Category Archives: Plato

Socrates Discussion with Cephalus – The Beginning of the Republic

Bust of Socrates

Plato’s Republic – Book I

This article is the beginning of an analysis of Books I and II of Plato’s Republic.

Book I begins with Socrates and Glaucon going to Piraeus to pray to Bendis and to see the Panathenaic Festival. On their way home, Socrates and Glaucon encounter Polemarchus, the son of a wealthy arms manufacturer, Cephalus. Polemarchus invites Socrates to his father’s house.

Upon arrival, Socrates is welcomed by his host Cephalus and the two men engage in a very rich conversation that serves as a pre-cursor for exploring the topic of justice in books I and II.

When Socrates asks Cephalus what old age is like, Cephalus admits that many men complain of old age, but that he likes the fact that old men are no longer slaves to their passions. He also thinks that those who complain of old age are generally unhappy people and would complain even if they were young. To illustrate this, Cephalus says:

“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 (296).”

Plato’s Republic – Book I

Cephalus brings up a wise lesson for the reader in this passage. He reveals the level of power we have in shaping our perception of the world and how much control we have in making sure that our experience is generally positive. You can see that Cephalus isn’t a fan of complainers, and praises men, who like himself, embrace the change that life naturally places in their path.

It’s a condemnation of those who aren’t grateful for the life they’re given, and thereby take their youth for granted in the same way they’ll ignore some of the pleasures of a serene old age.

Wealth and its Benefits

Socrates challenges Cephalus on this and insinuates that perhaps Cephalus is allowed to be as optimistic as he is because of his great wealth and asks him whether he has acquired or created his wealth.

Cephalus responds that he has acquired it.

Socrates makes another noteworthy remark based on Cephalus’ answer and states that:

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. (296-297)

This is a great observation of nature by Socrates. It makes sense that those who have inherited money would not be as interested in money, as they take it for granted and as being a part of who they are. Those with humble beginnings, who have strived for their riches would naturally attach a greater value to wealth, as they understand what it means to live without it and can recognize the struggles of being poor and the amount of work it takes to get out of such a condition.

Further, Socrates ascribes to the creators of wealth a quality of a parent or an author. As wealth is their creation, they love it as they would a child or something else concrete that they have expended effort and time on molding and shaping.

Cephalus on the Afterlife

When Socrates asks Cephalus what is the biggest blessing that he has received from his wealth, Cephalus responds by saying:

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. (297)

This long and rich passage tackles a lot of heavy subjects. It addresses the change in men before their death. Getting closer to the moment of passing makes a person more reflective of their past and the decisions they have made. While being far away from death, the concept of a hellish underworld may not be that threatening to a person, but the closer he inches towards his last breath, youthful certainty dissipates and turns into an anxious dread of what’s to come, especially if it’s unknown.

This brings up the idea of existential fear becoming a pathway towards realization and a semblance of conscience. The guilty man, aware of a possible punishment will not sleep lightly, he will wonder if damnation awaits him, as he reflects upon the sins and transgressions he has committed.

Cephalus contrasts this with a man who is not bothered by his conscience and isn’t worried about a divine punishment. This man he labels as being in possession of hope. A hope that he will be rewarded in the afterlife and that the struggles and pains of life shall come to a peaceful end, followed by a heavenly eternity.

This leads Cephalus to explain that what he values most about wealth is that he has had no occasion to defraud or deceive anyone. He has not needed to sin for the sake of material gain. He isn’t worried about not contributing enough alms to the gods, and he hasn’t ever had to worry about not being able to repay his debts. He hasn’t even had the occasion to go into debt.

Most of all, Cephalus values the peace of mind his wealth has provided for him. In his case, wealth has prevented him from sinning. His lack of need decreased his chance of ever committing a crime.

Cephalus’ answer creates some interesting questions. Are those that are wealthy less inclined to commit sins and harm against others? Is the state of need and poverty responsible for some of our transgressions?

Transition to the Topic of Justice

This conversation soon concludes when Socrates asks Cephalus:

 “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. (297)

Why does Socrates bring up justice at the end of this conversation? Is it related to what Cephalus was saying about what he is most grateful about for having wealth?

Socrates brings up justice at the end of the conversation with Cephalus because he is interested in the relationship between justice and happiness. Cephalus has just said that he is happy because he has lived a good and virtuous life. Socrates wants to know more about what Cephalus means by “virtuous” and “good.”

