Socrates in Plato’s Alcibiades

"Socrates," by Mitch Francis
Our text comes from Plato in Twelve Volumes. Trans. W.R.M. Lamb. Vol. 8. Harvard University Press, 1955. The numbered notes derive from the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Numerals styled like thisreflect 16th century "Stephanus pagination", still standard for references.
  • I indicate where my commentary ends by using our writer's avatar where the primary text begins:

  • Socrates 3.1 – Alcibiades I
    "Socrates," by Mitch Francis
    “Socrates,” by Mitch Francis

    First Alcibiades,” or just “Alcibiades,” as our text is alternatively called, presents a dialogue between Socrates and the young and beautiful Alcibiades, who hasn’t thought too carefully about his ambitious plans for life. The dialogue

    • showcases Socrates’ method (the elenchus) as a tool for bringing clarity, and the role of perplexity (aporia) in intellectual growth;
    • evaluates and differentiates sources of knowledge, such as what we learn from relevant experts, or from the public (here called “the many”);
    • exposes important differences between acknowledged and unrecognized ignorance;
    • on that basis, offers a critique of politics as usual; and
    • defends a connection between what is useful on the one hand, and what is good and just, on the other.

    But the center-piece is Socrates’ claim that care of the soul requires self-knowledge — which is no surprise to the readers of The Apology!

    The ancients designated First Alcibiades as “essential reading” for new students of Socratic and Platonic thought. Contemporary scholars, however, classify it with the “Dubia” (which is Latin for ‘doubtful’): it is no longer agreed by all to have come from Plato himself. Even so, it is firmly established as representative Socratic thought such that even at a time when charges of disputed authenticity were in vogue, Jowett wrote that “of all the disputed dialogues of Plato, [Alcibiades] has the greatest merit” (see the introduction to his translation). More recently, Cooper says of some of the Dubia in his Introduction to Plato: Complete Works:*

    * – More recently still, Nicholas Denyer has defended authenticity in his contribution to the Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics series (Plato: Alcibiades. Cambridge University Press, 2001).

    …Even if these dialogues are not by Plato himself (and at least… Alcibiades could very well be), they are… valuable works, casting interesting light on Socrates and the Socratic legacy. They also deserve attention as important documents in the history of Platonism: it is worthy of note that teachers of Platonist philosophy in later antiquity standardly organized their instruction through lectures on ten ‘major’ dialogues, beginning with Alcibiades. (p. ix. Hackett Publishing. 1997.)

    Note that the dialogue takes for granted a cultural background against which the sexual tension between these two males was within the norm, as opposed to sensational. (It’s also worth nothing that in The Symposium, Plato depicts the relationship between these two quite differently.)

    Alcibiades 1

    Alcibiades: Ambitious and …

    Note 1: Socrates refers to the “spiritual sign” which occasionally warned him against an intended action: cf. Plat. Apol. 31c-d, Plat. Apol. 40a-b.

    “The pride of Alcibiades has been too much for his lovers.” (Jowett’s note)

    Alcibiades is not just stunningly good-looking; he was raised in the house of Pericles (c. 495-429 BCE), the great Athenian leader under whom the arts and democracy flourished. In short, he is something of a celebrity. Known historically as a general, a politician, and an orator, Alicibiades could “talk the talk.”

    103a Socrates Son of Cleinias,
    I think it must surprise you that I, the first of all your lovers, am the only one of them who has not given up his suit and thrown you over, and whereas they have all pestered you with their conversation
    I have not spoken one word to you for so many years. The cause of this has been nothing human, but a certain spiritual opposition, 1 of whose power you shall be informed at some later time. However, it now opposes me no longer, 103b so I have accordingly come to you; and I am in good hopes that it will not oppose me again in the future. Now I have been observing you all this time
    , and have formed a pretty good notion of your behavior to your lovers: for although they were many and high-spirited, everyone of them has found your spirit too strong for him and has run away. 104a Let me explain the reason of your spirit being too much for them. You say you have no need of any man in any matter; for your resources are so great, beginning with the body and ending with the soul, that you lack nothing.
    You think, in the first place, that you are foremost in beauty and stature—and you are not mistaken in this, as is plain for all to see—and in the second place, that you are of the most gallant family in your city, the greatest city in Greece, and 104b that there you have, through your father, very many of the best people as your friends and kinsmen, who would assist you in case of need, and other connections also, through your mother, who are not a whit inferior to these, nor fewer. And you reckon upon a stronger power than all those that I have mentioned, in Pericles, son of Xanthippus, whom your father left as guardian of you and your brother when he died, and who is able to do whatever he likes not only in this city but all over Greece
    and among many great nations of the barbarians. 104c And I will add besides the wealth of your house: but on this, I observe, you presume least of all. Well, you puff yourself up on all these advantages, and have overcome your lovers, while they in their inferiority have yielded to your might, and all this has not escaped you; so I am very sure that you wonder what on earth I mean by not getting rid of my passion, and what can be my hope in remaining when the rest have fled.

    Alcibiades Perhaps also, Socrates, you are not aware that 104d you have only just anticipated me. For I, in fact, had the intention of coming and asking you first that very same question—what is your aim and expectation in bothering me by making a particular point of always turning up wherever I may be. For I really do wonder what can be your object, and should be very glad if you would tell me.

    Socrates Then you will listen to me, presumably, with keen attention if, as you say, you long to know what I mean, and I have in you a listener who will stay to hear me out.

    Alcibiades Why, to be sure: only speak. 104e

    Socrates Look to it, then; for it would be no wonder if I should make as much difficulty about stopping as I have made about starting.

    Alcibiades My good sir, speak; for I will listen.

    “Alcibiades a lover, not of pleasure, but of ambition; and he requires the help of Socrates for the accomplishment of his designs.” (Jowett’s note)

    “And this is the reason why Socrates has clung to him; he is hoping when Alcibiades has become the ruler of Athens to rule over him.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Speak I must, I suppose. Now, although it is hard for a lover to parley with a man who does not yield to lovers, I must make bold nevertheless to put my meaning into words. For if I saw you, Alcibiades, content with the things I set forth just now, and minded to pass your life in enjoying them, I should long ago have put away my love, 105a so at least I persuade myself: but as it is, I shall propound to your face quite another set of your thoughts, whereby you will understand that I have had you continually before my mind. For
    I believe, if some god should ask you: “Alcibiades, do you prefer to live with your present possessions, or to die immediately if you are not to have the chance of acquiring greater things?” I believe you would choose to die. But let me tell you what I imagine must be the present hope of your life. You think that if you come shortly before the Athenian Assembly — which 105b you expect to occur in a very few days — you will stand forth and prove to the people that you are more worthy of honor than either Pericles or anyone else who has ever existed, and that having proved this you will have the greatest power in the state; and that if you are the greatest here, you will be the same among all the other Greeks, and not only Greeks, but all the barbarians who inhabit the same continent with us.
    And if that same god should say to you again, that you are to hold sway here in Europe, 105c but are not to be allowed to cross over into Asia and to interfere with the affairs of that region, I believe you would be equally loth to live on those sole conditions either — if you are not to fill, one may say, the whole world with your name and your power; and I fancy that, except Cyrus and Xerxes, you think there has never existed a single man who was of any account. So then that this is your hope, I know well enough; I am not merely guessing. And I daresay you will reply, since you know that what I say is true: “Well, 105d Socrates, and what has that to do with your point?” I am going to tell you, dear son of Cleinias and Deinomache. Without me it is impossible for all those designs of yours to be crowned with achievement; so great is the power I conceive myself to have over your affairs and over you, and it is for this very reason, I believe, that the god has so long prevented me from talking with you, and I was waiting to see when he would allow me. For as 105e you have hopes of proving yourself in public to be invaluable to the state and, having proved it, of winning forthwith unlimited power, so do I hope to win supreme power over you by proving that I am invaluable to you, and that neither guardian nor kinsman nor anyone else is competent to transmit to you the power that you long for except me, with the god’s help, however.
    In your younger days, to be sure, before you had built such high hopes, the god, as I believe, prevented me from talking with you, in order that I might not waste my words: but now he has set me on; 106a for now you will listen to me.

    “Alcibiades does not deny the impeachment.” (Jowett’s note)

    You seem to me far more extraordinary, Socrates, now that you have begun to speak, than before, when you followed me about in silence; though even then you looked strange enough.
    Well, as to my intending all this or not, you have apparently made your decision, and any denial of mine will not avail me to persuade you. Very good: but supposing I have intended ever so much what you say, how are you the sole means through which I can hope to attain it? Can you tell me? 106b

    Socrates Are you asking whether I can make a long speech, such as you are used to hearing? No, my gift is not of that sort. But I fancy I could prove to you that the case is so, if you will consent to do me just one little service.

    Alcibiades Why, if you mean a service that is not troublesome, I consent.

    Socrates Do you consider it troublesome to answer questions put to you?

    Alcibiades No, I do not.

    Socrates Then answer.

    “Alcibiades is willing to answer questions.” (Jowett’s note)

    Alcibiades Ask.

    Socrates Well, you have the intentions 106c which I say you have, I suppose?

    Alcibiades Be it so, if you like, in order that I may know what you will say next.

  • Socrates 3.2 – Alcibiades I

    Socrates Now then: you intend, as I say, to come forward as adviser to the Athenians in no great space of time; well, suppose I were to take hold of you as you were about to ascend the platform, and were to ask you: “Alcibiades, on what subject do the Athenians propose to take advice, that you should stand up to advise them? Is it something about which you have better knowledge than they?” What would be your reply? 106d

    “He is going to advise the Athenians about matters which he knows better than they.” (Jowett’s note)

    Alcibiades I should say, I suppose, it was something about which I knew better than they.

    Socrates Then you are a good adviser on things about which you actually know.

    Alcibiades To be sure.

    An important premiss:
    If one knows something, then one either learned it from another or discovered it oneself. Note how Socrates uses Alcibiades’ agreement repeatedly.

