“Epistles” by Plato

“My greatness consists in making myself follow my own instructions.” (Letter II)

Wisdom and Power

“It is natural for wisdom and great power to come together, and they are for ever pursuing and seeking each other and consorting together. … When men talk about Hiero or about Pausanias the Lacedaemonian they delight to bring in their meeting with Simonides and what he did and said to them; and they are wont to harp on Periander of Corinth and Thales of Miletus, and on Pericles and Anaxagoras, and on Croesus also and Solon as wise men with Cyrus as potentate. … Creon and Tiresias, Polyeidus and Minos, Agamemnon and Nestor, Odysseus and Palamedes.” (Letter II)

The Call of Statesmanship

“We should remind ourselves that it behoves certain persons to surpass the rest of mankind as if they were less than children. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to show plainly that we are the sort of men we claim to be … Seeing, then, that you have the eyes of all upon you, prepare yourself to play the part of that ancient worthy Lycurgus and of Cyrus and of all those others who have been famed hitherto for their excellence of character and of statesmanship.” (Letter IV)

Language for Each Form of Government

“For forms of government, like animals, have each their own kind of language, one for democracy, another for oligarchy, and a third kind for monarchy; and though a vast number of people would assert that they understand these languages, yet all but a few of them are very far indeed from discerning them. Now each of these polities, if it speaks its own language both to gods and to men, and renders its actions conformable to its language, remains always flourishing and secure; but if it imitates another it becomes corrupted.” (Letter V)

Letter VII

Criterion of Friendship

“There is no surer criterion of virtue and vice than this, whether a man is or is not destitute of trustworthy friends.[It is] no common or vulgar friendship, but rested on community in liberal education, and this is the one thing in which a wise man will put his trust, far more than in ties of personal and bodily kinship.”

Justice of Man and State

“For the one thing which is wholly right and noble is to strive for that which is most honourable for a man’s self and for his country, and to face the consequences whatever they may be. For none of us can escape death, nor, if a man could do so, would it, as the vulgar suppose, make him happy. For nothing evil or good, which is worth mentioning at all, belongs to things soulless ; but good or evil will be the portion of every soul, either while attached to the body or when separated from it. And we should in very truth always believe those ancient and sacred teachings, which declare that the soul is immortal, that it has judges, and suffers the greatest penalties when it has been separated from the body. Therefore also we should consider it a lesser evil to suffer great wrongs and outrages than to do them.”

“There is no cessation of evils for the warring factions until those who have won the mastery cease from perpetuating feuds by assaults and expulsions and executions, and cease from seeking to wreak vengeance on their foes; and, exercising mastery over themselves, lay down impartial laws which are framed to satisfy the vanquished no less than themselves; and compel the vanquished to make use of these laws by means of two compelling forces, namely, Reverence and Fear—Fear, inasmuch as they make it plain that they are superior to them in force; and Reverence, because they show themselves superior both in their attitude to pleasures and in their greater readiness and ability to subject themselves to the laws. In no other way is it possible for a city at strife within itself to cease from evils, but strife and enmity and hatred and suspicion are wont to keep for ever recurring in cities when their inner state is of this kind.”

True Lover of Philosphy

“I ought first of all to gain proof of this point,—whether Dionysius was really inflamed by philosophy, as it were by fire, or … crammed with borrowed doctrines. … To such persons one must point out what the subject is as a whole, and what its character, and how many preliminary subjects it entails and how much labor. For on hearing this, if the pupil be truly philosophic, in sympathy with the subject and worthy of it, because divinely gifted, he believes that he has been shown a marvellous pathway and that he must brace himself at once to follow it, and that life will not be worth living if he does otherwise. After this he braces both himself and him who is guiding him on the path, nor does he desist until either he has reached the goal of all his studies, or else has gained such power as to be capable of directing his own steps without the aid of the instructor. It is thus, and in this mind, that such a student lives, occupied indeed in whatever occupations he may find himself, but always beyond all else cleaving fast to philosophy and to that mode of daily life which will best make him apt to learn and of retentive mind and able to reason within himself soberly; but the mode of life which is opposite to this he continually abhors. Those, on the other hand, who are in reality not philosophic, but superficially tinged by opinions,—like men whose bodies are sunburnt on the surface —when they see how many studies are required and how great labor, and how the orderly mode of daily life is that which befits the subject, they deem it difficult or impossible for themselves, and thus they become in fact incapable of pursuing it; while some of them persuade themselves that they have been sufficiently instructed in the whole subject and no longer require any further effort.”

“For it does not at all admit of verbal expression like other studies, but, as a result of continued application to the subject itself and communion therewith, it is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, [OR: a flame that leaps to it from another] and thereafter it nourishes itself. …Some few are able to discover the truth themselves with but little instruction; for as to the rest, some it would most unseasonably fill with a mistaken contempt, and others with an overweening and empty aspiration, as though they had learnt some sublime mysteries.”

Being, Knowledge and Language

“For everything that exists there are three instruments by which the knowledge of it is necessarily imparted ; fourth, there is the knowledge itself, and, as fifth, we must count the thing itself which is known and truly exists. The first is the name, the, second the definition, the third. the image, and the fourth the knowledge. … No one, if he has not some how or other got hold of the four things first mentioned, can ever be completely a partaker of knowledge of the fifth. Further, on account of the weakness of language, these (i.e., the four) attempt to show what each thing is like, not [less than] what each thing is. For this reason no man of intelligence will venture to express his philosophical views in language, especially not in language that is unchangeable. … We say also that the name is not a thing of permanence for any of them, …; for those who make changes and call things by opposite names, nothing will be less permanent (than a name). Again with regard to the definition, if it is made up of names and verbal forms, the same remark holds that there is no sufficiently durable permanence in it. And there is no end to the instances of the ambiguity from which each of the four suffers ; … when the soul is seeking to know, not the quality, but the essence, each of the four, presenting to the soul by word and in act that which it is not seeking (i.e., the quality), a thing open to refutation by the senses, being merely the thing presented to the soul in each particular case whether by statement or the act of showing, fills, one may say, every man with puzzlement and perplexity.”

“In one word, the man who has no natural kinship with this matter cannot be made akin to it by quickness of learning or memory ; for it cannot be engendered at all in natures which are foreign to it. Therefore, if men are not by nature kinship allied to justice and all other things that are honourable, though they may be good at learning and remembering other knowledge of various kinds — or if they have the kinship but are slow learners and have no memory — none of all these will ever learn to the full the truth about virtue and vice.”

“Therefore every man of worth, when dealing with matters of worth, will be far from exposing them to ill feeling and misunderstanding among men by committing them to writing. In one word, then, it may be known from this that, if one sees written treatises composed by anyone, either the laws of a lawgiver, or in any other form whatever, these are not for that man the things of most worth, if he is a man of worth, but that his treasures are laid up in the fairest spot that he possesses.”

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