PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE.
Socrates, who is the narrator.
And others who are mute auditors.
The scene is laid in the house of Cephalus at the Piraeus; and the whole
dialogue is narrated by Socrates the day after it actually took place to
Timaeus, Hermocrates, Critias, and a nameless person, who are introduced in
I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that
I might offer up my prayers to the goddess (Bendis, the Thracian Artemis.);
and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the
festival, which was a new thing. I was delighted with the procession of
the inhabitants; but that of the Thracians was equally, if not more,
beautiful. When we had finished our prayers and viewed the spectacle, we
turned in the direction of the city; and at that instant Polemarchus the
son of Cephalus chanced to catch sight of us from a distance as we were
starting on our way home, and told his servant to run and bid us wait for
him. The servant took hold of me by the cloak behind, and said:
Polemarchus desires you to wait.
I turned round, and asked him where his master was.
There he is, said the youth, coming after you, if you will only wait.
Certainly we will, said Glaucon; and in a few minutes Polemarchus appeared,
and with him Adeimantus, Glaucon's brother, Niceratus the son of Nicias,
and several others who had been at the procession.
Polemarchus said to me: I perceive, Socrates, that you and your companion
are already on your way to the city.
You are not far wrong, I said.
But do you see, he rejoined, how many we are?
And are you stronger than all these? for if not, you will have to remain
where you are.
May there not be the alternative, I said, that we may persuade you to let
But can you persuade us, if we refuse to listen to you? he said.
Certainly not, replied Glaucon.
Then we are not going to listen; of that you may be assured.
Adeimantus added: Has no one told you of the torch-race on horseback in
honour of the goddess which will take place in the evening?
With horses! I replied: That is a novelty. Will horsemen carry torches
and pass them one to another during the race?
Yes, said Polemarchus, and not only so, but a festival will be celebrated
at night, which you certainly ought to see. Let us rise soon after supper
and see this festival; there will be a gathering of young men, and we will
have a good talk. Stay then, and do not be perverse.
Glaucon said: I suppose, since you insist, that we must.
Very good, I replied.
Accordingly we went with Polemarchus to his house; and there we found his
brothers Lysias and Euthydemus, and with them Thrasymachus the
Chalcedonian, Charmantides the Paeanian, and Cleitophon the son of
Aristonymus. There too was Cephalus the father of Polemarchus, whom I had
not seen for a long time, and I thought him very much aged. He was seated
on a cushioned chair, and had a garland on his head, for he had been
sacrificing in the court; and there were some other chairs in the room
arranged in a semicircle, upon which we sat down by him. He saluted me
eagerly, and then he said:--
You don't come to see me, Socrates, as often as you ought: If I were still
able to go and see you I would not ask you to come to me. But at my age I
can hardly get to the city, and therefore you should come oftener to the
Piraeus. For let me tell you, that the more the pleasures of the body fade
away, the greater to me is the pleasure and charm of conversation. Do not
then deny my request, but make our house your resort and keep company with
these young men; we are old friends, and you will be quite at home with us.
I replied: There is nothing which for my part I like better, Cephalus,
than conversing with aged men; for I regard them as travellers who have
gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of whom I ought to enquire,
whether the way is smooth and easy, or rugged and difficult. And this is a
question which I should like to ask of you who have arrived at that time
which the poets call the 'threshold of old age'--Is life harder towards the
end, or what report do you give of it?
I will tell you, Socrates, he said, what my own feeling is. Men of my age
flock together; we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says; and at
our meetings the tale of my acquaintance commonly is --I cannot eat, I
cannot drink; the pleasures of youth and love are fled away: there was a
good time once, but now that is gone, and life is no longer life. Some
complain of the slights which are put upon them by relations, and they will
tell you sadly of how many evils their old age is the cause. But to me,
Socrates, these complainers seem to blame that which is not really in
fault. For if old age were the cause, I too being old, and every other old
man, would have felt as they do. But this is not my own experience, nor
that of others whom I have known. How well I remember the aged poet
Sophocles, when in answer to the question, How does love suit with age,
Sophocles,--are you still the man you were? Peace, he replied; most gladly
have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped
from a mad and furious master. His words have often occurred to my mind
since, and they seem as good to me now as at the time when he uttered them.