    Socrates And you know only the things you have learnt from others or discovered yourself?

    Alcibiades What could I know besides?

    Socrates And can it be that you would ever have learnt or discovered anything without being willing either to learn it or to inquire into it yourself?

    Alcibiades No.

    Would you have been willing to inquire into or learn what you thought you knew?

    Another important premiss:
    Unrecognized ignorance blocks knowledge.

    Socrates Well then, would you have been willing to inquire into or learn what you thought you knew?

    Alcibiades No, indeed. 106e

    Socrates So there was a time when you did not think that you knew what you now actually know.

    Alcibiades There must have been.

    What is Socrates doing here? Is he actually looking for what Alcibiades might have learned that he means to share?

    • He’s learned music and wrestling; but those aren’t relevant to leading a city.
    • Building and health are; but he hasn’t learned those — builders and physicians know those better…

    “But when did he ever learn about these matters?” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Well, but I know pretty nearly the things that you have learnt: tell me if anything has escaped me. You learnt, if I recollect, writing and harping and wrestling; as for fluting, you refused to learn it. These are the things that you know, unless perhaps there is something you have been learning unobserved by me; and this you were not, I believe, if you so much as stepped out of doors either by night or by day.

    Alcibiades No, I have taken no other lessons than those. 107a

    Socrates Then tell me, will it be when the Athenians are taking advice how they are to do their writing correctly that you are to stand up and advise them?

    Alcibiades Upon my word, not I.

    Socrates Well, about strokes on the lyre?

    Alcibiades Not at all.

    Socrates Nor in fact are they accustomed to deliberate on throws in wrestling either at the Assembly.

    Alcibiades No, to be sure.

    Socrates Then what will be the subject of the advice? For I presume it will not be about building.

    Alcibiades No, indeed. 107b

    Socrates For a builder will give better advice than you in that matter.

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Nor yet will it be about divination?

    Alcibiades No.

    Socrates For there again a diviner will serve better than you.

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Whether he be short or tall, handsome or ugly, nay, noble or ignoble.

    Alcibiades Of course.

    Socrates For on each subject the advice comes from one who knows, not one who has riches.

    Alcibiades Of course.

    Socrates And whether their mentor be poor or rich will make no difference to the Athenians when they deliberate 107c for the health of the citizens; all that they require of their counsellor is that he be a physician.

    Alcibiades Naturally.

    Socrates Then what will they have under consideration if you are to be right in standing up, when you do so, as their counsellor?

    Alcibiades Their own affairs, Socrates.

    Socrates Do you mean with regard to shipbuilding, and the question as to what sort of ships they ought to get built?

    Alcibiades No, I do not, Socrates.

    Socrates Because, I imagine, you do not understand shipbuilding. Is that, and that alone, the reason?

    Alcibiades That is just the reason. 107d

    Socrates Well, on what sort of affairs of their own do you mean that they will be deliberating?

    Progress: Alcibiades will advise Athens on when and how to make war. How well is he prepared to do that?

    “He will advise them about war and peace, and with whom they had better go to war, and when and how long.” (Jowett’s note)

    Alcibiades On war, Socrates, or on peace, or on any other of the state’s affairs.

    Socrates Do you mean that they will be deliberating with whom they ought to make peace, and on whom they ought to make war, and in what manner?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And on whom it is better to do so, ought they not?

    Alcibiades Yes. 107e

    Socrates And at such time as it is better?

    Alcibiades Certainly.

    Socrates And for so long as they had better?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Now if the Athenians should deliberate with whom they should wrestle close, and with whom only at arm’s length, and in what manner, would you or the wrestling-master be the better adviser?

    Alcibiades The wrestling-master, I presume.

    Socrates And can you tell me what the wrestling-master would have in view when he advised as to the persons with whom they ought or ought not to wrestle close, and when and in what manner? What I mean is something like this: ought they not to wrestle close with those with whom it is better to do so?

    Alcibiades Yes. 108a


    And so far as is better, too?

    Alcibiades So far.


    And at such time also as is better?

    Alcibiades Certainly.

    Socrates But again, when one sings, one has sometimes to accompany the song with harping and stepping?

    Alcibiades Yes, one has.


    And at such time as is better?

    Alcibiades Yes.


    And so far as is better?

    Alcibiades I agree.

    Gymnastics makes for better wrestling…

    Socrates Well now, since you applied the term “better” to the two cases 108b of harping for accompaniment of a song and close wrestling, what do you call the “better” in the case of harping, to correspond with what in the case of wrestling I call gymnastic? What do you call the other?

    Alcibiades I do not understand.

    Socrates Well, try to copy me: for my answer gave you, I think, what is correct in every instance; and that is correct, I presume, which proceeds by rule of the art, is it not?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And was not the art here gymnastic?

    Alcibiades To be sure. 108c

    Note 2: Socrates means by “better” or “the better way” the general method of attaining excellence in any art.

    Socrates And I said that the better2 in the case of wrestling was gymnastic.

    Alcibiades You did.

    Socrates And I was quite fair?

    Alcibiades I think so.

    Note 3: Socrates here repeats καλῶς (which means “handsomely” as well as “correctly”) in allusion to Alcibiades’ good looks. Cf. Plat. Alc. 1 113b
    “Alcibiades should learn to argue nicely.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Come then, in your turn — for it would befit you also, I fancy, to argue fairly3 — tell me, first, what is the art which includes harping and singing and treading the measure correctly? What is it called as a whole? You cannot yet tell me?

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Socrates Well, try another way: who are the goddesses that foster the art?

    Alcibiades The Muses, you mean, Socrates? 108d

    Socrates I do. Now, just think, and say by what name the art is called after them.

    Music makes for better harping…

    Note 4: “Music” for the Greeks included poetry and dancing as well as our “music.”

    Alcibiades Music,4 I suppose you mean.

    “What is the meaning of ‘the better,’ ‘the more excellent’?” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Yes, I do. And what is that which proceeds correctly by its rule? As in the other case I was correct in mentioning to you gymnastic as that which goes by the art, so I ask you, accordingly, what you say in this case. What manner of proceeding is required?

    Alcibiades A musical one, I suppose.

    Socrates You are right. Come then, what is it that you term “better,” in respect of what is better in waging war and being at peace? 108e Just as in our other instances you said that the “better” implied the more musical and again, in the parallel case, the more gymnastical, try now if you can tell me what is the “better” in this case.

    Alcibiades is unable to explain what makes for better in international relations.

    Can Alcibiades explain what makes for better in war?

    Alcibiades But I am quite unable.

    Alcibiades chided

    “The term better, when applied to food, means more wholesome.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates But surely that is disgraceful; for if you should speak to somebody as his adviser on food, and say that one sort was better than another, at this time and in this quantity, and he then asked you — What do you mean by the “better,” Alcibiades? — in a matter like that you could tell him you meant the more wholesome, although you do not set up to be a physician; yet in a case where you set up 109a to have knowledge and are ready to stand up and advise as though you knew, are you not ashamed to be unable, as appears, to answer a question upon it? Does it not seem disgraceful?

    Alcibiades Very.

    “[B]etter” in being at peace or at war…

    Socrates Then consider and do your best to tell me the connection of “better” in being at peace or at war with those to whom we ought to be so disposed.

    Alcibiades Well, I am considering, but I fail to perceive it.

    Socrates But you must know what treatment it is that we allege against each other when we enter upon a war, 109b and what name we give it when we do so?

    Alcibiades I do: we say we are victims of deceit or violence or spoliation.

    Socrates Enough: how do we suffer each of these things?

    Try and tell me what difference there is between
    one way and another.

    Alcibiades Do you mean by that, Socrates, whether it is in

    a just way or an unjust way

    Socrates Precisely.

    Alcibiades Why, there you have all the difference in the world.

    Socrates Well then, on which sort are you going to advise the Athenians to make war — those who are acting unjustly, or those who are doing what is just? 109c

    Alcibiades That is a hard question: for even if someone decides that he must go to war with those who are doing what is just, he would not admit that they were doing so.

    Socrates For that would not be lawful, I suppose?

    Alcibiades No, indeed; nor is it considered honorable either.

    Socrates So you too will appeal to these things in making your speeches?

    Alcibiades Necessarily.

    …[is] simply and solely the juster.

    “In going to war or not going to war, the better is the more just.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Then must not that “better” about which I was asking in reference to making or not making war, on those on whom we ought to or not, and when we ought to or not, be simply and solely the juster?

    Alcibiades Apparently it is. 109d

    Alcibiades’ Justice: Socrates’ “Source Argument”

    Note 5: Cf. above, Plat. Alc. 1 106e.

    Socrates How now, friend Alcibiades? Have you overlooked your own ignorance of this matter, or have I overlooked5 your learning it and taking lessons of a master who taught you to distinguish the more just and the more unjust? And who is he? Inform me in my turn, in order that you may introduce me to him as another pupil.

    Alcibiades You are joking, Socrates.

    “But where did Alcibiades acquire this notion of just and unjust?” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates No, I swear by our common God of Friendship, whose name 109e I would by no means take in vain. Come, if you can, tell me who the man is.

  • Socrates 3.3 – Alcibiades I

    So Alcibiades didn’t learn what’s just; but couldn’t he know by other means?

    Alcibiades But what if I cannot? Do you think I could not know about what is just and unjust in any other way?

    Socrates appeals again to his important premiss about sources of knowledge, introduced at 106d.

    Socrates Yes, you might, supposing you discovered it.

    Alcibiades But do you not think I might discover it?

    Socrates Yes, quite so, if you inquired.

    Alcibiades And do you not think I might inquire?

    Socrates I do, if you thought you did not know.

    Alcibiades And was there not a time when I held that view?

    Do you agree that discovery requires that one recognize a lack of knowledge? In asking Alcibiades when he was ignorant, is he asking too much?

