Plato: Gorgias (excerpt)

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Gorgias (excerpt)

[Note: The term “evil,” as used in this dialogue, means harm to the agent, not moral evil (Socrates doesn’t have to prove that injustice is evil in the moral sense, since Polus already grants this; but he does have to prove that injustice is harmful to the agent). Also, when Socrates talks about putting people to death (etc.) as an example of rulers doing what they do not want to do, he doesn’t mean that they are acting reluctantly; he means that a) they are choosing such actions not for the actions’ own sake but rather as a means to their own benefit, and b) they are mistaken in thinking that these actions are in fact beneficial to themselves.]


POLUS: Then what is it you say? Do you take rhetoric to be flattery?

SOCRATES: Well, I said rather a branch of flattery. Why, at your age, Polus, have you no memory? What will you do later on?

POLUS: Then do you think that good orators are considered to be flatterers in their cities, and so worthless?


SOCRATES: Is that a question you are asking, or are you beginning a speech?

POLUS: I am asking a question.

SOCRATES: To my mind, they are not considered at all.

POLUS: How not considered? Have they not the chief power in their cities?

SOCRATES: No, if you mean power in the sense of something good for him who has it.

POLUS: Why, of course I mean that.

SOCRATES: Then, to my thinking, the orators have the smallest power of all who are in their city.


POLUS: What? Are they not like the despots, in putting to death anyone they please, and depriving anyone of his property and expelling him from their cities as they may think fit?

SOCRATES: By the Dog, I fear I am still in two minds, Polus, at everything you say, as to whether this is a statement on your own part, and a declaration of your own opinion, or a question you are putting to me.

POLUS: Why, I am asking you.

SOCRATES: Very well, my friend then are you asking me two things at once?

POLUS: How two?


SOCRATES: Were you not this moment saying something like this: Is it not the case that the orators put to death anyone they wish, like the despots, and deprive people of property and expel them from their cities as they may think fit?

POLUS: I was.

SOCRATES: Then I tell you that there are two questions here, and I will give you answers to them both. For I say, Polus, that the orators and the despots alike have the least power in their cities, as I stated just now; since they do nothing [466e] that they wish to do, practically speaking, though they do whatever they think to be best.

POLUS: Well, and is not that a great power to have?

SOCRATES: No, judging at least by what Polus says.

POLUS: I say no? Pardon me, I say yes.

SOCRATES: No, by the --------, you do not; for you said that great power is a good to him who has it.

POLUS: Yes, and I maintain it.

SOCRATES: Then do you regard it as a good, when a man does what he thinks to be best, without having intelligence? Is that what you call having a great power?

POLUS: No, I do not.

SOCRATES: Then will you prove that the orators have intelligence, and that rhetoric is an art, not a flattery, and so refute me ? [467a] Else, if you are going to leave me unrefuted, the orators who do what they think fit in their cities, and the despots, will find they have got no good in doing that, if indeed power is, as you say, a good, but doing what one thinks fit without intelligence is – as you yourself admit, do you not? – an evil.

POLUS: Yes, I do.

SOCRATES: How then can the orators or the despots have great power in their cities, unless Socrates is refuted by Polus, and admits that they do what they wish?


POLUS: Hark at the man --------!

SOCRATES: I deny that they do what they wish: there, refute me.

POLUS: Did you not admit just now that they do what they think best?

SOCRATES: Yes, and I admit it now.

POLUS: Then do they not do what they wish?

SOCRATES: I say no.

POLUS: When they do what they think fit?


POLUS: What shocking, nay, monstrous answers, Socrates!



Spare your invective, peerless Polus – if I may address you in your own style: but if you have a question to ask me, expose my error otherwise, make answer yourself.

POLUS: Well, I am ready to answer, in order that I may know what you mean.

SOCRATES: Then is it your view that people wish merely that which they do each time, or that which is the object of their doing what they do? For instance, do those who take medicine by doctor's orders wish, in your opinion, merely what they do, – to take the medicine and suffer the pain of it, – or rather to be healthy, which is the object of their taking it?


POLUS: To be healthy, without a doubt.

SOCRATES: And so with seafarers and such as pursue profit generally in trade; what they wish is not what they are doing at each moment--for who wishes to go on a voyage, and incur all its danger and trouble? It is rather, I conceive, the object of their voyage--to get wealth; since it is for wealth that they go on it.

POLUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And is it not just the same in every case? If a man does something for an object, he does not wish the thing that he does, but the thing for which he does it.



SOCRATES: Now is there any existent thing that is not either good or bad or between these – neither good nor bad?

POLUS: Most assuredly nothing, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Well, do you call wisdom and health and wealth and everything else of that kind good, and their opposites bad?

POLUS: I do.

SOCRATES: And by things neither good nor bad do you mean such things [468a] as sometimes partake of the good, sometimes of the bad, and sometimes of neither – for example, sitting, walking, running, and sailing, or again, stones and sticks and anything else of that sort? These are what you mean, are they not? Or are there other things that you describe as neither good nor bad?

POLUS: No, these are what I mean.

SOCRATES: Then do people do these intermediate things, when they do them, for the sake of the good things, or the good things for the intermediate?

POLUS: The intermediate, I presume, for the good.


SOCRATES: Thus it is in pursuit of the good that we walk, when we walk, conceiving it to be better; or on the contrary, stand, when we stand, for the sake of the same thing, the good: is it not so?


SOCRATES: And so we put a man to death, if we do put him to death, or expel him or deprive him of his property, because we think it better for us to do this than not?

POLUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: So it is for the sake of the good that the doers of all these things do them?

POLUS: I agree.

SOCRATES: And we have admitted that when we do things for an object, we do not wish those things, but the object for which we do them?


POLUS: Quite so.

SOCRATES: Then we do not wish to slaughter people or expel them from our cities or deprive them of their property as an act in itself, but if these things are beneficial we wish to do them, while if they are harmful, we do not wish them. For we wish what is good, as you say; but what is neither good nor bad we do not wish, nor what is bad either, do we? Is what I say true in your opinion, Polus, or not? Why do you not answer?

POLUS: It is true.


SOCRATES: Then, as we agree on this, if a man puts anyone to death or expels him from a city or deprives him of his property, whether he does it as a despot or an orator, because he thinks it better for himself though it is really worse, that man, I take it, does what he thinks fit, does he not?


SOCRATES: Now is it also what he wishes, supposing it to be really bad? Why do you not answer?

POLUS: No, I do not think he does what he wishes.


SOCRATES: Can such a man then be said to have great power in that city, if to have great power is something good, according to your admission?

POLUS: He cannot.

SOCRATES: Then I spoke the truth when I said that it is possible for a man to do what he thinks fit in a city and yet not to have great power nor to do what he wishes.

POLUS: As if you, Socrates, would not accept the liberty of doing what you think fit in your city rather than not, and would not envy a man whom you observed to have put some one to death as he thought fit, or deprived him of his property or sent him to prison!

SOCRATES: Justly, do you mean, or unjustly?


POLUS: Whichever way he does it, is it not enviable in either case?

SOCRATES: Hush, Polus!


SOCRATES: Because we ought not to envy either the unenviable or the wretched, but pity them.

POLUS: What! Is that the state in which you consider those people, of whom I speak, to be?

SOCRATES: Yes, for so I must.

POLUS: Then do you consider that a man who puts another to death as he thinks fit, and justly puts him to death, is wretched and pitiable?

SOCRATES: Not I; but not enviable either.

POLUS: Did you not say just now that he was wretched?


SOCRATES: Only he who unjustly put some one to death, my friend, and I called him pitiable as well: if he acted justly, then he is unenviable.

POLUS: I suppose, at any rate, the man who is put to death unjustly is both pitiable and wretched.

SOCRATES: Less so than he who puts him to death, Polus, and less so than he who is put to death justly.

POLUS: In what way can that be, Socrates?

SOCRATES: In this, that to do wrong is the greatest of evils.

POLUS: What, is this the greatest? Is not to suffer wrong a greater?

SOCRATES: By no means.

POLUS: Then would you wish rather to suffer wrong than to do it?


SOCRATES: I should wish neither, for my own part; but if it were necessary either to do wrong or to suffer it, I should choose to suffer rather than do it.

POLUS: Then you would not accept a despot’s power?

SOCRATES: No, if you mean by a despot’s power the same as I do.

POLUS: Why, what I mean is, as I did just now, the liberty of doing anything one thinks fit in one’s city – putting people to death and expelling them and doing everything at one’s own discretion.

SOCRATES: My gifted friend, let me speak, and you shall take me to task in your turn.


