— From a letter to Ottoline Morrell, 2 Sui an Po Hutung, 17 December 1920, in The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914-1970, edited by Nicholas Griffin, London and New York: Routledge, 2001, pp. 214-215, emphasis added.
ὦ Σώκρατες, δοκεῖς νεανιεύεσθαι ἐν τοῖς λόγοις ὡς ἀληθῶς δημηγόρος ὤν: καὶ νῦν ταῦτα δημηγορεῖς ταὐτὸν παθόντος Πώλου πάθος ὅπερ Γοργίου κατηγόρει πρὸς σὲ παθεῖν. ἔφη γάρ που Γοργίαν ἐρωτώμενον ὑπὸ σοῦ, ἐὰν ἀφίκηται παρ' αὐτὸν μὴ ἐπιστάμενος τὰ δίκαια ὁ τὴν ῥητορικὴν βουλόμενος μαθεῖν, εἰ διδάξοι αὐτὸν ὁ Γοργίας, αἰσχυνθῆναι αὐτὸν καὶ φάναι διδάξειν διὰ τὸ ἔθος τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὅτι ἀγανακτοῖεν ἂν εἴ τις μὴ φαίη—διὰ δὴ ταύτην τὴν ὁμολογίαν ἀναγκασθῆναι ἐναντία αὐτὸν αὑτῷ εἰπεῖν, σὲ δὲ αὐτὸ τοῦτο ἀγαπᾶν—καί σου καταγελᾶν, ὥς γέ μοι δοκεῖν ὀρθῶς, τότε: νῦν δὲ πάλιν αὐτὸς ταὐτὸν τοῦτο ἔπαθεν. καὶ ἔγωγε κατ' αὐτὸ τοῦτο οὐκ ἄγαμαι Πῶλον, ὅτι σοι συνεχώρησεν τὸ ἀδικεῖν αἴσχιον εἶναι τοῦ ἀδικεῖσθαι: ἐκ ταύτης γὰρ αὖ τῆς ὁμολογίας αὐτὸς ὑπὸ σοῦ συμποδισθεὶς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις ἐπεστομίσθη, αἰσχυνθεὶς ἃ ἐνόει εἰπεῖν. σὺ γὰρ τῷ ὄντι, ὦ Σώκρατες, εἰς τοιαῦτα ἄγεις φορτικὰ καὶ δημηγορικά, φάσκων τὴν ἀλήθειαν διώκειν, ἃ φύσει μὲν οὐκ ἔστιν καλά, νόμῳ δέ. ὡς τὰ πολλὰ δὲ ταῦτα ἐναντί' ἀλλήλοις ἐστίν, ἥ τε φύσις καὶ ὁ νόμος: ἐὰν οὖν τις αἰσχύνηται καὶ μὴ τολμᾷ λέγειν ἅπερ νοεῖ, ἀναγκάζεται ἐναντία λέγειν. ὃ δὴ καὶ σὺ τοῦτο τὸ σοφὸν κατανενοηκὼς κακουργεῖς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις, ἐὰν μέν τις κατὰ νόμον λέγῃ, κατὰ φύσιν ὑπερωτῶν, ἐὰν δὲ τὰ τῆς φύσεως, τὰ τοῦ νόμου. ὥσπερ αὐτίκα ἐν τούτοις, τῷ ἀδικεῖν τε καὶ τῷ ἀδικεῖσθαι, Πώλου τὸ κατὰ νόμον αἴσχιον λέγοντος, σὺ τὸν λόγον ἐδιώκαθες κατὰ φύσιν. φύσει μὲν γὰρ πᾶν αἴσχιόν ἐστιν ὅπερ καὶ κάκιον, τὸ ἀδικεῖσθαι, νόμῳ δὲ τὸ ἀδικεῖν. οὐδὲ γὰρ ἀνδρὸς τοῦτό γ' ἐστὶν τὸ πάθημα, τὸ ἀδικεῖσθαι, ἀλλ' ἀνδραπόδου τινὸς ᾧ κρεῖττόν ἐστιν τεθνάναι ἢ ζῆν, ὅστις ἀδικούμενος καὶ προπηλακιζόμενος μὴ οἷός τέ ἐστιν αὐτὸς αὑτῷ βοηθεῖν μηδὲ ἄλλῳ οὗ ἂν κήδηται. ἀλλ' οἶμαι οἱ τιθέμενοι τοὺς νόμους οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ἄνθρωποί εἰσιν καὶ οἱ πολλοί. πρὸς αὑτοὺς οὖν καὶ τὸ αὑτοῖς συμφέρον τούς τε νόμους τίθενται καὶ τοὺς ἐπαίνους ἐπαινοῦσιν καὶ τοὺς ψόγους ψέγουσιν: ἐκφοβοῦντες τοὺς ἐρρωμενεστέρους τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ δυνατοὺς ὄντας πλέον ἔχειν, ἵνα μὴ αὐτῶν πλέον ἔχωσιν, λέγουσιν ὡς αἰσχρὸν καὶ ἄδικον τὸ πλεονεκτεῖν, καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ ἀδικεῖν, τὸ πλέον τῶν ἄλλων ζητεῖν ἔχειν: ἀγαπῶσι γὰρ οἶμαι αὐτοὶ ἂν τὸ ἴσον ἔχωσιν φαυλότεροι ὄντες. διὰ ταῦτα δὴ νόμῳ μὲν τοῦτο ἄδικον καὶ αἰσχρὸν λέγεται, τὸ πλέον ζητεῖν ἔχειν τῶν πολλῶν, καὶ ἀδικεῖν αὐτὸ καλοῦσιν: ἡ δέ γε οἶμαι φύσις αὐτὴ ἀποφαίνει αὐτό, ὅτι δίκαιόν ἐστιν τὸν ἀμείνω τοῦ χείρονος πλέον ἔχειν καὶ τὸν δυνατώτερον τοῦ ἀδυνατωτέρου. δηλοῖ δὲ ταῦτα πολλαχοῦ ὅτι οὕτως ἔχει, καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἄλλοις ζῴοις καὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐν ὅλαις ταῖς πόλεσι καὶ τοῖς γένεσιν, ὅτι οὕτω τὸ δίκαιον κέκριται, τὸν κρείττω τοῦ ἥττονος ἄρχειν καὶ πλέον ἔχειν. ἐπεὶ ποίῳ δικαίῳ χρώμενος Ξέρξης ἐπὶ τὴν Ἑλλάδα ἐστράτευσεν ἢ ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ Σκύθας; ἢ ἄλλα μυρία ἄν τις ἔχοι τοιαῦτα λέγειν. ἀλλ' οἶμαι οὗτοι κατὰ φύσιν τὴν τοῦ δικαίου ταῦτα πράττουσιν, καὶ ναὶ μὰ Δία κατὰ νόμον γε τὸν τῆς φύσεως, οὐ μέντοι ἴσως κατὰ τοῦτον ὃν ἡμεῖς τιθέμεθα: πλάττοντες τοὺς βελτίστους καὶ ἐρρωμενεστάτους ἡμῶν αὐτῶν, ἐκ νέων λαμβάνοντες, ὥσπερ λέοντας, κατεπᾴδοντές τε καὶ γοητεύοντες καταδουλούμεθα λέγοντες ὡς τὸ ἴσον χρὴ ἔχειν καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ καλὸν καὶ τὸ δίκαιον. ἐὰν δέ γε οἶμαι φύσιν ἱκανὴν γένηται ἔχων ἀνήρ, πάντα ταῦτα ἀποσεισάμενος καὶ διαρρήξας καὶ διαφυγών, καταπατήσας τὰ ἡμέτερα γράμματα καὶ μαγγανεύματα καὶ ἐπῳδὰς καὶ νόμους τοὺς παρὰ φύσιν ἅπαντας, ἐπαναστὰς ἀνεφάνη δεσπότης ἡμέτερος ὁ δοῦλος, καὶ ἐνταῦθα ἐξέλαμψεν τὸ τῆς φύσεως δίκαιον.
—Plato, Gorgias, 482c-484b
