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Socrates 3.6 – Alcibiades I

The Delphic Motto: “Know Thyself”

Ah, my remarkable friend, listen to me and the Delphic motto, 124b “Know thyself”; for these people are our competitors, not those whom you think; and there is nothing that will give us ascendancy over them save only pains and skill.
If you are found wanting in these, you will be found wanting also in achievement of renown among Greeks and barbarians both; and of this I observe you to be more enamored than anyone else ever was of anything.

Alcibiades Well then, what are the pains that I must take, Socrates? Can you enlighten me? For I must say your words are remarkably like the truth.

Note 28: Cf. above, Plat. Alc. 1.119b.

“I too need education; and God, who is my guardian, inspires me with the belief that I shall bring you to honour.” (Jowett’s note)

Socrates Yes, I can: but we must put our heads together,28 you know, as to the way in which 124c we can improve ourselves to the utmost. For observe that when I speak of the need of being educated I am not referring only to you, apart from myself; since my case is identical with yours except in one point.

Alcibiades What is that ?

Socrates My guardian is better and wiser than your one, Pericles.

Alcibiades Who is he, Socrates?

Socrates God, Alcibiades, who until this day would not let me converse with you; and trusting in him I say that through no other man but me will you attain to eminence. 124d

Alcibiades You are jesting, Socrates.

Socrates Perhaps; I am right, however, in saying that we need to take pains — all men rather badly, but we two very badly indeed.

Alcibiades As to me, you are not wrong.

Socrates Nor, I fear, as to myself either.

Alcibiades Then what can we do?

Socrates There must be no crying off or skulking, my good friend.

Alcibiades No, for that would indeed be unseemly, Socrates.

“We must take counsel together, (not about equestrian or naval affairs), but about the things which occupy the minds of wise men.” (Jowett’s note)

Socrates It would; so let us consider in common. Now tell me: 124e we say, do we not, that we wish to be as good as possible?

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates In what excellence?

Alcibiades Clearly that which is the aim of good men.

Socrates Good in what?

Alcibiades Clearly, good in the management of affairs.

Socrates What sort of affairs? Horsemanship?

Alcibiades No, no.

Socrates Because we should apply to horsemen?

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates Well, seamanship, do you mean?

Alcibiades No.

Socrates Because we should apply to seamen?

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates Well, what sort of thing? The business of what men?

Alcibiades Of Athenian gentlemen. 125a

Socrates Do you mean by “gentlemen” the intelligent or the unintelligent?

Alcibiades The intelligent.

Socrates And everyone is good in that wherein he is intelligent?

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates And bad wherein he is unintelligent?

Alcibiades Of course.

Socrates Then is the shoemaker intelligent in the making of foot-gear?

Alcibiades Certainly.

Socrates So he is good in that article?

Alcibiades Good.

Socrates Well now, is not the shoemaker unintelligent in the making of clothes?

Alcibiades Yes. 125b

Socrates So he is bad in that?

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates Then, on this showing, the same man is both bad and good.

Alcibiades Apparently.

Socrates Well, can you say that good men are also bad?

Alcibiades No, indeed.

Socrates But whoever do you mean by the good?

“And the wise are those who take counsel for the better order and improvement of the city.” (Jowett’s note)

Alcibiades I mean those who are able to rule in the city.

Socrates Not, I presume, over horses?

Alcibiades No, no.

Socrates But over men?

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates When they are sick?

Alcibiades No.

Socrates Or at sea?

Alcibiades I say, no.

Socrates Or harvesting?

Alcibiades No. 125c

Socrates Doing nothing, or doing something?

Alcibiades Doing something, I say.

Socrates Doing what? Try and let me know.

Alcibiades Well, men who do business with each other and make use of one another, as is our way of life in our cities.

“Illustrations.” (Jowett’s note)

Socrates Then you speak of ruling over men who make use of men?

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates Over boatswains who make use of rowers?

Alcibiades No, no.

Socrates Because that is the pilot’s distinction?

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates Well, do you mean ruling over men who are flute-players, 125d and who lead the singing and make use of dancers?

Alcibiades No, no.

Socrates Because, again, that is the chorus-teacher’s function?

Alcibiades To be sure.

Socrates But whatever do you mean by being able to rule over men who make use of men?

Alcibiades I mean ruling over men in the city who share in it as fellow-citizens, and do business with each other.

Socrates Well, what art is this? Suppose I should ask you over again, as I did just now, what art makes men know how to rule over fellow-sailors?

Alcibiades The pilot’s. 125e

Socrates And what knowledge — to repeat what was said a moment ago — makes them rule over their fellow-singers?

Alcibiades That which you just mentioned, the chorus-teacher’s.

Socrates Well now, what do you call the knowledge of one’s fellow-citizens?

Alcibiades Good counsel, I should say, Socrates.

Socrates Well, and is the pilot’s knowledge evil counsel?

Alcibiades No, no.

Socrates Rather good counsel? 126a

Alcibiades So I should think, for the preservation of his passengers.