Suppose that in a crowded market I should hide a dagger under my arm and then say to you: “Polus, I have just acquired, by a wonderful chance, the power of a despot; for if I should think fit that one of those people whom you see there should die this very instant, a dead man he will be, just as I think fit; or if I think fit that one of them shall have his head broken, broken it will be immediately; or to have his cloak torn in pieces, [469e] torn it will be: so great is my power in this city.” Then suppose that on your disbelieving this I showed you my dagger; I expect when you saw it you would say: “Socrates, at this rate every one would have great power, for any house you thought fit might be set ablaze on these methods, and the Athenian arsenals also, and the men-of-war and all the rest of the shipping, both public and private.” But surely this is not what it is to have great power – merely doing what one thinks fit. Or do you think it is?

POLUS: Oh no, not in that way.


SOCRATES: Then can you tell me why you disapprove of this kind of power?

POLUS: I can.

SOCRATES: Why, then? Tell me.

POLUS: Because it is inevitable that he who acts thus will be punished.

SOCRATES: And is it not a bad thing to be punished?

POLUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: So, my remarkable friend, you have come round again to the view that if doing what one thinks fit is attended by advantage in doing it, this is not merely a good thing but at the same time, it seems, the possession of great power; otherwise [470b] it is a bad thing and means little power. And let us consider another point besides; do we not admit that sometimes it is better to do those things that we were mentioning just now – to put people to death and banish them and deprive them of property – while sometimes it is not?

POLUS: To be sure.

SOCRATES: Then here is a point, it seems, that is admitted both on your side and on mine.


SOCRATES: Then when do you say it is better to do these things? Tell me where you draw the line.

POLUS: Nay, I would rather that you, Socrates, answered that.


SOCRATES: Well then I say, Polus if you prefer to hear it from me, that it is better when these things are done justly, and worse when unjustly.

POLUS: So hard to refute you, Socrates! Nay, a mere child could do it, could he not, and prove your words are untrue?

SOCRATES: Then I shall be most grateful to the child, and equally to you, if you refute me and rid me of foolery. Come, do not grow weary in well-doing towards your friend, but refute me.


POLUS: Well, to be sure, Socrates, there is no need to refute you with ancient instances; for those happenings of but a day or two ago are enough to refute you, and prove that many a wrongdoer is happy.

SOCRATES: What sort of thing do you mean?

POLUS: I suppose you see that Archelaus, son of Perdiccas, is ruler of Macedonia?

SOCRATES: Well, if I do not, at any rate I hear it.

POLUS: Do you consider him happy or wretched?

SOCRATES: I do not know, Polus; I have never met the man.


POLUS: What? Could you find out by meeting him, and cannot otherwise tell, straight off, that he is happy?

SOCRATES: No, indeed, upon my word.

POLUS: Then doubtless you will say, Socrates, that you do not know that even the Great King is happy.

SOCRATES: Yes, and I shall be speaking the truth; for I do not know how he stands in point of education and justice.

POLUS: Why, does happiness entirely consist in that?

SOCRATES: Yes, by my account, Polus; for a good and honorable man or woman, I say, is happy, and an unjust and wicked one is wretched.


POLUS: Then this Archelaus, on your statement, is wretched?

SOCRATES: Yes, my friend, supposing he is unjust.

POLUS: Well, but how can he be other than unjust? He had no claim to the throne which he now occupies, being the son of a woman who was a slave of Perdiccas’ brother Alcetas, and in mere justice he was Alcetas’ slave; and if he wished to do what is just, he would be serving Alcetas and would be happy, by your account; but, as it is, he has become a prodigy of wretchedness, [471b] since he has done the most enormous wrong. First of all he invited this very master and uncle of his to his court, as if he were going to restore to him the kingdom of which Perdiccas had deprived him; and after entertaining him and his son Alexander – his own cousin, about the same age as himself – and making them drunk, he packed them into a carriage, drove them away by night, and murdered and made away with them both. And after all these iniquities he failed to observe that he had become a most wretched person and had no repentance, but a while later [471c] he refused to make himself happy by bringing up, as he was justly bound, his brother, the legitimate son of Perdiccas, a boy about seven years old who had a just title to the throne, and restoring the kingdom to him; but he cast him into a well and drowned him, and then told his mother Cleopatra that he had fallen in and lost his life while chasing a goose. So now, you see, as the greatest wrongdoer in Macedonia, he is the most wretched of all the Macedonians, not the happiest; and I daresay some Athenians could be found who would join you [471d] in preferring to change places with any other Macedonian of them all, rather than with Archelaus!

