleatic of the Sophistes and Politics and the unnamed Athenian of the Laws. They have been left anonymous apparently on purpose that their creator may be at liberty to express thoughts of his own through them with a freedom impossible in the case of figures who are “kennt men” with characters and views of their own which have to be taken into account.

This is generally admitted on all hands except for the one most important figure of all, that of Socrates. Him, it is still maintained |25| in many quarters, though not so confidently as it used to be maintained thirty or forty years ago, Plato treated without scruple, to the point of putting into his mouth all sorts of theories invented by Plato himself after the death of their ostensible exponent. I cannot myself believe in this extraordinary exception to the general rule, but even if one does believe in it, the general situation is not very seriously affected. Even those who most freely credit Plato with fathering his own views on Socrates commonly admit that some of the views ascribed to Socrates in the dialogues (if only those expressed in the Apology) are those of the actual Socrates, and to admit this means admitting at least that we have somehow to distinguish between those utterances of “Socrates” which are really deliverances of “Plato” and those which are not, and it becomes a difficult problem to know on what principle the distinction is to be made. Finally, there is a further difficulty arising from the very life-likeness of the dialogues of the earlier groups. In nearly all of them except the shortest, the conversation wanders, as actual talk does, over a wide field of topics. Metaphysics, ethics, the principles of government, of economics, of art-criticism, of education, may all come under consideration in one and the same conversation. If we try to isolate the topics, putting together under one head all Plato has to say anywhere about economics, under another all his utterances about religion, under a third his views on beauty and the arts, we run the very serious risk of confusing what may be views learned early in life, and very largely taken over receptively from a predecessor, with the very ripest fruits of a life of intense personal thought. (Thus it would be rash to confound in one amalgam utterances about early education taken from the Republic, written probably before Plato was forty and at any rate possibly more Socratic than Platonic, with others taken from the Laws, the magnum opus of Plato’s old age, where there is no Socrates in question to cause any difficulty.) A work on Platonic philosophy composed on these principles may be an admirably digested “crambook”; it is certain to obliterate every trace of the development of Plato’s thought. For all these reasons, it seems the better choice between evils, to deal with the different dialogues seriatim, even at the cost of some repetition.

Accordingly, I propose first to consider what we may call the “Socratic” group among the dialogues, the series of works culminating, so far as ripeness of thought and compass of subjects are concealed, in the Republic, grouping the slighter dialogues together but dwelling more fully on the detail of the greater and richer. Next I propose to treat separately each of the great dialogues of Plato’s later age in the same way. In both cases I must remind my reader that I do not believe that many results of anything like certainty can be reached in the determination of the precise order of composition of particular dialogues. In the case of the earlier group, which I call Socratic in the sense that they are dominated by the personality of Plato’s Socrates, I make no assumption about this order beyond the general one that the four great dialogues which |26| have the widest range of subject-matter and are also reported at second-hand are maturer work than the slighter dialogues which have the form of direct conversation, and presumably also than shorter “indirect” conversations like the Charmides and Euthydemus. Beyond this, the order in which I shall examine the dialogues has no merit except that of convenience. Similarly, the arrangement I shall adopt for the dialogues of later life is not meant to carry any silent chronological implications.

With one or two trifling exceptions most of the dialogues we shall have first to review have an ethical purport. (Perhaps the only complete exception of any importance is afforded by the Cratylus.) The interest of many of them is by no means exclusively ethical, sometimes (as in the case of the Euthydemus) not ostensibly primarily ethical, but we commonly find that the discussion either begins with, or is found as it proceeds to involve, the great practical issue of the right direction of conduct. It is therefore advisable to begin at the outset by formulating very briefly and in a way which brings out their interconnexion, a few simple principles which we shall find running through the whole of Plato’s treatment of the moral being of man. Since we find these principles taken for granted in what has every mark of being Plato’s earliest work as well as in his ripest and latest, we may fairly regard them as a legacy from Socrates; and the most characteristic of them are, in fact, specifically attributed to Socrates by Aristotle, though we have no reason to suppose that Aristotle had any reason for the attribution beyond the fact that the principles in question are put into the mouth of Socrates in the Platonic dialogues, notably in the Protagoras. The most bald and straightforward statement of these principles as a whole in the Platonic corpus is perhaps that of the Alcibiades I, which has every appearance of being intended as a compendium of ethics composed by an immediate disciple and possibly during Plato’s lifetime. We may reproduce the main line of argument adopted there and elsewhere much as follows.

The one great standing aim of men in all they do is to attain happiness (eudaimonia), in other words to make a success, in the best sense of the word, of life. Every one wants to make a success of his private life; if a man is conscious of abilities and opportunities which open the way to prominence as a public man, he is anxious to make a success of the affairs of his “city,” to be a successful statesman. This is what we mean by being a good man; the good man is the man who “conducts his own affairs, those of his household, those of the city, well.” And the words good and well are not used here in a narrowly moralistic sense. To conduct your business well means to make a thorough success of it; the good man is the thoroughly effective man. But to make a thorough success of life means to achieve and possess good. We may say then that all men alike desire good and nothing but good. A man may conceivably prefer the appearance or reputation of some things to their reality; e.g. a man may prefer a reputation for a virtue he does not possess to |27| the possession of the virtue, or he might prefer being thought handsome or witty to being really so. But no one ever prefers being thought to enjoy good to the actual enjoyment of good. Where good is concerned, every one wishes really to have it, and not to put up with a counterfeit. If a man chooses, as many men do, what is not really good, the reason must be that he wrongly supposes it to be good. No one would ever knowingly choose evil when he might choose good, or leave a good he might have had unchosen. This is the meaning of the famous “Socratic” paradox that “all wrongdoing is involuntary.” It is involuntary in the sense that the man who chooses what is bad only chooses it because he wrongly thinks it good. And so with the other “paradox” that no one ever knows the good without acting on his knowledge. It cannot be true that men “know the good but do the bad”; that would imply choice of an evil known to be evil, and such a choice is impossible.

Now when we come to consider the different things which men commonly call “good” and wish to have, we see at once that they are of various kinds. Some of them are material possessions. Many men think that good means just plenty of things of this sort. But we can easily see that material things are not good except for a man who knows how to use them. It would be no good to a man, for example, to have flutes, or musical instruments of any kind, unless he knew how to use them. Flutes are good — for the man who knows how to play on them. Similarly, it would be no real good to you to possess all the gold in the world, unless you know how to use it. Again, men think that bodily beauty, strength and agility, robust health, are very good things. But health and strength again may be misused; they are good only for the man who knows how to make the proper use of them. If a man has not this knowledge, but “abuses” his physical advantages, it might be much better for him if he had been less robust and active. The same thing is true of intellectual “parts” A man is not really the better for parts and accomplishments which he does not know how to use rightly. In fact we may say that if health, wealth, and the recognized “good” things are to be really good, it is first of all necessary that the user of these things should be good. Now that which uses all other things, even a man’s body, is his soul. The soul is the man, and everything else that is his is merely something he has or owns. A man, in fact, is a “soul using a body” (this is the standing Academic definition of “man”).2 Hence, the first condition of enjoying real good and making a real success of life is that a man’s soul should be in a good or healthy state. And the good or healthy state of the soul is just the wisdom or knowledge (sophia, phronesis) which ensures that a man shall make the right use of his body and of everything else which is his. Hence, the first duty of every man who means to enjoy good or happiness is to “tend his soul,” “to |28| see to it that his soul is as good as it possibly can be,” that is, to get the knowledge or insight which ensures his using everything rightly. And before a man can develop this quality of soul, he must be brought to “know himself,” that is, to recognize the imperative need of moral wisdom and the dreadfulness of his present state of ignorance.3 This is why Socrates taught that “all the virtues are one thing,” wisdom or moral insight, and why he insisted that the necessary preparation for the private man or the statesman who means to make life a success is the “tendance of his own soul” and the first step towards this “tendance” is true self-knowledge. The same considerations explain the peculiar character of the mission Socrates believes himself to have received from heaven. He does not claim, like the professional teacher of an “art” such as medicine or music, to have ready-made knowledge to impart to anyone, and hence he denies that he has ever had “disciples.” For he does not profess to have attained the wisdom or insight of which he speaks, but only to have attained to the perception that it is the one thing needful for the conduct of life. He claims only that he makes it the business of his life to “tend his own soul” and exhorts all his fellow-citizens, high and low, old and young, to do the same, and that he has a certain power of bringing home to others by his questions the grossness and danger of their ignorance of themselves. His function is simply to impress on all and sundry the misery of the state of ignorance in which they find themselves “by nature” and the importance of “coming out of it.” How a man is to come out of this state of nature is not explained anywhere,4 but in proportion as he does come out of it and advance to true insight, true knowledge of moral good and evil, all the different “virtues” or excellences of character and conduct will automatically ensue from this knowledge.

These fundamental elementary notions will suffice to explain the general character of most of the earliest “Socratic” dialogues. The procedure adopted is commonly this. Some term of moral import for the conduct of life, one of those words which everybody is using as familiar expressions daily without much consideration of their precise meaning, such as “courage,” “self-mastery,” or even “virtue” itself, is taken and we ask the question whether we can say exactly what it means. A number of answers are suggested and examined, but all are found wanting. None of them will stand careful scrutiny. Usually the result arrived at is a negative one. We discover to our shame that we do not really know the meaning of the most familiar epithets which we use every day of our lives to convey moral approval or censure. This revelation of our own ignorance is painful, but it has the advantage that we have taken a |29| step forward. At any rate, our knowledge of our own ignorance will henceforth prevent our fancying that we really knew when we were repeating some of the formulae which our inquiry has condemned. Now that we know that we do not know what it is so necessary for the conduct of life to know, we are at least left with a heightened sense of the importance of “tendance of the soul”; we shall not, like the rest of mankind, suppose ourselves to be in spiritual health when we are really inwardly diseased; our very knowledge of the gravity of our spiritual malady will make us all the more unremitting in our determination to make the attempt to escape from our ignorance the great business of life. This, rather than anything more specific in the way of “positive results,” is the conclusion Plato means us to draw from these “dialogues of search” It has been objected to Plato by unsympathetic critics, as he makes some of his characters object it to Socrates, that such a conclusion is not satisfactory. Socrates, Grote thinks, should have exchanged the easier part of critic for that of defender of theses of his own. He would have found that they could be subjected to a dialectic like his own with effects as damaging as those produced on his rivals’ theories by himself. The objection misses the mark. Plato’s object is not to propound theorems in moral science for our instruction, but to rouse us to give our own personal care to the conduct of our moral life by convincing us of the ignorance we usually disguise from ourselves by acquiescence in uncriticised half-truths and the practical gravity of that ignorance. He wishes to make us think to the purpose about the great concern of life, not to do our thinking for us. From his point of view, complacent satisfaction with false conceptions of good is the deadliest of all maladies of the soul; if he can make us honestly dissatisfied with our customary loose thinking, he has produced exactly the effect he designed.

We may now, bearing these few simple ideas in mind, consider the arguments of some of the early dialogues.

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The Greater Hippias

The form of the dialogue is the simplest possible; it is a direct colloquy between Socrates and a single speaker, the well-known polymath Hippias of Elis, who figures also in the Lesser Hippias, the Protagoras, and a conversation, perhaps suggested by the opening remarks of our dialogue, in the fourth book of Xenophon’s Memorabilia (iv. 4). The presence of Hippias at Athens implies that the time is one of peace, and, as the first visit of Gorgias to the city is referred to as a past event (282b), the supposed date must be after 427 B.C., and therefore during the years of the peace of Nicias. Hippias is depicted as childishly conceited on the strength of the great variety of topics he is able to expound, and the brilliant financial success which attends him wherever he goes. Even at Sparta a city where he is often called on matters of state — though no interest is taken in his astronomy and mathematics, he has made a resounding success with a more immediately practical |30| subject, a set homily put into the mouth of Nestor on “the kind of fine achievements by which a young man may win high reputation” (286b). This remark leads on to the main subject of the dialogue, the question what is really meant by the word ϰαλόν, beautiful, which was commonly employed, like its Latin equivalent honestum, and our colloquial “fine,” to express both physical and moral beauty. Socrates professes to have much trouble in satisfying the question of a certain combative and ill-mannered acquaintance who has reproached him for constantly using the epithets καλόν and αἰσχρόν, “fine” and “ugly” in judgments of value without being able to explain their exact meaning. Can Hippias help him out of his perplexity? (It does not call for much perspicacity to see that the imaginary “rude fellow” who insists on asking awkward questions is no other than Socrates himself.5 The precise problem is this. We call an act of remarkable courage a “fine” act, and we say the same thing about an act of outstanding and remarkable justice. The use of the same word “fine” in both cases implies that there is a something (a certain εἰδος, form, or character — the word is little more than a synonym for a “something”) common to both cases, or why do we give them the same name, “fine”? What is “the fine itself,” “the just fine” (αὐτὸ τὸ καλόν), i.e. what is it which is exactly and precisely named when we use the word “fine”?6 Hippias, like many interlocutors in Plato, underrates the difficulty of the problem because he confuses the meaning of a term with an example of it. He answers that a “fine girl” is, of course, something “fine” (287e). But this clearly tells us nothing about the meaning of “fine.” There are also “fine” horses, “fine” musical instruments, even “fine” pots and pans, like those made by the masters of Attic pottery (288d), and, after all, the beauty of the “fine girl” is relative. She would not be “fine” by comparison with a goddess (289b). What then is “the just fine,” the character which all “fine” things exhibit? (289d). Here again Hippias makes an elementary blunder. Anything, he says, is made “fine,” if it is gilded, and so “that which by its presence makes a thing fine” may be said to be just gold (289e).

But then the objection occurs that Phidias notoriously did not gild the features of his famous chryselephantine Athena, and surely Phidias may be presumed to have known his own business as an artist (290b). This leads, at last, to a real attempt to define “the fine.” The “fine” is “the becoming” or “fitting” or “appropriate” (τὸ πρέπον, 290c). It would follow from this at once that a soup-spoon of wood, because more “fitting,” is more beautiful or “fine” than a golden spoon (291c). Note that Socrates does not |31| positively assert this conclusion, as he is represented as doing by interpreters who are determined to see nothing in him but a commonplace utilitarian. He obviously intends to raise a difficulty. It seemed a satisfactory explanation of the procedure of Phidias to say that a statue with a gilded face would not be “beautiful” because the gilding would not be “befitting.” Yet, though a common wooden spoon would be more “in place” where one is eating soup than a golden one, it is a paradox to say that because the wooden spoon is “in place,” it is a thing of beauty. Whatever may be the true answer to the question what “beauty” is, the identification of the aesthetically “fine” with the “befitting” is far too crude a solution.

Hippias evidently feels the difficulty, and is made to fall back again on an illustration, this time from the moral sphere. It is eminently “fine” to live in health, wealth, and honors, to bury your parents splendidly, and to receive in the fullness of days a splendid funeral from your descendants (291d). But this, again, is manifestly no true definition. A definition must be rigidly universal. But every one will admit that Heracles and Achilles and others who preferred a short and glorious to a long and inglorious life, and so died young and left their parents to survive them, made a “fine” choice (292e-293c). The illustration has thus led nowhere, and we have still to discuss the definition of the “fine” as the “fitting” or “becoming” on its own merits. When a thing has the character of being “becoming,” does this make it “fine,” or does it only make the thing seem “fine”? Hippias prefers the second alternative, since even a scarecrow of a man can be made to look “finer” if he is “becomingly” dressed. But, obviously, if “propriety” makes things seem finer than they really are, “the appropriate” and the “fine” cannot be the same thing (294b). And we cannot get out of the difficulty, as Hippias would like to do, by saying the “appropriateness” both makes things “fine” and makes them seem “fine.” If that were so, what really is “fine” would always seem fine too. Yet it is notorious that communities and individuals differ about nothing more than about the question what sort of conduct is “fine” (294c-d). Thus, if “appropriateness” actually makes things “fine,” the proposed definition may possibly be the right one; but if it only makes them “seem” fine (we have seen that the alternatives are exclusive of one another) the definition must clearly be rejected. And Hippias is satisfied that this second alternative is the true one (294e). (Hume’s well-known ethical theory affords a good illustration of the point of this reasoning. Hume sets himself to show that every society thinks the kind of conduct it “disinterestedly” likes virtuous and the |32| conduct it “disinterestedly” dislikes vicious. He then assumes that he has proved that these two kinds of conduct really are virtuous and vicious respectively, and that because a society knows certainly what it likes and what it dislikes, it is infallible in its judgments about virtue and vice. There is manifestly no connexion between the premises of this reasoning and its conclusion.) Socrates now (295c) throws out a suggestion of his own for examination. Perhaps it may be that the “fine” is the same as the “useful.” At any rate, by “ine eyes” we seem to mean eyes which do their work of seeing well, by a “fine” or “handsome” body one which discharges its various functions well, and the same considerations seem to hold good of “fine” horses, ships, implements of all kinds, and “fine” social institutions. In all these cases we seem to call “fine” that which serves the use to which it is to be put well, and “ugly” that which serves that use badly. The examples, drawn from a wide range of facts, thus suggest an obvious generalization, and the use of them to suggest it is an illustration of what Aristotle had in mind when he specified “inductive arguments” as one of the contributions of Socrates to philosophical method.7

If the definition once given were magisterially proposed for our acceptance, Socrates would thus stand revealed as a pure utilitarian in moral and aesthetic theory. But it is, in fact, put forward tentatively as a suggestion for examination. The examination is conducted in strict accord with the requirements of the dialectical method as described in the Phaedo (100a-b, 101d). The first step is to see what consequences follow from the suggested “postulate” (ὑπόθεσις). If the consequences are found to be in accord with known facts, and thus so far “verified,” the postulate will be regarded as so far justified; if some of them prove to be at variance with fact, it must be modified or dismissed, it cannot hold the field as it stands.

What consequences follow, then, from the identification of the “fine” with the “useful”? There is one at least which must give us pause. A thing is useful for what it can do, not for what it cannot; thus our formula apparently leads to the identification of τὸ καλόν with power to produce some result. But results may be good or they may be bad, and it seems monstrous to hold that power to produce evil is “fine.” We must, at the least, modify our statement by saying that the “fine” is that which can produce good, i.e., whether the “useful” is “fine” or not will depend on the goodness or badness of the end to which it is instrumental. Now we call that which is instrumental to good “profitable” (ὠφελιμόν); thus our proposed definition must be made more specific by a further determination. We must say “the fine” |33| is that which is profitable (instrumental to the production of good) (296e).

Even so, we have a worse difficulty to face. We are saying in effect that the “fine” = that which causes good as its result. But a cause and its effect are always different (or, in modern language, causality is always transitive). Hence, if the “fine” is the cause of good, it must follow that what is “fine” is never itself good, and what is good is never itself “fine,” and this is a monstrous paradox (297a). It seems then that the attempt to give a utilitarian definition of τὸ καλόν must be abandoned.

Possibly we may succeed better with a hedonist theory of beauty. The pictures, statues, and the like which we call “fine” all give us pleasure, and so do music and literature. In the one case the pleasure is got from sight, in the other from hearing. This suggests the new theory that the “fine” is “that which it is pleasant to see or hear” (298a). And we may even get in “moral beauty” under the formula, for “fine conduct” and “fine laws” are things which it gives us pleasure to see or to hear. But there is a logical difficulty to face. We are trying to define the “fine” as “that which it is pleasant to see and hear.” But, of course, you do not hear the things which it is pleasant to see, nor see the things which it is pleasant to hear. Thus our proposed definition will not be true of either of the classes of things which are “fine,” and, being true of neither, it cannot be true of both. We assumed that τὸ καλόν, whatever it may be, must be a character common to all “fine” things, but “to be seen and heard” is not a character either of the “pleasures of sight” or of the “pleasures of hearing” (300a, b).

Aristotle comments on the fallacy, formally committed in this argument, of confusing “and” with “or,” but the real trouble lies deeper. When the reasoning has been made formally sound by substituting “or” everywhere for “and,” it still remains the fact that it is hard to say that the “pleasures of sight” and those of hearing have anything in common but their common character of being pleasant, and it has been the standing assumption of the dialogue that all “fine” things have some one common character. But the conclusion, which might seem indicated, that the “fineness” which all “fine” things have in common is just “pleasantness” is excluded by the firm conviction of both Plato and Aristotle that there are “disgraceful,” morally “ugly” pleasures, e.g. those of the sexual “pervert.” At the same time, the proposed formula is at any rate suggestive. There must be some reason why the two unmistakably “aesthetic” senses should be just sight and hearing, though the utilization of the fact demands a much more developed aesthetic psychology than that of our dialogue. The equivocation between “and” and “or” is, on Socrates’ part, a conscious trap laid for his antagonist, as he shows when he goes on to remark that, after all, it is possible for “both” to have a character which belongs to neither singly, since, e.g., Socrates and Hippias are a couple, though Socrates is not a couple, nor is Hippias. Thus, it would be logically |34| possible that “the pleasures of sight and hearing” might collectively have some character which belongs to neither class separately; but the possibility is nothing to our purpose. For we agreed that the “fine” is a character which makes all “fine” things “fine,” and obviously a character which “fine sights” do not possess, (though the collection “fine sights and sounds” may possess it,) cannot be what makes “fine” sights fine (303d). If we look for some common character which distinguishes both pleasures of sight and pleasures of hearing from other pleasures, and so justifies our calling them in particular the “fine” pleasures, the only obvious character is that both are “harmless” and therefore better than other pleasures, (indulgence in which may easily harm our health or character or repute). But this brings us back to our old formula that the “fine” is the “profitable” with the added specification that it is “profitable pleasure” (303e). And thus we are faced once more with the difficulty that the “fine” is made productive of good, or a cause of good, with the consequence that the “fine” is not itself good nor the good itself “fine” (304a). Thus the result of the whole discussion is negative. We have only learned that though we are always talking about “fine conduct,” as though we knew our own meaning, we are really in a state of mental fog of which we ought to be ashamed. We have discovered our own ignorance of what it is most imperative we should know and what we fancy ourselves to know exceptionally well.

It is in this salutary lesson and not in any of the proposed definitions of the “fine” that we must look for the real significance of the dialogue. But it is also suggestive in other ways. The lesson it gives in the right method of framing and testing a definition is more important than any of the tentative definitions examined. Yet it is a valuable hint towards a more developed aesthetic theory that sensible “beauty” is found to be confined to the perceptions of the two senses of sight and hearing, and the illustration of the golden and wooden spoons might well serve as a warning against the dangers of an unduly “rationalistic” aesthetic theory. A wooden porridge-spoon is not necessarily a thing of beauty because it may be admirably “adapted” for the purposes of the porridge-eater. It is a still more important contribution to sound ethics to have insisted on the impossibility of reducing moral excellence (the “fine” in action) to mere “efficiency,” irrespective of the moral quality of the results of the “efficient” agent.8 And the emphatic insistence on the “transitive” character of all causality — a view which pervades all the best Greek metaphysics from first to last — may be regarded as the opening of a discussion which has continued to our own time and has issues of the most momentous kind for the whole interpretation of existence.9

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The Lesser Hippias

This short dialogue, though less ambitious in its scope, is much more brilliantly executed than the Hippias Major. Its authenticity is sufficiently established by the fact that Aristotle, though not mentioning the author, quotes the dialogue by name as “the Hippias”; such explicit references never occur in his work to writings of any “Socratic men” other than Plato.10 The conversation discusses a single ethical paradox, and its real purport only emerges in the closing words of Socrates.

Socrates opens the talk by quoting an opinion that the Iliad is a finer poem than the Odyssey, as the hero of the former, Achilles, is a morally nobler character than Odysseus, the hero of the latter. The moralistic tone of this criticism is characteristically Athenian, as we can see for ourselves from a reading of the Frogs of Aristophanes, but does not concern us further. The remark is a mere peg on which to hang a discussion of the purely ethical problem in which Socrates is really interested. The transition is effected by the declaration of Hippias that Achilles was certainly a nobler character than Odysseus, since Achilles is single-minded, sincere, and truthful, but Odysseus notoriously rusé and a past master of deceit. We see this from the famous lines in the ninth book of the Iliad, where Achilles pointedly tells the “artful” Odysseus that he hates the man who says one thing and means another “worse than the gates of Hades” (365a). Socrates replies that, after all, Achilles was no more “truthful” than Odysseus, as the context of this very passage proves. He said he would at once desert the expedition, but, in fact, he did nothing of the kind, and, what is more, he actually told his friend Aias a different story. To him he said not that he would sail home, but that he would keep out of the fighting until the Trojans should drive the Achaeans back to their ships (371b). (This is meant to negative the suggestion of Hippias that Achilles honestly meant what he said when he threatened to desert, but changed his mind afterward because of the unexpected straits to which his comrades-in-arms were reduced.) It looks then as though Homer, unlike Hippias, thought that the “truthful man” and the “liar” are not two, but one and the same.

This is the paradox which Socrates proceeds to defend, and Hippias, in the name of common sense, to deny. Or rather it is the application of a still more general paradox that the man who “misses the mark” (ἁμαρτάνει) on purpose (ἑκών) is “better” than the man who does so “unintentionally” (ἄκων). Popular morality rejects |36| a view of this kind as monstrous. It holds that we ought, as Hippias says, to show συγγνώμη (to “make allowances”) for involuntary wrong-doing, but that for deliberate wrong-doing there is no excuse. The main interest of the dialogue lies in the line of argument by which Socrates impugns this generally accepted thesis. He proceeds, as usual, by an “inductive” argument, i.e. an appeal to analogy. In general, the man who knows most about a subject is of all men the one who can mislead you in his own subject if he chooses to do so. An able mathematician, like Hippias, would be much better able to impose a false demonstration on others than a non-mathematician, who would only commit fallacies unintentionally and incidentally, and thus be led into visible self-contradictions. And the same thing holds good for astronomy (366d-368d). The same thing is true about arts involving manual dexterity (368b-369b). The man who only fails when he means to fail is a much better craftsman than the man who fails unintentionally from incompetence. It is true also of all forms of bodily dexterity. The runner who falls behind only when he means to do so, the wrestler who is thrown when he means to let himself be thrown, is a better runner or wrestler than the man who falls behind his competitor or is thrown against his will, because he “z can’t help it (373c-374b). So with physical “talents.” The man who only makes a false note when he means to do so is a better singer than the man who can’t help singing out of tune. And in the world of industry, a tool with which you can make a bad stroke when you mean to do so, is a better tool than one with which you can’t help making false strokes. And to come to living “implements,” a horse or a dog which does its work badly only when the owner means that it shall, has a “better soul” than one which does the wrong thing when the owner means it to do the right one (374c-375c). The same thing would be true of a servant. (Bob Sawyer’s boy, who took the medicines to the wrong houses because he was ordered to do so, was much more efficient than the sort of boy who blunders about errands because he is too stupid to do what he is told.) We may argue by analogy that our own souls are better if they “go wrong” on purpose than if they do so unintentionally (375d). In fact, we may condense the principle of the argument thus. Righteousness or morality (δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosunê) is either “power” (δύναμις, dunamis), or “knowledge” (ἐπιστήμη, epistêmê), or both. But the man who can do right is better in respect of “power,” a more “able” man than the man who cannot; and the man who knows how to do it has more knowledge than the man who does not. And we have seen that it takes more ability and more knowledge to “go wrong” when you mean to do so, than to blunder unintentionally. And the better man is the man who has the better soul. Hence it seems to follow that “the man who does wrong on purpose, if there is such a person, is a better man than the man who does wrong unintentionally” (375d-376b). Yet this is such a paradox that Socrates hesitates to assert it, though he does not see how to escape it.

|37| What is the real point of this curious argument? It is clear, of course, that the main assumption on which it is based is the famous Socratic thesis that “virtue is knowledge,” and again, that the method by which the conclusion is reached is the appeal to the analogy of the arts and crafts so constantly employed by Socrates. It is clear also that Plato does not mean us to accept the alleged inference; he does not seriously think that the deliberate “villain” is morally better than the man who does wrong, in an hour of temptation, against his settled purpose in life; it is the impossibility of such a doctrine which leads Socrates to say that he cannot commit himself consistently to the conclusion. Yet we cannot take the dialogue as intended to expose and refute either the doctrine that virtue is knowledge, or the use of the analogy from the “arts” as valuable in ethical reasoning. That a man who knows “the good” will, of course, aim at it is a standing doctrine of all Greek ethics; to suppose that Plato means either to deny this or to reject reasoning from the “arts,” would be to treat nearly the whole of the Republic, to name no other Platonic dialogues, as a prolonged bad joke. We must therefore find some other method of interpretation.

On reflection we see that the key to Plato’s meaning is really supplied by one clause in the proposition which emerges as the conclusion of the matter: “the man who does wrong on purpose, if there is such a person, is the good man.” The insinuation plainly is that there really is no such person as “the man who does wrong on purpose,” and that the paradox does not arise simply because there is no such person. In other words, we have to understand the Socratic doctrine that virtue is knowledge, and the Socratic use of the analogy of the “arts,” in the light of the other well-known Socratic dictum, repeated by Plato on his own account in the Laws, that “all wrong-doing is involuntary.” It is this, and not the formulated inference that the man who does wrong on purpose is the good man, which is the real conclusion to which Plato is conducting us. And we need have no difficulty about admitting this conclusion, if we bear in mind the true and sensible remark of Proclus about the Platonic sense of the word “voluntary” (ἑκούσιον). In Plato, the voluntary, as Proclus says,11 means regularly what we really wish to have. Now no man wishes to have what he knows or believes to be bad for him. Many men wish for what, in fact, would be bad for them, but they can only do so because they falsely think the thing in question good. To wish to have a thing because you know it would be bad for you would be impossible. As Aristotle puts it, “every one wishes for what he thinks good.” Many men choose evil in spite of the fact that it is evil, no one chooses it because it is evil and he knows it to be so. (Of course he may know or believe that he will be sent to prison or to hell for choosing as he does, but at heart he thinks that it will be “worth his while” to take these consequences, he will be “better off” even after paying this price |38| for what he desires.12 Thus the proposition “all wrong-doing is involuntary” has nothing to do with the question of human freedom; it is merely the negative way of stating that a man who really knows what his highest good is, will always act on this knowledge. The man who really knows the good but chooses something else is as much of a nonentity as a round square, and it is just because “there is no such person” that the wildest paradoxes can be asserted about him.

It follows that knowledge of the good is, in one respect, different from every other kind of knowledge, and this difference affects the employment of the analogy from professional and technical knowledge, the sort of thing the “sophists” meant by “knowledge” It is the only knowledge which cannot be put to a wrong use; every other kind of knowledge can be abused, and is abused when it is put to a bad use, as, e.g., when the medical man employs his special professional knowledge to produce disease or death, instead of curing the one or preventing the other. There is a real analogy between “goodness” and the “arts”; false beliefs about what is good or bad will ruin the conduct of life, as surely as false beliefs about what is wholesome will ruin a man’s practical success as a medical man; but if you press the analogy to the point of arguing that a man can use his knowledge of good for the deliberate doing of evil, as he might use his knowledge of medicine to commit a clever murder, you will be led astray, a truth with which Socrates is made to show himself familiar in Book I of the Republic, when he urges this very point against Polemarchus; that the analogy has its limits does not prevent it from being a sound analogy within those limits; that it becomes unsound when you forget them is no reason for denying that virtue really is knowledge, though it is not, like the “goodness” taught by the sophists, mere technical knowledge how to produce certain results, if you happen to wish for them.

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Little need be said about this slight dialogue on the nature of “poetic inspiration.” The main ideas suggested are expounded much more fully in those important Platonic works with which we shall have to deal later. We may, however, make a few remarks about the current conceptions of poetry against which Socrates is made to protest. It is important to remember that the whole conception of “inspiration,” so familiar to ourselves, is foreign to the way of thinking of poetry characteristic of the age of Pericles and Socrates. Poets were habitually reckoned, along with physicians, engineers, engravers, and others, as σοφοί, “wits” or “clever men.” This means that what was thought distinctive of the poet was not what we call “native genius,” but “craftsmanship,” “workmanship,” “technique.” He was conceived as consciously producing a beautiful result by the deft fitting together of words and musical sounds, exactly as the architect does the same thing by the deft putting together of stones. Of all the great Greek poets Pindar is |39| the only one who pointedly insists on the superiority of φυά, “native genius” to the craftsmanship (τέχνη, technê) which can be taught and learned; but to our taste conscious workmanship, rather than untaught “inspiration” is the characteristic quality of Pindar himself. We should never dream of talking of his “native woodnotes wild” or of comparing him with a skylark pouring out its soul in “unpremeditated art.” Also it was held commonly that the service the poet does us is definitely to “teach” us something — how to fight a battle, how to choose a wife, to retain a friend, or something of that kind. This explains why, in the Apology, when Socrates is speaking of his attempts to discover a “wiser man” than himself, he mentions poets along with statesmen as the two classes of recognized σοφοί to whom he first turned his attention (Apology, 22c). Since he found that the most admired poets were quite helpless at explaining the meaning of their own finest passages, he came to the conclusion, which he repeatedly maintains in Plato, that poets are not deliberate “craftsmen” at all, (do not compose in virtue of (σοφία, ibid. 22b,) but that poetry is a matter of “natural endowment” (φύσις) and non-rational “inspiration” and thus became the originator of the conception of the “poet” conventional among ourselves.

Ion, who is represented as an eminent professional rhapsode, shares the current views of the “wisdom” of the poets; it is a matter of “skill” or “art” (τέχνη), and he assents at once to the inference that the professional reciter of poetry absorbs from his study of the poet’s works a special measure of their author’s “skill.” The interpreter of the poet to the audience is, like the poet himself, the possessor of a “craft” or “profession.” Yet he has to admit that his own skill as an interpreter is confined to the poetry of Homer; he cannot succeed in declaiming any other poet or explaining the “beauties” of his work; in fact, his interest flags as soon as any poet but Homer is made the topic of conversation. This, as Socrates says, serves to show that the rhapsode’s accomplishment is not the result of specialist skill. All the poets, as Ion admits, treat of much the same topics — the conduct of men and women in the various occupations of life, the “things in the heavens and the underworld,” and the births and doings of “gods,” though Homer treats all these topics better than any one else, Hence if the exposition of a poet were a matter of professional expert knowledge, the same knowledge which makes a man able to appreciate and expound Homer, would equally make him a good critic and expositor of poetry in general. Consequently, Socrates suggests that the conception of the interpreter of the poet as a conscious “craftsman” is mistaken. The poets themselves are not self-conscious “artists”; they compose their works in a mood of “inspiration” in which they are “taken out of themselves” and are temporarily, like “seers” or Bacchanals, vehicles “possessed” by a higher power of which they are the unconscious mouthpieces. In the same way, the “rhapsode” with a special gift for reciting Homer is “inspired” by the poet at second-hand. He becomes |40| temporarily himself the “mouthpiece” of the poet, as the poet is the mouthpiece of the god. And he in turn “inspires” his hearers by communicating to them, in a non-logical way, something of the “inspiration” he has received from the poet. Thus poet, reciter, audience, are like so many links of iron, the first of which is “attracted” by a magnet, and in its turn attracts another. It is evidence for the non-rational character of this influence that the rhapsode for the time actually enters into the feelings of the characters whose speeches he is declaiming, shudders with their fears and weeps over their distresses, and makes his audience do the like, though neither they nor he may really be faced with any danger or distress. So far Ion is not unwilling to go with Socrates, but he is less ready to follow him when Socrates turns to the other chief feature in the popular conception of the poet, and denies that the poet as such is a “teacher” with knowledge to impart to us. If Homer were really a great teacher of wisdom human and divine, it should follow that a rhapsode, whose profession compels him to be intimately acquainted with Homer’s poetry, is also a high authority in all fields of knowledge. But it is undeniable that a physician would be a sounder judge of Homer’s statements about medicine than a rhapsode, and again that a racing man would be better able to appreciate and criticise the advice Nestor gives in the Iliad about horse-racing than a professional rhapsode, unless the rhapsode happens incidentally to be a specialist in horse-racing. If then there really is any department of specialist knowledge which can be acquired by a study of Homer, what is it?

Ion falls back on the traditional view that at any rate Homer is a specialist in the art of warfare, and that a close student of Homer, such as he himself has been, learns from Homer the “art of the general.” The Iliad, in fact, is a first-rate manual of military science, and Ion professes, on the strength of his familiarity with it, to be a great general in posse. But how comes it, then, that he has never attempted to distinguish himself in so eminently honorable a profession? If there is no opening in his native city of Ephesus, which is now a subject-ally of Athens, why has he never, like some other aliens, entered the military service of Athens herself?

Nominally the little dialogue is concerned with the question whether rhapsodes and actors owe their success to professional or expert knowledge, or to some kind of “genius” or non-rational “inspiration.” But it is clear that the real points intended to be made are that the poet himself is not an “expert” in any kind of knowledge and, as poet, has not necessarily anything to teach us. These points are enforced more impressively in other Platonic works, notably in the Phaedrus, but the Ion has its value, both as a contribution to the psychology of the “rhapsode” (or, as we should say today, the actor), and as a particularly clear and simple refutation of the never-dying popular delusion that the function of the poet himself, and consequently of his exponent, is primarily didactic. The type of critic who conceives it to be his business to find |41| “morals” and “lessons in the plays of Shakespeare, and regards it as the object of Hamlet or Macbeth to warn us against procrastination or ambition, has something to learn even from the Ion.

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The Menexenus offers, in a way, a worse puzzle to the reader than any other work of the Platonic corpus, and it is not surprising that its authenticity should be doubted by students of Plato who are in general on the conservative side in questions of genuineness. Externally the evidence for it is good. It is twice cited by Aristotle,13 and once with a formal title, “the Funeral Discourse” and this seems to show that Aristotle at least believed it to be Platonic. Now the systematic production of works falsely ascribed to eminent authors seems not to occur in the history of Greek literature until long after the time of Aristotle. And again it is not likely that Aristotle, of all men, should have been misinformed about the real authorship of an Academic dialogue. Thus it is hard to believe either that the dialogue is a deliberate forgery or that it is a production of some lesser member of the Academy which has been ascribed by a simple mistake to Plato, as seems to be the case with a few of the minor items of the “canon of Thrasylus.” Nor have modern stylometrical investigations given any reason to suspect the little work. Aristotle’s allusion thus seems to compel us to accept it as genuine. On the other hand, there are two notorious difficulties which we have to face when we admit Plato’s authorship. One is that it is at least hard to see what Plato’s object in such a composition can be. The other is that the dialogue commits an anachronism to which there is no parallel anywhere in Plato, and which cannot be unconscious. The body of it is made up of a recital by Socrates of a “funeral oration” on the Athenians who fell in the Corinthian war, and Socrates professes to have heard the speech from the lips of the famous Aspasia, the wife of Pericles. It is certain that Socrates was put to death in the summer of the year 399 B.C., long before the opening of the Corinthian war (395 B.C.). Yet he is made to carry his review of Athenian history down to the pacification dictated by the Persian king, which ended the war in the year 387. Aspasia, the nominal speaker, must have died before Socrates. This is implied in the structure of the Aspasia of Aeschines, on which see H. Dittmar, Aeschines von Sphettus, 45-56. Plato must have violated chronology quite deliberately and with a view to producing a definite effect. But what can we suppose the intention to have been?

It is idle to suggest that the whole affair is a mere Aristophanic jest, and that Plato only wants to show that he can rival the comedians on their own ground by putting ludicrous “topical allusions” into the mouth of his hero. We cannot reconcile such a use of Socrates, for purposes of pure burlesque, with the tone of reverence and devotion in which Plato continues to speak of Socrates in the letters written at the very end of his own life; even |42| if one could, we have to remember that Socrates is not being made, as he might be made in a burlesque, to offer a remarkably intelligent “anticipation of the course of events”; he is represented as commenting on the events of the twelve or thirteen years after his own death ex post facto. And we still have to explain why Socrates should pretend that Aspasia too is still a well-known figure at Athens, and that he has learned his discourse from her. Again, we cannot account for this use of Aspasia by appealing to the passage (Menexenus, 236b) where Socrates is made to credit her with the authorship of the famous “funeral speech” delivered by Pericles in the first year of the Archidamian war, and reported by Thucydides. Plato’s object is not to ridicule oratory of this kind by the insinuation that its tone is what might be expected from a woman and an hetaera, (companion, a highly educated and cultured courtesan). The remains of the Aspasia of Aeschines of Sphettus, make it clear that the view, which underlies the proposals of Republic v., that “the goodness of a woman and that of a man are the same” was a genuine doctrine of Socrates, and that he quite seriously believed in the “political capacity” of Aspasia. His profession of owing his own “Funeral Discourse” to her is, no doubt, only half-serious, but it is quite in keeping with what we know to have been his real conviction. We have therefore to discover the object of the whole singular mystification, if we can, from an analysis of the oration itself.

It will not be necessary to insert here a full analysis, but there are certain points, well brought out in such a commentary as Stallbaum’s, which we have to bear in mind. The discourse is framed on the lines we can see from comparison with the extant examples to have been conventional on such occasions. It treats first of the glorious inheritance and traditions of the community into which the future warriors were born and in which they were brought up, then of their own achievements, by which they have approved themselves worthy of such an origin, and finally of the considerations which should moderate the grief of their surviving friends and relatives. In this respect it exhibits a close parallel with the discourse of Pericles in Thucydides, the “funeral speech” included in the works ascribed to Lysias, the Panegyricus of Isocrates, the discourse of Hyperides on Leosthenes and his companions in the Lamian war. There are direct verbal echoes of the speech of Lysias, perhaps of that of Pericles, and, I suspect, also of the Isocratean Panegyricus, a work of the year 380. The diction again has clearly been modelled on that actually adopted in real encomia (eulogies) of the fallen, and it is this which makes it impossible to use evidence from style to date the dialogue. “Funeral orations” belong to the type of oratory called by the Greeks “epideictic,” and demand an artificial elevation of diction and use of verbal ornament avoided in “forensic” pleading and political speaking. Hence all the extant specimens exhibit, to a greater or a less degree, the high-flown and semi-poetical character distinctive of the Sicilian “show declamation” introduced to Athens by Gorgias, and Plato |43| has been careful to preserve this peculiarity. When we examine the contents of the discourse, we see that he has been equally careful to conform to the accepted model. His oration, like those of Lysias and Isocrates, but unlike the really statesmanlike discourse of Pericles, dwells on the topics afforded by mythology for the glorification of Athens, the origination of the cultivation of corn and of the olive in Attica, the contest of Athena with Hephaestus for the patronage of the city, the public spirit and chivalry displayed in such legendary exploits as the protection of the family of Heracles and the rescuing for burial of the corpses of the champions who fell before the gates of Thebes. Lysias and Isocrates both expatiate on these prehistorical events at great length — a length apparently satirized by Socrates in the remark (239b) that they have already received their due meed of celebration from the poets. The speech then proceeds, like those which are apparently its immediate models, to a sketch of the history of Athens down to date, the object of which is to glorify the city on two grounds — its rooted and inveterate antipathy to “barbarians,” (242c-e, 245d) and its unselfish Panhellenism, shown by its readiness always to make sacrifices to preserve the “balance of power” between the different Greek cities by supporting the weaker side in these internal quarrels (244e). The demonstration of the second point in particular leads to a bold falsification of history, by which the fifth century attempts of Athens to dominate Boeotia and the Archidamian war itself are made to appear as heroic struggles against the “imperialism” of other communities. We know enough from Plato of the real sentiments both of himself and of Socrates to understand that this version of history cannot represent the serious convictions of either; it has all the appearance of satire on the “patriotic” version of history given by Isocrates in an inconsistent combination with Panhellenism. Similarly, after reading the Gorgias and Republic and the sketch of Athenian history given in Laws iii., we shall find it impossible to take the Menexenus seriously when it glorifies the existing constitution of Athens as a true aristocracy in which the men who are reputed to be “best” govern with the free consent of the multitude (238d-e). When we are told that at Athens, as nowhere else, “he who has the repute of wisdom and goodness is sovereign,” the emphasis must be meant to fall on the words “who has the repute” and the encomium is disguised satire. Probably, then, the real purpose of the discourse is to imitate and at the same time, by adroit touches of concealed malice, to satirize popular “patriotic oratory.” It is no objection to such an interpretation to say, what is true enough, that the speech contains noble passages on the duty of devotion to one’s State and the obligation of perpetuating its finest traditions. Even the “flag-flapper” who distorts all history into a romantic legend of national self-glorification, usually has some good arguments, as well as many bad ones, for his “patriotism” and we may credit Plato with sufficient penetration to have seen that satire misses its designed effect unless |44| it is accompanied by intelligent recognition of the good which is mingled with the evil in its objects. (This is why so much of the writing of Juvenal, Swift, Victor Hugo, merely wearies a reader by the monotony of the invective.14

If Isocrates is the person against whom the satire of the Menexenus is largely directed, we can see an excellent reason why that satire should be so liberally mixed with sympathy. Isocrates was honorably distinguished by his real superiority to mere particularism and his real concern for the interests of Greek civilization as a whole, and in this he and Plato were wholly at one. But, unlike Plato, who regarded the hard and fast distinction between Greek and “barbarian” as unscientific superstition, Isocrates takes the antithesis seriously and tends to regard hate of the barbarian as equivalent to love for civilization. The combination of the two points of view in the Menexenus is a fair representation of his lifelong attitude towards affairs. So again the distortion of history by which the most aggressive exploits of Attic imperialism, such as the attempt of Pericles and his friends to dominate Boeotia, and the Archidamian War as a whole, are represented as “wars of liberation,” is no very violent parody of the methods of Isocrates when he is anxious, as in the Panegyricus, to gratify Athenian partiality for Athens or Athenian dislike of Sparta. One may suspect the same purpose of parody in the false emphasis which is laid in the Menexenus on the naval exploits of Athens in the Sicilian expedition as efforts for the “liberation” of the oppressed. Isocrates notoriously held the view that the naval ascendancy of Athens had been a national misfortune, since it had led to the lust for empire, and there are passages in the Laws which show that Plato sympathized with this conviction. But it would be a telling criticism of the Isocratean way of manipulating history to show that it could easily be employed for glorifying precisely the side of Athenian history which gave Isocrates himself least satisfaction. You have only to sit as loosely to facts as Isocrates habitually allows himself to do when he wishes to praise or to abuse some one, and you can make Alcibiades into a hero of chivalry who was only doing his duty by the oppressed when he lured Athens on to its ruin by the prospect of the conquest of Sicily!15 If we read the Menexenus in this light, we can perhaps understand the point of the curious anachronism in its setting. The satire of the actual “Funeral Discourse” is so subtly mixed with sympathetic appreciation that it would be easy to mistake the whole speech for a serious encomium — a mistake which has actually been made by a good many interpreters of Plato. The ordinary reader needs some very visible warning sign if he is to approach the discourse with the required anticipation that |45| its purpose is satirical. The warning is given, for any intelligent reader, by the amazing introduction of Socrates at a date years after his death. It is as though Plato were telling us in so many words that we are dealing with the utterances of a mere puppet who has nothing to do with the great man to whose memory the dialogues in general are a splendid tribute. Even so, the fiction is singular, and hardly to be accounted for unless we realise the presence in Plato himself of a peculiar vein of freakish humor which comes out notably in the singular “antinomies” of the Parmenides as well as in the whimsicalities of the Sophistes and Politicus. It was an “impish” trick to put the discourse of the Menexenus into the mouth of a puppet Socrates, and we may be glad that the trick was never repeated, as we are glad that Shakespeare never perpetrated a second Troilus and Cressida. The very audacity of the trick is some additional evidence of the genuineness of the dialogue. We can understand that Plato might take such a liberty — once, and in an unhappy moment; it is surely incredible that a younger member of Plato’s entourage should have ventured on it at all.

See further:
Ritter, C. Platon, i. 297-308, Hippias II, 359-361; Hippias I, 485-496 Menexenus.
Raeder, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 92-94 (Ion), 94-95;
  Hippias II, 101-106; Hippias I, 125-127; Menexenus.
Apelt, O. Beitrdge zur Geschichte der griechischen Philosophic 1891, 369-390;
  der Sophist Hippias von Elis; Platonische Aufädtze. 1912, 203-237,
  on Hippias I and II. Kraus, O. Platons Hippias Minor. Prague, 1913.
Dittmar, H. Aeschines von Sphettus 1-59 (on the connexion of the Menexenus
  with the Aspasia of Aeschines. The connexion is clearly made out,
  but I think it an exaggeration to find the purpose of Plato’s dialogue
  mainly in a “polemic” against Aeschines).

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1^ Epinomis vii. 341c: “There does not exist, and there never shall, any treatise by myself on these matters. The subject does not admit, as the sciences in general do, of exposition. It is only after long association in the great business itself and a shared life that a light breaks out in the soul, kindled, so to say, by a leaping flame, and thereafter feeds itself.” Epinomis ii. 341c: “I have never myself written a word on these topics, and there neither is nor ever shall be any treatise by Plato; what now bears the name belongs to Socrates beautified and rejuvenated.” That is, all that a teacher can do in philosophy is to awaken in a younger mind the spirit of independent personal thinking; the dialogues are meant not to expound a “Platonic system,” but to preserve the memory of Socrates. One of Plato’s grounds for dissatisfaction with Dionysius II was that he had circulated a work professing to expound “Platonism” (Epinomis vii. 341b).

2^ For this reasoning see Alcibiades I 119a-133d, Euthydemus, 278c-282d, 288d-292e. For the soul as the real “man” which “uses” the body see Alcibiades I 130c.

3^ This is the message with which Socrates regarded himself as charged by God to his fellow-citizens and mankind in general (Apology, 29d-e, 36c, 41c).

4^ Naturally not. An answer to this question would raise the issues covered in Christian theology by the doctrine of “grace.” We must not look for an anticipation of Augustine in Hellenic moral philosophy.

5^ See 288d, where Socrates humorously describes his pertinacious questioner as “no wit, one of the canaille who cares nothing for anything but the truth,” and 298b 11, where he as good as identifies him with “the son of Sophroniscus.”

6^ The characteristic phrases αὐτὸ τὸ καλόν and εἰδος are introduced at 289d without explanation, as something quite familiar. They bear the same meaning which they have in dialogues where the so-called “ideal theory” is expounded. They mean that which is denoted without excess or defect by a significant name, a determinate character. This is a good illustration of the way in which the “ideal theory” is directly suggested by the everyday use of language. It is assumed that if several things can each be significantly called x, then x has a determinate significance which is the same in all the cases.

7^ Aristotle. Metaphysics M1078b 27. Note that neither Socrates nor Aristotle regards the “induction” as a proof. The generalization τὸ καλόν = τὸ χρησιμόν has yet to be tested and may have to be rejected. The testing is the work of intellectual analysis, or, as Socrates and Plato call it “dialectic.”

8^ Mr. Chesterton remarks somewhere that Fagin was probably an exceptionally “efficient” educator of boys; the trouble was that he was efficient in teaching them the wrong things.

9^ E.g. the cause of Theism is bound up with the position that all genuine causality is “transitive,” and that purely “immanent” causality is not causality at all. This becomes specially obvious from a study of the famous Aristotelian argument for the “unmoved Mover.”

10^ It is barely credible that Aristotle should not have read the admired “Socratic discourses” of Aeschines of Sphettus or the Alcibiades of Antisthenes, and it is therefore significant that he never mentions any of these works. We may take it that a named dialogue introducing Socrates always means to him a dialogue of Plato, or one regarded by the contemporary Academy as Plato’s. And I cannot believe that the Academy itself can have been liable to error about the Platonic authorship of dialogues within a quarter of a century of Plato’s death.

11^ Proclus, In Platonis Rem publicam commentarii, ii. 355 (Kroll).

12^ Cf. ”To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, II. 254-255.

13^ Rhetoric, 1367b 8, 1415b 30.

14^ Cf. the excellent remarks of Sir A. Quiller-Couch, Studies in Literature, p. 290 ff.

15^ Lysias takes care to “skip” the Peloponnesian War entirely; Isocrates does worse. He actually justifies the two great crimes of the enslavement and massacre of the Melians and the destruction of Scione!

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IV. Minor Dialogues: Charmides, Laches, and Lysis

We may group the three dialogues which form the subject of this chapter together for several reasons. From the dramatic point of view all show an advance upon what is likely to have been the earliest form of the Platonic dialogue, the direct presentation of Socrates in conversation with a single interlocutor. The Lysis and Charmides both profess to be reports of recently held conversations given by Socrates to an unnamed friend or friends, and thus conform to the type of such masterpieces of literary art as the Protagoras and Republic. The fiction that the dialogue is reported enables Socrates to draw a highly dramatic picture of the persons engaged in the conversation and the circumstances in which it is held. This device is not adopted in the Laches, where the method of direct reproduction of the conversation is maintained, but the same advantage is obtained by adding to the number of the interlocutors, so that we have a vivid characterization of three persons, two of them notabilities, besides Socrates himself. All three dialogues, again, are connected by the fact that they deal with Socrates in the special character of older friend and adviser of the very young, and two of them, the Charmides and Lysis give us an attractive picture of his personal manner as mentor to his young friends. In the cases of Charmides and Laches Plato has been careful to indicate approximately the period of life to which Socrates has attained, and we see that both are meant as pictures of the master as he was between the ages of forty and fifty, and thus take us back to a time when Plato himself was either an infant or not yet born. It is closely connected with this that both dialogues, and especially the Laches, are pervaded by the atmosphere of the Archidamian war and remind us of the fact that Socrates was, among other things, a fighting man. A further point of connexion between these two dialogues is, that they are both concerned at bottom with a difficulty arising directly out of the Socratic conception of virtue as identical with knowledge. Each deals with one of the great recognized virtues demanded from a Greek “good man” — the Charmides with “temperance” the Laches with “valour” or “fortitude” — and in both cases the discussion follows the same general lines. We are gradually led up to the point of identifying the virtue under consideration with knowledge of the good, and then |47| left to face the difficulty that the identification seems to involve the further identification of this particular virtue with all virtue. If valour, for example, is knowledge of the good, how can we continue to distinguish the soldier’s virtue of valour from any other virtue, and what becomes of the popular belief that a man may have one virtue in an eminent degree, and yet be deficient in another — may be, for example, a very brave soldier but very "licentious"? This problem of the "unity of the virtues" forms the starting-point for the discussion of the Protagoras, and cannot be said to receive its full solution until we come to the Republic. Thus, by raising it, the Laches and Charmides prelude directly to what must have been the great achievements of Plato’s literary prime of manhood; this is an additional reason for holding that they must not be placed among his earliest compositions. It is, for example, quite possible, if not even probable, that both may be later works than the Gorgias, which still retains the method of simple direct reproduction of a conversation and, for all its impressive eloquence, shows less insight into the more difficult philosophical problems raised by the Socratic conception of morality.

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Formally, like several of the dialogues, the Charmides has as its object the finding of a definition. To us it seems at first pedantic to attach importance, in morals at any rate, to mere definitions of the different virtues. A definition, we are inclined to think, is at best a matter of names, whereas ethical thinking should concern itself directly with “concrete realities.” If a man recognizes and practices a noble rule of life, it matters very little by what name he calls the right act, whether he looks at it as an exhibition of courage, or of justice, or of “temperance.” The “fine” deed can, in fact, easily be made to wear the semblance of any one of these “virtues.” This is true enough, but it would be out of place as a criticism on the Socratic demand for “definitions” in matters of conduct. From the Greek point of view, the problem of definition itself is not one of names, but of things. If our moral judgment is to be sound, and our moral practice good, we must approve and disapprove rightly. We must admire and imitate what is really noble, and must not be led into false theory and bad practice by confused thinking about good and evil. The problem of finding a definition of a “virtue” is at bottom the problem of formulating a moral ideal, and it is from this point of view that we ought to consider it. The important thing is that we should know quite definitely what we admire in conduct and that our admiration should be rightly given to the things which are really admirable. Failure in finding the definition means that we really do not know what we admire, and so long as we do not know this, our moral life is at the mercy of sentimental half-thinking.

The particular virtue selected for discussion is one which bulks very large in all Greek thought about the conduct of life — the beautiful characteristic called by the Greeks sophrosyne, and by the Romans temperantia. It is easier to indicate from the usage of the |48| language what this moral excellence is, than to find any one name for it in our modern English. In literature we find sophrosyne spoken of chiefly in the following connexions. As its derivation implies, the word means literally the possession of a “sane” or “wholesome” mind; sophrosyne is thus contrasted with the “folly” of the man who “forgets himself” in the hour of success and prosperity, and “presumes on” his advantages of wealth or power, pushes them to the full extreme in his dealings with the less fortunate. Or it may equally be contrasted with the “unbalanced” conduct of the fanatic who has only one idea in his head, can only see one side of a situation and is blind to all the others. In this sense, as the virtue opposed to the pride of the man who forgets that the gods can cast him down as low as they have raised him high, the recklessness of the successful man who forgets that he may himself come to be as much at the mercy of another as others are now at his, the pitilessness of the fanatic who can only see one side to every question, sophrosyne covers very much of what we call humility, humanity, mercy. Again, the word is a name for the kind of conduct thought becoming specially in the young towards elders, soldiers towards their superior officer, citizens towards their magistrates. In this sense it means proper modesty and even covers such minor matters as a becoming outward deportment in speech and gesture. In still a third sense, it is the characteristic of the man who knows how to hold his imperious bodily appetites, “the desire for meat and drink and the passion of sex,” in easy and graceful control, as contrasted with the man who offends us by unseemly and untimely greed of these appetitive enjoyments. In this aspect, sophrosyne is what in good English is still called “temperance,” if we take care to remember that it is part of the virtue itself that it is not the imperfect self-restraint of the man who holds himself in check ungracefully and with difficulty, but the easy and natural self-restraint of the man who enjoys being “temperate.”1 If it does not seem an affectation to use such a phrase, we may say that sophrosyne is the spirit of the “disciplined” life. It is not, as Hume insinuates,2 a “monkish” virtue, except in the sense that you certainly cannot be a good monk without it. Neither, as Hume forgot, can you be a good soldier, and that is why in the Laws (634a-b) Plato throws sophrosyne and valour together, and insists that the former is the major and the harder part of the lesson every good “fighting man” has to master. The very wide range of the use of the word in literature goes a long way to explain the importance Socrates attaches to a clear and coherent statement of its meaning, and the difficulty the company have in producing such a statement. The introductory narrative provides an opportunity for a clear indication of the date |49| at which the conversation is supposed to take place. Socrates has been serving before the walls of Potidaea, in the campaign of the year 431 with which hostilities between Athens and the members of the Peloponnesian confederacy opened, and has just returned safe and sound, after having displayed his courage and coolness in danger, as we learn from the Symposium (219-220), by saving the life of Alcibiades. He is then a man of some forty years (Plato, we must remember, is not yet born). He goes direct, on his arrival, to his “wonted haunts,” the palaestrae, and begins at once to ask questions about the way in which “philosophy and the young people” have been faring in his absence on service (Charmides 153d). (This, we observe, implies that the interest of young men of promise in Socrates as a wise counsellor was already a reality, eight years before Aristophanes burlesqued these relations in the Clouds.) Critias, cousin of Plato’s mother, afterward to be unhappily known as a leader of the violently reactionary party in the “provisional government” set up after the capitulation of Athens to Lysander, but at present simply a young man of parts but with a touch of forwardness and self-confidence, thereupon promises to introduce Socrates to his own cousin Charmides (Plato’s uncle, subsequently associated with Critias and his party as the head of the commission set up to dominate the Piraeus), as a lad of exceptional promise.3 Socrates had already seen him as a mere child, but he has now grown to be a youth of wonderful beauty and equally wonderful sophrosyne. It is agreed that Socrates shall have some conversation with the lad and judge of him for himself.

“You cannot treat the body successfully without treating the soul,
which is the real seat of health and disease.”

Socrates leads up playfully to his real purpose, the examination of the boy’s spiritual state. Charmides has been complaining of headaches. Socrates professes to have brought back from his northern campaign a wonderful remedy which he has learned from a Thracian.4 The Thracian, however, had explained that not only can you not treat a local disorder properly without treating the patient’s whole body, you cannot treat the body successfully without treating the soul, which is the real seat of health and disease. Hence Socrates is under a promise not to practice the recipe against headache on anyone who is not spiritually sound in constitution. It would be useless if employed on a subject with a deep-seated spiritual disorder. sophrosyne is presupposed in spiritual health; before Charmides can be treated for his headaches, then, we must find out whether he has sophrosyne (Charmides 155e-158e). Now if a man has this or any other character of soul, it must, of course, make |50| its presence felt, and its possessor will therefore have an opinion of some kind about its nature. (It is not meant, of course, that the possessor of the character need have a “clear and distinct idea” of it, but only that he must have some acquaintance with it; language about it will have some meaning for him, exactly as language about sight or hearing will mean something to anyone who can see or hear, though it would be meaningless to beings born blind or deaf.) Thus, we are led to the question what kind of thing Charmides takes sophrosyne to be. As is natural in a mere lad, Charmides fixes first of all on an exterior characteristic, and equally naturally it is a characteristic of sophrosyne in the form which would be most familiar to a boy — the form of decent and modest bearing towards one’s elders and “good behavior” generally. One shows sophrosyne by walking, talking, doing things generally, in an “orderly and quiet” fashion; so perhaps we may say that it is “a sort of quietness” (ἡσυχιότης), a “slowness” which may be contrasted with undignified and ungraceful “hurry” (159b). This, of course, is true, so far as it goes, only it does not go very far. There is a “hurry” which means that one’s limbs or one’s tongue are not really under control as they should be. But we want to get behind such mere outward indications to the interior condition of soul from which they spring; and besides, clearly “slowness,” deliberateness, does not always arise from being “master of one’s soul.” As Socrates says, in the various physical and mental accomplishments it is what is readily and quickly done, not what is done slowly and with difficulty, that is “well” or “fairly” (καλως) done. He who reads or writes, or wrestles or boxes well, does these things quickly; he who can only make the proper movements slowly does not do them well. So with accomplishments of the mind. A fine memory or judgment or invention is a quick, not a slow, memory or judgment or invention. Now it is admitted that sophrosyne, whatever it is, is something “fine” (καλόν). Clearly then it cannot be right to fix on “slowness” as what is specially distinctive of sophrosyne (159c-160d). The point is that, in small things as well as in great, the man who is master of his soul is free from “hurry.” There is, in a sense, a spacious leisureliness about his behavior. But this freedom from “haste” and “hurry” is not the same thing as slowness: slowness may be, and often is, a mere consequence of awkwardness, of not being master of yourself.

Charmides next makes a suggestion which shows a real attempt to get behind the externals of behavior to the spirit and temper they reveal. sophrosyne makes a man quick to feel shame, and perhaps it is the same thing as modesty (αἰδώς, 160e). The boy is still clearly thinking of the form in which sophrosyne would be most familiar to a well-bred boy — the sense of being “on one’s best behavior” in the presence of one’s parents, one’s elders, and in general of those to whom respect is due. (We may compare Kant’s well-known comparison of the reverence for the moral law which is, according to him, the specific ethical feeling, with the sense of restraint |51| we feel in the presence of an exalted or impressive personage — the sort of feeling an ordinary man would have if he were suddenly summoned to an interview with the King or the Pope. There is a real analogy between the two things; as Kant says, our feeling in both cases is primarily one of inhibition or restraint. You don’t “loll” in the King’s presence, and a good man is not “free and easy” in the presence of a moral obligation.) But again, the analogy is only an analogy, not an identity. sophrosyne cannot be simply identified with shamefacedness (αἰσχύνη) or modesty (αἰδώς).5 For, by general consent, it is something which is always not merely “fine” (καλόν) but good (ἀγαθόν), and there is a false modesty which is not good. As Homer says, “Modesty is not good in a beggar.” (Cf. the Scots saying, “Dinna let yer modesty wrang ye.”) The shame or modesty which makes a man too bashful to tell his full need on the proper occasion is not good, but sophrosyne is always good (160e-161a).

This leads to a third suggestion which is more important than any we have yet met. Charmides has heard someone — it is hinted that this some one is Critias say — that sophrosyne means “attending to one’s own matters” (τὸ τὰ ἑαυτοϋ πράττειν, 161b,6 and this, perhaps, may be the true account. It does obviously present one advantage. The formula is a strictly universal one, applicable to the whole conduct of life in all its different “ages,” not merely to the kind of conduct appropriate to the young in particular. In a boy the shyness, or backwardness, of which we have just been speaking is a laudable thing, and “forwardness” a fault, but “shyness” is far from being a laudable characteristic in a grown man. But at any age of life it is laudable to “mind your own affairs” and censurable to be a “meddler” or busybody. Unfortunately, as Socrates goes on to point out, the phrase “to attend to one’s own matters” is so ambiguous that the new suggestion is something of a “conundrum”; we have to guess, if we can, what its author may have meant (161d). Clearly he cannot have meant that a man should only read and write his own name and no one else’s, or that the builder or the physician should build his own house or cure his own body and no other, on pain of being noted for a “meddler.” Life would be intolerable to a community where the rule was that every one should “attend to his own matters” in the sense that he must “do everything for himself” (161e). The alleged saying, then, is what we called it, a pure conundrum. In the Republic, as |52| we all know, this very phrase “to mind one’s own matters” is adopted as an adequate definition not merely of one type of “virtue,” but of δικαιοσύνη, “right-doing” the fundamental principle of the whole moral life. There is no inconsistency between the two dialogues. The point made in the Charmides is simply that the phrase as it stands, without further explanation leaves us in the dark. In the Republic the necessary explanation has been supplied by the educational theory and moral psychology which precede its introduction, so that when we come to it, it has a very definite significance, and is seen at once to embody the whole content of the Socratic ideal that a man’s business in life is the “tendance of his soul.” If it had been sprung upon us, without this preparation, in the course of Republic i. as an answer to the ethical nihilism of Thrasymachus, it would then have been exactly what Socrates calls it in the Charmides — a conundrum.

“Sophrosyne arises from being master of one’s soul.”

The defense of the proposed definition is now taken up by Critias. He replies to the objection of Socrates by making a distinction between “doing” (τὸ πράττειν, τὸ ἐργάζεσθαι) and “making” (τὸ ποιεϊν). The shoemaker “makes” shoes for his customers, but in “making” their shoes he is “doing” his own work. The shoes he makes are not his own shoes, but the making of them is his “own” trade or work. Here again we are dealing with a real and important distinction; in the Republic we shall learn the true significance of the conception of a “work” or “vocation” which is a man’s “own” not because the products of it are to be his “own” property for his own exclusive use, but because it is the contribution he and no one else can make to the “good life.” Critias has not, however, thought out the implications of his own distinction, and goes wrong from the start by an elementary confusion of ideas. He appeals in support of the distinction to the saying of Hesiod that “no work is disgraceful”7 on which he puts a glaringly false interpretation. Hesiod, he says, cannot have meant that no occupation is a base one, for there are base trades like those of the shoemaker and fishmonger, not to mention worse ones. By “work,” Hesiod must have meant “making what is honorable and useful,” and similarly, when we say that sophrosyne is “minding your own matters” or “doing your own work” we mean that it is doing what is “honorable and useful” (163b-c).

We might expect that Socrates would fasten at once on the obvious weakness of this definition; it presupposes that we already know what we mean by “good and useful.” We should then be led direct to the conclusion which it is part of Plato’s purpose to drive home, that we cannot really know the character of sophrosyne |53| or any other virtue until we know what good and evil are, and when we know that we have answered the question what virtue is. In point of fact, Socrates prefers to make an unexpected deviation from the direct line of the argument, which raises a still more general issue, and apparently takes us out of the sphere of ethics into that of epistemology. The length of this section shows that it is meant to be the most important division of the dialogue, and we shall need therefore to consider it with some care.

According to the explanation of Critias, a physician who cures his patient is doing something good and useful for both himself and the patient and is therefore acting with sophrosyne. But he need not know that he is doing what is “good and useful.” (The physician cannot be sure that he will really be the better, or that his patient will be the better, for his services. It might be better for the patient that he should die, or for the physician that he should not make the income he does make.) Thus it would seem that a man may have sophrosyne without being aware that he has it (164a-c). This would not only seem inconsistent with the assumption Socrates had made at the beginning of his conversation with Charmides, but also flatly contradicts the generally accepted view, with which Critias agrees, that sophrosyne actually is the same thing as “self-knowledge.” (The thought, of course, is that “sanity of mind” is precisely a true understanding of yourself, your strength and your weaknesses, your real situation in relation to gods and men, the kind of self-knowledge which was inculcated by the Nosce teipsum8 inscription in the Delphic temple.) We thus find ourselves embarked on a double question: (1) Is self-knowledge possible at all? (2) If it is, is it profitable; has it any bearing on the practical conduct of life? Or again: (1) What is the object apprehended by self-knowledge? (2) What is the result it produces?

The second question is met by Critias with the reply that self-knowledge, like such “sciences” or “arts” as arithmetic and geometry, and unlike such “sciences” or “arts” as building or weaving, has no “product.” This is, in untechnical language, the distinction which is more clearly drawn in the Politicus and finally takes technical form in Aristotle as the distinction between “speculative” knowledge, which has no further end than the perfecting of itself, and “practical” knowledge, which has always an ulterior end, the making of some thing or the doing of some act. Critias is unconsciously assuming first that self-knowledge is ἐπιστήμη or τέχνη (epistêmê or technê), knowledge of universal rules or principles of some kind, and next that it is “speculative,” not “practical” science. The result is that he is virtually confusing the direct acquaintance with one’s own individual strength and weaknesses really meant in the Delphian inscription with the “science” of the psychologist. He is taking it for granted, as too many among ourselves still do, that to know psychology and to have a profound acquaintance with your own “heart” are the same thing (Charmides 165d-e.) Socrates lets this |54| confusion of “direct acquaintance” with “knowledge about” go uncriticised, because his immediate purpose is to raise a more general issue, one which concerns not the effect of knowledge, but the object apprehended. In all other cases, he urges, that which is apprehended by a “knowledge” or “science” is something different from the knowing or apprehending itself. Arithmetic for example is knowledge of “the even and odd,” as we should say, of the characters of the integers. But “the even and odd” are not the same thing as the knowing which has them for its object. (In fact, of course, arithmetic is a mental activity, the integers and their properties are not.) We shall find the same distinction between the “knowing” and the object known in the case of any other “knowledge” we like to take (166a-b). Critias admits the truth of this in general, but asserts that there is one solitary exception. The self-knowledge of which he had spoken is this exception; it is quite literally a knowing which “knows itself and all other knowledges” and the virtue sophrosyne is no other than this “knowing which knows itself” (166c). In effect this amounts to identifying sophrosyne with what is called in modern times “theory of knowledge.”

We proceed to test this thesis in the true Socratic way by asking what consequences would follow from it. It would follow that the man who has sophrosyne would know what he knows and what he does not know but merely “fancies” (οἴεται), and also what other men know and what they only “fancy.” Let us once more put our double question, Is such knowledge as this possible, and if it is, is it of any benefit to us?

There is a grave difficulty even about its possibility. For, in all other cases, we find that a mental activity is always directed on some object other than itself. Sight and hearing do not see or hear sight or hearing; they see colours and hear sounds. Desire is never “desire of desire” but always desire of a pleasant object; we do not wish for “wishing” but for good. What we love is not “loving” but a beloved person, what we fear, not fear but some formidable thing, and so forth. That is, it is characteristic of mental activities of all kinds that they are directed upon an object other than themselves (167c-168a). It would be at least “singular” (ἄτοπον) if there should be a solitary exception to this principle, a “knowing” which is not the knowing of a science (μάθημα) of some kind, but the “knowing of itself and the other knowings” (168a). Knowing, in fact, is always a knowing of something, and so relative to an object known; its “faculty” is to be of something (168b), and so where there is knowing there must be a known object, just as where there is a “greater than” there must always be a “less” than which the greater is greater. Hence, if there is anything which is greater than itself, it must also be less than itself; if anything which is double of itself, it must also be half itself, and so on. If “seeing” can see itself, “seeing” itself must be coloured. Some of these consequences are patently absurd, e.g. that there should be a number which is greater than, and by consequence also less than |55| itself; if it is not so obvious that seeing cannot see itself, and that sight, by consequence, is not a colour, the position is at any rate difficult to accept. It would require a great philosopher to decide the question whether any activity can be its own object, and if so, whether this is the case with the activity of knowing, and we have not the genius needed to determine the point (168b-169b). But in any case, we may say that such a supposed “knowing of knowing” cannot be what men mean by sophrosyne unless it can be shown that it would be “beneficial” to us, as sophrosyne admittedly is (169b-c).

(So far then, the point of the argument has been the perfectly sound one that no mental activity is its own object. Manifestly this is true of the knowing of the epistemologist, as much as of any other activity. If there is such a science as the “theory of knowledge” its object will be “the conditions under which knowledge is possible.” But these conditions are not the same thing as anyone’s knowing about them. The doctrines of the Critique of Pure Reason, for example, are one thing and Kant’s knowing or believing these doctrines is another.)

We can now take a further step. Let us concede, for the purposes of argument, that there is such a thing as a “knowing of knowing.” Even if there is, it is not the same thing as “knowing what you know and what you do not know,” and therefore is not the self-knowledge with which Critias has been trying to identify sophrosyne. Critias does not readily take in the distinction, which has therefore to be made gradually clearer by illustrations. Suppose a man to “know about knowing,” what will this knowledge really tell him? It will tell him that “this is knowledge” and “that is not knowledge,” i.e. that this proposition is true, that proposition is not certainly true. But to know so much and no more would certainly not be enough for the purposes of the practitioner in medicine and statesmanship. The physician needs not merely to know that “I know such and such a proposition,” he needs to know that the true proposition in question is relevant to the treatment of his patients. In other words, it is not enough for him to know what knowledge is, he needs to know what health is, and the statesman similarly must know not merely what knowledge is, but what right is. Ex hypothesi they will not learn this from a science which has knowledge as its object, but from medicine, of which the object is health in the body, or from politics, which knows about “right.” Thus we must not say that the man who has only “knowledge of knowledge” will know what he knows and what he does not; we may only say that that he will know the bare fact that he knows or does not know. (The meaning is, for example, that a man who was a mere epistemologist and nothing more might be aware that when he says, “So many grains of arsenic are fatal,” he is saying something which satisfies all the conditions required for genuine scientific knowledge; but, if he only knew epistemology and nothing else, he would not even know that he must not administer fatal doses of arsenic to his fellow-men.) Thus if sophrosyne is the same thing as |56| a “knowledge of knowledge,” the man who has it will not be helped by it to distinguish a genuine practitioner from a pretender in medicine or in anything else. To distinguish the true physician from the quack, you need to know not epistemology, the “knowledge of knowledge,” but medicine, the “knowledge of things wholesome and unwholesome.” The true judge of medical theory and practice is not the epistemologist but the medical specialist, and no one else (169d-171c). And this conclusion seems to dispose of the worth of sophrosyne, if we were right in identifying it with a “knowledge of knowledge.” A self-knowledge which taught us to know, in the first instance, our own strength and weakness, and, in the second place, the strength and weakness of others, and so enabled us to be on our guard against self-delusion and imposture, would be of the highest value for the conduct of life. But we have just seen that all that the epistemologist as such could possibly tell about himself or anyone else would be merely whether he really knew epistemology (171c-e).

