Lysis by Plato
Lysis, or Friendship (cont'd)
But the real meaning of the saying, as I imagine, is, that the good are like one another, and friends to one another; and that the bad, as is often said of them, are never at unity with one another or with themselves; for they are passionate and restless, and anything which is at variance and enmity with itself is not likely to be in union or harmony with any other thing. Do you not agree?
Yes, I do.
Then, my friend, those who say that the like is friendly to the like mean to intimate, if I rightly apprehend them, that the good only is the friend of the good, and of him only; but that the evil never attains to any real friendship, either with good or evil. Do you agree?
He nodded assent.
Then now we know how to answer the question 'Who are friends?' for the argument declares 'That the good are friends.'
Yes, he said, that is true.
Yes, I replied; and yet I am not quite satisfied with this answer. By heaven, and shall I tell you what I suspect? I will. Assuming that like, inasmuch as he is like, is the friend of like, and useful to him--or rather let me try another way of putting the matter: Can like do any good or harm to like which he could not do to himself, or suffer anything from his like which he would not suffer from himself? And if neither can be of any use to the other, how can they be loved by one another? Can they now?
And can he who is not loved be a friend?
But say that the like is not the friend of the like in so far as he is like; still the good may be the friend of the good in so far as he is good?
But then again, will not the good, in so far as he is good, be sufficient for himself? Certainly he will. And he who is sufficient wants nothing-- that is implied in the word sufficient.
Of course not.
And he who wants nothing will desire nothing?
He will not.
Neither can he love that which he does not desire?
And he who loves not is not a lover or friend?
What place then is there for friendship, if, when absent, good men have no need of one another (for even when alone they are sufficient for themselves), and when present have no use of one another? How can such persons ever be induced to value one another?
And friends they cannot be, unless they value one another?
But see now, Lysis, whether we are not being deceived in all this--are we not indeed entirely wrong?
How so? he replied.
Have I not heard some one say, as I just now recollect, that the like is the greatest enemy of the like, the good of the good?--Yes, and he quoted the authority of Hesiod, who says:
'Potter quarrels with potter, bard with bard, Beggar with beggar;'
and of all other things he affirmed, in like manner, 'That of necessity the most like are most full of envy, strife, and hatred of one another, and the most unlike, of friendship. For the poor man is compelled to be the friend of the rich, and the weak requires the aid of the strong, and the sick man of the physician; and every one who is ignorant, has to love and court him who knows.' And indeed he went on to say in grandiloquent language, that the idea of friendship existing between similars is not the truth, but the very reverse of the truth, and that the most opposed are the most friendly; for that everything desires not like but that which is most unlike: for example, the dry desires the moist, the cold the hot, the bitter the sweet, the sharp the blunt, the void the full, the full the void, and so of all other things; for the opposite is the food of the opposite, whereas like receives nothing from like. And I thought that he who said this was a charming man, and that he spoke well. What do the rest of you say?
I should say, at first hearing, that he is right, said Menexenus.
Then we are to say that the greatest friendship is of opposites?
Yes, Menexenus; but will not that be a monstrous answer? and will not the all-wise eristics be down upon us in triumph, and ask, fairly enough, whether love is not the very opposite of hate; and what answer shall we make to them--must we not admit that they speak the truth?
They will then proceed to ask whether the enemy is the friend of the friend, or the friend the friend of the enemy?
Neither, he replied.
Well, but is a just man the friend of the unjust, or the temperate of the intemperate, or the good of the bad?
I do not see how that is possible.
And yet, I said, if friendship goes by contraries, the contraries must be friends.
Then neither like and like nor unlike and unlike are friends.
I suppose not.
And yet there is a further consideration: may not all these notions of friendship be erroneous? but may not that which is neither good nor evil still in some cases be the friend of the good?
How do you mean? he said.
Why really, I said, the truth is that I do not know; but my head is dizzy with thinking of the argument, and therefore I hazard the conjecture, that 'the beautiful is the friend,' as the old proverb says. Beauty is certainly a soft, smooth, slippery thing, and therefore of a nature which easily slips in and permeates our souls. For I affirm that the good is the beautiful. You will agree to that?
