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Only the too prolix discussion of the first question regarding the art of weapon-practice, and the very agreeable though little appropriate tale of the sickle-spear of the utterly unknown Stesilaus, are not quite to be understood, and it might be difficult to come at any other information about it than that it is a luxurious excess of that pleasantry, of which, as is said in the Phaedrus, there must necessarily be an admixture in every piece of writing.
Of all the particular virtues applied in common life, as Socrates enumerates them in the Protagoras, Discretion was there discussed in the most unsatisfactory manner. At first it was only ironically represented as one and the same with wisdom, and afterwards, when its relation to justice was to be discussed, Protagoras, fearing the result, shot off in another direction. Hence, the Charmides very naturally arises as a second offset from that, with the view, as was done in the Laches in the case of courage, partly of confuting this notion of discretion and reinstating it as an independent virtue in the ordinary acceptation of the term, partly with that of establishing it anew in a higher sense. On behalf of the first it is here shown at large, that the particular exhibition of outward action, in which the nature of this virtue is ordinarily made to consist, may as easily be an imperfection as a perfection, and therefore cannot in any way claim to form an unconditional ethical notion. Neither tardy caution nor bashfulness,
which Socrates himself recognises as the ordinary explanations of discretion, and which are conceived as opposed to impudence and precipitation, can be, as he shows, virtues in and for themselves. In the Laches the phenomena corresponding to courage, I mean boldness and perseverance, were less formally discussed. In this dialogue on the other hand, what was there worked out more circumstantially, is here brought forward in a shorter and less direct form. I speak of the proposition, that it is not by subdivision of the object that particular virtues can be defined, but that in the case of each and every one, we come back to the good as its sole and exclusive object. Now as regards the particular mode of stating the idea, it is only a deceptive appearance, though one which might haunt the minds of many readers, which, in this dialogue as well as in the Laches, would lead one to believe that Plato has only gone sceptically to work. For the view in which he gives to the one and indivisible virtue the title of discretion, is sufficiently shewn, even previously to that sceptical investigation, where he lays it down as the real health of the mind, and, in another passage, makes even Critias coincide in this position with great emphasis. Whoever then further connects with this the general proposition: no man can be discreet without knowing as a consequence of it, and also what Socrates allows to pass from Critias concerning self-knowledge, it is impossible that after combining the Laches and the Protagoras with this dialogue, he should continue in doubt as to Plato's opinion. And we would moreover leave it for the decision of readers who have thus arrived at a perfect understanding of the subject, whether setting aside the trifling advantages which this O
translation of ours of the Greek sophrosyne by the word besonmenheit, may have obtained in consequence of our former application of it in the Protagoras, Plato's idea could be expressed more appropriately in our language than by this term. That of moderation (Mássigung), as it was translated by Cicero, in which he seems to have had Aristotle in his mind more than Plato, is certainly not to be used at all. Socrates’ transition from the one explanation, that discretion is self-knowledge, to the other that it is knowledge of knowledge and ignorance, might perhaps at first sight appear forced and sophistical. But if self-knowledge is knowledge of perfection and imperfection, of virtue or its opposite, and if virtue itself is a knowledge, which, rightly understood, must certainly be pre-supposed, and which Plato only ceased to repeat when the further repetition of it would have been tedious; then, certainly, self-knowledge is a knowledge conversant about knowledge or ignorance. And it is simply by means of this transition, and of the way in which this investigation prefaces the separation of the dialectic from the ethical, that the investigation of the particular notion of discretion is connected with the more general one of the nature of morals, which pervades all these dialogues, and the progress of which, moreover, is the reason why the Charmides has its place rightly assigned after the Laches. For the difference between the good and pleasure is here at once pre-supposed as recognised and granted, the required unity of knowledge and action in the province of ethics is brought nearer by the inquiry into the operation of virtue as separate and distinct from virtue itself, and above all the distinction between that higher species of knowledge, and that which is particular and empirical, is further carried out. And at the conclusion not only is the instance of the prophet repeated connectedly with the Laches, but is further outbidden by an instance of one who knows all from all times, and judges of all who know, so that the distinction between practical and technical knowledge can escape no one. Moreover the distinction taken between the knowledge that one knows, and the knowledge of what one knows, the complete difference of knowledge from perception with reference to its power of making itself its own object, and the hints given as to the relative and absolute, are very remarkable as leading notices in the work. The fact, that all these general elucidations are disguised under apparent attempts to discover yet new explanations of the idea of discretion, is a peculiarity which to a certain degree already assimilates the Charmides in point of execution to the artificiality of the works of the second period ; while by the more enlarged and more perfectly conceived problem relative to the definition of knowledge, it prepares the way more than anything that has preceded, not only for the Parmenides, but also for the Theaetetus, and again starts from the apparent separation of the theoretical from the practical, which strikes us in the Protagoras and Parmenides. Any one not satisfied with the evident allusions to the Protagoras, must at all events be convinced by this connection that the Laches and Charmides do certainly belong to this place. For otherwise it would be natural enough, to consider these smaller expositions as exercises and introductions preparatory to those larger ones of justice in the Books of the Republic. But even supposing this to be the case, still,
in the first place, a corresponding exposition of wisdom would be wanting ; and in the next, we may add, that that larger work evidently stands upon a different basis from these smaller ones with reference to the ethical ideas. Moreover the reader who has but rightly understood the nature of morality, as it is given in the present series, will not look in vain for proper expositions of justice and wisdom, but both may be constructed after Plato's own mind out of what is brought forward in the Laches and Charmides. Some quite peculiar circumstance there certainly is attaching to that one explanation of discretion here advanced, which makes it consist in every one doing his own business. And even supposing that some of the sophists perhaps explained it thus, in order to give to this virtue quite a different meaning as applied to the governing and the governed : still this is not sufficient, nor is it indicated in such a manner as to justify the conclusion that it was Plato's object to refute this view. On the contrary, whoever observes the facility with which this explanation is again given up, and to the peculiarly satirical emphasis with which Socrates announces that it comes from Critias, will see that some particular allusion must be here concealed, and will hardly be able to refrain from thinking of personal relations of Critias, whether it be that in his challenges to Plato relative to the undertaking of public affairs he appealed to such arguments, or that in his notorious attempt to dissuade Socrates from teaching, he may have availed himself of a similar principle, which Plato here covers with ridicule as in itself perfectly indefinite. This would coincide very well with the probable period of the composition of the dialogue, which may be conveniently