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[100a] is not quite accurate; for I do not grant in the least that he who studies realities by means of conceptions is looking at them in images any more than he who studies them in the facts of daily life. However, that is the way I began. I assume in each case some principle which I consider strongest, and whatever seems to me to agree with this, whether relating to cause or to anything else, I regard as true, and whatever disagrees with it, as untrue. But I want to tell you more clearly what I mean; for I think you do not understand now.”

“Not very well, certainly,” said Cebes. [100b] “Well,” said Socrates, “this is what I mean. It is nothing new, but the same thing I have always been saying, both in our previous conversation and elsewhere. I am going to try to explain to you the nature of that cause which I have been studying, and I will revert to those familiar subjects of ours as my point of departure and assume that there are such things as absolute beauty and good and greatness and the like. If you grant this and agree that these exist, I believe I shall explain cause to you and shall prove that [100c] the soul is immortal.”

“You may assume,” said Cebes, “that I grant it, and go on.”

“Then,” said he, “see if you agree with me in the next step. I think that if anything is beautiful besides absolute beauty it is beautiful for no other reason than because it partakes of absolute beauty; and this applies to everything. Do you assent to this view of cause?”

“I do,” said he.

“Now I do not yet, understand,” he went on, “nor can I perceive those other ingenious causes. If anyone tells me that what makes a thing beautiful is its lovely color, [100d] or its shape or anything else of the sort, I let all that go, for all those things confuse me, and I hold simply and plainly and perhaps foolishly to this, that nothing else makes it beautiful but the presence or communion (call it which you please) of absolute beauty, however it may have been gained; about the way in which it happens, I make no positive statement as yet, but I do insist that beautiful things are made beautiful by beauty. For I think this is the safest answer I can give to myself or to others, and if I cleave fast to this, [100e] I think I shall never be overthrown, and I believe it is safe for me or anyone else to give this answer, that beautiful things are beautiful through beauty. Do you agree?”

“I do.”

“And great things are great and greater things greater by greatness, and smaller things smaller by smallness?”


“And you would not accept the statement, if you were told that one man was greater or smaller than another by a head,

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    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Philoctetes, 1198
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