This dialogue therefore is the beginning of all philosophy, in the same manner as the knowledge of ourselves. Hence many logical and ethical theorems are scattered in it, together with such as contribute to entire speculation of felicity. It likewise contains information with respect to many things which contribute to physiology, and to those dogmas which lead us to the truth concerning divine natures themselves. Hence too the divine Iamblichus assigned this dialogue the first rank, in the ten dialogues, in which he was of opinion the whole of Plato was contained.
Of the particulars exhibited in this dialogue, some precede and others follow the principle design, which is the knowledge of ourselves. For the hypothesis of twofold ignorance,1 exhortation, and the like precede; but the demonstration of virtue and felicity, and the rejection of the multitude of arts, as being ignorant of themselves, of things pertaining to themselves and in short of all things, - and every thing else of this kind, have a consequent order. But the most perfect and leading design of the whole conversation is the speculation of our own essence. So that he will not err who establishes the care and knowledge of ourselves, as the end of the dialogue.
Again, the amatory form of life is particularly indicated by Socrates in this dialogue. For the beginning is made from hence; and he proceeds perfecting the young man till he renders him a lover of his providential care, which is the leading good of the amatory art. And in short, through all the divisions of the dialogue, he always preserves that which is adapted to an amatory life. As there are three sciences, then, which Socrates appears to have testified that he possessed, viz. the dialectic, the maieutic, (i.e. obstetric) and the amatory, we shall find the form of the dialectic and the peculiarity of the maieutic science in this dialogue, but the effects of the amatory science predominate in it. For, when Socrates is calling forth the conceptions of Alcibiades, he still acts conformably to the amatory character; and when he employs the dialectic science, he does not depart from the peculiarity of amatory arguments. Just as in the Theetetus he is maieutic, is principally characterized according to this, and proceeds as far as to a purification of the false opinions of Thesetetus: but, having effected this, he dismisses him, as being now able of himself to know the truth, which is the business of the maieutic science, as he himself asserts in that dialogue. Thus also he first indicates the amatory science in this dialogue, with which both the dialectic and maieutic are mingled. For every where Socrates introduces discourses adapted to the subject persons. And as every kind of good pre-subsists in a divine nature, which is variously possessed by different beings according to the natural aptitude of each, in like manner Socrates, who comprehends all sciences in himself, employs a different science at different times, according to the aptitude of the recipients; elevating one through the amatory science; exciting another to the reminiscence of the eternal reasons of the soul through the maieutic science; and conducting another according to the dialectic method to the speculation of beings. Some too he conjoins to the beautiful itself, others to the first wisdom, and others to The Good Itself. For through the amatory science we are led to the beautiful; through the maieutic, by calling forth our latent reasons, we become wise in things of which we are ignorant; and through the dialectic science we ascend as far as to The Good.
Lastly, it will found by those who are deeply skilled in the philosophy of Plato, that each of his dialogues contains that which the universe contains. Hence, in every dialogue, one thing is analogous to The Good, another to intellect, another to soul, another to form, and another to matter. In this dialogue therefore it must be said, that an assimilation to a divine nature is analogous to The Good; the knowledge of ourselves to intellect —, the multitude of the demonstrations leading us to the conclusion, and in short every thing syllogistic in the dialogue, to soul —, the character of the diction, and whatever else pertains to the power of speech, to form —, and the persons, the occasion, and that which is called by rhetoricians the hypothesis, to matter.
- 1. Twofold ignorance takes place when a man is ignorant that he is ignorant; and this was the case with Alcibiades in the first part of this dialogue, and is the disease of the multitude.