Soc. I think so too; for, suppose that some one asks you to spell
the first syllable of my name:-Theaetetus, he says, what is SO?
Theaet. I should reply S and O.
Soc. That is the definition which you would give of the syllable?
Theaet. I should.
Soc. I wish that you would give me a similar definition of the S.
Theaet. But how can any one, Socrates, tell the elements of an
element? I can only reply, that S is a consonant, a mere noise, as
of the tongue hissing; B, and most other letters, again, are neither
vowel-sounds nor noises. Thus letters may be most truly said to be
undefined; for even the most distinct of them, which are the seven
vowels, have a sound only, but no definition at all.
Soc. Then, I suppose, my friend, that we have been so far right in
our idea about knowledge?
Theaet. Yes; I think that we have.
Soc. Well, but have we been right in maintaining that the
syllables can be known, but not the letters?
Theaet. I think so.
Soc. And do we mean by a syllable two letters, or if there are more,
all of them, or a single idea which arises out of the combination of
Theaet. I should say that we mean all the letters.
Soc. Take the case of the two letters S and O, which form the
first syllable of my own name; must not he who knows the syllable,
know both of them?
Soc. He knows, that is, the S and O?
Soc. But can he be ignorant of either singly and yet know both
Theaet. Such a supposition, Socrates, is monstrous and unmeaning.
Soc. But if he cannot know both without knowing each, then if he
is ever to know the syllable, he must know the letters first; and thus
the fine theory has again taken wings and departed.
Theaet. Yes, with wonderful celerity.
Soc. Yes, we did not keep watch properly. Perhaps we ought to have
maintained that a syllable is not the letters, but rather one single
idea framed out of them, having a separate form distinct from them.
Theaet. Very true; and a more likely notion than the other.
Soc. Take care; let us not be cowards and betray a great and
Theaet. No, indeed.
Soc. Let us assume then, as we now say, that the syllable is a
simple form arising out of the several combinations of harmonious
elements-of letters or of any other elements.
Theaet. Very good.
Soc. And it must have no parts.
Soc. Because that which has parts must be a whole of all the
parts. Or would you say that a whole, although formed out of the
parts, is a single notion different from all the parts?
Theaet. I should.
Soc. And would you say that all and the whole are the same, or
Theaet. I am not certain; but, as you like me to answer at once, I
shall hazard the reply, that they are different.
Soc. I approve of your readiness, Theaetetus, but I must take time
to think whether I equally approve of your answer.
Theaet. Yes; the answer is the point.
Soc. According to this new view, the whole is supposed to differ
Soc. Well, but is there any difference between all [in the plural]
and the all [in the singular]? Take the case of number:-When we say