Notes on 3 Platonic Dialogues

Notes on 3 Dialogues

This is a collection of notes on three middle Platonic dialogues (Protagoras, Gorgias, and Cratylus). It is not a “pure” commentary on Plato, and I don’t believe such a thing exists. I am a Nietzschean, and that will inevitably appear in how I understand and engage with the arguments presented. I certainly have biases, but I attempted to at least present the arguments honestly, while still allowing myself to criticize and respond to certain arguments. I won’t claim that I kept neutral because that isn’t possible, I only say that I tried not to present the arguments in a skewed way.

All quotations are from the Benjamin Jowett translation, and each text can be found for free on Gutenberg Press.

If you find these interesting, helpful, whatever, look out for notes on another 3 dialogues: Symposium, Sophist, Theaetetus.

Finally, I should mention that while most notes are disconnected, some assume that you know definitions I’ve previously given to words, or I build on an idea.


“I proceeded: Is not a Sophist, Hippocrates, one who deals wholesale or retail in the food of the soul? To me that appears to be his nature.

And what, Socrates, is the food of the soul?

“Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul; and we must take care, my friend, that the Sophist does not deceive us when he praises what he sells, like the dealers wholesale or retail who sell the food of the body; for they praise indiscriminately all their goods, without knowing what are really beneficial or hurtful: neither do their customers know, with the exception of any trainer or physician who may happen to buy of them.”

Being pupil to a physician, one becomes a physician. He learns the knowledge of physicians. The sophist however, only claims to sell an ambiguous knowledge. What does one become when learning from a sophist? A sophist? What knowledge makes a sophist a sophist? It is empty and mysterious without further investigation. One cannot give a sophist money and know what he will get, for a sophist only sells his knowledge, not some knowledge of sophistry. One must be able to discern the junk food or the poison from the good food to safely buy from a sophist.

“this is my friend Hippocrates, who is desirous of making your acquaintance; he would like to know what will happen to him if he associates with you. I have no more to say.

Protagoras answered: Young man, if you associate with me, on the very first day you will return home a better man than you came, and better on the second day than on the first, and better every day than you were on the day before.

Do I understand you, I said; and is your meaning that you teach the art of politics, and that you promise to make men good citizens?

That, Socrates, is exactly the profession which I make.”

He wants to know what comes of buying knowledge. Socrates asked what a sophist makes of him, and so Hippocrates wants to find out what this sophist will make of him. Again, a sophist is a salesman of food for the soul, and Hippocrates is finding out if Protagoras sells harmful, deceptive knowledge (junk food) or a knowledge which will improve him. Protagoras says only that his knowledge is generically ‘good’, but he still does not get to the answer of the question “of what is a sophist’s knowledge?” A painter could also say his teachings will improve his pupil, his teachings of painting, same goes for a musician, but Protagoras only says that his knowledge will improve Hippocrates ambiguously. When Socrates eventually does get an answer with content: that he will be taught the art of politics and of an ethics on this foundation of politics. Socrates’ argument, and the argument of this dialogue, begins to clearly form here, Socrates doubts the ability of teaching this knowledge, that is, the ability to teach one virtue.

“if a man says that he is a good flute-player, or skilful in any other art in which he has no skill, people either laugh at him or are angry with him, and his relations think that he is mad and go and admonish him; but when honesty is in question, or some other political virtue, even if they know that he is dishonest, yet, if the man comes publicly forward and tells the truth about his dishonesty, then, what in the other case was held by them to be good sense, they now deem to be madness. They say that all men ought to profess honesty whether they are honest or not, and that a man is out of his mind who says anything else. Their notion is, that a man must have some degree of honesty; and that if he has none at all he ought not to be in the world.”

“ If you will think, Socrates, of the nature of punishment, you will see at once that in the opinion of mankind virtue may be acquired; no one punishes the evil-doer under the notion, or for the reason, that he has done wrong, — only the unreasonable fury of a beast acts in that manner. But he who desires to inflict rational punishment does not retaliate for a past wrong which cannot be undone; he has regard to the future, and is desirous that the man who is punished, and he who sees him punished, may be deterred from doing wrong again”

The basis of the first part of the argument made by Protagoras is that for people to live harmoniously, they must have a kind of common virtue. A virtue which brings all men into the discourse of politics unlike the areas which prioritize experts. Politics and virtue must be the realm of all men, for all men are required to participate for there to be ‘civilization.

The second part claims that knowledge must be able to be taught, and isn’t simply part of a person’s nature to be good or evil, for rational punishment is meant to deter from future evil, thus working under the assumption that one can be taught virtue. Protagoras here seems to appeal to a sort of common sense — ‘most men punish in this way so their intuition that this punishment functions on must be correct.’

“For we have shown that they think virtue capable of being taught and cultivated both in private and public; and, notwithstanding, they have their sons taught lesser matters, ignorance of which does not involve the punishment of death: but greater things, of which the ignorance may cause death and exile to those who have no training or knowledge of them — aye, and confiscation as well as death, and, in a word, may be the ruin of families — those things, I say, they are supposed not to teach them, — not to take the utmost care that they should learn. How improbable is this, Socrates”

Why ask of probability when we can plainly see this is many times exactly the case? Many great leaders have had children worse than them. Again, Protagoras seems to conflate that something is an underlying assumption of people with that idea necessarily being correct. This argument only seems to prove that men should teach their children virtue, but does not prove the can do so

Protagoras addresses the counterpoint that virtue cannot be taught because otherwise great men would always have great children (which is clearly not the case) by displaying that the teaching of virtue is both a public and private affair. This argument against Protagoras depends on the idea teaching virtue is a purely familial, private relation, (i.e. father is great thus child is great), but schooling, law, academia, etc. all teach virtue. Virtue is a necessary part of all social life, it is a precondition of functioning in society and thus is something which must be shared in, and if punishment is meant to correction of a lack in virtue or divergence in custom, thus meaning virtue is a kind of economy, thus making it exchangeable, teachable. Virtue is the starting point of civilized man in that each man must have the capacity to learn virtue.

“There is no difficulty, Socrates, in answering that the qualities of which you are speaking are the parts of virtue which is one.

And are they parts, I said, in the same sense in which mouth, nose, and eyes, and ears, are the parts of a face; or are they like the parts of gold, which differ from the whole and from one another only in being larger or smaller?

I should say that they differed, Socrates, in the first way; they are related to one another as the parts of a face are related to the whole face

And do men have some one part and some another part of virtue? Or if a man has one part, must he also have all the others?

By no means, he said; for many a man is brave and not just, or just and not wise.”

