In the preceding post I raised the question whether the science/knowledge of the beauty itself, of which Diotima tells Socrates in the Symposium, sheds light on the science/knowledge of the good mooted by Socrates in the Charmides. I suggested that the dating of the Charmides may help us in answering this question. I discussed the dating of the Charmides in the fifth chapter of The Lost Plato, entitled ‘The Charmides and the Phaedrus’ (available on my website); in its first paragraph the dating of the Charmides is presented as in a nutshell:
‘In the preceding chapter [Ch.4, ‘The dating of the Phaedrus: Ancient Sources’] I argued that Plato wrote the Phaedrus in response to Aristophanes’ scathing attack on Socrates and his disciples in the Frogs, in the final stages of the Peloponnesian war, and that it was finished and published after its end, for only then Simmias, to whom Plato refers in the dialogue in parenthesis, could come to Athens from Thebes. The question arises which dialogue came next. This I believe to be the Charmides, for there are strong reasons for dating it shortly after Plato’s publishing of the Phaedrus. Socrates’ interlocutors in the Charmides are well known historical figures: Chaerephon, Critias, and Charmides. Charmides and Critias took an active part in the aristocratic revolution that took place after the dissolution of democracy with which the military defeat of Athens ended. This regime deteriorated in a few months into tyranny under Critias’ leadership and became known as the rule of the Thirty Tyrants. In the dialogue Chaerephon, an ardent democrat, is on the best terms with Critias and is presented as a great admirer of Charmides. Chaerephon went into exile when the aristocratic regime began to show its true nature (cf. Apology 20e-21a); I therefore date the Charmides in 404, before Chaerephon went to exile.’
Before bringing in the passages on which I found the dating of the Charmides, let me refer to a passage in the Phaedrus, which, together with the science/knowledge of the beauty itself, discussed by Diotima in the Symposium, sheds light on the science/knowledge of the good mooted by Socrates in the Charmides. The passage in the Phaedrus is the one in which Plato’s Socrates describes the ‘place beyond heavens’ (ton huperouranion topon, 247c3), where the Forms reside: ‘It is there that true Being dwells, without colour or shape, that cannot be touched; reason alone, the soul’s pilot, can behold it, and all true knowledge is knowledge thereof (hê gar achrômatos te kai aschêmatistos kai anaphês ousia ontôs ousa, psuchês kubernêtê̢ monô̢ theatê nô̢, peri hês to tês alêthinês epistêmês genos, touton echei ton topon). Now even as the mind of a god is nourished by reason and knowledge (hat’ oun theou dianoia nô̢ te kai epistêmê̢ akêratô̢ trephomenê), so also is it with every soul (kai hapasês psuchês) that has a care (hosê̢ an melê̢) to receive her proper food (to prosêkon dexasthai); wherefore when at last she has beheld Being (idousa dia chronou to on) she is well content (agapa̢ te), and contemplating truth (kai theôrousa t’alêthê) she is nourished (trephetai te) and prospers (kai eupathei), until the heaven’s revolution brings her back the full circle (heôs an kuklô̢ hê periphora eis t’auton perienenkê̢). And while she is borne around (en de tê̢ periphora̢) she discerns justice, its very self (kathora̢ men autên diakiosunên), and likewise temperance (kathora̢ de sôphrosunên), and knowledge (kathora̢ de epistêmên), not the knowledge that is neighbour to Becoming and varies with the various objects to which we commonly ascribe being (oud’ hê estin pou hetera en heterô̢ ousa hôn hêmeis nun ontôn kaloumen), but the veritable knowledge of Being that veritably is (alla tên en tô̢ ho estin on ontôs ousan).’ (247c6-e2; translation is Hackforth’s)
When Diotima in the Symposium speaks of the sciences that are subject to change as everything else in this world (207d-208b), she refers to sciences/knowledges (epistêmai, 207e5 ff.) of which Plato speaks in the Phaedrus as ‘the knowledge that is neighbour to Becoming and varies with the various objects to which we commonly ascribe being’ (in Hackforth’s translation; Christopher Rowe translates: ‘not that knowledge to which coming into being attaches, or that which seems to be different in each different one of the things that we now say are’).