Cephalus defines justice as “telling the truth and paying one’s debts.” Socrates challenges this definition by asking Cephalus to consider the case of a man who returns a weapon to a friend who is going to use it to commit a crime. In this case, returning the weapon would be truthful, but it would not be just.

This leads Socrates to ask the question: “What is justice?” He is not satisfied with Cephalus’ definition, and he wants to find a more comprehensive definition of justice.

Polemarchus, the son of Cephalus comes in to continue the conversation with Socrates, as Cephalus makes his exit.

I will do an analysis of this in my next post.

Author: Kristap Baltin

The Version of Plato’s Republic, Book I, I used for this article

GREAT BOOKS OF THE WESTERN WORLD: VOLUME 7. Plato: Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor: Books


Plato’s Crito – An Argument Between Friends


A direct follow up to Plato’s ApologyCrito takes place after Socrates’ trial. The Greek state of Athens, through a jury of 500 Athenians has ruled that he is guilty and has scheduled him for execution. Crito, a wealthy and influential Athenian, is a loyal friend and an ardent supporter of Socrates and visits him in prison in order to convince him to make an escape and take exile in a different Greek state. 

While Socrates makes convincing arguements for why he should accept his punishment at the end of the Apology, Crito is a reinforcement of those arguments through the dialogue between Crito and Socrates in prison. 

The Ship from Delos

What the ship from Delos might have looked likeWhat the Ship From Delos might have looked like.

When Crito visits Socrates, he tells him that he has a painful message for him. Socrates asks him if the ship from Delos has come yet. Socrates knows that one day after the return of the ship, he is scheduled to be executed. Socrates tells Crito that he had a vision of a woman, “fair and comely, clothed in bright raiment, who called to [him] and said: O Socrates, ‘the third day hence to fertile Phthia shalt thou go'” (Plato, Crito, 213). This means that tomorrow is the day the ship will return, and that the day after Socrates shall be executed.

What is the Ship of Delos?

Delos was a sacred island in the Aegean Sea, associated with the gods Apollo and Artemis. It had an annual religious festival called the Delian games, and people would travel there to participate in religious rituals. The woman in Socrates’ vision tells him that he will go to fertile Phthia

Interestingly, Phthia is also the home island of Achilles, and this isn’t the first time Socrates is compared to the Greek hero of the Trojan war. He talks extensively about him in the Apology. The reason this is significant is because Achilles is fated to die if he becomes a hero in the war and goes to slay Hector in Troy, just as Socrates is fated to die if he persists in seeking his own true nature and the questioning of others. Socrates sees no way around this, he has no choice but to obey god and his own nature, just as he assumes Achilles had no choice but to be a hero and a legend in the Trojan war. For more of my explanation of the comparisons between Achilles and Socrates, visit my article on Plato’s Apology.

Crito’s First Arguement

Crito’s first attempt to persuade Socrates to escape is that it will hurt Crito’s public image. He states: 

People who do not know you and me will believe that I might have saved you if I had been willing to give money, but that I did not care. Now, can there be a worse disgrace than this- that I should be thought to value money more than the life of a friend? For the many will not be persuaded that I wanted you to escape, and that you refused (Crito 213).

What do you think? Is this a persuasive argument? It seems a little selfish to me. Socrates has just been through a tough trial, and has defended himself vigorously only to understand that he has no choice but to die, as he and the state are at odds that cannot be resolved. For the Athenian state wants to deny Socrates the right to be himself, an examiner of human nature and his own being, and he has resolved that he cannot obey the state, but can only follow the divine decree of following his own nature. If Socrates ceased to question the nature of wisdom and being, he would no longer be Socrates and that would be worse than death itself. How can then a man like Socrates care about what the public thinks about him and his friend Crito?

Socrates reply confirms this state of mind, as he replies, “should we care about the opinion of the many? Good men, and they are the only persons who are worth considering, will think of these things truly as they occurred” (Crito 214). After an existential battle in court, the opinion of the many is neither important to him, nor should be important to Crito. He values only the judgment of good men, for they understand the crux of his conflict with the state, and only those who understand can credibly have an opinion on his fate.

Crito’s Second Temptation

Crito asks Socrates if he doesn’t perhaps fear that his friends will get in trouble for abetting his escape. Socrates admits that this is one of his fears, though not the only one. Crito tells Socrates that there are many men who are willing to contribute to his escape, and that if anyone wants to inform on them, even a small amount of money would be enough to keep them quiet.

