“Meno” by Plato

“Meno” by Plato

  • Meno was a young, rich nobleman from Thessaly
  • Anytos was an Athenian politician, later accuser at Socrates’s trial


Meno – Can virtue be taught? Does it come by practice? If neither, do you get it through nature or another way?

Socrates – I’ve always thought people from your neck of the woods were smart & that they’d always answer freely without fear if asked such a question. But, unfortunately, we’re not as smart as you in Athens. Ask that question around here & you’re likely to get blank looks, shrugs or questions in return. I don’t even know what virtue is, let alone where it comes from.

Meno – Are you serious?

Socrates – I don’t even know anyone who does know.

Meno – You knew Gorgias. Don’t you think that he knew?

Socrates – Maybe. What did he say? I can’t remember.

Meno – A man’s virtue is to manage public business, help friends, hurt enemies & stay out of trouble. A woman’s virtue is to manage the house, keep the stores safe & obey her husband. There are other virtues for boys, girls & old people. There are many kinds of virtue depending on your activities, age, etc.

Socrates – OK. If I asked you what a bee was, you’d tell me there were different kinds of bees. They may be different but what do they all have in common that make them all bees? Likewise, virtues may be different but what do they all have in common in that men, women, the old & children all can have them? Is managing public affairs justly & is managing the household justly virtuous?

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – So, it’s not possible to manage affairs justly without being just. Being just is a virtue. All the virtues you’ve listed are only activities performed justly… What did Gorgias say?

Meno – To be able to rule men.

Socrates – Can a slave rule his master? If he rules, would he still be a slave? Shouldn’t we add “justly” to “to be able to rule men”?

Meno – Yes, justice is a virtue.

Socrates – Is it “a virtue”, or “virtue” itself?

Meno – What do you mean?

Socrates – Take “roundness”. A figure can be round  but “figure” is not necessarily “roundness” because we know there are other types of figures.

Meno – I see… Yes, there are other virtues, like courage, temperance, wisdom, high-mindedness, etc.

Socrates – So, we’ve found a few examples but what do they all have in common? “Roundness” is a type of figure but you must allow for others. “White” is a type of color, but not all colors. I’d like a definition that ties all virtues together.

Meno – What would you say what color was to someone who didn’t know?

Socrates – The truth. If he’s being a dick about it, I’d explain & then tell him to take it or leave it. If he’s friendly, I’d walk him through it. For a figure, I’d say, “something bounded & ended”.

Meno – What about color?

Socrates – We were talking about Gorgias’s definition of virtue…

Meno – You first.

Socrates – Very well, but you’re just ordering me about. OK… [Does an imitation of Gorgias] “Color is an emanation from figures symmetrical with sight & perceptibility to the senses.”

Meno – Very nice. I like that answer!

Socrates – I figured you would. But that answer can also apply to a question about smell, sound, etc. So, what about virtue then?

Meno – “To rejoice in what’s handsome & to be able…” as a poet once said. It’s the desire for handsome things & to be able to provide them.

Socrates – Don’t we all want good things but just differ in what we see as “good”? Do people want “bad” things if they know they’re bad?

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – Why?

Meno – To have them.

Socrates – Because they benefit from them or because they injure?

Meno – Some because they benefit. Some because they injure.

Socrates – Those who want bad things don’t know what they are but desire them because they thought they were good but in reality, they’re bad. Those who don’t know will think they’re good & desire good. Those who want them because they injure know that they will injure but don’t know that to injure will make them wretched.

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – Who wants to be wretched?

Meno – No one.

Socrates – Nobody unless he wants to be wretched… Isn’t misery or wretchedness just the desire for bad things & actually getting them?

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – If virtue is the desire for good things & to be able to provide them, desiring makes no difference between one man & another – only in their ability – the power to get good things.

Meno – Yes. Gold, silver, public appointments & honor are the highest things.

Socrates – Could you add “justly” to that?

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – It seems like no matter what you do, for it to be virtuous, you have to do it justly.

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – So not getting silver, gold, public appointments, etc. when it’s unjust is also virtuous. Getting those thing is no more just or unjust than not getting them. Just using justice makes everything good. Whatever you do with virtue is virtuous. But I still need a definition for virtue. What is it?

Meno – You’re lucky you live here & not somewhere else. They’d lynch you. I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.

Socrates – I’ve heard people of all kinds talk about virtue at great length with eloquence. They say the soul is immortal & it’s reborn after death & can never be destroyed. Since the soul is immortal, there can be nothing we don’t know. There is no learning, just remembering.

Meno – Explain that.

Socrates – I’ll demonstrate it using your servant. [Starts with things the servant understands, asks questions & the servant begins to understand geometry & arithmetic.] I’m not teaching him a thing. He’s only remembering my questions. He starts off not remembering anything & answers my carefully worded questions. Now he remembers. It might have been difficult but he got there in the end. By numbing the pain & not launching right away into difficult questions, he’s learned. We didn’t put thoughts into his head that weren’t originally his.

Meno – No, they must have been there all the while.

Socrates – It’s like they came from a dream. No one taught him, only asked him. It must be a form of remembering. He’d either got it before, or he always knew it. It wouldn’t have been in this lifetime because he didn’t know it.

Meno – No one had ever taught it to him.

Socrates – If knowledge & truth are always in us, the soul must be immortal. Anything you know must be re-learned or remembered. In order to know what is really unknown, we must be braver & less idle than if we believed that it’s impossible to know & not worth trying.

Meno – OK. Let’s find out if virtue can be taught or if you’re born with it.

Socrates – I think we’d better find out what it is before. Let’s approach this matter as if it were geometry. Is virtue a form of knowledge?

Meno – I think so.

Socrates – If something is good, but separate from knowledge, then there’s something that exists outside of knowledge. I think there’s no good that knowledge doesn’t have. So maybe virtue is a form of knowledge.

Meno – Yes

Socrates – Health, strength, good looks, wealth – there are all good but are the helpful?

Meno – Yes

Socrates – But sometimes they do harm?

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – When used correctly, they help & when used incorrectly, they harm. You said temperance, justice, courage & cleverness are good things for the soul.

Meno – Yes

Socrates – But you don’t think they’re a form of knowledge & somehow separate. Are they sometimes harmful & sometimes helpful? Courage isn’t intelligence. It’s more like boldness. If a man is senselessly bold, he’s harmed. If he’s sensefully bold, he’s helped.

Meno – Yes

Socrates – The same is true with temperance & cleverness. With sense, they’re good & without it, they’re bad. So, it seems with the soul, wisdom leads to happiness & senseless leads to unhappiness. Virtue must be a sort of wisdom. It all revolves around your soul

Meno – Yes

Socrates – So, wealth, heal, strength, etc. – we said they can harm or help. Using wisdom makes them help & not using wisdom makes them harm. A senseless soul will use them badly & a wise soul will use them well. It doesn’t depend on the soul, just on whether or not the soul uses wisdom. Using wisdom is good & not using it is bad. Virtue is a form of wisdom & nature doesn’t make us good or bad.

Meno – Right.

Socrates – If that were true, you could just isolate the good away from the bad to protect them. If men aren’t good or bad by nature, it must be learned or taught.

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – What if we’re wrong… If it can be taught, there must be teachers & students. If there aren’t any, it probably can’t be taught.

Meno – You don’t think there are any teachers?

Socrates – I’ve tried to find them without any luck. I know others have tried, too [ANYTOS ENTERS]. Say, Anytos, your father became a wealthy guy without any luck or inheritance but by his own wisdom. If we wanted Meno to become a doctor, would we send him to learn with the doctors?

Anytos – And if we wanted him to be a shoemaker, we’d send him to learn with a shoemaker?

Socrates – In general, if you want to learn something, you’ll have to learn it from someone who practices it. It would be stupid to do otherwise. Meno says he wants wisdom & virtue. Should he got to those who claim to be virtuous & teach it?

Anytos – Who might that be?

Socrates – Sophists.

Anytos – Hell no! You don’t want to go see them. They’re turn you into an absolute maniac.

Socrates – They say they know how to do good. But you say they’ll corrupt us through their teachings. & they want money on top of all that! I knew a guy, Protagoras, who made way more money than any artist or shoemaker. If a shoemaker did his job as poorly as you say Sophists do, you’d know it with in a month by the shoe falling apart. But Protagoras got away with it for over 40 years without anyone noticing it. His name is still praised by the Sophists. Do you think the Sophists know what they’re doing to their students? Or do you think they’re crazy & have no idea.

