Socrates : How now, friend Alcibiades ? Have you overlooked your own ignorance of this matter, or have I overlooked your learning it and taking lessons of a master who taught you to distinguish the more just and the more unjust ? And who is he ? Inform me in my turn, in order that you may introduce me to him as another pupil.
Alcibiades : You are joking, Socrates.
Socrates : No, I swear by our common God of Friendship, whose name I would by no means take in vain. Come, if you can, tell me who the man is.
Alcibiades : But what if I cannot ? Do you think I could not know about what is just and unjust in any other way ?
Socrates : Yes, you might, supposing you discovered it.
Alcibiades : But do you not think I might discover it ?
Socrates : Yes, quite so, if you inquired.
Alcibiades : And do you not think I might inquire ?
Socrates : I do, if you thought you did not know.
Alcibiades : And was there not a time when I held that view ?
Socrates : Well spoken. Then can you tell me at what time it was that you thought you did not know what is just and unjust ? Pray, was it a year ago that you were inquiring, and thought you did not know ? Or did you think you knew ? Please answer truly, that our debates may not be futile.
Alcibiades : Well, I thought I knew.
Socrates : And two years, and three years, and four years back, were you not of the same mind ?
Alcibiades : I was.
Socrates : But, you see, before that time you were a child, were you not ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : So I know well enough that then you thought you knew.
Alcibiades : How do you know it so well ?
Socrates : Many a time I heard you, when as a child you were dicing or playing some other game at your teachers or elsewhere, instead of showing hesitation about what was just and unjust, speak in very loud and confident tones about one or other of your playmates, saying he was a rascal and a cheat who played unfairly. Is not this a true account ?
Alcibiades : But what was I to do, Socrates, when somebody cheated me ?
Socrates : Yet if you were ignorant then whether you were being unfairly treated or not, how can you ask — ”What are you to do ?”
Alcibiades : Well, but on my word, I was not ignorant : no, I clearly understood that I was being wronged.
Socrates : So you thought you knew, even as a child, it seems, what was just and unjust.
Alcibiades : I did ; and I knew too.
Socrates : At what sort of time did you discover it ? For surely it was not while you thought you knew.
Alcibiades : No, indeed.
Socrates : Then when did you think you were ignorant ? Consider ; I believe you will fail to find such a time.
Alcibiades : Upon my word, Socrates, I really cannot say.
Socrates : So you do not know it by discovery.
Alcibiades : Not at all, apparently.
Socrates : But you said just now that you did not know it by learning either ; and if you neither discovered nor learnt it, how do you come to know it, and whence ?
Alcibiades : Well, perhaps that answer I gave you was not correct, that I knew it by my own discovery.
Socrates : Then how was it done ?
Alcibiades : I learnt it, I suppose, in the same way as everyone else.
Socrates : Back we come to the same argument. From whom ? Please tell me.
Alcibiades : From the many.
Socrates : They are no very serious teachers with whom you take refuge, if you ascribe it to the many !
Alcibiades : Why, are they not competent to teach ?
Socrates : Not how to play, or not to play, draughts ; and yet that, I imagine, is a slight matter compared with justice. What ? Do you not think so ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : Then if they are unable to teach the slighter, can they teach the more serious matter ?
Alcibiades : I think so : at any rate, there are many other things that they are able to teach, more serious than draughts.
Socrates : What sort of things ?
Alcibiades : For instance, it was from them that I learnt to speak Greek, and I could not say who was my teacher, but can only ascribe it to the same people who, you say, are not serious teachers.
Socrates : Ah, gallant sir, the many may be good teachers of that, and they can justly be praised for their teaching of such subjects.
Alcibiades : And why ?
Socrates : Because in those subjects they have the equipment proper to good teachers.
Alcibiades : What do you mean by that ?
Socrates : You know that those who are going to teach anything should first know it themselves, do you not ?
Alcibiades : Of course.
Socrates : And that those who know should agree with each other and not differ ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : But if they differ upon anything, will you say that they know it ?
Alcibiades : No, indeed.
Socrates : Then how can they be teachers of it ?
Alcibiades : By no means.
Socrates : Well now, do you find that the many differ about the nature of stone or wood ? If you ask one of them, do they not agree on the same answer, and make for the same things when they want to get a piece of stone or wood ? It is just the same, too, with everything of the sort : for I am pretty nearly right in understanding you to mean just this by knowing how to speak Greek, am I not ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And on these matters, as we stated, they not only agree with each other and with themselves in private, but states also use in public the same terms about them to each other, without any dispute ?
