|Chapter 9: Plato’s Shortest Dialogue
In the Clitopho, Socrates barely speaks – he has two entries only, each limited to a single sentence. In the opening sentence he addresses Clitopho with a complaint:
‘Someone told me recently that Clitopho the son of Ariston in a discussion with Lysias censured studying with Socrates but spoke in superlatives about doing so with Thrasymachus.’ (406a1-4).
Clitopho defends himself; he says that Socrates was misinformed, for although there were things that he did not find praiseworthy in him, there were others that he praised. If Socrates permits him to be frank, he is ready to tell him what he really thinks of him. Clitopho’s offer of frank criticism provides an occasion for Socrates’ second and final entry:
‘But, it would indeed be shameful if I were to reject your offer to benefit me. For clearly, when I realize in what respect I am worse and in what better, I shall practice and pursue the latter and flee the former with all my strength.’ (407a1-4).
Clitopho tells Socrates that his protreptic discourses are worthy of the highest praise, for no-one else speaks so well about the need to pursue virtue as he does, but that when he asks what one should do next (ti tounteuthen, 408e1-2), what virtue is, what the contribution of justice is to life, what is its proper work (ergon, 408d5), neither Socrates’ disciples nor Socrates himself give him a satisfactory answer. From this Clitopho concludes that Socrates either does not know the answers to his questions, or he does not want to share his knowledge with him (410c4-6). Socrates, he proclaims, is of inestimable value to a person who is not yet turned towards virtue (mê protetrammenôi anthrôpôi, 410d5-6), but to a man who is resolved to pursue virtue he is rather a hindrance (empodion, 410e7).
The ancient credentials of the Clitopho are unimpeacheable; Thrasyllus placed it at the start of the eighth tetralogy, in which it is followed by the Republic, Timaeus, and Critias ( Diog. Laert. iii. 60), and another ancient editor placed it at the start of his whole edition of Plato ( Diog. Laert. iii. 62), ‘viewing it as proper to be studied first of all’.(1) Indeed, the radical criticism of Socrates’ not-knowing that dominates the dialogue can be seen as a key to Plato’s approach both to Socrates and to philosophy. And yet, the majority of modern scholars have rejected Plato’s authorship of the dialogue, beginning with Schleiermacher, who considered it unlikely that Plato would expose Socrates to such unmitigated criticism.(2) Joseph Souilhé in his edition of the dialogue turned Schleiermacher’s observation into a powerful argument for the authenticity of the dialogue. He notes that in antiquity there can be found not a single voice disputing Plato’s authorship, and asks, how a dialogue that appears to be so scandalous could have been unanimously accepted as an integral part of the Platonic Corpus had it not been authentic (Souilhé p. 180). Souilhé notes that many Platonic scholars consider the arguments for and against the authenticity of the dialogue to be equally strong, neutralizing each other, and so they simply refuse to be drawn on the matter, bracketing the dialogue out, as if it had nothing to contribute to our view of Plato, were it authentic (Souilhé p. 172). Jowett in his translation of Plato simply ignores the dialogue.
Wilamowitz’ rejection of the dialogue is instructive. In his view, the writer of the Clitopho assumed the mask of Clitopho who in Plato’s Republic accompanies Thrasymachus,(3) and he did so without reading the whole Republic.(4) What led Wilamowitz to this assumption? The eponymous Clitopho criticizes Socrates for not telling him what justice is and what is its proper work, i.e. what is its ergon, and exhorts him to instruct him on this matter; but in the Republic, beginning with the second book, Socrates provides the answer to this demand, and does so in Clitopho’s presence. This is why Wilamowitz thought that the writer of the Clitopho could not have read the whole Republic, but only its first book.(5) After the Republic the Clitopho is pointless, or as Grube puts it, ‘whoever the author, Cleitophon’s objections are nothing short of ludicrous if formulated after the appearance of the whole Republic’.(6)
Unlike Wilamowitz, Grube views the dialogue as authentic and dates it after the first book of the Republic; his argument for doing so is the following:
‘I am convinced that our author had Republic i before him. We have seen that it cannot have been written after the later books, and this forces us to conclude that the most probable time for the Cleitophon to have been written is after the first, but before the other books of the Republic, for the second book also begins with a spirited criticism of Socrates. Now if the Cleitophon is spurious we have to suppose that the first book of the Republic was published separately, and further that some bright pupil then criticized his master, who was so impressed as to mend his ways forever after. Is it not more likely that Plato wrote the criticism himself?’(Grube p. 305)
Wilamowitz and Grube, although they differ concerning the authenticity of the Clitopho, share the view that the author of the Clitopho had Republic i in front of him. What they both fail to address is the question how any writer could borrow the mask of Clitopho after reading the first book of the Republic. This question must be asked, for in the Clitopho Clitopho views Thrasymachus as a teacher to whom he intends to go after his disappointment with Socrates (410c), but in Republic i Thrasymachus is portrayed not only to be no match for Socrates who comprehensively refutes his views on virtue and justice, but Thrasymachus’ views appear to be incompatible with the views that Clitopho expresses on this subject in the Clitopho. For in the latter dialogue Clitopho fully agrees with Socrates’ identification of virtue with justice, viewing it as that which ought to be of utmost concern to any human being (407a-408c), whereas Thrasymachus in Republic i, compelled to reveal his true view, identifies injustice with virtue and wisdom, justice with their opposites (348e). Socrates’ refutation of Thrasymachus’ views is duly emphasized in Republic i:
‘Then the just has turned out to be wise and good and the unjust evil and ignorant. Thrasymachus made all these admissions not fluently, as I repeat them, but with extreme reluctance; it was a hot summer’s day, and the perspiration poured from him in torrents; and then I saw what I had never seen before, Thrasymachus blushing. As we were now agreed that justice was virtue and wisdom, and injustice vice and ignorance, I proceeded to another point...’ (350c10-d6).