Anytos – They know what they’re doing. It’s crazy to pay them for what they do. It’s crazier to send your kids off to them. & what’s craziest of all is that cities allow these charlatans to hand around corrupting their young with their bullshit!

Socrates – Have you ever been trained by one?

Anytos – No way would I ever go near one of them!!

Socrates – How do you know anything about them if you’ve never been near them?

Anytos – I know how they operate.

Socrates – Well, we don’t want to send Meno to a charlatan, just to someone who can teach him virtue. I was about to send him to a sophist but as you say, they probably aren’t the ones to see. Perhaps you can suggest one?

Anytos – Any gentleman in Athens would be a better teacher than a Sophist.

Socrates – Did they learn or become virtuous by luck. If they got lucky, how could they teach it?

Anytos – I guess they probably learned from their fathers. Don’t you think we’ve got virtuous men here in Athens?

Socrates – I know politicians. They’ve always been around. But have they taught virtue? Meno & I have been discussing whether or not virtue can be taught or if comes naturally or another way… Was naval hero Themistocles a good man?

Anytos – None better.

Socrates – Wouldn’t he have provided virtue lessons to his son by himself or hired a teacher if he could? He taught his son to be an expert at horses. Why not do the same with virtue? Did he wish to teach his son but not make him any more virtuous than the neighbors’ kids? If virtue could be taught, could we believe he wouldn’t provide lessons for him?

Anytos – Probably not.

Socrates – One of the best men of the past? Not a grand teacher of virtue? It’s hard to believe. What about Aristeides? Was he good?

Anytos – Yes.

Socrates – He taught his sons & gave them the best teachers you get in Athens. But he never gave them lessons in virtue. & Pericles’s sons? He taught them to be the best horsemen Athens has ever seen. He gave them the best education money could buy. No virtue teacher, though. Thucydides’s sons were educated & he got them the best wrestling coach & they became the best wrestlers in Greece. No courses in virtue…

Anytos – No…

Socrates – Isn’t it clear that all these great men with money could provide their kids with an education but never taught them virtue. I think it’s because it can’t be taught.

Anytos – Be careful. It’s easy to do more harm than good in most cities. It’s even easier in Athens… [ANYTOS LEAVES]

Socrates – I guess Anytos left because he thought I was defaming those men & him as well… Do you have good men in Thessaly?

Meno – Absolutely.

Socrates – Do they teach virtue?

Meno – No… Sometimes you hear it can be taught. Sometimes you hear that it can’t be taught.

Socrates – Only Sophists claim that it can be taught. Do you think that they teach it?

Meno – Gorgias always laughed at those who claimed it because he just thought they were teaching them how to speak cleverly.

Socrates – Do you think they taught virtue?

Meno – I’m not sure… Sometimes I think so & other times I don’t.

Socrates – You aren’t alone. Theogonis said the same as you. That it can’t be & then said it can be. Can you think of any other subject whose teachers are thought not only not to teach but not even to know the subject itself? If students are confused, they must be bad teachers.

Meno – Correct.

Socrates – If neither Sophists nor gentlemen can teach virtue, there are probably no teachers or students. Then it probably can’t be taught.

Meno – Looks like it. Are there any good men at all?

Socrates – Maybe we should try to find out how good men become good. Good men must be useful & guide their business correctly. If a man knows the way from here to Larissa (region where Thessaly, north of Athens), he goes there himself & can guide others there as well.

Meno – Right.

Socrates – If a man who’s never been there before guess & is correct, then a good guess isn’t any worse than knowledge. They both guide to the right action.

Meno – But the one with knowledge will always be right. The one who makes good guesses will be wrong sometimes.

Socrates – Not if he always guesses correctly.

Meno – I suppose so. Why is knowledge any better than good guesses? How are they different?

Socrates – Well, like it is with statues. You’ve got to nail them down to something otherwise they’ll disappear. They’ll be stolen, get knocked over or the wind will take them away. If you don’t do that, there’s little point in owning one. As long as they stay, they’re wonderful. But we all know sooner or later, they’ll be gone or broken. They’re not worth much unless they’re fastened down. Having a good guess isn’t worth much in the long run unless you start to understand why you’re right, and cause & effect. When you do that, it turns into knowledge. That’s why it’s better.

Meno – Nicely put. I think I get it.

Socrates – Good guesses guide us no better or worse than knowledge. Good guesses aren’t inferior to knowledge in their results. A man is as useful to his city if he’s a good guesser than if he is knowledgeable, no matter how knowledge or good guessing skills are acquired.

Meno – So, not by nature.

Socrates – The good doesn’t not come by nature. But if not from nature, can it be taught? Since we don’t have teachers & students, probably not.

Meno – Correct.

Socrates – Good guesses & knowledge do just as well as each other in guiding us. If a man has either, he’s useful. If he’s not useful by knowledge, at least he guesses well. That’s how politicians keep a state afloat. It has no more to do with knowledge & understanding than an oracle or a diviner, or poets or artists. When they are right, they are divinely inspired but have no understanding of why they’re right.

Meno – Seems right.

Socrates – Women call a good man divine.

Meno – Don’t let Anytos catch you saying that. He won’t like it.

Socrates – Whatever… He’ll hear about it sooner or later. Virtue comes not from nature or learning but from divine allotment or dispensation.

“The Character of Socrates” by Xenophon

“The Character of Socrates” by Xenophon

  • Socrates always said what was on his mind to friends
    • Also made sure that they were independent enough to pursue the avenues they were suited for
    • He knew all his friends very well – often probing their minds w/ questions
  • He taught his friends w/ all his heart the things a person ought to know, & at least be familiar w/ any subject
    • Geometry – Good for surveying & owning property, & being able make use of the land. Going too far into it excluded research into other subjects
    • Astronomy – helped plan journeys by land or sea. It helped hunters & pilots measure distances & directions. But trying to know why the gods made the heavens that way wasn’t possible to understand & trying to do so would drive you crazy
    • Arithmetic – good for business & geometry – but don’t get carried away!
    • Health – you should learn all you can from those who know what to eat, drink & how to exercise
  • He was often forewarned by a deity of what to do & what not to do. Some thought he was crazy for this – he wasn’t.
  • He lived w/ a death sentence hanging over him for 30 days. It was so long b/c it was during the month when it was illegal to execute prisoners
    • But during this period, he lived exactly how he lived before
    • When he had been indicted, he wouldn’t even discuss the case.
      • When pressed on trying to build his defense, he replied:
        • “Don’t you think I have been preparing for it all my life?”
    • He refused to stop his way of life because his life had been growing in goodness
      • If he were to live on, he would have died of old age soon anyway
  • He felt if he were to die unjustly, let those who killed him bear the shame of killing him
    • Posterity judges the dead based on the injustice they did much more than the injustice they had to bear
    • He said he’d be remembered fondly, much more than those who took his life because he lived his life to make others better & to corrupt or wrong nobody.
  • Anyone who knew Socrates knew what sort of a man he was & they searched for virtue & helped out anyone in their own quest
    • He was so religious that he did nothing without consulting the gods
    • He was so just that he did no injury to anyone
    • He was so self-controlled that he never chose the pleasanter over the better course
    • He was so wife that he need no counselor & never erred in his judgment of good & bad
      • He suggested that everyone follow virtue & gentleness
        • Seemed to be a truly good & happy man.

“Clouds” by Aristophanes (423 BC)

“Clouds” by Aristophanes

What is the air speed velocity of a Gnat's fart or burp?

What is the air speed velocity of a Gnat’s fart or burp?


Strepsiades wakes up complaining that neither his servants nor his son have woken up to start the day off. He complains that the only thing his son does is ride horses which is starting rack up some debts because of this. The son, Phidippides is talking in sleep about riding horses. Strepsiades then starts to complain – regretting the day he met his wife because before he was poor and wasn’t surrounded by luxuries that would one day spoil his son. The mother has done all she can to encourage spoiling Phidippides. Strepsiades has the bright idea to send Phidippides to the “Thoughtery” to learn how to bend the truth and make all of the debt collectors give up on asking for all of his money. Phidippides refuses to go, so Strepsiades has to go there himself.

He shows up to the Thoughtery, banging on the door to be let in. The disciple complains that all the noise has ruined one of his good ideas. They were trying to measure how far a flea could jump by putting wax slippers on it. Then they asked each other if gnats buzzed through their mouths or their asses. The disciple said the wind comes in through the mouth went through the body and used the ass as a trumpet. Socrates was also robbed of a thought by a lizard. He was studying the moons by staring at the sky with his mouth open when a lizard on top of the house shit down his throat. The disciple lets him in to learn from Socrates.

