From Ancient and Medieval Philosophy: Essential Selections, by James Fieser
Copyright 2016, updated 7/30/2018
Life of Plato
Meno: What Virtue Is and Whether it can be Taught
The Republic: Justice, Social Classes, the Forms
Phaedo: Dualism, Recollection, Immortality
Phaedrus: Parts of the Soul and Reincarnation
Theaetetus: Against Protagoras’s Relativism
Parmenides: Difficulties with the Theory of the Forms
Plato (429-347) was born into a wealthy Athenian family. His birth name was Aristocles, but he went by his nickname “Plato” meaning “broad”, perhaps for his physique or the size of his forehead. He was a student of Socrates, and after his teacher’s execution he traveled around the Mediterranean area. Returning to Athens, he founded his school, called the “Academy” outside of Athens, where he taught until his death. Throughout his life, Plato composed dozens of works, about 45 of which survive that are attributed to him. Scholars classify his writings into three periods: an early one that focuses on Socrates views, a middle one where Plato develops his own theory of the Forms, and a later one where he radically revises his theory of the Forms. The previous chapter, on Socrates, includes three of Plato’s early dialogues (“Euthyphro”, “The Apology”, and “Crito”). The selections in this chapter are mostly from the middle period, with two short ones from the later period. In the middle dialogues, Socrates still appears as the lead character, but, instead of pleading ignorance, he presents detailed theories on every imaginable subject. His theory of the Forms is the centerpiece of these works, which, in a nutshell is that, above the ever-changing physical world, there is a higher spirit-realm containing perfect models of objects and concepts that he calls Forms. Things on earth are merely imperfect copies of the those Forms in which they participate. Thus, a physical chair participates in the higher Form of chairness, and humans that practice justice participate in the higher Form of justice. Of all the Forms in that higher realm, there is a supreme Form of “the Good” in which all good things participate. True knowledge, he argues, consists of grasping these Forms through a type of mental vision.
The first selection, from the dialogue “Meno”, is about whether virtue can be taught. Meno is a young and wealthy visitor to Athens from the Greek region of Thessaly, and is staying with Anytus, the Athenian politician who later would bring charges of atheism and corrupting the youth against Socrates. Meno was a student of Gorgias, who held the relativist view that virtues are different for different people, and Meno raises the question of virtue with Socrates. They explore the issue by examining three definitions of virtue, none of which is successful, but Socrates suggests that, contrary to Gorgias’s view, the virtues of justice and temperance are common to everyone. The topic shifts to how one acquires knowledge, and Socrates presents the theory of recollection: in a previous life we were acquainted with truths, and our knowledge of them in this life comes from recollecting them, not by being taught or learning them. Socrates illustrates this by questioning one of Meno's uneducated slaves about a geometry problem, and the slave presumably solves it solely through recollection. Socrates thus maintains that there are no teachers of virtue, and, so, virtues cannot be taught. He illustrates this with examples of famous Athenians who failed at educating their own children. This offends Anytus, who then sternly warns Socrates about the consequences of defaming others.
The second selection is from one of Plato’s longest and most famous dialogues, “The Republic”, which explores the nature of justice. Socrates’ main opponent is the sophist Thrasymachus, who argues that justice is the interest of the stronger, that is, might makes right”. Thrasymachus then leaves, but, for the sake of argument, two of Socrates’ students, Glaucon and Adeimantus, continue Thrasymachus’s skeptical line of reasoning. Socrates argues that there are two notions of justice, one that pertains to individual people, and the other to larger society. However, the two parallel each other. Focusing on the larger issue of justice, he argues that societies consist of three main classes: tradespeople who provide for our basic needs, guardians who protect us militarily, and rulers who set the proper direction of society by mediating between the often-conflicting interests of tradespeople and guardians. Four virtues are needed to make the system work: tradespeople must exercise temperance, guardians must be courageous, rulers must have wisdom, and justice emerges when each of the three classes properly does its own part. Focusing next on the wisdom of the rulers, Socrates argues that the highest ruler, the philosopher King, needs to have knowledge of the Forms, that is, eternal truths that exist in a higher reality, that we access through recollection. This knowledge is unchanging and rises above mere opinion which is ever-changing. The highest eternal truth is the Form of the Good (that is, ultimate perfection), which illuminates the intelligible realm of the Forms in the same way that the sun illuminates the visible realm of physical things. Socrates then offers two analogies to explain the differences between the intelligible and visible realms. First is the divided line, which indicates four levels of reality and four corresponding levels of knowledge (see the chart in the “Divided Line” section below). For example, at the lowest two levels in the visible realm there is (a) the shadow of a table, and (b) a physical table. Then, at the highest two levels in the intelligible realm there is, (c) mathematical objects, and (d) the perfect Form of tableness. Next is the allegory of the cave, which describes how a man is trapped within a cave and erroneously believes that the shadows on the cave walls are reality. He then breaks free and exits the cave to the above-ground world that is illuminated by the sun. In this analogy, the world of the cave and its shadows represents the faulty physical world that we all live in, and the above-ground world illuminated by the sun represents the realm of the eternal Forms that is illuminated by the Good. Socrates next argues that works of art, like a painting of a table, are inherently flawed since they merely imitate the lower realm of physical things, rather than the higher realm of the Forms. That is, the painting of a table is a bad copy of a physical table, which in turn is a bad copy of the ideal perfect Form of “tableness”.
The third selection is from “Phaedo”, which explores the topic of death and the immortality of the soul. Phaedo was a young student of Socrates who was present at his execution. In this dialogue, the character of Phaedo is much older and, at the request of a friend, recounts Socrates final hours. In the excerpts below, Socrates begins by presenting the dualistic view that humans are composed of both a physical body and immortal soul, and while the soul resides in its flawed body it can never attain true wisdom. However, he argues, the limited knowledge that we do have in this life comes through the soul’s recollection. Socrates then gives two arguments for the soul’s immortality. First, since we do have knowledge from recollection, this can only come about if the soul had prior existence. Second, the nature of the human soul is immortal since it is more like the unchangeable Forms which are eternal than it is like the changeable body which perishes.
The fourth selection is from “Phaedrus”, named after a wealthy Athenian youth portrayed in the dialogue. The excerpts from this below discuss themes relating to the human soul. First is an argument for the immortality of the soul from motion: the soul’s nature is to move things, and that which is always in motion is eternal. Second is an account of the three parts of the soul: reason, appetite, and spiritedness (that is, high energy). Using an analogy, the soul is like a charioteer (reason) who controls two uncooperative winged horses, one dark-colored (appetite), the other light-colored (spiritedness). When all three work in harmony, the chariot sores through the sky, but when they don’t, the chariot crashes to the ground. Third is an account of our acquaintance with the Forms in a previous life, which Plato depicts in a myth where the gods and humans ride in winged chariots around the Forms to experience them.
The fifth selection is from “Theaetetus”, named after an Athenian mathematician who in this dialogue debates with Socrates over the definition of knowledge. The work is one of Plato’s later dialogues where he seems to abandon the theory of the Forms, and ends the discussion with no satisfactory account of what knowledge is. In the excerpt below, Socrates criticizes Protagoras’s relativistic view that “man is the measure of all things,” that is, knowledge of things is determined by our individual perception of them, which differs from person to person. For example, to me a rock may be hot, but to you it may be cold and, thus, our knowledge of the rock’s temperature differs. Socrates first response is that, even though peoples’ judgements about a rock’s temperature may differ, any difference we have about our knowledge of the rock’s temperature must involve an actual change within that rock itself, irrespective of our relative judgments about it. Second, individual people cannot be the standard of truth since we clearly see that some people are wise and others ignorant. Third, he argues that Protagoras’s position leads to a paradox that we must accept as true the opinions of people that we disagree with. If I say the rock is hot, and you say it is cold, it is thereby true for you that it is cold, and I must accept that it is true for you.
The final selection is from “Parmenides”, named after the Presocratic philosopher from Elea. In this later dialogue, the young Socrates presents the theory of the Forms to Parmenides, who in turn responds with nine criticisms of it. The implication is that Plato is here rejecting the theory that was the centerpiece of his philosophy in the middle dialogues.
LIFE OF PLATO (428–348 BCE)
Diogenes’ Account (Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 3)
Plato was the son of Ariston and Perictione or Petone, and a citizen of Athens. His mother traced her family back to Solon. . . . He was born, as Apollodorus says in his Chronicles, in the eighty-eighth Olympiad, on the seventh day of the month Thargelion, on which day the people of Delos say that Apollo also was born. He died, as Hermippus says, at a marriage feast, in the first year of the hundred and eighth Olympiad, having lived eighty-one years. . . . He was taught in the school of Dionysius, whom he mentions in his Rival Lovers. He learned gymnastic exercises under the wrestler Ariston of Argos. It was by him that he had the name of Plato given to him instead of his original name, because of his robust figure, as he had previously been called Aristocles, after the name of his grandfather, as Alexander informs us in his Successions. But some say that he got this name from the breadth (platutes) of his eloquence, or else because he was very wide (platus) across his forehead, as Neanthes affirms. There are some also, among whom is Dicaearchus in the first volume on Lives, who say that he wrestled at the Isthmian games. It is also said that he studied painting, and that he wrote poems, dithyrambics at first, and afterwards lyric poems and tragedies. He had a very weak voice, they say, and the same fact is stated by Timotheus the Athenian, in his book on Lives.
It is said that Socrates in a dream saw a young swan on his knees, who immediately grew feathers, and flew up on high, uttering a sweet note. The next day Plato came to him, and Socrates pronounced him the bird which he had seen. Plato would philosophize at first in the Academy, and afterwards in the garden near Colonus, as Alexander tells us in his Successions, quoting the testimony of Heraclitus. Subsequently, though he was about to contend for the prize in tragedy in the theatre of Bacchus, after he had heard the discourse of Socrates, he learned his poems, saying “Vulcan, come here, for Plato wants your aid.” From then on, as they say, being now twenty years old, he became a pupil of Socrates. When Socrates was gone, he followed Cratylus, the disciple of Heraclitus, and to Hermogenes, who had adopted the principles of Parmenides. Afterwards, when he was twenty-eight years old, as Hermodorus tells us, he moved to Megara to Euclid, with certain others of the pupils of Socrates, and subsequently, he went to Cyrene to Theodorus the mathematician. From there he proceeded to Italy to the Pythagoreans, Philolaus and Eurytus, and after that he went to Eurytus to the priests there. Having fallen sick at that place, he was cured by the priests by the application of sea water. . . . When he returned to Athens, he settled in the Academy, which was a suburban place of exercise planted like a grove, so named from an ancient hero named Hecademus. . . .
Aristoxenus says that Plato was three times engaged in military expeditions. He combined the principles of the schools of Heraclitus, and Pythagoras and Socrates. For he would philosophize about those things which are the subjects of sensation, according to the system of Heraclitus; on those with which intellect is conversant, according to that of Pythagoras; and on politics, according to that of Socrates.
Plato made three voyages to Sicily, first for the purpose of seeing the island and the craters of volcanoes, when Dionysius, the son of Hermocrates, the tyrant of Sicily, urged him earnestly to come and see him. Conversing about tyranny, he had a quarrel with Dionysius and saying that that is not the best government which is advantageous for one individual alone, unless that individual is pre-eminent in virtue. Dionysius got angry and said, "Your words are those of a feeble old man." Plato replied, "Your language is that of a tyrant." The tyrant then became enraged, and at first was inclined to put him to death. Afterwards, being appeased by Deni and Aristimenes, he refrained from doing that, but gave him to Pollis, the Lacedaemonian, who happened to have come to him on an embassy just at that time, to sell as a slave. . . . He went a second time to Sicily to the younger Dionysius, and asked him for some land and for some men whom he might make live according to his own theory of a constitution. Dionysius promised to give him some, but never did. . . . The third time that he went to Sicily was for the purpose of reconciling Dion to Dionysius. When he could not succeed he returned back to his own country, having failed at his effort. In his own country he did not meddle with political affairs, although he was a politician as far as his writings went. . . .
He was the first author who wrote treatises in the form of dialogues. . . . Even while a young man, he was so modest and well regulated, that he was never once seen to laugh excessively. . . . A story is told that Plato, having seen a man playing at dice, criticized him for it. The man then said that he was and that he said he was playing for an insignificant amount, "But the habit," replied Plato, "is not insignificant." On one occasion he was asked whether there would be any monument of him, as with his predecessors in philosophy. He answered, "A man must first make a name, and the monument will follow." Once, when Xenocrates came into his house, he asked him to chastise one of his slaves for him, for he himself could not do it because he was in a passion. At another time he said to one of his slaves, "I would strike you if I were not in a passion." He once got on a horse, but immediately dismounted saying that he was afraid that he would be infected with horse-pride. He would advise people who got drunk to look in the glass, and then they would abandon their unseemly habit. He said that it was never respectable to drink to the degree of drunkenness, except at the festivals of the god who had given men wine. He also disapproved of oversleeping, for in his Laws he says, "No one while sleeping is good for anything." . . .
He wished to leave a memorial of himself behind, either in the hearts of his friends, or in his books. . . . He was buried in the Academy, where he spent the greater part of his time in the practice of philosophy, from which his was called the Academic school. His funeral was attended by all the pupils of that sect. . . . Among his disciples were also two women, Lasthenea of Mantinea, and Axiothea of Phlius, who wore men’s clothes.
As Aristotle frequently described, this is what took place with most of those who heard Plato’s lecture “On the Good”. Each person came with the expectation that he would hear about some so-called human good, such as wealth, health, strength, or some extraordinary happiness. However, when the discussion entered into mathematics (numbers, geometry and astronomy) and eventually his view that the Good is One, I think it appeared to them to be something quite unexpected and contradictory. Some ridiculed the entire subject, and others dismissed it. (Aristoxenus, Elements of Harmony, 2)
MENO: WHAT VIRTUE IS AND WHETHER IT CAN BE TAUGHT
First Definition of Virtue: Countless Examples of Virtue define Virtue
Meno: Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice, or, if neither by teaching nor by practice, then whether it comes to us by nature, or in what other way? . . .
Socrates: I am certain that if you were to ask any Athenian whether virtue was natural or acquired, he would laugh in your face, and say: “Stranger, you have far too good an opinion of me, if you think that I can answer your question. For I literally do not know what virtue is, and much less whether it is acquired by teaching or not.” I myself, Meno, living as I do in this region of poverty, am as poor as the rest of the world. I admit with shame that I know literally nothing about virtue. When I do not know the “what” of anything how can I know the “nature” of it? How, if I knew nothing at all of Meno, could I tell if he was handsome, wealthy or aristocratic, or the opposite of these? Do you think that I could? . . . By the gods, Meno, please be kind and tell me what you say that virtue is. For I will be truly delighted to find that I have been mistaken . . .
Meno: There will be no difficulty, Socrates, in answering your question. Let us take first the virtue of a man. He should know how to administer the state, and in the administration of it to benefit his friends and harm his enemies. He must also be careful not to experience harm himself. A woman's virtue, if you wish to know about that, may also be easily described. Her duty is to order her house, and keep what is indoors, and obey her husband. Every age, every condition of life, young or old, male or female, bond or free, has a different virtue. There are countless virtues, and no lack of definitions of them. For virtue is relative to the actions and ages of each of us in all that we do. The same may be said of vice, Socrates
Socrates: How lucky I am, Meno! When I ask you for one virtue, you present me with a swarm of them, which are in your keeping. Speaking of a swarm, suppose I asked you, “What is the nature of the bee?” to which you answered “there are many kinds of bees.” To this, then, I might reply “Do bees differ as bees, because there are many and different kinds of them? Or, are they not instead to be distinguished by some other quality, such as beauty, size, or shape?” How would you answer me?
Meno: I would answer that bees do not differ from each other, as bees.
Socrates: Suppose I went on to say: “That is what I desire to know, so tell me what is the quality in which they do not differ, but are all alike.” Would you be able to answer?
Meno: I would.
Socrates: This is also the case with the virtues, regardless of how many and different they may be. They all have a common nature which makes them virtues. Anyone who would answer the question “What is virtue” would do well to keep his eye upon this. Do you understand?
Meno: I am beginning to understand. . . .
Second Definition of Virtue: Power of Governing
Meno: If you want to have one definition of them all, I do not know what to say, except that virtue is the power of governing mankind.
Socrates: Does this definition of virtue include all virtue? Is virtue the same in a child and in a slave, Meno? Can the child govern his father, or the slave his master, and would he who governed be any longer a slave?
Meno: I think not, Socrates.
Socrates: No, indeed, there would be little reason in that. Yet once more, good friend, according to you virtue is “the power of governing.” But would you not add “justly and not unjustly”?
Meno: Yes, Socrates, I agree with you since for justice is virtue.
Socrates: Would you say “virtue,” Meno, or “a virtue”?
Meno: What do you mean?