How could Clitopho have wanted to abandon Socrates and become a disciple of Thrasymachus, after he had witnessed Thrasymachus’ comprehensive defeat in his confrontation with Socrates?
There is a further point which makes it hard to see how anybody could ‘borrow the mask’ of Clitopho after reading Plato’s Republic i. In the first book of the Republic Clitopho attempts to defend Thrasymachus’ definition of justice, for Thrasymachus’ definition of justice as ‘that which is in the interest of the stronger’ (to tou kreittonos sumpheron) allowed an interpretation with which a democratic politician of Clitopho’s ilk could be happy. In his initial explanation Thrasymachus points out that there are three forms of government - tyrannies, democracies, and aristocracies - and that in each state the government is the ruling power (kratei, 338d 10), that is ‘the stronger’:
‘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 (to tês kathestêkuias archês sumpheron, 339a1-2); 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 (to tou kreittonos sumpheron, 339a3-4).’(Translation B. Jowett)
Socrates refutes Thrasymachus by compelling him to clarify that on his definition justice requires the obedience of the subjects to their rulers (peithesthai tois archousi, 339b7-9), and then to admit that governments – that is the ‘stronger’ – are fallible (hoioi ti kai hamartein, 339c1-6): this means that it is equally just to do what is detrimental to the interest of the stronger as to do what is in his interest. Clitopho wants to rescue the definition by reconciling it with the reality of fallible governments. He suggests that Thrasymachus
‘meant by the interest of the stronger (to tou kreittonos sumpheron elegen) what the stronger thought to be his interest (ho hêgoito ho kreittôn hautôi sumpherein) - this is what the weaker had to do; and this was affirmed by him to be justice’ (kai to dikaion touto etitheto) (340b6-8). (Translation B. Jowett)
The Clitopho of Republic i had obviously no idea what Thrasymachus’ views on justice truly were, for Thrasymachus immediately rejected Clitopho’s interpretation of his definition with disdain, maintaining that he considered as ‘stronger’ (kreittô, 340c6-7) only those rulers and those governments that do not make mistakes:
‘being unerring, the ruler always commands that which is for his own interest; and the subject is required to execute his commands; and therefore, as I said at first and now repeat, justice is the interest of the stronger’ (341a1-4).(7)
After this rebuke by Thrasymachus Clitopho seeks no other opportunity to speak. How could anybody, let alone Plato, find himself inspired by this figure of Clitopho so as to transform him into a radical critic of Socrates?
Scholars who acknowledge Plato’s authorship of the dialogue face another difficulty simply because of their assumption that Plato began to write dialogues only after Socrates’ death. For Socrates demonstrated in his last days that his life was an accomplished work of virtue, of justice in particular, as Plato was keen to demonstrate in the Apology, and the Crito. How could Plato after these two dialogues write the Clitopho in which Socrates is criticized for failing to indicate what is the work of justice, its ergon? Or if he wrote the Clitopho after Socrates’ death but before these two dialogues, what might have made him change his view of Socrates so radically, so as to transform him into the hero of the Apology and of the Crito?
I consider the Clitopho to have been written during Socrates’ lifetime, crowning the sequence Phaedrus, Charmides, Hippias Major, Lysis, and Hippias Minor. In the Phaedrus Socrates’ radical philosophic ignorance serves as an introduction to his enthusiastic revelation of profound philosophic knowledge, without any apparent conflict between the two. These two aspects of the Phaedran Socrates come into progressively aggravated conflict in the dialogues that follow. In the Charmides Socrates’ ignorance comes strongly to the fore, but at the end of the dialogue Critias and Charmides simply discard Socrates’ repeated professions of ignorance and command him to take care of Charmides’ education and Socrates bows to their command. In the Hippias Major Plato depicts ignorance as a grave fault of which Socrates himself is painfully aware, and which he struggles to overcome. In the Lysis Plato raises the stakes, bringing to the fore the negative aspects of Socrates’ ignorance within the framework of clearly pronounced political aspirations to which a man of political wisdom is entitled. In the Hippias Minor Socrates, deeply perplexed on account of his self-professed ignorance, argues that the truthful person and the liar are one and the same (365c3-369a3) and that a deliberate criminal is a better man than an unintentional one (371d8-376b6). In the Clitopho Socrates is being told that if he does not overcome his philosophic ignorance, then a man who takes the pursuit of virtue seriously will turn his back on him. A more in-depth examination of the Clitopho will allow us to further specify and ascertain this proposed dating.