The point to which all this leads us up is manifestly that though sophrosyne is a knowledge of something, it cannot be a “knowledge about knowledge,” nor can this be what was really meant by those who have insisted on self-knowledge as the one thing needful for a happy life. It is clearly indicated that the sort of knowledge of ourselves really needed as a guide to practice is knowledge of good and evil and of the state of our souls in respect of them, a view which would immediately lead to the further result that all the genuine virtues are at bottom one and the same thing, knowledge of the good, and the distinctions commonly made between the different types of virtue at best conventional. (It is incidentally a further valuable result of the argument that it has vindicated the autonomy of the various sciences by exposing the pretensions of the “theory of knowledge” to judge of scientific truths on a priori grounds, and making it clear that in every case there is no appeal from the verdict of the expert in a specific science, so long as he claims to be the final authority in his own specialty.)

“What is really needed for the direction of life is the knowledge of good.”

The main purpose of the discussion becomes apparent when we reach its final section. Even if we waive all the difficulties we have raised, and admit that sophrosyne really is a “knowledge of knowledge,” and that such a knowledge is, (as we just said that it is not,) “knowing what we do know and what we do not,” would this supposed knowledge be of any value for the direction of life? It is clear, of course, that if we had such a knowledge, and directed our actions by it, everything would be done “scientifically” (κατὰ τὰς ἐπιστήμας, ἐπιστημόνως). Our medical men, our soldiers, our sailors, all our craftsmen in fact, would be real experts; lives would not be lost by the blunders of the incompetent physician or strategist or navigator, clothes would not be spoiled by the bungling of their makers; we may even imagine that “prophecy” might be made “scientific,” and that we could thus have confident anticipations of the future, and, if you like, we may suppose ourselves equally |57| correctly informed about the past (a suggestion which curiously recalls Du Bois-Reymond’s fanciful picture of his omniscient “demon.”9) {Daemon.} But we should be none the happier for all this knowledge unless we had something more which we have not yet mentioned — knowledge of good. Without this we might know all about healing the sick, sailing the sea, winning battles, but we should not know when it is good that a sick man should recover, or that a vessel should come safe to port, or a battle be won. If our life is to be truly happy, it is this knowledge of our good which must take the direction of it; apart from that knowledge, we may be able to secure the successful accomplishment of various results, but we cannot make sure that anything will be “well and beneficially” done. But sophrosyne by our assumed definition is not this knowledge of good; even when we waived all other difficulties about it, we still retained the thesis that it is a “knowledge about knowledges,” a “science of sciences.” Thus sophrosyne seems to fall between two stools; it is not the knowledge of good which would really ensure happiness. It is not even a knowledge which will ensure that the practitioners of the various “arts” shall be experts and practice their callings with success; for we have just seen that it is the specialist in each department and not the man who knows the “theory of knowledge” who is the final judge in his own department. sophrosyne, if we accept the proposed definition of it, even with the most favourable interpretation, thus seems to be of no practical value whatever (171d-175a). Yet this conclusion is so extravagantly paradoxical that it clearly cannot be sound. We can only suppose that the fault is with ourselves; our notions on the subject must be hopelessly confused. This is unfortunate, as it makes it impossible to employ the Thracian’s recipe for the cure of Charmides, but there is no help for it. (Of course, the real, as distinct from the dramatic, conclusion has already been reached in the suggestion that what is really needed for the direction of life is the knowledge of good, and that this knowledge is something quite different from any of the recognized special “sciences” or “arts.” The purpose of the dialogue is to show that serious examination of the implications of the current conceptions of sophrosyne conducts us straight to the two famous Socratic “paradoxes” of the unity of virtue and its identity with knowledge of good.)

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The Laches, which we may now treat more briefly, aims at reaching these same results by starting with the current conceptions of the great fighting-man’s virtue — courage or valour or fortitude. As in the Charmides, the discussion is accompanied by an interesting introduction which enables us to refer it to a definite period in the life of Socrates. Lysimachus and Melesias, the undistinguished sons of two of the greatest Athenians of the early fifth century, Aristides “the just” and Thucydides, the rival of Pericles, are both anxious that their own sons should rise to distinction, and therefore that they should receive the careful education which |58| their own parents were prevented by their preoccupation with public affairs from bestowing on themselves. They have just witnessed a public exhibition given by one Stesilaus, who professes to be able to teach the art and mystery of fighting in full armour, and have brought with them two of the most famous military men of the day, Laches and Nicias, in order to get their opinion on the advisability of putting the lads under such an instructor.

Socrates also has been present at the display, and at the recommendation of Laches, who witnessed and highly admired his presence of mind and courage in the disastrous retreat of the Athenian forces from Delium (424 B.C.), he is taken into consultation (Laches, 180a-b). It now comes out that Sophroniscus, the father of Socrates, had been a lifelong friend of Lysimachus, and that Socrates himself is a person of whom Lysimachus has heard the boys speak as an object of great interest to themselves and their young companions (180d-e). Laches, as it comes out later, knows nothing of him except his admirable behavior on the field of Delium (188e), but Nicias is perfectly familiar with him and his habit of turning every conversation into a searching examination of the state of his interlocutor’s soul (187e-188b). These allusions enable us to date the supposed conversation pretty accurately. It falls after Delium in 424, but not long after, since it is assumed that Laches, who fell at Mantinea in 418, is still burdened by the cares of public office (187a-b). The references to the comparative poverty of Socrates — it is not said to be more than comparative (186c) — may remind us that Aristophanes and Amipsias both made this a prominent feature in their burlesques of him (the Clouds of Aristophanes and the Connus of Amipsias), produced in 423. It points to the same general date that the two old men should be thinking of the speciality of Stesilaus as the thing most desirable to be acquired by their sons. After the peace of Nicias, which was expected to put an end to the struggle between Athens and the Peloponnesian Confederation, it would not be likely that fathers anxious to educate their sons well should think at once of ὁπλομαχία as the most promising branch of education. We thus have to think of the conversation as occurring just about the time when Aristophanes produced his delightful caricature of Socrates as a guide of youth; Socrates is a man of rather under fifty; Nicias and Laches, as Plato is careful to remind us (181d), are older men, and Lysimachus and Melesias quite old and “out of the world.”10

The two military experts, as it happens, are of different minds |59| about the practical value of the proposed instruction in the conduct of spear and shield. Nicias, who is represented all through as the more intellectual of the two, is inclined to recommend it on the grounds that a soldier needs to know how to handle his weapons, that he is likely to find skill of fence serviceable in actual fighting, that it may awaken in him an interest in other branches of the military art, such as strategy, finally that the training produces grace and agility and banishes awkwardness (181e-182d). Laches, a brave fighting-man with no intellectual capacity, takes a different view. He holds that the “proof of the pudding is the eating of it.” There cannot be much in this technical skill, for we see that the Spartans, who ought to be the best judges of things military, set no store by its professors, and the professors themselves avoid Sparta like the plague. They reap their harvest from communities who, by their own admission, are backward in warfare. (This is an excellent little bit of dramatic characterization; Laches is mentally too dull to see the obvious explanation that the professionals take their wares to the market where the need for them is likely to be most felt.) Besides, in actual warfare, the professional masters of fence never distinguish themselves.11 Laches remembers having seen this very professor make himself a laughing-stock by his clumsy handling of a complicated weapon of his own forging (182d-184c).

In this disagreement of the experts, Socrates is now called upon to give the decisive opinion. But, as he says, a question of this kind is not to be settled by a majority of votes. The deciding voice should be left to the expert, the man who really knows, even if he were found to be in a minority of one. But who is the expert to whom we ought to appeal in the present case? Not the mere expert or connoisseur in ὁπλομαχία (hoplomachia, fighting in heavy armor). The problem is really concerned with the “tendance” of the young people’s souls, and the expert to whom we must appeal is therefore the expert in “tending” his own soul, the man who can achieve “goodness” in himself and, by his influence, produce it in others (185a-e). Now, if a man really is an expert, he may take either of two ways of convincing us of his claims. If he has learned his skill from others, he can tell us who his teachers were, and convince us that they were competent.12 If he has picked it up for himself, as expert knowledge is often picked up, he can point to its results, he can give us examples of persons who have been made better by his influence on them (186a-b). Socrates confesses himself to be no expert, but maliciously suggests that the case may be different with the two generals. They are richer than he, and may have been able to pay “sophists” for instruction in the art of “tending the soul”; they are older and more experienced, and so may have discovered the secret for themselves |60| (186c). At any rate, they must be experts, or they could not pronounce on a question in which only the expert is competent with such confidence and readiness. (The insinuation, of course, is that, as we might expect from their disagreement, neither is a real “expert”; both are talking about what they do not understand.)

We may, however, contrive to avoid the demand for direct evidence that there is an expert among us. For if a man really knows what, e.g., good sight is, and how to produce it in a patient, he can tell us what sight is; if he cannot, he is manifestly not a specialist in the treatment of the eye. So, in the present case, the man whose judgment we need is the expert in “goodness,” which makes our souls better souls. If a man cannot even say what goodness is, it would be waste of time to take his advice on the kind of education which will produce it. Thus the original question whose judgment is authoritative in the problem of education may be replaced by the question who knows what goodness is. And this question may be, for convenience, further narrowed down. For our present purpose, judging of the worth of the art of the professional teacher of skill with shield and spear, it will be sufficient to consider only one “part” of goodness — courage or valour. A competent judge on the question whether the accomplishment makes its possessor a better soldier must at least be able to say what courage is (189d-190e). We have now got our ethical question fairly posed: What is it that we really mean to be talking about when we speak of ἀνδρεία — manliness, valour, courage — as one of the indispensable points of manhood? Laches, the less thoughtful of the two professional soldiers, thinks that any man can answer so simple a question off-hand. “A man who keeps his place in the ranks in the presence of the enemy, does his best to repel them, and never turns his back — there is a brave man for you” (190e). Thus, just as in the Charmides, we start with a proposed definition of an interior state of soul which confuses the state itself with one of its common and customary outward expressions. The further course of the discussion will reveal the double defectiveness of this formula. It is not even adequate as a description of the conduct of the fighting-man himself, and fighting is far from being the only business in life which demands the same qualities as those we expect from the good soldier. As usual, Plato is anxious to insist upon the real identity of the spiritual state under the great apparent variety of its outward manifestations. To discover that other occupations than those of warfare also call for the “soldierly” virtues is a long step towards discovering the essential unity of the “virtues” themselves.

Even Laches is ready to admit at once that a feigned withdrawal is a proper maneuver in warfare, as is shown by the practice of the Scythians, the pretended retreat by which the Lacedaemonians drew the Persians from their defenses at Plataea, and other examples (191a-c). He is even ready to allow that fighting is not the only situation in which courage may be shown. A man may show himself a brave man or a coward by the way he faces danger at sea, |61| poverty, disease, the risks of political life; again, bravery and cowardice may be shown as much in resistance to the seductions of pleasure and the importunities of desire as in facing or shirking pain or danger, a consideration which, incidentally, shows the artificial nature of the popular distinction between valour, the virtue of war, and sophrosyne, the virtue of peace and non-combatants (191d-e). (It is this passage of the Laches which Aristotle has in view in the Ethics where he distinguishes valour in the “primary” sense of the word from the very kind of conduct here called by the name.13 The disagreement, however, is a purely verbal one. Aristotle does not mean to deny that the qualities in question are indispensable to the good life, nor that there is a close analogy between them and the quality of the soldier, which justifies a “transference” of the name valour to them. He is concerned simply, in the interests of precise terminology, to insist that when we speak of “putting up a good fight” against disease, financial distress, temptation, and the like, we are using language which originally was appropriated to the actual “fighting” of actual soldiers, and Aristotle’s purpose in giving the series of character-sketches which make up this section of the Ethics requires that he shall describe the various “virtues” in the guise in which they are most immediately recognizable by popular thought.)

Now that he sees the point, Laches replies very readily that there is a certain spirit or temper which is to be found universally in all the examples of courageous behavior Socrates has produced. They are all cases in which a man “persists” in the face of opposition or risk of some kind. Hence he proposes as the definition of courage that it is in all cases a certain καρτερία, “persistence,” “endurance,” “sticking to one’s purpose” (192c). This definition clearly has some of the qualities of a good definition. When you speak of courage as a “persistence of soul” just as when we commonly use the word “resolution” as a synonym for it, you are really trying to indicate the spirit which underlies all the manifold expressions of the quality. And it is, of course, true that persistence or resolution is a characteristic of courage; the brave man is one who “sticks it out.” But, as a definition, the formula is still too wide. All courage may be persistence, but all persistence is not courage. In the technical logical language which makes its appearance in Plato’s later dialogues, we need to know the “difference”14 which discriminates persistence which is courage from persistence which is not. Since unwise persistence, mere obstinacy, is a bad and harmful thing, whereas we certainly mean by courage something we regard as eminently good, it looks as though we might remedy the defect of our formula by saying that “wise persistence” (φρόνιμος καρτερία) is courage (192d). But the question now arises what wisdom we mean. A man may wisely calculate that by persisting in expenditure he will make a commercial profit, but we should hardly regard this as an example of courage. When a |62| physician persists in refusing the entreaties of his patient for food which he knows would be bad for the patient, we do not think the physician has shown any particular courage. In warfare, we do not commend the courage of a force which “holds out” because it knows that it is superior in numbers and still has the stronger position and is certain of reinforcement. It is just the “persistence” of an inferior force, with a worse position and no hope of relief, that impresses us as singularly courageous. So we think more of the courage of the man who acquits himself well in the cavalry though is he an unskilled rider, or the man who makes a plucky dive into deep water though he is a poor swimmer, than we do of the persistence of the man who acquits himself well because he has mastered these accomplishments. (E.g., we think Monmouth’s raw countrymen showed great courage at Sedgemoor in putting up a fight against the Household troops; we do not commend the courage of the Household troops because they “held out” against a crowd of peasants.) This looks as if, after all, it is “unwise” persistence (ἄφρων καρτέρησις) rather than “wise” which is the true courage. We have plainly not found the right formula yet, and shall have to call on ourselves for the very quality of which we have been speaking, “persistence” in the inquiry, if we are to approve ourselves “courageous” thinkers (192c-194a). We must not miss the point of this difficulty. Socrates does not seriously mean to suggest that “unwise” resolution or persistence is courage. His real object is to distinguish the “wisdom” meant by the true statement that courage is “wise resolution” from specialist knowledge which makes the taking of a risk less hazardous. The effect of specialist knowledge of this kind is, in fact, to make the supposed risk unreal. The man whom we admire because we suppose him to be rightly taking a great risk is, in reality, as he himself knows, taking little or no risk. Our belief in his courage is based on an illusion which he does not share. But it is true that we do not regard the “unwise” persistency of the man who takes “foolish” risks as true courage. What we really mean is that the brave man faces a great risk, being alive to its magnitude, but faces it because he rightly judges that it is good to do so. The “wisdom” he shows is right judgment of good and evil, and this is what Socrates means to suggest.

At this point Nicias comes into the discussion. He has “often” heard Socrates say that a man is “good” at the things he “knows” (ἄπερ σοφός, 194d) and “bad” at the things he does not know (ἃ ἀμαθής). If this is true, as Nicias believes it to be, courage, since it is always a good quality or activity, will be a σοφία or ἐπιστήμη, a knowledge of some kind. It is clearly not the same thing as any form of specialist technical knowledge, for the reasons we have already considered. But it may well be that it is “the knowledge of what is formidable and what is not” (ἡ των δεινων καὶ θαρραλέων ἐπιστήμη, 194e); i.e. the truly brave man may be the man who knows, in all the situations of life, what is and what is not a proper object of fear. This suggestion is plainly a step in the right direction, as it |63| incorporates the important distinction between specialist knowledge and the kind of knowledge which might conceivably be the same thing as virtue, the distinction which would be made, in the fashionable terminology of our own day, between knowledge of facts and knowledge of values. Laches, however, who is in a bad temper from his own recent rebuff, treats the theory as a mere piece of mystification, and can hardly be brought to express his objections to it in decently civil language. A physician or a farmer knows the dangers to which his patients or his cattle are exposed, but such knowledge does not constitute courage (195b). The objection shows that Laches has missed the whole point of the definition, as Nicias goes on to observe. The physician may know that a patient will die or will recover; he does not know whether death or recovery is the really “formidable” thing for the patient. It may be that it is recovery which would in some cases be the “dreadful” thing, but medical science cannot tell us which these cases are; (e.g. a man might use his restored health in a way which would bring him to public disgrace worse than death, and, of course, his medical man cannot learn from the study of medicine whether this will happen or not.)15 Even the “seer” can only predict that a man will or will not die, or lose his money, that a battle will be won or lost; his art cannot tell him which event will be better for the man or the State (195e-196a). This is, of course, exactly the reply which might be made to Laches’ criticism from the Socratic standpoint. But it still leaves something to be said which Socrates is anxious to say. In the first place, if courage is knowledge of some kind, we must deny that any mere animal can be brave. In fact, the truly brave will be a small minority even among men. Must we say, then, that there is no difference in courage between a lion and a deer, a bull and a monkey? Laches thinks the suggestion a sufficient refutation of what he regards as the sophisticated nonsense of Nicias, but, as Nicias observes, its edge is turned if we distinguish between natural high temper and fearlessness (τὸ ἄφοβον) and genuine courage (τὸ ἀνδρειον, 196d-197c). So far Nicias is simply insisting on what we shall see from the Phaedo and Republic to be the Socratic view.16 Native fearlessness is a valuable endowment, but it is only in a human being that it can serve as a basis for the development of the loyalty to principle we call courage, and it is only in “philosophers” that this transformation of mere “pluck” into true valiancy is complete. But there is a further difficulty which Nicias has left out of account. By a “formidable thing” or “thing to be feared” we mean a future or impending evil. Now there is no science of future good and evil distinct from the science of good and evil |64| simpliciter (unconditionally), just as there is no special science of “future health and disease” or of “future victory and defeat.” There is simply the science of medicine or of strategy, and these sciences apply indifferently to past, present, and future. So our definition, if we are to retain it, must be amended; we must say that courage is “knowledge of good and evil” without any further qualification (198d-199e). But as now amended our formula covers not merely a part but the whole of goodness. If it is a definition at all, it is the definition of “goodness,” not of one of several different varieties or departments of “goodness” (199e). Yet it is commonly held that courage is not the whole of “goodness”; a good man needs to display other virtues, such as “justice” and sophrosyne. It appears then that, after all, we have not answered the question what courage is. So far from being competent to choose masters for the education of the boys, we all need to go to school ourselves, if only we could find a teacher (201a).

Thus the dialogue has led us to the same result as the Charmides. If we try to explain what any one great typical moral virtue is, we find ourselves driven on to define it as “the knowledge of what is good.” Every virtue thus seems on examination to cover the whole field of the conduct of life, and none can be in principle distinguished from any other. Yet it is commonly thought, and we shall see in dealing with the Republic that there are facts of experience which strongly support the view, that the different virtues are so really distinct that a man may be eminent for one and yet no less eminent for the lack of another, (as the typical soldier is commonly thought to be at once braver and more licentious than the ordinary peaceable civilian). We are forced by our intellect to accept the Socratic “paradox” of the unity of virtue, but we have to explain how the “paradox” is to be reconciled with the facts upon which popular moral psychology is based. How the reconciliation is effected we shall be able to say when we have studied the Protagoras, Phaedo, and Republic. The all-important point, on which too many interpreters went wrong in the nineteenth century, is to understand that, to the end of his life, Plato never wavered in his adherence to the “paradox” itself.

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The dialogue is linked with the Charmides by its setting, which presents another charming picture of the manner of Socrates with promising boys; some of the problems of moral psychology it suggests point forward to one of the supreme achievements of Plato’s literary prime, the Symposium. It is specially interesting as the unnamed source from which Aristotle derives most of the questions discussed in a more systematic way in the lectures which make up the eighth and ninth books of the Nicomachean Ethics. (The extensive use of the Lysis in these books of itself disposes of the misguided attack made on its authenticity by some nineteenth-century scholars.)

The subject of the discussion is Friendship, a topic which plays a much more prominent part in ancient than in modern ethical literature, for easily assignable reasons. It is quite untrue to say that the Greeks “had no family life,” but it is true that owing to the neglect of the education of their women, the family tended to be more a close “business partnership” than a center of intellectual interests and spiritual emotions. Again, though conjugal affection could be a real thing in the Hellenic world, for the same reasons, romantic love between the sexes had little scope for the moralizing and spiritualizing effects we are accustomed to ascribe to it. “Passion” was relatively more prominent, “affection” much more secondary, in the sexual life of Periclean Athens than in that of any community which has been stamped by Christian traditions. In the Greek literature of the great period, Eros is a god to be dreaded for the havoc he makes of human life, not to be courted for the blessings he bestows; a tiger, not a kitten to sport >with.17 Love, as known to the classical writers, is a passion for taking, not for giving. Hence in life, as seen from the Hellenic point of view, there are just two outlets for the spirit of eager unselfish devotion. It can show itself in a high impersonal form, as absolute devotion to the “city” which is the common mother of all the citizens. For the man who, like most of us, needs a personal object of flesh and blood for passionate affection and self-sacrifice, there is the lifelong friend of his own sex, whose good is to him as his own. This is why, in Aristotle’s Ethics, an elaborate study of friendship immediately precedes the culminating picture of the “speculative life” in which man puts off the last vestiges of his human individuality to lose himself in the contemplation of God. We may suspect that those who condemn the tone of Greek ethics as “self-centered” have usually “skipped” these books in their reading of the Ethics, and forgotten that they are only the remains of what was once a vast literature.18

Plato’s interest in the Lysis is partly a psychological one. He is fascinated by the mystery of the attraction which can draw two human beings so close, that each is to the other as dear or dearer than himself, as modern philosophers have been by the mystery of the attraction of a particular woman for a particular man. What does A see in B rather than in C, to account for this attraction? But he has also a more specifically ethical purpose, as will appear from an analysis of his argument. As usual, we shall find the fundamental conceptions of the Socratic morality, the doctrine of the “tendance” of the soul and the dependence of happiness upon knowledge of good, emerging from the paradoxes in which the discussion appears to entangle itself.

The introduction of the dialogue closely resembles that of the Charmides. Socrates is taking a walk outside the city wall from the suburb of the Academy on the N.W. to the Lyceum on the E., when he is accosted by some of his young friends and drawn into a palaestra to make the acquaintance of Lysis, a beautiful and modest boy passionately admired by Hippothales, one of the elder lads. Hippothales, in fact, as the others complain, makes a nuisance of himself by inflicting on them endless bad poems, in which he belauds the antiquity, wealth, and splendid renown of the family of Lysis. Socrates good-naturedly banters Hippothales on the maladroitness of attempting to make a “conquest” by flatteries which would be more likely to spoil the recipient, by making him arrogant, conceited, and domineering, and is then invited to enter the palaestra and give a practical example of the kind of conversation really appropriate to a “lover” (Lysis, 203a-207c).

(The tone which Socrates adopts in his conversation with Lysis discloses quietly but unmistakably the difference between his own conception of a romantic attachment and that of his fashionable young companions. The tacit presupposition is that the “true lover’s” desire is for the real felicity of the beloved; his passion is thus an entirely pure and disinterested thing, a form of φιλία, “affection” not of selfish lust; and this, no doubt, is why Socrates can open the argument by examples drawn from wise parental affection.)19

Lysis has parents who love him dearly. Since they love him so well they are, of course, anxious for his “happiness.” Now a man cannot be happy if he is not his own master and cannot “do what he desires,” “have his own way.” Yet the very parents who are so devoted to the boy’s happiness will hardly let him have his own way about anything. He is not allowed to drive his father’s horses or mules, though a hired coachman or a groom who is a slave is allowed to do as he thinks good with them. He is even made to go to school under the conduct of a paedagogus and, though the man is a slave, has to do what he tells him. When he comes back from school, he may not do as he pleases with his mother’s wools and implements for spinning and weaving; he would even be whipped if he meddled with them. This does not look like being happy or being one’s own master (207e-209a).

Lysis gives the boyish explanation that he is not yet old enough to meddle with such matters. But the real reason cannot be one of age. There are things in which he is allowed to have his own way. When his parents want him to read aloud, to write or to sing, he is allowed to have his own way about the order in which he reads or |67| writes words and about tuning the strings of his instrument, because these are things which he knows how to do. Any man, or any body of men, will be ready to let us manage any kind of business at our own discretion, if only it is believed that we know how to do it better than anyone else. When you know how to handle an affair, everyone will trust you to handle it; no one will interfere with your action if he can help it; the affair will really be your affair and you will be free in dealing with it. But our best friends will be the first persons to check us from having our own way in matters we do not understand; they will not be our affair, and we shall be “under the control of others,” “not our own masters” in handling them (209a-210b). The reason is that we are “unprofitable,” “useless” (ἀνωφελεις), in matters we do not understand. But we cannot expect anyone to “love” us for our “uselessness.” If we are “wise” everybody will be our friend, because we shall be “good and useful”; if we are not, even our parents and relatives will not be our friends. Thus the sample conversation is made to lead up to the point that to be happy and to be free is the same thing as to have true knowledge. Socrates adds, with a sportive play on words, that it is absurd, μέγα φρονειν, “to have a high mind” to be conceited, about matters we do not know, and where, therefore, we haven’t a “mind” of our own at all (ἐν οίς τις μήπω φρονει). This is, of course, directed against the vanity of the pride of family which we were told Hippothales encouraged in Lysis (210b-d).

Some by-play follows here, and when the argument is resumed it is with a different interlocutor. This is a device for calling our attention to the fact that the main issues of the dialogue have not yet been raised; they are to be looked for, not in the example of the right way of conversing with an ἐρώμενος, but in the apparently more desultory talk which is to follow. Socrates remarks that though he has always thought a good friend the most precious possession a man can have, he himself does not so much as understand how a friend is acquired. Young people who have had the good fortune to form a passionate friendship in their earliest days could, no doubt, enlighten him out of their experience. In this way we make the transition to the main problem of the dialogue, the question: What is the foundation of the personal attraction of one man for another?

“If one man loves another, which is the friend of the other — the lover of the loved, or the loved of the lover, or does this make no difference?” I.e., where there is a one-sided affection of A for B, does this entitle us to say that A and B are “friends”? If not, does it entitle us to call one of them a “friend,” and, if so, which is the friend? Are my friends the persons who love me or the persons whom I love? The difficulty lies in the existence of unrequited affection. A may be strongly attracted to B, while B is indifferent to A, or even repelled by him. Can we talk of friendship in cases of this kind? Or should we say that there is not friendship unless the attraction is reciprocal? It seems most reasonable to hold that |68| the relation of friendship only exists when there is this reciprocal affection. In that case nothing is φίλον to you unless it “loves you back.” To a Greek this creates a linguistic difficulty. When he wishes to say that a man is “fond of” anything wine, for example, or wisdom he has to form a compound adjective with φιλο for its first component, φίλοινος, φιλόσοφος, or the like, much as when a German wishes to say that he is fond of animals he has to call himself a Tierfreund. Language thus seems to be against the view just suggested, but there are undeniable facts on its side; very young children may feel no love for their parents, and may feel actual “hate” when they get a whipping, but the parent, even when he punishes the child, is its “best friend.” This suggests that it is being loved that makes a friend. If you love me, I AM your friend, whether I love you or not (212b-213a).

But a difficulty arises when we remember that, by parity of reasoning, it should follow that it is being hated which makes a man an enemy: (if you hate me, I AM your enemy, though my heart may be full of nothing but goodwill to you, or though I may not know of your existence). This leads to the paradox that when A feels love to B, but B hates A, A is being hated by a friend and B loved by an enemy, and thus the same couple may be said to be at once friends and enemies, a contradiction in terms (213b).

If we revise our view and say that it is not being loved but loving that makes a friend, so that he who loves me is my friend, whatever my attitude to him may be, the same paradox equally follows, since I may love a person who cannot abide me. Since we began by setting aside the view that reciprocal affection is necessary for friendship, we seem thus to have exhausted all the possibilities, and to have shown that there is no such relation as friendship (213c).

The absurdity of this shows that we must have made a false start. We must go over the ground again, and we may take a hint from the poets, who talk of friendships as “made in heaven,” God, they say, “draws like to its like.” The scientific men who write cosmologies also make use of this principle of “like to like” to account for the distribution of bodies in the universe. Perhaps this may be the secret of friendship; the drawing of A to B may be one case of a great universal principle which underlies the structure of the universe. Yet, on closer examination, we see that unfortunately, so far as the relations of men are concerned, the principle of “like to like” cannot be, at best, more than half the truth. Bad men are not made friends by being “drawn together.” The more closely they are drawn together, the more each tries to exploit the other, and the more hostile they become. Perhaps the poets knew this, and really meant to say that a bad man, being without principle, is an unstable and chameleon-like being. He is a “shifty” fellow, who is perpetually “unlike” and at variance with himself, and a fortiori unlike and at variance with every one else. Hence the poets perhaps meant to hint that only men of |69| principle, the good, are really “like” one another, and that friendship can only exist between the good (213d-214e).

Yet, when we come to think of it, there is a worse difficulty to be faced. If one thing can act on another and influence it in any way, can the two be exactly alike? Must there not be some unlikeness, if there is to be any interaction? And if one party is wholly unaffected by the other, how can the one “care for” (ἀγαπαν) the other? What “comfort” (ἐπικουρία) can the one bring to the other? And how can you feel friendship for that which you do not care for? If good men are friends, the reason must be in their goodness, not in their “likeness” (i.e. they must be good in different ways, so that their respective goodnesses supplement each other, 214e-215a). And this, again, seems impossible. For the good man is “sufficient for himself” in proportion as he is good. He therefore feels no need of anything but himself. But he who feels no need does not “care for” anything, and he who does not care for a thing can have no affection for it. By this account there can be no friendships between the good; being “self-sufficient” they will not miss one another in absence or have any occasion for one another’s offices when they are together. On what ground, then, should they “set a value” on one another (215a-b).20

Again we have gone off on a false track. Socrates once heard someone say that likeness is the source of the keenest rivalry and opposition, but extreme unlikeness the source of friendship. There is poetic authority for this in the Hesiodic saying about “two of a trade,” and, in fact, we see that it is so. The rich and the poor, the feeble and the strong, the ailing man and the physician, are brought into friendly association precisely because they are unlike; each needs the services of the other (e.g. the rich man needs industrious and honest servants, the poor need an employer who has wherewithal to pay for their industry; the sick man needs the physician’s skill, the physician needs the fee for it). In fact, said this speaker, the attraction of unlikes is the key to cosmology.21 Everything in nature needs to be tempered by its opposite: the |70| hot by the cold, the dry by the moist, and so on, for everything is “fed by” its opposite — the familiar doctrine of Heraclitus. Thus it would be tempting to say that friendship is a case of attraction between opposites. Yet if we say that, we shall at once fall an easy prey to those clever men, the ἀντιλογικοί, who love to make a man contradict himself. For they will say that hatred and love are a pair of extreme opposites, and so are “temperance” and profligacy, or good and evil. Our principle would thus require us to believe that a man will generally be most attracted to the very persons who detest him, that a remarkably temperate man will make his bosom friend of a notorious profligate, and the like. But manifestly these statements are not true. So, once more we have come to no result. Neither simple “likeness” nor simple “unlikeness” can be the secret of the attraction between friends (215c-216c).22 We may attempt a more subtle explanation. Perhaps the truth is that in friendship one party is good, the other “neither good nor bad,” the only alternative of which we have yet taken no account. (The suggestion is that the relation is regularly one between the possessor of some excellence and some one who aspires to the excellence but has not yet attained it. The friend to whom we are drawn is what we should like to become.) We may illustrate by a simple example from medicine. Health is a good thing, disease a bad thing; the human body may be said to be neutral, because it is capable of both. Now no one cares about the doctor, so long as he is well. But when he is afraid of being ill, he welcomes the doctor. He does this not when he is at his last gasp, but before, when he apprehends illness, i.e. when he is neither in full health nor beyond help. We may say that this is a case in which “that which is neither good nor bad becomes friendly to that which is good because of the presence of what is evil” (217b). And here we must make a careful distinction. “Some things are such as to be themselves such as that which is present to them, others are not” (217c). Thus if the golden locks of a boy are daubed with white paint, “whiteness” is present to them, but they are not themselves white (since, of course, the paint can be washed off). But when the boy has become an old man, “whiteness” will be “present” to his hair in a different sense; his hair will itself be white. (The only object of these remarks is to warn us against supposing that when Socrates speaks of the “presence” of what is evil to what is “neither good nor bad,” he is using the term in the sense in which it is employed when we explain the possession of a predicate by a thing by saying that the corresponding form is “present” to the thing. In this sense παρουσία, “presence” of the form, is an equivalent for μέθεξις, the “participation” of a thing in the form, as we see from the free use of both expressions in the Phaedo.23 It is assumed that |71| the technical language of the theory of forms is so familiar a thing that Socrates needs to warn the lads not to be misled by it; an odd representation if the whole theory had been invented by Plato after Socrates’ death.)

“So long as a thing is not yet itself evil, the ‘presence’ of evil makes it desire
the corresponding good; when the thing itself has become evil,
it has lost both desire and affection for good.”

The theory, then, works out thus. So long as a thing is not yet itself evil, the “presence” of evil makes it desire the corresponding good; when the thing itself has become evil, it has lost both desire and affection for good. This explains why neither those who are already wise, like the gods, nor those who are simply ignorant are “lovers of wisdom” (φιλόσοφοι). “Philosophers” as we are also told by Diotima in the Symposium, are between the two extremes on the way to wisdom, but only on the way. They are aware of their ignorance and anxious to get rid of it. The theory naturally appeals to the lads, since a boy’s enthusiastic devotions are regularly attachments of this kind to someone older than himself whom he admires and wants to grow like (216c-218b).

Still, on reflection, Socrates finds a fatal flaw in this attractive solution of his problem. If we revert to our illustration, we observe that the patient is attached to his physician “because of something” and “for the sake of something.” He values the doctor because he is afraid of illness and for the sake of health, and of these disease is bad and “hateful” to him, health is dear or welcome (φιλον) and good. Thus, if we generalize the principle, we must state it more exactly than we did at first. We must say, “That which is neither good nor bad is friendly to that which is good because of that which is bad and hateful, and for the sake of that which is good and welcome.” Now, passing by all merely verbal points to which exception might be taken, this statement implies that whatever is dear, or welcome, or friendly (φιλον) to us, is welcome as a means to something else, just as the physician’s skill is welcome as a means to keeping or recovering health. But health itself is surely also welcome (φιλον). Are we to say that it too is only welcome as a means to something? Even if we say this, sooner or later we are bound to come upon something which is dear to us simply on its own account, and is that for the sake of which all other “dear” things are dear. A father whose son has swallowed hemlock will be eager to put his hand on a jar of wine. But he only cares for the jar because it holds the wine, and he only cares about the wine because it will counteract the poison. It is his son, not a sample of Attic pottery or of a particular vintage, about whom he is really concerned. So long as a thing or person is only “dear” to us for the sake of something else, it is only a façon de parler to call it “dear.” What is really “dear” to us is “just that upon which all our so-called affections terminate” (ἐκεινο αὐτὸ εἰς ὃ πασαι αὑται λεγόμεναι φιλίαι τελευτωσιν, 220b). (Thus the question about the secret sources |72| of affection has brought us face to face with the conception of the summum bonum, which is the source of all secondary and derivative goodness, 218b-220b.)

We have thus eliminated from our last statement the clause “for the sake of that which is good and welcome.” Will the rest of the formula stand criticism? Is it true that what we “care for” is “good” and that we care for it “because of” (to escape from) evil? If the second of these statements is sound, it should follow that in a world where there were no evils, we should no longer care about anything good, any more than we should value medicine in a world where there was no disease. If this is so, then our attitude to the supreme object of all our affections is unique. We care about the secondary objects of affection “for the sake of something welcome to us” (φιλον), i.e. because they are means to this primary object; but we must say of the primary object of all affection itself that we care for it “for the sake of the unwelcome” (ἐχθρόν), if we should really value it no longer in a world where there were no evils. Perhaps the question, as we put it, is a foolish one, for who can tell what might or might not happen in such a world? But our experience of the world we live in teaches us as much as this. To feel hungry is sometimes good for us, sometimes harmful. Suppose we could eliminate all the circumstances in which being hungry is harmful, hunger would still exist, and so long as hunger existed we should “care for” the food which satisfies it. (Even in a socialist Utopia where every one was sure of sufficient food, and every one too healthy and virtuous to be greedy, men would still have “wholesome appetite” and care about their dinners.) This is enough to dispose of the theory that we only care about good as an escape from evil (220b-221c).

Thus our formula seems to have gone completely by the board, and the course of the argument has suggested a new one. It seems now that the cause of all attachment (φιλία) is desire (ἐπιθυμία), and that we must say “what a man desires is dear to him and when he is desiring it.” (Thus we arrive at a purely relative definition of τὸ φιλον, probably intentionally modelled on the famous relativist doctrine of Protagoras that “what a man thinks true is true — for him, and so long as he thinks it so”) We may proceed to develop this thought a little farther. A creature which desires regularly desires that of which it is “deficient” (ἐνδεές). So we may say that “the deficient” (τὸ ἐνδεές) is “attached” (φιλον) to that of which it is “deficient.” And deficiency means being “deprived” of something. (The “deficient” creature is “defective”; it is without something it must have in order to be fully itself.) “Passion” (ἔρως = eros), friendship, desire, then, are all felt for something which “belongs to one’s self” (τὸ οἰκειον). Friends or lovers, thus, if they really are what they profess to be, are οἰκειοι to one another; they “belong to” one another; each is, as we might say, a “part of the other” in “soul, or temper or body” (κατὰ τὸ της ψυχης ήθος ἢ τρόπους ἢ είδος). A thing for which we feel affection |73| is then something φύσει οἰκειον to ourselves, “our very own” It follows that since each party to the affection is thus “the very own” of the other party, affection must be reciprocal, and Socrates is careful to apply this lesson by adding that “a genuine lover” must be one who has his love reciprocated. (This is plainly intended as a comment on the current perversions of “romantic” passion. Reciprocated affection was the last thing the pervert could expect from his παιδικά, a point of which we shall hear more in the Phaedrus. The fashionable ἐραστής, it is meant, is not worthy of the name of a lover at all (221d-222b).)

Formally the dialogue has ended in a circle, or seems to have done so. If τὸ οἰκειον, “what belongs to one’s self” is also τὸ ὅμοιον, “what is like” one’s self, we have contradicted our earlier conclusion that friendship is not based on “likeness” If we try to escape from the contradiction by distinguishing between τὸ οἰκειον and τὸ ὅμοιον, it is attractive to say that all good things are οἰκεια to one another (in virtue of their common goodness), all bad things οἰκεια in virtue of their badness, and all “neutral” things again οἰκεια. But this would contradict our decision that friendship is impossible between the bad. Or if we identify τὸ οἰκειον, what is one’s own, with the good = τὸ ἀγαθόν, one’s good, we should have to say that friendship is only possible between two men who are both good, and this again would contradict another of our results (222b-e).

In ending in this apparently hopeless result, the Lysis resembles a much more famous dialogue, the Parmenides. In neither case need we suppose that Plato’s real intention is to leave us merely befogged. The way in which the thought that what is most near and intimate to each of us (τὸ οἰκειον) is the good is kept back to the very end of the conversation suggests that this — that man as such has such a “natural good,” and that it is the one thing worth caring for in life — is the thought he means the discussion to leave in our minds. If we go back to the various proposed explanations of the secret of friendship with this thought in our minds, it may occur to us that they do not, after all, formally contradict one another. The common bond between the parties to associations which are all correctly called “friendships” may be different in different cases. Or rather, the bond between the “friends” may in every case be association in the pursuit of some “good,” but goods are of very different levels of value, and “friendships” may exhibit the same variety of levels. Thus it may be that the full and perfect type of friendship can only be based on common pursuit of the true supreme good, and in that case friendship in the fullest sense will only be possible between “the good.” Yet there may be associations between men founded on the common pursuit of some good inferior to the highest (e.g. the common pursuit of the “business advantage” of both parties, or the common pursuit of amusement or recreation). These would be “friendships” but of a lower type, and it may quite well be the case, e.g., that a good man and a bad one. or even two bad men may be associated in this inferior sort of “friendship.” Such, at least, are the lines on which Aristotle in the Ethics develops a theory of friendship in which all the conflicting points of view of our dialogue are taken up, and each is found to have its relative justification.

“The full and perfect type of friendship can only be based on common pursuit
of the true supreme good, and in that case friendship in the fullest sense
will only be possible between ‘the good.’”

See further:
Ritter, C. Platon, i. 284-297 Laches; 343-359 Charmides; 497-504 Lysis.
Raeder, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 95-99 Laches, Charmides; 153-158 Lysis.
Stock, St. George. “Friendship (Greek and Roman)” in Hastings’
  Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 1908-1921, vol. vi.


1^ Hence Aristotle’s sharp distinction throughout the Ethics between the σώφρων and the ὲγκρατής or morally “strong” man in whom judgment and “will” — in the Elizabethan sense — are at variance though he habitually compels himself to follow judgment.

2^ Inquiry into the Principles of Morals, Section IX. Part I.

3^ According to Xenophon, (Memorabilia iii. 7, 1) it was Socrates himself who first persuaded Charmides to enter public life. But this looks like a mere inference from what is said in our dialogue of the modest and retiring disposition of Charmides in boyhood. If the fact were so, it is singular that no one ever seems to have accused Socrates of “corrupting” Charmides, though he was made responsible for Critias and Alcibiades.

4^ For the reputation of Thrace as a home of this kind of lore — it was the land of Orpheus, we must remember — cf. Euripides. Alcibiades 986 ff.

5^ Strictly, αἰδώς is the name for laudable modesty, αἰσχύνη for the backwardness which is not laudable, mauvaise honte. But the words are freely treated as interchangeable.

6^ τὸ τὰ ἑαυτοϋ πράττειν is the conduct which is the opposite of τό πολυωραγμονειν, “having a finger in everyone’s pie.” In Attic life, πολυωραγμονειν would show itself, e.g., in that tendency to quarrel with one’s neighbors and drag them into law-suits about trifles which Aristophanes regularly ascribes to his petits bourgeois. Hence, ἀπράγων is in Attic sometimes an epithet of censure — “inert,” “lazy” — but often one of approval — “a quiet decent man,” a man who “keeps himself to himself.”

7^ ἔργον δ̉ ούδὲν ὄνειδος (Hesiod, Works and Days. 311). Xenophon (Memorabilia i. 2, 56-57) states that Socrates was fond of the saying, apparently taking it in the sense that “honest work is no disgrace.” His "accuser" twisted it to mean that no one need feel ashamed of anything he does. Comparison with the similar charges of getting an immoral sense out of the poets considered in the Apologia Socratis of Libanius, seems to show that what Xenophon has in view is the pamphlet of Polycrates against Socrates.

8^ γνωθι σαυτόύ = Know Thyself.

9^ Du Bois-Reymond, Ueber die Grenzen des Naturerkennens, 17 ff.; Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, i. 40 ff. (ed. 1).

10^ The same approximate date is suggested by the allusion to the famous Damonides, or Damon, of Oea. Nicias expresses gratitude to Socrates for having procured an introduction to Damon for his son Niceratus. Laches professes to think Damon a mere spinner of words and phrases, but Nicias retorts that it is not for him to judge, since he has never even met the man (200b). The assumption is that Damon is living in retirement from society generally. Since he was one of the two “sophists” who “educated” Pericles (Isocrates xv. 235), he must have been born, like his colleague Anaxagoras, about 500 B.C., so that his advanced age will account for his seclusion.

11^ In the Republic, Socrates himself is made to propose a training for his young men from which all specialism of this kind is expressly excluded (Republic iii. 404a ff.).

12^ We shall see the full significance of this when we come to examine the Protagoras.

13^ Nicomachean Ethics iii. 6, 1115a 7 ff.

14^ διαφορά, διαφορότηςs, Theaetetus 208d ff.

15^ So in Dickens’ Great Expectations it is “better for” the returned convict that he dies in the prison hospital, since, if he had recovered, he would have been sent to the gallows for returning from transportation. The hero is glad to hear on each inquiry that the patient is “worse.”

16^ The distinction is more obvious to a Greek than to ourselves, since the vox propria for “brave” is ἀνδρειος, “manly,” and to call a brute “manly” is felt to be at least a straining of language.

17^ Cf. Bevan, Hellenism and Christianity, 93-94.

18^ There are linguistic difficulties about any precise reproduction of the argument of the Lysis in English. φιλειν can only be rendered “to love,” i.e. with the love of affection (not that of sexual desire). But for φιλος, used as a substantive, we have to say “friend,” while the adjective has to be rendered in various ways. If we said regularly either “friendly” or “dear,” we should obscure the reasoning, since “friendly” means definitely “a person feeling affection,” and “dear” a “person towards whom affection is felt.” Either rendering would make nonsense of the question, whether our φίλοι are those whom we “love” or those who “love us.” Further, when the adjective is used about things, like wine and the like, we cannot render it by either. We have to say that a man “likes” wine or horses. This must be my apology for the shifts to which I have been driven.

19^ The brutal selfishness of the fashionable ἐραστής is the theme of Socrates homily in the Phaedrus, on the text “that one’s favours should not be granted to a ‘lover.’” Cf. the proverb quoted at the end of the homily, that this sort of “love” is the “love of the wolf for the lamb” (Phaedrus, 238e-241d).

20^ Obviously we are here raising a question of vast significance. In its extreme form it is the question whether there can be, as Christianity assumes, a love of God for the sinner, or indeed whether God can love anything but Himself. Socrates is raising a difficulty, but not solving it. It is true that the better a man is, the less does the removal of friends, by accident or estrangement or death, wreck his life. In that sense the good man is “sufficient to himself.”

21^ Note the way in which it is assumed throughout the dialogue that Socrates is quite familiar with the theories of the cosmologists, and that his young friends will recognize allusions to them. This is strictly in keeping with the standing assumption of the Clouds as well as with the autobiographical section of the Phaedo. The conception of φιλία in particular as “attraction of unlike for unlike” comes from Empedocles and the Sicilian medicine which goes back to him; the thought that one opposite is the τροφή, “food” or “fuel,” of the other is that of Heraclitus. Heracliteanism was actually represented at Athens in the time of the Archidamian war by Cratylus; from the speech of Eryximachus in the Symposium we see that the Sicilian medical ideas were at home there also.

22^ I.e. it is not true either that any and every “likeness,” nor yet that every and any “unlikeness,” can be the foundation of friendship.

23^ Cf. Phaedo, 100d, where Socrates says that we may call the relation of form to sensible thing παρουσία or κοινωνία = parousia or koinônia or “whatever you please” (εἴτε δπη δῂ καὶ ὄπως† προσγενομένη). Elsewhere in the dialogue the form is said to “occupy” (κατέχειν, a military metaphor) the thing, the thing to “receive” (δέχεσθαι, again a military metaphor) or to “partake in” (μετέχειν) the form.

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Minor Socratic Dialogues: Cratylus and Euthydemus

Introduction. Both the dialogues to be considered in this chapter have something of the character of “occasional works.” Both are strongly marked by a broad farcical humor, which is apparently rather Socratic than Platonic; we meet it again, e.g., in the comic fury of the satire in some parts of the Republic, but it is quite unlike the grave and gentle malice of such works as the Parmenides and Sophistes. The mirth, especially in the Euthydemus, has something of the rollicking extravagance of Aristophanes, and, according to the Symposium, there really was a side to Socrates which made him congenial company for the great comic poet. (Both men could relish wild fun, and both could enjoy a laugh at themselves.) In neither of our two dialogues is the professed main purpose directly ethical, though the Socratic convictions about the conduct of life incidentally receive an impressive exposition in the Euthydemus. It seems impossible to say anything more precise about the date of composition of either than that stylistic considerations show that both must be earlier than the great dramatic dialogues, Protagoras, Symposium, Phaedo, Republic. Since the Cratylus is a directly enacted drama with only three personages, while the Euthydemus is a reported dialogue with numerous personages and a vigorously delineated “background,” this second is presumably the more mature work of the two.


The personages of the dialogue other than Socrates are two, Hermogenes and Cratylus. Hermogenes is well known to us as a member of Socrates’ entourage. Both he and Cratylus figured in the Telauges of Aeschines,1 where Socrates was apparently made to criticise the squalor affected by the extreme Orphic and Pythagorist spirituali. We learn from Plato (Phaedo 59b) that Hermogenes was present at the death of Socrates. Xenophon mentions him several times and professes to owe some of his information to him. He was a base-born brother of the famous, or notorious, “millionaire” Callias, son of Hipponicus, the munificent patron of “sophists” (Cratylus 391c), but himself poor, and apparently on no very good terms with his brother. As Callias was connected by marriage with Pericles, the appearance of him and his brother among the associates of Socrates is one of the many |76| indications that the philosopher stood in early life in close relations with the Periclean circle. Of Cratylus we apparently know only what Aristotle has told us in his Metaphysics (987a 32, 1010a 12), that — as we could have inferred from our dialogue itself — he believed in the Heraclitean doctrine of universal “flux” and that he carried his conviction of the impermanence of everything to the length of refusing to name things, preferring to point at them with his fingers. (The use of a significant name would suggest that the thing named really had some sort of relatively permanent character.) But one may reasonably suspect the story of being no more than an invention of some wag which Aristotle has perhaps taken too seriously.2 According to Aristotle, Plato had been “familiar” with him, and derived from him his rooted conviction that sensible things, because of their complete impermanence, cannot be the objects of scientific knowledge.

It is not clear whether Aristotle means to place this connexion of Plato with Cratylus before or after the death of Socrates, but presumably he means that it was before that event, since he says that it belonged to Plato’s youth. The fact is likely enough, since Cratylus seems to have been one of Socrates’ associates. (We must not suppose Aristotle to mean that when Plato associated with him he had not yet met Socrates; the close relations of Socrates with Critias, Charmides, Adimantus, Glaucon, show that Plato must have been acquainted with him from early childhood.) We need not believe, and we can hardly believe, that the influence of Cratylus really counted for much in determining Plato’s own thought; he would not need any special master to inform him that sensible things are mutable. Most probably Aristotle, who only knew Plato in Plato’s old age, has exaggerated the importance of an acquaintance which had really no great significance. In any case, the tone of the whole dialogue requires us to suppose that both Cratylus and Hermogenes are youngish men, decidedly younger than Socrates.3 The “dramatic date” of the conversation is hardly indicated with certainty. If we may suppose, what seems to me most likely, that the “curfew regulations” in Aegina, alluded to at 433a, were connected with the Athenian military occupation of the island in 431, this would suggest a date not too long after the beginning of the Archidamian war, when Socrates would be in the early forties, and the other two perhaps twenty years younger. |77| This is further borne out by the reference (386d) to Euthydemus as a person whose views are of interest. We shall see below that the Euthydemus requires to be dated at latest not after 421 or 420.4

The ostensible subject of discussion is the origin of language. Are names significant by “nature” (φύσει), in virtue of some intrinsic appropriateness of the verbal sign to the thing signified, or only significant “by convention” (νόμῳ), i.e. arbitrary imposition? Cratylus takes the first view; there is a natural “Rightness” of names which is one and the same for every one, Greek or barbarian (383b). If you call a thing by any other name than its own intrinsically “right” name, you are not naming it at all, even though you are using for it the word which every one else uses. Hermogenes is on the side of “convention” or arbitrary imposition; he holds that whatever we are accustomed to call anything is, for that reason, the name of the thing. The dispute is referred to Socrates, who is careful to explain that he cannot decide the question with expert knowledge, as he has never attended the expensive fifty-drachma lecture of Prodicus on the right use of language; he can only contribute the suggestions of his native mother-wit (384b).5

The issue under consideration is thus only one aspect of the famous “sophistic” antithesis between “nature” and “social usage” which we know to have been the great controversial issue of the Periclean age. The fancy that if we can only discover the original names of things, our discovery will throw a flood of light on the realities named, seems to recur periodically in the history of human thought. There are traces of it in Heraclitus and Herodotus; in the age of Pericles it was reinforced by the vogue of allegorical interpretations of Homer, which depended largely on fanciful etymologies. Much of the dialogue is taken up by a long series of such etymologies poured forth by Socrates under what he himself declares to be “possession” by some strange personality. It is |78| plain that we are not to find the serious meaning of the dialogue here, especially as, after delighting Cratylus by a pretended demonstration that language supports the Heraclitean philosophy, since the names of all things good contain references to movement, and the names of all bad things to arrest of movement, he turns round and produces equally ingenious and far-fetched etymological grounds for supposing that the original “giver of names” must have held the Eleatic doctrine that motion is an illusion, since all the names of good things appear to denote rest or stoppage of motion. Obviously, we are to take all this as good-humored satire on attempts to reach a metaphysic by way of “philology”; as far as etymologies go, a little ingenuity will enable us to get diametrically opposite results out of the same data.

The real purpose of the dialogue, so far as it has any purpose beyond the preservation of a picture of Socrates in one of his more whimsical moods, is to consider not the origin of language, but its use and functions. If we consider the purposes which spoken language subserves, we shall see that if it is to be adequate for those purposes, it must conform to certain structural principles. Hence the formula of the partisans of “convention” that the “right name” of anything is just whatever we agree to call it, makes language a much more arbitrary thing than it really is. A “right name” will be a name which adequately fulfills all the uses for which a name is required, and thus one man’s or one city’s vocabulary may name things more rightly, because more adequately, than that of another. But so long as the purpose for which names are required is adequately discharged by any vocabulary, things will be rightly “named” in the vocabulary. The names for things will not have the same syllables and letters in Greek and in a “barbarian” language, but if the purposes for which speech is required are equally well achieved in both languages, both names will be equally “true” names for things. So the partisans of Averts, who hold, like Cratylus, that there is one particular combination of sounds which is the one and only “right name” of a given thing, are also only partly right. They are right in thinking that the right assignment of names is not arbitrary, but depends on principles of some kind, and that a nomenclature which “every one agrees in using” may, for all that, be a bad one; they are wrong in thinking that if a given succession of sounds is a “right name” for a certain thing, no other such combination can be its “right name.” The Cratylus is thus not so much concerned with the “origin” of language, as with the principles of philosophical and scientific nomenclature, though it contains many incidental sound observations about those analogies between the different movements of articulation and natural processes which seem to underlie the “onomatopoeic” element in language, as well as about the various influences which lead to linguistic change.

Hermogenes, at the outset, adopts an extreme form of the view that language is wholly arbitrary. If I like to call a thing by a |79| certain name that is its name for me, even in the case of my inverting the usage of every one else. Thus, if I call “horse” what every one else calls “man,” “horse” really is my private name, the name in my private language (ἰδίᾳ, 385a) for that being, as truly as “man” is its name “in the language of the public” (δημοσίᾳ). Now this assertion raises a very large question. A name is a part, an ultimate part, of a λόγος or statement. Statements may be true or they may be false; they are true if they speak of realities (ὄντα) as they really are, false if they speak of them otherwise. But if a whole “discourse” or “statement” may be either true or false, we must say the same about its parts. Every part of a true statement must be true, and thus, since there are true and false λόγοι, there must be true and false names (385c). This looks like a fallacy, but we shall see that it is not really one if we note carefully the use Socrates makes of the distinction. His point is the sound one, that language is a social activity; it is primarily an instrument of communication. A “name” given by me privately to something which everybody else calls differently does not discharge this function; it misleads, is a bad instrument for its purpose. This is what Socrates means by calling it a “false” name. It is a spurious substitute for the genuine article which would do the work required.

This disposes of the suggestion of a purely “private” language peculiar to the individual, but still it may be reasonably maintained that at any rate though the names “barbarians” give to things are not the same as those used by Greeks, they are just as much the “true names” of things as the Greek words (385e). I.e. we may urge that the plurality of languages shows that language is an arbitrary thing, though it depends on the arbitrium of a group, not of a single man. But if names are arbitrary, is the reality (οὐσία) of the things named equally arbitrary? If a thing’s name is just whatever some one likes to call it, is the thing itself just whatever some one thinks it to be? Protagoras actually held that everything really is for any one just what he thinks it to be, so long as he thinks it to be so, and Hermogenes reluctantly admits that he sometimes feels driven to accept the view, strange as it is. However, we may perhaps dismiss it with the remark that it leaves no room for distinguishing wiser and less wise men, since it says that everyone’s beliefs are true — for him and no one else, and just as long as he holds them. But it seems the most patent of facts that some men are good, and therefore wise, and some wicked and therefore unwise. Yet we can hardly go to the opposite extreme with Euthydemus, who says that all statements whatever are true, always and “for every one.” This would equally lead to the view that there is no distinction between the virtuous and the vicious, and consequently none between wisdom and the lack of it (386d).6

|80| Now if neither of these doctrines can be true, “objects” (τὰ πράγμασα) clearly have some determinate real character of their own (οὐσίαν τίνα βέβαιον) which is independent of our “fancy”; and if this is so “activities” (πράξεις = praxis) will also have a “nature” or “reality” (φύσιν) of their own, since “activities” are one form of “object” (ἔν τι εἰδος τὼν ὄντων, 386e). Hence, if we want to perform an act, we cannot do it in any way and with any instrument we please. We must do it in the way prescribed by the nature of the object we are acting on, and with the “naturally proper” instrument (ᾦ πέφυκε). For example, in cleaving wood, if we are to succeed, we must split the wood “with the grain” and we must use a naturally suitable implement. Speaking of things and naming them is an activity (πράξεις), and what we have just said applies therefore to naming. If we want to name things we must name them not just as the fancy takes us, but “as the nature of the objects permits and with the instrument it permits.” The instrument or tool for naming things is, of course, the name itself. We may define a name as “an instrument by which we inform one another about realities and discriminate between them” (388b-c, ὄνομα ἄρα διδασκαλικόν τί ἐστιν ὄργανον καὶ διακριτικὸν της οὐσίας). In all the crafts (weaving, for example) one craftsman (e.g. the weaver) has to make a proper use of some implement which has been properly made by some other craftsman (e.g. the carpenter, who makes the wooden implements which the weaver uses). Now from our definition of a name we see at once who is the expert craftsman who “uses” names as his tools; he is the “teacher” or “instructor” (ὁ διδασκαλικός. But who is the other expert who makes the tools which the teacher uses? According to the very theory from which we started, they are made by νόμος, “social usage.” Hence we may say that they are the manufacture of the “legislator,” the institutor of social usage. And legislation is not work that anyone can do, “unskilled labour”; it is “skilled labour,” work for an expert, or professor of a τέχνη. Clearly then, it is not correct to say that anyone whatever can arbitrarily give names to things (386d-389a). (Thus the result so far is that, since the function of language is the accurate communication of knowledge about things, the vocabulary of “social usage” will only be satisfactory when it supplies a nomenclature which corresponds to the real agreements and differences between the things named.)

Well, what would the expert in establishing usages have before his mind’s eye in assigning names? We may see the answer by considering the way in which the carpenter works when he makes a κερκίς (model) for the weaver. He “keeps his eyes on” the work the κερκίς is meant to do in weaving — its function. If one of his articles breaks while he is making it, of course he makes a fresh one, and in making it he does not “fix his eye” on the spoilt and broken κερκίς but on the form (εῖδος) with an eye to which he had been |81| making the one which broke (389b). It is this “model” κερκίς, kept by the carpenter before his mind’s eye in making all the different wooden κερκίδες, which best deserves the name of αὐτὸ ὃ ἔστιν κερκίς, “just the κερκίς,” “the κερκίς and nothing else” (ib.).

There are three points to be got hold of here, (1) The carpenter cannot give the tools he makes for the weaver just any shape he pleases; the shape or form of the κερκίς is determined, independently of anyone’s fancy, by the work it is meant to do. (2) Strictly speaking, when the carpenter is said in common parlance to make a κερκίς, what he does is to put the form, which is the “natural” or “real” κερκίς, into the wood on which he is working.7 (3) And though the shape of a κερκίς is something fixed, it will be reproduced by the carpenter in different material, according as the implement is wanted for weaving different sorts of cloth (e.g., you would need the wood to be harder for work on some kinds of material than on others). We may transfer these results to the case of the “legislator” who makes names. The letters and syllables, like the wood of the carpenter, are the material into which he has to put “the real name” (ἐκεινο ὃ ἔστιν ὄνομα). Differences in the material will not matter, in this case any more than in the other, so long as the resulting instrument answers its purpose. This is why, though the sounds of a Greek word and those of the “barbarian” equivalent may be very different, each is a true name if it discharges the function of a name adequately (389b-390a). (It should be noted that all through this passage the technical language of the doctrine of forms is used without explanation. Plato assumes that Hermogenes and Cratylus may be counted on to know all about it. To my own mind, it is just the frequency with which this assumption is made, apparently without any consciousness that it calls for any justification, which is the strongest reason for refusing to believe that the whole doctrine was “developed” by Plato or anyone else after the death of Socrates.)

Who, then, decides whether a given piece of wood has really received the “form of κερκίς,” as it should have done? Not the expert who makes the implement (the carpenter), but the expert who will have to use it (the weaver). And this is a general rule. The man who makes an implement must “take his specifications” from the man who is to use it. Thus we arrive at a distinction |82| afterwards explicitly formulated in the Politicus and reproduced as fundamental in the opening paragraphs of the Nicomachean Ethics, the distinction between superior and subordinate “arts” the rule being that it is the “art” which uses a product that is superior, the “art” which makes it that is subordinate. This will apply to the case of the “legislator” who makes names. There must be a superior expert, whose business it is to judge of the goodness of the names, namely, the expert who is to use them, and he can be no other than the expert in asking and answering questions, that is the “dialectician” or metaphysician. The “legislator” who is to bestow names rightly must therefore work under the superintendence and to the specifications of the “dialectician,” the supreme man of science. (In other words, the test of the adequacy of language is not mere “custom,” but its capacity to express the highest truth fully and accurately.)

Cratylus, then, is right in thinking that language depends on “nature,” and that names can only rightly be given by a man who “fixes his eye on the real (φύσει) name and can put its form into letters and syllables” (389a-390e).8 At any rate, this is how the matter looks to Socrates, though, as he had said, he cannot go on to convince Hermogenes by explaining which names are the “right” ones. For that one must go to the professional sophists, such as Protagoras, or, since Hermogenes has no money to pay them, he might ask his brother Callias to teach him what he has learned from Protagoras on this very subject (391a-c). Perhaps we can hardly do this, since Hermogenes has already decided against the main principle of Protagoras’ book on Truth. But something can be done, to make a beginning, with Homer. He sometimes gives two names for a thing, that used by “gods” and that used by “men,” and in such cases we sometimes find that the name used by the “gods” is significant (e.g., we call a certain river Scamander, but the gods call it “the Yellow River,” Ξάνθος = Xanthos). Or again he tells us that Hector’s son was called Scamandrius by the women, but Astyanax by his father and the men. Now, on the average, the men of a society are more intelligent than their women-folk,9 and their name for the boy is presumably his “right” name. And, |83| in fact, we see that it has a significance which makes it appropriate. The name means “Burgh-ward,” and is therefore very suitable to the son of Hector who “warded” Troy so effectually (391a-392e).

Once started on this trail, Socrates proceeds to propound a host of derivations of names — proper names of heroes and gods, and common nouns — with the general purpose of showing that in their original form, often widely different from that to which we are accustomed, they have a “connotation” which makes them specially appropriate. There is no need to follow this part of the conversation in any detail, all the more since Socrates professes to be surprised by his own readiness and suggests that he must have been infected by an abnormal “possession” from having just left the company of the “inspired” Euthyphro (396d). We could hardly be told more plainly that the extravagances which are to follow are meant as a caricature of the guesses of “etymologists” working in the dark without any scientific foundation.10 But, like a wise man, Socrates mixes some sense with his nonsense. Thus it is a sound principle, whatever we may think of some of the applications made of it, that proper names of men and gods are likely to have been originally significant, though their meaning has been lost through linguistic changes. It is sound sense again to say (398d) that we may often be put on the true track by considering archaic forms which are obsolete in current speech, or peculiar dialectical variants (401c). So again Socrates is quite right in calling attention to the presence of “barbarian” words in the current vocabulary (409e), though the use he makes of the fact as a convenient way out of a difficulty whenever he is at a loss is manifestly jocular (421c-d). The jocularity is even more patent when he pretends (402a) to make the sudden discovery, which he then rides to death, that the ancient names of the gods and a host of other words show that the creators of the Greek language were Heracliteans, or (409b) that the name Selene conveys the discovery, connected at Athens with the name of Anaxagoras, that the moon shines by reflected light. It is no surprise to us when, after a long interval of more serious discussion, we find him (437a ff.) expressing his doubts whether after all etymology might not be made to bear equal witness to Parmenides and his doctrine of the absolute motionlessness of the real.

We come back to seriousness at 422a with the reflection that, after all, the process of derivation cannot go on for ever. We must, in the end, arrive at a stock of primitive names, the ABC (στοιχεια) of all the rest. How are we to account for the appropriation of each of these to its signification? We may do so if we reflect that language is a form of gesture. If we were all deaf and dumb we |84| should try to communicate information by imitating with our own bodies the shapes and movements oi the things to which we wanted to call attention. Now we can imitate in the same way by vocal gestures. If a man could reproduce the “reality” of different things by the vocal gestures we call “letters” and “syllables” he would be naming the various things (423a-424b). The primitive names may be supposed to have been produced by this method of imitation. We may test this suggestion and judge of the “rightness” of these primitive words by making a careful classification of the elementary components of our speech — the vowels, consonants, and so forth — and considering the movements by which they are produced. We shall ask whether there are not analogies between these various processes and processes in nature at large, and whether primitive names do not seem to be composed of sounds produced by movements analogous with those of the things they signify, allowance being made for a considerable amount of variation for the sake of euphony and greater ease of articulation. We might, to be sure, save ourselves trouble by simply saying that the primitive words were invented by gods or “barbarians” of long ago, but this would be shirking the chief problem which the scientific expert in the theory of language has to face (425d-426b). Socrates therefore ventures, with misgivings, to state some of his observations on the subject. The pages in which he does so (426b-427d) have often been commended for their penetration, but the subject has more interest for the student of phonetics than for the philosopher, and we need not delay over the details. What is of real interest to others than specialists in phonetics is the discernment shown by the insistence on the general principle that speech is to be regarded as a species of mimetic gesture, and the clear way in which such vocal gesture is distinguished from direct reproduction of natural noises and the cries of animals (423c-d).

Hitherto the conversation has been a dialogue between Socrates and Hermogenes; Cratylus now replaces the latter as interlocutor. He is delighted with all that Socrates has said — no doubt because Socrates has professed to find Heracliteanism embodied in the very structure of language — and thinks it could hardly be bettered. But Socrates himself has misgivings, and would like to consult his second thoughts. (What the by-play here really hints is that we are now to come to a discussion to which Plato attaches greater importance than he does to the entertaining etymological speculations on which so much time has been spent.)

We said that name-giving is a trade, and that the workman (δημιουργός, demiurgos) who makes names is the “legislator.” Now in general there are better and worse workmen in any trade; we should expect, then, that there are degrees of goodness and badness in the names made by different legislators (i.e. linguistic tradition, of which the νομοθέτης is a personification, approximates more or less nearly, in the case of different idioms, to the ideal of a “philosophical” language). Cratylus denies this, on the ground that a word either |85| is the right name of a certain thing, or is not that thing’s name at all, but the name of something else. There cannot be any intermediate degree of “rightness” in this case. If you call a thing by the name of something else, you are not speaking of the thing in question at all; (e.g. to say “Hermogenes” when you meant Cratylus, is trying to say “what is not” and that is impossible). You cannot say nothing. Whenever you speak you must be saying something. Not only must you mean (λέγειν) something, but you must enunciate (φάναι) something. Hence when a man uses any but the “right name” Cratylus holds that he merely makes a senseless noise, like a “sounding brass” (“I should say that the man in such a case was merely making a noise, going through purposeless motions, as if he were beating a bronze pot.” 430a.) In other words, you cannot make a statement which is significant and yet false. Every statement is either true or meaningless. The difficulty here suggested only seems fanciful to us, because the explanation of it given for the first time in Plato’s own Sophistes has become part of our current thought. To say “what is not” does not mean to say what is simply meaningless, but only to say what means something different from the real facts of the case. Until this had been explained, there was a double difficulty for the Greek mind in understanding how it is possible to speak falsely. Partly the difficulty is due to the accident of language that the word ειναι is ambiguous; it means “to be” or “to exist”; in Greek, especially in the Ionic Greek, which was the original tongue of science, it also means “to be true,” as when Herodotus calls his own version of the early life of Cyrus τὸ ἐόν, “the true narrative,” or Euripides in Aristophanes speaks of the story of Phaedra as an ᾢν λόγος, “an over-true tale.” Behind the merely verbal ambiguity there is further a metaphysical one, the confusion between “what is not” in the absolute sense of “blank nothing” and “what is not” in the merely relative sense of “what is other than” some given reality. So long as you confuse “what is not” in this relative sense with what is just nothing at all, you must hold it impossible to say significantly “what is not” (i.e. to make a false statement which has any meaning). This explains why, in the age of Pericles and Socrates, it should have been a fashionable trick of ἀντιλογικοί or ἐριστικοί, pretenders who made a show of intellectual brilliance by undertaking to confute and silence every one else, to argue that no statement, however absurd, if it means anything, can be false. The most violent paradoxes must be true, because they mean something, and therefore he who utters them is saying “what is.” Plato regularly connects this theory of the impossibility of speaking falsely with the philosophy of Parmenides, and its unqualified antithesis between “what is” and mere nonentity. He means that the doctrine arises as soon as you convert what Parmenides had meant for a piece of physics into a principle of logic. Cratylus, to be sure, is a follower not of Parmenides, who regarded change of every kind as an illusion, but of Heraclitus, who thought change the fundamental reality. But he is led by a |86| different route to the same result. Whether you start with the premise that “what is not,” being just nothing at all, cannot be spoken of, or with the premise that to call a thing “out of its name” must be to speak of something else and not of the thing in question, in either case the conclusion has to be drawn that you cannot significantly say what is false, since that would be to speak of a given thing and yet not to speak of it “as it is.”11

Though this issue of the possibility of significant false statement has been raised, we need not go to the bottom of it for our present purposes. (In fact, Plato’s own logical studies had presumably not yet led him to the complete solution.) It is enough to remember that we have already agreed that a name is a “representation” (μίμημα) of that which it names. It is like a portrait, except that the portrait is a visible, the name an audible, representation. Now we might take the portrait of a woman for a portrait of a man; we should then be connecting the portrait with the wrong original, but still it would be a portrait of some original. We do the same thing when we misapply a name; it does not cease to be a name because we apply it to the wrong thing. Again, a portrait is not an exact replica. One artist seizes points which another misses, and thus there may be a better and a worse portrait, and yet both are portraits of the same original. Why may not the same thing be true of the primitive names in language? Why may not a name be an imperfect but real “representation” of that for which it stands? (This would explain why the primitive names in different languages may all be genuine “vocal gestures,” denoting the same thing, in spite of the differences between them.) Cratylus suggests that the analogy with portraiture does not hold. A bad portrait may leave out some characteristic of its original, or put in something not present in the original, and yet be a recognizable portrait of the man. But in the case of a name, if, for example, we put in or leave out a single letter, we have not written that name at all. |87| We may reply that it is not with quality as it is with number. Any addition or subtraction will make, e.g., the number 10 another number (such as 9 or 11), but a “representation” may be like the original without reproducing it in its details. Thus the portrait-painter reproduces the outward features and complexion of his sitter, but leaves out everything else. The sitter has entrails, movement, life, thought; the picture has none, and yet it is a picture of him. In fact, if it did reproduce the whole reality of the sitter, it would not be a portrait at all but a reduplication of the man himself. Full and complete reproduction is thus not the kind of “rightness” we require in a portrait, and we have already recognized that a name is a kind of portrait of which vocal gesture is the medium (430a-433b).

If we are agreed so far, we may now say that a well-made name must contain the “letters” which are “appropriate” to its signification; i.e. those which are “like” what is signified (i.e. the vocal gestures which compose the name must have a natural resemblance to some feature in that which it names; a name which contains inappropriate sounds may be still a recognizable name if some of its components are appropriate, but it will not be a well-made one). The only way of escaping our conclusions would be to fall back on the view that names are purely conventional and arbitrary. This is impossible, since in any case there must be some sort of natural appropriateness about the elementary components of vocal gesture to lead the imposers of names in the making of their first conventions, just as there must be in nature colouring materials appropriate for the reproduction of the tints of a face if there is to be such an art as portraiture. But we can see that “convention” and the arbitrary play their part in language too. Thus there is a “roughness” about the sound of the letter r which makes it appropriate in the name of anything hard and rough, while there is a smoothness of articulation about l which makes it inappropriate for the same purpose. Yet this letter actually occurs in the very word σκληρός itself, and even Cratylus must admit that “thanks to custom” he knows what the word means. It discharges its function as a name none the worse for containing an inappropriate sound (433b-435b). In particular we should find it quite impossible to show that the names of the numerals are made up of gestures naturally appropriate to signify those particular numbers. The principle of natural significance, however sound, is a most uncertain guide in etymological studies (435b-c).

We revert to a position we had laid down at the outset. The “faculty” (δύναμις) or function of a name is to convey instruction (διδάσκειν). Does this imply that a man who has knowledge of names will also have a corresponding knowledge of the realities (πράγματα) for which the names stand? Cratylus is inclined to think so, and even to hold that the knowledge of names is the only way to the knowledge of things. Not only is the understanding (τὸ μανθάνειν) of words the one way to the understanding of |88| things; inquiry into language is the only road of inquiry and discovery. The one way to discover the truth about things is to discover the meanings of names (436a). But obviously this would put all science in a very unfavourable position. The study of names will only at best show what the givers of the names supposed to be the truth about things, and how if these name-givers were wrong in their suppositions? Cratylus holds that we need not feel any anxiety on the point. The best proof that the “giver of names” was one who knew all about things is the consistent way in which all names support one and the same theory about things. Has not Socrates himself shown that they all point to the Heraclitean doctrine of the flux (436c)? Unfortunately this is not conclusive; if you start with false initial postulates you may be led to gravely erroneous conclusions, and yet these conclusions may be quite compatible with one another, as we see in the case of certain geometrical false demonstrations.12 The supreme difficulty in any science is to be sure that your initial postulates themselves are true (436c-d). And, on second thoughts, we may doubt whether the testimony of language is quite so self-consistent as we had fancied. There are many words which seem to indicate that the “giver of names” was an Eleatic rather than an Heraclitean (437a-c), and it would be absurd to decide on the truth of such incompatible views by appeal to a “numerical majority” of derivations.

