jueves, 4 de junio de 2015

Plato - Charmides (English edition).

Sophrosyne, an ancient Greek word that means ''temperance''. This book is accurate to continue with the previous dialog ''Laches or bravery'' because it is necessary to have temperance before and after to do an achievement. It is another dialog where Socrates and his interlocutors do not reach an appropriate definition and, therefore, it is up to the reader what can the discussed definition mean; in this case, temperance.



- Charmides
- Critias
- Chaerephon
- Socrates

Arriving from the battle of Potidea

Socrates had been part of the army in the battle of Potidaea. Once it was finished, he went to Taureas where Chaerephon was waiting for. 

Chaerephon wanted to know all things about the battle where Socrates had taken part, however, the news were not encouraging. As people who did not go to the battle imagined, many compatriots had died. 

Openly, Chaerephon asks Socrates for giving more details about the battle and he immediately take him to where Critias was and some other who wanted to hear what happened in Potidea.


Before to start, Socrates asks what have happened in the city, if there is someone more beautiful, or if there is someone wiser. Chaerephon tells him that Charmides is considered the most handsome  man in the city. 

Many people say that he is one of the most handsome men not only in appearance but also in mind. He also was considered both philosopher and poet. Socrates was shocked and he would like to know him.

The soul doctor

Critias immediately calls a slave who calls Charmides in order to say him that they had a doctor for his headache. Chaerephon asks Socrates impersonates as a doctor in order to talk to Charmides.

Charmides feels curiosity that Socrates has the medicine for his headache. He tells him that medicine is composed of a leaf and a charm. They need each other because otherwise, they will not work.

Socrates learned about this medicine from Zalmoxis's Thracian doctors. What they said is in order to cure eyes, they have to cure the head first; and before to cure the head, they have to cure the body; and before to cure the body, they have to cure the soul.

In this sense, it is impossible that a body can be cured without check out the soul. The soul is responsible in two things: sickness and health of a body. Soul, says Socrates, only can be cured through ''charms''which are defined as beautiful words. Thereby, the body reaches temperance.

In addition, Critias tells Socrates that Charmides is the man who has more temperance. Socrates agrees and then he mentions the Charmides's offspring praising for his lineage. However, Socrates asks him if he already know all about temperance, or rather they need to know something about it.

Charmides says, Critias, he is not telling the truth because actually, neither Charmides knows if he is temperate. That is why Socrates asks him to investigate if he has temperance or not. 


Charmides's first definition

If Charmides has temperance, then he probably has an opinion about it, said Socrates. From the beginning, he shows himself reluctant, but finally he made the following definition:

''I think it is a sort of quietness''

Socrates tells him he is not all wrong because many people who is quiet people call him/her ''temperance''. Now, you want to write a letter Is it better to do it fast or slow? Charmides answers that it is better to do it fast than slow.

Temperance in body

Same thing happens to lira playing, wrestling, boxing, jumping and running. If these activities are done rapidly, they will be more effective than doing them slowly. 

Taking into account these reasons, it seems to be activities that are related to body must be faster than quiet and slow. So, Where is temperance? Although temperance seems to be admirable, it is not good for a body.

Temperance in soul

Would not it be better to learn something easily or hardly? Obviously, it would be better to learn easily, and easiness necessarily implies speed, that means, to learn rapidly. Same thing happens when a person must learn something. Even in memory, it is better to recall something rapidly than slowly. 

It seems to be that shrewdness is better for the soul than quietness. If it is faster, it will be better for soul and body.

Charmides's second definition

Charmides states the following definition:

''Well, temperance seems to me to make people ashamed and bashful and so I think modesty must be what temperance really is''.

Socrates reminds Charmides that temperance besides to be admirable is good, useful and productive. In addition, Socrates reminds him an extract from Iliad where Homer says: ''Temperance is not good for a needy man''. That is why modesty cannot be connected to temperance.

Charmides's third definition

Charmides tries another definition, this time, one that he has listened somewhere. 

