Plato – Part III


Plato. Parmenides. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg, 2008. Retrieved 2019, from

Parmenides proceeded: And would you also make absolute ideas of the just and the beautiful and the good, and of all that class?
Yes, he said, I should.
And would you make an idea of man apart from us and from all other human creatures, or of fire and water?
I am often undecided, Parmenides, as to whether I ought to include them or not.
And would you feel equally undecided, Socrates, about things of which the mention may provoke a smile?—I mean such things as hair, mud, dirt, or anything else which is vile and paltry; would you suppose that each of these has an idea distinct from the actual objects with which we come into contact, or not?
Certainly not, said Socrates; visible things like these are such as they appear to us, and I am afraid that there would be an absurdity in assuming any idea of them, although I sometimes get disturbed, and begin to think that there is nothing without an idea; but then again, when I have taken up this position, I run away, because I am afraid that I may fall into a bottomless pit of nonsense, and perish; and so I return to the ideas of which I was just now speaking, and occupy myself with them.
Yes, Socrates, said Parmenides; that is because you are still young; the time will come, if I am not mistaken, when philosophy will have a firmer grasp of you, and then you will not despise even the meanest things; at your age, you are too much disposed to regard the opinions of men. But I should like to know whether you mean that there are certain ideas of which all other things partake, and from which they derive their names; that similars, for example, become similar, because they partake of similarity; and great things become great, because they partake of greatness; and that just and beautiful things become just and beautiful, because they partake of justice and beauty?
Yes, certainly, said Socrates that is my meaning.
Then each individual partakes either of the whole of the idea or else of a part of the idea? Can there be any other mode of participation?
There cannot be, he said.
Then do you think that the whole idea is one, and yet, being one, is in each one of the many?
Why not, Parmenides? said Socrates.
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.
Nay, but the idea 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 idea may be one and the same in all at the same time.
I like your way, Socrates, 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 men, there would be one whole including many—is not that your meaning?
I think so.
And would you say that the whole sail includes each man, or a part of it only, and different parts different men?
The latter.
Then, said Parmenides, if you say that everything else participates in the ideas, 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?
The latter view, Parmenides, is no more rational than the previous one. In my opinion, the ideas are, as it were, patterns fixed in nature, and other things are like them, and resemblances of them—what is meant by the participation of other things in the ideas, is really assimilation to them.
But if, said he, the individual is like the idea, must not the idea also be like the individual, in so far as the individual is a resemblance of the idea? That which is like, cannot be conceived of as other than the like of like.
And when two things are alike, must they not partake of the same idea?
They must.
And will not knowledge—I mean absolute knowledge—answer to absolute truth?
And each kind of absolute knowledge will answer to each kind of absolute being?
But the knowledge which we have, will answer to the truth which we have; and again, each kind of knowledge which we have, will be a knowledge of each kind of being which we have?
But the ideas themselves, as you admit, we have not, and cannot have?
No, we cannot.
And the absolute natures or kinds are known severally by the absolute idea of knowledge?
And we have not got the idea of knowledge?
Then none of the ideas are known to us, because we have no share in absolute knowledge?
I suppose not.
Then the nature of the beautiful in itself, and of the good in itself, and all other ideas which we suppose to exist absolutely, are unknown to us?
It would seem so.
I think that there is a stranger consequence still.
What is it?
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?
And if there be such a thing as participation in absolute knowledge, no one is more likely than God to have this most exact knowledge?
But then, will God, having absolute knowledge, have a knowledge of human things?
Why not?
Because, Socrates, said Parmenides, we have admitted that the ideas are not valid in relation to human things; nor human things in relation to them; the relations of either are limited to their respective spheres.
Yes, that has been admitted.
And if God has this perfect authority, and perfect knowledge, his 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 parity of reason they, being gods, are not our masters, neither do they know the things of men.
Yet, surely, said Socrates, to deprive God of knowledge is monstrous.
These, Socrates, said Parmenides, are a few, and only a few of the difficulties in which we are involved if ideas 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—and even if they do exist, he will say that they must of necessity be unknown to man; and he will seem to have reason on his side, and as we were remarking just now, will be very difficult to convince; a man must be gifted with very considerable ability before he can learn that everything has a class and an absolute essence; and still more remarkable will he be who discovers all these things for himself, and having thoroughly investigated them is able to teach them to others.


Plato. The Dialogues of Plato: Charmides. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg, 2008. Retrieved 2019, from

I think, I said, that I had better begin by asking you a question; for if temperance abides in you, you must have an opinion about her; she must give some intimation of her nature and qualities, which may enable you to form a notion of her. Is not that true?
Yes, he said, that I think is true.
You know your native language, I said, and therefore you must be able to tell what you feel about this.
Certainly, he said.
In order, then, that I may form a conjecture whether you have temperance abiding in you or not, tell me, I said, what, in your opinion, is Temperance?
At first he hesitated, and was very unwilling to answer: then he said that he thought temperance was doing things orderly and quietly, such things for example as walking in the streets, and talking, or anything else of that nature. In a word, he said, I should answer that, in my opinion, temperance is quietness.
Are you right, Charmides? I said. No doubt some would affirm that the quiet are the temperate; but let us see whether these words have any meaning; and first tell me whether you would not acknowledge temperance to be of the class of the noble and good?
But temperance, whose presence makes men only good, and not bad, is always good?
But must the physician necessarily know when his treatment is likely to prove beneficial, and when not? or must the craftsman necessarily know when he is likely to be benefited, and when not to be benefited, by the work which he is doing?
I suppose not.
Then, I said, he may sometimes do good or harm, and not know what he is himself doing, and yet, in doing good, as you say, he has done temperately or wisely. Was not that your statement?
Then, as would seem, in doing good, he may act wisely or temperately, and be wise or temperate, but not know his own wisdom or temperance?
But that, Socrates, he said, is impossible; and therefore if this is, as you imply, the necessary consequence of any of my previous admissions, I will withdraw them, rather than admit that a man can be temperate or wise who does not know himself; and I am not ashamed to confess that I was in error. For self-knowledge would certainly be maintained by me to be the very essence of knowledge, and in this I agree with him who dedicated the inscription, ‘Know thyself!’ at Delphi. That word, if I am not mistaken, is put there as a sort of salutation which the god addresses to those who enter the temple; as much as to say that the ordinary salutation of ‘Hail!’ is not right, and that the exhortation ‘Be temperate!’ would be a far better way of saluting one another. The notion of him who dedicated the inscription was, as I believe, that the god speaks to those who enter his temple, not as men speak; but, when a worshipper enters, the first word which he hears is ‘Be temperate!’ This, however, like a prophet he expresses in a sort of riddle, for ‘Know thyself!’ and ‘Be temperate!’ are the same, as I maintain, and as the letters imply (Greek), and yet they may be easily misunderstood; and succeeding sages who added ‘Never too much,’ or, ‘Give a pledge, and evil is nigh at hand,’ would appear to have so misunderstood them; for they imagined that ‘Know thyself!’ was a piece of advice which the god gave, and not his salutation of the worshippers at their first coming in; and they dedicated their own inscription under the idea that they too would give equally useful pieces of advice. Shall I tell you, Socrates, why I say all this? My object is to leave the previous discussion (in which I know not whether you or I are more right, but, at any rate, no clear result was attained), and to raise a new one in which I will attempt to prove, if you deny, that temperance is self-knowledge.
Yes, I said, Critias; but you come to me as though I professed to know about the questions which I ask, and as though I could, if I only would, agree with you. Whereas the fact is that I enquire with you into the truth of that which is advanced from time to time, just because I do not know; and when I have enquired, I will say whether I agree with you or not. Please then to allow me time to reflect.
Reflect, he said.
I am reflecting, I replied, and discover that temperance, or wisdom, if implying a knowledge of anything, must be a science, and a science of something.
Yes, he said; the science of itself.
Is not medicine, I said, the science of health?
And suppose, I said, that I were asked by you what is the use or effect of medicine, which is this science of health, I should answer that medicine is of very great use in producing health, which, as you will admit, is an excellent effect.
And if you were to ask me, what is the result or effect of architecture, which is the science of building, I should say houses, and so of other arts, which all have their different results. Now I want you, Critias, to answer a similar question about temperance, or wisdom, which, according to you, is the science of itself. Admitting this view, I ask of you, what good work, worthy of the name wise, does temperance or wisdom, which is the science of itself, effect? Answer me.
That is not the true way of pursuing the enquiry, Socrates, he said; for wisdom is not like the other sciences, any more than they are like one another: but you proceed as if they were alike. For tell me, he said, what result is there of computation or geometry, in the same sense as a house is the result of building, or a garment of weaving, or any other work of any other art? Can you show me any such result of them? You cannot.
Tell me, then, I said, what you mean to affirm about wisdom.
I mean to say that wisdom is the only science which is the science of itself as well as of the other sciences.
But the science of science, I said, will also be the science of the absence of science.
Very true, he said.
Then the wise or temperate man, and he only, will know himself, and be able to examine what he knows or does not know, and to see what others know and think that they know and do really know; and what they do not know, and fancy that they know, when they do not. No other person will be able to do this. And this is wisdom and temperance and self-knowledge—for a man to know what he knows, and what he does not know. That is your meaning?
Yes, he said.
Now then, I said, making an offering of the third or last argument to Zeus the Saviour, let us begin again, and ask, in the first place, whether it is or is not possible for a person to know that he knows and does not know what he knows and does not know; and in the second place, whether, if perfectly possible, such knowledge is of any use.
That is what we have to consider, he said.
And here, Critias, I said, I hope that you will find a way out of a difficulty into which I have got myself. Shall I tell you the nature of the difficulty?
By all means, he replied.
Does not what you have been saying, if true, amount to this: that there must be a single science which is wholly a science of itself and of other sciences, and that the same is also the science of the absence of science?
But consider how monstrous this proposition is, my friend: in any parallel case, the impossibility will be transparent to you.
How is that? and in what cases do you mean?
In such cases as this: Suppose that there is a kind of vision which is not like ordinary vision, but a vision of itself and of other sorts of vision, and of the defect of them, which in seeing sees no colour, but only itself and other sorts of vision: Do you think that there is such a kind of vision?
Certainly not.
Or is there a kind of hearing which hears no sound at all, but only itself and other sorts of hearing, or the defects of them?
There is not.
Or take all the senses: can you imagine that there is any sense of itself and of other senses, but which is incapable of perceiving the objects of the senses?
I think not.
Could there be any desire which is not the desire of any pleasure, but of itself, and of all other desires?
Certainly not.
Or can you imagine a wish which wishes for no good, but only for itself and all other wishes?
I should answer, No.
Or would you say that there is a love which is not the love of beauty, but of itself and of other loves?
I should not.
Or did you ever know of a fear which fears itself or other fears, but has no object of fear?
I never did, he said.
Or of an opinion which is an opinion of itself and of other opinions, and which has no opinion on the subjects of opinion in general?
Certainly not.
But surely we are assuming a science of this kind, which, having no subject-matter, is a science of itself and of the other sciences?
Yes, that is what is affirmed.
But how strange is this, if it be indeed true: we must not however as yet absolutely deny the possibility of such a science; let us rather consider the matter.
You are quite right.
Well then, this science of which we are speaking is a science of something, and is of a nature to be a science of something?
Just as that which is greater is of a nature to be greater than something else? (Socrates is intending to show that science differs from the object of science, as any other relative differs from the object of relation. But where there is comparison—greater, less, heavier, lighter, and the like—a relation to self as well as to other things involves an absolute contradiction; and in other cases, as in the case of the senses, is hardly conceivable. The use of the genitive after the comparative in Greek, (Greek), creates an unavoidable obscurity in the translation.)
And that which is greater than itself will also be less, and that which is heavier will also be lighter, and that which is older will also be younger: and the same of other things; that which has a nature relative to self will retain also the nature of its object: I mean to say, for example, that hearing is, as we say, of sound or voice. Is that true?
Then if hearing hears itself, it must hear a voice; for there is no other way of hearing.
And if a man knows only, and has only knowledge of knowledge, and has no further knowledge of health and justice, the probability is that he will only know that he knows something, and has a certain knowledge, whether concerning himself or other men.
Then how will this knowledge or science teach him to know what he knows? Say that he knows health;—not wisdom or temperance, but the art of medicine has taught it to him;—and he has learned harmony from the art of music, and building from the art of building,—neither, from wisdom or temperance: and the same of other things.
That is evident.
How will wisdom, regarded only as a knowledge of knowledge or science of science, ever teach him that he knows health, or that he knows building?
It is impossible.
Then he who is ignorant of these things will only know that he knows, but not what he knows?
Then wisdom or being wise appears to be not the knowledge of the things which we do or do not know, but only the knowledge that we know or do not know?
That is the inference.
Hear, then, I said, my own dream; whether coming through the horn or the ivory gate, I cannot tell. The dream is this: Let us suppose that wisdom is such as we are now defining, and that she has absolute sway over us; then each action will be done according to the arts or sciences, and no one professing to be a pilot when he is not, or any physician or general, or any one else pretending to know matters of which he is ignorant, will deceive or elude us; our health will be improved; our safety at sea, and also in battle, will be assured; our coats and shoes, and all other instruments and implements will be skilfully made, because the workmen will be good and true. Aye, and if you please, you may suppose that prophecy, which is the knowledge of the future, will be under the control of wisdom, and that she will deter deceivers and set up the true prophets in their place as the revealers of the future. Now I quite agree that mankind, thus provided, would live and act according to knowledge, for wisdom would watch and prevent ignorance from intruding on us. But whether by acting according to knowledge we shall act well and be happy, my dear Critias,—this is a point which we have not yet been able to determine.
Yet I think, he replied, that if you discard knowledge, you will hardly find the crown of happiness in anything else.
But of what is this knowledge? I said. Just answer me that small question. Do you mean a knowledge of shoemaking?
God forbid.
Or of working in brass?
Certainly not.
Or in wool, or wood, or anything of that sort?
No, I do not.
Then, I said, we are giving up the doctrine that he who lives according to knowledge is happy, for these live according to knowledge, and yet they are not allowed by you to be happy; but I think that you mean to confine happiness to particular individuals who live according to knowledge, such for example as the prophet, who, as I was saying, knows the future. Is it of him you are speaking or of some one else?
Yes, I mean him, but there are others as well.
Yes, I said, some one who knows the past and present as well as the future, and is ignorant of nothing. Let us suppose that there is such a person, and if there is, you will allow that he is the most knowing of all living men.