Having heard that Clitopho in his discussions with Lysias spoke badly about him, Socrates opens the dialogue by asking Clitopho what he can say to it. Socrates does not specify the calumny, but it is clear it must have been serious. Clitopho defends himself by saying that he did not merely criticize Socrates but said a lot that was good about him. As if in passing, he underlines Socrates’ concern: ‘you are obviously cross with me, although you are pretending you don’t mind’ (406a7-9). The only indication as to the nature of the calumny is provided by the naming of Lysias as its primary source. This leads us to Lysias’ speech Against Eratosthenes – Lysias held Eratosthenes, one of the Thirty Tyrants, to be directly responsible for the death of his brother Polemarchus – in which Lysias denounced as accomplices of the Thirty Tyrants the Athenians who came to the court in great numbers in support of Eratosthenes and whom he characterized as adherents of the ideal of ‘nobleness and goodness’ (hôs kaloi kagathoi, xii. 86). This ideal was in the minds of the Athenians closely linked with Socrates and his disciples. In Aristophanes’ Clouds, which was staged some twenty years prior to Lysias’ speech, in 423, it is enough for Strepsiades to mention the ideal of kalokagathia (‘nobleness and goodness’) and his son Pheidippides immediately knows to whom he refers: Socrates and Chaerephon, Socrates’ closest friend and follower. Thus, characterizing the Thirty as men who ‘declared that the city must be purged of unjust men and the remaining citizens turned to virtue and justice’ (ep’ aretên kai dikaiosunên trapesthai, xii. 5), Lysias pointed his finger at Socrates. Lysias in his speech proclaims that if the jury members acquit Eratosthenes they will be seen as aspiring to the same deeds in future as Eratosthenes and the Thirty Tyrants did in the past (ophthêsesthe tôn autôn ergôn epithumêtai ontes, xii. 90). Although there are strong reasons to believe that Lysias lost his case against Eratosthenes (8), there were undoubtedly many people among the victorious democrats who under the influence of his speech began to view Socrates’ followers, that is men to whom the ideals of kalokagathia were dear, and especially Plato with his rising political ambitions, with suspicion. One of the reasons for Plato’s writing the Clitopho was the need to counter these suspicions. Lysias’ speech was presumably delivered at court as soon as the judiciary resumed functioning after the restoration of democracy, that is at the end of 403 or early 402; I date the Clitopho shortly after the presentation of Lysias’ speech.
Plato in the Clitopho constructs Clitopho’s criticism of Socrates in such a manner that it in itself liberates Socrates and his followers from the allegations and suspicions expressed by Lysias in Against Eratosthenes. For Clitopho censures Socrates for his failure to provide his listeners with any guidance concerning the practical moral and political implications of his views on justice, and says that this is why he thinks of attending the lessons given by Thrasymachus. The Clitopho tells the reader nothing about Thrasymachus, but Republic i indicates that Plato presumed his readers would have been acquainted with Thrasymachus’ view of justice as ‘the right of the stronger’. Referring in the Clitopho to Thrasymachus as a man to whom those took recourse who were disappointed with Socrates, Plato indicated that if there was a grain of truth in Lysias’ allegations concerning the persistent tyrannical appetites of some Athenians, then these were attributable to those who deserted Socrates, not those who adhered to him. Viewed as Plato’s direct appeal to Socrates, the dialogue indicates the danger to which Socrates with his ‘ignorance’ exposed his friends and followers: the danger was not in what he exhorted them to do, but rather in not leading them to activities to which his exhortations were pointing. Concerning this point, Plato was in fact at one with Lysias, for although Lysias in Against Eratosthenes branded the Thirty Tyrants and their acolytes as men operating under the banner of kalokagathia, he found no fault with their professions that they would turn citizens to virtue and justice: ‘despite these professions they had the effrontery to discard them in practice’ (Lysias xii. 5, tr. Lamb).(9)
In the dialogue Clitopho begins by emphasizing the positive aspects of Socrates’ influence. He does so by reproducing Socrates’ protreptic ‘recitative’ (humneis legôn, 407a8), deeply engraved in his memory:
‘People, in what direction are you drifting? You do not realize that you utterly fail to do what you ought to, you who exert all your efforts to acquire money, but take no care that your sons, to whom you will hand it over, learn to use it justly. You neither seek teachers (didaskalous, 407b5) of justice for your sons, if it can be learnt (eiper mathêton, 407b5-6) - or trainers if it can be acquired by application and training (ei de meletêton te kai askêton, 407b6) - nor indeed have you studied the acquisition of it even for yourself. You can see that you and your children have sufficiently learnt literacy (grammata), music (mousikên), and gymnastics - which you consider to be the perfect education concerning virtue - and nevertheless you see your children misusing property; how is it possible that you do not regard this education with contempt and that you do not look for those who would deliver you from this disharmony (tautês tês amousias, 407c6)? Yet it is because of this dissonance (dia tautên tên plêmmeleian, 407c6) and this rashness, not because of the inability to move rhythmically to the accompaniment of a lyre (ou dia tên en tôi podi pros tên luran ametrian, 407c7), that brother behaves badly – ‘without meter and harmony’ (ametrôs kai anarmostôs, 407c8-b1) – towards brother and cities towards cities; stricken by internal strife and wars, they inflict on each other the gravest ills and evils.’ (407b1-d2)
Socrates’ protreptic speech is dominated by musical terms; he obviously held conventional music in contempt and envisaged education in justice as education in proper mousikê. This is of great significance concerning the presence of the historical Socrates in Plato’s dialogues, for in the Clitopho Plato reproduces Socrates’ hortative discourse face to face with the living Socrates. In the Phaedo, on his last day, Socrates will speak to his friends of a dream that repeatedly visited him throughout his life exhorting him to create and cultivate mousikê (60e6-7), revealing that he interpreted it as an exhortation to do philosophy (61a3-4). The Phaedo thus sheds light on Socrates’ reference to music in the Clitopho, and the Clitopho corroborates the historicity of Socrates in the Phaedo.