SOCRATES: At the beginning of our discussion, Polus, I complimented you on having had, as I consider, a good training in rhetoric, while you seem to have neglected disputation; and now, accordingly, this is the argument, is it, with which any child could refute me? By this statement, you think, I now stand refuted at your hands, when I assert that the wrongdoer is not happy? How so, my good friend? Why, I tell you I do not admit a single point in what you say.


POLUS: No, because you do not want to; for you really agree with my statement.

SOCRATES: My gifted friend, that is because you attempt to refute me in rhetorical fashion, as they understand refuting in the law courts. For there, one party is supposed to refute the other when they bring forward a number of reputable witnesses to any statements they may make, whilst their opponent produces only one, or none. But this sort of refutation is quite worthless [472a] for getting at the truth; since occasionally a man may actually be crushed by the number and reputation of the false witnesses brought against him. And so now you will find almost everybody, Athenians and foreigners, in agreement with you on the points you state, if you like to bring forward witnesses against the truth of what I say: if you like, there is Nicias, son of Niceratus, with his brothers, whose tripods are standing in a row in the Dionysium; or else Aristocrates, son of Scellias, whose goodly offering again is well known at Delphi; [472b] or if you choose, there is the whole house of Pericles or any other family you may like to select in this place. But I, alone here before you, do not admit it, for you fail to convince me: you only attempt, by producing a number of false witnesses against me, to oust me from my reality, the truth. But if on my part I fail to produce yourself as my one witness to confirm what I say, I consider I have achieved nothing of any account [472c] towards the matter of our discussion, whatever it may be; nor have you either, I conceive, unless I act alone as your one witness, and you have nothing to do with all these others. Well now, this is one mode of refutation, as you and many other people understand it; but there is also another which I on my side understand. Let us therefore compare them with each other and consider if there is a difference between them. For indeed the points which we have at issue are by no means of slight importance: rather, one might say, they are matters on which it is most honorable to have knowledge, and most disgraceful to lack it; for in sum they involve our knowing or not knowing who is happy and who is not. To start at once [472d] with the point we are now debating, you consider it possible for a man to be happy while doing wrong, and as a wrongdoer, since you regard Archelaus as a wrongdoer, and yet happy. We are to conclude, are we not, that this is your opinion?

POLUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And I say it is impossible. There we have one point at issue. Very good but then, will a man be happy in wrongdoing if he comes in for requital and punishment?

POLUS: Not at all, since in that case he would be most wretched.


SOCRATES: But if the wrongdoer escapes requital, by your account he will be happy?


SOCRATES: Whereas in my opinion, Polus, the wrongdoer or the unjust is wretched anyhow; more wretched, however, if he does not pay the penalty and gets no punishment for his wrongdoing, but less wretched if he pays the penalty and meets with requital from gods and men.


POLUS: What a strange doctrine, Socrates, you are trying to maintain!

SOCRATES: Yes, and I will endeavor to make you too, my friend, maintain it with me: for I count you as a friend. Well now, these are the points on which we differ; just examine them yourself. I think I told you at an earlier stage that wrongdoing was worse than being wronged.

POLUS: Certainly you did.

SOCRATES: And you thought that being wronged was worse.


SOCRATES: And I said that wrongdoers were wretched, and I was refuted by you.

POLUS: Upon my word, yes.


SOCRATES: At least to your thinking, Polus.

POLUS: Yes, and true thinking too.

SOCRATES: Perhaps. But you said, on the other hand, that wrongdoers are happy, if they pay no penalty.

POLUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Whereas I say they are most wretched, and those who pay the penalty, less so. Do you wish to refute that as well?

POLUS: Why, that is still harder to refute, Socrates, than the other!

SOCRATES: Not merely so, Polus, but impossible; for the truth is never refuted.


POLUS: How do you mean? If a man be caught criminally plotting to make himself a despot, and he be straightway put on the rack and castrated and have his eyes burnt out, and after suffering himself, and seeing inflicted on his wife and children, a number of grievous torments of every kind, he be finally crucified or burnt in a coat of pitch, will he be happier than if he escape and make himself despot, and pass his life as the ruler in his city, doing whatever he likes, and envied and congratulated by the citizens and the foreigners besides? [473d] Impossible, do you tell me, to refute that?