    Socrates Well spoken. Then can you tell me at what time it was 110a that you thought you did not know what is just and unjust? Pray, was it a year ago that you were inquiring, and thought you did not know? Or did you think you knew? Please answer truly, that our debates may not be futile.

    Alcibiades Well, I thought I knew.

    Socrates And two years, and three years, and four years back, were you not of the same mind?

    Alcibiades I was.

    Socrates But, you see, before that time you were a child, were you not?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates So I know well enough that then you thought you knew.

    Alcibiades How do you know it so well? 110b

    “He always had them.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Many a time I heard you, when as a child you were dicing or playing some other game at your teacher’s or elsewhere, instead of showing hesitation about what was just and unjust, speak in very loud and confident tones about one or other of your playmates, saying he was a rascal and a cheat who played unfairly. Is not this a true account?

    Alcibiades But what was I to do, Socrates, when somebody cheated me?

    Socrates Yet if you were ignorant then whether you were being unfairly treated or not, how can you ask — “What are you to do?” 110c

    Alcibiades Well, but on my word, I was not ignorant: no, I clearly understood that I was being wronged.

    Socrates So you thought you knew, even as a child, it seems, what was just and unjust.

    Alcibiades I did; and I knew too.

    Socrates At what sort of time did you discover it? For surely it was not while you thought you knew.

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Socrates Then when did you think you were ignorant? Consider; I believe you will fail to find such a time.

    Alcibiades Upon my word, Socrates, I really cannot say. 110d

    Socrates So you do not know it by discovery.

    Alcibiades Not at all, apparently.

    Socrates But you said just now that you did not know it by learning either; and if you neither discovered nor learnt it, how do you come to know it, and whence?

    Socrates’ reasoning shows that starting from the assumption that Alcibiades has knowledge, we are led to the contradiction that he also doesn’t have knowledge — which absurdity implies that the original assumption was incorrect. It looks very much like what logicians call the reductio ad absurdum form of argument (which derives from the Latin for “reduction to absurdity”).

    Alcibiades doesn’t like the conclusion (line 7), and so — before the dialogue progresses — he returns to re-massage lines 3 and 4.

    1. Alcibiades has knowledge (supposed “for reductio“).
    2. If Alcibiades has knowledge, then he either discovered it himself or learned it from another.
    3. He didn’t learn it from another.
    4. He didn’t discover it himself.
    5. So he doesn’t have knowledge (a la lines 2, 3, & 4).
    6. He has and doesn’t have knowledge (combining lines 1 & 5).
    7. Thus he doesn’t have knowledge (this one is based on lines 1 through 6).

    Alcibiades Well, perhaps that answer I gave you was not correct, that I knew it by my own discovery.

    Socrates Then how was it done?

    Alcibiades I learnt it, I suppose, in the same way as everyone else.

    Socrates Back we come to the same argument. From whom? Please tell me. 110e

    “He learned them of the many.” (Jowett’s note)

    Alcibiades From the many.

    Socrates They are no very serious teachers with whom you take refuge, if you ascribe it to the many!

    Alcibiades Why, are they not competent to teach?

    Socrates Not how to play, or not to play, draughts; and yet that, I imagine, is a slight matter compared with justice. What? Do you not think so?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Then if they are unable to teach the slighter, can they teach the more serious matter?

    Alcibiades I think so: at any rate, there are many other things that they are able to teach, more serious than draughts.

    Socrates What sort of things? 111a

    “as he learned Greek; — of those who knew it.” (Jowett’s note)

    Alcibiades For instance, it was from them that I learnt to speak Greek, and I could not say who was my teacher, but can only ascribe it to the same people who, you say, are not serious teachers.

    Socrates Ah, gallant sir, the many may be good teachers of that, and they can justly be praised for their teaching of such subjects.

    Alcibiades And why?

    Socrates Because in those subjects they have the equipment proper to good teachers.

    Alcibiades What do you mean by that?

    Socrates You know that those who are going to teach anything should first know it themselves, do you not? 111b

    Alcibiades Of course.

    Socrates And that those who know should agree with each other and not differ?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates But if they differ upon anything, will you say that they know it?

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Socrates Then how can they be teachers of it?

    Alcibiades By no means.

    “Yes: the many can teach things about which they are agreed.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Well now, do you find that the many differ about the nature of stone or wood? If you ask one of them, 111c do they not agree on the same answer, and make for the same things when they want to get a piece of stone or wood? It is just the same, too, with everything of the sort: for I am pretty nearly right in understanding you to mean just this by knowing how to speak Greek, am I not?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And on these matters, as we stated, they not only agree with each other and with themselves in private, but states also use in public the same terms about them to each other, without any dispute?

    Alcibiades They do. 111d

    Socrates Then naturally they will be good teachers of these matters.

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And if we should wish to provide anyone with knowledge of them, we should be right in sending him to be taught by “the many” that you speak of?

    Alcibiades Certainly.

    Do “the many” know that about which they disagree — such as which horses are fastest, which conditions cause disease in humans, and which policies are just?

    Socrates But what if we wished to know not only what men were like or what horses were like, but which of them were good runners or not? Would the many still suffice to teach us this?

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Socrates And you have ample proof that they do not know this, 111e and are not proficient teachers of it, in their not agreeing about it at all with themselves?

    Alcibiades I have.

    “But could the many teach things about which they are disagreed?” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates And what if we wished to know not only what men were like, but what healthy or diseased men were like? Would the many suffice to teach us?

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Socrates And you would have proof of their being bad teachers of that, if you saw them differing about it?

    Alcibiades I should.

    “And one of these things is justice.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Well then, do you now find that the many agree with themselves or each other 112a about just and unjust men or things?

    Alcibiades Far from it, on my word, Socrates.

    Socrates In fact, they differ most especially on these points?

    Alcibiades Very much so.

    Socrates And I suppose you never yet saw or heard of people differing so sharply on questions of health or the opposite as to fight and kill one another in battle because of them.

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Note 6: i.e., at the recitations of rhapsodes; cf. the Ion of Plato.

    “Did not a question of justice cause the war between the Trojans and Achaeans, and between the Athenians and Lacedaemonians?” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates But on questions of justice or injustice I am sure you have; 112b and if you have not seen them, at any rate you have heard of them from many people, especially Homer. For you have heard6 the Odyssey and the Iliad?

    Alcibiades I certainly have, I suppose, Socrates.

    Socrates And these poems are about a difference of just and unjust

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And from this difference arose the fights and deaths of the Achaeans, and of the Trojans as well, and of the suitors of Penelope in their strife with Odysseus. 112c

    Alcibiades That is true.

    Note 7: 457 B.C.
    Note 8: 447 B.C.

    Socrates And I imagine that when the Athenians and Spartans and Boeotians lost their men at Tanagra,7 and later at Coronea,8 among whom your own father perished, the difference that caused their deaths and fights was solely on a question of just and unjust, was it not?

    Alcibiades That is true.

    “And yet they did not know what they were fighting about?” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Then are we to say that these people understand those questions, on which 112d they differ so sharply that they are led by their mutual disputes to take these extreme measures against each other?

    Alcibiades Apparently not.

    Socrates And you refer me to teachers of that sort, whom you admit yourself to be without knowledge?

    Alcibiades It seems I do.

    Who’s “Doing the Talking”?

    Socrates Then how is it likely that you should know what is just and unjust, when you are so bewildered about these matters and are shown to have neither learnt them from anyone nor discovered them for yourself?

    Alcibiades By what you say, it is not likely. 112e

    Socrates There again, Alcibiades, do you see how unfairly you speak?

    Alcibiades In what?

    Who is reaching these conclusions? Socrates or Alcibiades? What does Socrates think? What do you think?

    Socrates In stating that I say so.

    Alcibiades Why, do you not say that l do not know about the just and unjust?

    Socrates Not at all.

    Alcibiades Well, do I say it?

    Socrates Yes.

    Alcibiades How, pray?

    Socrates I will show you, in the following way. If I ask you which is the greater number, one or two, you will answer “two”?

    Alcibiades Yes, I shall.

    Socrates How much greater?

    Alcibiades By one.

    Socrates Then which of us says that two are one more than one?

    Alcibiades I.

    Socrates And I was asking, and you were answering?

    Alcibiades Yes. 113a

    Socrates Then is it I, the questioner, or you the answerer, that are found to be speaking about these things?

    Alcibiades I.

    “The answerer, not the questioner, has been drawing these inferences.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates And what if I ask what are the letters in “Socrates,” and you tell me? Which will be the speaker?

    Alcibiades I.

    Socrates is, like his mother, a midwife of sorts – only he facilitates an intellectual or spiritual birth.

    [W]hen we have question and answer… the answerer… is the speaker.

    Socrates Come then, tell me, as a principle, when we have question and answer, which is the speaker — the questioner, or the answerer?

    Alcibiades The answerer, I should say, Socrates. 113b

    Socrates And throughout the argument so far, I was the questioner?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And you the answerer?

    Alcibiades Quite so.

    Socrates Well then, which of us has spoken what has been said?

    Alcibiades Apparently, Socrates, from what we have admitted, it was I.

    Socrates And it was said that Alcibiades, the fair son of Cleinias, did not know about just and unjust, but thought he did, and intended to go to the Assembly as adviser to the Athenians on what he knows nothing about; is not that so? 113c

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    “How can you teach what you do not know?” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Then, to quote Euripides,9 the result is, Alcibiades, that you may be said to have “heard it from yourself, not me,
    ” and it is not I who say it, but you, and you tax me with it in vain. And indeed what you say is quite true. For it is a mad scheme this, that you meditate, my excellent friend — of teaching things that you do not know, since you have taken no care to learn them. 113d
  • Socrates 3.4 – Alcibiades I

    Do we regard questions of justice as obvious? Are we ignorant?

