They both agreed to this statement of them.
He proceeded: And did you deny the force of the whole preceding argument,
or of a part only?
Of a part only, they replied.
And what did you think, he said, of that part of the argument in which
we said that knowledge was recollection only, and inferred from this
that the soul must have previously existed somewhere else before she
was enclosed in the body? Cebes said that he had been wonderfully
impressed by that part of the argument, and that his conviction remained
unshaken. Simmias agreed, and added that he himself could hardly imagine
the possibility of his ever thinking differently about that.
But, rejoined Socrates, you will have to think differently, my Theban
friend, if you still maintain that harmony is a compound, and that
the soul is a harmony which is made out of strings set in the frame
of the body; for you will surely never allow yourself to say that
a harmony is prior to the elements which compose the harmony.
No, Socrates, that is impossible.
But do you not see that you are saying this when you say that the
soul existed before she took the form and body of man, and was made
up of elements which as yet had no existence? For harmony is not a
sort of thing like the soul, as you suppose; but first the lyre, and
the strings, and the sounds exist in a state of discord, and then
harmony is made last of all, and perishes first. And how can such
a notion of the soul as this agree with the other?
Not at all, replied Simmias.
And yet, he said, there surely ought to be harmony when harmony is
the theme of discourse.
There ought, replied Simmias.
But there is no harmony, he said, in the two propositions that knowledge
is recollection, and that the soul is a harmony. Which of them, then,
will you retain?
I think, he replied, that I have a much stronger faith, Socrates,
in the first of the two, which has been fully demonstrated to me,
than in the latter, which has not been demonstrated at all, but rests
only on probable and plausible grounds; and I know too well that these
arguments from probabilities are impostors, and unless great caution
is observed in the use of them they are apt to be deceptive-in geometry,
and in other things too. But the doctrine of knowledge and recollection
has been proven to me on trustworthy grounds; and the proof was that
the soul must have existed before she came into the body, because
to her belongs the essence of which the very name implies existence.
Having, as I am convinced, rightly accepted this conclusion, and on
sufficient grounds, I must, as I suppose, cease to argue or allow
others to argue that the soul is a harmony.
Let me put the matter, Simmias, he said, in another point of view:
Do you imagine that a harmony or any other composition can be in a
state other than that of the elements out of which it is compounded?
Or do or suffer anything other than they do or suffer?
Then a harmony does not lead the parts or elements which make up the
harmony, but only follows them.
For harmony cannot possibly have any motion, or sound, or other quality
which is opposed to the parts.
That would be impossible, he replied.
And does not every harmony depend upon the manner in which the elements
I do not understand you, he said.
I mean to say that a harmony admits of degrees, and is more of a harmony,
and more completely a harmony, when more completely harmonized, if
that be possible; and less of a harmony, and less completely a harmony,
when less harmonized.
But does the soul admit of degrees? or is one soul in the very least
degree more or less, or more or less completely, a soul than another?
Not in the least.
Yet surely one soul is said to have intelligence and virtue, and to
be good, and another soul is said to have folly and vice, and to be
an evil soul: and this is said truly?
But what will those who maintain the soul to be a harmony say of this
presence of virtue and vice in the soul?-Will they say that there
is another harmony, and another discord, and that the virtuous soul
is harmonized, and herself being a harmony has another harmony within
her, and that the vicious soul is inharmonical and has no harmony
I cannot say, replied Simmias; but I suppose that something of that
kind would be asserted by those who take this view.
And the admission is already made that no soul is more a soul than
another; and this is equivalent to admitting that harmony is not more
or less harmony, or more or less completely a harmony?
And that which is not more or less a harmony is not more or less harmonized?
And that which is not more or less harmonized cannot have more or
less of harmony, but only an equal harmony?
Yes, an equal harmony.
Then one soul not being more or less absolutely a soul than another,
is not more or less harmonized?
And therefore has neither more nor less of harmony or of discord?
