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Translated by Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893)
INTRODUCTION AND ANALYSIS.
The Philebus appears to be one of the later writings of Plato, in which the
style has begun to alter, and the dramatic and poetical element has become
subordinate to the speculative and philosophical. In the development of
abstract thought great advances have been made on the Protagoras or the
Phaedrus, and even on the Republic. But there is a corresponding
diminution of artistic skill, a want of character in the persons, a
laboured march in the dialogue, and a degree of confusion and
incompleteness in the general design. As in the speeches of Thucydides,
the multiplication of ideas seems to interfere with the power of
expression. Instead of the equally diffused grace and ease of the earlier
dialogues there occur two or three highly-wrought passages; instead of the
ever-flowing play of humour, now appearing, now concealed, but always
present, are inserted a good many bad jests, as we may venture to term
them. We may observe an attempt at artificial ornament, and far-fetched
modes of expression; also clamorous demands on the part of his companions,
that Socrates shall answer his own questions, as well as other defects of
style, which remind us of the Laws. The connection is often abrupt and
inharmonious, and far from clear. Many points require further explanation;
e.g. the reference of pleasure to the indefinite class, compared with the
assertion which almost immediately follows, that pleasure and pain
naturally have their seat in the third or mixed class: these two
statements are unreconciled. In like manner, the table of goods does not
distinguish between the two heads of measure and symmetry; and though a
hint is given that the divine mind has the first place, nothing is said of
this in the final summing up. The relation of the goods to the sciences
does not appear; though dialectic may be thought to correspond to the
highest good, the sciences and arts and true opinions are enumerated in the
fourth class. We seem to have an intimation of a further discussion, in
which some topics lightly passed over were to receive a fuller
consideration. The various uses of the word 'mixed,' for the mixed life,
the mixed class of elements, the mixture of pleasures, or of pleasure and
pain, are a further source of perplexity. Our ignorance of the opinions
which Plato is attacking is also an element of obscurity. Many things in a
controversy might seem relevant, if we knew to what they were intended to
refer. But no conjecture will enable us to supply what Plato has not told
us; or to explain, from our fragmentary knowledge of them, the relation in
which his doctrine stood to the Eleatic Being or the Megarian good, or to
the theories of Aristippus or Antisthenes respecting pleasure. Nor are we
able to say how far Plato in the Philebus conceives the finite and infinite
(which occur both in the fragments of Philolaus and in the Pythagorean
table of opposites) in the same manner as contemporary Pythagoreans.
There is little in the characters which is worthy of remark. The Socrates
of the Philebus is devoid of any touch of Socratic irony, though here, as
in the Phaedrus, he twice attributes the flow of his ideas to a sudden
inspiration. The interlocutor Protarchus, the son of Callias, who has been
a hearer of Gorgias, is supposed to begin as a disciple of the partisans of
pleasure, but is drawn over to the opposite side by the arguments of
Socrates. The instincts of ingenuous youth are easily induced to take the
better part. Philebus, who has withdrawn from the argument, is several
times brought back again, that he may support pleasure, of which he remains
to the end the uncompromising advocate. On the other hand, the youthful
group of listeners by whom he is surrounded, 'Philebus' boys' as they are
termed, whose presence is several times intimated, are described as all of
them at last convinced by the arguments of Socrates. They bear a very
faded resemblance to the interested audiences of the Charmides, Lysis, or
Protagoras. Other signs of relation to external life in the dialogue, or
references to contemporary things and persons, with the single exception of
the allusions to the anonymous enemies of pleasure, and the teachers of the
flux, there are none.
The omission of the doctrine of recollection, derived from a previous state
of existence, is a note of progress in the philosophy of Plato. The
transcendental theory of pre-existent ideas, which is chiefly discussed by
him in the Meno, the Phaedo, and the Phaedrus, has given way to a
psychological one. The omission is rendered more significant by his having
occasion to speak of memory as the basis of desire. Of the ideas he treats
in the same sceptical spirit which appears in his criticism of them in the
Parmenides. He touches on the same difficulties and he gives no answer to
them. His mode of speaking of the analytical and synthetical processes may
be compared with his discussion of the same subject in the Phaedrus; here
he dwells on the importance of dividing the genera into all the species,
while in the Phaedrus he conveys the same truth in a figure, when he speaks
of carving the whole, which is described under the image of a victim, into
parts or members, 'according to their natural articulation, without
breaking any of them.' There is also a difference, which may be noted,
between the two dialogues. For whereas in the Phaedrus, and also in the
Symposium, the dialectician is described as a sort of enthusiast or lover,
in the Philebus, as in all the later writings of Plato, the element of love
is wanting; the topic is only introduced, as in the Republic, by way of
illustration. On other subjects of which they treat in common, such as the
nature and kinds of pleasure, true and false opinion, the nature of the
good, the order and relation of the sciences, the Republic is less advanced
than the Philebus, which contains, perhaps, more metaphysical truth more
obscurely expressed than any other Platonic dialogue. Here, as Plato
expressly tells us, he is 'forging weapons of another make,' i.e. new
categories and modes of conception, though 'some of the old ones might do
But if superior in thought and dialectical power, the Philebus falls very
far short of the Republic in fancy and feeling. The development of the
reason undisturbed by the emotions seems to be the ideal at which Plato
aims in his later dialogues. There is no mystic enthusiasm or rapturous
contemplation of ideas. Whether we attribute this change to the greater
feebleness of age, or to the development of the quarrel between philosophy
and poetry in Plato's own mind, or perhaps, in some degree, to a
carelessness about artistic effect, when he was absorbed in abstract ideas,
we can hardly be wrong in assuming, amid such a variety of indications,
derived from style as well as subject, that the Philebus belongs to the
later period of his life and authorship. But in this, as in all the later
writings of Plato, there are not wanting thoughts and expressions in which
he rises to his highest level.
The plan is complicated, or rather, perhaps, the want of plan renders the
progress of the dialogue difficult to follow. A few leading ideas seem to
emerge: the relation of the one and many, the four original elements, the
kinds of pleasure, the kinds of knowledge, the scale of goods. These are
only partially connected with one another. The dialogue is not rightly
entitled 'Concerning pleasure' or 'Concerning good,' but should rather be
described as treating of the relations of pleasure and knowledge, after
they have been duly analyzed, to the good. (1) The question is asked,
whether pleasure or wisdom is the chief good, or some nature higher than
either; and if the latter, how pleasure and wisdom are related to this
higher good. (2) Before we can reply with exactness, we must know the kinds
of pleasure and the kinds of knowledge. (3) But still we may affirm
generally, that the combined life of pleasure and wisdom or knowledge has
more of the character of the good than either of them when isolated. (4)
to determine which of them partakes most of the higher nature, we must know
under which of the four unities or elements they respectively fall. These
are, first, the infinite; secondly, the finite; thirdly, the union of the
two; fourthly, the cause of the union. Pleasure is of the first, wisdom or
knowledge of the third class, while reason or mind is akin to the fourth or
(5) Pleasures are of two kinds, the mixed and unmixed. Of mixed pleasures
there are three classes--(a) those in which both the pleasures and pains
are corporeal, as in eating and hunger; (b) those in which there is a pain
of the body and pleasure of the mind, as when you are hungry and are
looking forward to a feast; (c) those in which the pleasure and pain are
both mental. Of unmixed pleasures there are four kinds: those of sight,
hearing, smell, knowledge.
(6) The sciences are likewise divided into two classes, theoretical and
productive: of the latter, one part is pure, the other impure. The pure
part consists of arithmetic, mensuration, and weighing. Arts like
carpentering, which have an exact measure, are to be regarded as higher
than music, which for the most part is mere guess-work. But there is also
a higher arithmetic, and a higher mensuration, which is exclusively
theoretical; and a dialectical science, which is higher still and the
truest and purest knowledge.
(7) We are now able to determine the composition of the perfect life.
First, we admit the pure pleasures and the pure sciences; secondly, the
impure sciences, but not the impure pleasures. We have next to discover
what element of goodness is contained in this mixture. There are three
criteria of goodness--beauty, symmetry, truth. These are clearly more akin
to reason than to pleasure, and will enable us to fix the places of both of
them in the scale of good. First in the scale is measure; the second place
is assigned to symmetry; the third, to reason and wisdom; the fourth, to
knowledge and true opinion; the fifth, to pure pleasures; and here the Muse
'Bidding farewell to Philebus and Socrates,' we may now consider the
metaphysical conceptions which are presented to us. These are (I) the
paradox of unity and plurality; (II) the table of categories or elements;
(III) the kinds of pleasure; (IV) the kinds of knowledge; (V) the
conception of the good. We may then proceed to examine (VI) the relation
of the Philebus to the Republic, and to other dialogues.
I. The paradox of the one and many originated in the restless dialectic of
Zeno, who sought to prove the absolute existence of the one by showing the
contradictions that are involved in admitting the existence of the many
(compare Parm.). Zeno illustrated the contradiction by well-known examples
taken from outward objects. But Socrates seems to intimate that the time
had arrived for discarding these hackneyed illustrations; such difficulties
had long been solved by common sense ('solvitur ambulando'); the fact of
the co-existence of opposites was a sufficient answer to them. He will
leave them to Cynics and Eristics; the youth of Athens may discourse of
them to their parents. To no rational man could the circumstance that the
body is one, but has many members, be any longer a stumbling-block.
Plato's difficulty seems to begin in the region of ideas. He cannot
understand how an absolute unity, such as the Eleatic Being, can be broken
up into a number of individuals, or be in and out of them at once.
Philosophy had so deepened or intensified the nature of one or Being, by
the thoughts of successive generations, that the mind could no longer
imagine 'Being' as in a state of change or division. To say that the verb
of existence is the copula, or that unity is a mere unit, is to us easy;
but to the Greek in a particular stage of thought such an analysis involved
the same kind of difficulty as the conception of God existing both in and
out of the world would to ourselves. Nor was he assisted by the analogy of
sensible objects. The sphere of mind was dark and mysterious to him; but
instead of being illustrated by sense, the greatest light appeared to be
thrown on the nature of ideas when they were contrasted with sense.
Both here and in the Parmenides, where similar difficulties are raised,
Plato seems prepared to desert his ancient ground. He cannot tell the
relation in which abstract ideas stand to one another, and therefore he
transfers the one and many out of his transcendental world, and proceeds to
lay down practical rules for their application to different branches of
knowledge. As in the Republic he supposes the philosopher to proceed by
regular steps, until he arrives at the idea of good; as in the Sophist and
Politicus he insists that in dividing the whole into its parts we should
bisect in the middle in the hope of finding species; as in the Phaedrus
(see above) he would have 'no limb broken' of the organism of knowledge;--
so in the Philebus he urges the necessity of filling up all the
intermediate links which occur (compare Bacon's 'media axiomata') in the
passage from unity to infinity. With him the idea of science may be said
to anticipate science; at a time when the sciences were not yet divided, he
wants to impress upon us the importance of classification; neither
neglecting the many individuals, nor attempting to count them all, but
finding the genera and species under which they naturally fall. Here,
then, and in the parallel passages of the Phaedrus and of the Sophist, is
found the germ of the most fruitful notion of modern science.
Plato describes with ludicrous exaggeration the influence exerted by the
one and many on the minds of young men in their first fervour of
metaphysical enthusiasm (compare Republic). But they are none the less an
everlasting quality of reason or reasoning which never grows old in us. At
first we have but a confused conception of them, analogous to the eyes
blinking at the light in the Republic. To this Plato opposes the
revelation from Heaven of the real relations of them, which some
Prometheus, who gave the true fire from heaven, is supposed to have
imparted to us. Plato is speaking of two things--(1) the crude notion of
the one and many, which powerfully affects the ordinary mind when first
beginning to think; (2) the same notion when cleared up by the help of
To us the problem of the one and many has lost its chief interest and
perplexity. We readily acknowledge that a whole has many parts, that the
continuous is also the divisible, that in all objects of sense there is a
one and many, and that a like principle may be applied to analogy to purely
intellectual conceptions. If we attend to the meaning of the words, we are
compelled to admit that two contradictory statements are true. But the
antinomy is so familiar as to be scarcely observed by us. Our sense of the
contradiction, like Plato's, only begins in a higher sphere, when we speak
of necessity and free-will, of mind and body, of Three Persons and One
Substance, and the like. The world of knowledge is always dividing more
and more; every truth is at first the enemy of every other truth. Yet
without this division there can be no truth; nor any complete truth without
the reunion of the parts into a whole. And hence the coexistence of
opposites in the unity of the idea is regarded by Hegel as the supreme
principle of philosophy; and the law of contradiction, which is affirmed by
logicians to be an ultimate principle of the human mind, is displaced by
another law, which asserts the coexistence of contradictories as imperfect
and divided elements of the truth. Without entering further into the
depths of Hegelianism, we may remark that this and all similar attempts to
reconcile antinomies have their origin in the old Platonic problem of the
'One and Many.'
II. 1. The first of Plato's categories or elements is the infinite. This
is the negative of measure or limit; the unthinkable, the unknowable; of
which nothing can be affirmed; the mixture or chaos which preceded distinct
kinds in the creation of the world; the first vague impression of sense;
the more or less which refuses to be reduced to rule, having certain
affinities with evil, with pleasure, with ignorance, and which in the scale
of being is farthest removed from the beautiful and good. To a Greek of
the age of Plato, the idea of an infinite mind would have been an
absurdity. He would have insisted that 'the good is of the nature of the
finite,' and that the infinite is a mere negative, which is on the level of
sensation, and not of thought. He was aware that there was a distinction
between the infinitely great and the infinitely small, but he would have
equally denied the claim of either to true existence. Of that positive
infinity, or infinite reality, which we attribute to God, he had no
The Greek conception of the infinite would be more truly described, in our
way of speaking, as the indefinite. To us, the notion of infinity is
subsequent rather than prior to the finite, expressing not absolute vacancy
or negation, but only the removal of limit or restraint, which we suppose
to exist not before but after we have already set bounds to thought and
matter, and divided them after their kinds. From different points of view,
either the finite or infinite may be looked upon respectively both as
positive and negative (compare 'Omnis determinatio est negatio')' and the
conception of the one determines that of the other. The Greeks and the
moderns seem to be nearly at the opposite poles in their manner of
regarding them. And both are surprised when they make the discovery, as
Plato has done in the Sophist, how large an element negation forms in the
framework of their thoughts.
2, 3. The finite element which mingles with and regulates the infinite is
best expressed to us by the word 'law.' It is that which measures all
things and assigns to them their limit; which preserves them in their
natural state, and brings them within the sphere of human cognition. This
is described by the terms harmony, health, order, perfection, and the like.
All things, in as far as they are good, even pleasures, which are for the
most part indefinite, partake of this element. We should be wrong in
attributing to Plato the conception of laws of nature derived from
observation and experiment. And yet he has as intense a conviction as any
modern philosopher that nature does not proceed by chance. But observing
that the wonderful construction of number and figure, which he had within
himself, and which seemed to be prior to himself, explained a part of the
phenomena of the external world, he extended their principles to the whole,
finding in them the true type both of human life and of the order of
Two other points may be noticed respecting the third class. First, that
Plato seems to be unconscious of any interval or chasm which separates the
finite from the infinite. The one is in various ways and degrees working
in the other. Hence he has implicitly answered the difficulty with which
he started, of how the one could remain one and yet be divided among many
individuals, or 'how ideas could be in and out of themselves,' and the
like. Secondly, that in this mixed class we find the idea of beauty.
Good, when exhibited under the aspect of measure or symmetry, becomes
beauty. And if we translate his language into corresponding modern terms,
we shall not be far wrong in saying that here, as well as in the Republic,
Plato conceives beauty under the idea of proportion.
4. Last and highest in the list of principles or elements is the cause of
the union of the finite and infinite, to which Plato ascribes the order of
the world. Reasoning from man to the universe, he argues that as there is
a mind in the one, there must be a mind in the other, which he identifies
with the royal mind of Zeus. This is the first cause of which 'our
ancestors spoke,' as he says, appealing to tradition, in the Philebus as
well as in the Timaeus. The 'one and many' is also supposed to have been
revealed by tradition. For the mythical element has not altogether
Some characteristic differences may here be noted, which distinguish the
ancient from the modern mode of conceiving God.
a. To Plato, the idea of God or mind is both personal and impersonal. Nor
in ascribing, as appears to us, both these attributes to him, and in
speaking of God both in the masculine and neuter gender, did he seem to
himself inconsistent. For the difference between the personal and
impersonal was not marked to him as to ourselves. We make a fundamental
distinction between a thing and a person, while to Plato, by the help of
various intermediate abstractions, such as end, good, cause, they appear
almost to meet in one, or to be two aspects of the same. Hence, without
any reconciliation or even remark, in the Republic he speaks at one time of
God or Gods, and at another time of the Good. So in the Phaedrus he seems
to pass unconsciously from the concrete to the abstract conception of the
Ideas in the same dialogue. Nor in the Philebus is he careful to show in
what relation the idea of the divine mind stands to the supreme principle
b. Again, to us there is a strongly-marked distinction between a first
cause and a final cause. And we should commonly identify a first cause
with God, and the final cause with the world, which is His work. But
Plato, though not a Pantheist, and very far from confounding God with the
world, tends to identify the first with the final cause. The cause of the
union of the finite and infinite might be described as a higher law; the
final measure which is the highest expression of the good may also be
described as the supreme law. Both these conceptions are realized chiefly
by the help of the material world; and therefore when we pass into the
sphere of ideas can hardly be distinguished.
The four principles are required for the determination of the relative
places of pleasure and wisdom. Plato has been saying that we should
proceed by regular steps from the one to the many. Accordingly, before
assigning the precedence either to good or pleasure, he must first find out
and arrange in order the general principles of things. Mind is ascertained
to be akin to the nature of the cause, while pleasure is found in the
infinite or indefinite class. We may now proceed to divide pleasure and
knowledge after their kinds.
III. 1. Plato speaks of pleasure as indefinite, as relative, as a
generation, and in all these points of view as in a category distinct from
good. For again we must repeat, that to the Greek 'the good is of the
nature of the finite,' and, like virtue, either is, or is nearly allied to,
knowledge. The modern philosopher would remark that the indefinite is
equally real with the definite. Health and mental qualities are in the
concrete undefined; they are nevertheless real goods, and Plato rightly
regards them as falling under the finite class. Again, we are able to
define objects or ideas, not in so far as they are in the mind, but in so
far as they are manifested externally, and can therefore be reduced to rule
and measure. And if we adopt the test of definiteness, the pleasures of
the body are more capable of being defined than any other pleasures. As in
art and knowledge generally, we proceed from without inwards, beginning
with facts of sense, and passing to the more ideal conceptions of mental
pleasure, happiness, and the like.
2. Pleasure is depreciated as relative, while good is exalted as absolute.
But this distinction seems to arise from an unfair mode of regarding them;
the abstract idea of the one is compared with the concrete experience of
the other. For all pleasure and all knowledge may be viewed either
abstracted from the mind, or in relation to the mind (compare Aristot. Nic.
Ethics). The first is an idea only, which may be conceived as absolute and
unchangeable, and then the abstract idea of pleasure will be equally
unchangeable with that of knowledge. But when we come to view either as
phenomena of consciousness, the same defects are for the most part incident
to both of them. Our hold upon them is equally transient and uncertain;
the mind cannot be always in a state of intellectual tension, any more than
capable of feeling pleasure always. The knowledge which is at one time
clear and distinct, at another seems to fade away, just as the pleasure of
health after sickness, or of eating after hunger, soon passes into a
neutral state of unconsciousness and indifference. Change and alternation
are necessary for the mind as well as for the body; and in this is to be
acknowledged, not an element of evil, but rather a law of nature. The
chief difference between subjective pleasure and subjective knowledge in
respect of permanence is that the latter, when our feeble faculties are
able to grasp it, still conveys to us an idea of unchangeableness which
cannot be got rid of.
3. In the language of ancient philosophy, the relative character of
pleasure is described as becoming or generation. This is relative to Being
or Essence, and from one point of view may be regarded as the Heraclitean
flux in contrast with the Eleatic Being; from another, as the transient
enjoyment of eating and drinking compared with the supposed permanence of
intellectual pleasures. But to us the distinction is unmeaning, and
belongs to a stage of philosophy which has passed away. Plato himself
seems to have suspected that the continuance or life of things is quite as
much to be attributed to a principle of rest as of motion (compare Charm.
Cratyl.). A later view of pleasure is found in Aristotle, who agrees with
Plato in many points, e.g. in his view of pleasure as a restoration to
nature, in his distinction between bodily and mental, between necessary and
non-necessary pleasures. But he is also in advance of Plato; for he
affirms that pleasure is not in the body at all; and hence not even the
bodily pleasures are to be spoken of as generations, but only as
accompanied by generation (Nic. Eth.).
4. Plato attempts to identify vicious pleasures with some form of error,
and insists that the term false may be applied to them: in this he appears
to be carrying out in a confused manner the Socratic doctrine, that virtue
is knowledge, vice ignorance. He will allow of no distinction between the
pleasures and the erroneous opinions on which they are founded, whether
arising out of the illusion of distance or not. But to this we naturally
reply with Protarchus, that the pleasure is what it is, although the
calculation may be false, or the after-effects painful. It is difficult to
acquit Plato, to use his own language, of being a 'tyro in dialectics,'
when he overlooks such a distinction. Yet, on the other hand, we are
hardly fair judges of confusions of thought in those who view things
differently from ourselves.
5. There appears also to be an incorrectness in the notion which occurs
both here and in the Gorgias, of the simultaneousness of merely bodily
pleasures and pains. We may, perhaps, admit, though even this is not free
from doubt, that the feeling of pleasureable hope or recollection is, or
rather may be, simultaneous with acute bodily suffering. But there is no
such coexistence of the pain of thirst with the pleasures of drinking; they
are not really simultaneous, for the one expels the other. Nor does Plato
seem to have considered that the bodily pleasures, except in certain
extreme cases, are unattended with pain. Few philosophers will deny that a
degree of pleasure attends eating and drinking; and yet surely we might as
well speak of the pains of digestion which follow, as of the pains of
hunger and thirst which precede them. Plato's conception is derived partly
from the extreme case of a man suffering pain from hunger or thirst, partly
from the image of a full and empty vessel. But the truth is rather, that
while the gratification of our bodily desires constantly affords some
degree of pleasure, the antecedent pains are scarcely perceived by us,
being almost done away with by use and regularity.
6. The desire to classify pleasures as accompanied or not accompanied by
antecedent pains, has led Plato to place under one head the pleasures of
smell and sight, as well as those derived from sounds of music and from
knowledge. He would have done better to make a separate class of the
pleasures of smell, having no association of mind, or perhaps to have
divided them into natural and artificial. The pleasures of sight and sound
might then have been regarded as being the expression of ideas. But this
higher and truer point of view never appears to have occurred to Plato.
Nor has he any distinction between the fine arts and the mechanical; and,
neither here nor anywhere, an adequate conception of the beautiful in
7. Plato agrees partially with certain 'surly or fastidious' philosophers,
as he terms them, who defined pleasure to be the absence of pain. They are
also described as eminent in physics. There is unfortunately no school of
Greek philosophy known to us which combined these two characteristics.
Antisthenes, who was an enemy of pleasure, was not a physical philosopher;
the atomists, who were physical philosophers, were not enemies of pleasure.
Yet such a combination of opinions is far from being impossible. Plato's
omission to mention them by name has created the same uncertainty
respecting them which also occurs respecting the 'friends of the ideas' and
the 'materialists' in the Sophist.
On the whole, this discussion is one of the least satisfactory in the
dialogues of Plato. While the ethical nature of pleasure is scarcely
considered, and the merely physical phenomenon imperfectly analysed, too
much weight is given to ideas of measure and number, as the sole principle
of good. The comparison of pleasure and knowledge is really a comparison
of two elements, which have no common measure, and which cannot be excluded
from each other. Feeling is not opposed to knowledge, and in all
consciousness there is an element of both. The most abstract kinds of
knowledge are inseparable from some pleasure or pain, which accompanies the
acquisition or possession of them: the student is liable to grow weary of
them, and soon discovers that continuous mental energy is not granted to
men. The most sensual pleasure, on the other hand, is inseparable from the
consciousness of pleasure; no man can be happy who, to borrow Plato's
illustration, is leading the life of an oyster. Hence (by his own
confession) the main thesis is not worth determining; the real interest
lies in the incidental discussion. We can no more separate pleasure from
knowledge in the Philebus than we can separate justice from happiness in
IV. An interesting account is given in the Philebus of the rank and order
of the sciences or arts, which agrees generally with the scheme of
knowledge in the Sixth Book of the Republic. The chief difference is, that
the position of the arts is more exactly defined. They are divided into an
empirical part and a scientific part, of which the first is mere guess-
work, the second is determined by rule and measure. Of the more empirical
arts, music is given as an example; this, although affirmed to be necessary
to human life, is depreciated. Music is regarded from a point of view
entirely opposite to that of the Republic, not as a sublime science,
coordinate with astronomy, but as full of doubt and conjecture. According
to the standard of accuracy which is here adopted, it is rightly placed
lower in the scale than carpentering, because the latter is more capable of
being reduced to measure.
The theoretical element of the arts may also become a purely abstract
science, when separated from matter, and is then said to be pure and
unmixed. The distinction which Plato here makes seems to be the same as
that between pure and applied mathematics, and may be expressed in the
modern formula--science is art theoretical, art is science practical. In
the reason which he gives for the superiority of the pure science of number
over the mixed or applied, we can only agree with him in part. He says
that the numbers which the philosopher employs are always the same, whereas
the numbers which are used in practice represent different sizes or
quantities. He does not see that this power of expressing different
quantities by the same symbol is the characteristic and not the defect of
numbers, and is due to their abstract nature;--although we admit of course
what Plato seems to feel in his distinctions between pure and impure
knowledge, that the imperfection of matter enters into the applications of
Above the other sciences, as in the Republic, towers dialectic, which is
the science of eternal Being, apprehended by the purest mind and reason.
