NOTE: This is the 5th of a series of posts and discussions of Plato’s dialogue Charmides and the first in which we will be discussing the actual text. This post and the comments session will be for the purpose of discussing this week’s session, beginning to 162b, so make sure you read that first. To view previous posts in the series that deal with some of the background, go to the main blog page and scroll down from there. Please feel free to add comments, questions, corrections, etc.
Some friends and I met this morning to discuss the first part of the Charmides dialogue. I am experimenting with opening up this discussion to those of you in far-flung places who would also like to participate.This will work best if each of you will follow Socrates’ injunction to tell us all “bravely and clearly” (160 d-e) what seems to you to be correct — to take an active role in the proceedings. I will try to write up some of the things we talked about later, but want to begin with the questions that arose, whether directly or tacitly, in our discussions. You don’t have to answer all of these questions. Indeed, you may have your own unstated question that you would like to consider. But be courageous and try to respond to at least one of them in the comments or ask your own!
Our questions, in no particular order:
1. What kind of answer is Socrates looking for in asking his question “What is sophrosyne?” And why does he dismiss Charmides’ answers so quickly? In what respects are Charmides’ answers correct? Why doesn’t Socrates at least touch on their correctness before refuting them?
2. What is the soul and what does Socrates mean by his claim that it is necessary to treat the soul, and by extension the whole body, before treating a part? What is “the soul” (psyche) as Socrates is using it?
3. Why does Socrates pretend to be a doctor administering a charm? Why does he resort to lying?
4. Does Charmides exhibit sophrosyne in the course of his conversation with Socrates?
5. Socrates narrates the dialogue in the first person? Who is he talking to? Why does he leave out crucial elements, like what questions he was asked regarding the battle he just returned from and how he answered them?
6. FIRST DEFINITION (159b) — What is meant by “quietness” in Charmides first attempt at a definition? How is “quickness” its opposite? What can we learn about sophrosyne from this interchange?
7. SECOND DEFINITION (160e) — In 161a, Socrates quotes Homer: “Well then, I said, are you not convinced that Homer is right in saying—’Modesty, no good mate for a needy man?‘” (Another translation of the relevant line from Homer: ‘Beggars should not be shamefaced.‘) The word (aidos) translated “modesty” and “shamefaced” is the same word that Charmides gives on his second attempt to say what sophrosyne is, claiming that it is a sense of shame or decorum. But what is the force of the Homer quote? Is it just an appeal to an authority or something more? The quote is from Odyssey, Book 17 by the way, if you want to explore this one more.
8. THIRD DEFINITION (161b) — Why does Plato have Charmides (in his third attempt) borrow Critias’ definition of sophrosyne, “doing/minding one’s own thing business”? Critias will eventually take it over, but why does it first come from Charmides mouth? And why does Charmides/Critias give as a definition of sophrosyne what was the definition of justice given in Book IV of the Republic?
9. What exactly *is* sophrosyne?
Later I will discuss some of the ways we responded to these questions this morning over breakfast. But take advantage of the gap between now: Post your own comment! That would be a gift to all of us. If any of you who were present this morning would like to add to or correct what I have written, I encourage you to do so.