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|Plato: Dialogues (Dialogs)
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1990, revised 2002
Acknowledgement: I have summarized Plato's dialogs (some much more than others) using The Collected Dialogues Bollingen Series Princeton University Press 1961-1989, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. The individual translators for quotations included are noted below.
Overall Impression: Plato is one of the few philosophers who also writes good literature. His best dialogues are a pleasure to read--some can be tedious. (I have made summaries of the dialogs which I enjoyed the most.)
Notes per the Princeton University book and various Web sources
Socrates lived from 470 to 399 in Athens. He left no known writings and is known primarily from Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes. He was put to death ostensibly for corrupting the morals of youth and for introducing new gods, possibly also because of his anti-democratic views in support of the overturned aristocracy. He emphasized a personal search for truth and ethical behavior.
Plato lived 427 - 347 and was an aristocratic Athenian, served probably in the military, and traveled extensively. He founded the Academy at about 40 years of age. He overcame Socrates' objection to thought frozen in writing by using the dialogue (dialogos) format, never overtly stating views in his own name. His technique of inquiry used dialectic (dialektos): skillfully directed questioning which elicits the knowledge presumably already residing within the participant. He believed the world was intelligible through and governed by reason (logos).
The dialogues are variably grouped as follows: (1) Early (presenting Socrates' views, dramatic, shorter): Apology, Crito, Euthyphro, Ion, Lesser Hippias, Greater Hippias, Laches, Lysis, Menexenus, Protagoras, Euthydemus, Charmides, [Lovers, Hipparchus, First Alcibiades]), (2) Middle (more Plato's own ideas): Gorgias, Meno, Phaedo, Symposium, Republic, Phaedrus, Cratylus, Timeaus and Critias), and Late (more didactic, longer, less dramatic: Theaetetus, Parmenides, Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, and Laws). I have not attempted to summarize Letters.
Benjamin Jowett: Charmides, Laches, Timaeus, Greater Hippias (19C revised 1953),
Menexenus, Lesser Hippias, Cratylus, Thaetetus (1892)
R. Hackforth: Philebus (1945), Phaedrus (1952)
Hugh Tredennick: Apology, Crito, Phaedo (1954)
J. Wright: Lysis (1910)
Lane Cooper: Euthyrhro (1941), Ion (1938)
W. D. Woodhead: Gorgias (1952)
W. K. C. Guthrie: Protagoras, Meno (1956)
W. H. D. Rouse: Euthydemus
Michael Joyce: Symposium (1935)
Paul Shorey: Republic (1930)
F. M. Cornford: Thaetetus, Sophist (1935), Parmenides (1939),
J. B. Skemp: Statesman (1952)
A. E. Taylor: Critias (1929), Laws (1934)
Socrates at the age of 70 (in 339 BCE) defends himself in his one day trial [in the court of one of the major officials of Athens, the "King Archon", who presided over court cases involving religion.] The dialogue consists of statements made by him in his own defense, his comments about the penalty soon to be decided, and his comments following the announcement that to be executed.
He first recalls the false charges that have been made earlier against him over many years, that he "has theories about the heavens and has investigated everything below the earth, and can make the weaker argument defeat the stronger". He denies being an atheist, and alludes to Aristophanes' play "The Clouds" which satirized him. He notes that these opponents are invisible and hard to defend against or cross-examine.
Meletus (with Anytus and Lycon) brought charges of "criminal meddling, in that he inquires of things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger". This was depicted in "The Clouds" [423 BCE].
He compares himself to the Sophists, who unlike Socrates charge for their services--he has never charged. The priestess at Delphi declared to Chaerephon [a good democrat who was exiled during the oligarchy] that there was no man wiser than Socrates, and yet he confessed his own ignorance, unlike others with pretensions of wisdom (sofia). As a result of the oracle, he took upon himself "a sort of pilgrimage" to interview those professing knowledge, and found most of them to be deficient: politicians, poets (who were inspired with a message they often did not understand), and craftsmen. He says "real wisdom is the property of God, and this oracle is his way of telling us that human wisdom has little or no value... The wisest of you men is he who has realized, like Socrates, that in respect of wisdom he is really worthless." His efforts to deflate the pretensions of those claiming wisdom, which he says he does to help the cause of God, has reduced him to extreme poverty and made him unpopular and resented, as has the attachment to him of noble youths, who emulate his ways. Yet he asks who influences the young for the better? He was unpaid for his work.