In any case, the view Cratylus is maintaining is self-contradictory. He holds that the inventors of the first names must have known the truth about things in order to give each its “true” name, and also that the truth about things can only be discovered by the study of names. How then did the original makers of names discover it? Perhaps, says Cratylus, the first names were of a superhuman origin; language began as a divine revelation, and its divine origin guarantees the “rightness” of the primitive names. If that is so, then both our sets of derivations cannot be sound, or, as Cratylus says, one set of words cannot be real “names” at all (438c). But the question is, which set — those which suggest the “flux” or those which suggest that movement is an illusion — are real names? We cannot decide the issue by appeal to other words, for there are no other words than those employed in language. The appeal will have to be to the realities words signify, and we shall have to learn what these realities are, not from words, but “from one another and from themselves” (438e). Besides, even if we admit that the truth about things can be learned by studying their names, since well-made names, as we have said, are “likenesses” |89| of the things they name, it must be a nobler and more assured method to study the reality (ἀλήθεια) directly in itself, and judge of the merits of the “likeness” from our knowledge of the original than to try to discover from a mere study of the “likeness” whether it is a good one, and what it represents (439a). How a knowledge of realities is to be acquired it may take greater thinkers than ourselves to say, but it is satisfactory to have learned that at least we cannot acquire it by the study of names (439b).

Socrates keeps the point on which he wishes to insist most until the end. Whatever the opinion of the framers of language may have been, the Heraclitean doctrine of universal impermanence cannot be true. There are such things as “Beauty” and “Goodness” (αὐτὸ καλὸν καὶ αγαθόν) and other realities of that kind. Even Cratylus admits this at once. He does not extend his doctrine of impermanence to the realm of “values.” Now they cannot be everlastingly mutable; they are what they are once for all and always. You could not call anything “the so-and-so” (αὐτὸ, 439d), if it had no determinate character but were merely mutable. And the merely mutable could not be known. What is known is known as having this or that determinate character, but if the doctrine of “flux” is true, nothing ever has such determinate character. Not to mention that knowing as a subjective activity also has a determinate character, so that in a world where everything is incessantly becoming something else, there could be neither objects to be known nor the activity of knowing. But if knower (τὸ γιγνωσκον), object known (τὸ γιγνωσκόμενον), Beauty, Good, are real, the Heraclitean doctrine cannot be true. We will not now ask which of these alternatives is the right one, but we may say that it does not look a sensible procedure for a man to have such confidence in names and their givers that he hands over his soul to “names” for “tendance” and asserts dogmatically that all men and all things are sick of a universal “defluxion” and as leaky as a cracked pitcher (440a-d). This is the issue which young men like Cratylus and Hermogenes should face seriously and courageously and not decide in a hurry (440d). Thus the dialogue leaves with us as the great problem, or rather the two aspects of the same great problem of all philosophy, the metaphysical problem of the reality of the forms and the moral problem of the right “tendance of the soul.”13

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The dialogue, as we have said, has more of the spirit of broad farce than any other work of Plato; it would be possible to see in it nothing more than an entertaining satire on “eristics” who think it a fine thing to reduce every one who opens his mouth in their company to silence by taking advantage of the |90| ambiguities of language. Even if this were Plato’s main object, it would still be a reasonable one. An attempt to detect and expose the principal fallacies in dictione would be a useful contribution to the as yet only nascent study of logic. It is thus not surprising that Aristotle should have made frequent use of the dialogue in his own systematic essay on Fallacies, the de Sophisticis Elenchis. But the real purpose of the dialogue is more serious and proves to be a moral one, arising out of the claim of the sophists of the Periclean age to be able to “teach goodness.” A man who undertakes this task must be prepared to win the adherence of a pupil by satisfying him first that “goodness” the secret of a satisfactory life, can be taught; and next, that the speaker is one of the experts who can teach it. No one will go to school to you unless you can persuade him that you have something important to teach, and that you are competent to teach it. This accounts for the rise of a distinct branch of literature, the “protreptic” discourse, which aims at winning the hearer’s assent to the idea that he must live the “philosophic” life, and encouraging his confidence that a particular teacher will show him how to do it. To this type of literature belonged, among other works, Aristotle’s famous Protrepticus and Cicero’s almost equally famous Latin imitation of it, the Hortensius, both now unhappily lost. The true object of the Euthydemus is to exhibit the directness, simplicity, and power of Socratic “protreptic,” addressed to a young and impressionable mind; the fooleries of the two sophists afford an entertaining background, without which the picture would not produce its full effect. We might suppose Plato to have felt that to a careless observer the close cross-questioning characteristic of Socrates must seem very much the same sort of thing as the futile sporting with words on which the ordinary “eristic” plumes himself. By pitting the one thing directly against the other he drives home his point that, for all their apparent minute hair-splitting, the questions of Socrates are no idle displays of ingenuity, but have the most momentous and most truly practical of all objects; their purpose is to win a soul from evil for good.

In form, the Euthydemus is a narrated drama. Socrates describes to his old friend Crito, with a great deal of humor, a mirthful scene in his favourite haunt, the palaestra near the Lyceum, at which he had been present the day before. The supposed date can only be fixed by consideration of a number of bits of internal evidence. It is, as we see from Euthydemus, 271c, “many years” after the foundation of Thurii (444 B.C.), and must be before the year of the great scandal about the “profanation of the mysteries,” just before the sailing of the Athenian Armada for Sicily (416-5), since Axiochus of Scambonidae, father of the lad Clinias who figures as respondent, was one of the principal persons ruined by the affair.14 A date not later than about 420, and possibly a little earlier, seems to fit all the |91| indications. The center of attraction in the dialogue is the beautiful and modest Clinias; it is on his person that Euthydemus, whom we have already met in the Cratylus, and his brother Dionysodorus, natives of Chios who had been among the original settlers of Thurii, but found themselves banished in the years of faction which followed on the foundation of the city and have since then haunted Athens and her dependencies, make the experiment of displaying a new educational discovery, a method of instantaneously “teaching goodness” Hitherto they had taught, like other professionals, the art of fence on the field and in the law-courts; their crowning achievement is a recent invention which they are anxious to parade and Socrates to witness. It proves, in fact, to be simply “eristic” the trick of stopping a man’s mouth by catching at the natural ambiguities of language. Perhaps it is an indication of date that Socrates is made to lay the stress he does on the contrast between this latest marvel and the now familiar art of effective forensic pleading which had been the thing taught by Protagoras and the earliest “sophists.” The two men, however, are described as elderly, so that they will be at least as old as Socrates himself, and we must remember that though Socrates was the first Athenian to interest himself in logic, it had been founded by Zeno, who cannot at most have been more than ten years younger than Protagoras. Hence too much must not be made of this point.15 The serious business of the dialogue is opened by Socrates in a short speech, laying down the main lines it is to follow. Clinias is a lad of great promise and illustrious connexions; it is of the first moment that he should grow up to be a thoroughly good man. The sophists are therefore invited to prove the value of their latest discovery by convincing him “that one must give one’s attention to goodness and philosophy” (275a). They fall to work at once by asking a series of questions so constructed that they can only be answered by “Yes” or “No,” and that the respondent can be equally silenced whichever answer he gives. The first question — from its recurrence elsewhere we may infer that it was a “stock” puzzle — turns on the double sense of the word μανθάνειν, which means primarily to “learn”; but derivatively, in colloquial language, to “understand,” “take the |92| meaning of” a statement. The eristic method of the two brothers may be reproduced in English by taking advantage of the double sense which “learning” happens to bear in our own language. Who are learners, the wise or the ignorant, i.e. those who already know something or those who do not? There is here a triple équivoque, since the “wise” (σοφοί) may mean “clever, intelligent” pupils, as well as persons who already know the thing to be taught, and the “ignorant” (ἀμαθεις) may mean “the dull, stupid,” as well as those who are ignorant of a given subject. The lad takes the question to mean, “Which class of boys learn what they are taught, the clever boys or the dull ones?” and answers, “The clever.” But, it is retorted, when you lads were learners in reading or music, you did not yet know these subjects and therefore were not “wise” (σοφοί) about them, and so must have been “ignorant” (ἀμαθεις). And yet again, in your schooldays, it was not the “dull” (ἀμαθεις) among you, but the quick or clever (σφοί) who “took in” (ἐμάνθανον) what the schoolmaster dictated. Ergo, it is the σοφοί, not the ἀμαθεις who “learn.” (As we might say, the dull don’t get learning from their schoolmasters, but the quick (275d-276c)).

A new puzzle is now started. When a man learns something, does he learn what he knows or what he does not know? (This again is a standing catch, intended to prove the paradox that it is impossible to learn anything, to get new knowledge.) The natural answer is that a man learns what he does not already know, since learning means getting fresh knowledge. But when a schoolmaster dictates something to you, you “learn” the sense of the passage (you take in its meaning). What he dictated is a series of “letters,” but you must have “known” your letters before you could do dictation. Thus when you “learn,” you must already “know” the thing you are learning. Yet, per contra, to learn means to get knowledge, and no one can get what he already has. Ergo, after all, it is what you do not know that you learn (276e-277c).

It is clear, of course, what the origin of “eristic” of this kind is. Euthydemus and his brother are borrowing and degrading the logical method of Zeno.16 In Zeno’s hands, the deduction of apparently contradictory conclusions from the same premisses had a legitimate object. The intention was to discredit the premisses themselves. And in fact, Zeno’s antinomies do establish the important result that the postulates of Pythagorean mathematics are incompatible with one another and require revision (e.g. it is indispensable to Pythagorean geometry that every straight |93| line should be capable of bisection, and yet, on the Pythagorean principles, a line may contain an odd number of “points” and therefore be incapable of bisection, because you cannot “split the unit”). With eristics like Euthydemus, this hunting after “antinomies,” perfectly legitimate when intended as a criticism of presuppositions which lead to an “antinomy” becomes a mere delight in entrapping the respondent into contradicting himself by mere neglect to guard against ambiguity in words, and its object is not to detect error but to produce admiration for the ingenious deviser of the ambiguous formula. This is the point on which Socrates now fastens. The two “sophists” care nothing about convincing Clinias of the need for “goodness and philosophy”; their concern is merely to make a display of their own cleverness. Accordingly, Socrates interrupts the performance. He professes to think that what has gone before is not meant as any sample of the “wisdom” of the brothers. It is a mere piece of “fun” like the sportive preliminaries which precede initiation into the Corybantic rites, or, as we might say, like those popularly supposed to precede an initiation into freemasonry. So far the two great men have merely been playing a “game” with the lad, enjoying a “practical joke” at his expense; no doubt the serious part of their “protreptic” is yet to come. Before it comes, Socrates would like to show, by a conversation of his own with the boy, what, in his “foolish and amateur fashion” (ἰδιωτικως τε καὶ γελοίως), he supposes the drift of such exhortations must be, though, of course, he fully expects to be left in the shade by two such eminent professionals (277d-278e).

There follows at once a simple statement, in clear language such as a mere boy can follow, of the root ideas of Socratic ethics. Of course every one of us wants εὖ πράττειν, to “fare well” to “make a success of life.” And equally, of course, making a success of life means having “abundance of good” (πολλὰ ἀγαθά). Now what things is it good to have? “The first man you meet” will mention some of them: wealth, health, beauty, bodily advantages in general, good birth, a position of influence and respect. But there are other good things than these, or at least other things which Socrates and Clinias regard as good: sophrosyne, justice, courage, wisdom. Is the list of goods now complete? Perhaps we have left out the most important of all, “good luck” (εὐτυχία), without which any other advantages may turn out to be disguised curses. And yet, on second thoughts, we have not forgotten it. For wisdom is itself εὐτυχία. Who have the best “luck” or “good fortune in playing musical instruments, in reading and writing, in navigation, warfare, medicine? The men who know how to do these things — expert musicians, sailors, soldiers, physicians. One would, e.g., think it a great piece of luck in war to be serving under a competent and not under an incompetent commander. In general, wisdom or knowledge (σοφία) leads to efficient achievement (εὐπραγία) and so to “good fortune.” If we have wisdom, then we may expect “success,” “good fortune” (τὸ εὐτυχειν) in the department of practice which our “wisdom” covers (278e-280a).

On reviewing these results, we see ground to criticise one of them, the statement that we shall be happy and “make life a success” (εὐδαιμονειν καὶ εὐ πράττειν) if we “have abundance of good things.” To have them will not benefit us unless we also use them, any more than it would benefit an artisan to have the materials and tools of his trade if he never used them. So, e.g., “wealth” is of no benefit unless we use it. And it would not be enough to say that we must not only have the various good things but use them. We must add that, to be happy, we must use them right. They are, in fact, dangerous tools; if you use them in the wrong way you do yourself a harm; it would be better to leave them alone than to use them wrongly. Now in all crafts and businesses it is the expert’s knowledge (ἐπιστήμη) of his craft which enables him to use his materials and implements in the right way, and the same thing holds good of health and wealth and the goods in popular esteem generally. Knowledge enables us to use wealth, health, and all other “advantages” rightly, and to achieve success (εὐπραγία). If a man had all other possessions besides wisdom and were not directed by “sense” (νους) in his undertakings, the less he undertook the fewer blunders he would make, and the happier he would be. It would be happier for him to be poor than rich, timid than courageous, sluggish and dull rather than of active temper and quick perception, since the less he undertook the less mischief he would do. In fact, none of the things we began by calling good can be called unconditionally (αὐτὰ καθ̉ αὐτά) good. They are better than their opposites when they are conjoined with the wisdom to make a right use of them (φρόνησίς τε καὶ σοφία), but worse when they are disjoined from it. It follows that, properly speaking, there is just one thing good, wisdom, and just one bad thing, ἀμαθία, “dullness,” stupidity (280b-281e). (Compare the precisely similar line of reasoning by which Kant reaches the conclusion that the good will is the only thing which is unconditionally good, because it is the only good which cannot be misused.)

We may draw a final conclusion. We now see that since happiness depends on wisdom and knowledge, the one end after which every man should strive is to become “as wise as possible.” Hence what we should crave to get from our parents, friends, fellow-citizens, alien acquaintances, before everything else, is just wisdom. One should be ready to “serve and slave” and render “any service that is comely”17 to any man for the sake of wisdom; that is to say, provided that wisdom can really be taught and does not “come by accident” (ἀπὸ ταὐτομάτον), a difficult question which we have not |95| faced. If we may assume that wisdom can be taught, we have satisfied ourselves of the absolute necessity of pursuing it, “being philosophers” (282a-d).

Socrates has really given us so far only half of a “protreptic discourse” such as would be to his mind. He has led up to the conclusion that happiness depends on the direction of life and conduct by knowledge, but has not so far told us what knowledge in particular it is of which we cannot make an ill use. It is fundamental for his purpose that we should distinguish such knowledge from every recognized form of expert professional knowledge, and the distinction will be made later. For the present we return to the “comic relief” of the fooleries of Euthydemus and his brother, which become increasingly absurd, precisely in order that the heightened contrast of tone shall mark the second part of Socrates’ discourse, when we reach it, as the most important thing in the whole dialogue. For the present he proposes that the “professionals” shall now take up the argument at this point, and decide the question whether one needs to learn every kind of “knowledge” or whether there is one special knowledge which conducts to happiness. Or, if they prefer, they may go over the ground he has already covered and do so in a less amateurish fashion. Of course they do neither; their object is simply épater les bourgeois, and Dionysodorus, the older of the two, sets to work at once to administer a thoroughly sensational shock. Can Socrates and the others, who profess to feel so much affection for Clinias, be serious in saying that they are anxious that he should become “wise”? For their language implies that he is not yet what they wish him to become. They say they want him to “be no longer what he now is”; but to wish a man to “be no longer” is to wish that he may perish — a pretty wish on the part of one’s “affectionate friends” (283a-d). (Here again we are on Eleatic ground, and we see that it is not for nothing that Plato reminds us repeatedly that his two sophists had lived at Thurii. The argument that nothing can change, because that which “becomes different” is becoming “what it is not” and therefore becoming nothing at all, derives directly from Parmenides as soon as his physics are converted into logic, and, like the rest of the puzzles connected with it, only gets its solution when we come to the distinction between absolute and relative not-being introduced in the Sophistes. In our dialogue Plato is not seriously concerned with the solution of these difficulties; what he is concerned with is the futility of regarding them as a preparation for the conduct of life, and the moral levity of the professors who make a parade of them.) The immediate effect of the sally of Dionysodorus is to call forth from Ctesippus, an older lad deeply attached to Clinias, an angry complaint of the “falsity” of the accusation, and this gives Euthydemus an opening for airing his principal piece of “wisdom” which we have already met in the Cratylus — the doctrine that all statements are true, or, as he puts it now, that “it is impossible to speak falsely” for the reason that |96| whenever you make a statement, you must either be saying “what is” or saying “what is not.” In the first case, you are telling the truth, for to “say what is,” is truth-speaking. As for the second case, “what is not” is just nothing at all, and no one can speak and yet say “nothing”; whoever speaks at all is saying something (283e-284c). The regular corollary is promptly drawn that οὐκ ἔστιν ἀντιλέγειν, no man can contradict another, since there can be no contradiction unless both parties are speaking of the same “thing” (the logical subject must be the same in the two statements). But since you cannot speak of a thing “as it is not” in the case of apparent contradiction, one or both parties would have to be speaking of “what is not,” and this is impossible. If the two parties are making significant statements at all, since such statements must be statements of “what is,” they must be talking about two different subjects, and so there is no contradiction (285d-286c).18

It is characteristic of Socrates that he insists at once on calling attention to the practical bearings of this piece of logical paradox. It implies that two men cannot even think contradictory propositions; if a false statement is impossible, mental error is impossible too, and from this it follows that no one can commit an error in practice (ἐξαμαρτάνειν ὅταν τι πράττη), and the claim of the brothers to be able to teach goodness must therefore be an empty one, for their teaching is superfluous.19 Dionysodorus eludes the difficulty partly by insisting that his present assertion should be considered on its own merits independently of anything he may have said before, and partly by catching at the phrase which Socrates has used, that he cannot understand what the statement “means” (νοειν). How can a statement be said to “mean” anything?20 The conversation is rapidly degenerating into mere personalities (λοιδορία) when Socrates saves the situation by repeating his former suggestion that the eminent wits from Thurii are still only engaged on the “fun” which is to introduce their serious wisdom. They need to be pressed a little more, and we shall then get at last to the earnest. This gives him an excuse |97| for returning to his own specimen of serious “protreptic” at the point where he had left off.

We saw that the one thing needful for the conduct of life is knowledge. But what kind of “knowledge”? Of course, the knowledge which will “profit” us, “useful knowledge.” Now what kind of knowledge is that? It cannot be any kind of knowledge which merely teaches us how to produce something without also teaching us how to use the thing we have produced. This enables us to dismiss at once all the specialized industrial arts, like that of the maker of musical instruments, none of which teach a man how to use the thing they have taught him to make. In particular, this consideration applies to the art of the λογοποιός, which looks so imposing. We might think that this art of composing effective speeches is just the kind of knowledge we need for the conduct of life, since it teaches us how to make the “charm” or “spell” which is potent against those most deadly of enemies, angry and prejudiced dicasteries and ecclesiae. Yet, after all, the important thing is to know how to use the “spell” but the logopoiόs only teaches you how to make it.21 There might be something to say for the soldier’s profession, the art of catching a human prey; but, after all, the hunter does not know how to use the game he captures, but has to pass it on to the cook or restaurateur; and in the same way the commander who “captures” a city or an army has not learned from his profession what to do with his capture when he has made it. The military art, then, is clearly not the supreme art needed for the right conduct of life (288b-290d).22

Incidentally we note that the claim of any of the purely speculative branches of knowledge, the mathematical sciences, has been disposed of by this criticism. The mathematicians also are, in their way, “hunters” on the trail of “realities” (τὰ ὄντα). But though their διαγράμματα (here again the word means “proofs” |98| rather than “figures”) “find” the quarry, the mathematicians do not know how to “treat” it; that task, if they have any sense, they leave to the διαλεκτικός (dialectikόs), the critical philosopher.23 On scrutiny, the “art” which seems to have the best claims to supremacy is the βασιλικὴ τέχνη, the “art of the king” i.e. statesmanship. If there is any “speciality” which can secure happiness, it should certainly be that of the man who knows how to govern and administer the community (since, of course, no one except a paradox-monger would deny that “human well-being” is what all true statesmanship takes as its end). But with this result we seem to have come round in a complete circle to the same point from which our argument set out. It is clear that statesmanship (ἡ πολιτικὴ τέχνη) is the supreme master-art; generals and other functionaries are only servants of the statesman. He uses, as means to his end — the well-being of the state — victory in war and all the other results which the generals and the rest make; and we have seen already in the Cratylus that the art which uses a product is always the master-art in relation to those which made the product. But the statesman too has something to produce; he uses the products of all the other “craftsmen” as means to producing something himself, and this something must be something beneficial, and therefore good. Now we had already satisfied ourselves that knowledge is the only thing which is unconditionally good. Hence, if statesmanship is really the art of the conduct of life, such results as wealth, civic independence, freedom from party strife, must be its mere by-products; its main product must be wisdom and goodness. Yet what wisdom and goodness does true statesmanship produce in those on whom it is exercised? It does not aim at making them all “good” shoemakers or “good” carpenters, or “good” at any other special calling. Apparently we must say that the knowledge which the art of the statesman produces in us is the knowledge of itself. But what use do we make of this knowledge of statesmanship? Perhaps its use is that it enables us to make other men good. But then we come back to the old question, “Good at what?” We seem to have reached the conclusion that happiness depends on knowing how to make other men good at knowing how to make yet other men (and so on ad indefinitum) good at knowing … no one can say precisely what (291a-292e).

|99| The serious positive purpose of the argument, which has incidentally slipped into becoming a direct conversation between Socrates and Crito, is not hard to discover. The knowledge on which the right conduct of life and the right government of men alike depend is not knowledge of the way to meet any one particular type of situation or to discharge any one particular calling or function; it is knowledge of good, or, to put the point in more modern phraseology, knowledge of absolute moral values. On the Socratic assumption that knowledge of this kind is always followed by corresponding action, and is therefore the only knowledge which is guaranteed against all possible misuse, the question for what we are to use it becomes superfluous; we do not “use” it as a means to some ulterior end at all, we simply act it out. To put the matter in the Greek way, every “art” is an “art of opposites”; that is, may be used for a bad as well as for a good end. The special knowledge of toxicology which makes a man a medical specialist may also make him a dangerous secret poisoner. The intimate knowledge of the Stock Exchange and share market which makes a man an excellent trustee for the fortune of his ward will also make him a particularly dangerous “fraudulent trustee” if he applies it for dishonest ends. But “knowledge of the good” is in a unique position which distinguishes it from all special professional or technical knowledge, the thing with which the “sophists” and their pupils regularly confuse it. It too, in a sense, is “of opposites,” since to know what is good involves knowing that what is incompatible with good must be evil. But, on Socratic principles, this knowledge is not a knowledge of opposites in the sense that it can be put to either of two opposite uses, a good one and a bad one. The possession of the knowledge carries along with it the possession of the “good will.” We thus recover the fundamental positions of the Socratic ethics from the apparently fruitless argument. The reason why the positive result is not stated is simply that the object of Socrates’ “protreptic” is not to do another man’s thinking for him and present him with ready-made “results,” but to stimulate him to think along the right lines for himself, so that when the “result” emerges, it comes as a personal conviction won by a genuine personal exercise of intelligence. Hence Socrates is represented as breaking off at the point we have reached, and appealing to the two distinguished strangers to help him out of the “squall” in which he seems to be threatened with shipwreck. As we should expect, they do nothing of the kind, but fall to their old trick. Socrates does not need any help, for they will prove to him that he already has the knowledge for which he is seeking. He knows some things, ergo he has knowledge; but one cannot both have knowledge and not have it, ergo he knows everything. And so, for the matter of that, does every one else (293a-e). Euthydemus and his brother have, in fact, a sort of universal infallibility; they know all trades and the answers to all the most trifling speculative questions. This, says Socrates, |100| must be the great truth to which all that has gone before was the playful prelude.24

From this point onwards the dialogue becomes increasingly farcical as the two brothers go on to develop one absurdity after another, until Socrates, the only member of the company who has preserved his gravity, takes his leave of them with many ironical compliments and the advice to take care, in their own interests, not to cheapen the price of their wisdom by too many public exhibitions. There is no need to follow in detail the whole series of ludicrous paralogisms which precedes this finale. Aristotle found good material in it for his own study of fallacies, but Plato’s object is ethical rather than logical, as has been already said.25 The extreme absurdity of the performances by which the brothers follow up the second and more important part of the “protreptic” argument are merely meant to throw that section of the dialogue into the strongest relief. The one comment it may be worthwhile to make is that the standing rule of “eristic” by which the respondent is expected to reply to each question exactly as it has been put, without raising any objection to its form or qualifying his answer by the introduction of any distinguo, however simple, of itself provides exceptional opportunity for the perpetration of every kind of “fallacy in the diction.” From this point of view much of the dialogue might be said to be a criticism of the method of question and answer as a vehicle of philosophic thought. It is clear, and Plato may have meant to hint this, that the method is the most uncertain of weapons unless the questioner combines intelligence with absolutely good faith; this is why it may be a powerful weapon of criticism in the hands of Socrates, but is nothing but an instrument of sophistry in those of a Euthydemus whose only object is to make men stare.

At the end of Socrates’ narrative, Plato adds a sort of appendix, a page or two of direct conversation between Socrates and Crito. Crito observes that the remark had already been made to him by a certain writer of speeches for the law-courts who fancied himself a “reat wit” (πάνυ σοφς), that the disgraceful scene in the Lyceum was enough to show that “philosophy” is “mere waste of time” (οὐδὲν πραγμα), for the professionals who had just been making egregious fools of themselves were actually among its most eminent |101| living representatives. The critic who made the remark was not himself a political man, nor had he ever addressed a law-court, but had the reputation of being a skilled professional composer of speeches for litigants (304b-305c). Socrates replies that these men, who, as Prodicus once said, are on the border-line between politics and philosophy, are always jealous of the philosopher; they think he keeps them out of rightful recognition. The truth is, that the man who tries to combine two callings is regularly inferior in both to the man who confines himself to one. If the philosophic life and the life of affairs are both good things, the man who tries to play both parts is certain to be inferior in each to the specialist in his own line (305c-306d).

It has naturally been suspected that there is some personal allusion underlying these remarks, and the view has often been taken that Plato is aiming a shaft on his own account at his rival Isocrates. It is true, of course, that during the lifetime of Socrates, Isocrates was known only as a λογογράφος or composer of speeches for the courts, but that some time early in the fourth century he gave up this profession for that of presiding over a regular institution for the preparation of young men of promise for a political career. It is true also that Isocrates called the kind of education he bestowed on his pupils his “philosophy,” and that he affected to look down on the severely scientific studies of Plato’s Academy as “useless” and unpractical. From Plato’s point of view, it would be highly à propos to speak of Isocrates as “on the border line” between a politician and a philosopher, and inferior to each in his own department — except that one might doubt whether Plato did really think Isocrates inferior in statesmanship to the commonplace Athenian men of affairs of his own time.

Yet I think the identification quite impossible. At the date indicated by all the allusions of the Euthydemus, Isocrates would still be no more than a lad, whereas the person spoken of by Crito is already a λογογράφος of established repute. Still less could Socrates, at this date, be supposed to anticipate that Isocrates would some day lay claim to the reputation of a philosopher. (The case is rather different with the express references of the Phaedrus to Isocrates, since, as we shall see, the date of that dialogue is supposed to be later.) We must suppose Socrates to be alluding rather to some well-known figure of the time of the Archidamian war. There is no reason why there should not have been more than one personage of the age to which Callicles and Thrasymachus belong who fancied himself as a blend of the philosophical thinker and the practical “statesman.” The remains of Antiphon “the sophist,” for example, suggest by their character that he might perfectly well be the person intended, and we know from a notice preserved by Xenophon26 that he was among the acquaintances of |102| Socrates. It is true that there is no direct proof that he was a writer of speeches for the law-courts, but there is no reason why he may not have been. In fact, it does not seem to me by any means established that Antiphon the “sophist” and Antiphon of Rhamnus, the famous politician and λογογράφος, are two distinct persons.27 And I feel sure that we have no right wantonly to attribute to Plato the anachronisms which a reference to Isocrates in our dialogue would imply, nor is there, in point of fact, any real evidence that there ever was any personal ill-feeling between Isocrates and Plato.28 The real object of the passage is probably simply to recognize the fact that to a good many persons the dialectic of Socrates must have seemed much on a par with the frivolities of Euthydemus and his brother, and to hint that, if we choose, we may discover the real difference between the two things from the dialogue itself, as we certainly can.

See further:

Ritter, C. Platon, i. 450-462 Euthydemus; 462-496 Cratylus.
Raeder, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 137-153.
Stewart, J. A. Plato’s Doctrine of Ideas, 34-39, Cratylus.
Warburg, M. Zwei Fragen zum Kratylos. Berlin, 1929.

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1^ See Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 1908-1921, art. ’Socrates,’ and H. Dittmar’s Aeschines von Sphettus, 213-244. He and Callias are prominent figures in Xenophon’s Symposium.

2^ Since Cratylus appears in our dialogue as holding that many of the names by which we actually call things are not their “real names,” the point of the jest may have been less recondite. It may lie in his uncertainty what the “real name” of a given thing is. A good deal of fun might obviously be got out of this, e.g., in a comedy.

3^ This was certainly true of Hermogenes, since his elder brother Callias was still alive and active in public affairs at a date when Socrates, if he had still been living, would have been a centenarian. The active career of Callias hardly begins until the end of the fifth century. The youth of Cratylus is expressly remarked on by Socrates at the end of the dialogue (440d, ἔτι γαρ νέος εῖ).

4^ Reference is made several times in the Cratylus to a certain Euthyphro who exhibited the phenomena of “possession” (ἐνθουσιασμός). This may be the same person who gives his name to the dialogue Euthyphro, and was attempting to prosecute his own father for murder in the spring of the year 399. There is no difficulty about the chronology if we suppose that at that date Euthyphro, whose manner is that of an elderly rather than a very young man, was a year or two over fifty, and his father seventy-five or more. But the identification, though accepted by eminent scholars, seems precarious. There is nothing about the religious fanatic Euthyphro to suggest that he was subject to “possession.” It is true that Socrates playfully calls him a μάντις (mantis, a seer or prophet) (Euthyphro 3e), but μαντική had many forms.

5^ It is not suggested that it was poverty which prevented Socrates from attending the lecture. It seems clear that Socrates was not really poor until his middle age. As Burnet has said, the way in which the comic poets dwelt on his poverty when they attacked him in 423, suggests that his losses were then fairly recent. In the Protagoras, which takes us back before the Archidamian war, he appears to have a house of his own with a courtyard, and at least one servant (310b, 311a), and speaks of himself in a way which implies that he could at need have helped to pay Protagoras on behalf of his young friend (311d, ἐγώ τε καὶ σὺ ἀργύριον ἐκείνῳ μισθὸν ἔτοιμοι ἐσόμεθα τελειν ὑπὲρ σοῡ). Hence the absence of any reference to poverty is perhaps an indication of “dramatic date.”

6^ Since, if Euthydemus is right, you can always truly predicate both virtue and vice of any subject whatever. Formally, Protagoras says that a proposition is true only when it is being believed by some one; Euthydemus, that what we all disbelieve is as true as what we all believe. Both positions make science impossible.

7^ According to the well-known statements of Aristotle (Metaphysics 991b 6, 1080a 3, 1070a 18, al.), the Academy of his own day held that there are no “forms” of artificial things. No doubt the statement is true, but it has no bearing on the form of κερκίς in the Cratylus or that of κλίνη in Republic x, Aristotle is speaking of the theory as he knew it, i.e. after 367, and it is notorious that this version of the doctrine has to be learned from his writings, not from Plato’s. The only character in the dialogues of Plato’s later life who ever says anything about the doctrine is Timaeus, and he speaks pretty much as Socrates is made to do in the earlier dialogues. In the Cratylus there is no suggestion that the εῖδος is a sort of supra-sensible “thing.” It is just a “type” to which the manufacturer’s articles must conform, and its independence means simply that the structure of the icepick is determined by its function, independently of anyone’s caprice.

8^ It is, of course, with intentional humor that Socrates forgets that Cratylus had meant something quite different when he said that names are “by nature.” Note the repeated insistence on the point that Greek has no necessary superiority over a “barbarian” language (like, e.g., Persian). The notion that “barbarians” are intrinsically inferior to Hellenes, so prominent in Isocrates and Aristotle, is foreign to the Platonic dialogues, though it is recognized as a fact that Hellenes show more aptitude than Egyptians and other peoples for science. The all-round inferiority of the non-Hellene is not a Socratic or Platonic doctrine. That the point should be insisted on in a discussion about language is all the more interesting since βάρβαρος seems originally to have meant one who “jabbers” like a swallow, as Clytaemnestra says in Aeschylus.

9^ This is given as a mere statement of fact, and in a place like the Athens of the fifth century it was true. It is not implied that it ought to be so, or need be so. Indeed, as we shall see, Socrates held that it need not be so.

10^ Probably, if only we had adequate literary records of the Periclean age we might find that a good many of the etymologies are specimens of the serious speculations of the persons satirized. Few of them are much more extravagant than, e.g., the derivation of κηρυξ from κήρ hinted at in Euripides, Troades. 425.

11^ It has been the fashion, especially in Germany, for a generation and more, to connect the paradox about false-speaking specially with the name of Antisthenes, and to regard all the references to it in Plato as direct attacks on that rather insignificant person. This seems to me quite unhistorical. The standing assumption of Plato is that the ἀντιλογικοί are quite a numerous and fashionable body. Socrates even refers to them in the Phaedo (59b), where Antisthenes is supposed to be present (59b) and all possibility of an attack on his own old friend is out of the question. The one dialogue of Plato’s early life in which they are singled out for special satire is the Euthydemus, and we see from the Cratylus itself that Euthydemus really was a well-known personage who held views of this kind. Isocrates too (x. i) implies that the “eristics” who maintain the paradox are a fairly numerous body of the generation before his own. For this reason it seems to me put of the question to find attacks on Antisthenes in any of the Platonic dialogues in which Socrates is the principal figure. Whether in the later dialogues, when Socrates has fallen into the background, Plato ever criticises Antisthenes on his own account, is another question with which we shall not be concerned until we come to deal with the Parmenides and Sophistes, though I believe we shall find reason to think that there also he has very different antagonists in view.

12^ 436d. διαγράμματα here seems, as in some other passages in Plato and Aristotle, to mean “proofs” rather than “figures.” One might illustrate the point by reference to the entertaining section of De Morgan’s Budget of Paradoxes which deals with James Smith the circle-squarer. Mr. Smith’s method of proving his thesis (that π = 25/8) was to assume it as a postulate, and then show that it led to consequences compatible with itself and with one another. He forgot to ask whether it did not lead also to consequences incompatible with independently known truth.

13^ I can see no reason to fancy that the dialogue is intended as a polemic against the nominalism of Antisthenes in particular. A.’s preoccupation with names, like the choice of the themes for his extant declamations, only shows that he was influenced by the general tendencies of the “sophistic” age. I AM wholly sceptical about theories which represent the Platonic Socrates as engaged in attacks on one of his own companions.

14^ For the ruin of Axiochus, the uncle of Alcibiades the person whose destruction was the main object of the raisers of the scandal, see Andocides, i. 16.

15^ The pair of “eristics,” Euthydemus and his brother Dionysodorus, are natives of Chios who had been among the first settlers at Thurii (this is implied by the tense of ἀπῴκησαν at 271c), but had been exiled thence and have spent “many years” περὶ τούσδε τοὺς τόπους, i.e. Athens and the islands of the Aegean (271c). The date of the foundation of Thurii is 444. Socrates is ἤδη πρεσβύτερος (272b), “not exactly a young man,” but no more; this suggests an age not far off fifty, but probably something short of it. Perhaps the allusion of 272c to the figure he cuts among the boys in the music-class of Connus is best taken as a humorous reference to some shaft aimed at him in the Connus of Amipsias (exhibited in 423), and in that case, we must suppose that play to be still a recent work. Alcibiades is spoken of at 275a in a way which implies that he is already in the prime of manhood. 286c refers to Protagoras in a way which seems to mean that he is already dead. But since Plato insists that Protagoras was a generation older than Socrates (Protagoras 317c) and also says that he died at about seventy (Meno 91e), this does not take us with certainty much below the year 430.

16^ This is made especially clear twice over (275e, 276e), by the whispered remark of Dionysodorus that his brother will “catch the boy out” equally whichever way he answers the question. This construction of “antinomies,” to show that the affirmation and the denial of the same proposition are equally impossible, was the special contribution of Zeno to the development of logical method. There is also probably intentional point in the way in which we are reminded of the connexion of the brothers with Thurii — the place, of all others, where they would be most certain to meet Eleatics.

17^ ὸτιουν των καλων ὑπηρετημάτων, 282b. The qualification is inserted because ἐρασταί (lovers) have been mentioned, and Socrates wishes to guard himself against being supposed to include chastity as one of the prices which may be paid for “wisdom.” His attitude on that point is as unqualified as Plato’s own in the Laws

18^ Note that at 286c Socrates describes this paradox as “stale,” and ascribes it to “Protagoras and men of a still earlier date,” as, in fact, it does follow from the ἄνθρωπος μέτρον (man is the measure) doctrine. This should dispose of the fancy that Antisthenes is specially aimed at in the dialogue. The “still older” person meant is presumably Parmenides, who expressly denies that “what is not” can be spoken of or named.

19^ Exactly the same point is urged against Protagoras at Theaetetus 161c-e. But in that dialogue, where Plato’s main purpose is epistemological, Socrates is careful to consider whether Protagoras might not make a rejoinder to this criticism (166a-168c), and to examine the soundness of the rejoinder (171e-172b, 178a-179b).

20^ The quibble turns on the uses of the word νοειν, which signifies (a) to think, to intend, to purpose, (b) to mean or signify. The sophist pretends to take the expression “your words mean so-and-so,” in the sense that they “intend” or “think,” and asks how anything but a ψυχή (psychê) can possibly "think" anything. There is the same équivoque in the distinction in English between “to mean” and “to mean to” say or do something.

21^ The point here, as in the Gorgias, which classes “rhetoric with “swimming” as a device for preserving your life, is that the patron of the λογοποιός is normally one of the well-to-do minority of whom the Periclean democracy were naturally suspicious precisely because democracy really meant the “exploitation” of this class for the benefit of the “proletarian.” From the well-to-do victim’s point of view, effective public speaking is exactly what it is called here, a “spell” to put the watchful, hostile belua of democracy to sleep; from the democrat’s point of view, it is a trick by which the μισόδημος gulls the simple citizens into taking him for the “people’s friend.”

22^ Socrates is made to assert that this criticism was delivered by Clinias on his own account; Crito thinks such a mere boy could not have shown such acuteness, and hints that the remark must really have come from Socrates himself (290e). This is dramatically in keeping with the picture Plato has drawn of Crito — a dull, honest man. But the real point is that the “protreptic” of Socrates is effective in the right way; it elicits from a younger mind flashes of insight which would have been impossible but for the way in which the preceding questions have led up to them. This is the true answer to the criticism of Grote that anyone can ask puzzling questions. The peculiarity of the Socratic Question is not to be puzzling, but to be enlightening.

23^ The point becomes clear if we think of the relation of a Pythagorean geometer to the typical διαλεκτικός Zeno. The mathematicians “track” or “hunt down” truths like the Pythagorean theorem, but they are so far from knowing what to “do with them” that it is left for a διαλεκτικός like Zeno to show that the discovery itself leads to consequences which are fatal to some of the postulates of the Pythagorean geometer (such as the incommensurability of the “side” and the “diagonal”). The last word on the question what can be “made of"” the results of the sciences rests with the critical “metaphysician,” who has to test the claims of these sciences to give a finally satisfactory account of the real.” Note the complete acceptance here of the “primacy of the practical reason,” which is as characteristic of Socrates and Plato as of Kant.

24^ We are still dealing with the misuse of Eleatic doctrine. The proof of the infallibility of every one is made to turn on the principle of contradiction plus the neglect of qualifying conditions. We cannot both have knowledge and not have it; if you know anything, you have knowledge, and therefore have all knowledge. This is just the Eleatic doctrine that there is no half-way house between “what is” and blank nonentity, transferred from physics to logic. Whenever we come on ἀντιλογικοί, we are safe in looking for the influence of Zeno.

25^ Note that at 301a, Socrates, without any explanation, falls into the technical language of the so-called “ideal” theory when he says that καλὰ πράγματα are different from αὐτὸ τὸ καλόν, though a certain καλλος “is present” to them, and that this peculiar Socratic use of the word παρειναι is even made the subject of a jest.

26^ Xenophon. Memorabilia, i. 6. It is important to note, as Professor Burnet has done, that the information cannot depend on Xenophon’s personal recollections, but must have been taken from some source describing Socrates as he was at the time of the Archidamian war. This gives it all the more historical value.

27^ The question should probably be decided, if decided at all, on linguistic and stylistic grounds. But are the remains λογογράφος of the “sophist” extensive enough to permit of effective comparison with those of the λογογράφος? And to what extent should we expect to find a λογογράφος exhibiting in his compositions for the courts the peculiarities of his personal literary style? Professor S. Luria calls my attention in particular to two articles by Bignone in the Rendiconti del R. Istituto Lombard, di scienze, 1919, pp. 567 f., 755 ff., as establishing the non-identity of the two men. I regret that I have not myself seen these essays.

28^ On this point see the remarks of Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Part I, 215. Isocrates may have enjoyed aiming his shafts at the Academic mathematics, but the deliberate adoption of Isocratean tricks of style in the Sophistes and the other later dialogues seems to show that Plato is not likely to have borne him any malice on account of his inability to appreciate science.

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Socratic Dialogues: Gorgias, Meno

Introduction. The Gorgias is a much longer work than any we have yet considered, and presents us with an exposition of the Socratic morality so charged with passionate feeling and expressed with such moving eloquence that it has always been a prime favourite with all lovers of great ethical literature. The moral fervour and splendour of the dialogue, however, ought not to blind us, as it has blinded most writers on Platonic chronology, to certain obvious indications that it is a youthful work, earlier in composition, perhaps, than some of those with which we have been concerned. We might have inferred as much from the mere fact that Plato has adopted the form of the direct dialogue for so considerable a work, and thus missed the chance of giving us a description of the personality of Gorgias to compare with his elaborate portrait of Protagoras. Personally, I cannot also help feeling that, with all its moral splendour, the dialogue is too long: it “drags.” The Plato of the Protagoras or Republic, as I feel, would have known how to secure the same effect with less expenditure of words; there is a diffuseness about our dialogue which betrays the hand of the prentice, though the prentice in this case is a Plato. For this reason I think it a mistake in principle to look, as some have done, for an ethical advance in doctrine as we pass from the Protagoras to the Gorgias. As we shall see when we come to deal with the Protagoras, the ethical doctrine of the dialogues is identical, and it is inconceivable to me that any reader of literary sensibility can doubt which of the two is the product of a riper mastery of dramatic art. Beyond this general statement that the Gorgias must be an early work, and probably a work dating not many years after the death of Socrates, I do not think it safe to hazard any conjecture as to the date of composition.1

|104| It is unusually difficult to determine the date at which the conversation is supposed to be held. It has sometimes been supposed that a reference made by Socrates to some occasion when he was a member of the committee of the βουλή who had to preside over the meetings of the ἐκκλησία, and raised a laugh by his ignorance of the formalities to be observed in “putting the question” (Gorgias 473e), has to do with the events of the trial of the generals at Arginusae, where we know from both Plato and Xenophon that Socrates actually was one of the presiding committee. If this interpretation were certain, we should have to suppose the conversation to fall somewhere in the last year of the Peloponnesian war, when Athens was fighting with her back to the wall for her very existence. There are certainly no signs in the dialogue that this situation is presupposed; it seems rather to be taken for granted that the political and commercial life of the city is in a normal condition. Moreover, as Burnet has said, the democracy was in no laughing mood at the trial of the generals, and we thus seem forced to suppose that the reference is to some unknown incident which happened on some former occasion when Socrates was a member of the βουλή.2 On the other side, it would appear from the opening sentences of the dialogue that Socrates is as yet a complete stranger to Gorgias and his profession, and this suggests that Gorgias is in Athens for the first time. There seems no good reason to deny the statement of Diodorus Siculus that Gorgias visited Athens first as a member of the embassy sent thither by his native city, Leontini, in the year 427, and such a date would fit in very well with certain other indications in the work, e.g. the reference to the “recent” death of Pericles (Gorgias, 503c), and the statements about the almost despotic power of the Athenian demagogue. (Gorgias, 466c) (These would suit the time when the place of Pericles was being taken by Cleon and men of his stamp to perfection.) Possibly, too, the date |105| would not be too early for the allusion to the handsome Demus, the son of Plato’s own stepfather Pyrilampes, as a reigning beauty, though there may be a very small anachronism here since Aristophanes first mentions the craze for Demus in the Wasps, which belongs to the year 422.3 On the other side, again, we find the Antiope of Euripides quoted as a well-known and popular work,4 and the date of that tragedy seems to be c. 408. The career of Archelaus of Macedon, again, comes in for a good deal of discussion,5 and it has commonly been inferred from Thucydides that his reign did not begin until 414-413, though disputed successions and the simultaneous existence of several pretenders to the crown were so common in Macedonia that we cannot build very confidently on such data. It is very unfortunate that we have no independent information about Callicles of Acharnae, who appears ill the dialogue as a cultivated and ambitious young man who has lately entered political life, though the mere fact that Plato specifies his deme is enough to show that he is an actual man, and not, as has been suggested, an alias for some one. If he really attempted to act up to the Nietzschian theories ascribed to him in the dialogue, it may not be wonderful that no record of his career has survived. In the names which Plato gives as those of his immediate associates we recognize some which were prominent in the second half of the great war, but, of course their early days would belong to its first half. On the whole, the arguments for an early dramatic date seem to preponderate, though the references to the Antiope and the usurpation of the Macedonian crown by Archelaus, especially the second, seem to create a little difficulty.6

The characters of the dialogue besides Socrates are four — Gorgias, the famous “orator” of Leontini, whose well-known rhetorical devices for adding pomp and glitter to language represent the first stage in the development of a literary prose style rising above colloquialism or bald narration of matter of fact and yet remaining prose; Polus of Agrigentum, his enthusiastic disciple and admirer; Callicles of Acharnae, of whom we only know what Plato has thought fit to tell us; and Chaerephon, the lean, impetuous, and apparently rather superstitious companion of Socrates, whom |106| Aristophanes finds so useful as a butt.7 The precise scene is not indicated; apparently it is not in the house of Callicles, who is acting as host to the distinguished visitor, but in some public place where Gorgias has been giving a display of his gifts.8 The ostensible subject of the conversation must be carefully distinguished from the real subject. Professedly the question propounded for discussion is the new speciality which Gorgias has introduced to Athens, the art of impressive speech; the points to be decided are whether it is really an “art” at all, and if it is, whether it is, as Gorgias claims, the queen of all other “arts.” But to discover the real object of the work we need to look carefully at the general construction of the argument, and particularly at the end of the whole composition. If we do this, we find that the dialogue really consists of three successive conversations of Socrates with a single interlocutor; it has, so to say, three scenes, each with two “actors.” In the first conversation between Socrates and Gorgias the topic of conversation really is the character and worth of the “rhetorician’s” art; in the second, between Socrates and Polus, we find that the rival estimates of the worth of rhetoric depend on sharply contrasted ethical convictions about the true happiness of man. In the final conversation with Callicles, where the tone of the dialogue reaches its level of highest elevation, all secondary questions have fallen completely into the background and we are left with the direct and absolute conflict between two competing theories of life, each represented by a striking personality. The true object of the whole work thus emerges: it is to pit a typical life of devotion to the supra-personal good against the typical theory and practice of the “will to power” at its best. We are to see how the theory of the “will to power,” expounded by a thoroughly capable, intelligent, and far from merely ignoble champion, like Callicles, and the “practice” of it as embodied in Periclean Imperialism look from the point of view of a Socrates, and also how the convictions and career of a Socrates look to the intelligent worshipper of “strength”; and when we have looked at each party with the eyes of the other, we are to be the judges between them. Life and the way it should be lived, not the value of rhetoric, is the real theme, exactly as the real theme of the Republic is not the merits and demerits of competing political and economic systems, but “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.”9

|107| Formally the dialogue opens in a familiar way. Socrates is anxious to discover the precise character of the art or “speciality” (τέχνη) professed by Gorgias, the art of “rhetoric.” It is, as Gorgias says (449d), an art of “speech” or “discourse” (περὶ λόγους), and as such it makes those who possess it skilled in “speaking” and therefore, since speech is the expression of thought or intelligence, makes them intelligent (δυνατοὺς φρονειν, 450a) about something. But this is far from an adequate definition. We may say that “arts” are of two kinds: the operations of the one kind are wholly or chiefly manual, those of the other kind are purely or principally effected by λόγοι, “discourses” (450d), a first intimation of the distinction, which becomes fundamental in Plato’s later dialogues and in the philosophy of Aristotle, between “theoretical” and “practical” sciences. Now rhetoric is not the only “art” of the second kind; there are many others, such as theoretical and practical arithmetic (ἀριθμητική and λογιστική), geometry, medicine, and others, in which manual operations play no part or a subordinate one; but Gorgias certainly does not mean to say that he teaches medicine or mathematics. To complete the definition we need to know what is the subject-matter with which the “discourse” of the rhetorician is concerned, as the “discourse” of the arithmetician is concerned with “the odd and even” (i.e. with the properties of the integer-series (451a-b)). Gorgias thinks it enough to say that the subject-matter is “the most important of human concerns” (τὰ μέγιστα των ἀνθρωείων πραγμάτων), “the supreme interests of mankind.” But a statement of this kind, which attempts to define by means of a mere formula of laudation, is ambiguous, since there are different opinions on the question what is the “great concern” of man. A physician might say that it is health, an economist or a business man that it is wealth. Hence, though Gorgias may be right in his estimate of his art, the estimate itself presupposes an answer to the ethical question what is the chief good for man (452d). Gorgias replies that the chief good for man is ἐλυθερία, freedom, in the sense of having his own way and being able to impose his will on his fellow-citizens, and that it is rhetoric, the art of persuasive or plausible speech which produces this good (452d). Thus the thought is that “power” is the chief good and that rhetoric, the art of persuasion, is the supreme art, because, in the life of a city like Athens, persuasive eloquence is the great weapon by which the statesman acquires power; the persuasive speaker gets his policy adopted by the ecclesia, his financial schemes by the βουλή and successfully impeaches his opponents and defends his partisans before the dicasteria. The secret of a Pericles, for example, is simply his command over the resources of persuasive eloquence. Gorgias holds that he can teach this secret to a pupil, and that is why he regards his own τέχνη as the supreme achievement of the human |108| intelligence.10 It should be noted that the hint is thus given early in the dialogue that the real problem to be discussed is the ethical question, not formally reached until we come to the scene in which Callicles is the respondent, whether “power,” unchecked freedom to do as one likes and to make others do as one likes, is the highest good. The dispute about the “merits” of the art of rhetoric is wholly subservient to this ethical purpose and is mainly introduced because, in a Greek democracy, facility and persuasiveness in speech were necessarily the chief instruments by which such “power” was to be attained.11

We know now what Gorgias means by “rhetoric”: he means an “art” of persuasion. It is an “art” because it is, or claims to be, reducible to intelligible principles; its end or aim is to “persuade” men to accept the views of the practitioner, and so to make them consenting instruments of his will. But the definition has the fault of being too wide: it does not, in fact, state the specific differentia of the orator’s accomplishment. There are other “arts,” including that of the arithmetician, of which we might equally say that they are arts by which men are persuaded to accept the specialist’s opinion, since they “teach” us certain truths, and he who is taught is certainly persuaded of the things taught him. We must ask then, further, what kind of persuasion does rhetoric employ, and about what matters does it produce persuasion? (454a). Gorgias replies that rhetoric is the kind of persuasion employed “before dicasts and mobs in general,” and that it persuades about “matters of right and wrong,” i.e. it is the art of effective public speaking on questions of morality (454b). This at once suggests an important distinction. Persuasion or conviction (τὸ πιστεύειν) may be produced by instruction or without it. In the first case, a man is not only persuaded to hold an opinion, he is led to knowledge; in the second, he is convinced but does not really know that his conviction is true. Now obviously a “mob” cannot be conducted to knowledge on grave and complicated issues in the short time required for the delivery of an effective speech. The orator, therefore, must be a practitioner of the mere persuasion which does not produce real knowledge. We must expect, then, |109| that such a man will not attempt to persuade his audience about matters which obviously demand special technical knowledge, such as naval and military engineering, but only about “right and wrong” (which are popularly held not to be questions for specialists). Yet, as Gorgias observes, the greatest naval and military constructions of Athens — the dockyards, the harbours, the “long walls” — were undertaken not at the instigation of engineering specialists, but at that of Themistocles and Pericles, who were eminent “orators,” but not engineers. In fact, you will find that before any public audience a skillful orator will always succeed in proving more “convincing” than an “expert” who is no orator, even on questions which fall within the expert’s province. The “orator” who knows nothing of medicine, for example, will always be more persuasive, even on a medical question, than the medical specialist who is no orator. In general, the man who is merely an “orator” who understands his business will be able to pass himself off before the public as a consummate authority in matters where he has no real technical knowledge at all, and this is precisely the secret of his power. (The trick is that habitually employed in our own age by the able and eloquent advocate “speaking from his brief” and the view of Gorgias amounts to holding that statesmanship is just a matter of consummate skill in speaking from a brief.) To be sure, bad men may employ this formidable weapon for the worst of ends, but that is not the fault of the teacher from whom they have learned to use it, but their own. It is as absurd to blame the teacher for a pupil’s abuse of the art as it would be to hold a boxer or fencing-master responsible for a foul blow struck by one of his pupils (455a-457c). Thus we see that Gorgias makes no claim to “teach goodness.” It is important that his pupils should make a right, not a wrong, use of the weapons he teaches them to use, but his concern is merely to teach the “manage” of the weapons.

There is an obvious weak point in this commendation of the orator’s art, and Socrates fastens on it at once. The “orator,” by Gorgias’ own account, is no “expert,” and the “mob” or “crowd” before whom he succeeds in silencing the real expert are not experts either. Thus, on the showing of Gorgias himself, oratory is a device by which an ignorant man persuades an audience equally ignorant with himself that he understands a question better than the expert who really knows about it. Does this apply to the moral issues with which the “orator” will be largely concerned? Does he need to know no more about right and wrong, honor and dishonor, than about, e.g., naval engineering or medicine? If he does need knowledge of this kind, where is he to get it, since Gorgias has explained that it is not his own business to impart it? Gorgias, rather inconsistently, suggests that, in case of need, a pupil might incidentally get the knowledge of right and wrong from himself; in any case, he needs to have it. The “orator” must be δίκαιος, “a moral man” (If he were not, of course, he might make the |110| worst use of his oratorical skill.) But if he is “a moral man,” he will not have the wish to do wrong. At this rate, a true orator would never abuse his skill, and this seems inconsistent with the former contention that when an orator does misuse his art, the blame lies with himself and not with his teacher (457c-461b).

So far our results have come to this: it has at least been suggested that a statesman, who owes his power in a democracy to skill in persuasion, need not be an expert in any of the technical arts, but does require sound moral principles, though it is not quite clear how he is to come by them. Here Gorgias retires from the argument, and his place is taken by his younger disciple and admirer Polus, who is prepared to break with conventional views about morality, as the respectable Gorgias is not. According to Polus, Socrates has taken an unfair advantage of the conventional modesty which had led Gorgias to disclaim the status of a professional teacher of right and wrong. The disclaimer was a mere piece of good manners, and Socrates has himself committed a breach of manners in pretending to take it seriously. Polus also insists that Socrates shall play the part of “respondent” and submit his own definition of rhetoric for examination, as Socrates, in fact, is quite willing to do. According to this definition, which opens the second of the three sections of the dialogue, rhetoric is not an “art,” a matter of expert knowledge, at all. It is a mere empirical “knack” (ἐμπειρία, τριβή), and more precisely, a “knack of giving pleasure” (462c). In this respect it is like confectionery. The confectioner pleases the palates of his customers by a clever combination of flavours, and the “orator” in the same way “tickles the ears of the groundlings” by attractive combinations of words and phrases. It is meant that neither confectionery nor oratory is really an application of rational principles; you cannot lay down rules for either, since both are mere tricks of gratifying the tastes of a body of patrons, and in each case the trick depends on nothing more scientific than a tact which cannot be taught but only picked up by long personal experience of successes and failures. There is thus nothing “fine” about either; they are both branches of a “knack” for which the proper name is κολακεία, “humoring the moods of a patron,”12 “acting the parasite.”

We may, in fact, distinguish four species of this κολακεία, each of which is a spurious counterfeit or “ghost” (εἴδωλον) of a real science or art. We start from the now familiar Socratic conception |111| of the “tending” of a thing. There is a double art of tending the body, that is, of keeping it in a state of health and fitness, and a corresponding double art of tending the soul. In the case of the body, the two arts of “tending” have no common name; they are those of “gymnastic” bodily culture (which sets up the ideal of true bodily “fitness”), and medicine (whose function it is to restore the “unfit” to health). The art of “tending” the soul has a single name; it is called πολιτική, “statesmanship”: but it also has two branches, legislation (νομοθετική), which sets the standard of spiritual health, and “justice” (or righteousness, δικαιοσύνη), which corrects and repairs disease in the soul. Each of these four is a genuine art; it aims at the good or true best condition of body or soul, and thus rests on a scientific knowledge of good and evil. The regulations of “gymnastic” and medicine are based on knowledge of what is wholesome for the body, those of the legislator and the judge on knowledge of what is wholesome for the soul. But each of the four arts has its counterfeit, and the counterfeit differs from the true art in taking as its standard the pleasant and not the good. Thus the confectioner is a counterfeit of the physician. The physician aims at prescribing the diet which will be wholesome for us, the confectioner at prescribing that which will please our palates. Now it is possible to know what diet is wholesome, but you can only discover what diet will please a man’s palate by guesses based on long acquaintance with his moods and whims, and even when you guess right, the dishes you prepare will commonly not be good for your patron.

In the same way, κομμωτική, the “art,” if you could call it so, of bodily adornment (the calling of the friseur, the professional beautifier, the jeweler, and many others), is a parody of the genuine art of the trainer. “Gymnastic” makes the body inherently attractive and graceful by training it in the exercises which produce genuine grace, agility, and vigour; κομμωτική mimics this real art by producing a sham grace and charm effected by the artifice of cosmetics, fashionable clothes, and the like. (Here, again, there is no real standard, nothing but the caprice of the passing “fashion.”) So with the arts which have to do with the health of the soul. The sophist professes to teach goodness, but what he teaches as goodness is merely the kind of life which is likely to recommend itself to his auditors; the “orator” claims to be the physician of the disorders of the body politic, but the measures he recommends only persuade his audience because he is careful to recommend what is agreeable to their mood of the moment. Thus we may define rhetoric by saying that it is the counterfeit of one part of “politics” namely, of justice (463a-466a).13

Polus urges in reply that rhetoric cannot be a form of κολακεία, |112| since the “hanger-on” is a disreputable character, whereas the “orator” is the most powerful person in the community, and, it is implied, the figure of highest consequence. He can use his influence to secure the banishment of anyone he pleases, to confiscate his goods, even to procure his execution. Thus he is virtually an autocrat with no superior. Socrates admits the fact, but denies the inference that either orator or autocrat is really powerful, if by “power” you mean anything which it is good for a man to have. The autocrat, recognized or unrecognized, no doubt always does “as he thinks good” but for that reason he never does "what he wishes" (466e). And it is not good for a man to do “as he thinks good” if his thinking is false. To explain the point more fully, we may put it thus. There are many things which we do, not for the mere sake of doing them, but as means to something else, as when a man drinks a disagreeable medicine at his doctor’s order, for the sake of recovering health, or follows the fatiguing and dangerous calling of the sea with a view to making a fortune. In all such cases, where a thing is done as a means to some ulterior end, it is the ulterior end, not the disagreeable or indifferent means to it, that the man wishes for.14 And he wishes for the end because he thinks it a good. So when we put a man to death, or banish him, or confiscate his property, we always have an ulterior end. We only do these things because we think they will be “useful” in view of that end. If the autocrat, then, is mistaken in supposing that such steps will "be for his good" if they are really bad for him, he is not doing “what he wished,” and should not be called “powerful.” (The thought is thus that every one really wishes for good, no one wishes for evil. “The object of every man’s desire is some good to himself.” To be really powerful means to be able to get good; it is weakness, not power, to “do whatever you please,” if the consequence is that you reap evil and not good (466a-469e).)

We now pass to the direct enunciation of the main ethical doctrine of the dialogue. This is elicited by the unmannerly remark of Polus that, whatever Socrates may be pleased to profess, he would certainly envy the man who could forfeit, imprison, or kill anyone he pleased. Socrates replies that he would not. The man who inflicts such things on another, even when they are righteously deserved, is not to be envied; the man who inflicts them undeservedly is miserable and pitiable. What is more, he is more pitiable and miserable than the unfortunate innocent victim, since to commit injustice is much worse than to have to suffer it. Socrates himself would, of course, like Candide in a similar case, |113| “choose neither the one nor the other” but if he had to choose, he would much rather suffer the crime than commit it (469a-c).

Polus treats this view as a ridiculous paradox. He admits that any man with a knife under his cloak might claim to be “powerful” in the sense that he can, like the autocrat, kill any one he has a mind to kill, but for one thing, the certainty of punishment. Impunity must be stipulated for as one of the conditions of “power” but a child could refute Socrates’ view that it is only “better” to kill, banish, and confiscate at will when these acts are done “justly.” One has only to consider the very latest example from contemporary life, that of Archelaus, who has made himself king in Macedonia. His whole career has been one of rebellion and murder, but he has gained a throne by it. By Socrates’ theory he ought to be the most wretched of men, but he is, in fact, the happiest, and there is not a man in Athens, not even Socrates, who would not dearly like to change places with Archelaus (469c-471d). An appeal of this kind is, however, an ignoratio elenchi in the most literal sense. Even if every one but Socrates would be willing to go into the witness-box on behalf of Polus, it is possible that a solitary witness may be a witness to truth, and the testimony of numbers on the other side erroneous. Socrates will not consider his own case as established unless he can produce one solitary witness to it, the antagonist himself (472b). In other words, the appeal must be to argument and not to authority. The first step we must take is to define the issue at stake as precisely as we can. It is, in fact, the most important of all practical issues, the solution of the question, “Who is the truly happy man?” Polus maintains that a man may be happy but wicked; Socrates denies this. As a corollary, there is a secondary disagreement. Polus holds that the wicked man, to be happy, must go unpunished; Socrates, that such a man is in any case unhappy, but more unhappy if he escapes punishment than if he suffers it, and he must try to convince Polus on both points (472d-474c).

The precise point of disagreement between the opposing views now receives a still more exact definition. Polus is still so far under the influence of current moral conventions that he admits at once that to commit a wrong is more “ugly” or “disgraceful” (αἴσχιον) than to suffer one, but he declines to draw the further inference that the “uglier” thing must also be the greater evil. He distinguishes, as Socrates refuses to do, between the good (ἀγαθόν) and the “fine” or “noble” (kaλόn), and consequently also between the “ugly” (αἰσχρόν) and the evil (κακόν). The task of Socrates is to show that these distinctions are unreal The argument runs as follows. When we distinguish between “fine” bodies, colour, sounds, callings (ἐπιτηδεύματα) and others which are “ugly” or “base,” our standard is always either “benefit” or “pleasure.” By a “fine” shape or colour or sound, we mean one which is either serviceable or immediately agreeable in contemplation or both. The same thing holds good when we speak of “fine” or “noble” |114| usages (νόμοι) and callings in life, or of the “beauty” of a science.15 We mean that the usage or business or science in question either is highly beneficial or “creates in the disinterested spectator a pleasing sentiment of approbation” or both, a view which delights Polus by its apparent Hedonistic implications. It follows that by calling anything “ugly” or “base” we must mean that it is either disserviceable, or painful, or both. Also, that when we say “A is finer than B,” we must mean that A is either more pleasant or more useful than B, or both more pleasant and more useful. And when we call A “more ugly” than B, we mean that it is either more harmful or more painful, or both. Now we are agreed that the commission of wrong (τὸ ἀδικειν) is an “uglier” thing than the suffering of it (τὸ ἀδικεισθαι), and it is certainly not the case that it is more painful to commit the crime than to have it committed on you. It must follow that the commission of the wrong is the more harmful, i.e. the more evil course, the worse course. Now no one can rationally prefer an alternative which is at once the worse and the more “ugly” of those open to him, and Socrates has thus established his main point out of the mouth of his antagonist (474c-476a). We come now to the proof of the corollary.

We begin with a consideration of general logic. Wherever there is an agent (ποιων) there is a correlative “patient” (πάσχων), a thing or person which is acted upon. Also the modality of the activity gives rise to strictly correlated qualifications (πάθη) in agent and patient. If the agent, e.g., strikes a sudden, or a severe, or a painful blow, the patient is suddenly, severely, or painfully struck. If the agent “cuts deep” the patient is “deeply cut” and so forth. Now to be punished for a crime is to be the patient in a relation in which the inflictor of the penalty is the agent. Hence, if the agent inflicts the penalty deservedly or justly, the patient undergoes it deservedly or justly.16 And, as Polus does not deny, what is just is “fine” and therefore, as we have seen, either good or pleasant. Hence the man who is justly punished has something good done to him (since no one will suggest that he finds the punishment pleasant). He is benefited by what is done to him. We may go on to specify the nature of the benefit. Goods and evils may be classed under three heads: good or bad |115| conditions of fortune (χρήματα), of body, of soul. A bad condition of fortune is poverty; of body, weakness, disease, deformity. The corresponding bad state of soul is wickedness (ἀδικία), and admittedly wickedness is the “ugliest” of the three. Yet it is certainly not more painful to be wicked than to be destitute or physically ill. By our preceding reasoning, therefore, it must be very much more evil or harmful. Badness of soul is thus the very greatest evil to which a man is exposed, and thus we get back to the fundamental principle of the whole Socratic ethics (476b-477e).17

One further step remains to be taken. There is an “art” which covers each of the three kinds of evil. Business (χρηματιστική) releases us from poverty, medicine from physical disease, “justice” administered by a competent judge from wickedness. The judge who passes sentence on the criminal is thus a physician of the soul, and his calling is a “finer” one than that of the healer of the body, because he cures a graver disease. In both cases the process of treatment is disagreeable but salutary for us. And again, in both cases, the happiest condition is to be in bodily or spiritual health, and so not to need the physician. But in both also, the man who is cured of a grave disease by a sharp treatment is much less badly off than the man who has the disease without receiving the cure. Thus a man like Archelaus who lifts himself by successful crime above all possibility of correction is like a man with a deadly disease who refuses to submit to the surgeon. The claim advanced for rhetoric, then, that it enables its possessor to “get off” when he is called to account for his misdeeds, is wholly vain. The best use a man who has fallen into crime could make of eloquence would be to expend it in denouncing himself and ensuring that he shall receive from the judge whatever chastisement may be needed to restore his soul to health. If eloquence is to be used to enable the criminal to “get off” the penalties of his misdeeds, it would be appropriate to reserve this employment of it for the case of our mortal enemies, as the deadliest injury we can inflict (477e-481b).

So far we have been concerned simply with an emphatic statement of the thesis that to do wrong is always worse than to suffer it, with the inevitable corollary that it is worse to do wrong with impunity than to be punished. With the opening of the third scene of Plato’s drama we proceed to the application of these moral principles to the theory of statesmanship and government. That this application is the principal theme of the dialogue is indicated both by the fact that this part of the work is longer than both the others together, and by the introduction of a new spokesman whose case is presented with an unmistakable gusto quite absent from all that has gone before. The new speaker is a certain Callicles of Acharnae, of whom we learn little more than that he has recently begun to aspire to a prominent place in Athenian public life. He is |116| one of the very few characters in Plato’s dialogues of whose historical reality we have no independent evidence, but it should be clear from the very vigor with which his character is drawn that he is a genuine man of flesh and blood. His intervention at once gives a more realistic touch to the dramatic picture and lifts the argument to a distinctly higher level. Polus was not only halfhearted in his professed rejection of conventional moral convictions, but also wanting in moral seriousness. He had nothing more inspiring to say in support of his eulogy of the “tyrant” than that it is a pleasant thing to be able to gratify all your passions without apprehension of consequences. Clearly, established morality is in no danger from the assaults of worldlings of this type, least of all when they are mere literary gentlemen talking for talking’s sake. Callicles is quite another matter. His morality, like Nietzsche’s, may be an inverted one, but it is one with which he is in downright earnest. He has a definite ideal which carries him off his feet, and, though it is a false ideal, Plato plainly means to make us feel that there is a certain largeness about it which gives it a dangerous fascination. To be fascinated by it, indeed, you need to have a certain greatness of soul; it is notable that Callicles himself is wholly above the appeal to the mere enjoyability of being able to gratify ignoble cupidities, of which Polus had made so much. The ideal he is defending is that of the men of action for action’s sake, the Napoleons and Cromwells, and it is his conviction that there is a genuine moral right on which the ideal rests. His imagination has been fascinated by the vision of a Nature whose law is that “the weakest goes to the wall” and he sees the life of human societies in the light of this vision. He is as earnest as Carlyle in his conviction that superior ability of any kind gives the moral right to use the ability according to your own judgment and without scruples. Hence he feels that in rejecting “conventionalism” in morals he is not rejecting morality itself; he is appealing from a petty and confined morality of local human conventions to an august morality of “Nature” or “things-as-they-are.” The case for the partisans of φύσις in the fifth-century dispute about φύσις and νόμος could not well be argued more persuasively, and it is Plato’s purpose that it shall be argued with the maximum of persuasiveness with a view to its thorough refutation.

If Socrates is in earnest and his theory is true, Callicles says, the whole of our actual social life is organized on wrong lines; our whole conduct is “topsy-turvy.” Socrates does not deny this, but replies that he and Callicles are lovers of two very different mistresses, “philosophy” and the Athenian democracy. Socrates’ mistress, “philosophy,” has taught him to speak her language, and, unlike the mistress of Callicles, she always holds the same language. It is she, not her lover, whom Callicles will have to refute.18 Callicles |117| thinks the task will not be difficult if once we make the distinction between mere “convention” and Nature, or “reality.” Polus had only been silenced because he had not the courage to say what he really thought. He deferred to the tradition of the average respectable man by saying that it is “uglier” to commit a wrong than to suffer one. But this is a mere convention of weaklings, set up for their own protection. In “reality” to commit a wrong or aggression is not the “ugly” thing; the “ugly” thing is to have it committed on you. It is weaklings, slaves, persons who cannot stand up for themselves like men, who have to “put up” wrongs; the strong are aggressive and commit what the conventions of the weak call “wrongs.” If we look at φύσις, “things-as-they-are,” we see that the stronger animal regularly pushes the weaker aside. Human life displays the same features, if we look at it on the large scale. By what right, for example, but that of the stronger did Darius attack the Scythians or Xerxes the Greeks? Their proceedings may have been unlawful by the standard of the self-interested conventions of the weak, but they had Nature’s right — the right of the strong to impose his will on the weak — on their side; indeed, the conqueror is acting in strict accord with “Nature’s νόμος”19 in disregarding our paltry human νόμοι. When a really strong man — in fact, the Übermensch — appears, he will soon tear up our “contracts” and “formulae,” and prove himself what he really is “by right of nature,” the master of us all, as Pindar hinted in his well-known eulogy of the piratical feat of Heracles who drove the cows of Geryones “without leave asked or price paid.”20

|118| As for what Socrates has said about the lessons of philosophy, philosophy is a graceful accomplishment in a young man, but to take it in earnest in mature life is ruin. It unfits a man for the life of action, leaves him ignorant of the laws of the community, the principles of public and private business, and the real passions of his fellow-men, like Amphion in the Antiope of Euripides. One should cultivate philosophy up to a certain point, when one is a lad, but a grown man should lay it aside with the toys of his boyhood. It is unmanly in a man of ability and ripe years to take no part in affairs and sit whispering “with a parcel of lads in a corner.”21 Callicles pushes the point “in a spirit of friendship”; Socrates is a man of admirable natural parts, but his way of life has left him at the mercy of anyone who wishes to do him a harm. If he were falsely accused on a capital charge, he would be quite incapable of making an effective defense — more’s the pity (481c-486d). Socrates professes himself delighted to have such an opponent to deal with, a man who is at once “educated,” sincere (as is shown by the fact that his professed view of the proper place of philosophy in man’s life is one which Socrates knows him to hold in common with several distinguished associates), and perfectly frank in speaking his mind without any deference to the conventions. If we can convince a man with these qualities of the soundness of our view of life, there can be no reasonable doubt of its truth. But first we must be quite clear on the point that, in the doctrine of Callicles, “better” is a mere synonym of “stronger” and “worse” of “weaker.” If this is granted, as it is, then, since “the many” are stronger than one man, their conventional usages are the usages of the stronger, that is to say, of the better, and should be regarded as the “naturally fine” (κατά φύσιν καλά). But their convention is just what Callicles has been denouncing, the convention that aggression is wrong and that to commit it is “uglier” than to suffer it. Thus the antithesis between “nature” and “convention” on which Callicles had based his argument is unsound. This, says Callicles, is mere catching at a word. He never meant by the “stronger” (κρείττους) those who are merely superior in muscle and brawn (ἰσχυρότεροι). A canaille of slaves would, at that rate, be stronger and better than the “strong man.” By the “stronger” he really meant “the wiser” (φρονιμώτεροι), the “men of parts.” “Natural right” is that “the better and wiser should rule and have the advantage over (πλέον ἔχειν) the worse” (486d-490a).

|119| But what exactly may this mean? If food and drink are to be distributed to a company of men of varying physique, and there is just one physician among them, he is certainly the “wisest” in matters of diet, and it may be reasonable that he should regulate the distribution by his orders; but is he to get the biggest ration, even if he should be the greatest invalid of the party? Should the weaver always have the biggest and finest clothes or the maker of shoes the biggest shoes and most of them? Naturally not; Callicles really means that the “strong” are men with the intelligence to know how a city may be “well administered,” and the daring to carry out their designs (οἳ ἂν εἰς τὰ της πόλεως πράγματα φρόνιμοι ωσι, ὅντινα ᾂν τρόπον εύ οἰκοιτο, καὶ μή μόνον φρόνιμοι ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀνδρειοι, ἱκανοὶ ὄντες ἃἄν νοήσωσιν ἐπιτελειν, 491b). It is right that such men should be sovereign in the State and “have the advantage” (πλέον ἔχειν) of their subjects.

