Socrates says in Republic X that ‘the excellence (aretê) and beauty (kai kallos) and rightness (kai orthotês) of every structure, animate or inanimate (hekastou skeuou kai zȏiou), and of every action of man (kai praxeȏs), is relative solely to the use (ou pros allo ti ê tên chreian estin,) for which nature or the artist has intended them (pros ho an hekaston êi pepoiêmenon ê pephukos, 601d4-6, tr. Jowett)’.
Adam notes: ‘The historical Socrates was in the habit of testing the beauty, excellence etc. of an object by the degree in which it fulfilled its function or purpose: see especially Xen. Symp. V.4. ff.’ (The Republic of Plato, Cambridge University Press, digitally printed in 2009, vol. II, p. 404)
To appreciate Adam’s reference, we must begin with the words with which Callias, the giver of the symposium, opens the Ch. V: ‘Critobulus [a young friend and disciple of Socrates], are you going to refuse to enter the lists in the beauty contest with Socrates (‘Su de dê, ȏ Kritoboule, eis ton peri tou kallous agȏna pros Sȏkratên ouk anthistasai;), ?’ – ‘Undoubtedly! (Nê Di’)’ said Socrates (ephê ho Sȏkratês); ‘for probably he notices that the procurer stands high in the favour of the judges (isȏs gar eudokimounta ton mastropon para tois kritais horai.).’ [Asked by Callias at III. 10 ‘Socrates, what are you proud of (epi tini mega phroneis, ȏ Sȏkrates;)?’ Socrates drew up his face into a very solemn expression, and answered, ‘The trade of procurer (Kai hos panu semnȏs anaspasas to prosȏpon, Epi mastropeiai, eipen).’] – ‘But yet in spite of that (All’ homȏs),’ retorted Critobulus (ephȇ ho Kritoboulos) ‘I do not shun the contest (ouk anaduomai). So make your plea (alla didaske), if you can produce any profound reason (ei ti echeis sophon), and prove that you are more handsome than I (hȏs kalliȏn ei emou). Only (monon),’ he added (ephȇ), ‘let some one bring the light close to him (ton lamptȇra engus tis prosenenkatȏ).’ – ‘The first step, then, in my suit,’ said Socrates, ‘is to summon you to the preliminary hearing (Eis anakrisin toinun se, ephȇ, prȏton tȇs dikȇs kaloumai); be so kind as to answer my questions (all’ apokrinou).’ – ‘And you proceed to put them (Su de ge erȏta).’ – ‘Do you hold, then, that beauty is to be found only in man (Poteron oun en antrȏpȏi monon nomizeis to kalon einai), or is it also in other objects (ȇ kai en allȏi tini)?’ – Critobulus:‘In faith, my opinion is that beauty is to be found quite as well in a horse or an ox or in any number of inanimate things (Egȏ men nai ma Di’, ephȇ, kai en hippȏi kai boї kai en apsuchois pollois). I know, at any rate (oida g’oun), that a shield may be beautiful (ousan kai aspida kalȇn), or a sword (kai xiphos), or a spear (kai doru).’ – Socrates: ‘How can it be that all these things are beautiful when they are entirely dissimilar (Kai pȏs, ephȇ, hoion te tauta mȇden homoia onta allȇlois panta kala einai;)?’ – ‘Why, they are beautiful and fine,’ answered Critobulus, ‘if they are well made for the respective functions for which we obtain them, or if they are naturally well constituted to serve our needs (Ên nȇ Di’, ephȇ, pros ta erga hȏn heneka hekasta ktȏmetha eu eirgasmena ȇi ȇ eu pephukota pros ha an deȏmetha, kai taut’, ephȇ ho Kritoboulos, kala).’ – Soc. ‘Do you know (Oistha oun, ephȇ,) the reason why we need eyes (ophthalmȏn tinos heneka deometha;)?’ – Crit. ‘Obviously to see with (Dȇlon, ephȇ, tou horan).’ – ‘In that case (Houtȏ men toinun), it would appear without further ado that my eyes are finer than yours (ȇdȇ hoi emoi ophthalmoi kalliones an tȏn sȏn eiȇsan).’ – ‘How so (Pȏs dȇ)?’ – ‘Because (Hoti), while yours (hoi men soi) see only straight ahead (to kat’ euthu monon horȏsin), mine (hoi de emoi), by bulging out as they do, see also to the sides (kai to ek plagiou dia to epipolaioi eianai).’ (V. 1-5, tr. O. J. Todd)
In Xenophon’s Symposium Socrates does philosophy in a mood of a jester; in his Memorabilia he does the same in a serious mood.