He names his current accusers Meletus, Anytus and Lycon and cites their current charges: he is "guilty of corrupting the minds of the young [most notably Alcibiades c. 450-404 and Critias, one of the tyrants], and of believing in deities of his own invention instead of the gods recognized by the state". He questions Meletus as to who influences the young for the better, and proves that Meletus has taken no interest in this in the past.
He defends his belief in gods such as the sun and the moon and in other supernatural beings (for how could one believe in supernatural activities and not in supernatural beings).
He states his heroic dedication to the philosophical life even in the face of criticism and hostility: "Where a man has once taken up his stand,.. there I believe he is bound to remain and face the danger, taking no account of death or anything else before dishonor." Citing his Peloponnesian war valor at Potidaea etc., he states it would be shocking inconsistency if he were to desert the post assigned to him by God. He questions the fear of death, since it could be the greatest blessing that can happen to man. He refuses to disobey God: "I owe a greater obedience to God than to you." He will continue to question and examine all he meets, believing that "goodness brings wealth and every other blessing" and that "no greater good has ever befallen you in this city than my service to my God." "I am not going to alter my conduct, not even if I have to die a hundred deaths."
By executing him, "you will harm yourselves more than me." "I do not believe that the law of God permits a better man to be harmed by a worse... So far from pleading on my behalf, as might be supposed, I am really pleading on yours, to save you from misusing the gift of God by condemning me." "You will not easily find anyone to take my place." God has sent him as if he were a stinging fly (horsefly or gadfly) sent to rouse a drowsing horse (the citizens of Athens), to waken them from their complacency. He predicts they will soon slap him just like a fly and return to their complacent slumbers.
He has neglected his own affairs in helping others and lives in poverty. He has conducted himself in the pursuit of justice in private and not as a politician (which would have quickly led to his losing his life). He recounts a proposed trial of 10 naval commanders in which he alone opposed trying them en bloc [they were accused of abandoning the survivors and the dead during the battle of Arguinusae in 406]. Later, during the Oligarchy of 30 (404-402), he disobeyed a tyrannical order to fetch Leon for execution. He values doing good over living.
He is open to all who will argue with him and answers questions of rich and poor alike. He is entertaining. He names some of his many students: Crito, Antiphon, Plato, etc. He mentions his 3 sons but rejects making an emotional appeal or bringing in his family to appeal for mercy. He leaves his fate in the hands of the jury and God.
It was a close vote to convict, 281:220 out of 501. Meletus is demanding death. He plays with the jury regarding his punishment--he should be rewarded for his actions with free maintenance by the state. He gently chastises that his trial has been allowed only one day. He has no money for a fine and says he would be just as irritating to those in another country to which he might be exiled, since he cannot change his ways. "This is the hardest thing of all to make some of you understand. If I say that this would be disobedience to God, and that is why I cannot 'mind my own business', you will not believe that I am serious. If on the other hand I tell you that to let no day pass without discussing goodness and all the other subjects about which you hear me talking and examining both myself and others is really the very best thing that a man can do, and that life without this sort of examination is not worth living, you will be even less inclined to believe me. Nevertheless that is how it is, gentlemen, as I maintain, though it is not easy to convince you of it." He finally suggests a fine of one mina (c. one pound of silver), then revises this to 30 as backed by his supporters Plato, Apollodorus, etc.