Should we add that the best men are also sovereigns over themselves in the popular phrase, i.e. can govern their own passions? No; for in the nature of things the great man is one who has great passions and is intelligent and daring enough to secure them full gratification. The popular commendation of temperance is a mere trick by which the weaklings of the “herd” who have not manhood enough to live the best kind of life themselves, enslave their “natural superiors” (492a). If a man is born to a throne, or has the manhood to win his way to a throne, it would be base and bad in him not to rise above the conventional “temperance” and “justice” of the herd, and reap the full benefit of his capacity for himself and his friends. In the capable, lawless self-will (τρφὴ καὶ ἀκολασία καὶ ἐλευθερία) are virtue and happiness; regard for the “unreal catchwords” (τὰ παρὰ φύσιν συνθήματα) of the vulgar is contemptible. Thus the ideal of Callicles, like that of Nietzsche, is the successful cultivation of the Wille zur Macht, and his “strong man,” like Nietzsche’s, is a being of the type of Caesar Borgia as conceived in popular legend.22

The thesis of Callicles and the moralists of the “will to power” then is that one “ought” (δεῖ) to have violent desire and gratify it to the full; to “want nothing” is the condition of a stone. But perhaps, as Euripides said, what we call life is really death. There is a rival view, developed by a certain wise man of Italy, that the tale of those who are condemned in the underworld to draw water in leaky pitchers is an apologue descriptive of the death-in-life |120| of the service of the passions. The leaking pitcher, or sieve, is “the part of the soul in which our desires are”; the more gratification you give them, the more they crave, and this impossibility of ever contenting them shows the intrinsic absurdity of the attempt.23 And it is clear that if one had to fill a number of vessels from a few scanty springs, a man who did not care whether his vessels were sound or cracked, and who allowed a vessel to run over, would have a very difficult task. The man who made sure that his pitchers were sound and that none of them ran over would be much more successful. Callicles, however, thinks this simile misleading. When the vessel has been filled, you can get no more enjoyment out of the process of “filling” it; the enjoyment (ἡδονή) depends on the continuance of the flow. To get it, you must always have room for “more” to flow in (494b).24 (Callicles thus assumes the psycho-physical theory according to which pleasure is or accompanies — the theory hardly distinguishes these alternatives — the “filling-up” or making good of a process of “depletion” in the organism, pain the process of “depletion” itself. The doctrine is familiar to us from Plato’s acceptance of it, so far as the satisfaction of physical appetites are concerned, in the Republic and Philebus, and Aristotle’s vigorous polemic against it in the Nicomachean Ethics. Plato rejects it, except for these cases, and the rejection of it is the basis of the important distinction of the Philebus between “pure” or “neat"” and “mixed” pleasures. It is taught more unreservedly by the Pythagorean Timaeus at Timaeus 64a-65b, and we see from Aristotle’s polemic that it was fully accepted by Speusippus and the extreme anti-Hedonists of the Academy. Its origin is pretty clearly to be found in the medical doctrine of Alcmaeon, according to which all disease is disturbance of the state of ισονομία (“constitutional balance”) between the hot, the cold, the moist, and the dry in the organism. The immediate assumption of Callicles that ἡδονή and πλήρωσις may |121| be equated shows us that this doctrine was a commonplace in cultivated circles of the age of Socrates.)

Obviously, if happiness depends on such a process of unending “filling-up,” it demands a similarly unending process of “depletion.” If water is always to be running into the pitcher, it must also be always running out at the cracks. Would it then be intense happiness to have a continual itch, provided one could go on endlessly getting the gratification of chafing the itching place? You must admit this if you mean to be serious with the theory.25 What is more, the life of a catamite must be eminently happy, if he can only get a perpetual series of satisfactions for his unnatural prurigo. For all his “freedom from convention” Callicles objects to this particular “transvaluation of values” but you cannot avoid it so long as you persist in identifying good with pleasant. To condemn any kind of gratification, you must distinguish good from pleasant, and this Callicles admits he cannot consistently do (495a).

We proceed next to consider the identification of good and bad with pleasure and pain on its merits. Two difficulties occur to us at the very outset, (a) Good and bad are “contraries”; you cannot predicate both at once of the same subject, nor can you deny both at once. A man cannot have both predicates at once, nor “get rid” of both at once. Pleasure and pain are not opposed in this way. E.g., when a hungry man is satisfying his hunger by a square meal, he feels at once the pleasure of appeasing the hunger and the painfulness of the still unappeased hunger which urges him to eat more. When his hunger is sated and he leaves off, the pleasure and the pain are both at an end. But it is just at this point, where both the pleasure and the pain are over, that the man reaches the good to which eating ministers, the restoration of normal equilibrium in his organism.26 (b) Callicles himself makes a distinction between “good” men and “bad” ones, the "good" according to him, being the intelligent and bold, the “bad” the silly or timorous. He must hold, therefore, that good is “present to”27 the former and not to the latter. But he cannot deny that fools and cowards feel pleasure and pain at least as keenly as the |122| intelligent and daring, if not more keenly, since cowards, for example, seem to feel more distress in the face or the enemy and more delight at their disappearance than brave men do. Thus there are empirical objections to the identification of pleasure with good (495c-499b).

Callicles extricates himself for the moment in the only way possible to a Hedonist in a “fix.” Like Mill, he declares it obvious that “pleasures differ in quality”; there are better pleasures and worse pleasures, and it is unfair in Socrates, as Mill said it was in his opponents, to neglect the distinction. For example, a pleasure which contributes to bodily health is good, one which is detrimental to health is bad, and the same thing is true of pains. The rule for choice is that we should choose the good pleasures and pains and avoid the bad ones. In fact, Callicles is prepared to admit now that pleasure is a means to good (500a). But the right selection of pleasures will demand a “competent expert”; not every one can be trusted to make it.

We are thus brought face to face with the final problem raised by our dialogue. Socrates and Callicles stand respectively for two antithetical ideals in life, the one for the “life of philosophy,” the other for the "life of action" as followed by a man of affairs in the Athenian democracy. The choice between these competing ideals is the ultimate practical problem, and it is this issue which is to be decided by the "competent judge." The distinction we have been forced to make between the pleasant and the good shows that the qualifications of the competent judge must not be based (as Mill tries to base them) on an empirical acquaintance with the flavours of pleasure (a thing of which the empiric understands neither the character nor the cause, 501a), but on a true τέχνη, which knows about the good of the soul as medicine does about the good of the body; in fact, Socrates means, moral science is to prescribe the soul’s regimen as medicine prescribes the regimen of the body (501b-c).28

Now there is certainly one class of “rhetoricians,” i.e. practitioners of the use of language to work on men’s feelings and imaginations, who are empirics of the type of the confectioner, namely, the poets. Their standard is always simply the “taste” of their public. They aim at pleasing this taste, and incidentally gaining their own advantage by doing so, without troubling themselves in the least whether their productions will make any one a better man. And what is poetry, when you divest it of the addition of tune, rhythm, and metre, but rhetoric — the effective use of language? Has the rhetoric of an Athenian politician any saner basis? Does the politician aim at the improvement of his public, or merely at gratifying their moods (501d-502e)?29

|123| Callicles thinks that, though the suggestion of Socrates may be true about some statesmen, there are others who really are guided by regard for the good of their fellow-citizens. He could not say so much for any living man of affairs, but it is true of the great men of the past, from Themistocles to the recently dead Pericles. They did make Athenians “better” by their careers. Socrates will not admit this. Themistocles and the rest made Athens great, if it is greatness to gratify all your cravings and passions, good and bad alike. But the scientific practitioner in any department must have an ideal before him into accord with which he sets himself to bring the material on which he works, as, e.g., the physician has an ideal standard of health which he tries to reproduce in his patients. Has there ever been a statesman in Athens who, in the same way, has had an ideal of character, “goodness of soul,” and set himself to promote it in the citizens? The physician, unlike his counterfeit the confectioner, aims at producing in a human body a definite “order and regulation” (τάξις καὶ κόσμος); the statesman, if he is more than a mere unprincipled empiric, should aim at doing the same thing for the human soul. This is to say that his purpose should be to produce “temperance and justice” (σωφροσύνη καὶ δικαιοσύνη) in the souls of his public. The object of a statesman and orator secundum artem is the production of national character. If the ἐπιθυμίαι of the citizens, the “national” aspirations and ambitions, are unhealthy and evil, the public man who is not a mere “toady” will aim at repressing them, and so making the national soul “better” by “chastisement” (505b-c).

“The ‘wise’ (the Pythagorean men of science) say that ‘communication’ or ‘reciprocity’ is the basis not only of all human affections and moral virtues, but of the whole physical order of heaven and earth.”

Callicles is so disgusted with this return of the argument to the apparent paradox which had led to his intervention in the discussion, that Socrates is left to act as respondent to his own questions as he draws to his formal conclusion. Good is not the same thing as pleasure; it depends universally on “order and rightness and art” and shows itself in a condition of “regulation and orderliness.” This means that the temperate or “disciplined” soul is the good soul, the “unchastened” (ἀκόλαστος), “undisciplined” soul is bad. The former acts “appropriately to the situation” in all the situations of life, and consequently acts well, does well, and is “happy”; the latter, not meeting the situations of life with the appropriate responses, is not merely bad but unhappy, especially if it is not held in check by “chastisement. These are the principles on which public no less than private conduct should be organized; the life of the “superman” or of the “superstate” is simply that of a bandit, and a bandit has the hand of gods and men against him. He does not know how to “communicate” or “go shares” (κοινωνειν), but all social life depends on “communication.” |124| Indeed the “wise” (the Pythagorean men of science) say that “communication” or “reciprocity” (κοινωνεία) is the basis not only of all human affections and moral virtues, but of the whole physical order of heaven and earth. “Geometrical equality” is the great law of the universe (508a),30 and this is why the “wise” call the universe κόσμος, “the order of things.” In setting up πλεονεξία, "going beyond the limit," as a principle for life, Callicles has forgotten his geometry. But if these convictions are sound, we must also admit Socrates’ paradox that the best use an offender can make of rhetoric is to ensure his own conviction. Callicles was right in saying that Socrates’ rule of life left him at the mercy of an aggressor, but wrong in thinking the position “ugly.” The "ugliness" is not in the suffering but in the perpetrating of aggression. To escape this conclusion you must show that the principle that “wickedness is the greatest of evils to its possessor” is false (509e).

To commit wrong, then, is the worst evil which can befall a man; to have to submit to it, though a lesser evil, is also an evil. In neither case will the mere purpose to avoid the evil avail of itself to secure its end. To avoid being wronged you also need “power” or “strength.” And, since we long ago agreed on the principle that wrong-doing is “involuntary,” a consequence of error, you need to secure yourself against it by acquiring some “power or τήχνη, organized knowledge” (510a).31 If you want to avoid being wronged, you must either be an “autocrat” or a friend of the sovereign body, whatever it may be (ἑταιρος της ὑπαρχούσης πολιτείας, 510a). In an autocracy this means that you must be a “creature” of the autocrat; in a democracy, like Athens, you must make yourself a favourite with your “master” the populace, and conform yourself to its moods and prejudices. In neither case have you secured yourself against the greater evil of committing wrong. On the contrary, to be a favourite with either autocrat or populace you must sink to their moral level and sympathize with their injustices. Callicles thinks this only sensible, for the “leviathan” will kill you if you do not humor it. But this plea rests on the assumption that life at any cost and on any terms is supremely desirable, even at the cost of moral corruption. It amounts to basing the high claims made for rhetoric on the view that rhetoric is an art of saving your skin. No doubt it is; the politician is constantly saving his skin by his plausible speech. But swimming |125| and seamanship save your skin too, and are not thought of supreme moment for a gentleman’s education. An ordinary skipper will bring you, your family, and all your belongings safe from Egypt or the Pontus, but he asks a very modest fare, and his calling is thought a very humble one. And this is as it should be, for the skipper has really done a man who is hopelessly diseased in body or soul no real service; it would be better for such a man to go to the bottom (511c-512b). So an ordinary engineer may save the lives of a whole community by the machines he builds, but a man like Callicles regards the engineer as a “base mechanic” and would not dream of intermarriage with his family. If mere life is the highest good, why should not all these “mechanics” advance the same claims which are put forward on behalf of rhetoric (512c-d)? The truth is that the important thing is not to live long, but to live well; is a man likely, or is he not, to attain that end by conforming himself to the spirit and temper of the community, e.g. of the Athenian δημος, as he must do if he means to be a “public man” (512e-513c)?

“The truth is that the important thing is not to live long, but to live well.”

“Impressive, but not convincing” is the verdict of Callicles on all this. Convincing or not, however, it is plain that if we aim at a statesmanship which is more than successful “parasitism”32 (κολακεία), a statesmanship which is a genuine art of “tendance of our fellow-citizens” our chief problem will be to promote national character; it is no true service of the State to increase its wealth or power, unless its citizens are fitted by their character to use wealth or wield power33 (514a). On the hypothesis, then, our fitness for the statesman’s calling depends on our possession of a science (ἐπιστήμη), in fact, on our knowledge of moral values. Now an expert can establish his claim to be an expert in two ways: (a) by pointing out the master from whom he has learned his knowledge, (b) by pointing to the results in which his knowledge has been embodied. If a man can satisfy neither of these tests, we cannot take his claims to be an expert seriously. No one would give an appointment |126| as a public physician to a candidate who could not prove that he had effected any cures as a private practitioner. So an aspirant to statesmanship may fairly be expected to satisfy us that he has “in private practice” made the souls or characters of his fellow-men better. How do the famous public men of Athens, from Miltiades to Pericles, stand this test (515d)? It is Socrates’ conviction that one and all fail under it. Pericles, as every one is saying, made the Athenians worse, not better; he made them “idle, cowardly, talkative, and greedy” (515e). The best proof of this is the notorious fact that at the end of his career, they actually turned on him and found him guilty of embezzlement.34 The conviction was, to be sure, iniquitous, but whose “tendance” of the animal civis Atticus had taught it these iniquitous ways? The “tendance” of Pericles himself (516a-d). He made the animal “wilder,” and this disposes of his claim to be a statesman. The same is true of Cimon and Miltiades: the very wrongs they ended by suffering from the δημος prove that they too had made their “cattle” worse by their treatment (516d-e).35 None of these famous men was even skilled in the spurious “parasitic” kind of rhetoric — for each of them ended by displeasing the common patron (517a).

You may say that, after all, these must have been great men, for their “public works” (e.g. the creation of the Athenian navy, the building of the walls, docks, and the like) speak for them. And this really proves that they were, so to say, good “domestics” or “personal servants” of Demus; they knew how to provide their master with the things he desired. But what they did not know — and true statesmanship consists in knowing just this — was how to get him to desire what is really good (517b).36 To call them statesmen is like calling a confectioner or a fancy baker a specialist in hygiene and medicine; it is to compare a subordinate “art,” which makes things, with the master-art which “uses” them aright (517e-518c). If a man made that confusion, his cooks and confectioners would soon ruin his constitution, and he would lay the blame for his want of wholesome appetite on the inferiority of his present cook as compared with his old one. Callicles is making |127| precisely the same blunder. The real authors of the disorders of the “body politic” were the “statesmen” of the past who ruined the constitution of the public by filling it with “harbours and docks and such stuff, without justice and temperance.” When the “cold fit” of the disorder arrives, the sufferer will lay the blame for his disorder on Alcibiades, or perhaps Callicles himself, who are at worst only minor contributors to the mischief.37 When the public turns and rends one of its leaders in this fashion, he usually complains of its injustice. But the complaint is as ludicrous as that of the sophists who profess to teach their pupils “goodness” and then accuse them of cheating them of their fees. The very complaint shows that neither sophist nor politician can do what he professes to do; the one cannot make his pupils “good,” the other cannot promote the real good of the “people” (517b-520a). Of the two pretenders, there is a certain advantage on the side of the sophist. The art he caricatures, that of the legislator, is a nobler thing than the art of the judge, as that of the physical trainer who keeps the body fit is nobler than that of the physician who banishes disease. If either pretender really believed in himself, he would exercise his calling gratis; a man who can make an individual or a people “good” has no need to take precautions against ungrateful or unfair treatment (520c-e).38

What, then, did Callicles mean when he recommended Socrates to take up “public life”? Did he mean that Socrates should be a physician to the public or merely a “toady” and “body-servant”? The truth is that Socrates himself is the only real statesman of his time, for he is the only Athenian who aims in his use of speech not at giving pleasure but at doing real good to those with whom he speaks. He may very possibly be dragged into court as a “corrupter of youth” and if that should happen, his condemnation is certain, for he would be the physician pleading against the confectioner before a jury of children of whom he had already spoken.39 But he would die innocent of offence, and the dreadful thing is not to die, but to enter the unseen world with a soul laden with guilt (521a-522e).

|128| The argument of the dialogue is now complete. We reach the climax of the Socratic ethics of the “tendance of the soul” with the declarations that statesmanship is nothing but the practice of this same “art” on the large scale, that its indispensable basis is knowledge of moral values, and that the apparent “mugwump” Socrates is in fact the one man of his age and city who is leading the real “active life,” because he has himself, and tries to communicate to every one else, a moral faith and moral ideals. He alone, in a world of “opportunist” careerists, is doing work which will last, because he alone is building on a rock. What makes the Gorgias so important in spite of its longueurs, is that, more fully than any other dialogue, and with an intenser πάθος, it works out the application of the conception of “tendance of the soul” to the whole complicated business of life. Formally, the conversation is prolonged for a few pages, to give Socrates the opportunity to drive home the exceeding horror of sin by an imaginative myth of judgment after death, the earliest in order of composition of Plato’s masterpieces in this kind. The basis of the story, in this case, seems more strictly Orphic and less Pythagorean than in the companion pictures of the Republic and Phaedo. The scenery, “the meadow where the three ways meet,”40 the judges before whom the dead appear, the original division of the universe into heaven, earth, and the underworld, used as the motif for the tale, are all familiar to us as features of the Orphic mythology. On the other hand, nothing is said of the Pythagorean reincarnation which plays so prominent a part in the eschatology of the Republic>, Phaedo, and Phaedrus. This presumably means that that doctrine is no part of the serious convictions of Socrates or Plato, and this may be why Socrates expressly says at 524b that he accepts the present account of the judgment as true, without any warning, such as he gives in the Phaedo, against pressing its details.

The main thought of the myth is the impossibility of escaping the scrutiny of the eye of the divine judge. In the old days, men were judged while still in the body, and the stains and sores of the soul often escaped notice, especially when the party to be judged was a great man, who appeared with all the splendours of external pomp and circumstance. To prevent such mistakes, the judgment has now been placed after death, that the soul may appear at the tribunal naked, without the “tunic” of the body. This ensures that its destiny shall be decided by its worth, not by the station it has held on earth. We shall find Plato preaching the same doctrine of a divine judgment which neglects nothing and can make no |129| error, in the tenth book of the Laws, without any mythology at all. In the Gorgias, the point to notice is the tone of earnestness with which Socrates is made to profess the doctrine as his own personal faith. This representation is quite incompatible with the singular view that “the historic Socrates” was an agnostic on the problem of immortality. If Plato misrepresented his master in the matter, the misrepresentation did not begin with the Phaedo. He must have ended the Gorgias with a deliberate mystification.41

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The Meno

There are points of contact between the Meno and the Gorgias which make it convenient to consider them together, though the main purpose of the Meno connects it rather with two more mature dialogues, the Phaedo and the Protagoras, as well as with the Apology. The dramatic setting of the dialogue is of the simplest. It is a conversation between Socrates and the young Thessalian Meno, who is attended by at least one slave, broken by an interlude which brings on the scene the prominent politician Anytus, afterward the instigator of the proceedings against Socrates. Where the conversation takes place we are not told, except that it is, of course, somewhere in Athens. The dramatic date can be readily fixed by reference to the facts about Meno recorded in Xenophon’s Anabasis. Meno joined the expedition of Cyrus the younger against his brother Artaxerxes II at Colossae in the middle of March 401 B.C. (Anabasis i. 2, 6), rendered the important service of being the first of the Greek adventurers to declare for Cyrus openly when the army had reached the Euphrates and its real objective became clear (ibid. i. 4, 13), and was present with |130| the others at the battle of Cunaxa. The rivalry between Clearchus and Meno, after the battle, led directly to the capture of the principal Greek leaders by Tissaphernes and the death of Clearchus (ibid. ii. 5, 27 ff.). Meno, with the rest, was sent a prisoner to the Persian court, where he was executed after a year’s confinement (ibid. ii. 6, 29). Xenophon, who was a fervid admirer of the stupid and brutal Clearchus, gives Meno the worst of characters. One may discount a great deal of this, but the general impression that the man was a spoilt and petulant boy, only half civilized, is borne out by Plato’s dialogue. Xenophon does not mention Meno’s age at death, but implies that he was still a mere lad (ἔτι ὡραιος, he says) when he was put in charge of the 1500 men he brought to the expedition. Hence we shall hardly be far wrong if we suppose his presence in Athens to be connected with the forthcoming enterprise. This means that we must date it not long before his arrival in Colossae. We must thus think of Socrates as an old man, within two or three years of seventy, and of the conversation as taking place after the restoration of the democracy in 403, when Anytus was one of the two or three most powerful and respected public men. The Meno then, unlike any of the dialogues we have so far considered, is dated at a time which would be compatible with supposing Plato to have been actually present at the conversation and to be describing it from his own recollections.42 The dialogue opens with an abruptness hardly to be paralleled elsewhere in the genuine work of Plato by the direct propounding of a theme for discussion; there are not even the ordinary formalities of salutation. May we argue that this indicates that its composition belongs to the very earliest years of Plato’s literary activity? This would be an important consideration, since, as no one denies, the whole characteristic metaphysics of the Phaedo, the theory of forms and the doctrine of “reminiscence” are explicitly taught in the Meno. In any case there ought to be no doubt that the Meno is a cruder and earlier work than either of the two great dramatic dialogues with which it is most intimately connected, the Phaedo and the Protagoras, and this of itself would be enough to prove that the Phaedo is not, as has been supposed, a first publication of an important philosophical discovery.

The question raised by Meno (70a) is one directly suggested by the activity of Protagoras and the other “teachers of goodness” (ἀῤετή). Can “goodness” be taught, or, if not, can it be acquired |131| by “practice” — is it ἀσκητόν? If it can be acquired neither by instruction nor by practice, is it “naturally” inborn, or how do we come by it? This is just the point at issue between the champions of νόμος and the partisans of φύσις in the time of Socrates. (For the Socratic answer to the problem, we need to go partly to the Protagoras, still more to the elaborate account of the training proposed for the “auxiliaries” and the “philosopher kings” of the Republic. Plato’s own final position has to be learned from the educational sections of the Laws. At present it will be enough simply to state summarily the results reached in the Republic. There is no formal discussion of the problem in the dialogue, but the solution of it is given implicitly in the educational programme laid down in the course of books iii-vii. Socrates’ solution there depends on a distinguo. There are two distinct levels of “goodness” one which will be sufficient for the ordinary good citizen and even for the “auxiliaries” the executive force of society, and a higher, indispensable to the statesmen who have to direct the whole of the national life and determine its standard. For those whose business in life is to obey rules based on the ideals of the true statesman, all that is necessary is a discipline in absolute loyalty to the traditions in which the ideals are embodied, and this discipline is secured by the moulding of temper, taste, and imaginations described in Republic iii-iv. Such an education, however, does not result in personal insight, but at best in loyalty to a noble rule of life taken on trust. The “goodness” of the classes who are “under authority” is thus not μαθητόν but ἀσκητόν, a result not of enlightenment but of discipline. But in the statesman who has to create the national tradition, something more is needed. He must know, as a matter of personal insight, what the true moral “values” are. The statesman is therefore required to possess a “philosophic” goodness, based on direct personal insight into the structure of the universe and man’s place in that structure. Such insight can only be won by the mind which has been trained in arduous scientific thinking for itself, and is therefore “knowledge,” and, like all knowledge, comes by “teaching”; but this teaching is no mere communication of “results.” A man is not made a thinker of the first order by any imparting of “information,” but by stimulating in him the power and the ambition to think for himself. This is why the one effective method of teaching in philosophy and science is the association of an older and a younger mind in the prosecution of an “original research.”)

To return to the Meno. Meno’s question, flung out in an airy way as though it could be disposed of in a sentence, cannot really be answered without facing one still more fundamental. We cannot expect to know how “goodness” is produced until we know what it is. And this is more than anyone at Athens, and most of all Socrates, professes to know. We are thus brought back to the problem of definition which has met us already in other dialogues (71c-d). According to Meno, this problem is no real problem at |132| all. Gorgias could have told Socrates what goodness is, or, if Socrates has forgotten what Gorgias has to say, Meno, whose admirer Aristippus had been a patron of Gorgias, can remind him. There are a variety of “goodnesses” (ἀρεταί). The goodness of a man is to have capacity for public affairs, to be a valuable ally and a dangerous enemy, and to know how to hold his own; that of a woman is to look after “the home” and to obey her husband; and there are yet other goodnesses appropriate to a child, an elderly man, a slave, and so forth. In fact, every age of life and every social station has its own peculiar goodness (72a). (Thus we have once more the confusion of definition with enumeration.) These commonplaces, however, do not answer our question. We want to know what the οὐσία, or essentia of “goodness” is, and this must be something in respect of which the “goodnesses” of male and female, old and young, bond and free, do not differ, a “single identical pattern” (ἓν εἰδος, 72c), in virtue of which the common name ἀρετή is bestowed.43 Consider the analogy of health or strength. One might say, as Meno has done, that there is “health in a man” and “health in a woman,” “manly strength” and “womanly strength” and that they have their differences. And Meno himself must admit that “in respect of being health” or “in respect of being strength” masculine health and strength do not differ from feminine.44 There is a single “pattern” of health (ἓν πανταχοὖ εἰδος) in all healthy beings, and similarly with strength. So, since we can speak of a good man and of a good woman, there must be some one “pattern” of goodness in man and woman, young and old. (In the language of today, “goodness” must be a determinable, of which the “goodness of a man” the “goodness of a woman” and the rest are the determinants.) We may note that this position, which arises at once from the application of the theory of forms to human conduct, is of first- |133| rate importance for both logic and ethics. In logic it means that there is no third alternative between realism and nominalism. A universal, unambiguously employed, signifies something or it does not. If it signifies anything, that something is not an arbitrary fiction of my mind; if it signifies nothing, there is an end of all science. Science stands or falls with “objective reference.”45 In ethics the doctrine means that there really is one moral standard for all of us, male or female, Greek or barbarian, bond or free. There really is one “eternal and immutable” morality, not a variety of independent moral standards, one perhaps for the “private man” and another for the “nation” or its politicians, or one for “the herd” and another for the “superman.” The particular application of this conviction to the case of man and woman is shown to be genuinely Socratic by the fact that it not only appears in Republic v. as the principle on which Socrates justifies the participation of women in public life, but is also implied in the fragments of the Aspasia of Aeschines as his reason for asserting the capacity of women for the tasks of war and statesmanship.46

Meno is inclined at first to deny the position. But he has to admit that both what he regards as man’s work and what he calls woman’s work are only well done if they are performed with sophrosyne and justice, and similarly that willfulness (ἀκολασία) and unfairness are faults alike in children and in elderly men. Thus sophrosyne and justice emerge as characteristic of human goodness, irrespective of age, sex, or status. There is then such a thing as a “goodness in virtue of which all human beings are good”; can Meno remember what Gorgias supposed this goodness to be? He suggests that it may be “capacity to command” (ἄρχειν οἱόν τ̉ εἰναι των ἀνθρώπων, 73d). But what then about a child or a slave (who, of course, show their “goodness” not by giving orders, but by obeying them)? And again, one may give unjust commands, and this can hardly be goodness, since it is not disputed by Meno that justice is a virtue and injustice a vice. We must at least qualify the statement by saying that goodness in man is the capacity |134| to command justly (73d). This at once raises the question whether commanding justly is goodness or only ἀρετή τις, one form of goodness; in fact, in the language of a more developed logic, whether we are not confusing a genus with one of its own species. We may illustrate the confusion by a simple example. It would be false to say that “circularity is figure” (σχημα = schêma), though true to say that it is one figure among others (73e). There are other figures besides circles, and Meno admits that there are “many” forms of goodness besides justice. Our attempt at definition has failed; like the original enumeration, it has left us with many goodnesses instead of one (74b).

Perhaps we may get a hint of the kind of statement we really want if we go back to our illustration of the circle. There are many figures (σχήματα = schêmata) of which the circle is only one, just as there are many colours, of which, e.g., white is one among others. But we might try to define figure in a way which would express what is common to all figures, by saying, for example, that “figure is the one thing which always accompanies colour” “the sole inseparable concomitant of colour” (ὃ μόνον των ὄντων τυγχάνει χρώματιἀεὶ ἑπόμενον, 75c). It is true, as Meno remarks, that such a “definition” would involve the undefined term “colour.” A pugnacious eristic would ignore this criticism; he would retort that he had done his part in giving his own definition and that any amendment of it was the business of his antagonist. But we are not disputing for victory, and Socrates is ready to meet the criticism by attempting a better definition. Meno will admit that he knows what mathematicians mean by a “boundary”; if we say then that “figure is the boundary of a solid” (στερεου πέρας), the statement will hold good universally and exclusively, and not be open to the criticism that it introduces a second “unknown” (76a).

Meno should now attempt a similar definition of goodness, but irrelevantly insists that Socrates shall go on to define colour. This, as Socrates says, is the mere whim of a capricious “beauty” but he will comply with it. Meno at any rate will be satisfied by a definition based on the doctrine of Gorgias, which is derived from the “efflux” theory of Empedocles.47 Assuming this theory, we may say that colour is “an efflux from surfaces which fits into the passages of the visual apparatus and is sensible” (ἀπορροὴ σχημάτων ὄψει σύμμετρος καὶ αἰσθητός), a definition which Meno thinks |135| admirable, though Socrates calls it “stagy” and says it is inferior to that just given of figure.48

Meno at last makes an attempt at the definition of goodness. It is “to desire the fine things and to be able to secure them” (ἐπιθυμουντα των καλων δυνατὸν εἰναι πορίζεσθαι, 77b). But the Statement is doubly open to criticism, (a) It implies that it is possible to desire what is not “fine,” that is, to “desire evil.” But, in fact, no one can or does desire what he knows to be evil, for that would be equivalent to the impossibility of desiring to be unhappy (77c-78b). The first clause of Meno’s definition is thus superfluous, and it reduces to the statement that goodness is “ability to secure goods.” (b) By “goods” he means, as he explains, such things as wealth, health, and high civic and social distinction (the ends, be it noted, of the “body-loving” and “distinction-loving” lives). But we cannot call ability to get these things by any means, fair or foul, goodness; it would be truer to say that the virtuous man is incapable of gaining fortune or position by foul means. So we have to introduce the qualification that goodness is capacity to secure good things “by righteous” or “"honest” means, or something to that effect. Now righteousness, honesty, or whatever other qualifications we introduce, have already been admitted to be “parts” of goodness, so that we are in effect saying that goodness or virtue is attaining certain ends by the practice of some specific virtue (i.e. we introduce one or more of the determinants of a given determinable into a proposed definition of that determinable itself, and thus commit a vicious “circle,” 77b-79e). We are thus no nearer to a satisfactory definition than we were before.

Meno is half inclined to lay the blame for the collapse of the argument on Socrates, who, he says, has the reputation of always being bepuzzled himself and communicating his bewilderment to others. He benumbs men’s wits as the fish called νάρκη benumbs their muscles if they touch it. In any other company Meno would have plenty to say about “goodness,” but in the presence of Socrates he is “paralysed.” In any foreign city Socrates would run a real risk of being arrested for sorcery. Socrates has to admit the accusation, with the reservation that the comparison with the νάρκη is only apt on the assumption that the creature itself is as “numb” as its victims. The difficulties his conversation creates in others are only the reflection of those he finds in his own thinking. But if Meno will adventure on the definition of “goodness” over again, he will do his best to examine the new result (80a-d). At this point Meno again tries to run off on an irrelevant issue. He brings up the “sophistic” puzzle which we have already met in |136| the Euthydemus, that “inquiry” is impossible because you cannot inquire after something you already know, nor yet after what you do not know (since, in the second case, you would not even recognize the object you were looking for, if you should succeed in finding it). This dilemma, however, would cease to be a difficulty if there should be truth in a doctrine which Socrates has learned from “priests and priestesses who have been at the pains to understand their professional duties” and also from Pindar and other poets. The doctrine is that our soul is immortal and our present life only one episode in its history. If this is so, the soul must long ago have “learned” everything, and only needs to be “put in mind” of something it has temporarily forgotten in order to regain its knowledge by diligent following of the clue provided by “reminiscence.” Learning, in fact, is just a process of “recall” (ἀνάμνησις), and for this reason the sophistic argument to show that it is impossible to learn a new truth is a mere appeal to mental indolence (80e-82a). (As we are encountering the doctrine of “recollection” for the first time, it is worthwhile to note what the exact point of it is. It must be observed that it is not a theory of “innate ideas,” or “innate knowledge,” in the popular sense of the words. We are not supposed to bring any actual knowledge into the world ready-made with us. On the contrary, we are said to “have learned” truth but to have lost it again, and we have to recover what we have lost. The recovery requires a real and prolonged effort of steady thinking; what “recollection,” or more accurately “being reminded,” does for us is to provide the starting-point for this effort. In the Phaedo, this is illustrated by the way in which chance “associations” will start a train of thinking, as when the sight of an absent friend’s belongings or his portrait sets us thinking of the friend himself. The main emphasis thus falls not on the Orphic doctrine of preexistence and reincarnation, which Socrates professes to have learned from poets and priests, but on the function of sense-experience as suggestive of and pregnant with truths of an intelligible order which it does not itself adequately embody or establish. And the philosophical importance of the doctrine is not that it proves the immortality of the soul,49 but that it shows that the acquisition of knowledge is not a matter of passively receiving “instruction,” but one of following up a personal effort of thinking once started by an arresting sense-experience. But for this “suggestiveness” of sense-experience the ignava ratio of the eristic, “you cannot learn the truth from any teacher, because unless you know it already, you will not recognize it for the truth when he utters it,” would be valid. We see, then, why both Socrates and Plato hold that “knowledge” can only be won by |137| personal participation in “research”; it cannot simply be handed on from one man to another.50

“Learning is really being reminded of something.”

An illustration of the principle that “learning” is really “being reminded of something” i.e. is the following up by personal effort of the suggestions of sense-experience, may now be given. Socrates calls forward the lad who is attending on Meno, after satisfying himself that the boy can understand a question in plain Greek, but has never been taught any mathematics, and undertakes to show how he can be brought to see geometrical truths for himself by merely asking appropriate questions which enable the answerer to correct his own first hasty thoughts. The point to be established is that the areas of squares are proportional to the second powers of the lengths of their sides, and in particular that the area of a square described on the diagonal of one previously described is double the area of the original figure.51 We are to think of Socrates, of course, as drawing the requisite figure, which will be found in any commentary on the Meno, in the sand as he speaks. The boy’s first thought is that if we want to make a square with twice the area of a given one, we must make its sides twice as long. (That is, he argues, since 22 = 2 x 2, 42 = 2 x 4.) He is easily made to see for himself that this cannot be true (since 4 x 4 = 16), and amends his first answer by suggesting that the side of the second square should be to that of the first as 3 to 2 (i.e. he suggests that 32 = 8). Again it is easy to get him to see that this is impossible (since 3 x 3 = 9). The length of the line we require must be greater than that of our original line, but less than half as great again (√2 ›1‹ 3/2). And with a few more questions, the lad is led to see that the line we require as the base of our second square is no other than the diagonal of our original figure (82b-85b).52 The point insisted on is that the lad starts with a false proposition, is led to replace it by one less erroneous, and finally by one which, so far as it goes, is true. Yet Socrates has “told” him nothing. He has merely drawn diagrams which suggest the right answers to a series of questions. The only “information” he has imparted to the slave is that a certain line is technically called by “the sophists,” i.e. “professionals,” a “diagonal.” Everything else has been left to the boy to think out for himself in response to the suggestions provided by Socrates’ diagrams and questions. Yet undeniably |138| the lad began by not knowing something and ended by knowing it. Thus he “brought up the knowledge from within” (ἀναλαβὼν αὐτὸς ἐξ αὑτου τὴν ἐπιςτήμην), and such a process is “being reminded,” “recalling” something. We infer then that the slave once “had” the knowledge he had forgotten, and since he has never in this life been “taught” geometry, the “once” must have been “before he was a man,”53 and thus we see that the soul is immortal. (Socrates, however, hastens to remark that he would not care to be too confident about anything in the theory except the main point that it proves that we can arrive at truth and thus saves us from the sloth and self-neglect which are natural consequences of the eristic ignava ratio (86b).54

We have wandered away far from our original question about the teachability of goodness, and Meno is anxious to have that answered without further digression. The humor of the situation is that this is impossible. We cannot really expect to know whether goodness or anything else can be taught unless we first know what the thing in question is, as we have admitted that we do not. But we may give a tentative and provisional answer to the question ἐξ ὑποθέσεως, subject to an initial postulate, sous condition. Only we must make another digression to explain what we mean by this restriction. If you ask a geometer whether a certain problem is soluble, he may often have to say that he does not know whether the problem has a perfectly general solution or not, but that he can give a solution for it, subject to a specified restriction. This is illustrated for us by the example of a problem about the inscription of a triangle of given area in a circle of given diameter. The geometer may be unable to say whether the inscription can be effected unless the data are further specified by some restricting condition. He will then answer that “I cannot solve your problem as it stands, but if the area in question satisfies the condition X, the inscription is possible.”55 So we, in our present state of uncertainty |139| about the true character of goodness, can only answer Meno’s question sous condition. If goodness is knowledge, then it is something which can be taught, i.e. according to the theory of learning we have just laid down, something which can be “recalled to mind” (ἀναμνηστόν); if goodness is anything other than knowledge, it cannot be taught. (We now see the real purpose of the introduction of the doctrine of ἀναμνησις. The object is to show that though the “teachability” of goodness is a direct consequence of the Socratic principle that “goodness is knowledge,” Socrates does not mean, as some of the “sophists” seem to have done, that a man can become good by any mere passive listening to the “instructions” of a lecturer, since no knowledge whatever is acquired in this way; all “learning” is an active response of personal thought and effort to the “hints” derived from a more mature fellow-learner.)

Goodness, then, can be taught, if goodness is knowledge and not otherwise, and we are thrown back on the antecedent question whether goodness is or is not knowledge. (Thus we conform to the rule of order laid down at Phaedo 101c-e. We first consider what are the “consequences,” συμβαίνοντα, of a “postulate”; only when we are clear on this preliminary question do we go on to ask whether the “postulate” itself can be “justified.”) To answer our new question, we have again to start with an unproved “postulate,” the ὑπόθεσις that ἀρετή = virtue is a good thing. (No question arises of a “justification” of this ὑπόθεσις hypόthesis, because both Socrates and Meno accept it as common ground; it is an ἱκανόν τι such as is spoken of in the passage of the Phaedo about logical method.) It follows at once that if knowledge is the only good, “goodness” or “virtue” (ἀρετή) must be knowledge; if there are other goods besides knowledge, it is possible that ἀρετή may be one of these other goods (87d). Thus we find ourselves driven in the end to face the ultimate question whether knowledge is not the only good, or at any rate an indispensable constituent of all good. This question is now treated in the way already familiar to us. Whatever is good is “beneficial” (ὠφελιμόν), i.e. does us good. Now the commonly recognized goods are such things as health, physical strength, comeliness, and we may add, wealth. But none of these is “unconditionally” good; all may “harm” their possessor; they benefit him when they are rightly used but harm him when they are misused. So with the commonly recognized good characters of the “soul,” of which Socrates proceeds to give a list. Courage, in the popular sense, covers “daring” or “venturesomeness” (θάρρος) of every kind. But though venturesomeness combined with sound sense (νους) is beneficial, senseless daring is harmful to its possessor, and the same thing is true of σωφρούνη, “appetitive coldness,” retentive memory, and qualities of soul generally. To |140| be beneficial, they must be accompanied by intelligence or understanding (φρόνησις = phrόnêsis); they, too, are harmful when misused. We infer, then, that the goodness of all other good things is conditional on the “good of soul” of the possessor, and this again conditional on his intelligence (φρόνησις). It follows that intelligence, or some specific form of intelligence (ἤτοι σύμπασα ἢ μέρος τι), is identical with “goodness,” and therefore that “men are not good by nature” i.e. goodness is not a matter of congenital endowment (as Callicles maintains in the Gorgias for example, 87d-89a).56

This last inference admits at once of empirical verification, for if goodness were congenital endowment, we could detect its presence in early life, and so we could secure a succession of true statesmen by merely selecting the properly endowed natures in early life and bringing them up “under guard” carefully isolated from all risks of contamination.57 Yet, on second thoughts, we may see reason to distrust our identification of goodness with knowledge. If it were knowledge, surely there would be professional teachers of it and they would have “pupils.” But there does not appear to be any such “profession.” It is lucky for us that Anytus has just taken a seat by our side at this point of the conversation. He is the son of a worthy citizen who made a fortune by steady intelligence and industry; the popular judgment is clearly that he has had an excellent early training and education, as is shown by his repeated election to high offices. His opinion on the question whether there are “teachers of goodness” ought therefore to be highly valuable (89b-90b).

(Why does Plato introduce Anytus at this particular point? Note that he is not supposed to have heard the preceding discussion, which he would have been quite incapable of appreciating. He comes up to the bench on which Socrates and Meno are sitting, and joins them just in the nick of time, as they are beginning to consider the problem about the professional teachers of goodness. Nor is there any appearance of “irony” in what is said about him; unlike Xenophon, Plato never suggests that Anytus had any discreditable private motives for supporting the prosecution of Socrates. The irony of the passage only concerns Anytus to the same degree |141| as the whole of the Athenian public who respect and trust him. It is clearly meant that, to the measure of his intelligence, Anytus is an able and public-spirited man who deserves the trust he receives. This defect, one which he shares with the whole Athenian public, is simply that he is an esprit borné. He has the average Athenian democratic prejudice against men who are “too clever” the intelligentsia, and the average Athenian’s incapacity forever calling his own prejudices in question, and it is just because he is such a “representative man” that the public trust him. The purpose of bringing him in is clearly to make us realise the violence of the Athenian prejudice against the “intellectuals” and the inability of even a well-to-do and “educated” public man to discriminate between Socrates and the “intellectuals by profession.” If Socrates could be so misconceived by the “leaders of public opinion,” we understand how he came to be prosecuted without needing to impute his fate to anything worse than honest stupidity.)

If you wish a young man to learn a science such as medicine or an accomplishment such as flute-playing, to whom do you send him? You always select a teacher who claims to be a professional expert, and for that very reason charges a fee for his instructions; you would never think of putting him under a mere “amateur” who does not make a profession of imparting his own skill. It should seem, then, that statesmanship, the science of the right conduct of affairs and the right manage of life must, by parity of reasoning, be learned from the specialists who claim to have made a profession of teaching its principles, and consequently, like all professionals, charge a fee — that is, from the “sophists, as men call them.” Anytus has the profoundest horror of the whole profession; they are, he says, as every one can see, mere depravers and corrupters of all who frequent their lectures. Yet it is difficult to accept this view of them. It would be a unique fact that any class should make a paying profession of visibly spoiling the materials entrusted to it.58 In point of fact, Protagoras made a considerable fortune by the trade of “teaching goodness,” and he exercised it for over forty years. Thus there was plenty of time for him to be found out in, but he never was found out, and his high reputation has survived him to this day, and he is not the only example in point.59 Anytus is quite sure, though he is thankful he has never in his life had to do with a sophist, that the sophist is a designing scoundrel, |142| and the society which does not make penal laws to suppress him a silly dupe. But, however true his views may be — though by his own showing he must be arriving at them by “divination” — they are not to the point. The question is not who are the corrupters of youth, but who are the “teachers of goodness” from whom the young may learn the true principles of the conduct of life. Anytus holds that we need specify no particular professional teachers; the conduct of life can be learned from any “decent” Athenian, and he has learned it from his father, who learned it again from his. It is simply a matter of imbibing an hereditary tradition — a view illustrated in the Protagoras by the way in which children pick up their mother-tongue or their father’s trade without any formal teaching or apprenticeship (Protagoras 327e ff.). To doubt the possibility of this would amount to denying that there have been “good men” in Athens (90c-93a).

Socrates does not deny that there are and have been at Athens men who are “good at citizenship” (ἀγαθοὶ τὰ πολιτικά),60 but what he does doubt is whether such men have also been competent teachers of the goodness they practice. The difficulty is that the sons of these men have all proved either worthless or insignificant. Thus they clearly did not teach their goodness themselves to their sons, and it is notorious that even those of them who, like Themistocles, were careful to have their sons trained in mere elegant accomplishments, never sent them to anyone for special education in “goodness.” The obvious inference is that the “good Athenians” whom Anytus regards as competent teachers of goodness, do not think themselves or anyone else competent to teach it; they must have supposed that goodness is not the kind of thing which can be taught. Anytus is so chafed at having to listen to such unsparing criticism of the eminent figures of the national history that he misses the point and relapses into silence with an angry warning to Socrates that the Athenian democracy is no safe abode for a man who will not learn to bridle his tongue,61 — a plain hint, on Plato’s part, that |143| it was just this sort of unsparing and impartial free speech about the democracy and its leaders which caused the mistaken but intelligible suspicion of incivisme to attach to the philosopher (93b-95a). That Socrates was really in the habit of employing these criticisms is clear from the fact that the wry same use of the argument about statesmen and their sons occurs both in the Protagoras and in the Alcibiades.

The sophists may, in any case, be dismissed from the discussion, since Meno, on the whole, agrees with Anytus that they cannot teach goodness and thinks it a point in favour of Gorgias that he disclaimed the pretension. In fact, most men, like the poet Theognis, find themselves unable to make up their minds whether goodness is teachable or not. They say “Yes” and “No” according to their moods. Goodness is thus in a uniquely unfortunate position. The claims of the professional teachers are generally disbelieved, and the persons whose practice is generally admired cannot make up their own minds whether their specialty can be taught. It looks as though there were neither teachers nor learners of goodness, and consequently that it is not a thing which can be taught. But how, then, is it ever produced, as we must admit that it is? On second thoughts, we see a way out of the difficulty. Knowledge is not the only thing which is beneficial in practice. A right belief (ὀρθὴ δόξα) (orthê dόxa) will direct practice as satisfactorily as genuine knowledge. A guide who had a right belief about the road to Larissa would take you there as successfully as one who really knew the way. For practical purposes, then, a right belief is as good as knowledge — but for one trifling drawback. There would be no practical difference, if you could make sure that a man will always retain his right belief. But beliefs are like the fabled statues of Daedalus, which can walk away if they are not fastened to their place. The statues are fine pieces of work, but their price is naturally low if they are loose. So a correct belief is a fine thing, if it will only stay with you, but it will not stay long unless you fasten it down αἰτίας λογισμῳ “by thinking out the reason why” of it, and this process is what we have already called “being reminded” (ἀνάμνησις). When we have thought out the “reason why,” the belief becomes knowledge and is abiding. We may apply this distinction to the solution of our problem.

The “eminently good men” of Athens plainly do not owe their usefulness as political leaders to knowledge, for if they did, they could teach “statesmanship” to others. Themistocles and the rest were therefore not “scientific statesmen” not σοφοί (99b) — the conclusion also reached in the Gorgias — and it is absurd to think they owed all their achievements to accident. Their successes must have been due to “correct opinions” (εὐδοξία, 99b). They were much on a level with givers of oracles and diviners, who often say very true things without knowing it (since the responses are delivered in a sort of temporary “frenzy”). Thus we may class together “seers” poets, and statesmen, as beings who all say and |144| do brilliant things without really knowing what they are saying or doing, because they are all acting in a state of “possession,” though Anytus, perhaps, will not like our conclusion (95b-99e).62 To sum up, then: goodness is neither inborn nor yet learned from teachers, but arises from a happy irrational “divine possession” (θείᾳ μοίρᾳ ἄνευ νου), unless, indeed, there could arise a statesman who could teach statesmanship to others. His “goodness” would be to that of other men what substance is to shadow. We must, however, remember that our conclusion is tentative; we cannot say with certainty how goodness arises until we have answered the still outstanding question what it is. In the meanwhile Meno would be doing Athens a service if he could make Anytus more sympathetic with our point of view (99e-100c).

The full meaning of these last remarks only comes out when we read them in the light of the Republic and Phaedo. The “statesman who can make another a statesman” is just the philosopher-king of the Republic, where the crowning achievement of the “ideal state” is to make provision for the permanent teaching of a statesmanship which is science, clear intellectual insight into fundamental moral principles, not a succession of “inspired” adventures, and the provision takes the form of a system of thorough education in hard scientific thinking which culminates in the direct apprehension of “the good.” In the light of this educational scheme, we can see that the main object of the concluding argument in the Meno is to distinguish between a higher and a lower kind of goodness. The higher kind is that which the Republic calls the goodness of the philosopher, and it is based upon certain and assured personal knowledge of the true scale of goods, and is therefore “abiding.” The lower kind, which is at best a “shadow” of true goodness, is based on “opinions” which are true, but are not knowledge, and therefore not to be counted on as permanent; in fact, it rests on acceptance of a sound tradition of living which has not been converted into personal insight into the scale of goods. This is all which is demanded in the Republic even of the soldiers of the State; their goodness is loyalty to a tradition of noble living in which they have been brought up, but of which they have never even asked the reason why, life by an exalted standard of “honor.” Since there are sound elements in the moral tradition of any civilized community, it is possible for an Athenian statesman in whom the best traditions of his city are inbred to “profit” the State by goodness of this inferior kind, “popular goodness,” as the Phaedo calls it, But security for permanent continuance in well-doing is only to be had when a sound traditional code of conduct has been converted into “knowledge” by understanding of the |145| “reason why,” that is by personal insight into the character of good and personal understanding of the place of each of the “goods” of life in the hierarchy of good. Thus the true statesman would be the Socratic philosopher who understands the principle that the “tendance of the soul” is the supreme business of both individual and State, and judges soundly of the nature of the “spiritual health” at which the “tendance” aims. Of course, we readily see that “philosophic goodness,” being thus identical with knowledge of true good, must be “teachable,” if you go to work the right way, whereas a “goodness” which does not repose on apprehension of principles cannot be taught; it can only be “imbibed” by habituation in conformity to a tradition. The vacillation of mankind in their attitude to the teachability of virtue is thus to be explained by the ambiguity of the word “goodness”; men are dimly aware that real goodness depends on grasp of intelligible principles and thus ought to be teachable, but they confuse this real goodness with its shadow, loyalty to an established tradition qua established, and common experience shows that this, however it is to be secured, cannot be secured by teaching. The contributions of the dialogue to the theory of knowledge, the exposition of the doctrine of “reminiscence” and of the principles of method, with all their importance, are meant to be secondary to this main result; the account of preexistence and immortality, again, is strictly subordinate to the theory of ἀνάμνησις itself. It would be a complete misunderstanding to find the main purport of the dialogue in these things, though there is no reason to doubt that they were connected in the personal Welt-Anschauung of Socrates with his main tenet, the supreme worth of the ψυχή (soul) and its specific good, knowledge.

See further:

Ritter, C. Platon, i. 391-449 Gorgias; 476-484 Meno.

Raeder, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 111-125 Gorgias; 130-137 Meno.

Thompson, W. H. The Gorgias of Plato.

Nettleship, R. L. Plato’s Conception of Goodness and the Good.
  Lectures and Remains, i. 238-394.

Dies, A. Autour de Platon, ii. 414-418, 462-469.

Stewart, J. A. Myths of Plato, 1-76 (Introduction), 114-132.
  (The Gorgias Myth); Plato’s Doctrine of Ideas, 24-29 Meno; 29-34 Gorgias.

Stenzel, J. Platon der Erzieher, 147-178.

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1^ We shall see when we come to deal with the Republic that it, and consequently any dialogues which precede it, must be dated not much later than 387, within twelve years of Socrates’ death. If the Gorgias falls early in this period, we must place its composition quite soon after that event, while the feelings connected with it were still in their first freshness in Plato’s mind. Professor Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, in his Plato, i. 221, ii. 94-105, makes an ingenious attempt at a more exact dating. He starts from the curious misquotation of Pindar’s well-known lines about νόμος, as given by all our best MSS. at Gorgias 484b (where the text has been corrected back again in all the printed editions). He rightly, as it seems to me, holds that the misquotation is what Plato actually wrote, and then goes on (again, I believe, rightly) to infer from Libanius’ Apology of Socrates that the accusation of misquoting Pindar had figured in the pamphlet of Polycrates against Socrates published somewhere about 393. His final inference is that the accusation was based on this passage of the Gorgias, which must thus be anterior to the pamphlet of Polycrates. I hope to suggest reasons for believing that the misquotation in Plato is conscious and made for a legitimate purpose. At this point I merely wish to observe that it cannot have been the foundation of an accusation against the memory of Socrates for two conclusive reasons: (1) that in any case a misquotation in Plato would be no proof of anything against Socrates, and (2) that the person who is made by Plato to misquote Pindar is not Socrates, but Callicles, who is arguing against him. Polycrates, to judge from the line Isocrates takes with him (Isocrates xi. 1-8), was pretty much of a fool, but it is hard to believe that he could have used a misquotation put by Plato into the mouth of Callicles to damage the reputation of Socrates. At the same time, I feel no doubt that the Gorgias was written as early as Professor Wilamowitz holds, and most probably earlier.

2^ This is quite compatible with the statement of Apology, 32b 1. Socrates says there that he has been a member of the βουλή. He does not say that he had only served once in that capacity. See Burnet’s note in loc. cit. The best historians hold that Xenophon has made a slip in saying that Socrates was the ἐπιστάτης at the famous trial.

3^ Gorgias, 481d, Aristophanes, Wasps, 89.

4^ Gorgias, 484e-486d. Since Aristotle appears to have been the first person to attempt to construct a chronology of the Attic drama by making a collection of didascaliae, I should have attached no importance to this particular point but for the fact that if the commonly accepted view about the date of the Antiope is correct Plato must pretty certainly have seen the performance himself.

5^ ibid. 470d-486d.

6^ The way in which Nicias is mentioned at 472a certainly seems to assume that he is living and at the very height of his prosperity. This would exclude any date much later than the sailing of the Syracusan expedition in 415. The difficulties seem to me to be created by the very wealth of topical allusions for which the dialogue is remarkable. It would be very hard, in the absence of something like the complete files of a newspaper, to make so many of these allusions without falling into a small error here or there, and there were no newspapers or gazettes at Athens.

7^ For the leanness, cf. Aristophanes’ Clouds, 502-503; for the impetuousness, Apology. 21a, σφοδρός ἐφ ὅτι ὀρμήσειεν; for the superstition, Aristophanes’ Clouds, 1553 ff. where his taste for things ghostly is burlesqued by making him the fraudulent confederate who plays the “spirits” in Socrates’ seances.

8^ Or perhaps we are to suppose that Socrates and Callicles meet in the street, and that the scene changes to the house of Callicles after the opening courtesies.

9^ The Gorgias stands in sharp contrast with the greatest of the dialogues in respect of the way in which the three sections of which the argument consists are marked off, like scenes on the Greek or French stage, by the putting forward of a new respondent to bear the brunt of the argument. Where his dramatic genius is at its highest, Plato is accustomed to interweave the threads of his plot more subtly. This, again, is a fair ground for an inference about the place of the dialogue in the series of Plato’s works.

10^ We are certainly dealing here with a thesis actually maintained by Gorgias. For in the Philebus, Protarchus remarks (Philebus, 58a-b) that he had often heard Gorgias maintain that the art of persuasion is far superior to all others, because the man who possesses it can make every one do his will and do it voluntarily. Obviously the reference is not to the Gorgias itself (though 458c implies that an audience is present at the discussion), but to some statement actually made in a discourse of Gorgias. Gorgias 452d ff. clearly refers to the same statement and probably reproduces it with close fidelity.

11^ We might say, in fact, that the great weakness of ancient democracy was that it really meant government by irresponsible orators, as modern democracy tends to mean government by equally irresponsible “pressmen.”

12^ The word κολακεία must not be translated “flattery.” The successful demagogue often scores his point better by “slanging” his audience than by flattering them. In the language of the fifth century, κόλαξ meant what the new comedy calls παράσιτος (parasites), the “trencherman” or sycophant or toady who keeps his place at a great man’s table by compliance with his moods, like the “hangers-on” of Gaunt House in Thackeray. The thought of Socrates is that the “statesman” who supposes himself to be imposing his will on the “many-headed monster” is merely adroitly “pandering” to the creature’s lusts. This is the verdict of philosophy on all successful “opportunism.”

13^ The most extravagant “public man” always insists that he is only advocating the “just rights” of his nation, or church, or class. But a “just right” in his mouth means, in fact, whatever his supporters are keenly set on demanding.

14^ Note that in the course of this argument (at 468a) Socrates talks of things "participating" in good and “participating” in evil, using the very word (μετέχειν) which appears in connexion with the theory of Forms as technical for the relation between the “particular thing” and the “universal” we predicate of it. Since it cannot reasonably be doubted that the Gorgias is a considerably earlier work than the Phaedo, this creates a grave difficulty for those who suppose that the theory is an invention of Plato’s own, expounded for the first time in the Phaedo.

15^ Note that the “induction” is exactly parallel with that of the famous speech of Diotima (Symposium, 210a ff.), when the successive stages in the ascent to the contemplation of Beauty are delight in one person’s bodily beauty, in bodily beauty universally, in beauty of soul and character, beauty of occupations and usages (ἐπιτηδεύματα and νόμοι), beauty of sciences (ἐπιστημαι). The more carefully the Platonic dialogues down to the Republic are studied, the more of a piece we find their teaching to be, and the harder it becomes to trace any “development” within them.

16^ Observe once more that the logical principle presupposed here of the interconnexion between the modalities of correlates is that which is used in the Republic to establish the reality of the distinction between the “parts in the soul” (Republic iv. 438b-e). Both passages presuppose the existence of a good deal of recognized logical doctrine as early as the time of the Archidamian war.

17^ Note the assumption of the threefold classification of goods as goods of soul, body, and “estate” as something quite familiar (Gorgias 477a ff.). This too, then, is clearly pre-Academic.

18^ 481d. Here comes in the humorous reference to the mortal “sweetings” of Socrates and Callicles respectively, Alcibiades and Demus, son of Pyrilampes. We know from Aristophanes (Wasps, 98) that Demus was the fashionable beauty at Athens in the year 422. So far the jest makes for giving the Gorgias a dramatic date in the Archidamian war. But the supposed relations between Socrates and Alcibiades could also be used playfully in the Symposium, the assumed date of which is the year 416, so that the argument is not conclusive. If Socrates is thinking of the profession of the “Paphlagonian,” to the personified Attic Demus in Aristophanes (Knights, 732, φιλω ο’, ω Δημ̉, ἐραστής τ̉ είμὶσός), this would also make for the earlier date.

19^ Gorgias 483e, κατὰ νόμον γε τὸν φύσεως. The first occurrence, so far as I know, in extant literature, of the ominous phrase “law of Nature.” Callicles, of course, intends the words to be paradoxical — “a convention, if you like, but Reality’s convention, not a human device.”

20^ Gorgias 484b. I agree with Wilamowitz that the misquotation by which the MSS. made Callicles credit Pindar with saying that νόμος ἄγει βιαιων τὸ δικαιότατον “does violence to the most righteous claim” (whereas the poet wrote δικαιων τὸ βιαιότατον, “makes the most high-handed action just”) comes from Plato and should not be “corrected,” as it has been by all the editors. (Callicles expressly says that he does not know the lines accurately.) But I doubt the cogency of the far-reaching inferences, including one as to the date of composition of the dialogue, which Wilamowitz bases on the misquotation. I should conjecture that Plato makes it quite deliberately, and that the verses had been actually quoted in this form by the champions of φύσις against νόμος in the fifth century. We must remember that in the time of Socrates there were no “official” texts at Athens, even of the Attic dramatists; still less would it be possible to secure the text of a foreign poet against misquotation. In the Apologia Socratis of Libanius (fourth century A.D.) Anytus is represented as having made a point of this particular misquotation at the trial of Socrates. This probably means, as Wilamowitz holds, that the complaint occurred in the pamphlet of Polycrates against Socrates, published some years after 399 B.C. But the complaint cannot have been based on our passage, where it is Callicles, not Socrates, who misquotes.

21^ Gorgias 485d 7. Plato has sometimes been thought to have fallen here into attributing his own way of life in the Academy to Socrates. But (a) it is most unlikely that the Academy existed when the Gorgias was written; (b) from Plato’s account it appears that most of the conversations of Socrates with his young friends were held “in a corner,” in places like the gymnasium of the Lyceum or the palaestra of Taureas, so that Callicles’ language is perfectly appropriate.

22^ Cf. Blake, Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Those who restrain Desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or Reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling. And being restrained, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of Desire.” The recently discovered Oxyrhynchus fragments of Socrates’ contemporary, Antiphon “the sophist,” have revealed to us one of the quarters in which these conceptions found literary expression in the age of the Archidamian war. It is, I believe, of Antiphon among others that Plato is thinking when he makes Glaucon declare that this same theory is widely current in his own circle (Republic ii. 3586).

23^ Gorgias 498a-c. Note (1) that, as Burnet says, the allusion to the Italian “sage” seems plainly meant for Philolaus or some contemporary Pythagorean; (2) that the unexplained mention of “the part of the soul in which the ἐπιθυμίαι are” presupposes the doctrine of the “tripartite soul” more fully explained in Republic iv., which must thus be, as there is much in the Republic itself to indicate, of Pythagorean origin, as Posidonius is known to have asserted (Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy 3, 278, n. 2). It is evidence of the same thing that the doctrine is taught also in Plato by the Italian Pythagorean Timaeus, who cannot be supposed to have learned it from Socrates just before delivering his own discourse. (3) The tale of the cracked pitchers is not connected by Plato with the Danaids. His version represents it as describing the future destiny of the “uninitiated”; this suggests Orphic provenance.

24^ Cf. Hobbes, Leviathan, c. xi.: “there is no such Finis ultimus (utmost ayme) nor Summum Bonum (greatest Good) as is spoken of in the Books of the old Morall Philosophers. Nor can a man any more live, whose Desires are at an end, than he, whose Senses and Imaginations are at a stand … So that in the first place, I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetual! and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death.”

25^ Dante, it may be remembered, regards such a life as a torment for the damned, and the worst of the damned (Inferno, xiv. 40, xv. 131, xxix. 76 ff.).

26^ The presupposed doctrine is that explained at length in the Philebus, that the satisfactions of appetite attend on the process (γένεσις) by which a “depletion” of the organism is made good. Thus they are (a) preceded by a painful consciousness of “want” (ἔνδεια), and (b) are not, even while they last, wholly pleasurable. Their piquancy and intensely exciting character depends on the tension between satisfied want and the persistence of still unsatisfied want. This is why these pleasures are “mixed,” not “neat” (καθαραί).

27^ Gorgias 497e, “We call good men good in virtue of the presence of good things” to them (ἁγαθων παρουσία). Parousia has here precisely the sense it bears when used in connexion with the forms in the Phaedo. The predicate “good” is predicable of a certain man because he “has” goodness of some kind or other, is “possessed of” good. On a Hedonist theory this means that “X is good” always implies “X is enjoying pleasure,” and it is this implication Socrates is calling in question.

28^ Thus Socrates disposes in advance of Mill’s preposterous appeal to a jury of pleasure-tasters devoid of all ethical preferences. From his point of view, to consult judges with such a “qualification” about pleasures would be like selecting medicines by the agreeableness of their tastes.

29^ The whole indictment of poetry in the Republic is contained in principle in what is said here about its character as a “mere mechanic” trick of pleasing and amusing. That poets aim merely at pleasing the taste of an audience, good or bad, was a current view. Herodotus uses it (ii. 116) to explain why Homer adopted a “false version” of the story of Helen, Euripides (H.F. 1341-6) to discredit the whole poetical mythology. In the δισσοὶ λόγοί it occurs more than once as an objection to the appeal to poets on questions of morality that their standard is ἀδονά, not ἀλάθεια.

30^ ἱσότης ἡ γεωμετρικἡ, i.e. proportion, “equality of ratio.” It is called so, in contradistinction to “arithmetical” or absolute “equality,” because of the part it plays in the geometry of “similar” figures. The “wise” meant are the Pythagoreans who were the discoverers of the various elementary “progressions,” or, as the Greeks called them, ἀναλογίαι, “proportions,” and gave the name κόσμος to what had before them been called οὐρανός. For the thought we might compare Kant’s insistence on the principle of Gemeinschaft and reciprocal interconnexion in nature.

31^ Cf. Epinomis vi, 322d, where Plato recommends Erastus and Corisous to the “protection” of Hermias on much the grounds here spoken of.

32^ We might perhaps use a biological analogy to bring out better the full meaning of the distinction between the κόλαξ and the genuine “craftsman” which runs all through the dialogue. The κόλαξ or “trencherman” of social life lives, and lives, according to the vulgar estimate, well by living on his patron (whom he really depraves by “pandering” to his vices), exactly as the parasitical organism fattens itself on the tissues of its unfortunate “host.” So the empiric in statesmanship, the “opportunist,” makes a “good thing” for himself of depraving the national character and lowering the national ideals. The best comment on the view Socrates takes of the influence of the “orators” on national life is the humorous caricature of the same thing in the scene of Aristophanes (Knights, 725 ff.) where the sausage-seller and the Paphlagonian bid against each other for the lucrative post of pimp-in-chief to Demus. Aristophanes and Socrates agree in their estimate of the νυν πολιτικοί.

33^ Cf. the lesson, e.g., of the Euthydemus that wealth and power are good or bad according as the “soul” which is to use them is good or bad. Note that there is once more a tacit allusion to the apologue (moral fable) of the “three lives.” “Wealth” and “power” are the ends of the “body-loving” and “distinction-loving” lives respectively, ἐπιστήμη the end of the “philosophic” life.

34^ 515e, ταυτὶ γὰρ ἔγωγε ἀκούω κτλ. Socrates means that this is the verdict to be heard on all sides now that Pericles is dead and his dominance is at an end. He would “hear” this, of course, from many quarters. It is, e.g., the view of Aristophanes and apparently of the contemporary comic dramatists generally. The statement that Pericles had made Athenians “lazy and greedy” διὰ τὴν μισθορίαν refers, of course, to his establishment of the dicasts’ μισθός. The picture of Philocleon and his friends in the Wasps is an admirable illustration of the point.

35^ Socrates would have the Old Comedy on his side in what he says about Pericles; the point about Miltiades and Cimon is made to show that the heroes of Aristophanes and the anti-Pericleans are in the same condemnation.

36^ 515e, ουδ̉ ἐγὼ ψέγω τούτους ὤς γε διακόνους ειναι πόλεως. Pericles and the rest have no claim to be “physicians of the commonwealth,” but they were competent purveyors, major-domos, and butlers. So much Socrates will concede, but no more.

37^ This allusion to a possible turning of the δημος against Alcibiades seems to make it clear that the supposed date of the conversation must at any rate be well before the event which fulfilled the prophecy — the scandal about the “profanation of the mysteries” in 415. Observe the contempt expressed by Callicles at 520a for the professional “teachers of goodness.” This is strictly in keeping with his theories about the superman, since no one can teach you to be a superman; you have to be born one.

38^ Is this an allusion to the anecdote told by later writers about Protagoras and his defaulting pupil? Or, more probably, is not the story to which Plato alludes a contemporary jest into which the name of Protagoras was worked before the time of Aristotle?

39^ We might at first be surprised to find Socrates at what seems to be an early stage in his career contemplating the possibility of prosecution for “corrupting the young.” But we should compare Apology, 18b ff., where Socrates insists that the prejudice against him and his influence goes back to the old caricatures of the comic poets, who charged him with useless speculations and “making the worse argument appear the better.”

40^ The three ways are the roads which lead (a) from earth to “the meadow,” (b) from the meadow to heaven, (c) from the meadow to hell. As usual, hell is depicted in the main as a purgatory for the not wholly depraved. A few incurables are detained there permanently as a warning to others, but these are chiefly “supermen” of the Napoleonic type. Ordinary human weakness is regarded as “curable.” Not all “statesmen” take the road to destruction. Aristides “the just” is instanced as an example of a man who filled high office nobly and went “straight to heaven” (526b).

41^ I may here append a very brief statement about the conclusion which seems to me safest on the question of the dramatic date of the dialogue. As I have said, I think the tone of the reference to a possible revulsion of feeling against Alcibiades excludes any date later than about 416. The main difficulty to set against this conclusion is the free use made by both Callicles and Socrates of the Antiope of Euripides, which is assumed to be a familiar and popular work. The scholiast on Aristophanes’ Frogs 53 refers to the play as “recently produced” at the time of production of the Frogs (405 B.C.), and implies that it was a later work than the Andromeda (produced in 412 along with the Helena, both of which are burlesqued by Aristophanes in the Thesmophoriazusae, a play of the year 411). Unless Plato has forgotten the real date of a play of which he probably saw the first performance, there must be some error in the scholiast’s reckoning. The references to the actual state of affairs throughout the dialogue suggest that Pericles has not yet found a successor recognized as such by admirers like Callicles. The picture of the power actually wielded by the “orators” seems to me so completely in keeping with the tone of Aristophanes’ Knights and Wasps, that I would suggest that the most suitable date is during the career of Cleon, somewhere about 424-422, or at most a little later. As the demagogues had been able to disgrace Pericles at the end of his life, 427 would be a possible date, but I think rather less likely. We need not suppose that Gorgias is in Athens for the first time, or that he only came there once. Andron, the best known of the associates of Callicles, is specially connected for us with the events of 411-410; he had been a member of the “four hundred,” but, like Critias, took a prominent part in the overthrow of that body, being the proposer of the psephism (statutes) which “attainted” its leading spirit, the orator Antiphon. But in the Gorgias, no doubt, we are to think of him as, like Callicles, only just beginning his career.

42^ The only other “Socratic” discourses for which this would be possible, so far as I can see, are the Apology (where Plato mentions his own presence). Theaetetus and Euthyphro, (?) Philebus. It would consequently be possible for the Sophistes and Politicus also, though the fiction by which the Theaetetus, with which these dialogues are especially connected, is represented as read from notes made by Euclides is probably intended to suggest that Plato is not a κωφὸν πρόσωπον in these discourses. These facts suggest that, except in the case of the Apology, Plato means us to think of himself as absent even in the one or two instances when he might, so far as date goes, have been present: his intention is to suppress his own personality altogether.

43^ The “something which is the same in all cases” and justifies the use of a common name is successively spoken of as οὐσία (what the thing is, its quid) (72b), as a single εῖδος, pattern (72c, d, e), as something which “pervades” all the cases, διά πάντων ἐστίν (74a), is the same “over them all,” ἐπὶ πασι ταύτόν (75a). All these are names for the objective reality indicated by the employment of a common predicate of many subjects, and the abundance of them presupposes the existence of an already rather elaborate logical doctrine founded on the metaphysics of forms. Linguistically, οὐσία is the most interesting of them, since in this sense it is a loan-word from Ionic science; the only familiar meaning in the Attic of the fifth century was the legal one, “estate,” “property, personal or real.” On the probability that the philosophical meaning of the word comes from the Pythagoreans, see Burnet’s note on Euthyphro, 10a 7. As to είδος, criticism has not shaken my conviction that its philosophical use is a development from its source in Pythagorean mathematics — “regular figure.”

44^ That in a sense there is male health and female health is clear from the simple fact that there are professors of and treatises on gynecology. But the εῖδος of health, namely, that it is “equilibrium in the constituents of the organism,” holds good for both sexes. The thesis that the "goodness" of a woman is the same as that of a man was ascribed to Socrates also by Aeschines in his Aspasia, and is thus a genuine tenet of the Socratic ethics (cf. Burnet, art. “Socrates,” in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, xi. 667).

45^ We could not meet the argument by falling back on Aristotle’s well-known doctrine of the “analogous” employment of universals. True as that doctrine is, it remains also true that in its strict and primary (κύριον) sense the universal can still be asserted of a plurality of subjects, and to be significant must be asserted of each and all of them in the same sense. Thus, even if it be granted, that there is no one common “goodness” of all things, e.g. that there is no more than an analogy between the goodness of a good razor and that of a good man, the Aristotelian ethics is based on the view that there is a “human goodness” which is one and the same for all men; there is not one goodness of Peter and a different and merely analogous goodness of Paul. Peter and Paul have to be pronounced good or bad by the same standard. Aristotle’s attempt in the Politics to justify the conventional prejudice which sets up a different moral standard for the two sexes amounts to a denial of the moral unity of humanity, and contradicts the very principles on which his own ethics are constructed.

46^ See the collection of these fragments in H. Dittmar’s Aeschines von Sphettos.

47^ For the Empedoclean theory of the part played by these “effluxes” and the “passages” in the sense-organs into which they fit, see Theophrastus de Sensu, 7-9, and the criticism of Aristotle de Generat. A 324b 25ff., de Sensu, 437b 23 ff., with the striking fragment 84 of Empedocles, quoted by Aristotle, de Sensu, 437b 26 (Ritter and Preller, Historia Philosophiae Graecae (9th edition), 1913, 177b, c); Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy 3, 246-249. The definition is based on the Empedoclean theory because Gorgias, as a Sicilian, is assumed to be in accord with the biological views of the founder of Sicilian medicine. Quintilian iii. i, 8 (Ritter and Preller, Historia Philosophiae Graecae (9th edition), 1913, 232) gives it as the “tradition” that Gorgias had originally been a “disciple” of E. Cf. Diogenes Laertius viii. 58-59. In the Timaeus Plato makes his spokesman, who is represented as holding the principles of the Sicilian medicine, give the same account of colours. Timaeus 67c-68d.