Clitopho goes on with his reproduction of Socrates’ protreptic speech:
‘And you say that it is neither for the lack of education nor because of ignorance that unjust people are unjust but because they are so of their own volition (hekontas, 407d3), and you then have the effrontery to say that injustice is shameful and that it is hated by the gods; for how could anybody willingly (hekôn, 407d5) choose such an evil? You say “Whoever is defeated by pleasures” (hêttôn hos an êi hêdonôn, 407d6). But is not this too involuntary (akousion), if being victorious (to nikan) is voluntary (hekousion, 407d7)? So that the argument demonstrates in every way that committing injustice is involuntary (akousion), and that every man must devote much greater care to this matter privately and all cities publicly than they do at present.’ (407d2-e2)
With this forceful expression of Socrates’ conviction that nobody commits evil wittingly Clitopho ends his quoting Socrates back to Socrates in direct speech. To give such prominence to Socrates’ maxim that nobody commits evil wittingly, and support it with argument, was essential to dispel the moral muddle in which Plato left Socrates in the Hippias Minor. In the light of the Clitopho, Socrates’ arguing in the Hippias Minor that a man who does wrong willingly is better than a man who does so unwillingly has as its sole purpose the awakening of his audience to the realization that there can be no such man, for no man can do wrong willingly. In other words, since only a man who knew what was wrong could do wrong willingly, and only a man who knew the Good would know what was wrong, nobody could do wrong willingly, for nobody who knew the Good could of his own free will do what was wrong. Plato did present this maxim, which is central to Socrates’ moral thought, in the Hippias Major, which preceded the Hippias Minor, but he presented it there as an indubitable certainty without any supporting argument – ‘all people do wrong against their will’ (pantes anthrôpoi ... hamartanousi akontes, 296c). The unspecified nature of Clitopho’s alleged criticism of Socrates, against which Clitopho forcefully defends himself, and the prominence that is given to Socrates’ maxim in the Clitopho, suggest that the Hippias Minor had cast a negative shadow on Socrates and on his disciples and followers, and that a swift and radical remedy was needed. If Lysias’ speech Against Eratosthenes helps us to date the remedial Clitopho shortly after the delivery of the speech, it helps us retrospectively to determine the dating of the Hippias Minor as written and published prior to the delivery of Lysias’ speech at court. Plato could write the Hippias Minor at the time when he considered Socrates to be immune against any putative association of him with the Thirty Tyrants simply by virtue of his courageous disobedience to their rule, but not after Lysias’ Against Eratosthenes proved this immunity to be an illusion.
The question is, why did Plato choose Clitopho for the delivery of this important corrective message, a man who plays such a poor role in the Republic? To find the answer, we must set aside Clitopho of the Republic and go to Aristotle, who in the Athenian Constitution speaks of Clitopho on two occasions. After the Sicilian disaster, in 413, Clitopho came to prominence as a champion of the ancestral laws laid down by Cleisthenes and Solon (Athenian Constitution, ch. 29). After the disastrous end of the Peloponnesian war, in 405, we find Clitopho, in company with Anytus, in a neutral camp between the democrats and the oligarchs, attempting to restore the ancestral constitution (Athenian Constitution ch. 34). This shows that Clitopho was a notable politician of the time, and we may presume that he admired Socrates’ efforts to persuade his fellow citizens to taking proper care of their souls and of the city. Aristophanes’ sarcastic remark concerning Socrates’ unparalleled influence on his contemporaries is to the point; in the Birds, staged in 414, a messenger informs Pisthetaerus, the founder of the City-in-the-Clouds, that prior to its foundation ‘all men imitated Socrates’ (hapantes anthrôpoi esôkratoun, 1281-2). Plato and Clitopho had in the early days of Plato’s career presumably much in common politically, for Clitopho’s interest in the ancestral constitution, recorded by Aristotle, coincided with Plato’s interest in this matter; Plato says in the Seventh Letter that when he finally gave up his desire to pursue a political career in his native city, he did so because he realized that ‘public affairs at Athens were no longer carried on in accordance with the customs and practices of our fathers’ (325d3-4). After the restoration of democracy, at the time when his desire to become engaged in politics was still strong, or rather newly rekindled (Seventh Letter 325a-b), Plato found Clitopho a congenial mouthpiece for what he himself had to say to Socrates, and about Socrates to his readers. He at the same time paid Clitopho a great compliment; apart from his brothers Adeimantus and Glaucon in Republic ii, there can be found no other such radical and high principled critic of Socrates in any dialogue of Plato. Plato also did Clitopho a service, for there can be little doubt that Clitopho did criticize Socrates in his discussions with Lysias and that false rumour about his criticism was in circulation. The rumour probably had something to do with Clitopho’s political association with Anytus, of which we are informed by Aristotle (Athenian Constitution 34). As we know from Plato (Apology 29b-c, 31a, 36a) and from Xenophon (Socrates’ Defence 29-31), Anytus became the main accuser of Socrates. We may therefore conjecture that already prior to the composition of the Clitopho the resentment of Anytus and his coterie against Socrates and his friends began to take shape.