He is defiant. His execution will damage the reputation of Athens. It will shorten his life only slightly. He is condemned not because of a lack of an adequate defense but because of his lack of impudence and refusal to grovel. He is resolved to uphold the law and not attempt to escape death, which would be wrong. Those who voted against him are depraved and wicked, and will be punished. His execution will not stop the criticism that has previously been suppressed. He admonishes them to make themselves as good as they can be. He speaks warmly to those who voted to acquit. He welcomes death, and notes that his execution was not divinely opposed. He reflects on death, which is either an annihilation or a change, a transmigration of souls and removal to Hades. He looks forward to being with Homer, Hesiod, Musaeus, Orpheus, Ajax, etc. and looks forward to debate there (where one cannot be further put to death for such conduct). "You too, gentlemen of the jury, must look forward to death with confidence, and fix your minds on this one belief, which is certain--that nothing can harm a good man either in life or after death, and his fortunes are not a matter of indifference to the gods." "For my own part I bear no grudge at all against those who condemned me and accused me, although it was not with this kind intention that they did so, but because they thought that they were hurting me; and that is culpable of them." He hopes his sons will be properly taken care of and directed toward goodness. "Now it is time that we were going, I to die and you to live, but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God."
Socrates explores the meaning of temperance or self-control (sophrosyne) with a handsome youth. It is an ideal embodied in the Delphic inscriptions "Know thyself" and "Never too much."
Speculation on the origin and etymology of the Greek language.
"Then let us seek the true beauty, not asking whether a face is fair,... for all such things appear to be in a flux, but let us ask whether the true beauty is not always beautiful."
There are eternal truths.
The morning of his execution, Crito tries unsuccessfully to persuade Socrates to escape, but Socrates wants "not to live but to live well." "One must not even do wrong when one is wronged." He insists on obeying the law "since God points out the way". A wrong can never be justified; a citizen must uphold the law.
Discusses verbal trickery and how to express truth verbally.
Socrates explores piety or holiness with a lawyer prosecuting his own father, prior to Socrates' own trial.
Socrates argues with the famous rhetorician and Sophist Gorgias and his pupil Polus that rhetoric, though possibly giving power and persuasion, produces belief without knowledge.
Socrates maintains that it is worse to do wrong than to suffer it. "The man and woman who are noble and good I call happy, but the evil and base I call wretched." Injustice is the greatest evil. Callicles asserts a philosophy of might is right, saying that philosophy is suitable only for youth, and that the better and wiser man should rule and have more. They that can succeed indulge their appetites, whil others are forced to praise moderation and temperance. But Socrates argues that some pleasures are not good and that pleasure and good are not the same.
After the judgement at the crossroads, the man "who has led a godly and righteous life departs after death to the Isles of the Blessed and there lives in all happiness exempt from ill, but the godless and unrighteous man departs to a prison of vengeance and punishment which they call Tartarus." A man "should study not to seem but to be good.... And you may let anyone despise you as a fool and do you outrage, if he wishes, yes, and you may cheerfully let him strike you with that humiliating blow, for you will suffer no harm thereby.... This is the best way of life-- to live and die in the pursuit of righteousness and all other virtues."
Socrates discusses art (techne) with the Homeric rhapsodist Ion. Unlike the knowledge acquired in other arts, Socrates asserts that the poetic art is not an art at all but a divine gift like magnetism. Poets are possessed by the gods like bacchants and "it is the god himself who speaks, and through them becomes articulate to us."
Socrates explores the meaning of courage or virtue (aretė) with generals Laches and Nicias, the former having led Socrates in battle at Delium.
Plato attempts to present laws for real life; is said to include the golden rule.
The Lesser Hippias is an inferior dialogue in which Socrates argues with Hippias the Sophist about voluntary vs involuntary wrongdoing. Greater Hippias is on the beautiful. The authenticity of both has been questioned.
Explores friendship (filia) through two young friends Lysis and Menexenus.
Of questionable authorship, it appears to be a satire on patriotic speeches.
Again ask what virtue is and if it can be taught. Discusses immortality of the soul and its multiple rebirths and demonstrates that we have knowledge that can be recalled by questioning a slave boy about triangles etc. Virtue is not learned but is a divine dispensation, and its possessors are to others as Tiresias was to the flitting shades of the underworld. Anytus warns Socrates against slander.
