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I think so.
And would you say that the whole sail includes each man, or a part
of it only, and different parts different men?
Then, Socrates, the ideas themselves will be divisible, and things
which participate in them will have a part of them only and not the
whole idea existing in each of them?
That seems to follow.
Then would you like to say, Socrates, that the one idea is really
divisible and yet remains one?
Certainly not, he said.
Suppose that you divide absolute greatness, and that of the many
great things, each one is great in virtue of a portion of greatness
less than absolute greatness-is that conceivable?
Or will each equal thing, if possessing some small portion of
equality less than absolute equality, be equal to some other thing
by virtue of that portion only?
Or suppose one of us to have a portion of smallness; this is but a
part of the small, and therefore the absolutely small is greater; if
the absolutely small be greater, that to which the part of the small
is added will be smaller and not greater than before.
Then in what way, Socrates, will all things participate in the
ideas, if they are unable to participate in them either as parts or
Indeed, he said, you have asked a question which is not easily
Well, said Parmenides, and what do you say of another question?
I imagine that the way in which you are led to assume one idea of
each kind is as follows: -You see a number of great objects, and
when you look at them there seems to you to be one and the same idea
(or nature) in them all; hence you conceive of greatness as one.
Very true, said Socrates.
And if you go on and allow your mind in like manner to embrace in
one view the idea of greatness and of great things which are not the
idea, and -to compare them, will not another greatness arise, which
will appear to be the source of all these?
It would seem so.
Then another idea of greatness now comes into view over and above
absolute greatness, and the individuals which partake of it; and
then another, over and above all these, by virtue of which they will
all be great, and so each idea instead of being one will be infinitely
But may not the ideas, asked Socrates, be thoughts only, and have no
proper existence except in our minds, Parmenides? For in that case
each idea may still be one, and not experience this infinite
And can there be individual thoughts which are thoughts of nothing?
Impossible, he said.
The thought must be of something?
Of something which is or which is not?
Of something which is.
Must it not be of a single something, which the thought recognizes
as attaching to all, being a single form or nature?
And will not the something which is apprehended as one and the
same in all, be an idea?
From that, again, there is no escape.
Then, said Parmenides, if you say that everything else
participates in the ideas, must you not say either that everything
is made up of thoughts, and that all things think; or that they are
thoughts but have no thought?
The latter view, Parmenides, is no more rational than the previous
one. In my opinion, the ideas are, as it were, patterns fixed in
nature, and other things are like them, and resemblances of
them-what is meant by the participation of other things in the
ideas, is really assimilation to them.
But if, said he, the individual is like the idea, must not the
idea also be like the individual, in so far as the individual is a
resemblance of the idea? That which is like, cannot be conceived of as
other than the like of like.
And when two things are alike, must they not partake of the same
And will not that of which the two partake, and which makes them
alike, be the idea itself?
Then the idea cannot be like the individual, or the individual
like the idea; for if they are alike, some further idea of likeness
will always be coming to light, and if that be like anything else,
another; and new ideas will be always arising, if the idea resembles
that which partakes of it?
The theory, then that other things participate in the ideas by
resemblance, has to be given up, and some other mode of
It would seem so.
Do you see then, Socrates, how great is the difficulty of
affirming the ideas to be absolute?
And, further, let me say that as yet you only understand a small
part of the difficulty which is involved if you make of each thing a
single idea, parting it off from other things.
What difficulty? he said.
There are many, but the greatest of all is this:-If an opponent