Socrates asks Menexenus if they may have been "altogether wrong" in their conclusions, considering the impasse at which they have now arrived. Lysis suddenly interrupts to say that surely this must be the case; he then blushes at this outburst, and Socrates notes that Lysis has been eagerly following the whole conversation. Socrates is pleased at this interest, and decides to let Menexenus rest for a moment and talk to Lysis again.

Socrates begins by agreeing with Lysis that the discussion went wrong somewhere, and turns to the poets ("the fathers and authors of wisdom") for a new start. Socrates recalls the poets saying that "God himself" creates friends and draws them together, as expressed in the verse, "God is ever drawing like towards like, and making them acquainted." The philosophers ("the people who go talking and writing about nature and the universe") also say that "like loves like."

Socrates points out, in passing, that the philosopher's saying doesn't really apply to bad people, who are just as likely to hate other bad people as anyone else. He conjectures, however, that this is because such people are at variance with themselves, and so cannot be in harmony with anyone else. The saying thus implies (in an riddling way) that good people are only friends with good people, and that bad people are friends of no one.

Thus, we can now answer the question, "who are friends?" The answer is simply that "the good are friends." This answer does not entirely satisfy Socrates. In explaining why, he begins with a few halting sentences to the effect that like cannot do any harm or good to like without being equally capable of doing that same harm or good to himself. If this is the case, how can either of the two be of any use to each other? And if they are of no use to each other, they cannot love each other, and so cannot be friends.

But what if, Socrates suggests, likeness itself is not the condition for friendship, but rather likeness-in-goodness: "the good may be the friend of the good insofar as he is good." Here, however, the same problem arises, in that he who is good is "sufficient for himself" exactly in as much as he is good, and so has no need for others on this basis. So again, without want and desire, there is no reason for friendship; friends must value each other for some reason.

Here Socrates suggests that he and his young interlocutors are again "entirely wrong," and quotes some moments from Hesiod that indicate that dissimilarity, not likeness, is the source of friendship. According to Hesiod, "the most like are most full of envy, strife, and hatred of one another," and everything values what is not like itself (as "the dry desires the moist, [and] the cold the hot."

Menexenus jumps back in to lend his support to this new proposition (that "the greatest friendship is of opposites") but it fails quickly as well. It is "monstrous" to think that the just man is the friend of the unjust, or that the good man the friend of the bad. With this possibility thrown out, it now seems that "neither like and like nor unlike and unlike are friends."


Throughout this section of dialogue, Lysis plays the role of the sounding-board for Socrates's musings. Lysis's lines are solely along the lines of "clearly not" or "very true" (with an occasional "perhaps"). In itself, this is not so remarkable; much of the Lysis (and even other dialogues) follows this format. But the sense that this section depends more on concentrated musing than on analytic dialogue is enhanced by Socrates's use of poetic and other external texts to found the arguments he rejects. It is also enhanced by the peculiar moment at which Socrates cuts off one of his own formulations. In rejecting the simplicity of the thesis that friendship depends solely on the love of the good for the good, Socrates begins by saying something about the like being the friend of like, "and useful to him," then stops in mid-sentence and tries "another way of putting the matter." This other way becomes the argument that like can want nothing from like, and so cannot value it.

There may be some rhetorical function to this mid-sentence break, as it qualifies the otherwise unimpeded reflections of Socrates and allows us to think that he might actually be thinking these things through rather than simply preaching. The break may also show that he is to some extent dumbing-down his argument for his young audience. More importantly, though, this break should call our attention to the introduction of one of the major issues of the dialogue: likeness and unlikeness, not only in their relationship to friendship, but also as metaphysical properties.

Just prior to the moment we have been discussing, Socrates performs a striking reading of the old poetic and philosophical truism that "like must love like." The initial problem with this formula is that evil people don't love other evil people. Socrates solves this problem with a proposition that will be important in many of the dialogues, and one that Plato will take up in his own, less Socratic theories later on. The idea is that bad people are not only unlike good people, but also in some way unlike themselves. They are "at variance and enmity" with themselves, and for this reason they fall entirely outside of the domain covered by the quoted aphorism.

At the root of this proposition is a notion that goodness is a kind of harmony or balance that is simultaneously internal and external to the individual (this notion will play a crucial role in Plato's Republic, as he constructs the good state partly on the model of the good person). This notion has striking implications for any theory of identity; it suggests, for example, that identification between two things or people is only possible given the further condition that each of the people or things involved first be like themselves (self-identical).

Plato's (and/or Socrates's) investigation of identity has other, more fully-fleshed-out consequences here as well. Namely, Socrates asserts that, since identity (likeness in and of itself) excludes difference, it must also exclude desire, and therefore friendship. Hence, friendship cannot depend on likeness. Such an argument, besides giving us the remarkable idea that desire depends on difference (but not on total unlikeness), should also alert us to a shift in the focus of the discussion. Socrates is no longer simply playing the "where's the friend" game; he is, more specifically, examining the cause of desire.

The argument that non-likeness also fails as the criteria for friendship, however, proceeds differently from the argument that likeness fails. The objection this time lies not in the metaphysical qualities of identity and difference, but rather in the perceived absurdity of the results (good people loving bad people, etc). Therefore, we can begin to see a certain vagueness or oscillation in the aims and methods of this dialogue. The aim shifts from finding the cause of desire (likeness fails in this regard) to finding strict criteria by which friendship can be defined (non-likeness fails in this regard). Socrates's method shifts accordingly—from penetrating, poetry-driven reflection about the fundamental nature of love to more pragmatic, analytic interrogations of possible abstractions about the form of friendship.