Debates the validity and existence of Platonic Ideals or Forms inconclusively.
Phaedo recounts to Echecrates the last hours of Socrates sometime after his death, a day to which he was a witness (along with Apollodorus, Menexenus, etc.) The execution had been delayed awaiting the return of the ship which was sent to Delos on an annual religious mission. Phaedo recalls how happy Socrates seemed, how cheerfully he looked forward to death.
Xanthippe appears and is hysterical, and Socrates sends her away (Plato seems quite unsympathetic to her).
Socrates notes the similarity of pleasure and pain, and that they are often experienced together--he suggests that they are like two bodies attached to the same head, as in some imagined Aesop fable. He recalls a recurring dream he has had, in which he is exhorted: "Socrates, practice and cultivate the arts." He has interpreted this to mean that philosophy is the highest art, but recently has been working on lyrics to a poem honoring Apollo.
He argues against suicide to Cebes, saying we are put in a sort of guard post and that the gods are our keepers and we their possessions, and we will be punished if we destroy ourselves. "A man who has really devoted his life to philosophy should be cheerful in the face of death, and confident of finding the greatest blessing in the next world..." Death is simply "the release of the soul from the body." Philosophers should be concerned with the soul and not with bodily pleasures--"the philosopher frees his soul from association with the body, so far as is possible..."
The senses are inaccurate. The soul finds truth, not with the senses, but through pure thought and reflection divorced from the senses. The intellect can contemplate absolute truths such as "absolute uprightness." Bodily urges are simply a distraction, and we are filled with nonsense about love, desire, fear, war and revolution, etc. We must separate ourselves from these urges to attain pure knowledge. Pure knowledge may only come from the purification of death.
Philosophers make their occupation the freeing and separation of soul from body. "True philosophers make dying their profession." Lovers and philosophers choose to pursue their loves into the afterlife. The courage and self-control non-philosophers display are based merely on fear of losing pleasures. Wisdom must be the ultimate goal of life--it makes possible true courage, self-control, and integrity.
Socrates looks forward to being dead, as his soul will be able to mix with past rulers and great thinkers. But Cebes is skeptical about the afterlife and the persistence of the soul--he wonders if the soul does not merely disperse at death and no longer exists.
Socrates considers the question whether souls transmigrate, and recounts the legend that they do in fact return from the dead. He provides an elaborate argument about opposites begetting opposites, that death and life are opposites, and that death must therefore beget life (rebirth or palligenesia--this argument seems to be based on a fallacious assumption!)
He believes souls return from the world of the dead and that "what we recollect now we must have learned at some time before," and that "learning is recollection" or recovery of knowledge formerly known but temporarily forgotten after birth. This recollection or anamnesis occurs when questions are asked in just the right way. For example, we have a built-in knowledge of absolute equality.
Cebes remains unconvinced, arguing that we may indeed recall previously forgotten knowledge, but that does not prove the soul lives on after death. Socrates presents another elaborate argument based on composite objects, and that which is invisible being invariant, etc. The body confuses the soul. Upon death, "it [the soul] passes into the realm of the pure and everlasting and immortal and changeless...", a condition which we call wisdom. The soul is like that which is divine, indissoluble, invariable. The soul of a good man who has led a pure life goes "... into the presence of the good and wise God"--this is where he hopes to go. It is a happy fate, released from uncertainty and fears.
But the souls of the wicked or impure are "compelled to wander about these places [on earth] as punishment..."--partly visible as shadowy apparitions. Or because of their craving for the corporeal, they may be reincarnated as base animals such as the donkey. wolf, etc.
No soul which has not practiced philosophy, and is not absolutely pure when it leaves the body, may attain to the divine nature; that is only for the lover of wisdom." You must follow philosophy wherever it leads you. Philosophy sets the soul free, rid of human ills. Pleasure and pain are impure, corporeal, and bind the soul like rivets to the body.
