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Phaethon: Loose Thoughts For Loose Thinkers
by [?]

“And so you sat up, and-I thought the corridor smelt somewhat of smoke.”

“Forgive, and I will confess. I wrote a dialogue;-and here it is, if you choose to hear it. If there are a few passages, or even many, which Plato would not have written, you will consider my age and inexperience, and forgive.”

“My dear fellow, you forget that I, like you, have been ten years away from dear old Alma-Mater, Plato, the boats, and Potton Wood. My authorities now are ‘Morton on Soils’ and ‘Miles on the Horse’s Foot.’ Read on, fearless of my criticisms. Here is the waterfall; we will settle ourselves on Jane’s favourite seat. You shall discourse, and I, till Lewis brings the luncheon, will smoke my cigar; and if I seem to be looking at the mountain, don’t fancy that I am only counting how many young grouse those heath-burning worthies will have left me by the twelfth.”

So we sat down, and I began:


Alcibiades and I walked into the Pnyx early the other morning, before the people assembled. There we saw Socrates standing, having his face turned toward the rising sun. Approaching him, we perceived that he was praying; and that so ardently, that we touched him on the shoulder before he became aware of our presence.

“You seem like a man filled with the God, Socrates,” said Alcibiades.

“Would that were true,” answered he, “both of me and of all who will counsel here this day. In fact, I was praying for that very thing; namely, that they might have light to see the truth, in whatsoever matter might be discussed here.”

“And for me also?” said Alcibiades; “but I have prepared my speech already.”

“And for you also, if you desire it-even though some of your periods should be spoiled thereby. But why are you both here so early, before any business is stirring?”

“We were discussing,” said I, “that very thing for which we found you praying-namely, truth, and what it might be.”

“Perhaps you went a worse way toward discovering it than I did. But let us hear. Whence did the discussion arise?”

“From something,” said Alcibiades, “which Protagoras said in his lecture yesterday-How truth was what each man troweth, or believeth, to be true. ‘So that,’ he said, ‘one thing is true to me, if I believe it true, and another opposite thing to you, if you believe that opposite. For,’ continued he, ‘there is an objective and a subjective truth; the former, doubtless, one and absolute, and contained in the nature of each thing; but the other manifold and relative, varying with the faculties of each perceiver thereof.’ But as each man’s faculties, he said, were different from his neighbour’s, and all more or less imperfect, it was impossible that the absolute objective truth of anything could be seen by any mortal, but only some partial approximation, and, as it were, sketch of it, according as the object was represented with more or less refraction on the mirror of his subjectivity. And therefore, as the true inquirer deals only with the possible, and lets the impossible go, it was the business of the wise man, shunning the search after absolute truth as an impious attempt of the Titans to scale Olympus, to busy himself humbly and practically with subjective truth, and with those methods-rhetoric, for instance-by which he can make the subjective opinions of others either similar to his own, or, leaving them as they are-for it may be very often unnecessary to change them-useful to his own ends.”

Then Socrates, laughing:

“My fine fellow, you will have made more than one oration in the Pnyx to-day. And indeed, I myself felt quite exalted, and rapt aloft, like Bellerophon on Pegasus, upon the eloquence of Protagoras and you. But yet forgive me this one thing; for my mother bare me, as you know, a man-midwife, after her own trade, and not a sage.”