SOCRATES: You are trying to make my flesh creep this time, my spirited Polus, instead of refuting me; a moment ago you were for calling witnesses. However, please refresh my memory a little: “criminally plotting to make himself a despot,” you said?

POLUS: I did.

SOCRATES: Then neither of them will ever be happier than the other – neither he who has unjustly compassed the despotic power, nor he who pays the penalty; for of two wretched persons [473e] neither can be happier; but still more wretched is he who goes scot-free and establishes himself as despot. What is that I see, Polus? You are laughing? Here we have yet another form of refutation – when a statement is made, to laugh it down, instead of disproving it!

POLUS: Do you not think yourself utterly refuted, Socrates, when you make such statements as nobody in the world would assent to? You have only to ask anyone of the company here.

SOCRATES: Polus, I am not one of your statesmen: indeed, last year, when I was elected a member of the Council, and, as my tribe held the Presidency, [474a] I had to put a question to the vote, I got laughed at for not understanding the procedure. So do not call upon me again to take the votes of the company now; but if, as I said this moment, you have no better disproof than those, hand the work over to me in my turn, and try the sort of refutation that I think the case requires. For I know how to produce one witness in support of my statements, and that is the man himself with whom I find myself arguing; the many I dismiss: there is also one whose vote I know how to take, whilst to the multitude I have not a word to say. [474b] See therefore if you will consent to be put to the proof in your turn by answering my questions. For I think, indeed, that you and I and the rest of the world believe that doing wrong is worse than suffering it, and escaping punishment worse than incurring it.

POLUS: And I, that neither I nor anyone else in the world believes it. You, it seems, would choose rather to suffer wrong than to do it.

SOCRATES: Yes, and so would you and everyone else.

POLUS: Far from it neither; I nor you nor anybody else.


SOCRATES: Then will you answer?

POLUS: To be sure I will, for indeed I am eager to know what on earth you will say.

SOCRATES: Well then, so that you may know, tell me, just as though I were asking you all over again, which of the two seems to you, Polus, to be the worse – doing wrong or suffering it?

POLUS: Suffering it, I say.

SOCRATES: Now again, which is fouler – doing wrong or suffering it? Answer.

POLUS: Doing it.

SOCRATES: And also more evil, if fouler.

POLUS: Not at all.

SOCRATES: I see: you hold, apparently, that fair [474d] and good are not the same, nor evil and foul.

POLUS: Just so.

SOCRATES: But what of this? All fair things, like bodies and colors and figures and sounds and observances – is it according to no standard that you call these fair in each case? Thus in the first place, when you say that fair bodies are fair, it must be either in view of their use for some particular purpose that each may serve, or in respect of some pleasure arising when, in the act of beholding them, they cause delight to the beholder. Have you any description to give beyond this [474e] of bodily beauty?

POLUS: I have not.

SOCRATES: And so with all the rest in the same way, whether they be figures or colors, is it for some pleasure or benefit or both that you give them the name of “fair”?

POLUS: It is.

SOCRATES: And sounds also, and the effects of music, are not these all in the same case?


SOCRATES: And further, in all that belongs to laws and observances, surely the “fairness” of them cannot lie beyond those limits of being either beneficial or pleasant or both.

POLUS: I think not.


SOCRATES: And is it not just the same with the “fairness” of studies also?

POLUS: Doubtless; and this time, Socrates, your definition is quite fair, when you define what is fair by pleasure and good.

SOCRATES: And foul by their opposites, pain and evil?

POLUS: That needs must follow.

SOCRATES: Thus when of two fair things one is fairer, the cause is that it surpasses in either one or both of these effects, either in pleasure, or in benefit, or in both.

POLUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And again, when one of two foul things is fouler, [475b] this will be due to an excess either of pain or of evil: must not that be so?


SOCRATES: Come then, what was it we heard just now about doing and suffering wrong? Were you not saying that suffering wrong is more evil, but doing it fouler?

POLUS: I was.

SOCRATES: Well now, if doing wrong is fouler than suffering it, it is either more painful, and fouler by an excess of pain or evil or both; must not this also be the case?

POLUS: Yes, of course.

SOCRATES: Then let us first consider if doing wrong [475c] exceeds suffering it in point of pain – if those who do wrong are more pained than those who suffer it.

POLUS: Not so at all, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Then it does not surpass in pain.

POLUS: No, indeed.

SOCRATES: And so, if not in pain, it can no longer be said to exceed in both.

POLUS: Apparently.

SOCRATES: It remains, then, that it exceeds in the other.