Socrates compares his expression of joy at his impending death to that shown by the dying swan [the swan song], which sings most loudly and sweetly then in anticipation of going into the presence of the gods, and not as an expression of grief.
But Simmias is still unconvinced of the immortality of the soul. He addresses several concerns. (1) Is the soul merely a property of the body like an attunement? (a Pythagorean belief). (2) Do souls eventually wear out after repeated use?
Socrates loves to argue. "No greater misfortune could happen to anyone than that of developing a dislike for argument [misology]." "We must not let it enter our minds that there may be no validity in argument." He presents additional arguments against the attunement concept (such a soul could not precede the body, and could not control the body...) He also refutes the concept of souls wearing out...
He acknowledges he in unsuited to pursue natural science. He does not "understand how things becomes one, nor, in short, why anything else comes or ceases or continues to be, according to this method of inquiry." He refers to Anaxagoras's contention that mind produces order and is the cause of everything, but on reading what Anaxogoras said, his hopes were disappointed... He distrusts observational sciences: "I was afraid that by observing objects with my eyes and trying to comprehend them with each of my senses I might blind my soul altogether" as can occur by watching an eclipse.
He gives his own theory of causation: "I am assuming the existence of absolute beauty and goodness.... Whatever else is beautiful apart from absolute beauty is beautiful because it partakes of that absolute beauty... The one thing that makes that object beautiful is the presence in it or association with in it, in whatever way the relation comes about, of absolute beauty." "You know of no other way in which any given object can come into being except by participation in the reality peculiar to its appropriate universal..." He arrives at his concept of Forms or Ideas (Eidos), in which tangible things participate, and asserts that absolute forms do not coexist with opposites... "If anything is accompanied by a form which has an opposite, and meets that opposite, then the thing which is accompanied never admits the opposite of the form by which it is accompanied."
Socrates proves the immortality of the soul by claiming that absolute forms do not coexist with their opposites: the soul confers life, the opposite of life is death, thus the soul will not admit death and is therefore immortal. Souls are imperishable, but nonetheless must be cared for in life and for all time--the only escape from evil is becoming good. "Every soul that has lived throughout its life in purity and soberness enjoys divine company and guidance."
Socrates describes his theory of the earth. The earth, if spherical, is in the middle of the heavens (aether), and being suspended in equilibrium requires no force to keep it from falling. It is vast, and there are many hollow places in which water, mist, and air collect and in which we ordinary humans actually live, though we incorrectly believe we live on the surface and that the air we see about us is the true heavens. The earth and stones we are surrounded by are corroded, not like the true earth and heaven, which are out of sight. The idealized real earth has more vivid and extensive colors than what we experience, and the trees, flowers, mountains, stones, etc. are more lovely because they have not been damaged by decay or corrosion. Rich metals are abundant. Idealized humans live in the air (beyond our sight), free from disease and superior in their senses to us. They have temples inhabited by gods and see the true sun, moon and stars as they really are.
The hollows that we live in are interconnected by underground channels, subterranean rivers of water, mud, and lava, and these flows have a natural oscillation. The largest cavity in the earth is Tartarus, into which all the great rivers flow and reemerge again in a type of oscillation accompanied by great winds. The great streams include: (1) the mightiest, Oceanus, (2) Acheron (which arrives at the Acherusian Lake where the souls of the dead come), (3) Pryriphlegethon (which belches forth jets of lava), and (4) the Cocytus river which forms the lake Styx in the Stygian region.
The newly dead are submitted to judgement. Those who lived a neutral life go to Acheron for purification and absolution from sins. The very wicked receive eternal punishment in Tartarus and never reemerge. Redeemable sinners stay in Tartarus for a year, then are borne by the river to the Acherusian Lake etc. where they must beg forgiveness of those whom they have wronged if they hope ever to resurface. But those who have lived holy lives "are released and set free from confinement in these regions of the earth, and passing upward to their pure abode, make their dwelling upon the earth's surface [i.e., not in the hollows where ordinary humans live]." From there the most worthy philosophers live without bodies in even more beautiful habitations.