Socrates Quite right. And now, for what is the good counsel of which you speak?

Alcibiades For the better management and preservation of the city.

Socrates And what is it that becomes present or absent when we get this better management and preservation? If, for example, you should ask me, “What is it that becomes present or absent when the body is better managed and preserved?” — I should reply, “Health becomes present, and disease absent.” Do not you think so too? 126b

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates And if, again, you asked me, “What becomes present in a better condition of the eyes?” — I should answer in just the same way, “Sight becomes present, and blindness absent.” So, in the case of the ears, deafness is caused to be absent, and hearing to be present, when they are improved and getting better treatment.

Alcibiades Correct.

And this improvement is given by friendship and agreement,

“And this improvement is given by friendship and agreement…” (Jowett’s note)

Socrates Well then, what is it that becomes present or absent when a state is improved and has better treatment and management? 126c

Alcibiades To my mind, Socrates, friendship with one another will be there, while hatred and faction will be absent.

Socrates Now, by friendship do you mean agreement or disagreement?

Alcibiades Agreement.

Socrates And what art is it that causes states to agree about numbers?

Alcibiades Arithmetic.

Socrates And what of individuals? Is it not the same art?

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates And it makes each single person agree with himself?

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates And what art makes each of us agree with himself 126d as to which is the longer, a span or a cubit? Is it not mensuration?

Alcibiades Of course.

Socrates And it makes both individuals and states agree with each other?

Alcibiades Yes.

Socrates And what about the balance? Is it not the same here too?

Alcibiades It is.

Socrates Then what is that agreement of which you speak, and about what? And what art secures it? And is it the same in an individual as in a state, when one agrees with oneself and with another?

Alcibiades Most likely.

Socrates Well, what is it? Do not flag in your answers, 126e but do your best to tell me.

“…such as exists between the members of a family, however they may differ in their qualities and accomplishments.” (Jowett’s note)

Alcibiades I suppose I mean the friendship and agreement that you find when a father and mother love their son, and between brother and brother, and husband and wife.

Socrates Then do you suppose, Alcibiades, that a husband can possibly agree with his wife about woolwork, when he does not understand it, and she does?

Alcibiades Oh, no.

Socrates Nor has he any need, since that is a woman’s pursuit.

Alcibiades Yes. 127a

Socrates Or again, could a woman agree with a man about soldiering, when she has not learnt it?

Alcibiades Oh, no.

Socrates Because, I expect you will say again, that is a man’s affair.

Alcibiades I would.

Socrates Then, by your account, there are some pursuits belonging to women, and some to men?

Alcibiades Of course.

Socrates So in these, at any rate, there is no agreement between men and women.

Alcibiades No.

Socrates And hence no friendship either, if, as we said, friendship is agreement.

Alcibiades Apparently not.

Socrates So women are not loved by men, in so far as they do their own work. 127b

Alcibiades It seems not.

Socrates Nor are men by women, in so far as they do theirs.

Alcibiades No.

“If everybody is doing his own business, how can this promote friendship? And yet when individuals are doing each his own work, they are doing what is just.” (Jowett’s note)

Socrates And states, therefore, are not well ordered in so far as each person does his own business?29

Alcibiades I think they are, Socrates.

Socrates How can you say that? Without the presence of friendship, which we say must be there if states are well ordered, as otherwise they are not?

Alcibiades But it seems to me that friendship arises among them just on that account — that each of the two parties does its own business. 127c

Socrates It was not so a moment since: but now, what do you mean this time? Does friendship arise where there is no agreement? And is it possible that agreement should arise where some know about the business, but others do not?

Alcibiades Impossible.

Socrates And are they doing what is just or unjust, when each man does his own business?

Alcibiades What is just, of course.

Socrates And when the citizens do what is just in the city, does not friendship arise among them?

Alcibiades Again I think that must be so, Socrates.

Socrates Then whatever do you mean by that friendship or agreement 127d about which we must be wise and well-advised in order that we may be good men? For I am unable to learn either what it is, or in whom; since it appears that the same persons sometimes have it, and sometimes not, by your account.

Alcibiades offers one more theory of ruling well before conceding his ignorance, proposing that friendship between citizens is the ingredient that brings justice. But Socrates points out that harmonious working together seems itself both to bring the harmony associated with justice, and also to promote friendship.

Alcibiades is exasperated.


Aporia, again.

Alcibiades Well, by Heaven, Socrates, I do not even know what I mean myself, and I fear that for some time past I have lived unawares in a disgraceful condition.

Socrates But you must take heart. For had you perceived your plight 127e at fifty, it would be hard for you to take pains with yourself; whereas here you are at the time of life when one ought to perceive it.

Alcibiades Then what should one do on perceiving it, Socrates?

“The way to clear up difficulties is to answer questions. Alcibiades is willing to have recourse to this method of improvement.” (Jowett’s note)

Socrates Answer the questions asked, Alcibiades: only do that, and with Heaven’s favor — if we are to put any trust in my divination — you and I shall both be in better case.

Alcibiades That shall be, so far as my answering can avail.

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