Plato Complete Works
Plato Complete Works
Plato, John M. Cooper, D. S. Hutchinson
Outstanding translations by leading contemporary scholars -- many commissioned especially for this volume -- are presented here in the first single edition to include the entire surviving corpus of works attributed to Plato in antiquity. In his introductory essay, John Cooper explains the presentation of these works, discusses questions concerning the chronology of their composition, comments on the dialogue form in which Plato wrote, and offers guidance on approaching the reading and study of Plato's works. Also included are concise introductions to each translation, meticulous annotation designed to serve both scholar and general reader, and a comprehensive index. This handsome volume offers fine paper and a high-quality Smyth-sewn cloth binding in a sturdy elegant edition.
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JOHN M. COOPER
A S S O C I AT E E D I T O R D. S. H UTCHINSON
Introduction and Notes, by
JOHN M. COOPER
D. S. HUTCHINSON
HACKETT PUBLISHING COMPANY
Copyright © 1997 by Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
14 13 12 11
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For further information, please address
Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
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Jacket design by Chris Hammill Paul
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
[Works. English. 1997]
edited, with introduction and notes, by
John M. Cooper;
associate editor, D. S. Hutchinson.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-87220-349-2 (cloth: alk. paper)
1. Philosophy, Ancient.
I. Cooper, John M. (John Madison).
II. Hutchinson, D. S.
ISBN-13: 978-0-87220-349-5 (cloth)
Adobe PDF e-book ISBN: 978-1-60384-670-7
M. J. Levett, rev. Myles Burnyeat
Nicholas P. White
C. J. Rowe
Mary Louise Gill and Paul Ryan
Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff
Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff
D. S. Hutchinson
Nicholas D. Smith
Nicholas D. Smith
Rosamond Kent Sprague
Rosamond Kent Sprague
Rosamond Kent Sprague
Stanley Lombardo and Karen Bell
Donald J. Zeyl
Nicholas D. Smith
Francisco J. Gonzalez
G.M.A. Grube, rev. C.D.C. Reeve
Donald J. Zeyl
Trevor J. Saunders
Richard D. McKirahan, Jr.
Glenn R. Morrow
D. S. Hutchinson
Andrew S. Becker
Jackson P. Hershbell
J. M. Edmonds, rev. John M. Cooper
Names listed are those of the translators.
*It is generally agreed by scholars that Plato is not the author of this work.
†It is not generally agreed by scholars whether Plato is the author of this work.
‡As to Plato’s authorship of the individual Letters and Epigrams, consult the respective
Since they were written nearly twenty-four hundred years ago, Plato’s
dialogues have found readers in every generation. Indeed, in the major
centers of Greek intellectual culture, beginning in the first and second
centuries of our era, Plato’s works gradually became the central texts for
the study and practice of philosophy altogether: in later antiquity, a time
when Greek philosophy was struggling to maintain itself against Christianity and other eastern ‘wisdoms’, Platonist philosophy was philosophy itself.
Even after Christianity triumphed in the Roman Empire, Platonism continued as the dominant philosophy in the Greek-speaking eastern Mediterranean. As late as the fifteenth century, in the last years of the Byzantine
empire, the example of George Gemistos Plethon shows how strong this
traditional concentration on Plato could be among philosophically educated Greeks.1 When Plethon, the leading Byzantine scholar and philosopher of the time, accompanied the Byzantine Emperor to Ferrara and
Florence in 1438–39 for the unsuccessful Council of Union between the
Catholic and Orthodox churches, he created a sensation among Italian
humanists with his elevation of Plato as the first of philosophers—above
the Latin scholastics’ hero, Aristotle. Plato’s works had been unavailable
for study in the Latin west for close to a millennium, except for an incomplete Latin translation of Timaeus,2 but from the fifteenth century onwards,
through the revived knowledge of Greek and from translations into Latin
and then into the major modern European languages, Plato’s dialogues
resumed their central place in European culture as a whole. They have
held it without interruption ever since.
In presenting this new edition of Plato’s dialogues in English translation,
we hope to help readers of the twenty-first century carry this tradition
forward. In this introduction I explain our presentation of these works
(Section I), discuss questions concerning the chronology of their composition (II), comment on the dialogue form in which Plato wrote (III), offer
some advice on how to approach the reading and study of his works (IV),
1. ‘Plethon’ is a pseudonym George Gemistos adopted toward the end of his life—in
Greek it has essentially the same meaning as ‘Gemistos’ itself does—apparently to
mark, by its resemblance to Plato’s own name, his authoritative sponsorship of Platonist
doctrines. See George Gemistos Plethon: The Last of the Hellenes, by C. M. Woodhouse
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986); for the change of name, see pp. 186–88.
2. Translations of Phaedo and Meno, made in Sicily, were also available from about 1160.
and describe the principles on which the translations in the volume have
been prepared (V). But first, a few basic facts about Plato’s life and career.
Plato, a native Athenian, was born in 427 B.C. and died at the age of
eighty-one in 347.3 He belonged, on both his mother’s and father’s side,
to old and distinguished aristocratic families. At some point in his late teens
or early twenties (we do not know when or under what circumstances), he
began to frequent the circle around Socrates, the Athenian philosopher
who appears as the central character in so many of his dialogues and
whose trial and death he was to present so eloquently in his Apology and
his Phaedo. In the dozen years or so following Socrates’ death in 399, Plato,
then nearly thirty years old, may have spent considerable time away from
Athens, for example, in Greek-inhabited southern Italy, where he seems
to have met philosophers and scientists belonging to the indigenous
“Pythagorean” philosophical school, some of whose ideas were taken up
in several of his own dialogues, most notably, perhaps, in the Phaedo. In
about 388 he visited Syracuse, in Sicily—the first of three visits to the
court of the “tyrants” Dionysius I and II during his thirty-odd-year-long
engagement in Syracusan politics. This involvement is reported on at length
in the Platonic Letters, included in this edition. At some point, presumably
in the ’eighties, Plato opened a school of higher education in the sacred
grove of Academus, in the Attic countryside near Athens, apparently offering formal instruction in mathematical, philosophical, and political studies.
He seems to have spent the rest of his life (except for the visits to Syracuse)
teaching, researching, and writing there. Under his leadership, the Academy became a major center of research and intellectual exchange, gathering
to itself philosophers and mathematicians from all over the Greek world.
Among its members was Aristotle, who came as a student in about 367
at the age of eighteen and remained there as teacher, researcher, and writer
himself, right up to the time of Plato’s death twenty years later.
I. The ‘Canon’ of Thrasyllus
These Complete Works make available a single collection of all the works
that have come down to us from antiquity under Plato’s name. We include
all the texts published in the early first century A.D. in what became the
definitive edition of Plato’s works, that by Thrasyllus, an astrologer and
Platonist philosopher from the Greek city of Alexandria, in Egypt.4 From
Thrasyllus’ edition derive all our medieval manuscripts of Plato—and so
almost all our own knowledge of his texts. Apparently following earlier
3. Several ‘lives’ of Plato have survived from antiquity, of which the earliest, that by
Diogenes Laertius (translated by R. D. Hicks, Cambridge, Mass.: Loeb Classical Library,
1925), dates perhaps from the third century A.D.
4. For the sake of completeness, we also print translations of the short poems (‘Epigrams’) that have come down to us from antiquity with Plato’s name attached.
precedent, Thrasyllus arranged the works of Plato (thirty-five dialogues,
plus a set of thirteen ‘Letters’ as a thirty-sixth entry) in nine ‘tetralogies’—
groups of four works each—reminiscent of the ancient tragedies, which
were presented in trilogies (such as the well-known Oresteia of Aeschylus)
followed by a fourth, so-called satyr play, preserving a link to the origins
of tragedy in rituals honoring the god Dionysus. In addition to these, he
included in an appendix a group of ‘spurious’ works, presumably ones
that had been circulating under Plato’s name, but that he judged were
later accretions. We follow Thrasyllus in our own presentation: first the
nine tetralogies, then the remaining works that he designated as spurious.5
With one exception, earlier translations into English of Plato’s collected
works have actually been only selections from this traditional material:6
usually they have omitted all the Thrasyllan ‘spurious’ works, plus a certain
number of others that were included in his tetralogies, since the editors
of the collections judged them not in fact Plato’s work. In their widely
used collection,7 Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns include none of
the ‘spuria’ and only twenty-nine of the thirty-six other works.8 From
Thrasyllus’ tetralogies they omit Alcibiades, Second Alcibiades, Hipparchus,
Rival Lovers, Theages, Clitophon, and Minos. Even if these dialogues are not
by Plato himself (and at least Clitophon and Alcibiades could very well be),
they are all valuable works, casting interesting light on Socrates and the
Socratic legacy. They also deserve attention as important documents in
the history of Platonism: it is worthy of note that teachers of Platonist
philosophy in later antiquity standardly organized their instruction
through lectures on ten ‘major’ dialogues, beginning with Alcibiades—
omitted by Hamilton and Cairns, presumably as not by Plato. The dialogues
classified by Thrasyllus as spurious also deserve attention, even though
in their case there are strong reasons for denying Plato’s authorship; and
the Definitions are a valuable record of work being done in Plato’s Academy
5. Since our manuscripts standardly present the thirty-six ‘tetralogical’ works in the
order that ancient evidence indicates was Thrasyllus’, it is reasonable to think that their
order for the spuria goes back to Thrasyllus’ edition too. We present these in the order
of our oldest manuscript that contains them, the famous ninth- or tenth-century Paris
manuscript of the complete works. (In some other manuscripts Axiochus is placed at the
front of the list, instead of the back.)
6. The only previous comparably complete translation (it does however omit one small
work of disputed authorship, the Halcyon, included here, and the Epigrams as well) is
The Works of Plato, edited by George Burges, in six volumes, for the Bohn Classical
Library, London: G. Bell and Sons, 1861–70. This is a ‘literal’ translation, not easy to
read or otherwise use.
7. The Collected Dialogues of Plato including the Letters, Bollingen Foundation (Princeton
University Press, 1961).
8. In its ten Plato volumes, the Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, various dates) does include translations (with facing Greek text) of all thirty-six
works in Thrasyllus’ tetralogies, but none of the ‘spuria’.
in his lifetime and the immediately following decades.9 (For further details
see the respective introductory notes to each of the translations.)