This I say from a sort of notion that what is neither good nor evil is the friend of the beautiful and the good, and I will tell you why I am inclined to think so: I assume that there are three principles--the good, the bad, and that which is neither good nor bad. You would agree--would you not?
And neither is the good the friend of the good, nor the evil of the evil, nor the good of the evil;--these alternatives are excluded by the previous argument; and therefore, if there be such a thing as friendship or love at all, we must infer that what is neither good nor evil must be the friend, either of the good, or of that which is neither good nor evil, for nothing can be the friend of the bad.
But neither can like be the friend of like, as we were just now saying.
And if so, that which is neither good nor evil can have no friend which is neither good nor evil.
Then the good alone is the friend of that only which is neither good nor evil.
That may be assumed to be certain.
And does not this seem to put us in the right way? Just remark, that the body which is in health requires neither medical nor any other aid, but is well enough; and the healthy man has no love of the physician, because he is in health.
He has none.
But the sick loves him, because he is sick?
And sickness is an evil, and the art of medicine a good and useful thing?
But the human body, regarded as a body, is neither good nor evil?
And the body is compelled by reason of disease to court and make friends of the art of medicine?
Then that which is neither good nor evil becomes the friend of good, by reason of the presence of evil?
So we may infer.
And clearly this must have happened before that which was neither good nor evil had become altogether corrupted with the element of evil--if itself had become evil it would not still desire and love the good; for, as we were saying, the evil cannot be the friend of the good.
Further, I must observe that some substances are assimilated when others are present with them; and there are some which are not assimilated: take, for example, the case of an ointment or colour which is put on another substance.
In such a case, is the substance which is anointed the same as the colour or ointment?
What do you mean? he said.
This is what I mean: Suppose that I were to cover your auburn locks with white lead, would they be really white, or would they only appear to be white?
They would only appear to be white, he replied.
And yet whiteness would be present in them?
But that would not make them at all the more white, notwithstanding the presence of white in them--they would not be white any more than black?
But when old age infuses whiteness into them, then they become assimilated, and are white by the presence of white.
Now I want to know whether in all cases a substance is assimilated by the presence of another substance; or must the presence be after a peculiar sort?
The latter, he said.
Then that which is neither good nor evil may be in the presence of evil, but not as yet evil, and that has happened before now?
And when anything is in the presence of evil, not being as yet evil, the presence of good arouses the desire of good in that thing; but the presence of evil, which makes a thing evil, takes away the desire and friendship of the good; for that which was once both good and evil has now become evil only, and the good was supposed to have no friendship with the evil?
And therefore we say that those who are already wise, whether Gods or men, are no longer lovers of wisdom; nor can they be lovers of wisdom who are ignorant to the extent of being evil, for no evil or ignorant person is a lover of wisdom. There remain those who have the misfortune to be ignorant, but are not yet hardened in their ignorance, or void of understanding, and do not as yet fancy that they know what they do not know: and therefore those who are the lovers of wisdom are as yet neither good nor bad. But the bad do not love wisdom any more than the good; for, as we have already seen, neither is unlike the friend of unlike, nor like of like. You remember that?
Yes, they both said.
And so, Lysis and Menexenus, we have discovered the nature of friendship-- there can be no doubt of it: Friendship is the love which by reason of the presence of evil the neither good nor evil has of the good, either in the soul, or in the body, or anywhere.
They both agreed and entirely assented, and for a moment I rejoiced and was satisfied like a huntsman just holding fast his prey. But then a most unaccountable suspicion came across me, and I felt that the conclusion was untrue. I was pained, and said, Alas! Lysis and Menexenus, I am afraid that we have been grasping at a shadow only.
Why do you say so? said Menexenus.
I am afraid, I said, that the argument about friendship is false: arguments, like men, are often pretenders.
How do you mean? he asked.
Well, I said; look at the matter in this way: a friend is the friend of some one; is he not?
Certainly he is.
And has he a motive and object in being a friend, or has he no motive and object?
He has a motive and object.
And is the object which makes him a friend, dear to him, or neither dear nor hateful to him?