Alcibiades : They do.
Socrates : Then naturally they will be good teachers of these matters.
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And if we should wish to provide anyone with knowledge of them, we should be right in sending him to be taught by “the many” that you speak of ?
Alcibiades : Certainly.
Socrates : But what if we wished to know not only what men were like or what horses were like, but which of them were good runners or not ? Would the many still suffice to teach us this ?
Alcibiades : No, indeed.
Socrates : And you have ample proof that they do not know this, and are not proficient teachers of it, in their not agreeing about it at all with themselves ?
Alcibiades : I have.
Socrates : And what if we wished to know not only what men were like, but what healthy or diseased men were like ? Would the many suffice to teach us ?
Alcibiades : No, indeed.
Socrates : And you would have proof of their being bad teachers of that, if you saw them differing about it ?
Alcibiades : I should.
Socrates : Well then, do you now find that the many agree with themselves or each other about just and unjust men or things ?
Alcibiades : Far from it, on my word, Socrates.
Socrates : In fact, they differ most especially on these points ?
Alcibiades : Very much so.
Socrates : And I suppose you never yet saw or heard of people differing so sharply on questions of health or the opposite as to fight and kill one another in battle because of them.
Alcibiades : No, indeed.
Socrates : But on questions of justice or injustice I am sure you have ;  and if you have not seen them, at any rate you have heard of them from many people, especially Homer. For you have heard the Odyssey and the Iliad ?
Alcibiades : I certainly have, I suppose, Socrates.
Socrates : And these poems are about a difference of just and unjust ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And from this difference arose the fights and deaths of the Achaeans, and of the Trojans as well, and of the suitors of Penelope in their strife with Odysseus.
Alcibiades : That is true.
Socrates : And I imagine that when the Athenians and Spartans and Boeotians lost their men at Tanagra, and later at Coronea, among whom your own father perished, the difference that caused their deaths and fights was solely on a question of just and unjust, was it not ?
Alcibiades : That is true.
Socrates : Then are we to say that these people understand those questions, on which they differ so sharply that they are led by their mutual disputes to take these extreme measures against each other ?
Alcibiades : Apparently not.
Socrates : And you refer me to teachers of that sort, whom you admit yourself to be without knowledge ?
Alcibiades : It seems I do.
Socrates : Then how is it likely that you should know what is just and unjust, when you are so bewildered about these matters and are shown to have neither learnt them from anyone nor discovered them for yourself ?.
Alcibiades : By what you say, it is not likely.
Socrates : There again, Alcibiades, do you see how unfairly you speak ?
Alcibiades : In what  ?
Socrates : In stating that I say so.
Alcibiades : Why, do you not say that l do not know about the just and unjust ?
Socrates : Not at all.
Alcibiades : Well, do I say it ?
Socrates : Yes.
Alcibiades : How, pray  ?
Socrates : I will show you, in the following way. If I ask you which is the greater number, one or two, you will answer “two” ?
Alcibiades : Yes, I shall.
Socrates : How much greater ?
Alcibiades : By one.
Socrates : Then which of us says that two are one more than one ?
Alcibiades : I.
Socrates : And I was asking, and you were answering ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : Then is it I, the questioner, or you the answerer, that are found to be speaking about these things ?
Alcibiades : I.
Socrates : And what if I ask what are the letters in “Socrates,” and you tell me ? Which will be the speaker ?
Alcibiades : I.
Socrates : Come then, tell me, as a principle, when we have question and answer, which is the speaker — the questioner, or the answerer ?
Alcibiades : The answerer, I should say, Socrates.
Socrates : And throughout the argument so far, I was the questioner ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And you the answerer ?
Alcibiades : Quite so.
Socrates : Well then, which of us has spoken what has been said ?
Alcibiades : Apparently, Socrates, from what we have admitted, it was I.
Socrates : And it was said that Alcibiades, the fair son of Cleinias, did not know about just and unjust, but thought he did, and intended to go to the Assembly as adviser to the Athenians on what he knows nothing about ; is not that so ?
Alcibiades : Apparently.

Socrates : Then, to quote Euripides, the result is, Alcibiades, that you may be said to have heard it from yourself, not me,
and it is not I who say it, but you, and you tax me with it in vain. And indeed what you say is quite true. For it is a mad scheme this, that you meditate, my excellent friend — of teaching things that you do not know, since you have taken no care to learn them.