    “But the expedient, not the just, is the subject about which men commonly debate.” (Jowett’s note)

    Still, Alcibiades takes a stand in the discussion of justice — holding that it’s not the same as the expedient or merely useful.

    Alcibiades I think, Socrates, that the Athenians and the rest of the Greeks rarely deliberate as to which is the more just or unjust course: for they regard questions of this sort as obvious; and so they pass them over and consider which course will prove more expedient in the result. For the just and the expedient, I take it, are not the same, but many people have profited by great wrongs that they have committed, whilst others, I imagine, have had no advantage from doing what was right.

    Socrates What then? Granting that the just and the expedient 113e are in fact as different as they can be, you surely do not still suppose you know what is expedient for mankind, and why it is so?

    “Alcibiades insists that he will not have the old argument over again.” (Jowett’s note)

    Alcibiades Well, what is the obstacle, Socrates, — unless you are going to ask me again from whom I learnt it, or how I discovered it for myself?

    Does Socrates agree not to use the old argument for some reason? Would you?

    Socrates What a way of going on! If your answer is incorrect, and a previous argument can be used to prove it so, you claim to be told something new, and a different line of proof, as though the previous one were like a poor worn-out coat which you refuse to wear any longer; you must be provided instead with something clean and unsoiled in the way of evidence. 114a But I shall ignore your sallies in debate, and shall none the less ask you once more, where you learnt your knowledge of what is expedient, and who is your teacher, asking in one question all the things I asked before; and now you will clearly find yourself in the same plight, and will be unable to prove that you know the expedient either through discovery or through learning. But as you are dainty, and would dislike a repeated taste of the same argument, I pass over this question of whether you know or do not know 114b what is expedient for the Athenians: but why have you not made it clear whether the just and the expedient are the same or different? If you like, question me as I did you, or if you prefer, argue out the matter in your own way.
  • Socrates 3.5 – Alcibiades I
    Alcibiades But I am not sure I should be able, Socrates, to set it forth to you.

    Socrates Well, my good sir, imagine I am the people in Assembly; even there, you know, you will have to persuade each man singly, will you not?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And the same man may well persuade one person singly, 114c and many together, about things that he knows, just as the schoolmaster, I suppose, persuades either one or many about letters?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And again, will not the same man persuade either one or many about number?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And this will be the man who knows — the arithmetician?

    Alcibiades Quite so.

    “He who can persuade many can persuade one. Alcibiades should therefore be able to persuade Socrates.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates And you too can persuade a single man about things of which you can persuade many?

    Alcibiades Presumably.

    Socrates And these are clearly things that you know.

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And the only difference between the orator 114d speaking before the people and one who speaks in a conversation like ours is that the former persuades men in a number together of the same things, and the latter persuades them one at a time?

    Alcibiades It looks like it.

    Socrates Come now, since we see that the same man may persuade either many or one, try your unpracticed hand on me, and endeavor to show that the just is sometimes not expedient.

    Alcibiades You are insolent, Socrates!

    Socrates This time, at any rate, I am going to have the insolence to persuade you of the opposite of that which you decline to prove to me.

    Alcibiades Speak, then.

    Socrates Just answer my questions. 114e

    Alcibiades No, you yourself must be the speaker.

    Socrates What? Do you not wish above all things to be persuaded?

    Alcibiades By all means, to be sure.

    Socrates And you would best be persuaded if you should say “the case is so”?

    Alcibiades I agree.

    Socrates Then answer; and if you do not hear your own self say that the just is expedient, put no trust in the words of anyone again.

    Alcibiades I will not: but I may as well answer; for I do not think I shall come to any harm. 115a

    “A man may do what is expedient and not just, but he cannot do what is honourable and not just and good.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates You are quite a prophet! Now tell me, do you consider some just things to be expedient, and others not?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And again, some noble, and some not?

    Alcibiades What do you mean by that question?

    Socrates I would ask whether anyone ever seemed to you to be doing what was base and yet just.

    Alcibiades Never.

    Socrates Well, are all just things noble?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And what of noble things, in their turn? Are they all good, or some only, while others are not?

    Alcibiades In my opinion, Socrates, some noble things are evil.

    Socrates And some base things are good?

    Alcibiades Yes. 115b

    Socrates Do you mean as in one of the many cases where men have gone to rescue a comrade or kinsman in battle, and have been either wounded or killed, while those who did not go to the rescue, as duty bade, have got off safe and sound?

    Alcibiades Precisely.

    Socrates And such a rescue you call noble, in respect of the endeavor to save those whom it was one’s duty to save; and this is courage, is it not?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    “But good may contain an element of evil. Good and evil are to be judged of by their consequences.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates But you call it evil, in respect of the deaths and wounds?

    Alcibiades Yes. 115c

    Socrates And is not the courage one thing, and the death another?

    Alcibiades Certainly.

    Socrates Then it is not in the same respect that rescuing one’s friends is noble and evil?

    Alcibiades Apparently not.

    Socrates Then see if, inasmuch as it is noble, it is also good; for in the present case you were admitting that the rescue was noble in respect of its courage: now consider this very thing, courage, and say whether it is good or bad. Consider it in this way: which would you choose to have, good things or evil?

    Alcibiades Good. 115d

    Socrates And most of all, the greatest goods, and of such things you would least allow yourself to be deprived?

    Alcibiades To be sure.

    Socrates Then what do you say of courage? At what price would you allow yourself to be deprived of it?

    Alcibiades I would give up life itself if I had to be a coward.

    Socrates Then you regard cowardice as the uttermost evil.

    Alcibiades I do.

    Socrates On a par with death, it seems.

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And life and courage are the extreme opposites of death and cowardice?

    Alcibiades Yes. 115e

    Socrates And you would most desire to have the former, and least the latter?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Is that because you think the former best, and the latter worst?

    Alcibiades To be sure.

    Socrates So you reckon courage among the best things, and death among the worst.

    Alcibiades I do.

    Socrates Then the rescue of one’s friends in battle, inasmuch as it is noble in respect of the working of good by courage, you have termed noble?

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    “But good may contain an element of evil. Good and evil are to be judged of by their consequences.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates But evil, in respect of the working of evil by death?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates So we may fairly describe each of these workings as follows: as you call either of them evil because of the evil it produces, 116a so you must call it good because of the good it produces.

    Alcibiades I believe that is so.

    Socrates And again, are they noble inasmuch as they are good, and base inasmuch as they are evil?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Then in saying that the rescue of one’s friends in battle is noble and yet evil, you mean just the same as if you called the rescue good, but evil.

    Alcibiades I believe what you say is true, Socrates.

    Socrates So nothing noble, in so far as it is noble, is evil, and nothing base, in so far as it is base, is good. 116b

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    “The honourable is identified with the good, and the good is the expedient…” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Now then, consider it again in this way: whoever does nobly, does well too, does he not?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And are not those who do well happy?

    Alcibiades Of course.

    Socrates And they are happy because of the acquisition of good things?

    Alcibiades Certainly.

    Socrates And they acquire these by doing well and nobly?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates So doing well is good?

    Alcibiades Of course.

    Socrates And welfare is noble?

    Alcibiades Yes. 116c


    1. All things just are noble.
    2. All things noble are good.
    3. All things good are expedient.
    4. All things just are expedient.

    Socrates Hence we have seen again that noble and good are the same thing.

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    Socrates Then whatever we find to be noble we shall find also to be good, by this argument at least.

    Alcibiades We must.

    Socrates Well then, are good things expedient or not?

    Alcibiades Expedient.

    Alcibiades claims that the Greeks generally regard questions about the just course of action as obvious, and instead deliberate about which is more expedient (convenient, practical). Socrates overturns the distinction, showing by Alcibiades’ own premisses that the just is also the expedient, rather than its contrary. We rejoin them at Socrates’ summary.

    Socrates And do you remember what our admissions were about just things?

    Alcibiades I think we said that those who do just things must do noble things.

    Socrates And that those who do noble things must do good things?

    Alcibiades Yes. 116d

    Socrates And that good things are expedient?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    “…and therefore the just which is the honourable is also the expedient. All this has been proved by Alcibiades himself.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Hence just things, Alcibiades, are expedient.

    Alcibiades So it seems.

    Socrates Well now, are not you the speaker of all this, and I the questioner?

    Alcibiades I seem to be, apparently.

    Note 10: Peparethus is a small island off the coast of Thessaly.

    Socrates So if anyone stands up to advise either the Athenians or the Peparethians,10 imagining that he understands what is just and unjust, and says that just things are sometimes evil, could you do other than laugh him to scorn, since you actually say yourself that 116e just and expedient are the same?


    “Yet he still finds himself in a perplexity…” (Jowett’s note)

    Alcibiades But by Heaven, Socrates, I do not even know what I am saying, I feel altogether in such a strange state! For from moment to moment I change my view under your questioning.

    Socrates And are you unaware, my friend, what this feeling is?

    Alcibiades I am, quite.

    Socrates Well, do you suppose that if someone should ask you whether you have two eyes or three, two hands or four, or anything else of that sort, you would answer differently from moment to moment, or always the same thing? 117a

    Alcibiades I begin to have misgivings about myself, but still I think I should make the same answer.

    Socrates And the reason would be, because you know?

    Alcibiades I think so.

    Socrates Then if you involuntarily give contradictory answers, clearly it must be about things of which you are ignorant.

    Alcibiades Very likely.

    “…and this is because he thinks that he knows, but if he knew that he were ignorant he would be in no perplexity.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates And you say you are bewildered in answering about just and unjust, noble and base, evil and good, expedient and inexpedient? Now, is it not obvious that your bewilderment is caused by your ignorance of these things? 117b

    Alcibiades I agree.

    Socrates Then is it the case that when a man does not know a thing he must needs be bewildered in spirit regarding that thing?

    Alcibiades Yes, of course.

    Socrates Well now, do you know in what way you can ascend to heaven?

    Alcibiades On my word, not I.

    Socrates Is that too a kind of question about which your judgement is bewildered?