His method of persuasion is to convince Socrates that by not escaping he would be “playing into the hands of [his] enemies” (Crito 214) who wish for nothing more but his destruction. He also says that Socrates would be deserting his children, who may become orphans. He also states that Socrates may be choosing the easier path and not one that is more virtuous and manly.

Socrates responds to this by asking various questions of Crito to dive deeper into the idea of only finding value in the opinions of those who are wise and knowledgeable. And he attributes Crito’s previous concerns of deserting his children, and strength of character as the “doctrines of the multitude” (215), and not of those who are morally correct.

Since Crito agrees with Socrates that the opinion of the few who are wise and knowledgeable is more important than the opinion of the unwise masses, for Socrates there is only one question left to be considered:

Whether we shall do rightly either in escaping or in suffering others to aid in our escape and paying them in money and thanks, or whether in reality we shall not do rightly; and if the latter, then death or any other calamity which may ensue on my remaining here must not be allowed to enter into the calculation. (Crito 216)

This is Socrates second method of dismissing Crito’s fear of what people may think of either Socrates or his friends, and places the emphasis solely on what is right and what is wrong, regardless of personal consequence.

Socrates Takes over the Argument

Socrates sets up some premises for Crito that they both agree on, and that give a nice overview of the morality that Socrates holds:

  1. We must do no wrong
  2. Nor when injured injure in return
  3. May not do evil
  4. doing evil in return for evil is unjust
  5. A man ought to do what he thinks is right (216)

After establishing these premises with Crito, he asks Crito if in escaping prison against the will of the Athenians he is wronging them. Crito answers that he does not know. Socrates taking up the argument of the state, asks “Do you imagine that a state can subsist and not be overthrown, in which the decisions of law have no power, but are set aside and trampled upon by individuals?” (216) To counter argue this question, Socrates replies that he was injured by an unjust sentence, but then takes up the state’s side again and establishes that he was raised and nurtured by the state, and given liberty to stay in or leave the state if he thought it unjust.

By having grown up in Athens, Socrates has seen the courts work, experienced life there, and by staying has entered into an agreement with the state to obey its decisions and decrees. He has raised his children in the state, and has rarely traveled. He hasn’t expressed curiosity in the laws of other states and municipalities, and even at his trial had the choice of requesting exile, which he is sure the state would have granted him.

Socrates’ Vision of the Future if he Escapes

Speaking as the state, Socrates lays out the consequences of his escape, to drive the point even further to convince Crito how wrong and foolish of him it would be to escape. He lays out a future wherein his friends are driven into exile and have their property confiscated, and imagines a neighboring city such as Thebes and Megara viewing him with suspicion as a subverter of laws and people.

Socrates visualizes himself and the strength of his morality and beliefs and then imagines how he would feel as a refugee going against his morals, attempting to get one more meal or one more day alive simply for not wanting to die, even as an old man.

In counting on others’ generosity, and ability to keep him safe, he must become a flatterer of men, and not an unwavering seeker of truth and wisdom. It would be a betrayal of himself and his essence, to go against the values he believes in and give them up for only a few more years of life that wouldn’t even satisfy the truthfulness of who he is and what he believes in.

This vision is enough to silence and convince Crito, who leaves upon Socrates request, to allow Socrates to “fulfill the will of God, and to follow whither he leads” (219).

Author: Kristap Baltin

The Version of Plato’s Crito I used for this Article

GREAT BOOKS OF THE WESTERN WORLD: VOLUME 7. Plato: Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor: Books

If you enjoyed this article, please read my explanation of Plato’s Apology.


Plato’s Apology – The Founding Texts of the West


Bust of Socrates

Plato’s Apology, rightfully considered to be one of the founding philosophical works of western civilization, is about the trial of Socrates and his oral defense against his accusers.

The dialogue begins in the middle of Socrate’s trial, before we even know what he is accused of. It starts off with him directly addressing the jury of 500 Athenians in attendance of his trial. He begins by addressing what he calls the old charges leveled against him, and not the ones by his official 3 accusers of Anytus, Meletus and Lycon. Those old charges consist of “telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better cause” (Plato, Apology, 200).

Why are those charges so bad?

That Socrates “speculate[s] about the heaven above, and searche[s] into the earth beneath” implies that he may be an atheist, and while this in itself was not illegal, Athens was a deeply religious society and a lack of proper respect for the gods showed an absence of respect for Athenian traditions and culture.