Living a life of self-control and goodness, courage, and liberality and truth is the way a man can be free from all anxiety about the fate of the soul. He should devote himself to the pleasures of acquiring knowledge.
Crito asks if he has any words for his children, but he has no new advice. He is indifferent to whether his body is buried or burned, since his soul will have departed it to a state of heavenly happiness. His 3 sons come in with the women of his household, and after speaking to them a short while asks them to go away.
His kindly jailer gives him praise, apologizes for having to carry out his orders, and leaves weeping. Crito wants him to delay as long as possible, but Socrates insists on proceeding with the execution. A servant fetches the cup of hemlock, which Socrates calmly and cheerfully drinks. He urges Apollodorus to cease his weeping and be brave, since he wishes to die in tranquility. He tells Crito they should offer a cock to the divine healer Asclepius (as if he were recovering from an illness by dying). Soon he dies. [Revised May 2002]
Socrates and Phaedrus walk in the country and discuss love.
Socrates dismisses scientific inquiry and modern skepticism about the gods, preferring self-exploration and dialectic: "I can't as yet `know thyself' ... and so long as that ignorance remains it seems to me ridiculous to inquire into extraneous matters.... I am a lover of learning, and trees and open country won't teach me anything, whereas men in the town do."
Phaedrus reads Lysias' speech, which describes how a handsome young man is tempted, not by the entreaty of a lover but by one who professes not to be in love, arguing that "a lover more often than not wants to possess you...." Socrates discusses the conflict of the pursuit of pleasure versus the good: "Within each one of us there are two sorts of ruling or guiding principle that we follow. One is the innate desire for pleasure, the other an acquired judgment that aims us at what is best. Sometimes these internal guides are in accord, sometimes at variance.... When judgment guides us rationally toward what is best, and has the mastery, that mastery is called temperance.... A man dominated by desire and enslaved to pleasure is of course bound to aim at getting the greatest possible pleasure out of his beloved.... He must aim at making the boy totally ignorant and totally dependent on his lover, by way of securing the maximum pleasure for himself, and the maximum of damage to the other."
But Socrates then maintains that love (eros) is a god or divine being and cannot therefore be evil. He cites Stesichorus' belief that love "is a gift of the gods," a heaven-sent form of madness or possession.
He argues that the soul is immortal and is like a chariot drawn by two differing steeds: "one of them is noble and good, ... while the other has the opposite character.... When it is perfect and winged it journeys on high and controls the whole world, but one that has shed its wings sinks down until it can fasten on something solid, and settling there it takes itself an earthly body...." The successful souls ascend to the "summit of the arch that supports the heavens.... It is there that true being dwells, without color or shape, that cannot be touched; reason alone, the soul's pilot, can behold it, and all true knowledge is knowledgee thereof.... Contemplating truth she is nourished and prospers... And while she is borne round she discerns justice ... and likewise temperance ... and knowledge, not the knowledge that is neighbor to becoming and varies with the various objects to which we commonly ascribe being, but the veritable knowledge of being that veritably is." A soul which falls away from truth becomes forgetful, sheds its wings, and falls back to earth. "The soul that hath seen the most of being shall enter into the human babe that shall grow into a seeker after wisdom and beauty, a follower of the Muses and a lover." A progressively lower cycle of reincarnations, each lasting 1000 years (up to 10,000 years total), may follow unless the soul seeks wisdom through philosophy, in which case the wings can be regained and the soul again ascends to the eternal realm. "Therefore it is meet and right that the soul of the philosopher alone should recover her wings, for she, as far as may be, is ever near in memory to those things a god's nearness whereunto makes him truly god.... He and he alone becomes truly perfect. Standing aside from the busy doings of mankind, and drawing nigh to the divine, he is rebuked by the multitude as being out of his wits.... When he that loves beauty is touched by such madness he is called a lover.... Beauty it was ours to see in all its brightness in those days....and in this world below we apprehend it through the clearest of our senses...." Souls of sullied purity see little of true beauty and seek only physical pleasure. When a beloved causes desire in a lover, the driver of the chariot reins in the base horse "until the evil steed casts off his wantonness.... And so, if the victory be won by the higher elements of mind ... the power of evil in the soul has been subjected, and the power of goodness liberated.... These then, my boy, are the blessings great and glorious which will come too from the friendship of a lover."
