Book III

Being again asked by some one: could courage be taught,[1] or did it come by nature? he answered: I imagine that just as one body is by nature stronger than another body to encounter toils, so one soul by nature grows more robust than another soul in face of dangers. Certainly I do note that people brought up under the same condition of laws and customs differ greatly in respect of daring. Still my belief is that by learning and practice the natural aptitude may always be strengthened towards courage. It is clear, for instance, that Scythians or Thracians would not venture to take shield and spear and contend with Lacedaemonians; and it is equally evident that Lacedaemonians would demur to entering the lists of battle against Thracians if limited to their light shields and javelins, or against Scythians without some weapon more familiar than their bows and arrows.[2] And as far as I can see, this principle holds generally: the natural differences of one man from another may be compensated by artificial progress, the result of care and attention. All which proves clearly that whether nature has endowed us with keener or blunter sensibilities, the duty of all alike is to learn and practise those things in which we would fain achieve distinction.

Between wisdom and sobriety of soul (which is temperance) he drew no distinction.[3] Was a man able on the one hand to recognise things beautiful and good sufficiently to live in them? Had he, on the other hand, knowledge of the "base and foul" so as to beware of them? If so, Socrates judged him to be wise at once and sound of soul (or temperate).[4]

And being further questioned whether "he considered those who have the knowledge of right action, but do not apply it, to be wise and self- controlled?"--"Not a whit more," he answered, "than I consider them to be unwise and intemperate.[5] Every one, I conceive, deliberately chooses what, within the limits open to him, he considers most conducive to his interest, and acts accordingly. I must hold therefore that those who act against rule and crookedly[6] are neither wise nor self-controlled.

He said that justice, moreover, and all other virtue is wisdom. That is to say, things just, and all things else that are done with virtue, are "beautiful and good"; and neither will those who know these things deliberately choose aught else in their stead, nor will he who lacks the special knowledge of them be able to do them, but even if he makes the attempt he will miss the mark and fail. So the wise alone can perform the things which are "beautiful and good"; they that are unwise cannot, but even if they try they fail. Therefore, since all things just, and generally all things "beautiful and good," are wrought with virtue, it is clear that justice and all other virtue is wisdom.

On the other hand, madness (he maintained) was the opposite to wisdom; not that he regarded simple ignorance as madness,[7] but he put it thus: for a man to be ignorant of himself, to imagine and suppose that he knows what he knows not, was (he argued), if not madness itself, yet something very like it. The mass of men no doubt hold a different language: if a man is all abroad on some matter of which the mass of mankind are ignorant, they do not pronounce him "mad";[8] but a like aberration of mind, if only it be about matters within the scope of ordinary knowledge, they call madness. For instance, any one who imagined himself too tall to pass under a gateway of the Long Wall without stooping, or so strong as to try to lift a house, or to attempt any other obvious impossibility, is a madman according to them; but in the popular sense he is not mad, if his obliquity is confined to small matters. In fact, just as strong desire goes by the name of passion in popular parlance, so mental obliquity on a grand scale is entitled madness.

In answer to the question: what is envy? he discovered it to be a certain kind of pain; not certainly the sorrow felt at the misfortunes of a friend or the good fortune of an enemy--that is not envy; but, as he said, "envy is felt by those alone who are annoyed at the successes of their friends." And when some one or other expressed astonishment that any one friendlily disposed to another should be pained at his well-doing, he reminded him of a common tendency in people: when any one is faring ill their sympathies are touched, they rush to the aid of the unfortunate; but when fortune smiles on others, they are somwhow pained. "I do not say," he added, "this could happen to a thoughtful person; but it is no uncommon condition of a silly mind."[9]

In answer to the question: what is leisure? I discover (he said) that most men do something:[10] for instance, the dice player,[11] the gambler, the buffoon, do something, but these have leisure; they can, if they like, turn and do something better; but nobody has leisure to turn from the better to the worse, and if he does so turn, when he has no leisure, he does but ill in that.

(To pass to another definition.) They are not kings or rulers (he said) who hold the sceptre merely, or are chosen by fellows out of the street,[12] or are appointed by lot, or have stepped into office by violence or by fraud; but those who have the special knowledge[13] how to rule. Thus having won the admission that it is the function of a ruler to enjoin what ought to be done, and of those who are ruled to obey, he proceeded to point out by instances that in a ship the ruler or captain is the man of special knowledge, to whom, as an expert, the shipowner himself and all the others on board obey. So likewise, in the matter of husbandry, the proprietor of an estate; in that of sickness, the patient; in that of physical training of the body, the youthful athlete going through a course; and, in general, every one directly concerned in any matter needing attention and care will either attend to this matter personally, if he thinks he has the special knowledge; or, if he mistrusts his own science, will be eager to obey any expert on the spot, or will even send and fetch one from a distance. The guidance of this expert he will follow, and do what he has to do at his dictation.