48^ Why does Socrates prefer the definition of figure to that of colour? Presumably because the second implies a detailed physical and physiological speculation which is highly problematic; the other presupposes only the principles of geometry, and geometry is an indubitable “science.” The definition of colour is τραγική = tragic, “stagy,” because it makes a show with grand words which are only a cover for imprecision and uncertainty.

49^ In the Phaedo itself the argument is found insufficient to meet the formidable difficulty raised by Cebes that even if preexistence is true, it gives us no guarantee that we shall continue to be after the dissolution of our present body. For the illustrations from “association,” see Phaedo, 73c ff.

50^ See the language on this point of Plato, Epinomis vii. 341 c. Perhaps I may refer to the statement of the theory in my little volume, Platonism and its Influence (Boston, 1925) c. 2, as well as to Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Part I, pp. 220-222.

51^ 1The particular theorem is chosen, no doubt, because of the importance of the “side and diagonal” as the most elementary instance of a pair of “incommensurable” magnitudes.

52^ Thus, to put it arithmetically, what has been proved is that √2 lies somewhere between 1 and 1.5. In the famous passage Republic 546b ff. it is made clear that Socrates, in fact, knows quite well how to construct the whole series of fractions which form the “successive convergents” to √2. For his purpose here it is enough to consider the “second convergent,” 3/2, and to show that this is too large a value.

53^ The same way of speaking about our ante-natal condition as the “time when we were not yet men” is characteristic of the Phaedo. It implies that the true self is not, as is commonly thought, the embodied soul, but the soul simpliciter, the body being the instrument (ὄργανον) which the soul “uses,” and the consequent definition of “man” as a “soul using a body as its instrument.” Since that which “uses” an implement is always superior to the implement it uses, this definition merely embodies the Socratic conviction that the soul is the thing of supreme value in us.

54^ The caution should not be understood to mean that Socrates doubts the fact of immortality. His firm belief in that is the assumption of the Phaedo and is really presupposed by Apology 40c-41c. He means, as he says, that he will not go bail for the λόγος; it is not really a complete demonstration of preexistence and immortality, as is frankly admitted in the Phaedo, though, no doubt, it suggests their possibility. The real reason why Socrates attaches so much importance to the doctrine of “reminiscence” (ἀναμνησις = anamnesis) is independent of the use of it as an argument for “survival.” One should be careful to bear in mind that ἀναμνησις does not properly mean in the theory “remembering,” but “being reminded of” something. Sensible experiences are always “suggesting” to us “ideal” standards which none of them actually exhibit.

55^ The precise character of the restriction imposed by the geometer in Socrates’ illustration has been a matter of much dispute, which is due partly to uncertainty about the technical terminology of geometers in the fifth century. For our purpose it is sufficient to grasp the main point that there are such restrictions. It is, e.g., obvious that some restricting condition must connect the area of the given triangle with the radius of the given circle. For a correct solution see A.S.L. Farquharson in C.Q., xvii. I, Jan. 1923.

56^ Note again the exact correspondence of the Socratic argument for the identity of virtue and knowledge with Kant’s argument for the thesis that the only unconditional good is the “good will.” Kant’s further proposal to make conformity with the bare form of a universal imperative the direct and sufficient criterion of right action might be said to be simply a reckless development of one side of the Socratic ethics, its “intellectualism,” in unreal isolation from its ”eudaemonism.” (A system of ethics that bases moral value on the likelihood that good actions will produce happiness.)

57^ It might be objected, is not this selection, here assumed to be impossible, actually proposed as the very foundation of the “ideal state” in the Republic? The answer is No. In the Republic it is, of course, recognized that endowment counts for something, and therefore there is an early initial selection of promising future “guardians.” But educational tradition counts for much more; hence the length at which the problem of the creation of a right educational tradition is discussed, and the provision for promotions and degradations at all stages according as the subject under education justifies or belies his early “promise.”

58^ E.g. the medical profession would not continue to provide anyone with a living wage if medical men really killed off their patients. In real life a “faculty” of Sangrados (bleeding) would be “found out.” Anytus supposes that the “sophists” have been found out, and yet contrive to grow fat on their quackery.

59^ I think we are bound to take the observations about Protagoras (Meno, 91d-e) quite seriously. Socrates seriously means that the lifelong success of Protagoras, and the high esteem in which he was and is held, show that the democratic view that there was nothing at all in him, that he was “a palpable and mischievous impostor” is far too simple to account for the facts. Protagoras may not have been all he supposed himself to be, but there must have been something in him to inspire such long-continued trust and veneration.

60^ It has been suggested by Theodor Gomperz that these words are meant to soften down the asperity of the declaration of the Gorgias that none of the great figures of Athenian democracy was a true statesman, and even that the chief motive of Plato in writing the Meno was to placate a public opinion naturally irritated by such utterances. This seems to me hopelessly fanciful. (a) There is really no “recantation” in the Meno. The democratic leaders had been denied in the Gorgias to be statesmen on the ground that they were empirics, whereas statesmanship is a science. According to the Meno, these same leaders are so convinced that their own “goodness” is not teachable that they make no attempt to get it taught to their sons. This is just the criticism of the Gorgias put in other words. (b) In one respect the Meno goes further than the Gorgias. That dialogue had conceded Athens at least one genuine statesman, Aristides “the just” (Gorgias, 526b). In the Meno, Aristides figures among the rest of the famous men who must have supposed that goodness cannot be taught, since he never had it taught to his son (Meno, 94a)

61^ Hannibal Chollop’s advice to Mark Tapley, “You had better crackus uip, you had,” is much the same as that Anytus gives to Socrates, and in both cases the warning is probably not meant unkindly.

62^ Socrates regards the achievements of a Themistocles or a Pericles as “wizardry,” but he does not mean this as a compliment. “Possession” was popularly regarded as a kind of disease, and we have only to go to Aristophanes to see what the current estimate of χρησμῳδοί and θεομάντεις was. The effect of his classification is much that which might be produced today by speaking together of “ventriloquists, mediums, and cabinet ministers.”

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VII. Socratic Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito

Introduction. I have reserved these well-known dialogues for consideration at this point for the simple reason that it is difficult to separate them from the Phaedo; thus it is natural to make the treatment of them the immediate prelude to a study of the four great works in which Plato’s dramatic genius shows itself most perfect. I do not mean to imply that I regard the whole series of dialogues which center round the trial and death of Socrates as uninterruptedly following one another in order of composition. As I have already explained, I do not feel satisfied that we are safe in saying more on the question than that the slighter works we are considering must, at least in the main, be regarded as earlier than the four great dramatic dialogues. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that at any rate the Apology may have been written before several of the works we have already dealt with, but the probability need not affect our treatment if it is true, as the present analysis tries to show, that there is no serious variation in the doctrine of Plato’s dialogues until we come to the series unmistakably shown by style to be later than the Republic. In treating of the whole series of these “dialogues of the trial and imprisonment” I shall avail myself fully of the commentaries of Professor Burnet (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, 1924; Phaedo, 1911); this will make it possible to aim at a brevity which I should have been only too glad to secure for some other parts of this book.


On all questions connected with the scene and personages of the dialogue, see Burnet’s Introductory Note, to which I would only append the following remarks. It is not certain that the Euthyphro of our dialogue is the person of the same name whom we have encountered in the Cratylus, though this is possible. If the two men are one and the same, we shall clearly have to think of Euthyphro as now in middle age and his father as a man of some seventy-five or more. To my own mind, the tone of the conversation is consistent with these suppositions and inconsistent with regarding Euthyphro as in any sense young. (He is a familiar figure in the ecclesia which he often addresses.) I fully agree with Burnet that the supposed proceedings by Euthyphro against his father as a murderer must be historical fact; the situation is too bizarre to be a natural fiction. Also I think it clear that legally Euthyphro had no case and was probably |147| non-suited by the Basileus, but I would add that in all probability Euthyphro himself counted on this issue. His object, as he explains at 4c, is to clear himself from the religious pollution incurred by being in any way accessory to a φόνος. If he files an information against his father, even with full knowledge that it will be dismissed on technical grounds, he has done all that a scrupulous conscience can require. Any possible “pollution” will henceforth rest not on him but on the authorities, and he would probably feel himself free for the future to live in ordinary family relations with his father. This is presumably what he wished to do. We need not suppose that he expects or desires any grave consequences to happen to the old gentleman. As to the main purpose of the dialogue, again, I think Burnet is clearly right. As both Plato and Aeschines represent, Socrates had lived in association with religious ascetics and mystics of the Orphic type; every one also knew that he had been formally convicted of some kind of religious innovation. The natural inference would have been that he was himself a sectary much of the same type as Euthyphro, as Euthyphro seems to suppose. It was a duty of piety to his memory to make it clear that his views on religion were very different from those of a sect who found the “deep things of God” in stories like those of the binding of Cronus and the mutilation of Uranus — tales which had nothing to do with the official worship of Athens and were repulsive to the ordinary Athenian. It is equally clear that Euthyphro is not intended, as has often been said, to represent “Athenian orthodoxy,” i.e. the attitude of the dicasts who voted for the conviction of Socrates, since, as Burnet points out, he instinctively takes the side of Socrates as soon as he has heard the nature of the charge against him, and classes Socrates and himself together as theologians exposed to the unintelligent derision of the “vulgar.”1

Ostensibly the problem of the dialogue is to determine the real character of ὁσιότης, “piety,” or as we should probably say now, “religion,” that part of right conduct which is concerned with man’s duty to God. As usual, no final result is expressly arrived at, but the interest lies in the comparison of two different conceptions of what “religion” is. The conclusion to which we seem to be coming, but for an unexpected difficulty, is that religion is the “art of traffic between man and gods,” or the art of receiving from the gods and giving to them (Euthyphro, 14d, e). On the face of it, this is a view of religion thoroughly in keeping with the more sordid side of the ancient State cultus, which was very much regulated |148| on the do ut des principle (literally, “I give, so that you may give”; give to get). It exactly hits off, for example, the spirit of religio as understood in the early days of the Roman republic. Hence it is not surprising that more than one editor (Adam, Burnet) should have found the real point of the dialogue in a hint thrown out, but not followed up, a little earlier (Euthyphro, 130), that religion should rather be thought of as the cooperation of man with God towards some noble result (πάγκαλον ἔργον) which is left unspecified. It is at least certain that the making of this point is one of the main objects of the discussion, and that the view is shown to arise directly out of the application to religion of the notion of “tendance” (θεραπεία = therapia), so fundamental in the Socratic ethics. But I think it would probably be mistaken to suppose that the other formula is intended to be rejected as conveying a selfish and sordid conception of religion. In the sense put upon it by ordinary Athenian practice, and apparently by Euthyphro himself, that religion consists in knowing how to perform a ritual worship which will procure tangible returns for the worshipper, the formula is, no doubt, sordid enough and wholly at variance with the conception of God and the service of God attributed to Socrates throughout the dialogues. But this interpretation is not the only one which could be put on the phrase. If we think rightly of the blessings for which it is proper to pray, it will be a worthy conception of religion that it is an intercourse between man and God in which we offer “acceptable sacrifice” and receive in return the true goods of soul and body.2 And there can be no doubt both that “praying and sacrificing aright” are ὁσιότης and that ὁσιότης, since it is virtue or a part of virtue, is in the Socratic view an ἐπιστήμη or τέχνη, an application of knowledge to the regulation of practice. Plato himself, who deals with the regulation of institutional religion at length in the Laws, would have had nothing in principle against such a formula, rightly interpreted. The early Academy seem to have been right in including among their definitions of “piety” (εὐσέβεια) alternative formulae which are obviously conflations of the different suggestions of our dialogue, “a faculty of the voluntary service of the gods; right belief about honoring the gods; the science of honoring the gods.”3 Hence I do not feel at liberty to treat the two suggestions about the nature of religion as meant to be exclusive of one another.

A very brief analysis of the argument will enable us to |149| rediscover in the Euthyphro the principal points of both ethical and metaphysical doctrine with which we are already familiar.

The act for which Euthyphro is arraigning his father, we must remember, is specifically an offence against religious law, not a civil wrong, and Euthyphro does not profess to be in any way actuated by motives of humanity or regard for civil right. He is afraid of incurring religious “pollution” by living in household relations with a “sacrilegious person,” and wishes to safeguard himself. It is implied that, the average Athenian, who is shocked at his procedure, is ignorant of or indifferent to the religious law in which Euthyphro considers himself an expert. Obviously, then, as a “doctor in theology” he may be presumed to know what we might call “canon law” in its entirety, not merely the paragraphs of it which deal with homicide. Hence Socrates, as a person shortly to be accused of irreligion, appeals to him as an expert for an answer to the question what “piety” (τὸ εὐσεβές) or “religious duty” (τὸ ὅσιον) is in its genuine character. There must be some one character which belongs to all action which is “religiously right” (ὅσιον), and an opposite character which is shown in all action which is religiously wrong. There must be a definition of “religious obligation” and we want to know what it is. It is noticeable that this common character of the “religiously right” is at the outset spoken of as a single ἰδέα (Euthyphro, 5d) and subsequently as an εῖδος (appearance) (6d) and an οὐσία (physical being) (11a). This is the language familiar to us as technical in the so-called Platonic “theory of Forms,” but it is represented as understood at once by Euthyphro without any kind of explanation. It seems quite impossible to escape the conclusion that from the very first Plato represented Socrates as habitually using language of this kind and being readily understood by his contemporaries.4

Like so many of the interlocutors in these early dialogues of Plato, Euthyphro at first confuses definition with the enumeration of examples. “Religious duty” is to proceed against the party guilty of an offence against religion, whether it be a homicide or a sacrilegious theft, or any other such crime, without being deterred by any regard for the ties of blood; to neglect this duty is “irreligious” (5d-e). We have the best of examples for this, that of Zeus himself who “chained” his own father. Of course, if this statement is taken to be more than a production of instances, it would be delightfully “circular” since it makes religious duty amount to active opposition to irreligion. Socrates prefers to regard the statement as a mere illustration and simply repeats his request for an account of the “one form” in virtue of which |150| all religious duties are religious. This leads to a first attempt at definition: “the religious is what is pleasing to the gods, the irreligious what is not pleasing to them” (6e). This is, in form, a good definition; whether it is sound in substance remains to be seen. The difficulty is that, according to Euthyphro himself, dissensions and enmities exist among the gods.5 Now it is not every disagreement which leads to quarrels and enmities. A difference of opinion about number, size, or weight is readily settled by an appeal to counting, measuring, or weighing. It is when we come to disagreement about moral questions — “right and wrong, fine and ugly, good and bad” — that it is hard to find a standard by which to settle the disagreement, and this is why it is regularly differences of this kind which lead to quarrels and factions among us6 (7c-d). We may fairly reason that if the gods quarrel and fight, it is over the same questions; they quarrel about right and wrong, and each party will be pleased by what it regards as right and offended by what it thinks wrong. Thus what pleases one god may offend another, and the same act will be, in that case, both religious and irreligious (8a). Cronus, for example, can hardly be supposed to approve of Euthyphro’s present proceedings.

Euthyphro’s way of meeting the difficulty is to commit in an undisguised form the circle already implied in his original statement. There are points, he urges, on which all the gods would agree; they would all agree, for example, that wrongful homicide ought not to go unpunished. (Thus he suggests that the definition might run that religious acts are those which the gods approve unanimously, with the explanation that the class “acts unanimously approved by the gods” is identical with the class of rightful acts.) But the suggestion makes matters no better. No one, not even the defendant in a prosecution for homicide, ever denies that wrongful homicide, or any other wrongful act, ought to be punished. The issue at stake is always which of the two parties is in the wrong and what is the precise character of the wrong committed. If the |151| gods are at variance, then, their difference cannot be on the question whether a wrongful act should be punished, but on the very different question what acts are wrongful. How do we know, for example, that different gods might not be of different mind about the rightness or wrongfulness of the step Euthyphro is now taking? This, however, is only a minor difficulty. We may allow Euthyphro to put his definition in the amended form, “The religious is that which the gods approve and the irreligious that which they disapprove unanimously.” But we still have to ask the graver question, “Is a religious act religious because the gods approve it, or do they approve it because it is religious?” (8b-10a).

(The question is one which has played a prominent part in ethical controversy in later days. It amounts to asking whether acts of piety, or more generally virtuous acts, derive their character of being right from the mere fact of being commanded, or are commanded because they are antecedently intrinsically right. Are the “commandments of God” arbitrary? Is moral obligation created by the imposition of a command? This is, in effect, the thesis of both Hobbes and Locke, and is what Cudworth is denying in his treatise on Eternal and Immutable Morality, when he sets himself to argue that acts are good or bad “by nature” and not by “mere will.” The same issue reappears in a different terminology in the objection taken against Hutcheson’s doctrine of an “implanted moral sense” by those who urged that on the theory in question our Creator might have given us an inverted “moral sense,” and then the promotion of human misery would have been our highest duty.)7 The point is too fine to be taken at once by a man of Euthyphro’s type, and therefore has to be explained at a length which we find superfluous. The difficulty hardly exists for us, because we are accustomed from childhood to the distinction between the active and passive “voices” of a verb. In the time of Plato there was, as Burnet reminds us, no grammatical terminology; the very distinction between a verb and a noun is not known to have been drawn by anyone before Plato himself, and that in a late dialogue, the Sophistes. The point to be made is the simple one that a definition of an οὐσία (physical object) cannot properly be given by means of a verb in the passive voice (Burnet, loc. cit.). That is, it is no answer to the question what something is, to be told what some one or something else does to it. In more scholastic terminology, a formula of this kind would be a definition by means of a mere “extrinsic denomination,” and would throw no light on the quiddity cinherent nature) of the definiendum (the subject being defined).8 (It must be remembered that |152| in a question of moral science we are not concerned with a purely nominal definition, like those of mathematics, the mere interpretation of a new symbol by a combination of symbols already familiar. The definition of a character such as ὅσιον is inevitably a real definition, and this is why Socrates calls it a discourse about an οὐσία.)

The principle to be laid down is that when something happens to, or is done to, a thing there is always a correlated person or thing who is the doer. Thus if a thing is carried, or is seen, there is someone or something who carries or sees that thing. And when we use a “passive” participle or adjective to characterize anything, we do so because something is being done to the thing by something else. (Thus, it is meant, if a thing is being seen by some one it is a “thing seen” or visible (ὁρώμενον), but you could not argue that because a thing is visible someone must actually be seeing it.9 In other words, a passive participle or adjective of passive sense is always a denominatio extrinseca (accidental property). Now a thing which is liked or approved (φιλούμενον) comes under this rule; “it is not because it is a-thing-approved that some one approves it; it is because someone actually approves it that it is a-thing-approved” (10c) But this consideration is fatal to our proposed formula, if the formula be taken as a definition of τὸ ὅσιον. If “all the gods” approve the “religious act,” that, as Euthyphro concedes at once, is because the act is “religious”; its character as ὅσιον is the cause of their approbation. The “extrinsic denomination” thing-approved-by-the-gods, on the other hand, only belongs to τὸ ὅσιον as a consequence of the fact that the gods approve it. Thus the formula does not tell us what the character on the ground of which the gods approve certain acts is (its οὐσία), but only something which happens to these acts, namely, that the gods approve them; it tells us an “affection” (πάθος) of the “religious,” not its quiddity (inherent nature) (11a).10

Thus we have to begin the work of looking for a definition of the “religious” over again. Our definitions keep running away from us, like the mythical statues of Daedalus, the reputed ancestor |153| of Socrates.11 Socrates must have inherited, much against his will, a double portion of his ancestor’s gift, for it seems that he can bestow mobility on other men’s “products” as well as on his own. But he will try to do what he can to remedy the trouble. At this point (12a) the discussion makes a fresh start — a start, we may note, due to the direct suggestion of Socrates, whose part in the dialogues is by no means so exclusively that of a mere critic of others as is sometimes fancied. What is the relation of τὸ ὅσιον (religion) to δικαιοσύνη (duty, obligation, morality in general)? We both admit that whatever is religious (ὅσιον) is “dutiful” or “right” (δίκαιον); can we convert the proposition simpliciter (unconditionally) and say that whatever is right is religious? I.e. is all duty duty to God? Euthyphro has the difficulty which seems to beset all beginners in logic in seeing that the universal affirmative proposition does not admit of simple conversion, and the point has to be made clear to him by examples. All reverence (αἰδώς) is fear, but it is not true that all fear (e.g. fear of illness) is reverence. All odd integers are numbers, but all numbers are not odd. Reverence is a “part” of fear as “odd number” is of number. In the more developed logical terminology of Aristotle, the thing would, of course, be expressed by saying that reverence and odd number are species (εἴδη) of the genera fear and number, but Plato, who sits loose to terminology, except when it is needed for the purpose immediately in hand, habitually uses the word “part” (μόριον, μέρος) for what we still call the membra dividentia (dividing members) of a logical “division.” When the point has been explained to him, Euthyphro at once answers that τὸ ὅσιον is only one part of τὸ δίκαιον — that is, in modern language, that duty to God is not the whole of the duty of man, but one specific branch of it. Thus, like the mass of mankind, he believes in a plurality of distinct “virtues.” Man has, e.g., a certain set of “duties to God,” and another distinct set of duties to his fellow-men, and it would follow that you might specialize in one of these branches of duty but neglect the others. You might be strong in “religion” but weak, e.g., in honesty, like the legendary Welshman who “had a wonderful gift in prayer but was an awful liar.” From the Socratic point of view, this would be impossible. All virtue is knowledge of good, and consequently any one real virtue, if you live up to it, will prove to cover the whole of human conduct. The “content” of morality and that of religion would thus alike be the whole sphere of human conduct, and it would be quite impossible in principle to distinguish a man’s “religious” from his “moral” duties. At bottom, the reason why the Euthyphro ends negatively is the same as that which accounts for the formally negative result of the Laches or Charmides, the fact that genuine “goodness” is a unity.

|154| This is suggested at once for us in 12d. If “religion” is a “part” of morality, we must go on to ask “which” part it is; i.e., to use the technical phrase which meets us as such for the first time in the Theaetetus, we must ask for the “difference” which marks off “religious” duties from the rest of our duties. We may suggest that τὸ δίκαιον can be divided into two species, the “cult” or “service” (θεραπεία) of the gods and the cult or service of man; the former will be religion (12e). The thought is that all morality is service, and that service falls under two mutually exclusive heads, the “service of God,” and “the service of man” a view still widely popular. (From Socrates’ point of view, of course, the view would be false; you cannot serve man without in the very act serving God, nor serve God without serving man.)

To follow the argument to which this third attempt at a definition gives rise, we have to remember that the word θεραπεία was in use in two special connexions. It was used of the cult of a deity by his worshiper (cp. our objectionable use of the phrases “divine service” “Sunday services”), or of a great man by his courtiers, and of the “tending” of men or animals by professionals such as physicians and grooms (the sense of the word from which Socrates developed his conception of the “tending of one’s soul” as the supreme business of life). The problem is to determine in which, if either of these senses, religion is to be called the “service” of God. If we start with the second sense, that in which the professional trainer of hounds or oxherd may be said to “tend” or “serve” the hounds or oxen, we see that the aim of such tendance is always to make the “tended” better, to get the dogs or oxen into the pink of condition and keep them so. But we cannot suppose that religion is the service of God in this sense. No one would say that by performing his “religious duties” he “makes his gods better” (13a-c). We must mean “service” in the very different sense in which slaves are said to “serve” or “tend” their owner. Now the “service” of a slave consists in acting as an instrument or “understrapper” in carrying out his owner’s business; it is a form of ὑπηρετική, “cooperating as a subordinate with a superior for the achievement of some result” (13d).

Now we can say at once what the result to which the slave of a medical man contributes under his master’s direction is; it is the curing of the master’s patients. So the slave of a builder contributes as a subordinate to the construction of a ship or a house. If, then, “serving God” means contributing as an underworker contributes to the business of his superior, if it is “cooperation as an instrument,” what is the great work to which we contribute “under the gods”? (13e). (No answer is given to the question in our dialogue. None could be given by a man like Euthyphro who keeps his morality and his religion in separate “water-tight compartments,” and Socrates naturally does not answer his own question. But it is not hard to discover from other dialogues what the Socratic answer would be. The great business of man, we know, is to “tend” |155| his own soul, and so far as he can the souls of all who come into contact with him, to “make them as good as possible.” We shall find him, in the Phaedo and elsewhere, describing this course of life as “assimilation to God” (ὁμοίωσις θεῳ). Thus we shall not go far wrong if we say that the “great and glorious work of God” is to be the source of order and good to the universe, and that we “contribute under God” to that work in the degree to which we bring order and good into the little “world” of our own personal life and that of the society to which we belong. Such an answer would, of course, presuppose the “unity of the virtues,” and break down all barriers between the service of man and the service of God, morality and religion; it would make irreligion a breach of morality and laxity of morals an offence against religion.)

Euthyphro’s inability to follow the thought of Socrates throws him back on what had all along been his implied position, the position of the fanatic who divorces religion from morality. “If a man knows how to please the gods by his words of prayer and his acts of sacrifice — that is religion, and that is what makes private families and public commonwealths prosperous” (14b). In briefer phrase, religion is “a science of sacrificing and praying” (14c). (Euthyphro, of course, takes the word “science” employed by Socrates to mean simply correct knowledge of the ritual to be observed.) Now in sacrificing we give something to the gods and in prayer we ask something from them. So we may finally put Euthyphro’s thought into this definition (the fourth and last of the dialogue), “Religion is the science of asking the gods for things and giving things to them” (14d). Now the right way of asking will be to ask for what we really need, and the right way of giving will be to give the gods what they want of us, and thus religion turns out to be “an art of traffic between men and gods” (ἐμπορικὴ τέχνη θεοις καὶ ἀνθρώποις παρ̉ ἀλλήλων,14e). But traffic is, of course, a transaction between two parties for mutual advantages; one “cannot be buyer and seller too.” What one party to the traffic between gods and men gets out of the transaction is obvious; the gods send us all the good things we enjoy. But what “advantage” (ὠφελία) do they get from us? No “profit,” says Euthyphro, but “honor and thanks and gratitude” (τιμή τε καὶ γέρα καὶ χάρις, 15a). “The religious act” thus turns out to be “that which is grateful (κεχαρισμένον) to the gods,” and this brings us back to the very definition we have already had to reject, that “the religious” is τὸ τοις θεοις φίλονn, “what the gods approve” (15e); so that we are no nearer knowing what religion is than when we began our discussion.

As I have said, the gentle satire on the unworthy conception of religion as a trade-enterprise carried on by God and man for their mutual benefit ought not to blind us to the fact that the definition of it as knowing how to ask from God and how to make a return to Him is capable of being understood in a genuinely Socratic sense. The very introduction into this formula of ἐπιστήμη as the genus of religion should indicate that it contains a suggestion we are |156| meant to follow out. “Imitation,” says the proverb, “is the sincerest form of flattery.” And we may add that the “imitation of God” shown in a life devoted to the “tendance of the soul” is the one acceptable honor (τιμή) and the true thanksgiving for the goods we receive from God. So understood, the formula that religion is asking the right things from God and making the right return does not contradict but coincides with the other formula that it is cooperation as agents “under God” in a great and glorious “work.”

Apology is too well known to require any elaborate analysis, though it must not be passed over without some remarks on points of general interest. Apart from its strictly historical interest as a professed faithful reproduction of the actual language of Socrates at the memorable trial, it has a philosophical interest as a picture of the life of “tendance of the soul” adopted with full consciousness and led at all costs to its appropriate and glorious end. What is depicted is the life of a “martyr” of the best type as seen from within by the martyr himself; the object of the picture is to make us understand why the martyr chooses such a life and why the completion of his career by the martyr’s death is a corona and not a “disaster.” In our more commonplace moods we are accustomed to think of martyrdom as a highly disagreeable duty; perhaps it must not be shirked, but we feel that, to be made tolerable to our imagination, it must be “made up” to the martyr by an “exaltation” to follow it. Plato means us rather to feel that the martyrdom is itself the “exaltation”: in cruce gaudium spiritus; ambula ubi vis … non invenies altiorem mam supra, nee securiorem viam infra, nisi viam sanctae crucis. The Apology is the Hellenic counterpart of the second book of the Imitatio (Chapter 12).

For the considerations which make it certain that in substance Plato has preserved the actual speech of Socrates (which, as he lets us know, he himself heard), see Burnet’s Introductory Note and the works referred to there. We must, of course, understand that, like all the circulated versions of celebrated speeches (those of Aeschines and Demosthenes in the matter of the “Crown,” for example), the published speech is supposed to have been “revised” in accord with the canons of prose-writing. Plato has, no doubt, done for the defense of Socrates what men like Demosthenes did for their own speeches before they gave them to the world. At the same time we clearly have no right to assume that the process of revision and polishing involves any falsification of fundamental facts. That what we possess is in substance a record of what Socrates actually said is sufficiently proved by the single consideration that, though we cannot date the circulation of the Apology exactly, we can at least be sure that it must have been given to the world within a few years of the actual trial, and would thus be read by numbers of persons, including both devoted admirers of the philosopher and hostile critics (and presumably even some of the judges who had sat upon the case), who would at once detect any |157| falsification of such recent facts.12 It should also be added that even the subtle art by which Socrates, while professing to be a mere “layman” in forensic oratory, actually makes his speech conform to precedent in its general structure, an art most readily appreciated by following Burnet’s careful analysis, is certainly not a mere stylistic “improvement” by Plato. The Gorgias and Phaedrus would be mere mystifications if it were not the fact that, for all his contempt for the ideals of contemporary “rhetoric” Socrates was quite familiar with its recognized methods and principles. Indeed, the Apology might be said to afford an ironical illustration of the paradox of the Gorgias about the uses which may legitimately be made of rhetorical devices. Socrates is in the position of an accused party, and he makes a “defense” which has been felt from the time of Xenophon onward to be something very much like an avowal of guilt. This is exactly in accord with the principles of the Gorgias. Socrates is accused of an offence, and in the eyes of an average Athenian, though not in his own, he has done what amounts to the commission of that offence. Consequently he uses impressive eloquence, not to veil the facts but to put their reality in the clearest light. He is, and for many years has been, a “suspected character,” and the whole “defense” consists in insisting on the point and explaining that the suspicion has been inevitable. Even the act of which an ordinary advocate would have made the most as evidence of “sound democratic sentiments” Socrates’ defiance of the order of the “Thirty” in the affair of Leon (Apology, 32c-d), is deliberately introduced by a previous narrative of an event of which such an advocate would have been careful to say nothing, or as little as possible, Socrates’ opposition to the δημος at the trial of the Arginusae generals. Thus what might have been used by a man like Lysias to make an acquittal morally certain is actually employed by Socrates as an opportunity to warn the court that they must expect from him no sacrifice of conviction to “democratic sentiments.” From the point of view of a Lysias, Socrates must have been “throwing away the ace of trumps” by using the story of his defiance of the Thirty as he does.

The very singular historical circumstances of the trial of Socrates have been better explained in Professor Burnet’s notes to his edition of the Apology and the chapter on the “Trial” in Greek Philosophy, Part I, than anywhere else. I shall therefore refer the reader to those works for full discussion, contenting myself with an indication of the points which seem most important.

Though the actual prosecutor was Meletus, every one knew that the real instigator of the whole business was Anytus, one of the two |158| most admired and trusted leaders of the restored democracy. Since Anytus was in one and the same year assisting the prosecution of Socrates but helping the defense of Andocides on the very same charge of “irreligion,” we cannot suppose motives of fanaticism to have had anything to do with his action. We may fairly suppose that what he attributed to Socrates was the “corruption of the young men” and that this meant exercising an influence hostile to the temper of unquestioning loyalty to the democracy. That this crime, if it is a crime, was one of which Socrates was guilty can be proved from the Apology itself, where his capital point is that he is ready to encounter the hostility of the πληθος (mob) or of any one else at the bidding of conscience. Such criticisms of the heroes of the old democracy as we read in the Gorgias and Meno are additional evidence, though, in fact, a “practical politician” like Anytus would need no evidence beyond the notorious intimacies between the philosopher and men like Alcibiades, Critias, and Charmides. But there was a reason why Anytus could neither put his real case forward without disguise of some kind nor appear as the actual prosecutor, and this reason has rightly been insisted on by Burnet. The worst “offences” of Socrates had been committed under the old democracy and all open reference to them was banned by the Act of Oblivion forbidding all questioning of citizens for anything done before the archonship of Euclides. Anytus had himself been one of the foremost promoters of this Act and could therefore neither himself prosecute, nor instigate anyone else to prosecute, acts covered by this amnesty. It was necessary to put forward some further pretext for proceeding and to find a nominal prosecutor who would make the pretext the main charge in his indictment. This explains why, to judge from the Apology, the precise nature of the “corruption of the young” by Socrates was left so much in the dark that we only discover what is meant by reading rather carefully between the lines of the defense. It also explains the selection of “irreligion” as the accusation to be pressed home and of Meletus as the nominal prosecutor. Burnet is plainly right in holding that it is most improbable, since the name Meletus is a rare one, that there should have been two men of that name, one of whom prosecuted Socrates and another Andocides for the same offence in the same year. If, as is probable, the prosecutor in both cases was the same man, and the speech “against Andocides” preserved to us under the name of Lysias that delivered by Meletus in the prosecution of Andocides — whether it is a composition of his own, or one written by Lysias to be spoken “in character” we see at once why Meletus was selected. The speech against Andocides is that of a sincere but hopelessly crazy fanatic — the very man to make the right sort of tool for a political intrigue just because he combines absolute honesty with the simplicity of a halfwit. Such a man would throw himself heart and soul into the prosecution of an impie (ungodly, impious), none the less effectively because, as is dear from the line taken by Socrates in his defense, neither he nor |159| anyone else knew precisely what the “impiety” consisted in. (It is also worth notice that according to Andocides, Meletus was one of the party who executed the illegal arrest of Leon, in which Socrates refused to be concerned, and thus, as a man who had contracted the pollution of φόνσς, ought to have been in the dock himself on the very charge he was bringing against less guilty folk. That Socrates disdains to make a point of this is strictly in keeping with his character.) As to the meaning of the “impiety” charged against Socrates, all that we learn from the Apology is that Socrates regards it as having something to do with the caricatures of his earlier scientific pursuits in the Clouds and other comedies, where men of science in general are represented as having no respect for the gods of the current official worships. No doubt this statement is correct, as far as it goes, but there must have been something more behind the indictment of Socrates. The fact that Andocides was tried on the same charge about the same time for a ritual offence and found it necessary in his defense to go into the whole old scandal of the “mutilation of the Hermae” (tutelary or household gods) and the “profanation of the mysteries” seems, as Burnet has urged, to give us the key to the secret. Alcibiades and other prominent men among the associates of Socrates had been deeply implicated in the affair of the “mysteries,” and this would, no doubt, be in the minds of all the judges. Socrates makes no allusion to the matter in his defense, but this only proves what we should expect from the whole tenor of his life, that, even in defending himself on a capital charge, he was scrupulous to observe the spirit of the law by which offences before the archonship of Euclides had been “amnestied.” Meletus is likely to have been less cautious.

We cannot well acquit Anytus of having stooped to instigate a proceeding in which he was ashamed to take the principal part, and of having used a tool whom he must have despised. But this is no more than has often been done by politicians who, as the world goes, are counted high-minded. His object was simply to frighten away from Athens a person whose influence he believed to be undesirable, much as Dutch William resorted to trickery to frighten King James out of England — an act for which he is eulogized by Macaulay. Socrates might have preserved his life by going away before trial, as it was customary to do when there was any doubt about acquittal. Indeed Plato is careful to let us see that even when the case came into court, escape would have been easy. The verdict of guilty, even after the uncompromising speech of the accused had been delivered, was only obtained by a small majority. We may safely infer that an opposite verdict could pretty certainly have been secured by a little deference to popular opinion, a little adroit silence about one or two incidents and stress on others — such as the excellent military record of the accused — with a few words of regret for the past and promise of cautious behavior in future. Even without any of this, it is clear that if Socrates had chosen to propose a moderate fine as a sufficient penalty, the offer |160| would have been accepted. (Not to mention that he could readily have escaped during his unexpected month of detention in custody, and that public opinion would not have blamed him.) The accusers had no wish to have the guilt of any man’s blood at their doors; Socrates himself forced their hand. Without any desire for a martyrdom, they had created a situation in which there must inevitably be one, unless the other party would compromise with his conscience, and a martyrdom Socrates determined they should have. This is what he means (Apology, 39b) by saying that both sides must abide by their τίμημα (financial evaluation). Socrates holds in conscience that his conduct has been that of a public benefactor, his opponents that it amounts to crime worthy of death. They would like a confession from himself that their estimate is correct; if by act or word he would admit this, they are willing not to inflict the penalty. They do not wish to inflict death, but they do wish for the admission that it is deserved. If it is deserved, says Socrates, let it be inflicted; you shall be compelled to “have the courage of your opinions.”

In dealing with the analysis of the Apology we have to start by understanding that the real and serious defense of Socrates, which is made to rest on his conviction of a special divine mission to his fellow-countrymen, does not begin until we reach page 28a. What goes before (Apology, 17a-27e) is introductory matter, and is concerned with two preliminary points, the explanation of the prejudices which have grown up about Socrates (18a-24b), and a proof that the accuser himself cannot say, or at any rate dares not say, what he really means by his charges (24b-27e). Throughout the whole of the preliminary pages we must expect to find abundant traces of the whimsical humor which the enemies of Socrates in Plato call his “irony”; at every turn we have to allow for the patent fact that he is “not wholly serious”; the actual defense of his conduct through life, when we reach it, is pure earnest. (It is important to call attention to this, since the well-known narrative of the part played by the Delphic oracle in the life of the philosopher belongs to the preliminary account of the causes of the popular misconceptions about him, and has to be taken with the same allowance for his native humor as the account of the burlesques on him by the comic poets. The claim to be conscious of a special mission, imposed not by “the gods,” nor by “Apollo” but “by God,” comes from the actual defense. The two things have very little to do with one another, and are treated in very different tones; nothing but misconception can come of the attempt to confuse them. Similarly the point of the “cross-examination” of Meletus has repeatedly been missed by commentators who have not seen that the whole passage is humorous, though with a humor which is deadly for its victim.)

(a) Plea for an Impartial Hearing and Explanation of the Existing Prejudices unfavourable to the Speaker. — The speech opens in a very usual way with an apology, mainly playful, for the speaker’s |161| unacquaintance with the diction of the courts, and a request to be allowed to tell his story in his own way (17a-18a). The one piece of downright earnest in this exordium is the insistence that the supreme business of “oratory” is to tell the truth — a business in which the speaker may claim to be more than a match for his accusers. Like every one who wishes for an impartial hearing, he is first bound to remove any prejudices the audience may have conceived against him. It will not be enough to deal with the attempts the prosecution has just made to create such prejudices; there is a more inveterate prejudice dating from old days; the judges who are to decide the case have heard long ago that Socrates is a “clever man” who “busies himself about things aloft and under the earth, and makes the weaker cause appear the stronger” — the double accusation of being a physicist and being an “eristic,” which is, in fact, made in the Clouds of Aristophanes. “Intellectuals” of this type are popularly suspected of disregard of the gods; the charges were made in comedies which many of the judges must have seen a quarter of a century ago, in boyhood, when impressions are easily made; they have never received any rejoinder; what is more, they have been repeated since of malice prepense,13 by a host of anonymous slanderers, and it is these vague prejudices rather than the accusations of the present prosecutors that are likely to stand in the way of a fair trial (18a-e).

The sufficient answer to all this is that Socrates is not responsible for the nonsense he is made to talk in the Clouds. His judges themselves must know whether they ever heard him discourse on such topics. But he is careful to add that he means no disparagement to knowledge of this kind; if it exists.14 Neither is it true that he has ever made a “profession” of “educating men”; i.e. he is not one of the professional teachers of “goodness,” though, again, he is far from disparaging so splendid a calling. If he really could “teach goodness,” he says humorously, he would not, like Evenus, do it for a paltry five minae. He would know how se faire valoir (to attract attention) (20b).

How then has he got the name for being “clever” or “wise”? Here comes in the well-known tale of the Delphic oracle and its response to Chaerephon, that no man living was wiser than Socrates. Socrates says that he was at first staggered by this pronouncement, and set to work to prove Apollo of Delphi — never a persona grata at Athens, for excellent reasons — a liar. With this view he went round looking for a wiser man than himself in the various sections of society. He began with the “statesmen” but soon found that though they fancied themselves very wise, they certainly had no |162| wisdom. Next he tried the poets with much the same result. He found that they were hopelessly incapable of explaining what they meant in their finest work; this showed that the poet, like a possessed person, speaks under the influence of a genius and inspiration of which he is not master.15 Finally, he turned to the artisans; they were less disappointing than “statesmen” and poets, since it turned out that they did know something. They knew their own trades. Unfortunately they fancied that because they knew their trades, they must equally be competent to judge of the greatest questions (e.g., no doubt, as Burnet has said, how to govern an empire).16 It seemed then as though the Delphic god was not lying after all; he was merely speaking in riddles, the notorious trick of his trade. He meant to say that human wisdom is such a sorry affair that the wisest man is one who, like Socrates, knows that he does not know anything to boast of (Apology, 20a-23b).

Naturally enough, the victims of this experiment did not take it any too kindly, and the matter was made worse by the young folk, sons of wealthy and leisured citizens, who accompanied Socrates, “without any pressing on his part” (αὐτόματοι, 23c; i.e., they were not in any sense “pupils”), for the sport to be got out of the thing, and even tried to practice the trick themselves. Their victims, of course, complain that Socrates is the ruin of the young people. When they are asked how he ruins them, shame prevents the reply, “By exposing the ignorance of us older men,” and so they fall back on the old charges against scientific men in general, the accusation of irreligion and “making the weaker case the stronger.” The present prosecutors are the mere mouthpieces of this idle talk (23c-24b).

(b) Direct Reply to Meletus. — Socrates now turns to the charges actually brought against him by the prosecution, with which he deals very curtly. The humor of the situation is that the prosecutor cannot venture to say what he means by either of his charges without betraying the fact that, owing to the “amnesty,” the matters complained of are outside the competency of the court. What he really means by the “corruption of the young” is the supposed influence of Socrates on Alcibiades, Critias, Charmides, and others who have been false to the democracy; the charge of irreligion is connected with the scandals of the year 415. But to admit this would be to invite the court to dismiss the case. Hence, when Meletus is pressed to explain what he means, he has to take refuge in puerile nonsense. The judges could understand the situation and, no doubt, enjoy it amazingly; many modern commentators have been badly perplexed by the “sophistical” character of Socrates’ reasoning simply because they have not set themselves |163| to realise the difficulty of Meletus’ position. They have missed the irony of Socrates’ pretense that a prosecutor who is fanatically in earnest is merely playing a stupid practical joke.

Meletus professes to have detected Socrates depraving the young. If he has, clearly he must be able to say who improve them. Under pressure, Meletus has to fall back on the view that any good Athenian improves the young by his association with them (because his influence is exerted in favour of the moral tradition of society, exactly as we have found Anytus maintaining in the Meno, and shall find Protagoras explaining more at length in the dialogue called after him). Socrates stands alone in making young people worse by his influence on them (25e). Now this is contrary to all analogy; if you consider the case of horses or other domestic animals, you find that they are improved by only a few, the professionals who understand the art of training them; they are spoiled when entrusted to anyone else. Moreover, a man must be very dull not to see that he would be acting very much against his own good by depraving the very persons among whom he has to live. No one would do such a thing on purpose (the Socratic doctrine that “no one does evil voluntarily). If a man makes so grave an error involuntarily, the proper course is not to prosecute him but to open his eyes to his mistake. But Meletus, by prosecuting Socrates, makes it clear that he thinks him capable of the absurdity of purposely trying to deprave the very persons whose depravity would expose him to risk of harm at their hands (25c-26b).

Again, in what particular way does Socrates “deprave” his young friends? No open allusion to the facts really meant being permissible, Meletus has to fall back on the reply that the depravation consists in incitement to the religious offence alleged in the indictment. Socrates sets the example of irreligion (26b). This brings us to the consideration of this accusation on its own account. Socrates professes to be quite unable to understand what can be meant by the statement that he “does not worship the gods of the city but practices a strange religion.”17 If Meletus means anything, |164| he must presumably mean that Socrates is an atheist. (Meletus does not really mean this, and Socrates knows that he does not mean it. But he cannot explain what he really means without risking the collapse of his case, and Socrates is fully entitled to embarrass him for his own and the court’s amusement. He despises the charge too much to take it seriously.) If this is what he means, and he dares not explain that it is not, his charge refutes itself. A man cannot be both an atheist and the votary of a “strange religion”; to make an accusation of this kind is simply wasting the time of the court18 (26e-27e).

(c) The Vindication of Socrates’ Life and Conduct (28a-35d). — We come at last to Socrates’ serious defense of his character, not against the frivolous charges on which he is being ostensibly tried but against grave misconceptions of old standing. He is well aware that his life is at stake, a thing which has happened to many a good man in the past and will happen again. But there is nothing dishonorable in such a situation. A man’s part is to stand loyally, in the face of all risks, to the part which he has judged to be the best for himself, or to which his commander has ordered him. Socrates himself has acted on this principle in his military career, when his superior officers have commanded him to face dangers. Still more is it his duty to be loyal to the command of God which, as he is persuaded, has enjoined him to “spend his life in devotion to wisdom and in examining himself and his fellows” (28e). The real atheism would be to disobey the divine command. Disobedience would be a known evil, but the death with which he is threatened if he does not disobey may, for all he knows, be the greatest of good. Hence if he were offered acquittal on the condition of abandoning “philosophy,” with certain death as the alternative, he would refuse acquittal. For God is more to be obeyed than any human law-court. For that reason, so long as life is in him, Socrates will never cease urging on every man the duty of “care for wisdom and truth and the good of his soul” and the relative unimportance of care for health or fortune. That is God’s commission to him, and if Athens only knew it, his “service” (ὑπηρεσία)19 of God is the greatest blessing that could befall the |165| whole community (30a). If he “corrupts the young” at all, it must be by preaching to them his unchanging conviction that “it is not wealth which makes worth (ἀρετή), but worth makes wealth and all else good.” His present speech is not made to save his own life — Anytus and Meletus may procure his death, but the really dreadful thing is not to lose your life but to take a life wrongfully (the thesis of the Gorgias) — he would save his fellow-citizens from misusing the gift God has bestowed on them, and is not likely to give them a second time, a gadfly whose buzzing prevents that high-bred but somnolent animal “the People” from drowsy sloth (30c-31c).

It may be asked why a man with such a mission has never attempted to act as a public monitor and adviser.20 Well, the fact is that the “mysterious something” which has warned Socrates all his life against “unlucky” proceedings has always checked any attempt to take part in public life. Et pour cause: a democracy (πληθος (crowd)) soon puts an end to anyone who defies its humors in the cause of right. Hence it was a condition of the exercise of the mission that it should be exercised on individuals, not on the multitude (31c-32a). In fact, Socrates has only twice been called upon by his mission to come into conflict with authority, once when he withstood the popular sentiment by refusing to be accessory to the unconstitutional steps taken against the generals after Arginusae, and once, more recently, when he disregarded the illegal command of the “Thirty” to arrest Leon. In both cases he ran a great personal risk, and in the second, might well have lost his life but for the downfall of the “Thirty” (32a-e). As for the charge of demoralizing his “pupils,” he has never had any “pupils” though he has never refused to communicate his convictions freely to every one (33a-b) as his mission required of him.21 He is ready to summon the parents and elder brothers of the young men who have associated with him as witnesses that none of them have been made worse by his companionship (33d-34b).

The defense is now, in substance, concluded, and we have reached the point at which it was customary to make an appeal |166| to the clemency of the court for the sake of one’s family and connexions. Socrates declines to follow the usual course, not because he has not dependents, friends, and relatives to whom he is bound by natural ties, but because the procedure would be unworthy of his character and an attempt to seduce the court from its duty. That would be a real “impiety.” The issue must now be left in the hands of God and the judges (34b-35e).

The object of the pages which follow (36a-38b) is to explain why Socrates did not, after conviction, secure his life by proposing a moderate fine as an alternative penalty, as he clearly could have done. This must have been felt as a real difficulty by commonplace persons even among the philosopher’s friends, as we see from the absurd explanation given by Xenophon (Apology, 1-8) that Socrates deliberately provoked his own execution in order to escape the infirmities of old age. It has to be explained that his real motive was a worthy one. To propose any penalty whatever would amount to admitting guilt, and Socrates has already told the court that he regards himself as a minister of God for good to his countrymen. Hence he cannot in consistency propose any treatment for himself but that of a distinguished public benefactor, a place at the public table (σίτησις ἐν πρυτανείῳ). It should be noted that, strictly speaking, this is the τίμησις which Socrates offers as an alternative to the death-penalty demanded by the accusers. The whimsical mood has returned on him after the intense earnestness of the defense of his life and character. He urges that as he regards himself as a benefactor he can only propose the treatment of a benefactor for himself. The subsequent offer to pay the trifling sum of a mina (only raised to one of thirty minae at the urgent instance of friends) is made with the full certainty that the court, which has just heard Socrates’ real opinion of his deserts, will reject it. The real issue is not whether a prophet of righteousness is a major or a minor offender, but whether he is. a capital traitor or the one true “patriot,” and Socrates is determined that the court shall not shirk that issue, as it would like to do. As to the sum of thirty minae which Socrates’ friends offer to pay for him, one should note (a) that in Epistle xiii. Plato, writing a generation later, mentions it to Dionysius II as a good dowry for anyone but a very rich man to give his daughter and that this estimate is borne out by a careful examination of all the references to dowries in the fourth-century orators, (b) that, though Plato and Apollodorus are joined with Crito as “security,” the main burden of payment would, no doubt, fall on the wealthy Crito. The family of Plato are not likely to have been particularly well off just after the failure of the revolution in which its most prominent members had taken the losing side.22 As we see from the speeches of Lysias belonging to this |167| period, the downfall of Athens in 404 had been followed by a widespread commercial crisis. Socrates’ friends are making what, in the circumstances, must have been a very strenuous effort to save him. This is why they “ask for time” instead of offering to pay money down.)23

In the concluding remarks of the speech made after the voting on the penalty, note in the first place how clearly it is recognized that Socrates has forced the issue, and that he could have secured his acquittal by simply “asking for quarter” (38d-39b). This is, of course, true of every typical martyr. Martyrdom is dying when you could escape if you would compromise a little with your conscience; in this sense every martyr forces the issue. Anytus would rather not have killed Socrates, just as the average Roman proconsul would rather not have condemned Christians, or as Bonner (as appears even from the partial accounts of his enemies) would much rather not have sent Protestants to the stake. But it is not the business of the martyr to make things easy for the forcer of consciences.

In the impressive words of encouragement directed to his supporters (39e-41c), the important thing to note is that, contrary to the absurd opinion of many nineteenth-century writers, Socrates makes his own belief in a blessed life to come for the good perfectly plain. The best proof of this is that to which Burnet has appealed, comparison of his language with the brief and hesitating phrases in which the Attic orators are accustomed to allude to the state of the departed. In this respect the Apology agrees completely with the Phaedo, when we allow for the fact that in the former Socrates is speaking to a large audience, most of whom would not share his personal faith. No one but a convinced believer would have said half what he is made to say about his “hope” (not to mention that the “divinity” of the soul is at bottom the reason why the “tendance” of it is so much more important than that of the body, and, as Rohde long ago observed, to the Greek mind “immortality” and “divinity” are equivalents). The specific allusions of 41a. to Hesiod, Musaeus, Orpheus and the Orphic judges of the dead, also make it clear that Socrates’ convictions are not meant as simply inferences from “natural theology”; we have to see in them the influence of the Orphic religion, though the Euthyphro and the second book of the Republic show that Socrates thought very poorly of the ordinary run of “professing” Orphics in his own time.


The Euthyphro and Apology between them have made us understand what Socrates meant by religion, and why his sense of duty to God forbade him either to evade prosecution or to purchase his life by any concessions. There is still one question connected with his death to which the answer remains to be given. Owing to unexpected circumstances, a month elapsed between |168| condemnation and execution. His friends took advantage of this delay to provide means of escape; Socrates might still have avoided drinking the hemlock if he would have walked out of his prison, but he refused. Why was this? No one would have thought the worse of him, and there would have been no question of a compromise with the leaders of the democracy. Persons who held with Socrates himself that the whole proceedings against him had been frivolous, and that he had been condemned for an offence which he had not committed, by a court which had no competence, might fairly be puzzled to know why he thought it a duty to refuse the means of escape. This is the point to be cleared up in the Crito. The explanation depends on an important distinction which the ordinary man to this day finds it hard to draw. The condemnation was in point of fact, as Socrates himself insisted, iniquitous. He was quite innocent of any real impiety. But it was strictly legal, as it had been pronounced by a legitimate court after a trial conducted in accord with all the forms of law. And it is the duty of a good citizen to submit to a legal verdict, even when it is materially false. By standing a trial at all, a man “puts himself on his country,” and he is not entitled to disregard the decision to which he submits himself, even if his country makes a mistake. The “country” is entitled to expect that the legally pronounced sentence of a legitimate court shall be carried into effect; there would be an end of all “law and order if a private man were at liberty to disregard the judgment of the courts whenever he personally believed it to be contrary to fact.

Even so, there is a further point to be considered. We have seen that, strictly speaking, the court was not competent to take account of the offences which the prosecutors really had in mind, and that Socrates shows himself aware of this in the Apology when he cross-examines Meletus. It might, then, be urged that if Socrates had escaped he would not have been disregarding the decision of a competent court; is it wrong to disrespect the sentence of an incompetent one? Two things need to be remembered: (a) the court thought itself competent, and Athenian law made no provision for the quashing of its findings as ultra vires; (b) this being so, for an individual man who had all his life set the example of strict and complete compliance with the νόμοι of the city to follow his private judgment on the question of the competency of the court would have been to stultify the professions of a lifetime. Plato himself, in the same situation, Adam says, would probably have chosen to escape. This may be, but the second consideration just mentioned would not have applied to Plato in 399. A young man of under thirty, whose most important relatives had just four years before lost their lives in the cause of “oligarchy” could not be considered as having thrown in his lot definitely with the democracy and its νόμοι = laws; his position would have been really different from that of an old man of the Periclean age. The argument, used by Socrates, that to have neglected the opportunity to settle elsewhere |169| is equivalent to a compact to live by the νόμος, laws of the city, would have been inapplicable to a younger man who, in fact, had never had the option in question. Thus, in the last resort, there is a “subjective” and personal element in the considerations which lead Socrates to feel that he would be belying his whole past by escaping. Plato’s object is not to lay down a categorical imperative for the guidance of all the wrongfully condemned, but to throw light on the motives of an individual great man. (Whether Plato would himself have chosen to escape, if he had been placed in the same situation in his own seventieth year, is another question. Much would depend on his view as to the work which might remain to him to do elsewhere.)

The dramatic mise-en-scene is necessarily exceedingly simple. The conversation is tete-a-tete between Socrates in his apartment in the prison of the Eleven and Crito, unless we count the “Laws” into whose mouths the last word of the argument is put as an unseen third party to the talk. The time is in the “small hours” before dawn, while it is still dark. Crito, who brings the news that the “sacred vessel” on whose return Socrates will have to die has just been sighted off Sunium, has been some time watching Socrates as he sleeps, when Socrates wakes from a strange dream and the conversation ensues. Crito fears that Socrates, whose sentence will be executed the day after the vessel reaches port, has only one more night to live; Socrates, on the strength of his dream, expects, as turned out to be the fact, that the boat will not make so quick a voyage and that his death will be deferred another day. (In his interpretation he evidently takes the “fair and comely woman” of 44a for the “fetch” of the approaching vessel, and her “white garments” for its gay white sails.) This brief introduction leads straight to the conversation in which Crito puts the case for escape, to which Socrates replies point for point. (a) The friends of Socrates will suffer in reputation if he persists in dying. It will be supposed that they were too mean to find the money necessary for corrupting his jailers. The answer is that “decent folk” will know better than to think anything of the sort, and what the “many” think does not matter (44c). (b) Unfortunately it does matter what the “many” think. The power of popular prejudice is shown only too plainly by the present position of Socrates himself. Answer: the “many” are powerless to do much in the way of either good or ill, for they can neither make a man wise nor make him a fool; hence it matters very little what they do to him (44d). (c) Perhaps Socrates is really thinking of the interests of his friends, who will be exposed to “blackmailers” (συκοφάνται = sycophants)24 if he breaks prison, and be forced to pay these persons to hold their tongues. He need not consider that point; his friends are in duty bound to take the risk and, besides, these worthies |170| are not very expensive to satisfy. If Socrates has a delicacy about exposing Crito to the risk, his “foreign” friends, Simmias, Cebes, and others, are ready to open their purses (45a-b).25 He need have no difficulty in finding an abode where he will be made welcome. Crito himself has relations with powerful men in Thessaly who would honor his friend and act as his protectors (45c) (d) Besides, it is not even morally right that Socrates should throw away his life. That would be gratifying the very men who have prosecuted him. Also it would be deserting his family, and an honorable man has no right to disregard his obligations to his children. Thus refusal to escape will look like a display of unmanly cowardice in both Socrates and his friends (45c-46a).

Socrates begins his formal reply by saying that all through life it has been his principle to act on his deliberate judgment of good. He cannot feel that the judgments he expressed in his defense before the court are in any way affected by the result of the trial. If he is to take Crito’s advice, he must first be convinced that there is something unsound in these principles; it is useless to work on his imagination by setting up bugbears. The strength of Crito’s case all through has lain in the appeal to “what will be thought of us.” Now formerly we both held that it is not every opinion nor the opinions of every man which matter. Socrates is still of the same mind about this, and so, as he has to confess, is Crito. We should attach weight to the opinion of those who know (the φρόνιμοι), and disregard the opinion of those who do not. For example, in the matter of bodily regimen the physician and the trainer are the experts who know, and their approval or disapproval ought to count, whereas a man who followed by preference the approvals and disapprovals of the “many,” who are laymen in such matters, would certainly suffer for it in bodily health. The same principle applies to matters of right and wrong, good and bad, such as the question we are now considering, whether it will be right or good for Socrates to break prison. We have not to take into account the opinions of the “many,” but those of the one expert, if there is such a man, by neglecting whose advice we shall injure “that which is made better by right but depraved by wrong.” (That is, the soul; the argument is from the standing analogy between health in the body and moral goodness in the soul.)

Further, we agree that if a man has ruined his physical constitution by following the opinions of the “many” and disregarding those of the medical expert, life with a ruined physique |171| is not worth preserving. But “that in us, whatever it is, in which wickedness and righteousness have their seat” is not less but more precious than the body. (Much less, then, is life worth preserving if this — that is, the soul — is vitiated.) Crito has therefore raised a wrong question. We ought to ask not what “the many” will think of Socrates’ behavior or that of his friends, but what will be thought by the man who “understands” right and wrong. True, the “many” can put you to death if you disagree with them; but then another principle which both Socrates and Crito hold as strongly since the recent trial as before it is that the all-important thing is not to live but to live a good life, and that living a good life means the same thing as living aright (δικαίως). The real question to be answered then is, “Would it be right for me to take my leave of this place without a public discharge?” All the other considerations which Crito has raised are irrelevant (46b-48e).

Again, we both still retain our old conviction that to commit a wrong is, in all conditions, a bad thing for the man who commits it (the thesis of the Gorgias). It follows that we must hold, contrary to the opinion of the “many” that a man must never repay wrong by retaliatory wrong (ἀνταδικειν), and therefore that we must never repay ill-treatment by ill-treatment (ἀνωικακουργειν καικως ωάσχοντα). In a word, no treatment received from another ever justifies wronging him or treating him ill, though this is a conviction so opposed to the code of the “many” that those who accept and those who reject it cannot even discuss a problem of practice with one another (οὐκ ἔστι κοινή βουλή, 49d). Socrates and Crito can only discuss the course Socrates is to adopt because they agree about this initial principle (49a-e).

Next, ought a man, on these principles, to keep his word when he has given it (assuming that what he has promised to do is in se morally right),26 or may he break it? Of course, he must keep it. Our immediate problem, then, reduces to this. If Socrates leaves the prison without a public discharge, will he, or will he not, be wronging the very party whom he ought to be most careful not to wrong? Will he be keeping a right and lawful pledge, or will he be violating it? Let us consider what the Laws, or the State, might have to say if they could take us in the act of “making our lucky” (μέλλουσιν ἀποδιδράσκειν). This appeal to the personified figure of the State or the Laws is, as Burnet says, in principle a Platonic “myth.” Its function is the same as that played in other dialogues by the vision of the Judgment to come. That is, it does not carry the argument further, but brings it home powerfully to the imagination. Artistically the function of the picture is to evoke a mood of ideal feeling adequate to the elevation of the ethical demands of |172| Socraticism on the conscience, to arouse unconditional “reverence” for the dignity of the moral law as that which demands and justifies the philosopher’s martyrdom. So far, and no further, it acts as the sight of the Crucifix does on a Christian. The conception of society implied, as something too obvious to need explanation, is the same which underlies all the versions of the doctrine of “social contract,” a doctrine naturally familiar to the members of a society which knew from its own experience how legislation is made. But it gives us the fundamental truth of the theory of “contract” uncontaminated with any element of historical error about the first origins of “society.” The thought is that a man who has cast in his lot with the community by accepting its “social system” all through life has tacitly bound himself to support the organization on which the social order depends, and cannot in honor go back from his pledge for the sake of his personal convenience. This is what is really meant by the much-misrepresented doctrine of “passive obedience,” and it is interesting to remark that Socrates thus combines in himself the “nonconformist’s” reverence for “conscience” and the “non-juror’s” reverence for the “powers that be.” He is the one absolutely consistent “conscientious objector” of history, because, unlike most such “objectors,” he respects the conscience of τὸ κοινόν (ordinary people) as well as his own.

The Laws might complain that Socrates would by an evasion be breaking his own “compact,” and that without the excuse that the compact had been made under duress, or obtained by false representation or without sufficient time for consideration.27 He has had a life of seventy years for reflection and in all this time has never attempted to adopt a new domicile, but has absented himself less than almost any other citizen from Athens. Thus he cannot plead any of the recognized excuses for regarding his assent to live under the laws of the city as anything but free and deliberate. (Of course the meaning is not that Socrates could have been “naturalized” in some other community; but he might have chosen to live as a resident alien under the protection of another society, or as a colonist at e.g. Amphipolis or Thurii.) The whole course of his life bears silent witness that he has accepted the system of institutions into which he had been born, and it is an integral part of the system that an Athenian citizen shall respect the decisions of the duly constituted courts. He is not at liberty to reject the jurisdiction because in his own opinion the decision of a court does him a material wrong (50c). To run away to escape the execution of the court’s sentence would be following up the exalted speeches he made before the judges by the conduct of the paltriest of eloping slaves. If he does break his “compact,” what good can he expect to accrue to his connexions or himself? His family and friends will certainly run the risk of |173| banishment or loss of property. As for himself, suppose he makes his escape to a neighboring city such as Thebes or Megara, which have good institutions, and where, as we know, he would find warm friends, he must be looked on by all honest citizens as an enemy, who has defied one society and may be expected to do the same by another, and thus will fairly be under the suspicion of being a “corrupter” of the young who may associate with him. If, to avoid such reproach, he takes refuge in a disorderly and lawless community, what kind of life does he propose to lead? For very shame, he cannot continue his professions of devotion to “goodness and law” with his own conduct staring him in the face. Even in so lawless a society as that of Thessaly, he might for a while live under the protection of Crito’s connexions there, and they might find the story of his successful escape from prison an excellent joke, but he must expect to hear the painful truth about his behavior as soon as he offends anyone. Even if he escapes that disgrace by making himself a general toady, his life will be that of a “trencherman” and parasite, and what will become of all his fine professions about right and goodness? As for the final appeal which Crito had made to his parental affections, what good will such an existence do to his children? Does he propose to bring them up as hangers-on in Thessaly? If they are to grow up as free men and citizens at Athens, will his friends neglect them more because he has removed to the other world than they would if he had removed to Thessaly? Besides, the plea will be useless when life is over at last and a man has to stand before the judges of the dead. If Socrates abides execution now, he will have a good defense before that tribunal. He will appear as an innocent victim of the injustice not of law, but of individuals who have abused law for his destruction.28 If he does not, he will have to answer for having done what lay in him to shake the authority of law itself, and must expect to have the law itself against him in the next world as well as in this. It is this appeal which rings in the ears of Socrates and makes him deaf to the voice of Crito, nor can Crito find anything to set against it. We must, therefore, be content to follow the path along which God is leading us (50a-54e).

See further:
Burnett. Euthyphro, Apology, Crito. Oxford, 1924.
Riddell. Apology of Plato. Oxford, 1867.
Burnet. Early Greek Philosophy, Part I, Chapter IX. 180-192.
Ritter, C. Platon, i. 363-390.
Ritter, C. Sokrates.(Tubingen, 1931.
Taylor, A. E. Socrates. London, 1932.

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1^ See the full treatment of all this in Burnet, op. cit. pp. 2-7. As to the ordinary Athenian estimate of the Hesiodic stories about Uranus and Cronus, see Aristophanes, Clouds, 904, Isocrates, xi. 38-40. How far the Athenians were from taking Cronus seriously is sufficiently shown by the simple fact that κρόνος (time) is Attic for “old Methusalem” or “Rip van Winkle.” Even the allusion of Aeschylus, Agamemnon 168 ff., has a touch of contempt for the unnamed being who is now “down and out” (τριακτηρος οἴχεται τυχών) and the “bully” who preceded him (ταμμάχῳ θράσει βρύων).

2^ Cf. the model of an acceptable prayer offered by Socrates, Phaedrus, 279c, and the conception of δαίμονες as the middlemen in the “traffic between man and God” in the speech of Diotima reproduced by Socrates in Symposium, 202e.

3^ (Plato.) Definitions 412e 14, δύναμις θεραπευτικῂ θεων ἑκούσιος· περὶ θεων τιμης ὑπόληψις ὀρθή· ἐπιστήμη περὶ θεων τιμης. Cf. the definition of ἁγνεία (ibid. 414a 12), της θεου τιμης καρὰ φύσιν θεραπεία, and of ὃσιον (ibid. 415a 19), θεράπευμα θεου ἀρεστὸν θεῳ. That the Academic definitions of our Plato MSS. in the main belong to the earliest days of the Academy is shown by the frequent appeals made to them in Aristotle, especially in the Topics. In some cases the testimony of Aristotle enables us to refer a definition specifically to Speusippus or Xenocrates as the author.

4^ There is indeed an important point on which Socrates is represented as needing to explain himself in the Phaedo; he has to explain at some length how the theory of Forms bears on the problem of “coming into being and passing out of being. We may readily believe that this would need some explaining to most persons, but the meaning of the words, idea, εῖδος, and the reality of the existence of “forms,” is simply presupposed in the Phaedo, as elsewhere, without any explanation or justification.

5^ These “wars in heaven” refer principally to the stories of the dethronement of Cronus and the Titans and the war of the gods with the giants, to which allusion has already been made. They are part of the Orphic and the Hesiodic theogonies (genealogies). Socrates does not believe such stories (Euthyphro, 6a-c) and it is easy to show that they were not taken seriously by Athenians in general, but Euthyphro has expressly avowed his belief in them and still stranger tales (6b), and it is he who is offering the definition. Hence the objection is perfectly valid against him.

6^ The passage is noteworthy. Plato is fond of assimilating the use of a true “scale of values” to the employment of number, measure, and weight. We may fairly conjecture with Burnet that the suggestion comes from Socrates. Knowledge of good, by enabling us to estimate correctly the relative worth of different “goods,” would reduce our heated quarrels about our “rights” to a problem in “moral arithmetic.” There is much truth in this. In the bitterest of such quarrels both parties often sincerely wish for no more than their “fair due.” The trouble is that they cannot agree on the question how much that is. Compare Leibniz’s hope that a perfected “symbolic logic” would reduce all philosophical disputes to the working of a “calculation.”

7^ The problem was also a prominent one in the age of Scholasticism. It is against the view that obligation is created by command that St. Thomas (S.C.G. iii. 122) says that fornication is not sufficiently proved to be sinful by alleging that it is an “injury to God.” “For we only offend God by doing what is against our own good.” It therefore still remains to show that the conduct in question is “against our own good.”

8^ Of course such definitions are common enough; e.g. you could not define “trustee” except by a verb in the passive voice or its equivalent. But what you are really defining in this case is a relation, the relation of the trustee to the “truster.“” In the case of τὸ ὅσιον we are attempting to define a quality (πάθος = pathos), and it is no definition of this quality to say that “the gods like it.”

9^ Berkeley, it is true, seems sometimes to be arguing as though we could infer from the fact that a thing is visible, the further fact that some one is always seeing it. But even he would hardly have argued that if a thing is eatable, some one must be eating it.

10^ It is tacitly assumed that if the gods approve x, y, z … they do so for an intelligible reason. There is some character common to x, y, z over and above the “extrinsic denomination” of being in fact approved, and this character is the ground of the approbation. On the use of the words οὐσία, πάθος (the most general name for anything, mode, quality, relation, etc., which can be asserted of a subject), see Burnet’s notes, loc. cit. The way in which the terms are used without explanation implies that they are part of an already familiar logical terminology.

11^ For the point of the jest, see Burnet, loc. cit. It would be spoilt if there were any truth in the later story that Socrates was actually the son of a sculptor and had practiced the calling himself, as any intelligent reader ought to see.

12^ In particular, it is quite unthinkable that Plato should have invented the few words, addressed to friends and supporters after the court had voted the penalty of death, with which the Apology closes. Modern writers, who think it “impossible” that Socrates should have spoken after sentence had been pronounced, are simply transferring the procedure of a modern European court of justice to the Athens of the fifth century. For the opportunity the case would give for the making of the remarks, see Burnet, Apology, p. 161.

13^ φθόν καὶ διαβολη (premeditated malice), 18d. It is implied that there was no real ill-feeling on the part of the comic poets who started these stories. They meant no more than fun. We can see for ourselves that this is true of Aristophanes.

14^ Apology, 19c. As Burnet points out, loc. cit., what is said here is quite in keeping with the representation of the Phaedo that Socrates was deeply interested in all these matters in early life, until he discovered that he “had no head for them” (an expression itself to be taken playfully).

15^ As Burnet says, loc. cit., Euripides would be about the first of the “tragedians” to whom Socrates would apply his test. We have seen already that Socrates held the “modern” view of poetry as dependent on “inspiration.”/p>

16^ Compare Mr. Chesterton’s mot about “the authority which obviously attaches to the views of an electrical engineer” on the existence of God or the immortality of the soul.

17^ As to this accusation, see Burnet, loc. cit. It is quite certain on linguistic grounds that the meaning of the phrase that Socrates οὐ νομίζει τοὺς θεοὺς οὒσ ή πόλις νομίζει is that he does not conform to the cultus, does not “worship” the official gods, not that “he does not believe in their existence.” Aristophanes is punning on this sense of the word νομίζειν when he makes Socrates explain to Strepsiades that ἡμιν θεοὶ νομισμ̉ οὐκ στιἔ, (“the gods are not legal tender here”). It is certain also that in the additional clause ἔτερα δὲ δαιμόνια καινά, δαιμόνια is adjective, not substantive, and that the sense is therefore, “but practices certain other unfamiliar religious observances.” The meaning of this is made clearer by comparison with the Clouds, where Socrates is represented as combining the functions of a scientific man with those of president of a conventicle of ascetics. It was true that the Ionian men of science used the word θεός = theόs = god in a wholly non-religious way for whatever they took to be the primary body (this is why in the Clouds Socrates swears by Respiration and Air, and prays to “the Clouds”), and also that Socrates was an associate of Orphic and Pythagorean ascetics, like Telauges in the dialogue of Aeschines called by that name, who had a religion of their own not officially recognized by the State. So far there is an intelligible basis for the reference to the δαιμόνια καινά. But it is still unexplained what ground there is for saying that Socrates does not worship the gods of the city, and it is this part of the charge on which Socrates fastens. It seems to me that Burnet is right in supposing that what is really meant is the old affair of the “profanation of the mysteries.” The “psephism of Diopithes” has nothing to do with the matter. All “psephisms” (a decree of an ancient popular assembly (as of the ecclesia of Athens)) before the year of Euclides were invalidated (Andocides i. 86).

18^ Formally, the argument is rather more elaborate. A man who concerns himself with τά δαιμόνια (the “supernatural,” as we might say) must believe that there are δαιμονες (“supernatural beings”); these δαιμονες are either themselves “gods” or are the “offspring of gods,” and in either case, a man who believes in them cannot be an atheist. This is pure persiflage, but it is as good as Meletus and his backer Anytus deserve.

19^ Compare what has been already said in connexion with the Euthyphro about the conception of religion as serving God in the production of a great and noble work (πάγκαλον ἔργον) Socrates pleads that his whole life has been dedicated to this work.

20^ The implication is that a man of the remarkable gifts of Socrates, who carefully abstains from putting them openly at the service of the community, though he is believed to have employed them freely for the service of men like Alcibiades, must be a formidable anti-democratic conspirator.

21^ Note that in denying that he ever had μαθηταί (disciples), Socrates is still referring to the suspicion connected with his relations with prominent persons who are now dead. From Isocrates xi. 5, we learn that the pamphleteer Polycrates made it a principal charge that Alcibiades had been Socrates’ pupil, just as Aeschines the orator (i. 173) says the same thing about Critias. Isocrates relates that Alcibiades had never been “educated” by Socrates, thus agreeing with Plato and Xenophon (Memorabilia I 2, 12 ff.). Socrates is too scrupulously observant of the “amnesty” to explain himself, but it is Alcibiades and Critias, not younger unknown men like Plato and Aeschines of Sphettus, whom he means by his supposed “disciples.” The reference to the “divine sign” at 31c is playful, like other allusions of the kind in Plato. The real reason why Socrates took no part in active politics is the one he goes on to give, that he knew the hopelessness of such an attempt.

22^ Cf. what Xenophon makes Charmides say about his own finances at Symposium, 29 ff., where there seems to be an (anachronistic) allusion to the effects of the “Decelean” war.

23^ This is implied in the mention of “security” (αὐτοί δ̉’ έγγυασθαι, 38b). Socrates could clearly have paid down the “one mina” of which he had spoken.

24^ Burnet points out loc. cit., the source of the annoyance caused by “sycophants” was the procedure of Attic law, which left it to the “common informer” (Αθηναίων τῷ βουλομένῳ) to institute prosecutions for offences against the “public.”

