Critias: ‘Well (Alla mentoi), I’m saying that it is not the man who doesn’t do good things but does bad who is self-controlled (ton mê agatha alla kaka poiounta ou phêmi sôphronein), but that it is the man who does good things (ton de agatha) and not bad (all mê kaka) who is (sôphronein). That is, I define sôphrosunê [D.W. ‘self-control] quite plainly as doing good things (tên gar tôn agathôn praxin sôphrosunên einai saphôs soi diorizomai).’ – Socrates: ‘There’s probably no reason why that shouldn’t be true (Kai ouden ge se isôs kôluei alêthê legein). However, I am surprised (tode ge mentoi thaumazô) that you believe that men who are self-controlled do not know that they are self-controlled (ei sôphronountas anthrôpous hêgê̢ su agnoein hoti sôphronousin)’.’ – Cr. ‘But I don’t (All’ ouch hêgoumai).’ – S. ‘Weren’t you saying a short while ago (Ouk oligon proteron elegeto hupo sou) that there was no reason why craftsmen shouldn’t be self-controlled, even when making other people’s things (hoti tous dêmiourgous ouden kôluei kai au ta tôn allôn poiountas sôphronein)?’ – Cr. ‘I was (Elegeto gar), but what of it (alla ti touto;)?’ – S. Nothing (Ouden). But tell me whether you think that a doctor (alla lege ei dokei tis soi iatros), when making someone healthy (huguia tina poiôn), does what is beneficial not only to himself but also to the man he is curing (ôphelima kai heautô̢ poiein kai ekeinô̢ hon iô̢to;)?’ – Cr. ‘I do (Emoige).’ – S. ‘Is the man who does that doing what he should (Oukoun ta deonta prattei ho ge tauta prattôn;)?’ – Cr. ‘Yes (Nai).’ – S. ‘Isn’t the man who does what he should self-controlled (Ho ta deonta prattôn ou sôphronei;)?’ – Cr. ‘He certainly is (Sôphronei men oun).’ – S. ‘Then must a doctor know (ê oun kai gignôskein anankê tô̢ iatrô̢) when his curing is beneficial (hotan te ôphelimôs iatai) and when it’s not (kai hotan mê;)? Must every craftsman know (kai hekastô̢ tôn dêmiourgôn) when he’s likely to profit (hotan mellê̢ onêsesthai) from whatever work he does (apo tou ergou hou an prattê̢) and when he’s not (kai hotan mê;)?’ – Cr. Perhaps not (Isôs ou).’ – S. ‘So sometimes (Eniote ara) the doctor does something beneficial or harmful (ôphelimôs praxas ê blaberôs ho iatros) without knowing which he has done (ou gignôskei heauton hôs epraxen). And yet, according to what you say, in doing what is beneficial, he has done what is self-controlled (kaitoi ôphelimôs praxas, hôs ho soi logos, sôphronôs epraxen). Wasn’t that your point (ouch houtôs eleges;)? – Cr. ‘Yes, it was (Egôge).’ – S. ‘Then it would appear that sometimes (Oukoun, hôs eoiken), when he does what is beneficial (ôphelimôs praxas), he does what is self-controlled (prattei men sôphronôs kai sôphronei), though he does not know (agnoei d’ heauton) that he is being self-controlled (hoti sôphronei)? – Cr. ‘But that could never happen, Socrates (Alla touto men, ô Sôkrates, ouk an pote genoito). Still (all’), if you think that that must follow as a result of what I admitted earlier (ei ti su oiei ek tôn emprosthen hup’ emou hômologêmenôn eis touto anankaion einai sumbainein), I’d rather retract part of that admission (ekeinôn an ti egôge mallon anatheimên) – and I’d not be ashamed (kai ouk an aischuntheiên) to say that I was wrong (mê ouchi orthôs phanai eirêkenai) – than ever allow that a man who does not know himself is self-controlled (mallon ê pote sunchôrêsaim’ an agnoounta auton heauton anthrôpon sôphronein).’ (163e8-164d3)
Donald Watt writes in the introductory note to this section: ‘Socrates … turns to the question of whether it is possible for the self-controlled man to be ignorant of his being self-controlled. His argument is as follows: (i) self-control is doing what one should; (ii) doing what one should is doing good; therefore, by implication, (iii) self-control is doing good; but (iv) one may do good without knowing it; therefore (v) one may be self-controlled without knowing it. Critias consequently abandons this line of argument. The implication of this section, of course, is that self-control is doing good knowingly: self-control is the knowledge of (the doing of) the good.’ (Plato, Early Socratic Dialogues, Penguin Books, 1987, p. 190.)
If Watt is right, then Plato accomplished a remarkable developmental journey from the Charmides to the Republic, for in the former both Socrates and Critias assume that craftsmen (tous dêmiourgous) can be ‘self-controlled’ (sôphronein), which on Watt’s interpretation means that those of them, who are self-controlled, have ‘the knowledge of (the doing of) the good’. But in the Republic ‘the Form of the good is the highest knowledge’ (hê tou agathou idea megiston mathêma, 505a2), which can be acquired only by true philosophers; it is this knowledge that entitles them to rule. But is Watt right? In my view, he misconstrued the argument.
Critias defined sôphrosunê as ‘doing good things’ (tên tôn agathôn praxin, 163e10-11). Socrates then asked whether a doctor must know (ê oun kai gignôskein anankê tô̢ iatrô̢) when his curing is beneficial (hotan te ôphelimôs iatai) and when it’s not (kai hotan mê), and every craftsman (kai hekastô̢ tôn dêmiourgôn) when he’s likely to profit (hotan mellê̢ onêsesthai) from whatever work he does (apo tou ergou hou an prattê̢) and when he’s not (kai hotan mê,164b7-9). When Critias admitted that there was no such necessity (Isôs ou, 164b10), Socrates concluded that ‘sometimes (Eniote ara) the doctor does something beneficial or harmful (ôphelimôs praxas ê blaberôs ho iatros) without knowing which he has done (ou gignôskei heauton hôs epraxen, 164b11-c1)’, which means that ‘sometimes, when he does what is beneficial (ôphelimôs praxas), he does what is self-controlled (prattei men sôphronôs kai sôphronei), though he does not know (agnoei d’ heauton) that he is being self-controlled (hoti sôphronei, 164c5-6).’
This Critias cannot accept, for in his view self-reflection is a necessary constituent of sôphrosunê.
It may be argued, in support of Watt’s interpretation, that in my abbreviated version of the argument I omitted Socrates’ introduction of ‘doing what one should’ (ta deonta prattein). The fact is that Socrates’ two questions concerning this point, and Critias’ responses to them, which I marked with the bold script, can be taken away without any detriment to the argument, which consists in Socrates’ refutation of Critias’ definition of sôphrosunê as ‘doing good things’. It does not mean that the definition of sôphrosunê as ‘doing what one should’ is otiose within the framework of the dialogue, for it harks back to the definition of sôphrosunê as ‘doing one’s own business’ (to ta heautou prattein), clarifying it without losing the self-reflection implied in ‘one’s own’ (ta heautou): any doctor and any craftsman who does what he should do, knows that he should do it.
Why is this important definition brought in by Socrates, yet left without being discussed? Consider Socrates’ investigative not-knowing, to which all the other definitions of sôphrosunê in the dialogue fall prey, on the one hand, and on the other hand the closing section, in which Charmides does not accept Socrates’ self-professed ignorance, resolves to be ‘charmed’ by Socrates day by day, Critias concurs with his resolve, and Socrates complies with it.