The Laboratorium
November 1995

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Plato’s Lost Dialogue

"Furthermore," I said, "there remains the question of how the laws are to be enforced. In our perfect and just polity, shall we see whether the laws may be preserved through the proper use of a police force?"

"By all means, go on, Socrates," said Glaucon.

"I shall endeavor to show that the polity and the police are one and therefore must be arranged together, according to nature. First, would you not agree that all letters are vowels or consonants and not both?"

"I would not," he said. "The letter "y" is a vowel only part of the time."

"Your objection is well put. Let us treat this letter. Would you assert that the letter "y" needs must be either a vowel or a consonant at any one time? It cannot be both a vowel and a consonant at once, any more than something can be at once a man and a horse. The man who asserted that some being was such would be laughed at, and rightly so."

"I am afraid that I do not follow you. Is not a centaur both a man and a horse?"

"No," I replied, "there is some part of a centaur that is a horse, and some other part that is a man. The whole cannot be both a man and a horse, for they are the representations of two differing forms. In such a way, the vowels and the consonants are two and not one, and so no letter can be wholly both."

"Now that was well, spoken, Socrates."

"Let us continue. In "polity," how does the letter "y" appear? Is it a vowel or a consonant?"

"Surely it is a vowel."

"And is "e" not also a vowel?"

"How could it be otherwise?"

"So would you say that with respect to being consonants, "e" and "y" are the same?"

"Perhaps you should explain what you mean, Socrates. I am afraid that I do not fully understand you."

"We are agreed that the vowels and the consonants are not one thing, but two distinct things. And are they not opposites?"

"They are."

"So would you agree that both the "y" as we currently see it and the "e" are as far removed from being consonants as is possible?"

"I would."

"So they are alike completely, in being totally not consonants."

"So they are, Socrates. Please continue."

"Or, looking at the situation the other way, are "c" and "t" both consonants. And, being consonants, are they therefore not vowels, but the opposites of vowels? And are they not totally alike in this way, being entirely unlike vowels, but similar in their consonantal nature?"

"From what we have agreed already, I must grant you this also."

"So then, would you state that "polity" and "polite" are alike in every way except for the matter of their last letters?"

"Yes, I would."

"And, since they are alike in every other letter completely, and we have just agreed that "y" and "e" are the same, are not "polity" and "polite" the same, as well?"

"But aren't they different in some way lesser than we have just seen?"

"Now you are talking nonsense, Glaucon. Is it possible for things to be alike and different? They can be alike, or different, but it is hardly possible for them to be both. They may be the same in parts and different in parts. However, what are the parts of a word but letters? And we have just shown that "polity" and "polite" are alike in the highest way in each letter. On what do we base all our judgments? Is it the highest things, or the least?"

"The highest."

"Do we seek to follow the will of the gods, or of snails?"

"Surely, of the gods."

"And so, shall we make our determination upon the great and manifest similarities which descend from the forms of the letters, or the superficial difference which is only present in the imperfect reflection of those forms?"

"Surely, upon the similarities."

"Then they are the same word."

"So I must grant you, Socrates."

"And, then, are not "police" and "polite" alike in all letters but their fifth? And have we not agreed that "c" and "t" are alike in the highest way, being totally alike in their removal from the consonants? So, then, are "police" and "polite" then also the same word?"

"They are, plainly."

"And are two things equal to the same thing also equal to each other?"

"How could they not be?"

"Then it is plain before us. The polity and the police are one. Thus, the only proper rule for the perfect city must be one of military law, properly enforced by the police."

"Truly remarkable, Socrates. It is indeed so."

"And what is more," I stated, "we have shown that such a rule is always perfectly just and conducive to happiness, despite what some have argued to the contrary."

"And how is that, Socrates?" asked Aedimantus.

"Have we not shown that one of the attributes of the police is that they are also polite?"

"We have."

"In whom do we find politeness? In the moderate or in the immoderate?"

"In the moderate."

"Is not politeness a sign of reverence and good will?"

"It is."

"Who will be reverent and good-willed towards the gods and his city? The good man or the unjust man?"

"The just man."

"Is not politeness a virtue?"

"It is."

"And who is virtuous? The good man or the evil one?"

"Surely the good man."

"Then have seen it. The polite man - or we might as well say, policeman - is moderate, just, good, and virtuous. And plainly it is impossible for such a man to offend or do injustice."

"Completely, Socrates. How could it ever be otherwise?"

Written in collaboration with Justin Lerer