At 165b Critias defined sôphrosunê as knowing oneself. At 166d Socrates told Critias: ‘I subject the definition to scrutiny (ton logon skopein) chiefly for my own sake (malista men emautou heneka), and perhaps also (isôs de dê kai) for the sake of others (tôn allôn) who need it (epitêdeiôn, 166d3-4).’ Both Jowett and Watt translate epitêdeiôn as ‘my friends’, but in this instance the word has much broader meaning, as can be seen from what Socrates says next: ‘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; 166d4-6, tr. Watt)?’ In 166d8-e2 Socrates asks Critias to leave aside whether it is Critias or Socrates who is under the scrutiny, and answer the questions he is going to be asked. In the discussion that followed, to which I devoted the preceding post, Socrates voiced his doubts concerning self-knowledge, questioning the possibility of self-reflexivity in a wide range of instances, ending with the doubts ‘motion moving itself’ and ‘heat burning itself’. Declaring himself incapable of satisfactorily solving these difficulties, he asked Critias to defend his definition.
Socrates: ‘Some great man, my friend, is wanted (megalou dê tinos, ô phile, andros dei), who will satisfactorily determine for us (hostis touto kata pantôn hikanôs diairêsetai) whether there is nothing (poteron ouden tôn ontôn) which has an inherent property of relation to self (tên hautou dunamin auto pros heauto pephuken echein) rather than to something else (alla pros allo), or some things only (ê ta men) and not others (ta d’ ou); and whether in this class of self-related things, if there be such a class, that science which is called sôphrosunê [Jowett: ‘wisdom or temperance’] is included (kai ei estin au hatina auta pros hauta echei, ar’ en toutois estin epistêmê, hên dê hêmeis sôphrosunên phamen einai). I altogether distrust my own power of determining these matters (egô men ou pisteuô emautô̢ hikanos einai tauta dielesthai): I am not certain whether such a science of science can possibly exist (dio kai out’ ei dunaton esti touto genesthai, epistêmês epistêmên einai, echô diischurisasthai); and even if it does undoubtedly exist (out’ ei hoti malista esti), I should not acknowledge it to be sôphrosunê [Jowett: ‘wisdom or temperance’] (sôphrosunên apodechomai auto einai) until I can also see (prin an episkepsômai) whether such a science would or would not do us any good (ei ti an hêmas ôpheloi toiouton on eite mê); for I have an impression that sôphrosunê [Jowett: ‘temperance’] is a benefit and a good (tên gar oun dê sôphrosunên ôphelimon ti kai agathon manteuomai einai). And therefore, O son of Callaeschrus (su oun, ô pai Kallaischrou), as you maintain that sôphrosunê [Jowett: ‘wisdom or temperance’] is a science of science (tithesai gar sôphrosunên tout’ einai, epistêmên epistêmês), and also of the absence of science (kai dê kai anepistêmosunês), I will request you to show in the first place (prôton men touto endeixai), as I was saying before, the possibility (hoti dunaton ho nundê elegon), and in the second place, the advantage, of such a science (epeita pros tô̢ dunatô̢ hoti kai ôphelimon); and then perhaps you may satisfy me (k’ame tach’ an apoplêrôsais) that you are right (hôs orthôs legeis) in your view of sôphrosunê [Jowett: ‘temperance’] (peri sôphrosunês ho estin).’ (169a1-c2, tr. B. Jowett)
Socrates does not give us a detailed account of Critias’ attempt to respond to his request, but he gives his critical assessment of it: ‘When Critias heard this (Kai ho Kritias akousas tauta), and saw that I was in difficulties (kai idôn me aporounta), he seemed to me to be forced by my being in difficulties to fall into difficulties himself, in the way people who see others yawning in their faces are affected similarly (hôsper hoi tous chasmômenous katantikru horôntes t’auton touto sumpaschousin, k’akeinos edoxe moi hup’ emou aporountos anankasthênai kai autos halônai hupo aporias). Well, conscious that he had a reputation to keep up (hate oun eudokimôn hekastote ‘but since he used to excel every time’), he felt ashamed in front of the others (ê̢schuneto tous parontas) and was unwilling to admit to me that he was unable to determine the points on which I was challenging him (kai oute sunchôrêsai moi êthelen adunatos einai dielesthai ha proukaloumên auton). He said nothing clear (elegen te ouden saphes), in an attempt to conceal his difficulties (epikaluptôn tên aporian).’ (169c3-d1, tr. D. Watt)
Socrates’ criticism of Critias is harsh; but does it justify D. Watt’s view of the dialogue?
Donald Watt writes in his ‘Introduction to Charmides’: ‘Part of Plato’s purpose in this dialogue is to exculpate Socrates from any responsibility for the crimes of his former companions … By showing Critias as both quite lacking in sôphrosunê and quite ignorant of its meaning beyond a superficial acquaintance with its conventional use within his aristocratic circle; by representing Charmides as equally unaware of its true purport, despite his possession of the natural sôphrosunê of youth, which he will lose when he reaches adulthood; and by portraying Socrates as trying his best to discover with them the true meaning of sôphrosunê, and as failing to elicit answer from them, though possessing the virtue himself – by all these means Plato is endeavouring to show that Socrates tried to educate Critias and Charmides in sôphrosunê, but failed. But by trying, he saved himself from any possible accusation of responsibility for their later crimes.’ (Plato, Early Socratic Dialogues, Penguin Books, 1987, p. 167.)