Socrates notes that ideas reduced to writing are imperfectly represented: "[Writing] is no true wisdom ... but only its semblance.... Written words seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything about what they say ... they go on telling you just the same forever."
His closing prayer to Pan and other divinities: "...Grant that I may become fair within, and that such outward things as I have may not war against the spirit within me. May I count him rich who is wise, and as for gold, may I possess so much of it as only a temperate man might bear and carry with him."
Argues that wisdom and intelligence (things of the mind) are superior to enjoyments of the senses (pleasures). True understanding entails discerning a limited number of manifestations or presentations of a class of objects instead of a bewilderingly infinite number of possibilities. Argues the existence of a supreme intelligence governing the universe.
Socrates meets his equal in the great Sophist Protagoras, discussing whether virtue can be taught and whether pleasure is good. P. tells of Prometheus' gifts to mankind of skill in the arts and of fire and Zeus' gifts of justice and respect for others.
Explores what is justice. Thrasymachus argues that "justice" is used to justify the actions of the strong, to take advantage of others. Socrates holds the just are happy, the unjust miserable. Glaucon argues men will be unjust if they can get away with it (e.g., by being invisible). Adimantus argues that the most profitable strategy is to do injustice but to ask forgiveness of the gods and keep up the appearance of justice. Socrates describes the ideal city, rules by trained guardians who love wisdom. He rejects evil acts of the gods as protrayed in Homer and Hesiod, or their changeability. God is simple and benevolent. Learn courage, self-control, avoid evil images and tales, be temperate, love the beautiful, eat simply, love modestly. Laws won't be necessary. Describes our conflict between reason and desires (or feelings). Describes communal marriages, eugenics, infanticide, conduct of war. The kings will be philosophers who seek true beauty and justice, the true objects of true knowledge illuminated by the Good. Men are like cave dwellers seeing only shadows of reality. True knowledge must be shared. The good is reached thru dialectic. Discusses inferior forms of government--democracy, tyranny, etc. The soul is like a chimera, with 3 parts: man (learning), lion (anger), and many-headed beast (appetites). Opposes authority of poetry--art is imitation of life, itself an imitation of ultimate reality. The soul is immortal. Er, son of Armenius, sees the sorting of souls to go either to heaven or to punishment underground. Souls choose their future lives, good or evil. Pursue righteousness and wisdom.
This dialog illustrates the gradual dimming of the vividness and frequency of the interaction with the gods (compared, say, to Samuel's frequent contact with God), and Plato's skepticism regarding Homer's authoritativeness about the gods (similarly in Timaeus)
[595:] I must speak out, I said, though a certain love and reverence for Homer that has possessed me from a boy would stay me from speaking. For he appears to have been the first teacher and beginner of all these beauties of tragedy. Yet all the same we must not honor a man above truth, but, as I say speak our minds...
: "...surely it is fair to ask, 'Friend Homer, if you are not at the third remove from truth and reality in human excellence, being merely tht creator of phantoms whom we defined as the imitator, but if you are even in the second place and were capable of knowing what pursuits make men better or worse in private or public life, tell us what city was better governed owing to you..."
