Euthydemus (Synopsis – highlights & unredacted quotes lifted from the Socratic dialogue by Plato, Benjamin Jowett translation)

Themes: Discussion on verbal trickerywrangling of wordscorrect use of wordsthe science of happinessthe amphibious classthe nature of intermediates, …

The teaching of virtue, Socrates, he (Euthydemus) replied, is our principal occupation; and we believe that we can impart it better and quicker than any man.

but tell me one thing, –can you make a good man of him only who is already convinced that he ought to learn of you, or of him also who is not convinced, either because he imagines that virtue is a thing which cannot be taught at all, or that you are not the teachers of it? Has your art power to persuade him, who is of the latter temper of mind, that virtue can be taught; and that you are the men from whom he will best learn it?

Euthydemus – O Cleinias, are those who learn the wise or the ignorant? 

Cleinias – those who learned were the wise.

Euthydemus – But if you were not wise you were unlearned? … You then, learning what you did not know, were unlearned when you were learning? … Then the unlearned learn, and not the wise, Cleinias, as you imagine.

Dionysodorus – when the grammar-master dictated anything to you, were they the wise boys or the unlearned who learned the dictation? 

The wise, replied Cleinias. 

Then after all the wise are the learners and not the unlearned;

Euthydemus – Do those, said he, who learn, learn what they know, or what they do not know? 

Meanwhile Cleinias had answered Euthydemus that those who learned learn what they do not know;

But when the teacher dictates to you, does he not dictate letters?

Then, said he, you learn what you know, if you know all the letters?

Dionysodorus – Cleinias, he said, Euthydemus is deceiving you. For tell me now, is not learning acquiring knowledge of that which one learns?

And knowing is having knowledge at the time?

And have you not admitted that those who do not know are of the number of those who have not?

Then those who learn are of the class of those who acquire, and not of those who have?  … Then, Cleinias, he said, those who do not know learn, and not those who know. 

Socrates: initiation into the correct use of terms.

  • The two foreign gentlemen, perceiving that you did not know, wanted to explain to you that the word ‘to learn’ has two meanings: and is used,
  • first, in the sense of acquiring knowledge of some matter of which you previously have no knowledge…  
  • also, when you have the knowledge, in the sense of reviewing this matter, whether something done or spoken by the light of this newly-acquired knowledge; the latter is generally called ‘knowing’ rather than ‘learning,’ but the word ‘learning’ is also used; and you did not see, as they explained to you, that the term is employed of two opposite sorts of men, of those who know, and of those who do not know. 

Socrates: Do not all men desire happiness?… what human being is there who does not desire happiness?

Shall we not be happy if we have many good things? (Wealth, health, beauty, good birth, power and honours) … 

And other goods include temperance, justice, courage, wisdom (good-fortune – Surely wisdom is good-fortune; even a child may know that.) … 

You think, I said, that to act with a wise man is more fortunate than to act with an ignorant one? 

Then wisdom always makes men fortunate: for by wisdom no man would ever err… he who had wisdom had no need of fortune. 

And should we be happy by reason of the presence of good things, if they profited us not, or if they profited us? If they profited us, he said.

And would they profit us, if we only had them and did not use them? For example, if we had a great deal of food and did not eat, or a great deal of drink and did not drink, should we be profited?

And if a person had wealth and all the goods of which we were just now speaking, and did not use them, would he be happy because he possessed them?

Then, I said, a man who would be happy must not only have the good things, but he must also use them; there is no advantage in merely having them?

And the wrong use of a thing is far worse than the non-use; for the one is an evil, and the other is neither a good nor an evil.

And in the use of the goods of which we spoke at first–wealth and health and beauty, is not knowledge that which directs us to the right use of them, and regulates our practice about them?

Then in every possession and every use of a thing, knowledge is that which gives a man not only good-fortune but success…

And tell me, I said, O tell me, what do possessions profit a man, if he have neither good sense nor wisdom?

Would a man be better off, having and doing many things without wisdom, or a few things with wisdom?

If he did fewer things would he not make fewer mistakes? if he made fewer mistakes would he not have fewer misfortunes? and if he had fewer misfortunes would he not be less miserable? 