The second part of this accusation – “ma[king] the worse appear [to be] the better cause” is akin to accusing Socrates of being a sophist.

What is a sophist? A sophist is someone who is skilled at arguing about something that is untrue, but making it sound correct. This is an accusation that many skilled rhetoricians and philosophers were accused of, as their skill in debate and argument could often be used in a damaging manner by arguing that something that is a net negative in society is actually beneficial and good. We have many modern examples of this in society today. In media, persuasive techniques are often used to shape public opinion and influence individuals. This can involve selectively presenting information, using emotional appeals, or distorting facts to manipulate the audience’s perception and sway their opinions.

Socrates’ defense to these accusations

Socrates tells the story of his friend Chaerephon going to Delphi and asking the oracle to tell him if there is anyone wiser than Socrates. The oracle tells Chaerephon that there is no man wiser than Socrates. Seeing this as a riddle, and not believing the words of the oracle, Socrates goes about the task of finding someone who is wiser than he is. His strategy for this is to find people considered to be wise by the Athenian community and asking them questions. As he begins to question the people he encounters, he notices that they opine on subjects that they have no knowledge of, and truthfully tells them that they are not wise, which as a result makes these people with good reputations hate Socrates.

Oracle of DelphiOracle of Delphi

Socrates’ impression after talking to these individuals is best presented in this summary “although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is,- for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know” (Plato, Apology, 202). In short, Socrates does not pretend to any knowledge beyond him and therefore seeks what he does not know, while other hold pretensions of wisdom without being able to back it up with knowledge.

Socrates takes it as a holy mission to figure out what he considers to be a riddle by the oracle, and in his quest questions politicians, poets and artisans, and while he sees that the poets and artisans are talented and naturally able, they believe that the wisdom they have in their talent transcends to wisdom in other matters, which isn’t true. As you can see, the wide range of important and highly regarded people in Athens feeling like fools after their conversation with Socrates is a bad omen for him, as he is making enemies of the most powerful and influential people in his community.

The Moral Lesson of this Defense

The speech Socrates makes after relating the story of his questioning of the people considered to be wise in his community is key to understanding the moral he wished his audience to perceive:

This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to many calumnies. And I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if he said, ‘He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing’ (Apology 202-203).

This quote reaffirms how dangerous the enemies he has made are, but also effectively disputes the charge of atheism laid upon him. His claims that only “God is wise” and that the “wisdom of men is worth little or nothing” demonstrates his piety and his belief in a higher power. He does not take being called the wisest as a compliment or as something to indulge his vanity, but rather as a demonstration that mankind is vain and pretentious. That people do not spend enough time seeking truth and wisdom, and lie about how much they know. His mission is to reaffirm God’s message and he tirelessly and to the detriment of his safety and wealth continues his mission of questioning his society in “vindication of the oracle” and God’s message.

The Charge of Corrupting the Youth

This charge is brought upon Socrates by Meletus, Anytus and Lycon, as the society of Athens is afraid that Socrates’ influence upon the young will lead them to question the wisdom and integrity of those whom Socrates has made seem foolish through his questioning. This is a threat as the people who are questioned are observed by the youth, who in turn imitate Socrates and proceed to examine others. As the youth is the future of Athens, it is understandable, how much of a threat Socrates may pose to Athenian understanding and culture. Socrates points out that instead of being angry with themselves, the victims of his questioning turn their anger towards him.

On Death and the Fear of Death

Socrates does not see the accusations against him as the real reason behind his prosecution. He is aware that his work of questioning the highly reputed members of Athenian society has gained him powerful enemies, and that as a result he will most likely be convicted of being guilty and put to death, as it is goes against his values to stop questioning others and searching for the truth. It is at this point that he engages in a poignant speech that culminates his defense, and becomes more a contemplation of his circumstances. He explains this in the following passage:

but I know only too well how many are the enmities which I have incurred, and this is what will be my destruction if I am destroyed;—not Meletus, nor yet Anytus, but the envy and detraction of the world, which has been the death of many good men, and will probably be the death of many more; there is no danger of my being the last of them (Plato, Apology, 205)

