Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hippias Minor

And why are you so quiet, Socrates? With all that Hippias has shown—off; and you aren't praising any of his assertions, or asking any questions: Does something seem to've been said amiss to you? Particularly since we ourselves have also been left alone—we who lay claim to hold a share, insofar as we do, of passing the time philosophically.

Actually Eudikos, there are a few things I would like to learn from Hippias which he was just now saying about Homer. In fact, I used to listen to your father Apemantos about how Homer's Iliad is a more beautiful poem than The Odyssey, and that its degree of superiority is the same as that of Achilles over Odysseus; now on each of these counts he said there's Odysseus to consider on the one hand, and Achilles on the other. So I would gladly—that is, if Hippias is willing—inquire about that in order that he consider these two men, which of them he says is better; since a lot of different things have been pointed out to us, about other poets—and especially Homer.

Well it's obvious that Hippias won't grudge you that—if you were to ask him a question, to answer. But really Hippias, if Socrates asked asks you answer? Or what will you do?

In fact, I'd be doing some pretty terrible stuff, Eudikos, if I went to Olympia for the Greek national holiday whenever the Olympics are held—with me constantly heading from my home at Helis back to the temple—were I to present myself even arguing that someone should want a speech from me that is all ready for show, and I was wishing for an answer to what someone asked; but right now I would rather run away from Socrates' questioning!

Hippias, you've come to an ecstatic state of being if you are so hopeful as concerns your mind with regard to wisdom that you head off to the temple for each Olympiad: And I would be shocked if one of the athletic competitors were so fearless and trusting in his body he went there and someone challenges him; just like you say about your intelligence.

It's likely, Socrates, this is what happens to me; but that's why I have started to compete at the Olympics—I have yet to meet up with anyone at any point who was stronger than myself in anything.

You say that your opinion, Hippias, is a gorgeous offering of wisdom for the Eleans' city and for your parents. But what do you say to us about Achilles and Odysseus both—which do you figure was better and of what cause? Because each time we are all in the temple and you perform a rhetorical display, I'm left at a loss by your words—but am hesitant to ask yet one more question because a great crowd is present and I would prefer not to get in your way by asking about the exhibition; but right now, since there are fewer of us and Eudikos here encourages us to speak: Do tell and show us for sure, what did you mean about these two men—how do you judge them?

Well I still want it, Socrates, to be more transparent than when I went through what I'm saying both about these men as well as others, because I say that Homer made Achilles the greatest man of the ones who went to Troy, and he made Nestor the wisest and Odysseus trickiest.

Oh my! Hippias, then won't you do me a favor like this, that is not to laugh at me, if I hardly understand what's being said and keep re-iterating questions? But try to answer me kindly at ease.

It would be a real shame, Socrates, if I educate others in these very matters, and expect to make money because of this, but when questioned myself by you I had no judgment to speak of and I answered abrasively.

You're being very reasonable. But surely when you said Achilles was made the greatest, I thought I understood what you meant when you also said Nestor was made wisest; but when you spoke of Odysseus saying that the poet made him the most versatile—as the truth must be said to you in reply—I entirely missed what you mean by this: Tell me again, I'll understand a little better then. Did Homer make Achilles the opposite of tricky?

The least so, Socrates: He made him the simplest and most truthful since, when the poet has them conversing with one another, in the section called Prayers Achilles tells Odysseus:

"Laertes' god-born son, inventive and resourceful Odysseus,
There is need to speak out in my declaration quite bluntly,
Just as I bring it off and do think is best to finish this:
Because I despise any man, who would bury one thing in
His heart and utter another, as I hate the gates of Hell.
But I'll speak my own mind as will be best when accomplished."

Between these men he makes clear the manner of each in words, how Achilles is honest and direct, and Odysseus is tricky and deceptive: Since he has Achilles speaking these words to Odysseus.

Now, Hippias, I am already willing to take a chance on learning what you mean: You say that the tricky man is false, that's how it seems.