After Socrates admits that Protagoras has sufficient proof that virtue can indeed be taught, the next part of the argument kicks off: that of the oneness of virtues and the necessity of holding all virtues if one is to hold any. Protagoras says Virtue is one, and has constituent parts which are more like that of a face than of gold (parts which are heterogeneous rather than homogeneous) This also means you can have one virtue without another — a mouth and nose with one missing eye still constitute a face (though the missing eye may be a deviation from the perfect form of face, as a man who is unholy but just and wise would not be the perfect form of virtue but, nonetheless, could still be called virtuous).. He also says that each virtue, going along with the analogy of a face, has its own separate, independent function. Wisdom, courage, temperance, holiness are all absolutely different

“Well then, Protagoras, we will assume this; and now supposing that he proceeded to say further, ‘Then holiness is not of the nature of justice, nor justice of the nature of holiness, but of the nature of unholiness; and holiness is of the nature of the not just, and therefore of the unjust, and the unjust is the unholy’: how shall we answer him? I should certainly answer him on my own behalf that justice is holy, and that holiness is just; and I would say in like manner on your behalf also, if you would allow me, that justice is either the same with holiness, or very nearly the same; and above all I would assert that justice is like holiness and holiness is like justice; and I wish that you would tell me whether I may be permitted to give this answer on your behalf, and whether you would agree with me.

He replied, I cannot simply agree, Socrates, to the proposition that justice is holy and that holiness is just, for there appears to me to be a difference between them.”

Socrates argues that virtues are not completely distinct from one another, for otherwise anything just would be unholy, and unwise, and uncourageous. (the same goes for each virtue — anything holy would have to be unjust, etc. anything wise must be unholy and so on)

“When you say, Protagoras, that things inexpedient are good, do you mean inexpedient for man only, or inexpedient altogether? and do you call the latter good?

Certainly not the last, he replied; for I know of many things — meats, drinks, medicines, and ten thousand other things, which are inexpedient for man, and some which are expedient; and some which are neither expedient nor inexpedient for man, but only for horses; and some for oxen only, and some for dogs; and some for no animals, but only for trees; and some for the roots of trees and not for their branches, as for example, manure, which is a good thing when laid about the roots of a tree, but utterly destructive if thrown upon the shoots and young branches; or I may instance olive oil, which is mischievous to all plants, and generally most injurious to the hair of every animal with the exception of man, but beneficial to human hair and to the human body generally; and even in this application (so various and changeable is the nature of the benefit), that which is the greatest good to the outward parts of a man, is a very great evil to his inward parts: and for this reason physicians always forbid their patients the use of oil in their food, except in very small quantities, just enough to extinguish the disagreeable sensation of smell in meats and sauces”

Seems to anticipate the split between ethics and morality which is so big in the Deleuze-Nietzsche-Spinoza triangle. To summarize this, Socrates asks if inexpedience is good altogether, and Protagoras essentially answers, “Good for what? And for who?” He does not care about the abstract goodness of inexpedience, but rather about its situational effects.

“whereas law is the tyrant of mankind, and often compels us to do many things which are against nature.”

A topic of debate for thousands of years, this sentiment is clearly present from Marx (productive relations alienating man from nature) Freud (Civilization being a restriction of man’s pure animalistic nature/desires) Bataille, Stirner (laws, production, taboo create a kind of abstracted world, one of spooks and restricted economy)

“But the bad does not become bad; he is always bad. So that when the force of circumstances overpowers the man of resources and skill and virtue, then he cannot help being bad”

Does this assert that ‘badness’ is the natural state of man and one temporarily becomes good, and thus when overpowered by circumstances they once again become bad, and so on? Or does it rather imply that you are always constantly becoming good or bad, not being one or the other? Does it mean one is always bad unless he is becoming good? Or that one is never truly good or bad but always becoming so?

“But the bad does not become bad; he is always bad. So that when the force of circumstances overpowers the man of resources and skill and virtue, then he cannot help being bad”

Does this assert that ‘badness’ is the natural state of man and one temporarily becomes good, and thus when overpowered by circumstances they once again become bad, and so on? Or does it rather imply that you are always constantly becoming good or bad, not being one or the other? Does it mean one is always bad unless he is becoming good? Or that one is never truly good or bad but always becoming so?

“Thus the words of the poem tend to show that on the one hand a man cannot be continuously good, but that he may become good and may also become bad; and again that”

This quote suggests the latter, one must’ve previously been bad to become good and good to become bad. To be the good is really only to become good more than one becomes bad, for one cannot eternally be the good.

“‘I do not hope’ he says, ‘to find a perfectly blameless man among those who partake of the fruits of the broad-bosomed earth (if I find him, I will send you word); in this sense I praise no man. But he who is moderately good, and does no evil, is good enough for me, who love and approve every one’)”

For Simonides, since one cannot be good, simply to be not-evil is enough for the approval of the gods. Is this the same as becoming good or are these 2 separate states: one of becoming good and one of neutrality? or is neutrality a becoming good in regard to one who was once evil?

“you replied that the five names were not the names of the same thing, but that each of them had a separate object, and that all these objects were parts of virtue, not in the same way that the parts of gold are like each other and the whole of which they are parts, but as the parts of the face are unlike the whole of which they are parts and one another, and have each of them a distinct function. I should like to know whether this is still your opinion; or if not, I will ask you to define your meaning, and I shall not take you to task if you now make a different statement. For I dare say that you may have said what you did only in order to make trial of me.

I answer, Socrates, he said, that all these qualities are parts of virtue, and that four out of the five are to some extent similar, and that the fifth of them, which is courage, is very different from the other four, as I prove in this way: You may observe that many men are utterly unrighteous, unholy, intemperate, ignorant, who are nevertheless remarkable for their courage.”

Protagoras changes his argument to say that courage is the only virtue distinct from the others, for only it is dissimilar to the others, and only this can be held without the requirement of holding all virtues.

Socrates says this is faulty because the courageous are always the most educated, for an uneducated man with too much confidence is only a mad man. And if one must be wise to be truly courageous, then they must also just, and pious, and temperate. He says that the courageous are confident, to which Protagoras agrees, and Socrates takes this to mean that the courageous and the wise are the same. But Protagoras thinks they are indeed distinct, that the courageous are confident but the but the confident not always courageous. Essentially, the wise and courageous are not the same, but confidence is a part of courage, in which the confidence is given by nature and harmony rather than madness or rage.

“I do not know, Socrates, he said, whether I can venture to assert in that unqualified manner that the pleasant is the good and the painful the evil. Having regard not only to my present answer, but also to the whole of my life, I shall be safer, if I am not mistaken, in saying that there are some pleasant things which are not good, and that there are some painful things which are good, and some which are not good, and that there are some which are neither good nor evil”

The important questions missed here, which is also often missed by moral philosophy, is, “good for who? Pleasant for who?” A man experiencing joy through some unnecessary violent act could consider that act pleasant, but the victim, however, would see that act as harmful. Pleasant and harmful are treated as purely external and universal experiences of an effect, but they are really individual relations to an effect. Socrates tries to establish this individual relation as a universal rule, only taking into account the perspective of the one experiencing the pleasure, when, on the contrary, an act can provoke both harm and pleasure; which means that an act cannot be called good or bad on the grounds of harm and pleasure. Unless of course one acknowledges that good and bad as well cannot be applied universally. You could say that which is pleasant for one is also good for them, and that which is harmful is bad for the, but Socrates specifically tries to make these correlations universal, by saying that it is a good in itself.

