The path of knowledge: the theaetetus by Robert Cavalier



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sheepishness; and when others are being praised and glorified, in the

simplicity of his heart he cannot help going into fits of laughter, so that

he seems to be a downright idiot. When he hears a tyrant or king

eulogized, he fancies that he is listening to the praises of some keeper of

cattle--a swineherd, or shepherd, or perhaps a cowherd, who is

congratulated on the quantity of milk which he squeezes from them; and he

remarks that the creature whom they tend, and out of whom they squeeze the

wealth, is of a less tractable and more insidious nature. Then, again, he

observes that the great man is of necessity as ill-mannered and uneducated

as any shepherd--for he has no leisure, and he is surrounded by a wall,

which is his mountain-pen. Hearing of enormous landed proprietors of ten

thousand acres and more, our philosopher deems this to be a trifle, because

he has been accustomed to think of the whole earth; and when they sing the

praises of family, and say that some one is a gentleman because he can show

seven generations of wealthy ancestors, he thinks that their sentiments

only betray a dull and narrow vision in those who utter them, and who are

not educated enough to look at the whole, nor to consider that every man

has had thousands and ten thousands of progenitors, and among them have

been rich and poor, kings and slaves, Hellenes and barbarians, innumerable.

And when people pride themselves on having a pedigree of twenty-five

ancestors, which goes back to Heracles, the son of Amphitryon, he cannot

understand their poverty of ideas. Why are they unable to calculate that

Amphitryon had a twenty-fifth ancestor, who might have been anybody, and

was such as fortune made him, and he had a fiftieth, and so on? He amuses

himself with the notion that they cannot count, and thinks that a little

arithmetic would have got rid of their senseless vanity. Now, in all these

cases our philosopher is derided by the vulgar, partly because he is

thought to despise them, and also because he is ignorant of what is before

him, and always at a loss.


THEODORUS: That is very true, Socrates.
SOCRATES: But, O my friend, when he draws the other into upper air, and

gets him out of his pleas and rejoinders into the contemplation of justice

and injustice in their own nature and in their difference from one another

and from all other things; or from the commonplaces about the happiness of

a king or of a rich man to the consideration of government, and of human

happiness and misery in general--what they are, and how a man is to attain

the one and avoid the other--when that narrow, keen, little legal mind is

called to account about all this, he gives the philosopher his revenge; for

dizzied by the height at which he is hanging, whence he looks down into

space, which is a strange experience to him, he being dismayed, and lost,

and stammering broken words, is laughed at, not by Thracian handmaidens or

any other uneducated persons, for they have no eye for the situation, but

by every man who has not been brought up a slave. Such are the two

characters, Theodorus: the one of the freeman, who has been trained in

liberty and leisure, whom you call the philosopher,--him we cannot blame

because he appears simple and of no account when he has to perform some

menial task, such as packing up bed-clothes, or flavouring a sauce or

fawning speech; the other character is that of the man who is able to do

all this kind of service smartly and neatly, but knows not how to wear his

cloak like a gentleman; still less with the music of discourse can he hymn

the true life aright which is lived by immortals or men blessed of heaven.
THEODORUS: If you could only persuade everybody, Socrates, as you do me,

of the truth of your words, there would be more peace and fewer evils among

men.
SOCRATES: Evils, Theodorus, can never pass away; for there must always

remain something which is antagonistic to good. Having no place among the

gods in heaven, of necessity they hover around the mortal nature, and this

earthly sphere. Wherefore we ought to fly away from earth to heaven as

quickly as we can; and to fly away is to become like God, as far as this is

possible; and to become like him, is to become holy, just, and wise. But,

O my friend, you cannot easily convince mankind that they should pursue

virtue or avoid vice, not merely in order that a man may seem to be good,

which is the reason given by the world, and in my judgment is only a

repetition of an old wives' fable. Whereas, the truth is that God is never

in any way unrighteous--he is perfect righteousness; and he of us who is

the most righteous is most like him. Herein is seen the true cleverness of

a man, and also his nothingness and want of manhood. For to know this is

true wisdom and virtue, and ignorance of this is manifest folly and vice.

All other kinds of wisdom or cleverness, which seem only, such as the

wisdom of politicians, or the wisdom of the arts, are coarse and vulgar.

