by Plato

translated by George Burges (1855)

Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates and Clitophon.

Dramatic Date: 412/411 BCE; Socrates is ~58 years old.


A certain person has lately told me that Clitophon, the son of Aristonymus, has been conversing with Lysias, and blaming the passing the time with Socrates, but been praising immoderately the intercourse with Thrasymachus.


Whoever he was, Socrates, he has not accurately related to you the conversation I had with Lysias about you. For in some things indeed I did not praise you, but in others I did. But since you are evidently blaming me, although you pretend to care nothing about the matter, I will most willingly go through the conversation myself, especially since we happen to be alone, in order that you may the less imagine that I am ill disposed towards you. For now perhaps you have not heard correctly; so that you appear to be more harshly disposed towards me than is fitting. But if you will grant me the liberty of speech I shall most cheerfully accept it, and am willing to speak.


Nay it would be disgraceful for myself, when you are willing to benefit me, not to bear with you. For it is evident that, when I know in what respect I am better and worse, I shall pursue some things, and avoid others, to the utmost of my power.


You shall hear then. For while I am with you, Socrates, I am often astonished on hearing you; and you appear to me, as compared with other men, to speak most beautifully, when, reproving men, you exclaim like a god upon a machine. —

Whither are ye borne along? And — Are ye ignorant, that ye are doing nothing that ye ought, ye, who make every exertion how ye may get money, but neglect your children, to whom ye are to leave it, and the means whereby they may know how to use it justly; and do not find for them teachers of justice, if indeed it can be taught, and who, if it is to be made the subject of meditation and exercise, may sufficiently exercise them in it. Nor yet do ye previously attend to yourselves; but, seeing that both ye and your children have learnt sufficiently grammar, and music, and the gymnastic arts, which ye have considered as the perfect discipline of virtue, yet afterwards that ye become no less depraved with respect to riches, why do ye not despise the present mode of education, and seek after those, who will cause you to cease from this illiberal line of life? And yet it is through this neglect of what is right, and indolence, and not through the foot being out of time with the lyre, that brother himself arrays himself against brother, and states against states, and, out of all measure and harmony, are stirring up strife and war upon each other, and do and suffer the extreme of ill. But ye say, that they, who are unjust, are unjust not through the want of instruction, nor through ignorance, but voluntarily; and again, ye dare to assert that in justice is disgraceful and hateful to the gods. How then can anyone voluntarily choose so great an evil? He does so ye say, through being conquered by pleasure. Is not this then an involuntary act, since to conquer is a voluntary one? So that reason perfectly convinces us, that to act unjustly is involuntary; and that every man privately, and all cities publicly, ought to pay more attention than they do, at present to their conduct.

When therefore, Socrates, I hear you perpetually speaking so, I am greatly delighted with you, and pay you in a wonderful manner the tribute of praise. And when you say what follows in order upon this, that they, who cultivate their bodies, but neglect their soul, do something different of this kind, in neglecting that which is to govern, but busily attending to what is to be governed and when you assert that it is better for him, who does not know how to use a thing, to leave alone the use of it; for if a person does not know how to use his eyes or ears, or his whole body, it is better for him not to hear, nor see, nor to use his body for any need, than to use it in any way; and in a similar manner with respect to art. For it is evident as you say that he, who does not know how to use his own lyre, will not know how to use that of his neighbour; nor will he, who knows not how to use the lyre of others, know how to use his own, nor any other instrument or chattel whatever; and this your discourse ended beautifully by inferring, that for him, who does not know how to use his soul, it is better to be at rest with respect to his soul, and not to live, than to live and act according to his own caprice but, if there is any necessity for such a person to live, that it is better for him to lead the life of a slave, than of a freeman. For that this is to deliver the rudder of the mind, like that of a ship, to another, who has learnt the art of governing men; which, Socrates, you have often called the statesman's art, and said it is the same as that of the judge and justice.

To these, and many other and very beautiful reasonings, in which it is asserted that virtue can be taught, and that a person ought above all things to pay attention to himself, I have scarcely at any time said a word in opposition, nor do I think that I shall ever say. For I deem them to be very exhortatory and useful, and really awakening us, as if we were asleep. I have therefore given my mind to them, as one about to hear what is to follow; and I have asked at first, not yourself, Socrates, but your equals in age, or fellow-thinkers, or friends, or in whatever name one must call the party thus disposed towards you. For among them, I have first of all asked those, who are thought by you to be something, by inquiring what would be the discourse after this; and laying down a subject after your manner, I have said to them — How are we to receive for the present, O best of men, the exhortation of Socrates to virtue? As being merely a word, but that it is not in our power to follow it up in deed, and to comprehend it thoroughly? And will this be our employment through the whole of life, to exhort those who have not been exhorted as yet? And for them to exhort others? Or is it requisite for us after this to inquire of Socrates and each other, since we confess that this should be done, what is to come next? How, say we, ought we to begin the discipline relating to justice? As if some one had exhorted us to pay attention to the body, on perceiving that we, like boys, had no notion that the care of the body belongs to the gymnastic and medical arts, and afterwards reproached us by saying, that it was disgraceful to pay every attention to wheat and barley, and vines, and such other things as we labour to obtain for the sake of the body, but that we search after no art or device, so that the body may be rendered in the best condition, and this too when there is such an art.