“Suppose, again, the salvation of human life to depend on the choice of odd and even, and on the knowledge of when a man ought to choose the greater or less, either in reference to themselves or to each other, and whether near or at a distance; what would be the saving principle of our lives? Would not knowledge? — a knowledge of measuring, when the question is one of excess and defect, and a knowledge of number, when the question is of odd and even? The world will assent, will they not?”

One should measure goods against good and choose the greater goods; evils against evils and choose the lesser evils; goods against evils and choose outcomes in which goods outweigh evils. The same applies for pleasures and pains. I don’t think evils and goods are so easily quantifiable, i’d consider them qualitative assessments. Socrates’ argument assumes a kind of homogeneity of all action and outcomes — a common starting point for all action basically — which i believe is false.


“SOCRATES: But I would much rather ask you, if you are disposed to answer: for I see, from the few words which Polus has uttered, that he has attended more to the art which is called rhetoric than to dialectic.

POLUS: What makes you say so, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Because, Polus, when Chaerephon asked you what was the art which Gorgias knows, you praised it as if you were answering some one who found fault with it, but you never said what the art was.”

Dialectic is of Knowledge, Rhetoric of Opinion.

Dialectic, Being, Reason, Goodness, Forms — Episteme, Knowledge

Rhetoric, flattery, becoming, seeming, imagination, faith — Doxa, Opinion

“GORGIAS: Rhetoric, Socrates, is my art.

SOCRATES: Then I am to call you a rhetorician?

GORGIAS: Yes, Socrates, and a good one too, if you would call me that which, in Homeric language, “I boast myself to be.”

SOCRATES: I should wish to do so.

GORGIAS: Then pray do.

SOCRATES: And are we to say that you are able to make other men rhetoricians?

GORGIAS: Yes, that is exactly what I profess to make them, not only at Athens, but in all places.

SOCRATES: And will you continue to ask and answer questions, Gorgias, as we are at present doing, and reserve for another occasion the longer mode of speech which Polus was attempting? Will you keep your promise, and answer shortly the questions which are asked of you?”

This is Socrates’ usual evaluation of what a sophist wants to make of his students, and the quality of the food for the soul which a sophist sells. The same evaluation which was urged by him in the Protagoras

“SOCRATES: I am glad to hear it; answer me in like manner about rhetoric: with what is rhetoric concerned?

GORGIAS: With discourse.

SOCRATES: What sort of discourse, Gorgias? — such discourse as would teach the sick under what treatment they might get well?


SOCRATES: Then rhetoric does not treat of all kinds of discourse?

GORGIAS: Certainly not.

SOCRATES: And yet rhetoric makes men able to speak?


SOCRATES: And to understand that about which they speak?

GORGIAS: Of course.

SOCRATES: But does not the art of medicine, which we were just now mentioning, also make men able to understand and speak about the sick?

GORGIAS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Then medicine also treats of discourse?


SOCRATES: Of discourse concerning diseases?

GORGIAS: Just so.

SOCRATES: And does not gymnastic also treat of discourse concerning the good or evil condition of the body?

GORGIAS: Very true.

SOCRATES: And the same, Gorgias, is true of the other arts: — all of them treat of discourse concerning the subjects with which they severally have to do.

GORGIAS: Clearly.

SOCRATES: Then why, if you call rhetoric the art which treats of discourse, and all the other arts treat of discourse, do you not call them arts of rhetoric?”

Gorgias struggles to pin down an exact definition of rhetoric. He says it treats of discourse but this can be said of medicine as well, thus rhetoric does not treat of all discourses. So what discourse is rhetoric of? Gorgias says rhetoric is distinct from the other arts because it deals with discourse itself through the mediator of the knowledge, while the knowledge of the arts is only concerned with external objects. Rhetoric deals with relations of discourse, it doesn’t have external actions like the other arts. Thus rhetoric can be said to be the art of discourse.

“SOCRATES: But there are other arts which work wholly through the medium of language, and require either no action or very little, as, for example, the arts of arithmetic, of calculation, of geometry, and of playing draughts; in some of these speech is pretty nearly co-extensive with action, but in most of them the verbal element is greater — they depend wholly on words for their efficacy and power: and I take your meaning to be that rhetoric is an art of this latter sort?

GORGIAS: Exactly.

SOCRATES: And yet I do not believe that you really mean to call any of these arts rhetoric; although the precise expression which you used was, that rhetoric is an art which works and takes effect only through the medium of discourse; and an adversary who wished to be captious might say, “And so, Gorgias, you call arithmetic rhetoric.” But I do not think that you really call arithmetic rhetoric any more than geometry would be so called by you.

GORGIAS: You are quite right, Socrates, in your apprehension of my meaning.”

Socrates then says there are other arts which only work through the mediation of language, such as arithmetic and calculation. This would imply that these arts are rhetoric, which Gorgias agrees is inaccurate; thus exposing at least imprecision and at most contradiction in the definition given to rhetoric. Socrates wants to know what the words of rhetoric do, and to what class they relate, to which Gorgias answers vaguely that they belong to the greatest, Socrates, and the best of human things.

“GORGIAS: That good, Socrates, which is truly the greatest, being that which gives to men freedom in their own persons, and to individuals the power of ruling over others in their several states.

SOCRATES: And what would you consider this to be?

GORGIAS: What is there greater than the word which persuades the judges in the courts, or the senators in the council, or the citizens in the assembly, or at any other political meeting? — if you have the power of uttering this word, you will have the physician your slave, and the trainer your slave, and the money-maker of whom you talk will be found to gather treasures, not for himself, but for you who are able to speak and to persuade the multitude.

SOCRATES: Now I think, Gorgias, that you have very accurately explained what you conceive to be the art of rhetoric; and you mean to say, if I am not mistaken, that rhetoric is the artificer of persuasion, having this and no other business, and that this is her crown and end. Do you know any other effect of rhetoric over and above that of producing persuasion?

GORGIAS: No: the definition seems to me very fair, Socrates; for persuasion is the chief end of rhetoric”.

Socrates explains that men of the arts which are truly the greatest can clearly explain what they create which is so great, the essence of their art. Gorgias, however, has not been able to do so. Through this line of questioning Socrates finally gets to the definition that rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and this is its sole end.

“SOCRATES: Seeing, then, that not only rhetoric works by persuasion, but that other arts do the same, as in the case of the painter, a question has arisen which is a very fair one: Of what persuasion is rhetoric the artificer, and about what? — is not that a fair way of putting the question?

GORGIAS: I answer, Socrates, that rhetoric is the art of persuasion in courts of law and other assemblies, as I was just now saying, and about the just and unjust.”

Socrates points out that this definition is insufficient once again, for if one learns they are persuaded, thus any art which involves teaching (arithmetic, medicine, gymnastics, etc.) deals with persuasion. Socrates then wants to know what persuasion belongs to rhetoric and what it’s about. Gorgias says it is the persuasion in courts and laws, of the just and unjust.

“SOCRATES: And is the “having learned” the same as “having believed,” and are learning and belief the same things?

GORGIAS: In my judgment, Socrates, they are not the same.”