Entirely, Socrates; since Homer has made Odysseus such a liar in a lot of places throughout the Iliad and Odyssey both.

Oh, so Homer thought one man was truthful, and another false; but it's not the same man.

Well, how would he not be, Socrates?

Does it seem so, for real, to you?

Absolutely true; in fact, it'd be awful if it not.

Then let's let Homer go for now since it is simply impossible to keep asking questions about why on earth he intended to make these his words: But since you appear to take up his cause, and these things you're saying Homer meant seem right to you, do answer on behalf of Homer and yourself together.

This will be so, but ask in brief what you want.

Do you make a claim such that false men are unable to do anything, like men in distress, or that they are able to get something done?

I personally say they are able to do quite a number of different things, like deceiving people.

Well they are capable, it seems, of being tricky also according to your argument; right?


And they are wily and frauds through being foolishly devoid of sense, or because of depravity and a certain arrogance.

By cause of their depravity above all, and its intention.

Then they do make sense, so it seems.

Yes, by God—quite a bit of it.

And since they're sensible they know not what they do, or do they understand?

They understand exactly; for these reasons they also commit wrongs.

But in knowing these things that they understand, are they ignorant or knowledgeable?

They're wise in the very knowledge of how to deceive.

Hold it: Shall we recollect what it is you claim? You say that false men are able, sensible, have an understanding—are "wise"—in relation to these very things, they're liars?

Well in fact, that is what I'm saying.

You mean some men are both honest and liars, and they're the exact opposite of one another?

That's what I argue.

Come now, some of those who are quite able and wise, as it seems, are the false men according to your logic?

Oh, absolutely.

But when you say the liars are of strong ability and wisdom according to these very qualities, do you claim they are strong liars if they want to be, or that they are powerless in relation to these very lies they tell?

I mean they are capable.

To repeat the main idea, false men are wise liars and able to deceive?


Then a man who is unable to lie, and stupid, can be not false?

He cannot.

So each one has an ability, the man who does what he wants whenever he wants to: I speak not of one constrained by illness, nor of things like this, but like how you are able to write my name whenever you wish, I mean this. Or not, you who can be so,—do you call that ability a power?


Do tell me, Hippias, aren't you acquainted with arithmetic, the art of calculation?

Above all others, Socrates.

So then if someone were to ask you what the sum of three times seven-hundred is, if you wanted, you'd say it fastest of all and, most important, be accurate concerning this problem?


You claim to be as capable as possible and wisest regarding these things?


Then are you both wisest and most able alone, or even the best at these very things (being the most capable and smartest)—that is, logical calculation?

I'm clearly the best too, Socrates.

Then you would speak the most powerful truths there are about them, right?

I do think so.

But what about falsehoods concerning the very same facts? Now just as we said earlier, do respond to me in an appropriate and dignified way, Hippias: If someone asked you how much 3 x 700 was, might you specifically lie and forever tell lies as relates to the same things that concern these, intentionally lying and never answering truly; or could someone who doesn't know math be of greater ability than you if you preferred to be false? Or if the ignorant one should want to tell a good many untruths, would he unwillingly say true things, if he happened to be right through his ingnorance; but even if you, a wise man, wanted to lie, would you always be a liar according to the same effects?

Sure, it is just as you reason.

So the false man is a liar as relates to other matters, however not about number; he can't tell a lie as he's counting?

It's also true, good God, about number.

Then shall we make this our supposition, Hippias, that he is a person false as relates to calculation and number?


So who would this person be? Shouldn't one start with him if he intends to be a liar, as you just agreed, that he has the power to lie? But you just argued that one who can't be false, if you recall, is a man who can never be untrue.

Well yes, I remember and it was so stipulated.

Therefore you were just shown to be the one most capable of lying about math?

Yes, actually this was also counted true.

So you are also the best able to speak the truth regarding mathematics?

