Friday, June 30, 2017

5d Plato’s Charmides in the light of its dating, with reference to his Phaedrus and Apology

Critias continues: ‘Indeed, I’d almost say that is what sôphrosunê [D.W. ‘self-control’] really is (schedon gar ti egôge auto touto phêmi einai sôphrosunên), knowing oneself (to gignôskein heauton). I agree with the man who dedicated the inscription to that effect at Delphi (kai sumpheromai tô̢ en Delphois anathenti to toiouton gramma). The fact is, I think that the inscription was dedicated to serve instead of “Hail”, as a greeting from the god to the people entering the temple (kai gar touto houtô moi dokei to gramma anakeisthai, hôs dê prosrêsis ousa tou theou tôn eisiontôn anti tou Chaire), as though the god felt that this form of greeting wasn’t correct (hôs toutou men ouk orthou ontos tou prosrêmatos, tou chairein), and that they ought not to recommend that to one another (oude dein touto parakeleuesthai allêlois), but rather sôphronein [D.W. ‘self-control’] (alla sôphronein). So this is how the god speaks to the people who enter his temple (houtô men dê ho theos prosagoreuei tous eisiontas eis to hieron) … Sôphronei [D.W. “Be self-controlled”] … because, as the inscription implies and as I maintain, “Know yourself” and Sôphronei {D.W. “Be self-controlled”] are the same thing (to gar Gnôthi sauton kai to Sôphronei estin men t’auton, hôs ta grammata phêsin kai egô).’ (164d3-165a1)

In the Phaedrus Socrates proclaimed: ‘I can’t as yet (ou dunamai pô) “know myself”, as the inscription at Delphi enjoins (kata to Delphikon gramma gnônai emauton); and so long as that ignorance remains it seems to me ridiculous (geloion dê moi phainetai touto eti agnoounta) to enquire into extraneous matters (ta allotria skopein, 229e5-230oa1, tr. Hackforth).’

I ended ‘5b’ with the following exchange: Socrates: ‘So it’s not the man who does the bad things, but the man who does good things who sôphronei [‘self-controls’] (Ouk ara sôphronei ho ta kaka prattôn, all’ ho agatha;)?’ – Critias: ‘Don’t you think so, my good fellow (Soi de, ô beltiste, ouch houtô dokei;)?’ – Socrates: ‘Never mind (Ea), let’s not consider what I think just yet (mê gar pô to emoi dokoun skopômen), but rather what you’re saying now (all’ ho su legeis nun).’ (163b2-e7)

With Critias defining sôphrosunê as ‘knowing oneself’ (to gignôskein heauton), are we entering the stage in which Socrates will subject to investigation his to emoi dokoun, ‘what I think’?

Critias went on to say: ‘I let you have all we said before’ (ta men emprosthen soi panta aphiêmi, 165a8-b1)

Jowett translates: ‘My object is to leave the previous discussion.’ Critias says: ‘All that was said before, I let go.’ The enclitic soi (the dative of the personal pronoun su ‘you’) doesn’t mean here ‘to you’, i.e. ‘I’m leaving it to you’, as Watt’s translation appears to be suggesting, but simply gives Critias’ words a personal touch.