Learning has to do with knowledge (Episteme) while belief has to do with opinion (Doxa). This division consistently shows up in Plato, and is the basis of his divided line (see above).

Belief can be true or false, knowledge, however, can only ever be true — this they both agree on. Rhetoric seems to persuade belief, while gaining knowledge of the other arts persuades them of evident truth. Rhetoric thus can be said to be an art of seeming and belongs to Doxa. Rhetoric can convince one of falsehoods, or, by chance only, truths; its only aim is to seem correct, to appear as representing the only the best. This is the importance of Socrates explaining that his line of argument to Gorgias was not to win, but to be more conducive of truth. To care about winning is to seem, to care about truth is to reach for being.

“SOCRATES: Shall we then assume two sorts of persuasion, — one which is the source of belief without knowledge, as the other is of knowledge?

GORGIAS: By all means.

SOCRATES: And which sort of persuasion does rhetoric create in courts of law and other assemblies about the just and unjust, the sort of persuasion which gives belief without knowledge, or that which gives knowledge?

GORGIAS: Clearly, Socrates, that which only gives belief.

SOCRATES: Then rhetoric, as would appear, is the artificer of a persuasion which creates belief about the just and unjust, but gives no instruction about them?”

There is persuasion of knowledge, and persuasion of belief. Rhetoric is persuasion of belief. The rhetorician does not consider the truth or untruth of the belief, only the effectiveness of his language in convincing one of it. Again, It is an art of seeming as opposed to being, belonging to Doxa as opposed to Episteme.

“GORGIAS: A marvel, indeed, Socrates, if you only knew how rhetoric comprehends and holds under her sway all the inferior arts. Let me offer you a striking example of this. On several occasions I have been with my brother Herodicus or some other physician to see one of his patients, who would not allow the physician to give him medicine, or apply the knife or hot iron to him; and I have persuaded him to do for me what he would not do for the physician just by the use of rhetoric. And I say that if a rhetorician and a physician were to go to any city, and had there to argue in the Ecclesia or any other assembly as to which of them should be elected state-physician, the physician would have no chance; but he who could speak would be chosen if he wished; and in a contest with a man of any other profession the rhetorician more than any one would have the power of getting himself chosen, for he can speak more persuasively to the multitude than any of them, and on any subject.

But not on this account are the teachers bad, neither is the art in fault, or bad in itself; I should rather say that those who make a bad use of the art are to blame. And the same argument holds good of rhetoric; for the rhetorician can speak against all men and upon any subject, — in short, he can persuade the multitude better than any other man of anything which he pleases, but he should not therefore seek to defraud the physician or any other artist of his reputation merely because he has the power; he ought to use rhetoric fairly, as he would also use his athletic powers.”

Despite these good effects that could be caused by rhetoric, rhetoric is nonetheless misinformed, and only concerned with its own power of persuasion. It only seems good when the belief it causes happens to accord with truth (like in the case of a physician and his patient). But, as Gorgias himself exposes, it can also be a persuasion to a belief without knowledge. He clearly and accidentally exposes the lack of goodness in rhetoric by showing that it gives the power to convince one of an ignorant belief (like in the case of the rhetorician being elected as a state-physician over the actual physician due to argument skills).

Gorgias says rhetoric can not be called bad, and that fault can only be put on the one who abuses it for evil purposes. But this is not the point of Socrates’ argument. Sure rhetoric can be used for good or bad purposes, but the power of rhetoric is not to teach and be good; instead it’s to convince someone to believe something — whether good or bad — ignorant of truth.

“SOCRATES: I was thinking at the time, when I heard you saying so, that rhetoric, which is always discoursing about justice, could not possibly be an unjust thing. But when you added, shortly afterwards, that the rhetorician might make a bad use of rhetoric I noted with surprise the inconsistency into which you had fallen; and I said, that if you thought, as I did, that there was a gain in being refuted, there would be an advantage in going on with the question, but if not, I would leave off. And in the course of our investigations, as you will see yourself, the rhetorician has been acknowledged to be incapable of making an unjust use of rhetoric, or of willingness to do injustice. By the dog, Gorgias, there will be a great deal of discussion, before we get at the truth of all this.”

Socrates exposes an inconsistency in Gorgias’ conception of rhetoric by showing that he brought up men making poor, unjust use of rhetoric, and yet still maintains that the power of rhetoric is necessarily just, that a man must learn about the just and unjust to be a rhetorician.

“POLUS: And do even you, Socrates, seriously believe what you are now saying about rhetoric? What! because Gorgias was ashamed to deny that the rhetorician knew the just and the honourable and the good, and admitted that to any one who came to him ignorant of them he could teach them, and then out of this admission there arose a contradiction — the thing which you dearly love, and to which not he, but you, brought the argument by your captious questions — (do you seriously believe that there is any truth in all this?) For will any one ever acknowledge that he does not know, or cannot teach, the nature of justice? The truth is, that there is great want of manners in bringing the argument to such a pass.”

Up to this point there’s been a clear split between Gorgias, who wants to win the argument, and Socrates, who wants truth and to be refuted. One wants to seem right, one wants to gain knowledge. This desire to purely seem just is shown even more so when Polus jumps into the argument to defend his mentor.

“SOCRATES: Which condition may not be really good, but good only in appearance? I mean to say, that there are many persons who appear to be in good health, and whom only a physician or trainer will discern at first sight not to be in good health.


SOCRATES: And this applies not only to the body, but also to the soul: in either there may be that which gives the appearance of health and not the reality?

GORGIAS: Yes, certainly.

SOCRATES: And now I will endeavour to explain to you more clearly what I mean: The soul and body being two, have two arts corresponding to them: there is the art of politics attending on the soul; and another art attending on the body, of which I know no single name, but which may be described as having two divisions, one of them gymnastic, and the other medicine. And in politics there is a legislative part, which answers to gymnastic, as justice does to medicine; and the two parts run into one another, justice having to do with the same subject as legislation, and medicine with the same subject as gymnastic, but with a difference. Now, seeing that there are these four arts, two attending on the body and two on the soul for their highest good; flattery knowing, or rather guessing their natures, has distributed herself into four shams or simulations of them; she puts on the likeness of some one or other of them, and pretends to be that which she simulates, and having no regard for men’s highest interests, is ever making pleasure the bait of the unwary, and deceiving them into the belief that she is of the highest value to them. Cookery simulates the disguise of medicine, and pretends to know what food is the best for the body; and if the physician and the cook had to enter into a competition in which children were the judges, or men who had no more sense than children, as to which of them best understands the goodness or badness of food, the physician would be starved to death. A flattery I deem this to be and of an ignoble sort, Polus, for to you I am now addressing myself, because it aims at pleasure without any thought of the best. An art I do not call it, but only an experience, because it is unable to explain or to give a reason of the nature of its own applications. And I do not call any irrational thing an art; but if you dispute my words, I am prepared to argue in defence of them.”