[606d]: "And so in regard to the emotions of sex and anger, and all the appetites and pains and pleasures of the soul which we say accompany all our actions, the effect of poetic imitation is the same. For it waters and fosters these feelings when what we ought to do is to dry them up, and it establishes them as our rulers when they ought to be ruled, to the end that we may be better and happier men instead of worse and more miserable ... Then, Glaucon, said I, when you meet encomiasts of Homer who tell us that this poet has been the educator of Hellas, and that for the conduct and refinement of human life
he is worthy of our study and devotion, and that we should order our entire lives by the guidance of this poet, we must love and salute them as doing the best they can, and concede to them that Homer is the most poetic of poets and the first of tragedians, but we must know the truth, that we can admit no poetry into our city save only hymns to the gods and the praises of good men. For if you grant admission to the honeyed muse in lyric or epic, pleasure and pain will be lords of your city instead of law and that which shall from time to time have approved itself to the general reason as the best."
A negative protrayal of Sophists. It establishes that false statements are possible.
Asks what is an ideal statesman. Concludes the ideal state is governed by a wise and flexible statesman, that laws are only an inferior second choice. The myth of universe rotation reversal. Types of government. The web of state blends the courageous and the moderate.
Apollodorus (a late disciple of Socrates) repeats to his friend(s) the story he previously told to his friend Glaucon (Plato's brother?), a story that he had heard from Aristodemus (an early disciple of Socrates). A symposium (symposion = drinking party or entertainment) was held in 416 BCE at the house of Agathon, a poet and playwright who studied under Gorgias and Prodicus. The guests also included Phaedrus (Socrates' friend and a disciple of Hippias), Pausanius (a disciple of Prodicus), Erixymachus (a physician of the Asclepiadae), Aristophanes (comic poet), and Alcibiades (one year before his ill-fated Sicilian expedition).
Eryximachus counsels against heavy drinking and all agree it is not to be a drunken party. (This goal is adhered to until late in the evening.) He dismisses the flute girl (αὐλητρίς) and proposes an evening devoted to discussion of love (Eros =ἔρως).
Pausanius contrasts sacred v. profane Love (sacred is associated with heavenly Aphrodite Urania=Οὐρανοῦ and earthly with Aphrodite Pandemus=πάνδημος, resp.).
Aristophanes describes the original 3 sexes of 4-legged man, split in half and always seeking our primaeval wholeness. Socrates says Love is half-mortal, is always needy but resourceful, longs for and seeks the good, and wisdom. With love we seek immortality, first with children, then with fame, then with spiritual creations. We seek beauty first in people, and ultimately in the vision of eternal beauty, becoming the friend of god. Alcibiades' eulogy of Socrates' teaching, courage and valor, self-control, etc.
Socrates asks of the geometer Theodorus and his pupil Theaetetus "what is knowledge"? It is not just what is perceived or sensed from the material worod or correct opinion. Socrates celebrates a sense of wonder, philosophy vs. oratory, the leisurely search for wisdom. Some knowledge is sensed by the mind alone, by reflection. Memory is like imprints in a block of wax.
Critias tells a tale from Solon, told to Critias' grandfather, said to have come from the Egyptians. Ancient Athens saved the Meditteranean world from invaders from Atlantis, which disappeared into the sea. Describes God's creation of the physical universe. A good, nonjealous benevolent God. The world is formed as a great shperical organism with a soul at the center and with inner and outer circles. Time is a property of motion, the "moving image of the eternal". Man's is made by the gods in imitation of their creation by God. The 4 elements , earth, air, fire, water. Man's shape, senses. Form (eternal) plus raw material yields physical objects (being, space, and generation). Triangles as building blocks. A "chemistry". Our senses and organs. Heart as seat of passions, etc. Opposes experimental verification. Disease mechanisms. Women and animals are formed from recycled inferior souls.
Expresses skepticism about and unknowability of the gods:
"But the father and maker of all this universe is past finding out, and even if we found him, to tell of him to all men would be impossible. [28:d]
"To know or tell the origin of the other divinities is beyond us, and we must accept the traditions of the men of old time who affirm themselves to be the offspring of the gods--that is what that say--and they must surely have known their own ancestors. How can we doubt the word of the children of the gods? Although they give no probable or certain proofs, still, as they declare that they are speaking of what took place in their own family, we must conform to custom and believe them. In this manner, then, according to them, the genealogy of these gods is to be received and set forth." [40d]