Socrates, you seem to be roistering recklessly in your talk, like the true demagogue that you are; and you are declaiming now in this way because Polus has got into the same plight as he was accusing Gorgias of letting himself be led into by you. For he said, I think, when you asked Gorgias whether, supposing a man came to him with no knowledge of justice but a desire to learn rhetoric, he would instruct the man, Gorgias showed some shame and said he would, because of the habit of mind in people which would make them indignant if refused—and so, because of this admission, he was forced to contradict himself, and that was just what suited you—and Polus was right, to my thinking, in mocking at you as he did then; but this time he has got into the very same plight himself. For my own part, where I am not satisfied with Polus is just that concession he made to you—that doing wrong is fouler than suffering it; for owing to this admission he too in his turn got entangled in your argument and had his mouth stopped, being ashamed to say what he thought. For you, Socrates, really turn the talk into such low, popular clap-trap, while you give out that you are pursuing the truth—into stuff that is “fair,” not by nature, but by convention. Yet for the most part these two—nature and convention—are opposed to each other, so that if a man is ashamed and dares not say what he thinks, he is forced to contradict himself. And this, look you, is the clever trick you have devised for our undoing in your discussions: when a man states anything according to convention you slip “according to nature” into your questions; and again, if he means nature, you imply convention. In the present case, for instance, of doing and suffering wrong, when Polus was speaking of what is conventionally fouler, you followed it up in the sense of what is naturally so. For by nature everything is fouler that is more evil, such as suffering wrong: doing it is fouler only by convention. Indeed this endurance of wrong done is not a man’s part at all, but a poor slave’s, for whom it is better to be dead than alive, as it is for anybody who, when wronged or insulted, is unable to protect himself or anyone else for whom he cares. But I suppose the makers of the laws are the weaker sort of men, and the more numerous. So it is with a view to themselves and their own interest that they make their laws and distribute their praises and censures; and to terrorize the stronger sort of folk who are able to get an advantage, and to prevent them from getting one over them, they tell them, that such aggrandizement is foul and unjust, and that wrongdoing is just this endeavor to get the advantage of one’s neighbors: for I expect they are well content to see themselves on an equality, when they are so inferior. So this is why by convention it is termed unjust and foul to aim at an advantage over the majority, and why they call it wrongdoing: but nature, in my opinion, herself proclaims the fact that it is right for the better to have advantage of the worse, and the abler of the feebler. It is obvious in many cases that this is so, not only in the animal world, but in the states and races, collectively, of men—that right has been decided to consist in the sway and advantage of the stronger over the weaker. For by what manner of right did Xerxes march against Greece, or his father against Scythia? Or take the countless other cases of the sort that one might mention. Why, surely these men follow nature—the nature of right—in acting thus; yes, on my soul, and follow the law of nature—though not that, I dare say, which is made by us; we mold the best and strongest amongst us, taking them from their infancy like young lions, and utterly enthral them by our spells and witchcraft, telling them the while that they must have but their equal share, and that this is what is fair and just. But, I fancy, when some man arises with a nature of sufficient force, he shakes off all that we have taught him, bursts his bonds, and breaks free; he tramples underfoot our codes and juggleries, our charms and “laws,” which are all against nature; our slave rises in revolt and shows himself our master, and there dawns the full light of natural justice.
—translated by W.R.M. Lamb