Soc. But do you remember, my friend, that only a little while ago we
admitted and approved the statement, that of the first elements out of
which all other things are compounded there could be no definition,
because each of them when taken by itself is uncompounded; nor can one
rightly attribute to them the words "being" or "this," because they
are alien and inappropriate words, and for this reason the letters
or clements were indefinable and unknown?
Theaet. I remember.
Soc. And is not this also the reason why they are simple and
indivisible? I can see no other.
Theaet. No other reason can be given.
Soc. Then is not the syllable in the same case as the elements or
letters, if it has no parts and is one form?
Theaet. To be sure.
Soc. If, then, a syllable is a whole, and has many parts or letters,
the letters as well as the syllable must be intelligible and
expressible, since all the parts are acknowledged to be the same as
Soc. But if it be one and indivisible, then the syllables and the
letters are alike undefined and unknown, and for the same reason?
Theaet. I cannot deny that.
Soc. We cannot, therefore, agree in the opinion of him who says that
the syllable can be known and expressed, but not the letters.
Theaet. Certainly not; if we may trust the argument.
Soc. Well, but will you not be equally inclined to, disagree with
him, when you remember your own experience in learning to read?
Theaet. What experience?
Soc. Why, that in learning you were kept trying to distinguish the
separate letters both by the eye and by the car, in order that, when
you heard them spoken or saw them written, you might not be confused
by their position.
Theaet. Very true.
Soc. And is the education of the harp-player complete unless he
can tell what string answers to a particular note; the notes, as every
one would allow, are the elements or letters of music?
Soc. Then, if we argue from the letters and syllables which we
know to other simples and compounds, we shall say that the letters
or simple clements as a class are much more certainly known than the
syllables, and much more indispensable to a perfect knowledge of any
subject; and if some one says that the syllable is known and the
letter unknown, we shall consider that either intentionally or
unintentionally he is talking nonsense?
Soc. And there might be given other proofs of this belief, if I am
not mistaken. But do not let us in looking for them lose sight of
the question before us, which is the meaning of the statement, that
right opinion with rational definition or explanation is the most
perfect form of knowledge.
Theaet. We must not.
Soc. Well, and what is the meaning of the term "explanation"? I
think that we have a choice of three meanings.
Theaet. What are they?
Soc. In the first place, the meaning may be, manifesting one's
thought by the voice with verbs and nouns, imaging an opinion in the
stream which flows from the lips, as in a mirror or water. Does not
explanation appear to be of this nature?
Theaet. Certainly; he who so manifests his thought, is said to
Soc. And every one who is not born deaf or dumb is able sooner or
later to manifest what he thinks of anything; and if so, all those who
have a right opinion about anything will also have right
explanation; nor will right opinion be anywhere found to exist apart