Socrates: I mean as I might say about anything. Roundness, for example, is “a figure” and not simply “figure,” and I would adopt this way of speaking, because there are other figures.
Meno: You are right. That is just what I am saying about virtue: there are other virtues as well as justice.
Socrates: What are they? Tell me the names of them, just as I would tell you the names of the other figures if you asked me.
Meno: Courage, temperance, wisdom and magnanimity are virtues. There are many others.
Socrates: Yes, Meno. Again we are in the same situation as before: in searching after one virtue we have found many, though not in the same way as before. Sill, we have been unable to find the common virtue which runs through them all.
Meno: Socrates, even now I am not able to follow you in the attempt to get at one common notion of virtue as of other things. . . .
Third Definition of Virtue: Power of Attaining Goods
Socrates: Tell me what virtue is in the universal, and do not make a singular into a plural, as the witty people often say about those who break something. Rather, bring virtue to me whole and complete, and not broken into a number of pieces. I have already given you the pattern for doing this.
Meno: Well then, Socrates, virtue, as I take it, is when he, who desires the honorable, is able to provide it for himself. Just as the poet says, and I agree, “Virtue is the desire of things honorable and the power of attaining them.” . . .
Socrates: You affirm virtue to be the power of attaining goods?
Socrates: The goods that you mean are such as health and wealth and the possession of gold and silver, and having office and honor in the state. Are these what you would call goods?
Meno: Yes, I would include all those.
Socrates: Then, according you Meno, who are the hereditary friend of the great king, virtue is the power of getting silver and gold. Would you add that they must be gained piously, justly, or do you consider this to be of no consequence? Is any manner of acquisition, even if unjust and dishonest, equally to be considered virtue?
Meno: Not virtue, Socrates, but vice.
Socrates: Then justice or temperance or holiness, or some other part of virtue, as would appear, must accompany the acquisition, and without them the mere acquisition of good will not be virtue.
Meno: Surely, for how can there be virtue without these?
Socrates: Is it also a virtue to not acquire gold and silver in a dishonest manner for oneself or another, or, in other words, the lack of them?
Socrates: Then the acquisition of such goods is no more virtue than the non-acquisition and lack of them. But whatever is accompanied by justice or honesty is virtue, and whatever is lacking in justice is vice.
Meno: It cannot be otherwise, in my judgment.
Socrates: Were we not saying just now that justice, temperance, and the like, were each a part of virtue?
Socrates: So, Meno, this is the way in which you mock me.
Meno: Why do you say that, Socrates?
Socrates: Because I asked you to deliver virtue into my hands whole and unbroken. I even gave you a pattern according to which you were to frame your answer. Yet you have already forgotten, and you tell me that virtue is the power of attaining good justly, or with justice. But you have acknowledged that justice is just a part of virtue.
Socrates: Then it follows from your own admission, that virtue is doing what you do with a part of virtue. For justice and the like are said by you to be parts of virtue.
Meno: How So?
Socrates: Did I not ask you to tell me the nature of virtue as a whole? You are very far from telling me this, but instead declare every action to be virtue which is done with a part of virtue. It is as though you had told me, and thus I must already know the whole of virtue, and this too when broken up into little pieces. So, my good friend Meno, I fear that I must begin again and repeat the same question: What is virtue? . . .
Recollection: Example of the Slave Boy Doubling a Square
Meno: How will you inquire, Socrates, into that which you do not know? What will you propose as the subject of inquiry? If you find what you want, how will you ever know that this is the thing which you did not know?
Socrates: I know what you mean, Meno. But just see what a tiresome dispute you are introducing. You argue that a man cannot inquire either about that which he knows, or about that which he does not know. For, if he knows, he has no need to inquire. If not, he cannot, for he does not know the very subject about which he is to inquire.
Meno: Well, Socrates, is that not a sound argument?
Socrates: I think not.
Meno: Why not?
Socrates: I will tell you why. I have heard from certain wise men and women who spoke of things divine that—
Meno: What did they say?
Socrates: They spoke of a glorious truth, as I conceive.
Meno: What was it? Who were they?
Socrates: Some of them were priests and priestesses, who had studied how they might be able to give a reason of their profession: there have been poets also, who spoke of these things by inspiration, like Pindar, and many others who were inspired. Pay attention, now, and see whether their words are true. They say that the soul of man is immortal. At one time has an end, which is termed dying, and at another time is born again, but is never destroyed. The moral is that a man should always live in perfect holiness: “For in the ninth year Persephone sends the souls of those from whom she has received the penalty of ancient crime back again from beneath into the light of the sun above, and these are they who become noble kings and mighty men and great in wisdom and are called saintly heroes in after ages.” The soul has knowledge of all things, since, being immortal and having been born again many times, it has seen all things that exist, whether in this world or in the world below. It is no wonder that the soul would be able to remember everything that it ever knew about virtue, and about everything else. For all nature is related, and the soul has learned all things. So, there is no difficulty in her obtaining, or as men say “learning”, everything else out of a single recollection, so long as a person tries hard and does not tire. For all inquiry and all learning is simply recollection. Therefore, we should not to listen to this sophistical argument about the impossibility of inquiry. It will make us idle, and will only appeal to the loafer. But the other saying will make us active and inquisitive. In that confiding, I will gladly inquire with you into the nature of virtue.
Meno: Yes, Socrates. But what do you mean by saying that we do not learn, and that what we call learning is only a process of recollection? Can you explain to me how this is?
Socrates: I just now told you, Meno, that you are a joker, and now you ask whether I can teach you something, when I am saying that there is no teaching, but only recollection. Thus you think that you will involve me in a contradiction.
Meno: Believe me, Socrates, I had no such intention. I only asked the question from habit. But if you can prove to me that what you say is true, I wish that you would.
Socrates: It will be no easy matter, but I will try to please you to the utmost of my power. Suppose that you call one of your numerous attendants, so that I may demonstrate on him.
Meno: Certainly. Come here, boy.
Socrates: He is Greek, and speaks Greek, does he not?
Meno: Yes, indeed. He was born in the house.
Socrates: Listen to the questions that I ask him, and observe whether he learns of me or only remembers.
Meno: I will.
Socrates: Tell me, boy, do you know that a figure like this is a square?
Boy: I do.
Socrates: You know that a square figure has these four lines equal?
Socrates: These lines which I have drawn through the middle of the square are also equal?
Socrates: A square may be of any size?
Socrates: If one side of the figure is two feet, and the other side is two feet, how much will the whole be? Let me explain. If in one direction the space was of two feet, and in the other direction of one foot, the whole would be of two feet taken once?
Boy: Yes. . . .
Socrates: What do you say of him, Meno? Were not all these answers given out of his own head?
Meno: Yes, they were all his own.
Socrates: Yet, as we were just now saying, he did not know?
Socrates: But still he had in him those notions of his. Had he not?
Socrates: Then he who does not know may still have true notions of that which he does not know?
Meno: He has.
Socrates: At present these notions have just been stirred up in him, as in a dream. But if he were frequently asked the same questions, in different forms, he eventually would know as well as anyone?
Socrates: Without anyone teaching him he will recover his knowledge for himself, if he is only asked questions?
Socrates: Is this spontaneous recovery of knowledge in him recollection?
Socrates: This knowledge which he now has must he not either have acquired or always possessed?
Socrates: But if he always possessed this knowledge, then he would always have known it. Or, if he has acquired the knowledge he could not have acquired it in this life, unless he has been taught geometry. For he may be made to do the same with all geometry and every other branch of knowledge. Now, has anyone ever taught him all this? You must know about him, if, as you say, he was born and raised in your house.
Meno: I am certain that no one ever did teach him.
Socrates: Yet he has that knowledge?
Meno: The fact, Socrates, is undeniable.
Socrates: But if he did not acquire that knowledge in this life, then he must have had and learned it at some other time?
Meno: Clearly he must.
Socrates: Which must have been the time when he was not human?
Socrates: If there always have been true thoughts in him, both at the time when he was and was not human, which only need to be awakened into knowledge by putting questions to him, then his soul must have always possessed this knowledge. For he always either was or was not human?
Socrates: If the truth of all things always existed in the soul, then the soul is immortal. So, be assured, and try to recollect what you do not know, or rather what you do not remember.
Knowledge can be Taught, But Virtue is not Knowledge
Socrates: Then, as we are agreed that a man should inquire about that which he does not know, should you and I make an effort to inquire together into the nature of virtue?
Meno: By all means, Socrates. Yet I would much rather return to my original question, which is, “whether in seeking to acquire virtue we should consider it as something to be taught, or as a gift of nature or as coming to men in some other way?” . . .
Socrates: As we do not know the nature and qualities of virtue, we must ask “whether virtue is or is not taught” under a hypothesis such as this: “if virtue is of such a class of mental goods, will it be taught or not?” Let the first hypothesis be that “virtue is or is not knowledge, in that case will it be taught or not” (or, as we were just now saying, “remembered”, for there is no point in disputing about the name). But is virtue taught or not? Or rather, does not everyone see that knowledge alone is taught?
Meno: I agree.
Socrates: Then if virtue is knowledge, virtue will be taught?
Socrates: Then we have now made a quick end of this question. If virtue is of such a nature, it will be taught; and if not, not?
Meno: Yes. . . .
Socrates: I do not retract the assertion that if virtue is knowledge it may be taught. But I fear that I have some reason in doubting whether virtue is knowledge. Consider now and say whether virtue (and not only virtue but anything that is taught) must not have teachers and disciples?
Socrates: Conversely, may not the subject, of which neither teachers nor disciples exist, be assumed to be incapable of being taught?
Meno: True, but do you think that there are no teachers of virtue?
There are No Teachers of Virtue, hence Virtue Cannot be Taught
Socrates: I have certainly often inquired whether there were any, and taken great pains to find them, but I have never succeeded. Many have assisted me in the search, and they were the persons whom I thought the most likely to know. Here at the moment when he is wanted we fortunately have sitting by us Anytus, the very person of whom we should make an inquiry. Let us return to the issue with him. In the first place, Anytus is the son of a wealthy and wise father, Anthemion, who acquired his wealth, not by accident or gift, like Ismenias the Theban (who has recently made himself as rich as Polycrates), but by his own skill and industry. Further, he [Anthemion] was a modest man, not insolent, or overbearing, or annoying. Further, our friend here [Anytus] his has received a good education [from Anthemion], as the Athenian people certainly appear to think, for they choose him [Anytus] to fill the highest offices. These are the sort of men from whom you are likely to learn whether there are any teachers of virtue, and who they are. Please, Anytus, help me and your friend Meno in answering our question, Who are the teachers? Consider the matter like this: If we wanted Meno to be a good physician, to whom should we send him? Should we not send him to the physicians?
Socrates: Or if we wanted him to be a good cobbler, should we not send him to the cobblers?
Anytus: Yes. . . .
Socrates: Very good. Now you are in a position to advise with me about my friend Meno. He has been telling me, Anytus, that he desires to attain that kind of wisdom and virtue by which men order the state or the house, and honour their parents, and know when to receive and when to send away citizens and strangers, as a good man should. Now, to whom should he go in order that he may learn this virtue? Does not the previous argument imply clearly that we should send him to those who profess they are the common teachers of all Hellas, and are ready to impart instruction to anyone who likes, at a fixed price?
Anytus: Whom do you mean, Socrates?
Socrates: You surely know, do you not, Anytus, that these are the people whom everyone call Sophists?
Anytus: By Heracles, Socrates, stop! I only hope that no friend, relative or acquaintance of mine, whether citizen or stranger, will ever be so crazy as to allow himself to be corrupted by them. For they are clearly pests and corrupting influences on those who they deal with. . . .
Socrates: Now, do we mean to say that the good men of our own and of other times knew how to convey to others that virtue which they had themselves? Or is virtue a thing incapable of being communicated or imparted by one man to another? That is the question which I and Meno have been arguing. Look at the matter in your own way: would you not admit that Themistocles was a good man?
Anytus: Certainly, no man was better.
Socrates: Must not he then have been a good teacher, if any man ever was a good teacher, of his own virtue?
Anytus: Yes certainly, if he wanted to be so. . . .
Socrates: But did anyone, old or young, ever say in your hearing that Cleophantus, son of Themistocles, was a wise or good man, as his father was?
Anytus: I have certainly never heard anyone say so. . . .
Socrates: So that you may not suppose the incompetent teachers to be only the common sort of Athenians and few in number, remember again that Thucydides had two sons, Melesias and Stephanus. Besides giving them a good education in other things, he trained them in wrestling, and they were the best wrestlers in Athens. One of them he committed to the care of Xanthias, and the other of Eudorus, who had the reputation of being the most celebrated wrestlers of that day. Do you remember them?
Anytus: I have heard of them.
Socrates: Now, can there be any doubt that Thucydides, whose children were taught things for which he had to spend money, would have taught them to be good men, which would have cost him nothing, if virtue could have been taught? Will you reply that he was a common man, and had not many friends among the Athenians and allies? On the contrary, he was of a great family, and a man of influence at Athens and in all Hellas. If virtue could have been taught, he would have found some Athenian or foreigner who would have made good men of his sons, if he could not himself spare the time from cares of state. Once more, I suspect, friend Anytus, that virtue is not a thing which can be taught.
Anytus: Socrates, I think that you are too ready to speak evil of men. If you will take my advice, I would recommend you to be careful. Perhaps in every city it is easier to do men harm than to do them good, and this is certainly the case at Athens, as I believe that you know.
Socrates: Meno, I think that Anytus is in a rage. He may well be in a rage, for he thinks, in the first place, that I am defaming these gentlemen. In the second place, he is of opinion that he is one of them himself. But some day he will know what is the meaning of defamation, and if he ever does, he will forgive me. Meanwhile I will return to you, Meno, for I suppose that there are gentlemen in your region too.
Virtue is not Learned, but Guided by Divine Instinct
Socrates: Therefore, it was not by any wisdom, and not because they were wise, did Themistocles and those others of whom Anytus spoke govern states. The reason they were unable to make others like themselves is that their virtue was not grounded on knowledge.
Meno: That is probably true, Socrates.
Socrates: But if not by knowledge, the only alternative which remains is that statesmen must have guided states by right opinion, which is in politics what divination is in religion. For diviners and also prophets say many true things, but they do not know what they say.
Meno: I believe this.
Socrates: May we not, Meno, truly call those men “divine” who, having no understanding, yet succeed in many great actions and word?
Socrates: Then we will also be right in calling divine those whom we were just now speaking of as diviners and prophets, including the whole tribe of poets. Yes, and statesmen especially may be said to be divine and illumined, being inspired and possessed of the gods, in which condition they say many great things, not knowing what they say.
Socrates: The women too, Meno, call good men “divine”, do they not? The Spartans also, when they praise a good man, say “he is a divine man.”
Meno: I think, Socrates, that they are right. But it is very likely that our friend Anytus may take offence at the word.
Socrates: I do not care. As for Anytus, there will be another opportunity to talk with him. To sum up our inquiry, the result seems to be, if we are at all right in our view, that virtue is neither natural nor acquired, but an instinct given by the gods to the virtuous. Nor is the instinct accompanied by reason, unless there may be among statesmen someone who is capable of educating statesmen. If there is such a person, he may be said to be among the living what Homer says that Tiresias was among the dead, “he alone has understanding, while the rest flutter around in the shadows.” In a similar way, he and his virtue will be a reality among shadows.
Meno: That is excellent, Socrates.
Socrates: Then, Meno, the conclusion is that virtue comes to the virtuous by the gift of the gods. But, before we even ask how virtue is given, we will never know the truth with certainty until we first inquire into the actual nature of virtue. I regret that I must now go away. But, now that you are persuaded yourself, please persuade our friend Anytus, and do not let him be so infuriated. If you can pacify him, you will have done a great service to the Athenian people.
THE REPUBLIC: JUSTICE, SOCIAL CLASSES, THE FORMS
Whether Might makes Right (Republic, 1)
Socrates: Concerning justice, what is it? Is it no more than to speak the truth and to pay your debts? Aren’t there exceptions even to these? Suppose that a friend when in his right mind has deposited weapons with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to give them back to him? No one would say that I ought or that I would be right in doing so, any more than they would say that I ought always to speak the truth to one who is in his condition. . . . But then speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a correct definition of justice. . . .
Socrates narrates: Several times in the course of the discussion Thrasymachus had made an attempt to get the argument into his own hands, but had been put down by the rest of the company, who wanted to hear the end. But when Polemarchus and I were done speaking and there was a pause, he could no longer hold his peace. Gathering himself up, he came at us like a wild animal, seeking to devour us. We were quite panic-stricken at the sight of him. . . .
Thrasymachus: I say that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger. . . . The different forms of government make laws democratic, aristocratic, tyrannical, with a view to their various interests. These laws, which are made by them for their own interests, are the justice which they deliver to their subjects, and him who transgresses them they punish as a breaker of the law, and unjust. This is what I mean when I say that in all states there is the same principle of justice, which is the interest of the government. As the government must be supposed to have power, the only reasonable conclusion is that everywhere there is one principle of justice, which is the interest of the stronger. . . .
