Sunday, July 2, 2017

5e Plato’s Charmides in the light of its dating

To make sense of Socrates’ next entry, I must give a gist of the preceding discussion. Critias defined sôphrosunê as ‘knowing oneself’, and Socrates noted that in that case it is knowledge. Referring to medicine, the knowledge of what is healthy, he said that if one asked what is its use, the answer would be that it produces health. In a similar way he referred to the art of building and pointed out that the same could be said and asked concerning the other arts. Then he asked what is the product of sôphrosunê. So Critias asked what is the product of the art of arithmetic or geometry, maintaining that Socrates could not point to any products concerning such arts.

Socrates: ‘That’s true (Alêthê legeis), but I can point to this (alla tode soi echô deixai) – what each of these knowledges is knowledge of (tinos estin epistêmê hekastê toutôn tôn epistêmôn), that thing being different (ho tunchanei on allo) from the knowledge itself (autês tês epistêmês). For example (hoion), arithmetic (hê logistikê) is the knowledge of the even (estin pou tou artiou) and odd (kai perittou), of the way in which members of the one group are numerically related to one another and to members of the other group (plêthous hopôs echei pros hauta kai pros allêla), isn’t it (ê gar;)?’ – Critias: ‘Yes, certainly (Panu ge).’ – S. ‘Aren’t the odd and the even different (Oukoun heterou ontos tou perittou kai artiou) from arithmetic itself (autês tês logistikês;)?’ – Cr. ‘Of course (Pôs d’ ou;).’ – S. ‘And again (Kai mên au), weighing (hê statikê) is the weighing of the heavier and the lighter weight (tou baruterou te kai kouphoterou stathmou estin statikê); but the heavy and the light are different (heteron de estin to baru te kai kouphon) from weighing itself (tês statikês autês). You admit that (sunchôreis;)?’ – Cr. ‘I do (Egôge).’ – S. ‘Tell me (Lege), then (dê), what is sôphrosunê the knowledge of (kai hê sôphrosunê tinos estin epistêmê), that thing being different (ho tunchanei heteron on) from sôphrosunê itself (autês tês sôphrosunês)?’ – Cr. ‘That’s just it (Touto estin ekeino), Socrates (ô Sôkrates). You’ve come in your investigation (ep’ auto hêkeis ereunôn) to the question of what the difference is (to hô̢ diapherei) between sôphrosunê and all the other knowledges (pasôn tôn epistêmôn hê sôphrosunê). You’re trying to find some similarity (su de homoiotêta tina zêteis) between it and the others (autês tais allais). There isn’t any (to d’ ouk estin houtôs). All the others are the knowledges of something else (all’ hai men allai pasai allou eisin epistêmai), not of themselves (heautôn d’ ou). Sôphrosunê alone (hê de monê) is the knowledge both of the other knowledges (tôn te allôn epistêmê esti) and of its own self (kai autê heautês). You’re well aware of that (kai tauta se pollou dei lelêthenai). Indeed I think you’re doing what you said just now you were not doing (alla gar oimai ho arti ouk ephêstha poiein, touto poieis): you’re ignoring the real point at issue in our discussion in your efforts to refute me (eme gar epicheireis elenchein, easas peri hou ho logos estin)’ (166a3-c6)

At this point, every attentive reader of Plato’s Phaedrus must have agreed with what Critias says here. In the introductory section of 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). Viewed from the point of the Charmides, seen in the light of Critias’ words, all that follows this proclamation of Socrates in the Phaedrus can be seen as Plato’s presentation of Socrates endeavouring to satisfy the Delphic command ‘Know thyself’. Viewed from the point of the Phaedrus, it is the Phaedrus that enables Critias to view sôphrosunê, defined as self-knowledge, as ‘the knowledge both of the other knowledges and of its own self’.

Socrates: ‘How can you believe that if I’m trying my hardest to refute you (Hoion poieis hêgoumenos, ei hoti malista se elenchô), I’m doing it for any other reason (allou tinos heneka elenchein) than that for which I’d investigate what I say myself (ê houper heneka k’an emauton diereunô̢mên ti legô)! You see, my great fear is that I may some time not notice that I’m thinking I know something when in fact I don’t (phoboumenos mê pote lathô oiomenos men ti eidenai, eidôs de mê). And this, I tell you, is what I’m doing now (kai nun dê oun egôge phêmi touto poiein): looking at the argument mostly for my own sake (ton logon skopein malista men emautou heneka), but perhaps for the sake of my friends as well (isôs de dê kai tôn allôn epitêdeiôn). Or don’t you think that it is a common good for almost all men (ê ou koinon oiei agathon einai schedon ti pasin anthrôpois) that each thing that exists should be revealed (gignesthai kataphanes hekaston tôn ontôn) as it is (hopê̢ echei;)?’ – Critias: ‘I do indeed (Kai mala, egôge).’ (166c7-d7)

The discussion appears to have reached the point at which Socrates, intent on refuting Critias, is going to refute himself. His motivation in doing so, as he admits, is his fear that he might think he knew something when in fact he didn’t. This might seem to be a position of a genuine sceptic, for whom the acquiescence in not-knowing is the ultimate aim, for he believes that nothing can be known. But such sceptic position is alien to Socrates. He ends the passionate plea to Critias by proclaiming that his preoccupation in all this is his search for knowledge, for truth, for ‘it is a common good for almost all men that each thing that exists should be revealed as it is’.

Diogenes Laertius writes in his ‘Life of Plato’: ‘They say (phasi de kai) that, on hearing Plato read the Lysis, Socrates exclaimed, “By Heracles (Sôkratên akousanta ton Lusin anagignôskontosHêrakleis”, eipein) what a number of lies this young man is telling about me (hôs polla mou katapseudeth’ ho neaniskos)!” For he has included in the dialogue much that Socrates never said (ouk oliga gar hôn ouk eirêke Sôkratês gegraphen h’anêr).’ (III. 35, tr. R. D. Hicks) Diogenes’ phasi ‘they say’ refers to an indefinite number of sources, in which he found this information.

In the Charmides Plato took the liberty both with Socrates and with Critias. Viewed from the point of the Charmides, Socrates’ two speeches on Love, the subsequent discussion of their merits, which turns into an outline of rhetoric founded on dialectic, and the concluding discussion of the written and the spoken word can be seen as developed from Socrates’ self-examination and as encompassed within his self-knowledge. Viewed from the point of the Phaedrus, the Phaedrus enables Critias to define self-knowledge as ‘the knowledge both of the other knowledges (tôn te allôn epistêmê esti) and of its own self’.

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