The unrighteous man, or the sayer and doer of unholy things, had far better

not be encouraged in the illusion that his roguery is clever; for men glory

in their shame--they fancy that they hear others saying of them, 'These are

not mere good-for-nothing persons, mere burdens of the earth, but such as

men should be who mean to dwell safely in a state.' Let us tell them that

they are all the more truly what they do not think they are because they do

not know it; for they do not know the penalty of injustice, which above all

things they ought to know--not stripes and death, as they suppose, which

evil-doers often escape, but a penalty which cannot be escaped.
THEODORUS: What is that?
SOCRATES: There are two patterns eternally set before them; the one

blessed and divine, the other godless and wretched: but they do not see

them, or perceive that in their utter folly and infatuation they are

growing like the one and unlike the other, by reason of their evil deeds;

and the penalty is, that they lead a life answering to the pattern which

they are growing like. And if we tell them, that unless they depart from

their cunning, the place of innocence will not receive them after death;

and that here on earth, they will live ever in the likeness of their own

evil selves, and with evil friends--when they hear this they in their

superior cunning will seem to be listening to the talk of idiots.


THEODORUS: Very true, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Too true, my friend, as I well know; there is, however, one

peculiarity in their case: when they begin to reason in private about

their dislike of philosophy, if they have the courage to hear the argument

out, and do not run away, they grow at last strangely discontented with

themselves; their rhetoric fades away, and they become helpless as

children. These however are digressions from which we must now desist, or

they will overflow, and drown the original argument; to which, if you

please, we will now return.


THEODORUS: For my part, Socrates, I would rather have the digressions, for

at my age I find them easier to follow; but if you wish, let us go back to

the argument.
SOCRATES: Had we not reached the point at which the partisans of the

perpetual flux, who say that things are as they seem to each one, were

confidently maintaining that the ordinances which the state commanded and

thought just, were just to the state which imposed them, while they were in

force; this was especially asserted of justice; but as to the good, no one

had any longer the hardihood to contend of any ordinances which the state

thought and enacted to be good that these, while they were in force, were

really good;--he who said so would be playing with the name 'good,' and

would not touch the real question--it would be a mockery, would it not?
THEODORUS: Certainly it would.
SOCRATES: He ought not to speak of the name, but of the thing which is

contemplated under the name.


THEODORUS: Right.
SOCRATES: Whatever be the term used, the good or expedient is the aim of

legislation, and as far as she has an opinion, the state imposes all laws

with a view to the greatest expediency; can legislation have any other aim?
THEODORUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: But is the aim attained always? do not mistakes often happen?
THEODORUS: Yes, I think that there are mistakes.
SOCRATES: The possibility of error will be more distinctly recognised, if

we put the question in reference to the whole class under which the good or

expedient falls. That whole class has to do with the future, and laws are

passed under the idea that they will be useful in after-time; which, in

other words, is the future.
THEODORUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: Suppose now, that we ask Protagoras, or one of his disciples, a

question:--O, Protagoras, we will say to him, Man is, as you declare, the

measure of all things--white, heavy, light: of all such things he is the

judge; for he has the criterion of them in himself, and when he thinks that

things are such as he experiences them to be, he thinks what is and is true

to himself. Is it not so?


THEODORUS: Yes.
SOCRATES: And do you extend your doctrine, Protagoras (as we shall further

say), to the future as well as to the present; and has he the criterion not

only of what in his opinion is but of what will be, and do things always

happen to him as he expected? For example, take the case of heat:--When an

ordinary man thinks that he is going to have a fever, and that this kind of

heat is coming on, and another person, who is a physician, thinks the

contrary, whose opinion is likely to prove right? Or are they both right?

--he will have a heat and fever in his own judgment, and not have a fever

in the physician's judgment?
THEODORUS: How ludicrous!
SOCRATES: And the vinegrower, if I am not mistaken, is a better judge of

the sweetness or dryness of the vintage which is not yet gathered than the

harp-player?
THEODORUS: Certainly.
SOCRATES: And in musical composition the musician will know better than

the training master what the training master himself will hereafter think

harmonious or the reverse?
THEODORUS: Of course.
SOCRATES: And the cook will be a better judge than the guest, who is not a

cook, of the pleasure to be derived from the dinner which is in

preparation; for of present or past pleasure we are not as yet arguing; but

can we say that every one will be to himself the best judge of the pleasure

which will seem to be and will be to him in the future?--nay, would not

you, Protagoras, better guess which arguments in a court would convince any

one of us than the ordinary man?
THEODORUS: Certainly, Socrates, he used to profess in the strongest manner

that he was the superior of all men in this respect.


SOCRATES: To be sure, friend: who would have paid a large sum for the

privilege of talking to him, if he had really persuaded his visitors that

neither a prophet nor any other man was better able to judge what will be

and seem to be in the future than every one could for himself?


