This is what I would say, he replied: We should agree, if I am not
mistaken, that what a man recollects he must have known at some previous
And what is the nature of this recollection? And, in asking this,
I mean to ask whether, when a person has already seen or heard or
in any way perceived anything, and he knows not only that, but something
else of which he has not the same, but another knowledge, we may not
fairly say that he recollects that which comes into his mind. Are
we agreed about that?
What do you mean?
I mean what I may illustrate by the following instance: The knowledge
of a lyre is not the same as the knowledge of a man?
And yet what is the feeling of lovers when they recognize a lyre,
or a garment, or anything else which the beloved has been in the habit
of using? Do not they, from knowing the lyre, form in the mind’s eye
an image of the youth to whom the lyre belongs? And this is recollection:
and in the same way anyone who sees Simmias may remember Cebes; and
there are endless other things of the same nature.
Yes, indeed, there are-endless, replied Simmias.
And this sort of thing, he said, is recollection, and is most commonly
a process of recovering that which has been forgotten through time
Very true, he said.
Well; and may you not also from seeing the picture of a horse or a
lyre remember a man? and from the picture of Simmias, you may be led
to remember Cebes?
Or you may also be led to the recollection of Simmias himself?
True, he said.
And in all these cases, the recollection may be derived from things
either like or unlike?
That is true.
And when the recollection is derived from like things, then there
is sure to be another question, which is, whether the likeness of
that which is recollected is in any way defective or not.
Very true, he said.
And shall we proceed a step further, and affirm that there is such
a thing as equality, not of wood with wood, or of stone with stone,
but that, over and above this, there is equality in the abstract?
Shall we affirm this?
Affirm, yes, and swear to it, replied Simmias, with all the confidence
And do we know the nature of this abstract essence?
To be sure, he said.
And whence did we obtain this knowledge? Did we not see equalities
of material things, such as pieces of wood and stones, and gather
from them the idea of an equality which is different from them?-you
will admit that? Or look at the matter again in this way: Do not the
same pieces of wood or stone appear at one time equal, and at another
That is certain.
But are real equals ever unequal? or is the idea of equality ever
That surely was never yet known, Socrates.
Then these (so-called) equals are not the same with the idea of equality?
I should say, clearly not, Socrates.
And yet from these equals, although differing from the idea of equality,
you conceived and attained that idea?
Very true, he said.
Which might be like, or might be unlike them?
But that makes no difference; whenever from seeing one thing you conceived
another, whether like or unlike, there must surely have been an act
But what would you say of equal portions of wood and stone, or other
material equals? and what is the impression produced by them? Are
they equals in the same sense as absolute equality? or do they fall
short of this in a measure?
Yes, he said, in a very great measure, too.
And must we not allow that when I or anyone look at any object, and
perceive that the object aims at being some other thing, but falls
short of, and cannot attain to it-he who makes this observation must
have had previous knowledge of that to which, as he says, the other,
although similar, was inferior?
And has not this been our case in the matter of equals and of absolute
Then we must have known absolute equality previously to the time when
we first saw the material equals, and reflected that all these apparent
equals aim at this absolute equality, but fall short of it?
That is true.
And we recognize also that this absolute equality has only been known,
and can only be known, through the medium of sight or touch, or of
some other sense. And this I would affirm of all such conceptions.
Yes, Socrates, as far as the argument is concerned, one of them is
the same as the other.
And from the senses, then, is derived the knowledge that all sensible
things aim at an idea of equality of which they fall short-is not
Then before we began to see or hear or perceive in any way, we must
have had a knowledge of absolute equality, or we could not have referred
to that the equals which are derived from the senses-for to that they
all aspire, and of that they fall short?
That, Socrates, is certainly to be inferred from the previous statements.
And did we not see and hear and acquire our other senses as soon as
we were born?
Then we must have acquired the knowledge of the ideal equal at some
time previous to this?
That is to say, before we were born, I suppose?
And if we acquired this knowledge before we were born, and were born
having it, then we also knew before we were born and at the instant
of birth not only equal or the greater or the less, but all other
ideas; for we are not speaking only of equality absolute, but of beauty,
goodness, justice, holiness, and all which we stamp with the name
of essence in the dialectical process, when we ask and answer questions.
Of all this we may certainly affirm that we acquired the knowledge
That is true.
But if, after having acquired, we have not forgotten that which we
acquired, then we must always have been born with knowledge, and shall
always continue to know as long as life lasts-for knowing is the acquiring
and retaining knowledge and not forgetting. Is not forgetting, Simmias,
just the losing of knowledge?
Quite true, Socrates.
But if the knowledge which we acquired before birth was lost by us
at birth, and afterwards by the use of the senses we recovered that
which we previously knew, will not that which we call learning be
a process of recovering our knowledge, and may not this be rightly
termed recollection by us?