Critas continued: ‘perhaps you were more right there (isôs men gar ti su eleges peri autôn orthoteron), perhaps I was (isôs d’ egô), but nothing of what we said was absolutely clear (saphes d’ ouden panu ên hôn elegomen). Now, however (Nun d’), I am willing (ethelô) to explain this fully to you (toutou soi didonai logon), unless you do agree (ei mê homologeis) that sôphrosunê is (sôphrosunên einai) knowing oneself (to gignôskein auton heauton).’ – Socrates: ‘But (All’), Critias (ô Kritia), you’re treating me as if I’m maintaining that I know what I’m asking about (su men hôs phaskontos emou eidenai peri hôn erôtô prospherê̢ pros me), and as if I’ll agree with you if I really want to (kai ean dê boulômai, homologêsontos soi). But it’s not like that (to d’ ouch houtôs echei). In fact (alla), I’m going along with you in investigating (zêtô gar aei meta sou) whatever proposition is made (to protithemenon), because I myself am in ignorance (dia to mê autos eidenai). So, when I’ve considered it (skepsamenos oun), I’m prepared to tell you (ethelô eipein) whether or not I agree with you (eite homologô eite mê). But wait (all’ episches) until I’ve considered it (heôs an skepsômai).’ – Cr. ‘Consider it (Skopei), then (dê).’ – S. I am (Kai gar skopô). If indeed sôphrosunê is knowing something (ei gar dê gignôskein ge ti estin hê sôphrosunê), it will obviously be a knowledge (dêlon hoti epistêmê tis an eiê) and a knowledge of something (kai tinos), won’t it (ê ou;)?’ – Cr. ‘Yes (Estin), of oneself (heautou ge).’ – S. ‘Now (Oukoun), isn’t medicine the knowledge of what is healthy (kai iatrikê epistême estin tou hugieinou;)?’ – Cr. ‘Yes, certainly (Panu ge).’ – S. ‘Well then, if you asked me (Ei toinun me eroio su), “What use is medicine to us, inasmuch as it is the knowledge of what is healthy (iatrikê hugieinou epistêmê ousa ti hêmin chrêsimê estin)? What does it produce (kai ti apergazetai)?”, I’d say (eipoim’ an) that it is of considerable benefit (hoti ou smikran ôphelian) in that it produces health, a splendid product, for us (tên gar hugieian kalon hêmin ergon apergazetai). Do you accept that (ei apodechê̢ touto)?’ – Cr. ‘I do (Apodechomai).’ – S. ‘Well, if you then asked me what product I say the art of building, which is the knowledge of building, produces (Kai ei toinun me eroio tên oikodomikên, epistêmên ousan tou oikodomein, ti phêmi ergon apergazesthai), I’d say buildings (eipoim’ an hoti oikêseis); and the same for the other arts (hôsautôs de kai tôn allôn technôn). Now, since you say that sôphrosunê is the knowledge of oneself, you ought to be able to tell me the answer in the case of sôphrosunê, when I ask (chrê oun kai se huper tês sôphrosunês, epeidê phê̢s autên heautou epistêmên einai echein eipein erôtêthenta), “Critias (Ô Kritia), what splendid product worthy of the name does sôphrosunê, in so far as it is knowledge of oneself, produce for us (sôphrosunê, epistêmê ousa heautou, ti kalon hêmin ergon apergazetai kai axion tou onomatos;)?” Come on then (ithi oun), tell me (eipe).’ – Cr. ‘But (All’) Socrates (ô Sôkrates), your method of investigating the question is wrong (ouk orthôs zêteis). It isn’t like the other knowledges (ou gar homia hautê pephuken tais allais epistêmais), and they aren’t like one another either (oude ge hai allai allêlais); but you’re conducting the investigation as if it were (su d’ hôs homoiôn ousôn poiê̢ tên zêtêsin). For tell me (epei lege moi), what is the product of the art of arithmetic or geometry, in the way the house is the product of the art of building (tês logistikês technês ê tês geômetrikês ti estin toiouton ergon hoion oikia oikodomikês), a cloak of the art of weaving (ê himation huphantikês), or many other such products of many arts which one could point to (ê alla toiaut’ erga, ha polla an tis echoi pollôn technôn deixai;)? Can you point to any such products of those arts (echeis oun moi kai su toutôn toiouton ti ergon deixai)? You won’t be able to (all’ ouch hexeis).’ (165b1-166a2)

Doesn’t Critias have a point? Or are we to qualify the observation that Socrates’ investigation goes wrong as a manifestation of Critias’ ‘lacking in sôphrosunê’ and of his being ‘quite ignorant of its meaning beyond a superficial acquaintance with its conventional use within his aristocratic circle’, as D. Watt characterizes Critias’ performance in his ‘Introduction to Charmides’ (Plato, Early Socratic Dialogues, Penguin Books, 1987, p. 167)?

On my dating of the Phaedrus and the Charmides, the readers, who had just read the former, must wonder what’s going on. In the former Socrates clearly considered knowing oneself, enjoined by the Delphic inscription, as the most important knowledge one can aspire to, and the greatest task for himself personally. How can he now question its usefulness and its benefit?

Those who subscribe to the dominant twentieth century dating of the Phaedrus – Plato’s late dialogue, written after the Republic – and of the Charmides – an early dialogue, written after the death of Socrates as all the other dialogues – may rejoice. Don’t they have here a good reason to reject my dating of these two dialogues?