Remarking on his lengthy quote from Socrates’ protreptic speech Clitopho says: ‘when I hear you often saying these words, Socrates (tauta oun, ô Sôkrates, egô hotan akouô sou thama legontos, 407e3-4), I greatly admire them and praise them tremendously, just as I praise and admire what comes next’ (to ephexês toutôi, 407e5). ‘What comes next’ in Socrates’ protreptic speeches is reported by Clitopho in indirect speech: Clitopho finds it praiseworthy when Socrates says that another such error – similar to that of taking care for the acquisition of property without learning justice and teaching justice to children – is committed by those who train their bodies but do not care about their souls, for they neglect that which is to rule (tou men arxontos amelein), while devoting their care to that which is to be ruled (peri de to arxomenon espoudakenai, 407e5-8).(10)
Next comes the argument that whatever a man does not know how to use, it is better for him not to use, which in a series of inductive steps leads to the conclusion that for whoever does not know how to use his soul (hostis psuchêi mê epistatai chrêsthai, 408a5) would be better to keep his soul inactive (agein hêsuchian têi psuchêi) and cease living (mê zên), rather than to live left to his own devices (ê zên prattonti kath’ hauton, 408a5-7).(11) Clitopho fully approves Socrates’ argument that if there were some necessity to stay alive (ei de tis anankê zên eiê), then for a man who did not know how to use his soul it would be better to live as a slave (doulôi ameinon ê eleutherôi diagein tôi toioutôi ton bion estin ara) and to hand over the rudder of his mind to someone else, as of a ship (kathaper ploiou paradonti ta pêdalia tês dianoias allôi), that is to someone who had learnt the art of steering human beings (tôi mathonti tên tôn anthrôpôn kubernêtikên), ‘which you call many times politics (hên dê su politikên eponomazeis pollakis), identifying it with the art of judging and justice’ (tên autên dê tautên dikastikên te kai dikaiosunên hôs estin legôn, 408a7-b5).(12)
Plato in the Clitopho does his best to show in a good light the provocatively undemocratic words of Socrates. Clitopho praises them as ‘exquisitely spoken’ (pankalôs legomenois, 408b6), interprets them as meaning simply that ‘virtue can be taught and that one ought to take care of oneself most of all’ (hôs didakton aretê kai pantôn heautou dei malista epimeleisthai, 408b7-c1), and welcomes them because they ‘verily awaken us as if from a sleep’ (atechnôs hôsper katheudontas epegeirein hêmas, 408c3-4). Clitopho gives here expression to Socrates’ own view of himself and of his role in Athens: in the Apology Socrates compares the city to a great and noble steed who is tardy and needs to be awoken (deomenôi egeiresthai) and himself to the gadfly that does the awakening (humas egeirôn, 30e).
Having reproduced Socrates’ hortatory discourses and expressed his admiration and due praise of them, Clitopho says that he paid great attention to what he hoped would follow (to meta tauta): ‘I did not ask you at first, but your comrades sharing your aspirations (tôn hêlikiôtôn te kai sunepithumêtôn), or your companions (ê hetairôn sôn), or whatever is the right way of calling them when one talks to you (ê hopôs dei pros se peri autôn to toiouton onomazein, 408c6-7).’ By studiously avoiding the term ‘disciple’ (mathêtês) and by emphasizing the difficulty of finding the right word with which to describe Socrates’ followers, Plato highlights Socrates’ repudiation of the role of a teacher that marked his self-proclaimed philosophic ignorance. Plato does this at the point when Clitopho turns from praising Socrates for his protreptic skills to criticising him for his reluctance or inability to go beyond it: ‘I addressed my questions at first to those of whom you hold the highest opinion (tous ti malista einai doxazomenous hupo sou, 408c8), asking them what argument should follow next (tis ho meta taut’ eiê logos, 408c9).’ As Clitopho readily admits, he took recourse to Socrates’ method of questioning (kata se tropon tina hupoteinôn autois, 408d1). Moreover, he simply followed the strict logic of Socrates’ arguments to enquire into that which of necessity ought to have come next. Already in his reproduction of Socrates’ protreptic address Clitopho emphasized that Socrates’ arguments followed one another in a necessary logical sequence: Socrates began with the criticism of material goods as objects of primary care, upon which followed the imperative of caring for one’s soul as the primary object of one’s care. These arguments require the continuation to which they themselves lead: that which comes after them (to ephexês toutôi, 407e5; to meta tauta, 408c4).
This view of logos as an entity with its own proper structure, where what comes first and what comes next does so of a necessity that is inherent in the logos can be taken for granted in the Clitopho, for Plato presented it forcefully in the Phaedrus. Socrates opens the criticism of Lysias’ Eroticus by asking Phaedrus: ‘Do you not see that it is composed in a haphazard manner? Or does it seem to you that what he says as the second point is second by virtue of some necessity (ê phainetai to deuteron eirêmenon ek tinos anankês deuteron dein tethênai), or anything else of what he says (ê ti allo tôn rêthentôn, 264b4-5)?’ It is only if we consider the Clitopho against the background of the Phaedrus that we can understand the full force of the argument with which Clitopho confronts Socrates in the Clitopho.
In the Clitopho, Clitopho tells Socrates that he addressed his companions as follows:
‘You best of men, how are we to understand Socrates’ exhorting us to virtue (tên Sôkratous protropên hêmôn ep’ aretên, 408d2-3)? Is it all there is, and is there no way of approaching virtue itself (epexelthein de ouk eni tôi pragmati) and grasping it fully (kai labein auto teleôs, 408d4-5)? Is it to be our task (ergon), as long as we live (para panta dê ton bion), to exhort to virtue those who have not been turned to it (tous mêpô protetrammenous protrepein), and those then to exhort others (kai ekeinous au heterous, 408d5-6)?’