For this is clear, that when we perceived something, either by the
help of sight or hearing, or some other sense, there was no difficulty
in receiving from this a conception of some other thing like or unlike
which had been forgotten and which was associated with this; and therefore,
as I was saying, one of two alternatives follows: either we had this
knowledge at birth, and continued to know through life; or, after
birth, those who are said to learn only remember, and learning is
Yes, that is quite true, Socrates.
And which alternative, Simmias, do you prefer? Had we the knowledge
at our birth, or did we remember afterwards the things which we knew
previously to our birth?
I cannot decide at the moment.
At any rate you can decide whether he who has knowledge ought or ought
not to be able to give a reason for what he knows.
Certainly, he ought.
But do you think that every man is able to give a reason about these
very matters of which we are speaking?
I wish that they could, Socrates, but I greatly fear that to-morrow
at this time there will be no one able to give a reason worth having.
Then you are not of opinion, Simmias, that all men know these things?
Then they are in process of recollecting that which they learned before.
But when did our souls acquire this knowledge?-not since we were born
And therefore previously?
Then, Simmias, our souls must have existed before they were in the
form of man-without bodies, and must have had intelligence.
Unless indeed you suppose, Socrates, that these notions were given
us at the moment of birth; for this is the only time that remains.
Yes, my friend, but when did we lose them? for they are not in us
when we are born-that is admitted. Did we lose them at the moment
of receiving them, or at some other time?
No, Socrates, I perceive that I was unconsciously talking nonsense.
Then may we not say, Simmias, that if, as we are always repeating,
there is an absolute beauty, and goodness, and essence in general,
and to this, which is now discovered to be a previous condition of
our being, we refer all our sensations, and with this compare them-assuming
this to have a prior existence, then our souls must have had a prior
existence, but if not, there would be no force in the argument? There
can be no doubt that if these absolute ideas existed before we were
born, then our souls must have existed before we were born, and if
not the ideas, then not the souls.
Yes, Socrates; I am convinced that there is precisely the same necessity
for the existence of the soul before birth, and of the essence of
which you are speaking: and the argument arrives at a result which
happily agrees with my own notion. For there is nothing which to my
mind is so evident as that beauty, goodness, and other notions of
which you were just now speaking have a most real and absolute existence;
and I am satisfied with the proof.
Well, but is Cebes equally satisfied? for I must convince him too.
I think, said Simmias, that Cebes is satisfied: although he is the
most incredulous of mortals, yet I believe that he is convinced of
the existence of the soul before birth. But that after death the soul
will continue to exist is not yet proven even to my own satisfaction.
I cannot get rid of the feeling of the many to which Cebes was referring-the
feeling that when the man dies the soul may be scattered, and that
this may be the end of her. For admitting that she may be generated
and created in some other place, and may have existed before entering
the human body, why after having entered in and gone out again may
she not herself be destroyed and come to an end?
Very true, Simmias, said Cebes; that our soul existed before we were
born was the first half of the argument, and this appears to have
been proven; that the soul will exist after death as well as before
birth is the other half of which the proof is still wanting, and has
to be supplied.
But that proof, Simmias and Cebes, has been already given, said Socrates,
if you put the two arguments together-I mean this and the former one,
in which we admitted that everything living is born of the dead. For
if the soul existed before birth, and in coming to life and being
born can be born only from death and dying, must she not after death
continue to exist, since she has to be born again? surely the proof
which you desire has been already furnished. Still I suspect that
you and Simmias would be glad to probe the argument further; like
children, you are haunted with a fear that when the soul leaves the
body, the wind may really blow her away and scatter her; especially
if a man should happen to die in stormy weather and not when the sky
Cebes answered with a smile: Then, Socrates, you must argue us out
of our fears-and yet, strictly speaking, they are not our fears, but
there is a child within us to whom death is a sort of hobgoblin; him
too we must persuade not to be afraid when he is alone with him in
Socrates said: Let the voice of the charmer be applied daily until
you have charmed him away.
And where shall we find a good charmer of our fears, Socrates, when
you are gone?
Hellas, he replied, is a large place, Cebes, and has many good men,
and there are barbarous races not a few: seek for him among them all,
far and wide, sparing neither pains nor money; for there is no better
way of using your money. And you must not forget to seek for him among
yourselves too; for he is nowhere more likely to be found.
The search, replied Cebes, shall certainly be made. And now, if you
please, let us return to the point of the argument at which we digressed.
By all means, replied Socrates; what else should I please?
Very good, he said.