Plato. Statesman. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg, 2008. Retrieved 2019, from

STRANGER: Then let us divide sciences in general into those which are practical and those which are purely intellectual.
YOUNG SOCRATES: Let us assume these two divisions of science, which is one whole.
STRANGER: And are ‘statesman,’ ‘king,’ ‘master,’ or ‘householder,’ one and the same; or is there a science or art answering to each of these names? Or rather, allow me to put the matter in another way.
YOUNG SOCRATES: Let me hear.
STRANGER: If any one who is in a private station has the skill to advise one of the public physicians, must not he also be called a physician?
STRANGER: And if any one who is in a private station is able to advise the ruler of a country, may not he be said to have the knowledge which the ruler himself ought to have?
STRANGER: But surely the science of a true king is royal science?
STRANGER: And will not he who possesses this knowledge, whether he happens to be a ruler or a private man, when regarded only in reference to his art, be truly called ‘royal’?
YOUNG SOCRATES: He certainly ought to be.
STRANGER: And the householder and master are the same?
STRANGER: Again, a large household may be compared to a small state:—will they differ at all, as far as government is concerned?
YOUNG SOCRATES: They will not.
STRANGER: Then, returning to the point which we were just now discussing, do we not clearly see that there is one science of all of them; and this science may be called either royal or political or economical; we will not quarrel with any one about the name.
YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly not.
STRANGER: This too, is evident, that the king cannot do much with his hands, or with his whole body, towards the maintenance of his empire, compared with what he does by the intelligence and strength of his mind.
YOUNG SOCRATES: Clearly not.
STRANGER: Then, shall we say that the king has a greater affinity to knowledge than to manual arts and to practical life in general?
YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly he has.
STRANGER: Then we may put all together as one and the same—statesmanship and the statesman—the kingly science and the king.
STRANGER: And now we shall only be proceeding in due order if we go on to divide the sphere of knowledge?
STRANGER: Think whether you can find any joint or parting in knowledge.
YOUNG SOCRATES: Tell me of what sort.
STRANGER: Such as this: You may remember that we made an art of calculation?
STRANGER: Which was, unmistakeably, one of the arts of knowledge?
STRANGER: And to this art of calculation which discerns the differences of numbers shall we assign any other function except to pass judgment on their differences?
YOUNG SOCRATES: How could we?
STRANGER: You know that the master-builder does not work himself, but is the ruler of workmen?
STRANGER: He contributes knowledge, not manual labour?
STRANGER: And may therefore be justly said to share in theoretical science?
STRANGER: But he ought not, like the calculator, to regard his functions as at an end when he has formed a judgment;—he must assign to the individual workmen their appropriate task until they have completed the work.
STRANGER: Are not all such sciences, no less than arithmetic and the like, subjects of pure knowledge; and is not the difference between the two classes, that the one sort has the power of judging only, and the other of ruling as well?
YOUNG SOCRATES: That is evident.
STRANGER: May we not very properly say, that of all knowledge, there are two divisions—one which rules, and the other which judges?
YOUNG SOCRATES: I should think so.
STRANGER: And when men have anything to do in common, that they should be of one mind is surely a desirable thing?
STRANGER: Then while we are at unity among ourselves, we need not mind about the fancies of others?
YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly not.
STRANGER: And now, in which of these divisions shall we place the king?—Is he a judge and a kind of spectator? Or shall we assign to him the art of command—for he is a ruler?
YOUNG SOCRATES: The latter, clearly.
STRANGER: Then we must see whether there is any mark of division in the art of command too. I am inclined to think that there is a distinction similar to that of manufacturer and retail dealer, which parts off the king from the herald.
YOUNG SOCRATES: How is this?
STRANGER: Why, does not the retailer receive and sell over again the productions of others, which have been sold before?
YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly he does.
STRANGER: And is not the herald under command, and does he not receive orders, and in his turn give them to others?
STRANGER: Then shall we mingle the kingly art in the same class with the art of the herald, the interpreter, the boatswain, the prophet, and the numerous kindred arts which exercise command; or, as in the preceding comparison we spoke of manufacturers, or sellers for themselves, and of retailers,—seeing, too, that the class of supreme rulers, or rulers for themselves, is almost nameless—shall we make a word following the same analogy, and refer kings to a supreme or ruling-for-self science, leaving the rest to receive a name from some one else? For we are seeking the ruler; and our enquiry is not concerned with him who is not a ruler.
STRANGER: Thus a very fair distinction has been attained between the man who gives his own commands, and him who gives another’s. And now let us see if the supreme power allows of any further division.
STRANGER: Why, because only the most divine things of all remain ever unchanged and the same, and body is not included in this class. Heaven and the universe, as we have termed them, although they have been endowed by the Creator with many glories, partake of a bodily nature, and therefore cannot be entirely free from perturbation. But their motion is, as far as possible, single and in the same place, and of the same kind; and is therefore only subject to a reversal, which is the least alteration possible. For the lord of all moving things is alone able to move of himself; and to think that he moves them at one time in one direction and at another time in another is blasphemy. Hence we must not say that the world is either self-moved always, or all made to go round by God in two opposite courses; or that two Gods, having opposite purposes, make it move round. But as I have already said (and this is the only remaining alternative) the world is guided at one time by an external power which is divine and receives fresh life and immortality from the renewing hand of the Creator, and again, when let go, moves spontaneously, being set free at such a time as to have, during infinite cycles of years, a reverse movement: this is due to its perfect balance, to its vast size, and to the fact that it turns on the smallest pivot.
STRANGER: I see that you enter into my meaning;—no, that blessed and spontaneous life does not belong to the present cycle of the world, but to the previous one, in which God superintended the whole revolution of the universe; and the several parts the universe were distributed under the rule of certain inferior deities, as is the way in some places still. There were demigods, who were the shepherds of the various species and herds of animals, and each one was in all respects sufficient for those of whom he was the shepherd; neither was there any violence, or devouring of one another, or war or quarrel among them; and I might tell of ten thousand other blessings, which belonged to that dispensation. The reason why the life of man was, as tradition says, spontaneous, is as follows: In those days God himself was their shepherd, and ruled over them, just as man, who is by comparison a divine being, still rules over the lower animals. Under him there were no forms of government or separate possession of women and children; for all men rose again from the earth, having no memory of the past. And although they had nothing of this sort, the earth gave them fruits in abundance, which grew on trees and shrubs unbidden, and were not planted by the hand of man. And they dwelt naked, and mostly in the open air, for the temperature of their seasons was mild; and they had no beds, but lay on soft couches of grass, which grew plentifully out of the earth. Such was the life of man in the days of Cronos, Socrates; the character of our present life, which is said to be under Zeus, you know from your own experience. Can you, and will you, determine which of them you deem the happier?
STRANGER: There is also the priestly class, who, as the law declares, know how to give the gods gifts from men in the form of sacrifices which are acceptable to them, and to ask on our behalf blessings in return from them. Now both these are branches of the servile or ministerial art.
STRANGER: And these, whether they rule with the will, or against the will, of their subjects, with written laws or without written laws, and whether they are poor or rich, and whatever be the nature of their rule, must be supposed, according to our present view, to rule on some scientific principle; just as the physician, whether he cures us against our will or with our will, and whatever be his mode of treatment,—incision, burning, or the infliction of some other pain,—whether he practises out of a book or not out of a book, and whether he be rich or poor, whether he purges or reduces in some other way, or even fattens his patients, is a physician all the same, so long as he exercises authority over them according to rules of art, if he only does them good and heals and saves them. And this we lay down to be the only proper test of the art of medicine, or of any other art of command.
STRANGER: And shall we say that the violence, if exercised by a rich man, is just, and if by a poor man, unjust? May not any man, rich or poor, with or without laws, with the will of the citizens or against the will of the citizens, do what is for their interest? Is not this the true principle of government, according to which the wise and good man will order the affairs of his subjects? As the pilot, by watching continually over the interests of the ship and of the crew,—not by laying down rules, but by making his art a law,—preserves the lives of his fellow-sailors, even so, and in the self-same way, may there not be a true form of polity created by those who are able to govern in a similar spirit, and who show a strength of art which is superior to the law? Nor can wise rulers ever err while they observing the one great rule of distributing justice to the citizens with intelligence and skill, are able to preserve them, and, as far as may be, to make them better from being worse.
STRANGER: I must again have recourse to my favourite images; through them, and them alone, can I describe kings and rulers.
YOUNG SOCRATES: What images?
STRANGER: The noble pilot and the wise physician, who ‘is worth many another man’—in the similitude of these let us endeavour to discover some image of the king.
YOUNG SOCRATES: What sort of an image?
STRANGER: Well, such as this:—Every man will reflect that he suffers strange things at the hands of both of them; the physician saves any whom he wishes to save, and any whom he wishes to maltreat he maltreats—cutting or burning them….
STRANGER: Yet once more, we shall have to enact that if any one is detected enquiring into piloting and navigation, or into health and the true nature of medicine, or about the winds, or other conditions of the atmosphere, contrary to the written rules, and has any ingenious notions about such matters, he is not to be called a pilot or physician, but a cloudy prating sophist;—further, on the ground that he is a corrupter of the young, who would persuade them to follow the art of medicine or piloting in an unlawful manner, and to exercise an arbitrary rule over their patients or ships, any one who is qualified by law may inform against him, and indict him in some court, and then if he is found to be persuading any, whether young or old, to act contrary to the written law, he is to be punished with the utmost rigour; for no one should presume to be wiser than the laws; and as touching healing and health and piloting and navigation, the nature of them is known to all, for anybody may learn the written laws and the national customs. If such were the mode of procedure, Socrates, about these sciences and about generalship, and any branch of hunting, or about painting or imitation in general, or carpentry, or any sort of handicraft, or husbandry, or planting, or if we were to see an art of rearing horses, or tending herds, or divination, or any ministerial service, or draught-playing, or any science conversant with number, whether simple or square or cube, or comprising motion,—I say, if all these things were done in this way according to written regulations, and not according to art, what would be the result?
YOUNG SOCRATES: All the arts would utterly perish, and could never be recovered, because enquiry would be unlawful. And human life, which is bad enough already, would then become utterly unendurable.
STRANGER: But what, if while compelling all these operations to be regulated by written law, we were to appoint as the guardian of the laws some one elected by a show of hands, or by lot, and he caring nothing about the laws, were to act contrary to them from motives of interest or favour, and without knowledge,—would not this be a still worse evil than the former?
STRANGER: To go against the laws, which are based upon long experience, and the wisdom of counsellors who have graciously recommended them and persuaded the multitude to pass them, would be a far greater and more ruinous error than any adherence to written law?
STRANGER: Therefore, as there is a danger of this, the next best thing in legislating is not to allow either the individual or the multitude to break the law in any respect whatever.
STRANGER: The laws would be copies of the true particulars of action as far as they admit of being written down from the lips of those who have knowledge?
YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly they would.
STRANGER: And, as we were saying, he who has knowledge and is a true Statesman, will do many things within his own sphere of action by his art without regard to the laws, when he is of opinion that something other than that which he has written down and enjoined to be observed during his absence would be better.
YOUNG SOCRATES: Yes, we said so.
STRANGER: And any individual or any number of men, having fixed laws, in acting contrary to them with a view to something better, would only be acting, as far as they are able, like the true Statesman?
STRANGER: If they had no knowledge of what they were doing, they would imitate the truth, and they would always imitate ill; but if they had knowledge, the imitation would be the perfect truth, and an imitation no longer.
STRANGER: Let us consider a further point.
STRANGER: I want to know, whether any constructive art will make any, even the most trivial thing, out of bad and good materials indifferently, if this can be helped? does not all art rather reject the bad as far as possible, and accept the good and fit materials, and from these elements, whether like or unlike, gathering them all into one, work out some nature or idea?
YOUNG SOCRATES: To, be sure.
STRANGER: Then the true and natural art of statesmanship will never allow any State to be formed by a combination of good and bad men, if this can be avoided; but will begin by testing human natures in play, and after testing them, will entrust them to proper teachers who are the ministers of her purposes—she will herself give orders, and maintain authority; just as the art of weaving continually gives orders and maintains authority over the carders and all the others who prepare the material for the work, commanding the subsidiary arts to execute the works which she deems necessary for making the web.
STRANGER: The rest of the citizens, out of whom, if they have education, something noble may be made, and who are capable of being united by the statesman, the kingly art blends and weaves together; taking on the one hand those whose natures tend rather to courage, which is the stronger element and may be regarded as the warp, and on the other hand those which incline to order and gentleness, and which are represented in the figure as spun thick and soft, after the manner of the woof—these, which are naturally opposed, she seeks to bind and weave together in the following manner:
YOUNG SOCRATES: In what manner?
STRANGER: First of all, she takes the eternal element of the soul and binds it with a divine cord, to which it is akin, and then the animal nature, and binds that with human cords.
YOUNG SOCRATES: I do not understand what you mean.
STRANGER: The meaning is, that the opinion about the honourable and the just and good and their opposites, which is true and confirmed by reason, is a divine principle, and when implanted in the soul, is implanted, as I maintain, in a nature of heavenly birth.
YOUNG SOCRATES: Yes; what else should it be?
STRANGER: Only the Statesman and the good legislator, having the inspiration of the royal muse, can implant this opinion, and he, only in the rightly educated, whom we were just now describing.
YOUNG SOCRATES: Likely enough.
STRANGER: But him who cannot, we will not designate by any of the names which are the subject of the present enquiry.
STRANGER: The courageous soul when attaining this truth becomes civilized, and rendered more capable of partaking of justice; but when not partaking, is inclined to brutality. Is not that true?
STRANGER: And again, the peaceful and orderly nature, if sharing in these opinions, becomes temperate and wise, as far as this may be in a State, but if not, deservedly obtains the ignominious name of silliness.
STRANGER: It was of these bonds I said that there would be no difficulty in creating them, if only both classes originally held the same opinion about the honourable and good;—indeed, in this single work, the whole process of royal weaving is comprised—never to allow temperate natures to be separated from the brave, but to weave them together, like the warp and the woof, by common sentiments and honours and reputation, and by the giving of pledges to one another; and out of them forming one smooth and even web, to entrust to them the offices of State.
YOUNG SOCRATES: How do you mean?
STRANGER: Where one officer only is needed, you must choose a ruler who has both these qualities—when many, you must mingle some of each, for the temperate ruler is very careful and just and safe, but is wanting in thoroughness and go.
YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly, that is very true.
STRANGER: The character of the courageous, on the other hand, falls short of the former in justice and caution, but has the power of action in a remarkable degree, and where either of these two qualities is wanting, there cities cannot altogether prosper either in their public or private life.
YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly they cannot.
STRANGER: This then we declare to be the completion of the web of political action, which is created by a direct intertexture of the brave and temperate natures, whenever the royal science has drawn the two minds into communion with one another by unanimity and friendship, and having perfected the noblest and best of all the webs which political life admits, and enfolding therein all other inhabitants of cities, whether slaves or freemen, binds them in one fabric and governs and presides over them, and, in so far as to be happy is vouchsafed to a city, in no particular fails to secure their happiness.
YOUNG SOCRATES: Your picture, Stranger, of the king and statesman, no less than of the Sophist, is quite perfect.