Socrates calls rhetoric a counterfeit of a part of politics. Similarly, cookery is flattery taking the form of medicine, for it does not really care about the goodness of its product for the body, it only cares to please the senses. There are 4 arts which correspond to the body and soul, 2 corresponding to the body (gymnastics and medicine) and 2 corresponding to the soul which fit under the umbrella of politics (legislation and jurisprudence). Each art has a counterfeit, a simulation of it with only one aim: to appear as the art it copies. Cookery simulates medicine; tiring, gymnastic; rhetoric, justice/jurisprudence; and sophistry, legislation. The goal of the counterfeits is only to seem as if they have knowledge of the art which they simulate: the cook only seems to know what’s best for the body; tiring, which essentially means cosmetics, only cares to look like gymnastics; the rhetorician only seems to know about the just and unjust; the sophist only seems to know about the Good and true. The true arts aim to better the client’s body and soul.

“And this, I say, is the natural difference between the rhetorician and the sophist, but by reason of their near connection, they are apt to be jumbled up together; neither do they know what to make of themselves, nor do other men know what to make of them. For if the body presided over itself, and were not under the guidance of the soul, and the soul did not discern and discriminate between cookery and medicine, but the body was made the judge of them, and the rule of judgment was the bodily delight which was given by them, then the word of Anaxagoras, that word with which you, friend Polus, are so well acquainted, would prevail far and wide: “Chaos” would come again, and cookery, health, and medicine would mingle in an indiscriminate mass.”

These counterfeit arts of the body depend on a kind of sensuous empiricism (they are valued and trusted purely for the direct sense-experience they have previously provoked). Only the soul knows what is really best for the body, for the counterfeits of the bodily arts please the body so much that the body itself would judge them as good without the guidance of the soul. They flatter the body, just as rhetoric and the sophist only flatter the soul

“SOCRATES: Well then, I say to you that here are two questions in one, and I will answer both of them. And I tell you, Polus, that rhetoricians and tyrants have the least possible power in states, as I was just now saying; for they do literally nothing which they will, but only what they think best.”

“SOCRATES: And is not this universally true? If a man does something for the sake of something else, he wills not that which he does, but that for the sake of which he does it.”

They don’t have power because they don’t really know anything, they act in ignorance. This seems like a precursor to Nietzsche and Foucault’s ideas of power. The will to knowledge is a will to power, and to have knowledge is to be able to will and understand what one wills, rather than blindly doing what immediately pleases the senses. To have power is to act, not in subordination to something else, to have your will bent for a ‘higher cause’, but to do as you will.

Polus thinks the rhetorician is powerful because he can do as he pleases and gain state positions, but he previously says that power is necessarily good. He agrees with Socrates that a fool who does what he thinks best is not good, but so far has not sufficiently proven that the rhetorician is any more than a fool. Socrates says that if the tyrant and rhetorician cannot be proven to not be fools, they will have nothing to congratulate themselves on and thus cannot be good or powerful (because Polus agrees that power is a good).

“POLUS: At any rate you will allow that he who is unjustly put to death is wretched, and to be pitied?

SOCRATES: Not so much, Polus, as he who kills him, and not so much as he who is justly killed.

POLUS: How can that be, Socrates?

SOCRATES: That may very well be, inasmuch as doing injustice is the greatest of evils.

POLUS: But is it the greatest? Is not suffering injustice a greater evil?

SOCRATES: Certainly not”

This begins the next part of the argument: is it a greater evil to do or to suffer injustice. Polus says the latter while Socrates says it’s undoubtedly the former.

Socrates thinks an act that could either be good or bad (he uses infliction of death, exile, and deprivation of property) is good when it is just and evil when it is unjust, which Polus finds absurd. Polus wants to prove that men who do wrong can still be happy, as to prove that doing wrong can be a benefit to a man, and thus that doing injustice is better than suffering it.

“POLUS: Then clearly, Socrates, you would say that you did not even know whether the great king was a happy man?

SOCRATES: And I should speak the truth; for I do not know how he stands in the matter of education and justice.

POLUS: What! and does all happiness consist in this?

SOCRATES: Yes, indeed, Polus, that is my doctrine; the men and women who are gentle and good are also happy, as I maintain, and the unjust and evil are miserable.”

The good are happy, the evil are miserable.

Polus uses the example of the new leader of Macedonia, Archelaus, as a man who is wicked yet happy. He believes him to be happy because he has never repented for his wrong doing, he has never showed remorse, he continues to do as he pleases. The basis of his argument is that one who is unpunished for their wrong-doing is happy. Socrates finds this argument insufficient, comparing it to the argumentation you’d see in a court, and because of this now wants to examine the difference between the method of refutation used by rhetoricians and the world versus that which is used by him (implies that the one method of refutation, again, only cares to seem right while the other strives for knowledge).

“SOCRATES: But in my opinion, Polus, the unjust or doer of unjust actions is miserable in any case, — more miserable, however, if he be not punished and does not meet with retribution, and less miserable if he be punished and meets with retribution at the hands of gods and men.”

On the contrary to Polus thinking that escaping retribution absolves one of the misery which accompanies wrong doing, Socrates actually thinks that this makes the misery even worse, that retribution is what can lighten the burden of wrong doing. This seems to precede Christian doctrine in 2 ways 1) retribution to some degree absolves one of their wrong doings (think of confessions) and 2) introducing a sort of shame and guilt which Nietzsche thinks is particularly Christian. If good and evil are understood as transcendental, eternally unchanging, and objective, then this guilt is simply a burden of being objectively bad. However, if, as in Nietzsche, they’re understood as historically and culturally contingent, manifest in power relations (and vice versa), this guilt becomes a burden of being untimely.

“POLUS: What do you mean? If a man is detected in an unjust attempt to make himself a tyrant, and when detected is racked, mutilated, has his eyes burned out, and after having had all sorts of great injuries inflicted on him, and having seen his wife and children suffer the like, is at last impaled or tarred and burned alive, will he be happier than if he escape and become a tyrant, and continue all through life doing what he likes and holding the reins of government, the envy and admiration both of citizens and strangers? Is that the paradox which, as you say, cannot be refuted?

SOCRATES: There again, noble Polus, you are raising hobgoblins instead of refuting me; just now you were calling witnesses against me. But please to refresh my memory a little; did you say — “in an unjust attempt to make himself a tyrant”?

POLUS: Yes, I did.

SOCRATES: Then I say that neither of them will be happier than the other, — neither he who unjustly acquires a tyranny, nor he who suffers in the attempt, for of two miserables one cannot be the happier, but that he who escapes and becomes a tyrant is the more miserable of the two. Do you laugh, Polus? Well, this is a new kind of refutation, — when any one says anything, instead of refuting him to laugh at him.”

Socrates takes issue with Polus conflating ‘less miserable’ and ‘more happy’. The miserable are not any happier than each other, for misery is a lack of happiness. Polus treats happiness and miserable like a scale, more happiness equates to less misery, less happiness to more misery, but happiness completely lacks misery. Just as I said about the miserable, the happy are not any more miserable than each other, just more or less happy.