Socrates: Then, no physician, in so far as he is a physician, considers his own good in what he prescribes, but the good of his patient. For the true physician is also a ruler having the human body as a subject, and is not a mere money-maker. Have we admitted that?
Socrates: The captain likewise, in the strict sense of the term, is a ruler of sailors and not a mere sailor?
Thrasymachus: That has been admitted.
Socrates: Such a captain and ruler will provide and prescribe for the interest of the sailor who is under him, and not for his own or the ruler’s interest?
Thrasymachus (reluctantly): “Yes.”
Socrates: Then, Thrasymachus, there is no one in any rule who, in so far as he is a ruler, considers or requires what is for his own interest, but always what is for the interest of his subject or suitable to his art. He looks to that, and he considers that alone in everything which he says and does.
Socrates narrates: When we had got to this point in the argument, and everyone saw that the definition of justice had been completely upset, Thrasymachus, instead of replying to me, said:
Thrasymachus: Tell me, Socrates, do you have a nurse?
Socrates: Why do you ask such a question when you ought rather to be answering?
Thrasymachus: Because she leaves you to snivel, and never wipes your nose: she has not even taught you to know the shepherd from the sheep.
Socrates: What makes you say that?
Thrasymachus: Because you imagine that the shepherd or ox herder fattens or tends the sheep or oxen with a view to their own good and not to the good of himself or his master. You further imagine that the rulers of states, if they are true rulers, never think of their subjects as sheep, and that they are not studying their own advantage day and night. Oh, no. You are so entirely misguided in your ideas about the just and unjust that you do not even know that justice and the just are in reality another’s good. That is to say, it is the interest of the ruler and stronger, and the loss of the subject and servant. Injustice is the opposite, for the unjust is lord over the truly simple and just. He is the stronger, and his subjects do what is for his interest, and minister to his happiness, which is very far from being their own. Consider further, most foolish Socrates, that the just is always a loser in comparison with the unjust. First of all, in private contracts: wherever the unjust is the partner of the just you will find that, when the partnership is dissolved, the unjust man has always more and the just less. . . .
Socrates narrates: When Thrasymachus had thus spoken, having, like a waterboy, deluged our ears with his words, had a mind to go away. But the company would not let him, and insisted that he should remain and defend his position. I myself added my own humble request that he would not leave us. . . .
Socrates: You appear to have no care or thought about us, Thrasymachus. Whether we live better or worse from not knowing what you say you know, is to you a matter of indifference. I ask you, friend, do not keep your knowledge to yourself. We are a large party and any benefit that you confer upon us will be amply rewarded. For my own part I openly declare that I am not convinced, and that I do not believe that injustice is more beneficial than justice, even if uncontrolled and allowed to have free play. For, granting that there may be an unjust man who is able to commit injustice either by fraud or force, still this does not convince me of the superior advantage of injustice, and there may be others who are in the same predicament with myself. . . .
Is not the power which injustice exercises of such a nature that wherever she takes up her residence, whether in a city, in an army, in a family, or in any other body, that body is, to begin with, made incapable of united action by reason of sedition and distraction? Does it not become its own enemy and at variance with all that opposes it, and with the just? Is not this the case?
Thrasymachus: Yes, certainly.
Socrates: Is not injustice equally fatal when existing in a single person? In the first place it makes him incapable of action because he is not at unity with himself, and in the second place it makes him an enemy to himself and the just. Is not that true, Thrasymachus?
Thrasymachus: Yes. . . .
Socrates: The result of the whole discussion has been that I know nothing at all. For I do not know what justice is, and therefore I am not likely to know whether it is or is not a virtue, nor can I say whether the just man is happy or unhappy. . . .
Advantages of Injustice: The Ring of Gyges (Republic, 2)
Socrates narrates: With these words I was thinking that I had made an end of the discussion; but the end, in truth, proved to be only a beginning. For Glaucon, who is always the most confrontational person, was unhappy that Thrasymachus left, and he wanted to continue the battle. So he said to me:
Glaucon: According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the King of Lydia. There was a great storm, and an earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he climbed down into the opening, where, among other wonders, he saw a hollow brazen horse, having doors, at which he, stooping and looking in, saw a large dead body, as appeared to him, more than human and having nothing on but a gold ring. He removed it from the finger of the dead and climbed back out. Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, so that they might send their monthly report about the flocks to the King. He came into their assembly with the ring on his finger, and as he was sitting among them he happened to turn the sleeve of the ring inside his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. He was astonished at this, and, again touching the ring, he turned the ring’s sleeve outward and reappeared. He made several experiments with the ring, and always with the same result. When he turned the ring’s sleeve inward he became invisible, when outward he reappeared. After this he schemed to be chosen one of the messengers who were sent to the court. As soon as he arrived he seduced the Queen, and with her help conspired against the King, killed him and took the kingdom.
Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other. No man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with anyone at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust: they would both eventually come to the same point. . . .
Socrates: Justice, which is the subject of our inquiry, is, as you know, sometimes spoken of as the virtue of an individual, and sometimes as the virtue of a State.
Socrates: Is not a State larger than an individual?
Adeimantus: It is.
Socrates: Then in the larger the quantity of justice is likely to be larger and more apparent. I propose therefore that we inquire into the nature of justice and injustice, first as they appear in the State, and secondly in the individual, proceeding from the greater to the lesser and comparing them.
Adeimantus: That is an excellent proposal.
Socrates: If we imagine the State in the process of creation, we will see the justice and injustice of the State in the process of creation also.
Adeimantus: I dare say.
Socrates: When the State is completed there may be a hope that the object of our search will be more easily discovered.
Adeimantus: Yes, far more easily.
Socrates: But ought we to attempt to construct one? To do so, as I am inclined to think, will be a very serious task. Think about this. . . .
Adeimantus: I have thought about this, and am anxious that you would proceed.
Emergence of the Tradespeople Class (Republic, 2)
Socrates: A State arises, as I conceive, out of people’s needs. No one is self-sufficient, but all of us have many wants. Can any other origin of a State be imagined?
Adeimantus: There can be no other.
Socrates: Then, as we have many wants, and many persons are needed to supply them, one takes a helper for one purpose and another for another. When these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habitation the body of inhabitants is termed a State.
Socrates: They exchange with each other, and one gives, and another receives, under the idea that the exchange will be for their good.
Adeimantus: Very true.
Socrates: Then let us begin and create in idea a State. But the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.
Adeimantus: Of course.
Socrates: Now the first and greatest of necessities is food, which is the condition of life and existence.
Socrates: The second is a dwelling, and the third clothing and the like.
Socrates: Now let us see how our city will be able to supply this great demand. We may suppose that one man is a farmer, another a builder, someone else a weaver. Should we add to them a shoemaker, or perhaps some other purveyor to our bodily wants?
Adeimantus: Quite right.
Socrates: The barest notion of a State must include four or five men.
Socrates: How will they proceed? Will each bring the result of his labors into a common collection? Will the individual farmer, for example, produce for four, and labor four times as long and as much as he needs to provide the food with which he supplies others as well as himself? Or will he have nothing to do with others and not bother producing for them, but provide only for himself a fourth of the food in a fourth of the time, and in the remaining three-fourths of his time be employed in making a house or a coat or a pair of shoes, having no partnership with others, but supplying himself all his own wants?
Adeimantus: He should aim at producing food only and not at producing everything.
Socrates: Probably that would be the better way. When I hear you say this, I am myself reminded that we are not all alike. There are diversities of natures among us which are adapted to different occupations.
Adeimantus: Very true. . . .
Socrates: if so, we must infer that all things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it at the right time, and leaves other things.
Socrates: Then more than four citizens will be required. For the farmer will not make his own plough or hoe, or other implements of agriculture, if they are to be good for anything. Neither will the builder make his tools, and he too needs many. Similarly with the weaver and shoemaker.
Socrates: Then carpenters, and smiths, and many other artisans, will be sharers in our little State, which is already beginning to grow?
Socrates: Yet even if we add ox herders, shepherds, and other herdsmen, in order that our husbandmen may have oxen to plough with, and builders as well as farmers may have draught cattle, and curriers and weavers fleeces and hides. Still our State will not be very large. . . .
Socrates: Let us then consider, first of all, what will be their way of life, now that we have thus established them. . . . For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way of life. They will want to add sofas, and tables, and other furniture. So too with dainties, perfumes, incense, courtesans, and cakes. They will want all these, and not just one type only, but in every variety. We must go beyond the necessities of which I was at first speaking, such as houses, clothes, and shoes. The arts of the painter and the embroiderer will have to be set in motion, so that gold and ivory and all sorts of materials must be acquired.
Socrates: Then we must enlarge our borders. For the original healthy State is no longer sufficient. Now will the city have to fill and swell with a multitude of callings which are not required by any natural want. . . . The country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?
Adeimantus: Quite true.
Socrates: Then we will want a slice of our neighbors’ land for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth?
Adeimantus: That, Socrates, will be inevitable.
Socrates: So we will go to war, Glaucon. Will we not?
Glaucon: Most certainly
Socrates: Then without determining as yet whether war does good or harm, thus much we may affirm, that now we have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in States, private as well as public.
Need for the Guardian Class and Censorship in their Education (Republic, 2)
Socrates: Our State must once more enlarge. This time the enlargement will be nothing short of a whole army, which will have to go out and fight with the invaders for all that we have, as well as for the things and persons whom we were describing above.
Glaucon: Why? Are they not capable of defending themselves?
Socrates: No, not if we were right in the principle which was acknowledged by all of us when we were framing the State. The principle, as you will remember, was that one man cannot practice many arts with success.
Glaucon: Very true.
Socrates: But is not war an art?
Glaucon: Certainly. . . .
Socrates: The higher are the duties of the guardian the more time, and skill, and art, and application will be needed by him?
Glaucon: No doubt.
Socrates: Will he not also require natural aptitude for his calling?
Glaucon: Certainly. . . .
Socrates: What will be their education? Can we find a better than the traditional sort? This has two divisions: gymnastics for the body, and music for the soul.
Socrates: Will we begin education with music, and go on to gymnastics afterwards?
Glaucon: By all means.
Socrates: When you speak of music, do you include literature or not?
Glaucon: I do.
Socrates: Literature may be either true or false?
Glaucon: Yes. . . .
Socrates: Will we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?
Adeimantus: We cannot.
Socrates: Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad. We will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only. Let them fashion the mind with such tales, even more fondly than they mold the body with their hands. But most of those which are now in use must be discarded.
Adeimantus: Of what tales are you speaking?
Socrates: You may find a model of the lesser in the greater. For they are necessarily of the same type, and there is the same spirit in both of them.
Adeimantus: Very likely. But I do not as yet know what you would term the greater.
Socrates: Those which are narrated by Homer and Hesiod, and the rest of the poets, who have ever been the great storytellers of mankind.
Adeimantus: Which stories do you mean, and what fault do you find with them?
Socrates: A fault which is most serious. The fault of telling a lie, and, what is more, a bad lie.
Adeimantus: But when is this fault committed?
Socrates: It occurs whenever an erroneous representation is made of the nature of gods and heroes, such as when a painter paints a portrait not having the shadow of a likeness to the original.
Adeimantus: Yes, that sort of thing is certainly very blamable. But what are the stories which you mean?
Socrates: First of all, there was that greatest of all lies in high places, which the poet told about Uranus, and which was a bad lie too (I mean what Hesiod says that Uranus did, and how [his son] Cronus retaliated on him [by castrating Uranus]). The doings of Cronus, and the sufferings which in turn his son [Zeus] inflicted upon him, even if they were true, ought certainly not to be lightly told to young and thoughtless persons. If possible, they had better be buried in silence. But if there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a chosen few might hear them in a mystery. . . . If we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarrelling among themselves as of all things the basest, neither should any word be said to them of the wars in heaven, and of the plots and fighting of the gods against each other, for they are not true. No, we must never mention the battles of the giants, or let them be embroidered on clothing. We must be silent about the innumerable other quarrels of gods and heroes with their friends and relatives. If they would only believe us we would tell them that quarrelling is unholy, and that never up to this time has there been any quarrel between citizens. This is what old men and old women should begin by telling children. When they grow up, the poets also should be told to compose them in a similar spirit. Consider the narrative of Hephaestus binding Hera his mother, or how on another occasion Zeus sent him flying for taking her part when she was being beaten, and all the battles of the gods in Homer. These tales must not be admitted into our State, whether they are supposed to have an allegorical meaning or not. For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal. Anything that he receives into his mind at that age is likely to become permanent and unalterable. Therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts. . . .
Selecting the Ruling Class (Republic, 3)
Socrates: What is the next question? Must we not ask who are to be rulers and who subjects?
Socrates: There can be no doubt that the elder must rule the younger.
Socrates: That the best of these must rule.
Glaucon: That is also clear.
Socrates: Now, are not the best farmers those who are most devoted to husbandry?
Socrates: As we are to have the best of guardians for our city, must they not be those who have most the character of guardians?
Socrates: To this end they ought to be wise and efficient, and to have a special care of the State?
Socrates: A man will be most likely to care about that which he loves?
Glaucon: To be sure.
Socrates: He will be most likely to love that which he regards as having the same interests with himself, and that of which the good or evil fortune is supposed by him at any time most to affect his own?
Glaucon: Very true.
Socrates: Then there must be a selection. Let us note among the guardians those who in their whole life show the greatest eagerness to do what is for the good of their country, and the greatest repugnance to do what is against her interests.
Glaucon: Those are the right men.
Socrates: They will have to be watched at every age, in order that we may see whether they preserve their resolution, and never, under the influence either of force or magic spells, forget or cast off their sense of duty to the State. . . . Therefore, as I was just now saying, we must inquire who are the best guardians of their own conviction that what they think the interest of the State is to be the rule of their lives. We must watch them from their youth upwards, and make them perform actions in which they are most likely to forget or to be deceived, and he who remembers and is not deceived is to be selected, and he who fails in the trial is to be rejected. That will be the way?
Socrates: There should also be toils and pains and conflicts prescribed for them, in which they will be made to give further proof of the same qualities.
Glaucon: Very right.
Socrates: Then we must test them with magic spells (that is the third sort of test) and see what will be their behavior. Similar to those who take colts amidst noise and commotion to see if they are of a timid nature, so too must we take our youth amidst terrors of some kind, and again pass them into pleasures, and prove them more thoroughly than gold is proved in the furnace. In this way we may discover whether they are armed against all magic spells, and of a noble bearing always, good guardians of themselves and of the music which they have learned, and retaining under all circumstances a rhythmical and harmonious nature, such as will be most serviceable to the individual and to the State. He who at every age, as boy and youth and in mature life, has come out of the trial victorious and pure, will be appointed a ruler and guardian of the State. He will be honored in life and death, and will receive sepulture and other memorials of honor, the greatest that we have to give. But him who fails, we must reject. I am inclined to think that this is the sort of way in which our rulers and guardians should be chosen and appointed. I speak generally, and not with any pretension to exactness.
Glaucon: Speaking generally, I agree with you.
Socrates: Perhaps the word “guardian” in the fullest sense ought to be applied to this higher class only who preserve us against foreign enemies and maintain peace among our citizens at home, that the one may not have the will, or the others the power, to harm us. The young men whom we before called guardians may be more properly designated auxiliaries and supporters of the principles of the rulers.
Glaucon: I agree with you.
The Noble Lie: Staying Within One’s Class (Republic, 3)
Socrates: How then may we devise one of those necessary falsehoods of which we lately spoke? We need just one noble lie which may deceive the rulers, if that is possible, and at any rate the rest of the city.
Glaucon: What sort of lie?
Socrates: Nothing new, only an old Phoenician tale of what has often occurred before now in other places, (as the poets say, and have made the world believe,) though not in our time, and I do not know whether such an event could ever happen again, or could now even be made probable, if it did.
Glaucon: How your words seem to hesitate on your lips!
Socrates: You will not wonder at my hesitation when you have heard.
Glaucon: Speak, and fear not.
Socrates: Well then, I will speak, although I really know not how to look you in the face, or in what words to utter the bold fiction, which I propose to communicate gradually, first to the rulers, then to the soldiers, and lastly to the people. They are to be told that their youth was a dream, and the education and training which they received from us was only an illusion. In reality, during all that time they were being formed and fed in the womb of the earth, where they themselves and their arms and bits and pieces were manufactured. When they were completed, the earth, their mother, sent them up. Since their country, then, is really their mother and also their nurse, they are bound to advise for her good, and to defend her against attacks. They are to regard their citizens as children of the earth and their own brothers.
Glaucon: You had good reason to be ashamed of the lie which you were going to tell.