THEODORUS: Who indeed?
SOCRATES: And legislation and expediency are all concerned with the

future; and every one will admit that states, in passing laws, must often

fail of their highest interests?
THEODORUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Then we may fairly argue against your master, that he must admit

one man to be wiser than another, and that the wiser is a measure: but I,

who know nothing, am not at all obliged to accept the honour which the

advocate of Protagoras was just now forcing upon me, whether I would or

not, of being a measure of anything.
THEODORUS: That is the best refutation of him, Socrates; although he is

also caught when he ascribes truth to the opinions of others, who give the

lie direct to his own opinion.
SOCRATES: There are many ways, Theodorus, in which the doctrine that every

opinion of every man is true may be refuted; but there is more difficulty

in proving that states of feeling, which are present to a man, and out of

which arise sensations and opinions in accordance with them, are also

untrue. And very likely I have been talking nonsense about them; for they

may be unassailable, and those who say that there is clear evidence of

them, and that they are matters of knowledge, may probably be right; in

which case our friend Theaetetus was not so far from the mark when he

identified perception and knowledge. And therefore let us draw nearer, as

the advocate of Protagoras desires; and give the truth of the universal

flux a ring: is the theory sound or not? at any rate, no small war is

raging about it, and there are combination not a few.


THEODORUS: No small, war, indeed, for in Ionia the sect makes rapid

strides; the disciples of Heracleitus are most energetic upholders of the

doctrine.
SOCRATES: Then we are the more bound, my dear Theodorus, to examine the

question from the foundation as it is set forth by themselves.


THEODORUS: Certainly we are. About these speculations of Heracleitus,

which, as you say, are as old as Homer, or even older still, the Ephesians

themselves, who profess to know them, are downright mad, and you cannot

talk with them on the subject. For, in accordance with their text-books,

they are always in motion; but as for dwelling upon an argument or a

question, and quietly asking and answering in turn, they can no more do so

than they can fly; or rather, the determination of these fellows not to

have a particle of rest in them is more than the utmost powers of negation

can express. If you ask any of them a question, he will produce, as from a

quiver, sayings brief and dark, and shoot them at you; and if you inquire

the reason of what he has said, you will be hit by some other new-fangled

word, and will make no way with any of them, nor they with one another;

their great care is, not to allow of any settled principle either in their

arguments or in their minds, conceiving, as I imagine, that any such

principle would be stationary; for they are at war with the stationary, and

do what they can to drive it out everywhere.


SOCRATES: I suppose, Theodorus, that you have only seen them when they

were fighting, and have never stayed with them in time of peace, for they

are no friends of yours; and their peace doctrines are only communicated by

them at leisure, as I imagine, to those disciples of theirs whom they want

to make like themselves.
THEODORUS: Disciples! my good sir, they have none; men of their sort are

not one another's disciples, but they grow up at their own sweet will, and

get their inspiration anywhere, each of them saying of his neighbour that

he knows nothing. From these men, then, as I was going to remark, you will

never get a reason, whether with their will or without their will; we must

take the question out of their hands, and make the analysis ourselves, as

if we were doing geometrical problem.
SOCRATES: Quite right too; but as touching the aforesaid problem, have we

not heard from the ancients, who concealed their wisdom from the many in

poetical figures, that Oceanus and Tethys, the origin of all things, are

streams, and that nothing is at rest? And now the moderns, in their

superior wisdom, have declared the same openly, that the cobbler too may

hear and learn of them, and no longer foolishly imagine that some things

are at rest and others in motion--having learned that all is motion, he

will duly honour his teachers. I had almost forgotten the opposite

doctrine, Theodorus,
'Alone Being remains unmoved, which is the name for the all.'
This is the language of Parmenides, Melissus, and their followers, who

stoutly maintain that all being is one and self-contained, and has no place

in which to move. What shall we do, friend, with all these people; for,

advancing step by step, we have imperceptibly got between the combatants,

and, unless we can protect our retreat, we shall pay the penalty of our

rashness--like the players in the palaestra who are caught upon the line,

and are dragged different ways by the two parties. Therefore I think that

we had better begin by considering those whom we first accosted, 'the

river-gods,' and, if we find any truth in them, we will help them to pull

us over, and try to get away from the others. But if the partisans of 'the

whole' appear to speak more truly, we will fly off from the party which

would move the immovable, to them. And if I find that neither of them have

anything reasonable to say, we shall be in a ridiculous position, having so

great a conceit of our own poor opinion and rejecting that of ancient and

famous men. O Theodorus, do you think that there is any use in proceeding

when the danger is so great?


THEODORUS: Nay, Socrates, not to examine thoroughly what the two parties

have to say would be quite intolerable.