25^ The point is that “aliens” would run no risks from the συκοφάνται because they could get out of Attic territory in a few hours. The purpose for which Simmias is said to have brought money at 45b 4 is not to appease the συκοφάνται, from whom a Theban could suffer no trouble. From the Phaedo, Simmias appears to have spent the month between the trial and death of Socrates at Athens, but this need not exclude a journey to Thebes to procure money to pay the warders who were to connive at Socrates’ escape. Hence, as I now see, I was wrong in my Varia Socratica in supposing that Meletus is one of the persons meant by the reference to blackmailers.

26^ δικαια ὄντα, 49e. This is inserted to exclude a promise to do what is impermissum in se. Socrates’ view is that a promise to do what is in itself illicit is null and void. But we se e in the sequel that the tacit “compact” by which Socrates is pledged to the νόμοι or κοινόν (social usage or common people) of Athens involves nothing but what is strictly licitum.

27^ Force majeure, fraudulent misrepresentation, insufficient time for consideration, are thus recognized as the three conditions which might affect, severally or conjointly, make a promise void.

28^ 54b. This is, in fact, the fundamental distinction on which Socrates founds his whole argument. When a man is legally but wrongly convicted of an offence he has not committed, the wrong is inflicted not by the law, but by the persons who have misused the law. Anytus, not the law, has done Socrates a wrong. But the prison-breaker is doing what he can to make the whole social system ineffective. His conduct is a direct challenge to the authority of law itself.

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VIII. Phaedo

Introduction. We are now to consider the group of four great dialogues which exhibit Plato’s dramatic art at its ripest perfection. It may fairly be presumed that they all belong to one and the same period of his development as a writer, a view borne out by a cautious and sane use of the available “stylometric” evidence. Outwardly they have all the same form, that of a conversation supposed to have taken place before a numerous audience and subsequently described either by Socrates himself (Protagoras, Republic), or by one of the original auditors (Phaedo, Symposium). We have already found Plato using this difficult literary form for comparatively short dialogues (e.g. Charmides, Euthydemus), but it is a more arduous task to keep it up successfully throughout a work of considerable compass; as we have seen, in the dialogues which there is other reason for thinking later than the Republic, it is only adopted once (in the Parmenides), and there is a formal explanation of its abandonment in the Theaetetus. This is good reason for thinking that Plato’s great achievements in this kind belong neither to his more youthful nor to his later period of literary activity, but to his prime of maturity as a writer (which need not, of course, coincide with his ripest maturity as a thinker). I do not think there is any satisfactory method of dating the four dialogues themselves in the order of their composition. We may reasonably presume that the Republic, as the work of greatest range and compass among them, must have taken longest to write, and was the last to be completed. It also contains what looks like a concealed reference to the Phaedo (Republic 611b 10), though the fact is by no means certain.1 Now there is one consideration which perhaps allows us to fix an approximate date in Plato’s life for the writing of the Republic. In Epinomis vii. 326b, where Plato is describing the state of mind in which he paid his first visit to Italy and Sicily, he says that he had been driven to state, in a eulogy of genuine philosophy (ἐπαινων τὴν ὀρθὴν φιλοσοϕίαν), that humanity will never escape its sufferings until either true philosophers occupy political office |175| or political “rulers,” by some happy providence, turn to philosophy. It seems impossible not to take this as a direct allusion to Republic vi. 499b, where the same thing is said, almost in the same words, as part of a “eulogy” of true philosophy. Since Plato also says (Epinomis vii. 324a) that he was about forty years old at the time of his voyage, this seems to give us 387 B.C. as an approximate date for the writing of the Republic, or, at least, of its central and most difficult section, and we are led to think of his dramatic activity, culminating in the four great “reported dialogues,” as marking the late thirties of his life. Beyond this, so far as I can see, we have no means of going. We cannot tell, for example, whether the Phaedo is earlier or later than the Symposium, or either earlier or later than the Protagoras. My own reason for taking the Phaedo before the other two is simply that it connects outwardly with the events of Socrates’ last day, and consequently illustrates the same side of his thought and character as the three dialogues we have just examined.

As in the case of these three dialogues, I must be content to a considerable extent to refer my reader to Professor Burnet’s commentary for treatment of details. The scene of the conversation is laid at Phlius, where Phaedo of Elis, apparently on his way home from Athens, relates the story of the last hours of Socrates to a party of Phliasian admirers of the philosopher who have not yet had any account of the details. The one member of this party who is named is Echecrates, independently known to us as a Pythagorean. Hence Burnet is probably not far wrong in supposing the story to be told in the “meeting-house” of the local Pythagoreans. The surroundings will thus harmonize with the general tone of the conversation, in which the two principal interlocutors are also pupils of an eminent Pythagorean, Philolaus. It should be noted that these two speakers, Simmias and Cebes, are both represented as young, and that they evidently belong to the group of Pythagoreans in whom the religious side of the original movement has been completely overshadowed by the scientific. It is Socrates who has to recall them to the very conceptions which are at the root of Pythagorean religion, and persuade them that their scientific “developments” are inconsistent with the foundations of that religion. We need also to be alive in reading the Phaedo to two important facts which are sometimes forgotten. One is that Socrates himself is very careful to qualify his assent to the main tenet of the Orphic and Pythagorean faith, the deathlessness of the soul, by cautious reserve as to the details of the eschatology in which that faith has found expression. He is sure that he will leave this world to be with God; he is very far from sure about the rest of the Orphic scheme of rewards and punishments. The other is that we must not take the Phaedo by itself for a complete expression of the whole spirit of Socraticism. It sets Socrates before us in the last hours of his life, and dwells on just the side of his thought and character which would be sure to be most prominent in the given situation, |176| but we should misconceive his doctrine if we did not integrate the picture of the Phaedo with such a representation of the philosopher in the midst of life as we get, for example, in the Protagoras, where the underlying body of doctrine is identical but the situation wholly different and the emphasis correspondingly different. Probably the directest way to an understanding of the influence and personality of Socrates would be to read and meditate these two great dialogues together, interpreting each in the light of the other. (It is worth observing that Aristotle seems to have done something of the kind. His views about the philosophy of Socrates as a whole seem to be derived chiefly from the Phaedo; when he has occasion, in his own Ethics, to discuss the Soctic theses about the conduct of life, it is demonrastrable that the unnamed source of his information is primarily the Protagoras.)

There can be no doubt that Plato intends the reader to take the dialogue as an accurate record of the way in which Socrates spent his last hours on earth, and the topics on which he spoke with his intimate friends in the face of imminent death. This is indicated, for example, by the care shown to give a full list of the names of the persons present. Most of these were probably still living when the Phaedo was circulated; it is quite certain that this was the case with some of them, e.g. Euclides and Terpsion, who, as we see from the Theaetetus, were still alive and active thirty years later; Phaedo, the actual narrator, who is represented in the dialogue as still a mere lad; Aeschines of Sphettus, and others. Though Plato is careful to mention and account for his own absence, it is quite certain that he must have been fully informed of the facts, since the statement that he spent some time after the death of Socrates with Euclides and Terpsion at Megara comes to us on the excellent authority of his own pupil Hermodorus. We are therefore bound to accept his account of Socrates’ conduct and conversation on the last day of his life as in all essentials historical, unless we are willing to suppose him capable of a conscious and deliberate misrepresentation recognizable as such by the very persons whom he indicates as the sources of his narrative. This supposition is to my own mind quite incredible, and I shall therefore simply dismiss it, referring the reader who wishes for discussion of it to the full Introduction to Burnet’s edition of the dialogue.

“The Phaedo is a discourse on Tending the Soul.”

The purpose of the dialogue is not quite accurately described by calling it a discourse on the “immortality of the soul.” To us this suggests that the main object of the reasoning is to prove the soul’s endless survival, and nothing more. But to the Greek mind ἀθανασία (immortality) or ἀφθαρσία (incorruptibility) regularly signified much the same thing as “divinity,” and included the conception of ingenerability as well as of indestructibility. Accordingly, the arguments of the dialogue, whatever their worth may be, aim at showing that our souls never began to be quite as much as at proving that they will never cease to be. But neither of these positions is the main point of the reasoning. The subject of the dialogue is better indicated by the |177| name used by Plato himself in Epinomis xiii. 363a, where it is said to be “the discourse of Socrates about the ψυχή.” The immediate and principal object of the whole conversation is the justification of the life of “tendance of the soul” by insisting on the divinity of the human soul, and on “imitation of God” as the right and reasonable rule of conduct; the immunity of the soul from death is a mere consequence, though an important consequence, of this inherent divinity. The argument is, in the proper sense of the phrase, a moral one; the worth and dignity of the soul afford reasonable grounds for hoping that death is, to a good man, entrance on a better life, an “adventure” which he may face with good comfort — the summary of the whole matter given by Socrates himself at 114d-115a.

A possible misconception which would be fatal to a real understanding of the dialogue is to look upon the members of the series of arguments for immortality as so many independent substantive “proofs,” given by the author or the speaker as all having the same inherent value. Any careful study will show that they are meant to form a series of “aggressions” to the solution of a problem, each requiring and leading up to the completer answer which follows it. In particular, Plato is careful, by skillful use of dramatic by-play and pauses in the conversation, to let us see what he regards as the critical points in the argument. These pauses are principally two, that which occurs at 88c-89a, where the narrative is interrupted by a short dialogue between Phaedo and Echecrates, and 95e-100a, where Socrates relates the story of his early difficulties with the physical “philosophy” of Empedocles, Diogenes, and others. It is evidently meant that the two outstanding difficulties which must be faced by the philosophical defender of the doctrine of immortality are the “epiphenomenalist” theory of consciousness {“body (matter) over mind”} and the “mechanical theory of nature” the one represented for us in the Phaedo by the “objection” of Simmias, and the other by that of Cebes.

As I shall point out later on, Plato himself in the Laws specifies just these theories as being at the root of all irreligious philosophizing, and it would still be true to say that today they constitute the speculative basis for most of the current denials of human immortality. We are thus directed to find in the Phaedo a statement of the position of Socrates on these two perennial issues; for Plato’s own personal attitude towards them we need to look primarily to the express refutation of the “unbeliever” in the tenth book of the Laws. The background presupposed in one refutation is the science of the fifth century, that of the other is the Academic science of the fourth, but both agree in the assertions (a) that mental life is not the effect of bodily causes, and that (b) physical reality itself — “coming into being and passing out of being” — is not explicable in purely mechanical terms. This — apart from the impressive picture of the fortitude of the true philosopher in the moment of death — is the main lesson of the Phaedo.

The immortal narrative must be passed over in the present |178| connexion with just one word. It may not be superfluous to associate ourselves with Burnet’s protest against the absurd charge of “hardness” as a husband which has been brought against the dying Socrates. It is clear that his wife and infant son are supposed to have spent the last night of his life with him in the prison. They are conducted home at the opening of the discourse (60a) for the reason at which Socrates himself hints later on (117d), because Xanthippe is, naturally enough, on the verge of a “nervous breakdown,” and Socrates desires to spare both her and himself. The children and the “ladies of the family” reappear again at the end (116b) for a final interview in the presence of no witness but Crito, the oldest friend of the family, and we are expressly told that the interview was a lengthy one. Phaedo cannot describe this eminently private scene, because he had not witnessed it, but it is the mere fact that he was not present which has given rise to misunderstanding (assisted, perhaps, by the incapacity of modern sentimentalists to understand the reticence of all great art).

The Argument of the Dialogue
I. Statement of the Main Thesis (60b-70b)

The main issue of the dialogue is made to emerge in a simple and natural way from the remark of Socrates that the genuine “philosopher” is one who is ready and willing to die, though he would regard it as “criminal” to put an end to his own life (61c). (That is, he trusts that death is the entrance on a better state, but holds that we may not force the door; we must wait for it to be opened to us in God’s good time. The Pythagorean origin of the absolute veto on suicide is indicated by the allusion to Philolaus at 61d.) This may seem a paradox, but it is intelligible if we conceive of man as a “chattel” (κτημα, property) of God, just as a slave is a (κτημα) “chattel” of his owner, and therefore has no right to dispose of his own life, as it does not belong to him. Socrates would not like to commit himself entirely to the Orphic dogma that while we are in the body we are “in ward” i.e. undergoing penal servitude for ante-natal sin, but he thinks it at least adumbrates this truth that “we men are chattels of the gods” (62b),2 and therefore may not dispose of ourselves as we please. (The kind of κτημα (chattel) meant is clearly a δουλος (slave), who is, as Roman lawyers put it, in the |179| dominium of his owner and therefore has no “proprietary right” in his own body.) Yet in saying this we seem to be merely replacing one paradox by another. If we are the “chattels” of the gods, that means that we are under the “tendance” of good and wise owners who know what is best for us much better than we do ourselves. Death would seem to mean being released from this tendance and left to look after ourselves. Surely a wise man would think such an emancipatio a thing to be dreaded (exactly, that is, as a shrewd slave would be very unwilling to be “freed” from a first-rate owner and left to fend for himself (62d)). The paradox would be a very real one if Socrates were not convinced that after death one will equally be under the care of good and wise gods, and perhaps — though of this he is not equally sure (63c) — in the company of the best men of the past. This is the faith (ἐλπίς = hope) which gives him courage to face death, and he will try to impart it to his friends. Thus the thing to be proved is primarily not the “natural immortality” of the soul. A proof of immortality, taken by itself, would not be adequate ground for facing death in a hopeful spirit. It would be quite consistent with holding that we only leave this world to find ourselves in a much worse one. What is really to be proved, if possible, is that “the souls of the just are in the hand of God” after death as much as before. Socrates, like all great religious teachers, rests his hopes for the unseen future in the last resort on the goodness of God, not on the natural imperishability of the human ψυχή. (So in the Timaeus 41a-b), it is the goodness of the Creator’s will which guarantees the immortality even of the “created gods,” i.e. the stars.) What is to be shown, in fact, is that the faith and hope with which the “philosopher” faces death is the logical consequence and supreme affirmation of the principles by which he has regulated his whole life. To lose faith when, you come to die would be to contradict the whole tenor of your past life; for, though the world may not know it, the life of “philosophy” itself is nothing but one long “rehearsal” (μελέτη)3 of dying (64a). Possibly, indeed, the “world” would say that it does know this well enough; it knows very well that “philosophers” are “morbid” creatures who are only half alive, and that it serves them right to eliminate them (a plain allusion to the Aristophanic caricature of the φροντισταί {an invisible chorus} as |180| living “ghosts”). Only the world is mistaken on one small point; it does not understand the sense in which the philosopher uses the word “death,” and that is what we must explain (64b. It is all the more necessary to attend to the explanation that it is really the key to the whole of the Phaedo, and that its significance has been often misapprehended by both admirers and critics down to our own time as completely as by the δημος (the people) of Thebes or Athens.4

To put the matter quite simply, death, as every one understands, is the “release” of the soul from the body; in other words, it is the achievement of the soul’s independence. Now we can see that what the philosopher has been aiming at all his life long is just to make the soul, as completely as he can, independent of the fortunes of the body. We can see this from the following considerations: (a) The philosopher sets no great store on the gratifications of physical appetite, and disregards the “tendance of the body” in general (fine clothes and foppery) “beyond what is needful.”5 What he “tends” is the soul, and that is why the “mass of men“” think him as good as a ghost or corpse (64c-65a). (b) In his pursuit of knowledge he finds the limitations of the body a hindrance to him in more ways than one, and is always doing his best to escape them. He soon discovers the grossness and untrustworthiness of our senses, even of the two most acute of them, sight and hearing, and tries to arrive at truth more accurate and certain than any which the evidence of sense could furnish. This is why he trusts to thinking rather than to sense; but in thinking, the soul is independent of the body in a way in which she is not independent in sensation. (This is, of course, strictly true. Socrates would probably be thinking primarily of the danger of trusting to a “figure” in mathematics, a danger which will be mentioned a little further on. It is equally true that, even in our own times, when the scientific man is so abundantly supplied with “instruments of precision,” we have always to allow for a margin of unknown error in all conclusions depending on data derived from sense-perception; absolute accuracy and certainty can only be obtained, if at all, in “pure” science which makes no appeal to sense, even for its data.) So pleasurable or painful excitement derived from the body also gravely interferes with the prosecution of truth. (One is hampered in one’s scientific work when one’s head aches or one’s liver is out of order.) (c) The supreme objects of our studies, “the right,” “the good,” “the beautiful,” “figure,” “health,” in short, “the reality” (οὐσία) |181| investigated by any science is always something which none of the senses perceives, and the less we depend on any of them — the less, that is, we substitute “sensing” for “thinking” in our science — the nearer we come to apprehending the object we are really studying (65d-66a).6 Having all these considerations in mind, we may fairly take a “short cut” (ἀτραπός) to the conclusion that so long as we have the body with us it will always be a hindrance to the apprehension of “reality” (τὸ ἀληθές (the true)) as it is. At the best we lose much valuable time by being obliged to take care of the body. If it gets out of condition, our quest of “the real” (τὸ ὄν, the real) is even more hindered. Bodily wants and the passions connected with them — which, incidentally, are the causes of business and war, the two great occupations of the “active life” — leave us hardly any opportunity or leisure for the pursuit of knowledge. And even in the scanty time we are able to devote to the things of the mind, the body and its needs are constantly “turning up” and diverting our attention. Thus the man who is really “in love with knowledge” must confess that his heart’s desire is either only to be won after death, when the soul has achieved her independence of her troublesome partner, or not at all. While we are in the body, we make the nearest approach to our supreme good just in proportion as we accomplish the concentration of the soul on herself and the detachment of her attention from the body, waiting patiently until God sees fit to complete the deliverance for us. When that happens, we may hope, having become unmixed and undiluted intelligence, to apprehend undiluted reality. Meanwhile, the life of thinking itself is a progressive purifying of intelligence from the alien element and a concentration of it on itself. The philosopher is the only type of man who makes it the business of his life to accomplish this purgation and concentration and so to win spiritual independence. This is why we may call his life a “rehearsal of death,” and why unwillingness to complete the process would be ridiculous in him (66c-68b). The conception set before us in these pages is manifestly the Hellenic counterpart of the “mystical way” of Christianity. The underlying ideas of both conceptions are |182| that there is a supreme good for man which, from its very nature, cannot be enjoyed “in this life.” The best life is therefore one which is directed to fitting ourselves for the full fruition of this “eternal” good beyond the limits of our temporal existence. In both cases this means that the highest life for man while on earth is a “dying life,” a process of putting off the old man with the affections and the lusts and becoming a “new creature.” The constant presence of this aim makes the life of devotion to science, as conceived by Socrates and his friends, a genuine via crucis. And they, like the Christian mystics, conceive of the best life as one of contemplation, not of action. The ultimate aim of the “philosopher” is not to do things, but to enjoy the vision of a reality to which he grows like as he looks upon it, the ideal already expressed in the apologue of the “three lives” popularly ascribed to Pythagoras. We must be careful, however, to guard ourselves against two insidious misconceptions. For all the stress laid on “purification” of the mind from contact with the body, we must not suppose that Socrates is thinking of a life of mere negative abstentions.

“Plato’s conception of the soul is manifestly the Hellenic counterpart of the ‘mystical way’ of Christianity.”

The whole point of the insistence on unremitting preoccupation with thinking as the philosophic form of “purgation” is that the object of the renunciation of the philosopher is to make his life richer; by “purification” from external preoccupations, his intelligence becomes more and more intense and concentrated, just as, e.g., alcohol becomes more potent the more nearly your specimen is “pure” alcohol. Nor must one suppose that the contemplative life, because it is not directed ultimately on action, is one of indolence or laziness. Socrates, who claims in our dialogue to have spent his whole life “in philosophy” was busy from morning to night with his “mission.” Probably, when we remember the way in which Plato in the seventh Epistle insists on the political character of his own original ambitions and on his lifelong conviction that the business of the philosopher among men is to be a statesman, we may infer that he would not himself at any time have subscribed to the doctrine of the vita contemplativa without a great deal of explanation and reservation. Even the Pythagoreans who formulated the doctrine had stood alone among the scientific schools in playing an important part, as a society, in the politics of the early fifth century. They only became a merely scientific society when their political activities had been crushed by revolution. But it may well be that the ablest men of action feel even more strongly than the rest of us that the “conduct of business,” the carrying on of commerce, governing, and fighting cannot be its own justification. To be everlastingly “meddling” seems an end not worthy the dignity of human nature; at bottom we all want not to do something but to be something. To make “doing things” your ultimate object is merely to take “Fidgety Phil who couldn’t keep still” as your model of manly excellence. It has been said with truth that the great “practical reforms” which |183| have proved of lasting value have mostly been the work of men whose hearts were all the time set on something different.

If a man, then, plays the craven when death comes, we may be sure he is no true “lover of wisdom,” but a “lover of the body” which is as much as to say a man whose heart is set on wealth (a φιλοχρήματος) or on “honors” (a φιλότιμος), or both at once (68c. This direct allusion to the Pythagorean “three lives” is, of course, intentional.) On the other hand, the philosopher will be marked by eminent courage and eminent “temperance” in the popular sense in which the word means control over one’s physical appetites. In fact, when we come to reflect, there is something paradoxical about the courage and temperance of the rest of mankind. They are courageous in the face of danger because courage serves to protect them against death, which they fear as the worst of evils. Thus their very valour is rooted in a sort of cowardice. (As an Indian says of the English in one of Kipling’s tales, “they are not afraid to be kicked, but they are afraid to die.”) And the decent (κόσμιοι) among them keep their lusts in hand because they think they will get more pleasure by doing so than by giving way, so that “slavery to pleasure” is the source of what they call their “temperance.” But the truth is that real virtue is not a business of exchanging pleasures and pains against one another. Wisdom is the true “coin of the realm” for which everything else must be exchanged, and it is only when accompanied by it that our so-called “virtues” are genuine goodness (ἀληθὴς ἀρετή). Without it, the kind of goodness which is based on the “calculus of pleasure and pain is no more than a painted showpainted show7 (σκιαγραφία, silhouette). The Orphic saying is that “many carry the narthex but few are real βάκχος (initiates),” and we might apply this to our purpose by taking the “real βάκχος,” who genuinely feels the “god within,” to mean the true philosopher. Of these chosen few Socrates has all his life tried to become one; with what success he may know better in a few hours (68b-69e).8

II. The Arguments for Immortality

In substance, what has gone before contains Socrates’ vindication of his attitude in the face of death. But, as Simmias remarks, the whole vindication has tacitly assumed that there is an hereafter. Now most men find it very hard to believe that the soul |184| is not “dispersed like smoke” when a man dies, and Simmias shares their difficulty. To complete his “case” Socrates must therefore satisfy us that the soul continues to be, and to be intelligent after the death of the “man.” Accordingly he now proceeds to produce three considerations which point to that conclusion. It is not said that they are demonstrative. Simmias had asked only for πίστις (pistis = conviction), not for demonstration, and Socrates professes no more than to consider whether immortality is “likely” (εἰκός = probable) or not. In point of fact, the first two proofs are found to break down and the third, as Burnet observes, is said by Socrates (107b 6) to need fuller examination. Thus it is plain that Plato did not mean to present the arguments as absolutely probative to his own mind. The argument he does find convincing and develops at great length in the Laws is put briefly into the mouth of Socrates in the Phaedrus, but no mention is made of it here.9

(a) The First Argument (70c-77d) — This argument itself falls into two parts, α (70c-72e) and β (72e-77d); the two have to be considered in conjunction to make anything which can be called a proof, and what they go to prove is not “immortality” but merely that the soul continues to be “something” after death. It is not simply annihilated. This, of course, is only the first step to establishing what is really in question, the persistence of intelligence beyond the grave.

(α) First Reason for Holding that the Soul is not Simply Annihilated at Death (70c-72e) — There is an ancient doctrine (it is, in fact, Orphic) of rebirth, according to which a soul which is born into this world is one which has come back from “another world” to which men go at death. This, if true, would establish our point. To look at the matter from a more general point of view, we see that the world is made up of “opposites” (ἐναντία) — such as hot, cold; great, small; good, bad. Now if a thing “becomes bigger” it must have first been “smaller,” if it becomes hotter it must have been cooler, if it becomes “better” it must have been “worse” and so on. So we may say universally that whatever comes to be, comes to be “out of its opposite and that to correspond to each pair of opposites, there are two antithetical processes of “becoming.” Hot and cold are opposites, and similarly there are the two processes of contrasted sense, “becoming hotter,” “becoming |185| cooler.” All this will apply to the case of life and death. Being alive and being dead are opposites, just as being awake and being asleep are. And we have agreed that everything comes to be “out of its opposite.” The living must come from the dead, and the dead from the living, and thus here, as elsewhere, there will be two opposed processes, corresponding to the two opposed conditions of being alive and being dead. We see and have a name for one of these processes, that by which a living being becomes dead; we call it dying. But there must, on our principle, also be an antithetic process of “coming to life” which terminates in actual birth. In fact, if the whole process were not cyclical, life would ultimately perish, and there would be only a dead universe left. Thus the drift of the argument is simply to confirm the “ancient doctrine” of rebirth by showing that it is only one case of the universal natural law of cyclical “recurrence.” The illustrations from the alternation of sleep and waking seem to show that Socrates is thinking primarily of the way in which this “law of exchange” had been assumed as the fundamental principle of the philosophy of Heraclitus, with whom death and life, sleeping and waking, are explicitly coordinated (Her. Fr. 64, 77, 123, Bywater). But the general conception of the world as made up of “opposites” which are generated “out of one another” was, of course, a commonplace of the earliest Greek physical science (cf. Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy 3, p. 8). Socrates’ Pythagorean auditors, in particular, would be at once reminded of their own table of “opposites” by reasoning of this kind.

(It is easy to see that the reasoning is neither cogent nor, if it were, probative of what we want to prove. As Aristotle was afterward to explain more fully, the whole conception of the generation of opposite “out of” opposite is vitiated by an ambiguity in the phrase “out of.” A thing which grows cool has previously been warmer, but it is not true that “heat” is a stuff or matter out of which “cold” is made. In Aristotelian language, the thing which grows cool has lost the “form” of “the hot” and acquired the “form” of the cold; the original “form” has not itself been made into an “opposite” form. Again, it is simply assumed, without warrant, that cyclical alternation is the universal law of all processes. To us there is no absurdity in the view that living organisms should finally vanish, or that differences of temperature should cease to exist. If the “principle of Carnot” could be taken to be true without any restriction, we should have to regard these consequences as inevitable. For the purposes of Socrates, however, it is sufficient that the reasoning should be based on assumptions which would be granted as common ground by his audience; it is not necessary that they should be admitted by anyone else. Still, even when his assumptions are granted, nothing follows so far beyond the bare admission that the soul which has passed from this world to the other, and will, in turn, come back from the other world to this, has some sort of reality in the interval; it has not |186| become a mere nothing. To admit so much would, of course, be compatible with the crudest kind of materialism, and would do nothing to justify the conviction Socrates means to defend, the belief that the soul which has won its independence has passed to a “better” life.10 Hence the necessity for a combination of this line of reasoning with that which is next introduced.)

(β) The Argument from the Doctrine of Reminiscence (72e-77d) — Cebes observes that we might have reached our conclusion, independently of the doctrine of recurrence, by arguing from Socrates’ habitual position that what we call “learning” a truth is really being “put in mind” of something we had forgotten. If this is true, we must at one time have known all that in this life we have to be “reminded” of. Our souls must have existed “before we were men” and presumably therefore may continue to exist when we have ceased to be men. (This argument, if sound, brings us nearer to the conclusion we want, since it goes to prove that the soul not only was “something” but was fully intelligent before it had been conjoined with the body.) The main argument for this doctrine of reminiscence, we are told, is the one already considered in the Meno, that a man can be made to give the true solution of a problem by merely asking him appropriate questions, as we see particularly in the case of problems of geometry.11 The answer is produced from within, not communicated by the questioner. |187| Hence the answerer is plainly in possession of the truth which the questioner elicits. Socrates points out that the conclusion might be reached by a simple consideration of what we call “association.” When you see an article belonging to an intimate friend, you not only see the article, but think of the owner, and that is what we mean by saying that the coat or whatever it is, “reminds” us of its owner (“association by Contiguity”). Again, when you see a portrait, you think of or “are reminded” of the original (“association by Resemblance”). Thus you may be “reminded” of something both by what is unlike it (“Contiguity”) and by what is like it (“Resemblance”). In the second case we also note whether the likeness is complete or not (e.g. whether the portrait is a good one or a bad one).

Well, then, let us consider a precisely parallel case. In mathematics we are constantly talking about “equality” — not the equality of one stone to another stone, or of one wooden rod to another wooden rod, but of the “just equal” (αὐτὸ τὸ ἴσον), which is neither wood nor stone — and we know that we mean something by this talk. But what has put the thought of the “just equal” into our minds? The sight of equal or unequal sticks, or something of the kind. And we note two things, (a) The “just equal” is something different from a stick or a stone which is equal to another stick or stone; we see the sticks or stones, we do not see “mathematical equality.” (b) And the so-called equal sticks or stones we do see are not exactly, but only approximately, equal. (Even with instruments of precision we cannot measure a length without having to allow for a margin of error.) Thus plainly the objects about which the mathematician reasons are not perceived by the eye or the hand; the thought of them is suggested to him by the imperfect approximations he sees and touches, and this suggestion of B by A is exactly what we mean by “being reminded of B by A.” But A cannot remind us of B unless we have already been acquainted with B. Now from the dawn of our life here, our senses have always been thus “reminding us” of something which is not directly perceptible by sense (i.e. perception has always carried with it estimation by an “ideal” standard). Hence our acquaintance with the standards themselves must go back to a time before our sensations began, i.e. to a time before our birth. We have argued the case with special reference to the objects studied by the mathematician, but it applies equally to all other “ideal standards” like those of ethics, the good, the right; in fact, to everything which Socrates and his friends called a “form.” The only alternative to supposing that we had antenatal acquaintance with these “forms” would be to say that we acquired it at the moment of birth. But this is absurd, since we are quite agreed that we bring none of this knowledge into the world with us; we have to recover it slowly enough from the hints and suggestions of the senses. We conclude then that if “the kind of being we are always talking about,” that is the “forms,” exist, and if they are the standard by which we interpret all our |188| sensations, it must be equally true that our souls also existed and were actively intelligent before our birth (76d-e). (One should note several things about the way in which the doctrine of the “forms” is introduced into this argument. For one thing, we see that there is no room in the theory for “innate ideas” in the strict sense of the word, and that there is no question of a knowledge acquired independently of experience. The whole point of the argument is that we should never be “put in mind” of the “forms” but for the suggestion of the senses. Again, the most important feature of the process of “being reminded” is that sense-perceptions suggest standards to which they do not themselves conform. The same visual sensations which suggest the notion “straight” to me, for example, are the foundation of the judgment that no visible stick is perfectly straight. The “form” is thus never contained in, or presented by, the sensible experience which suggests it. Like the “limit” of an infinite series, it is approximated but never reached. These two considerations, taken together, show that the theory does full justice to both parts of the Kantian dictum that “percepts without concepts are blind, concepts without percepts are empty.“empty."12 We may also note, as Burnet has done, that the stress laid on the point that the sensible thing always falls short of a complete realisation of the “form” means that sensible things are being treated as “imitations” (μιμήματα, memes) of the “form” a view we know from Aristotle to have been Pythagorean. It is quite untrue to say that the “imitation” formula only appears in Plato’s latest dialogues as an improvement on his earlier formula of “participation.” In the Phaedo itself Socrates starts with the conception of things as “imitating” forms; “participation” will only turn up at a later stage in the argument.)

Simmias is particularly delighted with this argument precisely because, as he says, it proves the ante-natal existence of the soul to be a consequence of the doctrine of Forms, and that he regards as the most clear and evident of all truths (77a). (This delight, by the way, would be quite unintelligible on the theory that the doctrine was an invention of Plato.) But, as he goes on to say after a moment’s reflection, to prove that the soul “arose” before our birth is not to prove that it will survive death, and it is against the fear of death that Socrates has to provide an antidote. Formally, as Socrates says, the point would be established if we take arguments (α) and (β) together. (β) has proved the |189| preexistence of the soul, (α) will prove — on the assumption that the alternate cycle of birth and death is endless — that the souls of the dead must continue to exist in order that men may continue to be born. But the “child in us” which is afraid of the dark is not to be quieted so readily, and we must try the effect of a more potent “charm” on him (77a-78b).

(b) Second Argument for Immortality (78b-84b) — This argument goes much more to the root of the question, since it is based not on any current general philosophical formula, but on consideration of the intrinsic character of a soul. In Aristotelian language, the first proof has been “logical” the second is to be “physical.” The reasoning adopted lies at the bottom of all the familiar arguments of later metaphysicians who deduce the immortality of the soul from its alleged character as a “simple substance,” the “paralogism” attacked by Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason. The “proof,” as Kant knew it from the writings of men like Wolff and Moses Mendelssohn, is a mere ghost of that offered in the Phaedo. Socrates’ point is not that the soul is a “simple substance,” — he had not so much as the language in which to say such a thing — but that it is, as the Orphic religion had taught, something divine. Its “deiformity,” not its indivisibility, is what he is anxious to establish; the indivisibility is a mere consequence. Hence he is not affected by Kant’s true observation that discerption is not the only way in which a soul might perish. No doubt it might perish, as Kant said, by a steady diminution of the intensity of its vitality, if it were not divine,13 but what is divine in its own nature is in no more danger of evanescence than of discerption.

Simmias had spoken of the possible “dissipation” of the soul at death. Now what sort of thing is liable to dissipation and what not? Obviously it is the composite which, by its own nature, is liable to be dissipated; the incomposite, if there is such a thing, should be safe from such a fate. And it is reasonable to hold that whatever maintains one and the same character in all circumstances is incomposite, what is perpetually changing its character is composite. Thus for the crude contrast between the “simple” and the composite, we substitute the more philosophical antithesis between the permanent and the mutable. (This takes us at once to ground where Kant’s criticism would not affect us. If the soul is, in any sense, immutable, it is so far secured against the lowering of intensity of which Kant speaks.) In the kind of being of which we speak in our scientific studies, the being we are always trying to define — the “forms,” in fact — we have a standard of the absolutely immutable. “Just straight,” “just right,” “just good,” are once and for all exactly what they are, and are invariable. |190| But the many things which we call by the same names as the “forms” are in perpetual mutation. (The “good” man loses his goodness, the “handsome” garment its beauty, and so on.) Now these latter mutable things are all things you can touch or see or apprehend by one or other of the senses; the immutable “standards” are one and all apprehensible only by thought. This suggests that we may recognize two types of objects, each type having a pair of characters — the invisible and immutable, and the visible and mutable.14 Also we are agreed that we have a body and have a soul. To which of our types does each of these belong? Clearly the body can be seen, the soul is invisible (of course “seen” and “unseen” are being used here per synecdochen for “sensed,” “not sensed,” respectively). In respect of this character there can be no doubt of the type to which each belongs. What about the other pair of contrasted characters? As we said before, when the soul relies on the sense-organs in her investigations she finds the objects she is studying perpetually shifting, and loses her own way (πλαναται) among them. When she relies on her native power of thinking and attends to objects which are strictly determinate and unchanging, she finds her way among them without uncertainty and confusion, and it is just this condition of the soul we call “wisdom” or intelligence (φρόνησις). This would indicate that the soul herself belongs more truly to the type with which she is most at home, the immutable, whereas the body certainly belongs to the mutable.15

Again, in the partnership of soul and body, it is the soul which is rightly master and the body servant (the thought which the Academy crystallized in the definition of man as a soul using a human body as its instrument). Now it is for the divine to command and rule, for the mortal to serve and obey; hence it is the soul in us which plays the divine, the body which plays the mortal part. (This brings us at last to the point on which Socrates really means to insist, the “deiformity” or “kinship with God” of the |191| soul. In view of the standing Greek equation of “immortal” with “divine,” the formal inference to the immortality of the soul follows as a matter of course.)

The soul, then, is relatively the permanent and divine thing in us, the body the merely human and mutable. We should therefore expect the body to be relatively perishable, the soul to be either wholly imperishable or nearly so. And yet we know that, with favourable circumstances,16 even a dead body may be preserved from corruption for ages, and there are parts of the body which seem all but indestructible. Much more should we expect that a soul which has made itself as far as possible independent of the mutable body, and has escaped by death to the divine and invisible, will be lifted above mutability and corruption. But if a soul has all through life set its affections on bodily things and the gratifications of appetite, it may be expected to hanker after the body even when death has divorced them, and be dragged down into the cycle of births again by this hankering. We may suppose that the place in the animate system into which it is reborn is determined by the nature of its specific lusts, so that each soul’s own lusts provide it with its appropriate “hell,” the sensual being reborn as asses, the rapacious and unjust as beasts of prey, and so forth. The mildest fate will be that of the persons who have practiced the “popular goodness” misnamed temperance and justice without “philosophy” (i.e. of those who have simply shaped their conduct by a respectable moral tradition without true insight into the good, or, in Kantian phrase, have lived “according to duty,” though not “from duty”). These, we may suppose, are reborn as “social creatures,” like bees and ants, or as men again, and they make “decent bodies” as mankind goes. The attainment of “divinity” or “deiformity” is reserved for the man who has resolutely lived the highest of the three lives, that of the “lover of wisdom,” and subdued his lusts, not like the “lover of wealth” from fear of poverty, nor like the “lover of honor” from concern for his reputation, but from love of good. This explains the reason why the lover of wisdom lives hard. It is because he knows that what a man comes to feel pleasure and pain about becomes his engrossing interest. To find your joy and woe in the gratifications of the body means to come to be bound up with its fortunes, and this bars the way to deification and binds you down to the wheel of birth. It is for the sake of this supreme good, “deification,” that the lover of wisdom denies “the flesh.” To consent to its motions would be to act like Penelope, who unwove by night what she had spent the day in weaving. Now a man whose whole life has been an aspiration to rise above mutability to deiformity will be the last person to fear that the new and abiding |192| deiform self which is being built up in him will be unbuilt by the event of death.17

(I make no apology for having drawn freely on the characteristic language of Christian mysticism in expounding this argument. Under all the real differences due to the Christian’s belief in the historical reality of the God-man, the ideal of Socrates and the Christian ideal are fundamentally identical. The central thought in both cases is that man is born a creature of temporality and mutability into a temporal and mutable environment. But, in virtue of the fact that there is a something “divine” in him, he cannot but aspire to a good which is above time and mutability, and thus the right life is, from first to last, a process by which the merely secular and temporal self is re-made in the likeness of the eternal. If we understand this, we shall be in no danger of supposing that Socrates is merely anticipating the jejune argument from the indivisibility of a “simple substance” or that the Kantian polemic against Wolffian rationalism seriously affects his reasoning. The thought is that the real nature of the soul has to be learned from a consideration of the nature of the specific “good” to which it aspires. A creature whose well-being consists in living for an “eternal” good cannot be a mere thing of time and change. In this sense, the morality of the Platonic dialogues, like all morality which can command an intelligent man’s respect, is from first to last “other-worldly.”)

First Interlude (84c-85b) — At this point the thread of the argument is broken; a general silence ensues, but Simmias and Cebes are observed to be whispering together, as though they were not quite satisfied. Artistically the break serves the purpose of lowering the pitch of the conversation and relieving the emotional strain. It also has a logical function. Impressive as the moral argument for immortality is, there are scientific objections to it of which we have so far heard nothing, and these deserve to be carefully stated and adequately met, since we cannot be called on to accept any view of man’s destiny, however attractive, which contradicts known scientific truth, nor is Socrates the man to wish, even in the immediate presence of death, to acquiesce in a faith which is not a reasonable faith. That would be simple cowardice (84e). He has just broken out into his “swan-song,” and like the swans, his fellow-servants of the Delphic (? Delian) god, he sings for hope and joy, not in lamentation. He is therefore robust enough in his faith to be only too ready to hear and consider any objections.

Objections of Simmias and Cebes (85c-88c) — Simmias thinks, like a modern “agnostic” that certainty about our destiny may be unattainable. He would at heart like to be able to appeal to |193| “revelation” (a λόγος θειος, 85d) on such a question, but agrees that, in the absence of a revelation, one should resolutely examine all human speculations on the problem, and adopt that which will stand close scrutiny best. The difficulty he feels about Socrates’ reasoning is that what he has said about the soul and the body might equally be said about the “melody” of a musical instrument and the strings which make the music. The strings are visible and tangible bodies, are composite and perishable, the music is invisible, incorporeal, and “divine.” But it would clearly be absurd to argue that, for this reason, the music still exists and sounds “somewhere” when the instrument is broken. Now it is “our belief” that the body is like a musical instrument whose strings are its ultimate components, the hot, cold, moist, and dry, and that the soul is the music this instrument gives out when these “strings” are properly tuned. If this is so, we may grant that the soul is “divine” like all beauty and proportion, but we must also grant that disease and other disturbances of the constitution of the organism break the strings of the instrument or put them out of tune, and this makes it impossible to argue that because the debris of the broken instrument continues to exist after the fracture, a fortiori the music must persist still more immutably (85e-86d).

Cebes has a different objection. He does not attach much importance to the epiphenomenalism of Simmias, but he complains that nothing has really been proved beyond “preexistence,” which has been all along regarded as guaranteed by the doctrine of “reminiscence.” Even if we grant that the soul, so far from being a mere resultant of bodily causes, actually makes its own body, this only shows it to be like a weaver who makes his own cloak. In the course of his life he makes and wears out a great many cloaks, but when he dies he leaves the last cloak he has made behind him, and it would be ridiculous to argue that he cannot be dead because the cloak which he made is still here, and a man lasts longer than a cloak. So the soul might make and wear out a whole succession of bodies — indeed, if it is true that the body is always being broken down by waste of tissue and built up again by the soul, something of this sort happens daily. But even if we go so far as to assume that the soul repeatedly makes itself a new body after the death of an old one, it may be that, like the weaver, it exhausts its vigour sooner or later, and so will make a last body, after the death of which the soul will no longer exist. And we can never be sure that the building up of our present body is not the last performance of such a worn-out soul, and consequently that the death we are now awaiting may not be a complete extinction (86e-88b).

These objections, Phaedo says, struck dismay into the whole company, with the single exception of Socrates. For they appeared to dispose of the whole case for immortality, and, what was worse, they made the hearers, who had been profoundly impressed by Socrates’ discourse, feel that they would never be able to put any confidence in their own judgment again, if what had seemed to be |194| completely proved could be so easily disposed of. Plato is careful to interrupt the narrative at this point still more completely, by allowing Echecrates to add that he sympathizes with the general consternation, since he too has hitherto been strongly convinced that the soul is the “attunement” of the body and is therefore anxious to know how Socrates met the difficulty (88c-e).

The purpose of all this by-play is to call attention to the critical importance of the two problems which have just been raised. We are, in fact, at the turning-point of the discussion. The “moral” argument based on the divinity of the soul, as proved by the character of the good to which it aspires, has been stated in all its impressiveness, and we have now to consider whether “science” can invalidate it. To use Kantian language, we have seen what the demand of “practical reason” is, and the question is whether there is an insoluble conflict between this demand and the principles of the “speculative reason,” as Echecrates and the auditors of Socrates fear, or, in still more familiar language, the question is whether there is or is not an ultimate discord between “religion” and “science.”

As to the source and purport of the two objections it may be enough to say a very few words. That of Simmias, as is indicated by the remarks of Echecrates, is represented by Plato as based on the medical and physiological theories of the younger Pythagoreans. It is a natural development from the well-known theory of Alcmaeon that health depends on the ἰσονομίη or “constitutional balance” between the constituents of the organism. The comparison with the “attunement” of the strings of a musical instrument would be suggested at once by the Pythagorean discovery of the simple ratios corresponding to the intervals of the musical scale. From this to the conclusion that “mind” is the tune given out by the “strings” of the body, the music made by the body, is a very easy step; and since we now know that Philolaus, the teacher of Cebes and Simmias, had specially interested himself in medicine, we may make a probable conjecture that we are dealing with his doctrine (which is also that of his contemporary Empedocles, Frs. 107, 108). Since the same doctrine appears in Parmenides (Fr. 16), it was clearly making its way among the Pythagoreans by the beginning of the fifth century, though it is, of course, quite inconsistent with their religious beliefs about re-birth in animal bodies: (on all this, see Early Greek Philosophy 3 295-296).

In principle the theory is exactly that of modern “epiphenomenalism,” according to which “consciousness” is a mere byproduct of the activities of the bodily organism, the “whistle,” as Huxley said, given off by the steam as it escapes from the engine. A satisfactory refutation of it must ipso facto be a refutation of the whole epiphenomenalist position.

The source of the difficulty raised by Cebes is different. His allusion to the alternation of waste and repair in the organism at once suggests a Heraclitean origin; he is thinking of the view of |195| Heraclitus that the apparent stability of “things” lasts just so long as the antithetical processes of the “way up” and the “way down” balance one another, and no longer. (For the evidence of Heraclitean influences on fifth-century Pythagoreanism, see Early Greek Philosophy 3 Index, s.v. Hippasos; Greek Philosophy, Part I, 87-88.) How “modern” Cebes’ point is will best be seen by reflecting that the Heraclitean theory of “exchanges” is really a dim anticipation of the modern principle of the conservation of energy. The argument is, in effect, one quite familiar in our own times. If we reject epiphenomenalism and admit interaction between mind and body, it is argued that the mind must part with “energy” in acting on the body, and Cebes, like a modern physicist appealing to the principle of Carnot, holds that this loss of energy cannot be made good indefinitely. A time will come when the effective energy of the ψυχή has been wholly dissipated. Thus his criticism, like that of Simmias, is precisely of the kind which a man of science is tempted to urge against the belief in immortality in our own day. The one difference between the two positions is that the objection of Simmias is primarily that of a biologist, the difficulty of Cebes is that of a physicist. Cebes may also be said in a way to be anticipating Kant’s criticism of the argument from the “simplicity” of the soul. His conception of the soul as perishing by wearing out her stock of vitality answers pretty closely to Kant’s conception of a gradual sinking of the “intensity” of “consciousness” to the zero-level.

Solution of the Scientific Difficulties (88e-102a) — This section of the dialogue falls into three subdivisions. There is first a preliminary discourse by Socrates intended to warn us against being disgusted with serious thinking by the occurrence of difficulties and so led into mere “irrationalism,” next a discussion of the difficulty of Simmias, and then a longer treatment of the much more fundamental problem raised by Cebes, this last subdivision receiving a special narrative introduction of its own.

(α) The Warning Against Misology (89a-91c) — Socrates, alone of the company, shows himself calm and even playful in the presence of the bolt — or rather bolts — just shot from the blue. The “argument,” at any rate, shall be “raised again,” if he can perform the miracle. But whether he succeeds or not, he would at least utter a solemn warning against “misology,” irrationalism. Distrust of reason arises much in the same way as misanthropy, distrust of our fellows. The commonest cause of misanthropy is an unwise confidence based on ignorance of character. When a man has repeatedly put this ignorant confidence in the unworthy and been disillusioned, he often ends by conceiving a spite against mankind and denouncing humanity as radically vicious. But the truth is that exalted virtue and gross wickedness are both rare. What the disillusioned man ought to blame for his experience is his own blind ignorance of human nature. So if a man who has not the art of knowing a sound argument from an unsound one has found |196| himself repeatedly misled by his blind trust in unsound “discourses” there is a real danger that he will lay the blame on the weakness of our intellectual faculties and end as a mere irrationalist.18 To avoid this fate, when we find our most cherished convictions apparently breaking down under criticism we must lay the blame not on the inherent untrust worthiness of “discourse” but on our own rashness in committing ourselves to an uncriticised position. We will therefore reconsider our case and try to meet the objections which have been brought against us, in the spirit of men who are contending honestly for truth, not for an argumentative victory.

(β) The Objection of Simmias removed (91c-95a) — In the first place, it may be pointed out that the difficulty raised by Simmias is incompatible with his own professed principles. He avows himself satisfied now by what had been already said that knowledge is “reminiscence” and that, consequently, our souls existed before they wore our present bodily guise. Plainly that cannot be the case if the soul is an “epiphenomenon” the melody given out by the body, the “whistle of the engine” to recur to Huxley’s version of the same doctrine. The musical instrument must preexist and its strings be screwed up to the right pitch before the melody can be there. We may assert either that all knowledge is “reminiscence” or that the soul is an epiphenomenon; we must not assert both propositions at once. And Simmias himself has no doubt which of the two positions has the better claim to acceptance. The doctrine of “reminiscence” has been deduced from the “postulate” (ὑπόθεσις) of the reality of the “forms,” a principle which Simmias has all through accepted as certain. The epiphenomenalist theory of the soul rests on nothing more than a plausible analogy, and we all know how deceptive such analogies can be — in geometry, for example (92d).

(There is real point in Socrates’ argumentum ad hominem, independently of the assumption of preexistence. We may compare the story of W. G. Ward’s crushing reply to Huxley, who had just explained mental life to his own satisfaction by epiphenomenalism plus the laws of association, “You have forgotten memory,” i.e. the fundamental fact of the recognition of the past as past. As Huxley had to admit, his scheme could give no account of recognition, and without presupposing recognition it would not work.)

But the epiphenomenalist theory is not merely incompatible with our unproved postulate about “forms”; it is also demonstrably false on independent grounds. There are two things which are characteristic of every “attunement” or “melody”; every “attunement” is completely determined by its constituents, and no “attunement” admits of degrees. If a pair of vibrating strings |197| have one determinate ratio, the interval their notes make will be the fourth, and cannot possibly be anything else; if they have another determinate ratio, the interval will be the fifth, and so on. Again, a string either is “in tune” or it is not, and there is no third alternative, Between any pair of notes there is one definite interval; they make that interval exactly and they make no other. C and G♭, for example, make an interval as definite, though not as pleasing, as C and G. “No attunement is more or less of an attunement than any other.” What inferences about the soul would follow from these two considerations, if the soul is an “attunement”? It would follow at once from the second thesis that no one soul can be more or less of a soul than any other. But we have to reckon with the recognized fact that some souls are better or worse than others. Now there seems to be a real analogy between goodness and being “in tune” and between badness and being “out of tune.” Either then we should have to express this difference by saying that one “attunement” (the good soul) is more “attuned” than another (the bad soul), and our own admissions forbid us to say this; or we must say that the good soul not only is an “attunement” but has a second further “attunement” within itself, and this is manifestly absurd. If a soul is an “attunement,” we can only say that every soul is as much an “attunement” as any other, and this amounts to saying that no one soul is morally better or worse than another, or even that all souls, since all are precise “attunements,” are perfectly good. But this denial of differences of moral worth is manifestly ridiculous. The argument is, then, that epiphenomenalism is incompatible with the recognition of differences of moral worth, and that these differences are certainly real. A theory which conflicts with the first principles of ethics must be false, since these principles are certain truth.

(The argument, though stated in a way unfamiliar to us, is precisely that which weighs with men who are in earnest with ethics against a philosophy like Spinoza’s. Though Spinoza does not make “consciousness depend causally on the organism, for practical purposes his theory of the independent “attributes” works out in the same way as epiphenomenalism. The ψυχή, though not causally dependent on the constituents of the organism, is supposed to be mathematically determinable as a function of them. Consequently, just as Simmias has to allow that no “attunement” is more or less an “attunement” than any other, Spinoza holds a rigidly nominalist doctrine about “human nature.” There is really no such thing as a “human nature” of which Peter or Paul is a good specimen, but Nero a very bad one. Nero is not, properly speaking, a bad specimen of a man; he is a perfect specimen of a Nero. To say that he may be a perfect Nero, but is a very bad man, is judging by a purely arbitrary and “subjective” standard. (See Ethics, Part I, Appendix, Part IV., Preface.) But, if this is so, Spinoza is undertaking an impossible task in writing a treatise on the good for man and the way to obtain it.)

|198| Again, we have to consider the consequences of the thesis that an “attunement” is a determinate function of its constituents. Given the constituents, the musical “interval” between them is also once and for all completely given. Now the most potent fact about our moral life is that it is a conflict or struggle between an element whose rightful function is to dominate and direct, and a second whose place is to obey and be directed. The soul is constantly repressing the desires for gratification of appetites connected with the body. (It is not meant, of course, that the whole of moral discipline consists in subduing such elementary appetites; they are taken as examples because they are the simplest and most obvious illustration of a principle.) The moral life is a process of subjugation of the “flesh” and its desires to the “godly motions of the spirit.” The “spirit” which dominates the “flesh” clearly cannot be itself just the “attunement” or “scale” constituted by the ingredients of the “flesh.” If this were so, the state of soul at any moment should be simply the resultant and expression of our “organic” condition at that moment, and there should be no such experience as the familiar one of the division of “spirit” or “judgment” against “flesh” or “appetite.” (Here, again, the criticism is conclusive for a serious moralist against all forms of epiphenomenalism. The epiphenomenalist is tied by his theory to a “one-world” interpretation of human experience; morality presupposes a “two-world” interpretation. Its very nature is to be a “struggle” between a higher and a lower. If man were merely a creature of time, or again if he were simply eternal, the struggle could not arise; its tremendous reality is proof that man’s soul is the meeting-place of the two orders, the temporal and the eternal, and this, of itself, disposes of the simpliste theory of human personality as a simple function of the passing state of the “organism” or the “nervous system.” The epiphenomenalist psychophysics merely ignore the most important of the “appearances” which a true account of moral personality ought to “save.” Like all the arguments of the dialogue, this reasoning, of course, presupposes the objective validity of moral distinctions; to the denier of that ὑπόθεσις it will bring no conviction.)

(γ) The Difficulty of Cebes discussed (95a-102) — As has been said already, the difficulty raised by Cebes is of a much more serious kind than that of Simmias. As the subsequent history of psychology has proved, epiphenomenalism is after all a thoughtless and incoherent theory based on hopelessly misleading analogies and incompetent to take account of the obvious facts of mental life. The theory on which Cebes is relying is a very different matter; he is appealing to the first principles of a “mechanical” philosophy of nature. Put in modern language, his contention comes to this, that the action of mind on body presupposed in ethics cannot be reconciled with the principles of natural science except by supposing that mind “expends energy” in doing its work of “direction.” If this expenditure of energy goes on without compensation, a |199| time must come when the available energy of the mind is exhausted. Thus the issue raised is at bottom that which is still with us, of the universal validity of the postulates of a mechanical interpretation of nature.

Does the guiding influence of intelligence on bodily movement come under the scope of the two great laws of the Conservation and the Degradation of Energy? If it does, we must look with certainty to the disappearance of our personality after the lapse of some finite duration; if it does not, the principles of mechanics are not of universal application. The development of Energetics in the nineteenth century has enabled us to state the problem with a precision which would have been impossible not merely to Plato, but even to Descartes or Leibniz, but in principle the problem itself has remained the same under all these developments; Socrates in this part of the Phaedo is dealing with the very question which is the theme, for instance, of James Ward’s Naturalism and Agnosticism.

The importance of the problem demands that we should formulate it with very special care. We may state it thus. Granting the “real distinction of mind from body,” it is possible that in every act of intercourse with the body the mind parts with energy which it cannot recover; if that is so, its progress to destruction begins with its very first entrance into contact with a body, and the completion of the progress is only a matter of time (95d). Now in discussing this problem we are driven to face a still more fundamental one, the question of “the causes of coming into being and passing out of being”(95e), that is, the question of the adequacy of the whole mechanical interpretation of Nature. Socrates’ object is to persuade his friends that no single process in Nature is adequately explained by the mechanical interpretation. He can most readily carry them with him by first giving an account of his own personal mental history and the reasons why he gave up the mechanical philosophy in early manhood. This brings us to the

Second Interlude (95e-102a) — The Origin of the Socratic Method — (For the, to my mind, overwhelming evidence that the narrative which follows is meant by Plato as a strictly historical account of the early development of Socrates, I must refer to Burnet’s detailed notes in his edition of the dialogue. The main point is that the general state of scientific opinion described can be shown to be precisely that which must have existed at Athens in the middle of the fifth century, and cannot well have existed anywhere else or at any later time. The “scientific doubts” of which Socrates speaks are all connected with two special problems — the reconciliation of Milesian with Pythagorean cosmology, and the facing of the contradictions Zeno had professed to discover in the foundation of Pythagorean mathematics. It is assumed that the system of Anaxagoras is the last great novelty in physics, and there are clear references to those of Diogenes of Apollonia and of Archelaus. This fixes the date to which Plato means to take us back down to the |200| middle of the fifth century, a consideration which disposes at once of the preposterous suggestions that the narrative is meant as a description either of Plato’s own mental development or of the development of a “typical” philosopher. Of course, Plato cannot tell us at first-hand what Socrates was doing and thinking more than twenty years before his own birth, but he has, at least, taken care that his story shall be in accord with historical probabilities, and we may fairly presume that some of the information employed in constructing it came to him directly from Socrates himself. Thus we have as much evidence for its accuracy as we can have for that of any narrative of events related by a narrator born a quarter of a century after the period he is describing.)19

The general drift of the narrative is as follows. As a young man, Socrates had felt an enthusiasm for “natural science” and made himself acquainted with the biological theories of the Milesians, the Heracliteans, Empedocles, the psychology of Alcmaeon, the flat-earth cosmologies of the Ionians and the spherical-earth cosmologies of the Italian Pythagoreans, as well as with the mathematical subtleties of Zeno about the “unit” and the nature of addition and subtraction. The result of all this eager study was to induce a state of dubitatio de omnibus; so far from discovering the cause of all processes, Socrates was led to feel that he did not understand the “reason why” of the simplest and most everyday occurrences. At this point he fell in with the doctrine of Anaxagoras that “mind” is the one cause of order everywhere. The doctrine appealed to him at once, from its teleological appearance. If all the arrangements in the universe are due to intelligence, that must mean that everything is “ordered as it is best it should be,” and Socrates therefore hoped to find in Anaxagoras a deliverer from all scientific uncertainties. He expected him to solve all problems in cosmology, astronomy, and biology by showing what grouping of things was best, and consequently most intelligent. But when he read the work of Anaxagoras, he found that its performance did not answer to its promise. Anaxagoras made no use of his principle when he came to the details of his cosmology; he merely fell back on the same sort of mechanical causes (“airs” and “waters”) as the rest of the cosmologists. Like them, he made the fatal mistake of confusing a cause, or causa principalis, with “that without which the cause would not act as a cause” causae concomitantes or “accessory conditions.” This was much as though a man should say that the reason why Socrates is now sitting quietly awaiting death, instead of being in full flight for Thebes or Megara, is the condition of his sinews, muscles, and bones. The real reason is |201| that he judges it good to abide by the decision of a legally constituted court; if he judged otherwise, if he thought flight the more reasonable course, his bodily mechanism would be in a very different condition. Of course, if he had not this apparatus of bones and sinews and the rest, he could not follow up his judgment, but it remains true that it is his judgment on the question which really determines whether he shall sit still or run. This is precisely what we mean by saying that Socrates acts νῷ, rationally or intelligently.

The disappointment, Socrates says, confirmed his opinion that he was “no good” (ἀφυὴς ὡς οὐδὲν χρημα)20 at natural science, and must try to find some way out of his “universal doubt” by his own mother-wit, without trusting to “men of science” each of whom only seemed to be able to prove one thing — that all the others were wrong. His description of the “new method” reveals it to us at once as that which is characteristic of mathematics. It is a method of considering “things” by investigating the λόγοι or “propositions” we make about them. Its fundamental characteristic is that it is deductive. You start with the “postulate” or undemonstrated principle, which you think most satisfactory and proceed to draw out its consequences or “implications” (συμβαίνοντα), provisionally putting the consequences down as “true,” and any propositions which conflict with the postulate as false (100a). Of course, as is made clear later on, a “postulate” (ὑπόθεσις) which is found to imply consequences at variance with fact or destructive of one another is taken as disproved. But the absence of contradiction from the consequences of a “postulate” is not supposed to be sufficient proof of its truth. If you are called on by an opponent who disputes your postulate to defend it, you must deduce the postulate itself from a more ultimate one, and this procedure has to be repeated until you reach a postulate which is “adequate” (101e 1), that is, which all parties to the discussion are willing to admit. (We hear more of this part of the method in Republic vi. 510-511, where we discover that the ideal goal of the method is to deduce the whole of science from truths which are strictly self-evident, but nothing is said of this in the Phaedo.) The most important special rule of the method, however, is that, also insisted on by Descartes, that a proper order must be observed. We are not to raise the question of the truth of a “postulate” itself until we have first discovered exactly what its consequences are. The |202| confusion of these two distinct problems is the great error of the ἀντιλογικοί (arguments) (101e). In spite of his humorous depreciation of his proceeding as that of an amateur, Socrates has evidently, like Descartes, reflected carefully on the nature of geometrical method, and, like him, he is proposing to introduce the same method into scientific inquiry in general. An illustration, he says, may be given by considering his own familiar practice of “postulating” such “forms” as “the good” “beauty” and the rest. He intends, in a few minutes, to show that if this “postulate” is made, the immortality of the soul will follow as an implication (100b). (There is no question of proving the “postulate” itself, as the whole company are ready to concede it.) At this point we leave the autobiographical narrative and pass to an application of the “postulate“” of “forms” to the theory of causation, which is a necessary preliminary to the final argument for immortality (100c-102a).

What Socrates intends to explain is what we have learned from Aristotle to call “formal” causality, but he has no technical terminology ready to hand and therefore makes his meaning clear by examples. If we ask why something is beautiful, we may be told in one case, “because it has a bright colour” in another “because it has such-and-such a shape” The point that Socrates wants to make is that such answers are insufficient. There must ultimately be one single reason why we can predicate one and the same character, beauty, in all these cases. Having a bright colour cannot be the cause of beauty, since the thing we call beautiful on the strength of its shape may not be coloured at all; having a particular shape cannot be the cause of beauty, since we pronounce things which have not that shape to be beautiful, on the strength of their colour, and so on. Hence Socrates says he rejects all these learned explanations and sticks to the simple one that universally the reason why anything is beautiful is that “beauty” is “present to it” or that it “partakes of” beauty. The thought is that whenever we are justified in asserting the same predicate univocally of a plurality of logical subjects, the predicate in every case names one and the same “character.” It is these characters which Socrates calls “forms.” We might call them “universals” if we bear two cautions carefully in mind. They are not to be supposed to be “ideas in our minds” or anything of that sort; they are realities of which we think. Also, as the case of “beauty” is well adapted to show, a “form” may be “present” to a thing in very varying degrees. A thing may be very beautiful, or it may be only very imperfectly beautiful, and it may well be that nothing is superlatively and completely beautiful. We should also note that the precise character of the relation which Socrates calls “presence” or “participation” or “communication” (κοινωνία) is nowhere explained, and his hesitation about the name for this relation (100d) may perhaps mean that he feels that there is an unsolved problem involved by his “postulate.” There obviously is such a problem. |208| We naturally ask ourselves at once what else a particular sensible thing is, besides being a complex of “forms” or “characters” As far as the Phaedo goes, we are not told that the thing is any more than a “bundle of universals.” The attempt to say what else it is has played a prominent part in later philosophy. Plato’s answer has to be collected with difficulty from Aristotle’s scattered notices of his informal oral discourses. Aristotle and the medieval Aristotelians tried to answer the same question by their doctrine of “matter” and “form” Scotus by the difficult doctrine of haecceitas (“thisness”). But there is no evidence that Socrates had any answer to the difficulty. The immediate point is simply that if we admit the existence of “forms” we must say in every case that the “cause” or “reason” why a predicate β can be asserted of a thing a is that a corresponding “form” B “is present” to a, or that a “partakes of” the “form” B. How it has come to do so is a different question, and we must not suffer ourselves to be led away on a false trail. (The question is, e.g., “Why is this thing now beautiful? What do I mean by calling it so?” not, “What had to be done to it before I could call it so?"21

We might seem here to have lost sight of the insistence on teleology which had marked Socrates’ comments on Anaxagoras, but there is really a close connexion between “end” and “formal cause,” as Aristotle was to show at length. To say that the primary problem is always to explain what a thing is by reference to its “form” carries the implication that we have to explain the origins and rudimentary phases of things by what the things are, when they are at last there, not to explain what they are by discoursing on their origins, and this is precisely what we mean by taking a “teleological” point of view. But it would take us too far away from the Phaedo to discuss the full implications of such teleology.22

At the point we have reached, the narrative of Phaedo is once more broken in order that Echecrates, as a mathematician, may express his high approval of Socrates’ doctrine of method (which, in fact, is pretty plainly inspired by the example of Zeno in his famous polemic, the point of which was to show that there must be something amiss with the “postulates” of the early Pythagorean |204| geometers, since they could be shown to lead to pairs of contradictory implications). We then embark formally on the

(c) Third (and Final) Proof of Immortality (102a-107b) — The “forms” had entered incidentally into both the proposed proofs which have been already examined. In this final proof we are offered a direct deduction of immortality from the fundamental postulate that the “forms” exist. This marks the argument as intended to be the climax of the whole reasoning, since the proof, if successful, must be recognized as complete by Cebes or any one else who regards the reality of the “forms” as the basis of his whole philosophy.

We have, in the first place, to stipulate for an unusual accuracy of expression which is necessary if we are to avoid fallacy. We commonly speak, for example, of one man as taller or shorter than another. We say Simmias is taller than Socrates but not so tall as Phaedo. On the face of it this looks as though we were calling Simmias at once tall and short, and therefore asserting the simultaneous presence in him of two “opposed” forms. But all we really mean is that Simmias happens to be relatively taller than Socrates and shorter than Phaedo. It is not “in virtue of being Simmias” (en sa qualite de Simmias) that these things can be predicated of him. The distinction here taken is that between essential and accidental predication since made familiar to us all by Aristotelian logic. Or, in scholastic terminology, it is the distinction between an intrinsic and an extrinsic denomination. The point has to be made, because the force of the argument now to be produced depends on the fact that it deals entirely with essential predication.

This being premised, we may go on to assert (a) that not only will no “form” e.g. magnitude, combine with an opposed “form,” but further, “the magnitude in us will never admit the small” (102d). That is, not only can we dismiss at once as false such assertions as that “virtue is vice,” “unity is plurality,” but we can also equally dismiss any proposition in which a subject, other than a “form,” of which that form is essentially predicated, is qualified by a predicate opposed to that which attaches to it essentially in virtue of the “form” under consideration. Thus, if “shortness” were an essential predicate of Socrates, we could say that “Socrates is tall” must be false; it is only because a given stature is an “accident” of Socrates that it is possible to say of him at one date that he is short, but at another (when he has grown) that he is “tall.” (Or to take an example which perhaps illustrates the point even better, not only is it absurd to say that virtue itself is vice, it would also be absurd to say “the virtues of the old pagans were splendid vices,” if we meant such a phrase as anything more than a rhetorical exaggeration.) When a “form” opposite to that which is essential to a certain thing “advances” to “occupy“” the thing, the original “form” cannot subsist side by side with its rival in joint occupation of the ground. It must either “beat its retreat” (ὑπεκχωρειν) or be “annihilated” (ἀπολωλέναι). (The |205| metaphors, including that indicated in the last phrase, ἀπολωλέναι, are all military.) And this statement is quite consistent with that of our first “proof” about the generation of “opposites from one another. For we were talking then about “opposite things” (πράγματα), and meant that a thing which becomes cool must have been warm, a thing which becomes big must have been small. Now we are talking about the predicates or characters of the things, and mean that hot does not become cold nor cold hot. The two positions are thus fully compatible with each other (103b).

(β) We can make a further assertion which will conduct us straight to the conclusion we want. There are certain things which are not themselves “forms,” but of which participation in a given form is an essential character. Thus fire is not “warmth” nor is snow “cold.” But fire will not “admit” the form “cold,” nor snow the form “warmth.” Fire is never cool nor snow hot. As we said already, when “cold” attempts to “occupy” fire, or heat to “occupy” snow, an essential character of the thing must either “withdraw” or be “annihilated,” and in either case the thing, the fire or the snow, is no longer the thing it was. But we may now add that in cases like that of fire and snow, when each of a pair of subjects has predicated of it essentially “participation” in a form “opposite” to one in which the other member of the pair essentially participates, the same thing will occur. Thus “cold” is essentially predicated of snow and “hot” of fire. And we may say not only the snow will “retire” or be “annihilated” rather than allow itself to be “occupied” by heat, but further that snow will not abide the “advance” of fire. It melts and ceases to be snow when you expose it to fire. (This is a case of the alternative of “annihilation.” The snow, so to say, allows itself to be “cut up” in defense of its “position” when the forces of the fire make their onslaught.) So again the number “three” is not the same thing as “the odd,” or “odd number,” since there are many other odd numbers, but it “participates” essentially in the “form” odd. (It is true that “three” and the other numbers, unlike fire and snow, are also themselves spoken of freely in this and other dialogues as “forms,” but Socrates makes no difficulty about treating the “participation” of a sensible thing in a “form” and the “participation” of one “form” in another as examples of the same relation. As we might put it in the terminology of modern “logistic,” he does not discriminate between the relation of an individual to a class, and the relation of total inclusion between one class and another.) Consequently “whatever is occupied” by the “form” three is also “occupied“” by the accompanying “form” odd; the cardinal number of every “triplet” is an odd integer. Hence no triplet will allow itself to be “occupied” by the “form” even number. You cannot make an even triplet (e.g., when a man’s fourth child is born, the class “children of So-and-so” does not become an even triplet; it ceases to be a triplet as well as to be “odd.” This is an example of the alternative of “withdrawal” |206| or “retreat” since “oddness” is not, like low or high temperature, a character which can be “destroyed” The whole “universe” might conceivably be reduced to a uniform low temperature, but not the number-series to a series with all its terms even.)

We now apply these results to the case of the soul. Life is a necessary concomitant of the presence of a soul, as illness is of the presence of fever, or heat of the presence of fire. A soul always brings life with it to any body in which it is present. Now there is an “opposite” to life, namely, death. Hence we may say that a soul will never allow itself to be occupied by the opposite of the character it always carries with itself. That is, life may be essentially predicated of the soul and therefore death can never be predicated of it. Thus the soul is, in the literal sense of the word, “undying” (ἀθάνατος); that is, the phrase “a dead soul” would be a contradictio in adjecto. So much has now been actually demonstrated (105e).

Of course this does not take us the whole of the way we wish to go. What has been “demonstrated,” and would probably not be denied by anyone, is that, properly speaking, “death” is a process which belongs to the bodily organism. It is the body which dies, speaking strictly, not its “mind” But to prove that there is no such thing as a “dead soul,” though there are dead bodies, does not prove that the soul continues to live after the body has died, and Socrates is well aware of this. His demonstration, on his own admission, leaves us with an alternative: since “dead” cannot be predicated of a soul, the soul must either be annihilated or must “retire” when the body dies. Socrates’ faith is that the second member of the alternative is correct, but the emphatic “so much has been demonstrated” of 105e 8 seems to show that, when all is said, this remains for him an article of faith, not a demonstrated proposition of science. Our decision between the two alternatives will depend on the question whether the soul is not only “undying” but “imperishable” (ἀνώλεθρος). If it is, then we may safely say that what befalls it at death is merely “withdrawal elsewhere.” He is not actually called on to argue this fresh point, since his auditors at once assert their conviction that if what is “undying” is not imperishable, nothing can be supposed to be so, whereas there are, in fact, imperishables, such as God, and “the form of life.” Thus, in the end, the imperishability of the soul is accepted as a consequence of the standing conviction of all Greek religion that τὸ ἀθάνατον = τὸ θειον = τὸ ἄφθαρτον (deathless = God = immortal). It is the soul’s “divinity” which is, in the last resort, the ground for the hope of immortality, and the divinity of the soul is a postulate of a reasonable faith which the dialogue never attempts to “demonstrate.” The last word of Socrates himself on the value of his demonstration is that its “primary postulates” (i.e. the “forms” and the divinity of the soul) really demand further examination (107b 5).

The Practical Bearing of the Discussion (107c-108c) — This brings us to the real moral of the dialogue. As we have |207| just seen, even if we are satisfied with the deduction of immortality from the doctrine of “forms,” that doctrine itself is a postulate which is not exempt from reconsideration. But the mere admission that the hope of immortality is not irrational has a profound significance for the conduct of life. It follows that the “tendance of the soul” is incomparably the most serious of human interests, and the danger of neglecting this “tendance” the most awful to which we can expose ourselves. If death ends all, it may not matter so much what sort of soul a man has, since, in a few years, his wickedness will end with his life. But if the soul lives for ever, it takes with it into the unseen world nothing but its own intrinsic character for good or evil, and its unending future depends on that. This is really what the Orphic stories about the judgment of the dead should teach us. On the character we bring with us into the unseen world, our company there will depend, and our happiness and misery will depend on our company. As in the Gorgias and Republic, the hope of immortality is thus used for a moral purpose. The value of faith in it is that it drives home the question what manner of men we ought to be, if there is an endless future before us, and thus invests the choice for moral good and evil with an awful importance it would otherwise not have (Phaedo 107c; Republic 608b, 621b-d. Plato enlarges on the same theme on his own account at Laws, 904a-905b). In the end, for Socrates and Plato, no less than for Kant, immortality is a postulate of the “practical” use of “reason.”23

“‘Tendance of the soul’ is precisely what we call
the development of ‘moral personality.’”

I do not propose to make this chapter longer by dwelling either on the impressive myth in which Plato fits an imaginative picture of the future lot of the virtuous and the vicious into a framework supplied partly by a scheme of astronomy which seems to be Pythagorean, and possibly, as the admiring comment of Simmias at 109a suggests, due to Philolaus, and subterranean geography which manifestly comes from Empedocles, or on the famous description of the last earthly moments of Socrates. I must be content to refer the reader to Burnet’s commentary, and, for a study of the influence of the picture on later eschatology, to Professor J. A. Stewart’s Myths of Plato. It is useless to discuss the question how much in these myths of the unseen represents a genuine “extra-belief” of either Socrates or Plato, and how much is conscious “symbolism.” Probably neither philosopher could have answered the question himself. But we must bear in mind that Socrates regularly accompanies these stories with the warning (e.g. Phaedo, 114d) that no man of sense would put much confidence in the details, and that the one thing of serious moment is that we should |208| live as befits men who are looking for a city that does not yet appear, and that the real object of “tending the soul” is to make us fit for citizenship in the eternal (Phaedo, 115b). From the historical point of view, the supremely interesting feature of this particular myth is that it is an attempt to get into one picture the flat earth of the old Ionian science and the spherical earth of the Pythagoreans, as Burnet notes. This is done by imagining the sphere of the earth to be of enormous magnitude and to contain a number of shallow depressions like that of the Mediterranean Each of these depressions will look very much like the flat earth of Anaximenes or Anaxagoras or Democritus. As Burnet says, some such reconciliation of the two cosmographies may have suggested itself at Athens in the middle of the fifth century to some one; it would be absurd to suppose that it could ever have been entertained by contemporaries of Plato.

