Socrates 3.4 – Alcibiades I

"Socrates," by Mitch Francis

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.