She has not.
And having neither more nor less of harmony or of discord, one soul
has no more vice or virtue than another, if vice be discord and virtue
Not at all more.
Or speaking more correctly, Simmias, the soul, if she is a harmony,
will never have any vice; because a harmony, being absolutely a harmony,
has no part in the inharmonical?
And therefore a soul which is absolutely a soul has no vice?
Then, according to this, if the souls of all animals are equally and
absolutely souls, they will be equally good?
I agree with you, Socrates, he said.
And can all this be true, think you? he said; and are all these consequences
admissible-which nevertheless seem to follow from the assumption that
the soul is a harmony?
Certainly not, he said.
Once more, he said, what ruling principle is there of human things
other than the soul, and especially the wise soul? Do you know of
Indeed, I do not.
And is the soul in agreement with the affections of the body? or is
she at variance with them? For example, when the body is hot and thirsty,
does not the soul incline us against drinking? and when the body is
hungry, against eating? And this is only one instance out of ten thousand
of the opposition of the soul to the things of the body.
But we have already acknowledged that the soul, being a harmony, can
never utter a note at variance with the tensions and relaxations and
vibrations and other affections of the strings out of which she is
composed; she can only follow, she cannot lead them?
Yes, he said, we acknowledged that, certainly.
And yet do we not now discover the soul to be doing the exact opposite-leading
the elements of which she is believed to be composed; almost always
opposing and coercing them in all sorts of ways throughout life, sometimes
more violently with the pains of medicine and gymnastic; then again
more gently; threatening and also reprimanding the desires, passions,
fears, as if talking to a thing which is not herself, as Homer in
the “Odyssey” represents Odysseus doing in the words,
“He beat his breast, and thus reproached his heart:
Endure, my heart; far worse hast thou endured!” Do you think that
Homer could have written this under the idea that the soul is a harmony
capable of being led by the affections of the body, and not rather
of a nature which leads and masters them; and herself a far diviner
thing than any harmony?
Yes, Socrates, I quite agree to that.
Then, my friend, we can never be right in saying that the soul is
a harmony, for that would clearly contradict the divine Homer as well
True, he said.
Thus much, said Socrates, of Harmonia, your Theban goddess, Cebes,
who has not been ungracious to us, I think; but what shall I say to
the Theban Cadmus, and how shall I propitiate him?
I think that you will discover a way of propitiating him, said Cebes;
I am sure that you have answered the argument about harmony in a manner
that I could never have expected. For when Simmias mentioned his objection,
I quite imagined that no answer could be given to him, and therefore
I was surprised at finding that his argument could not sustain the
first onset of yours; and not impossibly the other, whom you call
Cadmus, may share a similar fate.
Nay, my good friend, said Socrates, let us not boast, lest some evil
eye should put to flight the word which I am about to speak. That,
however, may be left in the hands of those above, while I draw near
in Homeric fashion, and try the mettle of your words. Briefly, the
sum of your objection is as follows: You want to have proven to you
that the soul is imperishable and immortal, and you think that the
philosopher who is confident in death has but a vain and foolish confidence,
if he thinks that he will fare better than one who has led another
sort of life, in the world below, unless he can prove this; and you
say that the demonstration of the strength and divinity of the soul,
and of her existence prior to our becoming men, does not necessarily
imply her immortality. Granting that the soul is longlived, and has
known and done much in a former state, still she is not on that account
immortal; and her entrance into the human form may be a sort of disease
which is the beginning of dissolution, and may at last, after the
toils of life are over, end in that which is called death. And whether
the soul enters into the body once only or many times, that, as you
would say, makes no difference in the fears of individuals. For any
man, who is not devoid of natural feeling, has reason to fear, if
he has no knowledge or proof of the soul’s immortality. That is what
I suppose you to say, Cebes, which I designedly repeat, in order that
nothing may escape us, and that you may, if you wish, add or subtract
But, said Cebes, as far as I can see at present, I have nothing to
add or subtract; you have expressed my meaning.