Must we not, said Socrates, ask ourselves some question of this sort?-What
is that which, as we imagine, is liable to be scattered away, and
about which we fear? and what again is that about which we have no
fear? And then we may proceed to inquire whether that which suffers
dispersion is or is not of the nature of soul-our hopes and fears
as to our own souls will turn upon that.
That is true, he said.
Now the compound or composite may be supposed to be naturally capable
of being dissolved in like manner as of being compounded; but that
which is uncompounded, and that only, must be, if anything is, indissoluble.
Yes; that is what I should imagine, said Cebes.
And the uncompounded may be assumed to be the same and unchanging,
where the compound is always changing and never the same?
That I also think, he said.
Then now let us return to the previous discussion. Is that idea or
essence, which in the dialectical process we define as essence of
true existence-whether essence of equality, beauty, or anything else:
are these essences, I say, liable at times to some degree of change?
or are they each of them always what they are, having the same simple,
self-existent and unchanging forms, and not admitting of variation
at all, or in any way, or at any time?
They must be always the same, Socrates, replied Cebes.
And what would you say of the many beautiful-whether men or horses
or garments or any other things which may be called equal or beautiful-are
they all unchanging and the same always, or quite the reverse? May
they not rather be described as almost always changing and hardly
ever the same either with themselves or with one another?
The latter, replied Cebes; they are always in a state of change.
And these you can touch and see and perceive with the senses, but
the unchanging things you can only perceive with the mind-they are
invisible and are not seen?
That is very true, he said.
Well, then, he added, let us suppose that there are two sorts of existences,
one seen, the other unseen.
Let us suppose them.
The seen is the changing, and the unseen is the unchanging.
That may be also supposed.
And, further, is not one part of us body, and the rest of us soul?
To be sure.
And to which class may we say that the body is more alike and akin?
Clearly to the seen: no one can doubt that.
And is the soul seen or not seen?
Not by man, Socrates.
And by “seen” and “not seen” is meant by us that which is or is not
visible to the eye of man?
Yes, to the eye of man.
And what do we say of the soul? is that seen or not seen?
Then the soul is more like to the unseen, and the body to the seen?
That is most certain, Socrates.
And were we not saying long ago that the soul when using the body
as an instrument of perception, that is to say, when using the sense
of sight or hearing or some other sense (for the meaning of perceiving
through the body is perceiving through the senses)-were we not saying
that the soul too is then dragged by the body into the region of the
changeable, and wanders and is confused; the world spins round her,
and she is like a drunkard when under their influence?
But when returning into herself she reflects; then she passes into
the realm of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness,
which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by
herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring
ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And
this state of the soul is called wisdom?
That is well and truly said, Socrates, he replied.
And to which class is the soul more nearly alike and akin, as far
as may be inferred from this argument, as well as from the preceding
I think, Socrates, that, in the opinion of everyone who follows the
argument, the soul will be infinitely more like the unchangeable even
the most stupid person will not deny that.
And the body is more like the changing?
Yet once more consider the matter in this light: When the soul and
the body are united, then nature orders the soul to rule and govern,
and the body to obey and serve.
Now which of these two functions is akin to the divine? and which
to the mortal? Does not the divine appear to you to be that which
naturally orders and rules, and the mortal that which is subject and
And which does the soul resemble?
The soul resembles the divine and the body the mortal-there can be
no doubt of that, Socrates.
Then reflect, Cebes: is not the conclusion of the whole matter this?-that
the soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and
intelligible, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable; and
the body is in the very likeness of the human, and mortal, and unintelligible,
and multiform, and dissoluble, and changeable. Can this, my dear Cebes,
But if this is true, then is not the body liable to speedy dissolution?
and is not the soul almost or altogether indissoluble?
And do you further observe, that after a man is dead, the body, which
is the visible part of man, and has a visible framework, which is
called a corpse, and which would naturally be dissolved and decomposed
and dissipated, is not dissolved or decomposed at once, but may remain
for a good while, if the constitution be sound at the time of death,
and the season of the year favorable? For the body when shrunk and
embalmed, as is the custom in Egypt, may remain almost entire through
infinite ages; and even in decay, still there are some portions, such
as the bones and ligaments, which are practically indestructible.
You allow that?
And are we to suppose that the soul, which is invisible, in passing
to the true Hades, which like her is invisible, and pure, and noble,
and on her way to the good and wise God, whither, if God will, my
soul is also soon to go-that the soul, I repeat, if this be her nature
and origin, is blown away and perishes immediately on quitting the
body as the many say? That can never be, dear Simmias and Cebes. The
truth rather is that the soul which is pure at departing draws after
her no bodily taint, having never voluntarily had connection with
the body, which she is ever avoiding, herself gathered into herself
(for such abstraction has been the study of her life). And what does
this mean but that she has been a true disciple of philosophy and
has practised how to die easily? And is not philosophy the practice
That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible worldto
the divine and immortal and rational: thither arriving, she lives
in bliss and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears
and wild passions and all other human ills, and forever dwells, as
they say of the initiated, in company with the gods. Is not this true,
Yes, said Cebes, beyond a doubt.