When he comes in, he asks why all the people are staring at the ground but their assholes are pointed at the sky. The disciple explains that they are looking through the ground but learning astronomy by staring up at the sky with their assholes so they can do twice the work. Then he starts quizzing the disciple about the tools around and has him explain their uses. Strepsiades doesn’t really get all of it. He suddenly sees someone up in the sky and it’s Socrates. Socrates explains he is in the sky because he needs to acclimate his brain to the thin air.

Strepsiades explains that he wants to learn how to convince his creditors that he doesn’t owe them any money. Socrates sits him down to initiate him in to the Thoughtery by doing some sort of incantation on him to the clouds. The clouds sing to them as a part of the ceremony. Strepsiades asks who they are and what they’re talking about. Socrates explains that they are goddesses for the lazy and teach the men of the Thoughtery. They teach all the sophists, quacks and diviners through their verses. They look like women in the same way that other clouds look like lions and bulls, etc. They sing about the virtues of all the men of the Thoughtery who talk nothing but shit.

Socrates claims the Clouds are the only gods in the world. The clouds cause the rain. They cause the thunder when they collide with each other and cause a lot of noise. He explains that it is also when the whirlwind in the sky is rumbling around. The lightning is when dry wind gets caught in a cloud and it rumbles around so much that the cloud bursts. Strepsiades is convinced that Socrates is right about everything and is ready to learn. He promises not to acknowledge any other gods. He asks to be the best orator in Greece. Socrates starts to work on him.

The leader of the cloud chorus gives a speech declaring that they wrote the play and merely gave it to Aristophanes as a present. They also rip into the play festival’s judges who voted obviously inferior plays over this one as the best. She claims that there might be a bit of corruption involved.

Socrates runs out of the Thoughtery complaining that Strepsiades is the dumbest, most forgetful man he’s ever met. Socrates tries to explain poetic meter with no luck. Socrates explains male and female animals and objects. Socrates lies him down on his bed to let his mind wander over anything that comes to it. Strepsiades claims that the bed bugs are eating him alive. He’s finally able to think of an idea. He wants to stop the moon from rising. The interest is due on a monthly basis and if the moon never rises, then the month never ends and therefore he’ll never have to pay. He can stop the lawsuits against him by holding a lens to the sun and melt wax on the court papers. He can avoid people perjuring against him by running away and hanging himself. Socrates is upset by this last idea and quits on him.

The clouds suggest that his son be sent to learn instead. He goes home to get Phidippides. At first Phidippides is reluctant. Strepsiades is unable to use Socrates’s tactics to teach his son and bumbles it up. They go to Socrates and they convince him to teach him how to make the wrong side of the argument seem like the right side.  They go into the Thoughtery.

Two men come out, named Just Discourse and Unjust Discourse and have an argument. Unjust calls himself reasoning based on maxims. Just claims they’re only fashionable because the idiotic audience falls for them. Unjust claims there is no justice because Zeus put his father in chains and wasn’t put in chains. They start bickering and Just claims all of Athens’s problems are due to Unjust convincing the young not to go to school. They agree that they will let Phidippides decide which one he wants to listen to.

Just claims that in the good old days, children were meant to be seen, not heard. They obeyed their masters without question even when walking through the snow barefoot. They learn traditional songs. They never tempted the old men sexually. Unjust calls this old bullshit. Just continues that this sort of upbringing made Athens the great city it is. The kids these days don’t respect the gods and don’t have any sense of shame or decency. They shouldn’t be in the markets gossiping about this and that or lying around doing fuck all and enjoying life.

Unjust claims he can prove anything to be wrong and unjust. He asks what’s wrong with hot baths. Just claims they cause cowardice. Unjust says, I’ve never heard of Heracles having a cold bath. About hanging around the market place – Homer praised the marketplace and called Nestor a marketeer. About being “decent” or “modest” – what good has that ever done? Just says that’s what Peleus got his sword in his myth. That’s why Thetis married him. Unjust explains that she also left him in the end. If he has been less “virtuous”, Thetis would have been more satisfied as a wife. Modesty causes us to be unhappy and unsatisfied. Unjust says that following him will allow you to follow your whims. Just says that that will lead to buggery. Unjust says well, aren’t poets and lawyers buggers? Demagogues? Audiences…? Just concedes the argument to Unjust and runs away. Strepsiades leaves Phidippides to Unjust.

The clouds threaten the judges if they don’t vote the play the best.

Strepsiades is coming to collect his son from the Thoughtery. He’s worried about all of his bills. On the way home, the two talk about what he learned from Socrates. Phidippides tells him to challenge the idea of the money being due on the day of “Old and New”. How could it be due on both days? It doesn’t make sense.

Pasias comes with a witness to collect his money from Strepsiades. Strepsiades points out the fact there are two days being mentioned and uses Socrates’s explanation about animals to discredit the creditor. Another creditor, Amynias, comes around to collect his money. He says he’ll just take the interest for now. Strepsiades asks if the sea has more water in now than before. Amynias says it can’t grow. Strepsiades says that if the sea that has rivers feed it never grows, why should the debt grow? Amynias is run off of Strepsiades’s land.

Strepsiades comes running out of his place with Phidippides chasing him. Phidippides claims that he is justified in beating him…

Strepsiades and Phidippides explain to the clouds what’s been going on. Strepsiades wanted Phidippides to play the lyre and sing after dinner. Phidippides said that it was stupid. Then he asked him to recite some Aeschylus and he refused. He suggests that he choose his own. He recited a poem from Euripides about a man sleeping with his sister. He was disgusted and they began to fight. He explained that he has always been kind to his son and now he treats him like shit.

Phidippides asks whether or not he was beaten as a child. He was because it was for his own good. Then if it was for Phidippides good to be beaten, then it is right for him to beat his father for his good. It’s only right because old age is second childhood. Even if it is against the law, why can’t a new law be written to allow for this? Animals fight with their fathers. He’s convinced by the argument but still isn’t happy. He blames the clouds but the clouds blame him back for trying to manipulate everyone. He decides that only productive thing he can do is set the Thoughtery on fire.


“The Republic Book II” by Plato (380 BC)

“The Republic Book II” by Plato


Socrates teaches the basis of good government: "I'll fuckin' flatten a young buck!"

Socrates teaches the basis of good government: “I’ll fuckin’ flatten a young buck!”


Glaucon, Socrates’s friend, wants to know what justice is. Nobody’s happy with how that chat with Thrasymachus ended. He continues the discussion:

G: Isn’t there something we like for its own sake and not just for the things they bring? And there’s also a group of things we like for their own sake but for the consequences they bring? Like health, knowledge, sight, etc. We like them but also what they give to us beyond themselves. There’s also another group that we actually don’t like in and of themselves but we like what they bring us, like exercise, medicine and most ways of making money.

S: That’s right.

G: Which class is justice in?

S: The highest class. The one we like for its own sake, as well as for the consequences they bring.

G: Most people don’t agree with you. They think that justice is just something painful or annoying that you have to deal with in order to get the right results.

S: That was more or less what Thrasymachus was saying.

G: I know, but I don’t buy it. But I’ll repeat his argument and I want you to set me, him and his argument to right.

S: Got it.

G: OK. THEY are saying this, not me (Glaucon)…. Doing injustice is good and suffering injustice is bad. But suffering it is worse than the good that doing it is. When people have done and suffered it, they agree that injustice must be avoided by passing laws. The laws are a compromise between the good of doing injustice and getting away with it and receiving injustice and not being able to do anything about it. That’s the nature and origins of justice. To go on further about this let’s tell the story of the Ring of Gyges…

RING OF GYGES: Gyges was a shepherd who was tending to his sheep when an earthquake split the earth. He crawled into the opening and found a brass horse with a dead man inside wearing a gold ring. He later realized it was an invisibility ring. He was able to use the ring to seduce the queen and help her kill the king and become king himself.

