My Favourite Plato Quotations

I throw the apple at you, and if you are willing to love me, take it and share your girlhood with me; but if your thoughts are what I pray they are not, even then take it, and consider how short-lived is beauty.

- Epigrams

…I loved you for your own sake, whereas other men love what belongs to you; and your beauty, which is not you, is fading away, just as your true self is beginning to bloom. And I will never desert you, if you are not spoiled and deformed by the Athenian people; for the danger which I most fear is that you will become a lover of the people and will be spoiled by them. Many a nobleman has been ruined in this way.

- Alcibiades

We make our decisions based on knowledge, not numbers.

- Laches

He said the soul was treated with certain charms, my dear Charmides, and that these charms were beautiful words.

- Charmides

Yea, by the dog of Egypt, I should greatly prefer a real friend to all the gold of Darius, or even to Darius himself.

- Lysis

And therefore, my boy, if you are wise, all men will be your friends and kindred, for you will be useful and good; but if you are not wise, neither father, nor mother, nor kindred, nor anyone else will be your friends.

- Lysis

What’s fine is hard.

- Greater Hippias

It is, then, in the nature of the good man to do injustice voluntarily, and of the bad man to do it involuntarily.

- Lesser Hippias

My present state of mind is due to our previous argument, which inclines me to believe that in general those who do wrong involuntarily are worse than those who do wrong voluntarily, and therefore I hope that you will be good to me, and not refuse to heal me; for you will do me a much greater benefit if you cure my soul of ignorance, than you would if you were to cure my body of disease.

- Lesser Hippias

And, what, Socrates is the food of the soul?
Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul.

- Protagoras

Unamed friend: And is this stranger really in your opinion a fairer love than the son of Cleinias?
Socrates: And is not the wiser always the fairer, sweet friend?

- Protagoras

I hope I’ll never be so busy that I’d forego discussions such as this, conducted in the way that this one is, because I find it more practical to do something else.

- Gorgias

For my part, I’d be pleased to continue questioning you if you’re the same kind of man I am, otherwise I would drop it. And what kind of man am I? One of those who would be pleased to be refuted if I say anything untrue, and who would be pleased to refute anyone who says anything untrue; one who, however, wouldn’t be any less pleased to be refuted than to refute. For I count being refuted a greater good, insofar as it is a greater good for oneself to be delivered from the worst thing there is than to deliver someone else from it.

- Gorgias

What’s this, Polus? You’re laughing? Is this now some further style of refutation, to laugh when someone makes a point, instead of refuting him?

- Gorgias

I think it is better to have my lyre or a chorus that I might lead out of tune and dissonant, and have the vast majority of men disagree with me and contradict me, than to be out of harmony with myself, to contradict myself, though I am only one person.

- Gorgias

For it’s a shameful thing for us, being in the condition we appear to be at present – when we never think the same about the same subjects, the most important ones at that – to sound off as though we’re somebodies. That’s how far behind in education we’ve fallen. So let’s use the account that has now been disclosed to us as our guide, one that indicates to us that this way of life is best, to practice justice and the rest of excellence both in life and in death. Let us follow it, then, and call on others to do so, too, and let’s not follow the one that you believe in and call on me to follow. For that one is worthless, Callicles.

- Gorgias

Whither haste ye, O men? Yea, verily ye know not that ye are doing none of the things ye ought…

- Clitophon

…and I went and tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me.

- Apology

Men of Athens, I am grateful and I am your friend, but I will obey the god rather than you, and as long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practice philosophy, to exhort you and in my usual way to point out to any one of you whom I happen to meet: Good Sir, you are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honours as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?

- Apology

For I am certain, O men of Athens, that if I had engaged in politics, I should have perished long ago and done no good either to you or to myself. And don’t be offended at my telling you the truth: for the truth is that no man who goes to war with you or any other multitude, honestly struggling against the commission of unrighteousness and wrong in the state, will save his life; he who will really fight for the right, if he would live even for a little while, must have a private station and not a public one.

- Apology

For if I tell you this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that the greatest good of man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living – that you are still less likely to believe.