For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the
passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, we are freed from the
grasp not of one mad master only, but of many. The truth is, Socrates,
that these regrets, and also the complaints about relations, are to be
attributed to the same cause, which is not old age, but men's characters
and tempers; for he who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the
pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age
are equally a burden.
I listened in admiration, and wanting to draw him out, that he might go on
--Yes, Cephalus, I said: but I rather suspect that people in general are
not convinced by you when you speak thus; they think that old age sits
lightly upon you, not because of your happy disposition, but because you
are rich, and wealth is well known to be a great comforter.
You are right, he replied; they are not convinced: and there is something
in what they say; not, however, so much as they imagine. I might answer
them as Themistocles answered the Seriphian who was abusing him and saying
that he was famous, not for his own merits but because he was an Athenian:
'If you had been a native of my country or I of yours, neither of us would
have been famous.' And to those who are not rich and are impatient of old
age, the same reply may be made; for to the good poor man old age cannot be
a light burden, nor can a bad rich man ever have peace with himself.
May I ask, Cephalus, whether your fortune was for the most part inherited
or acquired by you?
Acquired! Socrates; do you want to know how much I acquired? In the art
of making money I have been midway between my father and grandfather: for
my grandfather, whose name I bear, doubled and trebled the value of his
patrimony, that which he inherited being much what I possess now; but my
father Lysanias reduced the property below what it is at present: and I
shall be satisfied if I leave to these my sons not less but a little more
than I received.
That was why I asked you the question, I replied, because I see that you
are indifferent about money, which is a characteristic rather of those who
have inherited their fortunes than of those who have acquired them; the
makers of fortunes have a second love of money as a creation of their own,
resembling the affection of authors for their own poems, or of parents for
their children, besides that natural love of it for the sake of use and
profit which is common to them and all men. And hence they are very bad
company, for they can talk about nothing but the praises of wealth.
That is true, he said.
Yes, that is very true, but may I ask another question?--What do you
consider to be the greatest blessing which you have reaped from your
One, he said, of which I could not expect easily to convince others. For
let me tell you, Socrates, that when a man thinks himself to be near death,
fears and cares enter into his mind which he never had before; the tales of
a world below and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here
were once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented with the
thought that they may be true: either from the weakness of age, or because
he is now drawing nearer to that other place, he has a clearer view of
these things; suspicions and alarms crowd thickly upon him, and he begins
to reflect and consider what wrongs he has done to others. And when he
finds that the sum of his transgressions is great he will many a time like
a child start up in his sleep for fear, and he is filled with dark
forebodings. But to him who is conscious of no sin, sweet hope, as Pindar
charmingly says, is the kind nurse of his age:
'Hope,' he says, 'cherishes the soul of him who lives in justice and
holiness, and is the nurse of his age and the companion of his journey;--
hope which is mightiest to sway the restless soul of man.'
How admirable are his words! And the great blessing of riches, I do not
say to every man, but to a good man, is, that he has had no occasion to
deceive or to defraud others, either intentionally or unintentionally; and
when he departs to the world below he is not in any apprehension about
offerings due to the gods or debts which he owes to men. Now to this peace
of mind the possession of wealth greatly contributes; and therefore I say,
that, setting one thing against another, of the many advantages which
wealth has to give, to a man of sense this is in my opinion the greatest.
Well said, Cephalus, I replied; but as concerning justice, what is it?--to
speak the truth and to pay your debts--no more than this? And even to this
are there not exceptions? Suppose that a friend when in his right mind has
deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right
mind, ought I to give them back to him? No one would say that I ought or
that I should be right in doing so, any more than they would say that I
ought always to speak the truth to one who is in his condition.
You are quite right, he replied.
But then, I said, speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a correct
definition of justice.
