THEODORUS: Here we are, Socrates, true to our agreement of yesterday; and we bring with us a stranger from Elea, who is a disciple of Parmenides and Zeno, and a true philosopher.
SOCRATES: Is he not rather a god, Theodorus, who comes to us in the disguise of a stranger? For Homer says that all the gods, and especially the god of strangers, are companions of the meek and just, and visit the good and evil among men. And may not your companion be one of those higher powers, a cross-examining deity, who has come to spy out our weakness in argument, and to cross-examine us?
THEODORUS: Nay, Socrates, he is not one of the disputatious sort — he is too good for that. And, in my opinion, he is not a god at all; but divine he certainly is, for this is a title which I should give to all philosophers.
SOCRATES: Capital, my friend! and I may add that they are almost as hard to be discerned as the gods. For the true philosophers, and such as are not merely made up for the occasion, appear in various forms unrecognized by the ignorance of men, and they ‘hover about cities,’ as Homer declares, looking from above upon human life; and some think nothing of them, and others can never think enough; and sometimes they appear as statesmen, and sometimes as sophists; and then, again, to many they seem to be no better than madmen. I should like to ask our Eleatic friend, if he would tell us, what is thought about them in Italy, and to whom the terms are applied.
THEODORUS: What terms?
SOCRATES: Sophist, statesman, philosopher.
THEODORUS: What is your difficulty about them, and what made you ask?
SOCRATES: I want to know whether by his countrymen they are regarded as one or two; or do they, as the names are three, distinguish also three kinds, and assign one to each name?
THEODORUS: I dare say that the Stranger will not object to discuss the question. What do you say, Stranger?
STRANGER: I am far from objecting, Theodorus, nor have I any difficulty in replying that by us they are regarded as three. But to define precisely the nature of each of them is by no means a slight or easy task.
THEODORUS: You have happened to light, Socrates, almost on the very question which we were asking our friend before we came hither, and he excused himself to us, as he does now to you; although he admitted that the matter had been fully discussed, and that he remembered the answer.
SOCRATES: Then do not, Stranger, deny us the first favour which we ask of you: I am sure that you will not, and therefore I shall only beg of you to say whether you like and are accustomed to make a long oration on a subject which you want to explain to another, or to proceed by the method of question and answer. I remember hearing a very noble discussion in which Parmenides employed the latter of the two methods, when I was a young man, and he was far advanced in years. (Compare Parm.)
STRANGER: 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.
STRANGER: 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, Stranger, that this will be quite so acceptable to the rest of the company as Socrates imagines?
STRANGER: 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.
STRANGER: 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.
STRANGER: Then suppose that we work out some lesser example which will be a pattern of the greater?
STRANGER: 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.
STRANGER: Yet I suspect that he will furnish us with the sort of definition and line of enquiry which we want.
THEAETETUS: Very good.
STRANGER: 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.
STRANGER: And of arts there are two kinds?
THEAETETUS: What are they?
STRANGER: There is agriculture, and the tending of mortal creatures, and the art of constructing or moulding vessels, and there is the art of imitation — all these may be appropriately called by a single name.
THEAETETUS: What do you mean? And what is the name?
STRANGER: He who brings into existence something that did not exist before is said to be a producer, and that which is brought into existence is said to be produced.
STRANGER: And all the arts which were just now mentioned are characterized by this power of producing?
THEAETETUS: They are.
STRANGER: Then let us sum them up under the name of productive or creative art.
THEAETETUS: Very good.
STRANGER: Next follows the whole class of learning and cognition; then comes trade, fighting, hunting. And since none of these produces anything, but is only engaged in conquering by word or deed, or in preventing others from conquering, things which exist and have been already produced — in each and all of these branches there appears to be an art which may be called acquisitive.
THEAETETUS: Yes, that is the proper name.
STRANGER: Seeing, then, that all arts are either acquisitive or creative, in which class shall we place the art of the angler?
THEAETETUS: Clearly in the acquisitive class.
STRANGER: And the acquisitive may be subdivided into two parts: there is exchange, which is voluntary and is effected by gifts, hire, purchase; and the other part of acquisitive, which takes by force of word or deed, may be termed conquest?
THEAETETUS: That is implied in what has been said.
STRANGER: And may not conquest be again subdivided?
STRANGER: Open force may be called fighting, and secret force may have the general name of hunting?
STRANGER: And there is no reason why the art of hunting should not be further divided.
THEAETETUS: How would you make the division?
STRANGER: Into the hunting of living and of lifeless prey.
THEAETETUS: Yes, if both kinds exist.
STRANGER: Of course they exist; but the hunting after lifeless things having no special name, except some sorts of diving, and other small matters, may be omitted; the hunting after living things may be called animal hunting.
STRANGER: And animal hunting may be truly said to have two divisions, land-animal hunting, which has many kinds and names, and water-animal hunting, or the hunting after animals who swim?