- Apology

Nay, if this be true, let me die again and again… What infinite delight would there be in conversing with them and asking them questions! For in that world they do not put a man to death for this; certainly not… Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know this of a truth – that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.

- Apology

When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing… The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways – I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows.

- Apology

Then, my friend, we must not regard what the many say of us: but what he, the one man who has understanding of just and unjust, will say, and what the truth will say.

- Crito

Meno: That, Socrates, appears to me to be an admirable answer.
Socrates: Why, yes, because it happens to be one which you have been in the habit of hearing.

- Meno

And how will you enquire, Socrates, into that which you do not know? What will you put forth as the subject of enquiry? And if you find what you want, how will you ever know that this is the thing which you did not know?

- Meno

Had I the command of you as well as of myself, Meno, I would not have enquired whether virtue is given by instruction or not, until we had first ascertained what it is. But as you think only of controlling me who am your slave, and never of controlling yourself, – such being your notion of freedom, I must yield to you, for you are irresistible.

- Meno

Is not this the result – that other things are indifferent, and that wisdom is the only good, and ignorance the only evil?

- Euthydemus

This may be true, Cratylus, but is also very likely to be untrue; and therefore I would not have you be too easily persuaded of it. Reflect well and like a man, and do not easily accept such a doctrine; for you are young and of an age to learn. And when you have found the truth, come and tell me.

- Cratylus

Consider this, fair youth, and know that in the friendship of the lover there is no real kindness; he has an appetite and wants to feed upon you: as wolves love lambs so lovers love their loves.

- Phaedrus, quoting Lysias

Madness, provided it comes as the gift of heaven, is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings… the men of old who gave things their names saw no disgrace or reproach in madness; otherwise they would not have connected it with the name of the noblest of arts, the art of discerning the future, and called it the manic art… So, according to the evidence provided by our ancestors, madness is a nobler thing than sober sense… madness comes from God, whereas sober sense is merely human.

- Phaedrus

…it is much nobler to be serious about these matters, and (prefer) the art of dialectic. The dialectician chooses a proper soul and plants and sows within it discourse accompanied by knowledge – discourse capable of helping itself as well as the man who planted it, which is not barren but produces a seed from which more discourse grows in the character of others. Such discourse makes the seed forever immortal and renders the man who has it as happy as any human being can be.

- Phaedrus

Socrates: Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one. May I reckon the wise to be the wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as a temperate man and he only can bear and carry. – Anything more? The prayer, I think, is enough for me.
Phaedrus: Ask the same for me, for friends should have all things in common.
Socrates: Let us go.

- Phaedrus

There was a time when I was running about the world, fancying myself to be well employed, but I was really a most wretched thing, no better than you are now. I thought that I ought to do anything rather than be a philosopher.

- Symposium

And at the touch of him every one becomes a poet, even though he had no music in him before; this also is proof that Love is a good poet and accomplished in all the fine arts; for no one can give to another that which he has not himself, or teach that of which he has no knowledge. Who will deny that the creation of the animals is his doing? Are they not all the works of his wisdom, born and begotten of him? And as to the artists, do we not know that he only of them whom love inspires has the light of fame?–he whom love touches not walks in darkness.

- Symposium

Who when he thinks of Homer and Hesiod and other great poets, would not rather have their children than ordinary human ones? Who would not emulate them in the creation of children such as theirs, which have preserved their memory and given them everlasting glory?

- Symposium

…if you mean to share with me and to exchange beauty for beauty, you will have greatly the advantage of me; you will gain true beauty in return for appearance—like Diomede, gold in exchange for brass.

- Symposium

Yet the exchange of one fear or pleasure or pain for another fear or pleasure or pain, which are measured like coins, the greater with the less, is not the exchange of virtue. O my dear Simmias, is there not one true coin for which all things ought to exchange?– and that is wisdom; and only in exchange for this, and in company with this, is anything truly bought or sold, whether courage or temperance or justice.

- Phaedo

Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend, whom I may truly call the wisest, and justest, and best of all the men whom I have ever known.

- Phaedo

…the flattery of the rich by the poor, and all the pains and pangs which men experience in bringing up a family, and in finding money to buy necessaries for their household, borrowing and then repudiating, getting how they can, and giving the money into the hands of women and slaves to keep – the many evils of so many kinds which people suffer in this way are mean enough and obvious enough, and not worth speaking of.