The lower sciences, including the mathematical, are akin to opinion rather
than to reason, and are placed together in the fourth class of goods. The
relation in which they stand to dialectic is obscure in the Republic, and
is not cleared up in the Philebus.
V. Thus far we have only attained to the vestibule or ante-chamber of the
good; for there is a good exceeding knowledge, exceeding essence, which,
like Glaucon in the Republic, we find a difficulty in apprehending. This
good is now to be exhibited to us under various aspects and gradations.
The relative dignity of pleasure and knowledge has been determined; but
they have not yet received their exact position in the scale of goods.
Some difficulties occur to us in the enumeration: First, how are we to
distinguish the first from the second class of goods, or the second from
the third? Secondly, why is there no mention of the supreme mind?
Thirdly, the nature of the fourth class. Fourthly, the meaning of the
allusion to a sixth class, which is not further investigated.
(I) Plato seems to proceed in his table of goods, from the more abstract to
the less abstract; from the subjective to the objective; until at the lower
end of the scale we fairly descend into the region of human action and
feeling. To him, the greater the abstraction the greater the truth, and he
is always tending to see abstractions within abstractions; which, like the
ideas in the Parmenides, are always appearing one behind another. Hence we
find a difficulty in following him into the sphere of thought which he is
seeking to attain. First in his scale of goods he places measure, in which
he finds the eternal nature: this would be more naturally expressed in
modern language as eternal law, and seems to be akin both to the finite and
to the mind or cause, which were two of the elements in the former table.
Like the supreme nature in the Timaeus, like the ideal beauty in the
Symposium or the Phaedrus, or like the ideal good in the Republic, this is
the absolute and unapproachable being. But this being is manifested in
symmetry and beauty everywhere, in the order of nature and of mind, in the
relations of men to one another. For the word 'measure' he now substitutes
the word 'symmetry,' as if intending to express measure conceived as
relation. He then proceeds to regard the good no longer in an objective
form, but as the human reason seeking to attain truth by the aid of
dialectic; such at least we naturally infer to be his meaning, when we
consider that both here and in the Republic the sphere of nous or mind is
assigned to dialectic. (2) It is remarkable (see above) that this personal
conception of mind is confined to the human mind, and not extended to the
divine. (3) If we may be allowed to interpret one dialogue of Plato by
another, the sciences of figure and number are probably classed with the
arts and true opinions, because they proceed from hypotheses (compare
Republic). (4) The sixth class, if a sixth class is to be added, is
playfully set aside by a quotation from Orpheus: Plato means to say that a
sixth class, if there be such a class, is not worth considering, because
pleasure, having only gained the fifth place in the scale of goods, is
already out of the running.
VI. We may now endeavour to ascertain the relation of the Philebus to the
other dialogues. Here Plato shows the same indifference to his own
doctrine of Ideas which he has already manifested in the Parmenides and the
Sophist. The principle of the one and many of which he here speaks, is
illustrated by examples in the Sophist and Statesman. Notwithstanding the
differences of style, many resemblances may be noticed between the Philebus
and Gorgias. The theory of the simultaneousness of pleasure and pain is
common to both of them (Phil. Gorg.); there is also a common tendency in
them to take up arms against pleasure, although the view of the Philebus,
which is probably the later of the two dialogues, is the more moderate.
There seems to be an allusion to the passage in the Gorgias, in which
Socrates dilates on the pleasures of itching and scratching. Nor is there
any real discrepancy in the manner in which Gorgias and his art are spoken
of in the two dialogues. For Socrates is far from implying that the art of
rhetoric has a real sphere of practical usefulness: he only means that the
refutation of the claims of Gorgias is not necessary for his present
purpose. He is saying in effect: 'Admit, if you please, that rhetoric is
the greatest and usefullest of sciences:--this does not prove that
dialectic is not the purest and most exact.' From the Sophist and
Statesman we know that his hostility towards the sophists and rhetoricians
was not mitigated in later life; although both in the Statesman and Laws he
admits of a higher use of rhetoric.
Reasons have been already given for assigning a late date to the Philebus.
That the date is probably later than that of the Republic, may be further
argued on the following grounds:--1. The general resemblance to the later
dialogues and to the Laws: 2. The more complete account of the nature of
good and pleasure: 3. The distinction between perception, memory,
recollection, and opinion which indicates a great progress in psychology;
also between understanding and imagination, which is described under the
figure of the scribe and the painter. A superficial notion may arise that
Plato probably wrote shorter dialogues, such as the Philebus, the Sophist,
and the Statesman, as studies or preparations for longer ones. This view
may be natural; but on further reflection is seen to be fallacious, because
these three dialogues are found to make an advance upon the metaphysical
conceptions of the Republic. And we can more easily suppose that Plato
composed shorter writings after longer ones, than suppose that he lost hold
of further points of view which he had once attained.
It is more easy to find traces of the Pythagoreans, Eleatics, Megarians,
Cynics, Cyrenaics and of the ideas of Anaxagoras, in the Philebus, than to
say how much is due to each of them. Had we fuller records of those old
philosophers, we should probably find Plato in the midst of the fray
attempting to combine Eleatic and Pythagorean doctrines, and seeking to
find a truth beyond either Being or number; setting up his own concrete
conception of good against the abstract practical good of the Cynics, or
the abstract intellectual good of the Megarians, and his own idea of
classification against the denial of plurality in unity which is also
attributed to them; warring against the Eristics as destructive of truth,
as he had formerly fought against the Sophists; taking up a middle position
between the Cynics and Cyrenaics in his doctrine of pleasure; asserting
with more consistency than Anaxagoras the existence of an intelligent mind
and cause. Of the Heracliteans, whom he is said by Aristotle to have
cultivated in his youth, he speaks in the Philebus, as in the Theaetetus
and Cratylus, with irony and contempt. But we have not the knowledge which
would enable us to pursue further the line of reflection here indicated;
nor can we expect to find perfect clearness or order in the first efforts
of mankind to understand the working of their own minds. The ideas which
they are attempting to analyse, they are also in process of creating; the
abstract universals of which they are seeking to adjust the relations have
been already excluded by them from the category of relation.
The Philebus, like the Cratylus, is supposed to be the continuation of a
previous discussion. An argument respecting the comparative claims of
pleasure and wisdom to rank as the chief good has been already carried on
between Philebus and Socrates. The argument is now transferred to
Protarchus, the son of Callias, a noble Athenian youth, sprung from a
family which had spent 'a world of money' on the Sophists (compare Apol.;
Crat.; Protag.). Philebus, who appears to be the teacher, or elder friend,
and perhaps the lover, of Protarchus, takes no further part in the
discussion beyond asserting in the strongest manner his adherence, under
all circumstances, to the cause of pleasure.
Socrates suggests that they shall have a first and second palm of victory.
For there may be a good higher than either pleasure or wisdom, and then
neither of them will gain the first prize, but whichever of the two is more
akin to this higher good will have a right to the second. They agree, and
Socrates opens the game by enlarging on the diversity and opposition which
exists among pleasures. For there are pleasures of all kinds, good and
bad, wise and foolish--pleasures of the temperate as well as of the
intemperate. Protarchus replies that although pleasures may be opposed in
so far as they spring from opposite sources, nevertheless as pleasures they
are alike. Yes, retorts Socrates, pleasure is like pleasure, as figure is
like figure and colour like colour; yet we all know that there is great
variety among figures and colours. Protarchus does not see the drift of
this remark; and Socrates proceeds to ask how he can have a right to
attribute a new predicate (i.e. 'good') to pleasures in general, when he
cannot deny that they are different? What common property in all of them
does he mean to indicate by the term 'good'? If he continues to assert
that there is some trivial sense in which pleasure is one, Socrates may
retort by saying that knowledge is one, but the result will be that such
merely verbal and trivial conceptions, whether of knowledge or pleasure,
will spoil the discussion, and will prove the incapacity of the two
disputants. In order to avoid this danger, he proposes that they shall
beat a retreat, and, before they proceed, come to an understanding about
the 'high argument' of the one and the many.
Protarchus agrees to the proposal, but he is under the impression that
Socrates means to discuss the common question--how a sensible object can be
one, and yet have opposite attributes, such as 'great' and 'small,' 'light'
and 'heavy,' or how there can be many members in one body, and the like
wonders. Socrates has long ceased to see any wonder in these phenomena;
his difficulties begin with the application of number to abstract unities
(e.g.'man,' 'good') and with the attempt to divide them. For have these
unities of idea any real existence? How, if imperishable, can they enter
into the world of generation? How, as units, can they be divided and
dispersed among different objects? Or do they exist in their entirety in
each object? These difficulties are but imperfectly answered by Socrates
in what follows.
We speak of a one and many, which is ever flowing in and out of all things,
concerning which a young man often runs wild in his first metaphysical
enthusiasm, talking about analysis and synthesis to his father and mother
and the neighbours, hardly sparing even his dog. This 'one in many' is a
revelation of the order of the world, which some Prometheus first made
known to our ancestors; and they, who were better men and nearer the gods
than we are, have handed it down to us. To know how to proceed by regular
steps from one to many, and from many to one, is just what makes the
difference between eristic and dialectic. And the right way of proceeding
is to look for one idea or class in all things, and when you have found one
to look for more than one, and for all that there are, and when you have
found them all and regularly divided a particular field of knowledge into
classes, you may leave the further consideration of individuals. But you
must not pass at once either from unity to infinity, or from infinity to
unity. In music, for example, you may begin with the most general notion,
but this alone will not make you a musician: you must know also the number
and nature of the intervals, and the systems which are framed out of them,
and the rhythms of the dance which correspond to them. And when you have a
similar knowledge of any other subject, you may be said to know that
subject. In speech again there are infinite varieties of sound, and some
one who was a wise man, or more than man, comprehended them all in the
classes of mutes, vowels, and semivowels, and gave to each of them a name,
and assigned them to the art of grammar.
'But whither, Socrates, are you going? And what has this to do with the
comparative eligibility of pleasure and wisdom:' Socrates replies, that
before we can adjust their respective claims, we want to know the number
and kinds of both of them. What are they? He is requested to answer the
question himself. That he will, if he may be allowed to make one or two
preliminary remarks. In the first place he has a dreamy recollection of
hearing that neither pleasure nor knowledge is the highest good, for the
good should be perfect and sufficient. But is the life of pleasure perfect
and sufficient, when deprived of memory, consciousness, anticipation? Is
not this the life of an oyster? Or is the life of mind sufficient, if
devoid of any particle of pleasure? Must not the union of the two be
higher and more eligible than either separately? And is not the element
which makes this mixed life eligible more akin to mind than to pleasure?
Thus pleasure is rejected and mind is rejected. And yet there may be a
life of mind, not human but divine, which conquers still.
But, if we are to pursue this argument further, we shall require some new
weapons; and by this, I mean a new classification of existence. (1) There
is a finite element of existence, and (2) an infinite, and (3) the union of
the two, and (4) the cause of the union. More may be added if they are
wanted, but at present we can do without them. And first of the infinite
or indefinite:--That is the class which is denoted by the terms more or
less, and is always in a state of comparison. All words or ideas to which
the words 'gently,' 'extremely,' and other comparative expressions are
applied, fall under this class. The infinite would be no longer infinite,
if limited or reduced to measure by number and quantity. The opposite
class is the limited or finite, and includes all things which have number
and quantity. And there is a third class of generation into essence by the
union of the finite and infinite, in which the finite gives law to the
infinite;--under this are comprehended health, strength, temperate seasons,
harmony, beauty, and the like. The goddess of beauty saw the universal
wantonness of all things, and gave law and order to be the salvation of the
soul. But no effect can be generated without a cause, and therefore there
must be a fourth class, which is the cause of generation; for the cause or
agent is not the same as the patient or effect.
And now, having obtained our classes, we may determine in which our
conqueror life is to be placed: Clearly in the third or mixed class, in
which the finite gives law to the infinite. And in which is pleasure to
find a place? As clearly in the infinite or indefinite, which alone, as
Protarchus thinks (who seems to confuse the infinite with the superlative),
gives to pleasure the character of the absolute good. Yes, retorts
Socrates, and also to pain the character of absolute evil. And therefore
the infinite cannot be that which imparts to pleasure the nature of the
good. But where shall we place mind? That is a very serious and awful
question, which may be prefaced by another. Is mind or chance the lord of
the universe? All philosophers will say the first, and yet, perhaps, they
may be only magnifying themselves. And for this reason I should like to
consider the matter a little more deeply, even though some lovers of
disorder in the world should ridicule my attempt.
Now the elements earth, air, fire, water, exist in us, and they exist in
the cosmos; but they are purer and fairer in the cosmos than they are in
us, and they come to us from thence. And as we have a soul as well as a
body, in like manner the elements of the finite, the infinite, the union of
the two, and the cause, are found to exist in us. And if they, like the
elements, exist in us, and the three first exist in the world, must not the
fourth or cause which is the noblest of them, exist in the world? And this
cause is wisdom or mind, the royal mind of Zeus, who is the king of all, as
there are other gods who have other noble attributes. Observe how well
this agrees with the testimony of men of old, who affirmed mind to be the
ruler of the universe. And remember that mind belongs to the class which
we term the cause, and pleasure to the infinite or indefinite class. We
will examine the place and origin of both.
What is the origin of pleasure? Her natural seat is the mixed class, in
which health and harmony were placed. Pain is the violation, and pleasure
the restoration of limit. There is a natural union of finite and infinite,
which in hunger, thirst, heat, cold, is impaired--this is painful, but the
return to nature, in which the elements are restored to their normal
proportions, is pleasant. Here is our first class of pleasures. And
another class of pleasures and pains are hopes and fears; these are in the
mind only. And inasmuch as the pleasures are unalloyed by pains and the
pains by pleasures, the examination of them may show us whether all
pleasure is to be desired, or whether this entire desirableness is not
rather the attribute of another class. But if pleasures and pains consist
in the violation and restoration of limit, may there not be a neutral
state, in which there is neither dissolution nor restoration? That is a
further question, and admitting, as we must, the possibility of such a
state, there seems to be no reason why the life of wisdom should not exist
in this neutral state, which is, moreover, the state of the gods, who
cannot, without indecency, be supposed to feel either joy or sorrow.
The second class of pleasures involves memory. There are affections which
are extinguished before they reach the soul, and of these there is no
consciousness, and therefore no memory. And there are affections which the
body and soul feel together, and this feeling is termed consciousness. And
memory is the preservation of consciousness, and reminiscence is the
recovery of consciousness. Now the memory of pleasure, when a man is in
pain, is the memory of the opposite of his actual bodily state, and is
therefore not in the body, but in the mind. And there may be an
intermediate state, in which a person is balanced between pleasure and
pain; in his body there is want which is a cause of pain, but in his mind a
sure hope of replenishment, which is pleasant. (But if the hope be
converted into despair, he has two pains and not a balance of pain and
pleasure.) Another question is raised: May not pleasures, like opinions,
be true and false? In the sense of being real, both must be admitted to be
true: nor can we deny that to both of them qualities may be attributed;
for pleasures as well as opinions may be described as good or bad. And
though we do not all of us allow that there are true and false pleasures,
we all acknowledge that there are some pleasures associated with right
opinion, and others with falsehood and ignorance. Let us endeavour to
analyze the nature of this association.
Opinion is based on perception, which may be correct or mistaken. You may
see a figure at a distance, and say first of all, 'This is a man,' and then
say, 'No, this is an image made by the shepherds.' And you may affirm this
in a proposition to your companion, or make the remark mentally to
yourself. Whether the words are actually spoken or not, on such occasions
there is a scribe within who registers them, and a painter who paints the
images of the things which the scribe has written down in the soul,--at
least that is my own notion of the process; and the words and images which
are inscribed by them may be either true or false; and they may represent
either past, present, or future. And, representing the future, they must
also represent the pleasures and pains of anticipation--the visions of gold
and other fancies which are never wanting in the mind of man. Now these
hopes, as they are termed, are propositions, which are sometimes true, and
sometimes false; for the good, who are the friends of the gods, see true
pictures of the future, and the bad false ones. And as there may be
opinion about things which are not, were not, and will not be, which is
opinion still, so there may be pleasure about things which are not, were
not, and will not be, which is pleasure still,--that is to say, false
pleasure; and only when false, can pleasure, like opinion, be vicious.
Against this conclusion Protarchus reclaims.
Leaving his denial for the present, Socrates proceeds to show that some
pleasures are false from another point of view. In desire, as we admitted,
the body is divided from the soul, and hence pleasures and pains are often
simultaneous. And we further admitted that both of them belonged to the
infinite class. How, then, can we compare them? Are we not liable, or
rather certain, as in the case of sight, to be deceived by distance and
relation? In this case the pleasures and pains are not false because based
upon false opinion, but are themselves false. And there is another
illusion: pain has often been said by us to arise out of the derangement--
pleasure out of the restoration--of our nature. But in passing from one to
the other, do we not experience neutral states, which although they appear
pleasureable or painful are really neither? For even if we admit, with the
wise man whom Protarchus loves (and only a wise man could have ever
entertained such a notion), that all things are in a perpetual flux, still
these changes are often unconscious, and devoid either of pleasure or pain.
We assume, then, that there are three states--pleasureable, painful,
neutral; we may embellish a little by calling them gold, silver, and that
which is neither.
But there are certain natural philosophers who will not admit a third
state. Their instinctive dislike to pleasure leads them to affirm that
pleasure is only the absence of pain. They are noble fellows, and,
although we do not agree with them, we may use them as diviners who will
indicate to us the right track. They will say, that the nature of anything
is best known from the examination of extreme cases, e.g. the nature of
hardness from the examination of the hardest things; and that the nature of
pleasure will be best understood from an examination of the most intense
pleasures. Now these are the pleasures of the body, not of the mind; the
pleasures of disease and not of health, the pleasures of the intemperate
and not of the temperate. I am speaking, not of the frequency or
continuance, but only of the intensity of such pleasures, and this is given
them by contrast with the pain or sickness of body which precedes them.
Their morbid nature is illustrated by the lesser instances of itching and
scratching, respecting which I swear that I cannot tell whether they are a
pleasure or a pain. (1) Some of these arise out of a transition from one
state of the body to another, as from cold to hot; (2) others are caused by
the contrast of an internal pain and an external pleasure in the body:
sometimes the feeling of pain predominates, as in itching and tingling,
when they are relieved by scratching; sometimes the feeling of pleasure:
or the pleasure which they give may be quite overpowering, and is then
accompanied by all sorts of unutterable feelings which have a death of
delights in them. But there are also mixed pleasures which are in the mind
only. For are not love and sorrow as well as anger 'sweeter than honey,'
and also full of pain? Is there not a mixture of feelings in the spectator
of tragedy? and of comedy also? 'I do not understand that last.' Well,
then, with the view of lighting up the obscurity of these mixed feelings,
let me ask whether envy is painful. 'Yes.' And yet the envious man finds
something pleasing in the misfortunes of others? 'True.' And ignorance is
a misfortune? 'Certainly.' And one form of ignorance is self-conceit--a
man may fancy himself richer, fairer, better, wiser than he is? 'Yes.'
And he who thus deceives himself may be strong or weak? 'He may.' And if
he is strong we fear him, and if he is weak we laugh at him, which is a
pleasure, and yet we envy him, which is a pain? These mixed feelings are
the rationale of tragedy and comedy, and equally the rationale of the
greater drama of human life. (There appears to be some confusion in this
passage. There is no difficulty in seeing that in comedy, as in tragedy,
the spectator may view the performance with mixed feelings of pain as well
as of pleasure; nor is there any difficulty in understanding that envy is a
mixed feeling, which rejoices not without pain at the misfortunes of
others, and laughs at their ignorance of themselves. But Plato seems to
think further that he has explained the feeling of the spectator in comedy
sufficiently by a theory which only applies to comedy in so far as in
comedy we laugh at the conceit or weakness of others. He has certainly
given a very partial explanation of the ridiculous.) Having shown how
sorrow, anger, envy are feelings of a mixed nature, I will reserve the
consideration of the remainder for another occasion.
Next follow the unmixed pleasures; which, unlike the philosophers of whom I
was speaking, I believe to be real. These unmixed pleasures are: (1) The
pleasures derived from beauty of form, colour, sound, smell, which are
absolutely pure; and in general those which are unalloyed with pain: (2)
The pleasures derived from the acquisition of knowledge, which in
themselves are pure, but may be attended by an accidental pain of
forgetting; this, however, arises from a subsequent act of reflection, of
which we need take no account. At the same time, we admit that the latter
pleasures are the property of a very few. To these pure and unmixed
pleasures we ascribe measure, whereas all others belong to the class of the
infinite, and are liable to every species of excess. And here several
questions arise for consideration:--What is the meaning of pure and impure,
of moderate and immoderate? We may answer the question by an illustration:
Purity of white paint consists in the clearness or quality of the white,
and this is distinct from the quantity or amount of white paint; a little
pure white is fairer than a great deal which is impure. But there is
another question:--Pleasure is affirmed by ingenious philosophers to be a
generation; they say that there are two natures--one self-existent, the
other dependent; the one noble and majestic, the other failing in both
these qualities. 'I do not understand.' There are lovers and there are
loves. 'Yes, I know, but what is the application?' The argument is in
play, and desires to intimate that there are relatives and there are
absolutes, and that the relative is for the sake of the absolute; and
generation is for the sake of essence. Under relatives I class all things
done with a view to generation; and essence is of the class of good. But
if essence is of the class of good, generation must be of some other class;
and our friends, who affirm that pleasure is a generation, would laugh at
the notion that pleasure is a good; and at that other notion, that pleasure
is produced by generation, which is only the alternative of destruction.
Who would prefer such an alternation to the equable life of pure thought?
Here is one absurdity, and not the only one, to which the friends of
pleasure are reduced. For is there not also an absurdity in affirming that
good is of the soul only; or in declaring that the best of men, if he be in
pain, is bad?
And now, from the consideration of pleasure, we pass to that of knowledge.
Let us reflect that there are two kinds of knowledge--the one creative or
productive, and the other educational and philosophical. Of the creative
arts, there is one part purer or more akin to knowledge than the other.
There is an element of guess-work and an element of number and measure in
them. In music, for example, especially in flute-playing, the conjectural
element prevails; while in carpentering there is more application of rule
and measure. Of the creative arts, then, we may make two classes--the less
exact and the more exact. And the exacter part of all of them is really
arithmetic and mensuration. But arithmetic and mensuration again may be
subdivided with reference either to their use in the concrete, or to their
nature in the abstract--as they are regarded popularly in building and
binding, or theoretically by philosophers. And, borrowing the analogy of
pleasure, we may say that the philosophical use of them is purer than the
other. Thus we have two arts of arithmetic, and two of mensuration. And
truest of all in the estimation of every rational man is dialectic, or the
science of being, which will forget and disown us, if we forget and disown
'But, Socrates, I have heard Gorgias say that rhetoric is the greatest and
usefullest of arts; and I should not like to quarrel either with him or
you.' Neither is there any inconsistency, Protarchus, with his statement
in what I am now saying; for I am not maintaining that dialectic is the
greatest or usefullest, but only that she is the truest of arts; my remark
is not quantitative but qualitative, and refers not to the advantage or
repetition of either, but to the degree of truth which they attain--here
Gorgias will not care to compete; this is what we affirm to be possessed in
the highest degree by dialectic. And do not let us appeal to Gorgias or
Philebus or Socrates, but ask, on behalf of the argument, what are the
highest truths which the soul has the power of attaining. And is not this
the science which has a firmer grasp of them than any other? For the arts
generally are only occupied with matters of opinion, and with the
production and action and passion of this sensible world. But the highest
truth is that which is eternal and unchangeable. And reason and wisdom are
concerned with the eternal; and these are the very claimants, if not for
the first, at least for the second place, whom I propose as rivals to
And now, having the materials, we may proceed to mix them--first
recapitulating the question at issue.
Philebus affirmed pleasure to be the good, and assumed them to be one
nature; I affirmed that they were two natures, and declared that knowledge
was more akin to the good than pleasure. I said that the two together were
more eligible than either taken singly; and to this we adhere. Reason
intimates, as at first, that we should seek the good not in the unmixed
life, but in the mixed.
The cup is ready, waiting to be mingled, and here are two fountains, one of
honey, the other of pure water, out of which to make the fairest possible
mixture. There are pure and impure pleasures--pure and impure sciences.
Let us consider the sections of each which have the most of purity and
truth; to admit them all indiscriminately would be dangerous. First we
will take the pure sciences; but shall we mingle the impure--the art which
uses the false rule and the false measure? That we must, if we are any of
us to find our way home; man cannot live upon pure mathematics alone. And
must I include music, which is admitted to be guess-work? 'Yes, you must,
if human life is to have any humanity.' Well, then, I will open the door
and let them all in; they shall mingle in an Homeric 'meeting of the
waters.' And now we turn to the pleasures; shall I admit them? 'Admit
first of all the pure pleasures; secondly, the necessary.' And what shall
we say about the rest? First, ask the pleasures--they will be too happy to
dwell with wisdom. Secondly, ask the arts and sciences--they reply that
the excesses of intemperance are the ruin of them; and that they would
rather only have the pleasures of health and temperance, which are the
handmaidens of virtue. But still we want truth? That is now added; and so
the argument is complete, and may be compared to an incorporeal law, which
is to hold fair rule over a living body. And now we are at the vestibule
of the good, in which there are three chief elements--truth, symmetry, and
beauty. These will be the criterion of the comparative claims of pleasure
Which has the greater share of truth? Surely wisdom; for pleasure is the
veriest impostor in the world, and the perjuries of lovers have passed into
Which of symmetry? Wisdom again; for nothing is more immoderate than
Which of beauty? Once more, wisdom; for pleasure is often unseemly, and
the greatest pleasures are put out of sight.