See further:
Burnet. Plato’s Phaedo. Oxford, 1913; Greek Philosophy, Part I, Chapters IX.-X.
Ritter, C. Platon, i. 532-586.
Raeder, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 168-181.
Natorp, P. Platons Ideenlehre, 126-163.
Stewart, J. A. Myths of Plato, 77-111 “The Phaedo Myth”; Plato’s Doctrine of Ideas, 39-47.

Note. Plutarch’s essay de Genio Socratis is rich in interesting traditions about Simmias and the Pythagoreans at Thebes. It describes Pelopidas and his fellow-conspirators, who recaptured the citadel of Thebes from the Spartans in 379, as meeting for their enterprise in the house of Simmias. Plutarch, as a Boeotian, was well informed on Theban matters and his story presumably has historical foundations.

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1^ The “other arguments” (ἄλλοι λόγοι) for immortality referred to in passing may mean those which Plato’s readers would know from the Phaedo, but they may equally well mean those which readers of Socratic literature would know to be current among Orphics or Pythagoreans generally. Thus the words cannot be pressed as an argument for the priority of the Phaedo.

2^ For the “chattels of the gods” doctrine in question see in particular the important fragment of Clearchus the Peripatetic quoted by Burnet loc. cit. I think it clear that the φρουρά = fortress means “house of detention,” not “post of military duty.” To the passages making for the former interpretation quoted by Burnet add Plutarch, de sera numinis vindicta, 554d. [The soul, being eternal, after death is like a caged bird that has been released. If it has been a long time in the body, and has become tame by many affairs and long habit, the soul will immediately take another body and once again become involved in the troubles of the world. The worst thing about old age is that the soul’s memory of the other world grows dim, while at the same time its attachment to things of this world becomes so strong that the soul tends to retain the form that it had in the body. But that soul which remains only a short time within a body, until liberated by the higher powers, quickly recovers its fire and goes on to higher things. (Plutarch, from Moralia, The Consolation.)] The ἀποδιδράσκειν = escape of 62b 5 exactly suits a prisoner “breaking prison,” but not a sentry leaving his post, for which we should need αὐτομολειν (to go). Socrates’ refusal to commit himself to the “mystical” dogma is important. It makes it clear at the start that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, it is no part of the object of the dialogue to prove “preexistence” and “transmigration.”

3^ Rehearsal, not “meditation” of death. μελέτη means the repeated practice by which we prepare ourselves for a performance. It is used of the “practising” of a man training for an athletic contest, and again of the “learning by heart” of such a thing as a speech which you have procured from a λογογράφος (speech writer) and want to have “perfect” when the time for deliverance comes. No doubt, then, it was also the word for an actor’s “study” of his “part.” (Cf. repetition as used of the rehearsals of a play or a symphony in French.) The thought is thus that “death” is like a play for which the philosopher’s life has been a daily rehearsal. His business is to be perfect in his part when the curtain goes up. Note that, as Burnet says (Phaedo, 64b 3 n., Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, 3rd edition, 1920, 278 n. i), it is implied throughout the argument that “philosophy” has the special sense, which is clearly Pythagorean, of devotion to science as a way to the salvation of the soul.

4^ Socrates’ point is that, to use the language of Christian mystics, the “world” confuses a dying life with a living death. The “philosopher” is out for “dying into life”; the world thinks he is making his existence a death in life, but it is really the worldling who is “dead while he lives.”

5^ 64e. καθ ὄσον μὴ κολλὴ ἀνάγκη αὐτων. This is inserted to show that Socrates has no sympathy with the gratuitous slovenliness of persons like the Telauges of Aeschines’ dialogue or his own companion Antisthenes. He does not regard “dirt” as a mark of godliness.

6^ That is, the object studied by any science is always what Socrates calls an ειδος (visible form) or ίδέα (archetypal pattern or form), though the technical term is not yet introduced. It is important to note the immediate and emphatic assent of Simmias to this statement (65d). He is clearly supposed to have learned all about the matter from his Pythagorean teachers. The examples are taken from ethics (δίκαιον, ἀγαθόν, καλόν, or right, good, beautiful), mathematics (μέγεθος), medicine (ὑγίεια ίσχύς). Of course you can see μέγεθη (magnitudes), but it is quite true that you cannot see μέγεθος (mathematics). So you can see or draw approximately elliptical lines, but you cannot even approximately draw “the general conic” or “the curve of the third order.” If you did try to draw them and relied on some characteristic of your figure as a property of the curve on no better evidence than that of your eyes, you would soon be led into error about the “reality” you are investigating. A thorough empiricist would have to go to much wilder extremes. He would, for example, have to hold that it is quite uncertain whether, if you only went on counting long enough, you might not come on two odd integers without an even one between them, or on a highest prime number, or even on an integer which is neither odd nor even. These things are actually maintained by some empiricist mathematicians, but they would be the death of ἐπιστήμή (knowledge, theory.)

7^ 69a 6-c 3. On the text and grammar of this sentence, which have undergone much corruption, see Burnet, loc. cit., where it is also pointed out that sciagraphia does not mean an “imperfect outline,” but a stage-painting in which, e.g. a flat surface is made to look like the facade of a temple. The point is not that “vulgar” goodness is “imperfect” but that it is illusory.

8^ In this context Socrates’ claim can hardly be understood to mean less than that he had been a “follower of the way.” We cannot well believe that Plato invented this, still less that he had anything to do with “the way” himself. (I AM the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. – John 14:6.)

9^ It is the argument from the “self-moving” character of the soul (Phaedrus, 245c 5-246a 2, Laws, x. 893b 6-896d 4). Why is nothing said of this argument in the Phaedo? It has been suggested that the reason is that the argument is an invention of Plato’s own and that he had not thought of it when he wrote the Phaedo. I do not think this likely, since the argument is really in principle that of Alcmaeon of Crotona, and is thus much older than Socrates (Aristotle, de Anima, A2. 405a 30), I should suggest a different explanation. The argument starts from the reality of motion. But this would have been denied by the Eleatic Euclides and Terpsion, and Socrates wishes to base his reasoning on premisses his company will admit. We must remember also that Euclides and his friend were very probably the persons from whom Plato derived most of his knowledge of the last hours of Socrates.

10^ Note that Socrates himself in the end throws over the principle of universal cyclical recurrence. His “hope” is that the final destiny of the righteous soul is to be with the gods and to live endlessly “apart from the body” (114c). This would be a swallowing up of death by life just as impossible on the principle of recurrence as the universal reign of death. He is, in fact, borrowing from two pre-philosophical traditions, that of endless “reincarnation” and that of the soul as a fallen divinity destined to regain its forfeited place among the gods. These traditions are not really concordant with one another, and it is the second which really represents his personal faith.

11^ (ἐάν τις ἐωὶ τά διαγράμματα ἄγη (73b) may mean literally “if one shows the man a diagram,” but since διαγράμματα sometimes means simply “geometrical proofs” (e.g. Xenophon, Memorabilia iv. 7, 3, where the δυσσύνετα διαγράμματα seem to mean simply “intricate demonstrations”), probably we should not press the literal sense of the word here. It is an interesting point that though Cebes knows all about the doctrine and attaches importance to it, Simmias, who appears later on as having gone further than Cebes in dropping the religious side of Pythagoreanism, has forgotten it. I think we may infer two things from the passage, (a) The doctrine of reminiscence was not originated by either Socrates or Plato, since Cebes knows both what it is and what is the recognized “proof” of it. It is presumably a piece of old Pythagoreanism which the “advanced” members of the school had dropped or were dropping by the end of the fifth century. (This explains why we never hear anything about it in Plato’s later writings.) (b) I suggest that the connexion with immortality comes about in this way. To judge from the Orphic plates found at Thurii and elsewhere, the original idea was that what the soul has to be reminded of is her divine origin and the dangers she will have to surmount on her way back to the abode of the gods. The Orphic plates are, in fact, buried with the votaries to serve them as a kind of Baedeker’s guide. The conversion of this piece of primitive theology into a theory of the a priori character of mathematics will be part of the spiritualization of old theological traditions due to the mathematician-saint Pythagoras.

12^ It is very important to remember that on the theory there are no “forms” except those which sense-experience suggests, or, to use the language which will meet us later in the dialogue, there are no “forms” which are not “participated in” by sensible particulars. The “forms” are not Kantian “things in themselves.” But equally the “form” is not “the sensible thing rightly understood,” for the first fact you discover about any sensible thing, when you begin to understand it, is, in Socrates’ phrase, that “this thing is trying (βουλεται = wishing) to be so-and-so, but not succeeding” (74d). This implies a “realistic” metaphysic; from the point of view of “nominalism” “terminalism,” or “conceptualism,” the whole doctrine is nonsense.

13^ And yet, does not Kant’s argument rest on the erroneous assumption that if a series has the lower limit o, o must actually be a term of the series? But he is at least right in saying that survival as a “bare monad” would not be the kind of immortality from the thought of which any man could derive hope or comfort.

14^ This is identical at bottom with Dr. Whitehead’s recent distinction between “objects” and “events,” e.g. between “Cambridge-blue” and “Cambridge-blue-here-and-now.” Dr. Whitehead, I think, does not expressly say that it is only events which can be “sensed,” but that is really implied in his language. I see “Cambridge-blue-occurring-here-and-now”; the object “Cambridge-blue,” which does not “happen,” is suggested to me by my sensation of what is “happening.” I recognize it, am “put in mind of it” by the event which happens. Cf. Principles of Natural Knowledge, p. 81: “Objects are entities recognized as appertaining to events; they are the recognita amid events. Events are named after the objects involved in them.” This is precisely the doctrine of “forms” and of “recollection.”

15^ Of course it is not said that the soul is absolutely immutable. This would not be true; we can change even our most deeply cherished scientific and moral convictions. But it is true that, by contrast with the body, the soul emerges as the relatively immutable. My intellectual and moral convictions do not undergo “adaptive” modifications to a changing environment with the readiness shown by my organism. My body, for instance, will adapt itself to a great climatic change more readily than my mind to a society with a different morality or religion from my own.

16^ The meaning of ἐν τοιαύτη ὤρᾳ (80c) has been much disputed. From a comparison with Timaeus, 24c 6, Philebus, 26b 1, Critias, 111e 5, I take the meaning to be “climate,” though I cannot produce another example of the singular of ὤρᾳ (hour) in that sense.

17^ Like Spinoza, but without, like him, being hampered by a naturalistic metaphysic, Socrates holds that the man who lives best has the soul of which the greatest part is eternal, i.e. the more thoroughly you live the philosophic life, the less is the personality you achieve at the mercy of circumstance, even if the circumstance is the change we call death.

18^ The description of the misologist would equally cover both the case of the man who ends in pure scepticism and that of the man who takes refuge in a blind faith in what he openly avows to be irrational. Socrates stands for a fides quaerens intellectum against both “universal doubt” and indifferentism and blind fideism or “voluntarism.” Hence the partisans of the one call him a “dogmatist,” those of the other an “intellectualist.”

19^ The autobiographical pages of our dialogue are thus the ancient counterpart of Descartes’ Discours de la methode pour bien conduire sa raison (Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences) with the interesting differences, (1) that though both philosophers are concerned to simplify philosophy by getting rid of a false and artificial method, Descartes’ object is to revive the very “mechanical” interpretation of nature which Socrates rejected, and (2) that Socrates left it to the piety of another to do for his mental history what Descartes did for himself.

20^ Of course this is said humorously. It is the man who can discourse learnedly about “airs” and “waters” — we might say about “electrons” and “electric fields” — and yet ignores the distinction between “cause” and “accessory conditions” who is really, from Socrates’ point of view, ἀφυὴς ὡς οὐδὲν χρημα for the work of hard thinking. Later on (99c), Socrates calls the method he fell back on a δεύτερος ωλους, or “second-best” course. As the phrase originally refers to taking to the oars when the wind prevents using the sails, the suggestion is that Socrates’ method is “second-best” rather in being slower and harder than the slap-dash dogmatism of the physicists than in leading to inferior results.

21^ The importance of Socrates’ warning against substituting some other problem for that of the formal cause is well illustrated by the perpetual confusion in our own times between explaining what a thing is and theorizing about its origin. Thus we are incessantly being offered speculations about the way in which morality or religion or art may have originated as if they were answers to the question what art or religion or morality is.

22^ One obvious implication may just be mentioned. As the earlier stages in our own life can only be fully explained in the light of what we were then going to be, so to explain a man’s life as a whole we need to know not only what he is now, but what he may yet grow to be. Thus the problem of our ultimate destiny is strictly relevant to the ethical problem proper, on what principles we ought to regulate our present conduct. It is idle to say that it “makes no difference to ethics” whether the soul is immortal. It ought to make all the difference, just as it makes all the difference to the rules of the nursery that babies do not remain babies.

23^ If the question is asked whether the faith defended in the Phaedo is a belief in “personal” immortality, I can only reply that, though the language of philosophers was not to acquire a word for “personality” for many centuries, the faith of Socrates is a belief in the immortality of his ψυχή, and by his ψυχή he means the seat or suppositum of all we call “personal character,” and nothing else. “Tendance of the soul” is precisely what we call the development of “moral personality.”

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IX. The Symposium

The Symposium is perhaps the most brilliant of all Plato’s achievements as a dramatic artist; perhaps for that very reason, it has been worse misunderstood than any other of his writings. Even in its own day it was apparently quite misapprehended by Xenophon, if one may judge by the tone of the very inferior imitation of it in his own piece of the same name. Xenophon was led by the form of the dialogue to suppose that it is meant to deal with the sexual passion and to pit against it a Symposium of his own, which has as its climax a eulogy of the pleasures of married life. Our own and the last generation, with the poison of Romanticism in their veins, have gone farther and discovered that the dialogue anticipates William Blake’s “prophecies” by finding the key to the universe in the fact of sex. This means that such readers have sought the teaching of the Symposium in the first instance in the Rabelaisian parody of a cosmogony put very appropriately into the mouth of Aristophanes. The very fact that this famous speech is given to the great γελωτοποιός (ridiculous), should, of course, have proved to an intelligent reader that the whole tale of the bi-sexual creatures is a piece of gracious Pantagruelism, and that Plato’s serious purpose must be looked for elsewhere. Similarly, it is more from the Symposium than from any other source that soul-sick “romanticists” have drawn their glorification of the very un-Platonic thing they have named “platonic love” a topic on which there is not a word in this or any other writing of Plato. We must resolutely put fancies like these out of our heads from the first if we mean to understand what the real theme of the dialogue is. We must remember that Eros, in whose honor the speeches of the dialogue are delivered, was a cosmogonic figure whose significance is hopelessly obscured by mere identification with the principle of “sex.” We must also remember that the scene is a festive one, and that the tone of most of the speeches is consequently more than half playful, and rightly so, as the gaiety of the company is meant to set off by contrast the high seriousness of the discourse of Socrates. It is there that we are to find Plato’s deepest meaning, and when we come to that speech we shall find that the “love” of which he speaks the praises is one which has left sexuality far behind, an amor mysticus which finds its nearest modern counterpart in the writers who have employed the imagery of Canticles to set forth the love of the soul for its Creator.

|210| In form the dialogue is an indirectly reported drama. The actual narrator, Apollodorus of Phalerum, a friend of Socrates (who is mentioned at Apologys, 38b as one of the persons who offered to give security for a fine of thirty minae, and at Phaedo 117d as breaking into hysterical tears when Socrates drained the hemlock, and again by Xenophon as a constant attendant on the master, at Memorabilia iii. 11, 17), repeats to some friends the story of the banquet held in honor of the first tragic victory of the poet Agathon. Apollodorus is too young to have been present, but had the story direct from an eyewitness, Aristodemus, of the deme Cydathenaeum, apparently the same person as the Aristodemus whom Xenophon makes Socrates take to task (Memorabilia i. 1, 4) for his neglect of public worship. The time of narration is supposed to be “a good number of years” (172c) after Agathon’s retirement from Athens. When that was we do not know, except that it was after the production of Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae (411) and before that of the Frogs (405), so that the actual narration must be supposed to be given some time in the last few years of the fifth century. The real object of introducing all these particulars seems to be to remind us that Plato himself could not have been present at the banquet, and does not therefore pretend to guarantee the historical accuracy of the narrative in detail.

It is more interesting to remark the careful way in which the spirit of the time is kept up in the account of the banquet itself. Not only is the occasion itself, the first public victory of a new poet, a festive one, but the year is one in which the temper of the Imperial city itself was exceptionally joyous and high. The date is only a few months before the sailing of the great Armada which was confidently expected to make the conquest of Sicily a mere steppingstone to unlimited expansion, possibly to the conquest of Carthage (Thucydides. vi. 15); the extraordinary tone of ὕβρις (hubris = insolence or wantonness) characteristic of Alcibiades in the dialogue becomes much more explicable when we remember that at the moment of speaking he was the commander-designate of such an enterprise and drunk with the ambitions Thucydides ascribes to him quite as much as with wine. We note that Aristophanes also is depicted as he must have been at the height of his powers, when the Birds and the Lysistrata were yet to be written, not as the broken man, whom Plato might have known personally, who could sink to the tiresome dirtiness of the Ecclesiazusae. In a few months’ time the whole situation was changed by the scandal about the Hermae and the profanation of the mysteries; Alcibiades was an exile at Sparta, bent on ruining the city which had disgraced him, and there is good reason to think that at least two other speakers in our dialogue (Eryximachus and Phaedrus) were badly implicated in the same affair.1 For the δημος itself, the year may be said to have been the crisis of its fate. It had staked its all on a great aggressive bid for Weltmacht and the bid failed. The city never recovered the loss of men and material; |211| the commander of whom she had made a deadly enemy was the man who taught the thick-witted Spartans where to deal her the wound which would, in the end, prove fatal. It is part of Plato’s consummate art that he hints at nothing of this. He fixes the mood of the time and of the man of the time, “flown with insolence and wine,” with complete objectivity and without after-thought, as a background to set off the figure of “philosophy” incarnated in Socrates.2

Introduction (172a-178a) Aristodemus, then, related that, the day after Agathon’s victory, he met Socrates in very unusual “festal array,” on his way to Agathon’s dinner-party and accepted his proposal to join him. On the way Socrates fell into one of his ecstasies and left his companion to enter Agathon’s house, where he was warmly welcomed, alone. Agathon knew enough of Socrates’ habits not to be startled by learning that he was standing “tranced” in the doorway of the next house. He did not make his appearance until dinner was half over, when he took his seat by Agathon in the gayest of humors. When the dinner was finished, the party resolved, on the advice of the physician Eryximachus, that there should be no enforced deep “potting” and no flute-playing. They would entertain themselves, as sensible men should, with discourses. Phaedrus, another member of the party, had often remarked on the singular fact that though so many persons and things have been made subjects of eulogy, no one has as yet made an adequate eulogy of Eros.3 It would be a good way of spending the evening if each member of the party would deliver such a eulogy, beginning with Phaedrus, as the source of the proposal. Socrates fell in at once with the suggestion which, he declared, suited him admirably, as the “science of love” was the only science he possessed.

The main object of this little introduction is plainly to call our attention to a marked feature in the character of Socrates. He is at heart a mystic and there is something “other-worldly” about him. We shall hear a great deal more about this later on from Alcibiades when he describes Socrates’ long “rapt” in the trenches before Potidaea, an experience which may have had a great significance |212| for his “mission.” A minor experience of the same kind is introduced at the outset to prepare us for this narrative and for the high “other-worldliness” of Socrates’ own discourse on Eros. But, as with other great mystics, Socrates’ other-worldliness is compatible with being a “man of the world” in the best sense and knowing how to adapt himself readily to the mood of the gayest of companies (gay describes “charm.”) (It is worth noting that the biographers of the fervent “ecstatic” St. Francis Xavier dwell on precisely the same combination of qualities as part of the secret of his influence over company of every kind, and that Xavier himself, in his instructions to his remplaçants (replacements), lays almost as much stress on the importance of knowing how to win men by being “good company” as on that of intense secret devotion.)

Speech of Phaedrus (178a-180b) Phaedrus is known to us chiefly from the part he plays in the dialogue called after him, where he appears as an amateur of rhetoric and a fervid admirer of the fashionable stylist of the moment, Lysias, in contradistinction to Socrates, who regards Lysias as intellectually inferior to the, as yet, little known Isocrates. Socrates is made to say of him there (Phaedrus, 242b) that he has been the cause of more “discourses,” either by delivering them himself or being the occasion of their delivery by other men, than any living person, if we leave Simmias of Thebes out of account. If we may trust the list of names inserted in Andocides i. 15, he was among the persons accused, a few months after Agathon’s dinner, of having “profaned the mysteries” (unless, though this is not so likely, the reference is to some other Phaedrus). In Lysias xix. 15 he is said to have fallen into poverty, but “not through vicious courses.” There is a well-known epigram in the Anthology, ascribed to Plato, which makes him an ἐρώμενος (lover) of the author, but, since Phaedrus was a man in 416 when Plato was a small boy, this is chronologically impossible.4

The speech of Phaedrus is properly made jejune and commonplace, for a double reason. As a point of art, it is necessary to begin with the relatively tame and commonplace in order to lead up by a proper crescendo to the climax to be reached in the discourse of Socrates. And the triviality and vulgar morality of the discourse is in keeping with the character of the speaker as depicted for us in the Phaedrus. Phaedrus understands by Eros sexual passion, and particularly passion of this kind between two persons of the same sex. At Athens these relations were regarded as disgraceful both by law5 and, as the next speaker in our dialogue will remind us, by general opinion, but literature shows that they |213| were in fact cultivated particularly by the “upper classes” as part of the general craze for imitation of Sparta. It is important to remember that all such aberrations were strongly disapproved by the viri Socratici. The present dialogue and the Phaedrus are complete evidence for the theory and practice of Socrates; Plato’s attitude in the Laws is the same. At Laws 636b, it is made a special reproach to Sparta to have set an example of such “corruptions,” and their complete suppression in a really moral society is taken as a matter of course at 841d.6 Xenophon’s attitude is the same.

The argument of the speech is that Eros is entitled to honor on two grounds — (a) his noblesse, as proved by his antiquity, and (b) the advantages he bestows on us. The first point is established by an appeal to Hesiod and the cosmogonists generally, who presuppose Eros — the impulse to generation as an original first principle of the universe. It is brought in as a regular commonplace of encomiasts, who are fond of dwelling on the “pedigree” of their hero. (Socrates regarded this pride of birth as pure vanity as he tells us at Theaetetus 175a-b, where he criticises the common run of panegyrists on this ground.) The second point is supposed to be proved by the argument that “love” is the most powerful of incitements to ambition. A lover will do anything and endure anything to win the admiration of his “beloved” and avoid disgracing himself in his eyes. (Note then that Phaedrus has no conception of any “good” surpassing that of the “lover of honors.”) Hence an army of “lovers” if one could be raised, would be invincible. In short, the great service which Eros renders to men is that he inspires them with μένος (“prowess”). (This was, in fact, exactly the view taken in Spartan and other Dorian communities, where “homo-sexual love” in its coarsest form was encouraged because it was believed to contribute to military “chivalry.”7) The point is illustrated by the cases of Alcestis who died for her “love” Admetus, and Achilles who died for his “lover” Patroclus. Heaven rewarded this devotion by restoring Alcestis to life8 and translating Achilles to the “isles of the blest.” Orpheus, a mere “chicken-hearted” musician, was not allowed to recover his Eurydice, because he had not the “pluck” to die for her but sneaked down to the house of Hades without dying. In substance, then, the speech simply amounts to a defense of an unnatural practice on the plea of its military value. It is an apologia for the theory and practice of Sparta. |214| In manner it is a poor and inadroit “encomium” of a commonplace type.9

Speech of Pausanias (180c-185c) Pausanias is virtually an unknown figure to us. He appears also in the Protagoras (the supposed date of which must be roughly some twenty years before 416), in company with Agathon, then a mere stripling, and Socrates is there made to say playfully that he should not be surprised if the pair are “lovers” (Protagoras 315d). Xenophon has dutifully worked him in in his own imitation of the Symposium (viii. 32), where he is said to be the “lover of the poet Agathon” and to have “defended homosexual vice.”10 This, however, is merely a Platonic reminiscence. Xenophon has taken the remark of Socrates in the Protagoras with dull literalness and gone on to attribute to Pausanias the remark about an “army of lovers” actually made in our dialogue by Phaedrus.

The speech of Pausanias, unlike that of Phaedrus, really does attempt to take account of specifically Athenian moral sentiment, and is much more elaborately worked out in point of form. He is dissatisfied with Phaedrus on moral grounds, because he has drawn no distinction between worthy and criminal “love.” The distinction is even prefigured in mythology, which recognizes a difference between a “heavenly” Aphrodite, daughter of Uranus without any mother, and a “vulgar” (πάνδημος) Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus and Dione. Since Aphrodite is the mother of Eros, we must consequently distinguish between a “heavenly” and an earthly or “vulgar” Eros. The one is admirable, the other not. In fact — so far Pausanias agrees with Socratic ethics — there is a right and a wrong in all human activities, and consequently there must be a right and a wrong way of “being in love.”

The “low” form of love has two characteristics: (1) its object may be of either sex, and (2) what it loves in that object is the body rather than the soul, and this is why the vulgar lover prefers his beloved to be empty-headed (ἀνόητος = foolish, thoughtless) and therefore an easy quarry. The “heavenly” love is all masculine in his composition. The object of this love is therefore always male and the passion is free from “grossness” (ὕβρις = outrage). It is directed not on the young and pretty but on an object just on the verge of manhood, a person whose character promises assured lifelong friendship.

To this distinction corresponds the apparently self-contradictory character of the Attic “use and wont” in respect of Eros. In some communities, such as Elis and Boeotia, the “vulgar” and the more refined Eros are both permitted, in the Ionian cities both are regarded as disgraceful. This is because Eleans and Boeotians |215| are dull and stupid; Ionians have been inured to slavish conformity to institutions which serve the purposes of their Persian masters. Eros, philosophy, bodily culture, are all discouraged by the Persians as influences unfavourable to acquiescence in despotism. At Athens and Sparta (this last statement can hardly be strictly true) social custom is not so simple. Use and wont are divided; public opinion “loves a lover” and sympathizes with all his extravagances, but the young, on the other hand, are expected to resist his advances and promises, and parents and relatives take all possible care to protect their charges against them. (Just as in a “romantic” society it is thought honorable in a man to practice “gallantry,” but the point of female honor to be “cruel” to the gallant.) The explanation of this apparent contradiction is that the difficulties put in the way of the “lover” are intended to make it certain that he loves with the higher and celestial kind of Eros, directed to the soul, and that the “beloved” is won not by the wealth or social position of the lover but by his genuine “goodness” and “intelligence.”

In some respects the speech is morally on a higher level than that of Phaedrus. It is a real contribution to the discussion to introduce as fundamental the distinction between a noble and an ignoble “love.” And Pausanias is so far following right instinct when he makes the noble “love” independent of obvious physical prettiness and attractiveness and maintains that its object is a consortium totius vitae in the fullest sense of the words. So far he is in accord with the distinction we should draw ourselves between the love that is little more than a sensual weakness and the love which can lead to a “marriage of true minds.” To this extent, I cannot agree with the disparaging estimate of Mr. Bury (Symposium, xxvii). That Pausanias conceives of a consortium totius vitae as only possible between a younger and an older male is to be explained by the Attic neglect of the intellectual and moral education of the womenfolk of the citizens. There is no possibility of the “shared life” where one of the partners is an intelligent human being and the other a spoilt child or a domestic animal, and it is fair to remember this when we find Pausanias assuming that all love of women belongs to the ignoble kind. On the other hand, Pausanias’ conception of the noble Eros is pitched far too low. As his inclusion of Sparta as one of the places where the distinction is recognized would be enough to show, he quite definitely means to give his approval to what Socrates and Plato, like ourselves, regard as not merely “guilty” but “unnatural,” provided that it is made the basis for a permanent life of intimate devotion. The persons on whom he bestows unqualified admiration as having achieved the perfection of human excellence are just those whom Socrates is made to treat in the Phaedrus much as we should treat the “night” who is spurred to chivalrous exploits by a love which, though “sinful,” is not merely “carnal.” (Unlike Socrates, Pausanias would clearly never have understood why Sir Lancelot came short in the spiritual quest of the Sangraal.) He does, indeed, expect |216| passion to be “sanctified” by being pressed into the service of “goodness” but his conception of “goodness” if it is not as crude as that of Phaedrus, who makes it equivalent to mere “prowess” is still unspiritual. Harmodius and Aristogiton who “slew the tyrant” furnish him with his standard of “noble love” and its services to man. On the formal merit of the speech, as judged by the rules of “epidictic” introduced to Athens by Gorgias, see the remarks of Mr. Bury in his edition of the dialogue (Introduction, xxvii-xxviii).

Interlude and Speech of Eryximachus (185c-188e) We must not forget that we are listening to the speeches delivered at a gay party by guests, many of whom are in a merely festive humor. The grave moral issues which have been raised by the magnification of Eros will receive their proper treatment when we come to the great discourse of Socrates, but before Plato can so much as introduce that, he must raise the imaginative level of the conversation to a pitch at which the first crude glorification of “passion” only survives in an undertone. Otherwise, there will be far too violent a “modulation into a different key.” This function of desensualising the imaginative tone of the dialogue is to be achieved by making the speech of Socrates follow directly on one by Agathon, which is a brilliant but passionless and fanciful tissue of jeweled conceits. Even this needs to have the way prepared for it, if we are not to be conscious of too violent a change of mood. Hence the two interposed speeches of Eryximachus and Aristophanes with the little interlude which introduces them. The tone of this part of the dialogue is wholly playful, and I think it would be a mistake to regard it as anything more than a delightful specimen of “Pantagruelism” {coarse humor with a satirical or serious purpose; cynical humor}. The numerous persons who are unhappily without anything of the Pantagruelist in their own composition will continue, no doubt, to look for hidden meanings in this section of the Symposium, as they look for them in Rabelais, and with much the same kind of success. Fortunately, we need not imitate them, any more than we need take Rabelais’ book to be a disguised treatise on the “new monarchy.”

It was now, we are told, the turn of Aristophanes to speak, but as he was impeded by a hiccough, the physician Eryximachus undertook to speak out of order as well as to prescribe for the poet’s “…”passing indisposition.“…” Hidden allusions have been suspected in this simple incident, but without reason. Aristophanes, one of the sturdy topers of the party (176b), is held up, when his turn to speak comes, by an accident which is a small joke in itself; the medical man of the group, who also happens to be a sober soul (176c) not able to carry much liquor, gives him professional aid and fills up what would otherwise be a gap in the evening’s programme. There is nothing here which calls for a “serious” explanation.

Eryximachus is presumably the same person as the Eryximachus who was implicated in the business of the “profaning of the mysteries” (Andocides i. 35); at least, there was a certain Acumenus |217| who was also among the denounced (ibid. i. 18), and the name is a very unusual one, so that it looks as though the denounced persons were our physician and his father. He is, we might almost say, the F.R.S. of Agathon’s party, and all his behavior is strictly in character. He announces himself from the first as a very "moderate drinker" and, as Mr. Bury observes, takes his departure later on, as soon as the scene has become one of wild revelry. His speech is carefully adapted to his character and profession. It is, in fact, under the guise of a panegyric of Eros, a little discourse on the principles of “science” especially of medical science. The scientific, and particularly the medical man, is the real repository of the secrets of love. The style of the speech is appropriately sober, free from the artifices of rhetoric and marked by a plentiful use of professional terminology. We may, with Mr. Bury, call him a “pedant” if we do him the justice to believe that the pedantry is, of course, part of the fun of the evening and is presumably intentional. The learned man is presumably amusing himself, as an eminent man of science might do today in an after-dinner speech, by making a little decorous “game” of his own professional occupations. I see no need to suppose that Plato intends any serious satire on the “science” of the speaker, especially as it represents the views of the Sicilian medical school, the very type of biology from which both Plato and Aristotle draw the biological analogies which play so large a part in their ethics.

Eryximachus opens his speech by giving emphatic assent to the distinction between a good and a bad Eros, but protests against looking for the effects of these contrasted forces exclusively in the souls of men. They can be traced everywhere in the structure of the universe, no less than in the human organism.11 This may be illustrated from medicine. The healthy and the diseased constituents of the body have both their “cravings”; there are wholesome appetitions and morbid appetitions. The business of medical science is to gratify the one and check the other. We might define the science as “knowledge of the body’s passions for repletion and evacuation,” and the man who can tell which of these “passions” are healthy and which “morbid,” and can replace the morbid cravings in his patient by healthy ones, is the complete physician. The body is, in fact, composed of “opposites” which are at strife with one another, the hot, the cold, the dry, the moist, etc.; medicine is the art which produces “love and concord” between these opposites. The task of “gymnastic” agriculture, music, is precisely similar, and this may be what Heraclitus meant by saying, “It is drawn together in being drawn apart” and talking of the “concord of opposites” though his language is inadequate, since in the establishment of “concord,” the previous “opposition” is |218| canceled out and disappears. In music, again, we can distinguish the “good” and the “bad” Eros. The “good Eros” is exemplified by those scales in which a really cultivated taste takes pleasure, the “bad"” by those which tickle the fancy of the vulgar. So in the wider world of the physicist, a good and healthy climate is a right and equable “temperament” (κρασις) of heat and cold, rain and dry weather, a bad climate is an instance of the “violent” Eros; it is an unhealthy “blend” of heat and cold, dry and wet weather. Astronomy thus is another science of “love.” So, there is a “good” and a “bad” Eros of gods and men; a religious and an irreligious way of sacrificing and interpreting signs and portents, and the professional knowledge of the priest and seer becomes another example of the science of Erotics.

Thus the point of the speech is to insist on the cosmic significance of Eros. The underlying thought is that nature is everywhere made up of “opposites,” which need to be combined or supplemented by one another; they may be combined either in proportions which make for stability, and then the result is temperate climate, health, prosperity, tranquility, or in proportions which lead to instability, and the result is then cataclysms of nature, disease, misfortune, violent and unwholesome excitement. The business of science in all cases is to discover the proportions upon which the “good” results depend. The sources of the doctrine are easily indicated. We detect the influence of the Heraclitean conception of the balance of “exchanges” as the explanation of the seeming permanences of the world-order, the Pythagorean doctrine that all things are combinations of “opposites,” and of the special biological working out of the thought which is characteristic of the philosophy of Empedocles, the founder of Sicilian medicine. The general point of view, as German scholars have pointed out, is much like that of some of the treatises of the Hippocratean corpus, notably the περὶ διαίτης α′ (diagnostic regimen for disease), in which the attempt is made to find a speculative foundation for medicine in the Heraclitean cosmology. The only inference we are entitled to draw is that the main ideas of Sicilian medicine could be presumed to be generally known to cultivated persons at Athens in the last third of the fifth century, as is, in fact, shown abundantly by the use made of analogies based upon them all through the ethical dialogues of Plato. For the argument of the Symposium itself, the chief function of the speech is to divert attention from the topic of sex, as must be done if sex itself is to be treated with the necessary philosophic detachment in the discourse of Socrates, and to call attention to the universal cosmic significance of the conception of the reconciliation of “opposites” in a higher “harmony.” This preludes to the discourse of Socrates, where we shall find that the principle has actually a supra-cosmic significance. Meanwhile, the introduction of this thought of Eros as a “world-building” principle provides the starting-point for the brilliant and characteristic burlesque cosmogony put into the mouth of Aristophanes.

Speech of Aristophanes (189a-193d) To the general reader, this is perhaps the best-known section of the whole dialogue, and one of the best-known passages in the whole of Plato. It is the more important to avoid misapprehending its purpose, which is simply humorous and dramatic. We should note that the speech itself is introduced by a thoroughly Aristophanic jest, and that the poet tells us in so many words that he means to live up to his profession by being “funny.” The speech itself may be very briefly summarized. In the beginning man was a “round” creature with four arms and four legs and two faces, looking different ways, but joined at the top to make a single head. There were three “sexes” if we can call them so, of these creatures, the double-male, double-female, and male-female, the first derived from the sun, the second from the earth, the third from the moon, which is at once a “uminary” and an “earth.” But as yet there was no sexual love and no sexual generation. The race procreated itself by a literal fertilization of the soil. These creatures were as masterful as they were strong and threatened to storm heaven or blockade it, as we learn from the old traditions about the “giants.” As a measure of safety, Zeus split them longitudinally down the middle and reconstructed them so that their method of propagation should henceforth be sexual. Since then, man is only half a complete creature, and each half goes about with a passionate longing to find its complement and coalesce with it again. This longing for reunion with the lost half of one’s original self is what we call “love,” and until it is satisfied, none of us can attain happiness. Ordinary wedded love between man and woman is the reunion of two halves of one of the originally double-sexed creatures; passionate attachment between two persons of the same sex is the reunion of the halves of a double-male or a double-female, as the case may be. If we continue in irreligion, it is to be feared that Zeus may split us again, and leave us to hop on one leg with one arm and half a face.

As I have said, the brilliance of this fanciful speech must not blind us to the fact that it is in the main comedy, and that the real meaning of the dialogue must not be looked for in it. Plato is careful to remind us that the speaker is a professional jester; he is too good an artist to have made the remark without a purpose, or to have discounted the effect of the discourse of his hero Socrates by providing his dialogue with two centers of gravity. To be sure, there are touches of earnest under the mirth of his Aristophanes, as there always are under the wildest fun of the actual historical Aristophanes. There is real tenderness in Aristophanes’ description of the love-lorn condition of the creature looking for its lost “half,” and a real appreciation of unselfish devotion to the comrade who is one’s “second self.” Aristophanes shows more real feeling than any of the speakers who have been heard so far. It is also true that he is making a distant approximation to the conception, which Socrates will develop, of love as the longing of the soul for union with its true good. But the distance is even more marked |220| than the approximation. The goal of love, as Socrates conceives it, is not incorporation with a mate of flesh and blood, nor even lifelong “marriage” with a “kindred mind” but the ἱερὸς γάμος (holy marriage) of the soul with the “eternal wisdom” in a region “all breathing human passion far above.” The passion Aristophanes describes is that which finds its most lapidary, perhaps its most perfect expression in Dante’s canzone Cosi nel mio parlar voglio esser aspro, not that which animates the Paradiso, the “female love” which Blake would have us give up before we can see “eternity.” It is in keeping with this that Aristophanes, like Pausanias, relegates the love of men for women to the lowest plane, on the ground that the woman is the “weaker vessel,” the “earthy” ingredient in our original composition, thus denying the Socratic and Platonic tenet that “the goodness of a man and of a woman are the same,” and proves his point by the allegation (192a) that those who are sensible of female attractions show themselves inferior in “politics.” (Like Pausanias, he has no conception of any worthier life than that of the “lover of honors.”)

We may put the discourse in its true light by a consideration of its obvious sources. In the first place, I think it is clear that in composing the speech, Plato had in view the brilliant burlesque of an Orphic cosmogony in Aristophanes’ own Clouds (693-703), where also Eros is the great primitive cosmic active force. From the Clouds comes again the suggestion of the danger that the gods might run if the turbulent round-bodied creatures cut off the supply of sacrifices, the very method by which the birds of the play reduce Olympus to unconditional surrender. As for the details of the story, I think it is clear that they are a humorous parody of Empedocles. Creatures in whom both sexes are united figure in his cosmology (Fr. 61), along with the “men with the heads of oxen” and similar monsters, as appearing in the early stages of the evolutionary cycle to which we belong, the period of the world’s history in which “strife” is steadily disintegrating the “sphere” by dissociating the complexes into their constituent “roots.” This is enough to provide a hint for the construction of the whole narrative. We know that the theories of Empedocles became known at Athens in the fifth century. The Phaedo represents Socrates and his friends as well acquainted with them, and Aristotle tells us that a certain Critias — we may safely identify him with Plato’s great-grandfather, the Critias of the Timaeus and Critias — had expressly adopted one of them, the view that “we think with our blood” (de Anima, 405b 6). As the Clouds and Birds are enough to prove, Aristophanes was fairly well at home in the doctrines of the men of science of whom he made fun, and it is quite in keeping with Plato’s dramatic realism that he should be made to burlesque Empedocles, exactly as he has burlesqued Diogenes and the Orphic cosmologists in his extant comedies. It is from this humorous burlesque (carefully “bowdlerized” to suit Christianized ethics, bien entendu), that the |221| popular misconceptions about so-called “platonic love” seem to have taken their origin.

There are now only two members of the party who have still to speak, Agathon and Socrates. A little by-play passes (193e-194e), which has no purpose beyond that of enhancing our anticipation and making it clear that their speeches are to be the “event” of the evening. It is worth noting that Plato is ready on occasion to turn the humor against the foibles of his own hero. Socrates is allowed, after his fashion, to put an apparently simple question, simply that he may be called to order; if he were not checked, the programme would be ruined by the substitution of a dialectical discussion for a eulogy. To be sure, when it comes to Socrates’ turn to speak, he gets his way after all and we are plunged into dialectic whether we like it or not; this is part of the fun.

The two speeches marked out as supremely important are wrought with even more art than any of those which have preceded. In form, as in matter, they exhibit the tension between opposites which is the life of a drama at its acutest pitch. Agathon is morally commonplace, cold in feeling, superficial in thought, for the lack of which he compensates by a free employment of all the artificial verbal patterns popularized by Gorgias; his encomium is a succession of frozen conceits with no real thought behind them — littérature in the worst sense of the word. Socrates is, as usual, simple and direct in manner; he begins what he has to say in the usual conversational tone of his “dialectic” though, before he has done, the elevation of his thought leads to a spontaneous elevation in style, and he ends on a note of genuine eloquence which leaves all the “fine language” of Agathon hopelessly in the shade. He is on fire with his subject, but with the clear, white-hot glow of a man whose very passion is intellectual. He thinks intensely where Agathon, and fine gentlemen like him, are content to talk prettily. And we are not allowed to forget that Agathon’s profession is the “stage”; he is the “actor” impressing an audience with emotions he simulates but does not feel; Socrates is the genuine man who “speaks from the heart” and to the heart. (Note the adroit way in which this point is worked in at 194b.)

Speech of Agathon (194e-197e) The whole speech is a masterly parody of the detestable “prose-poetry” of Gorgias, as will readily be seen by comparing it with the specimens of the original article which time has spared to us. It may be summarized, when divested of its verbal extravagances, as follows. Previous speakers have ignored the main point which a eulogy should make; they have talked about the gifts of Eros to men rather than about his intrinsic qualities. It is these on which the eulogist should dwell, (1) Eros is the most beautiful of all gods; for (a) he is the youngest of all, not the oldest as Phaedrus and his cosmologists pretend. The “wars in heaven” would never have happened if Eros had held sway then. Also he is eternally fair and young and consorts with youth, not with “crabbed age” (b) He is “soft” (ἁπαλός) and |222| tender, and that is why he makes his dwelling in the tenderest place he can find, the soul, and only in souls whose temper is yielding (μαλακόν). (c) He is “pliant” (ὑγρὸς τὸ εἰδος), can wind his way imperceptibly in and out of the inmost recesses of the soul. (d) He is comely and lovely and bright of hue, and that is why he will not settle and gather honey from a body or soul which is “past its flower.” (2) He has all the virtues:12 (a) justice, for he neither does nor suffers violence. He cannot suffer from it, for love is unconstrained, and he never inflicts it, for all things are his willing slaves and nemini volenti fit iniuria. (b) Temperance, for he “masters all pleasures” (an idle verbal quibble), (c) valour, for he can master Ares, the “warrior famoused for fights.” (d) Wisdom; he is the author of medicine, as Eryximachus had said; he inspires poetry in the most unpoetical and must therefore be himself a supreme poet. He shows his wisdom, further, in being the contriver of all generation and the teacher of all crafts. It was love, love of the beautiful, which inspired the various gods who were their discoverers. In the beginning, when necessity held sway, heaven itself was a place of horror; the birth of Eros has thus been the cause of all that is good in heaven and on earth. In short, Eros is the giver of peace among men, calm in air and sea, tranquil sleep which relieves our cares, mirth, jollity — and here the speech loses itself in a torrent of flowery phrases, which “bring down the house,” as they were meant to do.

We see, of course, as Plato means that we shall, the barrenness of thought which all this euphuism cannot conceal. In a way, the praise of Eros, in Agathon’s mouth, has “lost all its grossness,” by transmutation into unmeaning prettiness, but it has incidentally lost all its reality. The discourse has all the insincerity of the conventional petrarchising sonneteer. Like the sonneteering tribe, Agathon is so intoxicated by his own fine-filed phrases, that he is evidently not at all clear which Eros he is belauding, the “heavenly” or the “vulgar.” For the euphuist’s purpose, this really does not matter much; the theme of his discourse is to him no more than a peg on which to hang his garlands of language. There had been real feeling, under all the burlesque and the grossness, in the speech of Aristophanes; from Agathon we get only “words, words, words.” Socrates indicates as much in the humorous observations which introduce his own contribution to the entertainment. He really began to be afraid, as Agathon grew more and more dithyrambic, that he might be petrified and struck dumb by the “Gorgias’ head.” He bethought himself, now that it was too late, that he had been rash in undertaking to deliver a eulogy at all. In the simplicity of his heart, he had supposed that all he would have to do would be to say the best which could be truthfully said of his subject. But it now appears that the eulogist is expected to glorify his subject at all “costs,” regardless of truth. This is more than Socrates engaged |223| to do, or can do. Like Hippolytus in the play, he is “unsworn in soul,” and must be allowed to deliver his speech in his own artless fashion, telling the truth and leaving the style to take care of itself, or the result may be a ridiculous collapse. And he must make one more little stipulation. Perhaps Agathon would answer one or two questions, so that Socrates may know where to make a beginning. Thus, we see, the philosopher contrives to get his way after all — we are to have “dialectic” in other words, thinking, as well as fine talking, as part of our programme (198b-199c).

Dialectical Interrogation of Agathon by Socrates (199c-201c) The purpose of this little interlude, as Socrates had said, is to make sure that his own encomium, which was to “tell the truth” shall begin at the right starting-point. In other words, we are to be brought back to reality, of which we have steadily been losing sight. Eros, “love,” “craving,” is a relative term; all Eros is Eros of something which is its correlate, and it is meant that this correlate is a satisfaction. This would be clear at once in Greek, but is a little obscured for us in English by the ambiguity of our word “love.” In English there are at least three quite distinct senses of the word “love,” and much loose sentimental half-thinking is due to confusion between them. If we would be accurate, we must distinguish them precisely. There is (1) “love of complacency,” the emotion aroused by the simple contemplation of what we admire and approve, the “love to the agent” of which the moral-sense school speak in their accounts of moral approval. We may feel this towards a person wholly incapable of being in any way affected for good or bad by our acts or affecting us by his, as when we glow with attachment to the great and good of whom we have read in history. There is (2) “love of benevolence,” which prompts us to confer kindnesses on its object or to do him services. This love we may feel to the good and the evil alike. It may show itself as active gratitude to a benefactor, as pity for the unfortunate or the sinful, and in many other guises. There is finally (3) “love of concupiscence,” desirous love, the eager appetition of what is apprehended as our own “good.” It is only this desirous love which can be called ἔρως (erôs) in Greek.13

Eros, then, is always a desirous love of its object, and that object is always something not yet attained or possessed. Agathon had said that “love of things fair” has created the happiness of the gods themselves. But if Eros “wants” beauty, it must follow that |224| he does not yet possess it, and therefore is not himself “ever fair” and in the same way, if he “wants” good, he cannot himself be good.

At this point Socrates closes his conversation with Agathon and enters on his “discourse” having found the ἀρχή (beginning) for it. The questioning of Agathon is no piece of mere verbal dexterity. It is indispensable that we should understand that the only Eros deserving of our praises is an amor ascendens, a desirous going forth of the soul in quest of a good which is above her. And this going forth must begin with the knowledge that there is something we want with all our hearts but have not yet got. As the old Evangelicals said, the first step towards salvation is to feel your need of a Saviour. “Blessed are they which hunger … for they shall be filled.” The soul which is to be love’s pilgrim must begin by feeling this heart-hunger, or it will never adventure the journey. This is the ἀρχή demanded by Socrates for any hohes Lied der Liebe which is to “tell the truth.”

Speech of Socrates (201d-212c). Though Socrates had affected to make his “dialectic” a mere preliminary to the “discourse” he was contemplating, he actually contrives to turn the discourse itself into “dialectic,” genuine thinking, by putting it into the mouth of one Diotima, a priestess and prophetess of Mantinea, and relating the process of question and answer by which the prophetess had opened his own eyes to understand the true mysteries of Eros. The purpose is that his hearers shall not merely follow his words and possibly be agreeably affected by them, but shall follow his thought. They are to listen to the “conversation of his soul with itself.” At the same time, I cannot agree with many modern scholars in regarding Diotima of Mantinea as a fictitious personage; still less in looking for fanciful reasons for giving the particular names Plato does to the prophetess and her place of origin. The introduction of purely fictitious named personages into a discourse seems to be a literary device unknown to Plato, as has been said in an earlier chapter, and I do not believe that if he had invented Diotima he would have gone on to put into the mouth of Socrates the definite statement that she had delayed the pestilence of the early years of the Archidamian war for ten years by “offering sacrifice” at Athens. As the Meno has told us, Socrates did derive hints for his thought from the traditions of “priests of both sexes who have been at pains to understand the rationale of what they do,” and the purpose of the reference to the presence of Diotima at Athens about 440 is manifestly not merely to account for Socrates’ acquaintance with her, but to make the point that the mystical doctrine of the contemplative “ascent” of the soul, now to be set forth, was one on which the philosopher’s mind had been brooding ever since his thirtieth year. This, if true, is very important for our understanding of the man’s personality, and I, for one, cannot believe that Plato was guilty of wanton mystifications about such things. At the same time, we may be sure that in reproducing a conversation |225| a quarter of a century old, Socrates is blending his recollections of the past with his subsequent meditations upon it, as normally happens in such cases. He sees an episode which had influenced his life profoundly in the light of all that had come out of it, much as St. Augustine in later life saw the facts of his conversion to Christianity in a changed perspective, as we are able to prove by contrasting the Confessions with the works composed just after the conversion.

To all intents and purposes, we shall not go wrong by treating the “speech of Diotima” as a speech of Socrates. We can best describe the purpose of the speech in the language of religion by saying that it is the narrative of the pilgrimage of a soul on the way of salvation, from the initial moment at which it feels the need of salvation to its final “consummation.” In spite of all differences of precise outlook, the best comment on the whole narrative is furnished by the great writers who, in verse or prose, have described the stages of the “mystic way” by which the soul “goes out of herself,” to find herself again in finding God. In substance, what Socrates is describing is the same spiritual voyage which St. John of the Cross describes, for example, in the well-known song En una noche oscura which opens his treatise on the Dark Night, and Crashaw hints at more obscurely all through his lines on The Flaming Heart, and Bonaventura charts for us with precision in the Itinerarium Mentis in Deum. The Christian writers see by a clearer light and they have an intensity which is all their own, but the journey they describe is recognizably the same — the travel of the soul from temporality to eternity. In Greek literature, the speech, I think we may fairly say, stands alone until we come to Plotinus, with whom the same spiritual adventure is the main theme of the Enneads. Unless we have so much of the mystic in us as to understand the view that the “noughting” and remaking of the soul is the great business of life, the discourse will have no real meaning to us; we shall take it for a mythological bellum somnium. But if we do that, we shall never really understand the Apology and the other dialogues which deal with the doctrine of the “tendance of the soul” a simple-sounding name which conceals exactly the same conception of the attainment of “deiformity” as the real “work of man.” In the Phaedo we have had the picture of a human soul on the very verge of attainment, at the moment when it is about to “lose itself in light.” In the Symposium we are shown, more fully than anywhere else in Plato, the stages by which that soul has come to be what it is in the Phaedo. We see with Plato’s eyes the interior life of the soul of Socrates.

The desirous soul, as was already said, is as yet not “fair” or “good”; that is what it would be and will be, but is not yet. But this does not mean that it is “foul” and “wicked.” There is a state intermediate between these extremes, as there is a state intermediate between sheer ignorance and completed knowledge — the state of having true beliefs without the power to give a |226| justification of them (ἄνευ του ἔχειν λόγον δουναι). This may be expressed mythologically by saying that Eros is not a “god” nor yet a “mere mortal,” but a δαίμων or “spirit” and a mighty one (202d-e). According to the received tradition, “spirits” stand half-way between mortality and divinity; they convey men’s prayers to the gods, and the commands, revelations, and gifts of the gods to men; intercourse between gods and men has them as its intermediaries. Eros is one of these “spirits” (203a). His birth answers to his function. He is the child of Poros son of Metis (Abundance, son of Good Counsel), by the beggar-maid Penia (Need), conceived in heaven on the birthday of Aphrodite, and he inherits characters from both his parents. He is, like his mother, poor, uncomely, squalid, houseless, and homeless. But he has so much of the father about him that he has high desires for all that is “fair and good” courage, persistence, endless resourcefulness, and art in the pursuit of these desires. He is the greatest of “wizards and wits” (δεινὸς γόης … καὶ σοφιςτής), he “pursues wisdom all his life long” (φιλοσοφων διὰ παντὸς του βίου). He is neither god nor mortal, but lives a “dying life,” starving and fed, and starving for more again.14 He is your one “philosopher”; gods do not aspire to “wisdom,” for they already have it, nor yet “fools,” for they do not so much as know their need and lack of it. “philosophers,” aspirants after wisdom, of whom Eros is chief, are just those who live between these two extremes.15 They feel the hunger for wisdom, the fairest of things, but they feel it precisely because it remains unsatisfied. The conventional representation of Eros as the “ever fair” is due to a simple confusion between the good aspired to and the aspirant after it (201e-204c).

When the thin veil of allegory is removed, we see that what is described here is simply the experience of the division of the self characteristic of man, when once he has become aware of his own rationality. Rationality is not an endowment of which man finds himself in possession; it is an attainment incumbent on him to achieve. Spiritual manhood and freedom are the good which he must reach if he is to be happy, but they are a far-away good, and his whole life is a struggle, and a struggle with many an alternation of success and failure, to reach them. If he completely attained them, his life would become that of a god; he would have put off temporality and put on an eternity secured against all mutability. If he does not strive to attain, he falls back into the condition of the mere animal, and becomes a thing of mere change and mutability. Hence while he is what he is, he is never at peace with himself; that is the state into which he is trying to grow. It is true, in a deeper sense than the author of the saying meant, that der Mensch ist etwas das überwunden werden muss (we are only truly men in so far as we are becoming something more). (That the “temporal” |227| in us which has to be put off is always spoken of by Socrates as “ignorance” or “error,” not as “sin,” has no special significance, when we remember his conviction that the supreme function of “knowledge” is to command and direct, to order the conduct of life towards the attainment of our true good.)

It will be seen that Socrates is formally deferring to the dictum of Agathon about the proper disposition of the parts of an encomium. He has dealt with the question what the intrinsic character of Eros is; he now proceeds to the question of his services to us (τίνα χρεαν ἔχει τοις ἀνθρώποις. What is it that, in the end, is the object of the heart’s desirous longing? Good, or — in still plainer words — happiness (εὐδαιμονία). All men wish happiness for its own sake, and all wish their happiness to be “forever.” (Weh spricht, Vergeh! Dock alle Lust will Ewigkeit.) Why, then, do we not call all men lovers, since all have this desirous longing? For the same reason that we do not call all craftsmen “makers,” though they all are makers of something. Linguistic use has restricted the use of the word ποιητής (“maker”) to one species of maker, the man who fashions verse and song. So it is with the name “lover”; all desirous longing for good or happiness is love, but in use the name “lover” is given to the person who longs earnestly after one particular species of happiness — τόκος ἐν καλῷ (“…”"procreation in the beautiful"“…”) — whether this procreation is physical or spiritual (καὶ κατὰ τὸ σωμα κατὰ τὴν ψυχήν, (of both the body and the soul) 206b).

To explain the point more fully, we must know that maturity of either body or mind displays itself by the desire to procreate; beauty attracts us and awakens and fosters the procreative impulse, ugliness inhibits it. And love, in the current restricted sense of the word, is not, as might be thought, desire of the beautiful object, but desire to impregnate it and have offspring by it (desire της γεννήσως καὶ τον τοκου ἐν καλῷ). (It is meant quite strictly that physical desire for the "possession" of a beautiful woman is really at bottom a "masked" desire for offspring by a physically "fine" mother; sexual appetite itself is not really craving for "the pleasures of intercourse with the other sex"; it is a passion for parenthood.) And we readily understand why this desire for procreation should be so universal and deep-seated. It is an attempt to perpetuate one’s own being "under a form of eternity," and we have just seen that the primary desire of all is desire to possess one’s "good" and to possess it for ever. The organism cannot realise this desire in its own individuality, because it is in its very nature subject to death. But it can achieve an approximation to eternity, if the succession of generations is kept up. Hence the vehemence of the passion for procreation and the strength of the instincts connected with mating and rearing a brood in all animals. The only way in which a thing of time can approximate to being eternal is to produce a new creature to take its place as it passes away. Even within the limits of our individual existence, the body "never continues in one stay"; it is a scene of unending |228| waste made good by repair. Our thoughts and emotions too do not remain selfsame through life. Even our knowledge does not "abide"; we are perpetually forgetting what we knew and having to "recover" it again by μελέτη ("study," "rehearsal"). It is only by giving birth to a new individual to take the place of the old that the mortal can "participate in deathlessness" (208b).16

The passion for physical parenthood, however, is the most rudimentary form in which the desirous longing for the fruition of good eternal and immutable shows itself, and the form in which Diotima is least interested. Her main purpose is to elucidate the conception of spiritual parenthood. If we turn to the life of the "love of honors" — note that this reference (208c) implies that in what has been said about the physical instincts we have been considering the "body-loving" life — the passion for "fame undying" which has led Alcestis, Achilles, Codrus, and many another to despise death and danger is just another, and more spiritualized, form of the "desirous longing for the eternal." Thus, just as the man who feels the craving for physical fatherhood is attracted by womankind and becomes "exceeding amorous," so it is with those whose souls are ripe for the procreation of spiritual issue, "wisdom and goodness generally"; the mentally, like the physically adult looks for a "fair" partner to receive and bear his offspring (209a-b). He feels the attraction of fair face and form, but what he is really seeking is the "fair and noble and highly dowered" soul behind them. If he finds what he is looking for, he freely pours forth "discourse on goodness and what manner of man the good man should be, and what conduct he should practice, and tries to educate" the chosen soul he has found. The two friends are associated in the "nurture" of the spiritual offspring to which their converse has given birth, and the tie is still more enduring than that of literal common parenthood, inasmuch as the offspring which are the pledges of it are "fairer and more deathless." Examples of such spiritual progeny are the poems of Homer and Hesiod, and still more the salutary institutions and rules of life left to succeeding ages by Lycurgus and Solon and many another statesman of Hellas or "Barbary"; some of these men have even been deified by the gratitude of later generations (209e).17

|229| The desirous longing for an eternal good, however, has far higher manifestations than these, and Diotima will not take it on her to say whether Socrates is equal to making the ascent to them, though she will describe them, and he must try to follow her.18 (The meaning is that, so far, we have been talking only about what is possible within the limits of the two lower types of life: we have now to deal with the more arduous path to be trodden by the aspirant to the highest life of all, that of "philosophy.") He who means to pursue the business in earnest must begin in early life by being sensible to bodily beauty. If he is directed aright, he will first try to "give birth to fair discourses" in company with one comely person. But this is only the beginning. He must next learn for himself19 to recognize the kinship of all physical beauty and become the lover of "all beautiful bodies."20 Then he must duly recognize the superiority of beauty of soul, even where there is no outward comeliness to be an index to it. He must be "in love" with young and beautiful souls and try to bring to the birth with them "fair discourses." Next, he must learn to see beauty and comeliness as they are displayed in ἐπιτηδεύματα and νόμοι, avocations and social institutions, and perceive the community of principle which comely avocations and institutions imply. Then he must turn to "science" and its intellectual beauties, which will disclose themselves to him as a whole wide ocean of delights. Here again, he will give birth to "many a noble and imposing discourse and thought in the copious wealth of philosophy" — that is, he will enrich the "sciences" he studies with high discoveries.

|230| Even so, we have not reached the goal so far; we are only now coming in sight of it. When a man has advanced so far on the quest he will suddenly descry the supreme beauty of which he has all along been in search — a beauty eternal, selfsame, and perfect, lifted above all mutability. It is no "body" nor yet even a "science" or "discourse" of which beauty could be predicated, but that very reality and substance of all beauty of which everything else we call beauty is a passing "participant"; the unchanging light of which all the beauties hitherto discerned are shifting reflections (211b). When this light rises above his horizon, the pilgrim of Eros is at last "coming to port." The true "life for a man" is to live in the contemplation of the "sole and absolute Beauty" (θεωμένῳ αὐτὸ τὸ καλόν), by comparison with which all the "beauties" which kindle desire in mankind are so much dross. Only in intercourse with It will the soul give birth to a spiritual offspring which is no "shadow" but veritable "substance" because it is now at last "espoused" to very and substantial reality.21 This and only this is the true achieving of "immortality." Such was the discourse of Diotima, and Socrates believes it himself and would fain persuade others that Eros ("desirous longing") is the truest helper we can have in this quest after immortality. This is what he has to offer by way of a eulogy on the "might and manhood" of Eros (212b-c).22

The meaning of the discourse is clear enough. In the earlier stages of the "ascent" which has just been described, we recognize at once that "tendance of the soul" or care for one’s "moral being" which Plato regularly makes Socrates preach to his young friends as the great business of life. That the work of "tendance of the soul" must go further than the development of ordinary good moral habits and rules, that it demands the training of the intellect by familiarity with the highest "science," and that the task of the true philosopher is, by his insight into principles, to unify the "sciences," and to bring the results of ripe philosophical thinking to bear on the whole conduct of life, is the same lesson which is taught us in the Republic by the scheme propounded for the education of the philosophic statesman. As in the Republic, the study of the separate sciences leads up to the supreme science of "dialectic" or metaphysics, in which we are. confronted with the principles on which all other knowing depends, so here also Socrates describes the man who is coming in sight of his goal as descrying "one single science" of Beauty (210d 7). And in both cases, in the final moment of attainment, the soul is described as having got beyond "science" itself. Science here passes in the end into direct "contact," or, as the schoolmen say, "vision," an apprehension |231| of an object which is no longer "knowing about" it, knowing propositions which can be predicated of it, but an actual possession of and being possessed by it. In the Republic, as in the Symposium, the thought is conveyed by language borrowed from the "holy marriage" of ancient popular religion and its survivals in mystery cults. Here it is "Beauty" to which the soul is mated; in the Republic it is that good which, though the cause of all being and all goodness, is itself "on the other side of being."23

We must not, of course, especially in view of the convertibility of the terms καλόν and agathόn which is dwelt on more than once in our dialogue, be misled into doubting the absolute identity of the "form of good" of the Republic with the αὐτὸ τὸ καλόν of the Symposium. The place assigned to both in the ascent to "being and reality" is identical, and in both cases the stress is laid on the point that when the supreme "form" is descried, its apprehension comes as a sudden "revelation" though it is not to be had without the long preliminary process of travail of thought, and that it is apprehended by "direct acquaintance" not by discursive "knowledge about" it. It is just in this conviction that all "knowledge about" is only preparatory to a direct scientia visionis that Socrates reveals the fundamental agreement of his conception with that of the great mystics of all ages. The "good" or αὐτὸ τὸ καλόν is, in fact, the ens realissimum of Christian philosophers, in which the very distinction between esse and essentia, Sein and So-sein falls away. You cannot properly predicate anything of it, because it does not "participate" in good or any other "form"; it is its own So-sein. Consequently, the apprehension of it is strictly "incommunicable" since all communication takes the form of predication. Either a man possesses it and is himself possessed by it, or he does not, and there is no more to be said. This does not mean that the "most real being" is irrational, or that by "thinking things out" we are getting further away from it, but it does mean that we cannot "rationalise" it. We cannot give its constituent "formula" so to say, as we could that of an ellipse or a cycloid. You might spend eternity in trying to describe it, and all you found to say would be true and reasonable, so far as it goes, but its full secret would still elude you; it would still be infinitely rich with undisclosed mystery. As the Christian mystics say, God may be apprehended, but cannot be comprehended by any of His creatures. That is why He is "on the other side of being." The "deiform" do not "think about" God, they live Him. This does not mean that "myth" is something in its own nature superior to scientific truth, a misconception on which Professor Burnet has said all that is necessary. Because "vision" is direct, the content of a "tale" or "myth" cannot really convey it. A "tale" is as much a mere form of "knowing about" as a scientific description, and as a form of "knowing about" it is, of course, inferior. In |232| fact, all the mystics insist on the point that the direct vision of supreme reality is not only incommunicable, it cannot even be recalled in memory when the moment of vision has passed. You are sure that you "saw"; you cannot tell what you saw even to yourself. This is the real reason why, as Burnet says, Plato never uses "mythical" language about the "forms," but only about things like the soul, which he regards as half real, partly creatures of temporality and change. We should note, however, that the supreme reality which is apprehended in the culminating vision is never said in Plato to be God, but always the supreme "form." It is the good which is the Platonic and Socratic ens realissimum.

The position of God in the philosophy of both seems to me ambiguous and not fully thought out. Formally, Plato’s God is described in the Laws as a perfectly good soul (ἀρίστη ψυχή). This ought to mean, as Burnet clearly holds it to mean, that God too is only half-real, and belongs on one side to the realm of the mutable. I confess that I do not see how to reconcile such a position with the religious insistence on the eternal and immutable character of God which meets us everywhere in Plato. We could not meet the difficulty by supposing that God is an imaginative symbol of the "good," since the whole point of Plato’s Theism is, as we shall see, that it is by the agency of God that the "participation" of the creatures in the good is made possible. Thus God is not identical with the good, and it seems equally impossible to suppose that God is simply a "creature" participating in good. I can only suppose that there was a really unsolved conflict between the Platonic metaphysics and the Platonic religion. In fact, the adjustment of the two became a cardinal problem for Plotinus and the Neoplatonic succession.24 We shall not be in a position to deal with the topic properly until we come to speak of Plato’s latest written works and the "unwritten doctrines" expounded in the Academy.

Plato clearly means, in spite of Diotima’s words of caution, to present Socrates in the Symposium as a man who has in his supreme hours attained the "vision" for himself, and for that very reason impresses his fellow-men by his whole bearing as being not of their world though he is in it. We could have inferred at least that he was steadily treading the road to "unification" with the supreme reality from the close correspondence of the description of that road by Diotima with what Plato elsewhere represents as his hero’s course of life. But naturally enough, Socrates cannot be made to boast of the supreme achievement with his own lips, and this is why Alcibiades, the most brilliant living specimen of the "ambitious life," is introduced at this point. We are to gather from his famous narrative of the impression Socrates made on him in their years of close intercourse, and the hold the recollections of those years still |233| have on his conscience and imagination, what could not well be said in any other way, that Socrates has "seen" and that the vision has left its stamp on his whole converse with the world. Perhaps there is a further thought in Plato’s mind. Socrates, we might say, is the man who has renounced the world to find his own eternal "life"; Alcibiades, naturally endowed with all the gifts required for "philosophy" but a prey to the lusts of the flesh and the eye and the pride of life, is the man who might have "seen" if he would, the man who has made the "great refusal" of sacrificing the reality for the shadow. He has chosen for the world and has all the world can give. We are made to look on the two types side by side, and to listen to the confession of the triumphant worldling in the full flush of triumph, that he has chosen the worser part. On the panegyric of Socrates by Alcibiades (215a-222b) it is not necessary to dwell here. Its importance is for the understanding of the characters of Socrates and of Alcibiades, not for any contribution it makes to our comprehension of the Socratic or the Platonic philosophy. It shows us Socrates in act following the route of the pilgrimage already described by Diotima. One should, of course, note, in order to avoid some strange misconceptions, that the famous story told by Alcibiades of his own "temptation" of Socrates (216d-219d) is meant to go back to a time when Alcibiades, who fought in the cavalry before Potidaea in 431-30, was still a mere boy, little more than a child (217b). We must date the events somewhere between 440 and 435, when Socrates would be in the earlier thirties. This being so, it is important to observe that even then his fame for wisdom was such that Alcibiades could think no price too high to pay for the benefit of "hearing all that he knew." We must also, of course, understand that Socrates is to be thought of as a man still young enough to feel the charm of beauty in its full force, and to feel it in the way characteristic of the society of his age, but too full of high thoughts to be vanquished by "the most opportune place, the strongest suggestion his worser genius can." He moves through a brilliant and loose-living society like a Sir Galahad, not because he is not a man of genuine flesh and blood, but because his heart is engaged elsewhere, and he has none to spare for "light loves." This testimony, coming from Plato, is enough to dispose once and for all of the later gossip of Aristoxenus and the Alexandrians who collected such garbage. We must also, I think, with Burnet, recognize that the prominence given to the account of Socrates’ "rapt" for four-and-twenty hours at Potidaea (220c-d) is intended to suggest that this was the outstanding "ecstasy" of his life, and left an ineffaceable mark on his whole future. It can hardly be a coincidence that the earliest "missionary" effort of Socrates related by Plato, his attempt to convert Charmides, is dated immediately after his return from the campaign of Potidaea.25 For the rest, Socrates’ remarkable power of adapting himself |234| in appearance to the tone and manner of the world, and yet contriving without any visible effort to bring with him the suggestion of being all the while in constant contact with the other "unseen" world which is at once so near and so far is one of the best-known characteristics of the greatest "contemplatives"; the stress laid on the point helps to strengthen our conviction that we are presented with a realistic portrait of an actual man. (The same "adaptability" is noted as eminently distinctive of Xavier by his biographers. Xavier recalls Socrates too by the "gaiety" of which the biographers speak as the most striking feature of his conversation.)

On the description of the scene of revelry with which the "banquet" ends, I need only make one remark. We are told (223d) that when the new morning broke, Socrates, Aristophanes, and Agathon were the only persons in the party who were equal to continuing the conversation, and that Socrates was left by Aristodemus trying to convince the two dramatists that the man who can compose a tragedy τέχνη, "by his art," can also compose a comedy. Much ingenuity has been wasted on the interpretation of this remark, and it has even been supposed to be a kind of prophecy of Shakespeare’s "tragi-comedies," which are neither tragedies, nor yet comedies in the sense in which we give that name to the brilliant personal burlesques of the Attic "old comedians." The real meaning lies on the surface. As we have seen, Socrates dissented from the current view that poets are σοφοι and their productions works of conscious "art." He held that they depend on "genius" or "inspiration," and cannot themselves explain their own happiest inspirations. His point is thus that the inability of Agathon to compose comedies and of Aristophanes to write tragedies, is a proof that neither of them is a σοφος, working with conscious mastery of an "art." Both are the instruments of a "genius" which masters them, not wielders of a tool of which they are masters. The passage should really be quoted, not as an excuse for gush about Shakespeare, but as an illustration of what Socrates says in the Apology about his attempts to "refute the oracle" by finding a σοφος among the poets and their failure. In fact, he fails here. His two auditors are half asleep after their night of merriment and "do not quite take the point" (οὐ σφόδρα ἑπομένους νυστάζειν, 223d 6).

See further:
Ritter, C. Platon, i. 504-531.
Raeder, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 158-168.
Natorp, P. Platons Ideenlehre, 163-174.
Bury, R. G. Symposium of Plato. 1909.
Robin, L. Platon, Le Banquet. (Paris, 1929.)
Lagerborg, R. Platonische Liebe. Leipzig, 1926.
Stewart, J.A. The Myths of Plato, 397-450 "The Two Symposium Myths"; "Plato’s Theory of Ideas," Pt. II.
Stenzel, J. Platon der Erzieher, 209-241.

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1^ For the evidence see Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Part I, 190-191.

2^ I do not think it necessary, with Mr. R. G. Bury, to look for any hidden meaning in the references made by Apollodorus to a less accurate narrative of the scene given by a certain Phoenix. These touches are intended merely to suggest that the incidents had aroused a good deal of interest and been much talked about. I do not believe that there is any reason to suppose that Plato is replying to charges made in the καταηγορία Σωκράτους (charges against Socrates) of Polycrates anywhere in our dialogue. If he had done so, we should probably have learned something about the matter from Xenophon or from the Apologia of Libanius (which shows signs of a knowledge of Polycrates’ pamphlet).

3^ Mr. Bury naturally reminds us that there is a chorus about Eros in the Antigone and another in the Hippolytus. But the ode of the Antigone (781-801) deals with the ruin and havoc Eros causes and the crimes to which he prompts even "the just." That of the Hippolytus (525-564) is similarly a prayer against his "tyrannical" violence. Neither can be called a eulogy. Cf. E. Bevan, Hellenism and Christianity, pp. 93 ff.

4^ Of course the Phaedrus of the epigram might be another person. But when we find Agathon and Phaedrus figuring in an ἐρωτικὸς λόγος (lover’s speech) by Plato and also appearing as ἐρώμενοι (lover) in epigrams ascribed to Plato, it is surely most likely that the epigrams were composed and fathered on Plato by some later author who had read the Symposium and forgotten that it is Socrates and not Plato who poses playfully there as an ἐρωτικὸς (lover).h

5^ For the attitude of Attic law to παιδεραστία (pederasty), the great source of information is the speech of Aeschines against Timarchus. [Perseus Digital Library, retrieved November 25, 2017.]

6^ These considerations show that we must not put a gross interpretation on the passing remark of Socrates at Republic 468c. The reference is merely to innocent marks of affection and admiration which the younger people are to show to the brave soldier, and is half playful in tone.

7^ On this aspect of the subject see in particular the instructive article of Bethe (Rheinisches Museum, lxii. 438 ff.).

8^ Symposium, 179b. Apart from the play of Euripides, which Phaedrus probably has in his mind, this is the first reference in extant Greek literature to the famous story.

9^ Cf. Bury, Symposium, p. xxv. But he is unjust to the "sophists" in suggesting that it is a fair specimen of their performances, and I think he would be nearer the mark if he had said that the moral standpoint of the speech is that of an average Spartan, than he is in speaking of "the average citizen" of Athens.

10^ For another clear echo of our dialogue, cp. Xenophon op. cit. ii, 26 with Symposium, 198c 3. There are plenty of others.

11^ 186b, καὶ κατ’ ἀνθρώπινα καὶ κατὰ θεια πράγματα, i.e. not only in biology but in physics. The θεια here gets its meaning from the habit, universal in Ionian science, of giving the name θεός or θεοί, in a purely secular sense, to the assumed primitive body or bodies.