And thus, in the art of spinning wool, he liked to point out that women are the rulers of men--and why? because they have the knowledge of the art, and men have not.

And if any one raised the objection that a tyrant has it in his power not to obey good and correct advice, he would retort: "Pray, how has he the option not to obey, considering the penalty hanging over him who disobeys the words of wisdom? for whatever the matter be in which he disobeys the word of good advice, he will fall into error, I presume, and falling into error, be punished." And to the suggestion that the tyrant could, if he liked, cut off the head of the man of wisdom, his answer was: "Do you think that he who destroys his best ally will go scot free, or suffer a mere slight and passing loss? Is he more likely to secure his salvation that way, think you, or to compass his own swift destruction?"[14]

When some one asked him: "What he regarded as the best pursuit or business[15] for a man?" he answered: "Successful conduct";[16] and to a second question: "Did he then regard good fortune as an end to be pursued?"--"On the contrary," he answered, "for myself, I consider fortune and conduct to be diametrically opposed. For instance, to succeed in some desirable course of action without seeking to do so, I hold to be good fortune; but to do a thing well by dint of learning and practice, that according to my creed is successful conduct,[17] and those who make this the serious business of their life seem to me to do well."

They are at once the best and the dearest in the sight of God[18] (he went on to say) who for instance in husbandry do well the things of farming, or in the art of healing all that belongs to healing, or in statecraft the affairs of state; whereas a man who does nothing well-- nor well in anything--is (he added) neither good for anything nor dear to God.

[1] Or, "When some one retorted upon him with the question: 'Can courage be taught?'" and for this problem see IV. vi. 10, 11; "Symp." ii. 12; Plat. "Lach."; "Protag." 349; "Phaedr." 269 D; K. Joel, op. cit. p. 325 foll.; Grote, "Plato," i. 468 foll., ii. 60; Jowett, "Plato," i. 77, 119; Newman, op. cit. i. 343.

[2] Or, "against Thracians with light shields and javelins, or against Scythians with bows and arrows"; and for the national arms of these peoples respectively see Arist. "Lysistr." 563; "Anab." III. iv. 15; VI. VII. passim.

[3] But cf. IV. vi. 7; K. Joel, op. cit. p. 363.

[4] Reading {alla to . . . kai to}, or more lit. "he discovered the wise man and sound of soul in his power not only to recognise things 'beautiful and good,' but to live and move and have his being in them; as also in his gift of avoiding consciously things base." Or if {alla ton . . . kai ton . . .} transl. "The man who not only could recognise the beautiful and good, but lived, etc., in that world, and who morever consciously avoided things base, in the judgment of Socrates was wise and sound of soul." Cf. Plat. "Charm."

[5] For the phrase "not a whit the more" see below, III. xii. 1; "Econ." xii. 18. Al. "I should by no means choose to consider them wise and self-controlled rather than foolish and intemperate."

[6] "Who cannot draw a straight line, ethically speaking."

[7] See K. Joel, op. cit. p. 346; Grote, "Plato," i. 400.

[8] Or, "they resent the term 'mad' being applied to people who are all abroad," etc. See Comte, "Pos. Pol." i. 575; ii. 373 (Engl. trans.)

[9] Or, "a man in his senses . . . a simpleton"; for the sentiment L. Dind. cf. Isocr. "ad Demonic." 7 D.

[10] See above, I. ii. 57; and in ref. to these definitions, K. Joel, op. cit. p. 347 foll.

[11] For "dice-playing" see Becker, "Charicl." 354 (Engl. trans.); for "buffoonery," ib. 98; "Symp."

[12] Tom, Dick, and Harry (as we say).

[13] The {episteme}. See above, III. v. 21; Newman, op. cit. i. 256.

[14] Or, "Is that to choose the path of safety, think you? Is it not rather to sign his own death-warrent?" L. Dind. cf. Hesiod, "Works and Days," 293. See Newman, op. cit. i. 393-397.

[15] Or, "the noblest study."

[16] {eupraxia, eu prattein}--to do well, in the sense both of well or right doing, and of welfare, and is accordingly opposed to {eutukhia}, mere good luck or success. Cf. Plat. "Euthyd." 281 B.

[17] Lit. "well-doing"; and for the Socratic view see Newman, op. cit. i. 305, 401.

[18] Or, "most divinely favoured." Cf. Plat. "Euthyphro," 7 A.