By all means.

Then the same man is best able to speak untruths and true answers as concerns calculating math?—and this is a logical man because of these facts, a good mathematician.


Who, then, becomes a liar regarding calculation, Hippias? The good man or someone else? Because the same man is also able to; and this man is truthful as well.

He seems to be.

So do you see that the same person is both lying and truthful about these facts and that the true one is not a bit better than the liar? Since it is clearly the same man and he is the opposite of contrary, as you just now were thinking.

He doesn't seem so in this case.

You want that we should look at it from another perspective?

If you want.

So you also have experience of geometry?

Why yes, I do.

So, what? Isn't it also the same in geometry; the same person is best able to mislead and give correct proofs in relation to the figures? A mathematician.


Then concerning these things, would someone else besides this man be good?

No, this one's right.

So the wise man who's good at geometry is the most capable at both? And even if someone else tells untruths about the figures, would the good teacher still be this man? Because this one is able, and the bad one is unable, to lie: So wouldn't the man who's unable to deceive be a liar as was agreed?

This is true.

Then let's look at it a third way besides—astronomical science, which is, again, a technical skill you believe you have greater knowledge of than the foregoing. But really, Hippias?


Then even in astronomy these same things are also true?

Seems apparent, Socrates.

And in astronomy, then, if someone else is untrue, the quality astronomer will be the false one—the one with the power to lie: But he who is incapable, won't—since he's ignorant.

So it seems.

The same man then, even in astronomy, will be both true and false?


Come now, Hippias, and look freely like this according to all forms of knowledge to see whether on earth there exists a thing that is otherwise or if it's like so. You are, by all means, the wisest man with respect to abilities which are greatest of all, as I have heard you brag about before when you recount in full your great wisdom one should emulate in the marketplace amongst the merchants. You said you went once to Olympus and that everything you wore on your person was of your own making; first off the ring which you wore—since you started from that—was your own workmanship, as you fancied yourself a ring-maker, and another gemstone was your work, and a bath-scraper and flask for oil which you made yourself; next, sandals which you wore you said you yourself had cut the leather for, and a cape and shirt you wove; and what everyone thought a most unusual exhibition of the greatest intellect, since you said the belt you wore beneath your shirt was just like the Persian fabrics, very costly, and you wove this yourself; in addition to these things you said you came with poems in hand—epic, tragic and ceremonial—and a bunch of speeches, compositions of all different kinds; and as for the abilities which I was just now discussing you said you had come to particularly excel in other skills, as well as rhythm and harmony and calligraphy and quite a few others in addition to these, as I seem to recollect: Actually, I forgot about your skill at memorization, so it seems, a trick which you believe you are a man most brilliant at; and I think I'm forgetting a great many others. But what I mean to say, looking at your own abilities (and they are considerable) and to others', do tell me whether on earth you find, out of the agreements made between me and you, anywhere a place where the truthful man and the lying one are found separately and not as one? Look willingly into whichever type of wisdom or villainy, or whatever else you please to call it; you will not find one my friend—as it doesn't exist—since you say so.

Well, I can't Socrates; not right now like that.

Nor will you, as I believe; and if I am telling the truth, remember what results for us from your line of reasoning, Hippias.

I really do not understand what you mean, Socrates.

Well perhaps you're not making use of your tricky memory right now—since it's clear that you do not consider it a need; well, I'll remind you. You were thinking about how you said Achilles is truthful, and that Odysseus is a liar and wayward?


Then you now see that the same one who is both false and true has been plainly shown so that if Odysseus is false, he too becomes truthful, and if Achilles is true he also becomes a liar: And the men are no different from each other, nor are they opposites—instead they're alike?