Not pleasure, then, ranks first in the scale of good, but measure, and
Second comes the symmetrical and beautiful and perfect.
Third, mind and wisdom.
Fourth, sciences and arts and true opinions.
Fifth, painless pleasures.
Of a sixth class, I have no more to say. Thus, pleasure and mind may both
renounce the claim to the first place. But mind is ten thousand times
nearer to the chief good than pleasure. Pleasure ranks fifth and not
first, even though all the animals in the world assert the contrary.
From the days of Aristippus and Epicurus to our own times the nature of
pleasure has occupied the attention of philosophers. 'Is pleasure an evil?
a good? the only good?' are the simple forms which the enquiry assumed
among the Socratic schools. But at an early stage of the controversy
another question was asked: 'Do pleasures differ in kind? and are some
bad, some good, and some neither bad nor good?' There are bodily and there
are mental pleasures, which were at first confused but afterwards
distinguished. A distinction was also made between necessary and
unnecessary pleasures; and again between pleasures which had or had not
corresponding pains. The ancient philosophers were fond of asking, in the
language of their age, 'Is pleasure a "becoming" only, and therefore
transient and relative, or do some pleasures partake of truth and Being?'
To these ancient speculations the moderns have added a further question:--
'Whose pleasure? The pleasure of yourself, or of your neighbour,--of the
individual, or of the world?' This little addition has changed the whole
aspect of the discussion: the same word is now supposed to include two
principles as widely different as benevolence and self-love. Some modern
writers have also distinguished between pleasure the test, and pleasure the
motive of actions. For the universal test of right actions (how I know
them) may not always be the highest or best motive of them (why I do them).
Socrates, as we learn from the Memorabilia of Xenophon, first drew
attention to the consequences of actions. Mankind were said by him to act
rightly when they knew what they were doing, or, in the language of the
Gorgias, 'did what they would.' He seems to have been the first who
maintained that the good was the useful (Mem.). In his eagerness for
generalization, seeking, as Aristotle says, for the universal in Ethics
(Metaph.), he took the most obvious intellectual aspect of human action
which occurred to him. He meant to emphasize, not pleasure, but the
calculation of pleasure; neither is he arguing that pleasure is the chief
good, but that we should have a principle of choice. He did not intend to
oppose 'the useful' to some higher conception, such as the Platonic ideal,
but to chance and caprice. The Platonic Socrates pursues the same vein of
thought in the Protagoras, where he argues against the so-called sophist
that pleasure and pain are the final standards and motives of good and
evil, and that the salvation of human life depends upon a right estimate of
pleasures greater or less when seen near and at a distance. The testimony
of Xenophon is thus confirmed by that of Plato, and we are therefore
justified in calling Socrates the first utilitarian; as indeed there is no
side or aspect of philosophy which may not with reason be ascribed to him--
he is Cynic and Cyrenaic, Platonist and Aristotelian in one. But in the
Phaedo the Socratic has already passed into a more ideal point of view; and
he, or rather Plato speaking in his person, expressly repudiates the notion
that the exchange of a less pleasure for a greater can be an exchange of
virtue. Such virtue is the virtue of ordinary men who live in the world of
appearance; they are temperate only that they may enjoy the pleasures of
intemperance, and courageous from fear of danger. Whereas the philosopher
is seeking after wisdom and not after pleasure, whether near or distant:
he is the mystic, the initiated, who has learnt to despise the body and is
yearning all his life long for a truth which will hereafter be revealed to
him. In the Republic the pleasures of knowledge are affirmed to be
superior to other pleasures, because the philosopher so estimates them; and
he alone has had experience of both kinds. (Compare a similar argument
urged by one of the latest defenders of Utilitarianism, Mill's
Utilitarianism). In the Philebus, Plato, although he regards the enemies
of pleasure with complacency, still further modifies the transcendentalism
of the Phaedo. For he is compelled to confess, rather reluctantly,
perhaps, that some pleasures, i.e. those which have no antecedent pains,
claim a place in the scale of goods.
There have been many reasons why not only Plato but mankind in general have
been unwilling to acknowledge that 'pleasure is the chief good.' Either
they have heard a voice calling to them out of another world; or the life
and example of some great teacher has cast their thoughts of right and
wrong in another mould; or the word 'pleasure' has been associated in their
mind with merely animal enjoyment. They could not believe that what they
were always striving to overcome, and the power or principle in them which
overcame, were of the same nature. The pleasure of doing good to others
and of bodily self-indulgence, the pleasures of intellect and the pleasures
of sense, are so different:--Why then should they be called by a common
name? Or, if the equivocal or metaphorical use of the word is justified by
custom (like the use of other words which at first referred only to the
body, and then by a figure have been transferred to the mind), still, why
should we make an ambiguous word the corner-stone of moral philosophy? To
the higher thinker the Utilitarian or hedonist mode of speaking has been at
variance with religion and with any higher conception both of politics and
of morals. It has not satisfied their imagination; it has offended their
taste. To elevate pleasure, 'the most fleeting of all things,' into a
general idea seems to such men a contradiction. They do not desire to
bring down their theory to the level of their practice. The simplicity of
the 'greatest happiness' principle has been acceptable to philosophers, but
the better part of the world has been slow to receive it.
Before proceeding, we may make a few admissions which will narrow the field
of dispute; and we may as well leave behind a few prejudices, which
intelligent opponents of Utilitarianism have by this time 'agreed to
discard'. We admit that Utility is coextensive with right, and that no
action can be right which does not tend to the happiness of mankind; we
acknowledge that a large class of actions are made right or wrong by their
consequences only; we say further that mankind are not too mindful, but
that they are far too regardless of consequences, and that they need to
have the doctrine of utility habitually inculcated on them. We recognize
the value of a principle which can supply a connecting link between Ethics
and Politics, and under which all human actions are or may be included.
The desire to promote happiness is no mean preference of expediency to
right, but one of the highest and noblest motives by which human nature can
be animated. Neither in referring actions to the test of utility have we
to make a laborious calculation, any more than in trying them by other
standards of morals. For long ago they have been classified sufficiently
for all practical purposes by the thinker, by the legislator, by the
opinion of the world. Whatever may be the hypothesis on which they are
explained, or which in doubtful cases may be applied to the regulation of
them, we are very rarely, if ever, called upon at the moment of performing
them to determine their effect upon the happiness of mankind.
There is a theory which has been contrasted with Utility by Paley and
others--the theory of a moral sense: Are our ideas of right and wrong
innate or derived from experience? This, perhaps, is another of those
speculations which intelligent men might 'agree to discard.' For it has
been worn threadbare; and either alternative is equally consistent with a
transcendental or with an eudaemonistic system of ethics, with a greatest
happiness principle or with Kant's law of duty. Yet to avoid
misconception, what appears to be the truth about the origin of our moral
ideas may be shortly summed up as follows:--To each of us individually our
moral ideas come first of all in childhood through the medium of education,
from parents and teachers, assisted by the unconscious influence of
language; they are impressed upon a mind which at first is like a waxen
tablet, adapted to receive them; but they soon become fixed or set, and in
after life are strengthened, or perhaps weakened by the force of public
opinion. They may be corrected and enlarged by experience, they may be
reasoned about, they may be brought home to us by the circumstances of our
lives, they may be intensified by imagination, by reflection, by a course
of action likely to confirm them. Under the influence of religious feeling
or by an effort of thought, any one beginning with the ordinary rules of
morality may create out of them for himself ideals of holiness and virtue.
They slumber in the minds of most men, yet in all of us there remains some
tincture of affection, some desire of good, some sense of truth, some fear
of the law. Of some such state or process each individual is conscious in
himself, and if he compares his own experience with that of others he will
find the witness of their consciences to coincide with that of his own.
All of us have entered into an inheritance which we have the power of
appropriating and making use of. No great effort of mind is required on
our part; we learn morals, as we learn to talk, instinctively, from
conversing with others, in an enlightened age, in a civilized country, in a
good home. A well-educated child of ten years old already knows the
essentials of morals: 'Thou shalt not steal,' 'thou shalt speak the
truth,' 'thou shalt love thy parents,' 'thou shalt fear God.' What more
does he want?
But whence comes this common inheritance or stock of moral ideas? Their
beginning, like all other beginnings of human things, is obscure, and is
the least important part of them. Imagine, if you will, that Society
originated in the herding of brutes, in their parental instincts, in their
rude attempts at self-preservation:--Man is not man in that he resembles,
but in that he differs from them. We must pass into another cycle of
existence, before we can discover in him by any evidence accessible to us
even the germs of our moral ideas. In the history of the world, which
viewed from within is the history of the human mind, they have been slowly
created by religion, by poetry, by law, having their foundation in the
natural affections and in the necessity of some degree of truth and justice
in a social state; they have been deepened and enlarged by the efforts of
great thinkers who have idealized and connected them--by the lives of
saints and prophets who have taught and exemplified them. The schools of
ancient philosophy which seem so far from us--Socrates, Plato, Aristotle,
the Stoics, the Epicureans, and a few modern teachers, such as Kant and
Bentham, have each of them supplied 'moments' of thought to the world. The
life of Christ has embodied a divine love, wisdom, patience,
reasonableness. For his image, however imperfectly handed down to us, the
modern world has received a standard more perfect in idea than the
societies of ancient times, but also further removed from practice. For
there is certainly a greater interval between the theory and practice of
Christians than between the theory and practice of the Greeks and Romans;
the ideal is more above us, and the aspiration after good has often lent a
strange power to evil. And sometimes, as at the Reformation, or French
Revolution, when the upper classes of a so-called Christian country have
become corrupted by priestcraft, by casuistry, by licentiousness, by
despotism, the lower have risen up and re-asserted the natural sense of
religion and right.
We may further remark that our moral ideas, as the world grows older,
perhaps as we grow older ourselves, unless they have been undermined in us
by false philosophy or the practice of mental analysis, or infected by the
corruption of society or by some moral disorder in the individual, are
constantly assuming a more natural and necessary character. The habit of
the mind, the opinion of the world, familiarizes them to us; and they take
more and more the form of immediate intuition. The moral sense comes last
and not first in the order of their development, and is the instinct which
we have inherited or acquired, not the nobler effort of reflection which
created them and which keeps them alive. We do not stop to reason about
common honesty. Whenever we are not blinded by self-deceit, as for example
in judging the actions of others, we have no hesitation in determining what
is right and wrong. The principles of morality, when not at variance with
some desire or worldly interest of our own, or with the opinion of the
public, are hardly perceived by us; but in the conflict of reason and
passion they assert their authority and are not overcome without remorse.
Such is a brief outline of the history of our moral ideas. We have to
distinguish, first of all, the manner in which they have grown up in the
world from the manner in which they have been communicated to each of us.
We may represent them to ourselves as flowing out of the boundless ocean of
language and thought in little rills, which convey them to the heart and
brain of each individual. But neither must we confound the theories or
aspects of morality with the origin of our moral ideas. These are not the
roots or 'origines' of morals, but the latest efforts of reflection, the
lights in which the whole moral world has been regarded by different
thinkers and successive generations of men. If we ask: Which of these
many theories is the true one? we may answer: All of them--moral sense,
innate ideas, a priori, a posteriori notions, the philosophy of experience,
the philosophy of intuition--all of them have added something to our
conception of Ethics; no one of them is the whole truth. But to decide how
far our ideas of morality are derived from one source or another; to
determine what history, what philosophy has contributed to them; to
distinguish the original, simple elements from the manifold and complex
applications of them, would be a long enquiry too far removed from the
question which we are now pursuing.
Bearing in mind the distinction which we have been seeking to establish
between our earliest and our most mature ideas of morality, we may now
proceed to state the theory of Utility, not exactly in the words, but in
the spirit of one of its ablest and most moderate supporters (Mill's
Utilitarianism):--'That which alone makes actions either right or desirable
is their utility, or tendency to promote the happiness of mankind, or, in
other words, to increase the sum of pleasure in the world. But all
pleasures are not the same: they differ in quality as well as in quantity,
and the pleasure which is superior in quality is incommensurable with the
inferior. Neither is the pleasure or happiness, which we seek, our own
pleasure, but that of others,--of our family, of our country, of mankind.
The desire of this, and even the sacrifice of our own interest to that of
other men, may become a passion to a rightly educated nature. The
Utilitarian finds a place in his system for this virtue and for every
Good or happiness or pleasure is thus regarded as the true and only end of
human life. To this all our desires will be found to tend, and in
accordance with this all the virtues, including justice, may be explained.
Admitting that men rest for a time in inferior ends, and do not cast their
eyes beyond them, these ends are really dependent on the greater end of
happiness, and would not be pursued, unless in general they had been found
to lead to it. The existence of such an end is proved, as in Aristotle's
time, so in our own, by the universal fact that men desire it. The
obligation to promote it is based upon the social nature of man; this sense
of duty is shared by all of us in some degree, and is capable of being
greatly fostered and strengthened. So far from being inconsistent with
religion, the greatest happiness principle is in the highest degree
agreeable to it. For what can be more reasonable than that God should will
the happiness of all his creatures? and in working out their happiness we
may be said to be 'working together with him.' Nor is it inconceivable
that a new enthusiasm of the future, far stronger than any old religion,
may be based upon such a conception.
But then for the familiar phrase of the 'greatest happiness principle,' it
seems as if we ought now to read 'the noblest happiness principle,' 'the
happiness of others principle'--the principle not of the greatest, but of
the highest pleasure, pursued with no more regard to our own immediate
interest than is required by the law of self-preservation. Transfer the
thought of happiness to another life, dropping the external circumstances
which form so large a part of our idea of happiness in this, and the
meaning of the word becomes indistinguishable from holiness, harmony,
wisdom, love. By the slight addition 'of others,' all the associations of
the word are altered; we seem to have passed over from one theory of morals
to the opposite. For allowing that the happiness of others is reflected on
ourselves, and also that every man must live before he can do good to
others, still the last limitation is a very trifling exception, and the
happiness of another is very far from compensating for the loss of our own.
According to Mr. Mill, he would best carry out the principle of utility who
sacrificed his own pleasure most to that of his fellow-men. But if so,
Hobbes and Butler, Shaftesbury and Hume, are not so far apart as they and
their followers imagine. The thought of self and the thought of others are
alike superseded in the more general notion of the happiness of mankind at
large. But in this composite good, until society becomes perfected, the
friend of man himself has generally the least share, and may be a great
And now what objection have we to urge against a system of moral philosophy
so beneficent, so enlightened, so ideal, and at the same time so
practical,--so Christian, as we may say without exaggeration,--and which
has the further advantage of resting morality on a principle intelligible
to all capacities? Have we not found that which Socrates and Plato 'grew
old in seeking'? Are we not desirous of happiness, at any rate for
ourselves and our friends, if not for all mankind? If, as is natural, we
begin by thinking of ourselves first, we are easily led on to think of
others; for we cannot help acknowledging that what is right for us is the
right and inheritance of others. We feel the advantage of an abstract
principle wide enough and strong enough to override all the particularisms
of mankind; which acknowledges a universal good, truth, right; which is
capable of inspiring men like a passion, and is the symbol of a cause for
which they are ready to contend to their life's end.
And if we test this principle by the lives of its professors, it would
certainly appear inferior to none as a rule of action. From the days of
Eudoxus (Arist. Ethics) and Epicurus to our own, the votaries of pleasure
have gained belief for their principles by their practice. Two of the
noblest and most disinterested men who have lived in this century, Bentham
and J. S. Mill, whose lives were a long devotion to the service of their
fellows, have been among the most enthusiastic supporters of utility; while
among their contemporaries, some who were of a more mystical turn of mind,
have ended rather in aspiration than in action, and have been found unequal
to the duties of life. Looking back on them now that they are removed from
the scene, we feel that mankind has been the better for them. The world
was against them while they lived; but this is rather a reason for admiring
than for depreciating them. Nor can any one doubt that the influence of
their philosophy on politics--especially on foreign politics, on law, on
social life, has been upon the whole beneficial. Nevertheless, they will
never have justice done to them, for they do not agree either with the
better feeling of the multitude or with the idealism of more refined
thinkers. Without Bentham, a great word in the history of philosophy would
have remained unspoken. Yet to this day it is rare to hear his name
received with any mark of respect such as would be freely granted to the
ambiguous memory of some father of the Church. The odium which attached to
him when alive has not been removed by his death. For he shocked his
contemporaries by egotism and want of taste; and this generation which has
reaped the benefit of his labours has inherited the feeling of the last.
He was before his own age, and is hardly remembered in this.
While acknowledging the benefits which the greatest happiness principle has
conferred upon mankind, the time appears to have arrived, not for denying
its claims, but for criticizing them and comparing them with other
principles which equally claim to lie at the foundation of ethics. Any one
who adds a general principle to knowledge has been a benefactor to the
world. But there is a danger that, in his first enthusiasm, he may not
recognize the proportions or limitations to which his truth is subjected;
he does not see how far he has given birth to a truism, or how that which
is a truth to him is a truism to the rest of the world; or may degenerate
in the next generation. He believes that to be the whole which is only a
part,--to be the necessary foundation which is really only a valuable
aspect of the truth. The systems of all philosophers require the criticism
of 'the morrow,' when the heat of imagination which forged them has cooled,
and they are seen in the temperate light of day. All of them have
contributed to enrich the mind of the civilized world; none of them occupy
that supreme or exclusive place which their authors would have assigned to
We may preface the criticism with a few preliminary remarks:--
Mr. Mill, Mr. Austin, and others, in their eagerness to maintain the
doctrine of utility, are fond of repeating that we are in a lamentable
state of uncertainty about morals. While other branches of knowledge have
made extraordinary progress, in moral philosophy we are supposed by them to
be no better than children, and with few exceptions--that is to say,
Bentham and his followers--to be no further advanced than men were in the
age of Socrates and Plato, who, in their turn, are deemed to be as backward
in ethics as they necessarily were in physics. But this, though often
asserted, is recanted almost in a breath by the same writers who speak thus
depreciatingly of our modern ethical philosophy. For they are the first to
acknowledge that we have not now to begin classifying actions under the
head of utility; they would not deny that about the general conceptions of
morals there is a practical agreement. There is no more doubt that
falsehood is wrong than that a stone falls to the ground, although the
first does not admit of the same ocular proof as the second. There is no
greater uncertainty about the duty of obedience to parents and to the law
of the land than about the properties of triangles. Unless we are looking
for a new moral world which has no marrying and giving in marriage, there
is no greater disagreement in theory about the right relations of the sexes
than about the composition of water. These and a few other simple
principles, as they have endless applications in practice, so also may be
developed in theory into counsels of perfection.
To what then is to be attributed this opinion which has been often
entertained about the uncertainty of morals? Chiefly to this,--that
philosophers have not always distinguished the theoretical and the
casuistical uncertainty of morals from the practical certainty. There is
an uncertainty about details,--whether, for example, under given
circumstances such and such a moral principle is to be enforced, or whether
in some cases there may not be a conflict of duties: these are the
exceptions to the ordinary rules of morality, important, indeed, but not
extending to the one thousandth or one ten-thousandth part of human
actions. This is the domain of casuistry. Secondly, the aspects under
which the most general principles of morals may be presented to us are many
and various. The mind of man has been more than usually active in thinking
about man. The conceptions of harmony, happiness, right, freedom,
benevolence, self-love, have all of them seemed to some philosopher or
other the truest and most comprehensive expression of morality. There is
no difference, or at any rate no great difference, of opinion about the
right and wrong of actions, but only about the general notion which
furnishes the best explanation or gives the most comprehensive view of
them. This, in the language of Kant, is the sphere of the metaphysic of
ethics. But these two uncertainties at either end, en tois malista
katholou and en tois kath ekasta, leave space enough for an intermediate
principle which is practically certain.
The rule of human life is not dependent on the theories of philosophers:
we know what our duties are for the most part before we speculate about
them. And the use of speculation is not to teach us what we already know,
but to inspire in our minds an interest about morals in general, to
strengthen our conception of the virtues by showing that they confirm one
another, to prove to us, as Socrates would have said, that they are not
many, but one. There is the same kind of pleasure and use in reducing
morals, as in reducing physics, to a few very simple truths. And not
unfrequently the more general principle may correct prejudices and
misconceptions, and enable us to regard our fellow-men in a larger and more
The two qualities which seem to be most required in first principles of
ethics are, (1) that they should afford a real explanation of the facts,
(2) that they should inspire the mind,--should harmonize, strengthen,
settle us. We can hardly estimate the influence which a simple principle
such as 'Act so as to promote the happiness of mankind,' or 'Act so that
the rule on which thou actest may be adopted as a law by all rational
beings,' may exercise on the mind of an individual. They will often seem
to open a new world to him, like the religious conceptions of faith or the
spirit of God. The difficulties of ethics disappear when we do not suffer
ourselves to be distracted between different points of view. But to
maintain their hold on us, the general principles must also be
psychologically true--they must agree with our experience, they must accord
with the habits of our minds.
When we are told that actions are right or wrong only in so far as they
tend towards happiness, we naturally ask what is meant by 'happiness.' For
the term in the common use of language is only to a certain extent
commensurate with moral good and evil. We should hardly say that a good
man could be utterly miserable (Arist. Ethics), or place a bad man in the
first rank of happiness. But yet, from various circumstances, the measure
of a man's happiness may be out of all proportion to his desert. And if we
insist on calling the good man alone happy, we shall be using the term in
some new and transcendental sense, as synonymous with well-being. We have
already seen that happiness includes the happiness of others as well as our
own; we must now comprehend unconscious as well as conscious happiness
under the same word. There is no harm in this extension of the meaning,
but a word which admits of such an extension can hardly be made the basis
of a philosophical system. The exactness which is required in philosophy
will not allow us to comprehend under the same term two ideas so different
as the subjective feeling of pleasure or happiness and the objective
reality of a state which receives our moral approval.
Like Protarchus in the Philebus, we can give no answer to the question,
'What is that common quality which in all states of human life we call
happiness? which includes the lower and the higher kind of happiness, and
is the aim of the noblest, as well as of the meanest of mankind?' If we
say 'Not pleasure, not virtue, not wisdom, nor yet any quality which we can
abstract from these'--what then? After seeming to hover for a time on the
verge of a great truth, we have gained only a truism.
Let us ask the question in another form. What is that which constitutes
happiness, over and above the several ingredients of health, wealth,
pleasure, virtue, knowledge, which are included under it? Perhaps we
answer, 'The subjective feeling of them.' But this is very far from being
coextensive with right. Or we may reply that happiness is the whole of
which the above-mentioned are the parts. Still the question recurs, 'In
what does the whole differ from all the parts?' And if we are unable to
distinguish them, happiness will be the mere aggregate of the goods of
Again, while admitting that in all right action there is an element of
happiness, we cannot help seeing that the utilitarian theory supplies a
much easier explanation of some virtues than of others. Of many patriotic
or benevolent actions we can give a straightforward account by their
tendency to promote happiness. For the explanation of justice, on the
other hand, we have to go a long way round. No man is indignant with a
thief because he has not promoted the greatest happiness of the greatest
number, but because he has done him a wrong. There is an immeasurable
interval between a crime against property or life, and the omission of an
act of charity or benevolence. Yet of this interval the utilitarian theory
takes no cognizance. The greatest happiness principle strengthens our
sense of positive duties towards others, but weakens our recognition of
their rights. To promote in every way possible the happiness of others may
be a counsel of perfection, but hardly seems to offer any ground for a
theory of obligation. For admitting that our ideas of obligation are
partly derived from religion and custom, yet they seem also to contain
other essential elements which cannot be explained by the tendency of
actions to promote happiness. Whence comes the necessity of them? Why are
some actions rather than others which equally tend to the happiness of
mankind imposed upon us with the authority of law? 'You ought' and 'you
had better' are fundamental distinctions in human thought; and having such
distinctions, why should we seek to efface and unsettle them?
Bentham and Mr. Mill are earnest in maintaining that happiness includes the
happiness of others as well as of ourselves. But what two notions can be
more opposed in many cases than these? Granting that in a perfect state of
the world my own happiness and that of all other men would coincide, in the
imperfect state they often diverge, and I cannot truly bridge over the
difficulty by saying that men will always find pleasure in sacrificing
themselves or in suffering for others. Upon the greatest happiness
principle it is admitted that I am to have a share, and in consistency I
should pursue my own happiness as impartially as that of my neighbour. But
who can decide what proportion should be mine and what his, except on the
principle that I am most likely to be deceived in my own favour, and had
therefore better give the larger share, if not all, to him?
Further, it is admitted that utility and right coincide, not in particular
instances, but in classes of actions. But is it not distracting to the
conscience of a man to be told that in the particular case they are
opposed? Happiness is said to be the ground of moral obligation, yet he
must not do what clearly conduces to his own happiness if it is at variance
with the good of the whole. Nay, further, he will be taught that when
utility and right are in apparent conflict any amount of utility does not
alter by a hair's-breadth the morality of actions, which cannot be allowed
to deviate from established law or usage; and that the non-detection of an
immoral act, say of telling a lie, which may often make the greatest
difference in the consequences, not only to himself, but to all the world,
makes none whatever in the act itself.
Again, if we are concerned not with particular actions but with classes of
actions, is the tendency of actions to happiness a principle upon which we
can classify them? There is a universal law which imperatively declares
certain acts to be right or wrong:--can there be any universality in the
law which measures actions by their tendencies towards happiness? For an
act which is the cause of happiness to one person may be the cause of
unhappiness to another; or an act which if performed by one person may
increase the happiness of mankind may have the opposite effect if performed
by another. Right can never be wrong, or wrong right, that there are no
actions which tend to the happiness of mankind which may not under other
circumstances tend to their unhappiness. Unless we say not only that all
right actions tend to happiness, but that they tend to happiness in the
same degree in which they are right (and in that case the word 'right' is
plainer), we weaken the absoluteness of our moral standard; we reduce
differences in kind to differences in degree; we obliterate the stamp which
the authority of ages has set upon vice and crime.