When Diotima in the Symposium points to the knowledge of the beauty itself, she points to the knowledge of which Plato speaks in the Phaedrus as ‘the veritable knowledge of Being that veritably is’.
It might be objected that neither in the Phaedrus nor in the Symposium does Plato speak of the knowledge of the good; in the Phaedrus passage he speaks of the knowledge of the true being, in the Symposium passage of the knowledge of beauty itself; what entitles us to relate these two passages to the knowledge of the good in the Charmides? The knowledge of the good is a subject that in Plato’s view could not be discussed by means of the written word, only by the living spoken word; in the Charmides it is only gestured at.
In the Symposium Diotima intimates that when the philosopher begins to see the beauty itself, he is almost touching the end he strives at (schedon an ti haptoito tou telous, 211b6-7). In her discussion with Socrates Diotima had indicated that the good is of higher dignity and greater importance than beauty.
Diotima: ‘When a man loves the beautiful (era̢ ho erôn tôn kalôn), what does his love desire (ti era̢;)?’ – Soc. ‘That the beautiful may be his (Genesthai hautô̢).’ – D.: ‘Still, the answer suggests a further question (All’ eti pothei hê apokrisis erôtêsin toiande): What is given by the possession of beauty (Ti estai ekeinô̢ hô̢ an genêtai ta kala;)?’ – S.: ‘To what you have asked, I have no answer ready (Ou panu ephên eti echein egô pros tautên tên erôtêsin procheirôs apokrinesthai).’ – D.: ‘Then, let me put the word “good” in the place of the beautiful, and repeat the question once more (All’ hôsper an ei tis metabalôn anti tou kalou tô̢ agathô̢ chrômenos punthanoito): If he who loves the good (Phere, ô Sôkrates, era̢ ho erôn tôn agathôn), what is it then that he loves (ti era̢)?’ – S.: ‘The possession of the good (Genesthai hautô̢).’ – D.: ‘And what does he gain (Kai ti estai ekeinô̢) who possesses the good (hô̢ an genêtai t’agatha;)?’ – S.: ‘Happiness, there is little difficulty in answering that question (Tout’ euporôteron echô apokrinasthai, hoti eudaimôn estai).’ – D.: ‘Yes, the happy are made happy by the acquisition of good things (Ktêsei gar agathôn hoi eudaimones eudaimones). Nor is there any need to ask (kai ouketi prosdei eresthai) why a man desires happiness (Hina ti bouletai eudaimôn einai ho boulomenos;); the answer is already final (alla telos dokei echein hê apokrisis).’ (204d5-205a3, tr. Jowett)
Let me end this post with a passage in which Plato in the Phaedrus indicates why is it the Form of beauty that leads a philosopher to the other Forms: ‘Now beauty (Peri de kallous), as we said (hôsper eipomen), shone bright amidst these visions (met’ ekeinôn te elampen on), and in this world below we apprehend it through the clearest of our senses (deuro t’ elthontes kateilêphamen auto dia tês enargestatês aisthêseôs tôn hêmeterôn), clear and resplendent (stilbon enargestata). For sight (opsis gar) is the keenest (oxutatê) mode of perception vouchsafed us through the body (tôn dia tou sômatos erchetai aisthêseôn); wisdom, indeed, we cannot see thereby (hê̢ phronêsis ouch horatai) – how passionate had been our desire for her (deinous gar an pareichen erôtas), if she had granted us so clear an image of herself to gaze upon (ei ti toiouton heautês enarges eidôlon pareicheto eis opsin ion) – nor yet any other of those beloved objects, save only beauty (kai t’alla hosa erasta); for beauty alone this has been ordained (nun de kallos monon tautên esche moiran), to be most manifest to sense (hôst’ ekphanestaton einai) and most lovely of them all (kai erasmiôtaton).’ (250c8-e1, tr. R. Hackforth)