Plato. Cratylus. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg, 2008. Retrieved 2019, from

HERMOGENES: I should explain to you, Socrates, that our friend Cratylus has been arguing about names; he says that they are natural and not conventional; not a portion of the human voice which men agree to use; but that there is a truth or correctness in them, which is the same for Hellenes as for barbarians. Whereupon I ask him, whether his own name of Cratylus is a true name or not, and he answers ‘Yes.’ And Socrates? ‘Yes.’ Then every man’s name, as I tell him, is that which he is called. To this he replies—’If all the world were to call you Hermogenes, that would not be your name.’ And when I am anxious to have a further explanation he is ironical and mysterious, and seems to imply that he has a notion of his own about the matter, if he would only tell, and could entirely convince me, if he chose to be intelligible. Tell me, Socrates, what this oracle means; or rather tell me, if you will be so good, what is your own view of the truth or correctness of names, which I would far sooner hear.
SOCRATES: Son of Hipponicus, there is an ancient saying, that ‘hard is the knowledge of the good.’ And the knowledge of names is a great part of knowledge. If I had not been poor, I might have heard the fifty-drachma course of the great Prodicus, which is a complete education in grammar and language—these are his own words—and then I should have been at once able to answer your question about the correctness of names. But, indeed, I have only heard the single-drachma course, and therefore, I do not know the truth about such matters; I will, however, gladly assist you and Cratylus in the investigation of them. When he declares that your name is not really Hermogenes, I suspect that he is only making fun of you;—he means to say that you are no true son of Hermes, because you are always looking after a fortune and never in luck. But, as I was saying, there is a good deal of difficulty in this sort of knowledge, and therefore we had better leave the question open until we have heard both sides.
HERMOGENES: I have often talked over this matter, both with Cratylus and others, and cannot convince myself that there is any principle of correctness in names other than convention and agreement; any name which you give, in my opinion, is the right one, and if you change that and give another, the new name is as correct as the old—we frequently change the names of our slaves, and the newly-imposed name is as good as the old: for there is no name given to anything by nature; all is convention and habit of the users;—such is my view. But if I am mistaken I shall be happy to hear and learn of Cratylus, or of any one else.
SOCRATES: I dare say that you may be right, Hermogenes: let us see;—Your meaning is, that the name of each thing is only that which anybody agrees to call it?
HERMOGENES: That is my notion.
SOCRATES: Whether the giver of the name be an individual or a city?
SOCRATES: Well, now, let me take an instance;—suppose that I call a man a horse or a horse a man, you mean to say that a man will be rightly called a horse by me individually, and rightly called a man by the rest of the world; and a horse again would be rightly called a man by me and a horse by the world:—that is your meaning?
HERMOGENES: He would, according to my view.
SOCRATES: But how about truth, then? you would acknowledge that there is in words a true and a false?
HERMOGENES: Certainly.
SOCRATES: And there are true and false propositions?
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: And a true proposition says that which is, and a false proposition says that which is not?
HERMOGENES: Yes; what other answer is possible?
SOCRATES: Then in a proposition there is a true and false?
HERMOGENES: Certainly.
SOCRATES: But is a proposition true as a whole only, and are the parts untrue?
HERMOGENES: No; the parts are true as well as the whole.
SOCRATES: Would you say the large parts and not the smaller ones, or every part?
HERMOGENES: I should say that every part is true.
SOCRATES: Is a proposition resolvable into any part smaller than a name?
HERMOGENES: No; that is the smallest.
SOCRATES: Then the name is a part of the true proposition?
SOCRATES: Yes, and a true part, as you say.
SOCRATES: And is not the part of a falsehood also a falsehood?
SOCRATES: Then, if propositions may be true and false, names may be true and false?
HERMOGENES: So we must infer.
SOCRATES: And the name of anything is that which any one affirms to be the name?
SOCRATES: And will there be so many names of each thing as everybody says that there are? and will they be true names at the time of uttering them?
HERMOGENES: Yes, Socrates, I can conceive no correctness of names other than this; you give one name, and I another; and in different cities and countries there are different names for the same things; Hellenes differ from barbarians in their use of names, and the several Hellenic tribes from one another.
SOCRATES: But would you say, Hermogenes, that the things differ as the names differ? and are they relative to individuals, as Protagoras tells us? For he says that man is the measure of all things, and that things are to me as they appear to me, and that they are to you as they appear to you. Do you agree with him, or would you say that things have a permanent essence of their own?
SOCRATES: But if neither is right, and things are not relative to individuals, and all things do not equally belong to all at the same moment and always, they must be supposed to have their own proper and permanent essence: they are not in relation to us, or influenced by us, fluctuating according to our fancy, but they are independent, and maintain to their own essence the relation prescribed by nature.
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that you have said the truth.
SOCRATES: Does what I am saying apply only to the things themselves, or equally to the actions which proceed from them? Are not actions also a class of being?
HERMOGENES: Yes, the actions are real as well as the things.
SOCRATES: Then the actions also are done according to their proper nature, and not according to our opinion of them? In cutting, for example, we do not cut as we please, and with any chance instrument; but we cut with the proper instrument only, and according to the natural process of cutting; and the natural process is right and will succeed, but any other will fail and be of no use at all.
HERMOGENES: I should say that the natural way is the right way.
SOCRATES: Again, in burning, not every way is the right way; but the right way is the natural way, and the right instrument the natural instrument.
SOCRATES: And this holds good of all actions?
SOCRATES: And speech is a kind of action?
SOCRATES: And will a man speak correctly who speaks as he pleases? Will not the successful speaker rather be he who speaks in the natural way of speaking, and as things ought to be spoken, and with the natural instrument? Any other mode of speaking will result in error and failure.
HERMOGENES: I quite agree with you.
SOCRATES: And is not naming a part of speaking? for in giving names men speak.
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: And if speaking is a sort of action and has a relation to acts, is not naming also a sort of action?
SOCRATES: And we saw that actions were not relative to ourselves, but had a special nature of their own?
HERMOGENES: Precisely.
SOCRATES: Then the argument would lead us to infer that names ought to be given according to a natural process, and with a proper instrument, and not at our pleasure: in this and no other way shall we name with success.
SOCRATES: But again, that which has to be cut has to be cut with something?
SOCRATES: And that which has to be woven or pierced has to be woven or pierced with something?
HERMOGENES: Certainly.
SOCRATES: And that which has to be named has to be named with something?
SOCRATES: What is that with which we pierce?
SOCRATES: And with which we weave?
HERMOGENES: A shuttle.
SOCRATES: And with which we name?
SOCRATES: Very good: then a name is an instrument?
HERMOGENES: Certainly.
SOCRATES: Suppose that I ask, ‘What sort of instrument is a shuttle?’ And you answer, ‘A weaving instrument.’
SOCRATES: And I ask again, ‘What do we do when we weave?’—The answer is, that we separate or disengage the warp from the woof.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And may not a similar description be given of an awl, and of instruments in general?
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: And now suppose that I ask a similar question about names: will you answer me? Regarding the name as an instrument, what do we do when we name?
HERMOGENES: I cannot say.
SOCRATES: Do we not give information to one another, and distinguish things according to their natures?
HERMOGENES: Certainly we do.
SOCRATES: Then a name is an instrument of teaching and of distinguishing natures, as the shuttle is of distinguishing the threads of the web.
SOCRATES: And the shuttle is the instrument of the weaver?
HERMOGENES: Assuredly.
SOCRATES: Then the weaver will use the shuttle well—and well means like a weaver? and the teacher will use the name well—and well means like a teacher?
SOCRATES: And the same holds of other instruments: when a man has discovered the instrument which is naturally adapted to each work, he must express this natural form, and not others which he fancies, in the material, whatever it may be, which he employs; for example, he ought to know how to put into iron the forms of awls adapted by nature to their several uses?
HERMOGENES: Certainly.
SOCRATES: And how to put into wood forms of shuttles adapted by nature to their uses?
SOCRATES: For the several forms of shuttles naturally answer to the several kinds of webs; and this is true of instruments in general.
SOCRATES: Then, as to names: ought not our legislator also to know how to put the true natural name of each thing into sounds and syllables, and to make and give all names with a view to the ideal name, if he is to be a namer in any true sense? And we must remember that different legislators will not use the same syllables. For neither does every smith, although he may be making the same instrument for the same purpose, make them all of the same iron. The form must be the same, but the material may vary, and still the instrument may be equally good of whatever iron made, whether in Hellas or in a foreign country;—there is no difference.
SOCRATES: The name appears to me to be very nearly the same as the name of Astyanax—both are Hellenic; and a king (anax) and a holder (ektor) have nearly the same meaning, and are both descriptive of a king; for a man is clearly the holder of that of which he is king; he rules, and owns, and holds it. But, perhaps, you may think that I am talking nonsense; and indeed I believe that I myself did not know what I meant when I imagined that I had found some indication of the opinion of Homer about the correctness of names.
HERMOGENES: I assure you that I think otherwise, and I believe you to be on the right track.
SOCRATES: There is reason, I think, in calling the lion’s whelp a lion, and the foal of a horse a horse; I am speaking only of the ordinary course of nature, when an animal produces after his kind, and not of extraordinary births;—if contrary to nature a horse have a calf, then I should not call that a foal but a calf; nor do I call any inhuman birth a man, but only a natural birth. And the same may be said of trees and other things. Do you agree with me?
HERMOGENES: Yes, I agree.
SOCRATES: Very good. But you had better watch me and see that I do not play tricks with you. For on the same principle the son of a king is to be called a king. And whether the syllables of the name are the same or not the same, makes no difference, provided the meaning is retained; nor does the addition or subtraction of a letter make any difference so long as the essence of the thing remains in possession of the name and appears in it.
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: A very simple matter. I may illustrate my meaning by the names of letters, which you know are not the same as the letters themselves with the exception of the four epsilon, upsilon, omicron, omega; the names of the rest, whether vowels or consonants, are made up of other letters which we add to them; but so long as we introduce the meaning, and there can be no mistake, the name of the letter is quite correct. Take, for example, the letter beta—the addition of eta, tau, alpha, gives no offence, and does not prevent the whole name from having the value which the legislator intended—so well did he know how to give the letters names.
HERMOGENES: I believe you are right.
SOCRATES: And may not the same be said of a king? a king will often be the son of a king, the good son or the noble son of a good or noble sire; and similarly the offspring of every kind, in the regular course of nature, is like the parent, and therefore has the same name. Yet the syllables may be disguised until they appear different to the ignorant person, and he may not recognize them, although they are the same, just as any one of us would not recognize the same drugs under different disguises of colour and smell, although to the physician, who regards the power of them, they are the same, and he is not put out by the addition; and in like manner the etymologist is not put out by the addition or transposition or subtraction of a letter or two, or indeed by the change of all the letters, for this need not interfere with the meaning. As was just now said, the names of Hector and Astyanax have only one letter alike, which is tau, and yet they have the same meaning. And how little in common with the letters of their names has Archepolis (ruler of the city)—and yet the meaning is the same. And there are many other names which just mean ‘king.’ Again, there are several names for a general, as, for example, Agis (leader) and Polemarchus (chief in war) and Eupolemus (good warrior); and others which denote a physician, as Iatrocles (famous healer) and Acesimbrotus (curer of mortals); and there are many others which might be cited, differing in their syllables and letters, but having the same meaning. Would you not say so?
SOCRATES: Many terrible misfortunes are said to have happened to him in his life—last of all, came the utter ruin of his country; and after his death he had the stone suspended (talanteia) over his head in the world below—all this agrees wonderfully well with his name. You might imagine that some person who wanted to call him Talantatos (the most weighted down by misfortune), disguised the name by altering it into Tantalus; and into this form, by some accident of tradition, it has actually been transmuted. The name of Zeus, who is his alleged father, has also an excellent meaning, although hard to be understood, because really like a sentence, which is divided into two parts, for some call him Zena, and use the one half, and others who use the other half call him Dia; the two together signify the nature of the God, and the business of a name, as we were saying, is to express the nature. For there is none who is more the author of life to us and to all, than the lord and king of all. Wherefore we are right in calling him Zena and Dia, which are one name, although divided, meaning the God through whom all creatures always have life (di on zen aei pasi tois zosin uparchei).
HERMOGENES: I will take that which appears to me to follow next in order. You know the distinction of soul and body?
SOCRATES: Of course.
HERMOGENES: Let us endeavour to analyze them like the previous words.
SOCRATES: You want me first of all to examine the natural fitness of the word psuche (soul), and then of the word soma (body)?
SOCRATES: If I am to say what occurs to me at the moment, I should imagine that those who first used the name psuche meant to express that the soul when in the body is the source of life, and gives the power of breath and revival (anapsuchon), and when this reviving power fails then the body perishes and dies, and this, if I am not mistaken, they called psyche. But please stay a moment; I fancy that I can discover something which will be more acceptable to the disciples of Euthyphro, for I am afraid that they will scorn this explanation. What do you say to another?
HERMOGENES: Let me hear.
SOCRATES: What is that which holds and carries and gives life and motion to the entire nature of the body? What else but the soul?
HERMOGENES: Just that.
SOCRATES: And do you not believe with Anaxagoras, that mind or soul is the ordering and containing principle of all things?
SOCRATES: Then you may well call that power phuseche which carries and holds nature (e phusin okei, kai ekei), and this may be refined away into psuche.
HERMOGENES: Certainly; and this derivation is, I think, more scientific than the other.
SOCRATES: It is so; but I cannot help laughing, if I am to suppose that this was the true meaning of the name.
HERMOGENES: But what shall we say of the next word?
SOCRATES: You mean soma (the body).
SOCRATES: That may be variously interpreted; and yet more variously if a little permutation is allowed. For some say that the body is the grave (sema) of the soul which may be thought to be buried in our present life; or again the index of the soul, because the soul gives indications to (semainei) the body; probably the Orphic poets were the inventors of the name, and they were under the impression that the soul is suffering the punishment of sin, and that the body is an enclosure or prison in which the soul is incarcerated, kept safe (soma, sozetai), as the name soma implies, until the penalty is paid; according to this view, not even a letter of the word need be changed.
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that we have said enough of this class of words. But have we any more explanations of the names of the Gods, like that which you were giving of Zeus? I should like to know whether any similar principle of correctness is to be applied to them.
SOCRATES: Yes, indeed, Hermogenes; and there is one excellent principle which, as men of sense, we must acknowledge,—that of the Gods we know nothing, either of their natures or of the names which they give themselves; but we are sure that the names by which they call themselves, whatever they may be, are true. And this is the best of all principles; and the next best is to say, as in prayers, that we will call them by any sort or kind of names or patronymics which they like, because we do not know of any other. That also, I think, is a very good custom, and one which I should much wish to observe. Let us, then, if you please, in the first place announce to them that we are not enquiring about them; we do not presume that we are able to do so; but we are enquiring about the meaning of men in giving them these names,—in this there can be small blame.