SOCRATES: In evil.

POLUS: So it seems.

SOCRATES: Then it is by an excess of evil that doing wrong is fouler than suffering it.

POLUS: Yes, obviously.


SOCRATES: Now it is surely admitted by the mass of mankind, as it was too by you in our talk a while ago, that doing wrong is fouler than suffering it.


SOCRATES: And now it has been found to be more evil.

POLUS: So it seems.

SOCRATES: Then would you rather have the evil and foul when it is more than when it is less? Do not shrink from answering, Polus you will get no hurt by it: but submit yourself bravely to the argument, as to a doctor, and reply yes or no to my question.


POLUS: Why, I should not so choose, Socrates.

SOCRATES: And would anybody else in the world?

POLUS: I think not, by this argument at least.

SOCRATES: Then I spoke the truth when I said that neither you nor anyone else in the world would choose to do wrong rather than suffer it, since it really is more evil.

POLUS: Apparently.

SOCRATES: So you see, Polus, that when one proof is contrasted with the other they have no resemblance, but whereas you have the assent of every one else except myself, I am satisfied with your sole and single assent and evidence, [476a] and I take but your vote only and disregard the rest. Now let us leave this matter where it stands, and proceed next to examine the second part on which we found ourselves at issue – whether for a wrongdoer to pay the penalty is the greatest of evils, as you supposed, or to escape it is a greater, as I on my side held. Let us look at it this way: do you call paying the just penalty, and being justly punished, for wrongdoing the same thing?

POLUS: I do.


SOCRATES: And can you maintain that all just things are not fair, in so far as they are just? Consider well before you speak.

POLUS: No, I think they are, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Then take another point: if a man does anything, must there be something which is also acted upon by this doer of the thing?

POLUS: I think so.

SOCRATES: And does it suffer what the doer does, and is the effect such as the agent’s action makes it? I mean, for example, when one strikes a blow something must needs be struck?

POLUS: It must.

SOCRATES: And if the striker strikes hard or quick, [476c] the thing struck is struck in the same way?


SOCRATES: Hence the effect in the thing struck is such as the striker makes it?

POLUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And so again, if one burns, something must be burnt?

POLUS: Yes, of course.

SOCRATES: And if one burns severely or sorely, the thing burnt is burnt according as the burner burns it?

POLUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And again, if one cuts, the same may be said? For something is cut.


SOCRATES: And if the cut is large or deep or sore, [476d] the cut made in the thing cut is such as the cutter cuts it?

POLUS: Apparently.

SOCRATES: Then putting it all in a word, see if you agree that what I was just saying applies to all cases – that the patient receives an effect of the same kind as the agent’s action.

POLUS: I do agree.

SOCRATES: Then this being admitted, is paying the penalty suffering something, or doing it?

POLUS: Suffering it must be, Socrates.

SOCRATES: And at the hands of an agent?

POLUS: Yes, of course; at the hands of the punisher.


SOCRATES: And he who punishes aright punishes justly?


SOCRATES: Doing what is just, or not?

POLUS: What is just.

SOCRATES: And he who pays the penalty by being punished suffers what is just?

POLUS: Apparently.

SOCRATES: And what is just, I think we have agreed, is fair?

POLUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Then of these two, the one does what is fair and the other, he who is punished, suffers it.



SOCRATES: And so, if fair, good? For that is either pleasant or beneficial.

POLUS: It must be so.

SOCRATES: So he who pays the penalty suffers what is good?

POLUS: It seems so.

SOCRATES: Then he is benefited?


SOCRATES: Is it the benefit I imagine – that he becomes better in soul if he is justly punished?

POLUS: Quite likely.

SOCRATES: Then is he who pays the penalty relieved from badness of soul?


SOCRATES: And so relieved from the greatest evil? [477b] Look at it this way; in a man's pecuniary resources do you perceive any other badness than poverty?

POLUS: No, only poverty.

SOCRATES: And what in his bodily resources? You would say that badness there is weakness or disease or ugliness or the like?

POLUS: I would.

SOCRATES: And in soul too you believe there is a certain wickedness?

POLUS: Of course.

SOCRATES: And do you not call this injustice, ignorance, cowardice, and so forth?

POLUS: Certainly I do.


SOCRATES: So now in property, body, and soul, these three, you have mentioned three vices – poverty, disease, and injustice?


