Author(s)Melina G. Mouzala
Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
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Abstract[Language of the article: Greek] Charmides is a dialogue highly indicative of the importance that the prologues to Plato’s works have for our understanding of the whole spirit and philosophical content of each dialogue as a whole. It is representative of the Platonic tendency to always combine philosophical content with dramatic form through narrative and drama, in order to enhance the reader’s and audience’s insight into the inquiries of his philosophical work. Following this line of presentation, the prologue of Charmides prefigures the understanding of the central themes of the dialogue; focusing on the depiction of Socrates as a therapist and of Dialectic as a therapy or a kind of remedy, which through the process of dialectical engagement and interaction reestablishes the relation of each interlocutor to his own self. The narrative about the Thracian doctors of the king and god Zalmoxis and their special medical knowledge, foreshadows the major philosophical issues which are examined in the sequence of the dialogue. Socrates’ reference to the good doctors and his criticism of the Greek doctors who ignore the whole that needs to be cured, reveals the central demand for the psychosomatic unity of man and the priority of the healing of the soul over the healing of the body. The holistic Zalmoxian medicine and theory of health corresponds to the first step of the Socratic Dialectic. Through the narrative about the Thracian doctors of Zalmoxis, Socratic-Platonic Dialectic has already begun to evolve, following a movement with clearly defined direction, namely from the part to the whole, where the part denotes and signifies the body and the whole denotes the psychosomatic unity of the human being. Sōphrosunē is already involved in this narrative since the incantations invoked by Socrates, which are identified with the “beautiful speeches,” induce sōphrosunē on which the well being of the soul depends. This raises the question as to whether these doctors apply medical knowledge which has a specified epistemological content, or knowledge equipped with a universal character—in the sense of being also prior to all other kinds of knowledge—which transcends the usual confines of the medical art. Charmides is invited by Socrates to look deep within himself in order to discover if he possesses sōphrosunē, and what sōphrosunē really is. That’s what Charmides is doing by formulating his first two definitions of sōphrosunē. Dialectic now follows a movement from without to within. Charmides’ first and second definitions reflect the social status to which he belongs, the corresponding behavior, and the inner psychic qualities (e.g., youthful shyness) of a person or persona who represents the system of values surrounding traditional virtue and the aristocratic conception of the ideal of “kalos kagathos.” It is probable that the dramatic time of the dialogue, which coincided with the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war, was associated with a criticism of the traditional view and model of virtue. When sōphrosunē is defined as “doing one’s own things,” Dialectic still has the tendency to move from without inwards, but this movement now is implemented in the field of praxis (action). Platonic Dialectic uses the device of change of interlocutor in order to signify the transition to a more demanding level of inquiry and thought. This definition of sōphrosunē, “doing one’s own things,” on the basis of a proleptic reading, stimulates us to trace the relation between sōphrosunē in Charmides and dikaiosunē (justice) in the Republic. What is important in the Socratic elenchus of this definition is that it highlights the connection between prattein (doing) and pratteintagatha (doing the good), between prattein and works (erga), and between the beneficial and the good. It is clarified that only the makings of good things are praxeis (doings) and that what is of harm must be avoided as “alien.” The definition of sōphrosunē as “doing good things” re-orientates Dialectic, which now starts moving from praxis to theōria, because “doing good things” presupposes knowing what is good. But if agathon (good) is what is kindred to oneself and one’s own, doing good things, or doing simpliciter, i.e., praxis, presupposes self-knowledge. Any practitioner of good must be a self-knowing agent. The Apollonian ideal of self-knowledge (know thyself) is construed as a “greeting” of the god to worshipers who enter the temple, not as a moral counsel or as a piece of advice. This distinction implies the difference between a knowledge conveyed from without and a knowledge discovered by insightful inner search of one’s self. Within the passages 165c to 175a, sōphrosunē is presented and examined as “the knowledge of what one knows and what one does not know.” It has been claimed that in this part of the dialogue, the Socratic model of self-knowledge is subjected by Plato to the Socratic elenchus, where he attempts to make a criticism of it. I believe that this section of the dialogue is an extended excursus, aimed towards introducing and examining a model of self-knowledge different from that of Socrates, Critias’ model of self-knowledge. This model of self-knowledge poses a whole series of philosophical problems; the relation between the subject and the object of knowledge, the possibility of their identification or the distinction between them, the possibility of the existence of an internal and external object of knowledge, the relation of this model of self-knowledge with other kinds or domains of knowledge, and the question whether external knowledge or knowledge of other knowledges is a constituent of knowledge of knowledge. The question of the possibility of knowledge of knowledge is not definitely rejected, especially if we consider that in all of this discussion there is a hint towards the way in which philosophy works and relates to other kinds of knowledge. I believe, however, that in the last part of the dialogue, where the knowledge of good and bad emerges, Plato again meets Socrates and becomes reconciled with him. The only knowledge that is useful and beneficial is knowledge of good and bad. In this way Plato chooses to put forward a self-conscious model of self-knowledge, which does not presuppose, as Critias’ model does, the critical examination of knowledge or the critical distance from knowledge. This self-conscious model of self-knowledge is connected with the knowledge of good and bad. On the one hand doing of good presupposes knowledge of good and bad and on the other, “doing one’s own things” presupposes self-knowledge. The possibility of knowing good and bad is ensured by each person, either through looking deep within himself or by orientating towards the Idea of the Good itself.