SOCRATES: There is also reason, my friend, in Pan being the double-formed son of Hermes.
HERMOGENES: How do you make that out?
SOCRATES: You are aware that speech signifies all things (pan), and is always turning them round and round, and has two forms, true and false?
HERMOGENES: Certainly.
SOCRATES: Is not the truth that is in him the smooth or sacred form which dwells above among the Gods, whereas falsehood dwells among men below, and is rough like the goat of tragedy; for tales and falsehoods have generally to do with the tragic or goatish life, and tragedy is the place of them?
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: Then surely Pan, who is the declarer of all things (pan) and the perpetual mover (aei polon) of all things, is rightly called aipolos (goat-herd), he being the two-formed son of Hermes, smooth in his upper part, and rough and goatlike in his lower regions. And, as the son of Hermes, he is speech or the brother of speech, and that brother should be like brother is no marvel. But, as I was saying, my dear Hermogenes, let us get away from the Gods.
HERMOGENES: From these sort of Gods, by all means, Socrates. But why should we not discuss another kind of Gods—the sun, moon, stars, earth, aether, air, fire, water, the seasons, and the year?
SOCRATES: Take the first of those which you mentioned; clearly that is a name indicative of motion.
HERMOGENES: What was the name?
SOCRATES: Phronesis (wisdom), which may signify phoras kai rhou noesis (perception of motion and flux), or perhaps phoras onesis (the blessing of motion), but is at any rate connected with pheresthai (motion); gnome (judgment), again, certainly implies the ponderation or consideration (nomesis) of generation, for to ponder is the same as to consider; or, if you would rather, here is noesis, the very word just now mentioned, which is neou esis (the desire of the new); the word neos implies that the world is always in process of creation. The giver of the name wanted to express this longing of the soul, for the original name was neoesis, and not noesis; but eta took the place of a double epsilon. The word sophrosune is the salvation (soteria) of that wisdom (phronesis) which we were just now considering. Epioteme (knowledge) is akin to this, and indicates that the soul which is good for anything follows (epetai) the motion of things, neither anticipating them nor falling behind them; wherefore the word should rather be read as epistemene, inserting epsilon nu. Sunesis (understanding) may be regarded in like manner as a kind of conclusion; the word is derived from sunienai (to go along with), and, like epistasthai (to know), implies the progression of the soul in company with the nature of things. Sophia (wisdom) is very dark, and appears not to be of native growth; the meaning is, touching the motion or stream of things. You must remember that the poets, when they speak of the commencement of any rapid motion, often use the word esuthe (he rushed); and there was a famous Lacedaemonian who was named Sous (Rush), for by this word the Lacedaemonians signify rapid motion, and the touching (epaphe) of motion is expressed by sophia, for all things are supposed to be in motion. Good (agathon) is the name which is given to the admirable (agasto) in nature; for, although all things move, still there are degrees of motion; some are swifter, some slower; but there are some things which are admirable for their swiftness, and this admirable part of nature is called agathon. Dikaiosune (justice) is clearly dikaiou sunesis (understanding of the just); but the actual word dikaion is more difficult: men are only agreed to a certain extent about justice, and then they begin to disagree. For those who suppose all things to be in motion conceive the greater part of nature to be a mere receptacle; and they say that there is a penetrating power which passes through all this, and is the instrument of creation in all, and is the subtlest and swiftest element; for if it were not the subtlest, and a power which none can keep out, and also the swiftest, passing by other things as if they were standing still, it could not penetrate through the moving universe. And this element, which superintends all things and pierces (diaion) all, is rightly called dikaion; the letter k is only added for the sake of euphony. Thus far, as I was saying, there is a general agreement about the nature of justice…
SOCRATES: Doxa is either derived from dioxis (pursuit), and expresses the march of the soul in the pursuit of knowledge, or from the shooting of a bow (toxon); the latter is more likely, and is confirmed by oiesis (thinking), which is only oisis (moving), and implies the movement of the soul to the essential nature of each thing—just as boule (counsel) has to do with shooting (bole); and boulesthai (to wish) combines the notion of aiming and deliberating—all these words seem to follow doxa, and all involve the idea of shooting, just as aboulia, absence of counsel, on the other hand, is a mishap, or missing, or mistaking of the mark, or aim, or proposal, or object.
HERMOGENES: You are quickening your pace now, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Why yes, the end I now dedicate to God, not, however, until I have explained anagke (necessity), which ought to come next, and ekousion (the voluntary). Ekousion is certainly the yielding (eikon) and unresisting—the notion implied is yielding and not opposing, yielding, as I was just now saying, to that motion which is in accordance with our will; but the necessary and resistant being contrary to our will, implies error and ignorance; the idea is taken from walking through a ravine which is impassable, and rugged, and overgrown, and impedes motion—and this is the derivation of the word anagkaion (necessary) an agke ion, going through a ravine. But while my strength lasts let us persevere, and I hope that you will persevere with your questions.
HERMOGENES: Well, then, let me ask about the greatest and noblest, such as aletheia (truth) and pseudos (falsehood) and on (being), not forgetting to enquire why the word onoma (name), which is the theme of our discussion, has this name of onoma.
SOCRATES: You know the word maiesthai (to seek)?
HERMOGENES: Yes;—meaning the same as zetein (to enquire).
SOCRATES: The word onoma seems to be a compressed sentence, signifying on ou zetema (being for which there is a search); as is still more obvious in onomaston (notable), which states in so many words that real existence is that for which there is a seeking (on ou masma); aletheia is also an agglomeration of theia ale (divine wandering), implying the divine motion of existence; pseudos (falsehood) is the opposite of motion; here is another ill name given by the legislator to stagnation and forced inaction, which he compares to sleep (eudein); but the original meaning of the word is disguised by the addition of psi; on and ousia are ion with an iota broken off; this agrees with the true principle, for being (on) is also moving (ion), and the same may be said of not being, which is likewise called not going (oukion or ouki on = ouk ion).
SOCRATES: All the names that we have been explaining were intended to indicate the nature of things.
HERMOGENES: Of course.
SOCRATES: And that this is true of the primary quite as much as of the secondary names, is implied in their being names.
SOCRATES: But the secondary, as I conceive, derive their significance from the primary.
HERMOGENES: That is evident.
SOCRATES: Very good; but then how do the primary names which precede analysis show the natures of things, as far as they can be shown; which they must do, if they are to be real names? And here I will ask you a question: Suppose that we had no voice or tongue, and wanted to communicate with one another, should we not, like the deaf and dumb, make signs with the hands and head and the rest of the body?
HERMOGENES: There would be no choice, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Certainly not. But let us have done with this question and proceed to another, about which I should like to know whether you think with me. Were we not lately acknowledging that the first givers of names in states, both Hellenic and barbarous, were the legislators, and that the art which gave names was the art of the legislator?
CRATYLUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Tell me, then, did the first legislators, who were the givers of the first names, know or not know the things which they named?
CRATYLUS: They must have known, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Why, yes, friend Cratylus, they could hardly have been ignorant.
CRATYLUS: I should say not.
SOCRATES: Let us return to the point from which we digressed. You were saying, if you remember, that he who gave names must have known the things which he named; are you still of that opinion?
SOCRATES: And would you say that the giver of the first names had also a knowledge of the things which he named?
CRATYLUS: I should.
SOCRATES: But how could he have learned or discovered things from names if the primitive names were not yet given? For, if we are correct in our view, the only way of learning and discovering things, is either to discover names for ourselves or to learn them from others.
CRATYLUS: I think that there is a good deal in what you say, Socrates.
SOCRATES: But if things are only to be known through names, how can we suppose that the givers of names had knowledge, or were legislators before there were names at all, and therefore before they could have known them?
CRATYLUS: I believe, Socrates, the true account of the matter to be, that a power more than human gave things their first names, and that the names which are thus given are necessarily their true names.
SOCRATES: Then how came the giver of the names, if he was an inspired being or God, to contradict himself? For were we not saying just now that he made some names expressive of rest and others of motion? Were we mistaken?
CRATYLUS: But I suppose one of the two not to be names at all.
SOCRATES: And which, then, did he make, my good friend; those which are expressive of rest, or those which are expressive of motion? This is a point which, as I said before, cannot be determined by counting them.
CRATYLUS: No; not in that way, Socrates.
SOCRATES: But if this is a battle of names, some of them asserting that they are like the truth, others contending that THEY are, how or by what criterion are we to decide between them? For there are no other names to which appeal can be made, but obviously recourse must be had to another standard which, without employing names, will make clear which of the two are right; and this must be a standard which shows the truth of things.
CRATYLUS: I agree.
SOCRATES: But if that is true, Cratylus, then I suppose that things may be known without names?
CRATYLUS: Clearly.
SOCRATES: But how would you expect to know them? What other way can there be of knowing them, except the true and natural way, through their affinities, when they are akin to each other, and through themselves? For that which is other and different from them must signify something other and different from them.
CRATYLUS: What you are saying is, I think, true.
SOCRATES: Well, but reflect; have we not several times acknowledged that names rightly given are the likenesses and images of the things which they name?
SOCRATES: Let us suppose that to any extent you please you can learn things through the medium of names, and suppose also that you can learn them from the things themselves—which is likely to be the nobler and clearer way; to learn of the image, whether the image and the truth of which the image is the expression have been rightly conceived, or to learn of the truth whether the truth and the image of it have been duly executed?
CRATYLUS: I should say that we must learn of the truth.
SOCRATES: How real existence is to be studied or discovered is, I suspect, beyond you and me. But we may admit so much, that the knowledge of things is not to be derived from names. No; they must be studied and investigated in themselves.
CRATYLUS: Clearly, Socrates.
SOCRATES: There is another point. I should not like us to be imposed upon by the appearance of such a multitude of names, all tending in the same direction. I myself do not deny that the givers of names did really give them under the idea that all things were in motion and flux; which was their sincere but, I think, mistaken opinion. And having fallen into a kind of whirlpool themselves, they are carried round, and want to drag us in after them. There is a matter, master Cratylus, about which I often dream, and should like to ask your opinion: Tell me, whether there is or is not any absolute beauty or good, or any other absolute existence?
CRATYLUS: Certainly, Socrates, I think so.
SOCRATES: Then let us seek the true beauty: not asking whether a face is fair, or anything of that sort, for all such things appear to be in a flux; but let us ask whether the true beauty is not always beautiful.
CRATYLUS: Certainly.
SOCRATES: And can we rightly speak of a beauty which is always passing away, and is first this and then that; must not the same thing be born and retire and vanish while the word is in our mouths?
CRATYLUS: Undoubtedly.
SOCRATES: Then how can that be a real thing which is never in the same state? for obviously things which are the same cannot change while they remain the same; and if they are always the same and in the same state, and never depart from their original form, they can never change or be moved.
CRATYLUS: Certainly they cannot.
SOCRATES: Nor yet can they be known by any one; for at the moment that the observer approaches, then they become other and of another nature, so that you cannot get any further in knowing their nature or state, for you cannot know that which has no state.
SOCRATES: Nor can we reasonably say, Cratylus, that there is knowledge at all, if everything is in a state of transition and there is nothing abiding; for knowledge too cannot continue to be knowledge unless continuing always to abide and exist. But if the very nature of knowledge changes, at the time when the change occurs there will be no knowledge; and if the transition is always going on, there will always be no knowledge, and, according to this view, there will be no one to know and nothing to be known: but if that which knows and that which is known exists ever, and the beautiful and the good and every other thing also exist, then I do not think that they can resemble a process or flux, as we were just now supposing. Whether there is this eternal nature in things, or whether the truth is what Heracleitus and his followers and many others say, is a question hard to determine; and no man of sense will like to put himself or the education of his mind in the power of names: neither will he so far trust names or the givers of names as to be confident in any knowledge which condemns himself and other existences to an unhealthy state of unreality; he will not believe that all things leak like a pot, or imagine that the world is a man who has a running at the nose. This may be true, Cratylus, but is also very likely to be untrue; and therefore I would not have you be too easily persuaded of it. Reflect well and like a man, and do not easily accept such a doctrine; for you are young and of an age to learn. And when you have found the truth, come and tell me.


Plato. Euthydemus. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg, 2008. Retrieved 2019, from

Euthydemus was proceeding to give the youth a third fall; but I knew that he was in deep water, and therefore, as I wanted to give him a respite lest he should be disheartened, I said to him consolingly: You must not be surprised, Cleinias, at the singularity of their mode of speech: this I say because you may not understand what the two strangers are doing with you; they are only initiating you after the manner of the Corybantes in the mysteries; and this answers to the enthronement, which, if you have ever been initiated, is, as you will know, accompanied by dancing and sport; and now they are just prancing and dancing about you, and will next proceed to initiate you; imagine then that you have gone through the first part of the sophistical ritual, which, as Prodicus says, begins with initiation into the correct use of terms. The two foreign gentlemen, perceiving that you did not know, wanted to explain to you that the word ‘to learn’ has two meanings, and is used, first, in the sense of acquiring knowledge of some matter of which you previously have no knowledge, and also, when you have the knowledge, in the sense of reviewing this matter, whether something done or spoken by the light of this newly-acquired knowledge; the latter is generally called ‘knowing’ rather than ‘learning,’ but the word ‘learning’ is also used; and you did not see, as they explained to you, that the term is employed of two opposite sorts of men, of those who know, and of those who do not know. There was a similar trick in the second question, when they asked you whether men learn what they know or what they do not know. These parts of learning are not serious, and therefore I say that the gentlemen are not serious, but are only playing with you. For if a man had all that sort of knowledge that ever was, he would not be at all the wiser; he would only be able to play with men, tripping them up and oversetting them with distinctions of words. He would be like a person who pulls away a stool from some one when he is about to sit down, and then laughs and makes merry at the sight of his friend overturned and laid on his back. And you must regard all that has hitherto passed between you and them as merely play. But in what is to follow I am certain that they will exhibit to you their serious purpose, and keep their promise (I will show them how); for they promised to give me a sample of the hortatory philosophy, but I suppose that they wanted to have a game with you first. And now, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, I think that we have had enough of this. Will you let me see you explaining to the young man how he is to apply himself to the study of virtue and wisdom? And I will first show you what I conceive to be the nature of the task, and what sort of a discourse I desire to hear; and if I do this in a very inartistic and ridiculous manner, do not laugh at me, for I only venture to improvise before you because I am eager to hear your wisdom: and I must therefore ask you and your disciples to refrain from laughing. And now, O son of Axiochus, let me put a question to you: Do not all men desire happiness? And yet, perhaps, this is one of those ridiculous questions which I am afraid to ask, and which ought not to be asked by a sensible man: for what human being is there who does not desire happiness?
And in the use of the goods of which we spoke at first—wealth and health and beauty, is not knowledge that which directs us to the right use of them, and regulates our practice about them?
He assented.
Then in every possession and every use of a thing, knowledge is that which gives a man not only good-fortune but success?
He again assented.
And tell me, I said, O tell me, what do possessions profit a man, if he have neither good sense nor wisdom? Would a man be better off, having and doing many things without wisdom, or a few things with wisdom? Look at the matter thus: If he did fewer things would he not make fewer mistakes? if he made fewer mistakes would he not have fewer misfortunes? and if he had fewer misfortunes would he not be less miserable?
Certainly, he said.
And who would do least—a poor man or a rich man?
A poor man.