If then we inquired of the person so exhorting us — Do you say there are such arts as these? Perhaps he would say, There are the gymnastic and medical arts. And what now, we said, is the art that relates to the virtue of the soul? Let it be mentioned. But he, who seemed to be of the greatest strength for giving an answer to these questions, said to myself, that the very art, which you have heard Socrates mention, is no other than justice. And on my saying — Tell me not merely the name of the art, but explain it further in this way. There is an art called the medical. By this two things are effected one, that physicians are always forming other physicians in addition to those already existing; the other, to effect health. Now of these one is no longer an art, but the work of the art, which teaches and is taught, which we call health. And in the case of carpentry, there is the building and the art; one the effect, and the other the teaching. So too of justice, one part is to make persons just, as each of the arts mentioned above makes artists. But what shall we say is the other work, which a just man is able to do for us? State it. One person has, I think, said in answer to us, that it is "the conducive;" another, that it is "the becoming;" another, that it is "the useful;" and another, that it is "the profitable." But I rejoined by saying, that these very names exist in each of the arts, namely, to act rightly, profitably, usefully, and the like. But that, to which all these tend, each art will state itself. Thus, the art of carpentry will say, that "the right," " the beautiful," " the becoming," tend to this, that wooden furniture may be aptly made; which is not art, but the work of art. Let in like manner be mentioned the work of justice.

At last one of your friends, Socrates, who appeared to speak most elegantly, answered me, that this was the work peculiar to justice, which does not belong to any other science, namely, to cause a friendship amongst states. But he, on the other hand, on being interrogated, said that friendship was a good, and by no means an evil. But on being asked about the friendships of boys and of wild animals, for by that name we call their attachments, he did not admit that they are friendships; for it happened that such friendships of theirs were for the greater part hurtful rather than advantageous; and that those, who call them so, call them falsely; but that friendship existing really and truly was most clearly an union of sentiment. But on being asked whether he meant by an union of sentiment, an agreement in opinion or science, he repudiated the agreement in opinion; for many and hurtful agreements in opinion are compelled to take place amongst men; but he conceded that friendship was entirely a good, and the work of justice; so that he said, an agreement in sentiment was the same as science really existing, but not opinion. But when we were at this part of our discourse, the parties present being in a state of doubt were competent to find fault with him, and to say, that the reasoning had run round to the point first mooted; and they affirmed that the medical art is a certain agreement in sentiment; and so are all the other arts; and that they are able to state about what they are conversant; but that the art called by you justice, or an agreement in sentiment, it had escaped them as to whither it tends, and that it is not manifest what is its work. At last I inquired of yourself, Socrates, upon these points; and you told me that it is the work of justice to injure enemies, and benefit friends; but afterwards it appeared to you, that the just man will never injure any one, but will act to the advantage of every one in all things.

Having endured this not once, nor even twice, but for a length of time, and being urgent with you, Socrates, I was tired out; thinking, indeed, that you effected in the best manner of all men, the exhortation to the study of virtue; but that one of two things must take place, either that you are able to effect thus much alone, but nothing further — which might happen in the case of any other art — as, for instance, that he who is not a pilot, may exercise himself in praising the pilot's art, as a thing of great value to man; and similarly in the case of other arts — so a person may perhaps apply the same remark on the subject of justice to yourself, as not having a greater knowledge than others of its nature, because you praise it in a beautiful manner. Such however is not my opinion, but as I say, one of two things take place; either that you do not know what justice is, or that you are unwilling to impart the knowledge of it to me. On this account then, I think I shall go to Thrasymachus, and wherever else I can, as being in doubt, and where I hope I shall be freed from doubts; nor should I betake myself elsewhere, if you were willing to finish your exhortatory discourses to me. Now, for instance, if I had been exhorted on the subject of the gymnastic art, that I ought not to neglect the body, you would state to me what comes next after the exhortation-speech, what is the nature of my body, and what attention it requires. And let this be done at present. Lay it down then that Clitophon acknowledges it to be ridiculous to pay attention to other things, but to neglect the soul, for the sake of which we labour in other things; and imagine that I have really spoken upon all other points, next in order to those, which I have just now gone through. I beg of you not to act in any respect otherwise, that I may not hereafter, as at present, partly praise you before Lysias and the rest, and blame you likewise in part. For I will say, Socrates, that you are worth everything to the man, who is not yet exhorted; but to him who has been exhorted, you are nearly an impediment to his arriving at the end of virtue, and becoming happy.

Monadnock Valley Press > Plato