Socrates: True, but there is more coming. I have only told you half. “Citizens,” we will say to them in our tale, “you are brothers, yet the god who created you has framed you differently. Some of you have the power of command, and in the composition of these the god has mingled gold, for which reason they have the greatest honor. Others the god has made of silver, to be warriors. Others again who are to be farmers and tradespeople he has composed of brass and iron. Generally, the species will be preserved in their children. But since all people are of the same original stock, a golden parent will sometimes have a silver son, or a silver parent a golden son. The god proclaims as a first principle to the rulers, and above all else, that there is nothing which they should so anxiously guard, or of which they are to be such good guardians, as the purity of the race. They should observe what elements mingle in their offspring. If the son of a golden or silver parent has a mixture of brass and iron, then nature orders a transposition of ranks, and the eye of the ruler must not be sympathetic towards the child because he has to move down in the social scale and become a farmer or tradesperson. Similarly, there may be sons of tradespeople who having a mixture of gold or silver in them are raised to honor, and become guardians or warriors. For a prophecy says that when a man of brass or iron guards the State, it will be destroyed.” Such is the tale. Is there any possibility of making our citizens believe in it?
Glaucon: Not in the present generation. There is no way of accomplishing this. But their sons may be made to believe in the tale, and their sons’ sons, and posterity after them.
Socrates: I see the difficulty. Yet the fostering of such a belief will make them care more for the city and for each other. . . .
Justice as Doing One’s Own Business (Republic, 4)
Socrates: Well then, tell me whether I am right or not. You remember the original principle which we were always laying down at the foundation of the State, that one man should practice one thing only, the thing to which his nature was best adapted. Now justice is this principle, or at least a part of it.
Glaucon: Yes, we often said that one man should do one thing only.
Socrates: Further, we affirmed that justice was doing one’s own business, and not being a busybody. We said so again and again, and many others have said the same to us.
Glaucon: Yes, we said so.
Socrates: Then to do one’s own business in a certain way may be assumed to be justice. Can you tell me from what I derive this inference?
Glaucon: I cannot, but I would like to be told.
Socrates: Because I think that this is the only virtue which remains in the State when the other virtues of temperance and courage and wisdom are abstracted. This is the ultimate cause and condition of the existence of all of them, and while remaining in them is also their preservative. We were saying that if the three were discovered by us, justice would be the fourth or remaining one.
Glaucon: That necessarily follows.
Socrates: If we are asked to determine which of these four virtues by its presence contributes most to the excellence of the State, the question is not so easily answered. That is, should the award go to the agreement of rulers and subjects [i.e., temperance]; or to the preservation in the soldiers of the opinion which the law ordains about the true nature of dangers [i.e., courage], or wisdom and watchfulness in the rulers [i.e., wisdom]; or whether this other which I am mentioning, (which is found in children and women, slave and freeman, artisan, ruler, subject), I mean the virtue of everyone doing his own work, and not being a busybody [i.e., justice]?
Glaucon: Certainly, there would be a difficulty in saying which.
Socrates: Then the power of each individual in the State to do his own work appears to compete with the other political virtues, wisdom, temperance, courage.
Socrates: The virtue which enters into this competition is justice?
Socrates: Let us look at the question from another point of view. Are not the rulers in a State those to whom you would entrust the office of determining law suits?
Socrates: Are law suits decided on any other ground but that a man may neither take what is another’s, nor be deprived of what is his own?
Glaucon: Yes, that is their principle.
Socrates: Which is a just principle?
Socrates: Then on this view we will recognize that justice is the having and doing what is a person’s own, and belongs to him?
Glaucon: Very true.
Socrates: Consider this, now, and say whether you agree with me or not. Suppose that a carpenter does the business of a cobbler, or a cobbler of a carpenter. Suppose they exchange their implements or their duties, or the same person does the work of both, or whatever be the change. Do you think that any great harm would result to the State?
Glaucon: Not much.
Socrates: Suppose that the cobbler or any other man whom nature designed to be a tradesperson, has his heart lifted up by wealth or strength or the number of his followers, or any like advantage, and attempts to force his way into the class of warriors. Suppose a warrior moves into that of legislators and guardians, for which he is unfitted, and either to take the implements or the duties of the other. Suppose that one man is a tradesperson, legislator, and warrior all in one. I think you will agree with me in saying that this interchange and this meddling of one with another is the ruin of the State.
Glaucon: Most true.
Socrates: Considering, then, that there are three distinct classes, any meddling of one with another, or the change of one into another, is the greatest harm to the State, and may be most justly termed evil-doing?
Socrates: The greatest degree of evil-doing to one’s own city would be termed by you injustice?
Socrates: This then is injustice. On the other hand when the trader, the auxiliary, and the guardian each do their own business, that is justice, and will make the city just.
Glaucon: I agree with you.
Three Parts of the Soul: Rational, Appetitive, and Spirited (Republic, 4)
Socrates: Might a man be thirsty, and yet unwilling to drink [for example, if he knows that the water is poisoned]?
Glaucon: Yes, it often happens.
Socrates: In such a case what is one to say? Would you not say that there was something in the soul that inclines a man to drink, and something else forbidding him, which is other and stronger than the principle which inclines him?
Glaucon: I would say so.
Socrates: The forbidding principle is derived from reason, and that which inclines and attracts proceeds from feeling and disease?
Socrates: Then we may fairly assume that they are two, and that they differ from each other. The one with which a man reasons, we may call the rational principle of the soul, the other, with which he loves and hungers and thirsts and feels the fluttering of any other desire, may be termed the irrational appetitive, the companion of various pleasures and satisfactions?
Glaucon: Yes, we may fairly assume them to be different.
Socrates: Then let us finally determine that there are two principles existing in the soul. What about the spirited part that displays anger? Is it a third, or related to one of the preceding?
Glaucon: I would be inclined to say related to the appetitive part. . . .
Socrates: Suppose that a man thinks he has done wrong to another person. The nobler he is, the less able he is to feel anger at any suffering, such as hunger, or cold, or any other pain which the injured person may inflict upon him. These he considers to be just, and, as I say, his anger refuses to be excited by them.
Socrates: But if he thinks that he is has suffered some wrong, then the spirit inside him boils and enrages, and is on the side of what he believes to be justice. Because he suffers hunger or cold or other pain he is only the more determined to persevere and conquer. His noble spirit will not be subdued until he either slays or is slain, or until he hears the voice of reason, like the shepherd who commands his dog bark no more.
Glaucon: The illustration is perfect. In our State, as we were saying, the auxiliaries were to be dogs, and to hear the voice of the rulers, who are their shepherds.
Socrates: I perceive that you understand me. There is, however, a further point which I wish you to consider.
Glaucon: What point?
Socrates: You remember that the spirited part at first appeared to be a kind of appetite, but now we should say the contrary. For in the conflict of the soul, the spirited part joins on the side of the rational principle.
Glaucon: Most certainly.
Socrates: But a further question arises: Is spiritedness different from reason also, or only a kind of reason? In the latter case, instead of three principles in the soul, there will only be two, the rational and the appetitive. Or rather, just as the State was composed of three classes, traders, auxiliaries, counselors, so may there not be in the individual soul a third element which is spirited, and is the natural helper of reason, when not corrupted by bad education?
Glaucon: Yes, there must be a third.
Socrates: Yes, if the spirited part, which has already been shown to be different from the appetitive part, turn out also to be different from the rational part.
Glaucon: But that is easily proved. We may observe even in young children that they are full of spirit almost as soon as they are born, while some of them never seem to attain to the use of reason, and most of them late enough.
Socrates: Excellent, and you may see passion equally in brute animals, which is a further proof of the truth of what you are saying. We may once more appeal to the words of Homer, which have been already quoted by us, “He smote his breast, and thus rebuked his soul,” for in this verse Homer has clearly supposed the power which reasons about the better and worse to be different from the unreasoning anger which is rebuked by it.
Glaucon: Very true.
Four Virtues of the State and Individual: Courage, Wisdom, Temperance, Justice (Republic, 4)
Socrates: So, after a rough voyage, we have reached land, and are fairly agreed that the same principles that exist in the State also exist in the individual, and that they are three in number [i.e., reason, appetite, and spirit].
Socrates: Must we not then infer that the individual is wise in the same way, and because of the same quality which makes the State wise?
Socrates: Also should we say that the same quality that constitutes courage in the State constitutes courage in the individual, and that both the State and the individual bear the same relation to all the other virtues?
Socrates: The individual will be acknowledged by us to be just in the same way in which the State is just?
Glaucon: That follows, of course.
Socrates: We must remember that the justice of the State consisted in each of the three classes doing the work of its own class [i.e., tradespeople, guardians and rulers]?
Glaucon: We are not very likely to have forgotten.
Socrates: We must remember that the individual in whom the several qualities of his nature do their own work will be just, and will do his own work?
Glaucon: Yes, we must remember that too.
Socrates: Ought not the rational principle, which is wise, and has the care of the whole soul, to rule, and the spirited part to be the subject and supporter?
Socrates: As we were saying, the united influence of musical poetry and athletics will bring them into agreement, preparing and sustaining the reason with noble words and lessons, and moderating, soothing and calming the spirited part through harmony and rhythm?
Glaucon: Quite true.
Socrates: These two, so nurtured and educated, and having truly learned to know their own functions, will rule over the appetitive part, which in each of us is the largest part of the soul and by nature the most desirous of gain. They will keep guard over the appetitive part, for fear that, becoming great and strong with the fullness of bodily pleasures, as they are termed, the appetitive soul, no longer confined to her own sphere, should attempt to enslave and rule those who are not her natural-born subjects, and overturn a person’s entire life.
Glaucon: Very true.
Socrates: Both together they will be the best defenders of the whole soul and the whole body against attacks from without. The one will counsel, and the other fight under his leader, courageously carrying out its commands and directions?
Socrates: A person is to be considered courageous whose spirited part keeps the commands of reason about what he ought or ought not to fear, whether in pleasure or pain?
Socrates: We call a person wise who has in him that little part which rules, and which proclaims these commands. That part is also supposed to have a knowledge of what is for the interest of each of the three parts and of the whole?
Socrates: A person is temperate who has these same elements in friendly harmony, in whom the one ruling principle of reason, and the two subject ones of spirit and appetite are equally agreed that reason ought to rule, and do not rebel. Would you say that?
Glaucon: Certainly, that is the true account of temperance whether in the State or individual.
Socrates: Surely, we have explained again and again how and from what quality a man will be just.
Glaucon: That is very true.
Socrates: Is justice weaker in the individual, or its form different, that what we found in the State, or is it the same?
Glaucon: There is no difference in my opinion.
The Philosopher-King (Republic, 5)
Socrates: I think that there might be a reform of the State if only one change were made, which is not a slight or easy one, though is still possible. . . . Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those more common natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils. No, nor will the human race, as I believe. Only then will our State have a possibility of life and see the light of day. Such was the thought, my dear Glaucon, which I would gladly have uttered if it had not seemed too extravagant. For it is indeed a hard thing to be convinced that in no other State can there be happiness private or public.
Glaucon: Socrates, what do you mean? I would have you consider that the word which you have said is one at which many people, and very respectable persons too [will be outraged]. . . .
Socrates: We must explain to them whom we mean when we say that philosophers are to rule in the State, then we will be able to defend ourselves. There will be discovered to be some natures who ought to study philosophy and to be leaders in the State, and others who are not born to be philosophers, and are meant to be followers rather than leaders. . . . He who dislikes learning, especially in youth, when he has no power of judging what is good and what is not, such a one we maintain not to be a philosopher or a lover of knowledge, just as he who refuses his food is not hungry, and may be said to have a bad appetite and not a good one?
Glaucon: Very true.
Socrates: Whereas he who has a taste for every sort of knowledge and who is curious to learn and is never satisfied, may be justly termed a philosopher? Am I not right?
Glaucon: If curiosity makes a philosopher, you will find that many strange creatures will have a title to the name. All the lovers of sights have a delight in learning, and must therefore be included. . . .
Socrates: The lovers of sounds and sights are, as I conceive, fond of fine tones and colors and forms and all the artificial products that are made out of them, but their mind is incapable of seeing or loving absolute beauty.
Socrates: Few people are able to gain the sight of this.
Glaucon: Very true.
Socrates: Consider the person who has a sense of beautiful things but has no sense of absolute beauty, or a person who when led to by someone else to a knowledge of that beauty is unable to follow. Is this person awake or in a dream only? Is not the dreamer (sleeping or waking) someone one who equates dissimilar things, and who puts a copy in the place of the real object?
Glaucon: I would certainly say that such a person was dreaming.
Socrates: But take the opposite case, where a person recognizes the existence of absolute beauty and is able to distinguish the idea from the objects which participate in the idea, neither putting the objects in the place of the idea nor the idea in the place of the objects. Is he a dreamer, or is he awake?
Glaucon: He is wide awake.
Socrates: May we not say that the mind of the one who knows has knowledge, and that the mind of the other, who imagines only, has opinion?
Knowledge vs. Opinion (Republic, 5)
Socrates: Thus, we seem to have discovered that the various ideas which the multitude entertain about the beautiful and all other things are tossing about in some region which is half-way between pure being and pure not-being?
Glaucon: We have.
Socrates: We had before agreed that anything we might find of this kind should be described as matter of opinion, and not as matter of knowledge. It is the intermediate flux which is caught and detained by the intermediate faculty.
Glaucon: Quite true.
Socrates: Then there are those who see many beautiful things, but who still do not see absolute beauty, and who see many just things, but not absolute justice, and similarly. Nor can they follow any guide who points the way there. May we say that such people have opinion but not knowledge?
Glaucon: That is certain.
Socrates: But those who see the absolute, eternal and immutable may be said to know, and not to have merely opinion?
Glaucon: That also cannot be denied.
Socrates: The one love and embrace the subjects of knowledge, the other those of opinion. I think you will remember that the latter are the same, as they listened to sweet sounds and gazed upon fair colors, but would not tolerate the existence of absolute beauty.
Glaucon: Yes, I remember.
Socrates: Will we then be guilty of any indiscretion in calling them lovers of opinion rather than lovers of wisdom, and will they be angry with us for describing them in this way?
Glaucon: I will tell them not to be angry. No man should be angry about what is true.
Socrates: But those who love the truth in each thing should be called lovers of wisdom and not lovers of opinion.
Glaucon: Yes. . . .
The Idea of the Good is the Highest Knowledge, and Necessary for Guardians (Republic, 6)
Glaucon: Is there a knowledge still higher than this, higher than justice and the other virtues?
Socrates: Yes, there is. Of the virtues, too, we must see not merely the outline, as at present. Nothing short of the most finished picture should satisfy us. When we elaborate tiny things with a great amount of effort so that they may appear in their full beauty and clearness, how ridiculous it would be if we did not think the highest truths worthy of attaining the highest accuracy.
Glaucon: A very noble thought. But do you suppose that we will hesitate from asking you what is this highest knowledge?
Socrates: No, ask if you wish. But I am certain that you have heard the answer many times, and now you either do not understand me or, as I rather think, you are inclined to be troublesome with your interruptions. For you have often been told that the idea of good is the highest knowledge, and that all other things become useful and advantageous only by their use of this. You can hardly be ignorant that this is what I was about to discuss. As you have often heard me say, we know so little, and, without this, any other knowledge or possession of any kind will not at all profit us. Do you think that the possession of all other things is of any value if we do not possess the good? Or the knowledge of all other things if we have no knowledge of beauty and goodness?
Glaucon: Certainly not.
Socrates: You are further aware that ordinary people say that pleasure is the good, but the more educated say it is knowledge?
Socrates: You are aware too that the educated cannot explain what they mean by knowledge, but are eventually obliged to say knowledge of the good?
Glaucon: How ridiculous!
Socrates: Yes, it is ridiculous that they should begin by criticizing us with our ignorance of the good, and then presume our knowledge of it. For they define “the good” to be knowledge of the good, just as if we understood them when they use the term “good”.
Glaucon: Most true.
Socrates: Those who make pleasure their good are in the same perplexity, for they are compelled to admit that there are bad pleasures as well as good ones.
Socrates: Therefore, they acknowledge that bad and good are the same?
Socrates: There can be no doubt about the numerous difficulties in which this question is involved.
Glaucon: There can be none.
Socrates: Further, we see that many are willing to do (or to have, or to seem to be) what is just and honorable without the reality, but no one is satisfied with the appearance of good, for it is the reality that they seek. In the case of the good, appearance is despised by everyone.
Glaucon: Very true.
Socrates: The good, then, is what every human soul pursues and makes the end of all his actions. The soul has an intuition that there is such an end, yet hesitates. Because the soul neither knows its nature nor has the same assurance of it as it does with other things, it therefore lose whatever good there is in those other things. Since this principle is so great, should we allow the best men in our State, to whom everything is entrusted, to be in darkness of ignorance?
Glaucon: Certainly not.
Socrates: I am sure if these men do not know how the beautiful and the just are good, they will be poor guardians. I also suspect that no one who is ignorant of the good will have a true knowledge of them.