Oh Socrates, you always twist some words like these into arguments since you take what's to be the most contentious part of the argument and grab hold of this detail in particular, and you do not fight the matter out in its entirety with reference to the proposition; since right now, if you wish, I'll show you with a lot of evidence, by sufficient cause of reason, that Homer has made Achilles a more poetical figure than Odysseus, and one who is no liar: But he made the other deceptive, and a compulsive liar, and man worse than Achilles. But if you want, go ahead and make a counter-argument, a speech matched with speech, on how one or the other is greater: And these men here will know all the more which speaks more reasonably.

Hippias, I certainly do not argue that you are wiser than I; rather I am accustomed to pay attention whenever someone says something, and especially when the one speaking seems reasonably wise to me and I want to understand what he says—I learn by asking and compare and consider once again what reasons are said in order to comprehend: But if I think the one speaking seems thoughtless, I neither ask another thing nor do I care about what he is saying. And you will realize this for a fact, whom I consider to be wise, because you will find me no problem over statements made by this type of man; you'll discover I am one who learns from him in order that by learning I may be of some use. Since I have also now come to consider you speaking, what you were saying in the verses you just quoted, when you pointed out that Achilles speaks to Odysseus in belief that he's a phony; it seems out of place to me, if the reasons you speak are true, that Odysseus—the trickster—appears in no place as a liar while Achilles seems a wily fellow according to your own argument: At any rate, he does lie since he declares these words you just quoted by verse:

'Because I despise any man, who would bury one thing in
His heart and utter another, as I hate the gates of Hell.'

A while later he speaks of how he would not be convinced by Odysseus and Agamemnon both, and that he would not, for the life of him, remain in Troy; but says,

"Tomorrow, after sacrifice is offered to Zeus and to all gods
I will load up the ships and draw them forward into the ocean:
If you want to watch, and if it is a concern to you, you'll see
By dawn sailing on the Hellespont with its schools full of fish my
Ships as they're rowed to convey the men straining eagerly forward;
And if the shaker of earth, glorious Poseidon grants fine sailing,
It's on the third day I shall arrive at Phthia, the fertile land."

While before these lines, when he's lambasting Agamemnon, he says

"And now I will go back to Phthia, since it's so much better to
Head home with the curved ships—I am not minded to stay here and be
Disrespected while I suck up riches and pile up more wealth."

At the time he says these things he's in front of the entire army, and on the other occasion before his companions: Nowhere is he seen either prepared or trying to sail the ships to return home; but in manner quite appropriate to his upbringing, he puts little stock in the truth of what he's saying. So in fact, Hippias, I was asking you questions from the beginning at a loss as to which of these two men had been better fashioned by the poet's making, and I was considering both of them to be great men and thinking it's difficult to decide which is better in relation to falsehood and truth and the rest of what comprises virtue; because they're also both quite alike in relation to this.

Because you're not looking at it properly, Socrates. One the one hand, as for the lies Achilles tells, he appears to be lying not out of some plot, but unwillingly he is compelled by the army's disaster to stay put and assist; now on the other, Odysseus lies willingly, according to his scheme.

You're deceiving me, my dearest Hippias, and you yourself copy Odysseus!

No way, Socrates: What do you mean, and in relation to what reason?

I'm saying that you say Achilles does not tell untruths by design and he was such a treacherous cheat, in addition to pretentious, just as Homer made him, that he seems quite a bit more disposed than Odysseus towards easily avoiding notice through his own boasting—with the result that he is inconsistent enough to contradict himself and Odysseus doesn't notice: He certainly is not seen saying anything to him to the effect that Odysseus perceived he was lying.

What sort of statements are these, Socrates?

Don't you know that later, after he speaks to Odysseus, he says he'll sail away right with the morning; then goes and tells Aias that he won't sail off—instead he says something else?

Wait, where?

The lines where he states—

"For I will not even think about blood-spattered war until the
Son of bellicose Priam, illustrious Hector, has arrived
Right before the tents and ships of the Myrmidon soldiers slaughtering
The Argives, and ignites the ships with consuming fire:
But around my bed and dark ship, I believe that Hector—
Even though craving a battle,—will check the fight held back."