SOCRATES: Then which of these vices is the foulest? Is it not injustice – in short, the vice of the soul?

POLUS: Far the foulest.

SOCRATES: And if foulest, then also most evil?

POLUS: How do you mean, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Just this: the foulest is foulest in each case because it produces the greatest pain or harm or both; this follows from our previous admissions.

POLUS: Quite so.

SOCRATES: And foulest of all, we have just agreed, is injustice and, [477d] in general, vice of soul?

POLUS: Yes, we have.

SOCRATES: So then either it is most painful, that is, foulest of these vices by an excess of painfulness, or else of harmfulness, or in both ways?

POLUS: Necessarily.

SOCRATES: Then do you think that being unjust, licentious, cowardly, and ignorant is more painful than being poor and sick?

POLUS: No, I do not, Socrates, from what we have said.

SOCRATES: Portentous then must be the extent of harm, and astonishing the evil, by which the soul’s vice exceeds all the others [477e] so as to be foulest of all, since it is not by pain, on your view of the matter.

POLUS: Apparently.

SOCRATES: But further, I suppose, whatever has an excess of harm in the greatest measure, must be the greatest evil in the world.


SOCRATES: So injustice, licentiousness, and in general, vice of soul, are the greatest evils in the world?

POLUS: Apparently.

SOCRATES: Now what is the art that relieves from poverty? Is it not money-making?


SOCRATES: And what from disease? Is it not medicine?

POLUS: It must be.


SOCRATES: And what from wickedness and injustice? If you are not ready for that offhand, consider it thus: whither and to whom do we take those who are in bodily sickness?

POLUS: To the doctor, Socrates.

SOCRATES: And whither the wrongdoers and libertines?

POLUS: To the law-court, do you mean?

SOCRATES: Yes, and to pay the penalty?

POLUS: I agree.

SOCRATES: Then is it not by employing a kind of justice that those punish who punish aright?

POLUS: Clearly so.

SOCRATES: Then money-making relieves us from poverty, [478b] medicine from disease, and justice from licentiousness and injustice.

POLUS: Apparently.

SOCRATES: Which then is the fairest of these things?

POLUS: Of what things, pray?

SOCRATES: Moneymaking, medicine, justice.

POLUS: Justice, Socrates, is far above the others.

SOCRATES: Now again, if it is fairest, it causes either most pleasure or benefit or both.


SOCRATES: Well then, is it pleasant to be medically treated, and do those who undergo such treatment enjoy it?

POLUS: I do not think so.

SOCRATES: But it is beneficial, is it not?



SOCRATES: Because one is relieved of a great evil, and hence it is worth while to endure the pain and be well.

POLUS: Of course.

SOCRATES: Is this then the happiest state of body for a man to be in – that of being medically treated – or that of never being ill at all?

POLUS: Clearly, never being ill.

SOCRATES: Yes, for what we regarded as happiness, it seems, was not this relief from evil, but its non-acquisition at any time.

POLUS: That is so.


SOCRATES: Well now, which is the more wretched of two persons who have something evil either in body or in soul, he who is medically treated and is relieved of the evil, or he who is not treated and keeps it?

POLUS: To my thinking, he who is not treated.

SOCRATES: And we found that paying the penalty is a relief from the greatest evil, wickedness?

POLUS: We did.

SOCRATES: Because, I suppose, the justice of the court reforms us and makes us juster, and acts as a medicine for wickedness.



SOCRATES: Happiest therefore is he who has no vice in his soul, since we found this to be the greatest of evils.

POLUS: Clearly so.

SOCRATES: Next after him, I take it, is he who is relieved of it.

POLUS: So it seems.

SOCRATES: And that was the man who is reproved, reprimanded, and made to pay the penalty.


SOCRATES: Hence the worst life is led by him who has the vice and is not relieved of it.

POLUS: Apparently.

SOCRATES: And this is the man who in committing the greatest wrongs and practicing the greatest injustice has contrived to escape reproof and chastisement and penalty alike, [479a] as you say Archelaus has succeeded in doing, and the rest of the despots and orators and overlords?

POLUS: So it seems.

SOCRATES: Because, I conceive, my excellent friend, what these persons have contrived for themselves is very much as though a man who was the victim of the worst diseases should contrive not to submit to the doctor's penalty for his bodily transgressions and take the prescribed treatment, from a childish fear of cautery or incision, as being so painful. [479b] Or do you not agree to this view of it?

POLUS: I do.