Socrates knows that he is a revolutionary figure, that his quest for truth and his talent for revealing it makes important figures in the Athenian society uncomfortable and afraid of losing their influence. Therefore, it’s “envy and detraction of the world” that will spell his doom, as it has to other revolutionary and unique men throughout history. This is the beginning of Socrates coming to accept his fate and explaining that he has a moral imperative of continuing along on his path even if it means he will die. He knows that at this point he still has a chance to survive. If he shows contrition, he could either promise to stop his current way of life and/or accept exile to a different part of Greece. Anticipating the criticism the jury might pose to him, of being foolish for proceeding on a path of life that will lead to his untimely destruction, Socrates states that “a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong—acting the part of a good man or of a bad” (Plato, Apology, 205). Socrates is incorruptible, he will choose death over living a life incongruent with his values and morals. In his mind, men who will not, are not “good for anything.”

Comparisons with Achilles


For Socrates courage is a virtue, and Achilles is one of the foremost examples of courage and nobility. There will be a long block quote beneath this paragraph, please read it carefully, keeping in mind how much stock Socrates is placing in abiding by your values, honor and the truth of who you are and what your purpose is. When speaking of Achilles, Socrates states:

Whereas, upon your view, the heroes who fell at Troy were not good for much, and the son of Thetis above all, who altogether despised danger in comparison with disgrace; and when he was so eager to slay Hector, his goddess mother said to him, that if he avenged his companion Patroclus, and slew Hector, he would die himself—“Fate,” she said, in these or the like words, “waits for you next after Hector;” he, receiving this warning, utterly despised danger and death, and instead of fearing them, feared rather to live in dishonor, and not to avenge his friend. “Let me die forthwith,” he replies, “and be avenged of my enemy, rather than abide here by the beaked ships, a laughing-stock and a burden of the earth.” Had Achilles any thought of death and danger? For wherever a man’s place is, whether the place which he has chosen or that in which he has been placed by a commander, there he ought to remain in the hour of danger; he should not think of death or of anything but of disgrace (Plato, Apology, 205-206).

Due to his mother Thetis, a goddess, Achilles has privileged information about his future. He knows that if he goes on to slay Hector in battle, it is foretold that he will perish. When Socrates says that Achilles “despised” danger and death, it means that he is uncomfortable with them. He is a complex character who is attached to life and the glory of his own existence, but the greatness of Achilles is reflected in his amazing ability to overcome his lust for life in order to avoid dishonor. When he says “let me die forthwith and be avenged of my enemy” it means right away, without a delay. There is no hesitation in his decision to do the right thing. If he had chosen a prolonged life, it would amount to nothing more than being “a burden of the earth.” Socrates chooses this as a model for his own life. There is a divine element in his stating that “for wherever a man’s place is, whether the place which he has chosen or that in which he has been placed by a commander, there he ought to remain.” In Socrates mind the “right thing” is that which God has placed man naturally in. It is up to the man to execute God’s command and do that which is natural, difficult, yet right, rather than choose that which is an escape of duty for the sake of self-preservation. If in danger, the man should not think of death, but rather of the shame of disgrace. So it follows that if Socrates should stop his mission of questioning, it would be disgraceful and would go against God.

Faithful Until Death Painting

This painting, by Edward John Poynter aptly named “Faithful Until Death” is appropriately illustrative of Socrates’ philosophy. It shows a soldier dutifully guarding Pompeii as it is destroyed by a volcano. The duty of protecting the city and being placed there is a matter of honor and courage. You can see the chaos that is in contrast with his concerned yet calm pose within the gates of the city. There are chaos and death and people clearly trying to protect themselves, while he stoically carries on with his job despite the promise of a swift death he is more than aware of eventually coming for him.

On Death and the Fear of Death – Part II

It becomes clear through Socrates speech that he truly is not afraid of death. It is most apparent in this passage:

For the fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being a pretence of knowing the unknown; and no one knows whether death, which men in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. Is not this ignorance of a disgraceful sort, the ignorance which is the conceit that a man knows what he does not know? (Plato, Apology, 206).

This observation of how people fear death flawlessly drifts into Socrates explanation of wisdom – not pretending to know something one does not know. If people do not know what happens immediately after death, it is a pretence to be afraid of it. Socrates sees no reason to avoid death, especially if it means it would lead him to disgrace and worthlessness. His wisdom allows him to not fear it, and even be curious as to what it may lead to.

The Version of Plato’s Apology I used for this Article

GREAT BOOKS OF THE WESTERN WORLD: VOLUME 7. PLATO: Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor: Books

Author: Kristap Baltin