These words recall Socrates’ accolade of the procreative powers of the living spoken word of a true philosopher, developed in the Phaedrus, where Socrates maintains that a true philosopher
‘selects a soul of the right type, and in it he plants and sows his words founded on knowledge... which instead of remaining barren contain a seed whence new words grow up in new characters; whereby the seed is vouchsafed immortality, and its possessor the fullest measure of blessedness that man can attain unto.’(276e6-277a4, tr. R. Hackforth)
From these words of Socrates in the Phaedrus Clitopho’s criticism of Socrates in the Clitopho derives its force. Socrates’ post-Phaedran retreat into ignorance threatened Socrates’ own innermost views on philosophy actuated by the living word in the soul of the philosopher and then through his living spoken word implanted and enacted in the souls of his beloved young friends. Is this grand project of authentic philosophy and its propagation from generation to generation to be reduced to a pitiful torso of unfulfilled intentions: exhortations to virtue passed on from man to man, without the prospect of ever learning and practicing virtue, without the prospect of ever reaching happiness, is this all that Socrates and his followers can do?
‘Or must we ask (epanerôtan) Socrates and each other (ton Sôkratê kai allêlous hêmas) what is after it (to meta touto); having agreed that men ought to do this very thing [i.e. to exhort to virtue those who have not been turned to it], what comes next (ti tounteuthen, 408d7-e2)? How do we suppose that we are to begin learning justice (pôs archesthai dein phamen dikaiosunês peri mathêseôs; 408e2-3)? As if somebody exhorted us to take care of our bodies, seeing that like children we were unaware that there is gymnastics and medicine. He would then chastise us, saying that it is shameful to bestow all our care on wheat and barley and grape-vines, and on all those things that we do and acquire for the sake of the body (tou sômatos heneka, 408e7), but without discovering any art or means (mêdemian technên mêde mêchanên) for making the body itself as good as it can be (hopôs hôs beltiston estai to sôma), especially since there is such an art (kai tauta ousan, 408e9-10). If we asked a man who would thus exhort us what arts he was talking about, he would presumably answer that he referred to gymnastics and medicine. So now, what art is in our view devoted to the virtue of the soul (kai nun dê tina phamen einai tên epi têi tês psuchês aretêi technên)? Let it be told (legesthô, 409a3).’
The mastery with which Clitopho wields Socrates’ method of elenctic questioning in the Clitopho bears no comparison with Clitopho’s poor performance in the Republic, where he is shown to be no philosopher, no follower of Socrates, happy to acquiesce in appearances, a man to whom the quest for justice, pursued so radically in the Clitopho, was alien. What happened in the intervening years that induced Plato to transform Clitopho, the formidable critic of Socrates in the Clitopho, into the Clitopho of Republic i? Let me repeat, at the time when Plato wrote the Clitopho he had high hopes of pursuing a political career in Athens and Clitopho appeared to him a truly congenial character. As we know from the Seventh Letter, Plato conceived the ideal state of the Republic only after he abandoned all such hopes (SE 326a-b); he was forty when he realized that (SE 324a6). Plato says in the Seventh Letter
‘the farther I advanced in life, the more difficult it seemed to me to handle politic affairs aright. For it was impossible to be active in politics without friends and active supporters; and to find these ready to my hand was not an easy matter, since public affairs at Athens were not carried on in accordance with the manners and practices of our fathers’ (325c6-d4, tr. J. Harward).
These words set the profound difference between the Clitopho of the Clitopho and that of Republic i in sharp relief. If Plato could view Clitopho as a political ally and a follower of Socrates, albeit critical, when he wrote the Clitopho, he could not see him in that light some fifteen, twenty or thirty years later. Furthermore, as I have argued in the first chapter of my book, in discussing the Phaedo, Socrates in his last days overcame his philosophic ignorance. This made Plato’s picture of Socrates in the Clitopho profoundly inadequate. But this was no reason for Plato's becoming ashamed of his shortest dialogue, quite the contrary. For if Socrates on his last day made his best effort to overcome his ignorance, Plato had reasons to believe that his appeals to him that culminated in the Clitopho were not in vain, or at any rate, that they were in full accord with Socrates’ own philosophic intentions. By showing us Clitopho in the Republic in his ‘true colours’, Plato indicates that the able critic of Socrates in the Clitopho has very little in common with the real man: Clitopho in the Clitopho is Plato giving expression to his being a critical friend of Socrates. This is what he wants to tell us by presenting us with the profoundly changed picture of Clitopho in the first book of the Republic.
The term ‘You best of men’ (ô beltistoi humeis, Clit. 408d1-2), with which Clitopho addresses Socrates’ companions, is not all irony. Or better to say, it is Socratic irony in its most pregnant use; it does not cast the interlocutor down to keep him down; it shows him that he is down to incite him to lift himself up. Clitopho’s questioning aimed to show Socrates’ companions that they were not as good as they thought themselves to be, it aimed at awakening them to their deficiency and stimulating them into overcoming it. Irony is intentionally painful; in addressing Socrates’ companions ‘You best of men’ Plato ardently desires them to become so, so that they could become his trusted friends and associates for the envisaged political transformation of the city in accordance with the customs and laws of their fathers. It expresses Plato’s deepest conviction that the best men provided with true knowledge of justice ought to assume their responsibility towards their fellow-citizens and play an active role in politics. Clitopho’s subsequent address to Socrates’ followers does not use the second person when he asks about the way to start learning justice, he uses the first person plural ‘what do we say (phamen, 408e2) is the way to start learning justice’, and he does not end his address in the second person imperative ‘tell me’, but in the third person imperative ‘let it be told!’ (legesthô, 409a3); Plato addressed the challenge not merely to his fellow-Socratics, but to himself as well. The Clitopho offers us invaluable insights into Plato’s political efforts and aspirations of which he speaks in the Seventh Letter.