- Republic

I cannot refuse, said Parmenides; and yet I feel rather like Ibycus, who, when in his old age, against his will, he fell in love, compared himself to an old racehorse, who was about to run in a chariot race, shaking with fear at the course he knew so well…

- Parmenides

Theaetetus: Yes, Socrates, and I am amazed when I think of [these contradictions]; by the Gods I am! And I want to know what on earth they mean; and there are times when my head quite swims with the contemplation of them.
Socrates: I see, my dear Theaetetus, that Theodorus had a true insight into your nature when he said that you were a philosopher, for wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.

- Theaetetus

Socrates: And are you still in labour and travail, my dear friend, or have you brought all that you have to say about knowledge to the birth?
Theaetetus: I am sure, Socrates, that you have elicited from me a good deal more than ever was in me.
Socrates: And does not my art show that you have brought forth wind, and that the offspring of your brain are not worth bringing up? …But if, Theaetetus, you should ever conceive afresh, you will be all the better for the present investigation, and if not, you will be soberer and humbler and gentler to other men, and will be too modest to fancy that you know what you do not know.

- Theaetetus

And the wish of all of us, who are your friends, is and always will be to bring you as near to the truth as we can without the sad reality.

- Sophist

They cross-examine a man’s words, when he thinks that he is saying something and is really saying nothing, and easily convict him of inconsistencies in his opinions; these they then collect by the dialectical process, and placing them side by side, show that they contradict one another about the same things, in relation to the same things, and in the same respect. He, seeing this, is angry with himself, and grows gentle towards others, and thus is entirely delivered from great prejudices and harsh notions, in a way which is most amusing to the hearer, and produces the most lasting good effect on the person who is the subject of the operation… he who has not been refuted, though he be the Great King himself, is in an awful state of impurity; he is uninstructed and deformed in those things in which he who would be truly blessed ought to be fairest and purest…

- Sophist

…every man seems to know all things in a dreamy sort of way, and then again to wake up and know nothing.

- Statesman

I mean to say, that if arithmetic, mensuration, and weighing be taken away from any art, that which remains will not be much… The test will be only conjecture, and the better use of the senses which is given by experience and practice, in addition to a certain power of guessing, which is commonly called art, and is perfected by attention and pains.

- Philebus

Here, first of all men for pure justice famed,
And moral virtue, Aristocles lies;
And if there e’er has lived one truly wise,
This man was wiser still; too great for envy.

- Plato’s epitaph, according to Diogenes

Quotations adapted from

Aristotle on the Virtue of Pride

A person is proud if he both is and thinks himself to be worthy of great things. If he both is and thinks himself to be worthy of small things he is not proud but temperate, for pride implies greatness. In terms of the vices, a person who thinks himself worthy of great things when he is unworthy of them is vain, whereas a person who thinks himself worthy of less than he is worthy of is pusillanimous. Compared to vanity, pusillanimity is both commoner and worse, and so more opposed to pride.

Although the proud person is an extreme in respect of the greatness of his claims, he is a mean in respect of their truthfulness. He is avid of his just deserts and particularly of honour, the prize of virtue and the greatest of external goods. He is moderately pleased to accept great honours conferred by good people, but he utterly despises honours from casual people and on trifling grounds. As a person who deserves more is better, the truly proud person is good, and as he is good, he is also rare. In sum, pride is a crown of the virtues; it is not found without them, and it makes them greater.

The proud person is liable to disdain and to despise, but as he thinks rightly, he does so justly, whereas the many disdain and despise at random. Although the proud person is dignified towards the great and the good, he is unassuming towards the middle classes; for it is a difficult and lofty thing to be superior to the former, but easy to be so to the latter, and a lofty bearing over the former is no mark of ill-breeding, but among humble people it is as vulgar as a display of strength against the weak.

