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Sôphrosunê, Socratic Therapy, and Platonic Drama in Plato's Charmides

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Plato's Charmides suggests that there are really four notions that are deeply connected with one another, and in order to understand sôphrosunê we need to get a proper hold on them and their relation: these four notions are Knowledge of
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  © Epoché . ISSN 1085-1968 Online First: August 19, 2016DOI: 10.5840/epoche201681665 Sôphrosunê , Socratic Therapy, and Platonic Drama in Plato’s Charmides ALAN PICHANICK Villanova University  A󰁢󰁳󰁴󰁲󰁡󰁣󰁴:  Plato’s Charmides  suggests that there are really four notions that are deeply connected with one another, and in order to understand sôphrosunê  we need to get a proper hold on them and their relation: these four notions are Knowledge of Ignorance, Self-Knowledge, Knowledge of the Good, and Knowledge of the Whole. My aim is to explore these four notions in two stages. First, I will try to explain Socrates’s notion of knowledge of ignorance, so that the nature and coherence of this Socratic idea will come into focus, and shed some light on its connection to self-knowledge and knowledge of the good. Second, I will turn to explain what I call the srcin ( archê ) or even “truth” of Socrates’s conception of sôphrosunê  by examining the idea of the physician of the soul in Plato’s Charmides  and Plato’s use of the dialogue form, and thereby make a connection to knowledge of the whole. I will show that seeing sôphrosunê  as “whole-mindedness,” connects to Socrates’s description of our in-between state as human beings, and that the study of this “in-between-ness,” is the supremely insightful glimpse into Socrates and his philosophical activity (perhaps the very definition of it). I󰁮󰁴󰁲󰁯󰁤󰁵󰁣󰁴󰁩󰁯󰁮: S󰃴󰁰󰁨󰁲󰁯󰁳󰁵󰁮󰃪  󰁡󰁮󰁤 󰁴󰁨󰁥 F󰁯󰁵󰁲 N󰁯󰁴󰁩󰁯󰁮󰁳 󰁯󰁦 P󰁬󰁡󰁴󰁯’󰁳 C󰁨󰁡󰁲󰁭󰁩󰁤󰁥󰁳 I n Plato’s Charmides , 1  Socrates conducts a slippery search with two future tyrants, Critias and his young ward Charmides, to discover the nature of the elusive virtue, sôphrosunê , most commonly translated as “moderation” or “self control.” The argument and the drama show, even more than other dialogues, that sôphrosunê  is clearly “the heart of . . . Socrates,” 2  for in Socrates’s own words, the virtue has something to do with the knowledge of ignorance. Yet the idea of knowledge of ignorance seems to be a problematic notion, at times not much easier to understand than the manifestly incoherent views of Socrates’s interlocutors.   Alan Pichanick The dialogue, in fact, ends in perplexity. Socrates, Charmides, and Critias are not able to give a satisfactory account of the nature or the possibility or the benefit of sôphrosunê , once this virtue becomes linked with self-knowledge in the discussion.Recent scholarship has been divided about how best to appreciate this aporia  at the end of the dialogue. One central disagreement has concerned whether or not the confusions are consequent only upon the positions of the future tyrant Critias. 3  In this paper, I will argue that when one sees the distinction between the Socratic, philosophical viewpoint and the Critian, tyrannical viewpoint, it becomes evident that the Critian view is incoherent while the Socratic ideal of knowledge of ignorance escapes refutation, though it remains an ideal to be further explored.For if Socrates is right, the Charmides  suggests that there are really four notions that are deeply connected with one another, and in order to understand sôphrosunê  we need to get a proper hold on them and their relation: these four notions are Knowledge of Ignorance, Self-Knowledge, Knowledge of the Good, and Knowledge of the Whole. My aim is to explore these four notions in two stages. First, I will try to explain Socrates’s notion of knowledge of ignorance, and I hope that the nature and coherence of this Socratic idea will come into focus, and shed some light on its connection to self-knowledge and knowledge of the good. Here I will mainly be interested in Socrates’s description of his philosophic activity in the  Apology . Second, I will turn to explain what I call the srcin (archê) or even “truth” of Socrates’s conception of sôphrosunê  by examining the idea of the physician of the soul in Plato’s Charmides  and Plato’s use of the dialogue form, and thereby make a connection to knowledge of the whole.In undertaking this investigation, I thus hope to show how Socratic self-knowledge, that is, seeing sôphrosunê  as “whole-mindedness” connects to Socrates’s description of our in-between state as human beings, and that the study of this “in-between-ness,” what we might call “metaxyology” 4  yields an insightful glimpse into Socrates and his philosophical activity. This will also yield a glimpse into ourselves, if the virtue’s elusiveness (for us) is due, at least partly, to a Critian understanding of human nature that is alien to that of Socrates, that in fact may be a proto-modern understanding of human knowing and human goodness. Once we make the distinction between Socrates’s and Critias’s viewpoints about sôphrosunê , we are in a better position to evaluate our own modern stance on the possibility that “living by knowledge could be the best life.” Is it possible that we moderns have lost the outlook within which Socratic sôphrosunê  was even comprehensible as an idea and as a goal? 5  How might it be possible from within modernity to get such an outlook back? That is, to pose Socrates’s own questions to ourselves: within modernity, what would be the nature, possibility, and benefit of a recovery of Socratic self-knowledge?  