Once more: turning from theory to practice we feel the importance of
retaining the received distinctions of morality. Words such as truth,
justice, honesty, virtue, love, have a simple meaning; they have become
sacred to us,--'the word of God' written on the human heart: to no other
words can the same associations be attached. We cannot explain them
adequately on principles of utility; in attempting to do so we rob them of
their true character. We give them a meaning often paradoxical and
distorted, and generally weaker than their signification in common
language. And as words influence men's thoughts, we fear that the hold of
morality may also be weakened, and the sense of duty impaired, if virtue
and vice are explained only as the qualities which do or do not contribute
to the pleasure of the world. In that very expression we seem to detect a
false ring, for pleasure is individual not universal; we speak of eternal
and immutable justice, but not of eternal and immutable pleasure; nor by
any refinement can we avoid some taint of bodily sense adhering to the
meaning of the word.
Again: the higher the view which men take of life, the more they lose
sight of their own pleasure or interest. True religion is not working for
a reward only, but is ready to work equally without a reward. It is not
'doing the will of God for the sake of eternal happiness,' but doing the
will of God because it is best, whether rewarded or unrewarded. And this
applies to others as well as to ourselves. For he who sacrifices himself
for the good of others, does not sacrifice himself that they may be saved
from the persecution which he endures for their sakes, but rather that they
in their turn may be able to undergo similar sufferings, and like him stand
fast in the truth. To promote their happiness is not his first object, but
to elevate their moral nature. Both in his own case and that of others
there may be happiness in the distance, but if there were no happiness he
would equally act as he does. We are speaking of the highest and noblest
natures; and a passing thought naturally arises in our minds, 'Whether that
can be the first principle of morals which is hardly regarded in their own
case by the greatest benefactors of mankind?'
The admissions that pleasures differ in kind, and that actions are already
classified; the acknowledgment that happiness includes the happiness of
others, as well as of ourselves; the confusion (not made by Aristotle)
between conscious and unconscious happiness, or between happiness the
energy and happiness the result of the energy, introduce uncertainty and
inconsistency into the whole enquiry. We reason readily and cheerfully
from a greatest happiness principle. But we find that utilitarians do not
agree among themselves about the meaning of the word. Still less can they
impart to others a common conception or conviction of the nature of
happiness. The meaning of the word is always insensibly slipping away from
us, into pleasure, out of pleasure, now appearing as the motive, now as the
test of actions, and sometimes varying in successive sentences. And as in
a mathematical demonstration an error in the original number disturbs the
whole calculation which follows, this fundamental uncertainty about the
word vitiates all the applications of it. Must we not admit that a notion
so uncertain in meaning, so void of content, so at variance with common
language and opinion, does not comply adequately with either of our two
requirements? It can neither strike the imaginative faculty, nor give an
explanation of phenomena which is in accordance with our individual
experience. It is indefinite; it supplies only a partial account of human
actions: it is one among many theories of philosophers. It may be
compared with other notions, such as the chief good of Plato, which may be
best expressed to us under the form of a harmony, or with Kant's obedience
to law, which may be summed up under the word 'duty,' or with the Stoical
'Follow nature,' and seems to have no advantage over them. All of these
present a certain aspect of moral truth. None of them are, or indeed
profess to be, the only principle of morals.
And this brings us to speak of the most serious objection to the
utilitarian system--its exclusiveness. There is no place for Kant or
Hegel, for Plato and Aristotle alongside of it. They do not reject the
greatest happiness principle, but it rejects them. Now the phenomena of
moral action differ, and some are best explained upon one principle and
some upon another: the virtue of justice seems to be naturally connected
with one theory of morals, the virtues of temperance and benevolence with
another. The characters of men also differ; and some are more attracted by
one aspect of the truth, some by another. The firm stoical nature will
conceive virtue under the conception of law, the philanthropist under that
of doing good, the quietist under that of resignation, the enthusiast under
that of faith or love. The upright man of the world will desire above all
things that morality should be plain and fixed, and should use language in
its ordinary sense. Persons of an imaginative temperament will generally
be dissatisfied with the words 'utility' or 'pleasure': their principle of
right is of a far higher character--what or where to be found they cannot
always distinctly tell;--deduced from the laws of human nature, says one;
resting on the will of God, says another; based upon some transcendental
idea which animates more worlds than one, says a third:
on nomoi prokeintai upsipodes, ouranian
di aithera teknothentes.
To satisfy an imaginative nature in any degree, the doctrine of utility
must be so transfigured that it becomes altogether different and loses all
But why, since there are different characters among men, should we not
allow them to envisage morality accordingly, and be thankful to the great
men who have provided for all of us modes and instruments of thought?
Would the world have been better if there had been no Stoics or Kantists,
no Platonists or Cartesians? No more than if the other pole of moral
philosophy had been excluded. All men have principles which are above
their practice; they admit premises which, if carried to their conclusions,
are a sufficient basis of morals. In asserting liberty of speculation we
are not encouraging individuals to make right or wrong for themselves, but
only conceding that they may choose the form under which they prefer to
contemplate them. Nor do we say that one of these aspects is as true and
good as another; but that they all of them, if they are not mere sophisms
and illusions, define and bring into relief some part of the truth which
would have been obscure without their light. Why should we endeavour to
bind all men within the limits of a single metaphysical conception? The
necessary imperfection of language seems to require that we should view the
same truth under more than one aspect.
We are living in the second age of utilitarianism, when the charm of
novelty and the fervour of the first disciples has passed away. The
doctrine is no longer stated in the forcible paradoxical manner of Bentham,
but has to be adapted to meet objections; its corners are rubbed off, and
the meaning of its most characteristic expressions is softened. The array
of the enemy melts away when we approach him. The greatest happiness of
the greatest number was a great original idea when enunciated by Bentham,
which leavened a generation and has left its mark on thought and
civilization in all succeeding times. His grasp of it had the intensity of
genius. In the spirit of an ancient philosopher he would have denied that
pleasures differed in kind, or that by happiness he meant anything but
pleasure. He would perhaps have revolted us by his thoroughness. The
'guardianship of his doctrine' has passed into other hands; and now we seem
to see its weak points, its ambiguities, its want of exactness while
assuming the highest exactness, its one-sidedness, its paradoxical
explanation of several of the virtues. No philosophy has ever stood this
criticism of the next generation, though the founders of all of them have
imagined that they were built upon a rock. And the utilitarian system,
like others, has yielded to the inevitable analysis. Even in the opinion
of 'her admirers she has been terribly damaged' (Phil.), and is no longer
the only moral philosophy, but one among many which have contributed in
various degrees to the intellectual progress of mankind.
But because the utilitarian philosophy can no longer claim 'the prize,' we
must not refuse to acknowledge the great benefits conferred by it on the
world. All philosophies are refuted in their turn, says the sceptic, and
he looks forward to all future systems sharing the fate of the past. All
philosophies remain, says the thinker; they have done a great work in their
own day, and they supply posterity with aspects of the truth and with
instruments of thought. Though they may be shorn of their glory, they
retain their place in the organism of knowledge.
And still there remain many rules of morals which are better explained and
more forcibly inculcated on the principle of utility than on any other.
The question Will such and such an action promote the happiness of myself,
my family, my country, the world? may check the rising feeling of pride or
honour which would cause a quarrel, an estrangement, a war. 'How can I
contribute to the greatest happiness of others?' is another form of the
question which will be more attractive to the minds of many than a
deduction of the duty of benevolence from a priori principles. In politics
especially hardly any other argument can be allowed to have weight except
the happiness of a people. All parties alike profess to aim at this, which
though often used only as the disguise of self-interest has a great and
real influence on the minds of statesmen. In religion, again, nothing can
more tend to mitigate superstition than the belief that the good of man is
also the will of God. This is an easy test to which the prejudices and
superstitions of men may be brought:--whatever does not tend to the good of
men is not of God. And the ideal of the greatest happiness of mankind,
especially if believed to be the will of God, when compared with the actual
fact, will be one of the strongest motives to do good to others.
On the other hand, when the temptation is to speak falsely, to be dishonest
or unjust, or in any way to interfere with the rights of others, the
argument that these actions regarded as a class will not conduce to the
happiness of mankind, though true enough, seems to have less force than the
feeling which is already implanted in the mind by conscience and authority.
To resolve this feeling into the greatest happiness principle takes away
from its sacred and authoritative character. The martyr will not go to the
stake in order that he may promote the happiness of mankind, but for the
sake of the truth: neither will the soldier advance to the cannon's mouth
merely because he believes military discipline to be for the good of
mankind. It is better for him to know that he will be shot, that he will
be disgraced, if he runs away--he has no need to look beyond military
honour, patriotism, 'England expects every man to do his duty.' These are
stronger motives than the greatest happiness of the greatest number, which
is the thesis of a philosopher, not the watchword of an army. For in human
actions men do not always require broad principles; duties often come home
to us more when they are limited and defined, and sanctioned by custom and
Lastly, if we turn to the history of ethics, we shall find that our moral
ideas have originated not in utility but in religion, in law, in
conceptions of nature, of an ideal good, and the like. And many may be
inclined to think that this conclusively disproves the claim of utility to
be the basis of morals. But the utilitarian will fairly reply (see above)
that we must distinguish the origin of ethics from the principles of them--
the historical germ from the later growth of reflection. And he may also
truly add that for two thousand years and more, utility, if not the
originating, has been the great corrective principle in law, in politics,
in religion, leading men to ask how evil may be diminished and good
increased--by what course of policy the public interest may be promoted,
and to understand that God wills the happiness, not of some of his
creatures and in this world only, but of all of them and in every stage of
'What is the place of happiness or utility in a system of moral
philosophy?' is analogous to the question asked in the Philebus, 'What rank
does pleasure hold in the scale of goods?' Admitting the greatest
happiness principle to be true and valuable, and the necessary foundation
of that part of morals which relates to the consequences of actions, we
still have to consider whether this or some other general notion is the
highest principle of human life. We may try them in this comparison by
three tests--definiteness, comprehensiveness, and motive power.
There are three subjective principles of morals,--sympathy, benevolence,
self-love. But sympathy seems to rest morality on feelings which differ
widely even in good men; benevolence and self-love torture one half of our
virtuous actions into the likeness of the other. The greatest happiness
principle, which includes both, has the advantage over all these in
comprehensiveness, but the advantage is purchased at the expense of
Again, there are the legal and political principles of morals--freedom,
equality, rights of persons; 'Every man to count for one and no man for
more than one,' 'Every man equal in the eye of the law and of the
legislator.' There is also the other sort of political morality, which if
not beginning with 'Might is right,' at any rate seeks to deduce our ideas
of justice from the necessities of the state and of society. According to
this view the greatest good of men is obedience to law: the best human
government is a rational despotism, and the best idea which we can form of
a divine being is that of a despot acting not wholly without regard to law
and order. To such a view the present mixed state of the world, not wholly
evil or wholly good, is supposed to be a witness. More we might desire to
have, but are not permitted. Though a human tyrant would be intolerable, a
divine tyrant is a very tolerable governor of the universe. This is the
doctrine of Thrasymachus adapted to the public opinion of modern times.
There is yet a third view which combines the two:--freedom is obedience to
the law, and the greatest order is also the greatest freedom; 'Act so that
thy action may be the law of every intelligent being.' This view is noble
and elevating; but it seems to err, like other transcendental principles of
ethics, in being too abstract. For there is the same difficulty in
connecting the idea of duty with particular duties as in bridging the gulf
between phainomena and onta; and when, as in the system of Kant, this
universal idea or law is held to be independent of space and time, such a
mataion eidos becomes almost unmeaning.
Once more there are the religious principles of morals:--the will of God
revealed in Scripture and in nature. No philosophy has supplied a sanction
equal in authority to this, or a motive equal in strength to the belief in
another life. Yet about these too we must ask What will of God? how
revealed to us, and by what proofs? Religion, like happiness, is a word
which has great influence apart from any consideration of its content: it
may be for great good or for great evil. But true religion is the
synthesis of religion and morality, beginning with divine perfection in
which all human perfection is embodied. It moves among ideas of holiness,
justice, love, wisdom, truth; these are to God, in whom they are
personified, what the Platonic ideas are to the idea of good. It is the
consciousness of the will of God that all men should be as he is. It lives
in this world and is known to us only through the phenomena of this world,
but it extends to worlds beyond. Ordinary religion which is alloyed with
motives of this world may easily be in excess, may be fanatical, may be
interested, may be the mask of ambition, may be perverted in a thousand
ways. But of that religion which combines the will of God with our highest
ideas of truth and right there can never be too much. This impossibility
of excess is the note of divine moderation.
So then, having briefly passed in review the various principles of moral
philosophy, we may now arrange our goods in order, though, like the reader
of the Philebus, we have a difficulty in distinguishing the different
aspects of them from one another, or defining the point at which the human
passes into the divine.
First, the eternal will of God in this world and in another,--justice,
holiness, wisdom, love, without succession of acts (ouch e genesis
prosestin), which is known to us in part only, and reverenced by us as
Secondly, human perfection, or the fulfilment of the will of God in this
world, and co-operation with his laws revealed to us by reason and
experience, in nature, history, and in our own minds.
Thirdly, the elements of human perfection,--virtue, knowledge, and right
Fourthly, the external conditions of perfection,--health and the goods of
Fifthly, beauty and happiness,--the inward enjoyment of that which is best
and fairest in this world and in the human soul.
The Philebus is probably the latest in time of the writings of Plato with
the exception of the Laws. We have in it therefore the last development of
his philosophy. The extreme and one-sided doctrines of the Cynics and
Cyrenaics are included in a larger whole; the relations of pleasure and
knowledge to each other and to the good are authoritatively determined; the
Eleatic Being and the Heraclitean Flux no longer divide the empire of
thought; the Mind of Anaxagoras has become the Mind of God and of the
World. The great distinction between pure and applied science for the
first time has a place in philosophy; the natural claim of dialectic to be
the Queen of the Sciences is once more affirmed. This latter is the bond
of union which pervades the whole or nearly the whole of the Platonic
writings. And here as in several other dialogues (Phaedrus, Republic,
etc.) it is presented to us in a manner playful yet also serious, and
sometimes as if the thought of it were too great for human utterance and
came down from heaven direct. It is the organization of knowledge
wonderful to think of at a time when knowledge itself could hardly be said
to exist. It is this more than any other element which distinguishes
Plato, not only from the presocratic philosophers, but from Socrates
We have not yet reached the confines of Aristotle, but we make a somewhat
nearer approach to him in the Philebus than in the earlier Platonic
writings. The germs of logic are beginning to appear, but they are not
collected into a whole, or made a separate science or system. Many
thinkers of many different schools have to be interposed between the
Parmenides or Philebus of Plato, and the Physics or Metaphysics of
Aristotle. It is this interval upon which we have to fix our minds if we
would rightly understand the character of the transition from one to the
other. Plato and Aristotle do not dovetail into one another; nor does the
one begin where the other ends; there is a gulf between them not to be
measured by time, which in the fragmentary state of our knowledge it is
impossible to bridge over. It follows that the one cannot be interpreted
by the other. At any rate, it is not Plato who is to be interpreted by
Aristotle, but Aristotle by Plato. Of all philosophy and of all art the
true understanding is to be sought not in the afterthoughts of posterity,
but in the elements out of which they have arisen. For the previous stage
is a tendency towards the ideal at which they are aiming; the later is a
declination or deviation from them, or even a perversion of them. No man's
thoughts were ever so well expressed by his disciples as by himself.
But although Plato in the Philebus does not come into any close connexion
with Aristotle, he is now a long way from himself and from the beginnings
of his own philosophy. At the time of his death he left his system still
incomplete; or he may be more truly said to have had no system, but to have
lived in the successive stages or moments of metaphysical thought which
presented themselves from time to time. The earlier discussions about
universal ideas and definitions seem to have died away; the correlation of
ideas has taken their place. The flowers of rhetoric and poetry have lost
their freshness and charm; and a technical language has begun to supersede
and overgrow them. But the power of thinking tends to increase with age,
and the experience of life to widen and deepen. The good is summed up
under categories which are not summa genera, but heads or gradations of
thought. The question of pleasure and the relation of bodily pleasures to
mental, which is hardly treated of elsewhere in Plato, is here analysed
with great subtlety. The mean or measure is now made the first principle
of good. Some of these questions reappear in Aristotle, as does also the
distinction between metaphysics and mathematics. But there are many things
in Plato which have been lost in Aristotle; and many things in Aristotle
not to be found in Plato. The most remarkable deficiency in Aristotle is
the disappearance of the Platonic dialectic, which in the Aristotelian
school is only used in a comparatively unimportant and trivial sense. The
most remarkable additions are the invention of the Syllogism, the
conception of happiness as the foundation of morals, the reference of human
actions to the standard of the better mind of the world, or of the one
'sensible man' or 'superior person.' His conception of ousia, or essence,
is not an advance upon Plato, but a return to the poor and meagre
abstractions of the Eleatic philosophy. The dry attempt to reduce the
presocratic philosophy by his own rather arbitrary standard of the four
causes, contrasts unfavourably with Plato's general discussion of the same
subject (Sophist). To attempt further to sum up the differences between
the two great philosophers would be out of place here. Any real discussion
of their relation to one another must be preceded by an examination into
the nature and character of the Aristotelian writings and the form in which
they have come down to us. This enquiry is not really separable from an
investigation of Theophrastus as well as Aristotle and of the remains of
other schools of philosophy as well as of the Peripatetics. But, without
entering on this wide field, even a superficial consideration of the
logical and metaphysical works which pass under the name of Aristotle,
whether we suppose them to have come directly from his hand or to be the
tradition of his school, is sufficient to show how great was the mental
activity which prevailed in the latter half of the fourth century B.C.;
what eddies and whirlpools of controversies were surging in the chaos of
thought, what transformations of the old philosophies were taking place
everywhere, what eclecticisms and syncretisms and realisms and nominalisms
were affecting the mind of Hellas. The decline of philosophy during this
period is no less remarkable than the loss of freedom; and the two are not
unconnected with each other. But of the multitudinous sea of opinions
which were current in the age of Aristotle we have no exact account. We
know of them from allusions only. And we cannot with advantage fill up the
void of our knowledge by conjecture: we can only make allowance for our
There are several passages in the Philebus which are very characteristic of
Plato, and which we shall do well to consider not only in their connexion,
but apart from their connexion as inspired sayings or oracles which receive
their full interpretation only from the history of philosophy in later
ages. The more serious attacks on traditional beliefs which are often
veiled under an unusual simplicity or irony are of this kind. Such, for
example, is the excessive and more than human awe which Socrates expresses
about the names of the gods, which may be not unaptly compared with the
importance attached by mankind to theological terms in other ages; for this
also may be comprehended under the satire of Socrates. Let us observe the
religious and intellectual enthusiasm which shines forth in the following,
'The power and faculty of loving the truth, and of doing all things for the
sake of the truth': or, again, the singular acknowledgment which may be
regarded as the anticipation of a new logic, that 'In going to war for mind
I must have weapons of a different make from those which I used before,
although some of the old ones may do again.' Let us pause awhile to
reflect on a sentence which is full of meaning to reformers of religion or
to the original thinker of all ages: 'Shall we then agree with them of old
time, and merely reassert the notions of others without risk to ourselves;
or shall we venture also to share in the risk and bear the reproach which
will await us': i.e. if we assert mind to be the author of nature. Let us
note the remarkable words, 'That in the divine nature of Zeus there is the
soul and mind of a King, because there is in him the power of the cause,' a
saying in which theology and philosophy are blended and reconciled; not
omitting to observe the deep insight into human nature which is shown by
the repetition of the same thought 'All philosophers are agreed that mind
is the king of heaven and earth' with the ironical addition, 'in this way
truly they magnify themselves.' Nor let us pass unheeded the indignation
felt by the generous youth at the 'blasphemy' of those who say that Chaos
and Chance Medley created the world; or the significance of the words
'those who said of old time that mind rules the universe'; or the pregnant
observation that 'we are not always conscious of what we are doing or of
what happens to us,' a chance expression to which if philosophers had
attended they would have escaped many errors in psychology. We may
contrast the contempt which is poured upon the verbal difficulty of the one
and many, and the seriousness with the unity of opposites is regarded from
the higher point of view of abstract ideas: or compare the simple manner
in which the question of cause and effect and their mutual dependence is
regarded by Plato (to which modern science has returned in Mill and Bacon),
and the cumbrous fourfold division of causes in the Physics and Metaphysics
of Aristotle, for which it has puzzled the world to find a use in so many
centuries. When we consider the backwardness of knowledge in the age of
Plato, the boldness with which he looks forward into the distance, the many
questions of modern philosophy which are anticipated in his writings, may
we not truly describe him in his own words as a 'spectator of all time and
of all existence'?
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates, Protarchus, Philebus.
SOCRATES: Observe, Protarchus, the nature of the position which you are
now going to take from Philebus, and what the other position is which I
maintain, and which, if you do not approve of it, is to be controverted by
you. Shall you and I sum up the two sides?
PROTARCHUS: By all means.
SOCRATES: Philebus was saying that enjoyment and pleasure and delight, and
the class of feelings akin to them, are a good to every living being,
whereas I contend, that not these, but wisdom and intelligence and memory,
and their kindred, right opinion and true reasoning, are better and more
desirable than pleasure for all who are able to partake of them, and that
to all such who are or ever will be they are the most advantageous of all
things. Have I not given, Philebus, a fair statement of the two sides of
PHILEBUS: Nothing could be fairer, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And do you, Protarchus, accept the position which is assigned to
PROTARCHUS: I cannot do otherwise, since our excellent Philebus has left
SOCRATES: Surely the truth about these matters ought, by all means, to be
SOCRATES: Shall we further agree--
PROTARCHUS: To what?
SOCRATES: That you and I must now try to indicate some state and
disposition of the soul, which has the property of making all men happy.
PROTARCHUS: Yes, by all means.
SOCRATES: And you say that pleasure, and I say that wisdom, is such a
SOCRATES: And what if there be a third state, which is better than either?
Then both of us are vanquished--are we not? But if this life, which really
has the power of making men happy, turn out to be more akin to pleasure
than to wisdom, the life of pleasure may still have the advantage over the
life of wisdom.
SOCRATES: Or suppose that the better life is more nearly allied to wisdom,
then wisdom conquers, and pleasure is defeated;--do you agree?
SOCRATES: And what do you say, Philebus?
PHILEBUS: I say, and shall always say, that pleasure is easily the
conqueror; but you must decide for yourself, Protarchus.
PROTARCHUS: You, Philebus, have handed over the argument to me, and have
no longer a voice in the matter?
PHILEBUS: True enough. Nevertheless I would clear myself and deliver my
soul of you; and I call the goddess herself to witness that I now do so.
PROTARCHUS: You may appeal to us; we too will be the witnesses of your
words. And now, Socrates, whether Philebus is pleased or displeased, we
will proceed with the argument.
SOCRATES: Then let us begin with the goddess herself, of whom Philebus
says that she is called Aphrodite, but that her real name is Pleasure.
PROTARCHUS: Very good.
SOCRATES: The awe which I always feel, Protarchus, about the names of the
gods is more than human--it exceeds all other fears. And now I would not
sin against Aphrodite by naming her amiss; let her be called what she
pleases. But Pleasure I know to be manifold, and with her, as I was just
now saying, we must begin, and consider what her nature is. She has one
name, and therefore you would imagine that she is one; and yet surely she
takes the most varied and even unlike forms. For do we not say that the
intemperate has pleasure, and that the temperate has pleasure in his very
temperance,--that the fool is pleased when he is full of foolish fancies
and hopes, and that the wise man has pleasure in his wisdom? and how
foolish would any one be who affirmed that all these opposite pleasures are
PROTARCHUS: Why, Socrates, they are opposed in so far as they spring from
opposite sources, but they are not in themselves opposite. For must not
pleasure be of all things most absolutely like pleasure,--that is, like
SOCRATES: Yes, my good friend, just as colour is like colour;--in so far
as colours are colours, there is no difference between them; and yet we all
know that black is not only unlike, but even absolutely opposed to white:
or again, as figure is like figure, for all figures are comprehended under
one class; and yet particular figures may be absolutely opposed to one
another, and there is an infinite diversity of them. And we might find
similar examples in many other things; therefore do not rely upon this
argument, which would go to prove the unity of the most extreme opposites.
And I suspect that we shall find a similar opposition among pleasures.
PROTARCHUS: Very likely; but how will this invalidate the argument?
SOCRATES: Why, I shall reply, that dissimilar as they are, you apply to
them a new predicate, for you say that all pleasant things are good; now
although no one can argue that pleasure is not pleasure, he may argue, as
we are doing, that pleasures are oftener bad than good; but you call them
all good, and at the same time are compelled, if you are pressed, to
acknowledge that they are unlike. And so you must tell us what is the
identical quality existing alike in good and bad pleasures, which makes you
designate all of them as good.
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean, Socrates? Do you think that any one who
asserts pleasure to be the good, will tolerate the notion that some
pleasures are good and others bad?
SOCRATES: And yet you will acknowledge that they are different from one
another, and sometimes opposed?
PROTARCHUS: Not in so far as they are pleasures.
SOCRATES: That is a return to the old position, Protarchus, and so we are
to say (are we?) that there is no difference in pleasures, but that they
are all alike; and the examples which have just been cited do not pierce
our dull minds, but we go on arguing all the same, like the weakest and
most inexperienced reasoners? (Probably corrupt.)
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: Why, I mean to say, that in self-defence I may, if I like,
follow your example, and assert boldly that the two things most unlike are
most absolutely alike; and the result will be that you and I will prove
ourselves to be very tyros in the art of disputing; and the argument will
be blown away and lost. Suppose that we put back, and return to the old
position; then perhaps we may come to an understanding with one another.
PROTARCHUS: How do you mean?
SOCRATES: Shall I, Protarchus, have my own question asked of me by you?
PROTARCHUS: What question?
