Plato: Alcibiades (part 4)

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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.


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?


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


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


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?


SOCRATES: 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.


[130a] SOCRATES: And the user of it must be the soul?


SOCRATES: And ruler?


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?

SOCRATES: Soul, body, or both together as one whole.

ALCIBIADES: Very well.

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.


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.

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.

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, 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.

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?


[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.

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.


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

ALCIBIADES: It looks rather like it.

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


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


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] 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.


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.

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;" 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.

[132c] SOCRATES: And the next step, we see, is to take care of the soul, and look to that.


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


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?

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?


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.

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, 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.

SOCRATES: But if it looks at any other thing in man or at anything in nature but what resembles this, 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.

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: And self-knowledge we admitted to be temperance.

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.

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.

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.


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.

SOCRATES: 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.

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

ALCIBIADES: Naturally.

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

ALCIBIADES: Apparently.

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


SOCRATES: And so you will act aright and well?


[134e] SOCRATES: 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?


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?


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.


SOCRATES: So vice is a thing that becomes a slave.

ALCIBIADES: Apparently.

SOCRATES: And virtue becomes a free man.


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.


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.

ALCIBIADES: Then I say it. And yet I say this besides, that we are like 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.

[135e] 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.

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.

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