Sôphrosunê  , Socratic Therapy, and Platonic Drama in Plato’s Charmides 󰀱. K󰁮󰁯󰁷󰁬󰁥󰁤󰁧󰁥 󰁯󰁦 I󰁧󰁮󰁯󰁲󰁡󰁮󰁣󰁥 󰁡󰁳 S󰁥󰁬󰁦-K󰁮󰁯󰁷󰁬󰁥󰁤󰁧󰁥 This investigation arises from the conviction that self-knowledge, understood from a Socratic perspective, is integral not only to the Charmides , but to Socratic dialogue, generally. Further, it is impossible to correctly assess this role of self-knowledge in this dialogue (and the Platonic dialogues in which Socrates is central) absent careful attention to the dramatic situation of the arguments of Socrates and his interlocutors.In this light it is crucial to recall that Socrates does not begin the conversation in the Charmides  with the question “What is sôphrosunê ?” His opening question concerns the state of philosophy and the youths in Athens. Who among them, he asks, have distinguished themselves in Beauty  and Wisdom ? When Critias tells Socrates of his beautiful young cousin, Charmides, the question Socrates most pointedly asks is: Who is he? And who does he belong to? Thus before sôphrosunê  is even mentioned in the dialogue, Socrates has hinted to the listeners and the readers that the question we should be asking ourselves is: Who am I? For this in effect, is what Socrates forces his interlocutors to do in prompting them to examine their lives, and saying what they believe. 6  From our modern standpoint, the answers to this question—who am I?—usually involve psychological and an-thropological studies: who am I emotionally and what groups am I a member of? But it does not end here for Socrates, and perhaps the most important answer to the question “Who am I?” is philosophical, and even primarily ethical or political. Who am I trying to become, and what are the goals and norms that will guide me towards achieving the actualization of my deepest potentialities? This question requires not just psychological and anthropological analysis, but also requires a philosophical examination of the nature of what I am, in addition to who I am. To have self-knowledge is to know what a human being is, not just emotionally and ethnically, but also metaphysically, epistemologically, and ethically. Following Socrates, we ask: What is the nature of a human being? What can it know? What is good for it? 7  It is Knowledge of Ignorance that is Socrates’s common theme in answering all three of these questions. That is, he sees the recognition of the limitations of human understanding to be the most important key to the puzzles raised by these questions.It is described in the  Apology  that when Socrates heard the report from the Delphic oracle that no human being was wiser than he, his response was one of utter incredulity. He says that the god is riddling ( ainittetai  ), for he knows ( xu-noida ) that he is wise with respect to nothing either great or small. 8 Socrates was perplexed, in aporia , for a long time and then began an investiga-tion that became his way of life, his well-known task or  pragma . Going to people who had a reputation for wisdom, he attempted to show that there must be some human beings wiser than Socrates. But each time he did so he discovered that   Alan Pichanick what the god said was true. For though each person “appeared wise to many people and especially himself, he was not.” 9  Socrates describes the difference between himself and his interlocutors in terms of his recognition of limits : So I withdrew and thought to myself, “I am wiser than this man, for it is likely that neither of us knows anything beautiful and good [ kalon kagathon ], but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, but I, when I do not know, do not think I do either. I seem then to be wiser than this man in just this little thing: that what I do not know [ oida ] I do not think I know either. 10 This image is in stark contrast to the picture given by Critias the future tyrant. Critias concludes in the Charmides  that the ideal human life involves a self-certain knowledge of all things past, present, and future, in the service of one’s own narrow desires and interests. But this is precisely the knowledge a god would have, and it is beyond the ken of human wisdom. Socrates confirms this in saying in the  Apology  that the result, probably, of his investigation is that “the god is wise and that his oracular response meant that human wisdom is worth little or nothing . . . and that ‘This man among you, human beings, is wisest who, like Socrates, understands ( egnôken ) that in truth he is worth nothing in respect to wisdom.” 