The follower who appeared to be the most advanced of those thus addressed answered that the art Clitopho was looking for was the one that he had heard Socrates discussing, that is justice (dikaiosunên, 409a6). Intent on bringing the practical aspects of justice into focus, Clitopho, in truly Socratic fashion, compares it to the arts. Thus medicine has two functions: it produces new doctors in addition to existing doctors, and it produces health. The latter is not art, but the product of the art, its proper deed (ergon, 409b5). The same is true of the art of building; it teaches builders and produces houses; the latter is its ergon, the former its teaching (didagma, 409b6):
‘Similarly concerning justice. Let one of its functions be to make men just (to men dikaious estô poiein), as in the other arts one function is to produce experts in each of them (tous technitas hekastous, 409b6-8). But what do we say the other thing (to d’ heteron) is, that is the work that the just man can perform for us (ho dunatai poiein hêmin ergon ho dikaios, 409b6-c1)?’
At this point there is a major shift in the subject of the discussion. Up to this point it might have seemed that Clitopho was merely interested in obtaining the proper definition of justice, so that he might learn it. But now Clitopho implies that Socrates can teach justice, that justice as Socrates and his companions discuss it can produce just men. Yet he insists that this is only one of the essential functions of justice. The other function must be a proper work that just men perform, and it is this special work, this ergon of justice that he is really interested in. This point is overlooked by all those who view the dialogue as a mere fragment: as Socrates does not reply to Clitopho’s criticism they conclude it is a fragment. But the historical Socrates was refusing to give the only reply that would have satisfied the Clitopho of the dialogue. Plato wanted trusted political allies in his quest for a political transformation of the city; he wanted Socrates and his followers to engage in promoting justice in action, that is in politics, and this is what he wanted to achieve by the criticism with which he confronted Socrates. At the beginning of the dialogue Socrates says to Clitopho that if he learns which are his worst and which are his best points (gnous hopêi cheirôn eimi kai beltiôn), he shall resolutely practice and pursue the latter (ta men askêsô kai diôxomai), and avoid the former (ta de pheuxomai kata kratos, 406a1-407a4). In the Clitopho Plato wants to bind Socrates to his words.
In the end one of Socrates’ followers replied that the proper work of justice (to tês dikaiosunês idion ergon, 409d4-5) was to produce philia, ‘love and friendship’ in cities (philian en tais polesin poiein, 409d5-6). When Clitopho riposted that there are many kinds of philia that are detrimental, his interlocutor refused to regard such kinds as philia, defining philia as unanimity (homonoian, 409e4). Asked by Clitopho whether he meant unanimity of opinion (homodoxian) or knowledge (epistêmên, 409e5), he said he meant the latter, for people have many harmful opinions. At this point Socrates’ followers, who were present, themselves pointed out to Clitopho and his interlocutor that their argument returned to where it started (hoti peridedramêken eis tauton ho logos tois prôtois, 410a2), for medicine and the other arts too can be defined as some sort of unanimity, but in their case it is clear what is the subject about which they are unanimous, whereas concerning justice it remains unclear what is its special work (410a4-6). When Clitopho’s interlocutor touched upon the theme of love as the proper ergon of justice, that is its proper work, he entered on the theme that was at the very centre of Plato’s political thinking. The questioning to which Plato subjected Clitopho’s interlocutor was therefore directed at himself as well as the other Socratics, and this is what Plato emphasized by Clitopho’s employing the first person plural: ‘When we were at this point of perplexity in our argument’ (hote dê entautha êmen tou logou aporountes, 409e10).
Clitopho ends by telling Socrates how he fared when he finally challenged him directly:
‘In the end I asked you these questions (Tauta egô teleutôn kai se auton êrôtôn), and you told me that to act according to justice is to harm one’s enemies and to benefit one’s friends (dikaiosunês einai tous men echthrous blaptein, tous de philous eu poiein, 410a7-b1). But it appeared later (husteron de ephanê) that the just man would never harm anybody (blaptein ge oudepote ho dikaios oudena), for he would do everything for the benefit of everyone (panta gar ep’ ôpheliai pantas dran, 410b1-3).’
As can be seen, Socrates makes a step towards that which Plato wants from him, going beyond what his followers could offer: he does answer the question what a just man ought to do in relation to others. Clitopho nevertheless found his answers as unsatisfactory as the answers of Socrates’ followers, although he does not explain why he remains dissatisfied. We may surmise that ‘doing everything for the benefit of everyone’ was too vague. Particularly noticeable is the lack of any argument that might explain Socrates’ movement from the initial definition of justice ‘harming one’s enemies and benefiting one’s friends’ – to its opposite. Plato rectifies this deficiency in the first book of the Republic by putting the first definition of justice into the mouth of Polemarchus, Lysias’ brother, and subjecting it to rigorous elenctic enquiry. Socrates in the Republic asks Polemarchus in what activity (en tini praxei) and in relation to what kind of work (kai pros ti ergon) the just man is most capable of benefiting his friends and harming his enemies (332e3-4). Polemarchus fails to give satisfactory answers to Socrates’ prolonged questioning concerning this matter (332e-334b), and Socrates refutes his definition as fundamentally wrong (335e1-4): ‘it became clear (ephanê on) that harming anyone in any way cannot be just’ (335e5). In the light of Republic i, Socrates’ two definitions of justice in the Clitopho represent two stages in the Socratic elenctic enquiry.