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Socrates Do you know the reason, or shall I state it?

    Alcibiades State it.

    Socrates It is, my friend, that while not knowing the matter you do not suppose that you know it. 117c

    Alcibiades Here again, how do you mean?

    Socrates Do your share, in seeing for yourself. Are you bewildered about the kind of thing that you do not know and are aware of not knowing? For instance, you know, I suppose, that you do not know about the preparation of a tasty dish?

    Alcibiades Quite so.

    Socrates Then do you think for yourself how you are to prepare it, and get bewildered, or do you entrust it to the person who knows?

    Alcibiades I do the latter.

    Matters are best handled by those who know better; the ignorant suppose it’s they themselves!
    Note 11: The “tiller” was the handle of an oar at the side of the stern, and was moved towards or away from the center of the ship.

    Socrates And what if you should be on a ship at sea? Would you think 117d whether the tiller should be moved inwards or outwards,11 and in your ignorance bewilder yourself, or would you entrust it to the helmsman, and be quiet?

    Alcibiades I would leave it to him.

    Socrates So you are not bewildered about what you do not know, so long as you know that you do not know?

    Alcibiades It seems I am not,

    “The people who make mistakes are neither those who know, nor those who do not know, but those who think that they know and do not know.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Then do you note that mistakes in action also are due to this ignorance of thinking one knows when one does not?

    Alcibiades Here again, how do you mean?

    Socrates We set about acting, I suppose, when we think we know what we are doing? 117e

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates But when people think they do not know, I suppose they hand it over to others?

    Alcibiades To be sure.

    Socrates And so that kind of ignorant person makes no mistakes in life, because they entrust such matters to others?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Who then are those who make mistakes? For, I take it, they cannot be those who know.

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    The deepest, most harmful ignorance.

    Socrates But since it is neither those who know, nor those of the ignorant 118a who know that they do not know, the only people left, I think, are those who do not know, but think that they do?

    Alcibiades Yes, only those.

    Socrates Then this ignorance is a cause of evils, and is the discreditable sort of stupidity?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And when it is about the greatest matters, it is most injurious and base?

    Alcibiades By far.

    Socrates Well then, can you mention any greater things than the just, the noble, the good, and the expedient?

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Socrates And it is about these, you say, that you are bewildered?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Alcibiades is “busted.”

    Socrates But if you are bewildered, is it not clear from what has gone before 118b that you are not only ignorant of the greatest things, but while not knowing them you think that you do?

    Alcibiades I am afraid so.

    “And you, like other statesmen, rush into politics without being trained. Pericles, alone of them all, associated with the philosophers.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Alack then, Alcibiades, for the plight you are in! I shrink indeed from giving it a name, but still, as we are alone, let me speak out. You are wedded to stupidity, my fine friend, of the vilest kind; you are impeached of this by your own words, out of your own mouth; and this, it seems, is why you dash into politics before you have been educated. And you are not alone in this plight, but you share it with most of those who manage our city’s affairs, 118c except just a few, and perhaps your guardian, Pericles.

    Note 12: A musician of Ceos (who was perhaps also a Pythagorean philosopher) who taught in Athens.
    Note 13: An Ionian philosopher who lived in Athens c. 480-430 B.C.
    Note 14: An Athenian musician and sophist.

    Alcibiades Yes, you know, Socrates, they say he did not get his wisdom independently, but consorted with many wise men, such as Pythocleides12 and Anaxagoras13; and now, old as he is, he still confers with Damon14 for that very purpose.

    Socrates Well, but did you ever find a man who was wise in anything and yet unable to make another man wise in the same things as himself? For instance, the man who taught you letters was wise himself, and also made you wise, and anyone else he wished to, did he not?

    Alcibiades Yes. 118d

    Socrates And you too, who learnt from him, will be able to make another man wise?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And the same holds of the harper and the trainer?

    Alcibiades Certainly.

    Socrates For, I presume, it is a fine proof of one’s knowing anything that one knows, when one is able to point to another man whom one has made to know it.

    Alcibiades I agree.

    Socrates Well then, can you tell me whom Pericles made wise? One of his sons, to begin with? 118e

    Alcibiades But what if the two sons of Pericles were simpletons, Socrates?

    Socrates Well, Cleinias, your brother.

    “And even he could not teach his own sons, or your brother Cleinias, nor did any one ever grow wiser in his society.” (Jowett’s note)

    Alcibiades But why should you mention Cleinias, a madman?

    Socrates Well, if Cleinias is mad and the two sons of Pericles were simpletons, what reason are we to assign, in your case, for his allowing you to be in your present condition?

    Alcibiades I believe I am myself to blame for not attending to him. 119a

    Note 15: A friend of Zeno: cf. Plat. Parm. 126.
    Note 16: An Athenian general.
    Note 17: Of Elea, in S. Italy; a disciple of Parmenides who criticized the Pythagorean teaching.
    Note 18: About 600-800 pounds, or the total expenses of two or three years at an English University.

    Socrates But tell me of any other Athenian or foreigner, slave or freeman, who is accounted to have become wiser through converse with Pericles; as I can tell you that Pythodorus15 son of Isolochus, and Callias,16 son of Calliades, became through that of Zeno17; each of them has paid Zeno a hundred minae,18 and has become both wise and distinguished.

    Alcibiades Well, upon my word, I cannot.

    To “Take Trouble” (“Take Pains,” To Care), Or Not To Take Trouble

    Socrates Very good: then what is your intention regarding yourself? Will you remain as you are, or take some trouble? 119b

    “But if other statesmen are uneducated, what need has Alcibiades of education?” (Jowett’s note)

    Alcibiades We must put our heads together, Socrates. And indeed, as soon as you speak, I take the point and agree. For the men who manage the city’s affairs, apart from a few, do strike me as uneducated.

    Socrates Then what does that mean?

    Alcibiades That if they were educated, I suppose anyone who undertook to contend against them would have to get some knowledge and practice first, as he would for a match with athletes: but now, seeing that these men have gone in for politics as amateurs, what need is there for me to practise and have the trouble of learning? 119c For I am sure that my natural powers alone will give me an easy victory over them.

    “The lover is pained at hearing from the lips of Alcibiades so unworthy a sentiment. He should have a higher ambition than this.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Ho, ho, my good sir, what a thing to say! How unworthy of your looks and your other advantages!

    Alcibiades What is your meaning now, Socrates? What is the connection?

    Socrates I am grieved for you, and for my love.

    Alcibiades Why, pray?

    Socrates That you should expect your contest to be with the men we have here.

    Alcibiades Well, but with whom is it to be?

    Socrates Is that a worthy question to be asked by a man who considers himself high-spirited? 119d

    Alcibiades How do you mean? Is not my contest with these men?


    Well, suppose you were intending to steer a warship into action, would you be content to be the best hand among the crew at steering or, while regarding this skill as a necessary qualification, would you keep your eye on your actual opponents in the fight, and not, as now, on your fellow-fighters? These, I conceive, you ought so far to surpass
    that they would not feel fit to be your opponents, but only 119e to be your despised fellow-fighters against the enemy, if you mean really to make your mark with some noble action that will be worthy both of yourself and of the city.

    Alcibiades Why, I do mean to.

    Socrates So you think it quite fitting for you to be satisfied if you are better than the soldiers, but neglect to keep your eye on the enemy’s leaders with a view to showing yourself better than they are, or to plan and practise against them! 120a

    Alcibiades Of whom are you speaking now, Socrates?

    “His rivals should be the Spartan and Persian kings, not any chance persons.” (Jowett’s note)

    Do you not know that our city makes war occasionally on the Spartans and on the Great King?

    Alcibiades That is true


    Socrates And if you are minded to be the head of our state, you would be right in thinking that your contest is with the kings of Sparta and of Persia?

    Alcibiades That sounds like the truth.

    Note 19: Meidias is mentioned by Aristophanes (Aristoph. Birds 1297) for his skill in the game of filliping quails which were specially trained not to flinch.
    Slaves in Athens were largely natives of western Asia. and had thick, close hair, very different from the wavy locks of the Greeks.

    Socrates No, my good friend; you ought rather to keep your eye on Meidias 120b the quail-filliper19 and others of his sort — who undertake to manage the city’s affairs, while they still have the slavish hair20 (as the women would say) showing in their minds through their lack of culture, and have not yet got rid of it; who, moreover, have come with their outlandish speech to flatter the state, not to rule it — to these, I tell you, should your eyes be turned; and then you can disregard yourself, and need neither learn what is to be learnt for the great contest in which you are to be engaged, nor practise 120c what requires practice, and so ensure that you are perfectly prepared before entering upon a political career.

    Alcibiades Why, Socrates, I believe you are right;

    though I think neither the Spartan generals nor the Persian king are at all different from other people.

    Socrates But, my excellent friend, consider what this notion of yours means.

    Alcibiades In regard to what?

    Socrates First of all, do you think you would take more pains over yourself 120d if you feared them and thought them terrible, or if you did not?

    Alcibiades Clearly, if I thought them terrible.

    Socrates And do you think you will come to any harm by taking pains over yourself?

    Alcibiades By no means; rather that I shall get much benefit.

    Note 21: i.e. about the Spartan generals and the Persian king, Plat. Alc. 1 120c.

    Socrates And on this single count that notion21 of yours is so much to the bad.

    Alcibiades True.

    Socrates Then, in the second place, observe the probability that it is false.

    Alcibiades How so?

    Socrates Is it probable that noble races should produce 120e better natures, or not?

    Alcibiades Clearly, noble races would.

    Socrates And will not the well-born, provided they are well brought up, probably be perfected in virtue?

    Alcibiades That must be so.