G: Imagine if you had two of those rings. A just man would have one and an unjust man would wear the other. A perfectly unjust man could do as he pleased without ever damaging his reputation because he is safe in being unjust and would appear exactly as the just man appears. If we make them perfectly just and perfectly unjust, we can see how they would behave in their extremes. The perfectly unjust man is so good at what he does that he appears to be perfectly just because if he didn’t he’d get spotted for being unjust. And the perfectly just man appears perfectly unjust because he doesn’t want to be seen as attention- or praise-seeking, which is an unjust behavior. The just man will be chased and tortured for seeming to be completely unjust, while the unjust man will be promoted to highest levels of power, enjoying all sorts of material wealth as well as physical well-being. His material wealth will allow him to make all sorts of sacrifices to the gods making him very popular with them. The unjust man will have nothing to sacrifice to the gods and they will be pissed off at him for giving them nothing. Even the gods will praise injustice over justice.

Glaucon’s brother, Adeimantus, interjects before Socrates has a chance to respond to Glaucon.

A: Another side to this argument is that parents are always telling their kids about justice being good and injustice being bad, not for themselves but for their consequences. Being seen to be just will get you much further ahead in life than being seen to be unjust. They even tell you that these have their consequences with the gods in how they view the just man versus the unjust man. All the great poets and prose writers tell of all the benefits of justice but annoying to perform and the pleasures of but a bigger downside of injustice. They say even the gods make just men miserable and bestow honors and a wonderful life to unjust men. They say that appearances are much more important than actually being. Persuasion and force allow the unjust to succeed in life. If there are no gods, or there are gods but they don’t give a shit about humans, what good does justice do us if it just makes our lives harder and with less reward? People only praise justice and talk against injustice when referring to the honor and glory of the just and the ignominy of injustice.

Socrates finally responds to all of this.

S: Justice is spoken about at the individual level and at the state level. The larger the subject, the more apparent the amount of justice is. It’s easier to talk about justice at the level of the state because it’s more magnified. If you talk about the creation of the state, you can see where justice and injustice come about in the state. The state comes about because of human needs. You’ve got people supplying and demanding goods and services and everybody is in one place and we call that place the “state”. Of all the necessities we have food, shelter and clothing. So the city starts off with different types farmers, then moves to builders and then to clothes makers. You can get by in this with a small number of people. They all produce a surplus – beyond what they need personally – and exchange it for their other needs. This makes their lives easier because each one of them produces with economies of scale – it’s easier for him to provide 5 of one product than everybody making their own. Also, he becomes an expert at his technique – when to do which stage of production, etc.

A: Sounds good.

S: Some people are more inclined towards one type of work than another. This will allow people to enjoy their work more because it suits their personalities. Also, people who build the tools for the farmers, builders and clothes makers will make production faster, easier and more reliable. This expands our city. But at some point the expansion will require more people to import supplies from outside the city. This requires more production of goods to trade with foreigners in compensation for the goods/supplies to be brought in. You need merchants to perform this trade. If you’re going over the sea, you’ll need sailors to ship everything. With all of this trading going on, you’ll need a place to do all the trading. You’ll need a market place. At the market place, you’ll need money. The farmers and clothes makers will be so busy in their fields and workshops that they won’t have time to sell their stuff in the market. They’ll need salesmen to do that for them. For all the building going on, you’ll need hired hands to do all the extra labor needing doing. But where do justice and injustice fit into all of this?

A: In the citizens’ dealings with each other.

S: Their lives will be pretty nice. All the necessities of life are taken care of and then some benefits beyond necessities as well. They have more than enough to get by but not going way into the area of decadence. They will be able to pass down the same quality of life on to their children.

A: Sounds like a city of pigs.

S: It’s not too much. It’s a comfortable life, not luxurious. These are the conditions in which justice is possible I’ll tell you what a real city of pigs would look like. This is my whole point. A real city of pigs is where injustice grows. This is where luxuries go crazy. Not just nice furniture, but perfumes, cakes, courtesans of almost every imaginable variety. Painters, embroiderers will be working everything you can think of. They’ll be looking for increasingly more gold and ivory and on and on. To do this, the borders will need to be expanded because the healthy state’s size just isn’t enough. The city will grow to accommodate all the expanded desires of the city. All sorts of ways of making ordinary goods more and more luxurious. The city will be so wealthy that we will get more and more servants. Tutors, nurses, maids, barbers, confectioners, cooks, etc. Since the city will be growing fat, we’ll need more doctors. And since the amount we eat and wear will be growing, the amount of land needed to grow food and house production will have to expand. We’ll look to our neighbors to take some of their land and they’ll probably do the same to us. This will probably lead us to war. The causes of these wars will be from the causes of our evils because we only go to war to feed the evil desires. If we win, we’ll probably need more and more – so much so that we’ll need a professional army. This will do all the invading and the prevention of invaders in our city.

A: Can we defend ourselves?

S: Not if we believe in the division of labor. Remember, if one person is really good at something, he must specialize in the subject to improve expertise and gain economies of scale. War is a sort of art, isn’t it?

A: Yes.

S: We’ve got to train these armies to make them the best. The higher up the hierarchy of the subject – in this case the army – the more training and intelligence and natural skill in the matter is required. We have to be able to determine who will be the most able to defend the city. A guardian is like a well-bred dog – quick to recognize and catch up with the threat and then when he has caught up with it, he has to be able to fight it and win. That’s just the physical side of the guardian. A brave and indomitable spirit is also required. They also have to be dangerous to their enemies and good to their friends. So, he has to be gentle but have a great spirit. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

A: Yes.

S: These opposite traits do coexist in animals, like the dog. The dog is nice to owners and friends and rough with strangers. A guardian besides needing to be of a spirited nature would have to be like a philosopher. Why would a dog be mean to a stranger even though he’s never met him and therefore doesn’t know if the stranger means him harm or good? And why would a dog be nice to an acquaintance even though he may not have ever done anything deserving of his affection? The dog is a true philosopher because he is friends with people he knows and enemies with people he doesn’t know. His whole attitude is based on knowing and not knowing somebody. Likes and dislikes are based on a test of knowledge and the love of learning is the love of wisdom, which is philosophy. So, the best guardian will have to combine philosophy, spirit, speed and strength. Now that we know who the guardians should be, how would you educate one? We have to know that to know how justice and injustice are grown in states.

A: Let’s see how it should be done.

S: We’ll begin with gymnastic for the body and music/literature for the soul. But should the literature be fiction and non-fiction?

A: Yes.

S: OK. Should we begin with fiction? That is, tell them fables and parables to guide them morally without really being true? We have to start with this before they are old enough to work out.

A: Sure.

S: Who should be telling these stories? Could anybody come up with a story to feed these kids’ minds that could lead them down the wrong path?

A: ?

S: At such a young age, the character of the person is definitely not yet formed. We should make sure that they are not exposed to the wrong things that their character later in life is ruined not only by the malicious but by the well-meaning but still misguided idiots. We have to create a list of authorized stories to be told by nurses and mothers in order to mold their minds. Most of the ones we use now will have to go.

A: Which ones are those?

S: Pretty much anything by Homer and Hesiod and others. The famous ones. They are based on lies. Not only lies but bad lies. This is when the stories of heroes and gods bear no relation to what they are actually like. For example, the story of Uranus and Cronus. Cronus wasn’t necessarily a good dude, but what he did didn’t necessitate the retaliation of Uranus on him. That sort of thing would teach kids that they can be cruel to their parents and elders. Not only will he be doing that, but he can claim that the greatest of the gods did that, so it must be a good thing.

A: You’re right.

S: We also can’t tell the stories of the gods plotting and fighting against each other. First of all, they’re not true. Second of all, they set a bad example. Third of all, even if they are allegorical, children don’t have the ability to distinguish the literal from the allegorical and they could be damaged by the stories. They should be told stories praising virtues.

A: OK, but where are the stories that actually do that?

S: Well, we’ll leave that to the poets to write. We’ll give them the specs of the stories and poems and they’ll hammer them out.

A: Gods are supposed to be represented as good, not hurtful and evil. What’s good is the source of well-being. Good is the only cause of other good things.

S: If God is good and only good, then he’s not the one creating all the evil in the world. The evils come from somewhere else. And seeing how much evil there is in the world, there are a lot of sources of evil and they aren’t from god. We shouldn’t be telling kids the stories that tell of the caprices of the gods and their wickedness. That will lead the young to believe that if the gods are fickle or evil, then it must be right to be fickle and evil.

A: Absolutely.

S: So, one rule is: With respect to the gods, poets and writers may only say that the gods are the causes of only good things, not all things.

S: Next rule. Let’s start with a question: Is god the type of entity that will change his shape to appear different to people and trick us into thinking he’s something else? Or is he constant in his own, proper image.

A: I’m not sure.