Plato. Laches. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg, 2008. Retrieved 2019, from

LACHES: I should not like to maintain, Nicias, that any kind of knowledge is not to be learned; for all knowledge appears to be a good: and if, as Nicias and as the teachers of the art affirm, this use of arms is really a species of knowledge, then it ought to be learned; but if not, and if those who profess to teach it are deceivers only; or if it be knowledge, but not of a valuable sort, then what is the use of learning it? I say this, because I think that if it had been really valuable, the Lacedaemonians, whose whole life is passed in finding out and practising the arts which give them an advantage over other nations in war, would have discovered this one. And even if they had not, still these professors of the art would certainly not have failed to discover that of all the Hellenes the Lacedaemonians have the greatest interest in such matters, and that a master of the art who was honoured among them would be sure to make his fortune among other nations, just as a tragic poet would who is honoured among ourselves; which is the reason why he who fancies that he can write a tragedy does not go about itinerating in the neighbouring states, but rushes hither straight, and exhibits at Athens; and this is natural. Whereas I perceive that these fighters in armour regard Lacedaemon as a sacred inviolable territory, which they do not touch with the point of their foot; but they make a circuit of the neighbouring states, and would rather exhibit to any others than to the Spartans; and particularly to those who would themselves acknowledge that they are by no means first-rate in the arts of war. Further, Lysimachus, I have encountered a good many of these gentlemen in actual service, and have taken their measure, which I can give you at once; for none of these masters of fence have ever been distinguished in war,—there has been a sort of fatality about them; while in all other arts the men of note have been always those who have practised the art, they appear to be a most unfortunate exception.
SOCRATES: Yes, Nicias; but there is also a prior question, which I may illustrate in this way: When a person considers about applying a medicine to the eyes, would you say that he is consulting about the medicine or about the eyes?
NICIAS: About the eyes.
SOCRATES: And when he considers whether he shall set a bridle on a horse and at what time, he is thinking of the horse and not of the bridle?
SOCRATES: And in a word, when he considers anything for the sake of another thing, he thinks of the end and not of the means?
NICIAS: Certainly.
SOCRATES: And when you call in an adviser, you should see whether he too is skilful in the accomplishment of the end which you have in view?
NICIAS: Most true.
SOCRATES: And at present we have in view some knowledge, of which the end is the soul of youth?
SOCRATES: And we are enquiring, Which of us is skilful or successful in the treatment of the soul, and which of us has had good teachers?
LACHES: Well but, Socrates; did you never observe that some persons, who have had no teachers, are more skilful than those who have, in some things?
SOCRATES: Yes, Laches, I have observed that; but you would not be very willing to trust them if they only professed to be masters of their art, unless they could show some proof of their skill or excellence in one or more works.
LACHES: That is true.
SOCRATES: And therefore, Laches and Nicias, as Lysimachus and Melesias, in their anxiety to improve the minds of their sons, have asked our advice about them, we too should tell them who our teachers were, if we say that we have had any, and prove them to be in the first place men of merit and experienced trainers of the minds of youth and also to have been really our teachers. Or if any of us says that he has no teacher, but that he has works of his own to show; then he should point out to them what Athenians or strangers, bond or free, he is generally acknowledged to have improved. But if he can show neither teachers nor works, then he should tell them to look out for others; and not run the risk of spoiling the children of friends, and thereby incurring the most formidable accusation which can be brought against any one by those nearest to him.
SOCRATES: And are not our two friends, Laches, at this very moment inviting us to consider in what way the gift of virtue may be imparted to their sons for the improvement of their minds?
LACHES: Very true.
SOCRATES: Then must we not first know the nature of virtue? For how can we advise any one about the best mode of attaining something of which we are wholly ignorant?
LACHES: I do not think that we can, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Then, Laches, we may presume that we know the nature of virtue?
SOCRATES: And that which we know we must surely be able to tell?
LACHES: Certainly.
SOCRATES: I would not have us begin, my friend, with enquiring about the whole of virtue; for that may be more than we can accomplish; let us first consider whether we have a sufficient knowledge of a part; the enquiry will thus probably be made easier to us.
LACHES: Let us do as you say, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Then which of the parts of virtue shall we select? Must we not select that to which the art of fighting in armour is supposed to conduce? And is not that generally thought to be courage?
LACHES: Yes, certainly.
SOCRATES: Then, Laches, suppose that we first set about determining the nature of courage, and in the second place proceed to enquire how the young men may attain this quality by the help of studies and pursuits. Tell me, if you can, what is courage.
LACHES: Indeed, Socrates, I see no difficulty in answering; he is a man of courage who does not run away, but remains at his post and fights against the enemy; there can be no mistake about that.
SOCRATES: Very good, Laches; and yet I fear that I did not express myself clearly; and therefore you have answered not the question which I intended to ask, but another.
LACHES: What do you mean, Socrates?
SOCRATES: I will endeavour to explain; you would call a man courageous who remains at his post, and fights with the enemy?
LACHES: Certainly I should.
SOCRATES: And so should I; but what would you say of another man, who fights flying, instead of remaining?
SOCRATES: And all these are courageous, but some have courage in pleasures, and some in pains: some in desires, and some in fears, and some are cowards under the same conditions, as I should imagine.
LACHES: Very true.
SOCRATES: Now I was asking about courage and cowardice in general. And I will begin with courage, and once more ask, What is that common quality, which is the same in all these cases, and which is called courage? Do you now understand what I mean?
LACHES: Not over well.
SOCRATES: I mean this: As I might ask what is that quality which is called quickness, and which is found in running, in playing the lyre, in speaking, in learning, and in many other similar actions, or rather which we possess in nearly every action that is worth mentioning of arms, legs, mouth, voice, mind;—would you not apply the term quickness to all of them?
LACHES: Quite true.
SOCRATES: And suppose I were to be asked by some one: What is that common quality, Socrates, which, in all these uses of the word, you call quickness? I should say the quality which accomplishes much in a little time—whether in running, speaking, or in any other sort of action.
LACHES: You would be quite correct.
SOCRATES: And now, Laches, do you try and tell me in like manner, What is that common quality which is called courage, and which includes all the various uses of the term when applied both to pleasure and pain, and in all the cases to which I was just now referring?
LACHES: I should say that courage is a sort of endurance of the soul, if I am to speak of the universal nature which pervades them all.
SOCRATES: But that is what we must do if we are to answer the question. And yet I cannot say that every kind of endurance is, in my opinion, to be deemed courage. Hear my reason: I am sure, Laches, that you would consider courage to be a very noble quality.
LACHES: Most noble, certainly.
SOCRATES: And you would say that a wise endurance is also good and noble?
LACHES: Very noble.
SOCRATES: But what would you say of a foolish endurance? Is not that, on the other hand, to be regarded as evil and hurtful?
SOCRATES: And is anything noble which is evil and hurtful?
LACHES: I ought not to say that, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Then you would not admit that sort of endurance to be courage—for it is not noble, but courage is noble?
LACHES: You are right.
SOCRATES: Then, according to you, only the wise endurance is courage?
SOCRATES: But foolish boldness and endurance appeared before to be base and hurtful to us.
LACHES: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Whereas courage was acknowledged to be a noble quality.
SOCRATES: And now on the contrary we are saying that the foolish endurance, which was before held in dishonour, is courage.
LACHES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And are we right in saying so?
LACHES: Indeed, Socrates, I am sure that we are not right.
SOCRATES: Then according to your statement, you and I, Laches, are not attuned to the Dorian mode, which is a harmony of words and deeds; for our deeds are not in accordance with our words. Any one would say that we had courage who saw us in action, but not, I imagine, he who heard us talking about courage just now.
NICIAS: I have been thinking, Socrates, that you and Laches are not defining courage in the right way; for you have forgotten an excellent saying which I have heard from your own lips.
SOCRATES: What is it, Nicias?