    “We too have our pride of birth, but how inferior are we to those who are descended from Zeus through a line of kings!” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Then let us consider, by comparing our lot with theirs, whether the Spartan and Persian kings appear to be of inferior birth. Do we not know that the former are descendants of Hercules and the latter of Achaemenes, and that the line of Hercules and the line of Achaemenes go back to Perseus, son of Zeus? 121a

    Alcibiades Yes, and mine, Socrates, to Eurysaces, and that of Eurysaces to Zeus!

    Note 22: Socrates’ father, Sophroniscus, was a sculptor, and Daedalus was the legendary inventor of sculpture.
    Note 23: i.e., the kings of Sparta and Persia.
    Note 24: The saying, which became proverbial, is thought to have occurred in one of the (now lost) plays of Plato, the Athenian comic poet, who lived c. 460-389 B.C. (Plato Comicus, not Plato Philosophicus).
    Note 25: Zoroaster was the reputed founder of the Persian religion, of which the ministers were the Magi or hereditary priests.
    Note 26: The mother of Alcibiades.
    Note 27: In Attica, about fifteen miles east of Athens.

    “The wealth and dignity of the Spartan kings is great, but it is as nothing compared with that of the Persians.” (Jowett’s note)

    “The birth of the Persian princes is a world-famous event, and the utmost pains is taken with their education, which is entrusted to great and noble persons.” (Jowett’s note)

    “When Alcibiades was born nobody knew or cared, and his education was handed over to a worn-out slave of his guardian’s.” (Jowett’s note)

    “The country called the ‘queen’s girdle,’ the ‘queen’s veil,’ and the like.” (Jowett’s note)

    “The queen of Persia or of Sparta, if they heard that a youth of twenty, without resources and without education, was going to attack their son or husband, would deem him mad.” (Jowett’s note)

    Yes, and mine, noble Alcibiades, to Daedalus,22 and Daedalus to Hephaestus, son of Zeus! But take the lines of those people,23 going back from them: you have a succession of kings reaching to Zeus — on the one hand, kings of Argos and Sparta; on the other, of Persia, which they have always ruled, and frequently Asia also, as at present; whereas we are private persons ourselves, and so were our fathers. And then, 121b suppose that you had to make what show you could of your ancestors, and of Salamis as the native land of Eurysaces, or of Aegina as the home of the yet earlier Aeacus, to impress Artaxerxes, son of Xerxes, how
    you must expect to be laughed at! Why, I am afraid we are quite outdone by those persons in pride of birth and upbringing altogether.

    Or have you not observed how great are the advantages of the Spartan kings, and how their wives are kept under statutory ward of the ephors, in order that every possible precaution may be taken against the king being born 121c of any but the Heracleidae? And the Persian king so far surpasses us that no one has a suspicion that he could have been born of anybody but the king before him; and hence the king’s wife has nothing to guard her except fear. When the eldest son, the heir to the throne, is born, first of all the king’s subjects who are in his palace have a feast, and then for ever after on that date the whole of Asia celebrates the king’s birthday with sacrifice and feasting: but when we are born, as the comic poet24 says, 121d “even the neighbors barely notice it,” Alcibiades. After that comes the nurture of the child, not at the hands of a woman-nurse of little worth, but of the most highly approved eunuchs in the king’s service, who are charged with the whole tendance of the new-born child, and especially with the business of making him as handsome as possible by moulding his limbs into a correct shape; and while doing this they are in high honor. 121e When the boys are seven years old they are given horses and have riding lessons, and they begin to follow the chase. And when the boy reaches fourteen years he is taken over by the royal tutors, as they call them there: these are four men chosen as the most highly esteemed among the Persians of mature age, namely, the wisest one, the justest one, the most temperate one, 122a and the bravest one. The first of these teaches him the magian lore of Zoroaster,25 son of Horomazes; and that is the worship of the gods: he teaches him also what pertains to a king. The justest teaches him to be truthful all his life long; the most temperate, not to be mastered by even a single pleasure, in order that he may be accustomed to be a free man and a veritable king, who is the master first of all that is in him, not the slave; while the bravest trains him to be fearless and undaunted, telling him that to be daunted is to be enslaved. But you, 122b Alcibiades, had a tutor set over you by Pericles from amongst his servants,who was old as to be the most useless of them, Zopyrus the Thracian. I might describe to you at length the nurture and education of your competitors, were it not too much of a task; and besides, what I have said suffices to show the rest that follows thereon. But about your birth, Alcibiades, or nurture or education, or about those of any other Athenian, one may say that nobody cares, unless it be some lover whom you chance to have. And again,

    if you chose to glance at the wealth, the luxury, 122c the robes with sweeping trains, the anointings with myrrh, the attendant troops of menials, and all the other refinements of the Persians, you would be ashamed at your own case, on perceiving its inferiority to theirs. Should you choose, again, to look at the temperance and orderliness, the facility and placidity, the magnanimity and discipline, the courage and endurance, and the toil-loving, success-loving, honor-loving spirit of the Spartans, you would count yourself but a child 122d in all these things.
    If again you regard wealth, and think yourself something in that way, I must not keep silence on this point either, if you are to realize where you stand. For in this respect you have only to look at the wealth of the Spartans, and you will perceive that our riches here are far inferior to theirs. Think of all the land that they have both in their own and in the Messenian country: not one of our estates could compete with theirs in extent and excellence, nor again in ownership of slaves, and especially of those of the helot class, nor yet of horses, 122e nor of all the flocks and herds that graze in Messene. However, I pass over all these things: but there is more gold and silver privately held in Lacedaemon than in the whole of Greece; for during many generations treasure has been passing in to them from every part of Greece, and often from the barbarians also, but not passing out to anyone; and just as in the fable of Aesop, 123a where the fox remarked to the lion on the direction of the footmarks, the traces of the money going into Lacedaemon are clear enough, but nowhere are any to be seen of it coming out; so that one can be pretty sure that those people are the richest of the Greeks in gold and silver, and that among themselves the richest is the king; for the largest and most numerous receipts of the kind are those of the kings, 123b and besides there is the levy of the royal tribute in no slight amount, which the Spartans pay to their kings. Now, the Spartan fortunes, though great compared with the wealth of other Greeks, are nought beside that of the Persians and their king. For I myself was once told by a trustworthy person, who had been up to their court, that he traversed a very large tract of excellent land, nearly a day’s journey, which the inhabitants called the girdle of the king’s wife, and another which was similarly called her veil; 123c and many other fine and fertile regions reserved for the adornment of the consort; and each of these regions was named after some part of her apparel.
    So I imagine, if someone should say to the king’s mother Amestris, who was wife of Xerxes, “The son of Deinomache26 intends to challenge your son; the mother’s dresses are worth perhaps fifty minae at the outside, while the son has under three hundred acres at Erchiae,27” she would wonder to what on earth this 123d Alcibiades could be trusting,
    that he proposed to contend against Artaxerxes; and I expect she would remark — “The only possible things that the man can be trusting to for his enterprise are industry and wisdom; for these are the only things of any account among the Greeks.” Whereas if she were informed that this Alcibiades who is actually making such an attempt is, in the first place, as yet barely twenty years old, and secondly, altogether uneducated; and further, that when his lover tells him that he must first learn, and take pains over himself, and practise, 123e before he enters on a contest with the king, he refuses, and says he will do very well as he is;
    I expect she would ask in surprise, “On what, then, can the youngster rely?” And if we told her, “On beauty, stature, birth, wealth, and mental gifts,” she would conclude we were mad, Alcibiades, when she compared the advantages of her own people in all these respects.
    And I imagine that even Lampido, daughter of Leotychides 124a and wife of Archidamus and mother of Agis, who have all been kings, would wonder in the same way, when she compared her people’s resources, at your intention of having a contest with her son despite your bad upbringing. And yet, does it not strike you as disgraceful that our enemies’ wives should have a better idea of the qualities that we need for an attempt against them than we have ourselves?

  • 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.

  • Socrates 3.7 – Alcibiades I

    It’s possible to be very busy on the work in our lives without being busy working on our lives.

    Socrates Come then, what is “taking pains over oneself” — 128a for we may perchance be taking, unawares, no pains over ourselves, though we think we are — and when does a man actually do it? Does he take pains over himself at the same time as over his own things?

    Alcibiades I at least believe so.

    Socrates Well now,

    when does a man take pains over his feet? Is it when he takes pains over what belongs to his feet?

    Alcibiades I do not understand.

    Socrates Is there anything you can name as belonging to the hand? For instance, does a ring belong to any other part of a man but the finger?

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Socrates And so the shoe also belongs to the foot, in the same way?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And likewise clothes and coverlets belong to the whole body? 128b

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Now when we take pains over our shoes, we take pains over our feet?

    Alcibiades I do not quite understand, Socrates.

    Socrates Well, but,

    Alcibiades, you speak of taking proper pains over this or that matter, do you not?

    Alcibiades I do.

    Socrates And do you call it proper pains when someone makes a thing better?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Then what art makes shoes better?

    Alcibiades Shoe-making.

    Socrates So by shoe-making we take pains over our shoes? 128c

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And

    over our foot too by shoe-making? Or by that art whereby we make feet better?

    Alcibiades By that art.

    Socrates And is it not the same one for making our feet as for making the whole body better?

    Alcibiades I think so.

    Socrates And is not that gymnastic?

    Alcibiades Certainly.

    Socrates So

    by gymnastic we take pains over our foot, but by shoe-making over what belongs to our foot?

    Alcibiades Quite so.

    Socrates And by gymnastic over our hands, but by ring-engraving over what belongs to the hand?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And by gymnastic over the body, but by weaving 128d and the rest over what belongs to the body?

    Alcibiades Absolutely so.

    “It has been shown by examples that a man does not take care of himself, when he only takes care of what belongs to him.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Then for taking pains over a thing itself and over what belongs to it we use different arts.

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    Socrates So when you take pains over your belongings you are not taking pains over yourself.

    Alcibiades Not at all.

    Socrates For the arts, it seems, that one used for taking pains over oneself and over one’s belongings would not be the same.

    Alcibiades Apparently not.