Glaucon: That is an insightful suspicion of yours.
Socrates: If we have a guardian who has this knowledge, then our State will be perfectly ordered?
Glaucon: Of course. But I wish that you would tell me whether you understand this supreme principle of the good to be knowledge or pleasure, or different from either.
Socrates: I knew all along that a demanding person like you would not be content with the thoughts of other people about these matters.
Glaucon: True, Socrates. But I must say that someone who like you has passed a lifetime in the study of philosophy should not be always repeating the opinions of others, and never telling his own.
The Good Illuminates the Intelligible World just as the Sun Illuminates the Visible World (Republic, 6)
Socrates: As I have often said, there are many beautiful things and many good things, and so of other things which we describe and define. To all of them the term “many” is implied.
Socrates: But there is also an absolute beauty and an absolute good, and of other things to which the term “many” is applied there is an absolute. For they may be brought under a single idea, which is called the essence of each.
Glaucon: Very true.
Socrates: The many, as we say, are seen but not known, and the ideas [Forms] are known but not seen.
Socrates: What is the organ with which we see the visible things?
Glaucon: The sight.
Socrates: With the hearing we hear, and with the other senses perceive the other objects of sense?
Socrates: But have you remarked that sight is by far the most costly and complex piece of workmanship which the creator of the senses ever contrived?
Glaucon: No, I never have.
Socrates: Then consider this. Has the ear or voice need of any third or additional nature in order that the one may be able to hear and the other to be heard?
Glaucon: Nothing of the sort.
Socrates: No, indeed. The same is true of most, if not all, the other senses. You would not say that any of them requires such an addition?
Glaucon: Certainly not.
Socrates: But you see that without the addition of some other nature there is no seeing or being seen?
Glaucon: How do you mean?
Socrates: Sight is, as I conceive, in the eyes, and he who has eyes wanting to see. Color is also present in them. Still unless there be a third nature specially adapted to the purpose, the possessor of the eyes will see nothing and the colors will be invisible.
Glaucon: Of what nature are you speaking?
Socrates: It is that which you term light.
Socrates: The bond that links together sight and visibility is important, and much greater than other bonds of nature. For light is their bond, and light is a crucial thing.
Glaucon: Yes, it is crucial.
Socrates: Which of the gods in heaven would you say was the lord of this element? Whose is that light which makes the eye to see perfectly and the visible to appear?
Glaucon: You mean the sun, as you and everyone say.
Socrates: May not the relation of sight to this deity be described as follows?
Socrates: Neither sight nor the eye in which sight resides is the sun?
Socrates: Yet of all the organs of sense the eye is the most like the sun?
Glaucon: By far the most like.
Socrates: The power which the eye possesses is a sort of effluence which is dispensed from the sun?
Socrates: Then the sun is not sight, but the author of sight who is recognized by sight?
Socrates: This is he whom I call the child of the good. It is whom the good created in his own likeness, to be in the visible world, in relation to sight and the things of sight. It is what the good is in the intellectual world in relation to mind and the things of mind.
Glaucon: Will you be a little more explicit?
Socrates: You know that when a person directs his eyes toward objects on which the light of day is no longer shining, but the moon and stars only, his eyes see dimly, and are nearly blind. They seem to have no clearness of vision in them?
Glaucon: Very true.
Socrates: But when they are directed toward objects on which the sun shines, they see clearly and there is sight in them?
Socrates: The soul is like the eye: when focusing upon that something that truth and being illuminate, the soul perceives and understands, and possesses intelligence. But when turned toward the dimness of becoming and perishing, then it has opinion only. It jumps around from one opinion and to another and seems to have no intelligence?
Glaucon: Just so.
Socrates: Now, that which conveys truth of the known and the power of knowing to the knower is what I call the Form of the good. This you will consider to be the cause of science and truth in so far as the latter becomes the subject of knowledge. The good is beautiful too, just as are both truth and knowledge, but you will be right judge that it is more beautiful than either. In the previous instance, light and sight may be truly said to be like the sun, and yet not to be the sun. So in this other realm, science and truth may be considered to be like the good, but not the good itself. The good has a place of honor yet higher.
Glaucon: What a wonder of beauty that must be, which is the author of science and truth, and yet surpasses them in beauty. For you surely cannot mean to say that pleasure is the good?
Socrates: Heaven forbid. But may I ask you to consider the image in another point of view?
Glaucon: In what point of view?
Socrates: You would say, would you not? that the sun is not only the author of visibility in all visible things, but of generation and nourishment and growth, though he himself is not generation?
Socrates: Similarly the good may be said to be not only the author of knowledge to all things known, but of their being and essence, and yet the good is not essence, but far exceeds essence in dignity and power.
Glaucon (sarcastically): By the light of heaven, how amazing!
Socrates: Yes, and the exaggeration may be blamed on you, since you made me speak my mind.
Glaucon: Please continue to speak. At least let us hear if there is anything more to be said about the parallel with the sun.
Socrates: Yes, there is a great deal more.
Glaucon: Then leave nothing out, however slight.
Socrates: I will do my best, but I think that a great deal will have to be omitted.
Glaucon: I hope not.
Socrates: You have to Imagine, then, that there are two ruling powers, and that one of them is set over the intellectual world, the other over the visible. I do not say heaven, for fear that you would imagine that I am playing upon words [i.e., “of heaven” (ourhanoz) and “of the visible” (orhatoz)]. May I suppose that you have this distinction between the visible and intelligible fixed in your mind?
Glaucon: I have.
The Divided Line (Republic, 6)
Visible Realm Intelligible Realm
illumined by sun illumined by the Good
(a) shadows (b) objects (c) math forms (d) higher forms
imagination belief math thought dialectic understanding
Socrates: Take a line which has been cut into two unequal parts, and divide each of them again in the same proportion. Suppose the two main divisions represent the visible realm and intelligible realm respectively. If you compare the subdivisions with respect to their clarity and unclarity, then you will find that the first section [A] in the visible realm consists of images. By images I mean, first, shadows, and second, reflections in water but also in solid, smooth and polished bodies and the like. Do you understand?
Glaucon: Yes, I understand.
Socrates: Imagine, now, the other section [B], of which this is only the resemblance, which includes the animals that we see, and everything that grows or is made.
Glaucon: Very good.
Socrates: Would you not admit that both the sections of this division have different degrees of truth, and that the copy is to the original just as the realm of opinion is to the realm of knowledge?
Socrates: Next, let us consider the manner in which the intelligible realm is to be divided.
Glaucon: In what manner?
Socrates: There are two subdivisions in the intelligible realm. In the lower of the two [C], the soul uses the figures given by the former division as images. The inquiry can only be hypothetical, and, instead of going upwards to a principle, it descends to the other end. In the higher of the two [D], the soul passes out of hypotheses, and goes up to a principle which is above hypotheses, making no use of the visible as in the former case [C], but proceeding only in and through the Forms themselves.
Glaucon: I do not quite understand what you mean.
Socrates: Then I will try again. You will understand me better when I have made some preliminary remarks. You are aware that students of geometry, arithmetic, and the related sciences assume the odd and the even and the figures and three kinds of angles and the like in their various branches of science. These are their hypotheses, which they and everybody is supposed to know, and therefore they do not bother to give any account of them either to themselves or others. Rather, they begin with them, and go on until they finally arrive at their conclusion in a consistent manner.
Glaucon: Yes, I know.
Socrates: Do you not also know that, although they use visible figures and reason about them, they are not thinking about these, but rather about the things which they resemble? They do not reason about the figures which they draw, but about the absolute square and the absolute diameter, and so on. The visible figures which they draw or make [in section B], which have shadows and reflections in water of their own [in section A], are converted by them into other images [in section C]. They are really seeking to see the things themselves, which can only be seen with the eye of the mind.
Glaucon: That is true.
Socrates: I have described this as intelligible, although in the search after it the soul is compelled to use hypotheses. The soul does not ascend to a first principle, because the soul is unable to rise above the region of hypothesis. But using the objects of which the shadows below are resemblances in their turn as images, they have a greater distinctness than the shadows and reflections, and, consequently have a higher value.
Glaucon: I understand that you are speaking of geometry and the related sciences.
Socrates: When I speak of the other section [D] of the intelligible realm, you will understand me to speak of that other sort of knowledge that reason herself grasps by the power of dialectic. It uses hypotheses, not as first principles, but only as hypotheses. That is, it uses it as steps or points of departure into a world which is above hypotheses. That way, reason may soar beyond them to the first principle of the whole. Grasping this, and then that which depends on this, by successive steps it descends again without the aid of any sensible object, from Forms, through Forms, and in Forms she ends.
Glaucon: I understand you, but not perfectly, since you seem to be describing a monumental task. In any case, I understand you to say that knowledge and being, which the science of dialectic contemplates, are clearer than the notions of the “sciences” as we call them, which proceed from hypotheses only. This is also contemplated by the understanding, and not by the senses. Yet, because they start from hypotheses and do not ascend to a first principle, those who contemplate them do not exercise higher reason upon them, as you say. However, when a first principle is added to them, they are intelligible by higher reason. As to the habit that involves geometry and related sciences, I suppose that you would term this “thought” and not “understanding”, since it is midway between opinion and reason.
Socrates: You have perfectly gotten my meaning. Now, corresponding to the four divisions, there are then four faculties in the soul: [dialectic] understanding (noesis) answering to the highest, [mathematical] thought (pistis) to the second, [sensory] belief (dianoia) to the third, and [shadowy] imagination (eikasia) to the last. There is, then, a scale of them, and let us suppose that the various faculties have clearness in the same degree that their objects have truth.
Glaucon: I understand, assent, and accept your arrangement.
The Allegory of the Cave (Republic, 7)
Socrates: Let me now illustrate the extent to which our nature is enlightened or unenlightened. Imagine people living in an underground cave, which has a mouth that is both open towards the light and reaches all along the cave. They have been here since their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see in front of them, being prevented by the chains from turning their heads around. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised pathway. If you look, you will see a low wall built along the pathway, like the screen that puppeteers have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.
Glaucon: I see.
Socrates: Do you see men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.
Glaucon: You have described a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
Socrates: They are like us. They see only their own shadows, or the shadows of each other, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?
Glaucon: True. How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?
Socrates: Of the objects which are being carried in a similar way would they only see the shadows?
Socrates: If they were able to speak with each other, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
Glaucon: Very true.
Socrates: Suppose further that the prison had an echo that came from the other side, would they not be sure to imagine that, when one of the passing carriers spoke, the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
Glaucon: No question.
Socrates: To them the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
Glaucon: That is certain.
Socrates: Now look again, and see what will naturally happen if the prisoners are released and corrected of their error. At first, if one of them is freed, suddenly stands up, turn his neck around, walks and looks towards the light, he will feel sharp pains. The glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows. Next imagine someone saying to him that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision. How will he reply? You may further imagine that someone pointing to the objects as they are carried past and requiring him to name them. Will he not be confused? Will he not imagine that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
Glaucon: Far truer.
Socrates: If he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take shelter in the objects of vision which he can see? Will he not conceive these to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?
Socrates: Suppose once more that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rocky path, and held tightly until he is pulled into the presence of the sun itself. Is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When exposed to the light, with his eyes dazzled, would he be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities?
Glaucon: No, not at first.
Socrates: He will need to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. First he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves. Then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the sparkling heaven. He will see the sky and the stars by night better than he will see the sun or the light of the sun by day.
Socrates: Finally, he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of it in the water, but he will see it in its own proper place, and not in a different one. He will examine it as it is.
Socrates: He will then proceed to argue that it is the sun that makes the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to see.
Glaucon: Clearly. He would first see the sun and then reason about him.
Socrates: When he remembered his old dwelling, and the presumed wisdom of the cave and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would feel happy about himself because of the change, and pity them?
Socrates: Suppose that they were in the habit of awarding honors among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows. They would comment about of them went before, which followed after, which were together, and who were best able to draw conclusions as to the future. Do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, “Better to be the poor servant of a poor master” and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?
Glaucon: Yes. I think that he would rather endure anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.
Socrates: Imagine again such a person suddenly coming out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation. Would he not be certain to have his eyes filled with darkness?
Socrates: Suppose that there was a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den. He would do this while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable). Would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went with his eyes, and down he came without them. They would say that it was better not even to think of ascending. If anyone tried to free them and lead them up to the light, if they could catch the offender, they would kill him.
Glaucon: No question.
Socrates: This entire allegory, Glaucon, you may now connect with the previous argument. The cave is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun. You will not misunderstand me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world (based on my inadequate understanding which I presented to you at your request, whether I am correct or incorrect only the gods know). But, whether true or false, my opinion is that, in the world of knowledge, the Form of the good appears last of all, and is seen only with great effort. When seen, it is also understood to be the universal author of all things that are beautiful and right. It is the parent of light, and the parent of the lord of light [i.e., the physical sun] in this visible world. It is the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual realm. It is the power upon which he who would act rationally either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.
Glaucon: I agree, as far as I am able to understand you.
Socrates: Further, you must not wonder that those who achieve this sublime vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs. For their souls are always hurrying towards the upper world where they desire to dwell. This desire of theirs is very natural, if we may trust our allegory.
Glaucon: Yes, very natural.
Socrates: Is there anything surprising if someone acts in a strange manner if he passes from divine contemplation to the evil state of human existence? While his eyes are blinking and before he has become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he may be compelled to fight in courts of law, or in other places, about the images or the shadows of images of justice. He would be trying to address the conceptions of those who have never yet seen absolute justice.
Glaucon: Anything but surprising.
Artistic Imitation: Inaccurate Copies of Objects and the True Forms (Republic, 10)
Socrates: Can you tell me what [artistic] imitation is? For I really do not know.
Glaucon: It is not likely, then, that I would know!
Socrates: Why not? For those with bad eyes may often see a thing sooner than those with good eyes.
Glaucon: Very true. But in your presence, even if I had any faint notion, I could not muster courage to speak it. Will you inquire yourself?
Socrates: Well then, will we begin the inquiry in our usual manner: Whenever a number of individuals have a common name, we assume them to also have a corresponding Form. Do you understand me?
Glaucon: I do.
Socrates: Let us take any common example. There are beds and tables in the world and plenty of them. Are there not?
Socrates: But there are only two Forms of them: one of a bed, the other of a table.
Socrates: The maker of either of them makes a bed or a table for our use, in accordance with the Form. That is our way of speaking in this and similar instances. But no craftsman makes the Forms themselves. How could he?
Socrates: There is another artist, and I would like to know what you would think about him.
Glaucon: Who is he?
Socrates: One who is the maker of all the works of all other craftsmen.
Glaucon: What an extraordinary man!
Socrates: Wait a moment, and there will be more reason for your saying so. For he is the one who is able to make not only vessels of every kind, but plants and animals, himself and all other things, including the earth and heaven, and the things which are in heaven or under the earth. He makes the gods also.
Glaucon: He must undoubtedly be a wizard.
Socrates: You are doubtful, are you? Do you mean that there is no such maker or creator, or that in one sense there might be a maker of all these things but in another not? Do you see that there is a way in which you could make them all yourself?
Glaucon: What way?
Socrates: An easy enough way. Rather, there are many ways in which the feat might be quickly and easily accomplished, none quicker than that of turning a mirror around and around. You would soon enough make the sun, the heavens, the earth and yourself, animals, plants, and all the other things of which we were just now speaking. In the mirror, that is.
Glaucon: Yes, but they would be appearances only.
Socrates: Very good. You are coming to the point now. The painter too is, as I conceive, just such a person, a creator of appearances. Is he not?
Glaucon: Of course.
Socrates: But then I suppose you will say that what he creates is untrue. Yet there is a sense in which the painter also creates a bed?
Glaucon: Yes, he said, but not a real bed.
Socrates: What of the maker of the bed? Were you not saying that he too makes, not the Form, which, according to our view, is the essence of the bed, but only a particular bed?
Glaucon: Yes, I did.
Socrates: Then if he does not make that which exists he cannot make true existence, but only some appearance of existence. If anyone were to say that the work of the maker of the bed, or of any other craftsman, has real existence, we could hardly suppose him to be speaking the truth.
Glaucon: In any event, philosophers would say that he was not speaking the truth.
Socrates: No wonder, then, that his work too is an indistinct expression of truth. . . . Now let me ask you another question. Which is the art of painting designed to be: an imitation of things as they are, or as they appear, that is, of appearance or of reality?
Glaucon: Of appearance.
Socrates: Then the imitator is far away from the truth, and he seems to be able to reproduce everything because he only lightly touches on a small part of them, and that part is an image. For example, a painter will paint a shoemaker, carpenter, or any other craftsman, though he knows nothing of their trade. If he is a good artist, he may deceive children or thoughtless people. When he shows them his picture of a carpenter from a distance, they will imagine that they are looking at a real carpenter.
