PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Theodorus, Theaetetus, Socrates. An Eleatic FOREIGNER, whom Theodorus and Theaetetus bring with them. The younger Socrates, who is a silent auditor.
THEODORUS: We bring with us a foreigner from Elea, who is a disciple of Parmenides and Zeno, and a true philosopher.
He is certainly divine, for we should call all philosophers as divine.
The true philosophers appear in various forms unrecognized by the ignorance of men. They ‘hover about cities,’ as Homer declares, looking from above upon human life.
Some think nothing of them. Others can never think enough.
Sometimes they appear as statesmen, and sometimes as sophists. To many, they seem to be no better than madmen.
I should like to ask our foreigner friend how sophists, statesmen, and philosophers are thought of in Italy.
Do Italians regarded them as one or two? Or do they, as the names are three, distinguish also three kinds, and assign one to each name?
FOREIGNER: We also regard them as three. But it is not easy to define precisely the nature of each of them.
SOCRATES: Foreigner, do you prefer to make a long oration on a subject which you want to explain to another, or to do the method of question and answer.
Parmenides used question and answer when I was a young man, and he was far advanced in years. (Compare Parm.)
FOREIGNER: I prefer to talk with another when he responds pleasantly, and is light in hand; if not, I would rather have my own say.
SOCRATES: Any one of the present company will respond kindly to you, and you can choose whom you like of them; I should recommend you to take a young person—Theaetetus, for example—unless you have a preference for some one else.
FOREIGNER: I feel ashamed, Socrates, being a new-comer into your society, instead of talking a little and hearing others talk, to be spinning out a long soliloquy or address, as if I wanted to show off.
For the true answer will certainly be a very long one, a great deal longer than might be expected from such a short and simple question. At the same time, I fear that I may seem rude and ungracious if I refuse your courteous request, especially after what you have said. For I certainly cannot object to your proposal, that Theaetetus should respond, having already conversed with him myself, and being recommended by you to take him.
THEAETETUS: But are you sure, FOREIGNER, that this will be quite so acceptable to the rest of the company as Socrates imagines?
FOREIGNER: You hear them applauding, Theaetetus; after that, there is nothing more to be said. Well then, I am to argue with you, and if you tire of the argument, you may complain of your friends and not of me.
THEAETETUS: I do not think that I shall tire, and if I do, I shall get my friend here, young Socrates, the namesake of the elder Socrates, to help; he is about my own age, and my partner at the gymnasium, and is constantly accustomed to work with me.
FOREIGNER: Very good; you can decide about that for yourself as we proceed. Meanwhile you and I will begin together and enquire into the nature of the Sophist, first of the three: I should like you to make out what he is and bring him to light in a discussion; for at present we are only agreed about the name, but of the thing to which we both apply the name possibly you have one notion and I another; whereas we ought always to come to an understanding about the thing itself in terms of a definition, and not merely about the name minus the definition. Now the tribe of Sophists which we are investigating is not easily caught or defined; and the world has long ago agreed, that if great subjects are to be adequately treated, they must be studied in the lesser and easier instances of them before we proceed to the greatest of all. And as I know that the tribe of Sophists is troublesome and hard to be caught, I should recommend that we practise beforehand the method which is to be applied to him on some simple and smaller thing, unless you can suggest a better way.
THEAETETUS: Indeed I cannot.
FOREIGNER: Then suppose that we work out some lesser example which will be a pattern of the greater?
FOREIGNER: What is there which is well known and not great, and is yet as susceptible of definition as any larger thing? Shall I say an angler? He is familiar to all of us, and not a very interesting or important person.
THEAETETUS: He is not.
FOREIGNER: Yet I suspect that he will furnish us with the sort of definition and line of enquiry which we want.
THEAETETUS: Very good.
FOREIGNER: Let us begin by asking whether he is a man having art or not having art, but some other power.
THEAETETUS: He is clearly a man of art.