And yet on this point certain philosophers, who
are not at all vicious but who are not very discerning, declare that the story related by Plato is fictitious and imaginary. As if he affirmed that it was
actually true or even possible! But the force of the1
illustration of the ring is this: if nobody were to
know or even to suspect the truth, when you do anything to gain riches or power or sovereignty or
sensual gratification—if your act should be hidden
for ever from the knowledge of gods and men, would
you do it? The condition, they say, is impossible.
Of course it is. But my question is, if that were
possible which they declare to be impossible, what,
pray, would one do? They press their point
with right boorish obstinacy: they assert that it is
impossible and insist upon it; they refuse to see the
meaning of my words, “if possible.” For when
we ask what they would do, if they could escape
detection, we are not asking whether they can escape
detection; but we put them as it were upon the rack:
should they answer that, if impunity were assured,
they would do what was most to their selfish interest,
that would be a confession that they are criminally
minded; should they say that they would not do
so, they would be granting that all things in and of
themselves immoral should be avoided.
But let us now return to our theme.