Socrates paused awhile, and seemed to be absorbed in reflection. At
length he said: This is a very serious inquiry which you are raising,
Cebes, involving the whole question of generation and corruption,
about which I will, if you like, give you my own experience; and you
can apply this, if you think that anything which I say will avail
towards the solution of your difficulty.
Then I will tell you, said Socrates. When I was young, Cebes, I had
a prodigious desire to know that department of philosophy which is
called Natural Science; this appeared to me to have lofty aims, as
being the science which has to do with the causes of things, and which
teaches why a thing is, and is created and destroyed; and I was always
agitating myself with the consideration of such questions as these:
Is the growth of animals the result of some decay which the hot and
cold principle contracts, as some have said? Is the blood the element
with which we think, or the air, or the fire? or perhaps nothing of
this sort-but the brain may be the originating power of the perceptions
of hearing and sight and smell, and memory and opinion may come from
them, and science may be based on memory and opinion when no longer
in motion, but at rest. And then I went on to examine the decay of
them, and then to the things of heaven and earth, and at last I concluded
that I was wholly incapable of these inquiries, as I will satisfactorily
prove to you. For I was fascinated by them to such a degree that my
eyes grew blind to things that I had seemed to myself, and also to
others, to know quite well; and I forgot what I had before thought
to be self-evident, that the growth of man is the result of eating
and drinking; for when by the digestion of food flesh is added to
flesh and bone to bone, and whenever there is an aggregation of congenial
elements, the lesser bulk becomes larger and the small man greater.
Was not that a reasonable notion?
Yes, said Cebes, I think so.
Well; but let me tell you something more. There was a time when I
thought that I understood the meaning of greater and less pretty well;
and when I saw a great man standing by a little one I fancied that
one was taller than the other by a head; or one horse would appear
to be greater than another horse: and still more clearly did I seem
to perceive that ten is two more than eight, and that two cubits are
more than one, because two is twice one.
I should be far enough from imagining, he replied, that I knew the
cause of any of them, indeed I should, for I cannot satisfy myself
that when one is added to one, the one to which the addition is made
becomes two, or that the two units added together make two by reason
of the addition. For I cannot understand how, when separated from
the other, each of them was one and not two, and now, when they are
brought together, the mere juxtaposition of them can be the cause
of their becoming two: nor can I understand how the division of one
is the way to make two; for then a different cause would produce the
same effect-as in the former instance the addition and juxtaposition
of one to one was the cause of two, in this the separation and subtraction
of one from the other would be the cause. Nor am I any longer satisfied
that I understand the reason why one or anything else either is generated
or destroyed or is at all, but I have in my mind some confused notion
of another method, and can never admit this.
Then I heard someone who had a book of Anaxagoras, as he said, out
of which he read that mind was the disposer and cause of all, and
I was quite delighted at the notion of this, which appeared admirable,
and I said to myself: If mind is the disposer, mind will dispose all
for the best, and put each particular in the best place; and I argued
that if anyone desired to find out the cause of the generation or
destruction or existence of anything, he must find out what state
of being or suffering or doing was best for that thing, and therefore
a man had only to consider the best for himself and others, and then
he would also know the worse, for that the same science comprised
both. And I rejoiced to think that I had found in Anaxagoras a teacher
of the causes of existence such as I desired, and I imagined that
he would tell me first whether the earth is flat or round; and then
he would further explain the cause and the necessity of this, and
would teach me the nature of the best and show that this was best;
and if he said that the earth was in the centre, he would explain
that this position was the best, and I should be satisfied if this
were shown to me, and not want any other sort of cause. And I thought
that I would then go and ask him about the sun and moon and stars,
and that he would explain to me their comparative swiftness, and their
returnings and various states, and how their several affections, active
and passive, were all for the best. For I could not imagine that when
he spoke of mind as the disposer of them, he would give any other
account of their being as they are, except that this was best; and
I thought when he had explained to me in detail the cause of each
and the cause of all, he would go on to explain to me what was best
for each and what was best for all. I had hopes which I would not
have sold for much, and I seized the books and read them as fast as
I could in my eagerness to know the better and the worse.