Then, I said, Cleinias, the sum of the matter appears to be that the goods of which we spoke before are not to be regarded as goods in themselves, but the degree of good and evil in them depends on whether they are or are not under the guidance of knowledge: under the guidance of ignorance, they are greater evils than their opposites, inasmuch as they are more able to minister to the evil principle which rules them; and when under the guidance of wisdom and prudence, they are greater goods: but in themselves they are nothing?

What then is the result of what has been said? Is not this the result– that other things are indifferent, and that wisdom is the only good, and ignorance the only evil?

Socrates: Let us consider a further point, I said: Seeing that all men desire happiness, and happiness, as has been shown, is gained by a use, and a right use, of the things of life, and the right use of them, and good- fortune in the use of them, is given by knowledge,–the inference is that everybody ought by all means to try and make himself as wise as he can? 

… nor is any one to be blamed for doing any honourable service or ministration to any man, whether a lover or not, if his aim is to get wisdom… if only wisdom can be taught, and does not come to man spontaneously; 

(Dionysodorus and Euthydemus) show the youth whether he should have all knowledge; or whether there is one sort of knowledge only which will make him good and happy, and what that is. 

Dionysodorus: Well, said he, and so you (Socrates) say that you wish Cleinias to become wise? You wish him no longer to be what he is, which can only mean that you wish him to perish. 

Euthydemus replied: And do you think, Ctesippus, that it is possible to tell a lie? 

And he who says that thing says that which is? Yes. And he who says that which is, says the truth. And therefore Dionysodorus, if he says that which is, says the truth of you and no lie.

And can anyone do anything about that which has no existence, or do to Cleinias that which is not and is nowhere? 

Then no one says that which is not, for in saying what is not he would be doing something; and you have already acknowledged that no one can do what is not.

Dionysodorus: Well, have not all things words expressive of them? 

Of their existence or of their non-existence?

Yes, Ctesippus, and we just now proved, as you may remember, that no man could affirm a negative; for no one could affirm that which is not.

But when I describe something and you describe another thing, or I say something and you say nothing–is there any contradiction? How can he who speaks contradict him who speaks not?

Socrates: What do you mean, Dionysodorus? The dictum is that there is no such thing as falsehood; a man must either say what is true or say nothing. Is not that your position?

Then there is no such thing as false opinion? Then there is no such thing as ignorance, or men who are ignorant; for is not ignorance, if there be such a thing, a mistake of fact?

if there be no falsehood or false opinion or ignorance, there can be no such thing as erroneous action, for a man cannot fail of acting as he is acting–that is what you mean? If there is no such thing as error in deed, word, or thought, then what, in the name of goodness, do you come hither to teach?

and indeed I know not what to make of this word ‘nonplussed,’ which you used last: what do you mean by it, Dionysodorus? You must mean that I cannot refute your argument. Tell me if the words have any other sense… 

Are the things which have sense alive or lifeless? (Dionysodorus)… And do you know of any word which is alive? … Then why did you ask me what sense my words had? 

Why, because I was stupid and made a mistake. And yet, perhaps, I was right after all in saying that words have a sense;–what do you say, wise man? If I was not in error, even you will not refute me, and all your wisdom will be non-plussed; but if I did fall into error, then again you are wrong in saying that there is no error,–and this remark was made by you not quite a year ago. 

Socrates: And philosophy is the acquisition of knowledge? (Cleinias) And what knowledge ought we to acquire? May we not answer with absolute truth–A knowledge which will do us good? 

But have we not already proved, I said, that we should be none the better off, even if without trouble and digging all the gold which there is in the earth were ours? And if we knew how to convert stones into gold, the knowledge would be of no value to us, unless we also knew how to use the gold? Do you not remember? I said.

And if there were a knowledge which was able to make men immortal, without giving them the knowledge of the way to use the immortality, neither would there be any use in that, if we may argue from the analogy of the previous instances?

Then, my dear boy, I said, the knowledge which we want is one that uses as well as makes? … Although they have to do with the same, they are divided: for the art which makes and the art which plays on the lyre differ widely from one another.

Yes, I said; and I take your words to be a sufficient proof that the art of making speeches is not one which will make a man happy. … For their art is a part of the great art of enchantment, and hardly, if at all, inferior to it: and whereas the art of the enchanter is a mode of charming snakes and spiders and scorpions, and other monsters and pests, this art of their’s acts upon dicasts and ecclesiasts and bodies of men, for the charming and pacifying of them. 