    Socrates Come then, whatever kind of art can we use for taking pains over ourselves?

    Alcibiades I cannot say. 128e

    Socrates Well, so much at least has been admitted, that it is not one which would help us to make a single one of our possessions better, but one which would help to make ourselves so?

    Alcibiades That is true.

    Socrates Now, should we ever have known what art makes a shoe better, if we had not known a shoe?

    Alcibiades Impossible.

    Socrates Nor could we know what art makes rings better, if we had no cognizance of a ring.

    Alcibiades True.

    “A man must know himself before he can improve himself or know what belongs to him.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Well then, could we ever know what art makes the man himself better, if we were ignorant of what we are ourselves? 129a

    Alcibiades Impossible.

    Socrates Well, and is it an easy thing to know oneself, and was it a mere scamp who inscribed these words on the temple at Delphi; or is it a hard thing, and not a task for anybody?

    Alcibiades I have often thought, Socrates, that it was for anybody; but often, too, that it was very hard.

    Socrates But, Alcibiades, whether it is easy or not, here is the fact for us all the same: if we have that knowledge, we are likely to know what pains to take over ourselves; but if we have it not, we never can.

    Alcibiades That is so. 129b

    Note 30: This seems to be a sudden adumbration of the Platonic “idea” or form which remains constant, and so “the same,” behind the shifting objects of sense related to it through its influences or impress. Cf. below, Plat. Alc. 1.130d.

    Socrates Come then, in what way can the same-in-itself30 be discovered? For thus we may discover what we are ourselves; whereas if we remain in ignorance of it we must surely fail.

    Alcibiades Rightly spoken.

    Socrates Steady, then, in Heaven’s name! To whom are you talking now? To me, are you not?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And I in turn to you ?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Then the talker is Socrates?

    Alcibiades To be sure.

    Socrates And the hearer, Alcibiades?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And Socrates uses speech in talking? 129c

    Alcibiades Of course.

    Socrates And you call talking and using speech the same thing, I suppose.

    Alcibiades To be sure.

    “He is distinct from what he uses; and therefore distinct from his own body.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates But the user and the thing he uses are different, are they not?

    Alcibiades How do you mean?

    Socrates For instance, I suppose a shoemaker uses a round tool, and a square one, and others, when he cuts.

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And the cutter and user is quite different from what he uses in cutting?

    Alcibiades Of course.

    Socrates And in the same way what the harper uses in harping will be different from the harper himself?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Well then, that is what I was asking just now — whether the user 129d and what he uses are always, in your opinion, two different things.

    Alcibiades They are.

    Socrates Then what are we to say of the shoemaker? Does he cut with his tools only, or with his hands as well?

    Alcibiades With his hands as well.

    Socrates So he uses these also?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Does he use his eyes, too, in his shoe-making?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And we admit that the user and what he uses are different things?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Then the shoemaker and the harper are different from 129e the hands and eyes that they use for their work?

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    Socrates And man uses his whole body too?

    Alcibiades To be sure.

    Socrates And we said that the user and what he uses are different?

    Alcibiades Yes.


    So man is different from his own body?

    Alcibiades It seems so.

    Socrates Then whatever is man?

    Alcibiades I cannot say.

    Socrates Oh, but you can — that he is the user of the body.

    Alcibiades Yes. 130a

    Socrates And the user of it must be the soul?

    Alcibiades It must.

    Socrates And ruler?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    An Argument For the Soul

    Socrates Now, here is a remark from which no one, I think, can dissent.

    Alcibiades What is it?

    Socrates That man must be one of three things.

    Alcibiades What things?

    The simple logic of Socrates’ argument here:

    1. The human being is either soul, body, or a combination.
    2. It’s not the body.
    3. It’s not the combo.
    4. So it must be the soul.

    Socrates Soul, body, or both together as one whole.

    Alcibiades Very well.

    “Soul, body, or the union of the two. What is the ruling principle in him? Clearly the soul.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates But yet we have admitted that what actually rules the body is man? 130b

    Alcibiades We have.

    Socrates And does the body rule itself?

    Alcibiades By no means.

    Socrates Because we have said that it is ruled.

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates Then that cannot be what we are seeking.

    Alcibiades It seems not.

    Socrates Well then, does the combination of the two rule the body, so that we are to regard this as man?

    Alcibiades Perhaps it is.

    How solid is this step?

    Socrates The unlikeliest thing in the world: for if one of the two does not share in the rule, it is quite inconceivable that the combination of the two can be ruling.

    Alcibiades You are right. 130c

    Socrates But since neither the body nor the combination of the two is man, we are reduced, I suppose, to this: either man is nothing at all, or if something, he turns out to be nothing else than soul.

    Alcibiades Precisely so.

    Socrates Well, do you require some yet clearer proof that the soul is man?

    Alcibiades No, I assure you: I think it is amply proved.

    “There remains a question of absolute existence, which has not been considered by us, or rather is being considered by us when we speak of the soul.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates And if it is tolerably, though not exactly, we are content; exact knowledge will be ours later, 130d when we have discovered the thing that we passed over just now because it would involve much consideration.

    Alcibiades What is that?

    Socrates The point suggested in that remark a moment ago,31 that we should first consider the same-in-itself; but so far, instead of the same, we have been considering what each single thing is in itself. And perhaps we shall be satisfied with that: for surely we cannot say that anything has more absolute possession of ourselves than the soul.

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Communication is a Kind of Communion of Souls

    “You and I are talking soul to soul.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates And it is proper to take the view that you and I are conversing with each other, while we make use of words, by intercourse of soul with soul?

    Alcibiades Quite so. 130e

    Socrates Well, that is just what we suggested a little while ago — that Socrates, in using words to talk with Alcibiades, is holding speech, not with your face, it would seem, but with Alcibiades — that is, with his soul.

    Alcibiades I believe so.

    Socrates Then he who enjoins a knowledge of oneself bids us become acquainted with the soul. 131a

    Alcibiades So it seems.

    Just as knowing what belongs to the body is not the same as knowing the body, neither is knowing what belongs to the person the same as knowing the person – even if that person is oneself!

    Socrates And anyone who gets to know something belonging to the body knows the things that are his, but not himself.

    Alcibiades That is so.

    Socrates Then no physician, in so far as he is a physician, knows himself, nor does any trainer, in so far as he is a trainer.

    Alcibiades It seems not.

    Socrates And farmers, and craftsmen generally

    , are far from knowing themselves. For these people, it would seem, do not even know their own things, but only things still more remote than their own things, in respect of the arts which they follow; since they know 131b but the things of the body, with which it is tended.

    Alcibiades That is true.

    Socrates So if knowing oneself is temperance, none of these people is temperate in respect of his art.

    Alcibiades None, I agree.

    Socrates And that is why these arts are held to be sordid, and no acquirements for a good man.

    Alcibiades Quite so.

    Socrates Then once again, whoever tends his body tends his own things, but not himself?

    Alcibiades It looks rather like it.


    But whoever tends his money tends neither himself nor 131c his own things, but only things yet more remote than his own things?

    Alcibiades I agree.

    Socrates So that the money-maker has ceased to do his own business.

    Alcibiades Correct.

    “The lover of the soul is the true lover.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates And if anyone is found to be a lover of Alcibiades’ body, he has fallen in love, not with Alcibiades, but with something belonging to Alcibiades?

    Alcibiades That is true.

    Socrates Your lover is rather he who loves your soul?

    Alcibiades He must be, apparently, by our argument.

    Socrates And he who loves your body quits you, and is gone, as soon as its bloom is over?

    Alcibiades Apparently. 131d

    “He only remains and goes not away, so long as the soul of his beloved follows after virtue.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Whereas he who loves your soul will not quit you so long as it makes for what is better?

    Alcibiades So it seems.

    Socrates And I am he who does not quit you, but remains with you when your body’s prime is over, and the rest have departed.

    Alcibiades Yes, and I am glad of it, Socrates, and hope you will not go.

    Socrates Then you must endeavor to be as handsome as you can.

    Alcibiades Well, I shall endeavor.

    Socrates You see how you stand: Alcibiades, 131e the son of Cleinias, it seems, neither had nor has any lover except one only, and that a cherished one, Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus and Phaenarete.

    Alcibiades True.

    Socrates And you said that I only just anticipated you in coming to you, for otherwise you would have come to me first for the purpose of inquiring why I am the only one who does not leave you?

    Alcibiades Yes, that was so.

    “And Socrates will never desert Alcibiades so long as he is not spoiled by the Athenian people.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Then the reason was that I was the only lover of you, whereas the rest were lovers of what is yours; and that is losing its charm, 132a while you are beginning to bloom. So now, if you are not blighted and deformed by the Athenian people, I shall never forsake you. For my chiefest fear is of your being blighted by becoming a lover of the people, since many a good Athenian has come to that ere now. For fair of face is “the people of great-hearted Erechtheus”; Hom. Il. 2.547 but you should get a view of it stripped: so take the precaution that I recommend.

    Alcibiades What is it? 132b

    Socrates Exercise yourself first, my wonderful friend, in learning what you ought to know before entering on politics; you must wait till you have learnt, in order that you may be armed with an antidote and so come to no harm.

    Alcibiades Your advice seems to me good, Socrates; but try to explain in what way we can take pains over ourselves.

    Socrates Well, we have made one step in advance; for there is a pretty fair agreement now as to what we are, whereas we were afraid we might fail of this and take pains, without knowing it, over something other than ourselves.

    Alcibiades That is so.


    Care of the Soul & Encounter with the Other

    In the Welcome, there’s a boiled-down statement of this argument.

    Socrates And the next step, we see, is to take care of the soul, and look to that.

    Alcibiades Clearly.

    Socrates While handing over to others the care of our bodies and our coffers.

    Alcibiades Quite so.