''To mind our own business''

Socrates feels sorry for Charmides because of listening to that. For example, a temperance teacher teaches to his students not only to write his name but also the other one's. A government that is temperate cares about all its citizens. Therefore, temperance cannot be to mind our own business.

Critias's discussion

Once this refutation was finished, Socrates wanted to know who had given that definition to Charmides. He asked if Critias had done it, but Critias denied such accusation, but the Charmides's incriminating look seems to blame him.

Then, if temperance is not to mind our own business, Is it who minds about other business? Critias said that that would be the conclusion taking into account refutation of the previous definition.

Difference between ''to do'' and ''to work''

Socrates asks Critias if ''to do'' and ''to work'' are the same thing. Critias told him that is not the same.

According to Critias, ''to do'' can be shameful if it is not accompanied by something admirable; in contrast, ''to work'' will always be good and useful. This argument is based on what Hesiod says in his work ''works and days''. Critias tell us that when Hesiod talked about that, he referred to individual work and not collective work.

So that, everything that is related to activity and ''to mind our own business'', Critias will call temperance.

Critias's second definition

Now we have another definition by Critias:

''I define temperance as the occupation of good works''

Occupation of good things means people who cares about their own businesses. However, Socrates discusses a new argument.

  • Doctors who cures people makes a good action; therefore, he would be a temperance person and at the same time he is doing something good for others.
In this way, Critias's argument would be refuted and he accepts it. Immediately, Critias tells Socrates to propose a definition.

Socrates's definition 

Socrates gives a new definition:

''Surely, it must be a science and a science of something''
Critias insists adding that temperance is science of the one risking the previous mistake about doctors. 

Nevertheless, Critias points out that this kind of art (medicine) is not very similar to other arts as calculation. When Socrates heard this, he starts to give examples with calculation.

  • Within calculation, there are even and odd numbers, but they are different from the calculation science. So, as temperance is a science, it must produce something different from itself. 
Despite that, Critias interrupts saying that other science can produce things different from itself, but temperance is the only one that cannot produce something by itself. Hence, Critias insists that temperance is the science of the one. 

Temperance and science

Socrates and Critias agree that temperance can be both science and ''no knowledge'' or ''non-science ''. Thus, the person with temperance knows what he knows and also knows what he does not know.

However, Socrates warned, this reasoning may lead to an aporia. Is it possible that science is not a science at the same time? That means, is it possible that desire does not belong to any pleasure but to itself and other desires? It would be totally absurd to talk this way.

Vision for example, is not object itself, is the object of things that are colored, moreover, it would be useless for vision saw itself. The vision can not apply its powers to itself, and science can not either.

Difficulties in defining

As they cannot reach a definitive conclusion, Socrates proposes to analyze the problem from the beginning.

It was said to have temperance and self-knowledge meant knowing and not knowing. Critias always agreed with that definition because it considers that if a man knows himself, this man will be aware of himself.

Socrates replies that that is not the point, the point is How science can know about itself can know if it being science it is not necessary to examine itself? For example. Health is known because of medicine, harmony because of music and the building because of architecture. Music can not know itself unless it is through harmony. And none of these things can be known by means of temperance.

In addition, the man who has temperance can never know medicine or architecture, as temperance is only dedicated to self-knowledge (as we said in the last definition). What use would have temperance? Socrates is trying to give a definition declared that temperance is ''knowledge of knowledge'' is likely to serve not to be deceived by false medical or men who has a false profession. But if this were so, why is medicine or architecture? Is it better to have temperance than to be doctor or to know that art?

So unfortunately it does not come to a satisfactory solution or definition.


Another youth dialogue where the definition is unfortunately not reached by Socrates and his interlocutors. What impressed me was the incredible amount of definitions that were given this time compared to Laques where there were only a few. In fact I think that I would take any of them without looking at the argument of Socrates. Finally, I think it is a book that teaches us much about the dialectical method to find solutions to any research.

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