‘On visiting Pistias the armourer (Pros de Pistian ton thȏrakopoion eiselthȏn), who showed him (epideixantos autou tȏi Sȏkratei) some well-made breastplates (thȏrakas eu eirgasmenous), Socrates exclaimed: “Upon my word, Pistias, it’s a beautiful invention (Nȇ tȇn Hȇran, ephȇ, kalon ge, ȏ Pistia, to heurȇma), for the breastplate covers the parts that need protection (to ta men deomena skepȇs tou anthrȏpou skepazein ton thȏraka) without impending the use of hands (tais de chersi mȇ kȏluein chrȇsthai). But tell me, Pistias,” he added (atar, ephȇ, lexon moi, ȏ Pistia), “why do you charge more for your breastplates than any other maker, though they are no stronger and cost no more to make (dia ti out’ ischuroterous oute polutelesterous tȏn allȏn poiȏn tous thȏrakas pleionos pȏleis)?” – “Because (Hoti, ephȇ,) the proportions of mine are better, Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates, euruthmoterous poiȏ).”
Marchant translates Pistias’ euruthmoterous poiȏ ‘the proportions of mine are better’. The translation loses the relation to movement that the word euruthmos expresses [euruthmia - ‘rhythmical order or movement’], in this case the relation to the movements the body makes when a man uses the breastplate in a military campaign. No doubt the buyer would try the breastplate in every movement and posture he could think of before buying it, and paying the high price exacted by Pistias.
Socrates: “And how do you show their proportions when you ask a higher price – by weight or measure (Ton de ruthmon, ephȇ, potera metrȏi ȇ stathmȏi apodeiknuȏn pleionos timai)? For I presume you don’t make them all of the same weight or the same size (ou gar dȇ isous ge pantas oude homoious oimai se poiein), that is, if you make them to fit (ei ge harmottontas poieis).”
Again, the translation loses the relation to movement, which the Greek ruthmon (‘their proportions’), and harmottontas (‘to fit’) i.e. ‘in harmony with the body in its movements’ expresses.
Pistias: “Fit? Why, of course! a breastplate is of no use without that! (Alla nȇ Di’, ephȇ, poiȏ, ouden gar ophelos esti thȏrakos aneu toutou)” – “Then are not some human bodies well (Oukoun, ephȇ, sȏmata ge anthrȏpȏn ta men euruthma esti), others ill proportioned (ta de arruthma;)?” – “Certainly (Panu men oun, ephȇ).” – “Then if a breastplate is to fit an ill-proportioned body, how do you make it well-proportioned (Pȏs oun, ephȇ, tȏi arruthmȏi sȏmati harmottonta ton thȏraka euruthmon poieis;)?” – “By making it fit (Hȏsper kai harmottonta, ephȇ); for if it is a good fit (ho harmottȏn gar) it is well-proportioned (estin euruthmos).” – “Apparently (Dokeis moi, ephȇ ho Sȏkratȇs) you mean well-proportioned not absolutely (to euruthmon ou kath’ hauto legein), but in relation to the wearer (alla pros ton chrȏmenon ‘but in relation to the man who uses it’), as you might call a shield well-proportioned for the man whom it fits (hȏsper an ei phaiȇs aspida, hȏi an harmottȇi, toutȏi euruthmon einai,), or a military cape (kai chlamuda) – and this seems to apply to everything according to you (kai t’alla hȏsautȏs echei tȏi sȏi logȏi – ‘according to your argument’). And perhaps (isȏs de) there is another important advantage in a good fit (kai allo ti ou mikron agathon tȏi harmottein prosesti).” – “Tell it me (Didaxon, ephȇ - ‘teach me, he said’), if you know, Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates, ei ti echeis).” – “The good fit is less heavy to wear than the misfit (Hȇtton, ephȇ, tȏi barei piezousin hoi harmottontes tȏn anarmostȏn), though both are of the same weight (ton auton stathmon echontes). For the misfit (hoi men gar anarmostoi), hanging entirely from the shoulders (ȇ holoi ek tȏn ȏmȏn kremamenoi), or pressing on some other part of the body (ȇ kai allo ti tou sȏmatos sphodra piezontes), proves uncomfortable and irksome (dusphoroi kai chalepoi gignontai); but the good fit (hoi de harmottontes), with its weight distributed (dieilȇmmenoi to baros) over the collar-bone (to men hupo tȏn klȇidȏn) and shoulder-blades (kai epȏmidȏn), the shoulders (to d’ hupo tȏn ȏmȏn), chest (to d’ hupo tou stȇthous), back (to de hupo tou nȏtou) and belly (to de hupo tȇs gastros), may almost be called an accessory