neither a dogmatic religion nor a system of ethics. He cleaves to positive fact; his generalisations rarely involve a speculative element, but are usually confined to registering the aggregate results of observation upon human conduct in given circumstances. In the spirit of a sceptical age he makes his speakers debate questions of political or personal morality to which no definite answer is offered. In Plato's Gorgias Callicles distinguishes between "natural" and "conventional" justice, contending that "natural justice" entitles the strong to oppress the weak, and that "conventional justice" is merely a device of the weak for their own protection. In the Republic Thrasymachus defends a similar doctrine, namely, that "justice is another's good and the interest of the stronger, and that injustice is a man's own profit and interest, though injurious to the weaker." The sophist Hippias, in Xenophon's Memorabilia, argues in a like strain that justice and law are merely arbitrary and conventional. This, no doubt, was one of the commonplaces of sophistical dialectic in
the time of Thucydides. The Athenian speakers in his History defend the aggressive policy of Athens by arguments which rest on substantially the same basis as those of the Platonic Callicles and Thrasymachus. But the historian is content to state their case from their own point of view; he does not challenge the doctrine—as the Platonic Socrates
- Plato, Gorgias, p. 482, c. 38.
- Rep. p. 367 C.
- Xen. Mem. iv. 4. 14.
- Thuc. v. 105; vi. 82—87.