Alcibiades : I think, Socrates, that the Athenians and the rest of the Greeks rarely deliberate as to which is the more just or unjust course : for they regard questions of this sort as obvious ; and so they pass them over and consider which course will prove more expedient in the result. For the just and the expedient, I take it, are not the same, but many people have profited by great wrongs that they have committed, whilst others, I imagine, have had no advantage from doing what was right.
Socrates : What then ? Granting that the just and the expedient are in fact as different as they can be, you surely do not still suppose you know what is expedient for mankind, and why it is so ?
Alcibiades : Well, what is the obstacle, Socrates, — unless you are going to ask me again from whom I learnt it, or how I discovered it for myself ?
Socrates : What a way of going on ! If your answer is incorrect, and a previous argument can be used to prove it so, you claim to be told something new, and a different line of proof, as though the previous one were like a poor worn-out coat which you refuse to wear any longer ; you must be provided instead with something clean and unsoiled in the way of evidence. But I shall ignore your sallies in debate, and shall none the less ask you once more, where you learnt your knowledge of what is expedient, and who is your teacher, asking in one question all the things I asked before ; and now you will clearly find yourself in the same plight, and will be unable to prove that you know the expedient either through discovery or through learning. But as you are dainty, and would dislike a repeated taste of the same argument, I pass over this question of whether you know or do not know  what is expedient for the Athenians : but why have you not made it clear whether the just and the expedient are the same or different ? If you like, question me as I did you, or if you prefer, argue out the matter in your own way.
Alcibiades : But I am not sure I should be able, Socrates, to set it forth to you.
Socrates : Well, my good sir, imagine I am the people in Assembly ; even there, you know, you will have to persuade each man singly, will you not ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And the same man may well persuade one person singly, and many together, about things that he knows, just as the schoolmaster, I suppose, persuades either one or many about letters ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And again, will not the same man persuade either one or many about number ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And this will be the man who knows — the arithmetician ?
Alcibiades : Quite so.
Socrates : And you too can persuade a single man about things of which you can persuade many ?
Alcibiades : Presumably.
Socrates : And these are clearly things that you know.
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And the only difference between the orator speaking before the people and one who speaks in a conversation like ours is that the former persuades men in a number together of the same things, and the latter persuades them one at a time ?
Alcibiades : It looks like it.
Socrates : Come now, since we see that the same man may persuade either many or one, try your unpracticed hand on me, and endeavor to show that the just is sometimes not expedient.
Alcibiades : You are insolent, Socrates !
Socrates : This time, at any rate, I am going to have the insolence to persuade you of the opposite of that which you decline to prove to me.
Alcibiades : Speak, then.
Socrates : Just answer my questions.
Alcibiades : No, you yourself must be the speaker.
Socrates : What ? Do you not wish above all things to be persuaded ?
Alcibiades : By all means, to be sure.
Socrates : And you would best be persuaded if you should say “the case is so” ?
Alcibiades : I agree.
Socrates : Then answer ; and if you do not hear your own self say that the just is expedient, put no trust in the words of anyone again.
Alcibiades : I will not : but I may as well answer ; for I do not think I shall come to any harm.
Socrates : You are quite a prophet ! Now tell me, do you consider some just things to be expedient, and others not ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And again, some noble, and some not ?
Alcibiades : What do you mean by that question ?
Socrates : I would ask whether anyone ever seemed to you to be doing what was base and yet just.
Alcibiades : Never.
Socrates : Well, are all just things noble ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And what of noble things, in their turn ? Are they all good, or some only, while others are not ?
Alcibiades : In my opinion, Socrates, some noble things are evil.
Socrates : And some base things are good ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : Do you mean as in one of the many cases where men have gone to rescue a comrade or kinsman in battle, and have been either wounded or killed, while those who did not go to the rescue, as duty bade, have got off safe and sound ?
Alcibiades : Precisely.
Socrates : And such a rescue you call noble, in respect of the endeavor to save those whom it was ones duty to save ; and this is courage, is it not ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : But you call it evil, in respect of the deaths and wounds ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And is not the courage one thing, and the death another ?
Alcibiades : Certainly.
Socrates : Then it is not in the same respect that rescuing ones friends is noble and evil ?
Alcibiades : Apparently not.
Socrates : Then see if, inasmuch as it is noble, it is also good ; for in the present case you were admitting that the rescue was noble in respect of its courage : now consider this very thing, courage, and say whether it is good or bad. Consider it in this way : which would you choose to have, good things or evil ?
Alcibiades : Good.
Socrates : And most of all, the greatest goods, and of such things you would least allow yourself to be deprived ?
Alcibiades : To be sure.