I think that the art of the general is above all others the one of which the possession is most likely to make a man happy. 

I do not think so, he said. … The art of the general is surely an art of hunting mankind. said; just as a general when he takes a city or a camp hands over his new acquisition to the statesman, for he does not know how to use them himself; or as the quail-taker transfers the quails to the keeper of them. If we are looking for the art which is to make us blessed, and which is able to use that which it makes or takes, the art of the general is not the one, and some other must be found. 

At last we came to the kingly art, and enquired whether that gave and caused happiness, and then we got into a labyrinth,… the kingly art was identified by us with the political…. the art which is the source of good government, and which may be described, in the language of Aeschylus, as alone sitting at the helm of the vessel of state, piloting and governing all things, and utilizing them. 

And what does the kingly art do when invested with supreme power? 

All the other results of politics, and they are many, as for example, wealth, freedom, tranquility, were neither good nor evil in themselves; but the political science ought to make us wise, and impart knowledge to us, if that is the science which is likely to do us good, and make us happy. 

But then what is this knowledge, and what are we to do with it? For it is not the source of any works which are neither good nor evil, and gives no knowledge, but the knowledge of itself; what then can it be, and what are we to do with it? …that it is the knowledge by which we are to make other men good? … This is the old, old song over again; and we are just as far as ever, if not farther, from the knowledge of the art or science of happiness.

Socrates: what that knowledge was which would enable us to pass the rest of our lives in happiness. 

Euthydemus – Would you rather, Socrates, said he, that I should show you this knowledge about which you have been doubting, or shall I prove that you already have it? 

If you know, you are knowing. … and must you not, if you are knowing, know all things? 

Certainly not, I (Socrates) said, for there are many other things which I do not know.

Still you are not knowing, and you said just now that you were knowing; and therefore you are and are not at the same time, and in reference to the same things. 

Socrates – Do you mean to say that the same thing cannot be and also not be; and therefore, since I know one thing, that I know all, for I cannot be knowing and not knowing at the same time, and if I know all things, then I must have the knowledge for which we are seeking–May I assume this to be your ingenious notion? 

Tell me, then, you two (Dionysodorus & Euthydemus), do you not know some things, and not know others? 

Then, I said, you know all things, if you know anything? 

Certainly, he replied; they cannot know some things, and not know others, and be at the same time knowing and not knowing. Then what is the inference? I said. They all know all things, he (Dionysodorus) replied, if they know one thing. 

By Zeus, said Ctesippus, interrupting, I only wish that you would give me some proof which would enable me to know whether you speak truly. 

Will you tell me how many teeth Euthydemus has? and Euthydemus shall tell how many teeth you have. 

At last, Crito, I (Socrates) too was carried away by my incredulity, and asked Euthydemus whether Dionysodorus could dance. 

And can he vault among swords, and turn upon a wheel, at his age? has he got to such a height of skill as that? 

Answer then, he (Euthydemus) said, again, whether you know what you know with something, or with nothing…. You always know with this, or, always knowing, do you know some things with this, and some things with something else, or do you know all things with this? 

I suppose that is true, I said, if my qualification implied in the words ‘that I know’ is not allowed to stand; and so I do know all things. 

Tell me now, both of you, for although in the main I (Socrates) cannot doubt that I really do know all things, when I am told so by men of your prodigious wisdom–how can I say that I know such things, Euthydemus, as that the good are unjust; come, do I know that or not? 

Quite true, I said; and that I have always known (that the good are not unjust); but the question is, where did I learn that the good are unjust? 

Nowhere, said Dionysodorus…. You are ruining the argument, said Euthydemus to Dionysodorus; he will be proved not to know, and then after all he will be knowing and not knowing at the same time. 

And is Patrocles, he (Dionysodorus) said, your brother? 

Not by the same father, my good man, I said, for Chaeredemus was his father, and mine was Sophroniscus. 

But can a father be other than a father? or are you the same as a stone?

And so Chaeredemus, he said, being other than a father, is not a father? 