S: Things either change on their own, or by something else, right? The best things are least likely to change or be changed. The strong body is least affected by drink and food. A strong plant will withstand a very strong wind or heat.

A: Right.

S: Same is true with inanimate objects. Good houses and furniture take a pretty good beating by the environment but aren’t changed or ruined. Everything of a good quality is less likely to endure change from outside. If god is the greatest of all good, then wouldn’t he be the absolutely least likely to be changed?

A: That’s right.

S: But since the change won’t happen from outside, how about from within? Would a good thing become better or worse in its transformation? It has to be for the worse because the absolutely best thing can’t get any better. So, why would he change for the worse? He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t be willing to change, so he’ll remain in his same natural form.

A: Correct.

S: So, the second rule is: The poets may not refer to the gods as shape-shifting. They may only refer to them as constant – good. Because to change shape would be lying to people about who they are. Lying is un-virtuous.

A: Right.

S: All those stories that Homer and Aeschylus told of the gods appearing in dreams or altering their appearances are bullshit. They’ll fuck up the little kids’ minds.

“The Republic Book I” by Plato (380 BC)

“The Republic Book I” by Plato


Socrates teaches the basis of good government: "Get off my lawn!"

Socrates teaches the basis of good government: “Get off my lawn!”


Socrates was at the Piraeus with some friends to see the festivities there. On his way back, he was compelled to go to the house of Cephalus – an old man. There were many people there discussing things.

Cephalus complained that since he was getting so old, he wasn’t able to do as much as he’d like. As bodily pleasures fade, he finds conversation and company to be the pleasures left in life. Socrates enjoys conversation, especially older men, because he sees them as experienced in life and might pass on their wisdom to the younger men. He asks if life is indeed harder as you get older.

Cephalus answers that he can’t eat and drink like he could do when he was younger. Life has lost its luster physically. But he finds that as he gets older he feels freer because he’s no longer dominated by his passions and desires. He can think more clearly. Socrates replies that people could say that he might be so happy because he is rich and wealth gives him that freedom. Cephalus agrees that people don’t believe him and that they are right to some point. Having the needs of old age while being poor can’t be easy but then again life is harder when you’re rich and pissed off all the time. Having an agreeable temperament plays a large role in that too.

Socrates asks if he inherited his money or made it himself. He made it himself. His grandfather was a rich man but his father pissed it away. He was able to build the wealth back up. Socrates asked because he sees that Cephalus is indifferent to money which is typical of people who’ve inherited it. People who make their own money are usually very boring because they’ve always got money on the brain. Those who inherit it are freer to explore the world and philosophy.

He asks Cephalus what the best part of being rich is. Cephalus responds that as he gets older, death becomes a greater reality to him. He has to start thinking about the welfare of his soul because he will have to pay/reap the consequences of his actions here on earth. Because he is so rich, he’s not tempted to steal or do bad things to alleviate the pressures of old age. Because of that, he knows he will behave justly and die with a clear conscience.

Socrates asks what he means by “justice”. Not lying and paying your debts? If a friend leaves a weapon with you and asks for it back when he’s crazy, it wouldn’t be very just to get it to him. But you are giving what it owed to another person, aren’t you?

C: You’re right.

Polemarchus, Cephalus’s son, takes over for him because he’s got some other things to do. Polemarchus quotes Simonides for justice.

P: Paying your debts.

S: What about returning your friend’s weapon? That can’t be justice.

P: It can’t. He meant you should do good for your friends and never evil.

S: Should you do evil to your enemies?

P: Yep. Whatever is due to him.

S: So if we thought about medicine – to what is medicine due? And cooking?

P: Medicine is giving drugs and food to human bodies and cookery is giving seasoning to food.

S: Because you don’t need medicine when you’re doing well, is there a time when you don’t need justice because you’re not in lack of it? The physician is needed when the body is ill and the pilot is needed at sea. But when you’re not ill or not at sea, you don’t need a doctor or a pilot. In times of war, you don’t need justice?

P: You do need it.

S: So, you need it like a farmer needs “farming” when he’s growing corn or a shoemaker needs “shoemaking” when he’s making shoes.

P: Yes.

S: So why do you need justice in peace?

P: In contracts and partnerships.

S: Does justice help you make a better builder or musician?

P: No, it helps in a money partnership.

S: Wouldn’t you want a guy who knows about horses if your money partnership involves buying horses? And for a buying a ship, you’d want a ship builder or a pilot?

P: Yes.

S: Why would you want a just man in dealing with money?

P: In keeping it safe.

S: You need to keep it safe when you’re not using it. So if you want to keep pruning hooks safe when you’re not using them, you give them to a just man. When you want to use them, you get yourself a wine-grower? When you when to keep a shield or a musical instrument safe when you’re not using them, you go to a just man? And when you want to use them, you get a soldier or a musician?

P Right.

S: So, with all things, justice is useful when the things aren’t being used? And justice is useless when they are in use, justice is useless?

P: Yep.

S: Justice is pretty useless then. I don’t buy that. So, let’s consider a boxer. The guy best at delivering a punch is also best at avoiding one, right? A man best at the prevention of disease is also best at creating it. The best guards also are best at ambushes. But the best keeper is also the best thief? So, a just man good at keeping money is the best thief around?

P: Um…

S: You’re along the same lines as Simonides and Homer who thought justice is the art of theft but only for the good of friends and the harm of enemies. What if you think your friends are good and your enemies are evil, but you’re really wrong? Your friends are the bad guys and your enemies are the good guys. Wouldn’t that be wrong to do evil to good people and good to bad people? But we know that a just man must not do harm to an innocent man, right?

P: Right.

S: For example, when you harm a horse, you deteriorate it, not help it become a better, healthier horse. And when you harm a man with respect to virtue, you make him less virtuous. And that virtue I’m talking about is justice. So, when you harm him you take away his justice.

P: Yep.

S: A musician does not perform music and make others less musical. Horsemen do not perform their craft and make other horsemen worse at theirs. So, a just man cannot perform justice and make other men less just – just as heat can’t produce cold, drought cannot produce moisture and good cannot produce harm. He makes unjust men just.

P: Correct.

S: So, to say that justice is doing harm to evil and good to good is not right or wise because doing harm to anyone is not just. It was probably a rich and powerful man who came up with that. Anyway, since we’re not really buying that definition you’ve just given, what is justice?

Thrasymachus enters into the conversation firing with both barrels. He starts accusing Socrates of being a bastard because he only asks people questions instead of supplying his own answer. Anyone can ask questions and then shit on the person who answers them. He wants to see a little magic from the man himself.

Socrates rebuffs Thrasymachus a bit saying – look, I think we all agree that justice is probably the most important thing in the world. So, why would we go round and round in circles to avoid coming to a good answer? There’s no point in dicking around in trying to get to it but there’s also no point in offering any old explanation. We’re trying to see if our answers stand up to scrutiny.

T: See, he’s still avoiding giving an answer.

S: Come on. You can’t ask me to give an answer for something and then give me a strict list of what it can’t be. What if it is one of those things? You can’t tie my hands like that and then ask me to be honest. You’ve got to give me free reign to explore possible answers. You can’t forbid me to say anything if I’m at all to supply my own answers. Since you’re so knowledgeable about everything. Let’s hear your bright idea. I’ll be happy to praise you if you give a good answer.

T: All right. Justice is just what is in the interest of the stronger. Where’s me

S: Let me get you right before I start congratulating you. So, a wrestler eats beef to make himself stronger than us? So, eating beef is good for us too? And that beef makes us better and more just?

T: Don’t start with that shit, Socrates, you know damn well that I’m speaking about terms of political power. You’ve got different types of government: tyrannies, democracies and aristocracies. The government is the ruling power of each state. The laws passed in each form of government are passed to make the rulers stronger. They’re all in the interest of the rulers. So justice is whatever is in best interest of the ruler.

S: Let’s see. I’ll agree with you that justice is an interest of some sort. You go ahead and say that it’s of the stronger. Let’s take a look at that. Ok. So, is it just for subjects to obey the rulers?

T: Yes.

S: But rulers aren’t perfect. They make mistakes, right?

T: Right.

S: So, when they write their laws, they can make mistakes, right.

T: Right.

S: So, when they write the laws to their own advantage, they are doing so in their own interests. And when they write laws to their own disadvantage, they’re doing so against their own interests. Right?

T: Yep.

S: And when the subjects obey the laws – no matter if they are right or wrong – that’s justice?

T: Yep.

S: So obedience to laws in the interest of the ruler is justice, as well as obedience to laws against the interest of the ruler is justice?