Especially given the often inevitably subjective character of judgments
about authenticity, it is inappropriate to allow a modern editor’s judgment
to determine what is included in a comprehensive collection of Plato’s
work. The only viable policy is the one followed here, to include the whole
corpus of materials handed down from antiquity. At the same time, it
should be frankly emphasized that this corpus—both the works it includes
as genuine and the text itself of the works—derives from the judgment of
one ancient scholar, Thrasyllus. His edition of Plato’s work, prepared
nearly four hundred years after Plato’s death, was derived from no doubt
differing texts of the dialogues (and Letters) in libraries and perhaps in
private hands, not at all from anything like a modern author’s ‘autograph’.
No doubt also, both in its arrangement and in decisions taken as to the
genuineness of items and the text to be inscribed, it may have reflected
the editor’s own understanding of Plato’s philosophy (perhaps a tendentious one) and his views on how it ought to be organized for teaching
purposes.10 So, since the present editor has exercised his own judgment
only to the extent of deciding to follow the edition of Thrasyllus, we are
thrown back on Thrasyllus’ judgment in the works included and in their
order and arrangement. Since Thrasyllus included all the genuine works
of Plato that any surviving ancient author refers to, plus some disputed
ones, we apparently have the good fortune to possess intact all of Plato’s
Thrasyllus’ order appears to be determined by no single criterion but by
several sometimes conflicting ones, though his arrangement may represent
some more or less unified idea about the order in which the dialogues
should be read and taught. For example, the first four works (Euthyphro,
Apology, Crito, Phaedo) manifestly follow internal evidence establishing a
chronological order for the events related in them—the ‘Last Days of
Socrates’. The conversation in Euthyphro is marked as taking place shortly
before Socrates’ trial; his speech at his trial is then given in the Apology,
while Crito presents a visit to Socrates in prison, three days before his
execution, which is the culminating event of the Phaedo. Somewhat similar
internal linkages explain the groups Republic-Timaeus-Critias and Theaetetus-Sophist-Statesman (although the conversation in Theaetetus seems to
present itself as taking place earlier on the same day as that of Euthyphro—
a key to grouping that Thrasyllus quite reasonably opted to ignore). But
topical and other, more superficial connections play a role as well. Clitophon
is placed before Republic, and Minos before Laws to serve as brief introduc9. In the table of contents works whose Platonic authorship has plausibly been questioned in antiquity or modern times are marked, either as ones which no one reasonably
thinks are by Plato or as ones as to which there is no consensus that they are by him.
10. For a somewhat speculative, rather alarmist, view of the extent of Thrasyllus’ editorial
work, see H. Tarrant, Thrasyllan Platonism (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993).
tions to the central themes of these two major works, justice and legislation
respectively, and the two Alcibiades dialogues are grouped together, as are
the Greater and Lesser Hippias. Even the presumed order of composition
seems responsible for the last tetralogy’s bringing the series to a conclusion
with Laws and its appendix Epinomis (followed by Letters): we have evidence that Laws was left unpublished at Plato’s death, presumably because
he had not finished working on it.
Most readers will have little need to attend to such details of Thrasyllus’
arrangement, but one point is important. Except for Laws, as just noted,
Thrasyllus’ tetralogies do not claim to present the dialogues in any supposed order of their composition by Plato. Indeed, given the enormous
bulk of Laws, different parts of it could well have been written before or
contemporaneously with other dialogues—so Thrasyllus’ order need not
indicate even there that Laws was the last work Plato composed. Thrasyllus’
lack of bias as regards the order of composition is one great advantage
that accrues to us in following his presentation of the dialogues. Previous
editors (for example, both Hamilton and Cairns and Benjamin Jowett11)
imposed their own view of the likely order of composition upon their
arrangement of the dialogues. But judgments about the order of composition are often as subjective as judgments about Platonic authorship itself.
In modern times, moreover, the chronology of composition has been a
perennial subject of scholarly debate, and sometimes violent disagreement,
in connection with efforts to establish the outline of Plato’s philosophical
‘development’, or the lack of any. We have solid scholarly arguments and
a consensus about some aspects of the chronology of Plato’s writings (I
return to this below), but this is much too slight a basis on which conscientiously to fix even an approximate ordering of all the dialogues. Speaking
11. The Dialogues of Plato (London: Macmillan, 1st ed. 1871, 3rd 1892; 4th ed., revised,
by D. J. Allan and H. E. Dale, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953, four vols.). Allan and Dale
claim explicitly that theirs is the approximate order of composition; Jowett left his own
order unexplained, but it is not very different from Allan and Dale’s. Of Thrasyllus’
thirty-six ‘genuine’ works Jowett1 prints twenty-seven dialogues (no Letters); Jowett3
adds a twenty-eighth (Second Alcibiades), plus one of Thrasyllus’ eight ‘spurious’ works
(Eryxias), both translated by his secretary Matthew Knight; Jowett4 shrinks back to twentyeight (adding Greater Hippias, translated by Allan and Dale themselves, but omitting
Second Alcibiades as nongenuine). The earliest comprehensive English translation, that
of Thomas Taylor (except that F. Sydenham is credited with the translation of nine
dialogues) (London, 1804, five vols.) is organized on a fanciful ‘systematic’ basis, in
which the dialogues judged by him to establish the ‘comprehensive’ Platonic views
respectively in ethics and politics and in natural philosophy and metaphysics come first,
followed by the various more ‘partial’ treatments of specific questions. The title page
to each of Taylor’s five volumes claims to present ‘[Plato’s] Fifty-five Dialogues and
Twelve Epistles’, a surprising way of referring to the thirty-five Thrasyllan ‘genuine’
dialogues that the collection actually contains (he omits the thirteenth Letter as obviously
spurious): presumably he counts each book of Republic and Laws as a separate ‘dialogue’,
in which case the total is indeed fifty-five.
generally, issues of chronology should be left to readers to pursue or not,
as they see fit, and it would be wrong to bias the presentation of Plato’s
works in a translation intended for general use by imposing on it one’s
own favorite chronological hypotheses. Thrasyllus’ order does not do that,
and it has the additional advantage of being for us the traditional one,
common ground for all contemporary interpreters.12 Such interpretative
biases as it may contain do not concern any writer nowadays, so it can
reasonably be considered a neutral basis on which to present these works
to contemporary readers.
II. Chronological vs. Thematic Groupings of the
In teaching and writing about Plato, it is almost customary nowadays (in
my view unfortunately so: see below) to divide the dialogues into groups
on the basis of a presumed rough order of their composition: People
constantly speak of Plato’s ‘early’, ‘middle’ (or ‘middle-period’), and ‘late’
dialogues—though there is no perfect unanimity as to the membership of
the three groups, and finer distinctions are sometimes marked, of ‘earlymiddle’ dialogues or ‘transitional’ ones at either end of the intermediate
group.13 Although this terminology announces itself as marking chronologically distinct groups, it is in reality based only in small part on anything
like hard facts about when Plato composed given dialogues. (For these facts,
see the next paragraph.) For the most part, the terminology encapsulates a
certain interpretative thesis about the evolving character of Plato’s authorship, linked to the development of his philosophical thought. This authorship began, it is assumed, sometime after 399 B.C., the year of Socrates’
death, and continued until his own death some fifty years later. According
to this thesis, Plato began as the author of dialogues setting forth his
‘teacher’ conversing much as we presume he typically actually did when
discussing his favorite philosophical topics—morality, virtue, the best human life—with the young men who congregated round him and other
intellectuals in Athens, where he spent his entire life. These, then, would
constitute the ‘early’ dialogues, sometimes also thematically described as
the ‘Socratic’ dialogues; they are all relatively short works. Only gradually,
on this view, did Plato grow into a fully independent philosopher, with
new ideas and interests of his own, as outgrowths from and supplements
to his ‘Socratic heritage’. In his writings presumed to postdate the founding
of the Academy, we see new ideas and interests first and primarily in the
12. Modern editions of Plato in Greek (for example, that of J. Burnet in the Oxford
Classical Texts series of Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1900–1907, in five volumes: a revised
edition is underway) regularly present the Thrasyllan corpus in Thrasyllus’ order.
13. For one influential version of this division, see G. Vlastos, Socrates: Ironist and Moral
Philosopher (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 46–47.
introduction of his celebrated theory of ‘Forms’—eternal, nonphysical,
quintessentially unitary entities, knowledge of which is attainable by abstract and theoretical thought, standing immutably in the nature of things
as standards on which the physical world and the world of moral relationships among human beings are themselves grounded. This happens in the
‘middle’ dialogues: Symposium, Phaedo, and Republic, most notably—much
longer and philosophically more challenging works. The ‘middle’ dialogues are usually construed to include also Parmenides, with its critical
reflections on the theory of Forms, and Theaetetus. Finally—still according
to this interpretative thesis—the ‘late’ period comprises a new series of
investigations into logic, metaphysics, the philosophy of physics, and ethics
and political theory, from which these ‘Forms’ either are absent altogether
or else at least the principal theoretical work is accomplished without
direct and simple appeal to their authoritative status. These include Timaeus, Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, and Laws. Along with these philosophical developments, Plato’s manner of writing dialogues was evolving, too.
In the ‘middle’ dialogues, where Socrates continues to be the principal
speaker, he is no longer limited to questioning and commenting upon the
views of his fellow discussants, as in the ‘early’ dialogues, but branches
out into the development of elaborate, positive philosophical theses of his
own. In the ‘late’ dialogues, however (with the understandable exception
of Philebus—see the introductory note to that work), Socrates ceases altogether to be an active participant in the discussion. Moreover, the conversation takes on the character of a dogmatic exposition of doctrine by the
main speaker to an audience. One of these may play virtually the sole role
of nodding assent from time to time or requesting further explanations,
so as to register acceptance and provide an easy means of noting and
dividing—and highlighting the importance of—the principal topics as they
Now, in its broad outlines, such a division of Plato’s works into three
chronological periods could be correct—the interpretative thesis, or rather
theses, on which it rests do have some plausibility, though they are obviously not compelling. But in fact we have really only two bits of reliable,
hard information about the chronology of Plato’s writings. One of these I
have already mentioned: Laws was left unpublished at Plato’s death. The
other derives from the fact that Theaetetus seems to present itself as a
memorial honoring its namesake, a famous mathematician and longtime
associate of Plato’s in his Academy, who died an untimely death in 369
B.C.: that seems to date the dialogue to about 369–365 or so. Since internal
evidence links Theaetetus to Sophist and Statesman as its two successors,
that would suggest (though of course it does not prove) that those three
dialogues were written in that order, after about 367—therefore in the
last two decades of Plato’s life, his sixties and seventies. Useful as that
information may be, it is obviously not sufficient basis for fixing any
complete chronological guide to the reading and teaching of the dialogues.
As for Laws, however, it began to be noticed already in the nineteenth
century that its sentences are characterized by the frequency and constancy
of a number of stylistic features that it shares with only a few other
dialogues: the four that I listed above as ‘late’—Timaeus, Sophist, Statesman,
Philebus—plus Critias. On the obviously not perfectly secure assumption
that, at least cumulatively, such stylistic affiliation, setting these works off
strongly from all the others, must fix a chronological grouping, exhaustive
‘stylometric’ investigations have led to a consensus in favor of adding
these five works to Laws—independently known to be a late composition—
as constituting Plato’s last period.14 Thus one might claim substantial hard
evidence in favor at least of recognizing these six works (plus Epinomis,
if it is by Plato) as constituting a separate, late group. But stylometry does
not strongly support any particular order among the six, nor can it establish
any particular ordering of the remaining dialogues among themselves—
though some do claim that it establishes a second group of four dialogues
as the latest of the nonlate group: Republic, Parmenides, Theaetetus, and
Phaedrus in some undetermined order. So, even if we accept the somewhat
insecure assumption noted just above, no hard data support the customary
division of the dialogues into chronological groups, except with respect to
the last of the three—the ‘late’ dialogues Timaeus, Critias, Sophist, Statesman,
Philebus, and Laws. The classifications of ‘early’ and ‘middle-period’ dialogues rest squarely on the interpretative theses concerning the progress
of Plato’s work, philosophically and literarily, outlined above. As such,
they are an unsuitable basis for bringing anyone to the reading of these
works. To use them in that way is to announce in advance the results of
a certain interpretation of the dialogues and to canonize that interpretation
under the guise of a presumably objective order of composition—when
in fact no such order is objectively known. And it thereby risks prejudicing
an unwary reader against the fresh, individual reading that these works
For these reasons, I urge readers not to undertake the study of Plato’s
works holding in mind the customary chronological groupings of ‘early’,
‘middle’, and ‘late’ dialogues. It is safe to recognize only the group of
six late dialogues. Even for these, it is better to relegate thoughts about
chronology to the secondary position they deserve and to concentrate on
the literary and philosophical content of the works, taken on their own
and in relation to the others. In some cases it may indeed seem desirable
to begin with a preliminary idea about the place of a given dialogue in
the series (Gorgias and Protagoras earlier than Republic, say, or Theaetetus
before Sophist, or Symposium before Phaedo). Certainly, a study of such sets
of dialogues might lead one to argue that the philosophical ideas they
contain show an evolution in some particular direction. But chronological
hypotheses must not preclude the independent interpretation and evalua14. For a survey of these investigations and references to recent and older stylometric
studies of Plato, see Charles M. Young, ‘Plato and Computer Dating’ in Oxford Studies
in Ancient Philosophy, XII, ed. C. C. W. Taylor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp. 227–50.
tion of the philosophical arguments the dialogues contain; so far as possible,
the individual texts must be allowed to speak for themselves. However,
in reading the dialogues, it may help to be aware from the outset of
certain thematic groupings among them. In our introductory notes to the
individual works, we inform readers about such links from the work in
question to others and provide other information that may help in placing
the work in the proper context within Plato’s writings and in the Athens
of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. One very large group of dialogues
can usefully be identified here. These are what we may call the Socratic
dialogues—provided that the term is understood to make no chronological
claims, but rather simply to indicate certain broad thematic affinities. In
these works, not only is Socrates the principal speaker, but also the topics
and manner of the conversation conform to what we have reason to think,
both from Plato’s own representations in the Apology and from other contemporary literary evidence, principally that of the writer Xenophon,15 was
characteristic of the historical Socrates’ own philosophical conversations.
Included here are fully twenty of the thirty-six works in Thrasyllus’ tetralogies and (allowance made for their post-Platonic authorship) all seven of
the dialogues that he classified as spurious: from the tetralogies, Euthyphro,
Apology, Crito, Alcibiades, Second Alcibiades, Hipparchus, Rival Lovers, Theages,
Charmides, Laches, Lysis, Euthydemus, Protagoras, Gorgias, Greater and Lesser
Hippias, Ion, Menexenus, Clitophon, and Minos.
One can think of these works, in part, as presenting a portrait of Socrates—Socrates teaching young men by challenging them to examine critically their own ideas, Socrates as moral exemplar and supreme philosophical dialectician, Socrates seeking after moral knowledge, while always
disclaiming the final possession of any, through subjecting his own and
others’ ideas to searching rational scrutiny. But just as there is no reason
to think that these dialogues are or derive in any way from records of
actual conversations of the historical Socrates, so there is also no reason
to suppose that in writing them16 Plato intended simply to reconstruct
from memory actual arguments, philosophical distinctions, etc., that Socrates had used, or views that he had become persuaded of through his
lifelong practice of philosophical dialectic. To be sure, one evident feature
of these dialogues is that in them Socrates does philosophize in the way
the historical Socrates, according to the rest of our evidence, did. He seeks
the opinions of his interlocutors on moral, political, and social questions
15. Xenophon’s Socratic writings include his own Apology, a Symposium, and four books
of Memoirs of Socrates (often referred to by its Latin title, Memorabilia); these are translated
by H. Tredennick and R. Waterfield (Penguin Books, 1990), and are available in Greek
and English in the Loeb Classical Library series (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, various dates).
16. That is, the ones he did write: there are reasonable doubts as to the Platonic origins
of several of the dialogues included in the tetralogies, and a few are generally held not
to be his work.
and subjects them to searching critical examination. It is true that, in some
of them, such as Gorgias, he also comes forward with distinctive moral
and political ideas of his own, to which he attempts to show his interlocutors, despite their overt denials, are logically committed since these ideas
follow from propositions that the other speakers have themselves granted.
But, by contrast with dialogues such as Phaedo and Republic, he does not
engage here in elaborate positive philosophical construction, putting forward ambitious philosophical theses of his own and offering independent
philosophical argument and other considerations in their favor. In particular, Socrates says nothing about the theory of Forms. That is a sign that
in these dialogues Plato intends not to depart, as he does elsewhere, from
Socratic methods of reasoning or from the topics to which Socrates devoted
his attention, and no doubt he carries over into these portraits much of the
substance of Socrates’ own philosophizing, as Plato himself understood it.
But Plato was not the only or even the first of Socrates’ companions to
write Socratic dialogues. Though, with the exception of Xenophon’s, no
other such dialogues have survived complete, we know enough about the
contents of some of them to be sure that no convention of the genre forbade
the author to write freely and from his own head about philosophical and
other matters that interested him. Indeed, quite to the contrary, as we can
see from Xenophon’s dialogue Oeconomicus, in which Socrates discourses
knowledgeably and at great length about estate management, a subject
we have good reason to think he never knew or cared anything about—
though Xenophon himself certainly did. So we have good reason to expect
that at least some of what Plato makes Socrates say in his Socratic dialogues
expresses new ideas developed in his own philosophical reflections, not
mere elaborations of historically Socratic thoughts. This is perhaps particularly clearly the case, though in different ways, in Charmides, Lysis, Euthydemus, and Gorgias, but it is an open possibility in them all, to be decided
in the light of a full interpretation of their contents, in relation to that of
other dialogues. It is worth saying again that classifying these along with
the rest as Socratic dialogues carries no implication whatsoever of an
early date of composition or an early stage of the author’s philosophical
development. As I am using the term, it is a thematic classification only.
We know no reason to conclude that Plato wrote dialogues of this genre
during only one phase of his career as an author, whether early or late.
Though it is reasonable to suppose that Plato’s earliest writings were in
fact Socratic dialogues, there is no reason to suppose that, just because a
dialogue is a Socratic one, it must have been written before all the dialogues
of other types—except, of course, that if we were right to accept a special
group of late dialogues, the Socratic dialogues must predate all of these.
The decision about the relative chronology of any of these dialogues, if
one wishes to reach a decision on that secondary question at all, must be
reached only after a careful and complete study of their philosophical
content, in comparison with the contents of Plato’s other works.
There are eight dialogues other than the Socratic and the late dialogues:
Phaedo, Cratylus, Theaetetus, Parmenides, Symposium, Phaedrus, Meno, and
Republic. It is not easy to identify a common theme unifying this whole
group. As it happens, however, they correspond closely to the putative
classification of ‘middle-period’ dialogues. In these Socrates remains a
principal speaker, although in Parmenides not Socrates but Parmenides sets
and directs the philosophical agenda. As noted above, these stand apart
from the Socratic dialogues in that here Socrates takes and argues directly
for ambitious, positive philosophical positions of his own. However, those
considerations do not set them cleanly apart from the late dialogues as a
whole, since Socrates is the main speaker again in Philebus, and he appears
in the introductory conversations of Timaeus and Critias, more briefly in
those of Sophist and Statesman, and those dialogues are just as philosophically ambitious, even if in somewhat different ways. In all but two of the
dialogues of this group (Theaetetus and Meno), the Platonic theory of Forms
plays a prominent and crucial role: Indeed, it is these dialogues that establish and define the ‘classical’ theory of Forms, as that has been understood
by later generations of philosophers. Were it not for Theaetetus and Meno,
one might be tempted to classify this group simply as the ‘Classical Theory
of Forms’ dialogues. On the other hand, Phaedrus, despite Socrates’ use of
the classical theory in his second speech on erōs, foreshadows the revised
conception of a Form as some sort of divided whole—no longer a simple
unity—known about by the method of ‘collection and division’ that the
late dialogues Sophist, Statesman, and Philebus set out and employ at length.
And it seems that one important lesson Parmenides wishes to teach Socrates
in the Parmenides also goes in the same direction. Moreover, Theaetetus is
marked by Plato as some sort of successor to Parmenides and predecessor
of Sophist and Statesman. (See the introductory notes to these dialogues.)
Thus Phaedrus, Parmenides, and Theaetetus all have clear forward connections to the late dialogues.
For all these reasons, it would be a mistake to claim any unifying single
common theme for this group. At the most, one could say that this group
develops the positive philosophical theories in ethics and politics and in
metaphysics and theory of knowledge that we normally associate with
Plato, centering on the classical theory of Forms, while including several
dialogues which point forward to the innovations worked out in the late
group. Accordingly, no thematic name for the group seems available,
and we must make do simply by referring to a ‘second’ group of Plato’s
dialogues, alongside the Socratic works, both groups to be placed chronologically before the late dialogues. As before, this classification must be
understood as having no chronological implications whatsoever of its own,
as regards their relationship to the Socratic dialogues. Any decision as to
relative dates of composition, either within the second group itself or with
respect to the various members of the Socratic group, must be reached
only after comparative study of the philosophical contents of the individual
dialogues themselves. While one might reasonably suppose that, in general,
the dialogues of the second group were written later than the Socratic
group, it is not safe to rule out some chronological overlapping in composition.
III. Plato and the Dialogue Form
Why did Plato write dialogues? What does it mean for the reader of
his works that they take this form? Philosophers of earlier generations
expounded their views and developed their arguments either in the meters
of epic poetry (Xenophanes, Parmenides, Empedocles, for example), or in
short prose writings or collections of remarks (Anaximander, Heraclitus,
Anaxagoras, Philolaus, Democritus), or in rhetorical display pieces (the
Sophists Gorgias, Protagoras, and Prodicus). Socrates himself, of course,
was not a writer at all but engaged in philosophy only orally, in face-toface question-and-answer discussions. It is clear that the dialogue form for
philosophical writing began within the circle of those for whom philosophy
meant in the first instance the sort of inquiry Socrates was engaged in. I
mentioned above that Plato was not the first or only Socratic to write
philosophical dialogues, but he certainly elaborated and expanded the
genre far beyond what anyone else ever attempted. He not only wrote
Socratic dialogues, as we have seen, but he developed the genre also to
the point where, eventually, Socrates dropped out of the cast of characters
altogether—in the magnum opus of his old age, the Laws. Plato’s younger
associate Aristotle also wrote dialogues (all of which have perished), as
well as the lectures and treatises that we know him for, but, significantly,
they seem not to have had Socrates among their characters:17 Socrates had
been dead for fifteen years at Aristotle’s birth, and he could not have had
the personal attachment to him as a philosophical model that Plato and
the others in the first generation of dialogue writers obviously did.18 But,
as already with Aristotle, the medium of choice for later philosophers—
Theophrastus and other Peripatetics, Epicurus and his followers, the Stoic
philosophers, Sextus Empiricus, late Platonists—was the prose discourse
or treatise (sometimes a commentary on a work of Plato’s or Aristotle’s
or some other ‘ancient’ philosopher).19 There, the author spoke directly to
his readers in his own voice. The close association of the dialogue form
with the Socratic conception of philosophy as face-to-face discussion is
17. According to Cicero (Letters to Atticus XIII xix 4), Aristotle appeared as the main
speaker in his own dialogues.
18. At least one other Academic of Aristotle’s generation, Plato’s nephew and successor
as head of the school, Speusippus, also wrote dialogues, along with philosophical works
of other genres. We know nothing substantial about them.
19. Epicurus also seems to have written at least one dialogue, and there is evidence of
dialogues written by some Peripatetics.
borne out in the principal exception to this rule, the Latin philosophical
works of Cicero (first century B.C.): the plurality of voices and the author’s
capacity to stand back from and question what these voices say made the
dialogue format suit perfectly a nondogmatic or ‘skeptical’ Platonist like
Cicero. (On ‘skeptical’ Platonism, see further below.)
It was characteristic of philosophy before Socrates and Plato that philosophers usually put themselves forward as possessors of special insight and
wisdom: they had the truth, and everyone else should just listen to them
and learn. Thus Parmenides’ poem tells how he was brought in a chariot
to a goddess at the borders of night and day—the very center of the truth—
and then sets out that truth and the arguments on which it rests, while
also revealing the errors of everyone else’s ways. Similarly Heraclitus, in
his prose book, claims to have discovered in one big thought—essentially,
the unity of opposites—the key to all reality, and he excoriates other
thinkers—several by name—as having missed it by wasting their time
learning up all sorts of arcane details. These philosophers hoped and
expected to win fame for themselves personally, as the authors (among
humans) of their own ‘truth’. The genres in which they wrote suited this
intellectual stance and these authorial ambitions perfectly: they could speak
directly to their readers, as the authors of the poetry or prose in which
they were handing down the truth.
Socrates was a totally new kind of Greek philosopher. He denied that he
had discovered some new wisdom, indeed that he possessed any wisdom at
all, and he refused to hand anything down to anyone as his personal
‘truth’, his claim to fame. All that he knew, humbly, was how to reason
and reflect, how to improve himself and (if they would follow him in
behaving the same way) help others to improve themselves, by doing his
best to make his own moral, practical opinions, and his life itself, rest on
appropriately tested and examined reasons—not on social authority or the
say-so of esteemed poets (or philosophers) or custom or any other kind
of intellectual laziness. At the same time, he made this self-improvement
and the search for truth in which it consisted a common, joint effort,
undertaken in discussion together with similarly committed other persons—even if it sometimes took on a rather combative aspect. The truth,
if achieved, would be a truth attained by and for all who would take the
trouble to think through on their own the steps leading to it: it could
never be a personal ‘revelation’ for which any individual could claim
In writing Socratic dialogues and, eventually, dialogues of other types,
Plato was following Socrates in rejecting the earlier idea of the philosopher
as wise man who hands down the truth to other mortals for their grateful
acceptance and resulting fame for himself. It is important to realize that
whatever is stated in his works is stated by one or another of his characters,
not directly by Plato the author; in his writings he is not presenting his
‘truth’ and himself as its possessor, and he is not seeking glory for having
it. If there is new wisdom and ultimate truth in his works, this is not
served up on a plate. Plato does not formulate his own special ‘truth’ for
his readers, for them to learn and accept. You must work hard even to
find out what the author of a Platonic dialogue is saying to the reader—
it is in the writing as a whole that the author speaks, not in the words of
any single speaker—and the dialogue form demands that you think for
yourself in deciding what, if anything, in it or suggested by it is really the
truth. So you have to read and think about what each speaker says to the
others (and also, sometimes, what he does not say), notice what may need
further defense than is actually given it, and attend to the author’s manner
in presenting each character, and the separate speeches, for indications of
points on which the author thinks some further thought is required. And,
beyond that, you must think for yourself, reasoning on the basis of the
text, to see whether or not there really are adequate grounds in support
of what it may appear to you the text as a whole is saying. In all this,
Plato is being faithful to Socrates’ example: the truth must be arrived at
by each of us for ourselves, in a cooperative search, and Plato is only
inviting others to do their own intellectual work, in cooperation with him,
in thinking through the issues that he is addressing.
One might attend here to what Plato has Socrates say at the end of
Phaedrus about written discourses. Socrates is speaking in the first instance
of speeches written for oral delivery, but he applies his remarks to all
writing on political or other serious philosophical subjects. Actual knowledge of the truth on any of these matters requires a constant capacity to
express and re-express it in relation to varying circumstances and needs
and in response to new questions or challenges that may arise. Knowledge
is a limitless ability to interpret and reinterpret itself—it cannot be set
down exhaustively in any single set of formulas, for universal, once-forall use. Accordingly, no book can actually embody the knowledge of anything of philosophical importance; only a mind can do that, since only a
mind can have this capacity to interpret and reinterpret its own understandings. A book must keep on saying the same words to whoever picks
it up. Most books—perhaps those of Parmenides and some other early
philosophers among them—attempt the impossible task of telling the
reader the truth, with the vain idea that, through putting their words into
their heads, they will come to possess knowledge of it.20 Plato’s dialogues
are writings—books—too; like all books, once written, their words are
20. Letter VII (341c–d, 344c–e) speaks rather similarly about philosophical writings,
emphasizing the impossibility of writing down the content of any state of mind that might
constitute true knowledge of philosophical truth. Letter II (314b–c) limits itself to a
very different, much less interesting, complaint about such writing—and recommends
a remedy that actually contradicts the main idea here: it will inevitably fall into the
wrong hands, so that any sensible philosopher will have his pupils commit his oral
teaching to memory instead of writing down on paper the words to be memorized!
In both Letters the author (whether Plato or someone impersonating him) gives these
considerations as Plato’s reasons for never having written a philosophical treatise.
fixed for all time and all readers. But because they demand that the reader
interpret and reinterpret the meaning of what is said, going ever deeper
in their own questioning and their own understanding both of the writings
themselves and of the truth about the subjects addressed in them, these
writings speak in a unique new way to the reader. It may remain true that
only a mind, and no book, can contain the knowledge of anything important. But a Platonic dialogue makes a unique claim to do what a book can
do to engage a person effectively in the right sort of search for truth.
IV. Reading Plato
Despite this inherent open-endedness and the fact that Plato speaks only
through the writing as a whole, all Plato’s dialogues do have a principal
speaker, one who establishes the topic of discussion and presides over it.
In the Socratic works and the second group of dialogues, with the exception
of Parmenides, this is Socrates. In the late dialogues, except Philebus, where
Socrates reappears to discuss the nature of the human good, it is the
anonymous visitor from Elea, in Sophist and Statesman, or the equally
anonymous Athenian of Laws and Epinomis, or else Timaeus or Critias, in
the dialogues named after them. In each dialogue Plato focuses the reader’s
attention on what the principal speaker says. Indeed, in the late dialogues,
though again Philebus is something of an exception, the other speakers put
up so little opposition and their comments introduce into the proceedings
so little of the sort of fertile nuance that one finds in the other dialogues,
that for long stretches there is little else that could claim the reader’s
attention at all. In fact, the substance of Timaeus and Critias is contained
in uninterrupted discourses that the main speaker delivers to the others
present, with no indication even at the end of how they received it: there
is no return to the conversational context in which it was originally introduced. Can one not take these principal speakers as Plato’s mouthpieces,
handing straight out as their own opinions what Plato himself believed
at the time he wrote and what he wished his readers to understand as
such—both as the truth and as what Plato thought was the truth?
If what I have said about the dialogue form and Plato’s commitment to
it—right to the end of his writer’s career—is correct, the strict answer to
this question must be in the negative, in all cases. However much his
principal speakers really do, in some way, speak on his behalf, he must
also, in some way, be holding back from arguing and asserting personally
the things that he has any of them say. What, then, are we to make of Plato’s
relation to what they do say? Each dialogue has to be read individually, but
the three different groups—the Socratic dialogues, the second group, and
the late dialogues—plainly do place the author in different sorts of relationship to his main speaker. Without going into the individual differences,
here is some general orientation on the author’s relationships to the leading
speakers in each of the three groups.
First, there is a matter of literary form that applies to all the dialogues.
As I have emphasized, Plato never speaks in his own author’s voice but
puts all his words into a particular speaker’s mouth. This means that,
although everything any speaker says is Plato’s creation, he also stands
before it all as the reader does: he puts before us, the readers, and before
himself as well, ideas, arguments, theories, claims, etc. for all of us to
examine carefully, reflect on, follow out the implications of—in sum, to
use as a springboard for our own further philosophical thought. Authors
writing in their own voices can, of course, do the same: they do not always
have to be straightforwardly advocating the positions they develop and
argue for, though that is what Greek authors usually did, and with passionate self-promotion. But they must take special steps to make the reader
aware that that is what they are doing, for example by saying it in so
many words. In his dialogues, Plato adopts that stance automatically.21
However much he may himself believe everything that, say, the Athenian
visitor puts forward in Laws X about the existence of the gods and the
importance for human life of accepting their providential relationship to
us and the physical world, he stands to it, even though he is its author,
as his readers also stand. To finally understand all this as the truth requires
further work—one must sift and develop and elevate the thoughts expressed there into the kind of self-sufficient, self-interpreting total grasp
that I referred to above in drawing on what Phaedrus says about writing.
Certainly, we should not think that Plato had already attained that Elysian
condition and was writing from its perspective through the Athenian’s
mouth. Much less should we think that he was pretending to himself or
to his readers that he had attained it. That would be a malicious and
unprincipled abuse of the very dialogue form that Plato was so obviously
determined to uphold. So even in the late dialogues, where, as noted, there
is often little else before us but the arguments of the principal speaker,
Plato stands back—everything needs further thought; what we have before
us is partial and provisional at best, however decisive it might be about
particular points under discussion.
In the dialogues of the second group, the role of the interlocutors is
much more substantial, and the main speaker himself, usually Socrates,
expresses more reservations, more caution and tentativeness, about what
he is putting forward. Accordingly, even though readers always and understandably speak of the theories adumbrated by Socrates here as ‘Plato’s
theories’, one ought not to speak of them so without some compunction—
the writing itself, and also Plato the author, present these always in a
spirit of open-ended exploration, and sometimes there are contextual clues
21. I should emphasize that I am speaking here simply of Plato’s handling of the dialogue
form. Another author (perhaps Berkeley in his Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous
is one of these) might use the form simply for expository convenience, making it clear
that he is using one of the speakers to present his own ideas and arguments and using
the others as a means of countering certain sorts of resistance to them.
indicating that Socrates exaggerates or goes beyond what the argument
truly justifies, and so on. Finally, in the Socratic dialogues, all these cautionary points hold good, and others too. To the extent that Plato is providing
a portrait of his friend Socrates, it is only common sense not to assume
that Plato accepts as valid everything philosophical that he makes Socrates
say. Even beyond that, and however much one knows Plato admired
Socrates and, indeed, regarded him as the very model of how a philosopher
should live, one should remain open to the possibility that a Socratic
dialogue, when read fully and properly, may actually indicate some criticisms and point to some shortcomings of positions or methods of argument
that it attributes to Socrates. Here one might especially mention Gorgias
and Protagoras as dialogues that may demand interpretation along those
lines, but the same applies in principle to all the Socratic dialogues.
Reading a Platonic dialogue in the spirit in which it was written is
therefore a dauntingly complex task. It is in the entire writing that the
author speaks to us, not in the remarks made by the individual speakers.
To find out what the writing itself is saying—equivalently, what Plato is
saying as its author—one must work constantly to question everything that
any speaker says, to ask what reasons he may have or what reasons might
be provided to support it and what might tend to speak against it; one
must never simply take, as if on Plato’s authority, a claim made by any
speaker as one that, from the perspective of the dialogue as a whole,
constitutes an established philosophical truth—certainly not in the form
in which it is stated and not without qualification, expansion, taking into
account wider perspectives, and so on. Especially in the Socratic dialogues
and those of the second group, one must be alert to contextual indicators
of all sorts—the particular way in which an interlocutor agrees to or
dissents from something, the more or less explicit characterization provided
and other indicators about the personal qualities and commitments of
the speakers, as well as hesitations and reservations and qualifications
expressed by one or another of them.
Those, then, are my own suggestions about the significance of the dialogue form in Plato’s writings. The dialogues have not always been read
in the way I have suggested, and not all scholars today share this approach
to them: many would not hesitate simply to identify the positions and
arguments stated or suggested by Socrates, or whoever the principal
speaker is in any given dialogue, as those of the author at the time of
composition. Already in antiquity Aristotle usually treats them in that
‘dogmatic’ way, except for the Socratic dialogues, which he seems to have
taken as depicting (equally ‘dogmatically’) the historical Socrates’ philosophy. However, in Plato’s own Academy, beginning only a couple of generations after Aristotle’s death, the dialogues were read differently. They were
taken to express a skeptical philosophy, one that raises questions about
everything, examining the reasons pro and con on each issue, but always
holds back from asserting anything as definitely established, as known to
be the case. This reading works best, of course, for the Socratic dialogues,
in which Socrates makes much of the fact that he does not actually know
anything himself and can only examine and criticize the well-groundedness
of other people’s opinions who think that they do. But Arcesilaus (third
century B.C.), one of Plato’s successors as head of the Academy, who first
adopted such a skeptical mode of philosophizing and defended it as genuinely Platonic, is reported to have owned a complete set of Plato’s writings—apparently that was an unusual thing in those days—so apparently
he studied them all. And indeed, even the last of Plato’s works can sustain
the skeptical reading if one takes account of the fact that, formally at least,
as I have emphasized myself, Plato never speaks in his own person when
any of his characters does: even a main character like the Athenian in Laws
or the visitor from Elea, who does not hesitate to speak dogmatically
himself, as if he had full possession of the truth on the matters he discourses
upon, can still be read as putting something forward that Plato the author is
presenting merely for examination and criticism. This ‘skeptical’ Platonism
held the field in the Academy for the best part of two centuries, until
Antiochus of Ascalon early in the first century B.C. refused any longer to
accept the skeptical interpretation of Plato’s own dialogues.
After Antiochus, Plato was interpreted again, in the way Aristotle and
his contemporaries had understood him, as a systematic philosopher with
a whole system of doctrine, both about human life and about metaphysical
and scientific principles for interpreting and relating to one another all the
facts of experience. This system could be found expounded and argued
for especially in the dialogues of the second and the late groups—one just
had to take each dialogue’s main character as Plato’s mouthpiece. In Roman
imperial times, this dogmatic interpretation was expanded and consolidated, as Platonist philosophers came to regard Plato’s writings as the
repository of the ultimate and permanent highest truths about the universe—the equivalent for rationalist pagans of the Jews’ Books of Moses
or the Christians’ Gospels. For them, Plato himself had gained a complete
and totally adequate insight into the nature and structure of the world
and of the divine principles upon which it is organized. All that anyone
need do is to read the dialogues correctly in order to discover the truth
about every important question of philosophy. It is as if, for Plotinus
and the other Platonists of late antiquity (the ones we usually refer to as
‘Neoplatonists’), Plato was speaking to us in his writings in the same way
that Parmenides or Heraclitus had done, as possessor of his own ‘truth’—
the real truth—handing that down to other mortals in his own somewhat
cryptic way, in dialogues. It is quite an irony that, in treating Plato thus
as a superwise authority on all philosophical subjects, himself in direct
intellectual touch with the highest and most divine principles on which
the universe depends, these late Platonists set Plato upon the pedestal of
wisdom, traditional among earlier philosophers, the very pedestal that, if
I am right, his own commitment to the dialogue form for his writings was
intended to renounce.
My suggested approach to the reading of Plato pays full respect to
this renunciation. But—with the reservations already noted about Plato’s
openness and experimental spirit—it also accepts the overwhelming impression, not just of Antiochus, but of every modern reader of at least
many of his dialogues, that Platonism nonetheless constitutes a systematic
body of ‘philosophical doctrine’—about the soul and its immortality; the
nature of human happiness and its dependence on the perfection of mind
and character that comes through the virtues of wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage; the eternal and unaltering Forms whose natures structure our physical world and the world of decent human relations within
it; the nature of love and the subservience of love in its genuine form to
a vision of that eternal realm. These and many other substantive philosophical ideas to be explored in Plato’s dialogues are his permanent contribution
to our Western philosophical culture. But we would fail to heed his own
warnings if we did not explore these in a spirit of open-ended inquiry,
seeking to expand and deepen our own understandings as we interrogate
his texts, and ourselves through them.
V. The Translations
Hackett Publishing Company began bringing out the works of Plato in
modern, readable English translations in 1974, with G.M.A. Grube’s Republic. By 1980 I was advising first William Hackett and then James Hullett,
his successor, in the commissioning of, and providing editorial oversight
over, the new translations that the company published during the next
decade and a half, looking toward an eventual Complete Works. In 1991
D. S. Hutchinson joined the project. In completing the process we now
add to the twenty dialogues already published twenty new works commissioned specially for this volume, taking over five additional translations
from other sources (two of them extensively revised by the translators for
In overseeing the preparation of the translations, I have had constantly
in mind two principal objectives, not often combined, that I was convinced
could be achieved simultaneously. First, I wanted them to be as correct
as was humanly possible. Taking Plato’s to be first and foremost works
of philosophy, for me that meant not just that the meaning of the Greek
sentences should be correctly grasped and rendered, with any significant,
genuine alternative renderings indicated, but, equally important, that everything establishing the flow and connection of philosophical ideas in the
Greek be somehow preserved in the English. Variances and continuities
in philosophically significant terminology within a single work should so
far as possible be preserved or otherwise indicated in the translation.
Where logical relationships are precisely defined in the Greek, they have
to be rendered equally precisely in the English. And so on. Many older
translations, smooth-reading though they sometimes are, fail signally in
these crucial respects. On the other hand, I saw no need, in the name
of ‘philosophical accuracy’, to introduce indiscriminately neologisms and
technical language and to resort to other odd and unnatural terminology
or turns of phrase or to torture normal English syntax and patterns of
prose composition. Plato’s Greek is straightforward and elegant, most of
the time, though in order to express novel and complex theoretical ideas,
it must sometimes strain the powers of ordinary language.
The aim should be to find a way, while adhering to normal English
word order and sentence construction, to say as precisely as possible, in
ordinary English—where necessary, ordinary philosophical English—just
what an educated contemporary of Plato’s would have taken the Greek
being translated to be saying. It is neither necessary nor appropriate to
produce ‘English’ encrusted with esoteric code-formations that no one
could make good use of except by consulting the Greek text. Hence, we
have to reject the ideal some recent translators of Greek philosophy into
English have held aloft, to produce a version as ‘close’ to the Greek text
in syntax, word order, and terminology as were the medieval Latin Aristotle
translations of William of Moerbeke. For one thing, Latin grammar and
normal sentence construction are vastly closer to the Greek than our contemporary English has any chance of being. And, in any case, the scholastic
study of Aristotle that Moerbeke’s translations were intended to facilitate
is nothing we should wish ourselves or our students to emulate in reading
Plato (or, for that matter, Aristotle, either). When we English-speaking
readers turn to Plato’s texts, we want to find a Plato who speaks in English—our English—and communicates to us as accurately as possible all
the details of his thought and artistry. I know that these translations achieve
this aim in varying degrees and no doubt none of them as fully as one
might realistically wish. But I hope they will be found a durable basis on
which both general readers and students can rely in carrying forward into
the new millennium the twenty-four-hundred-year tradition of reading
and studying these classics of Western philosophy.
John M. Cooper
Marginal references In order to facilitate comparison between this edition and others, in Greek or in translation, we print in the margins of the
translations the ‘Stephanus numbers’ that are commonly used in scholarly
references to the works of Plato. These numbers and letters indicate the
corresponding page and section on that page of the relevant volume of
the Greek text of Plato as edited (Paris, 1578) by the French scholar Henri
Estienne (in Latin, Stephanus). (These are omitted in the case of Halcyon
and Epigrams because Stephanus did not include those works in his edition.)
Footnotes It has been our intention to provide in footnotes all the basic
information the general reader might need in order to follow the discussion
in the texts. This includes the identification of persons, places, events, etc.,
in Greek history and culture, insofar as these are not explained sufficiently
in the context where the references to them occur. We have also identified
the sources of all Plato’s quotations from other authors, so far as those are
known; any that are not identified should be presumed to be from now
unidentifiable authors or works. In general, we have not attempted to
provide any guidance or commentary as regards issues of philosophical
interpretation, apart from that contained in the introductory notes to the
individual works. But we have sometimes given alternative translations,
where some point of philosophical significance may be at issue and the
Greek is ambiguous or otherwise subject to differing construals. In all cases
the editor bears ultimate responsibility for the footnotes to the translations:
usually these incorporate material that was in the footnotes in the original
place of publication or was provided by those responsible for translations
here published for the first time, but the editor has decided when a footnote
is needed, and when not, and he has borne the responsibility of editing
and otherwise preparing the footnotes as they appear here, including
providing most of the alternative translations himself. Responsibility for
any errors or omissions in the footnotes rests with the editor.
Greek text In general the Greek text translated is that of John Burnet, in
Platonis Opera, Oxford Classical Texts, five volumes (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1900–1907). Where the translation of a given work is based on a
different text from Burnet’s, this is recorded in a note at the beginning of
the work in question. For each work, every effort has been made to register
in footnotes all variances in the translation from the basic Greek text,
Burnet’s or another. Such departures, as indicated in the notes, often select
alternative readings contained in the manuscripts, or else follow emendations proposed by other editors or in scholarly articles: we do not record
the details, beyond saying that a given reading is found in “some manuscripts,” or else that a given emendation “is accepted,” or the like. Those
who wish to know the details may usually find them in the apparatus
criticus of a critical edition of the dialogue in question. In a few places the
translator has opted for a new conjectural treatment in the text translated;
there we simply record the conjectured reading without further elaboration.
Translations Many of the translations in this book have been published
before, either by Hackett Publishing Company or by another publisher
(details are given in the Acknowledgments). In all cases the version appearing here reflects revisions, of varying quantity and significance, made by
the translators on the advice of the editor. While no general effort has been
made to ensure consistency in the translation of recurrent words or phrases
across the vast extent of Plato’s works (that would intrude too greatly on
the prerogatives and the individual judgment of the translators to whose
scholarly expertise we are indebted for these Complete Works), we have
adopted a policy of keeping to a single spelling for each of the proper
nouns and adjectives that occur in the book.
Editorial responsibilities As editor, John M. Cooper has had editorial
oversight over the preparation for publication of all the translations in this
volume, as well as for the introductions and notes. He is the author of all
the introductory notes except those noted just below, signing them J.M.C.
In addition to advising the editor generally, D. S. Hutchinson’s special
responsibilities as associate editor concerned a set of fifteen works—the
ones marked as spurious by the first-century-A.D. editor Thrasyllus, plus
eight further dialogues whose Platonic authorship has been at least doubted
in modern times: Definitions, On Justice, On Virtue, Demodocus, Sisyphus,
Eryxias, Axiochus, Halcyon, Alcibiades, Second Alcibiades, Hipparchus, Rival
Lovers, Theages, Clitophon, and Minos. He recruited the translators (translating two of the works, Definitions and Alcibiades, himself) and worked closely
with them in the preparation and revision of their versions. He wrote the
introductory notes to these fifteen works, signing them D.S.H.
The editor would like to acknowledge the assistance of Sean Kelsey, who
as research assistant read through all the translations at the penultimate
stage, offering many excellent suggestions for improvement, identifying
the sources of Plato’s quotations, and indicating where footnotes were
needed, as well as preparing the texts for submission to the publisher. For
advice and help on the introduction and introductory notes he would
like to thank Rachel Barney, Christopher Bobonich, Panos Dimas, D. S.
Hutchinson, George Kateb, Alexander Nehamas, C.D.C. Reeve, J. B.
Schneewind, and David Sedley. Discussion with Øyvind Rabbås was helpful in preparing the introductory notes for the Socratic dialogues, especially
Laches. Paul Woodruff gave good advice on the revision of the Epigrams
translation. For Hackett Publishing Company Deborah Wilkes and Dan
Kirklin gave steady, reliable, and invariably intelligent advice and assistance on all aspects of the production of the book.
The associate editor would like to thank Nicholas Denyer, Rudolf Kassel,
and Carl Werner Müller (whose book Die Kurzdialoge der Appendix Platonica
sheds invaluable light on the spurious works in the Platonic corpus), as
well as John Cooper, whose critical eye improved every introductory note.
The index was prepared by Paul Coppock. The editors would also like
to thank him for his work at earlier stages of the project in overseeing the
preparation of the translations on behalf of the publisher. Thanks also go
to Jonathan Beere for verifying typographical errors and other corrections
for the second printing, and to Adam Kissel for invaluable help in bringing
some of these to the editors’ attention. Further corrections in the third
printing were suggested by Rachel Barney, Alfonso Gomez-Lobo, Charles
Kahn, Henry R. Mendell, and Donald Morrison. The editors are grateful
for these, as well as for the continued interest of the translators in the
improvement of their earlier work.
Many of the translations appearing (in revised form) in this book have
previously been published separately by Hackett Publishing Company:
Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Theaetetus, Sophist, Parmenides, Philebus,
Symposium, Phaedrus, Charmides, Laches, Lysis, Euthydemus, Protagoras,
Gorgias, Meno, Greater Hippias, Ion, and Republic.
Published here for the first time are the translations of Cratylus, Alcibiades,
Second Alcibiades, Hipparchus, Rival Lovers, Theages, Lesser Hippias, Menexenus, Clitophon, Timaeus, Critias, Minos, Epinomis, Definitions, On Justice, On
Virtue, Demodocus, Sisyphus, Halcyon, and Eryxias.
Translations previously published by other publishers are
Statesman, translated by C. J. Rowe, Warminster: 1995, reprinted by permission of Aris and Phillips Ltd., UK. The translation that appears here
is an extensive revision of the Aris & Phillips translation. It is, however,
the text that appears in the Hackett edition of Statesman.
Laws, translated by Trevor J. Saunders, reprinted here by permission of
Penguin Books Ltd. First published in Great Britain by Penguin Books
Ltd., 1970. Reprinted with minor revisions, 1975.
Letters, translated by Glenn R. Morrow, from Plato, Epistles, 1962, Library
of Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc.
Axiochus, translated by Jackson P. Hershbell, 1981, The Society of Biblical
Literature. Reprinted here by permission of Jackson P. Hershbell.
Epigrams, reprinted as revised by John M. Cooper by permission of the
publishers of the Loeb Classical Library from Elegy and Iambus with the
Anacreontea, Vol. II, edited by J. M. Edmonds, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1931.
Over the twenty years and more that Hackett Publishing Company has
been bringing out new translations of Plato, including the work done on
the translations appearing here for the first time, many scholars have
generously offered their advice as line-by-line readers and consultants on
the translations-in-progress of individual works—in some cases, a single
reader has worked on more than one such project. The publisher gratefully
acknowledges the invaluable assistance of:
Eve Browning Cole
John M. Cooper
D. S. Hutchinson
M. M. McCabe
T. M. Robinson
Nicholas P. White
Donald J. Zeyl
The scene is the agora or central marketplace of Athens, before the offices of
the magistrate who registers and makes preliminary inquiries into charges
brought under the laws protecting the city from the gods’ displeasure. There
Socrates meets Euthyphro—Socrates is on his way in to answer the charges of
‘impiety’ brought against him by three younger fellow citizens, on which he is
going to be condemned to death, as we learn in the Apology. Euthyphro has
just deposed murder charges against his own father for the death of a servant.
Murder was a religious offense, since it entailed ‘pollution’ which if not ritually purified was displeasing to the gods; but equally, a son’s taking such action against his father might well itself be regarded as ‘impious’. Euthyphro
professes to be acting on esoteric knowledge about the gods and their wishes,
and so about the general topic of ‘piety’. Socrates seizes the opportunity to acquire from Euthyphro this knowledge of piety so that he can rebut the accusations against himself. However, like all his other interlocutors in Plato’s ‘Socratic’ dialogues, Euthyphro cannot answer Socrates’ questions to Socrates’
satisfaction, or ultimately to his own. So he cannot make it clear what piety
is—though he continues to think that he does know it. Thus, predictably, Socrates’ hopes are disappointed; just when he is ready to press further to help Euthyphro express his knowledge, if indeed he does possess it, Euthyphro begs off
on the excuse of business elsewhere.
Though Socrates does not succeed in his quest, we readers learn a good deal
about the sort of thing Socrates is looking for in asking his question ‘What is
piety?’ and the other ‘What is . . . ?’ questions he pursues in other dialogues.
He wants a single ‘model’ or ‘standard’ he can look to in order to determine
which acts and persons are pious, one that gives clear, unconflicting, and unambiguous answers. He wants something that can provide such a standard all
on its own—as one of Euthyphro’s proposals, that being pious is simply being
loved by the gods, cannot do, since one needs to know first what the gods do
love. Pious acts and people may indeed be loved by the gods, but that is a secondary quality, not the ‘essence’ of piety—it is not that which serves as the
standard being sought.
There seems no reason to doubt the character Socrates’ sincerity in probing
Euthyphro’s statements so as to work out an adequate answer—he has in advance no answer of his own to test out or to advocate. But does the dialogue itself suggest to the attentive reader an answer of its own? Euthyphro frustrates
Socrates by his inability to develop adequately his final suggestion, that piety is
justice in relation to the gods, in serving and assisting them in some purpose
or enterprise of their own. Socrates seems to find that an enticing idea. Does
Plato mean to suggest that piety may be shown simply in doing one’s best to
become as morally good as possible—something Socrates claims in the Apology the gods want more than anything else? If so, can piety remain an independent virtue at all, with its own separate standard for action? These are
among the questions this dialogue leaves us to ponder.
EUTHYPHRO: What’s new, Socrates, to make you leave your usual haunts
in the Lyceum and spend your time here by the king-archon’s court? Surely
you are not prosecuting anyone before the king-archon as I am?
SOCRATES: The Athenians do not call this a prosecution but an indictment, Euthyphro.
EUTHYPHRO: What is this you say? Someone must have indicted you, for
you are not going to tell me that you have indicted someone else.
SOCRATES: No indeed.
EUTHYPHRO: But someone else has indicted you?
SOCRATES: Quite so.
EUTHYPHRO: Who is he?
SOCRATES: I do not really know him myself, Euthyphro. He is apparently
young and unknown. They call him Meletus, I believe. He belongs to the
Pitthean deme, if you know anyone from that deme called Meletus, with
long hair, not much of a beard, and a rather aquiline nose.
EUTHYPHRO: I don’t know him, Socrates. What charge does he bring
SOCRATES: What charge? A not ignoble one I think, for it is no small
thing for a young man to have knowledge of such an important subject.
He says he knows how our young men are corrupted and who corrupts
them. He is likely to be wise, and when he sees my ignorance corrupting
his contemporaries, he proceeds to accuse me to the city as to their mother.
I think he is the only one of our public men to start out the right way, for
it is right to care first that the young should be as good as possible, just
as a good farmer is likely to take care of the young plants first, and of the
others later. So, too, Meletus first gets rid of us who corrupt the young
shoots, as he says, and then afterwards he will obviously take care of the
older ones and become a source of great blessings for the city, as seems
likely to happen to one who started out this way.
EUTHYPHRO: I could wish this were true, Socrates, but I fear the opposite
may happen. He seems to me to start out by harming the very heart of
Translated by G.M.A. Grube.
the city by attempting to wrong you. Tell me, what does he say you do
to corrupt the young?
SOCRATES: Strange things, to hear him tell it, for he says that I am a
maker of gods, and on the ground that I create new gods while not believing
in the old gods, he has indicted me for their sake, as he puts it.
EUTHYPHRO: I understand, Socrates. This is because you say that the
divine sign keeps coming to you.1 So he has written this indictment against
you as one who makes innovations in religious matters, and he comes to
court to slander you, knowing that such things are easily misrepresented
to the crowd. The same is true in my case. Whenever I speak of divine
matters in the assembly and foretell the future, they laugh me down as if
I were crazy; and yet I have foretold nothing that did not happen. Nevertheless, they envy all of us who do this. One need not worry about them, but
meet them head-on.
SOCRATES: My dear Euthyphro, to be laughed at does not matter perhaps,
for the Athenians do not mind anyone they think clever, as long as he
does not teach his own wisdom, but if they think that he makes others to
be like himself they get angry, whether through envy, as you say, or for
some other reason.
EUTHYPHRO: I have certainly no desire to test their feelings towards me
in this matter.
SOCRATES: Perhaps you seem to make yourself but rarely available, and
not be willing to teach your own wisdom, but I’m afraid that my liking
for people makes them think that I pour out to anybody anything I have
to say, not only without charging a fee but even glad to reward anyone
who is willing to listen. If then they were intending to laugh at me, as
you say they laugh at you, there would be nothing unpleasant in their
spending their time in court laughing and jesting, but if they are going to
be serious, the outcome is not clear except to you prophets.
EUTHYPHRO: Perhaps it will come to nothing, Socrates, and you will fight
your case as you think best, as I think I will mine.
SOCRATES: What is your case, Euthyphro? Are you the defendant or
EUTHYPHRO: The prosecutor.
SOCRATES: Whom do you prosecute?
EUTHYPHRO: One whom I am thought crazy to prosecute.
SOCRATES: Are you pursuing someone who will easily escape you?
EUTHYPHRO: Far from it, for he is quite old.
SOCRATES: Who is it?
EUTHYPHRO: My father.
SOCRATES: My dear sir! Your own father?
1. See Apology 31d.
SOCRATES: What is the charge? What is the case about?
EUTHYPHRO: Murder, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Good heavens! Certainly, Euthyphro, most men would not
know how they could do this and be right. It is not the part of anyone to
do this, but of one who is far advanced in wisdom.
EUTHYPHRO: Yes, by Zeus, Socrates, that is so.
SOCRATES: Is then the man your father killed one of your relatives? Or
is that obvious, for you would not prosecute your father for the murder
of a stranger.
EUTHYPHRO: It is ridiculous, Socrates, for you to think that it makes any
difference whether the victim is a stranger or a relative. One should only
watch whether the killer acted justly or not; if he acted justly, let him go,
but if not, one should prosecute, if, that is to say, the killer shares your
hearth and table. The pollution is the same if you knowingly keep company
with such a man and do not cleanse yourself and him by bringing him to
justice. The victim was a dependent of mine, and when we were farming
in Naxos he was a servant of ours. He killed one of our household slaves
in drunken anger, so my father bound him hand and foot and threw him
in a ditch, then sent a man here to inquire from the priest what should
be done. During that time he gave no thought or care to the bound man,
as being a killer, and it was no matter if he died, which he did. Hunger
and cold and his bonds caused his death before the messenger came back
from the seer. Both my father and my other relatives are angry that I am
prosecuting my father for murder on behalf of a murderer when he hadn’t
even killed him, they say, and even if he had, the dead man does not
deserve a thought, since he was a killer. For, they say, it is impious for a
son to prosecute his father for murder. But their ideas of the divine attitude
to piety and impiety are wrong, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Whereas, by Zeus, Euthyphro, you think that your knowledge
of the divine, and of piety and impiety, is so accurate that, when those
things happened as you say, you have no fear of having acted impiously
in bringing your father to trial?
EUTHYPHRO: I should be of no use, Socrates, and Euthyphro would not
be superior to the majority of men, if I did not have accurate knowledge
of all such things.
SOCRATES: It is indeed most important, my admirable Euthyphro, that I
should become your pupil, and as regards this indictment, challenge Meletus about these very things and say to him: that in the past too I considered
knowledge about the divine to be most important, and that now that he
says that I am guilty of improvising and innovating about the gods I
have become your pupil. I would say to him: “If, Meletus, you agree that
Euthyphro is wise in these matters, consider me, too, to have the right
beliefs and do not bring me to trial. If you do not think so, then prosecute
that teacher of mine, not me, for corrupting the older men, me and his
own father, by teaching me and by exhorting and punishing him.” If he
is not convinced, and does not discharge me or indict you instead of me,
I shall repeat the same challenge in court.
EUTHYPHRO: Yes, by Zeus, Socrates, and, if he should try to indict me, I
think I would find his weak spots and the talk in court would be about
him rather than about me.
SOCRATES: It is because I realize this that I am eager to become your
pupil, my dear friend. I know that other people as well as this Meletus
do not even seem to notice you, whereas he sees me so sharply and clearly
that he indicts me for ungodliness. So tell me now, by Zeus, what you
just now maintained you clearly knew: what kind of thing do you say that
godliness and ungodliness are, both as regards murder and other things;
or is the pious not the same and alike in every action, and the impious
the opposite of all that is pious and like itself, and everything that is
to be impious presents us with one form or appearance in so far as it
EUTHYPHRO: Most certainly, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Tell me then, what is the pious, and what the impious, do
EUTHYPHRO: I say that the pious is to do what I am doing now, to
prosecute the wrongdoer, be it about murder or temple robbery or anything
else, whether the wrongdoer is your father or your mother or anyone else;
not to prosecute is impious. And observe, Socrates, that I can cite powerful
evidence that the law is so. I have already said to others that such actions are
right, not to favor the ungodly, whoever they are. These people themselves
believe that Zeus is the best and most just of the gods, yet they agree that
he bound his father because he unjustly swallowed his sons, and that he
in turn castrated his father for similar reasons. But they are angry with
me because I am prosecuting my father for his wrongdoing. They contradict
themselves in what they say about the gods and about me.
SOCRATES: Indeed, Euthyphro, this is the reason why I am a defendant
in the case, because I find it hard to accept things like that being said about
the gods, and it is likely to be the reason why I shall be told I do wrong.
Now, however, if you, who have full knowledge of such things, share
their opinions, then we must agree with them, too, it would seem. For
what are we to say, we who agree that we ourselves have no knowledge
of them? Tell me, by the god of friendship, do you really believe these
things are true?
EUTHYPHRO: Yes, Socrates, and so are even more surprising things, of
which the majority has no knowledge.
SOCRATES: And do you believe that there really is war among the gods,
and terrible enmities and battles, and other such things as are told by the
poets, and other sacred stories such as are embroidered by good writers
and by representations of which the robe of the goddess is adorned when
it is carried up to the Acropolis? Are we to say these things are true, Euthyphro?
