On the Hipparchus, or Lovers of Gain

This short dialogue, the Hipparchus, is unusual. It is coupled with another short dialogue, Minos, which is the natural introduction to Plato’s LawsHipparchus takes place at an unknown place and time, and it is a performed dialogue. Socrates confronts an unnamed “comrade” with a twofold question: What is the love of gain? And who are the lovers of gain?

The comrade, being a hopeful democrat, answers only the second part of the question. Lovers of gain are worthy of reproach for financial gain. In this way, gain may be measured mathematically. A lover of gain (philokerdes) represents a form of oligarchic excess. A lover of gain must have intimate knowledge of worth. Either a lover of gain is nobody, in the case of the perfect knowledge of worth, or everybody, in the case of lovers of good things.

Instead, Socrates equates gain with The Good, and the comrade believes all men strive toward the good, yet curiously he also believes in the existence of evil. How can this be? Either he contradicts himself, or evil exists despite man’s striving for the good. Regardless, the comrade is clearly incapable of  presuming some men good and others not. Like Dr. Pangloss, he believes in the best of all possible worlds.

When the comrade accuses Socrates of deceit, Socrates curiously recollects a story of Hipparchus, the eldest son of Peisistratus, tyrant of Athens. Socrates paints Hipparchus as a noble ruler upon inheriting the tyranny from his father, who inscribes his wisdom upon the statues to Hermes which line the countryside, but is killed by a jealous lover. Either way, the comrade cannot be persuaded, only compelled by the argument. All men, whether good or evil, are lovers of gain, and therefore it is not wholly worthy of reproach.

For this reading I used the Agora Edition of “The Roots of Political Philosophy: Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues” and edited by Thomas Pangle. This translation was completed by Allan Bloom.

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