T: ?

S: Just repeating what you told me. That’s a bit contradictory. The subjects must obey the laws. The rulers are fallible. And when they make laws in or against their own interest, the people must obey. But that’s not always in the interest of the stronger, is it? So, your definition is flawed.

T: The mistaken is not the stronger when he is mistaken. A doctor is not a doctor when he makes mistakes. A mathematician is not practicing mathematics when he makes a mistake. So, a ruler is not acting as a ruler when he makes laws mistakenly – i.e. against his interest.

S: OK. In the strictest sense of the word “doctor” – according to your definition of the word – is he a healer of the sick or a business man?

T: Healer.

S: A pilot a captain of sailors, or a sailor?

T: Captain of sailors.

S: When he sails, he is in the ship and his being in the ship is secondary to him being captain of all the other sailors in the ship. So, pilot was nothing to do with sailing, but more to do with his skill and authority over sailors.

T: Yes.

S: Every art/skill has a subject, right?

T: Yep.

S: The subject is the concern of the practitioner of the skill.

T: Yep.

S: And that’s the whole point behind practicing it, right? And the point behind that is to be as good as possible at that art, right? I mean, the body is not self-sufficient. It has needs. It can be sick and needs healing. That’s what medicine’s about.

T: Correctamundo.

S: OK. But medicine isn’t perfect. You need some other skill to improve medicine when it has its faults. You’ll need to make tools to help medicine improve. So, you have tool making. And tool making has its problems and there can be something that makes tool making a better skill, etc.

T: Right.

S: So, medicine is not looking out for itself. It’s looking out for the body. Horsemanship is about horses not horsemanship itself. The rulers are concerned with the subjects, not for themselves. So, with all that you can say that any art is focused on the welfare of the weaker, not the stronger. The physician makes prescriptions for the patient, not himself. He’s a ruler of the human body and not just a money maker. The pilot is making orders to the sailors for their own interests, not just himself.

T: I’m not buying that argument. Most rulers never even think of their subject, much less enact laws for the good of the subjects. The just man always loses out to the unjust. Privately, an unjust man will always fuck over a just man in business. Publicly, an unjust man will skip out on his taxes and a just man will pay them. The just man will always come out on top. The unjust will get all the public benefits from the government and the just will get none. When they get into office – a just man will neglect his affairs and other bad shit happens to him. His friends will get pissed off because he won’t do them favors. An unjust man will neglect his office for his own affairs. He’ll do all kinds of corrupt favors for his friends. The just man is always fucked over while the unjust will be rolling in cash. People abhor injustice because they are afraid of being on the business end of it, not because they refuse to behave in an unjust manner.

S: I don’t really agree with that. You will find unjust men committing all sorts of crimes but I don’t think that injustice is necessarily superior to justice. Your view of the ruler is not really one of a ruler. It’s a man looking over a banquet just as he’s about to tuck in. The art of a shepherd is not looking at the sheep to see which one he’s going to eat. He’s taking care of the sheep, not himself. You yourself we talking about a ruler only ruling when he’s performing his job without mistake. When he errs, he’s not being a ruler. When he’s looking of ways to bilk his people then, he’s not really being a ruler.

T: Go on.

S: Each art gives us something good in particular. Medicine gives us good health. Navigation allows us to sail safely, etc. You can’t really say that medicine is the art of receiving pay just because he accepts money for his craft. And the same is true with other practices. So, they just receive money for the results of their actions. When he receives money, he’s at an advantage but the art itself isn’t really benefited. Medicine gives health, building makes houses and the art of payment pays the doers. However, the artist is only benefited in his practice by receiving payment. So, people who become rulers don’t do so without getting paid because they won’t be able to continue to practice ruling without money. He wouldn’t take on such a shitty job where he’d have to address a lot bad things and it would take so much of his time that he couldn’t attend to his other matters. They get paid in three ways: money, honor or a penalty for refusal.

T: What’s that? Refusing?

S: Well, greed and avarice are seen as shitty traits. Good men don’t want to be seen demanding money to rule. Good men also don’t care about honor. The one way you can get a good man to rule is to threaten him with a punishment if he doesn’t accept the job. The worst punishment of refusal is that someone really shitty will take the job instead of him. That fear is the real driving force behind men accepting the job. So, then a good ruler isn’t really looking out for himself but the subjects because he cares enough about them to take the job in order to avoid a really nasty ruler in his place.

Glaucon – Socrates’s buddy & Plato’s older brother – enters into the conversation. I think the part of the just is the best.

They all decide to have a more formal panel and judge the value of the points from all those talking. Thrasymachus starts first by answering Socrates’s question: Is perfect injustice more profitable than perfect injustice?

T: Yes. I’ve already told you why. Justice is not a vice but “sublime simplicity”. Injustice is not malignity but “discretion”. The unjust appear to be wise and good – especially the perfectly unjust – the ones able to subdue entire nations, not pickpockets.

S: I can’t believe that you think injustice is together with wisdom and virtue and justice with the opposite. Well, it seems like we’re just playing games with words. It sounds like you’re calling injustice honorable and strong and justice the opposite. Does the just man try to gain advantage over the just? Would he do anything other than a just action? Would he try something on with the unjust?

T: No. No. He’d think it’d be just. He’d try but wouldn’t be able to. A just man will not try to get more than another just man but would try to do so with an unjust man.

S: A just man doesn’t want more than any other just man but he does want more than an unjust man. But an unjust man wants more than both other unjust men and just men. And the unjust is good and wise and the just is neither?

T: Right.

S: In the case of a musician and a non-musician. And the musician is the wiser and the non-musician is the fool. A man is good insofar as he is wise and likewise if he is foolish. Is that right? And if so, could we apply that to other arts.

T: Right.

S: Would a musician claim to exceed being a musician in tightening and loosening strings?

T: No.

S: Would he claim to be better than a non-musician?

T: Yes.

S: About knowledge and ignorance. Would a man who has knowledge wish to say or do more than another with the same knowledge? Or would he say that he can do the same thing?

T: The same thing.

S: And the ignorant. Wouldn’t he want to have more than knowledgeable or the ignorant? So the bad and ignorant will want more than the good and knowledgeable. Then the just is like the wise and good and the unjust like the evil and ignorant.

T: Yes.

Socrates basically has shot Thrasymachus’s theory apart. Thrasymachus is now on board with Socrates’s relative points of good/bad, just/unjust. The question still remains of what justice actually is. Socrates continues

S: Didn’t you say that injustice had strength?

T: Yes.

S: A state may justly or unjustly try to enslave other states.

T: Yes. And the more perfectly unjust state is more likely to do so.

S: Do you think that any band of criminals could ever do anything if they acted purely to injure each other? They’d never get any crime done. If they cooperated, they could get shit done. Injustice causes division, hatred and fighting, while justice causes harmony, union and friendship.

T: Right.

S: So, in the case of wanton slavery and fighting, such an atmosphere of injustice would create a lot of antipathy and fighting and making any sort of teamwork impossible. Even between two people, if there’s injustice, there’s going to be some sort of fight. Even in one person – if he’s got a fair amount of injustice, he’s going to lose some of his “natural power”.

T: Let’s assume that he keeps it.

S: Well, wherever this person ends up – in a city, an army, a family – if he’s so unjust, he’ll never be able to work with anyone else because he’ll always try to start some shit with someone else. He then becomes his own worst enemy. At some point he’s unjust to himself because he’s always causing himself trouble. And if the gods are just and he’s unjust – then he’s now the enemy of the gods. That’s not good for him. That’s not a position of strength. If people were purely evil, they’d never get together in a team to be unjust toward another person. So, even when they’re complete assholes, they still have a shred of good in them.

T: Sure.

S: There is a purpose to having something like a horse. You reason you’ve got a horse is because something else wouldn’t be as good as a horse for that purpose. You could use something else but it wouldn’t be as good. You could use a sword to trim vines but it’s nowhere near as good as a pruning hook.

T: Word.

S: That’s its true purpose. So the purpose of something is the use of it that could not be done so well as anything else. Everything has its purpose and something that it is good at. But if your eyes are missing something to make them excellent, then can they fulfill their purpose? Do things, which fulfill their purpose, do so by their own excellence? And do they fail by their own faults?

T: Yep.

S: Eye and ears have their purpose and the thing that they excel at. Seeing and hearing. And when they can’t see and hear very well, then they are falling short of their purpose and their excellence. And there’s nothing that can fulfill those purposes.