NICIAS: I have often heard you say that ‘Every man is good in that in which he is wise, and bad in that in which he is unwise.’
SOCRATES: That is certainly true, Nicias.
NICIAS: And therefore if the brave man is good, he is also wise.
SOCRATES: Do you hear him, Laches?
LACHES: Yes, I hear him, but I do not very well understand him.
SOCRATES: I think that I understand him; and he appears to me to mean that courage is a sort of wisdom.
LACHES: What can he possibly mean, Socrates?
SOCRATES: That is a question which you must ask of himself.
SOCRATES: Tell him then, Nicias, what you mean by this wisdom; for you surely do not mean the wisdom which plays the flute?
NICIAS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: Nor the wisdom which plays the lyre?
SOCRATES: But what is this knowledge then, and of what?
LACHES: I think that you put the question to him very well, Socrates; and I would like him to say what is the nature of this knowledge or wisdom.
NICIAS: I mean to say, Laches, that courage is the knowledge of that which inspires fear or confidence in war, or in anything.
LACHES: Very true, Nicias; and you are talking nonsense, as I shall endeavour to show. Let me ask you a question: Do not physicians know the dangers of disease? or do the courageous know them? or are the physicians the same as the courageous?
NICIAS: Not at all.
LACHES: No more than the husbandmen who know the dangers of husbandry, or than other craftsmen, who have a knowledge of that which inspires them with fear or confidence in their own arts, and yet they are not courageous a whit the more for that.
SOCRATES: What is Laches saying, Nicias? He appears to be saying something of importance.
NICIAS: Yes, he is saying something, but it is not true.
NICIAS: Why, because he does not see that the physician’s knowledge only extends to the nature of health and disease: he can tell the sick man no more than this. Do you imagine, Laches, that the physician knows whether health or disease is the more terrible to a man? Had not many a man better never get up from a sick bed? I should like to know whether you think that life is always better than death. May not death often be the better of the two?
LACHES: Yes certainly so in my opinion.
NICIAS: And do you think that the same things are terrible to those who had better die, and to those who had better live?
LACHES: Certainly not.
NICIAS: And do you suppose that the physician or any other artist knows this, or any one indeed, except he who is skilled in the grounds of fear and hope? And him I call the courageous.
SOCRATES: Do you understand his meaning, Laches?
LACHES: Yes; I suppose that, in his way of speaking, the soothsayers are courageous. For who but one of them can know to whom to die or to live is better? And yet Nicias, would you allow that you are yourself a soothsayer, or are you neither a soothsayer nor courageous?
NICIAS: What! do you mean to say that the soothsayer ought to know the grounds of hope or fear?
LACHES: Indeed I do: who but he?
NICIAS: Much rather I should say he of whom I speak; for the soothsayer ought to know only the signs of things that are about to come to pass, whether death or disease, or loss of property, or victory, or defeat in war, or in any sort of contest; but to whom the suffering or not suffering of these things will be for the best, can no more be decided by the soothsayer than by one who is no soothsayer.
LACHES: I cannot understand what Nicias would be at, Socrates; for he represents the courageous man as neither a soothsayer, nor a physician, nor in any other character, unless he means to say that he is a god…
SOCRATES: Then tell me, Nicias, or rather tell us, for Laches and I are partners in the argument: Do you mean to affirm that courage is the knowledge of the grounds of hope and fear?
SOCRATES: And not every man has this knowledge; the physician and the soothsayer have it not; and they will not be courageous unless they acquire it—that is what you were saying?
NICIAS: I was.
SOCRATES: Then this is certainly not a thing which every pig would know, as the proverb says, and therefore he could not be courageous.
NICIAS: I think not.
SOCRATES: Clearly not, Nicias; not even such a big pig as the Crommyonian sow would be called by you courageous. And this I say not as a joke, but because I think that he who assents to your doctrine, that courage is the knowledge of the grounds of fear and hope, cannot allow that any wild beast is courageous, unless he admits that a lion, or a leopard, or perhaps a boar, or any other animal, has such a degree of wisdom that he knows things which but a few human beings ever know by reason of their difficulty. He who takes your view of courage must affirm that a lion, and a stag, and a bull, and a monkey, have equally little pretensions to courage.
LACHES: Capital, Socrates; by the gods, that is truly good. And I hope, Nicias, that you will tell us whether these animals, which we all admit to be courageous, are really wiser than mankind; or whether you will have the boldness, in the face of universal opinion, to deny their courage.
NICIAS: Why, Laches, I do not call animals or any other things which have no fear of dangers, because they are ignorant of them, courageous, but only fearless and senseless. Do you imagine that I should call little children courageous, which fear no dangers because they know none? There is a difference, to my way of thinking, between fearlessness and courage. I am of opinion that thoughtful courage is a quality possessed by very few, but that rashness and boldness, and fearlessness, which has no forethought, are very common qualities possessed by many men, many women, many children, many animals. And you, and men in general, call by the term ‘courageous’ actions which I call rash;—my courageous actions are wise actions.
SOCRATES: Yes, I do; but I must beg of you, Nicias, to begin again. You remember that we originally considered courage to be a part of virtue.
NICIAS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And you yourself said that it was a part; and there were many other parts, all of which taken together are called virtue.
NICIAS: Certainly.
SOCRATES: Do you agree with me about the parts? For I say that justice, temperance, and the like, are all of them parts of virtue as well as courage. Would you not say the same?
NICIAS: Certainly.
SOCRATES: Well then, so far we are agreed. And now let us proceed a step, and try to arrive at a similar agreement about the fearful and the hopeful: I do not want you to be thinking one thing and myself another. Let me then tell you my own opinion, and if I am wrong you shall set me right: in my opinion the terrible and the hopeful are the things which do or do not create fear, and fear is not of the present, nor of the past, but is of future and expected evil. Do you not agree to that, Laches?
LACHES: Yes, Socrates, entirely.
SOCRATES: That is my view, Nicias; the terrible things, as I should say, are the evils which are future; and the hopeful are the good or not evil things which are future. Do you or do you not agree with me?
NICIAS: I agree.
SOCRATES: And the knowledge of these things you call courage?
NICIAS: Precisely.
SOCRATES: And now let me see whether you agree with Laches and myself as to a third point.
NICIAS: What is that?
SOCRATES: I will tell you. He and I have a notion that there is not one knowledge or science of the past, another of the present, a third of what is likely to be best and what will be best in the future; but that of all three there is one science only: for example, there is one science of medicine which is concerned with the inspection of health equally in all times, present, past, and future; and one science of husbandry in like manner, which is concerned with the productions of the earth in all times. As to the art of the general, you yourselves will be my witnesses that he has an excellent foreknowledge of the future, and that he claims to be the master and not the servant of the soothsayer, because he knows better what is happening or is likely to happen in war: and accordingly the law places the soothsayer under the general, and not the general under the soothsayer. Am I not correct in saying so, Laches?
LACHES: Quite correct.
SOCRATES: And do you, Nicias, also acknowledge that the same science has understanding of the same things, whether future, present, or past?
NICIAS: Yes, indeed Socrates; that is my opinion.
SOCRATES: And courage, my friend, is, as you say, a knowledge of the fearful and of the hopeful?
SOCRATES: And the fearful, and the hopeful, are admitted to be future goods and future evils?
SOCRATES: And the same science has to do with the same things in the future or at any time?
NICIAS: That is true.
SOCRATES: Then courage is not the science which is concerned with the fearful and hopeful, for they are future only; courage, like the other sciences, is concerned not only with good and evil of the future, but of the present and past, and of any time?
NICIAS: That, as I suppose, is true.
SOCRATES: Then the answer which you have given, Nicias, includes only a third part of courage; but our question extended to the whole nature of courage: and according to your view, that is, according to your present view, courage is not only the knowledge of the hopeful and the fearful, but seems to include nearly every good and evil without reference to time. What do you say to that alteration in your statement?
NICIAS: I agree, Socrates.
SOCRATES: But then, my dear friend, if a man knew all good and evil, and how they are, and have been, and will be produced, would he not be perfect, and wanting in no virtue, whether justice, or temperance, or holiness? He would possess them all, and he would know which were dangers and which were not, and guard against them whether they were supernatural or natural; and he would provide the good, as he would know how to deal both with gods or men.