SOCRATES: Then examine we must, since you, who were so reluctant to begin,

are so eager to proceed. The nature of motion appears to be the question

with which we begin. What do they mean when they say that all things are

in motion? Is there only one kind of motion, or, as I rather incline to

think, two? I should like to have your opinion upon this point in addition

to my own, that I may err, if I must err, in your company; tell me, then,

when a thing changes from one place to another, or goes round in the same

place, is not that what is called motion?


THEODORUS: Yes.
SOCRATES: Here then we have one kind of motion. But when a thing,

remaining on the same spot, grows old, or becomes black from being white,

or hard from being soft, or undergoes any other change, may not this be

properly called motion of another kind?


THEODORUS: I think so.
SOCRATES: Say rather that it must be so. Of motion then there are these

two kinds, 'change,' and 'motion in place.'


THEODORUS: You are right.
SOCRATES: And now, having made this distinction, let us address ourselves

to those who say that all is motion, and ask them whether all things

according to them have the two kinds of motion, and are changed as well as

move in place, or is one thing moved in both ways, and another in one only?


THEODORUS: Indeed, I do not know what to answer; but I think they would

say that all things are moved in both ways.


SOCRATES: Yes, comrade; for, if not, they would have to say that the same

things are in motion and at rest, and there would be no more truth in

saying that all things are in motion, than that all things are at rest.
THEODORUS: To be sure.
SOCRATES: And if they are to be in motion, and nothing is to be devoid of

motion, all things must always have every sort of motion?


THEODORUS: Most true.
SOCRATES: Consider a further point: did we not understand them to explain

the generation of heat, whiteness, or anything else, in some such manner as

the following:--were they not saying that each of them is moving between

the agent and the patient, together with a perception, and that the patient

ceases to be a perceiving power and becomes a percipient, and the agent a

quale instead of a quality? I suspect that quality may appear a strange

and uncouth term to you, and that you do not understand the abstract

expression. Then I will take concrete instances: I mean to say that the

producing power or agent becomes neither heat nor whiteness but hot and

white, and the like of other things. For I must repeat what I said before,

that neither the agent nor patient have any absolute existence, but when

they come together and generate sensations and their objects, the one

becomes a thing of a certain quality, and the other a percipient. You

remember?


THEODORUS: Of course.
SOCRATES: We may leave the details of their theory unexamined, but we must

not forget to ask them the only question with which we are concerned: Are

all things in motion and flux?
THEODORUS: Yes, they will reply.
SOCRATES: And they are moved in both those ways which we distinguished,

that is to say, they move in place and are also changed?


THEODORUS: Of course, if the motion is to be perfect.
SOCRATES: If they only moved in place and were not changed, we should be

able to say what is the nature of the things which are in motion and flux?


THEODORUS: Exactly.
SOCRATES: But now, since not even white continues to flow white, and

whiteness itself is a flux or change which is passing into another colour,

and is never to be caught standing still, can the name of any colour be

rightly used at all?


THEODORUS: How is that possible, Socrates, either in the case of this or

of any other quality--if while we are using the word the object is escaping

in the flux?
SOCRATES: And what would you say of perceptions, such as sight and

hearing, or any other kind of perception? Is there any stopping in the act

of seeing and hearing?
THEODORUS: Certainly not, if all things are in motion.
SOCRATES: Then we must not speak of seeing any more than of not-seeing,

nor of any other perception more than of any non-perception, if all things

partake of every kind of motion?
THEODORUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: Yet perception is knowledge: so at least Theaetetus and I were

saying.
THEODORUS: Very true.


SOCRATES: Then when we were asked what is knowledge, we no more answered

what is knowledge than what is not knowledge?


THEODORUS: I suppose not.
SOCRATES: Here, then, is a fine result: we corrected our first answer in

our eagerness to prove that nothing is at rest. But if nothing is at rest,

every answer upon whatever subject is equally right: you may say that a

thing is or is not thus; or, if you prefer, 'becomes' thus; and if we say

'becomes,' we shall not then hamper them with words expressive of rest.
THEODORUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Yes, Theodorus, except in saying 'thus' and 'not thus.' But you

ought not to use the word 'thus,' for there is no motion in 'thus' or in

'not thus.' The maintainers of the doctrine have as yet no words in which

to express themselves, and must get a new language. I know of no word that

will suit them, except perhaps 'no how,' which is perfectly indefinite.
THEODORUS: Yes, that is a manner of speaking in which they will be quite

at home.
SOCRATES: And so, Theodorus, we have got rid of your friend without

assenting to his doctrine, that every man is the measure of all things--a

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