T: Yep.

S: Just like the soul. The soul has a purpose that nothing else has and it has something it’s good at that nothing else can do. This is the thing of the soul and of nothing else. And can it fulfill its purpose when it doesn’t have its excellence.

T: No way, Jose.

S: So a ruler with an evil soul will be a bad ruler and a ruler with a good soul will be a good ruler. So justice is the excellence of the soul and injustice is the defect of the soul. The just man with the just soul will live well and the unjust man with shit for a soul will live badly. And man who lives well is happy and a man who lives badly is unhappy. And if happiness is profitable and unhappiness is unprofitable, then injustice can never be better than justice.

T: Yep.

S: I might have proven you wrong, but we still don’t know what justice is…

“Crito” by Plato (399 BC)

“Crito” by Plato



“How dare you wake me up without bringing me my Fruity Pebbles?!?!”


Socrates is in prison waking to be executed from his trial in “Apology”. Crito shows up ready to spring Socrates after bribing the guard. Crito is amazed how calmly Socrates is taking the idea of being put to death. Socrates says old men know that death is coming soon one way or another. Socrates is not to be put to death until a ship comes in from Delos – it will probably happen in next couple of days.

Crito wants Socrates to escape not only for his own sake in losing a friend but also in his reputation from many people of having the ability to get him out and not actually doing it. Socrates says – don’t worry what the majority of people think about you. They can’t make a man good or bad.

Crito tries to persuade Socrates to accept in the case where Socrates is declining the offer due to the money involved or the danger. Crito and Socrates’s other friends value his friendship more than money or security. They want to take him to Thessaly or elsewhere where he will be safe. Socrates shouldn’t have to be a victim of his enemies or desert his children.

Socrates says if Crito is right, then his zeal admirable. If he’s wrong, then he’s being bad. Whatever we do, it has be done through logic and reason and unless he’s convinced otherwise, he doesn’t think Crito’s right. Even on death row, Socrates is going to do his routine quizzing about doing the right thing. He asks Crito if it’s right that some people’s opinions (the good/wise) are important and some people’s are not (the bad/unwise).

C: Yes.

S: Is a gymnast supposed to listen to everyone’s opinion and praise/disapproval, or just one person’s (his trainer)?

C: The trainer.

S: And he should fear the censure and welcome the praise of his trainer? And train according to his trainer’s guidelines and not those of the many?

C: Yep.

S: If he listens to the ignorant many and not to his master bad things will happen to him?

C: Yep.

S: What sort of bad things?

C: His body will suffer.

S: Right. If we switch over to wisdom and being good and bad – should I listen to people who don’t know shit about being wise or being good or bad? Or should I listen to someone who actually knows what he’s talking about?

C: The wise person.

S: Should I listen to a doctor or a quack about health?

C: Doctor.

S: If I listen to the quack?

C: Your body will suffer.

S: And life wouldn’t be worth having?

C: No.

S: And about the higher part of man. If I listen to an evil and unwise person, would my perverted sense of justice and morality make my life worth living?

C: No.

S: It’s more important than physical health, isn’t it?

C: Yep.

S: So, you’re wrong then that I should care what the vast majority of people think because they’re not only fucking idiots, the majority of them are bad people. I suppose that the great number of people care do us harm. That’s always been the oldest argument to listen to what they say isn’t it? But we’ve said that the good life is the one worth having and the bad one isn’t. So, if we listen to bad people we have a bad life and our lives aren’t worth living. And a good life is the one we want – full of justice and wisdom. Right?

C: Yep.

S: OK. We’ve settled that. But I guess the question remains whether or not breaking out of prison is a just and honorable thing or a bad thing. Your arguments about my children, money and loss of public esteem are the majority’s way of thinking. And we’ve already established that they don’t know what’s right and wrong. I’m in the situation I’m in no matter what – rightly or wrongly. I can only react to these things. I must do it in a wise and just way – if breaking out is just, let’s do it. If it isn’t, then I’m staying put.

C: OK.

S: Is evil and injustice always wrong? And we should do our best to do what is good and just?

C: Right.

S: And when we are harmed, it’s not right to return it with another harm? Retaliation is bad, right?

C: Correct.

S: A man should do what he thinks is right. If I leave the prison am I doing any wrong? The state/laws/gov’t could come up to me and ask: So, you’re overturning our ruling by running away? Don’t you think that a gov’t whose laws are overthrown or ignored can continue? How should we answer? What if I answered – I’m doing it because the finding and sentence are dead wrong, so I’m correcting it myself.

C: Sounds good.

S: The government could respond: by ignoring or defying the court, you’re attempting to destroy the state. We made you what you are. Your parents were made by the state, and so on. We make happen regulate the nurture and education of children in the state. You are a child and a servant of the state as were your parents and your parents’ parents. So, you are not on equal terms with the state. By defying the court, you are defying the state as a parent or a master. If you are struck wrongly by your father, do you have the right to strike him back? Are you justified in striking back at the state, even if we have made an error. If the state is wrong in trying to destroy you, do you think it’s right to try to destroy the state? The state is greater than any parent and punishment is to be accepted silently. You could have always tried to convince us that our findings we wrong. If you can’t lash our at your mother or father, then you definitely cannot lash out at the state. Would the state be right in saying that?

C: Yep.

S: Then the laws could say – We’ve brought you up. We nurtured you and educated you and given to you what we’ve given to every other citizen. When you became of age you could’ve fucked off to somewhere else with all of your kit and caboodle. We wouldn’t have stopped you. Since you stayed, you implicitly agreed to do as the state tells you to do. If you disobey you are wrong for three reasons:

1. Disobedience to the state is like disobedience to one’s parents.

2. We’ve given you your education and you are revolting from it.

3. You’ve made an agreement to obey the state’s commands and you haven’t obeyed and you haven’t convinced us. that we were wrong. We’ve given you the option to appeal to us that we were wrong and you are right in our disagreement. Instead of doing that, you’ve disobeyed us. We are fair in given you the chance to discuss the matter. We’re not assholes in enforcing our command either.

S: You’ve been living here for 70 years. If you didn’t like it here, you had plenty of time and chances to leave but you never did so. In fact, the only time you’ve ever left was when you were on a military campaign. You married here and had children here. This is proof that you’ve chosen to live here and when you’ve chosen to live in a place, you implicitly agree to abide by its rules. Even during the trial, you could’ve asked for exile as a punishment and you didn’t ask for it – in fact, you explicitly said you’d rather die than leave the city. Now you’re breaking our implicit contract and our sentence?

C: We’re sort of stuck with that.

S: They’ll say – you’re breaking your contract with us after 70 years of thinking about the matter. All that time you could have left if you thought we were unfair. You would be a ridiculous hypocrite if you left now. If you leave, any of your defenders will be exiled and lose all their property. Any place you go to would consider you as an enemy because you’ve broken Athenian laws, and would be very suspicious of you coming into their city and doing the same thing there. If you left for another city, could you really go around talking about justice and laws, etc.? Would that be right? Any place that would accept you as a fugitive of justice in a proper city would be a place devoid of justice and virtue. Would that be a good place to raise your children? Think of justice first before life. If you believe there is a greater place beyond this world, you will be vindicated there and that sort of justice is higher than earthly justice. Running away will put that in danger. Those are the arguments that I hear. They are too convincing for me to run away.

“Apology” by Plato (399 BC)

“Apology” by Plato


Bring me the head of Socrates.


We walk in on Socrates on trial. Before he even starts explaining and defending himself, he calls his main accusers a bunch of lying twats. He even calls them lying twats for warning the crowd not be fooled by his sweet talk.

The first accusation is that he “makes the worse appear the better cause”. That’s rolled up together with “corrupting and deteriorating the youth”. The “adults” are pissed off at him because he’s been teaching the kids of Athens to call their elders hypocrites and morons for assuming that they know everything. He’s created a little army of youngsters putting everything in the city into question. They’ve made the uppity grown-ups of the city look like assholes. It makes sense that they’re pissed off – most people don’t like to be called frauds or assholes.

[Aside: The playwright, Aristophanes has written a play called “The Clouds” where a deadbeat farmer sends his kid to be taught by Socrates to manipulate his creditors in order to welsh on his debts. It doesn’t end well, the father burns Socrates’s think tank to the ground.]

Socrates isn’t a charlatan like the Sophists who just collect money for teaching people to argue with others. Socrates isn’t taking any money, so he can’t really be responsible for what the punks of Athens do.

