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Dialogues of Plato | Quotes

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1.

But Socrates, I do not know how to tell you what I mean. Somehow everything I propose goes round in circles on us and will not stand still.


Euthyphro, Euthyphro

Euthyphro articulates a classic condition in which Socrates's interlocutors find themselves: aporia, or confusion. This is a stage in the Socratic method—and typically the stage at which the interlocutor remains. It occurs because the interlocutor is unable to provide a satisfactory definition of an ethical term; they thought they knew but are now stuck.

2.

Is the holy loved by the gods because it is holy? Or is it holy because it is loved by the gods?


Socrates, Euthyphro

This is known as the Euthyphro dilemma: Euthyphro wants to maintain that holiness is objectively good, but he also maintains it is dependent on the gods' love for its worth. He does not see that the two are mutually exclusive. Socrates wants Euthyphro to grasp his error but also to see that, for holiness to be properly defined, it must be independent of the gods' attitudes, it must be intrinsically good.

3.

I do not think that I know what I do not.


Socrates, Apology

Socrates expresses the wisdom of intellectual humility. Although those he questions think they know about the most important matters—what it is to live a good life, for example—they are ignorant. Because knowledge is essential to right living, according to Socrates, being unaware of one's own ignorance can lead to great unhappiness.

4.

To fear death ... is nothing but to think one is wise when one is not.


Socrates, Apology

Socrates makes several remarks about death in the Apology, as well as in other dialogues. (See the Gorgias, for example.) For all we know, Socrates maintains, death could be like a dreamless sleep, or it could be the start of an afterlife. Because we cannot know in advance, there is no point in fearing it. Moreover, as Socrates argues here and in the Phaedo, death is freedom from the shackles of the body, allowing the soul to commune with the absolute or divinity.

5.

The unexamined life is not for man worth living.


Socrates, Apology

Socrates makes this claim in the context of exhorting the jury to begin to change the way they think about their lives, to turn away from material and otherwise inconsequential concerns, such as power and wealth, to focus on living a good life. A good life is achieved by becoming virtuous, and a virtuous soul is rewarded after death.

6.

It is not living which is of most importance, but living well.


Socrates, Crito

Crito has come to Socrates in prison, hoping to convince him to escape. He offers numerous reasons why Socrates should do so, but Socrates is not concerned with saving his life, but rather making the life he has as good as possible. He argues that it would be wrong to put his life ahead of obedience to the law. He will not privilege convenience over justice.

Socrates had already made this point in the Apology: "a man worth anything ... should [not] take thought for danger in living or dying." Rather, "he should look when he acts to one thing: whether what he does is just or unjust."

7.

The one aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death.


Socrates, Phaedo

As Socrates discusses death on the day of his execution, he argues that the philosopher's life is a preparation for death. It is the philosopher who cares about knowledge, truth, and the good life. In Socrates's view, these are all achieved through the exercise of the mind, not the body. Indeed, the body is an obstacle to them.

8.

Crito, we ought to offer a cock to Asclepius. See to it, and don't forget.


Socrates, Phaedo

Socrates's last words before dying suggest, perhaps, that he thinks death is a cure for life. After recovering from an illness, it was common for the healed person to sacrifice a rooster to Asclepius, the god of medicine.

9.

If I do not know what something is, how could I know what qualities it possesses?


Socrates, Meno

Meno wants to know if virtue can be taught, but Socrates says he cannot answer because he does not even know what virtue is. The investigation into the nature of virtue ensues.

10.

You are both in appearance and other ways very like the stingray in the sea, which benumbs whatever it touches.


Meno, Meno

As Euthyphro complained of aporia, or being perplexed, so also does Meno. He is mentally paralyzed by the process of examining his definitions of virtue and confused about why he cannot satisfy Socrates, especially since he has given many speeches on virtue.

11.

It is thus impossible for a man to inquire either into what he knows, or into what he does not know.


Socrates, Meno

Socrates restates Meno's paradox, in which inquiry is impossible, whether one knows what one seeks or not. If one knows, there's no point in looking for it—if one does not know in advance, one won't be able to identify it when it is encountered.

12.

The soul is immortal, and has been born many times, and has beheld all things ... learning and inquiry are wholly recollection.


Socrates, Meno

Socrates's response to Meno's dilemma is to move deeper into the confusion rather than shy away from it. This is his preferred method because he believes that learning and inquiry are matters of recollecting, through the correct use of reason, what one already knows. Only by moving through the fog of confusion can the mind teach the soul to remember what it has forgotten.

13.

In his present condition of ignorance, he will gladly inquire into the matter, whereas before he might easily have supposed he could speak well.


Socrates, Meno

Socrates uses Meno's servant boy to demonstrate the process of recollection, which works through the Socratic method. As with others who engage in it, the boy thinks he knows something about geometry but is wrong. He did not realize he was wrong until it became impossible for him to continue holding his false belief. Once rid of it, he is in a position to recollect—and not only has the process not done him harm, it has actually benefited him.

14.

It is worse to do than to suffer injustice.


Socrates, Gorgias

This quote is related to Socrates's comments about living well being more important than simply staying alive. It is also related to Socrates's argument, in the Crito, that it is never right to commit injustice.

Here, Socrates counters Polus's claim that the opposite is the case—and that it is better to get away with committing injustice than to get caught. (These ideas recur in Book 2 of Plato's Republic.) Socrates thinks one who commits injustice harms his soul—he becomes worse for his action. Suffering injustice isn't good, but the one who suffers does not thereby harm his soul.

15.

The goods are not the same as the pleasures, nor the evils the same as the pains.


Socrates, Gorgias

Socrates makes this remark during his exchange with Callicles, who maintains that Polus's position about justice and injustice is correct, while Socrates's is not. This quote serves as part of the foundation for the argument that, while one may feel pain over an injustice, this is not the same as experiencing evil. On the other hand, one who treats another unjustly has committed an evil act, and, insofar as this corrupts one's character, it causes one unhappiness and pain.

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