SOCRATES: Ask me whether wisdom and science and mind, and those other
qualities which I, when asked by you at first what is the nature of the
good, affirmed to be good, are not in the same case with the pleasures of
which you spoke.
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: The sciences are a numerous class, and will be found to present
great differences. But even admitting that, like the pleasures, they are
opposite as well as different, should I be worthy of the name of
dialectician if, in order to avoid this difficulty, I were to say (as you
are saying of pleasure) that there is no difference between one science and
another;--would not the argument founder and disappear like an idle tale,
although we might ourselves escape drowning by clinging to a fallacy?
PROTARCHUS: May none of this befal us, except the deliverance! Yet I like
the even-handed justice which is applied to both our arguments. Let us
assume, then, that there are many and diverse pleasures, and many and
SOCRATES: And let us have no concealment, Protarchus, of the differences
between my good and yours; but let us bring them to the light in the hope
that, in the process of testing them, they may show whether pleasure is to
be called the good, or wisdom, or some third quality; for surely we are not
now simply contending in order that my view or that yours may prevail, but
I presume that we ought both of us to be fighting for the truth.
PROTARCHUS: Certainly we ought.
SOCRATES: Then let us have a more definite understanding and establish the
principle on which the argument rests.
PROTARCHUS: What principle?
SOCRATES: A principle about which all men are always in a difficulty, and
some men sometimes against their will.
PROTARCHUS: Speak plainer.
SOCRATES: The principle which has just turned up, which is a marvel of
nature; for that one should be many or many one, are wonderful
propositions; and he who affirms either is very open to attack.
PROTARCHUS: Do you mean, when a person says that I, Protarchus, am by
nature one and also many, dividing the single 'me' into many 'me's,' and
even opposing them as great and small, light and heavy, and in ten thousand
SOCRATES: Those, Protarchus, are the common and acknowledged paradoxes
about the one and many, which I may say that everybody has by this time
agreed to dismiss as childish and obvious and detrimental to the true
course of thought; and no more favour is shown to that other puzzle, in
which a person proves the members and parts of anything to be divided, and
then confessing that they are all one, says laughingly in disproof of his
own words: Why, here is a miracle, the one is many and infinite, and the
many are only one.
PROTARCHUS: But what, Socrates, are those other marvels connected with
this subject which, as you imply, have not yet become common and
SOCRATES: When, my boy, the one does not belong to the class of things
that are born and perish, as in the instances which we were giving, for in
those cases, and when unity is of this concrete nature, there is, as I was
saying, a universal consent that no refutation is needed; but when the
assertion is made that man is one, or ox is one, or beauty one, or the good
one, then the interest which attaches to these and similar unities and the
attempt which is made to divide them gives birth to a controversy.
PROTARCHUS: Of what nature?
SOCRATES: In the first place, as to whether these unities have a real
existence; and then how each individual unity, being always the same, and
incapable either of generation or of destruction, but retaining a permanent
individuality, can be conceived either as dispersed and multiplied in the
infinity of the world of generation, or as still entire and yet divided
from itself, which latter would seem to be the greatest impossibility of
all, for how can one and the same thing be at the same time in one and in
many things? These, Protarchus, are the real difficulties, and this is the
one and many to which they relate; they are the source of great perplexity
if ill decided, and the right determination of them is very helpful.
PROTARCHUS: Then, Socrates, let us begin by clearing up these questions.
SOCRATES: That is what I should wish.
PROTARCHUS: And I am sure that all my other friends will be glad to hear
them discussed; Philebus, fortunately for us, is not disposed to move, and
we had better not stir him up with questions.
SOCRATES: Good; and where shall we begin this great and multifarious
battle, in which such various points are at issue? Shall we begin thus?
SOCRATES: We say that the one and many become identified by thought, and
that now, as in time past, they run about together, in and out of every
word which is uttered, and that this union of them will never cease, and is
not now beginning, but is, as I believe, an everlasting quality of thought
itself, which never grows old. Any young man, when he first tastes these
subtleties, is delighted, and fancies that he has found a treasure of
wisdom; in the first enthusiasm of his joy he leaves no stone, or rather no
thought unturned, now rolling up the many into the one, and kneading them
together, now unfolding and dividing them; he puzzles himself first and
above all, and then he proceeds to puzzle his neighbours, whether they are
older or younger, or of his own age--that makes no difference; neither
father nor mother does he spare; no human being who has ears is safe from
him, hardly even his dog, and a barbarian would have no chance of escaping
him, if an interpreter could only be found.
PROTARCHUS: Considering, Socrates, how many we are, and that all of us are
young men, is there not a danger that we and Philebus may all set upon you,
if you abuse us? We understand what you mean; but is there no charm by
which we may dispel all this confusion, no more excellent way of arriving
at the truth? If there is, we hope that you will guide us into that way,
and we will do our best to follow, for the enquiry in which we are engaged,
Socrates, is not unimportant.
SOCRATES: The reverse of unimportant, my boys, as Philebus calls you, and
there neither is nor ever will be a better than my own favourite way, which
has nevertheless already often deserted me and left me helpless in the hour
PROTARCHUS: Tell us what that is.
SOCRATES: One which may be easily pointed out, but is by no means easy of
application; it is the parent of all the discoveries in the arts.
PROTARCHUS: Tell us what it is.
SOCRATES: A gift of heaven, which, as I conceive, the gods tossed among
men by the hands of a new Prometheus, and therewith a blaze of light; and
the ancients, who were our betters and nearer the gods than we are, handed
down the tradition, that whatever things are said to be are composed of one
and many, and have the finite and infinite implanted in them: seeing,
then, that such is the order of the world, we too ought in every enquiry to
begin by laying down one idea of that which is the subject of enquiry; this
unity we shall find in everything. Having found it, we may next proceed to
look for two, if there be two, or, if not, then for three or some other
number, subdividing each of these units, until at last the unity with which
we began is seen not only to be one and many and infinite, but also a
definite number; the infinite must not be suffered to approach the many
until the entire number of the species intermediate between unity and
infinity has been discovered,--then, and not till then, we may rest from
division, and without further troubling ourselves about the endless
individuals may allow them to drop into infinity. This, as I was saying,
is the way of considering and learning and teaching one another, which the
gods have handed down to us. But the wise men of our time are either too
quick or too slow in conceiving plurality in unity. Having no method, they
make their one and many anyhow, and from unity pass at once to infinity;
the intermediate steps never occur to them. And this, I repeat, is what
makes the difference between the mere art of disputation and true
PROTARCHUS: I think that I partly understand you Socrates, but I should
like to have a clearer notion of what you are saying.
SOCRATES: I may illustrate my meaning by the letters of the alphabet,
Protarchus, which you were made to learn as a child.
PROTARCHUS: How do they afford an illustration?
SOCRATES: The sound which passes through the lips whether of an individual
or of all men is one and yet infinite.
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And yet not by knowing either that sound is one or that sound is
infinite are we perfect in the art of speech, but the knowledge of the
number and nature of sounds is what makes a man a grammarian.
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And the knowledge which makes a man a musician is of the same
PROTARCHUS: How so?
SOCRATES: Sound is one in music as well as in grammar?
SOCRATES: And there is a higher note and a lower note, and a note of equal
pitch:--may we affirm so much?
SOCRATES: But you would not be a real musician if this was all that you
knew; though if you did not know this you would know almost nothing of
SOCRATES: But when you have learned what sounds are high and what low, and
the number and nature of the intervals and their limits or proportions, and
the systems compounded out of them, which our fathers discovered, and have
handed down to us who are their descendants under the name of harmonies;
and the affections corresponding to them in the movements of the human
body, which when measured by numbers ought, as they say, to be called
rhythms and measures; and they tell us that the same principle should be
applied to every one and many;--when, I say, you have learned all this,
then, my dear friend, you are perfect; and you may be said to understand
any other subject, when you have a similar grasp of it. But the infinity
of kinds and the infinity of individuals which there is in each of them,
when not classified, creates in every one of us a state of infinite
ignorance; and he who never looks for number in anything, will not himself
be looked for in the number of famous men.
PROTARCHUS: I think that what Socrates is now saying is excellent,
PHILEBUS: I think so too, but how do his words bear upon us and upon the
SOCRATES: Philebus is right in asking that question of us, Protarchus.
PROTARCHUS: Indeed he is, and you must answer him.
SOCRATES: I will; but you must let me make one little remark first about
these matters; I was saying, that he who begins with any individual unity,
should proceed from that, not to infinity, but to a definite number, and
now I say conversely, that he who has to begin with infinity should not
jump to unity, but he should look about for some number representing a
certain quantity, and thus out of all end in one. And now let us return
for an illustration of our principle to the case of letters.
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: Some god or divine man, who in the Egyptian legend is said to
have been Theuth, observing that the human voice was infinite, first
distinguished in this infinity a certain number of vowels, and then other
letters which had sound, but were not pure vowels (i.e., the semivowels);
these too exist in a definite number; and lastly, he distinguished a third
class of letters which we now call mutes, without voice and without sound,
and divided these, and likewise the two other classes of vowels and
semivowels, into the individual sounds, and told the number of them, and
gave to each and all of them the name of letters; and observing that none
of us could learn any one of them and not learn them all, and in
consideration of this common bond which in a manner united them, he
assigned to them all a single art, and this he called the art of grammar or
PHILEBUS: The illustration, Protarchus, has assisted me in understanding
the original statement, but I still feel the defect of which I just now
SOCRATES: Are you going to ask, Philebus, what this has to do with the
PHILEBUS: Yes, that is a question which Protarchus and I have been long
SOCRATES: Assuredly you have already arrived at the answer to the question
which, as you say, you have been so long asking?
PHILEBUS: How so?
SOCRATES: Did we not begin by enquiring into the comparative eligibility
of pleasure and wisdom?
SOCRATES: And we maintain that they are each of them one?
SOCRATES: And the precise question to which the previous discussion
desires an answer is, how they are one and also many (i.e., how they have
one genus and many species), and are not at once infinite, and what number
of species is to be assigned to either of them before they pass into
infinity (i.e. into the infinite number of individuals).
PROTARCHUS: That is a very serious question, Philebus, to which Socrates
has ingeniously brought us round, and please to consider which of us shall
answer him; there may be something ridiculous in my being unable to answer,
and therefore imposing the task upon you, when I have undertaken the whole
charge of the argument, but if neither of us were able to answer, the
result methinks would be still more ridiculous. Let us consider, then,
what we are to do:--Socrates, if I understood him rightly, is asking
whether there are not kinds of pleasure, and what is the number and nature
of them, and the same of wisdom.
SOCRATES: Most true, O son of Callias; and the previous argument showed
that if we are not able to tell the kinds of everything that has unity,
likeness, sameness, or their opposites, none of us will be of the smallest
use in any enquiry.
PROTARCHUS: That seems to be very near the truth, Socrates. Happy would
the wise man be if he knew all things, and the next best thing for him is
that he should know himself. Why do I say so at this moment? I will tell
you. You, Socrates, have granted us this opportunity of conversing with
you, and are ready to assist us in determining what is the best of human
goods. For when Philebus said that pleasure and delight and enjoyment and
the like were the chief good, you answered--No, not those, but another
class of goods; and we are constantly reminding ourselves of what you said,
and very properly, in order that we may not forget to examine and compare
the two. And these goods, which in your opinion are to be designated as
superior to pleasure, and are the true objects of pursuit, are mind and
knowledge and understanding and art, and the like. There was a dispute
about which were the best, and we playfully threatened that you should not
be allowed to go home until the question was settled; and you agreed, and
placed yourself at our disposal. And now, as children say, what has been
fairly given cannot be taken back; cease then to fight against us in this
SOCRATES: In what way?
PHILEBUS: Do not perplex us, and keep asking questions of us to which we
have not as yet any sufficient answer to give; let us not imagine that a
general puzzling of us all is to be the end of our discussion, but if we
are unable to answer, do you answer, as you have promised. Consider, then,
whether you will divide pleasure and knowledge according to their kinds; or
you may let the matter drop, if you are able and willing to find some other
mode of clearing up our controversy.
SOCRATES: If you say that, I have nothing to apprehend, for the words 'if
you are willing' dispel all my fear; and, moreover, a god seems to have
recalled something to my mind.
PHILEBUS: What is that?
SOCRATES: I remember to have heard long ago certain discussions about
pleasure and wisdom, whether awake or in a dream I cannot tell; they were
to the effect that neither the one nor the other of them was the good, but
some third thing, which was different from them, and better than either.
If this be clearly established, then pleasure will lose the victory, for
the good will cease to be identified with her:--Am I not right?
SOCRATES: And there will cease to be any need of distinguishing the kinds
of pleasures, as I am inclined to think, but this will appear more clearly
as we proceed.
PROTARCHUS: Capital, Socrates; pray go on as you propose.
SOCRATES: But, let us first agree on some little points.
PROTARCHUS: What are they?
SOCRATES: Is the good perfect or imperfect?
PROTARCHUS: The most perfect, Socrates, of all things.
SOCRATES: And is the good sufficient?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, certainly, and in a degree surpassing all other things.
SOCRATES: And no one can deny that all percipient beings desire and hunt
after good, and are eager to catch and have the good about them, and care
not for the attainment of anything which is not accompanied by good.
PROTARCHUS: That is undeniable.
SOCRATES: Now let us part off the life of pleasure from the life of
wisdom, and pass them in review.
PROTARCHUS: How do you mean?
SOCRATES: Let there be no wisdom in the life of pleasure, nor any pleasure
in the life of wisdom, for if either of them is the chief good, it cannot
be supposed to want anything, but if either is shown to want anything, then
it cannot really be the chief good.
SOCRATES: And will you help us to test these two lives?
SOCRATES: Then answer.
SOCRATES: Would you choose, Protarchus, to live all your life long in the
enjoyment of the greatest pleasures?
PROTARCHUS: Certainly I should.
SOCRATES: Would you consider that there was still anything wanting to you
if you had perfect pleasure?
PROTARCHUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: Reflect; would you not want wisdom and intelligence and
forethought, and similar qualities? would you not at any rate want sight?
PROTARCHUS: Why should I? Having pleasure I should have all things.
SOCRATES: Living thus, you would always throughout your life enjoy the
PROTARCHUS: I should.
SOCRATES: But if you had neither mind, nor memory, nor knowledge, nor true
opinion, you would in the first place be utterly ignorant of whether you
were pleased or not, because you would be entirely devoid of intelligence.
SOCRATES: And similarly, if you had no memory you would not recollect that
you had ever been pleased, nor would the slightest recollection of the
pleasure which you feel at any moment remain with you; and if you had no
true opinion you would not think that you were pleased when you were; and
if you had no power of calculation you would not be able to calculate on
future pleasure, and your life would be the life, not of a man, but of an
oyster or 'pulmo marinus.' Could this be otherwise?
SOCRATES: But is such a life eligible?
PROTARCHUS: I cannot answer you, Socrates; the argument has taken away
from me the power of speech.
SOCRATES: We must keep up our spirits;--let us now take the life of mind
and examine it in turn.
PROTARCHUS: And what is this life of mind?
SOCRATES: I want to know whether any one of us would consent to live,
having wisdom and mind and knowledge and memory of all things, but having
no sense of pleasure or pain, and wholly unaffected by these and the like
PROTARCHUS: Neither life, Socrates, appears eligible to me, nor is likely,
as I should imagine, to be chosen by any one else.
SOCRATES: What would you say, Protarchus, to both of these in one, or to
one that was made out of the union of the two?
PROTARCHUS: Out of the union, that is, of pleasure with mind and wisdom?
SOCRATES: Yes, that is the life which I mean.
PROTARCHUS: There can be no difference of opinion; not some but all would
surely choose this third rather than either of the other two, and in
addition to them.
SOCRATES: But do you see the consequence?
PROTARCHUS: To be sure I do. The consequence is, that two out of the
three lives which have been proposed are neither sufficient nor eligible
for man or for animal.
SOCRATES: Then now there can be no doubt that neither of them has the
good, for the one which had would certainly have been sufficient and
perfect and eligible for every living creature or thing that was able to
live such a life; and if any of us had chosen any other, he would have
chosen contrary to the nature of the truly eligible, and not of his own
free will, but either through ignorance or from some unhappy necessity.
PROTARCHUS: Certainly that seems to be true.
SOCRATES: And now have I not sufficiently shown that Philebus' goddess is
not to be regarded as identical with the good?
PHILEBUS: Neither is your 'mind' the good, Socrates, for that will be open
to the same objections.
SOCRATES: Perhaps, Philebus, you may be right in saying so of my 'mind';
but of the true, which is also the divine mind, far otherwise. However, I
will not at present claim the first place for mind as against the mixed
life; but we must come to some understanding about the second place. For
you might affirm pleasure and I mind to be the cause of the mixed life; and
in that case although neither of them would be the good, one of them might
be imagined to be the cause of the good. And I might proceed further to
argue in opposition to Philebus, that the element which makes this mixed
life eligible and good, is more akin and more similar to mind than to
pleasure. And if this is true, pleasure cannot be truly said to share
either in the first or second place, and does not, if I may trust my own
mind, attain even to the third.
PROTARCHUS: Truly, Socrates, pleasure appears to me to have had a fall; in
fighting for the palm, she has been smitten by the argument, and is laid
low. I must say that mind would have fallen too, and may therefore be
thought to show discretion in not putting forward a similar claim. And if
pleasure were deprived not only of the first but of the second place, she
would be terribly damaged in the eyes of her admirers, for not even to them
would she still appear as fair as before.
SOCRATES: Well, but had we not better leave her now, and not pain her by
applying the crucial test, and finally detecting her?
PROTARCHUS: Nonsense, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Why? because I said that we had better not pain pleasure, which
is an impossibility?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, and more than that, because you do not seem to be aware
that none of us will let you go home until you have finished the argument.
SOCRATES: Heavens! Protarchus, that will be a tedious business, and just
at present not at all an easy one. For in going to war in the cause of
mind, who is aspiring to the second prize, I ought to have weapons of
another make from those which I used before; some, however, of the old ones
may do again. And must I then finish the argument?
PROTARCHUS: Of course you must.
SOCRATES: Let us be very careful in laying the foundation.
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: Let us divide all existing things into two, or rather, if you do
not object, into three classes.
PROTARCHUS: Upon what principle would you make the division?
SOCRATES: Let us take some of our newly-found notions.
PROTARCHUS: Which of them?
SOCRATES: Were we not saying that God revealed a finite element of
existence, and also an infinite?
SOCRATES: Let us assume these two principles, and also a third, which is
compounded out of them; but I fear that I am ridiculously clumsy at these
processes of division and enumeration.
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean, my good friend?
SOCRATES: I say that a fourth class is still wanted.
PROTARCHUS: What will that be?
SOCRATES: Find the cause of the third or compound, and add this as a
fourth class to the three others.
PROTARCHUS: And would you like to have a fifth class or cause of
resolution as well as a cause of composition?
SOCRATES: Not, I think, at present; but if I want a fifth at some future
time you shall allow me to have it.
SOCRATES: Let us begin with the first three; and as we find two out of the
three greatly divided and dispersed, let us endeavour to reunite them, and
see how in each of them there is a one and many.
PROTARCHUS: If you would explain to me a little more about them, perhaps I
might be able to follow you.
SOCRATES: Well, the two classes are the same which I mentioned before, one
the finite, and the other the infinite; I will first show that the infinite
is in a certain sense many, and the finite may be hereafter discussed.
PROTARCHUS: I agree.
SOCRATES: And now consider well; for the question to which I invite your
attention is difficult and controverted. When you speak of hotter and
colder, can you conceive any limit in those qualities? Does not the more
and less, which dwells in their very nature, prevent their having any end?
for if they had an end, the more and less would themselves have an end.
PROTARCHUS: That is most true.
SOCRATES: Ever, as we say, into the hotter and the colder there enters a
more and a less.
SOCRATES: Then, says the argument, there is never any end of them, and
being endless they must also be infinite.
PROTARCHUS: Yes, Socrates, that is exceedingly true.
SOCRATES: Yes, my dear Protarchus, and your answer reminds me that such an
expression as 'exceedingly,' which you have just uttered, and also the term
'gently,' have the same significance as more or less; for whenever they
occur they do not allow of the existence of quantity--they are always
introducing degrees into actions, instituting a comparison of a more or a
less excessive or a more or a less gentle, and at each creation of more or
less, quantity disappears. For, as I was just now saying, if quantity and
measure did not disappear, but were allowed to intrude in the sphere of
more and less and the other comparatives, these last would be driven out of
their own domain. When definite quantity is once admitted, there can be no
longer a 'hotter' or a 'colder' (for these are always progressing, and are
never in one stay); but definite quantity is at rest, and has ceased to
progress. Which proves that comparatives, such as the hotter and the
colder, are to be ranked in the class of the infinite.
PROTARCHUS: Your remark certainly has the look of truth, Socrates; but
these subjects, as you were saying, are difficult to follow at first. I
think however, that if I could hear the argument repeated by you once or
twice, there would be a substantial agreement between us.
SOCRATES: Yes, and I will try to meet your wish; but, as I would rather
not waste time in the enumeration of endless particulars, let me know
whether I may not assume as a note of the infinite--
SOCRATES: I want to know whether such things as appear to us to admit of
more or less, or are denoted by the words 'exceedingly,' 'gently,'
'extremely,' and the like, may not be referred to the class of the
infinite, which is their unity, for, as was asserted in the previous
argument, all things that were divided and dispersed should be brought
together, and have the mark or seal of some one nature, if possible, set
upon them--do you remember?
SOCRATES: And all things which do not admit of more or less, but admit
their opposites, that is to say, first of all, equality, and the equal, or
again, the double, or any other ratio of number and measure--all these may,
I think, be rightly reckoned by us in the class of the limited or finite;
what do you say?
PROTARCHUS: Excellent, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And now what nature shall we ascribe to the third or compound
PROTARCHUS: You, I think, will have to tell me that.
SOCRATES: Rather God will tell you, if there be any God who will listen to
PROTARCHUS: Offer up a prayer, then, and think.
SOCRATES: I am thinking, Protarchus, and I believe that some God has
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean, and what proof have you to offer of what you
SOCRATES: I will tell you, and do you listen to my words.
SOCRATES: Were we not speaking just now of hotter and colder?
SOCRATES: Add to them drier, wetter, more, less, swifter, slower, greater,
smaller, and all that in the preceding argument we placed under the unity
of more and less.
PROTARCHUS: In the class of the infinite, you mean?
SOCRATES: Yes; and now mingle this with the other.
PROTARCHUS: What is the other.
SOCRATES: The class of the finite which we ought to have brought together
as we did the infinite; but, perhaps, it will come to the same thing if we
do so now;--when the two are combined, a third will appear.
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean by the class of the finite?
SOCRATES: The class of the equal and the double, and any class which puts
an end to difference and opposition, and by introducing number creates
harmony and proportion among the different elements.
PROTARCHUS: I understand; you seem to me to mean that the various
opposites, when you mingle with them the class of the finite, takes certain
SOCRATES: Yes, that is my meaning.
SOCRATES: Does not the right participation in the finite give health--in
disease, for instance?
SOCRATES: And whereas the high and low, the swift and the slow are
infinite or unlimited, does not the addition of the principles aforesaid
introduce a limit, and perfect the whole frame of music?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, certainly.
SOCRATES: Or, again, when cold and heat prevail, does not the introduction
of them take away excess and indefiniteness, and infuse moderation and
SOCRATES: And from a like admixture of the finite and infinite come the
seasons, and all the delights of life?
PROTARCHUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: I omit ten thousand other things, such as beauty and health and
strength, and the many beauties and high perfections of the soul: O my
beautiful Philebus, the goddess, methinks, seeing the universal wantonness
and wickedness of all things, and that there was in them no limit to
pleasures and self-indulgence, devised the limit of law and order, whereby,
as you say, Philebus, she torments, or as I maintain, delivers the soul.--
What think you, Protarchus?
PROTARCHUS: Her ways are much to my mind, Socrates.
SOCRATES: You will observe that I have spoken of three classes?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, I think that I understand you: you mean to say that the
infinite is one class, and that the finite is a second class of existences;
but what you would make the third I am not so certain.
SOCRATES: That is because the amazing variety of the third class is too
much for you, my dear friend; but there was not this difficulty with the
infinite, which also comprehended many classes, for all of them were sealed
with the note of more and less, and therefore appeared one.
SOCRATES: And the finite or limit had not many divisions, and we readily
acknowledged it to be by nature one?
SOCRATES: Yes, indeed; and when I speak of the third class, understand me
to mean any offspring of these, being a birth into true being, effected by
the measure which the limit introduces.
PROTARCHUS: I understand.
SOCRATES: Still there was, as we said, a fourth class to be investigated,
and you must assist in the investigation; for does not everything which
comes into being, of necessity come into being through a cause?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, certainly; for how can there be anything which has no
SOCRATES: And is not the agent the same as the cause in all except name;
the agent and the cause may be rightly called one?
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And the same may be said of the patient, or effect; we shall
find that they too differ, as I was saying, only in name--shall we not?
PROTARCHUS: We shall.
SOCRATES: The agent or cause always naturally leads, and the patient or
effect naturally follows it?
SOCRATES: Then the cause and what is subordinate to it in generation are
not the same, but different?
SOCRATES: Did not the things which were generated, and the things out of
which they were generated, furnish all the three classes?
SOCRATES: And the creator or cause of them has been satisfactorily proven
to be distinct from them,--and may therefore be called a fourth principle?
PROTARCHUS: So let us call it.
SOCRATES: Quite right; but now, having distinguished the four, I think
that we had better refresh our memories by recapitulating each of them in
PROTARCHUS: By all means.
SOCRATES: Then the first I will call the infinite or unlimited, and the
second the finite or limited; then follows the third, an essence compound
and generated; and I do not think that I shall be far wrong in speaking of
the cause of mixture and generation as the fourth.
PROTARCHUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: And now what is the next question, and how came we hither? Were
we not enquiring whether the second place belonged to pleasure or wisdom?
PROTARCHUS: We were.
SOCRATES: And now, having determined these points, shall we not be better
able to decide about the first and second place, which was the original
subject of dispute?
PROTARCHUS: I dare say.
SOCRATES: We said, if you remember, that the mixed life of pleasure and
wisdom was the conqueror--did we not?
SOCRATES: And we see what is the place and nature of this life and to what
class it is to be assigned?
PROTARCHUS: Beyond a doubt.
SOCRATES: This is evidently comprehended in the third or mixed class;
which is not composed of any two particular ingredients, but of all the
elements of infinity, bound down by the finite, and may therefore be truly
said to comprehend the conqueror life.
PROTARCHUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: And what shall we say, Philebus, of your life which is all
sweetness; and in which of the aforesaid classes is that to be placed?
Perhaps you will allow me to ask you a question before you answer?
PHILEBUS: Let me hear.
SOCRATES: Have pleasure and pain a limit, or do they belong to the class
which admits of more and less?
PHILEBUS: They belong to the class which admits of more, Socrates; for
pleasure would not be perfectly good if she were not infinite in quantity
SOCRATES: Nor would pain, Philebus, be perfectly evil. And therefore the
infinite cannot be that element which imparts to pleasure some degree of
good. But now--admitting, if you like, that pleasure is of the nature of
the infinite--in which of the aforesaid classes, O Protarchus and Philebus,
can we without irreverence place wisdom and knowledge and mind? And let us
be careful, for I think that the danger will be very serious if we err on
PHILEBUS: You magnify, Socrates, the importance of your favourite god.
SOCRATES: And you, my friend, are also magnifying your favourite goddess;
but still I must beg you to answer the question.
PROTARCHUS: Socrates is quite right, Philebus, and we must submit to him.
PHILEBUS: And did not you, Protarchus, propose to answer in my place?
PROTARCHUS: Certainly I did; but I am now in a great strait, and I must
entreat you, Socrates, to be our spokesman, and then we shall not say
anything wrong or disrespectful of your favourite.
SOCRATES: I must obey you, Protarchus; nor is the task which you impose a
difficult one; but did I really, as Philebus implies, disconcert you with
my playful solemnity, when I asked the question to what class mind and
PROTARCHUS: You did, indeed, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Yet the answer is easy, since all philosophers assert with one
voice that mind is the king of heaven and earth--in reality they are
magnifying themselves. And perhaps they are right. But still I should
like to consider the class of mind, if you do not object, a little more
PHILEBUS: Take your own course, Socrates, and never mind length; we shall
not tire of you.
SOCRATES: Very good; let us begin then, Protarchus, by asking a question.
PROTARCHUS: What question?
SOCRATES: Whether all this which they call the universe is left to the
guidance of unreason and chance medley, or, on the contrary, as our fathers
have declared, ordered and governed by a marvellous intelligence and
PROTARCHUS: Wide asunder are the two assertions, illustrious Socrates, for
that which you were just now saying to me appears to be blasphemy; but the
other assertion, that mind orders all things, is worthy of the aspect of
the world, and of the sun, and of the moon, and of the stars and of the
whole circle of the heavens; and never will I say or think otherwise.
SOCRATES: Shall we then agree with them of old time in maintaining this
doctrine,--not merely reasserting the notions of others, without risk to
ourselves,--but shall we share in the danger, and take our part of the
reproach which will await us, when an ingenious individual declares that
all is disorder?
PROTARCHUS: That would certainly be my wish.
SOCRATES: Then now please to consider the next stage of the argument.
PROTARCHUS: Let me hear.
SOCRATES: We see that the elements which enter into the nature of the
bodies of all animals, fire, water, air, and, as the storm-tossed sailor
cries, 'land' (i.e., earth), reappear in the constitution of the world.
PROTARCHUS: The proverb may be applied to us; for truly the storm gathers
over us, and we are at our wit's end.
SOCRATES: There is something to be remarked about each of these elements.
PROTARCHUS: What is it?
SOCRATES: Only a small fraction of any one of them exists in us, and that
of a mean sort, and not in any way pure, or having any power worthy of its
nature. One instance will prove this of all of them; there is fire within
us, and in the universe.
SOCRATES: And is not our fire small and weak and mean? But the fire in
the universe is wonderful in quantity and beauty, and in every power that
PROTARCHUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: And is the fire in the universe nourished and generated and
ruled by the fire in us, or is the fire in you and me, and in other
animals, dependent on the universal fire?
PROTARCHUS: That is a question which does not deserve an answer.
SOCRATES: Right; and you would say the same, if I am not mistaken, of the
earth which is in animals and the earth which is in the universe, and you
would give a similar reply about all the other elements?
PROTARCHUS: Why, how could any man who gave any other be deemed in his
SOCRATES: I do not think that he could--but now go on to the next step.
When we saw those elements of which we have been speaking gathered up in
one, did we not call them a body?
PROTARCHUS: We did.
SOCRATES: And the same may be said of the cosmos, which for the same
reason may be considered to be a body, because made up of the same
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: But is our body nourished wholly by this body, or is this body
nourished by our body, thence deriving and having the qualities of which we
were just now speaking?
PROTARCHUS: That again, Socrates, is a question which does not deserve to
SOCRATES: Well, tell me, is this question worth asking?
PROTARCHUS: What question?
SOCRATES: May our body be said to have a soul?
SOCRATES: And whence comes that soul, my dear Protarchus, unless the body
of the universe, which contains elements like those in our bodies but in
every way fairer, had also a soul? Can there be another source?
PROTARCHUS: Clearly, Socrates, that is the only source.
SOCRATES: Why, yes, Protarchus; for surely we cannot imagine that of the
four classes, the finite, the infinite, the composition of the two, and the
cause, the fourth, which enters into all things, giving to our bodies
souls, and the art of self-management, and of healing disease, and
operating in other ways to heal and organize, having too all the attributes
of wisdom;--we cannot, I say, imagine that whereas the self-same elements
exist, both in the entire heaven and in great provinces of the heaven, only
fairer and purer, this last should not also in that higher sphere have
designed the noblest and fairest things?
PROTARCHUS: Such a supposition is quite unreasonable.
SOCRATES: Then if this be denied, should we not be wise in adopting the
other view and maintaining that there is in the universe a mighty infinite
and an adequate limit, of which we have often spoken, as well as a
presiding cause of no mean power, which orders and arranges years and
seasons and months, and may be justly called wisdom and mind?
PROTARCHUS: Most justly.
SOCRATES: And wisdom and mind cannot exist without soul?
PROTARCHUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: And in the divine nature of Zeus would you not say that there is
the soul and mind of a king, because there is in him the power of the
cause? And other gods have other attributes, by which they are pleased to
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: Do not then suppose that these words are rashly spoken by us, O
Protarchus, for they are in harmony with the testimony of those who said of
old time that mind rules the universe.
SOCRATES: And they furnish an answer to my enquiry; for they imply that
mind is the parent of that class of the four which we called the cause of
all; and I think that you now have my answer.
PROTARCHUS: I have indeed, and yet I did not observe that you had
SOCRATES: A jest is sometimes refreshing, Protarchus, when it interrupts
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: I think, friend, that we have now pretty clearly set forth the
class to which mind belongs and what is the power of mind.
SOCRATES: And the class to which pleasure belongs has also been long ago
SOCRATES: And let us remember, too, of both of them, (1) that mind was
akin to the cause and of this family; and (2) that pleasure is infinite and
belongs to the class which neither has, nor ever will have in itself, a
beginning, middle, or end of its own.
PROTARCHUS: I shall be sure to remember.
SOCRATES: We must next examine what is their place and under what
conditions they are generated. And we will begin with pleasure, since her
class was first examined; and yet pleasure cannot be rightly tested apart
PROTARCHUS: If this is the road, let us take it.
SOCRATES: I wonder whether you would agree with me about the origin of
pleasure and pain.
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: I mean to say that their natural seat is in the mixed class.
PROTARCHUS: And would you tell me again, sweet Socrates, which of the
aforesaid classes is the mixed one?
SOCRATES: I will, my fine fellow, to the best of my ability.
PROTARCHUS: Very good.
SOCRATES: Let us then understand the mixed class to be that which we
placed third in the list of four.
PROTARCHUS: That which followed the infinite and the finite; and in which
you ranked health, and, if I am not mistaken, harmony.
SOCRATES: Capital; and now will you please to give me your best attention?
PROTARCHUS: Proceed; I am attending.
SOCRATES: I say that when the harmony in animals is dissolved, there is
also a dissolution of nature and a generation of pain.
PROTARCHUS: That is very probable.
SOCRATES: And the restoration of harmony and return to nature is the
source of pleasure, if I may be allowed to speak in the fewest and shortest
words about matters of the greatest moment.
PROTARCHUS: I believe that you are right, Socrates; but will you try to be
a little plainer?
SOCRATES: Do not obvious and every-day phenomena furnish the simplest
PROTARCHUS: What phenomena do you mean?
SOCRATES: Hunger, for example, is a dissolution and a pain.
SOCRATES: Whereas eating is a replenishment and a pleasure?
SOCRATES: Thirst again is a destruction and a pain, but the effect of
moisture replenishing the dry place is a pleasure: once more, the
unnatural separation and dissolution caused by heat is painful, and the
natural restoration and refrigeration is pleasant.
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And the unnatural freezing of the moisture in an animal is pain,
and the natural process of resolution and return of the elements to their
original state is pleasure. And would not the general proposition seem to
you to hold, that the destroying of the natural union of the finite and
infinite, which, as I was observing before, make up the class of living
beings, is pain, and that the process of return of all things to their own
nature is pleasure?
PROTARCHUS: Granted; what you say has a general truth.
SOCRATES: Here then is one kind of pleasures and pains originating
severally in the two processes which we have described?
SOCRATES: Let us next assume that in the soul herself there is an
antecedent hope of pleasure which is sweet and refreshing, and an
expectation of pain, fearful and anxious.
PROTARCHUS: Yes; this is another class of pleasures and pains, which is of
the soul only, apart from the body, and is produced by expectation.
SOCRATES: Right; for in the analysis of these, pure, as I suppose them to
be, the pleasures being unalloyed with pain and the pains with pleasure,
methinks that we shall see clearly whether the whole class of pleasure is
to be desired, or whether this quality of entire desirableness is not
rather to be attributed to another of the classes which have been
mentioned; and whether pleasure and pain, like heat and cold, and other
things of the same kind, are not sometimes to be desired and sometimes not
to be desired, as being not in themselves good, but only sometimes and in
some instances admitting of the nature of good.
PROTARCHUS: You say most truly that this is the track which the
investigation should pursue.
SOCRATES: Well, then, assuming that pain ensues on the dissolution, and
pleasure on the restoration of the harmony, let us now ask what will be the
condition of animated beings who are neither in process of restoration nor
of dissolution. And mind what you say: I ask whether any animal who is in
that condition can possibly have any feeling of pleasure or pain, great or
PROTARCHUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: Then here we have a third state, over and above that of pleasure
and of pain?
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And do not forget that there is such a state; it will make a
great difference in our judgment of pleasure, whether we remember this or
not. And I should like to say a few words about it.
PROTARCHUS: What have you to say?
SOCRATES: Why, you know that if a man chooses the life of wisdom, there is
no reason why he should not live in this neutral state.
PROTARCHUS: You mean that he may live neither rejoicing nor sorrowing?
SOCRATES: Yes; and if I remember rightly, when the lives were compared, no
degree of pleasure, whether great or small, was thought to be necessary to
him who chose the life of thought and wisdom.
PROTARCHUS: Yes, certainly, we said so.
SOCRATES: Then he will live without pleasure; and who knows whether this
may not be the most divine of all lives?
PROTARCHUS: If so, the gods, at any rate, cannot be supposed to have
either joy or sorrow.
SOCRATES: Certainly not--there would be a great impropriety in the
assumption of either alternative. But whether the gods are or are not
indifferent to pleasure is a point which may be considered hereafter if in
any way relevant to the argument, and whatever is the conclusion we will
place it to the account of mind in her contest for the second place, should
she have to resign the first.
PROTARCHUS: Just so.
SOCRATES: The other class of pleasures, which as we were saying is purely
mental, is entirely derived from memory.
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: I must first of all analyze memory, or rather perception which
is prior to memory, if the subject of our discussion is ever to be properly
PROTARCHUS: How will you proceed?
SOCRATES: Let us imagine affections of the body which are extinguished
before they reach the soul, and leave her unaffected; and again, other
affections which vibrate through both soul and body, and impart a shock to
both and to each of them.
SOCRATES: And the soul may be truly said to be oblivious of the first but
not of the second?
PROTARCHUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: When I say oblivious, do not suppose that I mean forgetfulness
in a literal sense; for forgetfulness is the exit of memory, which in this
case has not yet entered; and to speak of the loss of that which is not yet
in existence, and never has been, is a contradiction; do you see?
SOCRATES: Then just be so good as to change the terms.
PROTARCHUS: How shall I change them?
SOCRATES: Instead of the oblivion of the soul, when you are describing the
state in which she is unaffected by the shocks of the body, say
PROTARCHUS: I see.
SOCRATES: And the union or communion of soul and body in one feeling and
motion would be properly called consciousness?
PROTARCHUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: Then now we know the meaning of the word?
SOCRATES: And memory may, I think, be rightly described as the
preservation of consciousness?
SOCRATES: But do we not distinguish memory from recollection?
PROTARCHUS: I think so.
SOCRATES: And do we not mean by recollection the power which the soul has
of recovering, when by herself, some feeling which she experienced when in
company with the body?
SOCRATES: And when she recovers of herself the lost recollection of some
consciousness or knowledge, the recovery is termed recollection and
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: There is a reason why I say all this.
PROTARCHUS: What is it?
SOCRATES: I want to attain the plainest possible notion of pleasure and
desire, as they exist in the mind only, apart from the body; and the
previous analysis helps to show the nature of both.
PROTARCHUS: Then now, Socrates, let us proceed to the next point.
SOCRATES: There are certainly many things to be considered in discussing
the generation and whole complexion of pleasure. At the outset we must
determine the nature and seat of desire.
PROTARCHUS: Ay; let us enquire into that, for we shall lose nothing.
SOCRATES: Nay, Protarchus, we shall surely lose the puzzle if we find the
PROTARCHUS: A fair retort; but let us proceed.
SOCRATES: Did we not place hunger, thirst, and the like, in the class of
SOCRATES: And yet they are very different; what common nature have we in
view when we call them by a single name?
PROTARCHUS: By heavens, Socrates, that is a question which is not easily
answered; but it must be answered.
SOCRATES: Then let us go back to our examples.
PROTARCHUS: Where shall we begin?
SOCRATES: Do we mean anything when we say 'a man thirsts'?
SOCRATES: We mean to say that he 'is empty'?
PROTARCHUS: Of course.
SOCRATES: And is not thirst desire?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, of drink.
SOCRATES: Would you say of drink, or of replenishment with drink?
PROTARCHUS: I should say, of replenishment with drink.
SOCRATES: Then he who is empty desires, as would appear, the opposite of
what he experiences; for he is empty and desires to be full?
PROTARCHUS: Clearly so.
SOCRATES: But how can a man who is empty for the first time, attain either
by perception or memory to any apprehension of replenishment, of which he
has no present or past experience?
SOCRATES: And yet he who desires, surely desires something?
PROTARCHUS: Of course.
SOCRATES: He does not desire that which he experiences, for he experiences
thirst, and thirst is emptiness; but he desires replenishment?
SOCRATES: Then there must be something in the thirsty man which in some
way apprehends replenishment?
PROTARCHUS: There must.
SOCRATES: And that cannot be the body, for the body is supposed to be
SOCRATES: The only remaining alternative is that the soul apprehends the
replenishment by the help of memory; as is obvious, for what other way can
PROTARCHUS: I cannot imagine any other.
SOCRATES: But do you see the consequence?
PROTARCHUS: What is it?
SOCRATES: That there is no such thing as desire of the body.
PROTARCHUS: Why so?
SOCRATES: Why, because the argument shows that the endeavour of every
animal is to the reverse of his bodily state.
SOCRATES: And the impulse which leads him to the opposite of what he is
experiencing proves that he has a memory of the opposite state.
SOCRATES: And the argument, having proved that memory attracts us towards
the objects of desire, proves also that the impulses and the desires and
the moving principle in every living being have their origin in the soul.
PROTARCHUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: The argument will not allow that our body either hungers or
thirsts or has any similar experience.
PROTARCHUS: Quite right.
SOCRATES: Let me make a further observation; the argument appears to me to
imply that there is a kind of life which consists in these affections.
PROTARCHUS: Of what affections, and of what kind of life, are you
SOCRATES: I am speaking of being emptied and replenished, and of all that
relates to the preservation and destruction of living beings, as well as of
the pain which is felt in one of these states and of the pleasure which
succeeds to it.
SOCRATES: And what would you say of the intermediate state?
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean by 'intermediate'?
SOCRATES: I mean when a person is in actual suffering and yet remembers
past pleasures which, if they would only return, would relieve him; but as
yet he has them not. May we not say of him, that he is in an intermediate
SOCRATES: Would you say that he was wholly pained or wholly pleased?
PROTARCHUS: Nay, I should say that he has two pains; in his body there is
the actual experience of pain, and in his soul longing and expectation.
SOCRATES: What do you mean, Protarchus, by the two pains? May not a man
who is empty have at one time a sure hope of being filled, and at other
times be quite in despair?
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And has he not the pleasure of memory when he is hoping to be
filled, and yet in that he is empty is he not at the same time in pain?
SOCRATES: Then man and the other animals have at the same time both
pleasure and pain?
PROTARCHUS: I suppose so.
SOCRATES: But when a man is empty and has no hope of being filled, there
will be the double experience of pain. You observed this and inferred that
the double experience was the single case possible.
PROTARCHUS: Quite true, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Shall the enquiry into these states of feeling be made the
occasion of raising a question?
PROTARCHUS: What question?
SOCRATES: Whether we ought to say that the pleasures and pains of which we
are speaking are true or false? or some true and some false?
PROTARCHUS: But how, Socrates, can there be false pleasures and pains?
SOCRATES: And how, Protarchus, can there be true and false fears, or true
and false expectations, or true and false opinions?
PROTARCHUS: I grant that opinions may be true or false, but not pleasures.
SOCRATES: What do you mean? I am afraid that we are raising a very
PROTARCHUS: There I agree.
SOCRATES: And yet, my boy, for you are one of Philebus' boys, the point to
be considered, is, whether the enquiry is relevant to the argument.
SOCRATES: No tedious and irrelevant discussion can be allowed; what is
said should be pertinent.
SOCRATES: I am always wondering at the question which has now been raised.
PROTARCHUS: How so?
SOCRATES: Do you deny that some pleasures are false, and others true?
PROTARCHUS: To be sure I do.
SOCRATES: Would you say that no one ever seemed to rejoice and yet did not
rejoice, or seemed to feel pain and yet did not feel pain, sleeping or
waking, mad or lunatic?
PROTARCHUS: So we have always held, Socrates.
SOCRATES: But were you right? Shall we enquire into the truth of your
PROTARCHUS: I think that we should.
SOCRATES: Let us then put into more precise terms the question which has
arisen about pleasure and opinion. Is there such a thing as opinion?
SOCRATES: And such a thing as pleasure?
SOCRATES: And an opinion must be of something?
SOCRATES: And a man must be pleased by something?
PROTARCHUS: Quite correct.
SOCRATES: And whether the opinion be right or wrong, makes no difference;
it will still be an opinion?
SOCRATES: And he who is pleased, whether he is rightly pleased or not,
will always have a real feeling of pleasure?
PROTARCHUS: Yes; that is also quite true.
SOCRATES: Then, how can opinion be both true and false, and pleasure true
only, although pleasure and opinion are both equally real?
PROTARCHUS: Yes; that is the question.
SOCRATES: You mean that opinion admits of truth and falsehood, and hence
becomes not merely opinion, but opinion of a certain quality; and this is
what you think should be examined?
SOCRATES: And further, even if we admit the existence of qualities in
other objects, may not pleasure and pain be simple and devoid of quality?
SOCRATES: But there is no difficulty in seeing that pleasure and pain as
well as opinion have qualities, for they are great or small, and have
various degrees of intensity; as was indeed said long ago by us.
PROTARCHUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: And if badness attaches to any of them, Protarchus, then we
should speak of a bad opinion or of a bad pleasure?
PROTARCHUS: Quite true, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And if rightness attaches to any of them, should we not speak of
a right opinion or right pleasure; and in like manner of the reverse of
SOCRATES: And if the thing opined be erroneous, might we not say that the
opinion, being erroneous, is not right or rightly opined?
SOCRATES: And if we see a pleasure or pain which errs in respect of its
object, shall we call that right or good, or by any honourable name?
PROTARCHUS: Not if the pleasure is mistaken; how could we?
SOCRATES: And surely pleasure often appears to accompany an opinion which
is not true, but false?
PROTARCHUS: Certainly it does; and in that case, Socrates, as we were
saying, the opinion is false, but no one could call the actual pleasure
SOCRATES: How eagerly, Protarchus, do you rush to the defence of pleasure!
PROTARCHUS: Nay, Socrates, I only repeat what I hear.
SOCRATES: And is there no difference, my friend, between that pleasure
which is associated with right opinion and knowledge, and that which is
often found in all of us associated with falsehood and ignorance?
PROTARCHUS: There must be a very great difference, between them.
SOCRATES: Then, now let us proceed to contemplate this difference.
PROTARCHUS: Lead, and I will follow.
SOCRATES: Well, then, my view is--
PROTARCHUS: What is it?
SOCRATES: We agree--do we not?--that there is such a thing as false, and
also such a thing as true opinion?
SOCRATES: And pleasure and pain, as I was just now saying, are often
consequent upon these--upon true and false opinion, I mean.
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And do not opinion and the endeavour to form an opinion always
spring from memory and perception?
SOCRATES: Might we imagine the process to be something of this nature?
PROTARCHUS: Of what nature?
SOCRATES: An object may be often seen at a distance not very clearly, and
the seer may want to determine what it is which he sees.
PROTARCHUS: Very likely.
SOCRATES: Soon he begins to interrogate himself.
PROTARCHUS: In what manner?
SOCRATES: He asks himself--'What is that which appears to be standing by
the rock under the tree?' This is the question which he may be supposed to
put to himself when he sees such an appearance.
SOCRATES: To which he may guess the right answer, saying as if in a
whisper to himself--'It is a man.'
PROTARCHUS: Very good.
SOCRATES: Or again, he may be misled, and then he will say--'No, it is a
figure made by the shepherds.'
SOCRATES: And if he has a companion, he repeats his thought to him in
articulate sounds, and what was before an opinion, has now become a
SOCRATES: But if he be walking alone when these thoughts occur to him, he
may not unfrequently keep them in his mind for a considerable time.
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: Well, now, I wonder whether you would agree in my explanation of
PROTARCHUS: What is your explanation?
SOCRATES: I think that the soul at such times is like a book.
PROTARCHUS: How so?
SOCRATES: Memory and perception meet, and they and their attendant
feelings seem to almost to write down words in the soul, and when the
inscribing feeling writes truly, then true opinion and true propositions
which are the expressions of opinion come into our souls--but when the
scribe within us writes falsely, the result is false.
PROTARCHUS: I quite assent and agree to your statement.
SOCRATES: I must bespeak your favour also for another artist, who is busy
at the same time in the chambers of the soul.
PROTARCHUS: Who is he?
SOCRATES: The painter, who, after the scribe has done his work, draws
images in the soul of the things which he has described.
PROTARCHUS: But when and how does he do this?
SOCRATES: When a man, besides receiving from sight or some other sense
certain opinions or statements, sees in his mind the images of the subjects
of them;--is not this a very common mental phenomenon?
SOCRATES: And the images answering to true opinions and words are true,
and to false opinions and words false; are they not?
PROTARCHUS: They are.
SOCRATES: If we are right so far, there arises a further question.
PROTARCHUS: What is it?
SOCRATES: Whether we experience the feeling of which I am speaking only in
relation to the present and the past, or in relation to the future also?
PROTARCHUS: I should say in relation to all times alike.
SOCRATES: Have not purely mental pleasures and pains been described
already as in some cases anticipations of the bodily ones; from which we
may infer that anticipatory pleasures and pains have to do with the future?
PROTARCHUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: And do all those writings and paintings which, as we were saying
a little while ago, are produced in us, relate to the past and present
only, and not to the future?
PROTARCHUS: To the future, very much.
SOCRATES: When you say, 'Very much,' you mean to imply that all these
representations are hopes about the future, and that mankind are filled
with hopes in every stage of existence?
SOCRATES: Answer me another question.
PROTARCHUS: What question?
SOCRATES: A just and pious and good man is the friend of the gods; is he
PROTARCHUS: Certainly he is.
SOCRATES: And the unjust and utterly bad man is the reverse?
SOCRATES: And all men, as we were saying just now, are always filled with
SOCRATES: And these hopes, as they are termed, are propositions which
exist in the minds of each of us?
SOCRATES: And the fancies of hope are also pictured in us; a man may often
have a vision of a heap of gold, and pleasures ensuing, and in the picture
there may be a likeness of himself mightily rejoicing over his good
SOCRATES: And may we not say that the good, being friends of the gods,
have generally true pictures presented to them, and the bad false pictures?
SOCRATES: The bad, too, have pleasures painted in their fancy as well as
the good; but I presume that they are false pleasures.
PROTARCHUS: They are.
SOCRATES: The bad then commonly delight in false pleasures, and the good
in true pleasures?
SOCRATES: Then upon this view there are false pleasures in the souls of
men which are a ludicrous imitation of the true, and there are pains of a
PROTARCHUS: There are.
SOCRATES: And did we not allow that a man who had an opinion at all had a
real opinion, but often about things which had no existence either in the
past, present, or future?
PROTARCHUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: And this was the source of false opinion and opining; am I not
SOCRATES: And must we not attribute to pleasure and pain a similar real
but illusory character?
PROTARCHUS: How do you mean?
SOCRATES: I mean to say that a man must be admitted to have real pleasure
who is pleased with anything or anyhow; and he may be pleased about things
which neither have nor have ever had any real existence, and, more often
than not, are never likely to exist.
PROTARCHUS: Yes, Socrates, that again is undeniable.
SOCRATES: And may not the same be said about fear and anger and the like;
are they not often false?
PROTARCHUS: Quite so.
SOCRATES: And can opinions be good or bad except in as far as they are
true or false?
PROTARCHUS: In no other way.
SOCRATES: Nor can pleasures be conceived to be bad except in so far as
they are false.
PROTARCHUS: Nay, Socrates, that is the very opposite of truth; for no one
would call pleasures and pains bad because they are false, but by reason of
some other great corruption to which they are liable.
SOCRATES: Well, of pleasures which are corrupt and caused by corruption we
will hereafter speak, if we care to continue the enquiry; for the present I
would rather show by another argument that there are many false pleasures
existing or coming into existence in us, because this may assist our final
PROTARCHUS: Very true; that is to say, if there are such pleasures.
SOCRATES: I think that there are, Protarchus; but this is an opinion which
should be well assured, and not rest upon a mere assertion.
PROTARCHUS: Very good.
SOCRATES: Then now, like wrestlers, let us approach and grasp this new
SOCRATES: We were maintaining a little while since, that when desires, as
they are termed, exist in us, then the body has separate feelings apart
from the soul--do you remember?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, I remember that you said so.
SOCRATES: And the soul was supposed to desire the opposite of the bodily
state, while the body was the source of any pleasure or pain which was
SOCRATES: Then now you may infer what happens in such cases.
PROTARCHUS: What am I to infer?
SOCRATES: That in such cases pleasures and pains come simultaneously; and
there is a juxtaposition of the opposite sensations which correspond to
them, as has been already shown.
SOCRATES: And there is another point to which we have agreed.
PROTARCHUS: What is it?
SOCRATES: That pleasure and pain both admit of more and less, and that
they are of the class of infinites.
PROTARCHUS: Certainly, we said so.
SOCRATES: But how can we rightly judge of them?
PROTARCHUS: How can we?
SOCRATES: Is it our intention to judge of their comparative importance and
intensity, measuring pleasure against pain, and pain against pain, and
pleasure against pleasure?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, such is our intention, and we shall judge of them
SOCRATES: Well, take the case of sight. Does not the nearness or distance
of magnitudes obscure their true proportions, and make us opine falsely;
and do we not find the same illusion happening in the case of pleasures and
PROTARCHUS: Yes, Socrates, and in a degree far greater.
SOCRATES: Then what we are now saying is the opposite of what we were
PROTARCHUS: What was that?
SOCRATES: Then the opinions were true and false, and infected the
pleasures and pains with their own falsity.
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: But now it is the pleasures which are said to be true and false
because they are seen at various distances, and subjected to comparison;
the pleasures appear to be greater and more vehement when placed side by
side with the pains, and the pains when placed side by side with the
PROTARCHUS: Certainly, and for the reason which you mention.
SOCRATES: And suppose you part off from pleasures and pains the element
which makes them appear to be greater or less than they really are: you
will acknowledge that this element is illusory, and you will never say that
the corresponding excess or defect of pleasure or pain is real or true.
PROTARCHUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: Next let us see whether in another direction we may not find
pleasures and pains existing and appearing in living beings, which are
still more false than these.
PROTARCHUS: What are they, and how shall we find them?
SOCRATES: If I am not mistaken, I have often repeated that pains and aches
and suffering and uneasiness of all sorts arise out of a corruption of
nature caused by concretions, and dissolutions, and repletions, and
evacuations, and also by growth and decay?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, that has been often said.
SOCRATES: And we have also agreed that the restoration of the natural
state is pleasure?
SOCRATES: But now let us suppose an interval of time at which the body
experiences none of these changes.
PROTARCHUS: When can that be, Socrates?
SOCRATES: Your question, Protarchus, does not help the argument.
PROTARCHUS: Why not, Socrates?
SOCRATES: Because it does not prevent me from repeating mine.
PROTARCHUS: And what was that?
SOCRATES: Why, Protarchus, admitting that there is no such interval, I may
ask what would be the necessary consequence if there were?
PROTARCHUS: You mean, what would happen if the body were not changed
either for good or bad?
PROTARCHUS: Why then, Socrates, I should suppose that there would be
neither pleasure nor pain.
SOCRATES: Very good; but still, if I am not mistaken, you do assert that
we must always be experiencing one of them; that is what the wise tell us;
for, say they, all things are ever flowing up and down.
PROTARCHUS: Yes, and their words are of no mean authority.
SOCRATES: Of course, for they are no mean authorities themselves; and I
should like to avoid the brunt of their argument. Shall I tell you how I
mean to escape from them? And you shall be the partner of my flight.
SOCRATES: To them we will say: 'Good; but are we, or living things in
general, always conscious of what happens to us--for example, of our
growth, or the like? Are we not, on the contrary, almost wholly
unconscious of this and similar phenomena?' You must answer for them.
PROTARCHUS: The latter alternative is the true one.
SOCRATES: Then we were not right in saying, just now, that motions going
up and down cause pleasures and pains?
SOCRATES: A better and more unexceptionable way of speaking will be--
SOCRATES: If we say that the great changes produce pleasures and pains,
but that the moderate and lesser ones do neither.
PROTARCHUS: That, Socrates, is the more correct mode of speaking.
SOCRATES: But if this be true, the life to which I was just now referring
PROTARCHUS: What life?
SOCRATES: The life which we affirmed to be devoid either of pain or of
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: We may assume then that there are three lives, one pleasant, one
painful, and the third which is neither; what say you?
PROTARCHUS: I should say as you do that there are three of them.
SOCRATES: But if so, the negation of pain will not be the same with
PROTARCHUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: Then when you hear a person saying, that always to live without
pain is the pleasantest of all things, what would you understand him to
mean by that statement?
PROTARCHUS: I think that by pleasure he must mean the negative of pain.
SOCRATES: Let us take any three things; or suppose that we embellish a
little and call the first gold, the second silver, and there shall be a
third which is neither.
PROTARCHUS: Very good.
SOCRATES: Now, can that which is neither be either gold or silver?
SOCRATES: No more can that neutral or middle life be rightly or reasonably
spoken or thought of as pleasant or painful.
PROTARCHUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: And yet, my friend, there are, as we know, persons who say and
SOCRATES: And do they think that they have pleasure when they are free
PROTARCHUS: They say so.
SOCRATES: And they must think or they would not say that they have
PROTARCHUS: I suppose not.
SOCRATES: And yet if pleasure and the negation of pain are of distinct
natures, they are wrong.
PROTARCHUS: But they are undoubtedly of distinct natures.
SOCRATES: Then shall we take the view that they are three, as we were just
now saying, or that they are two only--the one being a state of pain, which
is an evil, and the other a cessation of pain, which is of itself a good,
and is called pleasant?
PROTARCHUS: But why, Socrates, do we ask the question at all? I do not
see the reason.
SOCRATES: You, Protarchus, have clearly never heard of certain enemies of
our friend Philebus.
PROTARCHUS: And who may they be?
SOCRATES: Certain persons who are reputed to be masters in natural
philosophy, who deny the very existence of pleasure.
SOCRATES: They say that what the school of Philebus calls pleasures are
all of them only avoidances of pain.
PROTARCHUS: And would you, Socrates, have us agree with them?
SOCRATES: Why, no, I would rather use them as a sort of diviners, who
divine the truth, not by rules of art, but by an instinctive repugnance and
extreme detestation which a noble nature has of the power of pleasure, in
which they think that there is nothing sound, and her seductive influence
is declared by them to be witchcraft, and not pleasure. This is the use
which you may make of them. And when you have considered the various
grounds of their dislike, you shall hear from me what I deem to be true
pleasures. Having thus examined the nature of pleasure from both points of
view, we will bring her up for judgment.
PROTARCHUS: Well said.
SOCRATES: Then let us enter into an alliance with these philosophers and
follow in the track of their dislike. I imagine that they would say
something of this sort; they would begin at the beginning, and ask whether,
if we wanted to know the nature of any quality, such as hardness, we should
be more likely to discover it by looking at the hardest things, rather than
at the least hard? You, Protarchus, shall answer these severe gentlemen as
you answer me.
PROTARCHUS: By all means, and I reply to them, that you should look at the
SOCRATES: Then if we want to see the true nature of pleasures as a class,
we should not look at the most diluted pleasures, but at the most extreme
and most vehement?
PROTARCHUS: In that every one will agree.
SOCRATES: And the obvious instances of the greatest pleasures, as we have
often said, are the pleasures of the body?
SOCRATES: And are they felt by us to be or become greater, when we are
sick or when we are in health? And here we must be careful in our answer,
or we shall come to grief.
PROTARCHUS: How will that be?
SOCRATES: Why, because we might be tempted to answer, 'When we are in
PROTARCHUS: Yes, that is the natural answer.
SOCRATES: Well, but are not those pleasures the greatest of which mankind
have the greatest desires?
SOCRATES: And do not people who are in a fever, or any similar illness,
feel cold or thirst or other bodily affections more intensely? Am I not
right in saying that they have a deeper want and greater pleasure in the
satisfaction of their want?
PROTARCHUS: That is obvious as soon as it is said.
SOCRATES: Well, then, shall we not be right in saying, that if a person
would wish to see the greatest pleasures he ought to go and look, not at
health, but at disease? And here you must distinguish:--do not imagine
that I mean to ask whether those who are very ill have more pleasures than
those who are well, but understand that I am speaking of the magnitude of
pleasure; I want to know where pleasures are found to be most intense.
For, as I say, we have to discover what is pleasure, and what they mean by
pleasure who deny her very existence.
PROTARCHUS: I think I follow you.
SOCRATES: You will soon have a better opportunity of showing whether you
do or not, Protarchus. Answer now, and tell me whether you see, I will not
say more, but more intense and excessive pleasures in wantonness than in
temperance? Reflect before you speak.
PROTARCHUS: I understand you, and see that there is a great difference
between them; the temperate are restrained by the wise man's aphorism of
'Never too much,' which is their rule, but excess of pleasure possessing
the minds of fools and wantons becomes madness and makes them shout with
SOCRATES: Very good, and if this be true, then the greatest pleasures and
pains will clearly be found in some vicious state of soul and body, and not
in a virtuous state.
SOCRATES: And ought we not to select some of these for examination, and
see what makes them the greatest?
PROTARCHUS: To be sure we ought.
SOCRATES: Take the case of the pleasures which arise out of certain
PROTARCHUS: What disorders?
SOCRATES: The pleasures of unseemly disorders, which our severe friends
PROTARCHUS: What pleasures?
SOCRATES: Such, for example, as the relief of itching and other ailments
by scratching, which is the only remedy required. For what in Heaven's
name is the feeling to be called which is thus produced in us?--Pleasure or
PROTARCHUS: A villainous mixture of some kind, Socrates, I should say.
SOCRATES: I did not introduce the argument, O Protarchus, with any
personal reference to Philebus, but because, without the consideration of
these and similar pleasures, we shall not be able to determine the point at
PROTARCHUS: Then we had better proceed to analyze this family of
SOCRATES: You mean the pleasures which are mingled with pain?
SOCRATES: There are some mixtures which are of the body, and only in the
body, and others which are of the soul, and only in the soul; while there
are other mixtures of pleasures with pains, common both to soul and body,
which in their composite state are called sometimes pleasures and sometimes
PROTARCHUS: How is that?
SOCRATES: Whenever, in the restoration or in the derangement of nature, a
man experiences two opposite feelings; for example, when he is cold and is
growing warm, or again, when he is hot and is becoming cool, and he wants
to have the one and be rid of the other;--the sweet has a bitter, as the
common saying is, and both together fasten upon him and create irritation
and in time drive him to distraction.
PROTARCHUS: That description is very true to nature.
SOCRATES: And in these sorts of mixtures the pleasures and pains are
sometimes equal, and sometimes one or other of them predominates?
SOCRATES: Of cases in which the pain exceeds the pleasure, an example is
afforded by itching, of which we were just now speaking, and by the
tingling which we feel when the boiling and fiery element is within, and
the rubbing and motion only relieves the surface, and does not reach the
parts affected; then if you put them to the fire, and as a last resort
apply cold to them, you may often produce the most intense pleasure or pain
in the inner parts, which contrasts and mingles with the pain or pleasure,
as the case may be, of the outer parts; and this is due to the forcible
separation of what is united, or to the union of what is separated, and to
the juxtaposition of pleasure and pain.
PROTARCHUS: Quite so.
SOCRATES: Sometimes the element of pleasure prevails in a man, and the
slight undercurrent of pain makes him tingle, and causes a gentle
irritation; or again, the excessive infusion of pleasure creates an
excitement in him,--he even leaps for joy, he assumes all sorts of
attitudes, he changes all manner of colours, he gasps for breath, and is
quite amazed, and utters the most irrational exclamations.
PROTARCHUS: Yes, indeed.
SOCRATES: He will say of himself, and others will say of him, that he is
dying with these delights; and the more dissipated and good-for-nothing he
is, the more vehemently he pursues them in every way; of all pleasures he
declares them to be the greatest; and he reckons him who lives in the most
constant enjoyment of them to be the happiest of mankind.
PROTARCHUS: That, Socrates, is a very true description of the opinions of
the majority about pleasures.
SOCRATES: Yes, Protarchus, quite true of the mixed pleasures, which arise
out of the communion of external and internal sensations in the body; there
are also cases in which the mind contributes an opposite element to the
body, whether of pleasure or pain, and the two unite and form one mixture.
Concerning these I have already remarked, that when a man is empty he
desires to be full, and has pleasure in hope and pain in vacuity. But now
I must further add what I omitted before, that in all these and similar
emotions in which body and mind are opposed (and they are innumerable),
pleasure and pain coalesce in one.
PROTARCHUS: I believe that to be quite true.
SOCRATES: There still remains one other sort of admixture of pleasures and
PROTARCHUS: What is that?
SOCRATES: The union which, as we were saying, the mind often experiences
of purely mental feelings.
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: Why, do we not speak of anger, fear, desire, sorrow, love,
emulation, envy, and the like, as pains which belong to the soul only?
SOCRATES: And shall we not find them also full of the most wonderful
pleasures? need I remind you of the anger
'Which stirs even a wise man to violence,
And is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb?'
And you remember how pleasures mingle with pains in lamentation and
PROTARCHUS: Yes, there is a natural connexion between them.
SOCRATES: And you remember also how at the sight of tragedies the
spectators smile through their tears?
PROTARCHUS: Certainly I do.
SOCRATES: And are you aware that even at a comedy the soul experiences a
mixed feeling of pain and pleasure?
PROTARCHUS: I do not quite understand you.
SOCRATES: I admit, Protarchus, that there is some difficulty in
recognizing this mixture of feelings at a comedy.
PROTARCHUS: There is, I think.
SOCRATES: And the greater the obscurity of the case the more desirable is
the examination of it, because the difficulty in detecting other cases of
mixed pleasures and pains will be less.
SOCRATES: I have just mentioned envy; would you not call that a pain of
SOCRATES: And yet the envious man finds something in the misfortunes of
his neighbours at which he is pleased?
SOCRATES: And ignorance, and what is termed clownishness, are surely an
PROTARCHUS: To be sure.
SOCRATES: From these considerations learn to know the nature of the
SOCRATES: The ridiculous is in short the specific name which is used to
describe the vicious form of a certain habit; and of vice in general it is
that kind which is most at variance with the inscription at Delphi.
PROTARCHUS: You mean, Socrates, 'Know thyself.'
SOCRATES: I do; and the opposite would be, 'Know not thyself.'
SOCRATES: And now, O Protarchus, try to divide this into three.
PROTARCHUS: Indeed I am afraid that I cannot.
SOCRATES: Do you mean to say that I must make the division for you?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, and what is more, I beg that you will.
SOCRATES: Are there not three ways in which ignorance of self may be
PROTARCHUS: What are they?
SOCRATES: In the first place, about money; the ignorant may fancy himself
richer than he is.
PROTARCHUS: Yes, that is a very common error.
SOCRATES: And still more often he will fancy that he is taller or fairer
than he is, or that he has some other advantage of person which he really
PROTARCHUS: Of course.
SOCRATES: And yet surely by far the greatest number err about the goods of
the mind; they imagine themselves to be much better men than they are.
PROTARCHUS: Yes, that is by far the commonest delusion.
SOCRATES: And of all the virtues, is not wisdom the one which the mass of
mankind are always claiming, and which most arouses in them a spirit of
contention and lying conceit of wisdom?
SOCRATES: And may not all this be truly called an evil condition?
PROTARCHUS: Very evil.
SOCRATES: But we must pursue the division a step further, Protarchus, if
we would see in envy of the childish sort a singular mixture of pleasure
PROTARCHUS: How can we make the further division which you suggest?
SOCRATES: All who are silly enough to entertain this lying conceit of
themselves may of course be divided, like the rest of mankind, into two
classes--one having power and might; and the other the reverse.
SOCRATES: Let this, then, be the principle of division; those of them who
are weak and unable to revenge themselves, when they are laughed at, may be
truly called ridiculous, but those who can defend themselves may be more
truly described as strong and formidable; for ignorance in the powerul is
hateful and horrible, because hurtful to others both in reality and in
fiction, but powerless ignorance may be reckoned, and in truth is,
PROTARCHUS: That is very true, but I do not as yet see where is the
admixture of pleasures and pains.
SOCRATES: Well, then, let us examine the nature of envy.
SOCRATES: Is not envy an unrighteous pleasure, and also an unrighteous
PROTARCHUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: There is nothing envious or wrong in rejoicing at the
misfortunes of enemies?
PROTARCHUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: But to feel joy instead of sorrow at the sight of our friends'
misfortunes--is not that wrong?
SOCRATES: Did we not say that ignorance was always an evil?
SOCRATES: And the three kinds of vain conceit in our friends which we
enumerated--the vain conceit of beauty, of wisdom, and of wealth, are
ridiculous if they are weak, and detestable when they are powerful: May we
not say, as I was saying before, that our friends who are in this state of
mind, when harmless to others, are simply ridiculous?
PROTARCHUS: They are ridiculous.
SOCRATES: And do we not acknowledge this ignorance of theirs to be a
SOCRATES: And do we feel pain or pleasure in laughing at it?
PROTARCHUS: Clearly we feel pleasure.
SOCRATES: And was not envy the source of this pleasure which we feel at
the misfortunes of friends?
SOCRATES: Then the argument shows that when we laugh at the folly of our
friends, pleasure, in mingling with envy, mingles with pain, for envy has
been acknowledged by us to be mental pain, and laughter is pleasant; and so
we envy and laugh at the same instant.
SOCRATES: And the argument implies that there are combinations of pleasure
and pain in lamentations, and in tragedy and comedy, not only on the stage,
but on the greater stage of human life; and so in endless other cases.
PROTARCHUS: I do not see how any one can deny what you say, Socrates,
however eager he may be to assert the opposite opinion.
SOCRATES: I mentioned anger, desire, sorrow, fear, love, emulation, envy,
and similar emotions, as examples in which we should find a mixture of the
two elements so often named; did I not?
SOCRATES: We may observe that our conclusions hitherto have had reference
only to sorrow and envy and anger.
PROTARCHUS: I see.
SOCRATES: Then many other cases still remain?
SOCRATES: And why do you suppose me to have pointed out to you the
admixture which takes place in comedy? Why but to convince you that there
was no difficulty in showing the mixed nature of fear and love and similar
affections; and I thought that when I had given you the illustration, you
would have let me off, and have acknowledged as a general truth that the
body without the soul, and the soul without the body, as well as the two
united, are susceptible of all sorts of admixtures of pleasures and pains;
and so further discussion would have been unnecessary. And now I want to
know whether I may depart; or will you keep me here until midnight? I
fancy that I may obtain my release without many words;--if I promise that
to-morrow I will give you an account of all these cases. But at present I
would rather sail in another direction, and go to other matters which
remain to be settled, before the judgment can be given which Philebus
PROTARCHUS: Very good, Socrates; in what remains take your own course.
SOCRATES: Then after the mixed pleasures the unmixed should have their
turn; this is the natural and necessary order.
SOCRATES: These, in turn, then, I will now endeavour to indicate; for with
the maintainers of the opinion that all pleasures are a cessation of pain,
I do not agree, but, as I was saying, I use them as witnesses, that there
are pleasures which seem only and are not, and there are others again which
have great power and appear in many forms, yet are intermingled with pains,
and are partly alleviations of agony and distress, both of body and mind.
PROTARCHUS: Then what pleasures, Socrates, should we be right in
conceiving to be true?
SOCRATES: True pleasures are those which are given by beauty of colour and
form, and most of those which arise from smells; those of sound, again, and
in general those of which the want is painless and unconscious, and of
which the fruition is palpable to sense and pleasant and unalloyed with
PROTARCHUS: Once more, Socrates, I must ask what you mean.
SOCRATES: My meaning is certainly not obvious, and I will endeavour to be
plainer. I do not mean by beauty of form such beauty as that of animals or
pictures, which the many would suppose to be my meaning; but, says the
argument, understand me to mean straight lines and circles, and the plane
or solid figures which are formed out of them by turning-lathes and rulers
and measurers of angles; for these I affirm to be not only relatively
beautiful, like other things, but they are eternally and absolutely
beautiful, and they have peculiar pleasures, quite unlike the pleasures of
scratching. And there are colours which are of the same character, and
have similar pleasures; now do you understand my meaning?
PROTARCHUS: I am trying to understand, Socrates, and I hope that you will
try to make your meaning clearer.
SOCRATES: When sounds are smooth and clear, and have a single pure tone,
then I mean to say that they are not relatively but absolutely beautiful,
and have natural pleasures associated with them.
PROTARCHUS: Yes, there are such pleasures.
SOCRATES: The pleasures of smell are of a less ethereal sort, but they
have no necessary admixture of pain; and all pleasures, however and
wherever experienced, which are unattended by pains, I assign to an
analogous class. Here then are two kinds of pleasures.
PROTARCHUS: I understand.
SOCRATES: To these may be added the pleasures of knowledge, if no hunger
of knowledge and no pain caused by such hunger precede them.
PROTARCHUS: And this is the case.
SOCRATES: Well, but if a man who is full of knowledge loses his knowledge,
are there not pains of forgetting?
PROTARCHUS: Not necessarily, but there may be times of reflection, when he
feels grief at the loss of his knowledge.
SOCRATES: Yes, my friend, but at present we are enumerating only the
natural perceptions, and have nothing to do with reflection.
PROTARCHUS: In that case you are right in saying that the loss of
knowledge is not attended with pain.
SOCRATES: These pleasures of knowledge, then, are unmixed with pain; and
they are not the pleasures of the many but of a very few.
PROTARCHUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: And now, having fairly separated the pure pleasures and those
which may be rightly termed impure, let us further add to our description
of them, that the pleasures which are in excess have no measure, but that
those which are not in excess have measure; the great, the excessive,
whether more or less frequent, we shall be right in referring to the class
of the infinite, and of the more and less, which pours through body and
soul alike; and the others we shall refer to the class which has measure.
PROTARCHUS: Quite right, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Still there is something more to be considered about pleasures.
PROTARCHUS: What is it?
SOCRATES: When you speak of purity and clearness, or of excess, abundance,
greatness and sufficiency, in what relation do these terms stand to truth?
PROTARCHUS: Why do you ask, Socrates?
SOCRATES: Because, Protarchus, I should wish to test pleasure and
knowledge in every possible way, in order that if there be a pure and
impure element in either of them, I may present the pure element for
judgment, and then they will be more easily judged of by you and by me and
by all of us.
PROTARCHUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: Let us investigate all the pure kinds; first selecting for
consideration a single instance.
PROTARCHUS: What instance shall we select?
SOCRATES: Suppose that we first of all take whiteness.
PROTARCHUS: Very good.
SOCRATES: How can there be purity in whiteness, and what purity? Is that
purest which is greatest or most in quantity, or that which is most
unadulterated and freest from any admixture of other colours?
PROTARCHUS: Clearly that which is most unadulterated.
SOCRATES: True, Protarchus; and so the purest white, and not the greatest
or largest in quantity, is to be deemed truest and most beautiful?
SOCRATES: And we shall be quite right in saying that a little pure white
is whiter and fairer and truer than a great deal that is mixed.
PROTARCHUS: Perfectly right.
SOCRATES: There is no need of adducing many similar examples in
illustration of the argument about pleasure; one such is sufficient to
prove to us that a small pleasure or a small amount of pleasure, if pure or
unalloyed with pain, is always pleasanter and truer and fairer than a great
pleasure or a great amount of pleasure of another kind.
PROTARCHUS: Assuredly; and the instance you have given is quite
SOCRATES: But what do you say of another question:--have we not heard that
pleasure is always a generation, and has no true being? Do not certain
ingenious philosophers teach this doctrine, and ought not we to be grateful
PROTARCHUS: What do they mean?
SOCRATES: I will explain to you, my dear Protarchus, what they mean, by
putting a question.
PROTARCHUS: Ask, and I will answer.
SOCRATES: I assume that there are two natures, one self-existent, and the
other ever in want of something.
PROTARCHUS: What manner of natures are they?
SOCRATES: The one majestic ever, the other inferior.
PROTARCHUS: You speak riddles.
SOCRATES: You have seen loves good and fair, and also brave lovers of
PROTARCHUS: I should think so.
SOCRATES: Search the universe for two terms which are like these two and
are present everywhere.
PROTARCHUS: Yet a third time I must say, Be a little plainer, Socrates.