Again, it is characteristic of the proud man not to aim at the things commonly held in honour, or the things in which others excel; to be sluggish and to hold back except where great honour or a great work is at stake, and to be a man of few deeds, but of great and notable ones. He must also be open in his hate and in his love (for to conceal one’s feelings, i.e. to care less for truth than for what people will think, is a coward’s part), and must speak and act openly; for he is free of speech because he is contemptuous, and he is given to telling the truth, except when he speaks in irony to the vulgar.

Nicomachean Ethics, Book 4

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2: The Golden Mean

For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle … anyone can get angry – that is easy – or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.

Intellectual virtues are developed through teaching, and moral virtues through habit. Moral virtues are not in our nature, but nor are they contrary to our nature, which is adapted to receive them. Sight and hearing are in our nature, and so they are given to us. In contrast, the arts and the moral virtues are not given to us, but are acquired through constant exercise. Just as a man becomes a sculptor by sculpting, so he becomes just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.

It is impossible to define virtue with any precision, as the goodness of a feeling or action depends on individual circumstances. However, just as strength is destroyed by a defect or excess of exercise, so the virtues are destroyed by their defect or excess. For instance, he who flies from everything becomes a coward, whereas he who meets with every danger becomes rash. In contrast, courage is preserved by the mean.

Moral excellence is closely related to pleasure and pain: it is in pursuing and avoiding pleasure and pain that bad things are done and noble things not, and so it is by pleasure and pain that bad people are bad. There are three objects of choice, the noble, the advantageous, and the pleasant, and three objects of avoidance which are their contraries, the base, the injurious, and the painful. The good tend to go right, the bad wrong, about these, and especially about pleasure which is common to the animals and which is also found in the advantageous and in the noble. A good person feels pleasure at the most beautiful or noble (kalos) actions, whereas a person who is not good often finds his perceptions of what is most pleasant to be misleading. It is harder to fight with pleasure than with anger, but both art and virtue are concerned with what is harder, and even the good is better when it is harder.

A person may do a seemingly virtuous action by chance or under compulsion. His action is truly virtuous only if (1) he knows that the action is virtuous, (2) he chooses to do the action for the sake of being virtuous, (3) his action proceeds from a firm and unchangeable character. In short, an action is truly virtuous if it is such as a virtuous person would do.

But most people do not do these, but take refuge in theory and think they are being philosophers and will become good in this way, behaving somewhat like patients who listen attentively to their doctors, but do none of the things they are ordered to do.

There are three things that are found in the soul, passions, faculties, and dispositions. As the virtues are neither passions nor faculties, they must be dispositions. In light of this, virtue can be defined as a disposition to aim at the intermediate between deficiency and excess, or, in other words, as a disposition to aim at the mean, which, unlike deficiency or excess, is a form of success and worthy of praise. While it is possible to fail in many ways, it is possible to succeed in one way alone, which is why the one is easy and the other is difficult. By the same token, men may be bad in many ways, but good in one way only.

So far so good, except that not every passion or action admits of a mean, for instance, not envy or murder. It is never a question of murdering the right person, at the right time, and in the right way, for murder is bad in itself and neither a deficiency nor an excess. The principle virtues along with their corresponding vices are listed in the table.

In some cases, one vice can be closer to the virtue than the contrary vice, for instance, rashness is closer to courage than cowardice, and prodigality is closer to liberality than meanness. This is not only because the first vice is more similar to the virtue than the contrary vice, but also because the contrary vice is the more common. Rashness is more similar to courage than cowardice, which is more common than rashness, and prodigality is more similar to liberality than meanness, which is more common than prodigality. Hence people oppose not rashness but cowardice to courage, and not prodigality but meanness to liberality.

It is no easy task to be good. For a person to increase his likelihood of hitting the mean, he should (1) avoid the vice that is furthest from the virtue, (2) consider his vices and drag himself to their contrary extremes, (3) be wary of pleasure which clouds judgement and leads astray. The person may miss the mean by a little, for instance, he may get angry too soon or not enough, and still be praised for being either manly or good-tempered. It is only if he deviates more widely from the mean that he becomes blameworthy; how widely is difficult to determine, as it depends on the individual circumstances and on how they are perceived.

For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle … anyone can get angry – that is easy – or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.

Adapted from Aristotle’s Universe: A Primer on Aristotle.

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