Plato. Lysis. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg, 2008. Retrieved 2019, from

Then now, my dear Lysis, I said, you perceive that in things which we know every one will trust us,—Hellenes and barbarians, men and women,—and we may do as we please about them, and no one will like to interfere with us; we shall be free, and masters of others; and these things will be really ours, for we shall be benefited by them. But in things of which we have no understanding, no one will trust us to do as seems good to us—they will hinder us as far as they can; and not only strangers, but father and mother, and the friend, if there be one, who is dearer still, will also hinder us; and we shall be subject to others; and these things will not be ours, for we shall not be benefited by them. Do you agree?
Very well, I said, I will; and do you, Menexenus, answer. But first I must tell you that I am one who from my childhood upward have set my heart upon a certain thing. All people have their fancies; some desire horses, and others dogs; and some are fond of gold, and others of honour. Now, I have no violent desire of any of these things; but I have a passion for friends; and I would rather have a good friend than the best cock or quail in the world: I would even go further, and say the best horse or dog. Yea, by the dog of Egypt, I should greatly prefer a real friend to all the gold of Darius, or even to Darius himself: I am such a lover of friends as that. And when I see you and Lysis, at your early age, so easily possessed of this treasure, and so soon, he of you, and you of him, I am amazed and delighted, seeing that I myself, although I am now advanced in years, am so far from having made a similar acquisition, that I do not even know in what way a friend is acquired. But I want to ask you a question about this, for you have experience: tell me then, when one loves another, is the lover or the beloved the friend; or may either be the friend?
But the real meaning of the saying, as I imagine, is, that the good are like one another, and friends to one another; and that the bad, as is often said of them, are never at unity with one another or with themselves; for they are passionate and restless, and anything which is at variance and enmity with itself is not likely to be in union or harmony with any other thing. Do you not agree?
Yes, I do.
Then, my friend, those who say that the like is friendly to the like mean to intimate, if I rightly apprehend them, that the good only is the friend of the good, and of him only; but that the evil never attains to any real friendship, either with good or evil. Do you agree?
He nodded assent.
Then now we know how to answer the question ‘Who are friends?’ for the argument declares ‘That the good are friends.’
Yes, he said, that is true.
Yes, I replied; and yet I am not quite satisfied with this answer. By heaven, and shall I tell you what I suspect? I will. Assuming that like, inasmuch as he is like, is the friend of like, and useful to him—or rather let me try another way of putting the matter: Can like do any good or harm to like which he could not do to himself, or suffer anything from his like which he would not suffer from himself? And if neither can be of any use to the other, how can they be loved by one another? Can they now?
They cannot.
And can he who is not loved be a friend?
Certainly not.
But say that the like is not the friend of the like in so far as he is like; still the good may be the friend of the good in so far as he is good?
They will then proceed to ask whether the enemy is the friend of the friend, or the friend the friend of the enemy?
Neither, he replied.
Well, but is a just man the friend of the unjust, or the temperate of the intemperate, or the good of the bad?
I do not see how that is possible.
And yet, I said, if friendship goes by contraries, the contraries must be friends.
They must.
Then neither like and like nor unlike and unlike are friends.
I suppose not.
Now I want to know whether in all cases a substance is assimilated by the presence of another substance; or must the presence be after a peculiar sort?
The latter, he said.
Then that which is neither good nor evil may be in the presence of evil, but not as yet evil, and that has happened before now?
And when anything is in the presence of evil, not being as yet evil, the presence of good arouses the desire of good in that thing; but the presence of evil, which makes a thing evil, takes away the desire and friendship of the good; for that which was once both good and evil has now become evil only, and the good was supposed to have no friendship with the evil?
And therefore we say that those who are already wise, whether Gods or men, are no longer lovers of wisdom; nor can they be lovers of wisdom who are ignorant to the extent of being evil, for no evil or ignorant person is a lover of wisdom. There remain those who have the misfortune to be ignorant, but are not yet hardened in their ignorance, or void of understanding, and do not as yet fancy that they know what they do not know: and therefore those who are the lovers of wisdom are as yet neither good nor bad. But the bad do not love wisdom any more than the good; for, as we have already seen, neither is unlike the friend of unlike, nor like of like. You remember that?
Yes, they both said.
And so, Lysis and Menexenus, we have discovered the nature of friendship—there can be no doubt of it: Friendship is the love which by reason of the presence of evil the neither good nor evil has of the good, either in the soul, or in the body, or anywhere.
And what of health? I said. Is that good or evil, or neither?
Good, he replied.
And we were saying, I believe, that the body being neither good nor evil, because of disease, that is to say because of evil, is the friend of medicine, and medicine is a good: and medicine has entered into this friendship for the sake of health, and health is a good.
And is health a friend, or not a friend?
A friend.
And disease is an enemy?
Then that which is neither good nor evil is the friend of the good because of the evil and hateful, and for the sake of the good and the friend?
Then the friend is a friend for the sake of the friend, and because of the enemy?
That is to be inferred.
Then at this point, my boys, let us take heed, and be on our guard against deceptions. I will not again repeat that the friend is the friend of the friend, and the like of the like, which has been declared by us to be an impossibility; but, in order that this new statement may not delude us, let us attentively examine another point, which I will proceed to explain: Medicine, as we were saying, is a friend, or dear to us for the sake of health?
And health is also dear?
And if dear, then dear for the sake of something?
And surely this object must also be dear, as is implied in our previous admissions?
And that something dear involves something else dear?
But then, proceeding in this way, shall we not arrive at some first principle of friendship or dearness which is not capable of being referred to any other, for the sake of which, as we maintain, all other things are dear, and, having there arrived, we shall stop?
My fear is that all those other things, which, as we say, are dear for the sake of another, are illusions and deceptions only, but where that first principle is, there is the true ideal of friendship. Let me put the matter thus: Suppose the case of a great treasure (this may be a son, who is more precious to his father than all his other treasures); would not the father, who values his son above all things, value other things also for the sake of his son? I mean, for instance, if he knew that his son had drunk hemlock, and the father thought that wine would save him, he would value the wine?
He would.
And also the vessel which contains the wine?
But does he therefore value the three measures of wine, or the earthen vessel which contains them, equally with his son? Is not this rather the true state of the case? All his anxiety has regard not to the means which are provided for the sake of an object, but to the object for the sake of which they are provided. And although we may often say that gold and silver are highly valued by us, that is not the truth; for there is a further object, whatever it may be, which we value most of all, and for the sake of which gold and all our other possessions are acquired by us. Am I not right?
Yes, certainly.
And may not the same be said of the friend? That which is only dear to us for the sake of something else is improperly said to be dear, but the truly dear is that in which all these so-called dear friendships terminate.
That, he said, appears to be true.
And the truly dear or ultimate principle of friendship is not for the sake of any other or further dear.
Then we have done with the notion that friendship has any further object. May we then infer that the good is the friend?
I think so.
And the good is loved for the sake of the evil? Let me put the case in this way: Suppose that of the three principles, good, evil, and that which is neither good nor evil, there remained only the good and the neutral, and that evil went far away, and in no way affected soul or body, nor ever at all that class of things which, as we say, are neither good nor evil in themselves;—would the good be of any use, or other than useless to us? For if there were nothing to hurt us any longer, we should have no need of anything that would do us good. Then would be clearly seen that we did but love and desire the good because of the evil, and as the remedy of the evil, which was the disease; but if there had been no disease, there would have been no need of a remedy. Is not this the nature of the good—to be loved by us who are placed between the two, because of the evil? but there is no use in the good for its own sake.
I suppose not.
Then the final principle of friendship, in which all other friendships terminated, those, I mean, which are relatively dear and for the sake of something else, is of another and a different nature from them. For they are called dear because of another dear or friend. But with the true friend or dear, the case is quite the reverse; for that is proved to be dear because of the hated, and if the hated were away it would be no longer dear.
Very true, he replied: at any rate not if our present view holds good.
But, oh! will you tell me, I said, whether if evil were to perish, we should hunger any more, or thirst any more, or have any similar desire? Or may we suppose that hunger will remain while men and animals remain, but not so as to be hurtful? And the same of thirst and the other desires,—that they will remain, but will not be evil because evil has perished? Or rather shall I say, that to ask what either will be then or will not be is ridiculous, for who knows? This we do know, that in our present condition hunger may injure us, and may also benefit us:—Is not that true?
And in like manner thirst or any similar desire may sometimes be a good and sometimes an evil to us, and sometimes neither one nor the other?
To be sure.
But is there any reason why, because evil perishes, that which is not evil should perish with it?
Then, even if evil perishes, the desires which are neither good nor evil will remain?
Clearly they will.
And must not a man love that which he desires and affects?
He must.
Then, even if evil perishes, there may still remain some elements of love or friendship?
But not if evil is the cause of friendship: for in that case nothing will be the friend of any other thing after the destruction of evil; for the effect cannot remain when the cause is destroyed.
And have we not admitted already that the friend loves something for a reason? and at the time of making the admission we were of opinion that the neither good nor evil loves the good because of the evil?
Very true.
But now our view is changed, and we conceive that there must be some other cause of friendship?
I suppose so.
May not the truth be rather, as we were saying just now, that desire is the cause of friendship; for that which desires is dear to that which is desired at the time of desiring it? and may not the other theory have been only a long story about nothing?
Likely enough.
But surely, I said, he who desires, desires that of which he is in want?
And that of which he is in want is dear to him?
And he is in want of that of which he is deprived?
Then love, and desire, and friendship would appear to be of the natural or congenial. Such, Lysis and Menexenus, is the inference.
They assented.
Then if you are friends, you must have natures which are congenial to one another?
Certainly, they both said.
And I say, my boys, that no one who loves or desires another would ever have loved or desired or affected him, if he had not been in some way congenial to him, either in his soul, or in his character, or in his manners, or in his form.
Yes, yes, said Menexenus. But Lysis was silent.
Then, I said, the conclusion is, that what is of a congenial nature must be loved.
It follows, he said.
Then the lover, who is true and no counterfeit, must of necessity be loved by his love.


Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 8. Translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1955. Perseus Digital Library. Retrieved 2019 from

Then I said to him: Well, do you now concede that it is neither much, nor little, but moderate exercise that causes men to be in good bodily condition? Or do you bid defiance to the two of us on this point? To which he answered: Against him I should be only too glad to fight it out, and I am certain I should prove able to support the theory I have put forward, even had I put forward a weaker one; for he is naught. But with you I do not aim at winning an unscrupulous success; and so I admit that not a great but a moderate amount of athletics causes good condition in men.
And what of food? Moderate or much? I asked.
The same applied to food, he admitted. Then I went on and tried to compel him also to admit that everything else connected with the body when most beneficial, was the moderate thing, not the much or the little; and he admitted that it was the moderate thing.
And now, I said, as regards the soul; are moderate or immoderate things beneficial, as adjuncts of it?
Moderate things, he replied.
And are studies among the adjuncts of the soul?
He admitted they were.
So among these also it is the moderate that are beneficial, and not the much?
He agreed.
Then whom should we be justified in asking what sort of exercise or food is moderate for the body?
The three of us agreed that it must be a doctor or a trainer. And whom should we ask about the moderate measure in the sowing of seed?
In that matter, we agreed, it must be a farmer.
And whom should we be justified in asking as to the moderate degree and kind, in regard to the sowing and planting of studies in the soul?
At this point we all began to be full of perplexity; then I, mocking at them, asked: Do you mind, since we are in perplexity, if we ask these boys here? or perhaps we are ashamed, as Homer said the suitors were, and do not think it fit there should be someone else who will string the bow?
Then, as it seemed to me that they were losing their zeal for the argument, I tried to pursue the inquiry in another way, and said: But what, as nearly as we can guess, are the kinds of learning which the philosopher should learn, since he is not to learn all things or many things? At this the wiser one interjected: The finest and most suitable kinds of learning are those which will bring him the most reputation for philosophy; and he will get most reputation if he appears well versed in all the arts, or if not in all, in as many of them, and those the most considerable, as he can, by learning so much of them as befits a free man to learn, that is, what belongs to the understanding rather than the handiwork of each.
Well now, do you mean, I asked, in the same way as in carpentry? For there, you know, you can buy a carpenter for five or six minae, but a first-rate architect cannot be got for even ten thousand drachmae; few such, indeed, could be found throughout the whole of Greece. Is it something of this sort that you mean? When he heard me say this, he admitted that something like this was what he himself meant.
I next asked him if it was not impossible for the same person to learn in this way merely two of the arts, not to speak of many or the principal ones; to which he replied: Do not conceive me, Socrates, to be stating that the philosopher must have accurate knowledge of each of the arts, like the actual adept in any of them; I mean only so far as may be expected of a free and educated man: that is, he should be able to follow the explanations of the craftsman more readily than the rest of the company, and to contribute an opinion of his own which will make him appear the cleverest and most accomplished of the company who may at any time be present at some verbal or practical exposition of the arts.
Then, as I was still unsettled in my mind as to the drift of his words, I asked him: Do I quite grasp the sort of man whom you mean by the philosopher? For you seem to me to mean someone like the all-round athletes in contest with the runners or the wrestlers: the former yield, you know, to the latter in their particular exercises, and are their inferiors in these, but are superior to the usual sort of athletes and beat them. I daresay it may be something of this sort that you would suggest as the effect produced by philosophy on those who make it their pursuit: they yield to those who are first-rate in an understanding of the arts, but in taking the second place they surpass the rest; and in this way the man who has studied philosophy comes just next to the top in everything. That is the kind of person whom you appear to me to indicate.
You are quite right, it seems to me, Socrates, he said, in your conception of the philosopher’s position, with your comparison of him to the all-round athlete. For it is precisely his nature not to be enslaved to any business, or to work out anything exactly, so as to let his application to that one matter make him deficient in the rest, as the craftsmen do, but to have a moderate contact with all of them.
Well, after this answer I was eager to know clearly what he meant, so I inquired of him whether he conceived of good men as useful or useless.
Useful, I should say, Socrates, he replied.
Then if good men are useful, are wicked men useless?
He agreed that they were.
Again, do you consider that philosophers are useful persons or not? He agreed that they were useful; nay, more, that he considered they were most useful of all.
Come now, let us make out, if what you say is true, where these second-best men are also useful to us: for clearly the philosopher is inferior to any particular adept in the arts.
He agreed.
Well now, I went on, if you yourself, or one of your friends for whom you feel great concern, should have fallen sick, would you fetch that second-best man into the house with a view to obtaining health, or would you summon a doctor? For my part, I should have both, he replied.
Please do not say “both,” I said, but which of the two you would prefer and also summon first.
No one, he replied, would make any question but that the doctor should be preferred and also summoned first.
And again, if you were in a ship that was making rough weather, to which would you rather entrust yourself and yours, the pilot or the philosopher?
I should choose the pilot.
And so it will be in everything else: so long as there is some craftsman, the philosopher will not be useful?
Apparently, he replied. So now we find that the philosopher is a useless person? For I suppose we always have craftsmen; and we have agreed that good men are useful, and bad ones useless.
He was obliged to agree to this.
Then what follows? Am I to ask you, or will it be too ill-mannered?
Ask whatever you please.
Well, my aim, I said, is merely to recall our agreements upon what has been stated. The matter stands somewhat like this. We agreed that philosophy is an honorable thing, and that philosophers are good; and that good men are useful, and wicked men useless: but then again we agreed that philosophers, so long as we have craftsmen, are useless, and that we always do have craftsmen. Has not all this been agreed?
Yes, to be sure, he replied.
Then we agreed, it seems, by your account—if philosophizing means having knowledge of the arts in the way you describe—that philosophers are wicked and useless so long as there are arts among mankind. But I expect they are not so really, my friend, and that philosophizing is not just having a concernment in the arts or spending one’s life in meddlesome stooping and prying and accumulation of learning, but something else; because I imagined that this life was actually a disgrace, and that people who concerned themselves with the arts were called sordid. But we shall know more definitely whether this statement of mine is true, if you will answer me this: What men know how to punish horses rightly? Is it those who make them into the best horses, or some other men?
Those who make them into the best horses.
Or again, is it not the men who know how to make dogs into the best dogs that know also how to punish them rightly?
Then it is the same art that makes them into the best dogs and punishes them rightly?
It appears so to me, he replied.
Again, is the art that makes them into the best ones and punishes them rightly the same as that which knows the good and the bad ones, or is it some other?
The same, he said.
Then in the case of men also will you be prepared to agree that the art which makes them into the best men is that which punishes them rightly and distinguishes the good and the bad ones?
Certainly, he said.
And that which does this to one, does it also to many, and that which does it to many, does it also to one?
And so it is also with horses and everything else?
I agree.
Then what is the knowledge which rightly punishes the licentious and law-breaking people in our cities? Is it not judicature?
And is it any other art than this that you call justice?
No, only this. And that whereby they punish rightly is that whereby they know the good and bad people?
It is.
And whoever knows one will know many also?
And whoever does not know many will not know one?
I agree.
Then if one were a horse, and did not know the good and wicked horses, would one not know which sort one was oneself?
I think not.
And if one were an ox and did not know the wicked and good oxen, would one not know which sort one was oneself?
That is so, he said.
And so it would be, if one were a dog?
He agreed. Well now, when one is a man, and does not know the good and bad men, one surely cannot know whether one is good or wicked oneself, since one is a man also oneself?
He granted this.
And is “not knowing oneself” being temperate, or not being temperate?
Not being temperate.
So “knowing oneself” is being temperate?
I agree, he said.
So this is the message, it seems, of the Delphic inscription—that one is to practise temperance and justice.
It seems so.
And it is by this same art that we know also how to punish rightly?
Then that whereby we know how to punish rightly is justice, and that whereby we know how to distinguish our own and others’ quality is temperance?
It seems so, he said.
Then justice and temperance are the same thing?
And further, it is thus, you know, that cities are well ordered—when the wrongdoers pay the penalty.
That is true, he said.
Hence this is also statecraft.
He concurred.
Again, when one man governs a city rightly, is he not called a despot and king?
I agree.
And he governs by a kingly and despotic art?
That is so.
And these arts are the same as the former?
Apparently. Again, when a man singly governs a house aright, what is he called? Is he not a house-manager and master?
Then would he also govern his house well by justice, or by some other art?
By justice.
Hence they are all the same, it seems,—king, despot, statesman, house-manager, master, and the temperate man and the just man; and it is all one art,—the kingly, the despotic, the statesman’s, the master’s, the house-manager’s, and justice and temperance.
It is so, apparently, he said. Then, if it is disgraceful in the philosopher to be unable, when a doctor speaks about the sick, either to follow his remarks or to contribute anything of his own to what is being said or done, and to be in the same case when any other of the craftsmen speaks, is it not disgraceful that he should be unable, when it is a judge or a king or some other of the persons whom we have just instanced, either to follow their words or contribute anything to their business?
It must indeed be disgraceful, Socrates, to have nothing to contribute to subjects of such great importance! Are we then to say, I asked, that in these matters also he is to be an all-round athlete, a second-rate man, taking the second place in all the subjects of this art—he, the philosopher—and is to be useless so long as there is one of these persons; or that, first of all, he is to entrust his own house to nobody else and is not to take the second place in it, but is himself to judge and punish rightly, if his house is to be well managed?
He granted me that it must be so.
Secondly, I presume, whether his friends entrust him with an arbitration, or the state charges him to determine or judge any matter, it is disgraceful for him, my good friend, in such cases, to be found in the second or third place, and not to lead?
I agree.
Hence we see, my excellent sir, that philosophizing is very far from being much learning and that affair of busying oneself with the arts.
On my saying this the cultivated youth was silent, feeling ashamed for what he had said before, while the unlearned one said it was as I stated; and the rest of the company praised the argument.

%d bloggers like this: