Sunday, March 02, 2014

Plato - Alcibiades One

Alcibiades is a great lesson on teaching and politics.  In it Socrates portrays the role of a true teacher and what it is that any person must learn and do to be a good and just leader.  The nature of the soul is also discussed.

1. Platonic Love of Socrates for Alcibiades (from John Cooper’s introduction): “Platonic love is an intensely affectionate, but not a sexual, relationship: but with Socrates and Alcibiades it was also a teaching relationship, in which Socrates tried to help Alcibiades make the transition to manhood by his stimulating conversation.”  p. 557

 2. How Great a Desire?: "SOCRATES : Suppose one of the gods asked you, “Alcibiades, would you rather live with what you now have, or would you rather die on the spot if you weren’t permitted to acquire anything greater?”  I think you’d choose to die. What then is your real ambition in life?  I’ll tell you.  You think that as soon as you present yourself before the Athenian people—as indeed you expect to in a very few days—by presenting yourself you’ll show them that you deserve to be honored more than Pericles or anyone else who ever was.”  p. 559 

3. Socrates desire to be of value to Alcibiades: “SOCRATES :  I hope to exert great influence over you by showing you that I’m worth the world to you and that nobody is capable of providing you with the influence you crave, neither your guardian [Pericles] nor your relatives, nor anybody else except me—with the god’s help, of course.”  p. 560

4. One must teach what they know:  "SOCRATES :You’re getting up to advise them because it’s something you know better than they do, aren’t you?’  What would you reply?

ALCIBIADES:   Yes, I suppose I would say it was something that I know better than they do.

SOCRATES :So it’s on matters you know about that you’re a good adviser.

ALCIBIADES:  Of course.  p. 561

5. On what we know:  “SOCRATES: Now the only things you know are what you’ve learned from others or found out from yourself; isn’t that right?

ALCIBIADES:  What else could I know?

SOCRATES:  Is that right?  Would you have wanted to learn or work out something that you thought you understood?

ALCIBIADES:  Of course not.

SOCRATES: So there was a time when you didn’t think you knew what you now understand?

ALCIBIADES:  There must have been.”  p. 561

6. Those who know best should advise:  “SOCRATES: I suppose that’s because advice on any subject is the business not of those who are rich but of those who know it.”  p. 562

7. Just War – “Justification” of War:  “SOCRATES:  But suppose we’re at war with somebody—surely you know what treatment we accuse each other of when we enter into a war, and what we call it. 

ALCIBIADES:  I do—we say that they’re playing some trick on us, or attacking us or taking things away from us.

SOCRATES: Hold on—how do we suffer from each of these treatments?  Try to tell me how one way differs from another way.

ALCIBIADES:  When you way ‘way’, Socrates, do you mean ‘justly’ or ‘unjustly’?

SOCRATES: Precisely.

ALCIBIADES:  But surely that makes all the difference in the world.

SOCRATES: Really?  Who will you advise the Athenians to wage war on?  Those who are treating us unjustly or those who are treating us justly?

ALCIBIADES:   That’s a hard question you’re asking.  Even if someone thought it was necessary to wage war on people who were treating us justly, he wouldn’t admit it.

SOCRATES:  Because I think that wouldn’t be lawful.

ALCIBIADES:   It certainly wouldn’t.

SOCRATES:  Nor would it be considered a proper thing to do.


SOCRATES:  So you would also frame you speech in these terms.

ALCIBIADES:   I’d have to.

SOCRATES:  Then this ‘better’ I was just asking you about—when it comes to waging war or not, on whom to wage war and on whom not to, and when and when not to—this ‘better’ turns out to be the same as ‘more just’, doesn’t it?

ALCIBIADES:   It certainly seems so.”  p. 564

8. Homer on Justice:  “SOCRATES:  But I know you’ve seen this sort of dispute over questions of justice and injustice; or even if you haven’t seen it, at least you’ve heard about it from many other people—especially Homer, since you’ve heard the Iliad and the Odyssey, haven’t you?

ALCIBIADES:  I certainly have, of course, Socrates.

SOCRATES:  Aren’t these poems all about disagreements over justice and injustice?

ALCIBIADES:  Yes.”  pp. 567-568

9. Justice – v – Expedience:  “ALCIBIADES:   Actually, Socrates, I think the Athenians and the other Greeks rarely discuss which course is more just or unjust.  They think that sort of thing is obvious, so they skip over it and ask which one would be advantageous to do.  In fact, though, what’s just is not the same,  I think, as what’s advantageous; many people have profited by committing great injustices, and others, I think, got no advantage from doing this right thing.”  p. 569

10. Alcibiades does not know:  “SOCRATES:  Well then, you tell me that you’re wavering about what is just and unjust, admirable and contemptible, good and bad, and advantageous and disadvantageous.  Isn’t it obvious that the reason you waver about them is that you don’t know about them?”  p. 574

11. Those who don’t know but think they do:  “SOCRATES:  Well, since it’s not those who know, and it’s not those who don’t know and know they don’t know, is there anyone left except those who don’t know but think they do know”

ALCIBIADES:  No, they’re the only ones left.

SOCRATES: So this is the ignorance that causes bad things; this is the most disgraceful sort of stupidity.”  p. 575

12. Learn before you lead:  “SOCRATES:  Good God, Alcibiades, what a sorry state you’re in!  I hesitate to call it by its name, but still, since we are alone, it must be said.  You are wedded to stupidity, my good fellow, stupidity in the highest degree—our discussion and your own words convict you of it.  This is why you’re rushing into politics before you’ve got an education.  You’re not alone in this sad state—you’ve got most of our city’s politicians for company.  There are only a few exceptions, among them, perhaps, your guardian, Pericles.”  p. 575

13. Why Alcibiades feels he need not be better educated:  “ALCIBIADES: Let’s discuss it together, Socrates.  You know, I do see what you’re saying and actually I agree—it seems to me that none of our city’s politicians have been properly educated, except for a few.”

SOCRATES: And what does that mean?

ALCIBIADES:  Well, if they were educated, then anyone who wanted to compete with them would have to get some knowledge and go into training, like an athlete.  But as it is, since they entered politics as amateurs, there’s no need for me to train and go to the trouble of learning.  I’m sure my natural abilities will be far superior to theirs.”   p. 576

14. The weakness of leaders in a democratic state:  “SOCRATES:  Don’t you know that our city is at war from time to time with the Spartans and with the Great King of Persia?

ALCIBIADES:  You’re right.

SOCRATES: So since you plan to be leader of this city wouldn’t it be right to think that your struggle is with the kings of Sparta and Persia?

ALCIBIADES:  That may well be true.

SOCRATES: But no sir, you’ve got to keep an eye on Midias the cockfighter and such people—people who try to run the city’s affairs with their slave-boy hair styles’ (as the women say) still showing on their boorish minds.  They set out to flatter the city with their outlandish talk, not to rule it.  These are the people, I’m telling you, you’ve got to keep your eyes on.  So relax, don’t bother to learn what needs to be learned for the great struggle to come, don’t train yourself for what needs training—go ahead and go into politics with your complete and thorough preparation.”   p. 577

15. Genealogy of the Spartans and the Persians and the noble linage of Alcibiades:  “SOCRATES:Is it likely that natural talents will be greatest among noble families, or in other families?

ALCIBIADES:  In noble families, obviously.

SOCRATES:  Those who are well born will turn out to be perfectly virtuous, if they’re well brought up, won’t they?

ALCIBIADES:  They certainly will.

SOCRATES: So let’s compare our situation with theirs, and consider, first of all, whether the Spartan and Persian kings are of humbler descent.  We know, of course, that the Spartan kings are descended from Heracles, and the Persian kings are descended from Achaemenes, and that the family of Heracles and Achaemenes go right back to Perseus, son of Zeus.

ALCIBIADES:   Mine too, Socrates—my family goes back to Eurysaces and Eurysaces’ goes back to Zeus.”  p. 578

16. After relating the training of the kings of Persia and Sparta, Alcibiades’ assets, as seen by the queens Persia and Sparta, are presented:  SOCRATES: “I [Amestris, mother of Artaxeres] don’t see what this fellow could be relying on, except diligence and wisdom—the Greeks don’t have anything else worth mentioning.

But if she heard that this Alcibiades who is making this attempt is, in the first place, hardly twenty years old yet, and, secondly, entirely uneducated, and furthermore, when his lover tells him to study and cultivate himself and discipline himself so that he can compete with the king, he says he doesn’t want to and that he’s happy with the way he is—if when heard all that, I think she’d ask in amazement, “What in the world could this youngster be relying on?”  Suppose we were to reply, “Good looks, height, birth, wealth, and native intelligence.”  Then, Alcibiades, considering all that they have of these things as well, she’d conclude that we were stark raving mad.  Again, I think that Lampido, the daughter of Leotychides, wife of Archidamus and mother of Agis, who were all Spartan kings, would be similarly amazed if you, with your bad upbringing, proposed to compete with her son, considering all his advantages.

And yet, don’t you think it’s disgraceful that even our enemies’ wives have a better appreciation than we do of what it would take to challenge them?  No, my excellent friend, trust in me and in the Delphic inscription and ‘know thyself’.  These are the people we must defeat, not the ones you think, and we have no hope of defeating them unless we act with both diligence and skill.  If you fall short in these, then you will fall short of achieving fame in Greece as well as abroad; and that is what I think you’re longing for, more than anyone else ever longed for anything.”  pp. 580-581

17. On the importance and necessity of knowing oneself:  “SOCRATES: Is it actually such an easy thing to know oneself?  Was it some simpleton who inscribed those words on the temple wall at Delphi?  Or is it difficult, and not for everybody?”

ALCIBIADES:  Sometime I think, Socrates, that anyone can do it, but then sometimes I think it’s extremely difficult.”

SOCRATES: But Alcibiades, whether it’s easy or not, nevertheless this is the situation we’re in: if we know ourselves, but if we don’t know ourselves, we’ll never know how.”  p. 587

18. What is man? Body, soul and both:  “SOCRATES: Then what is man?

ALCIBIADES:  I don’t know what to say.

SOCRATES: Yes, you do—say that it’s what uses the body.


SOCRATES: What else uses it but the soul?

ALCIBIADES:  Nothing else.

SOCRATES: And doesn’t the soul rule the body?


SOCRATES: Now here’s something I don’t think anybody would disagree with.

Alcibiades: ALCIBIADES:  What?

SOCRATES: Man is one of three things.

ALCIBIADES:  What things?

SOCRATES: The body, the soul, or the two of them together, the whole thing.

ALCIBIADES:  Of course.

SOCRATES: But we agree that man is that which rules the body.

ALCIBIADES:  Yes, we did agree to that.

SOCRATES: Does the body rule itself?

ALCIBIADES:  It couldn’t.

SOCRATES: Because we said it was ruled.


SOCRATES: So this can’t be what we’re looking for.

ALCIBIADES:  Not likely.

SOCRATES: Well then, can the two of them together rule the body?  Is this what man is?

ALCIBIADES:  Yes, maybe that’s it.

SOCRATES: No, that’s the least likely of all.  If one of them doesn’t take part in ruling, then surely no combination of the two of them could rule.

ALCIBIADES:  You’re right.

SOCRATES: Since a man is neither his body, nor his body and soul together, what remains, I think, is either that he’s nothing or else, if he is something, he’s nothing other than his soul.

ALCIBIADES:  Quite so.

SOCRATES: Do you need any clearer proof that the soul is the man?  . . . So the command that we should know ourselves means that we should know our souls. “  pp. 588-589

19. True Love:  “SOCRATES: Now if there was someone who loved Alcibiades’ body, he wouldn’t be loving Alcibiades, only something that belonged to Alcibiades.

ALCIBIADES:  That’s right.

SOCRATES: But someone who loved you would love your soul.

ALCIBIADES:  By our argument, I think he’d have to.

SOCRATES: Wouldn’t someone who loves you body go off an leave you when your beauty is no longer in full bloom?

ALCIBIADES:  Obviously.

SOCRATES: But someone who loves your soul will not leave you, as long as you making progress. 

ALCIBIADES:  That’s probably right.

SOCRATES: Well, I’m the one who won’t leave you—I’m the one who will stay with you, now that your body has lost its bloom and everyone else has gone away.

ALCIBIADES:  I’m glad you are, Socrates, and I hope you never leave me.

SOCRATES: Then you must try to be as attractive as possible.

ALCIBIADES:  I’ll certainly try.

SOCRATES: So this is your situation: you, Alcibiades, son of Clinias, have no lovers and never have had any, it seems, except for one only, and he is your darling Socrtes, son of Sophronixcus and Phaenarte.”  p. 590

20. Danger of corruption in politics:  “SOCRATES:. . . I shall never forsake you now, never, unless the Athenian people make you corrupt and ugly.  And that is my greatest fear, that a love of the common people might corrupt you, for many Athenian gentlemen have suffered that fate already.  “The people of great-hearted Erecheus. “ might look attractive on the outside, but you need to scrutinize them in their nakedness, so take the precautions I urge.”  p. 591

21. What cities [nations] need – leaders with virtue:  “SOCRATES: So it’s not walls or war-ship or shipyards that cities need, Alcibiades, if they are to prosper, nor is it numbers or size, without virtue.

ALCIBIADES:  Definitely.

SOCRATES: So if you are to manage the city’s business properly and well, you must impart virtue to the citizens.

ALCIBIADES:  Of course.

SOCRATES: Is it possible to impart something you haven’t got?

ALCIBIADES:  How could you?

SOCRATES: Then you, or anyone else who is to be ruler and trustee, not only of himself and his private business, but also the city and the city’s business, must first acquire virtue himself.

ALCIBIADES:  You’re right.

SOCRATES: So what you need to get for yourself and for the city isn’t political power, nor the authority to do what you like; what you need is justice and self-control.

ALCIBIADES:  Apparently.

SOCRATES: Because my dear Alcibiades, when an individual or a city with no intelligence is at liberty to do what he or it wants, what do you think the likely result will be?  For example, if he’s sick and has the power to do whatever he likes—without any medical insight but with such a dictator’s power that nobody criticizes him—what’s going to happen?  Isn’t it likely his helth will be ruined?

ALCIBIADES:  You are right.

SOCRATES: And in a ship, if someone were free to do what he liked, but was completely lacking in insight and skill in navigation, don’t you see what would happen to him and his fellow sailors?

ALCIBIADES: I do indeed; they would all die.

SOCRATES:  Likewise, if a city, or any ruler or administrator, is lacking in virtue, then bad conduct will result.


SOCRATES: Well then, my good Alcibiades, if you are to prosper, it isn’t supreme power you need to get from yourself are the city, but virtue.

ALCIBIADES:  You’re right.

SOCRATES: But before one acquires virtue it’s better to be ruled by somebody superior than to rule; this applies to men as well as to boys.

ALCIBIADES:  So it seems.

SOCRATES: And isn’t what is better also more admirable?


SOCRATES: So it’s appropriate for a bad man to be a slave, since it’s better. 


SOCRATES: And vice is appropriate for a slave.

ALCIBIADES:  Apparently.

SOCRATES: And virtue is appropriate for a free man.

ALCIBIADES: Yes.”  pp. 594-595



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