Now Hippias, do you think the son of Thetis, who was tutored by Chiron (& he was so very wise), was so forgetful that though he had been berating liars just a little before, at the furthest extreme of deception he says to Odysseus he would sail away—and told Aias he will stay, but you believe he wasn't plotting, and considered Odysseus antiquated, and that he is superior to him by very means of this conniving and lying?

No, I believe not, Socrates; instead, through being persuaded of these very things in good faith he says different ones to Aias than he did to Odysseus; but what truths Odysseus speaks he says always with an ulterior motive, and tells as many lies in the same spirit.

Oh Odysseus is better, so it seems, than Achilles.

No, of course not a bit Socrates.

But why? Weren't men who purposely lie just shown to be better than unwitting liars?

And how, Socrates, would men who willingly do wrong and hatch plots on purpose and perform bad deeds be better than those who don't mean to, for whom a great deal of forgiveness is considered right—if someone, without knowing it, acts unjustly or lies or commits some other wrong? Even the laws are considerably harder on those who purposely perform evil acts, and tell awful lies, than they are on the unaware.

You do see, Hippias, that I am speaking reasons true when I talk about how I am intent on the questions of the wise? I am even bold enough to consider this one thing the only true good, holding the others of low esteem; because I get tripped up over how the facts are disposed, and I do not know how they really are. And for me sufficient proof of this truth is that whenever I associate with one of you who is well-regarded for wisdom, and with men whose wisdom all the Greeks are witness to, I seem to know nothing; 'cause none of the same things, so to speak, seems right to me and to you. Although what sign proves ignorance better than whenever one should disagree with men of wisdom? And I do consider this incredible fact to be the good which saves me, since I am not ashamed when I learn; instead I learn by asking questions and I am very grateful to the respondent, and I never cheat anyone out of goodwill due. But I never deny it when I happen to learn something, I don't consider the lesson to be my own discovery; instead I compliment the one who instructs me for being wise and I display what I learned from him. And what's more, at present I don't agree with your line of reasoning, in fact I am very much at odds with you; and I am certain that this difference is on my end because my nature is such as I am in order that I not say I am one bit better. Now it seems to me, Hippias, to be entirely the opposite of what you argue; the men who harm people and commit injustices and tell lies and deceive people and make mistakes voluntarily, but not, in general, unwillingly, are better than they who do not mean to. However, the contrary of these claims sometimes seems best to me and I wander around these truths, clearly on account of my not knowing; but right now, in the present situation I am out of sorts and I believe that they who willingly do wrong are a bit better than those who do so unintentionally. And I fault the prior arguments as cause of the current crisis to the effect that in the present case it now appears that those who unwillingly do all these things in the particulars are worse than ones who mean to. So do me a favor and don't refuse to heal my soul, since surely it is better by far for you to do me a good turn by cutting my mind off from ignorance than by curing an illness of the body. So if you want to speak a lengthy speech, I tell you right now that you would not cure me—for I won't follow you—but if you're willing to reply to me like you just did, you'll definitely assist me; and I think you yourself will be no worse off. I would quite rightly call you for help, too, Apemantos' son; but you have whet me for conversation, and now, if Hippias wishes not to answer me—you must beg him for me.

Oh Socrates, I don't think Hippias will have any need of our begging; he hasn't yet mentioned any such thing, actually he says that he will not run away from any man's inquiry. Isn't that right, Hippias? Wasn't this what you said?

True, I did; but Socrates, dear Eudikos, is always causing trouble in conversations and looks just like a serious trouble-maker.

My dearest Hippias, I certainly don't do these things on purpose—since I would truly be wise and terrible according to your logic—but rather inadvertently, so do forgive me: Since you, once again, say one should forgive a man who means to do no wrong.

Please do exactly this, Hippias; but both on our account and for the sake of your foregoing statements, do answer the questions Socrates will ask you.

