What, he said, is there a knowledge still higher than this — higher than justice and the other virtues ?
Yes, I said, there is. And of the virtues too we must behold not the outline merely, as at present — nothing short of the most finished picture should satisfy us. When little things are elaborated with an infinity of pains, in order that they may appear in their full beauty and utmost clearness, how ridiculous that we should not think the highest truths worthy of attaining the highest accuracy !
A right noble thought ; but do you suppose that we shall refrain from asking you what is this highest knowledge ?
Nay, I said, ask if you will ; but I am certain that you have heard the answer many times, and now you either do not understand me or, as I rather think, you are disposed to be troublesome ; for you have often been told that the idea of good is the highest knowledge, and that all other things become useful and advantageous only by their use of this. You can hardly be ignorant that of this I was about to speak, concerning which, as you have often heard me say, we know so little ; and, without which, any other knowledge or possession of any kind will profit us nothing. Do you think that the possession of all other things is of any value if we do not possess the good ? or the knowledge of all other things if we have no knowledge of beauty and goodness ?
You are further aware that most people affirm pleasure to be the good, but the finer sort of wits say it is knowledge ?
And you are aware too that the latter cannot explain what they mean by knowledge, but are obliged after all to say knowledge of the good ?
How ridiculous !
Yes, I said, that they should begin by reproaching us with our ignorance of the good, and then presume our knowledge of it — for the good they define to be knowledge of the good, just as if we understood them when they use the term “good” — this is of course ridiculous.
Most true, he said.
And those who make pleasure their good are in equal perplexity ; for they are compelled to admit that there are bad pleasures as well as good.
And therefore to acknowledge that bad and good are the same ?
There can be no doubt about the numerous difficulties in which this question is involved.
There can be none.
Further, do we not see that many are willing to do or to have or to seem to be what is just and honorable without the reality ; but no one is satisfied with the appearance of good — the reality is what they seek ; in the case of the good, appearance is despised by everyone.
Very true, he said.
Of this then, which every soul of man pursues and makes the end of all his actions, having a presentiment that there is such an end, and yet hesitating because neither knowing the nature nor having the same assurance of this as of other things, and therefore losing whatever good there is in other things — of a principle such and so great as this ought the best men in our State, to whom everything is intrusted, to be in the darkness of ignorance ?
Certainly not, he said.
I am sure, I said, that he who does not know how the beautiful and the just are likewise good will be but a sorry guardian of them ; and I suspect that no one who is ignorant of the good will have a true knowledge of them.
That, he said, is a shrewd suspicion of yours.
And if we only have a guardian who has this knowledge, our State will be perfectly ordered ?
Of course, he replied ; but I wish that you would tell me whether you conceive this supreme principle of the good to be knowledge or pleasure, or different from either ?
Aye, I said, I knew all along that a fastidious gentleman like you would not be contented with the thoughts of other people about these matters.
True, Socrates ; but I must say that one who like you has passed a lifetime in the study of philosophy should not be always repeating the opinions of others, and never telling his own.
Well, but has anyone a right to say positively what he does not know ?
Not, he said, with the assurance of positive certainty ; he has no right to do that : but he may say what he thinks, as a matter of opinion.
And do you not know, I said, that all mere opinions are bad, and the best of them blind ? You would not deny that those who have any true notion without intelligence are only like blind men who feel their way along the road ?
And do you wish to behold what is blind and crooked and base, when others will tell you of brightness and beauty ?