Through a line of questioning which begins with beauty, Socrates brings Polus to admitting that to commit an injustice is a greater evil than suffering one. He defines beauty by pleasure and utility, and its opposite, deformity or disgrace, by pain and evil. He proves that doing evil is a greater evil than suffering it, both of them agreeing that it is more disgraceful to do than suffer injustice. Socrates’ conclusion naturally follows this when he establishes that disgrace is evil, and that something which exceeds in evil and disgrace must also exceed in pain. He finally traps Polus by saying that everyone would agree that a lesser evil or disgrace is preferable to a greater one.

“SOCRATES: So then, in mind, body, and estate, which are three, you have pointed out three corresponding evils — injustice, disease, poverty?”

Evils of the body, soul, and estate:

Body — disease, weakness

Soul — injustice, cowardice

Estate — poverty

Injustice, and the evil of the soul in general, is the greatest evil.

Punishment, which is the enforcement of justice, delivers man from the evil of the soul, medicine the body, and making money the estate. All evils have an art to correct them, the arts of the soul being the best


Positions of the dialogue:

Hermogenes — conventional; language is purely conventional with no innate connection to what it expresses; sophistic for not allowing a distinction between true and false; almost falls into a kind of relativism

Cratylus — natural; names are innate and true; they cannot be false; part philosophical — for establishing a basis for language — and part sophistic — for not allowing falsehood

Socrates — rational, artificial; a sort of unity between the arguments; language is a work of art of which the dialectician is the artificer, and the legislator gives it authority; names are natural, but vocal imitation, the expression of those names, are what bring convention in.

“HERMOGENES: I should explain to you, Socrates, that our friend Cratylus has been arguing about names; he says that they are natural and not conventional; not a portion of the human voice which men agree to use; but that there is a truth or correctness in them, which is the same for Hellenes as for barbarians. Whereupon I ask him, whether his own name of Cratylus is a true name or not, and he answers “Yes.” And Socrates? “Yes.” Then every man’s name, as I tell him, is that which he is called. To this he replies — “If all the world were to call you Hermogenes, that would not be your name.” And when I am anxious to have a further explanation he is ironical and mysterious, and seems to imply that he has a notion of his own about the matter, if he would only tell, and could entirely convince me, if he chose to be intelligible. Tell me, Socrates, what this oracle means; or rather tell me, if you will be so good, what is your own view of the truth or correctness of names, which I would far sooner hear.”

The argument of this dialogue emerges, are names natural, innate, or are they conventional? Cratylus saying the former and Hermogenes affirming the latter. As mentioned above, both positions will be shown to be sophistical

“HERMOGENES: I have often talked over this matter, both with Cratylus and others, and cannot convince myself that there is any principle of correctness in names other than convention and agreement; any name which you give, in my opinion, is the right one, and if you change that and give another, the new name is as correct as the old — we frequently change the names of our slaves, and the newly-imposed name is as good as the old: for there is no name given to anything by nature; all is convention and habit of the users; — such is my view. But if I am mistaken I shall be happy to hear and learn of Cratylus, or of any one else.”

To hermogenes, names have no way of being correct or incorrect, by nature of being something’s name, it is the correct name for it. It seems he’s trying to say a name is simply the descriptor of what we call something rather than assigning them any direct correlation to the things they express. Different people, countries, cities use different names for the same things, none of them being any more or less correct than each other. Socrates believes this argument doesn’t allow for the ability of language to express truth. He explains through questioning that propositions, and thus their smallest parts: names, express either truth or falsehood. A true proposition is something which is accurate to the world, and a false not accurate; a true name is thus that which accurately expresses that which it belongs to. Socrates asks Hermogenes if he thinks the things themselves also change with the different names, essentially asking if he subscribes to a kind of relativist epistemology, everything is the way it is experienced by each person. Hermogenes gives an answer that amounts to “sort of” and Socrates then explains that this position would not allow for a distinction between foolish and wise, or good and evil, which they both agree is absurd.

“SOCRATES: But if neither is right, and things are not relative to individuals, and all things do not equally belong to all at the same moment and always, they must be supposed to have their own proper and permanent essence: they are not in relation to us, or influenced by us, fluctuating according to our fancy, but they are independent, and maintain to their own essence the relation prescribed by nature.”


“SOCRATES: Again, in burning, not every way is the right way; but the right way is the natural way, and the right instrument the natural instrument.


SOCRATES: And this holds good of all actions?


SOCRATES: And speech is a kind of action?


The realism of Socrates. Things exist objectively, separately from how they’re experienced. And actions which proceed from the objects have a true nature, a correct way; cutting is done with proper instruments and using the natural process of cutting. The clearly ontological focus of this argument is exemplified by Socrates’ assertion that objects and actions are both levels of being. By establishing that actions have a correct way to be done, and that speech is an action, he shows there must be a correct way to speak, and that Hermogenes’ assertion that speech is purely based on convention is wrong.

I disagree with this because a correct way to do something can still be established on convention, and can have uses aside from their ‘natural’ or ‘correct’ use that can’t be considered ‘incorrect’. A thing’s natural use doesn’t necessarily follow from it, only the potential for what it can do. Speech has historically, geographically, and socially contingent rules and guidelines, making a universal correctness of speech an impossibility. The mistake made my Socrates is assuming that no possibility of universal correctness doesn’t allow for anyone to be incorrect. You can still speak incorrectly within a certain linguistic context, you can break rules of a certain language game. To go with the example used by Hermogenes, the same things can be called different names by different people. The different names aren’t wrong on their own, but if a person from one group used the name his group uses while outside the linguistic context of his group, he may use the wrong words.

“SOCRATES: And when the teacher uses the name, whose work will he be using?

HERMOGENES: There again I am puzzled.

SOCRATES: Cannot you at least say who gives us the names which we use?

HERMOGENES: Indeed I cannot.

SOCRATES: Does not the law seem to you to give us them?

HERMOGENES: Yes, I suppose so.

SOCRATES: Then the teacher, when he gives us a name, uses the work of the legislator?


SOCRATES: And is every man a legislator, or the skilled only?

HERMOGENES: The skilled only.

SOCRATES: Then, Hermogenes, not every man is able to give a name, but only a maker of names; and this is the legislator, who of all skilled artisans in the world is the rarest.”

Socrates says that the law establishes names, and the legislator looks to the ideal form of names to do so. This is how names come to be, and their correctness is based on their accuracy to the forms.

“SOCRATES: And who will be best able to direct the legislator in his work, and will know whether the work is well done, in this or any other country? Will not the user be the man?


SOCRATES: And this is he who knows how to ask questions?


SOCRATES: And how to answer them?


SOCRATES: And him who knows how to ask and answer you would call a dialectician?

HERMOGENES: Yes; that would be his name.”

Again, the dialectician is the artificer of language and the legislator the enforcer. The dialectician directs the legislator to give correct names. The one who uses a product determines whether or not the product is good, or correct; in the case of language this is the dialectician. An artificer of names is someone who looks to the true nature of things, attempting to express their form, their essence, with sounds and letters.