Well I will answer, if you're asking: So, ask whatever you wish.

Truthfully, I ardently wish to look deeply into what is currently being said, which on earth are better: Men who willingly or unwillingly commit a wrong. I really do think, for the purpose of inquiring, that the most genuine way is to go about it in this manner. So answer me: Do you say a certain runner is good?

I call some that.

And worthless?


Accordingly one who runs well is good, and one who runs horribly is bad?


So then the slow runner runs badly and the quick one does well?


Then in a race, you also have running fast as positive and being slow is negative?

But why would it [not]?

Then which is the better runner, the one who means to run slowly or who doesn't?

The willing one.

Then running is an act of doing something—like making poems?

Certainly, it's to create an effect.

But if "making" is to do something, isn't it also to do work?


Ah, the one who runs badly works at this awfully embarassing performance in a race?

A terrible one, & how would he not?

And the slow runner runs badly?


Therefore the good runner, of his own free will, accomplishes this bad and shameful effect, but the bad runner does so unwillingly?

Looks like it.

In a race, then, the man who unintentionally turns in a bad showing is more worthless than one who means to?

Sure, in racing.

What about in wrestling? Which wrestler is better, the one who falls intentionally or unintentionally?

The one who means to, it seems.

It is far worse, and a greater shame, to lose a wrestling match than to pin your opponent?

Fall and you lose.

And in a match, therefore, the wrestler that intentionally does a poor and pathetic job is better than the one who doesn't mean to?


And what about in every other use of the body? The man of superior physique is unable to accomplish both effects at once, in terms of strength and weakness, both ugly and lovely: So whenever he does something awful in relation to his body, the man who's in better shape conducts his business knowingly—but the one who's out of shape is unintentional?

It appears to be the case even in relation to matters of strength.

What about good posture, Hippias? Is it not of a better body to willingly assume an awful and painful position, but to do so unintentionally's of a worse one? But what do you think?

I agree.

And unshapeliness is a voluntary act dependent on a positive trait, but when involuntary it is from a bodily defect?

It appears to be.

And what do you state about voice? Do you say it is better to be purposely grating than involuntarily?

That the intentional discordance is preferrable.

And that it's a worse conditition to be so involuntarily?


Would you take good possessions over bad ones?

I'd have the good ones.

Would you really rather have feet that are purposely misshapen, or crippled against your will?

On purpose.

But the quality of lame feet is not negative and unsightly?

Yes, it is.

What? Isn't poor vision a state of eyes' weakness?


So which set of eyes would you want to possess and which would you rather live with? Ones that someone willingly sees poorly and squinty-eyed with, or unwillingly?

Ones that see willingly.

You believe that in your own affairs the things which willingly commit evils are better than the unwitting ones?

Such things are surely true.

Therefore one single principle encompasses everything, like ears and nostrils and a mouth and all the senses, and it states that the perceptions which unintentionally do harm are not worth having, as they are evil, while the ones that do so purposely are to be acquired since they're good.

Seems right to me, at least.

What? A better sense of involvement results from which tools, ones you intentionally produce bad effects with or unintentionally? For example, is the rudder with which one involuntarily misguides a ship better than one by which someone means to?

The latter.

And isn't it exactly the same way with a bow and lyre and flutes and all other things?

You speak the truth.

Why? Getting a horse whose temper is such that one voluntarily rides it badly is better than doing so unwillingly?

With a bad temper, willingly.

And that's a better horse?


Then the actions of a soul from a horse with the better temper would willingly do evil things, and with the temper of a very bad horse it would be unwilling?

Of course.

So, same with a dog and all the other animals?


Wait, what? Is it better to possess an archer's mind which purposely misses its target or a head which accidentally misses?

An eye that misses on purpose.

Then this is also a better soul as relates to archery?


And a soul which inadvertently makes a mistake is more despicable than one that intends to?

In archery at any rate.

