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[476e] Can we find any way of soothing him and gently1 winning him over, without telling him too plainly that he is not in his right mind?” “We must try,” he said. “Come, then, consider what we are to say to him, or would you have us question him in this fashion—premising that if he knows anything, nobody grudges it him, but we should be very glad to see him knowing something—but tell2 us this: Does he who knows know something or nothing? Do you reply in his behalf.” “I will reply,” he said, “that he knows something.” “Is it something that is or is not3?” “That is. How could

1 ἠρέμα: Cf. Symposium 221 B. Plato's humorous use of this word is the source of Emerson's humorous use of “gently.”

2 For the humor of the sudden shift to the second person cf. Juvenal, Satire i. “profer, Galla, caput.”

3 To understand what follows it is necessary (1) to assume that Plato is not talking nonsense; (2) to make allowance for the necessity that he is under of combating contemporary fallacies and sophisms which may seem trivial to us (Cf. Unity of Plato's Thought, pp. 50 ff.); (3) to remember the greater richness of the Greek language in forms of the verb “to be”; and the misunderstandings introduced by the indiscriminate use of the abstract verbal noun “being” in English—a difficulty which I have tried to meet by varying the terms of the translation; (4) to recognize that apart from metaphysics Plato's main purpose is to insist on the ability to think abstractly as a prerequisite of the higher education; (5) to observe the qualifications and turns of phrase which indicate that Plato himself was not confused by the double meaning of “is not,” but was already aware of the distinctions explicitly explained in the Sophist. (Cf. Unity of Plato's Thought, pp. 53 ff. nn. 389 ff.)

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