EUTHYPHRO: Not only these, Socrates, but, as I was saying just now, I
will, if you wish, relate many other things about the gods which I know
will amaze you.
SOCRATES: I should not be surprised, but you will tell me these at leisure
some other time. For now, try to tell me more clearly what I was asking
just now, for, my friend, you did not teach me adequately when I asked
you what the pious was, but you told me that what you are doing now,
in prosecuting your father for murder, is pious.
EUTHYPHRO: And I told the truth, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Perhaps. You agree, however, that there are many other pious actions.
EUTHYPHRO: There are.
SOCRATES: Bear in mind then that I did not bid you tell me one or two
of the many pious actions but that form itself that makes all pious actions
pious, for you agreed that all impious actions are impious and all pious
actions pious through one form, or don’t you remember?
EUTHYPHRO: I do.
SOCRATES: Tell me then what this form itself is, so that I may look upon
it and, using it as a model, say that any action of yours or another’s that
is of that kind is pious, and if it is not that it is not.
EUTHYPHRO: If that is how you want it, Socrates, that is how I will tell you.
SOCRATES: That is what I want.
EUTHYPHRO: Well then, what is dear to the gods is pious, what is not
SOCRATES: Splendid, Euthyphro! You have now answered in the way I
wanted. Whether your answer is true I do not know yet, but you will
obviously show me that what you say is true.
SOCRATES: Come then, let us examine what we mean. An action or a
man dear to the gods is pious, but an action or a man hated by the gods
is impious. They are not the same, but quite opposite, the pious and the
impious. Is that not so?
EUTHYPHRO: It is indeed.
SOCRATES: And that seems to be a good statement?
EUTHYPHRO: I think so, Socrates.
SOCRATES: We have also stated that the gods are in a state of discord,
that they are at odds with each other, Euthyphro, and that they are at
enmity with each other. Has that, too, been said?
EUTHYPHRO: It has.
SOCRATES: What are the subjects of difference that cause hatred and
anger? Let us look at it this way. If you and I were to differ about numbers
as to which is the greater, would this difference make us enemies and
angry with each other, or would we proceed to count and soon resolve
our difference about this?
EUTHYPHRO: We would certainly do so.
SOCRATES: Again, if we differed about the larger and the smaller, we
would turn to measurement and soon cease to differ.
EUTHYPHRO: That is so.
SOCRATES: And about the heavier and the lighter, we would resort to
weighing and be reconciled.
EUTHYPHRO: Of course.
SOCRATES: What subject of difference would make us angry and hostile
to each other if we were unable to come to a decision? Perhaps you do
not have an answer ready, but examine as I tell you whether these subjects
are the just and the unjust, the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the
bad. Are these not the subjects of difference about which, when we are
unable to come to a satisfactory decision, you and I and other men become
hostile to each other whenever we do?
EUTHYPHRO: That is the difference, Socrates, about those subjects.
SOCRATES: What about the gods, Euthyphro? If indeed they have differences, will it not be about these same subjects?
EUTHYPHRO: It certainly must be so.
SOCRATES: Then according to your argument, my good Euthyphro, different gods consider different things to be just, beautiful, ugly, good, and
bad, for they would not be at odds with one another unless they differed
about these subjects, would they?
EUTHYPHRO: You are right.
SOCRATES: And they like what each of them considers beautiful, good,
and just, and hate the opposites of these?
SOCRATES: But you say that the same things are considered just by some
gods and unjust by others, and as they dispute about these things they
are at odds and at war with each other. Is that not so?
EUTHYPHRO: It is.
SOCRATES: The same things then are loved by the gods and hated by the
gods, and would be both god-loved and god-hated.
EUTHYPHRO: It seems likely.
SOCRATES: And the same things would be both pious and impious, according to this argument?
EUTHYPHRO: I’m afraid so.
SOCRATES: So you did not answer my question, you surprising man. I
did not ask you what same thing is both pious and impious, and it appears
that what is loved by the gods is also hated by them. So it is in no way
surprising if your present action, namely punishing your father, may be
pleasing to Zeus but displeasing to Cronus and Uranus, pleasing to Hephaestus but displeasing to Hera, and so with any other gods who differ
from each other on this subject.
EUTHYPHRO: I think, Socrates, that on this subject no gods would differ
from one another, that whoever has killed anyone unjustly should pay
SOCRATES: Well now, Euthyphro, have you ever heard any man maintaining that one who has killed or done anything else unjustly should not pay
EUTHYPHRO: They never cease to dispute on this subject, both elsewhere
and in the courts, for when they have committed many wrongs they do
and say anything to avoid the penalty.
SOCRATES: Do they agree they have done wrong, Euthyphro, and in spite
of so agreeing do they nevertheless say they should not be punished?
EUTHYPHRO: No, they do not agree on that point.
SOCRATES: So they do not say or do just anything. For they do not venture
to say this, or dispute that they must not pay the penalty if they have
done wrong, but I think they deny doing wrong. Is that not so?
EUTHYPHRO: That is true.
SOCRATES: Then they do not dispute that the wrongdoer must be punished, but they may disagree as to who the wrongdoer is, what he did,
EUTHYPHRO: You are right.
SOCRATES: Do not the gods have the same experience, if indeed they are
at odds with each other about the just and the unjust, as your argument
maintains? Some assert that they wrong one another, while others deny
it, but no one among gods or men ventures to say that the wrongdoer
must not be punished.
EUTHYPHRO: Yes, that is true, Socrates, as to the main point.
SOCRATES: And those who disagree, whether men or gods, dispute about
each action, if indeed the gods disagree. Some say it is done justly, others
unjustly. Is that not so?
EUTHYPHRO: Yes, indeed.
SOCRATES: Come now, my dear Euthyphro, tell me, too, that I may become
wiser, what proof you have that all the gods consider that man to have
been killed unjustly who became a murderer while in your service, was
bound by the master of his victim, and died in his bonds before the one
who bound him found out from the seers what was to be done with him,
and that it is right for a son to denounce and to prosecute his father on
behalf of such a man. Come, try to show me a clear sign that all the gods
definitely believe this action to be right. If you can give me adequate proof
of this, I shall never cease to extol your wisdom.
EUTHYPHRO: This is perhaps no light task, Socrates, though I could show
you very clearly.
SOCRATES: I understand that you think me more dull-witted than the
jury, as you will obviously show them that these actions were unjust and
that all the gods hate such actions.
EUTHYPHRO: I will show it to them clearly, Socrates, if only they will
listen to me.
SOCRATES: They will listen if they think you show them well. But this
thought came to me as you were speaking, and I am examining it, saying
to myself: “If Euthyphro shows me conclusively that all the gods consider
such a death unjust, to what greater extent have I learned from him the
nature of piety and impiety? This action would then, it seems, be hated
by the gods, but the pious and the impious were not thereby now defined,
for what is hated by the gods has also been shown to be loved by them.”
So I will not insist on this point; let us assume, if you wish, that all the
gods consider this unjust and that they all hate it. However, is this the
correction we are making in our discussion, that what all the gods hate is
impious, and what they all love is pious, and that what some gods love
and others hate is neither or both? Is that how you now wish us to define
piety and impiety?
EUTHYPHRO: What prevents us from doing so, Socrates?
SOCRATES: For my part nothing, Euthyphro, but you look whether on
your part this proposal will enable you to teach me most easily what
EUTHYPHRO: I would certainly say that the pious is what all the gods
love, and the opposite, what all the gods hate, is the impious.
SOCRATES: Then let us again examine whether that is a sound statement,
or do we let it pass, and if one of us, or someone else, merely says that
something is so, do we accept that it is so? Or should we examine what
the speaker means?
EUTHYPHRO: We must examine it, but I certainly think that this is now
a fine statement.
SOCRATES: We shall soon know better whether it is. Consider this: Is the
pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because
it is being loved by the gods?
EUTHYPHRO: I don’t know what you mean, Socrates.
SOCRATES: I shall try to explain more clearly: we speak of something
carried and something carrying, of something led and something leading,
of something seen and something seeing, and you understand that these
things are all different from one another and how they differ?
EUTHYPHRO: I think I do.
SOCRATES: So there is also something loved and—a different thing—
EUTHYPHRO: Of course.
SOCRATES: Tell me then whether the thing carried is a carried thing
because it is being carried, or for some other reason?
EUTHYPHRO: No, that is the reason.
SOCRATES: And the thing led is so because it is being led, and the thing
seen because it is being seen?
SOCRATES: It is not being seen because it is a thing seen but on the contrary
it is a thing seen because it is being seen; nor is it because it is something
led that it is being led but because it is being led that it is something led;
nor is something being carried because it is something carried, but it is
something carried because it is being carried. Is what I want to say clear,
Euthyphro? I want to say this, namely, that if anything is being changed
or is being affected in any way, it is not being changed because it is
something changed, but rather it is something changed because it is being
changed; nor is it being affected because it is something affected, but it is
something affected because it is being affected.2 Or do you not agree?
EUTHYPHRO: I do.
SOCRATES: Is something loved either something changed or something
affected by something?
SOCRATES: So it is in the same case as the things just mentioned; it is not
being loved by those who love it because it is something loved, but it is
something loved because it is being loved by them?
SOCRATES: What then do we say about the pious, Euthyphro? Surely that
it is being loved by all the gods, according to what you say?
SOCRATES: Is it being loved because it is pious, or for some other reason?
EUTHYPHRO: For no other reason.
SOCRATES: It is being loved then because it is pious, but it is not pious
because it is being loved?
SOCRATES: And yet it is something loved and god-loved because it is
being loved by the gods?
EUTHYPHRO: Of course.
SOCRATES: Then the god-loved is not the same as the pious, Euthyphro,
nor the pious the same as the god-loved, as you say it is, but one differs
from the other.
EUTHYPHRO: How so, Socrates?
SOCRATES: Because we agree that the pious is being loved for this reason,
that it is pious, but it is not pious because it is being loved. Is that not so?
SOCRATES: And that the god-loved, on the other hand, is so because it
is being loved by the gods, by the very fact of being loved, but it is not
being loved because it is god-loved.
SOCRATES: But if the god-loved and the pious were the same, my dear
Euthyphro, then if the pious was being loved because it was pious, the
god-loved would also be being loved because it was god-loved; and if the
god-loved was god-loved because it was being loved by the gods, then
2. Here Socrates gives the general principle under which, he says, the specific cases
already examined—those of leading, carrying, and seeing—all fall. It is by bein