What hopes I had formed, and how grievously was I disappointed! As
I proceeded, I found my philosopher altogether forsaking mind or any
other principle of order, but having recourse to air, and ether, and
water, and other eccentricities. I might compare him to a person who
began by maintaining generally that mind is the cause of the actions
of Socrates, but who, when he endeavored to explain the causes of
my several actions in detail, went on to show that I sit here because
my body is made up of bones and muscles; and the bones, as he would
say, are hard and have ligaments which divide them, and the muscles
are elastic, and they cover the bones, which have also a covering
or environment of flesh and skin which contains them; and as the bones
are lifted at their joints by the contraction or relaxation of the
muscles, I am able to bend my limbs, and this is why I am sitting
here in a curved posture: that is what he would say, and he would
have a similar explanation of my talking to you, which he would attribute
to sound, and air, and hearing, and he would assign ten thousand other
causes of the same sort, forgetting to mention the true cause, which
is that the Athenians have thought fit to condemn me, and accordingly
I have thought it better and more right to remain here and undergo
my sentence; for I am inclined to think that these muscles and bones
of mine would have gone off to Megara or Boeotia-by the dog of Egypt
they would, if they had been guided only by their own idea of what
was best, and if I had not chosen as the better and nobler part, instead
of playing truant and running away, to undergo any punishment which
the State inflicts. There is surely a strange confusion of causes
and conditions in all this. It may be said, indeed, that without bones
and muscles and the other parts of the body I cannot execute my purposes.
But to say that I do as I do because of them, and that this is the
way in which mind acts, and not from the choice of the best, is a
very careless and idle mode of speaking. I wonder that they cannot
distinguish the cause from the condition, which the many, feeling
about in the dark, are always mistaking and misnaming. And thus one
man makes a vortex all round and steadies the earth by the heaven;
another gives the air as a support to the earth, which is a sort of
broad trough. Any power which in disposing them as they are disposes
them for the best never enters into their minds, nor do they imagine
that there is any superhuman strength in that; they rather expect
to find another Atlas of the world who is stronger and more everlasting
and more containing than the good is, and are clearly of opinion that
the obligatory and containing power of the good is as nothing; and
yet this is the principle which I would fain learn if anyone would
teach me. But as I have failed either to discover myself or to learn
of anyone else, the nature of the best, I will exhibit to you, if
you like, what I have found to be the second best mode of inquiring
into the cause.
I should very much like to hear that, he replied.
Socrates proceeded: I thought that as I had failed in the contemplation
of true existence, I ought to be careful that I did not lose the eye
of my soul; as people may injure their bodily eye by observing and
gazing on the sun during an eclipse, unless they take the precaution
of only looking at the image reflected in the water, or in some similar
medium. That occurred to me, and I was afraid that my soul might be
blinded altogether if I looked at things with my eyes or tried by
the help of the senses to apprehend them. And I thought that I had
better have recourse to ideas, and seek in them the truth of existence.
I dare say that the simile is not perfect-for I am very far from admitting
that he who contemplates existence through the medium of ideas, sees
them only “through a glass darkly,” any more than he who sees them
in their working and effects. However, this was the method which I
adopted: I first assumed some principle which I judged to be the strongest,
and then I affirmed as true whatever seemed to agree with this, whether
relating to the cause or to anything else; and that which disagreed
I regarded as untrue. But I should like to explain my meaning clearly,
as I do not think that you understand me.
No, indeed, replied Cebes, not very well.
There is nothing new, he said, in what I am about to tell you; but
only what I have been always and everywhere repeating in the previous
discussion and on ot