Quite correct, Socrates, if Simonides is to be believed, said Polemarchus
I fear, said Cephalus, that I must go now, for I have to look after the
sacrifices, and I hand over the argument to Polemarchus and the company.
Is not Polemarchus your heir? I said.
To be sure, he answered, and went away laughing to the sacrifices.
Tell me then, O thou heir of the argument, what did Simonides say, and
according to you truly say, about justice?
He said that the repayment of a debt is just, and in saying so he appears
to me to be right.
I should be sorry to doubt the word of such a wise and inspired man, but
his meaning, though probably clear to you, is the reverse of clear to me.
For he certainly does not mean, as we were just now saying, that I ought to
return a deposit of arms or of anything else to one who asks for it when he
is not in his right senses; and yet a deposit cannot be denied to be a
Then when the person who asks me is not in his right mind I am by no means
to make the return?
When Simonides said that the repayment of a debt was justice, he did not
mean to include that case?
Certainly not; for he thinks that a friend ought always to do good to a
friend and never evil.
You mean that the return of a deposit of gold which is to the injury of the
receiver, if the two parties are friends, is not the repayment of a debt,--
that is what you would imagine him to say?
And are enemies also to receive what we owe to them?
To be sure, he said, they are to receive what we owe them, and an enemy, as
I take it, owes to an enemy that which is due or proper to him--that is to
Simonides, then, after the manner of poets, would seem to have spoken
darkly of the nature of justice; for he really meant to say that justice is
the giving to each man what is proper to him, and this he termed a debt.
That must have been his meaning, he said.
By heaven! I replied; and if we asked him what due or proper thing is given
by medicine, and to whom, what answer do you think that he would make to
He would surely reply that medicine gives drugs and meat and drink to human
And what due or proper thing is given by cookery, and to what?
Seasoning to food.
And what is that which justice gives, and to whom?
If, Socrates, we are to be guided at all by the analogy of the preceding
instances, then justice is the art which gives good to friends and evil to
That is his meaning then?
I think so.
And who is best able to do good to his friends and evil to his enemies in
time of sickness?
Or when they are on a voyage, amid the perils of the sea?
And in what sort of actions or with a view to what result is the just man
most able to do harm to his enemy and good to his friend?
In going to war against the one and in making alliances with the other.
But when a man is well, my dear Polemarchus, there is no need of a
And he who is not on a voyage has no need of a pilot?
Then in time of peace justice will be of no use?
I am very far from thinking so.
You think that justice may be of use in peace as well as in war?
Like husbandry for the acquisition of corn?
Or like shoemaking for the acquisition of shoes,--that is what you mean?
And what similar use or power of acquisition has justice in time of peace?
In contracts, Socrates, justice is of use.
And by contracts you mean partnerships?
But is the just man or the skilful player a more useful and better partner
at a game of draughts?
The skilful player.
And in the laying of bricks and stones is the just man a more useful or
better partner than the builder?
Quite the reverse.
Then in what sort of partnership is the just man a better partner than the
harp-player, as in playing the harp the harp-player is certainly a better
partner than the just man?
In a money partnership.
Yes, Polemarchus, but surely not in the use of money; for you do not want a
just man to be your counsellor in the purchase or sale of a horse; a man
who is knowing about horses would be better for that, would he not?
And when you want to buy a ship, the shipwright or the pilot would be
Then what is that joint use of silver or gold in which the just man is to
When you want a deposit to be kept safely.
You mean when money is not wanted, but allowed to lie?
That is to say, justice is useful when money is useless?
That is the inference.
And when you want to keep a pruning-hook safe, then justice is useful to
the individual and to the state; but when you want to use it, then the art
of the vine-dresser?
And when you want to keep a shield or a lyre, and not to use them, you
would say that justice is useful; but when you want to use them, then the
art of the soldier or of the musician?
And so of all other things;--justice is useful when they are useless, and
useless when they are useful?
That is the inference.
Then justice is not good for much. But let us consider this further point:
Is not he who can best strike a blow in a boxing match or in any kind of
fighting best able to ward off a blow?