I do not quite follow you, he said.
I do not wonder at that, I said. But perhaps, if I put the matter in another way, you will be able to follow me, and my own meaning will be clearer to myself. The sick man, as I was just now saying, is the friend of the physician--is he not?
And he is the friend of the physician because of disease, and for the sake of health?
And disease is an evil?
And what of health? I said. Is that good or evil, or neither?
Good, he replied.
And we were saying, I believe, that the body being neither good nor evil, because of disease, that is to say because of evil, is the friend of medicine, and medicine is a good: and medicine has entered into this friendship for the sake of health, and health is a good.
And is health a friend, or not a friend?
And disease is an enemy?
Then that which is neither good nor evil is the friend of the good because of the evil and hateful, and for the sake of the good and the friend?
Then the friend is a friend for the sake of the friend, and because of the enemy?
That is to be inferred.
Then at this point, my boys, let us take heed, and be on our guard against deceptions. I will not again repeat that the friend is the friend of the friend, and the like of the like, which has been declared by us to be an impossibility; but, in order that this new statement may not delude us, let us attentively examine another point, which I will proceed to explain: Medicine, as we were saying, is a friend, or dear to us for the sake of health?
And health is also dear?
And if dear, then dear for the sake of something?
And surely this object must also be dear, as is implied in our previous admissions?
And that something dear involves something else dear?
But then, proceeding in this way, shall we not arrive at some first principle of friendship or dearness which is not capable of being referred to any other, for the sake of which, as we maintain, all other things are dear, and, having there arrived, we shall stop?
My fear is that all those other things, which, as we say, are dear for the sake of another, are illusions and deceptions only, but where that first principle is, there is the true ideal of friendship. Let me put the matter thus: Suppose the case of a great treasure (this may be a son, who is more precious to his father than all his other treasures); would not the father, who values his son above all things, value other things also for the sake of his son? I mean, for instance, if he knew that his son had drunk hemlock, and the father thought that wine would save him, he would value the wine?
And also the vessel which contains the wine?
But does he therefore value the three measures of wine, or the earthen vessel which contains them, equally with his son? Is not this rather the true state of the case? All his anxiety has regard not to the means which are provided for the sake of an object, but to the object for the sake of which they are provided. And although we may often say that gold and silver are highly valued by us, that is not the truth; for there is a further object, whatever it may be, which we value most of all, and for the sake of which gold and all our other possessions are acquired by us. Am I not right?
And may not the same be said of the friend? That which is only dear to us for the sake of something else is improperly said to be dear, but the truly dear is that in which all these so-called dear friendships terminate.
That, he said, appears to be true.
And the truly dear or ultimate principle of friendship is not for the sake of any other or further dear.
Then we have done with the notion that friendship has any further object. May we then infer that the good is the friend?
I think so.
And the good is loved for the sake of the evil? Let me put the case in this way: Suppose that of the three principles, good, evil, and that which is neither good nor evil, there remained only the good and the neutral, and that evil went far away, and in no way affected soul or body, nor ever at all that class of things which, as we say, are neither good nor evil in themselves;--would the good be of any use, or other than useless to us? For if there were nothing to hurt us any longer, we should have no need of anything that would do us good. Then would be clearly seen that we did but love and desire the good because of the evil, and as the remedy of the evil, which was the disease; but if there had been no disease, there would have been no need of a remedy. Is not this the nature of the good--to be loved by us who are placed between the two, because of the evil? but there is no use in the good for its own sake.
I suppose not.
Then the final principle of friendship, in which all other friendships terminated, those, I mean, which are relatively dear and for the sake of something else, is of another and a different nature from them. For they are called dear because of another dear or friend. But with the true friend or dear, the case is quite the reverse; for that is proved to be dear because of the hated, and if the hated were away it would be no longer dear.
Very true, he replied: at any rate not if our present view holds good.