SOCRATES: There is no difficulty, Protarchus; the argument is only in
play, and insinuates that some things are for the sake of something else
(relatives), and that other things are the ends to which the former class
PROTARCHUS: Your many repetitions make me slow to understand.
SOCRATES: As the argument proceeds, my boy, I dare say that the meaning
will become clearer.
PROTARCHUS: Very likely.
SOCRATES: Here are two new principles.
PROTARCHUS: What are they?
SOCRATES: One is the generation of all things, and the other is essence.
PROTARCHUS: I readily accept from you both generation and essence.
SOCRATES: Very right; and would you say that generation is for the sake of
essence, or essence for the sake of generation?
PROTARCHUS: You want to know whether that which is called essence is,
properly speaking, for the sake of generation?
PROTARCHUS: By the gods, I wish that you would repeat your question.
SOCRATES: I mean, O my Protarchus, to ask whether you would tell me that
ship-building is for the sake of ships, or ships for the sake of ship-
building? and in all similar cases I should ask the same question.
PROTARCHUS: Why do you not answer yourself, Socrates?
SOCRATES: I have no objection, but you must take your part.
SOCRATES: My answer is, that all things instrumental, remedial, material,
are given to us with a view to generation, and that each generation is
relative to, or for the sake of, some being or essence, and that the whole
of generation is relative to the whole of essence.
SOCRATES: Then pleasure, being a generation, must surely be for the sake
of some essence?
SOCRATES: And that for the sake of which something else is done must be
placed in the class of good, and that which is done for the sake of
something else, in some other class, my good friend.
PROTARCHUS: Most certainly.
SOCRATES: Then pleasure, being a generation, will be rightly placed in
some other class than that of good?
PROTARCHUS: Quite right.
SOCRATES: Then, as I said at first, we ought to be very grateful to him
who first pointed out that pleasure was a generation only, and had no true
being at all; for he is clearly one who laughs at the notion of pleasure
being a good.
SOCRATES: And he would surely laugh also at those who make generation
their highest end.
PROTARCHUS: Of whom are you speaking, and what do they mean?
SOCRATES: I am speaking of those who when they are cured of hunger or
thirst or any other defect by some process of generation are delighted at
the process as if it were pleasure; and they say that they would not wish
to live without these and other feelings of a like kind which might be
PROTARCHUS: That is certainly what they appear to think.
SOCRATES: And is not destruction universally admitted to be the opposite
SOCRATES: Then he who chooses thus, would choose generation and
destruction rather than that third sort of life, in which, as we were
saying, was neither pleasure nor pain, but only the purest possible
PROTARCHUS: He who would make us believe pleasure to be a good is involved
in great absurdities, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Great, indeed; and there is yet another of them.
PROTARCHUS: What is it?
SOCRATES: Is there not an absurdity in arguing that there is nothing good
or noble in the body, or in anything else, but that good is in the soul
only, and that the only good of the soul is pleasure; and that courage or
temperance or understanding, or any other good of the soul, is not really a
good?--and is there not yet a further absurdity in our being compelled to
say that he who has a feeling of pain and not of pleasure is bad at the
time when he is suffering pain, even though he be the best of men; and
again, that he who has a feeling of pleasure, in so far as he is pleased at
the time when he is pleased, in that degree excels in virtue?
PROTARCHUS: Nothing, Socrates, can be more irrational than all this.
SOCRATES: And now, having subjected pleasure to every sort of test, let us
not appear to be too sparing of mind and knowledge: let us ring their
metal bravely, and see if there be unsoundness in any part, until we have
found out what in them is of the purest nature; and then the truest
elements both of pleasure and knowledge may be brought up for judgment.
SOCRATES: Knowledge has two parts,--the one productive, and the other
SOCRATES: And in the productive or handicraft arts, is not one part more
akin to knowledge, and the other less; and may not the one part be regarded
as the pure, and the other as the impure?
SOCRATES: Let us separate the superior or dominant elements in each of
PROTARCHUS: What are they, and how do you separate them?
SOCRATES: I mean to say, that if arithmetic, mensuration, and weighing be
taken away from any art, that which remains will not be much.
PROTARCHUS: Not much, certainly.
SOCRATES: The rest will be only conjecture, and the better use of the
senses which is given by experience and practice, in addition to a certain
power of guessing, which is commonly called art, and is perfected by
attention and pains.
PROTARCHUS: Nothing more, assuredly.
SOCRATES: Music, for instance, is full of this empiricism; for sounds are
harmonized, not by measure, but by skilful conjecture; the music of the
flute is always trying to guess the pitch of each vibrating note, and is
therefore mixed up with much that is doubtful and has little which is
PROTARCHUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: And the same will be found to hold good of medicine and
husbandry and piloting and generalship.
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: The art of the builder, on the other hand, which uses a number
of measures and instruments, attains by their help to a greater degree of
accuracy than the other arts.
PROTARCHUS: How is that?
SOCRATES: In ship-building and house-building, and in other branches of
the art of carpentering, the builder has his rule, lathe, compass, line,
and a most ingenious machine for straightening wood.
PROTARCHUS: Very true, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Then now let us divide the arts of which we were speaking into
two kinds,--the arts which, like music, are less exact in their results,
and those which, like carpentering, are more exact.
PROTARCHUS: Let us make that division.
SOCRATES: Of the latter class, the most exact of all are those which we
just now spoke of as primary.
PROTARCHUS: I see that you mean arithmetic, and the kindred arts of
weighing and measuring.
SOCRATES: Certainly, Protarchus; but are not these also distinguishable
into two kinds?
PROTARCHUS: What are the two kinds?
SOCRATES: In the first place, arithmetic is of two kinds, one of which is
popular, and the other philosophical.
PROTARCHUS: How would you distinguish them?
SOCRATES: There is a wide difference between them, Protarchus; some
arithmeticians reckon unequal units; as for example, two armies, two oxen,
two very large things or two very small things. The party who are opposed
to them insist that every unit in ten thousand must be the same as every
PROTARCHUS: Undoubtedly there is, as you say, a great difference among the
votaries of the science; and there may be reasonably supposed to be two
sorts of arithmetic.
SOCRATES: And when we compare the art of mensuration which is used in
building with philosophical geometry, or the art of computation which is
used in trading with exact calculation, shall we say of either of the pairs
that it is one or two?
PROTARCHUS: On the analogy of what has preceded, I should be of opinion
that they were severally two.
SOCRATES: Right; but do you understand why I have discussed the subject?
PROTARCHUS: I think so, but I should like to be told by you.
SOCRATES: The argument has all along been seeking a parallel to pleasure,
and true to that original design, has gone on to ask whether one sort of
knowledge is purer than another, as one pleasure is purer than another.
PROTARCHUS: Clearly; that was the intention.
SOCRATES: And has not the argument in what has preceded, already shown
that the arts have different provinces, and vary in their degrees of
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And just now did not the argument first designate a particular
art by a common term, thus making us believe in the unity of that art; and
then again, as if speaking of two different things, proceed to enquire
whether the art as pursed by philosophers, or as pursued by non-
philosophers, has more of certainty and purity?
PROTARCHUS: That is the very question which the argument is asking.
SOCRATES: And how, Protarchus, shall we answer the enquiry?
PROTARCHUS: O Socrates, we have reached a point at which the difference of
clearness in different kinds of knowledge is enormous.
SOCRATES: Then the answer will be the easier.
PROTARCHUS: Certainly; and let us say in reply, that those arts into which
arithmetic and mensuration enter, far surpass all others; and that of these
the arts or sciences which are animated by the pure philosophic impulse are
infinitely superior in accuracy and truth.
SOCRATES: Then this is your judgment; and this is the answer which, upon
your authority, we will give to all masters of the art of
PROTARCHUS: What answer?
SOCRATES: That there are two arts of arithmetic, and two of mensuration;
and also several other arts which in like manner have this double nature,
and yet only one name.
PROTARCHUS: Let us boldly return this answer to the masters of whom you
speak, Socrates, and hope for good luck.
SOCRATES: We have explained what we term the most exact arts or sciences.
PROTARCHUS: Very good.
SOCRATES: And yet, Protarchus, dialectic will refuse to acknowledge us, if
we do not award to her the first place.
PROTARCHUS: And pray, what is dialectic?
SOCRATES: Clearly the science which has to do with all that knowledge of
which we are now speaking; for I am sure that all men who have a grain of
intelligence will admit that the knowledge which has to do with being and
reality, and sameness and unchangeableness, is by far the truest of all.
But how would you decide this question, Protarchus?
PROTARCHUS: I have often heard Gorgias maintain, Socrates, that the art of
persuasion far surpassed every other; this, as he says, is by far the best
of them all, for to it all things submit, not by compulsion, but of their
own free will. Now, I should not like to quarrel either with you or with
SOCRATES: You mean to say that you would like to desert, if you were not
PROTARCHUS: As you please.
SOCRATES: May I not have led you into a misapprehension?
SOCRATES: Dear Protarchus, I never asked which was the greatest or best or
usefullest of arts or sciences, but which had clearness and accuracy, and
the greatest amount of truth, however humble and little useful an art. And
as for Gorgias, if you do not deny that his art has the advantage in
usefulness to mankind, he will not quarrel with you for saying that the
study of which I am speaking is superior in this particular of essential
truth; as in the comparison of white colours, a little whiteness, if that
little be only pure, was said to be superior in truth to a great mass which
is impure. And now let us give our best attention and consider well, not
the comparative use or reputation of the sciences, but the power or
faculty, if there be such, which the soul has of loving the truth, and of
doing all things for the sake of it; let us search into the pure element of
mind and intelligence, and then we shall be able to say whether the science
of which I have been speaking is most likely to possess the faculty, or
whether there be some other which has higher claims.
PROTARCHUS: Well, I have been considering, and I can hardly think that any
other science or art has a firmer grasp of the truth than this.
SOCRATES: Do you say so because you observe that the arts in general and
those engaged in them make use of opinion, and are resolutely engaged in
the investigation of matters of opinion? Even he who supposes himself to
be occupied with nature is really occupied with the things of this world,
how created, how acting or acted upon. Is not this the sort of enquiry in
which his life is spent?
SOCRATES: He is labouring, not after eternal being, but about things which
are becoming, or which will or have become.
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And can we say that any of these things which neither are nor
have been nor will be unchangeable, when judged by the strict rule of truth
ever become certain?
SOCRATES: How can anything fixed be concerned with that which has no
PROTARCHUS: How indeed?
SOCRATES: Then mind and science when employed about such changing things
do not attain the highest truth?
PROTARCHUS: I should imagine not.
SOCRATES: And now let us bid farewell, a long farewell, to you or me or
Philebus or Gorgias, and urge on behalf of the argument a single point.
PROTARCHUS: What point?
SOCRATES: Let us say that the stable and pure and true and unalloyed has
to do with the things which are eternal and unchangeable and unmixed, or if
not, at any rate what is most akin to them has; and that all other things
are to be placed in a second or inferior class.
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And of the names expressing cognition, ought not the fairest to
be given to the fairest things?
PROTARCHUS: That is natural.
SOCRATES: And are not mind and wisdom the names which are to be honoured
SOCRATES: And these names may be said to have their truest and most exact
application when the mind is engaged in the contemplation of true being?
SOCRATES: And these were the names which I adduced of the rivals of
PROTARCHUS: Very true, Socrates.
SOCRATES: In the next place, as to the mixture, here are the ingredients,
pleasure and wisdom, and we may be compared to artists who have their
materials ready to their hands.
SOCRATES: And now we must begin to mix them?
PROTARCHUS: By all means.
SOCRATES: But had we not better have a preliminary word and refresh our
PROTARCHUS: Of what?
SOCRATES: Of that which I have already mentioned. Well says the proverb,
that we ought to repeat twice and even thrice that which is good.
SOCRATES: Well then, by Zeus, let us proceed, and I will make what I
believe to be a fair summary of the argument.
PROTARCHUS: Let me hear.
SOCRATES: Philebus says that pleasure is the true end of all living
beings, at which all ought to aim, and moreover that it is the chief good
of all, and that the two names 'good' and 'pleasant' are correctly given to
one thing and one nature; Socrates, on the other hand, begins by denying
this, and further says, that in nature as in name they are two, and that
wisdom partakes more than pleasure of the good. Is not and was not this
what we were saying, Protarchus?
SOCRATES: And is there not and was there not a further point which was
conceded between us?
PROTARCHUS: What was it?
SOCRATES: That the good differs from all other things.
PROTARCHUS: In what respect?
SOCRATES: In that the being who possesses good always everywhere and in
all things has the most perfect sufficiency, and is never in need of
SOCRATES: And did we not endeavour to make an imaginary separation of
wisdom and pleasure, assigning to each a distinct life, so that pleasure
was wholly excluded from wisdom, and wisdom in like manner had no part
whatever in pleasure?
PROTARCHUS: We did.
SOCRATES: And did we think that either of them alone would be sufficient?
PROTARCHUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: And if we erred in any point, then let any one who will, take up
the enquiry again and set us right; and assuming memory and wisdom and
knowledge and true opinion to belong to the same class, let him consider
whether he would desire to possess or acquire,--I will not say pleasure,
however abundant or intense, if he has no real perception that he is
pleased, nor any consciousness of what he feels, nor any recollection,
however momentary, of the feeling,--but would he desire to have anything at
all, if these faculties were wanting to him? And about wisdom I ask the
same question; can you conceive that any one would choose to have all
wisdom absolutely devoid of pleasure, rather than with a certain degree of
pleasure, or all pleasure devoid of wisdom, rather than with a certain
degree of wisdom?
PROTARCHUS: Certainly not, Socrates; but why repeat such questions any
SOCRATES: Then the perfect and universally eligible and entirely good
cannot possibly be either of them?
SOCRATES: Then now we must ascertain the nature of the good more or less
accurately, in order, as we were saying, that the second place may be duly
SOCRATES: Have we not found a road which leads towards the good?
PROTARCHUS: What road?
SOCRATES: Supposing that a man had to be found, and you could discover in
what house he lived, would not that be a great step towards the discovery
of the man himself?
SOCRATES: And now reason intimates to us, as at our first beginning, that
we should seek the good, not in the unmixed life but in the mixed.
SOCRATES: There is greater hope of finding that which we are seeking in
the life which is well mixed than in that which is not?
PROTARCHUS: Far greater.
SOCRATES: Then now let us mingle, Protarchus, at the same time offering up
a prayer to Dionysus or Hephaestus, or whoever is the god who presides over
the ceremony of mingling.
PROTARCHUS: By all means.
SOCRATES: Are not we the cup-bearers? and here are two fountains which are
flowing at our side: one, which is pleasure, may be likened to a fountain
of honey; the other, wisdom, a sober draught in which no wine mingles, is
of water unpleasant but healthful; out of these we must seek to make the
fairest of all possible mixtures.
SOCRATES: Tell me first;--should we be most likely to succeed if we
mingled every sort of pleasure with every sort of wisdom?
PROTARCHUS: Perhaps we might.
SOCRATES: But I should be afraid of the risk, and I think that I can show
a safer plan.
PROTARCHUS: What is it?
SOCRATES: One pleasure was supposed by us to be truer than another, and
one art to be more exact than another.
SOCRATES: There was also supposed to be a difference in sciences; some of
them regarding only the transient and perishing, and others the permanent
and imperishable and everlasting and immutable; and when judged by the
standard of truth, the latter, as we thought, were truer than the former.
PROTARCHUS: Very good and right.
SOCRATES: If, then, we were to begin by mingling the sections of each
class which have the most of truth, will not the union suffice to give us
the loveliest of lives, or shall we still want some elements of another
PROTARCHUS: I think that we ought to do what you suggest.
SOCRATES: Let us suppose a man who understands justice, and has reason as
well as understanding about the true nature of this and of all other
PROTARCHUS: We will suppose such a man.
SOCRATES: Will he have enough of knowledge if he is acquainted only with
the divine circle and sphere, and knows nothing of our human spheres and
circles, but uses only divine circles and measures in the building of a
PROTARCHUS: The knowledge which is only superhuman, Socrates, is
ridiculous in man.
SOCRATES: What do you mean? Do you mean that you are to throw into the
cup and mingle the impure and uncertain art which uses the false measure
and the false circle?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, we must, if any of us is ever to find his way home.
SOCRATES: And am I to include music, which, as I was saying just now, is
full of guesswork and imitation, and is wanting in purity?
PROTARCHUS: Yes, I think that you must, if human life is to be a life at
SOCRATES: Well, then, suppose that I give way, and, like a doorkeeper who
is pushed and overborne by the mob, I open the door wide, and let knowledge
of every sort stream in, and the pure mingle with the impure?
PROTARCHUS: I do not know, Socrates, that any great harm would come of
having them all, if only you have the first sort.
SOCRATES: Well, then, shall I let them all flow into what Homer poetically
terms 'a meeting of the waters'?
PROTARCHUS: By all means.
SOCRATES: There--I have let them in, and now I must return to the fountain
of pleasure. For we were not permitted to begin by mingling in a single
stream the true portions of both according to our original intention; but
the love of all knowledge constrained us to let all the sciences flow in
together before the pleasures.
PROTARCHUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: And now the time has come for us to consider about the pleasures
also, whether we shall in like manner let them go all at once, or at first
only the true ones.
PROTARCHUS: It will be by far the safer course to let flow the true ones
SOCRATES: Let them flow, then; and now, if there are any necessary
pleasures, as there were arts and sciences necessary, must we not mingle
PROTARCHUS: Yes; the necessary pleasures should certainly be allowed to
SOCRATES: The knowledge of the arts has been admitted to be innocent and
useful always; and if we say of pleasures in like manner that all of them
are good and innocent for all of us at all times, we must let them all
PROTARCHUS: What shall we say about them, and what course shall we take?
SOCRATES: Do not ask me, Protarchus; but ask the daughters of pleasure and
wisdom to answer for themselves.
SOCRATES: Tell us, O beloved--shall we call you pleasures or by some other
name?--would you rather live with or without wisdom? I am of opinion that
they would certainly answer as follows:
SOCRATES: They would answer, as we said before, that for any single class
to be left by itself pure and isolated is not good, nor altogether
possible; and that if we are to make comparisons of one class with another
and choose, there is no better companion than knowledge of things in
general, and likewise the perfect knowledge, if that may be, of ourselves
in every respect.
PROTARCHUS: And our answer will be:--In that ye have spoken well.
SOCRATES: Very true. And now let us go back and interrogate wisdom and
mind: Would you like to have any pleasures in the mixture? And they will
reply:--'What pleasures do you mean?'
PROTARCHUS: Likely enough.
SOCRATES: And we shall take up our parable and say: Do you wish to have
the greatest and most vehement pleasures for your companions in addition to
the true ones? 'Why, Socrates,' they will say, 'how can we? seeing that
they are the source of ten thousand hindrances to us; they trouble the
souls of men, which are our habitation, with their madness; they prevent us
from coming to the birth, and are commonly the ruin of the children which
are born to us, causing them to be forgotten and unheeded; but the true and
pure pleasures, of which you spoke, know to be of our family, and also
those pleasures which accompany health and temperance, and which every
Virtue, like a goddess, has in her train to follow her about wherever she
goes,--mingle these and not the others; there would be great want of sense
in any one who desires to see a fair and perfect mixture, and to find in it
what is the highest good in man and in the universe, and to divine what is
the true form of good--there would be great want of sense in his allowing
the pleasures, which are always in the company of folly and vice, to mingle
with mind in the cup.'--Is not this a very rational and suitable reply,
which mind has made, both on her own behalf, as well as on the behalf of
memory and true opinion?
PROTARCHUS: Most certainly.
SOCRATES: And still there must be something more added, which is a
necessary ingredient in every mixture.
PROTARCHUS: What is that?
SOCRATES: Unless truth enter into the composition, nothing can truly be
created or subsist.
SOCRATES: Quite impossible; and now you and Philebus must tell me whether
anything is still wanting in the mixture, for to my way of thinking the
argument is now completed, and may be compared to an incorporeal law, which
is going to hold fair rule over a living body.
PROTARCHUS: I agree with you, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And may we not say with reason that we are now at the vestibule
of the habitation of the good?
PROTARCHUS: I think that we are.
SOCRATES: What, then, is there in the mixture which is most precious, and
which is the principal cause why such a state is universally beloved by
all? When we have discovered it, we will proceed to ask whether this
omnipresent nature is more akin to pleasure or to mind.
PROTARCHUS: Quite right; in that way we shall be better able to judge.
SOCRATES: And there is no difficulty in seeing the cause which renders any
mixture either of the highest value or of none at all.
PROTARCHUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: Every man knows it.
SOCRATES: He knows that any want of measure and symmetry in any mixture
whatever must always of necessity be fatal, both to the elements and to the
mixture, which is then not a mixture, but only a confused medley which
brings confusion on the possessor of it.
PROTARCHUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: And now the power of the good has retired into the region of the
beautiful; for measure and symmetry are beauty and virtue all the world
SOCRATES: Also we said that truth was to form an element in the mixture.
SOCRATES: Then, if we are not able to hunt the good with one idea only,
with three we may catch our prey; Beauty, Symmetry, Truth are the three,
and these taken together we may regard as the single cause of the mixture,
and the mixture as being good by reason of the infusion of them.
PROTARCHUS: Quite right.
SOCRATES: And now, Protarchus, any man could decide well enough whether
pleasure or wisdom is more akin to the highest good, and more honourable
among gods and men.
PROTARCHUS: Clearly, and yet perhaps the argument had better be pursued to
SOCRATES: We must take each of them separately in their relation to
pleasure and mind, and pronounce upon them; for we ought to see to which of
the two they are severally most akin.
PROTARCHUS: You are speaking of beauty, truth, and measure?
SOCRATES: Yes, Protarchus, take truth first, and, after passing in review
mind, truth, pleasure, pause awhile and make answer to yourself--as to
whether pleasure or mind is more akin to truth.
PROTARCHUS: There is no need to pause, for the difference between them is
palpable; pleasure is the veriest impostor in the world; and it is said
that in the pleasures of love, which appear to be the greatest, perjury is
excused by the gods; for pleasures, like children, have not the least
particle of reason in them; whereas mind is either the same as truth, or
the most like truth, and the truest.
SOCRATES: Shall we next consider measure, in like manner, and ask whether
pleasure has more of this than wisdom, or wisdom than pleasure?
PROTARCHUS: Here is another question which may be easily answered; for I
imagine that nothing can ever be more immoderate than the transports of
pleasure, or more in conformity with measure than mind and knowledge.
SOCRATES: Very good; but there still remains the third test: Has mind a
greater share of beauty than pleasure, and is mind or pleasure the fairer
of the two?
PROTARCHUS: No one, Socrates, either awake or dreaming, ever saw or
imagined mind or wisdom to be in aught unseemly, at any time, past,
present, or future.
PROTARCHUS: But when we see some one indulging in pleasures, perhaps in
the greatest of pleasures, the ridiculous or disgraceful nature of the
action makes us ashamed; and so we put them out of sight, and consign them
to darkness, under the idea that they ought not to meet the eye of day.
SOCRATES: Then, Protarchus, you will proclaim everywhere, by word of mouth
to this company, and by messengers bearing the tidings far and wide, that
pleasure is not the first of possessions, nor yet the second, but that in
measure, and the mean, and the suitable, and the like, the eternal nature
has been found.
PROTARCHUS: Yes, that seems to be the result of what has been now said.
SOCRATES: In the second class is contained the symmetrical and beautiful
and perfect or sufficient, and all which are of that family.
SOCRATES: And if you reckon in the third dass mind and wisdom, you will
not be far wrong, if I divine aright.
PROTARCHUS: I dare say.
SOCRATES: And would you not put in the fourth class the goods which we
were affirming to appertain specially to the soul--sciences and arts and
true opinions as we called them? These come after the third class, and
form the fourth, as they are certainly more akin to good than pleasure is.
SOCRATES: The fifth class are the pleasures which were defined by us as
painless, being the pure pleasures of the soul herself, as we termed them,
which accompany, some the sciences, and some the senses.
SOCRATES: And now, as Orpheus says,
'With the sixth generation cease the glory of my song.'
Here, at the sixth award, let us make an end; all that remains is to set
the crown on our discourse.
SOCRATES: Then let us sum up and reassert what has been said, thus
offering the third libation to the saviour Zeus.
SOCRATES: Philebus affirmed that pleasure was always and absolutely the
PROTARCHUS: I understand; this third libation, Socrates, of which you
spoke, meant a recapitulation.
SOCRATES: Yes, but listen to the sequel; convinced of what I have just
been saying, and feeling indignant at the doctrine, which is maintained,
not by Philebus only, but by thousands of others, I affirmed that mind was
far better and far more excellent, as an element of human life, than
SOCRATES: But, suspecting that there were other things which were also
better, I went on to say that if there was anything better than either,
then I would claim the second place for mind over pleasure, and pleasure
would lose the second place as well as the first.
PROTARCHUS: You did.
SOCRATES: Nothing could be more satisfactorily shown than the
unsatisfactory nature of both of them.
PROTARCHUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: The claims both of pleasure and mind to be the absolute good
have been entirely disproven in this argument, because they are both
wanting in self-sufficiency and also in adequacy and perfection.
PROTARCHUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: But, though they must both resign in favour of another, mind is
ten thousand times nearer and more akin to the nature of the conqueror than
SOCRATES: And, according to the judgment which has now been given,
pleasure will rank fifth.
SOCRATES: But not first; no, not even if all the oxen and horses and
animals in the world by their pursuit of enjoyment proclaim her to be so;--
although the many trusting in them, as diviners trust in birds, determine
that pleasures make up the good of life, and deem the lusts of animals to
be better witnesses than the inspirations of divine philosophy.
PROTARCHUS: And now, Socrates, we tell you that the truth of what you have
been saying is approved by the judgment of all of us.
SOCRATES: And will you let me go?
PROTARCHUS: There is a little which yet remains, and I will remind you of
it, for I am sure that you will not be the first to go away from an
End of Etext of Philebus by Plato
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