And he who is most skilful in preventing or escaping from a disease is best
able to create one?
And he is the best guard of a camp who is best able to steal a march upon
Then he who is a good keeper of anything is also a good thief?
That, I suppose, is to be inferred.
Then if the just man is good at keeping money, he is good at stealing it.
That is implied in the argument.
Then after all the just man has turned out to be a thief. And this is a
lesson which I suspect you must have learnt out of Homer; for he, speaking
of Autolycus, the maternal grandfather of Odysseus, who is a favourite of
his, affirms that
'He was excellent above all men in theft and perjury.'
And so, you and Homer and Simonides are agreed that justice is an art of
theft; to be practised however 'for the good of friends and for the harm of
enemies,'--that was what you were saying?
No, certainly not that, though I do not now know what I did say; but I
still stand by the latter words.
Well, there is another question: By friends and enemies do we mean those
who are so really, or only in seeming?
Surely, he said, a man may be expected to love those whom he thinks good,
and to hate those whom he thinks evil.
Yes, but do not persons often err about good and evil: many who are not
good seem to be so, and conversely?
That is true.
Then to them the good will be enemies and the evil will be their friends?
And in that case they will be right in doing good to the evil and evil to
But the good are just and would not do an injustice?
Then according to your argument it is just to injure those who do no wrong?
Nay, Socrates; the doctrine is immoral.
Then I suppose that we ought to do good to the just and harm to the unjust?
I like that better.
But see the consequence:--Many a man who is ignorant of human nature has
friends who are bad friends, and in that case he ought to do harm to them;
and he has good enemies whom he ought to benefit; but, if so, we shall be
saying the very opposite of that which we affirmed to be the meaning of
Very true, he said: and I think that we had better correct an error into
which we seem to have fallen in the use of the words 'friend' and 'enemy.'
What was the error, Polemarchus? I asked.
We assumed that he is a friend who seems to be or who is thought good.
And how is the error to be corrected?
We should rather say that he is a friend who is, as well as seems, good;
and that he who seems only, and is not good, only seems to be and is not a
friend; and of an enemy the same may be said.
You would argue that the good are our friends and the bad our enemies?
And instead of saying simply as we did at first, that it is just to do good
to our friends and harm to our enemies, we should further say: It is just
to do good to our friends when they are good and harm to our enemies when
they are evil?
Yes, that appears to me to be the truth.
But ought the just to injure any one at all?
Undoubtedly he ought to injure those who are both wicked and his enemies.
When horses are injured, are they improved or deteriorated?
Deteriorated, that is to say, in the good qualities of horses, not of dogs?
Yes, of horses.
And dogs are deteriorated in the good qualities of dogs, and not of horses?
And will not men who are injured be deteriorated in that which is the
proper virtue of man?
And that human virtue is justice?
To be sure.
Then men who are injured are of necessity made unjust?
That is the result.
But can the musician by his art make men unmusical?
Or the horseman by his art make them bad horsemen?
And can the just by justice make men unjust, or speaking generally, can the
good by virtue make them bad?
Any more than heat can produce cold?
Or drought moisture?
Nor can the good harm any one?
And the just is the good?
Then to injure a friend or any one else is not the act of a just man, but
of the opposite, who is the unjust?
I think that what you say is quite true, Socrates.
Then if a man says that justice consists in the repayment of debts, and
that good is the debt which a just man owes to his friends, and evil the
debt which he owes to his enemies,--to say this is not wise; for it is not
true, if, as has been clearly shown, the injuring of another can be in no
I agree with you, said Polemarchus.
Then you and I are prepared to take up arms against any one who attributes
such a saying to Simonides or Bias or Pittacus, or any other wise man or
I am quite ready to do battle at your side, he said.
Shall I tell you whose I believe the saying to be?
I believe that Periander or Perdiccas or Xerxes or Ismenias the Theban, or
some other rich and mighty man, who had a great opinion of his own power,
was the first to say that justice is 'doing good to your friends and harm
to your enemies.'