rather than an encumbrance (oligou dein ou phorȇmati, alla prosthȇmati eoikasin).” – “The advantage you speak of (Eirȇkas, ephȇ,) is the very one (auto,) which I think makes my work worth a big price (di’ hoper egȏ ta ema erga pleistou axia nomizȏ einai). Some (enioi), however (mentoi), prefer to buy the ornamented and the gold-plated breastplates (tous poikilous kai tous epichrusous thȏrakas mallon ȏnountai).” – “Still (Alla mȇn, ephȇ,), if the consequence is (ei ge dia tauta) that they buy misfits (mȇ harmottontas ȏnountai), it seems to me that they buy ornamented and gold-plated trash (kakon emoige dokousi poikilon te kai epichruson ȏneisthai). However (atar, ephȇ), as the body is not rigid (tou sȏmatos mȇ menontos, ‘since the body does not stand still’), but now bent (all tote men kurtoumenou), now straight (tote de orthoumenou,), how can tight breastplates fit (pȏs an akribeis thȏrakes harmottoien;)?” – “They can’t (Oudamȏs, ephȇ).” – “You mean (Legeis, ephȇ,) that the good fits are not the tight ones (harmottein ou tous akribeis), but those that don’t chafe the wearer (alla tous mȇ lupountas en tȇi chreiai ‘in their use’;)?” – “That is your own meaning (Autos, ephȇ, touto legeis), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates), and you have hit the right nail on the head (kai panu orthȏs apodechȇi).” (Mem. III. x. 9-15, tr. E. C. Marchant)
Xenophon gave us here a good example of the maker (Pisias) listening to the user (Socrates).
Let us now return to Plato’s view of Socrates in Republic X: ‘And the excellence and beauty and rightness of every structure, animate or inanimate, and of every action of man, is relative solely to the use (pros tên chreian estin,) for which nature or the artist has intended them.’ – Glaucon: ‘True (Houtȏs).’ – Soc. ‘Then beyond doubt (Pollȇ ara anankȇ) it is the user who has the greatest experience of them (ton chrȏmenon hekastȏi empeirotaton te einai), and he must report to the maker (kai angelon gignesthai tȏi poiȇtȇi) the good or bad qualities which develop themselves in use (hoia agatha ȇ kaka poiei en tȇi chreiai hȏi chrȇtai); for example (hoion), the flute-player (aulȇtȇs pou) will tell the flute-maker which of his flutes is satisfactory to the performer (aulopoiȏi exangellei peri tȏn aulȏn, hoi an hupȇretȏsi en tȏi aulein); he will tell him how he ought to make them (kai epitaxei hoious dei poiein), and the other will attend to his instructions (ho d’ hupȇretȇsei.)?’ – Glauc. ‘Of course (Pȏs d’ ou;).’– Soc. ‘So the one pronounces with knowledge (Oukoun ho men eidȏs exangellei) about the goodness and badness of flutes (peri chrȇstȏn kai ponȇrȏn aulȏn), while the other, confiding in him, will make them accordingly (ho de pisteuȏn poiȇsei;)?’ – Glauc. ‘True (Nai).’ – Soc. ‘The instrument is the same (Tou d’ autou ara skeuous), but about the excellence or badness of it the maker will possess a correct belief (ho men poiȇtȇs pistin orthȇn hexei peri kallous te kai ponȇrias), since he associates with one who knows (sunȏn tȏi eidoti), and is compelled (kai anankazomenos) to hear what he has to say (akouein para tou eidotos); whereas the user (ho de chrȏmenos) will have the knowledge (epistȇmȇn)?’ – Glauc. ‘True (Panu ge).’ (601d4-602a2, tr. Jowett)
In Republic V Socrates distinguished the philosophers from non-philosophers as follows: ‘And this is the distinction which I draw between the sight-loving, art-loving, practical class … and those … who are alone worthy of the name of philosophers … The lovers of sounds and sights are, as I conceive, fond of fine tones and colours and forms and all the artificial products that are made out of them, but their mind is incapable of seeing or loving absolute beauty … Few are they who are able to attain to this ideal beauty and contemplate it … And he who, having a sense of beautiful things, has no sense of absolute beauty … is he awake or in a dream only?’ (476a9-c4, tr. Jowett)
The flute-player whom Socrates presents in Republic X as the one who pronounces with knowledge about the goodness and badness of flutes is one of the sound-loving men of Republic V. This is not an accidental ‘discrepancy’. In Republic X Plato takes us into the world of the historical Socrates.