But does not Plato in Republic i idealize the historical Socrates by attributing to him the second, the sublime definition of justice? In fact, there are strong reasons to believe that the principle of not harming enemies was the principle to which the historical Socrates did adhere, and that the Clitopho in conjunction with Republic i is simply true to him. For Socrates’ claim that a just man would not willingly harm anyone is based on his identification of harm with harming the soul, where the soul can be harmed only by being made morally and intellectually worse. Socrates in Republic i argues that when people are harmed they become worse concerning human virtue (blaptomenous eis tên anthrôpeian aretên cheirous gignesthai, 335c1-2), so that those who are harmed become of necessity more unjust (blaptomenous ara anankê adikôterous gignesthai, 335c6-7). This identification of harm with moral deterioration forms the basis of Socrates’ defence against Meletus, who accused him of corrupting the youth of Athens. In the Apology Socrates compels him to admit that it is better to live among good citizens than among bad ones, and that every citizen wants to benefit from rather than be injured by his fellow-citizens, and that therefore no one would intentionally corrupt anyone (25c-d). This identification of harm with moral deterioration allows Socrates to proclaim further on in the Apology that it is not in the power of his accusers to harm him (30c9-d1). And in the Crito it is Socrates’ firm conviction that it is wrong to requite injustice with injustice (adikoumenon antadikein, 49b10), and evil with evil (antikakourgein kakôs paschonta, 49c4), which forms the basis for his refusal to escape from prison. He says there that many times in the past he and his friends reached the same conclusion (hôs pollakis hêmin kai en tôi emprosthen chronôi hômologêthê, 49a6-7), and then he points out that by escaping from prison he would harm the laws of his city (50c-54d).
In the Clitopho, Clitopho tells Socrates that when he could not obtain any further answer from him, he gave up (apeirêka, 410b3-4), thinking of two possibilities: either Socrates can do only this, that is to exhort people to virtue and nothing more (tosouton monon dunasthai, makroteron de ouden, 410b6-7), his case being like that of a person who is not a pilot and yet becomes proficient in highly praising (katamelethêsai ton epainon) the art of piloting as a very valuable art for human beings (hôs pollou tois anthrôpois axia, 410b8-c1), and so concerning any other art; equally, Socrates’ brilliant encomia on justice do not imply that he has any knowledge of justice (410b6-c4). Clitopho hastes to say that this is not his view (ou mên to ge emon houtôs echei, 410c4-5). After this clarification of the first possibility, Clitopho puts to Socrates bluntly the ‘either or’: ‘You either do not know what justice is, or you do not want to share with me your knowledge concerning it (ê ouk eidenai se ê ouk ethelein autês emoi koinônein, 410c5-6).’ On what ground does Clitopho at this stage refuse simply to accept Socrates’ ignorance as given? The answer to this question lies in Socrates’ movement from defining justice in the commonly accepted way as ‘benefiting friends and harming enemies’ to the principle of ‘not harming anyone’ as the principle of justice. For if Socrates in the course of his enquiries had discovered a principle of justice which so radically differed from accepted views, one was bound to suppose that he knew what justice is. And so Clitopho embarks on his final attempt to compel Socrates to share his knowledge with him:
‘This is why, having reached this state of perplexity (aporôn, 410c8), I believe I shall go to Thrasymachus (pros Thrasumachon oimai poreusomai, 410c7) or anywhere else I can,’
but immediately adds that he would prefer to remain Socrates’ follower:
‘if only you would stop addressing me with these protreptic discourses (ei g’ etheleis su toutôn men êdê pausasthai pros eme tôn logôn tôn protreptikôn, 410c8-d1), ... if you said that which follows the protreptic discourse (to ephexês an tôi protreptikôi logôi eleges, 410d3) ... let this very thing now happen (kai nun to auton gignesthô, 410d4-5) ... I am begging you and asking you do not do otherwise’ (kai sou deomenos legô mêdamôs allôs poiein, 410e3).
Clitopho’s final appeal crowns the dialogue. If Socrates stops addressing Clitopho with his protreptic discourse and decides to go on to what of necessity follows it, he must reveal to him what justice is and what is its work, and he must engage with him in that work. And here lies the key to the unusual structure of Clitopho’s address to Socrates. By reproducing Socrates’ protreptic exhortations and thus confronting Socrates with his own words, and moreover, by committing them to the written word in this form, Plato does his utmost to induce Socrates to leave the merely protreptic stage of his activities behind him and to venture on the next step in the pursuit of logos, which lies in turning his knowledge of justice into political practice. Clitopho’s final appeal is given emphasis by his final threat. If Socrates does not stop addressing him with his protreptic discourses, Clitopho will say that Socrates is of inestimable value to a man who has not been turned to the pursuit of virtue, but to a man who has been turned to it he is an obstacle on the way to fully acquiring virtue and thus to attaining happiness (empodion tou pros telos aretês elthonta eudaimona genesthai, 410e7-8). It is only when we realize how important the principle of not harming enemies was for Socrates that we can fully appreciate the full import of Clitopho’s final words. The situation into which the historical Socrates had manoeuvred himself could not be more absurd; with his reluctance to transcend the protreptic discourse, while proclaiming the noble principle of not harming enemies, he persisted in harming those who were nearest to him, his friends and followers, for he was hindering them on their way to acquiring virtue and thus as much happiness as was humanly possible.
Notes to Chapter 9