Most true, he said.
Yes, I said; but if this definition of justice also breaks down, what other
can be offered?
Several times in the course of the discussion Thrasymachus had made an
attempt to get the argument into his own hands, and had been put down by
the rest of the company, who wanted to hear the end. But when Polemarchus
and I had done speaking and there was a pause, he could no longer hold his
peace; and, gathering himself up, he came at us like a wild beast, seeking
to devour us. We were quite panic-stricken at the sight of him.
He roared out to the whole company: What folly, Socrates, has taken
possession of you all? And why, sillybillies, do you knock under to one
another? I say that if you want really to know what justice is, you should
not only ask but answer, and you should not seek honour to yourself from
the refutation of an opponent, but have your own answer; for there is many
a one who can ask and cannot answer. And now I will not have you say that
justice is duty or advantage or profit or gain or interest, for this sort
of nonsense will not do for me; I must have clearness and accuracy.
I was panic-stricken at his words, and could not look at him without
trembling. Indeed I believe that if I had not fixed my eye upon him, I
should have been struck dumb: but when I saw his fury rising, I looked at
him first, and was therefore able to reply to him.
Thrasymachus, I said, with a quiver, don't be hard upon us. Polemarchus
and I may have been guilty of a little mistake in the argument, but I can
assure you that the error was not intentional. If we were seeking for a
piece of gold, you would not imagine that we were 'knocking under to one
another,' and so losing our chance of finding it. And why, when we are
seeking for justice, a thing more precious than many pieces of gold, do you
say that we are weakly yielding to one another and not doing our utmost to
get at the truth? Nay, my good friend, we are most willing and anxious to
do so, but the fact is that we cannot. And if so, you people who know all
things should pity us and not be angry with us.
How characteristic of Socrates! he replied, with a bitter laugh;--that's
your ironical style! Did I not foresee--have I not already told you, that
whatever he was asked he would refuse to answer, and try irony or any other
shuffle, in order that he might avoid answering?
You are a philosopher, Thrasymachus, I replied, and well know that if you
ask a person what numbers make up twelve, taking care to prohibit him whom
you ask from answering twice six, or three times four, or six times two, or
four times three, 'for this sort of nonsense will not do for me,'--then
obviously, if that is your way of putting the question, no one can answer
you. But suppose that he were to retort, 'Thrasymachus, what do you mean?
If one of these numbers which you interdict be the true answer to the
question, am I falsely to say some other number which is not the right
one?--is that your meaning?'--How would you answer him?
Just as if the two cases were at all alike! he said.
Why should they not be? I replied; and even if they are not, but only
appear to be so to the person who is asked, ought he not to say what he
thinks, whether you and I forbid him or not?
I presume then that you are going to make one of the interdicted answers?
I dare say that I may, notwithstanding the danger, if upon reflection I
approve of any of them.
But what if I give you an answer about justice other and better, he said,
than any of these? What do you deserve to have done to you?
Done to me!--as becomes the ignorant, I must learn from the wise--that is
what I deserve to have done to me.
What, and no payment! a pleasant notion!
I will pay when I have the money, I replied.
But you have, Socrates, said Glaucon: and you, Thrasymachus, need be under
no anxiety about money, for we will all make a contribution for Socrates.
Yes, he replied, and then Socrates will do as he always does--refuse to
answer himself, but take and pull to pieces the answer of some one else.
Why, my good friend, I said, how can any one answer who knows, and says
that he knows, just nothing; and who, even if he has some faint notions of
his own, is told by a man of authority not to utter them? The natural
thing is, that the speaker should be some one like yourself who professes
to know and can tell what he knows. Will you then kindly answer, for the
edification of the company and of myself?
Glaucon and the rest of the company joined in my request, and Thrasymachus,
as any one might see, was in reality eager to speak; for he thought that he
had an excellent answer, and would distinguish himself. But at first he
affected to insist on my answering; at length he consented to begin.
Behold, he said, the wisdom of Socrates; he refuses to teach himself, and
goes about learning of others, to whom he never even says Thank you.