Socrates: Suppose that someone informs us that he has found a man who knows all the trades, and everything else that anybody knows, and every single thing with a higher degree of accuracy than any other man. Whoever tells us this, I think that we can only imagine him to be a simple creature who is likely to have been deceived by some sorcerer or pretender whom he met. He would think the man to be all-knowing, because he himself was unable to analyze the nature of knowledge, ignorance and imitation.
Glaucon: Most true.
Socrates: We hear people saying that the writers of tragedy, and Homer, who is at their head, know all the arts and all things human, virtue as well as vice, and divine things too. For, the good poet cannot compose well unless he knows his subject, he who lacks this knowledge can never be a poet. When we hear this, we need to consider whether here also there may not be a similar illusion. Perhaps they may have come across imitators and been deceived by them. They may not have remembered when they saw their works that these were only imitations three times removed from the truth. They could easily be made without any knowledge of the truth, because they are appearances only and not realities. But, then again, maybe these people are right, and poets do really know the things about which they seem to the many to speak so well?
Glaucon: The question should by all means be considered.
PHAEDO: DUALISM, RECOLLECTION, IMMORTALITY (Phaedo)
Body-Soul Dualism: The Soul cannot have True Wisdom while in the Body
Simmias: Certainly there is.
Socrates: What about and absolute good?
Simmias: Of course.
Socrates: Did you ever see any of them with your eyes?
Simmias: Certainly not.
Socrates: Did you ever reach them with any other bodily sense? I am not only talking about these, but also about absolute greatness, health, strength, and of the essence or true nature of everything. Has the reality of them ever been perceived by you through the bodily organs? Rather, is not the nearest approach to the knowledge of their various natures made by him who orders his intellectual vision have the most exact conception of the essence of each thing which he considers?
Socrates: He attains the purest knowledge of them who goes to each with the mind alone, not introducing or intruding in the act of thought sight or any other sense together with reason, but with the very light of the mind in her own clearness searches into the very truth of each. As far as he can, he attempts to rid himself of eyes and ears and, so to speak, of the whole body, since in his opinion these are distracting elements that, when they infect the soul, they hinder it from acquiring truth and knowledge. Who, if not this person, is likely to attain the knowledge of true being?
Simmias: What you say has great truth to it, Socrates.
Socrates: When real philosophers consider all these things, will they not be led to make a reflection which they will express in words something like the following? Have we not found, they will say, a path of thought which seems to bring us and our argument to the conclusion, that while we are in the body, and while the soul is infected with the evils of the body, our desire will not be satisfied? Our desire is for the truth, but the body is a source of endless trouble to us. It requires food and liable also to diseases which overtake and hinder us in the search after true being. It fills us full of loves, lusts, fears, illusions of all kinds, endless foolishness, and, in fact, as people say, it completely takes away from us the power of thinking. What is the source of wars, fighting, and factions? The body and the lusts of the body. Wars are caused by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body. Because of all these obstacles, we have no time to give to philosophy. Last and worst of all, even if we have free time and commit ourselves to some speculation, the body is always breaking in upon us, causing turmoil and confusion in our inquiries, and distracting us so that we are prevented from seeing the truth.
Experience shows that if we would have pure knowledge of anything, we must leave the body. The soul by herself must observe things in themselves. Then we will attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, not while we live, but after death. If while in company with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things follows: either knowledge cannot be attained at all, or, if at all, only after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will part from the body and exist in herself alone. In this present life we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible contact or association with the body, and are not overindulged with the bodily nature, but instead keep ourselves pure until the hour when the god himself is pleased to release us. Thus having gotten rid of the foolishness of the body we will be pure and commune with the pure, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is nothing other than the light of truth. For the impure are not permitted to approach the pure.
Simmias: Undoubtedly, Socrates.
Socrates: But, my friend, if this is true, there is great reason to hope that, going where I go, when I have come to the end of my journey, I will attain that which has been the pursuit of my life. So, I go on my way rejoicing, and not I only, but every other man who believes that his mind has been made ready and that he is in a manner purified.
Socrates: Purification, then, is just the separation of the soul from the body, as I was saying before. It is the tendency of the soul to gather and collect itself into itself from all sides out of the body. As far as it can, it resides alone in its own place, both now and in another life, where the soul is released from the chains of the body. Is this true?
Simmias: Very true.
Socrates: This separation and release of the soul from the body is termed death?
Socrates: The true philosophers, and they only, are ever seeking to release the soul. Is not the separation and release of the soul from the body their especial study?
Simmias: That is true.
Socrates: As I was saying at first, there would be a ridiculous contradiction in men studying to live as nearly as they can in a state of death, and yet complaining when it comes upon them.
Socrates: The true philosophers, Simmias, are always occupied in the practice of dying, and for this reason they are troubled by death less than is anyone.
Recollection: Knowledge of the Forms Remembered from Previous Life
Socrates: Where did we obtain our knowledge? Did we not see equalities of material things, such as pieces of wood and stones, and gather from them the idea of an equality which is different from them? For you will acknowledge that there is a difference. Look at the matter in another way: Do not the same pieces of wood or stone appear at one time equal, and at another time unequal?
Simmias: That is certain.
Socrates: Are real equals ever unequal? or is the idea of equality the same as of inequality?
Simmias: Impossible, Socrates.
Socrates: Then these (so-called) equals are not the same with the idea of equality?
Simmias: Clearly not, I would say, Socrates.
Socrates: Yet from these equals, although differing from the idea of equality, you conceived and attained that idea?
Simmias: Very true.
Socrates: Which might be like, or might be unlike them?
Socrates: But that makes no difference. Whenever from seeing one thing you conceived another, whether like or unlike, there must surely have been an act of recollection?
Simmias: Very true.
Socrates: What would you say of equal portions of wood and stone, or other equals of material things? What is the impression produced by them? Are they equals in the same sense in which absolute equality is equal? or do they fall short of this perfect equality in a measure?
Simmias: Yes, he said, in a very great measure too.
Socrates: Must we not allow, that when I or anyone, looking at any object, observes that the thing which he sees aims at being some other thing, but falls short of, and cannot be, that other thing, but is inferior, he who makes this observation must have had a previous knowledge of that to which the other, although similar, was inferior?
Socrates: Has not this been our own case in the matter of equals and of absolute equality?
Socrates: Then we must have known equality previously to the time when we first saw the equals with material things, and reflected that all these apparent equals strive to attain absolute equality, but fall short of it?
Simmias: Very true.
Socrates: We recognize also that this absolute equality has only been known, and can only be known, through the medium of sight or touch, or of some other of the senses, which are all alike in this respect?
Simmias: Yes, Socrates, as far as the argument is concerned, one of them is the same as the other.
Socrates: From the senses then is derived the knowledge that all sensible things aim at an absolute equality of which they fall short?
Socrates: Then before we began to see or hear or perceive in any way, we must have had a knowledge of absolute equality, or we could not have referred to that standard the equals which are derived from the senses? For to that they all aspire, and of that they fall short.
Simmias: No other inference can be drawn from the previous statements.
Socrates: Did we not see and hear and have the use of our other senses as soon as we were born?
Socrates: Then we must have acquired the knowledge of equality at some previous time?
Socrates: That is to say, before we were born, I suppose?
Socrates: If we acquired this knowledge before we were born, and were born having the use of it, then we also knew before we were born and at the instant of birth not only the equal or the greater or the less, but all other ideas. For we are not speaking only of equality, but of beauty, goodness, justice, holiness, and of all which we stamp with the name of essence in the dialectical process, both when we ask and when we answer questions. Of all this we may certainly affirm that we acquired the knowledge before birth?
Simmias: We may.
Socrates: But if, after having acquired, we have not forgotten what in each case we acquired, then we must always have come into life having knowledge, and will always continue to know as long as life lasts. For knowing is the acquiring and retaining of knowledge and not forgetting. Is not forgetting, Simmias, simply the losing of knowledge?
Simmias: Quite true, Socrates.
Socrates: Suppose that the knowledge that we acquired before birth was lost by us at birth, but afterwards, by the use of the senses, we recovered what we previously knew. Will not the process which we call learning be a recovering of the knowledge which is natural to us, and may not this be rightly termed recollection?
Simmias: Very true.
Socrates: So much is now clear. When we perceive something, either by the help of sight, hearing, or some other sense, from that perception we are able to obtain a notion of some other thing like or unlike which is associated with it but has been forgotten. From this, as I was saying, one of two alternatives follows. First, we had this knowledge at birth, and continued to know through life. Or Second, we acquired it after birth, and those who are said to learn only remember, and learning is simply recollection.
Simmias: Yes, that is quite true, Socrates.
Immortality: Recollected Knowledge of the Forms Requires a Pre-Existing Soul
Socrates: But when did our souls acquire this knowledge? Not since we were born as men?
Simmias: Certainly not.
Socrates: Therefore, previously?
Socrates: Then, Simmias, our souls must also have existed without bodies before they were in human form, and must have had intelligence.
Simmias: Unless indeed you suppose, Socrates, that these notions are given us at the very moment of birth. For this is the only time that remains.
Socrates: Yes, my friend, but if so, when do we lose them? For they are not in us when we are born, as we have admitted. Do we lose them at the moment of receiving them, or if not, at what other time?
Simmias: No, Socrates, I perceive that I was unconsciously talking nonsense.
Socrates: Then, Simmias, may we not say the following. Suppose there are absolute realities of beauty, and goodness, and realities of all things (as we are always repeating). Having now discovered these to have existed in our former state, suppose further that it is to these that we refer all our sensations, and with this compare them. If this is the case, then, finding these realities to be pre-existent, they must be our inborn possessions. Our souls must have had a prior existence, and, if not, there would be no force in the argument. There is the same proof that these realities must have existed before we were born, as that our souls existed before we were born. If no realities, then no preexisting souls.
Simmias: Yes, Socrates. I am convinced that there is precisely the same necessity for the one as for the other. The argument retreats successfully to the position that the existence of the soul before birth cannot be separated from the existence of the essence of which you speak. For there is nothing which to my mind is so patent as that beauty, goodness, and the other notions of which you were just now speaking, have a most real and absolute existence. I am satisfied with the proof.
Socrates: Well, but is Cebes equally satisfied? for I must convince him too.
Simmias: I think, that Cebes is satisfied: although he is the most incredulous of mortals, yet I believe that he is sufficiently convinced of the existence of the soul before birth. But that after death the soul will continue to exist is not yet proven even to my own satisfaction. I cannot get rid of the feeling of the many to which Cebes was referring, namely, the feeling that when the man dies the soul will be dispersed, and that this may be the extinction of it. For admitting that she may have been born elsewhere, and framed out of other elements, and was in existence before entering the human body, why after having entered in and gone out again may she not herself be destroyed and come to an end?
Cebes: Very true, Simmias. About half of what was required has been proven, namely, that our souls existed before we were born. That the soul will exist after death as well as before birth is the other half of which the proof is still lacking, and has to be supplied. When that is given the demonstration will be complete.
Immortality: The Soul is more Like the Unchangeable Forms than the Changeable Body
Socrates: Is the soul more like the unseen, and the body like the seen?
Cebes: That is most certain, Socrates.
Socrates: Remember what we said before about when the soul uses the body as an instrument of perception, that is, when it uses the sense of sight, hearing or some other sense (for the meaning of perceiving through the body is perceiving through the senses). Were we not saying that the soul is then dragged by the body into the region of the changeable, where it wanders and is confused. The world spins around it, and it is like a drunkard when under their influence?
Cebes: Very true.
Socrates: But when returning into itself, the soul reflects. Then it passes into the realm of purity, eternity, immortality, and unchangeableness, which are its relatives. When with them, the soul lives forever, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered. Then it ceases from its erring ways, and now, being in association with the unchanging, it too is unchanging. Is not this state of the soul called wisdom?
Cebes: That is well and truly said, Socrates, he replied.
Socrates: To which class is the soul more nearly alike and related, as far as may be inferred from this argument, as well as from the preceding one?
Cebes: I think, Socrates, that, in the opinion of everyone who follows the argument, the soul will be infinitely more like the unchangeable. Even the most stupid person will not deny that.
Socrates: The body is more like the changing?
Socrates: Yet once more consider the matter in this light. When the soul and the body are united, then nature orders the soul to rule and govern, and the body to obey and serve. Now consider which of these two functions is more like the divine, and which is more like the mortal. Doesn’t the divine appear to you to be that which naturally orders and rules, and the mortal that which is subject and servant?
Socrates: Which does the soul resemble?
Cebes: The soul resembles the divine and the body the mortal. There can be no doubt of that, Socrates.
Socrates: Then reflect, Cebes, whether the conclusion of the whole matter is this. The soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and intelligible, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable. By contrast, the body is in the very likeness of the human, and mortal, and unintelligible, and multiform, and dissoluble, and changeable. Can this, my dear Cebes, be denied?
Cebes: No, indeed.
Socrates: If this is true, then is not the body susceptible to speedy dissolution? Also, is not the soul almost or altogether indissoluble?
Cebes: Certainly. . . .
Socrates: That soul, which is invisible, departs to the invisible world and goes to the divine and immortal and rational. Arriving there, it is secure of happiness and is released from the error and foolishness of men, their fears and wild passions and all other human ills, and forever dwells, as they say of the initiated, in company with the gods. Is not this true, Cebes?
Cebes: Yes, beyond doubt.
PHAEDRUS: PARTS OF THE SOUL AND REINCARNATION
Immortality of the Soul: Argument from Motion
The soul through all its being is immortal. For, that which is always in motion is immortal. By contrast, that which moves another thing (and is itself moved by another), ceases to live when it ceases to move. Only the self-moving, never leaving self, never ceases to move. It is the fountain and beginning of motion for everything else that moves. Now, the beginning is uncreated, for that which is created has a beginning. But the beginning is created of nothing, for if it were created by something, then the created would not come from a beginning. But if it is uncreated, it must also be indestructible. For if beginning were destroyed, there could be no beginning out of anything, nor anything out of a beginning. But all things must have a beginning. Therefore, the self-moving is the beginning of motion. This can neither be destroyed nor created, otherwise the whole heavens and all creation would collapse and stand still, and never again have motion or birth. But if the self-moving is proved to be immortal, he who affirms that self-motion is the very idea and essence of the soul will not be confused. For the body which is moved from without lacks a soul. However, that which is moved from within has a soul, for such is the nature of the soul. If this is true, must not the soul be the self-moving, and therefore of necessity uncreated and immortal?
Human Soul like a Charioteer Controlling Two Winged Horses
So much for the soul’s immortality. Moving on to the nature of the soul, we must speak in the following manner. To tell what it really is would be a matter requiring a long discourse that his beyond human ability. But it is within human power to describe it briefly and figuratively. So, let us speak in that way. We will compare the soul to the union of a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. Now, the horses and charioteers of the gods are all good and of good descent, but those of other races are mixed. Regarding the human soul, the charioteer handles a pair in which one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character. The charioteer’s handling of this bad horse is necessarily difficult and troublesome. I will now try to explain to you in what way the mortal differs from the immortal creature. The soul in its totality has the care of inanimate being everywhere, and crosses the whole heaven appearing in different forms. When perfect and fully winged, it soars upward and orders the whole world. But the imperfect soul loses its wings, droops in its flight, and eventually settles on the solid ground. There, finding a home, it receives an earthly body that appears to be self-moved, but is really moved by the soul’s power. This composition of soul and body is called a living and mortal being. For an immortal union cannot be reasonably believed, although the imagination, not having seen or truly known the nature of a god, may envision an immortal creature having both a body and a soul which are united throughout all time. Let that, however, be as the gods will, and is pleasing to him. Let us now consider the reason why the soul loses its wings. It is something like this.
The natural function of the wing is to soar up wards and carry that which is heavy up to the place where the gods reside. More than any other thing that pertains to the body, the wing shares the nature of the divine. The divine is beauty, wisdom, goodness, and all such qualities, and through these the wings of the soul are nourished and grow. However, by the opposite qualities, such as vileness and evil, the wings are wasted away and destroyed.
The Gods and Human Souls Ride to Heaven on Chariots of Winged Horses and See the Forms
Now Zeus, the great leader in heaven, goes first, driving his winged chariot, and arranging all things and caring for all things. He is followed by an army of gods and spirits, arrayed in eleven squadrons. Only Hestia [Zeus’s sister] remains in the house of the gods. Of the rest, those who are included among the twelve Olympian gods and are considered leaders, are each assigned a place in the army. There are many wonderful sights and many paths this way and that way within heaven, along which the divine gods go, back and forth, attending each to his own duties. Whoever wishes, and is able, follows, for jealousy is excluded from the celestial band. But when they go to a feast and a banquet, they proceed steeply upward to the top of the vault of heaven. There, the chariots of the gods, whose well-matched horses obey the rein, advance easily. But the other souls do so with difficulty since the horse with the evil nature weighs the chariot down. Making it heavy, it pulls toward the earth the charioteer whose horse is not well trained. There the utmost toil and struggle await that soul. Those that are called immortal, when they reach the top, pass outside and take their place on the outer surface of heaven, and when they have taken their stand, the revolution carries them around and they see the things outside of heaven.