We get to the meat of Socrates – his M.O. A long time ago, a buddy of his went down to the Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle was a priestess in the Temple of Apollo (big Greek God) who claimed to be the voice of the God, Apollo. Anything from her was basically like God talking to you. If she said something, it was true, law, gospel, etc. His buddy asked who the wisest man in the world was. The Oracle replied, “Socrates”. Socrates didn’t really believe that but didn’t really want to contradict the God. So, he thought that the Oracle was giving him a test to go find wise men all over Athens and find out if the Oracle was right.

He met politicians. They weren’t wise at all. People would fall for their bullshit and the politicians quickly became enamored with themselves to the point where they started believing their own bullshit. He talked to them and saw all the flaws in their reasoning. He would try to follow along with them and discuss things with them logically. They would always end up pissed off at him and either get mad and go away or they’d threaten him. He made some pretty powerful enemies.

He went to poets. He always heard wisdom from them when they wrote poems about honor, virtue and all that. When he went to them for clarification, they’d end up lost in their own fluff – so much so that either they couldn’t understand their own words or just spout out bullshit that didn’t make sense or contradicted their previous words. He figured that if they did have anything wise to say, it surely didn’t sink in because they couldn’t understand their own nonsense. It must have been divine inspiration and not wisdom. He called them out on it and they got really mad at him for that.

He went to see artisans and craftsmen. They actually knew something – their crafts. But they usually would try to take that knowledge and give themselves way too much credit about being wise. They’d try to use their knowledge for other things and it didn’t really translate. They didn’t understand the limit of their knowledge. Socrates made sure that their ignorance was pointed out.

This little quest of his went on for years to the point where half of Athens was clamoring for his head. They all wanted to punish him for humiliating them and making the youth of Athens lose respect for them. Socrates figured that only the God of Delphi was wise. The only way he could believe that the Oracle was right was coming to the realization that only he understood that he didn’t really know much at all. He’s the only one who has accepted his ignorance. There’s no bullshit with Socrates.

Regarding the accusation of “corrupting the youth”: while he was out questioning all his targets, crowds would congregate while Socrates was working his magic and his interlocutors would look like complete dicks. It’s only natural for the young to rebel against the old. Socrates didn’t really corrupt them – the young just saw through the older people’s guises and enjoyed seeing them for what they were, as well as being taken down a peg or two.

Socrates addresses his main accuser, Meletus. He recounts the main accusation: Socrates is a bad dude. He’s messing with the kids’ minds and making them difficult to deal with. He doesn’t believe in the same gods as everyone else. He’s got his own set of gods. Socrates asks Meletus if he thinks of himself as an “improver” of the youth. Then he lays some Socratic method on him (Q&A session meant to get to the bottom of a subject).

S: So, you think you’re an improver of the youth?

M: Yes.

S: Who improves the improvers?

M: The law.

S: So, someone who knows the law improves the youth?

M: Yep.

S: All or just some?

M: All.

S: How about the audience here at this trial?

M: Them too.

S: The senate?

M: Yep.

S: The assembly?

M: Yep.

S: So, every Athenian?

M: Yep.

S: So, I’m pretty much the only asshole around here?

M: Pretty much.

S: Interesting. If everyone is good to a horse and there’s only one guy doing it harm, does that work the same way? Does the world have millions of horsecarers and have just one guy who harms horses? Usually it’s the other way around. The world grinds a horse down and there’s one guy to make it better through care. Getting back to the youth: if everybody in the city can improve the youth and I’m just the one guy fucking everything up, that’s a pretty nice situation. All of you can easily undo the “corruption” I’ve done to them. I’m not so sure that you’re right that everybody helps the young except me.

M: Um…

S: What about your neighbors? Good ones are good for you and bad ones are bad for you. Who on earth would want live next to an asshole?

M: Nobody.

S: So, am I corrupting the young on purpose or not on purpose?

M: On purpose.

S: Hmmm… I don’t believe I’ve ever corrupted anyone. If I have, that is, taught someone to believe, wouldn’t that have come back to bite me in the ass? Why would I do that intentionally? If I have done that, wouldn’t that have come back to get me? All those kids I’m accused of ruining have never done anything evil to me. If it happened, it must have been unintentionally. But according to the law it’s not illegal to do that unintentionally. If I had done something wrong, how come you or anybody else never came up to me and told me, “Socrates, you’re fucking up our kids. They’re turning into asshole and turning the city into a terrible place to live.”? You haven’t done that, nor has anybody else. That must mean it isn’t really a big problem. You must not be terribly concerned about it – you just want to set up a kangaroo court to get rid of me.

M: Um…

S: Anyway, you’re full of shit on that one. About the gods… I’ve heard three different accusations about that and they all seem to contradict each other. Let’s lay them out:

1: I teach the young to be improper towards the gods.

2: I’ve got my own set of gods and don’t believe in  everybody else’s gods.

3: I’m an atheist.

S: Which one am I really being accused of?

M: Atheism.

S: Fuck off! You say I have my own gods and then don’t believe in your gods. Bullshit. You’re only proving yourself to be the idiot I’m accusing you of being.

M: Um…

Socrates destroys the case against him but the trial goes on… Socrates says that he’s not afraid of death. He doesn’t know that it’s bad. He bases his actions on whether or not they are good or bad, not whether it pissed people off or not. The only thing he’s afraid of is disobeying the god’s mission given to him. To stop his questioning is worse than being put to death by the public. Being afraid of death is bad because it’s akin to saying you know what death is and that it’s painful. It’s the epitome of the pretense of knowledge and that’s what he’s devoted his life to destroying.

Socrates says putting him to death is more harmful to the city than to him. Doing injustice is worse than suffering it. And on top of that, he’s doing everyone a service by keeping everyone awake and questioning everybody in whether what they’re doing is good or bad. He’d be pretty hard to replace. Furthermore, what he’s doing is a charity because he doesn’t accept money for his service and has even gotten to the point where he’s neglected his own business affairs to keep Athens on its toes.

He claims that he hears a voice every now and again not to do things. It never says “do it.” It only says “don’t do it” to things that he shouldn’t do. The voice never tells him to stop performing his mission, as well as his acts of bravery. He’s stood up to injustice in the courts of Athens before, as well as in the time of the oligarchy. He figures that it’s worse not to the right thing that suffer the consequences of performing a just act. This is why he’s avoided politics. Far too often, you end up on the wrong end of a political intrigue or dispute and you end up in prison or dead. Courage is well in good but going into politics puts your life at risk for not much in return.

He doesn’t have any disciples. The dialogues he gets into are amusing and anyone is welcome to participate, or just watch and listen because they’re fun and educational. He doesn’t discriminate among the different classes – all are welcome. He doesn’t accept any money for this, so he shouldn’t have to bear the burden of whether the audiences end up being bad people.

The divine has led him down this path and he’ll be damned if he’s going to listen to the public’s wishes or those of the gods. The corruption of the youth charge is bullshit because he doesn’t have any accusers of people who have said that Socrates really fucked them up when they were young. Nobody can give any specific examples. He can’t be an atheist if he’s doing what the God of Delphi told him what to do. So, this lynch mob is based on a pack of lies.

He won’t beg for his life and he won’t change. That would go against being wise and brave, and it would be flat out wrong to do so. It’s better to try to convince the public he’s right rather than ask for mercy or leniency.

Socrates is found guilty. He’s actually surprised that he got as much support as he did. Rather than death, Socrates flippantly suggests that his punishment should be room and board in the Prytaneum – public center – for his good deeds. He feels he’s done no harm, on purpose or not. He won’t stop what he’s doing because it’s the only way to fulfill one’s potential as a human. “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Socrates is sentenced to death. He condemns those who voted for his death. If they had only waited a little longer, they wouldn’t be responsible for his death because he’s old and would die soon anyway. Death isn’t really a bad punishment because being unrighteous and caving to the public’s demands would be worse. If they think Socrates is bad to them, wait until his followers go after them.

Socrates addresses his friend who voted for him. He wants to spend the last few moments of his life with them chatting about good and bad. His little voice in his head isn’t saying anything to him about stopping this martyrdom. He’s not afraid anyway. If death is like sleep, then it’ll probably the best night’s sleep he’ll ever have. If it’s the passing of your soul into another place, then he’ll meet lots of interesting people and learn a lot when he gets there. You can’t keep a good man down. He asks that the friends look after his kids and make sure that they focus their lives on doing the right thing than petty stuff like money. He’s a little excited to see what death is all about.