So let me point to the Apology, to the passage in which Socrates sheds light on his philosophic not-knowing. He says that his friend Chaerephon went to Delphi to ask the oracle ‘whether anyone was wiser than I was’ (ei tis emou eiê sophôteros), and that ‘the Pythian prophetess answered that there was no man wiser’ (aneilen oun Puthia mêdena sophôteron einai, 21a5-7): ‘When I heard the answer (tauta gar egô akousas), I said to myself (enethumoumên houtôsi), What can the god mean when he says that I am the wisest of men (Ti pote legei ho theos)? And what is the interpretation of this riddle (kai ti pote ainittetai)? For I know that I have no wisdom, small or great (egô gar dê oute mega oute smikron sunoida emautô̢ sophos ôn). What then can he mean (ti oun pote legei) when he says that I am the wisest of men (phaskôn eme sophôtaton einai;)? And yet he is a god, and cannot lie (ou gar dêpou pseudetai ge); that would be against his nature (ou gar themis autô̢). After long perplexity (kai polun men chronon êporoun ti pote legei), I thought of a method of trying the question (epeita mogis panu epi zêtêsin autou toiautên tina etrapomên). I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should say to him (êlthon epi tina tôn dokountôn sophôn einai, hôs entautha eiper pou exelenxôn to manteion kai apophanôn tô̢ chrêsmô̢ hoti), “Here is a man who is wiser than I am (Houtosi emou sophôteros esti); but you said that I was the wisest (su d’ eme ephêstha).” Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed him (diaskopôn oun touton) – his name I need not mention (onomati gar ouden deomai legein), he was a politician (ên de tis tôn politikôn); and in the process of examining him and talking with him, this, men of Athens, was what I found (pros hon skopôn toiouton ti epathon, ô andres Athênaioi, kai dialegomenos autô̢). I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and still wiser by himself (edoxe moi houtos ho anêr dokein men einai sophos allois te pollois anthrôpois kai malista heautô̢, einai d’ ou); and thereupon I tried to explain to him (k’apeita epeirômên autô̢ deiknunai) that he thought himself wise (hoti oioito men einai sophos), but was not really wise (eiê d’ ou); and the consequence was (enteuthen oun) that he hated me (toutô̢ te apêchthomên), and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me (kai pollois tôn parontôn). So I left him, saying to myself as I went away (pros emauton d’oun apiôn elogizomên): Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really worth knowing, I am at least wiser than this fellow (hoti toutou men tou anthrôpou egô sophôteros eimi, kinduneuei men gar hêmôn oudeteros ouden kalon k’agathon eidenai) – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows (all’ houtos men oietai ti eidenai ouk eidôs); I neither know nor think that I know (egô de, hôsper oun ouk oida, oude oiomai). In this little point, then, I seem to have advantage of him (eoika goun toutou ge smikrô̢ tini autô̢ toutô̢ sophôteros einai, hoti ha mê oida oude oiomai eidenai). Then I went to another (enteuthen ep’ allon ê̢a) who had still higher pretensions to wisdom (tôn ekeinou dokountôn sophôterôn einai), and my conclusion was exactly the same (kai moi t’auta tauta edoxe). Whereupon I made another enemy of him, and of many others beside him (kai entautha k’akeinô̢ kai allois pollois apêchthomên). Then I went to one man after another (Meta taut’ oun êdê ephexês ê̢a), being not unconscious of the enmity which I provoked, and I lamented and feared this (aisthanomenos men kai lupoumenos kai dediôs hoti apêchthanomên): but necessity was laid upon me (homoiôs de anankaion) – the word of God, I thought, ought to be considered first (edokei einai to tou theou peri pleistou poieisthai). And I said to myself, Go I must to all who appear to know, and find out the meaning of the oracle (iteon oun, skopounti ton chrêsmon ti legei, epi pantas tous ti dokountas eidenai).’ (21b2-22a1, tr. B. Jowett)

As can be seen, self-knowledge was central to Socrates’ philosophic activities.

But what if one dated the Apology really late, took it as Plato’s imaginary piece about his imaginary Socrates? Can’t D. Watt’s thesis that Plato in the Charmides ‘is endeavouring to show that Socrates tried to educate Critias and Charmides in sôphrosunê, but failed. But by trying, he saved himself from any possible accusation of responsibility for their later crimes’ (Plato, Early Socratic Dialogues, Penguin Books, 1987, p. 167.), be thus preserved?

How is Socrates supposed to try to educate Critias and Charmides in sôphrosunê by casting doubt on the usefulness and benefit of self-knowledge?

On any dating of the dialogue, there is a problem. Will the further discussion of self-knowledge, which follows 165c-d, help us understand what’s going on in this dialogue?

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