The region above heaven is never accurately described by any earthly poet, nor will it ever be. It is, however, as I will describe. For I must speak the truth, especially since truth is my theme. For the colorless, formless, and intangible truly existing essence, with which all true knowledge is concerned, occupies this region and is visible only to the mind, the pilot of the soul. Now the divine intelligence, since it is nurtured on mind and pure knowledge, and the intelligence of every soul which is capable of receiving that which befits it, rejoices in seeing reality for a period of time. By gazing upon truth it is nourished and made happy until the revolution brings it around to the same place. In the revolution it sees absolute justice, temperance, and knowledge. This knowledge is not the kind that has a beginning and varies as it is associated with the many things that we call “realities”. Rather, it is knowledge that dwells in the real and eternal absolute. In the same way it sees and feeds upon the other eternal truths, after which, passing down again from heaven, it goes home, and there the charioteer puts away the horses at the manger, feeds them with ambrosia and then gives them nectar to drink.
Such is the life of the gods. But of the other souls, the one that best follows after Zeus and is most like him, raises the head of the charioteer up into the outer region and is carried around in the revolution. But he is troubled by the horses and he hardly sees the realities there. Another soul sometimes rises and sometimes sinks, and, because that soul’s horses are unruly, it sees some things and fails to see others. The other souls follow after, all hoping for the upper region but unable to reach it, and are carried around beneath, trampling upon and colliding with each other. Each attempts to pass its neighbor. So, there is the greatest confusion and the sweat of rivalry, wherein many are injured, and many wings are broken through the incompetence of their drivers. After much effort they all go away without gaining a view of reality, and when they are gone, they feed upon opinion.
Human Souls Reincarnated and Recollect the Forms from Previous Life
The reason why the souls exhibit this great eagerness to see the region of truth is that a great pasture is found there, which is suited to the highest part of the soul. The wing upon which the soul soars is nourished with this. There is a law of Destiny, whereby a soul that attains any vision of truth in company with a god is preserved from harm until the next period. If the soul always attains it, then it is always unharmed. But sometime the soul is unable to follow, fails to see the truth, and through some misfortune sinks beneath the double load of forgetfulness and vice. Its wings fall off it and it drops to the ground. In this case, the law ordains that this soul will at its first birth pass, not into any other animal, but only into a human. The soul which has seen most of truth will be born as a philosopher, artist, or someone with a musical and loving nature. The second type soul will become a righteous king or warrior chief. The third type of soul will be a politician, economist, or trader. The fourth will be a lover of gymnastics or a physician. The fifth will lead the life of a prophet or priest. The sixth will have assigned to it the character of poet or some other imitative artist. The seventh will have the life of a craftsman or farmer, the eighth a sophist or rabble rouser, and the ninth that of a tyrant.
All these are states of probation, in which whoever lives justly will improve and whoever lives unjustly will decline in his position. Ten thousand years must pass before the soul of each one can return to the place from where it came, for it cannot grow its wings in less Time. Only the soul of a philosopher who is honest and true, or the philosophical lover, may acquire wings in the third of the recurring periods of a thousand years. These, when for three successive periods of a thousand years they have chosen such a life, after the third period of a thousand years become winged in the three thousandth year and go their way. But the others receive judgment when they have completed their first life, and after the judgment they go, some of them to the houses of correction which are under the earth, and are punished. Others go to some place in heaven where they are lightly carried up by justice, and there they live in a manner worthy of the life which they led here when in the form of men. At the end of the first thousand years, both the good and bad souls come to draw lots and choose their second life, and they may take any which they please. Then the soul of a man may pass into the life of an animal, or from an animal return again into the man.
But the soul which has never seen the truth cannot pass into the human form. For a man must understand universals and be able to proceed from the various particulars of sense to one conception of reason. This involves recollecting those things that our soul once saw while following Zeus, when (regardless of that which we now call existence), the soul raised up its head towards the true being. Therefore, the mind of the philosopher alone has wings. This is proper, since, according to the level of his abilities, the philosopher is always in communion through recollection with those things that make the god divine. The person who correctly uses these memories is always being initiated into perfect mysteries and he alone becomes truly perfect. But, as he separates himself from earthly interests and turns his attention towards the divine, ordinary people criticize him and think him crazy. They do not see that he is inspired.
Three Parts of the Soul: Charioteer Restrains the Bad Horse
As I said at the beginning of this tale, I divided the soul into three parts: two horses and a charioteer. One of the horses was good and the other bad. Let us continue with this division, although I have not yet explained in what the goodness or badness of either consists, and to that I will now proceed. The right-hand horse is upright and cleanly made. He has a lofty neck and a curved nose. His color is white, and his eyes dark. He is a lover of honor and modesty and temperance, and the follower of true glory. He needs no sting of the whip, but is guided by word and gentle warning only. The other is a crooked and lumbering animal, put together every which way. He has a short thick neck. He is flat-faced and of a dark color, with grey and blood-shot eyes. He is the companion of insolence and pride, shag-eared and deaf, barely yielding to the whip and spur.
Now the charioteer observes the vision of his lover, and has his whole soul warmed through sensation, and is full of burning and itching desire. When this happens, the obedient horse, which is always under the rule of shame, refrains from leaping on the lover. But the other horse, ignoring of the lashes and sting of the whip, plunges and runs forward, giving great trouble to his companion and the charioteer. The horse forces the charioteer to approach his lover and to propose the joys of love. They at first pull back indignantly and will not be forced to do terrible and unlawful deeds. But finally, as the horse persists, they go forward with him, yielding and agreeing, and thus doing as he directs. They come to the beloved and sees her radiant face. The charioteer observers his lover, but his memory brings him back to the true nature of beauty, and he sees it standing upon a pedestal of chastity. When he sees this, he is afraid and falls backwards in adoration. By his fall he is compelled to pull back the reins with such violence as to bring both the steeds on their haunches, the one willing and unresisting, the unruly one very unwilling.
THEAETETUS: AGAINST PROTAGORAS’S RELATIVISM (Theaetetus)
Protagoras’s View Explained: Things are as Each Person Perceives Them
Socrates: You say that knowledge is perception?
Socrates: Well, you have come up with a very unusual doctrine about knowledge. It is in fact the opinion of Protagoras, who has another way of expressing it. Man, he says, is the measure of all things, of the existence of things that are, and of the non-existence of things that are not. Have you read him?
Theaetetus: Oh yes, again and again.
Socrates: Does he not say that things are to you such as they appear to you, and to me such as they appear to me, and that you and I are men?
Theaetetus: Yes, he says so.
Socrates: A wise man is not likely to talk nonsense. Let us try to understand him. The same wind is blowing, and yet one of us may be cold and the other not, or one may be slightly and the other very cold?
Theaetetus: Quite true.
Socrates: Now is the wind cold or not cold absolutely and not in relation to us, or, should we say with Protagoras that the wind is cold to him who is cold, and not to him who is not?
Theaetetus: I suppose the second of these.
Socrates: Then it must appear that way to each of them?
Socrates: “Appears to him” means the same as “he perceives.”
Socrates: Then appearing and perceiving coincide in the case of hot and cold, and in similar instances. For things appear, or may be supposed to be, to each one such as he perceives them?
Socrates: Then perception is always of existence, and being the same as knowledge is unerring?
Theaetetus: Clearly. . . .
Socrates: If that with which I compare myself in size, or which I apprehend by touch, were great or white or hot, it could not become different by mere contact with another unless it actually changed. Nor again, if the comparing or apprehending subject were great or white or hot, could this, when unchanged from within, become changed by any approximation or affection of any other thing. The fact is that in our ordinary way of speaking we allow ourselves to be driven into most ridiculous and wonderful contradictions, as Protagoras and all who take his line of argument would remark.
Theaetetus: How, and of what sort do you mean?
Socrates: A simple example will sufficiently explain my meaning. Here are six dice, which are more than four (by that plus half again), but which is fewer than twelve (by half that amount). How can you or anyone maintain the contrary?
Theaetetus: Very true.
Socrates: Well, then, suppose that Protagoras or someone asks whether anything can become greater or more if not by increasing, how would you answer him, Theaetetus?
Theaetetus: I would say no, Socrates, if I were to speak my mind in reference to this last question, and if I were not afraid of contradicting my former answer.
Socrates: Outstanding! Spoken like an oracle, my boy! If you reply “yes”, there will be a case for Euripides. For, our tongue will be unconvinced, but not our mind.
Theaetetus: Very true.
Socrates: The thoroughbred Sophists, who know all that can be known about the mind, and argue only out of the superfluity of their wits, would have had a regular sparring-match over this, and would have knocked their arguments together finely. But you and I, who have no professional aims, only desire to see what is the mutual relation of these principles, and whether they are consistent with each or not.
Theaetetus: Yes, that would be my desire.
Socrates: Mine too. But since this is our feeling, and there is plenty of time, why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are? If I am not mistaken, they will be described by us as follows. First, Nothing can become greater or less, either in number or size, while remaining equal to itself. Would you agree?
Socrates: Secondly, without addition or subtraction there is no increase or diminution of anything, but only equality.
Theaetetus: Quite true.
Socrates: Thirdly, what was not before cannot be afterwards, without becoming and having become.
Theaetetus: Yes, truly.
Socrates: These three axioms, if I am not mistaken, are fighting with each other in our minds in the case of the dice. So too in this case. Suppose I said that I, who am of a certain height and taller than you, may within a year, without gaining or losing height, am not that tall. It’s not that I would have lost height, but that you would have increased. In such a case, I am afterwards what I once was not, and yet I have not become. For I could not have become without becoming, nor could I have become less without losing some of my height. I could give you ten thousand examples of similar contradictions, if we admit them at all. I believe that you follow me, Theaetetus. For I suspect that you have thought of these questions before now.
Theaetetus: Yes, Socrates, and I am amazed when I think of them. By the gods I am! I want to know what on earth they mean, and there are times when my head swims with the contemplation of them.
Second Criticism: Man Cannot be the Measure since Some People are Obviously Superior to Others
Socrates: In the first place, let us return to our old objection, and see whether we were right in blaming and taking offence at Protagoras on the ground that he assumed everyone to be equal and sufficient in wisdom. He did admit, though, that there was a better and worse, and that in respect of this, some who, as he said were the wise excelled others.
Theodorus: Very true.
Socrates: Had Protagoras been living and answered for himself, instead of our answering for him, there would have been no need of our reviewing or reinforcing the argument. But since he is not here, and someone may accuse us of speaking without authority on his behalf, had we not better come to a clearer agreement about his meaning, for a great deal may be at stake?
Socrates: Then let us obtain, not through any third person, but from his own statement and in the fewest words possible, the basis of agreement.
Theodorus: In what way?
Socrates: In this way. His words are, “What seems to a man, is to him.”
Theodorus: Yes, so he says.
Socrates: Are not we, Protagoras, uttering the opinion of man, or rather of all mankind, when we say that everyone thinks himself wiser than other men in some things, and their inferior in others? In the hour of danger, when they are in perils of war, or of the sea, or of sickness, do they not look up to their commanders as if they were gods, and expect salvation from them, only because they excel them in knowledge? Is not the world full of men in their various employments, who are looking for teachers and rulers of themselves and of the animals? There are plenty who think that they are able to teach and able to rule. Now, in all this is implied that ignorance and wisdom exist among them, at least in their own opinion.
Socrates: Wisdom is assumed by them to be true thought, and ignorance to be false opinion.
Socrates: How then, Protagoras, would you have us treat the argument? Will we say that the opinions of men are always true, or sometimes true and sometimes false? In either case, the result is the same, and their opinions are not always true, but sometimes true and sometimes false. For tell me, Theodorus, do you suppose that you yourself, or any other follower of Protagoras, would contend that no one considers another ignorant or mistaken in his opinion?
Theodorus: That would be ridiculous, Socrates.
Socrates: Yet that absurdity is necessarily involved in the thesis which declares man to be the measure of all things.
Theodorus: How so?
Third Criticism: The Truth of The Stronger Opinion would Outweigh that Weaker
Socrates: Suppose that you determine in your own mind something to be true, and declare your opinion to me. Let us assume, as he argues, that this is true to you. Now, if so, you must either say that the rest of us are not the judges of this opinion or judgment of yours, or that we judge you always to have a true opinion? But are there not thousands upon thousands who, whenever you form a judgment, take up arms against you and are of an opposite judgment and opinion, deeming that you judge falsely?
Theodorus: Yes, indeed, Socrates, thousands and tens of thousands, as Homer says, who give me a world of trouble.
Socrates: Well, but are we to assert that what you think is true to you and false to the ten thousand others?
Theodorus: No other inference seems to be possible.
Socrates: How about Protagoras himself? If neither he nor the multitude thought, as indeed they do not think, that man is the measure of all things, must it not follow that the truth of which Protagoras wrote would be true to no one? But if you suppose that he himself thought this, and that the multitude does not agree with him, you must begin by allowing that in whatever proportion the many are more than one, in that proportion his truth is more untrue than true.
Theodorus: That would follow if the truth is supposed to vary with individual opinion.
Socrates: The best of the joke is that he acknowledges the truth of their opinion who believe his own opinion to be false. For he admits that the opinions of all men are true.
Socrates: Does he not allow that his own opinion is false, if he admits that the opinion of those who think him false is true?
Theodorus: Of course.
Socrates: Whereas the other side do not admit that they speak falsely?
Theodorus: They do not.
Socrates: He, as may be inferred from his writings, agrees that this opinion is also true.
Socrates: Then all mankind, beginning with Protagoras, will assert (or rather, I should say that he will allow) when he concedes that his adversary has a true opinion—Protagoras, I say, will himself admit that neither a dog nor any ordinary man is the measure of anything which he has not learned. Am I not right?
Socrates: The truth of Protagoras being doubted by all, will be true neither to himself to anyone else?
Theodorus: I think, Socrates, that we are running my old friend too hard.
PARMENIDES: DIFFICULTIES WITH THE THEORY OF THE FORMS (Parmenides)
The Forms not Subject to Zeno’s Paradoxes
Socrates: Do you maintain that if being is many, it must be both like and unlike, and that this is impossible, for neither can the like be unlike, nor the unlike like? Is that your position?
Zeno: Exactly. . . .
Socrates: But tell me, Zeno, do you not further think that there is a Form of likeness in itself, and another Form of unlikeness, which is the opposite of likeness? Do not you, I and all other things to which we apply the term many, participate in these two [Forms]? Things that participate in [the Form of] likeness become in that degree and manner like. So far as they participate in [the Form of] unlikeness, they become in that degree unlike, or become both like and unlike in the degree in which they participate in [the Form of] both? May not all things partake of both opposites, and be both like and unlike, by reason of this participation? Where is the problem?
Now if a person could prove the absolute [Forms of] like to become unlike, or the absolute [Forms of] unlike to become like, that, in my opinion, would indeed be a problem. But there is nothing extraordinary, Zeno, in showing that the things which only partake of [the Forms of] likeness and unlikeness experience both. Nor, again, if a person were to show that all is one by partaking of [the Form] one, and at the same time many by partaking [of the Form] of many, would that be very astonishing. But if he were to show me that the absolute [Form of] one was many, or the absolute [Form of many] was one, I would be truly amazed.
So too for all the rest. I would be surprised to hear that the Forms (or natures) themselves had these opposite qualities, but would not be surprised if a person wanted to prove about me that I was both many and one. If he wanted to show that I was many, he would simply say that I have a right and a left side, and a front and a back, and an upper and a lower half. For I cannot deny that I partake of multitude. Then, if he wants to prove that I am one, he would say that we who are here assembled are seven, and that I am one and partake of the one. In both instances he proves his case. So again, if a person shows things such as wood, stones, and the like, are both many and one, we must admit that he shows the coexistence of the one and many. However, he does not show that the many are one or the one is many. He is not uttering a paradox but a truism. If, however, as I just now suggested, someone were to abstract simple notions of like, unlike, one, many, rest, motion, and similar Forms, and then to show that these allow mixture and separation in themselves, I would be very astonished. This part of the argument appears to be treated by you, Zeno, in a very spirited manner. But, as I was saying, I would be far more amazed if anyone found in the Forms themselves, which are apprehended by reason, the same puzzle and entanglement which you have shown to exist in visible objects.
Narrator: While Socrates was speaking, Pythodorus thought that Parmenides and Zeno were not altogether pleased at the successive steps of the argument. But still they gave the closest attention, and often looked at each other, and smiled as if in admiration of him. When he had finished, Parmenides expressed their feelings in the following words.
Problem of Absurd Forms: There are Forms of Everything, even Trivial Things
Parmenides: Socrates, I admire the sharpness of your mind towards philosophy. Tell me now, is this your own distinction between Forms in themselves and the things that partake of them? Do you think that there is a Form of likeness apart from the [particular] likeness which we possess, and so too of the one and many, and of the other things which Zeno mentioned?