But, oh! will you tell me, I said, whether if evil were to perish, we should hunger any more, or thirst any more, or have any similar desire? Or may we suppose that hunger will remain while men and animals remain, but not so as to be hurtful? And the same of thirst and the other desires,-- that they will remain, but will not be evil because evil has perished? Or rather shall I say, that to ask what either will be then or will not be is ridiculous, for who knows? This we do know, that in our present condition hunger may injure us, and may also benefit us:--Is not that true?
And in like manner thirst or any similar desire may sometimes be a good and sometimes an evil to us, and sometimes neither one nor the other?
To be sure.
But is there any reason why, because evil perishes, that which is not evil should perish with it?
Then, even if evil perishes, the desires which are neither good nor evil will remain?
Clearly they will.
And must not a man love that which he desires and affects?
Then, even if evil perishes, there may still remain some elements of love or friendship?
But not if evil is the cause of friendship: for in that case nothing will be the friend of any other thing after the destruction of evil; for the effect cannot remain when the cause is destroyed.
And have we not admitted already that the friend loves something for a reason? and at the time of making the admission we were of opinion that the neither good nor evil loves the good because of the evil?
But now our view is changed, and we conceive that there must be some other cause of friendship?
I suppose so.
May not the truth be rather, as we were saying just now, that desire is the cause of friendship; for that which desires is dear to that which is desired at the time of desiring it? and may not the other theory have been only a long story about nothing?
But surely, I said, he who desires, desires that of which he is in want?
And that of which he is in want is dear to him?
And he is in want of that of which he is deprived?
Then love, and desire, and friendship would appear to be of the natural or congenial. Such, Lysis and Menexenus, is the inference.
Then if you are friends, you must have natures which are congenial to one another?
Certainly, they both said.
And I say, my boys, that no one who loves or desires another would ever have loved or desired or affected him, if he had not been in some way congenial to him, either in his soul, or in his character, or in his manners, or in his form.
Yes, yes, said Menexenus. But Lysis was silent.
Then, I said, the conclusion is, that what is of a congenial nature must be loved.
It follows, he said.
Then the lover, who is true and no counterfeit, must of necessity be loved by his love.
Lysis and Menexenus gave a faint assent to this; and Hippothales changed into all manner of colours with delight.
Here, intending to revise the argument, I said: Can we point out any difference between the congenial and the like? For if that is possible, then I think, Lysis and Menexenus, there may be some sense in our argument about friendship. But if the congenial is only the like, how will you get rid of the other argument, of the uselessness of like to like in as far as they are like; for to say that what is useless is dear, would be absurd? Suppose, then, that we agree to distinguish between the congenial and the like--in the intoxication of argument, that may perhaps be allowed.
And shall we further say that the good is congenial, and the evil uncongenial to every one? Or again that the evil is congenial to the evil, and the good to the good; and that which is neither good nor evil to that which is neither good nor evil?
They agreed to the latter alternative.
Then, my boys, we have again fallen into the old discarded error; for the unjust will be the friend of the unjust, and the bad of the bad, as well as the good of the good.
That appears to be the result.
But again, if we say that the congenial is the same as the good, in that case the good and he only will be the friend of the good.
But that too was a position of ours which, as you will remember, has been already refuted by ourselves.
Then what is to be done? Or rather is there anything to be done? I can only, like the wise men who argue in courts, sum up the arguments:--If neither the beloved, nor the lover, nor the like, nor the unlike, nor the good, nor the congenial, nor any other of whom we spoke--for there were such a number of them that I cannot remember all--if none of these are friends, I know not what remains to be said.
Here I was going to invite the opinion of some older person, when suddenly we were interrupted by the tutors of Lysis and Menexenus, who came upon us like an evil apparition with their brothers, and bade them go home, as it was getting late. At first, we and the by-standers drove them off; but afterwards, as they would not mind, and only went on shouting in their barbarous dialect, and got angry, and kept calling the boys--they appeared to us to have been drinking rather too much at the Hermaea, which made them difficult to manage--we fairly gave way and broke up the company.
I said, however, a few words to the boys at parting: O Menexenus and Lysis, how ridiculous that you two boys, and I, an old boy, who would fain be one of you, should imagine ourselves to be friends--this is what the by- standers will go away and say--and as yet we have not been able to discover what is a friend!