    “He who would take care of himself must first of all know himself.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Then how shall we obtain the most certain knowledge of it? For if we know that, it seems we shall know ourselves also. In Heaven’s name, do we fail to comprehend the wise words of the Delphic inscription, which we mentioned just now?

    Alcibiades With what intent do you say that, Socrates? 132d

    Socrates I will tell you what I suspect to be the real advice which the inscription gives us. I rather think there are not many illustrations of it to be found, but only in the case of sight.

    Alcibiades What do you mean by that?

    “The eye which would see itself must look into the pupil of another, which is the divinest part of the eye, and will then behold itself.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Consider in your turn: suppose that, instead of speaking to a man, it said to the eye of one of us, as a piece of advice “See thyself,” how should we apprehend the meaning of the admonition? Would it not be, that the eye should look at that by looking at which it would see itself?

    Alcibiades Clearly.

    Socrates Then let us think what object there is anywhere, by looking at which 132e we can see both it and ourselves.

    Alcibiades Why, clearly, Socrates, mirrors and things of that sort.

    Socrates Quite right. And there is also something of that sort in the eye that we see with?

    Alcibiades To be sure.

    Note 32: The Greek κόρη and the Latin “pupilla” both mean “little girl” or “doll,” and were used to indicate the dark center of the eye in which a tiny image can be seen reflected.

    Socrates And have you observed that the face of the person who looks into another’s eye is shown in the optic confronting him, 133a as in a mirror, and we call this the pupil,32 for in a sort it is an image of the person looking? 133b

    Alcibiades That is true.

    Socrates Then an eye viewing another eye, and looking at the most perfect part of it, the thing wherewith it sees, will thus see itself.

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    Note 33: i.e. it must look at the pupil of a man’s eye, or at what is comparable to that “perfect part” in other things.

    Socrates But if it looks at any other thing in man or at anything in nature but what resembles this,33 it will not see itself.

    Alcibiades That is true.

    Socrates Then if an eye is to see itself, it must look at an eye, and at that region of the eye in which the virtue of an eye is found to occur; and this, I presume, is sight.

    Alcibiades That is so.

    “And the soul which would know herself must look especially at that part of herself in which she resembles the divine.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates And if the soul too, my dear Alcibiades, is to know herself, she must surely look at a soul, and especially at that region of it in which occurs the virtue of a soul — wisdom, and at any other part of a soul which resembles this?

    Alcibiades I agree, Socrates. 133c

    Socrates And can we find any part of the soul that we can call more divine than this, which is the seat of knowledge and thought?

    Alcibiades We cannot.

    Socrates Then this part of her resembles God, and whoever looks at this, and comes to know all that is divine, will gain thereby the best knowledge of himself.

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    Socrates concludes, reasoning that one who doesn’t know himself well doesn’t truly understand what pertains or “belongs” to him, and will correspondingly lack insight into the affairs of others.

    Note 34: Above, Plat. Alc. 1.131b.

    Socrates And self-knowledge we admitted to be temperance.34

    Alcibiades To be sure.

    Socrates So if we have no knowledge of ourselves and no temperance, shall we be able to know our own belongings, good or evil?

    Alcibiades How can that be, Socrates? 133d

    Socrates For I expect it seems impossible to you that without knowing Alcibiades you should know that the belongings of Alcibiades are in fact his.

    Alcibiades Impossible indeed, upon my word.

    “He who knows not himself and his belongings, will not know others and their belongings, and therefore he will not know the affairs of states.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Nor could we know that our belongings are ours if we did not even know ourselves?

    Alcibiades How could we?

    Socrates And so, if we did not so much as know our belongings, we could not know the belongings of our belongings either?

    Alcibiades Apparently not.

    Socrates Then we were not quite correct in admitting just now that there are people who, without knowing themselves, know their belongings, while others know their belongings’ belongings. For it seems to be the function of one man and one art to discern all three — 133e himself, his belongings, and the belongings of his belongings.

    An adequate grasp of reality implies understanding not isolated facts only, but their interrelations; not dependence only, but the dependence of what is less significant on what is more significant; not the neutrality of randomness only, but value, too: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

    A record player might be a “belonging,” and its needle would be among “belonging’s belongings.” Examples abound: An iphone is a belonging, and its screen guard belongs to it in turn. More abstractly, a work project is mine to tend, but completing it implies subprojects in their own right. And so on. You may vary the example to suit. It’s not hard to see how one might lose sight of the proper needs of the self when its projects are so involving, even though their significance is derivative.

    On Fitness for Politics

    Alcibiades It looks like it.

    Socrates And anyone who is ignorant of his belongings will be similarly ignorant, I suppose, of the belongings of others.

    Alcibiades Quite so.

    Socrates And if ignorant of others’ affairs, he will be ignorant also of the affairs of states.

    Alcibiades He must be.

    Socrates Then such a man can never be a statesman.

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Socrates No, nor an economist either. 134a

    Alcibiades No, indeed.


    Nor will he know what he is doing.

    Alcibiades No, I agree.

    Socrates And will not he who does not know make mistakes?

    Alcibiades To be sure.

    “And, if he knows not what he is doing, he will be miserable and will make others miserable.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates And when he makes mistakes, will he not do ill both in private and in public?

    Alcibiades Of course.

    Socrates And doing ill he will be wretched?

    Alcibiades Yes, very.

    Socrates And what of those for whom he is doing so?

    Alcibiades They will be wretched also.

    Socrates Then it is impossible to be happy if one is not temperate and good.

    Alcibiades Impossible. 134b

    Socrates So it is the bad men who are wretched.

    Alcibiades Yes, very.

    Socrates And hence it is not he who has made himself rich that is relieved of wretchedness, but he who has made himself temperate.

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    Socrates So it is not walls or warships or arsenals that cities need, Alcibiades, if they are to be happy, nor numbers, nor size, without virtue.

    Alcibiades No, indeed.

    Socrates And if you are to manage the city’s affairs properly and honorably, you must impart virtue to the citizens.

    Alcibiades Of course. 134c

    “He must give the citizens wisdom and justice, and he cannot give what he has not got.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates But could one possibly impart a thing that one had not?

    Alcibiades How, indeed?

    Socrates Then you or anyone else who is to be governor and curator, not merely of himself and his belongings in private, but of the state and its affairs, must first acquire virtue himself.

    Alcibiades That is true.

    Socrates Hence it is not licence or authority for doing what one pleases that you have to secure to yourself or the state, but justice and temperance.

    Alcibiades Apparently. 134d

    “If he acts wisely and justly he will act according to the will of God.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates For you and the state, if you act justly and temperately, will act so as to please God.

    Alcibiades Naturally.


    And, as we were saying in what went before, you will act with your eyes turned on what is divine and bright.

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    “In the mirror of the divine he will see his own good and will act rightly and be happy.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Well, and looking thereon you will behold and know both yourselves and your good.

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And so you will act aright and well?

    Alcibiades Yes. 134e


    Well now, if you act in this way, I am ready to warrant that you must be happy.

    Alcibiades And I can rely on your warranty.

    Socrates But if you act unjustly, with your eyes on the godless and dark, the probability is that your acts will resemble these through your ignorance of yourselves.

    Alcibiades That is probable.

    Socrates For if a man, my dear Alcibiades, is at liberty to do what he pleases, but is lacking in mind, what is the probable result to him personally, or to the state as well? For instance, if he is sick and at liberty to do what he pleases — without a medical mind, 135a but with a despot’s power which prevents anyone from even reproving him — what will be the result? Will not his health, in all likelihood, be shattered?

    Alcibiades That is true.

    Socrates Again, in a ship, if a man were at liberty to do what he chose, but were devoid of mind and excellence in navigation, do you perceive what must happen to him and his fellow-sailors?

    Alcibiades I do: they must all perish.

    Socrates And

    in just the same way,
    if a state, or any office or authority, is lacking in excellence or virtue, 135b it will be overtaken by failure?

    Alcibiades It must.

    “Not power, but virtue, should be the aim both of individuals and of states: and he only is a freeman who has virtue.” (Jowett’s note)

    Socrates Then it is not despotic power, my admirable Alcibiades, that you ought to secure either to yourself or to the state, if you would be happy, but virtue.

    Alcibiades That is true.

    Socrates And before getting virtue, to be governed by a superior is better than to govern, for a man as well as a child.

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    Socrates And the better is also nobler?

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And the nobler more becoming?

    Alcibiades Of course. 135c

    Socrates Then it becomes a bad man to be a slave, since it is better.

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates So vice is a thing that becomes a slave.

    Alcibiades Apparently.

    Socrates And virtue becomes a free man.

    Alcibiades Yes.

    Socrates And we should shun, my good friend, all slavishness?

    Alcibiades Most certainly, Socrates.

    Socrates And do you now perceive how you stand? Are you on the side of the free, or not?

    Alcibiades I think I perceive only too clearly.

    Socrates Then do you know how you may escape from the condition in which you now find yourself? Let us not give it a name, where a handsome person is concerned! 135d

    Alcibiades I do.

    Socrates How?

    Alcibiades If it be your wish, Socrates.

    Socrates That is not well said, Alcibiades.

    Alcibiades Well, what should I say?

    Socrates If it be God’s will.

    Note 35: παιδαγωγεῖν is used here simply in the sense of “following about as personal attendant.”

    Alcibiades Then I say it. And yet I say this besides, that we are likely to make a change in our parts, Socrates, so that I shall have yours and you mine. For from this day onward it must be the case that I am your attendant, and you have me always in attendance on you.35 135e

    Note 36: It was commonly believed that aged storks were fed by younger storks which they had previously hatched and reared.

    Socrates Ah, generous friend! So my love will be just like a stork; for after hatching a winged love in you it is to be cherished in return by its nestling.36

    Alcibiades Well, that is the position, and I shall begin here and now to take pains over justice.

    Socrates I should like to think you will continue to do so; yet I am apprehensive, not from any distrust of your nature, but in view of the might of the state, lest it overcome both me and you.