That I learn of others, I replied, is quite true; but that I am ungrateful
I wholly deny. Money I have none, and therefore I pay in praise, which is
all I have; and how ready I am to praise any one who appears to me to speak
well you will very soon find out when you answer; for I expect that you
will answer well.
Listen, then, he said; I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the
interest of the stronger. And now why do you not praise me? But of course
Let me first understand you, I replied. Justice, as you say, is the
interest of the stronger. What, Thrasymachus, is the meaning of this? You
cannot mean to say that because Polydamas, the pancratiast, is stronger
than we are, and finds the eating of beef conducive to his bodily strength,
that to eat beef is therefore equally for our good who are weaker than he
is, and right and just for us?
That's abominable of you, Socrates; you take the words in the sense which
is most damaging to the argument.
Not at all, my good sir, I said; I am trying to understand them; and I wish
that you would be a little clearer.
Well, he said, have you never heard that forms of government differ; there
are tyrannies, and there are democracies, and there are aristocracies?
Yes, I know.
And the government is the ruling power in each state?
And the different forms of government make laws democratical,
aristocratical, tyrannical, with a view to their several interests; and
these laws, which are made by them for their own interests, are the justice
which they deliver to their subjects, and him who transgresses them they
punish as a breaker of the law, and unjust. And that is what I mean when I
say that in all states there is the same principle of justice, which is the
interest of the government; and as the government must be supposed to have
power, the only reasonable conclusion is, that everywhere there is one
principle of justice, which is the interest of the stronger.
Now I understand you, I said; and whether you are right or not I will try
to discover. But let me remark, that in defining justice you have yourself
used the word 'interest' which you forbade me to use. It is true, however,
that in your definition the words 'of the stronger' are added.
A small addition, you must allow, he said.
Great or small, never mind about that: we must first enquire whether what
you are saying is the truth. Now we are both agreed that justice is
interest of some sort, but you go on to say 'of the stronger'; about this
addition I am not so sure, and must therefore consider further.
I will; and first tell me, Do you admit that it is just for subjects to
obey their rulers?
But are the rulers of states absolutely infallible, or are they sometimes
liable to err?
To be sure, he replied, they are liable to err.
Then in making their laws they may sometimes make them rightly, and
When they make them rightly, they make them agreeably to their interest;
when they are mistaken, contrary to their interest; you admit that?
And the laws which they make must be obeyed by their subjects,--and that is
what you call justice?
Then justice, according to your argument, is not only obedience to the
interest of the stronger but the reverse?
What is that you are saying? he asked.
I am only repeating what you are saying, I believe. But let us consider:
Have we not admitted that the rulers may be mistaken about their own
interest in what they command, and also that to obey them is justice? Has
not that been admitted?
Then you must also have acknowledged justice not to be for the interest of
the stronger, when the rulers unintentionally command things to be done
which are to their own injury. For if, as you say, justice is the
obedience which the subject renders to their commands, in that case, O
wisest of men, is there any escape from the conclusion that the weaker are
commanded to do, not what is for the interest, but what is for the injury
of the stronger?
Nothing can be clearer, Socrates, said Polemarchus.
Yes, said Cleitophon, interposing, if you are allowed to be his witness.
But there is no need of any witness, said Polemarchus, for Thrasymachus
himself acknowledges that rulers may sometimes command what is not for
their own interest, and that for subjects to obey them is justice.
Yes, Polemarchus,--Thrasymachus said that for subjects to do what was
commanded by their rulers is just.
Yes, Cleitophon, but he also said that justice is the interest of the
stronger, and, while admitting both these propositions, he further
acknowledged that the stronger may command the weaker who are his subjects
to do what is not for his own interest; whence follows that justice is the
injury quite as much as the interest of the stronger.
But, said Cleitophon, he meant by the interest of the stronger what the
stronger thought to be his interest,--this was what the weaker had to do;
and this was affirmed by him to be justice.
Those were not his words, rejoined Polemarchus.