Lysis

by: Plato

Important Quotes

Quotes Important Quotes

Then now, my dear youth, I said, you perceive that in things which we know everyone will trust us…and we may do as we please, and no one will like to interfere with us; and we are free, and masters of others; and these things will really be ours, for we will turn them to our good.

This is Socrates's conclusion to his discussion with Lysis about Lysis's "enslavement" to his parents. Again, we see a standard piece of Socratic philosophy (as interpreted, of course, by Plato) changed in important aspects by the unusual circumstances in which the Lysis takes place. The idea that freedom and the truly happy life can only be achieved through knowledge or wisdom is the central pillar in Socrates's thought. The expansion of this doctrine into a systematic theory about ideal forms and the afterlife is generally thought to Plato's own work, and the absence of these factors here is part of what indicates that the Lysis is an early dialogue. Here, however, Socrates's argument that happiness depends on knowledge is specifically geared toward the kinds of power that a teenage boy like Lysis would find exciting and appealing. Happiness is constructed specifically against the state of "slavery" in which Lysis suffers under his parents, who (like any parents) restrict his actions.

Thus, knowledge will not lead simply to a happy, peaceful life for Lysis, but specifically to a kind of ultimate freedom involving boyhood fantasies of power and unrestricted agency. Left out almost entirely is the usual assertion that knowledge will make us act wisely in everything. This is no doubt implied, but the specific words Socrates uses almost suggest more of a tyrannical model: "we may do as we please…." This issue of the subtle warping of the standard Socratic method is central to the Lysis, and is loaded with a tension that stems from Plato's wrestling with the charge that Socrates "corrupted the youth of Athens" with his philosophical debates. The Lysis tackles this question by imagining how Socrates might explain his teachings to boys.

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