Book I, 349e, Socrates confirming the position of Thrasymachus:

"...is any musical man who is tuning a lyre in your opinion willing to get the better of another musical man in tightening and relaxing the strings, or does he claim he deserves more?" [Bloom, 2nd Edition]

"...any musician in the tuning of a lyre would want to overreach another musician in the tightening and relaxing of the strings or would claim and think fit to exceed or outdo him?”"[Shorey]

"...a musician when he adjusts the lyre would desire or claim to exceed or go beyond a musician in the tightening and loosening the strings?" [Jowett]

This is extended to a medical man, any man with knowledge of an art, and finally the "good and the wise". Book, I 350a:

"Consider then with regard to all forms of knowledge and ignorance whether you think that anyone who knows would choose to do or say other or more than what another who knows would do or say, and not rather exactly what his like would do in the same action." [Shorey]

Book I, 350b:

"Then he who is good and wise will not wish to overreach his like but his unlike and opposite."[Shorey]

People knowledgeable in an art, including music and medicine, do compete with each other. Could Thrasymachus's model be a naïve (or perfected) one where everyone in an art has the same static level of it such the man knowledgeable in an art could (or should) not exceed another without doing something artless, or why else would Thrasymachus agree with Socrates that Thrasymachus's position is they would not?

  • 1
    He does not really agree that they don't, he agrees that they shouldn't. The whole discussion is aspirational stating in 350b:"he who is good and wise will not wish to overreach his like but his unlike and opposite". Why shouldn't they compete? Because that is not "good and wise". There is the "right" way to do it that "good and wise" know and agree on, and "anyone who knows would choose to do or say... exactly what his like would do in the same action". We may judge this as naive and idealistic, but, well, Thrasymachus wouldn't want to look bad and unwise, would he.
    – Conifold
    Aug 20, 2021 at 5:42
  • I think there are two points here. First, note that they specifically talk about 'tuning' the lyre, not 'playing' it: i.e., that there are certain basics to any art or science that it would be senseless to compete over. Second, there are echos of an Emersonian point that a proper competitor needs an opponent who excels. Thee's no virtue in competing with a lyre-player who doesn't even know how to tune the instrument. One wants to compete against virtue because (win or lose) that shows virtue. Aug 21, 2021 at 6:17

2 Answers 2


It's not right to call this "Thrasymachus's model." It's Socrates' model, which he gets Thrasymachus to agree with, in order to refute an earlier position by Thrasymachus.

Earlier in this dialogue, Thrasymachus asserts that justice comes from a "noble simplicity and goodness of heart," and that injustice comes from "goodness of judgment":

“Tell me then how you would express yourself on this point about them. You call one of them, I presume, a virtue and the other a vice?” “Of course.” “Justice the virtue and injustice the vice?” “It is likely,1 you innocent, when I say that injustice pays and justice doesn't pay.” “But what then, pray?” “The opposite,” he replied. “What! justice vice?” “No, but a most noble simplicity2 or goodness of heart.” “Then do you call injustice badness of heart?”

“No, but goodness of judgement.” “Do you also, Thrasymachus, regard the unjust as intelligent and good?” “Yes, if they are capable of complete injustice,” he said, “and are able to subject to themselves cities and tribes of men. But you probably suppose that I mean those who take purses. There is profit to be sure even in that sort of thing,” he said, “if it goes undetected. But such things are not worth taking into the account,

In other words, Thrasymachus thinks that people who gain power by unjust means are to be admired for their judgment and wisdom, whereas those who live by just rules are comparative simpletons.

Socrates tries to argue Thrasymachus out of it. First Socrates gets Thrasymachus to agree that:

  • The just try to outdo the unjust, but do not try to outdo others who are just
  • The unjust try to outdo both the just and the unjust

Then Socrates talks about professionals, such as musicians or doctors. Socrates gets Thrasymachus to agree that:

  • A wise professional tries to outdo a non-professional, but does not try to outdo other professionals
  • A man ignorant in a profession would try to outdo both the professionals and the others who are ignorant.

On this basis, Socrates gets Thrasymachus to agree that wisdom involves:

  • not trying to surpass those who are like you
  • only trying to surpass those who are unlike you.

This refutes Thrasymachus' original position that the unjust were wise and the just were foolishly simple, because the just are the ones who follow this code of behavior, not the unjust.

Frankly this is all fallacious nonsense on the part of Socrates. We would not have modern science and technology if not for professionals trying to outdo each other. And what is wise in a profession is not necessarily the same as what is wise in the context of justice.


The view is this: A doctor isn't really a doctor in the moment in which he's committing malpractice, because a doctor is someone who practices medicine, and malpractice is the failure to practice medicine. Plato's Socrates holds this view of all crafts and of all craftsmen (an X is only "really" an X insofar as it embodies the ideal of X; similarly, "medicine" for Plato doesn't mean the current state of medicine, it means the perfected/completed state of medicine), and he mainly thinks of knowledge on the model of crafts (techne), and that forms the skeletal structure of his Theory of Forms.

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