They are not ‘in pari materia,’ Euthydemus, said Ctesippus, and you had better take care, for it is monstrous to suppose that your father is the father of all. … Yes; and your mother has a progeny of sea-urchins then? … And gudgeons and puppies and pigs are your brothers? … And your papa is a dog? 

If you will answer my questions, said Dionysodorus, I will soon extract the same admissions from you, Ctesippus. You say that you have a dog.

Then he is a father, and he is yours; ergo, he is your father, and the puppies are your brothers. 

Ctesippus said, laughing, Indeed I do; and I only wish that I could beat you instead of him.

I should have far more reason to beat yours, said Ctesippus; what could he have been thinking of when he begat such wise sons? much good has this father of you and your brethren the puppies got out of this wisdom of yours. 

Nay, said Ctesippus, but the question which I ask is whether all things are silent or speak?

Neither and both, said Dionysodorus, quickly interposing; I am sure that you will be ‘non-plussed’ at that answer. 

Why, Socrates, said Dionysodorus, did you ever see a beautiful thing? 

They are not the same as absolute beauty, but they have beauty present with each of them. 

And are you an ox because an ox is present with you, or are you Dionysodorus, because Dionysodorus is present with you? 

But how, he said, by reason of one thing being present with another, will one thing be another? 

Is that your difficulty? I (Socrates) said. For I was beginning to imitate their skill, on which my heart was set. 

Tell me, Socrates, have you an ancestral Zeus? Here, anticipating the final move, like a person caught in a net, who gives a desperate twist that he may get away, I said: No, Dionysodorus, I have not. 

No matter, said Dionysodorus, for you admit that you have Apollo, Zeus, and Athene. 

And are not these gods animals? for you admit that all things which have life are animals; and have not these gods life? 

And you admitted that of animals those are yours which you could give away or sell or offer in sacrifice, as you pleased? I did admit that, Euthydemus, and I have no way of escape. Well then, said he, if you admit that Zeus and the other gods are yours, can you sell them or give them away or do what you will with them, as you would with other animals? 

’And what did you think of them?’ I said. ‘What did I think of them?’ he said: –‘theirs was the sort of discourse which anybody might hear from men who were playing the fool, and making much ado about nothing.’

An amphibious class – the border-ground between philosophers and statesmen–they think that they are the wisest of all men, and that they are generally esteemed the wisest; nothing but the rivalry of the philosophers stands in their way… for they have a certain amount of philosophy, and a certain amount of political wisdom… they cannot be made to understand the nature of intermediatesFor all persons or things, which are intermediate between two other things, and participate in both of them–if one of these two things is good and the other evil, are better than the one and worse than the other; but if they are in a mean between two good things which do not tend to the same end, they fall short of either of their component elements in the attainment of their ends…. 

Now, if philosophy and political action are both good, but tend to different ends, and they participate in both, and are in a mean between them, then they are talking nonsense, for they are worse than either; or, if the one be good and the other evil, they are better than the one and worse than the other; only on the supposition that they are both evil could there be any truth in what they say. 

I do not think that they will admit that their two pursuits are either wholly or partly evil; but the truth is, that these philosopher- politicians who aim at both fall short of both in the attainment of their respective ends, and are really third, although they would like to stand first.

CRITO: I have often told you, Socrates, that I am in a constant difficulty about my two sons. What am I to do with them? There is no hurry about the younger one, who is only a child; but the other, Critobulus, is getting on, and needs someone who will improve him. I cannot help thinking, when I hear you talk, that there is a sort of madness in many of our anxieties about our children: –in the first place, about marrying a wife of good family to be the mother of them, and then about heaping up money for them– and yet taking no care about their education. But then again, when I contemplate any of those who pretend to educate others, I am amazed. To me, if I am to confess the truth, they all seem to be such outrageous beings: so that I do not know how I can advise the youth to study philosophy.

SOCRATES: Dear Crito, do you not know that in every profession the inferior sort are numerous and good for nothing, and the good are few and beyond all price: 

SOCRATES: Do you then be reasonable, Crito, and do not mind whether the teachers of philosophy are good or bad, but think only of philosophy herself. Try and examine her well and truly, and if she be evil seek to turn away all men from her, and not your sons only; but if she be what I believe that she is, then follow her and serve her, you and your house, as the saying is, and be of good cheer.

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