SOCRATES: Since he was ignorant, it would seem, of the virtue of bodily health and fitness. For it is very probable, from what we have just agreed, that something like this is done also by those who evade their due penalty, Polus; they perceive its painfulness, but are blind to its benefits, and are unaware how much more wretched than lack of health in the body it is to dwell with a soul that is not healthy, but corrupt, unjust, and unholy; [479c] and hence it is that they do all they can to avoid paying the penalty and being relieved of the greatest of evils, by providing themselves with money and friends and the ability to excel in persuasive speech. But if what we have agreed is true, Polus, do you observe the consequences of our argument? Or, if you like, shall we reckon them up together?

POLUS: Yes, if you do not mind.

SOCRATES: Then does it result that injustice and wrongdoing is the greatest evil?

POLUS: Yes, apparently.


SOCRATES: And further, it appeared that paying the penalty is a relief from this evil?

POLUS: It looks like it.

SOCRATES: Whereas not paying it is a retention of the evil in us?


SOCRATES: Thus wrongdoing is second of evils in greatness; but to do wrong and not pay the penalty is the greatest and takes the first place among all evils.

POLUS: It seems so.

SOCRATES: Well now, my friend, was this the point at issue between us, that you counted Archelaus, [479e] who did the greatest wrong, happy because he paid no penalty, whilst I on the contrary thought that anyone – whether Archelaus or any other person you please – who pays no penalty for the wrong he has done, is peculiarly and pre-eminently wretched among men, and that it is always the wrongdoer who is more wretched than the wronged, and the unpunished than the punished? Is not this what I stated?


SOCRATES: Then has it not been proved that this was a true statement?

POLUS: Apparently.


SOCRATES: Very well: so if this is true, Polus, what is the great use of rhetoric? For you see by what we have just agreed that a man must keep a close watch over himself so as to avoid wrongdoing, since it would bring a great deal of evil upon him; must he not?

POLUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: But if he is guilty of wrongdoing, either himself or anyone else he may care for, he must go of his own freewill where he may soonest pay the penalty, to the judge [480b] as if to his doctor, with the earnest intent that the disease of his injustice shall not become chronic and cause a deep incurable ulcer in his soul. Or what are we to say, Polus, if our former conclusions stand? Must not our later ones accord with them in this way, and in this only?

POLUS: Yes, what else, indeed, are we to say, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Then for pleading in defence of injustice, whether it is oneself or one's parents or friends or children or country that has done the wrong, rhetoric is of no use to us at all, Polus; except one were to suppose, perchance, to the contrary, [480c] that a man ought to accuse himself first of all, and in the second place his relations or anyone else of his friends who may from time to time be guilty of wrong; and, instead of concealing the iniquity, to bring it to light in order that he may pay the penalty and be made healthy; and, moreover, to compel both himself and his neighbors not to cower away but to submit with closed eyes and good courage, as it were, to the cutting and burning of the surgeon, in pursuit of what is good and fair, and without reckoning in the smart: if his crimes have deserved a flogging, [480d] he must submit to the rod; if fetters, to their grip; if a fine, to its payment; if banishment, to be banished; or if death, to die; himself to be the first accuser either of himself or of his relations, and to employ his rhetoric for the purpose of so exposing their iniquities that they may be relieved of that greatest evil, injustice. Shall this be our statement or not, Polus?


POLUS: An extraordinary one, Socrates, it seems to me, though perhaps you do find it agrees with what went before.

SOCRATES: Well, either that must be upset, or this necessarily follows.

POLUS: Yes, that certainly is so.

SOCRATES: And so again conversely, supposing it is our duty to injure somebody, whether an enemy or anyone else – provided only that it is not against oneself that wrong has been done by such enemy, for this we must take care to avoid – but supposing our enemy has wronged some one else, [481a] we must make every exertion of act and word to prevent him from being punished or coming to trial, or if he does, we must contrive that our enemy shall escape and not be punished; nay, if he has carried off a great lot of gold, that he shall not refund it but keep and spend it on himself and his, unjustly and godlessly, or if he has committed crimes that deserve death, that he shall not die; if possible, never die, but be deathless in his villainy, or failing that, live as long a time as may be in that condition. [481b] Such are the purposes, as it seems to me, Polus, for which rhetoric is useful, since to him who has no intention of doing wrong it is, I consider, of no great use, if indeed there is any use in it at all; for in our previous argument it was nowhere to be found.

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