“SOCRATES: And may not the same be said of a king? a king will often be the son of a king, the good son or the noble son of a good or noble sire; and similarly the offspring of every kind, in the regular course of nature, is like the parent, and therefore has the same name. Yet the syllables may be disguised until they appear different to the ignorant person, and he may not recognize them, although they are the same, just as any one of us would not recognize the same drugs under different disguises of colour and smell, although to the physician, who regards the power of them, they are the same, and he is not put out by the addition; and in like manner the etymologist is not put out by the addition or transposition or subtraction of a letter or two, or indeed by the change of all the letters, for this need not interfere with the meaning. As was just now said, the names of Hector and Astyanax have only one letter alike, which is tau, and yet they have the same meaning. And how little in common with the letters of their names has Archepolis (ruler of the city) — and yet the meaning is the same. And there are many other names which just mean “king.” Again, there are several names for a general, as, for example, Agis (leader) and Polemarchus (chief in war) and Eupolemus (good warrior); and others which denote a physician, as Iatrocles (famous healer) and Acesimbrotus (curer of mortals); and there are many others which might be cited, differing in their syllables and letters, but having the same meaning. Would you not say so?”

Multiple words can express the essence of a thing. That is to say, a thing doesn’t necessarily have 1 word which corresponds to it, correctly expressing its nature; rather, any word which expresses a things nature, regardless of its spelling, can be regarded as correct. Ruler (archon)) and king (anax) have essentially the same meaning despite being obviously different words. This is also true of physicians, there are different titles given to men which denote the same status. Names, for socrates, are correct if they denote the essence of the thing they’re given to, and incorrect if they do not. For example, to call an irreligious man by the name “beloved of god” (Theophilus) or “mindful of god” (Mnesitheus) would be incorrect. The same goes for a man’s name, “for as his name, so also is his nature

Socrates now wants to go deeper into the nature of names, beginning with the names of the gods. Specifically, he wants to show that their names are correctly given.

“SOCRATES: My notion would be something of this sort: — I suspect that the sun, moon, earth, stars, and heaven, which are still the Gods of many barbarians, were the only Gods known to the aboriginal Hellenes. Seeing that they were always moving and running, from their running nature they were called Gods or runners (Theous, Theontas); and when men became acquainted with the other Gods, they proceeded to apply the same name to them all. Do you think that likely?”

Next comes demons, which he takes the idea of a golden race of men from Hesiod to explain their names. Socrates interprets Hesiod as saying the golden race is not really gold, but good and wise. Hesiod calls the gold men demons, leading Socrates to believe this word demons comes from daemones (knowing or wise). To “many poets”, Demons are the good and wise who are no longer around, the gold race which has died. To Socrates, a good man is more than human in life and death, always a demon.

Now is Heroes, Hērōs in Greek. Socrates believes this is a simple name, for heroes are literally born out of love, i.e. born out of eros (love or passion) The love specifically between a mortal and a god.

Next is man, anthropoi or anthropos in Greek. This, for Socrates, comes from man’s unique ability to really see (opope) what he comes across. Man’s name means anathron ha opope

Hermogenes believes Soul (psuche) and Body (soma) are naturally the next names to be figured out. The soul creates life and orders nature; the name phuseche is what Socrates calls this power, which is then shortened to the word for soul, psuche. Body, soma, has various interpretations, most of which regarding the body as a kind of grave (sema) for the soul, or a prison (soma, sozetai) which it’s relegated to suffer from sin within.

“that of the Gods we know nothing, either of their natures or of the names which they give themselves; but we are sure that the names by which they call themselves, whatever they may be, are true. And this is the best of all principles; and the next best is to say, as in prayers, that we will call them by any sort or kind of names or patronymics which they like, because we do not know of any other.”

Divine truth is unreachable, we can only know that it is divine and true. The world of the gods is cut off from our intellect, all we can know is that it is true, it is the Good. It creates our experience, still maintaining the divide between it and the physical world. Similarly (and this is an important similarity) Kant’s noumena is entirely unknown, yet it is what shapes our perceptions and intellect. The only assertions Kant can make are that it exists objectively, and that knowledge of it cannot be reached. The transcendent world constructed by Plato, the hinterwelt; Kant being a committed hinterwelter. Socrates even goes as far to say that we cannot even enquire about the divine world, only its ideal existence in the world of man.

Through the examination of God’s names and several other etymologies, Socrates showcases two things which articulate his position. His position is a sort of synthesis between the ideas of nature giving names and convention giving names. Throughout his etymological demonstration, Socrates maintains the aspiration to find the truth of words, their correct names, but he also clearly accounts for convention, by explaining how different names come to change while expressing the same or a similar essence. Words are given meaning by nature, and shaped by convention.

“SOCRATES: I will tell you my own opinion; but first, I should like to ask you which chain does any animal feel to be the stronger? and which confines him more to the same spot, — desire or necessity?

HERMOGENES: Desire, Socrates, is stronger far.

SOCRATES: And do you not think that many a one would escape from Hades, if he did not bind those who depart to him by the strongest of chains?

HERMOGENES: Assuredly they would.

SOCRATES: And if by the greatest of chains, then by some desire, as I should certainly infer, and not by necessity?”

As so much said by Plato, this appears as a precursor to the characteristically Christian idea (which shows up as well, though altered in form, in Freudian psychoanalysis) that the desire of the body pollutes the purity and goodness of the soul. A similar idea is shown when Socrates spoke of the body as a punishment for the soul. This contributes to the Platonic idea of the deceptive nature of physical experience and the body, while showing the immortality of the Soul which is always drawn to goodness. Hades come from the knowledge of the noble, fitting as one is only with him when freed from the body, when the only desire remaining is for the Good, for Virtue . Interestingly this also seems to express the connective power of desire, which would later be exasperated in Deleuze and Guattari.

“SOCRATES: Say rather an harmonious name, as beseems the God of Harmony. In the first place, the purgations and purifications which doctors and diviners use, and their fumigations with drugs magical or medicinal, as well as their washings and lustral sprinklings, have all one and the same object, which is to make a man pure both in body and soul.

HERMOGENES: Very true.

SOCRATES: And is not Apollo the purifier, and the washer, and the absolver from all impurities”

God as purifier, as the redeemer for the sins of the body, the bringer of absolute goodness to the soul; yet another Christian idea found in Plato

“SOCRATES: Yes, Hermogenes, and the legislator called him Hades, not from the unseen (aeides) — far otherwise, but from his knowledge (eidenai) of all noble things.”

Hades deals with the soul, ie the good stripped of its physical prison, out of its bodily experience which deceives it to conceal the good.

“And therefore the Goddess may be truly called Pherepaphe (Pherepapha), or some name like it, because she touches that which is in motion (tou pheromenon ephaptomene), herein showing her wisdom. And Hades, who is wise, consorts with her, because she is wise.”

This is reminiscent of the word ‘phenomenon’, indicating that experience is necessarily in motion, while the soul is eternal and unmoving. This is the same dualism which constantly shows up in Plato, the same which is echoed in Kant’s distinction between noumena (unmoving, eternal) and phenomena (in motion, temporal, history). The subject’s experience is in the realm of phenomena and becoming. Nietzsche, in overturning Plato and the hinterwelt, made the noumenal realm immanent to the phenomenal (a transcendental illusion on the plane of immanence as d&g would say). He made an important advancement in process philosophy by showing that all is in motion, and the realm of motion is not deceptive.