Socrates: Yes, I think that there are such Forms.
Parmenides: Would you also say that there is a Form of the just, the beautiful, the good, and all that type?
Socrates: Yes, I would.
Parmenides: Would you say that there is a Form of man apart from us and from all other [particular] human creatures, or of fire and water?
Socrates: I am often undecided, Parmenides, as to whether I should to include them or not.
Parmenides: Would you feel equally undecided, Socrates, about things of which the mention may provoke a smile? I mean things such as hair, mud, dirt [i.e., fecal matter], or anything else that is disgusting or trivial. Would you suppose that each of these has a Form distinct from the actual objects with which we come into contact, or not?
Socrates: Certainly not. Visible things like these are just as they appear to us, and I am afraid that there would be an absurdity in assuming any Form of them. However, I sometimes get disturbed, and begin to think that there is nothing without a Form. But then again, when I have taken up this position, I then retreat because I am afraid that I may fall into a bottomless pit of nonsense and perish. So I then return to the Forms of which I was just now speaking, and occupy myself with them.
Parmenides: Yes, Socrates, that is because you are still young. If I am not mistaken, the time will come when philosophy will have a firmer grasp on you, and then you will not dismiss even the lowest things. At your age, you are too inclined to consider the opinions of people.
Dilemma of Participation: A Form is a Whole, yet Particulars Participate in Parts of It
Parmenides: But I would like to know whether you mean that there are certain Forms of which all other things partake, and from which they derive their names. For example, similar things become similar, because they partake of [the Form of] similarity. Great things become great, because they partake of [the Form of] greatness. Just and beautiful things become just and beautiful, because they partake of [the Forms of] justice and beauty.
Socrates: Yes, certainly, that is my meaning.
Parmenides: Then each individual partakes either of the whole of the Form or else of a part of the Form? Can there be any other type of participation?
Socrates: There cannot be.
Parmenides: Then do you think that the whole Form is one, and yet, being one, is in each one of the many?
Socrates: Why not, Parmenides?
Parmenides: Because one and the same thing will exist as a whole at the same time in many separate individuals, and will therefore be in a state of separation from itself.
Socrates: No, but the Form may be like the day which is one and the same in many places at once, and yet continuous with itself. In this way each Form may be one and the same in all at the same time.
Parmenides: I like your way of making one in many places at once. You mean to say that if I were to spread out a sail and cover a number of people, there would then be one whole over many. Is not that your meaning?
Socrates: I think so.
Parmenides: Would you say that the whole sail covers each person, or only a part of it where different parts of the sail cover different people?
Socrates: The latter.
Parmenides: Then, Socrates, the Forms themselves will be divisible, and things which participate in them will have only a part of them, and not the whole Form existing in each of them?
Socrates: That seems to follow.
Parmenides: Then would you like to say, Socrates, that the one Form is really divisible and yet remains one?
Socrates: Certainly not.
Paradox of Divisibility: Parts of Largeness are Small yet Still make Things Large
Parmenides: Suppose that you divide absolute largeness, and that, of the many large things, each one is large in virtue of a portion of largeness less than largeness. Is that conceivable?
Parmenides: Or will each equal thing, if possessing some small portion of equality less than absolute equality, be equal to some other thing by virtue of that portion only?
Parmenides: Or suppose one of us to have a portion of [the Form] smallness. This is only a part of the small, and therefore the absolutely small is greater. If the absolutely small is greater, then that [particular] to which the part of the small is added will be smaller and not greater than before.
Socrates: How absurd!
Parmenides: Then in what way, Socrates, will all things participate in the Forms, if they are unable to participate in them either as parts or wholes?
Socrates: Indeed, you have asked a question which is not easily answered.
Third Man Regress Argument: The Form of Largeness and Particular Large things together must Participate in a Second Form of Largeness
Parmenides: Well, and what do you say of another question?
Socrates: What question?
Parmenides: You hold that there is one Form of each kind [of attribute], and I suppose your reasoning is as follows. You see a number of large objects, and when you look at them there seems to you to be one and the same Form (or nature) in them all. Hence you conceive of largeness as one.
Socrates: Very true.
Parmenides: If you go on and allow your mind in a similar way to embrace in one view the Form of largeness and also large [particular] things which are not the Form itself. If you compare them, will not another [Form of] largeness arise, which will appear to be the source of all these?
Socrates: It would seem so.
Parmenides: Then another Form of largeness now emerges over and above [the first Form of] absolute largeness along with the individuals that partake of it. But then another [Form of largeness must emerge], over and above all these, by virtue of which they will all be large. Thus, each Form, instead of being one, will be infinitely multiplied.
Problem with Forms as Thoughts: Particulars are Made of Thoughts
Socrates: But may not the Forms be thoughts only, and have no proper existence except in our minds, Parmenides? For in that case each Form may still be one, and not experience this infinite multiplication.
Parmenides: Can there be individual thoughts which are thoughts of nothing?
Parmenides: The thought must be of something?
Parmenides: Is it a thought of something which is or which is not?
Socrates: Of something which is.
Parmenides: Must it not be a thought of a single something, which the thought recognizes as attaching to all, being a single Form (or nature)?
Parmenides: Will not the something, which is apprehended as one and the same in all, be a Form?
Socrates: From that, again, there is no escape.
Parmenides: Then, if you say that everything else participates in the Forms, must you not say either that everything is made up of thoughts, and that all things think; or that they are thoughts but have no thought?
Socrates: The latter view, Parmenides, is no more rational than the previous one.
Problem with Patterns Fixed in Nature: A Form and its Particular must be Patterned after yet Another Form
Socrates: In my opinion, the Forms are, so to speak, patterns fixed in nature. Other things are like them, and are resemblances of them. What is meant by the participation of other things in the Forms, is really being modeled after them.
Parmenides: But if the individual is like the Form, must not the Form also be like the individual, in so far as the individual is a resemblance of the Form? That which is like, cannot be conceived of as anything other than the like of like.
Parmenides: When two things are alike, must they not partake of the same Form?
Socrates: They must.
Parmenides: Will not that of which the two partake, and which makes them alike, be the Form itself?
Parmenides: Then the Form cannot be like the individual, or the individual like the Form. For if they are alike, some further Form of likeness will always emerge. Further, if that [new form of likeness] is like anything else, another [form of likeness will emerge]. Will not new Forms will be always arising if the Form resembles that which partakes of it?
Socrates: Quite true.
Parmenides: The theory, then, that other things participate in the Forms by resemblance, has to be given up, and some other mechanism of participation devised?
Socrates: It would seem so.
Parmenides: Do you see then, Socrates, how great the difficulty is when affirming the Forms to be absolute?
Socrates: Yes, indeed.
Problem of Separation and Unknowability: Forms are Separate Particulars, but Particulars are all that we Know
Parmenides: Further, let me say that as yet you only understand a small part of the difficulty which is involved if you make of each thing a single Form, parting it off from other things.
Socrates: What difficulty?
Parmenides: There are many, but the greatest of all is this. Suppose that an opponent argues that these Forms, being such as we say they ought to be, must remain unknown. No one can prove to him that he is wrong, unless he who denies their existence be someone of great ability and knowledge, and is willing to follow a long and laborious demonstration. The opponent will remain unconvinced, and still insist that they cannot be known.
Socrates: What do you mean, Parmenides?
Parmenides: In the first place, I think, Socrates, that you, or anyone who maintains the existence of absolute essences, will admit that they cannot exist in us.
Socrates: No, for then they would be no longer absolute [i.e., itself by itself].
Parmenides: True. Therefore, when Forms are what they are in relation to each other, their essence is determined by a relation among themselves. It has nothing to do with the resemblances, or whatever they are to be termed, which are in our sphere, and from which we receive this or that name when we partake of them. The things which are within our sphere and have the same names with them, are likewise only relative to each other, and not to the Forms which have the same names with them. They belong to themselves and not to them.
Socrates: What do you mean?
Parmenides: I may illustrate my meaning in this way. Suppose that a master has a slave. Now there is nothing absolute in the relation between them, which is simply a relation of one man to another [i.e., the slave is not a slave to the Form of master]. But there is also a Form of mastership in the abstract, which is relative to the Form of slavery in the abstract. These natures have nothing to do with us [as particulars], nor we with them. They [the two Forms and how they are related] are concerned only with themselves, and we [particulars] with ourselves. Do you see my meaning?
Socrates: Yes, I quite see your meaning.
Parmenides: Will not knowledge, and I mean absolute knowledge, address absolute truth?
Parmenides: Will each kind of particular knowledge address each kind of particular being?
Parmenides: But the knowledge which we have [of particulars] will address the truth which we have [of particulars]. Again, each kind of knowledge which we have [of particulars], will be a knowledge of each kind of being which we have [of particulars]?
Parmenides: But as you admit, we do not have the Forms themselves, and cannot have them.
Socrates: No, we cannot.
Parmenides: The absolute Forms (natures or kinds) are variously known by the absolute Form of knowledge itself?
Parmenides: We do not have the Form of knowledge, do we?
Socrates: No, we do not.
Parmenides: Then none of the Forms are known to us, because we do not partake of absolute knowledge?
Socrates: I suppose not.
Parmenides: Then the nature of the beautiful in itself, and of the good in itself, and all other Forms which we suppose to exist absolutely, are unknown to us?
Socrates: It would seem so.
Parmenides: I think that there is a stranger consequence still.
Socrates: What is it?
Parmenides: Would you, or would you not, say that absolute knowledge, if there is such a thing, must be a far more exact knowledge than our knowledge; and the same of beauty and of the rest?
Parmenides: If there is such a thing as participation in absolute knowledge, no one is more likely than god to have this most exact knowledge?
Parmenides: But then, will god, who has absolute knowledge, have a knowledge of human things?
Socrates: Why not?
Parmenides: Because, Socrates, we have admitted that the Forms are not valid in relation to human things. Neither do human things have a relation to them. The relations of either are limited to their respective realms.
Socrates: Yes, that has been admitted.
Parmenides: If the gods have this perfect authority, and perfect knowledge, their authority cannot rule us, nor his knowledge know us, or any human thing. Just as our authority does not extend to the gods, nor our knowledge know anything which is divine, so, by parallel reasoning, being gods they are not our masters, neither do they know human things.
Socrates: Yet, surely, to deprive god of knowledge is outrageous.
Problems with Either Accepting or Rejecting the Forms
Parmenides: These, Socrates, are a few, and only a few, of the difficulties in which we are involved if Forms really are and we determine each one of them to be an absolute unity. He who hears what may be said against them will deny the very existence of them. Even if they do exist, he will say that they must of necessity be unknown to humans. He will seem to have reason on his side, and, as we were remarking just now, he will be very difficult to convince. A man must be gifted with very considerable ability before he can learn that everything has a kind and an absolute essence [i.e., a Form]. He will be still more remarkable if he discovers all these things for himself and, having thoroughly investigated them, is able to teach them to others.
Socrates: I agree with you, Parmenides. What you say is very much to my way of thinking.
Parmenides: Yet, Socrates, suppose that a man, who fixes his attention on these and similar difficulties, rejects the Forms of things and rejects the position that every individual thing has its own determinate Form which is always one and the same. He will then have nothing upon which his mind can rest. Thus, he will utterly destroy the power of reasoning, as you seem to me to have particularly noted.
Socrates: Very true.
Parmenides: But, then, what is to become of philosophy? Where will we turn, if the Forms are unknown?
Socrates: I certainly do not see my way through this at present.
Please answer all of the following questions.
1. In the Meno, what is the first definition of virtue, and Socrates’ criticism of it?
2. In the Meno, what is the second definition of virtue, and Socrates’ criticism of it?
3. In the Meno, what is the third definition of virtue, and Socrates’ criticism of it?
4. In the Meno, what is Socrates view about whether virtue can be taught?
5. In the Republic, according to Thrasymachus, justice is merely the interest of the stronger. What examples does he give to make his case?
6. In the Republic, explain the three social classes and their functions.
7. In the Republic, what are the three parts of the soul and their corresponding virtues?
8. In the Republic, list and describe the four virtues of a state.
9. In the Republic, describe the features of the Philosopher-King.
10. In the Republic, what is the difference between knowledge and opinion?
11. In the Republic, list the four cognitive states and note to which of the four parts of the line each belongs to.
12. In the Republic, explain what the key parts of the allegory of the cave symbolize.
13. In the Phaedo, what are some of the problems that result from having a body?
14. In the Phaedo, what are the two arguments for the immortality of the soul?
15. In the Phaedrus, describe the allegory of the charioteer and winged horses as pertains to the gods.
16. In the Phaedrus, describe the allegory of the charioteer and winged horses as pertains to humans.
17. In the Phaedrus, explain how the parallel between the three parts of the soul and the metaphor of the charioteer.
18. In the Theaetetus, what is Protagoras’ view of relativism?
19. In the Theaetetus, what are the three arguments against Protagoras’ relativism?
20. In the Parmenides, briefly list the eight problems with the forms.
21. Short essay: please select one of the following and answer it in a minimum of 150 words.
a. Pick one of Meno’s definitions of piety and defend it against Socrates’ criticism.
b. Look at the full text of the Meno online (www.gutenberg.org/files/1643/1643-h/1643-h.htm). Examine the full dialogue between Socrates and the slave boy (only a small portion of which was excerpted above). Many critics argue that Socrates is just asking leading questions and the slave boy has no real knowledge of geometry. Defend Plato against this criticism.
c. John Stuart Mill wrote the following: “The mode in which Plato was led, by the same train of thought, to another of his opinions, the famous doctrine of reminiscence, is not left for us to divine. It is shown to us in the Menon, in which more that is characteristic of Plato is brought together in a smaller space than in any other dialogue” (“George Grote” 1858). As Mill suggests, discuss how Plato develops the theme of recollection in the Meno.
d. Plato held a view called the “unity of virtue”, that is, the various virtues are so interconnected that a person cannot have one without having the others. Discuss this view as Plato presents the four virtues of temperance, courage, wisdom and justice in the Republic, and say whether you agree.
e. Explain Plato’s distinction between knowledge and opinion as it appears in the Allegory of the Cave and metaphor of the Divided Line, and discuss whether you agree. This distinction also appears in the Meno, Phaedo, and Phaedrus, and you may also draw on those.
f. In the Republic, Plato criticizes imitative art on the grounds that it is a bad copy of a bad copy of the true reality of the Forms. In the following, Nietzsche discusses the extent to which Plato’s critique applies to Plato’s own artistry as a writer of philosophical dialogues: “[Plato] in the condemnation of tragedy and of art in general … was nevertheless constrained by sheer artistic necessity to create a form of art that is inwardly related even to the then existing forms of art that he repudiated. Plato’s main objection to the old art, that it is the imitation of a phantom and hence belongs to a realm still lower than the empirical world, could not at all apply to the new art.” According to Nietzsche, Plato’s dialogues rise above the limitations of earlier Greek imitative art: “Platonic dialogue was as it were the boat in which the shipwrecked ancient poetry saved herself together with all her children. . . Plato has given to all posterity the prototype of a new form of art” (Birth of Tragedy). Discuss Plato’s critique of imitative art in the Republic, and how, as Nietzsche suggests, the Platonic Dialogues might be immune from Plato’s own critique.
g. Pick one of Plato’s two arguments in the Phaedo for the immortality of the soul and critique it.
h. Cicero reconstructs Plato’s argument for the immortality of the soul from motion as follows: “The soul, then, perceives itself to have motion, and at the same time that it gets that perception, it is sensible that it derives that motion from its own power, and not from the agency of another; and it is impossible that it should ever forsake itself. And these premises compel you to grant its eternity” (Tusculan Disputations, 1). Is Cicero’s interpretation correct? Explain.
i. Pick one of Plato’s three arguments in the Theaetetus against relativism and critique it.
j. Which of Parmenides criticisms of the theory of the forms is most damaging, and why?
k. Explain the problem of separation and knowability in the Parmenides, and discuss whether the doctrine of recollection fixes this.
l. At the outset of Plato’s Parmenides, Socrates presents the theory of the Forms, which involves the following assumptions: (1) causality: a sensible thing is beautiful by participating in the Form Beauty; (2) separation: the Form Beauty is separate from particular sensible things that participate in it; (3) impurity: particular sensible things are impure insofar as they have contrary properties; (4) purity: Forms cannot have contrary properties; (5) one over many: given a plurality of beautiful sensible things, there is a Form Beauty that these sensible things participate in; (6) uniqueness: there is exactly one Form of Beauty; (7) self-predication: the Form Beauty is itself beautiful; (8) oneness: each form is one. Pick one of the criticisms of the Forms presented by Parmenides, and discuss which of these eight assumptions are involved. For help, see the article on Plato’s Parmenides in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, from which this list of eight assumptions is adapted (plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-parmenides).