11 Socrates’s proclamations of ignorance thus, even if they are ironic, contain what he thinks to be a significant insight into the human soul. The proper under-standing of human wisdom and its difference from the wisdom of the gods leads one to the highest wisdom that mere human beings can reach. Such a condition is a liberation from the shadowy opinions of society. Knowledge of ignorance allows human beings to escape the self that is trapped in its situation by lack of reflection. 12  It is in turning away from this “false” self that human beings come to a truer understanding and even create a more authentic self. For human wisdom is in a place between godly knowledge and beastly ignorance. The highest kind of human wisdom is therefore recognition of ignorance, which belongs neither to the gods (for they know too much), nor to the beasts (for they know too little). Beneath this highest human wisdom there is a category of all those humans who think they know what they do not. Such human beings are, in fact, unfree: being trapped by their opinions, they cannot even begin to seek for knowledge since they already think they know. 13 One does harm to oneself when one has beliefs, even if true ones, without be-ing able to defend these beliefs. It is to live in dependence on others, and to never ascend past the realm of appearances and shadows. If these are the consequences of the self-deception associated with pretending to know what one does not, then knowledge of ignorance is much closer to self-knowledge than the pretence of wisdom is. It is in this sense that Socratic wisdom yields a real sense of knowing oneself  . I will now show how Socratic self-knowledge is also connected to knowledge of the good, which is one of the problems that plagues Critias’s conception of self-  Sôphrosunê  , Socratic Therapy, and Platonic Drama in Plato’s Charmides knowledge. For if we look at self-knowledge understood as knowledge of ignorance, then we will see that it is inextricably linked to knowledge of the good. And if this can be understood, then the philosopher has truly defeated the tyrant in argument. 󰀲. S󰁥󰁬󰁦-K󰁮󰁯󰁷󰁬󰁥󰁤󰁧󰁥 󰁡󰁮󰁤 K󰁮󰁯󰁷󰁬󰁥󰁤󰁧󰁥 󰁯󰁦 󰁴󰁨󰁥 G󰁯󰁯󰁤 How then does self-knowledge relate to knowledge of the good? Why does a more genuine self-understanding lead, in any way, to the good or any other ethical no-tion? Or, why is it necessary for human beings to be oriented towards the good in their attempt to understand themselves?If we are seeking to answer the question: “what is good for a human being?” we must first have some prior understanding of what a human being is. So if this is true, then self-knowledge precedes knowledge of the good, and is necessary for it. Ethical knowledge would then be grounded in non-ethical propositions, in this case about the nature of the self, that are known independently. In what follows, I will argue that Plato’s Socrates thoroughly rejects this picture of the relation of self-knowledge to ethical knowledge.Socrates’s notion of beasts and gods implies that human beings’ distinctive dunameis  are their capacity to form beliefs and values, due to the presence of logos. To have beliefs and values is to live with, and be responsive  to, the notions of truth and falsity, good and evil. As Aristotle also suggests, the notion of “good-seeking” seems to be built into human beings. This is part of our in-between, incomplete nature, and is part of the puzzling notion that human beings must transcend themselves in order to understand themselves.Essentially, human beings must know themselves in order to understand what is good, but since human beings are in fact creatures who live with values, true self-knowledge requires understanding the good first. We have here a kind of Cartesian circle that seems difficult to get away from. This circle underlies the problems Critias faces over and over again in conversation with Socrates, and he is unable to respond to it. His  attempt to account for the nature of “human being” and the “good” amounts to a tangled web of inconsistent assertions. But there appears to be a different problem for Socrates.The emergence of this Socratic problem is well described by Gregory Vlastos, who says: [Socrates’s] avowals of epistemic inadequacy , frequent in the dialogues, are never   paralleled by admission of moral failure ; the asymmetry is striking. He will face the last judgment confident “that he has never wronged man or god in word or deed” ( Gorgias  522d); he is convinced that “he does no wrong to anyone” (  Apology , 37b). 14 The question is: How can the human being who disavows knowledge seem to be claiming that he knows what is good and evil? Vlastos proposes, in my view, an
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