“SOCRATES: Son of Hipponicus, you ask a solemn question; there is a serious and also a facetious explanation of both these names; the serious explanation is not to be had from me, but there is no objection to your hearing the facetious one; for the Gods too love a joke. Dionusos is simply didous oinon (giver of wine), Didoinusos, as he might be called in fun, — and oinos is properly oionous, because wine makes those who drink, think (oiesthai) that they have a mind (noun) when they have none. The derivation of Aphrodite, born of the foam (aphros), may be fairly accepted on the authority of Hesiod

SOCRATES: And is not Apollo the purifier, and the washer, and the absolver from all impurities?”

While not really emphasized here, there is a dualism between the rationality, purity, beauty of Apollo, and the bodily, grounded Dionysus. The dualism of Nietzsche’s birth of tragedy (though with a characteristic overturning of how Plato presents it, and, again characteristically, this reversal collapsed into the Dionysus of the multiple)

“SOCRATES: That is a graver matter, and there, my friend, the modern interpreters of Homer may, I think, assist in explaining the view of the ancients. For most of these in their explanations of the poet, assert that he meant by Athene “mind” (nous) and “intelligence” (dianoia), and the maker of names appears to have had a singular notion about her; and indeed calls her by a still higher title, “divine intelligence” (Thou noesis), as though he would say: This is she who has the mind of God (Theonoa); — using alpha as a dialectical variety for eta, and taking away iota and sigma (There seems to be some error in the MSS. The meaning is that the word theonoa = theounoa is a curtailed form of theou noesis, but the omitted letters do not agree.). Perhaps, however, the name Theonoe may mean “she who knows divine things” (Theia noousa) better than others. Nor shall we be far wrong in supposing that the author of it wished to identify this Goddess with moral intelligence (en ethei noesin), and therefore gave her the name ethonoe; which, however, either he or his successors have altered into what they thought a nicer form, and called her Athene.”

Here is a connection between the mind (nous) or intelligence (dianoia) and divine knowledge, moral knowledge, the Good, the beautiful. The author (artificer, dialectician) of the name athena, altered from theia noousa (she who knows divine things) and thou noesis (divine intelligence), wanted to associate athena’s name with moral intelligence. Divine intelligence is moral intelligence. Knowledge of the Good is knowledge of the One. Mind (nous) is access to the Good, body (soma) is its trap

“SOCRATES: Is not the truth that is in him the smooth or sacred form which dwells above among the Gods, whereas falsehood dwells among men below, and is rough like the goat of tragedy; for tales and falsehoods have generally to do with the tragic or goatish life, and tragedy is the place of them?”

The same dualism once again. But one should remember this opposition forms the unity of existence.

“SOCRATES: That is a tremendous class of names which you are disinterring; still, as I have put on the lion’s skin, I must not be faint of heart; and I suppose that I must consider the meaning of wisdom (phronesis) and understanding (sunesis), and judgment (gnome), and knowledge (episteme), and all those other charming words, as you call them?

HERMOGENES: Surely, we must not leave off until we find out their meaning.

SOCRATES: By the dog of Egypt I have a not bad notion which came into my head only this moment: I believe that the primeval givers of names were undoubtedly like too many of our modern philosophers, who, in their search after the nature of things, are always getting dizzy from constantly going round and round, and then they imagine that the world is going round and round and moving in all directions; and this appearance, which arises out of their own internal condition, they suppose to be a reality of nature; they think that there is nothing stable or permanent, but only flux and motion, and that the world is always full of every sort of motion and change. The consideration of the names which I mentioned has led me into making this reflection.

HERMOGENES: How is that, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Perhaps you did not observe that in the names which have been just cited, the motion or flux or generation of things is most surely indicated.

HERMOGENES: No, indeed, I never thought of it.

SOCRATES: Take the first of those which you mentioned; clearly that is a name indicative of motion.”

Past philosophers, to Socrates, were mistaken in assigning names indicative to motion to the virtues. But only the bodily world is in motion; the eternal Psuche, the world of forms, is the realm of virtue. Virtue is unchanging; the Good is the One. Nous, the intellect (of God) is where the forms reside, and hence virtue as well. In other words, the intellect, rationality, is like a piece of God in each of us, and a kind of access to God. To reach the Good, one must shed themselves of all biases and influences of experience, stripped of hedonistic desires, only the intellect remaining. To realize your false beliefs and influences, the ways your experience has deceived you, to purify yourself of worldly ignorances

“Let us suppose the existence of two objects: one of them shall be Cratylus, and the other the image of Cratylus; and we will suppose, further, that some God makes not only a representation such as a painter would make of your outward form and colour, but also creates an inward organization like yours, having the same warmth and softness; and into this infuses motion, and soul, and mind, such as you have, and in a word copies all your qualities, and places them by you in another form; would you say that this was Cratylus and the image of Cratylus, or that there were two Cratyluses?

CRATYLUS: I should say that there were two Cratyluses.”

The copy becomes its own entity. This seems to play with an idea that Baudrillard talks about in depth, at what point does an image of something become a being of its own? This provides several standards that would make the copy of a subject its own subject: a soul, motion, a mind.

“SOCRATES: There is another point. I should not like us to be imposed upon by the appearance of such a multitude of names, all tending in the same direction. I myself do not deny that the givers of names did really give them under the idea that all things were in motion and flux; which was their sincere but, I think, mistaken opinion.”

Socrates affirms that all things are in motion, but this still leaves room for the rest of immateriality. Psuche does not materially exist, so it is not contradictory for Socrates to maintain the non-motion of it.

“SOCRATES: Nor can we reasonably say, Cratylus, that there is knowledge at all, if everything is in a state of transition and there is nothing abiding; for knowledge too cannot continue to be knowledge unless continuing always to abide and exist. But if the very nature of knowledge changes, at the time when the change occurs there will be no knowledge; and if the transition is always going on, there will always be no knowledge, and, according to this view, there will be no one to know and nothing to be known: but if that which knows and that which is known exists ever, and the beautiful and the good and every other thing also exist, then I do not think that they can resemble a process or flux, as we were just now supposing. Whether there is this eternal nature in things, or whether the truth is what Heracleitus and his followers and many others say, is a question hard to determine; and no man of sense will like to put himself or the education of his mind in the power of names: neither will he so far trust names or the givers of names as to be confident in any knowledge which condemns himself and other existences to an unhealthy state of unreality; he will not believe that all things leak like a pot, or imagine that the world is a man who has a running at the nose. This may be true, Cratylus, but is also very likely to be untrue; and therefore I would not have you be too easily persuaded of it. Reflect well and like a man, and do not easily accept such a doctrine; for you are young and of an age to learn. And when you have found the truth, come and tell me.”

His final monologue, criticizing the idea of absolute motion by saying it does not allow for knowledge; the intellectual realm is unmoving


Anarchist and Communist, affinity for schizoanalysis and ‘post-structuralism’

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Marxian Ivy

Anarchist and Communist, affinity for schizoanalysis and ‘post-structuralism’