Plato’s Socks

Illustration by Ben Coleman

Plato never wore socks. He did own some — lovely socks that his wife yarned out of goat hair, pair after pair, split-toed to fit comfortably into his sandals — but Plato rejected socks, believing that a philosopher ought not cater to whims of pleasure or fashion. Instead, he piled them into a basket and carried them out onto his porch, where they became an essential element of his dialectic methodology.

Plato took those socks and glued on pairs of tiny round mirrors for eyes. Then, sliding his hand into a sock, the toe cleft would become a mouth; the mouth of a friend, Ion, Adeimantus, Meno or Phaedrus. 

“Ion,” Plato invokes his friend. “When you recite a poem, who do you honour more, Homer or the gods?”

“Golly,” the sock replies. “I never thought of that; what a question! What do you think, Plato?”

“I know nothing,” Plato shrugs, modestly. “Only the gods know.”

“Indeed.” The sock-head nods and looks anxiously up at the sky. But there are no clouds. It’s a good day for open-air schooling.

“And yet,” says Plato. “I love the gods. Therefore, it follows that if the gods are knowledge, that I am a lover of knowledge.”

“Well put!” agrees the sock. “Plato, my friend, you never cease to amaze me!”

Plato angles his hand so that the mirror eyes of his puppet flash in the sun. Plato knows that his friend has no need of anything more than mirrors as eyes; that he, too, may as well have mirrors in place of eyes — because perceptions are at best indirect; at worst, deceiving. So it is with ears, with tears, with fears, with drinking too many beers . . .  

“Knowledge is innate,” says Plato. “We have only to reason our way to the essential Form to be illuminated.”

“That’s hard for me to grasp,” says the sock.

“Take you, for example,” Plato explains. “As a sock, you are just one sock, one imperfect imitation of the essential Sock.”

            “Ah, but as a puppet, I take form!” The sock-head perks up, then sighs. “But only, I suppose, as a lowly imitation of some perfect Form.”

            “You could say that,” nods Plato. “But” — he smiles and pets his woolly pal — “you could also say that you’re the perfect friend!”

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