What about in medical practice? Isn't the one that purposely does a bad job on bodies more doctor-like?


OK, so this skill in this form of practice is better than the non-medical kind?


But why? Take the art of playing a harp or flute, everything else that relates to these skills as forms of knowledge: Isn't the art or skill that knowingly creates bad works, ones to be ashamed of, and errs—isn't the unknowing one worse?

It seems to be.

But then, I imagine, we should accept the character of servants who willingly, rather than unwillingly, make mistakes and commit wrongs as they are better in regard to these things.


But why? Shouldn't we want to have them with a mind that is as wonderful as possible?


Then it will be a better soul that intentionally does evil work and wrongs; better than unintentionally?

But wouldn't it be awful, Socrates, if the men who purposely do wrong end up better off than ones who do it unintentionally?

But surely they do seem to be as a consequence of our statements.

Hm, not to me.

I thought they seemed so to you too, Hippias. Answer me again, is not justice either a certain type of ability or form of knowledge; or is it both? Doesn't justice have to be at least one of these things?

Yes, it must.

So if justice is therefore an ability, the more capable soul will be more a more just one? Since, I suppose, you most noble man, such a power appears better to us.

It does appear so, generally.

And what about if it is a type of knowledge? Isn't the soul that's more knowledgeable in wisdom a more just one, and the less informed soul is more unjust?


But what about if it's both? Is not the soul that's thus in relation to both knowledge and power more just, and the one of greater ignorance more unjust? Isn't it necessarily so?

It seems so.

So the more powerful soul of greater wisdom appears to be better, as a proposition, and is of greater ability in doing both beautiful and ugly things according to its entire quality of action?


Why then whenever it produces unappealing actions, it does so willingly by means of its power and ability; but these facts appear under the auspices of justice, in reality either together or individually?

They appear to.

And acting unjustly is the act of doing bad things while not being unjust means to do virtuous ones?


Therefore the more powerful soul is also a more noble one, even when it is unjust, it will intentionally do wrong; but the wicked soul acts unjustly against its own volition?

It appears so.

So the man who possesses a good soul is virtuous, and he with a bad one is evil?


To purposely commit acts of injustice is an act of a good man provided that a bad one unintentionally does so—if the good man has a good soul?

Well that truly is the case.

Oh, so even if this particular man willingly commits errors and does ugly, unjust things, Hippias, he should be no different than the good man.

I don't have any grounds to agree with you on these matters, Socrates.

And I don't even agree with myself, Hippias: But it is necessary for us to appear like this for the time being, according to our conversation. However, as I've been saying for a while now, I have wandered all over the place in concern about this and things never seem right to me. And although I don't consider aimlessness any marvelous feat, and the same goes for personal disposition, still if wise men like yourselves will stray, this matter has already become terrible for us should we come to you not disabused of our error.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


The Hippias is definitely the most tongue-in-cheek of the dialogues. He's demonstrating a lesson that you need not always be sincere in order to make a point. It's classic Socratic irony and suggests the method of inquiry isn't a separate form of truth, the unqualified points of which one must abide by in order to be correct; in a sense, the most non-dogmatic form of discourse you could imagine (though putting it like that invites Continental comparisons that I don't think are very appropriate, except maybe perhaps for this particular dialogue). Socrates is demonstrating a point he makes throughout the dialogues, in book six of the Republic especially, that if you willingly restrict the terms of an argument or line of reasoning, and don't reflect on how that situation reflects only part of the actual reality, you can arrive at some pretty absurd conclusions. In this case, it's a question of potential where you'd rather intentionally tell untruths because that at least suggestss the capacity for speaking truth--provided that the only alternative presented is involuntarily doing bad things, like perverting the truth or justice. But at the end Socrates lets you in on the irony, rather uncharacteristically (he's usually a lot less user-friendly), by saying he doesn't accept the universal validity of their conclusions: The dialogue is silent on whether this impugns the possibility itself.