12^ Note that the list of the "cardinal virtues" is taken for granted as familiar. Thus it is no discovery of Plato or of Socrates.

13^ Hence when Euripides says ἐραε, παιδες, μητρός (child, father, mother), he means a great deal more than we can express by saying "love your mother." He means that the sons of such a mother as his heroine are to be "in love" with her; she is to be to them their true mistress and "dominant lady," as Hector in Homer is "father and mother" to Andromache. One might illustrate by saying that in Christianity God is thought of as loving all men with "love of benevolence," and the righteous with an added "love of complacency" but as loving no creature with "love of concupiscence." The good man, on the other hand, loves God with love of concupiscence, as the good for which his soul longs, and with love of complacency, but could hardly, I suppose, be said to love God with amor benevolentiae, since we cannot do "good turns" to our Maker.

14^ The βίου φιλοσοφο, we might say, has as its motto quasi morientes et ecce vivimus; tanquam nihil habentes et omnia possidentes. [As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. – 2 Corinthians 6:9-10.]

15^ Cf. the classification of rational beings ascribed to the Pythagoreans, "gods," "men," "beings like Pythagoras" (φιλοσοφοι). Aristotle, Fr. 192, Rose.

16^ This has absurdly been supposed to be inconsistent with the doctrines of the Phaedo, and it has even been argued that the Symposium must have been written before Plato discovered the doctrine of immortality expounded there. In point of fact, there is no inconsistency. According to both dialogues the "body" belongs to the "mortal" element in us, and perishes beyond recall. Hence man, according to the Phaedo, is strictly mortal; what is immortal is not the man, but the "divine" element in him, his ψυχή, as has already been explained. There is not a word in the Symposium to suggest that the ψυχή is perishable. Hence no inference about the priority of the one dialogue to the other can be based on comparison of their teaching.

17^ The allusion to "temples" erected to deified statesmen presumably refers to Oriental communities in which the "laws" were traditionally ascribed to remote "divine" rulers. The Greeks did not deify their legislators. At Laws 624a, the Cretan speaker, indeed, attempts to claim Zeus as the author of the νόμοι of Crete, but he knows, of course, that the traditional author of them was Minos, who was not a god, and so says they may "in fairness" be credited to Zeus (because, according to Homer, Minos "conversed" with Zeus).

18^ Much unfortunate nonsense has been written about the meaning of Diotima’s apparent doubt whether Socrates will be able to follow her as she goes on to speak of the "full and perfect vision" (τὰ τέλεα καὶ ἐποπτικά, 210a 1). It has even been seriously argued that Plato is here guilty of the arrogance of professing that he has reached philosophical heights to which the "historical" Socrates could not ascend. Everything becomes simple if we remember that the actual person speaking is Socrates, reporting the words of Diotima, Socrates is as good as speaking of himself, and naturally, Diotima must not say anything that would imply that he is already, at the age of thirty, assured of "final perseverance." In the Phaedo, speaking on the last day of his life to a group of fellow-followers of the way, Socrates can without impropriety say that he has "lived as a philosopher to the best of his power."

19^ κατανοησαι, 210a 8. The αὐτὸν = auton seems to be emphatic. The necessity for a "director" (ὀ ἡγούμενος) is admitted for the first step of the progress only. The rest of the way must be trodden at one’s own peril, by the "inner light." Yet there is a return to the conception of "combined effort" at 210e 6, ἐπὶ τὰς ἐπιςτήμας ἀ γα γειν.

20^ It is not meant that this widening of outlook must act unfavourably on personal affection. The thought is that intelligent delight in the beauty of one "fair body" will lead to a quickened perception of beauty in others, just as genuine appreciation of your wife’s goodness or your friend’s wit will make you more, and not less alive to the presence of the same qualities in others.

21^ Symposium, 212a 4. The allusion is to the tale of Ixion and the cloud which was imposed on him in the place of Hera, and from which the Centaurs sprang. All loves but the last are, in varying degrees, illusions.

22^ 212b, ἐγκωμιάζων τὴν δύναμιν καὶ ἀνδρείαν του ἔρωτος. The ἀνδρεία is specified because the pilgrimage is so long and arduous that it is no easy thing to "play the man" to the end of it. It is a warfare against "flesh and blood."

23^ Republic 508b 9. For the metaphor of the "holy marriage," cf. e.g. Republic 490b, 496a.

24^ The Neoplatonic way of dealing with the problem, by making "The One" the source from which νους and its correlate τὰ νοητά directly emanate, definitely subordinates the “forms” to God. Through Augustine this view passed to St. Thomas and still remains part of Thomistic philosophy.

25^ Greek Philosophy, Part I, 130, 138-142; Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 1908-1921, xi. 670, col. 1. Professor Burnet has fallen into an oversight in the first of these passages when he makes the "rapt" take place at a time of "hard frost." The time was high summer (Symposium, 220d 1).

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X. The Protagoras

If there is any Platonic dialogue which can challenge the claim of the Symposium to be its author’s dramatic chef d’oeuvre it is the Protagoras, with its brilliant full-length portrait of the famous Protagoras and its mirthful sketches of the two minor "sophists" Prodicus and Hippias. The very life-likeness of the narrative has led to grave misunderstanding of the philosophical significance of the dialogue. It has been assumed that so lively a work must be a youthful composition, and this has led to the further supposition that its teaching must be "undeveloped" as compared with that of e.g. the Gorgias. By way of providing Plato with a crude "early ethical doctrine" for the Gorgias to correct, it has then been discovered that the Protagoras teaches the Hedonism of Bentham, a misconception which makes the right understanding of its purpose wholly impossible. We shall see, as we proceed, that the dialogue does not teach Hedonism at all; what it does teach is something quite different, the Socratic thesis that "all the virtues are one thing — knowledge," and that its philosophical purpose is simply to make it clear that this thesis is the foundation of the whole Socratic criticism of life. The absurdity of regarding the dialogue as a juvenile performance is sufficiently shown by the perfect mastery of dramatic technique which distinguishes it. No beginner, however endowed with genius, produces such a masterpiece of elaborate art without earlier experiences of trial and failure. He has first to learn the use of his tools. And it is worth noting that Aristotle must have regarded the dialogue as a particularly ripe and masterly exposition of the Socratic moral theory, since he has taken directly from it his own account in the Ethics of the characteristic doctrines of Socrates.1

|236| In form, the dialogue is once more a narrated drama, but, like the Republic, with a slightly less complicated formula than the Symposium. Socrates himself gives an unnamed friend, with whom he meets in a public place in Athens, an account of a brilliant company from whom he has only just parted. The method of indirect narration is once more necessary, because Plato wishes to impress it on us that the date of the gathering was before his own time. From the jocular opening remarks we learn that Alcibiades is only just becoming old enough to be spoken of as a "man." Since Alcibiades served at Potidaea in 431, this will take us back at least to the beginning of his "ephebate," (military training) which cannot be put later than 433, and is more naturally put at least a year or two earlier. (For it would be unreasonable to suppose that he must have been called out for a hard and distant service as soon as he had the minimum age qualification.) Thus we are at a period before the opening of the Archidamian war. This accounts for the presence, on the most friendly terms, of distinguished men belonging to states shortly to be official enemies of Athens, and for the complete absence of any hint that inter-state relations are in any way disturbed. (Hippias of Elis could hardly be made to glorify Athens as he does at 336c-338b, and to preach a homily on the "internationalism" of Kultur if the war-clouds were already gathering.) The time is thus the Periclean age; Athens is at the very height of her opulence and glory, and Socrates must be thought of as a man of about thirty-five. Of the other figures in the drama, the most important, Protagoras of Abdera, is an older man. He says (317c) that he is advanced in years and might easily be the father of any one present, and subsequently (320c) alleges his superior age as a graceful excuse for conveying his views in a fable, "as a man may in talking to his juniors." Thus we are directed to think of him as a generation or so older than Socrates, and therefore a man at any rate, approaching sixty-five.2 Prodicus and Hippias will be roughly men of Socrates’ age. The scene is laid in the house of the famous "millionaire" Callias, son of Hipponicus, |237| of whom we read in the Apology that he had spent more money on "sophists" than any living man. He must be supposed to be quite young, since his activity as a man of affairs begins at a much later date. Aristophanes makes a topical joke about his presence at the battle of Arginusae and his renown as a lady-killer in the Frogs3 (405 B.C.).

In the speech of Andocides on the Mysteries he figures as the villain of the story, the party who, according to Andocides, is instigating the prosecution in pursuance of a personal grudge, and we hear endless scandal about his domestic affairs. From Lysias xix (delivered between 390 and 387) we learn that the family capital, which had once been believed to amount to two hundred talents, had now shrunk to two. (We must take into account the economic revolution which followed on the collapse of Athens in 404.) We hear of Callias from time to time in the Hellenica of Xenophon. He was commanding the Athenian force at Corinth on the famous occasion (390 B.C.) when Iphicrates cut up the Spartan mora (600 men) with his peltasts (light infantry) (op. cit. iv. 5, 13), and was one of the representatives of Athens at the critical congress held at Sparta early in 371, two or three months before the battle of Leuctra. Hence the agreement then concluded between the Athenian and Peloponnesian confederacies has been generally known as the "Peace of Callias." His important social position at Athens can be gauged from the facts that he held by heredity the position of "Torchbearer" in the Eleusinian mysteries and proxenus, or, as we might say, "Consul" for Sparta. For a proper historical appreciation of Socrates it is important to note that Plato represents him, at this early date, as associating with persons like Callias and Alcibiades, both connected with the Periclean circle, on equal terms, and being in high consideration with both them and the most eminent of the foreign "wits."4

We cannot rate too high the importance of the Protagoras as the fullest and earliest exposition of the character and aims of the sophistic "education in goodness." Nowhere else in Greek literature have we an account of the matter comparable for a moment to that which Plato has put into the mouth of Protagoras himself. There is really no reason why we should feel any distrust of the strict "historicity" of the statements. Plato stood near enough to the Periclean age to be excellently well informed of the facts. He could form his conclusions not merely from what he might be told by men of an elder generation who had known Protagoras, or actually taken his course, but from the work or works of the distinguished sophist himself. (The silly tale of their destruction is refuted not only by the way in which it is assumed in the Theaetetus that all the parties to that conversation are familiar with |238| them, but by the express statement of Isocrates.)5 He stood far enough away from it to have no personal motive for misrepresentation of any kind, and, in point of fact, the personality and the ideas of Protagoras are treated all through the dialogue with respect and understanding, though we are made to see what his limitations are. His exposition of his programme is done with as much "gusto" as anything in the whole of Plato’s works; so much so that some worthy modern critics have even discovered that Protagoras is the real hero of the dialogue who is meant to be commended at the expense of the doctrinaire Socrates. Preposterous as this exegesis is, the fact that it has been given in good faith is the best proof that the dialogue is no satirical caricature, so far as Protagoras is concerned. He is depicted as a man of high aims and sincere belief in the value of the education he gives; his one manifest foible is that he is not conscious of his own limitations, and in that respect, according to the Apology, he is only on a level with all the other "celebrities" of the Periclean age.

If we discount the little exchange of pleasantries between Socrates and his unnamed acquaintance (309a-310c), which merely serves the purpose of dating the interview of Socrates and Protagoras by reference to the age of Alcibiades at the time, the dialogue falls into the following main sections: (1) an introductory narrative, preparatory to the appearance of Protagoras on the scene (310a-316a); (2) a statement by Protagoras of the nature of the "goodness" he professes to be able to teach, followed by a series of "sceptical doubts" urged by Socrates against the possibility of such an education, which are, in their turn, replied to by Protagoras at great length (316b-328d); (3) an argument between Socrates and Protagoras leading up to the Socratic "paradox" of the unity of the virtues, which threatens to end in an irreconcilable disagreement (328d-334c); (4) a long interlude in which the conversation resolves itself for a time into the discussion of a moralizing poem of Simonides (334c-348c); (5) resumption of the argument begun in (3), with the further developments that the one thing to which all forms of "goodness" reduce is seen to be "knowledge" and the consequence is drawn that "all wrong-doing is error" (348c-360e); (6) a brief page of conclusion in which both parties to the discussion admit the need of further inquiry and take leave of one another with many courtesies (360e-362a). This general analysis of itself shows that the central purpose of the dialogue is to exhibit clearly the ultimate ethical presuppositions of the Socratic morality and the "sophistic" morality at its best, and to show exactly where they are in irreconcilable opposition. The one serious exegetical problem we shall have to face is that of discovering the connexion of the discussion of the poem of Simonides with what precedes and follows. |239|

I. Introductory Narrative (310a-316a) The narrative is given in a tone of humor marked by touches of satire, which is directed not against Protagoras but against the excessive adulation bestowed on him by his younger admirers, and to a less degree against the self-importance of second-rate "professors" of the type of Prodicus. Its main object, however, is to insist on the great importance of education in "goodness," if such an education is to be had, and thus to raise our interest to the appropriate pitch, before Protagoras and his programme are actually put before us. Socrates has been roused from sleep in the "small hours" by his young friend Hippocrates, who has just heard of the arrival of Protagoras, and is anxious not to lose a moment in getting an introduction to him and putting himself under his tuition. As it is still too early to think of disturbing the great man, Socrates and the lad walk about for a time in the αὐλή (courtyard) of Socrates’ house, conversing to pass the time. The drift of the conversation is that by profession Protagoras is a "sophist," but Hippocrates is not proposing to study under him in order to enter the "profession" itself; he would be degrading himself by such a course. His object is, like that of the pupil of an ordinary schoolmaster or trainer, to get "culture" (παιδεία) as a free gentleman should. That is to say, he is about to put his "soul" into the hands of a professional "sophist" to be "tended." (The point intended is that "culture" is a much more serious thing than is commonly supposed. It really means the moulding of the "soul" for good or ill.) Hence, before we take such a risk, we ought to be quite clear on the point "what a sophist is," i.e. to what ends it is his profession to shape us. He is a σοφός or "wit," as his name shows,6 but we might say as much of a painter. We want to know further on what his "wit" is exercised, of what accomplishment he is master. Hippocrates makes the obvious suggestion that the particular accomplishment of the sophist is the skillful use of speech — the "art" which, in fact, the pupils of Protagoras were specially anxious to learn from him. But any skilled professional can speak well and to the point about his own technicality, and in teaching us that technicality, he will make us also able to speak properly about it. Thus the all-important question is, What is it of which a "sophist" as such is by profession a teacher? — and Hippocrates cannot answer this question (312e).7

Clearly then, Hippocrates is taking a great risk and taking it |240| in the dark. He would be slow to trust the care of his body to a particular adviser, and would do all he could to be sure of such a man’s competence before he became his patient. How much more foolish to put that much more precious thing, his soul, into the hands of a recently arrived foreigner, without any consultation with older and more responsible friends and relatives, and actually without knowing the real character of the stranger’s profession! We might suggest that the sophist is by profession a sort of importer and retailer (ἔμπορός τις ἢ καπηλός, provisions for the soul) of foreign articles of spiritual diet (a suggestion taken up again with a good deal of humor in a much later dialogue, the Sophistes). The "food of the spirit" is, of course, "studies" or "sciences" (μαθήματα), and we need to guard against the risk that the purveyor of this sustenance may deceive us, as other vendors often do, about the quality of his merchandise. The ordinary vendor praises the wholesomeness of his wares, but without really knowing anything about the matter. You would do well to take the advice of a medical man before you patronize him. So if one could find a "physician of souls," it would be desirable to take his advice before patronizing the spiritual wares vended by Protagoras. This is all the more important that you cannot carry away samples of his wares, as you might of a food for the body, and examine them at your leisure before consuming them. "Sciences" have to be taken direct from the vendor into the soul itself, and if they are unsound articles the mischief is thus done at the very time of purchase. You and I, says Socrates, are still too young8 to judge for ourselves what is wholesome diet for the mind. But we can, at any rate, go and hear what Protagoras has to say about his merchandise, and take the advice of others accordingly, before we commit ourselves (314b).

We need not delay over the lively description of the scene in the house of Callias, the crowd of visitors, and the figures of those lesser lights Prodicus and Hippias. Some of the party must have been mere boys; Socrates says this, in so many words, of Agathon, and it must be as true of Charmides, who was still a mere lad in the year of Potidaea. Plato has been reprimanded for making fun of the invalidism of Prodicus, but for all we know, Prodicus may really have been a malade imaginaire at whom it is quite fair to laugh. It is interesting to note that all the speakers of the Symposium are present except Aristophanes, who would be little more than a child at the supposed date of our dialogue. |241| (I should have mentioned in speaking of the Symposium that Aristophanes must be the youngest of the speakers in that dialogue, a man of about twenty-eight.)

II. The Programme of Protagoras (316b-328d) As soon as Protagoras makes his appearance, Socrates, who already knows him personally, opens the business on which he has come. His young, well-born, and wealthy friend Hippocrates has political aspirations which he thinks might be furthered by studying under Protagoras. But a preliminary interview is desirable. Protagoras is of the same opinion, and is glad of the chance of explaining his aims as a teacher, since the profession is one in which a man cannot be too careful of his own reputation. Men feel a natural ill-will towards a brilliant stranger when they see the young men of promise preferring his company and instructions to those of their own most eminent countrymen. This is why all the most influential "educators" have preferred to disguise their real practice, from Homer’s time on, and have professed to be poets, physicians, musicians, anything but what they really are. Protagoras plumes himself on his own courage in taking the opposite course and frankly avowing that his calling is to "educate men." His boldness has proved the wiser course, for in a long professional career he has escaped all serious consequences of the popular prejudice.9 So he has nothing to conceal and is ready to expound his aims with complete frankness. The whole company thereupon forms itself into an audience for the promised exposition.

Socrates now repeats the question he had already put to Hippocrates; what precise benefit may be expected from study under Protagoras? The answer Protagoras gives is that a pupil who comes to him will go away daily "better than he came," (318a. This establishes the formal equivalence of the notions of "educating men" and "teaching goodness.") But this statement needs to be made more precise. Any master of a speciality might say as much. If you studied under Zeuxippus, you would improve — in drawing, if under Orthagoras — in flute-playing. But in what will you improve daily if you study under Protagoras? The question, says Protagoras, is rightly and fairly put, and the answer is that his pupil will daily improve, not in knowledge of astronomy or geometry (like the pupils of the polymath Hippias), but in what is the great concern of life, "prudence in the management of one’s private affairs and capacity to speak and act in the affairs of the city." That is, Protagoras undertakes to teach us not how to be |242| good specialists, but how to be good men, and what, to a Periclean Athenian, is the same thing, good active citizens. He is really claiming to be able to teach "statesmanship" (319a). (This, of course, was precisely what aspiring young Athenians paid him to teach them.)

There can be no doubt that this is the most important thing a man could teach, if it is really true that statesmanship can be taught. But Socrates feels a perplexity on the question whether statesmanship is teachable. It is hard to disbelieve in the claims of a famous man like Protagoras who has been pursuing his profession for so many years; on the other hand, there are considerations which make the other way, and Socrates now proposes to state them. We must observe that he does not undertake to prove that statesmanship cannot be taught, nor does he commit himself to any of the views he goes on to present. He merely urges that, seeing the quarter from which they come, they cannot be simply dismissed, but have to be met. The argument is one from what Aristotle calls εἰκότα, the probabilities of the case.

The Athenians have a great name for being a "clever" people, and it is not likely that an opinion held very strongly by such a people should be a mere delusion. Now the Athenian public would appear to hold that "goodness" cannot be taught. For it is singular that though they will only accept public advice on what are admittedly matters for expert knowledge from properly qualified advisers, they listen to an opinion on the statesmanship of a proposed course of action without any such regard for qualifications. They will listen, on a point of naval construction, to no one who is not known either to be an expert himself or to have studied under experts. But when the issue is one of statesmanship — that is, one of the goodness or badness, the rightfulness or wrongfulness, of a proposed public act — they treat any one man’s opinion as equally deserving of a hearing with another’s; they make no demand here that a man shall be an approved "expert" or have learned from one.

And this is not merely the attitude of the "general"; the individuals who are regarded as our wisest and best statesmen show by their conduct that they hold the same view. They neither teach their own "goodness" to their sons nor procure masters of it for them, but leave it to chance whether the young men will pick up this goodness for themselves. The example selected, in this instance, is that of Pericles. Thus Socrates argues the case by appealing, in Aristotelian fashion, first to the opinion of the "many" and then to that of the "wise" the acknowledged experts. It is not likely that a very widespread conviction should be merely baseless; it is not likely that the convictions of "experts" should be merely baseless; it is still less likely that both parties should be victims of the same delusion. The point is raised simply as a difficulty; Socrates is quite ready to listen to a proof from Protagoras that, after all, both parties are wrong. The question is thus |248| not whether goodness can be taught or not, but whether Protagoras can satisfy Socrates that it is teachable, in other words, whether goodness can be taught on the principles and by the methods of Protagoras.

In dealing with the reply of Protagoras, we must be careful to remember that his case is not established by the mere fact that there is a great deal of truth in what he says, so far as it goes. What is required is that he should make out sufficient justification for his claim to be able to teach statesmanship as a speciality, exactly as another man might teach geometry or medicine. If we keep this point carefully in view, it will be found that, though what Protagoras says is true enough, as a vindication of his own claim it is a complete ignoratio elenchi.

He begins by indicating his position by means of a fable about the culture-hero Prometheus. At the making of living creatures, Epimetheus was charged with the work of distributing the various means of success in the "struggle for existence" among them; Prometheus was to act as supervisor and critic. Epimetheus managed the distribution so badly that when he came to deal with mankind, the various serviceable qualities had already been used up on the lower animals; none were left for man, who would thus have been helpless and defenseless if Prometheus had not stolen from heaven fire and the knowledge of industrial arts. (In plainer words, man is not equipped for self-preservation by a system of elaborate congenital instincts, and he is handicapped also by physical inferiority: he has to depend for survival on intelligence.) In the "state of nature," however, intelligence and the possession of fire were not enough to secure men against their animal competitors; they had further to associate themselves in "cities," and this gave occasion for all kinds of aggression on one another. (One may compare Rousseau’s speculations about the opportunity given by the social impulses of mankind to the exploitation of the many by the able and unscrupulous few.) Hence Zeus intervened to preserve the human race by sending Hermes to bestow on them δίκη and αἰδώς, the sense of right and conscience. But Zeus expressly commanded that these gifts were not to be confined, like e.g. skill in medicine, to a few specialists; they were to be distributed to every one, since "political association" is impossible on any other terms (322d). Hence the behavior of the Athenian ecclesia, which has surprised Socrates, is reasonable and right. "Political goodness" is wholly a matter of justice and "temperance" and no member of the community is a layman or outsider where justice and temperance are concerned; every "citizen," in fact, is an expert in the virtues. This is also why we expect a man who is a layman in other accomplishments to confess the fact, and ridicule him if he pretends to an accomplishment which he does not possess. But when it comes to "justice," or "temperance," or any other "goodness of a citizen," we expect a man to pretend to it, even if he does not possess it; hypocrisy is a tribute we expect vice to |244| pay to virtue (323c). Similarly we may easily satisfy ourselves that the Athenian people really believe that "goodness" can and must be taught, by reflecting that they never "admonish" or "correct" those who suffer from defects which they cannot help. A man is not reprimanded or corrected for being ugly or undersized or sickly; he is pitied. But men are properly reprimanded and punished for moral delinquencies, and the whole object is that the reprimand or punishment may be a "lesson" to the offender or to others not to offend in the future. The very existence of criminal justice is thus proof that "goodness" is held to be something which can be taught (323c-324d). (This does not mean that either Protagoras or Plato rejects the "retributive" theory of punishment. The "retributive" theory means simply that before a man can be held liable to punishment, he must by his acts have given you the right to punish him. You are not entitled to inflict a penalty simply because you think the suffering of it would "do the man good"; the penalty must be preceded by the commission of an offence. No sane theory of the right to punish can ignore this.)

The little fable about Prometheus has already revealed Protagoras to us as a strong believer in the view that morality is dependent on νόμος, the system of conventions and traditions embodied in the "usages" of a civilized community. As we follow his explanation we shall find him laying still more stress on this point. Like Hobbes, he holds that in a "state of nature" there would be no morality to speak of, and the lack of it would make human life "poor, nasty, brutish, and short." He declares himself strongly opposed to the view of some of his rivals, that "citizen goodness" is a thing that comes by "nature" in other words, that men are born good or bad. He is wholly without any belief in the moral goodness of the unspoiled "savage" and, in fact, looks on morality as a product of civilization, a matter of imbibing a sound social tradition. Such a view would seem to suggest that, since, as we have just been told, every civilized man has to be a "specialist" in justice and temperance, there is no room and no need for the expert teacher of goodness, a conclusion which would make Protagoras’ own professional activities superfluous. Hence he goes on, at once, to explain that he does not mean to deny that goodness can be taught or that there are expert teachers of it. You do not imbibe it unconsciously; it is a thing which comes by teaching and training (323d). His position is that, in a civilized society, life is one long process of being taught goodness, and every citizen is, in his degree, an expert teacher. But there are a few exceptionally able teachers with a special vocation for their function, who do what every good citizen is doing, but do it better, and Protagoras himself is simply one of these.

In support of this view he makes an eloquent and telling speech on the educational process to which the civilized man is all through life subjected, as a consequence of the very fact that he is a member |245| of a society with social traditions. Even in infancy parents, nurses, servants, are all busy teaching a child by precept and example that "this is right" and "that is wrong." The elementary schoolmaster next takes up the same task. The boy’s reading lessons are passages from the poets, full of sound moral instruction, and the preceptors from whom he learns to read and write and tune his lyre pay more attention to his conduct than to anything else. So the trainer in bodily exercises makes it his prime business to teach hardihood and manliness of temper, the first requisites of a future soldier. When "school days" are over, and the boy enters on manhood, the city by its laws sets before him a rule for the whole conduct of his life, and penalizes him if he does not learn from this rule how "to govern and be governed." Thus the citizen’s life is one unbroken progressive process of learning goodness (325c-326e). It is this very universality of the teaching which explains the puzzle about the sons of statesmen. If any of the "accomplishments" of which Socrates had spoken, for example flute-playing, were held by some community to be so important that every citizen must acquire it, and every one was anxious to communicate his own knowledge of it to others, what would happen? The citizens of such a community would not all be first-rate performers. Any one of them would be a much better performer than an average member of a community which did not insist on the accomplishment; but the very universality of the instruction would lead to differences between the individual citizens, based on their more or less marked natural aptitude. Where the means of instruction were open to all, and their use compulsory for all, proficiency would be most manifestly in proportion to aptitude. If no one but the son of a musician learned music, or no one but the son of an expert in "goodness" learned goodness, we might reasonably expect that the sons of musicians would always be our most successful musicians and the sons of "good men" our best men. Just because every one "learns," this does not occur in an actual society, and Socrates’ paradox is thus seen to be no paradox at all. If he would compare the worst men in a civilized society, like that of Athens, not with imaginary "noble savages," but with real savages, he would soon discover on which side the superiority lies (326e-327e). And as for his argument that there is no provision of a special class of expert teachers of goodness, we may reply that neither are there special experts to whom a child has to be sent to learn to speak its mother-tongue, or to whom the son of an artisan must be apprenticed to learn his father’s business. In both cases, the child picks up the knowledge from its "social environment." Besides, there are some men, like Protagoras himself, who have a special and superior gift for teaching goodness, and their pupils do make exceptional progress (327e-328d).

The reply to Socrates’ doubts looks plausible, and has apparently traversed all the points of his case. But the plausibility is, after all, only apparent. If we look more closely, we shall see that the |246| whole argument depends on simply identifying "goodness" with the actual traditions of an existing civilized state. What you do imbibe, as Protagoras has said, from parents, servants, schoolmasters, daily intercourse with your fellow-Athenians, is nothing but the νόμος, the social tradition, of the group in which you live. In a different social group, at Megara for example, the same influences of the social environment would be equally powerful, but the type of character they would tend to produce would be in many ways different. Thus the theory expounded by Protagoras can only be accepted as satisfactory if one assumes, as he has tacitly done, that morality is entirely "relative" that is, that there is no moral standard more ultimate than the standard of respectability current in a given society. If this is conceded, Protagoras has made out his main contention that "goodness" can be, and actually is, learned as a consequence of birth into a society with a definite tradition. But the whole point of the Socratic identification of morality with "knowledge" is that morality is not any more "relative" than geometry. The traditions of Athens are no more an ultimate standard in matters of right and wrong than they are in questions of mathematics. In other words, what Protagoras really means by "goodness" if his argument is to be conclusive, is just the medley of uncriticised traditions which Socrates calls in the Phaedo "popular goodness" and opposes to "philosophic goodness" as the imitation to the reality. Goodness, as Socrates understands it, is a matter not of traditions but of insight into principles. Now this, to be sure, is "knowledge" and must therefore be capable of being taught. But the kind of goodness Protagoras must have in mind when he says that any Athenian citizen, as such, is a teacher of it, is something which, as his own illustration about the boy who picks up his father’s trade rather naively indicates, is not got by teaching of principles at all, but merely picked up, in the main, automatically. Without knowing it, Protagoras has really admitted that such goodness is what the Gorgias had called a mere "knack."

Hence it follows that there is a certain inconsistency between Protagoras’ main position and the vindication of his profession with which he concludes his speech. To make the whole speech consistent, we should have to understand him to be claiming for himself a certain exceptional ability in catching the tone of the "social tradition" of Athens, or any other community he visits, and communicating that tone to his pupils. Now it would, in the first place, be something of a paradox to maintain that a brilliant foreigner from Abdera can so successfully take the print of the social traditions of every community where he spends a few weeks, that a lecture from him will impress that tone on a young man more effectively than lifelong intercourse with a society in which it is dominant. It would be bad manners, at least, for a brilliant Frenchman or American to profess that a few weeks spent in this country had enabled him to understand the "tone and temper of |247| the British people better than any of us understand it for ourselves."10 If "goodness" is knowledge, we can understand that a Chinaman, knowing nothing of "British traditions" may have lessons of first-rate importance to impart to us in it; the claim becomes absurd if goodness means, in us, simply thorough conformity to the traditions of British respectability. The claim to be an expert teacher of goodness is only justifiable on the Socratic view that goodness is something eternal and immutable. It is in flat contradiction with the relativism professed by Protagoras. The further development of the discussion will make it still clearer that it is bound to end in an irreconcilable divergence because, from the first, the parties to the conversation have meant different things by "goodness."

III. The Unity of the "Virtues" (328d-334c) There is just one "little" point Socrates would like to have cleared up, before he can profess himself completely satisfied. Protagoras had specified two qualities as bestowed on mankind by Zeus — the sense of right (δίκη), and conscience (αἰδώς); he had gone on to mention piety and sophrosyne also as constituents of "goodness." Does he mean that "goodness" is an aggregate of which these characters are distinct constituents (μόρια), or are we to understand that "conscience," "sense of right," "sophrosyne," "piety," are synonymous? He meant to be understood in the former sense. But did he mean that the constituents are constituents in the way in which eyes, nose, and ears are constituents of a face, or in the sense in which the smaller volumes contained in a homogeneous mass (like a lump of gold) are constituents? i.e. have the different "virtues" each its own constitutive formula, or is there only one such formula? The question is one on which a practical teacher of goodness is bound to have a definite opinion, because it has a very direct bearing on his educational methods. On the first view, a man might "specialize" in one virtue (for example, courage), while his neighbor might prefer to specialize in some other, just as one man may specialize in diseases of the respiratory organs and another in disorders of the digestive system, or as one man may become a crack oarsman, another a fast bowler. (Or again, a man might set himself to acquire "goodness" by specializing first in one of its "parts" or "branches" and then in another, like Benjamin Franklin.) But on the second view, the principle of goodness will be exactly the same in whatever relation of life it is displayed. A |248| man who really acquires one "virtue" will have to acquire all simultaneously (329e).

Protagoras at once adopts the first alternative, that which recommends itself to average common sense. For he thinks it obvious that there are many brave but licentious men, and many "fair-dealing" men (δίκαιοι), who are far from "wise." (Note the way in which the "quadrilateral" of the four great virtues is thus taken for granted by Protagoras, as by other speakers in Plato, as something already traditional.)11

A view of this kind implies that each form of "goodness" has a function (δύναμις) of its own, distinctive of it, and radically different from the function of any other form. (We have already seen that this view, widely current in ordinary society, is in sharp opposition to the Socratic theory, in which the great difficulty of defining a given "virtue" is that we regularly find ourselves driven to adopt a definition which is equally applicable to every other virtue.) We proceed to treat this position in the recognized Socratic fashion by examining its consequences. It will follow that "justice," to take an example, has a definite function, "piety" or "religion" another and a different function. Justice is not piety, and religion is not justice. But we cannot adopt the monstrous moral paradox that justice is impious, or that religion is "unjust," or wrong, though this would seem to follow from the complete disparity between the "functions" of the different virtues just asserted by Protagoras.12 Hence Protagoras himself is driven to take back what he had just said about the radical disparity of the different forms of goodness. The matter is, after all, not so simple as all that; there is some vague and unspecified resemblance between such different "parts" of goodness as piety and justice, though we cannot say exactly what or how close the resemblance is (331e). The reference to the scale of colours or hardnesses as illustrating the point (331d) shows that the meaning is that one virtue somehow "shades off" into a different one, though you cannot say exactly where the boundary-line should be drawn, as white shades off into black through a series of intermediate grays.

To expose the looseness of this way of thinking and speaking. Socrates resorts to another simple argument. Wisdom has been included by Protagoras in his list of forms of goodness, and the contrary opposite of wisdom is ἀφροσύνη (aphrosynê = "folly"). But sophrosyne |249| is also a virtue which we ascribe to men who act "rightly and beneficially." Now sophrosyne means by derivation moral "sanity" and its contrary opposite, the conduct of those who act "wrongly and harmfully" is consequently aphrosynê ("folly"). For it is a principle of logic, which we can illustrate by an abundance of obvious examples, that ἓν ἑνὶ ἐναντίον (every term has one and only one definite contrary). Further, what is done "in contrary senses" (ἐναντίως) must be done "by contraries," i.e. in virtue of contrary characters in the agents. Thus if we can oppose what is "foolishly" done to what is "sanely" or "temperately" done, we may also oppose "folly" to sophrosyne, temperance, moral sanity. But we have already opposed wisdom and folly as contraries. On the principle then that one term (here "folly") has one and only one contrary opposite, wisdom and sophrosyne must be identified. Thus either we must abandon a fundamental logical principle, or we must give up the distinction between wisdom and sophrosyne, as our former argument was meant to show that we must give up the distinction between justice and piety (or religion).

(The reasoning here appears at first sight to turn on a mere "accident" of language, the fact that profligacy happens to be spoken of in Greek as "folly." When we reflect on the familiarity of the corresponding expressions in all languages which have an ethical literature, we should rather infer that the fact is no accident, but valuable evidence of the truth of the main tenet of Socratic morality. The thought underlying the linguistic usage is clearly that all morally wrong action is the pursuit of something which is not what rightly informed intelligence would pronounce good, and it is always wise to pursue what is truly good and foolish to prefer anything else.)

The next step in the argument is this. We have seen ground for identifying justice with piety and wisdom with temperance or moral sanity. This leaves us, so far, with two great types of "goodness," justice, regard for right, and moral sanity. But may we not further identify these two? Can we really say of any act that it is "unjust," a violation of some one’s rights, and yet that it is "morally sane" (σωφρον) or "temperate"? As a man of high character, Protagoras says that he personally would be ashamed to make such an assertion, but he knows that the "many" would make it. We may therefore examine the assertion simply as a piece of the current ethics of respectability, to see what it is worth (333b-c).13 We must be careful, then, to bear in mind that, from |250| the present onwards, Protagoras is avowedly acting as the dialectical advocate of a current morality which he personally regards as defective. It is not Protagoras of Abdera but the current ethics of respectability, for which he consents to appear as spokesman, that is on its trial. The question is whether a man who is acting "unjustly" can be acting with sophrosyne. In our time, as in that of Pericles, the average man would say that this is quite possible. A man may be "temperate" enough, he may be clear of all "licentiousness," but he may be greedy or ambitious and quite unscrupulous about infringing the "rights" of other men in pursuing his greed or ambition. (Macaulay’s character of Sunderland would be in point here as an illustration.14 In fact, it is proverbial that profligacy is a vice of youth and hot blood, avarice and ambition vices of "cold" later age, and the "old young man" (like Joseph Surface) has always been specially unpopular with the ordinary satirist, who is commonly indulgent to the "rake," unless he happens to be an elderly rake. Socrates’ conviction, like that of Dante, who punishes the prodigal and the miser in the same circle, is that Charles Surface and Joseph are brothers in the spirit, no less than in the flesh; the antithesis of the Sheridans and Macaulays between the "generous" and the "mean" vices, is a false one; there are no "generous vices," and no "milksop" virtues.

Formally, the argument is not allowed to reach a conclusion; Protagoras, finding his case hard to defend, tries to take refuge in irrelevancy by diverting attention to the theory of the "relativity" of good. Socrates has started with the linguistic identification of "temperance" with moral sanity. The man who behaves with moral sanity is the εὐ βουλευόμενος, the man who acts "with good counsel." Hence if a man can in the same act be both temperate and unjust, it must be possible to act with good counsel in violating a "right." But a man only shows himself to be acting with good counsel when he "succeeds" or "does well" by disregarding that right. Socrates is thus taking advantage of the ambiguity of the expression εὐ ωράττειν, which may either mean "to act well," or simply to "succeed in doing what you are proposing to do." How he would have continued the argument is indicated by his next question, "Do you recognize the existence of goods?" He means, having got the admission that injustice is only "well-advised" when it is successful injustice, to argue that no injustice really does "succeed" in procuring the aggressor on another man’s rights what he is really aiming at getting, real good or well-being; it is always unsuccessful because it always involves sacrificing the good of the soul to something inferior (the thesis of the Gorgias and of the closing pages of Republic i.). But the moment he shows his hand by |251| asking whether "good things" do not mean "what is beneficial to man" Protagoras tries to escape the development he foresees by delivering a wholly irrelevant homily on the thesis that what is good for one animal may be bad for another, and what is good for man taken externally as a lotion, may be very bad if taken internally, in short that nothing can be pronounced good absolutely and unconditionally. This is, of course, a direct and simple application of Protagoras’ own principle of "man the measure" to ethics, and the facts to which Protagoras appeals are all real facts; only they have no bearing on the issue at stake. It is true that I may be poisoned by drinking something which would have done me good if I had used it as an embrocation, that I should damage my health if I tried to live on the diet on which a horse thrives, and so forth. It does not in the least follow that there are not "good activities of the soul" which are absolutely good in the sense that it is good that any man should exhibit them at any and every time, and that scrupulous respect for "rights" is not one of these goods, and possibly the best of them. In common fairness, we may suppose that Protagoras is alive to this, and that he is simply doing his best for his client, the ethics of the average man, by diverting the attention of the audience from the weak point of his case.15

IV. Interlude. The Poem of Simonides (334c-348a) At this point the conversation threatens to end in a general confusion, and the interrupted argument is only resumed after a long and apparently irrelevant episode. The main reason for the introduction of the episode has already been explained. The argument for the Socratic "paradoxes" makes a severe demand on the reader’s power of hard thinking, and the most difficult part of it is yet to come. The strain of attention therefore requires to be relaxed, if we are to follow Socrates to his conclusion with full understanding. Plato also wants an opportunity to produce two striking dramatic effects. He wishes to contrast the manner of the "sophist," who is highly plausible so long as he has the argument to himself, but gets into difficulty the moment he is confronted by close criticism with the manner of Socrates, who cares nothing for eloquent plausibility and everything for careful and exact thinking. And he wants to provide a part in the drama for the secondary characters, Prodicus and Hippias; they will get no chance of a "speaking part" while Protagoras and Socrates occupy the center of the stage. Hence I think we should take the whole of this long interlude as intended mainly to be humorous "relief," a gay picture of the manners of cultivated Athenian society in the later years of the Periclean age, and not much more.

The fun opens with the humorous pretense of Socrates that, in |252| kindness to his "shortness of memory," Protagoras should curb his eloquence and make his answers to questions as brief as he can. (The self-depreciation is, of course, fun. Socrates means that he would like fewer words and more thought; but the implied criticism has to be made with due regard for "manners.") Protagoras is a little huffed by the suggestion that the other party to the discussion should prescribe the character of his responses; Socrates politely expresses his regret for the weakness to which he has referred, and discovers that he has an engagement elsewhere, and the party thus seems to be on the point of dissolution, when the auditors intervene to prevent such a misfortune. The point of chief interest in the general conversation thus caused is provided by the entertaining burlesque of Prodicus, the great authority on the right use of words. All he really has to say is that the audience who listen to a discussion should give a fair hearing, without fear or favour, to both parties, and assign the victory to the party who makes out the better case. But his remarks are so disfigured by the mannerism of stopping to discriminate each of the terms he uses from some other with which it might conceivably be confused, that it takes him half one of Stephanus’s pages to make his remark. It is clear that the real Prodicus (who, as we must remember, actually survived the execution of Socrates, and so must have been a well-remembered figure to many of the first readers of our dialogue) must have been very much of a formal pedant in manner, or the stress laid on the point by Plato would be unintelligible. No doubt we are also to understand that the defect is being exaggerated for legitimate comic effect. But it is not likely that the exaggeration is very gross. Prodicus was trying to make a beginning with the foundations of an exact prose style, and it would be quite natural that, once impressed with the importance of distinguishing between "synonyms," he should ride his hobby to death. We know from the remains of Varro’s de lingua Latina, from Quintilian, Aulus Gellius, and others, to what lengths the men who attempted to perform the same services for Latin were prepared to go, and it is likely that if the writings of the "sophists" had been preserved, we should have found that Prodicus was not outstripped by his Roman imitators. There is no trace of any personal malice or dislike in the entertaining sketch Plato has given us. Hippias is allowed to make a speech of about the same length, his main point being to mark his disagreement with the partisans of "convention," and his conviction that the whole company, in spite of the differences of "conventional" political allegiance, are all "naturally" fellow-citizens. His tone is exactly that of a cosmopolitan eighteenth-century philosophe. Since Xenophon (Memorabilia iv. 4) pits Hippias and Socrates against one another as champions of φύσις and νόμος respectively, this cosmopolitanism is presumably a real trait of Hippias, though we cannot be sure that Xenophon is not simply developing a hint taken from the Protagoras itself. But even so, his representation shows that he thought Plato’s |258| little picture true to life in its main point. None of the interveners in the general conversation shows any sense of the real bearing of the argument which has just broken down. All treat it as a mere contest of verbal skill between two parties, each of whom is "talking for victory." In the end, a heated disagreement is only avoided by the consent of Protagoras to submit to further cross-questioning, if he may first be allowed to deliver another speech. He absolutely declines Socrates’ proposal to submit himself to be questioned and to give an example of what he thinks the right way to meet criticism (338d-e). The scene which ensues can hardly be understood as anything but broad comedy. Protagoras, having carried his point about the delivery of a set speech on a theme of his own choosing, remarks that it is an important part of "culture" to understand the poets and criticise their performances, and that he will accordingly now expound and criticise a poem composed by Simonides for the Scopadae. This is a task suggested naturally by the previous course of the conversation, as the contents of the poem have to do with "goodness."

Unfortunately the poem (Fr. 3 in the Anthology of Hiller Crusius, 12 of Schneidewin) has to be reconstructed from the Protagoras itself, and the reconstruction can be neither complete nor certain, so that we are not entitled to speak with too much confidence about the precise drift of the poet. The general sense, appropriate enough in an encomium of a half-barbaric Thessalian chief, seems to be that it is idle to expect complete and all-round "goodness" in any man; there are difficult situations out of which no human goodness comes with credit. We must be content to call a man "good," if his general conduct shows regard for right (δίκα), if he never misbehaves without highly extenuating circumstances; absolute superiority to circumstance can only be expected in a god. The impression one gets is that one is reading a paid panegyric on a magnate against whom there is the memory of some shocking deed or deeds which the eulogist wishes to excuse or palliate by the "tyrant’s plea, necessity."16

The point on which Protagoras fastens is this. Simonides takes occasion to comment unfavourably on the saying commonly ascribed to Pittacus that "it is hard to be good" (χαλεωὸν ἐσθλὸν ἔμμεναι). But he has just said the very same thing himself in almost the Same words (ἄνδρ̉ ἀγαθὸν μὲν ἀλαθέως γενέσθαι χαλεωὸν). He has thus committed the absurdity of censuring Pittacus for the very sentiment he has just uttered as his own (339d).

Socrates now seizes the opportunity to defend the poet by the aid of Prodicus and his famous art of discriminating between words. The point, he says, is that whereas Pittacus had said that it is hard |254| to be (ἔμμεναι) good, Simonides says that it is hard to become (γενέσθαι) good; "to be" is one thing, "to become" another, and thus there is no formal contradiction between denying that it is hard to be good and asserting that it is hard to become good. But, objects Protagoras, this distinction only makes matters worse for Simonides; if he denies that it is hard to be good, he must mean that it is easy to possess goodness, and the common sense of all mankind is against him. Socrates is ready with a rejoinder. Possibly Simonides, like his fellow-Cean Prodicus, was a votary of precision of speech, and regarded the employment of χαλεωὸν in the sense of "difficult" as a misuse of words, just as Prodicus objects to the common colloquial use of the word "awful" (δεινός) in such phrases as "awful wealth" (δεινός ωλοῦτος), on the ground that only bad things can properly be called "awful." Let Prodicus, as a fellow-countryman, tell us what Simonides really meant by χαλεωὸν. Prodicus at once says he meant κακόν ("bad").17 If that is so, Pittacus was, from his Lesbian ignorance of the exact meaning of a Greek word, unconsciously uttering the senseless statement that "it is bad to be good" and Simonides was right in objecting this to him. Prodicus at once accepts this explanation, but Protagoras naturally rejects it as ridiculous. "So it is," says Socrates, "and you may be sure Prodicus is only making fun of us" (341d).

(So far, it is clear that the whole tone of the passage about Simonides is playful. Plato is laughing, as he often does, at the fifth-century fashion of trying to extract moral principles from the remarks of poets, especially of poets with a reputation, like Simonides, for worldly wisdom and a shrewd regard for the interests of "number one." The mock-respectful discussion of another dictum of the same poet in Republic i. is couched in exactly the same tone. The solemn pedantry of Prodicus is a second subject of mockery. But the main stroke is aimed at the superficiality of Protagoras. With all his eloquence about the value of a critical study of "literature," his ideal of criticism is to fasten on the first and most obvious weak point, and make an end of the matter. He has shown his cleverness by catching Simonides in a verbal contradiction; he does not see the need of an attempt to understand the drift of his poem as a whole, or to consider whether the apparent contradiction will vanish when taken in the light of the general context. We are all only too familiar with this sort of "criticism," which aims at nothing more than the commendation or censure of individual phrases, while it lets "the whole" go unregarded.)

Socrates now undertakes to propound an interpretation which will pay due regard to the meaning of the whole poem (342a). He introduces it by some general observations, the tone of which ought |255| to settle the question whether we are to take his exegesis in earnest or not. Crete and Sparta are really the most philosophical communities in the Greek world, and "sophists" abound there more than anywhere else; but they conceal the fact from mankind at large by passing themselves off as rough fighting-men, and by vigilantly discouraging intercourse with other cities, so that they may keep their wisdom for their own exclusive benefit. This is why the ordinary Spartan startles you from time to time by the pungency and pertinence of his "dry" and brief apophthegms. They are all the product of this unique "Spartan culture." The famous "seven sages" — the list of them given in this passage is the earliest extant — were all trained in this school, and Pittacus was one of them. Hence his saying "it is hard to be good" was much admired as a piece of this sententious "philosophy" and Simonides, being an ambitious man, wished to win a great reputation by refuting it. This is the object of his whole poem (342a-343c).

(It ought not to have to be said that this whole representation of Sparta and Crete, the least "intellectual" communities of Hellas, and the two which Socrates himself takes as his models in Republic viii. in describing the State which has made the mistake of "neglecting education," is furious fun. Socrates is diverting himself by his whimsical suggestions that the "laconizing" fashionables of other cities, who affect the dress and appearance of prizefighters, are all the while imitating the wrong thing, the pretence under which the Spartans disguise their real interests, and that the "superiority of Sparta" is really based not on military prowess and success but on intellectual eminence. And if the explanation which introduces the exposition of the poem of Simonides is thus sheer fun, we are bound in common sense to expect that the exposition will turn out to be mainly fun too.)

We are now given the professed exegesis of the poem, which is only arrived at by a series of violences done to its language. Simonides must be understood as correcting the saying "it is hard to be good" by saying "no, the truly hard thing is not to be, but to become a thoroughly good man, though this is possible. To be permanently good is not hard, but absolutely impossible for a man; it is only possible to a god." A man, as Simonides goes on to say, cannot help proving "bad" when he is "struck down" by irretrievable misfortunes. Now no one who is already down can be struck down. Hence Simonides must mean by a "man," an "expert," a wise and good man, and his meaning is shown by the fact that he goes on to say that a man is "good" as long as he "does well" (πράξας μὲν γὰρ εὐ πας ἀνὴρ ἀγαθός). For the man who "does well," or "succeeds" in anything is the man who knows how the thing ought to be done, the man who "does ill" is always the man whose knowledge fails him. Simonides is thus made, by an arbitrary exegesis, to bear witness to the Socratic doctrine that "goodness" and knowledge are the same (345b). His meaning is that it is hard to become good but impossible for |256| man to be permanently good, because of the limitations and imperfections of all human knowledge.

The rest of the poem develops the same thought. In particular, when the poet says that he will "praise and love the man who does no deed of shame willingly" (ἑκών ὅστις ἕρδη μηδὲν αἰσχρόν) we are not to take his words in what seems their natural grammatical sense. The "cultured" Simonides must be supposed to know that it is a vulgar error to suppose that anyone would do evil voluntarily. Hence the ἑκών (of one’s own free will) must be taken by an extravagant hyperbaton with the words which precede it, so that the sense is, "I readily praise and love the man who does no deeds of shame" (though my profession sometimes unfortunately requires me to pay constrained compliments to "tyrants" who have committed crimes).

Though there have been commentators who have taken Socrates’ exposition of the poem as perfectly serious, the blunder ought to be impossible to any man with a sense of humor or of the necessity of maintaining a dramatic unity of spirit throughout a scene. We have been prepared for the discussion of the verses by an introductory homily on the devotion of Sparta to "culture" which is manifestly the merest playful humor; we are fairly entitled to suspect Socrates whenever we find him pretending to discover deep philosophic truth in the compositions of any "poet," and particularly in those of the poet who had become a byword for his adroit and profitable flatteries of "the great"; his purpose should be made unmistakable by the forced character of the verbal constructions he is driven to advocate. Clearly we are dealing with an amusing "skit" on the current methods of extracting any doctrine one pleases from a poet by devices which can make anything mean anything. Socrates is amusing himself by showing that, if he chooses to play at the game, he can beat the recognized champions, just as in the Parmenides Plato amuses himself by showing that he can, if he likes, outdo the constructors of "antinomies" in the use of their own weapons. The one thing in the whole of the "lecture" on the verses of Simonides which is not playful is Socrates’ insistence on the doctrine that wrongdoing is error, and is therefore not "voluntary." Here he is in intense earnest, but the device by which he extracts the doctrine from the text of Simonides by an impossible "punctuation" is itself merely playful, just as his suggestion that what he well knew to be the "paradox" of his own theory is so universally admitted by all thinking men that it is incredible Simonides should not accept it, is equally playful. He knows that the very proposition he represents as too well known to be ignored by Simonides will be rejected as an extravagance by his audience when he conies shortly to defend it. His object in getting it into the otherwise whimsical exposition of Simonides is simply to bring back the discussion to the original issues from which it has been allowed to diverge, and he has the natural delight of a humorist in clothing his thesis in |257| the most provocative and arresting words he can find. How far he is from expecting his excursus into literature to be taken seriously is shown by his remark that he has now discharged his part of a bargain by allowing Protagoras to deliver a second speech, and would be glad if Protagoras would honor the agreement by returning to the interrupted discussion. For his own part, he thinks it unprofitable to spend our time debating the meaning of the poets, whom we cannot call directly into court; it is much better to let them alone and try to get at truth by the direct interplay of our own thoughts (347c-348a).

V. The Main Argument Resumed. — The Identity of Goodness with Knowledge, and its Consequences (348c-360e). Now that Socrates has succeeded in bringing back the conversation to the point where it had been broken off, he carefully restates the question, with a polite assurance that he is not talking for victory but honestly asking the help of Protagoras towards the clarification of his own thought. The question is whether the names of the great virtues are different names for one and the same thing (349b), or whether to each of these names there answers "a peculiar reality or object with its own special function" (ἴδιος οὐσία καί πραγμα ἔχον ἑαυτου δύναμιν, where note that the word οὐσία, exactly as in the Euthyphro, implies the whole of the "doctrine of forms" expounded in the Phaedo). Protagoras has been so far impressed by the former arguments of Socrates that he now restates his original opinion with a large modification. He admits that most of the "parts of goodness" are "fairly like one another," but holds that ἀνδρεία, valour, courage, has a distinct character of its own. This is a matter of everyday observation, for it is a manifest fact that many men are singularly brave, but have no other virtuous quality; they have no regard for rights, no religion, no command over their passions, no prudence. (The view is a familiar one; it is habitually adopted, for example, in the character-sketches of a work like Macaulay’s History. It implies, of course, that its supporters identify ἀνδρεία with with the "popular" courage which the Phaedo pronounces to be a counterfeit of true valiancy, mere hardihood in the face of perils.) The first point which has to be made against this position is that it rests on the false conversion of a true proposition. It amounts to identifying "the valiant" with the "confident" or "fearless" (θαρράλεοι). Now it is true that all brave men are fearless, but it is not true that all the "confident" or "fearless" are truly brave, and the two classes, therefore, cannot be identified. In the absence of a logical terminology, this point has to be made by examples. Men who have learned a "dangerous" accomplishment, such as diving, fighting in the cavalry, or the like, will be "fearless" in facing the risks they have learned to deal with, as we also call them "brave" divers or fighters But persons who have never learned to dive or to manage a horse will also sometimes be reckless in throwing themselves into the water or plunging into a charge. But this, Protagoras |258| says, is not valour; it is simply madness. (He means, of course, that there is no valour in taking a risk simply because you are not alive to its magnitude. True valour involves consciousness of the risk you are facing.) Protagoras accordingly points out that though he had admitted that the valiant are fearless, he had not admitted the converse, and complains that Socrates is treating him unfairly (of course, Socrates’ real object was simply to lead up to the making of the distinction). It is true that fearlessness may be the effect of knowledge, but it may also be the effect of high temper (θυμός) or mere frenzy (μανία); hence the superior fearlessness of the man who has learned to swim or to use his weapons is no proof that courage (as distinct from mere fearlessness) is the same thing as "wisdom" or knowledge (σοφία). In fact, Protagoras holds that the fearlessness which deserves to be called valour is due not to knowledge but to something else, "nature" (φύσις) and a "thriving" or "well-fed" state of soul (εὐτροφία των ψυχων, 351b), just as physical strength is not due to knowledge but to bodily constitution and sound nourishment.18

Thus the question whether valour can be shown, as Protagoras now admits that the other leading forms of "goodness" can be, to be knowledge, requires us to raise still more fundamental questions. We admit that one may live well or live ill, and that the man who lives a life of pain and misery is not living well, but the man who lives a pleasant life is. May we say then that the pleasant life is the good life, the unpleasant life the bad? Protagoras wishes to stipulate that the pleasure must be "pleasure in fine, or noble, things" (τοις καλοις, 351c), thus anticipating Mill’s "distinction of qualities" of pleasure. But might we not say that things are good just in so far as they are pleasant, and bad in so far as they are unpleasant, so that good and pleasant are synonyms? Protagoras thinks it due to his character to maintain that this is not true; there are bad pleasures and good pains, and there are both pleasures and pains which are neither good nor bad. But he is willing to treat the suggestion, in the Socratic manner,19 as one for further investigation. (It is very important, then, to remark that the Hedonist identification of good with pleasant comes into the conversation, in the first instance, as problematic; it is to be adopted or rejected according as its implications approve themselves or do not.) And the question about the relation between pleasure |259| and good directly raises another fundamental issue. The popular opinion is that "knowledge" has not much influence on conduct. It is held that a man often knows quite well that something is good or evil, but acts "against his better knowledge," which is mastered by "temper" or "pleasure," or "pain," or "lust," as the case may be. But may it not be that the popular opinion is wrong, and that if a man knows good and evil, nothing will ever prevail on him to act contrary to his knowledge? Protagoras thinks that it would only be proper in a professional teacher of goodness, like himself, to take this view, and Socrates expresses his firm conviction of its truth.20 But, since most men think otherwise, we, who dissent from them, must give a correct analysis of the facts they have in mind when they talk of a man’s judgment as "overcome" by pleasure or pain, and satisfy them that the popular analysis of these facts is inaccurate (353a). We might, in fact, ask the mass of men, who profess to believe that a man can be seduced by the prospect of pleasure or frightened by that of pain into doing, against his better knowledge, what he recognizes to be evil, the following questions: (a) When you talk of something as pleasant but evil, do you not mean simply that the pleasant thing in question leads to painful consequences, and when you call some things good but unpleasant, do you not mean that, though unpleasant for the time being, they lead to pleasurable consequences? "The many" would readily admit this, and thus would (b) commit themselves to the view that good and evil are identical with pleasant and painful. In fact (c) they would admit that the end they always pursue is getting the "greatest possible balance of pleasure over pain" (354c-e). It follows at once that, on the showing of the "many" themselves, the experience which they call "being overcome by pleasure or by pain" is really making a false estimate of pleasures and pains. To be "overcome" means "to take a greater amount of evil in exchange for a smaller amount of good" (356e), and on the hypothesis we are examining, "good" means "pleasure" and "evil" means "pain." Errors of conduct are thus on the same level as false estimates of number, size, and weight. Now we are preserved from mistakes about number, size, weight, by the arts or sciences (τέχναι) of counting, measuring, and weighing. In the same way we need to be preserved from false estimates in moral choice by a similar art of estimating the relative magnitudes of "lots" of prospective goods and evils, that is to say, prospective pleasures and pains, in fact by an "hedonic calculus," which will terminate disputes. And a "calculus," of course, is "knowledge," or "science." An argument of this kind ought to reconcile the "many" themselves to the view that |260| wrong choice, the victory of passion over knowledge as they call it, is really nothing but miscalculation, and therefore that wrong action is due to error and is always involuntary (357-358).

It is on this section of the dialogue that the notion of a Platonic "Hedonism" has been erected, with the consequence that one of two equally impossible inferences has to be made, either that there is no consistent ethical doctrine to be found in the dialogues — Plato allows himself at pleasure to argue for or against any view which interests him for the moment (the theory of Grote) — or that the Protagoras expresses an "early theory" which is afterward abandoned when we come to the Gorgias and Phaedo. Careful reading will show that neither of these conceptions is justified. Neither Protagoras nor Socrates is represented as adopting the Hedonist equation of good with pleasure. The thesis which Socrates is committed to is simply that of the identity of goodness and knowledge. The further identification of good with pleasure is carefully treated, as we have seen, as one neither to be affirmed nor denied. We are concerned solely with investigating its consequences. One of these consequences would be that what is commonly called "yielding to passion against our better knowledge" is a form of intellectual error and is involuntary, since it means choosing a smaller "lot of pleasure" when you might choose a greater. (These consequences are, in fact, habitually drawn by Hedonists.) Hedonism thus is in accord with the doctrines of Socrates on one point, its reduction of wrong choice to involuntary error, and for that reason Socrates says that you can make the apparent paradoxes of his ethics acceptable to mankind at large, if you also adopt the Hedonist equation, good = pleasure. (The "many," in fact, do in practice accept this equation, because they are votaries of some form of the βίος φιλοχρήματος.) It does not follow that because Socrates agrees with vulgar Hedonism on the point that wrong choice is involuntary error and arises from lack of knowledge of good, that he identifies knowledge of good, as the Hedonist does, with calculation of the sizes of "lots" of pleasure and pain. All he wants to show is that even from the point of view of the persons who mistake "popular goodness" for genuine goodness, it is no paradox to say that goodness is knowledge of some sort; the Hedonist is a "rationalist" in his ethics, though his "rationalism" may not be of the right kind. That this is all that is meant is clear from the way in which Socrates is careful to insist over and over again that the appeal is being made to the standards of "the mass of mankind." We must also not forget that the appeal to the unconscious Hedonism of the average man is being made for a further special purpose. The object of convincing the average man that, on his own assumptions, goodness is a matter of right calculation, is to prepare the way for the further proof that, even on these assumptions, courage can be brought under the same principle as all the rest of "goodness." When we thus take the argument in its proper context, we see that the Protagoras no more teaches |261| Hedonism than the Phaedo, which also represents the morality of average men as a business of estimating pleasures and pains against one another. Rightly interpreted, Gorgias, Phaedo, Protagoras, are all in accord on the one doctrine to which Socrates commits himself in the present section of our dialogue, the doctrine that "goodness" is knowledge. The confusion between "knowledge of the good" and computation of pleasures and pains is given, in the Protagoras as in the other dialogues, for what it is, a confusion of the "average man" and for nothing more.

To come to the application to the problem about ἀνδρεία. What is it that the courageous face, but the cowardly refuse to face? The current answer is that it is "dangers" (τὰ δεινά). But "danger" means an anticipated evil, and we have just seen that even the average man, when he comes to theorize about his own practice, holds that no one "goes to face" what he believes to be evil for him. The very fact that he chooses to face the situation shows that he regards it as the "lesser evil" to do so. The real reason, then, why some men face the risks of war but others run away, must be that the former judge that more good, which to them means more pleasure, is to be got by standing your ground than by running away; the latter think that they will get more good, and again they mean more pleasure, by running. If we praise the one and condemn the others, we are praising a true (and also condemning a false) calculation about the "balance of pleasure over pain" The brave man of everyday life faces the present pain and peril because he has correctly calculated that endurance of it will lead to a greater balance of pleasure than flinching. Thus even the unconscious theory of the average man at bottom implies the view that courage is a matter of knowing what is and what is not formidable (σοφία των δεινων ιαὶ μὴ δεινων, 360c). This is, in fact, exactly what Socrates says about "popular" courage in the Phaedo. (That what the "many" suppose to be knowledge of the good — namely, knowledge of the hedonic consequences of your act — is something very different from what Socrates means by knowledge of the good is true, but irrelevant to the present argument, which only aims at showing that, even if you adopt the working morality of the average man, courage stands on the same footing as the other "virtues." From his standpoint, it resolves itself, like the rest, into calculation of hedonic consequences; from Socrates’ standpoint, it and all the rest issue from knowledge of the true and eternal good.)

VI. Epilogue Our discourse has, after all, only ended by bringing us in face of the really fundamental problem, what true "goodness" is (360c). (This remark, again, shows that Socrates is not represented as accepting the Hedonism which he finds to be the unconscious assumption of the average man. We have seen clearly enough what "goodness" is, on that theory.) In fact, we have ended by exchanging positions in a very entertaining fashion. Protagoras, who began by being sure that goodness can be taught |262| and that he can teach it, seems now to be equally sure that, whatever goodness is, it is not the one thing which can be taught, knowledge; Socrates, who began by raising the doubt whether it can be taught, is now doing his best to prove that it must be knowledge and nothing else. And here the party breaks up, with a last word of graceful compliment on the part of Protagoras. He has often testified to his admiration of Socrates’ parts and rates him far above all other persons of his years; he would not be surprised if he should yet become famous for his "wisdom."

Of course, the apparent paradox of which Socrates speaks can be very simply explained. What he doubted was whether the sort of "goodness" of which the public men of Athens are examples can be taught. Since this "goodness" is just another name for "tactful management" of affairs, it obviously cannot be "taught." A man has to acquire tact by the handling of affairs and men for himself; you cannot teach the theory of it. But political tact is something very different from anything Socrates understood by goodness. There is thus no real confusion or shifting of ground, so far as he is concerned. Protagoras is in a different position. By his own showing, the "goodness" he aims at teaching is just the secret of political success, and political success really does depend on a "tact" which cannot be taught. Hence Protagoras really does combine incompatible positions when he asserts both that "goodness" is not knowledge, and also that it can be taught. If by "goodness" we mean what Protagoras defined as "success in managing the affairs of your household and city," he is right in maintaining that goodness is not knowledge, but clearly wrong in holding that it is an "art" which he can teach.21

See further:
Ritter, C. Platon, i. 308-342.
Raeder, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 106-111.
Natorp, P. Platons Ideenlehre, 10-18.
Gomperz, Th. Griechische Denker, i. 250-264.
Stewart, J. A. The Myths of Plato, 212-258, "The Protagoras Myth."
Dittmar, H. Aeschines von Sphettus, 186-212 (on Aeschines’ dialogue Callias,
  where, however, the author’s chronology of the life of Callias is
  wrong. Callias had two sons, both in at least their later ’teens in 399.
  Apology, 20a-c.)

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1^ Nicomachean Ethics 1116b 4, Socrates thought that courage is knowledge, a reference to the lengthy treatment of this point at Protagoras 349d ff., rather than, as suggested by Burnet in his commentary on the Ethics, to the Laches; 1144b 18, Socrates held that all the "virtues" are φρονήσεις (an allusion probably to the assertion of this in Protagoras and Phaedo); 1145b 23 ff., Socrates denied that there is such a state as ἀκρασία in which "passion" commits a "rape" on judgment, δεινὸν γὰρ ἐπιστήμης, ὠς ᾤετο Σ., ἄλλο τι κρατειν καὶ περιέλκειν αὐτὴν ὠς ἀνδράποδον (a verbal allusion to Protagoras 352c); 1147b 15, ούδ̉ αὔτη (sc. ἡ κυρία ἐωιστήμη) ωερίελκεται διὰ τὸ ωάθος (another echo of the same passage); 1164a 24, on Protagoras’ method of charging for his services, looks like a loose reminiscence of Protagoras 328b 6-c 2; Nicomachean Ethics 1109b 6 is a plain reminiscence of Protagoras 325d 6; E.E. 1229a 15 is a direct allusion to Protagoras 360d 4, as is also 1230a 7 ff.; 1246b 34 echoes Protagoras 352c. Though Aristotle never names the dialogue, he evidently appreciated its importance.

2^ This would throw back the birth of Protagoras to some time not very far from 500 B.C. and make him a contemporary of Anaxagoras. The Alexandrian chronologists made him some fifteen years younger, and they have mostly been followed by modern writers. It seems to me, as to Professor Burnet, that we must accept Plato’s statement. He must have known whether Protagoras really belonged to the generation before Socrates, and could have no motive for misrepresentation on such a point. All through the dialogue the advanced age of Protagoras is kept before the reader’s mind, so that Plato is not simply falling into an oversight. The Alexandrians obviously depend on one of their usual arbitrary constructions. The foundation of Thurii (444) was their regular "fixed era" for events of the Periclean age, and as Protagoras was known to have had to do with legislating for Thurii, they fixed his ἀκμή to the year of its foundation. The restoration of Protagoras to his true date enables us finally to dispose of the fable of his prosecution (in 415 or in 411) for "impiety," a story which bears the marks of its futility on its face. From the references of the Meno we see that Protagoras must have died during the Archidamian war, and that he ended his life in high general repute.

3^ Frogs, 432. For an earlier Aristophanic allusion to Callias as a spendthrift and coureur de femmes, cf. Clouds, 284-6. He had already been attacked as a "waster" and patron of sophists by Eupolis in his Κόλακες (flatterers) (421 B.C.).

4^ See the compliment paid him by Protagoras at 361e, and observe that It is assumed to be based on an acquaintance begun still earlier on a former visit of Protagoras to Athens.

5^ Isocrates x. 2, νυν δέ τίς έστιν οὔτως δψιμαθής, ὄστις οὐκ οίδε Πρωταγόραν καὶ τοὺς κατ̉ ἐκεινον τὸν χρόνον γενομένους σοφιστάς, ὄτι καὶ ωολὺ τούτων πραγματωδέστερα συγγράμματα κατέλιωον ἡμιν.

6^ 312c. It is assumed that the popular etymology of σοφιστής made it a derivative from σοφός and είδέναι, σοφιστής = ὁ των σοφων ίστής.

7^ Hippocrates makes the suggestion that the "sophist’s" speciality is to be δεινὸς λέγείν (clever at speaking), of course, because the special skill of which Protagoras notoriously boasted was the power to "make the weaker argument the stronger," by stating the case forcibly and plausibly. "Advocacy" is what the young men of Athens pay Protagoras to teach them. Socrates’ point is that the worth of his teaching as a "culture for the soul" depends on what he "advocates" and teaches others to advocate. Even from the most utilitarian point of view, to be a clever advocate is not the one and only requisite for a statesman.

8^ ἡμεις γὰρ ἔτι νέοι. Note the repeated insistence on the comparative youth of Socrates. Plato is determined that we shall not forget the date to which he has assigned the conversation. I should suppose that his reason is that he knew or believed that Socrates, as a fact, did meet Protagoras at this date, and that this was the most important occasion on which the two met, just as he mentions in the Phaedo that Socrates first learned Anaxagoras’ doctrine about νους from hearing someone "read aloud," as he said, "from a book of Anaxagoras," simply in order to make the historical point that the two men had not actually met.

9^ 316b-317c. Protagoras is, of course, speaking playfully when he suggests that Homer, Simonides, and others were really "sophists" who tried to escape unpopularity by passing themselves off for something different. But we may infer from his remarks (1) that the popular, and very natural, feeling against the professional sophist really existed in Athens in the Periclean age, and is not, as Grote supposed, an invention of Plato and the Socratic men; (2) that Protagoras was actually the first man avowedly to practice the "educating of men" or "teaching of goodness" as a paid profession. Unless these are facts, there is no point in what Plato makes him say.

10^ That Protagoras actually took the line here suggested seems to follow from the well-known passage of the Theaetetus where the question is raised how Protagoras could reconcile his doctrine of "Man the measure" with his own claim to be able to teach "goodness." Socrates suggests that Protagoras might have pleaded that what he does for his pupils is not to give them "truer" views — a thing impossible on the Homo mensura theory — but to give them "more useful" views (Theaetetus, 166a-168c). This amounts to the suggestion of the text, that Protagoras believes himself to have a special aptitude for appreciating the tone of the current tradition of a community and impressing it on his hearers.

11^ It seems to me that the same allusion must underlie the curious phrase of the poem of Simonides for the Scopadae shortly to be discussed, where the "complete" good man is called "four-cornered" (τετράγωνος ἄνευ ψόγου τετυγμένος). Presumably we are dealing with a Pythagorean τετρακτύς (tetractys). It should be clear, at any rate, that the "quadrilateral" is no invention of Plato, since he represents it as familiar to so many of his fifth-century characters.

12^ The reasoning (331a ff.) does not really commit the error of confounding otherness with contrary opposition. The point of the passage is actually to make the distinction, though in simple and non-technical language; the suggestion that not-just (μὴ δίκαιον) = unjust (ἄδικον) is made only that it may be at once rejected.

13^ Observe that the highly prized virtue, courage (ανδρεία), seems to have fallen into the background. This is a piece of Plato’s dramatic art. The identification of the other commonly recognized virtues with one another is comparatively easy. But to the popular mind there is something "irrational" in high courage; it "ignores" the risks which "rational calculation" would take into account. The identification of courage with knowledge will therefore be the great crux for a rationalist moralist. Hence the discussion is deliberately reserved for the second half of Socrates’ argument, and we are prepared for it by the long half-comic interlude in which the poem of Simonides is canvassed; this is Plato’s way of indicating that it is the hardest and most important section of the dialogue.

14^ "He had no jovial generous vices. He cared little for wine or beauty; but he desired riches with an ungovernable and insatiable desire," etc. etc. (History, c. 6).

15^ To judge from the Theaetetus, Protagoras had actually made the obvious application of the Homo mensura doctrine to ethics for himself (Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Part I, 1167). It leads directly to that identification of "virtue" with what a respectable society actually approves which is the foundation of his explanation of his own educational theory and practice, and is common ground to "subjectivists" in ethics.

16^ Simonides writes much as a poet would have to do if he were composing an ode in praise of William III and felt that he could not be silent about the murder of the De Witts and the Glencoe massacre. The apologetic tone shows that his hero had done something which was regarded by most persons as highly criminal.

17^ The suggestion is not quite so absurd as it looks, absurd as it is. Χαλεωὸν in the sense "a hard thing to bear," may often be paraphrased by κακόν without injury to sense. Cf. Pindar’s τερωνων χαλεωων τε κρίσις (crisis, "issues of weal and woe"), or Homer’s χαλεωὸν γηρας (Il. Θ 103) ("grim old age"), and the like.

18^ The precise position is, and is meant to be, vague. The champion of νόμος is clearly conceding more importance to φύσις ("original temperament") than we might have expected of him from his earlier utterances. This part of the Protagoras has directly suggested Aristotle’s observations about the "fearlessness" produced by έμπειρία or by native θυμός (Nicomachean Ethics 116b 3 ff.).

19^ 351e, ὤσπερ σὺ λέγεις, ἔφη, ἑκάστοτε, ὠ Σώκρατες, σκοπώμεθα αὐτό, κτλ. Thus Protagoras knows all about the Socratic method of "hypothesis" expounded in the Phaedo. We must suppose that he had learned of it on the earlier occasion when he had met Socrates and formed a high opinion of his abilities. Rightly read, the Protagoras confirms the Phaedo in a way which can hardly be accounted for except by supposing that both are portraits of the same original.

20^ 352d 2-4. Note that Socrates definitely commits himself to one of the two premisses of the argument which is to follow, the proposition that no one really acts against his own knowledge of good and evil. He never commits himself to the other premiss, the Hedonistic doctrine that good is pleasure. This remains a suggestion for examination.

21^ Cf. Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, Part I, 170-179.

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Alfred Edward Taylor
Eminent British Idealist philosopher
Fellow, Merton College, Oxford, Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, McGill University, Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of St. Andrews and University of Edinburgh.



“Aeschines’ speech against Timarchus,” Perseus Digital Library, retrieved November 25, 2017.

Taylor, Alfred E. Plato: The Man and His Work. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1955.

American Heritage Dictionaries, Editors of. s.v. “Antinomy”, American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 22, 2016; ISBN 9780544454453.
  "Contradiction or opposition, especially between two laws or rules; a contradiction between principles or conclusions that seem equally necessary and reasonable; a paradox." Dictionary, s.v. “Pantagruelism,” accessed January 8, 2023,
  buffoonery or coarse humor with a satirical or serious purpose: cynical humor.