But the soul which has been polluted, and is impure at the time of
her departure, and is the companion and servant of the body always,
and is in love with and fascinated by the body and by the desires
and pleasures of the body, until she is led to believe that the truth
only exists in a bodily form, which a man may touch and see and taste
and use for the purposes of his lusts-the soul, I mean, accustomed
to hate and fear and avoid the intellectual principle, which to the
bodily eye is dark and invisible, and can be attained only by philosophy-do
you suppose that such a soul as this will depart pure and unalloyed?
That is impossible, he replied.
She is engrossed by the corporeal, which the continual association
and constant care of the body have made natural to her.
And this, my friend, may be conceived to be that heavy, weighty, earthy
element of sight by which such a soul is depressed and dragged down
again into the visible world, because she is afraid of the invisible
and of the world below-prowling about tombs and sepulchres, in the
neighborhood of which, as they tell us, are seen certain ghostly apparitions
of souls which have not departed pure, but are cloyed with sight and
That is very likely, Socrates.
Yes, that is very likely, Cebes; and these must be the souls, not
of the good, but of the evil, who are compelled to wander about such
places in payment of the penalty of their former evil way of life;
and they continue to wander until the desire which haunts them is
satisfied and they are imprisoned in another body. And they may be
supposed to be fixed in the same natures which they had in their former
What natures do you mean, Socrates?
I mean to say that men who have followed after gluttony, and wantonness,
and drunkenness, and have had no thought of avoiding them, would pass
into asses and animals of that sort. What do you think?
I think that exceedingly probable.
And those who have chosen the portion of injustice, and tyranny, and
violence, will pass into wolves, or into hawks and kites; whither
else can we suppose them to go?
Yes, said Cebes; that is doubtless the place of natures such as theirs.
And there is no difficulty, he said, in assigning to all of them places
answering to their several natures and propensities?
There is not, he said.
Even among them some are happier than others; and the happiest both
in themselves and their place of abode are those who have practised
the civil and social virtues which are called temperance and justice,
and are acquired by habit and attention without philosophy and mind.
Why are they the happiest?
Because they may be expected to pass into some gentle, social nature
which is like their own, such as that of bees or ants, or even back
again into the form of man, and just and moderate men spring from
That is not impossible.
But he who is a philosopher or lover of learning, and is entirely
pure at departing, is alone permitted to reach the gods. And this
is the reason, Simmias and Cebes, why the true votaries of philosophy
abstain from all fleshly lusts, and endure and refuse to give themselves
up to them-not because they fear poverty or the ruin of their families,
like the lovers of money, and the world in general; nor like the lovers
of power and honor, because they dread the dishonor or disgrace of
No, Socrates, that would not become them, said Cebes.
No, indeed, he replied; and therefore they who have a care of their
souls, and do not merely live in the fashions of the body, say farewell
to all this; they will not walk in the ways of the blind: and when
philosophy offers them purification and release from evil, they feel
that they ought not to resist her influence, and to her they incline,
and whither she leads they follow her.
What do you mean, Socrates?
I will tell you, he said. The lovers of knowledge are conscious that
their souls, when philosophy receives them, are simply fastened and
glued to their bodies: the soul is only able to view existence through
the bars of a prison, and not in her own nature; she is wallowing
in the mire of all ignorance; and philosophy, seeing the terrible
nature of her confinement, and that the captive through desire is
led to conspire in her own captivity (for the lovers of knowledge
are aware that this was the original state of the soul, and that when
she was in this state philosophy received and gently counseled her,
and wanted to release her, pointing out to her that the eye is full
of deceit, and also the ear and other senses, and persuading her to
retire from them in all but the necessary use of them and to be gathered
up and collected into herself, and to trust only to herself and her
own intuitions of absolute existence, and mistrust that which comes
to her through others and is subject to vicissitude)-philosophy shows
her that this is visible and tangible, but that what she sees in her
own nature is intellectual and invisible. And the soul of the true
philosopher thinks that she ought not to resist this deliverance,
and therefore abstains from pleasures and desires and pains and fears,
as far as she is able; reflecting that when a man has great joys or
sorrows or fears or desires he suffers from them, not the sort of
evil which might be anticipated-as, for example, the loss of his health
or property, which he has sacrificed to his lusts-but he has suffered
an evil greater far, which is the greatest and worst of all evils,
and one of which he never thinks.
Phaedo by Plato