If we want to see Socrates’ criticism in the proper light, we must view it in the context of the discussion that followed. For Socrates went on to say: ‘So, to get on with our discussion, I said (k’agô hêmin hina ho logos proïoi, eipon), “Well, if you like (All’ ei dokei), Critias (ô Kritia), let’s grant for the moment (nun men touto sunchôrêsômen) that it is possible for there to be a knowledge of knowledge (dunaton einai genesthai epistêmên epistêmês). We’ll consider whether or not this is the case later on (authis de episkepsometha eite houtôs echei eite mê). Come on then (ithi dê oun), let’s suppose it is perfectly possible (ei hoti malista dunaton touto): how does that increase one’s chances of knowing what one knows and what one doesn’t (ti mallon hoion te estin eidenai ha te tis oide kai ha mê) – which, of course, we said was knowing oneself (touto gar dêpou ephamen einai to gignôskein hauton), that is sôphronein [D. Watt: ‘being self-controlled’] (kai sôphronein), didn’t we (ê gar;)?’ – Critias: ‘Yes, certainly (Panu ge). And it does, I think, follow (kai sumbainei ge pou), Socrates (ô Sôkrates). If a man possesses knowledge (ei gar tis echei epistêmên) which knows itself (hê autê hautên gignôskei), he would himself be like what he possesses (toioutos an autos eiê hoionper estin ho echei) … when a man possesses knowledge which is knowledge of itself (hotan de dê gnôsin autên hautês echê̢), he will then, of course, be knowing himself (gignôskôn pou autos heauton tote estai)’. – Socrates: ‘I don’t doubt (Ou touto amphisbêtô) that when a man possesses that which knows itself (hôs ouch hotan to hauto gignôskon tis echê̢) he will know himself (autos hauton gignôskei); but why, when he possesses that, must he necessarily know what he knows and what he doesn’t know (all’ echonti touto tis anankê eidenai ha te oiden kai ha mê oiden;)? – Critias: ‘Because (Hoti), Socrates (ô Sôkrates), the one is the same as the other (t’auton estin touto ekeinô̢).’ – Socrates: ‘Perhaps (Isôs), but I don’t really think I’ve changed at all (all’ egô kinduneuô aei homoios einai), because I still don’t understand how knowing what one knows and knowing what one does not know are the same as that (ou gar au manthanô hôs estin to auto, ha oiden eidenai kai ha tis mê oiden eidenai).’ – Critias: ‘What do you mean (Pôs legeis)?’ (169d2-170a5)
As can be seen, in spite of Socrates’ harsh criticism of Critias, the latter continued to be engaged in the discussion, and what is more, when Socrates ended the discussion in despair at his inability to properly investigate the question of sôphrosunê, and Charmides brushed Socrates’ self-critical misgivings aside, declaring himself to be in need of being charmed by Socrates day by day, Critias said: ‘Charmides (ô Charmidê), by doing that (ên dra̢s touto), you’ll prove to me (emoi estai touto tekmêrion) that you sôphroneis [D. W. ‘are self-controlled’] (hoti sôphroneis) – if you turn to Socrates for charming (ên epa̢dein parechê̢ Sôkratei), and don’t disappoint him (kai mê apoleipê̢ toutou) in anything either great or small (mête mega mête smikron).’ (176b5-8)
Obviously, Watt is wrong when he says that Plato in the dialogue showed Critias as both quite lacking in sôphrosunê and quite ignorant of its meaning. But couldn’t Critias’ endorsement of Charmides’ resolution to become a disciple of Socrates be taken as a testimony that in consequence of his discussion on sôphrosunê with Socrates Critias himself acquired sôphrosunê? If so, it might be argued, then the Charmides can be viewed in the light of Xenophon’s assertion concerning Critias and Alcibiades: ‘So long as they were with Socrates (heôs men Sôkratei sunêstên), they found in him an ally who gave them strength to conquer their evil passions (edunasthên ekeinô̢ chrômenô summachô̢ tôn mê kalôn epithumiôn kratein, Mem. I.ii.24, tr. Marchant).’ Watt’s main point, that Plato in the dialogue showed that Socrates tried to educate Critias and Charmides in sôphrosunê, and that by trying ‘he saved himself from any possible accusation of responsibility for their later crimes,’ could thus stand, and the currently accepted dating of the Charmides – as an early dialogue, written after Socrates’ death – could be preserved after all.
The closing scene militates against it. Charmides tells Critias: ‘Rest assured that I will follow him (Hôs akolouthêsontos) and won’t disappoint him (kai mê apoleipsomenou). I’d be behaving terribly (deina gar an poioiên) if I didn’t obey you (ei mê peithoimên soi), my guardian (tô̢ epitropô̢), and didn’t do (kai mê poioiên) what you tell me (ha keleueis).’ – Critias: ‘I’m telling you (Alla mên keleuô egôge).’ – Charmides: ‘Well then, I’ll do it (Poiêsô toinun), starting today (apo tautêsi tês hêmeras arxamenos).’ – Socrates: ‘What are you two plotting to do (Houtoi, ti bouleuesthon poiein;)?’ – Charmides: ‘Nothing (Ouden), we’ve done our plotting (alla bebouleumetha).’ – Socrates, addressing Charmides: ‘Are you going to resort to the use of force (Biasê̢ ara), without even giving me a preliminary hearing (kai oud’ anakrisin moi dôseis)?’ – Charmides: ‘I certainly am (Hôs biasomenou), since Critias here orders me to (epeidêper hode ge epitattei) – which is why you should plot what you’ll do (pros tauta su au bouleuou hoti poiêseis).’ – Socrates: ‘But there’s no time left for plotting (All’ oudemia leipetai boulê). Once you’re intent on doing something (soi gar epicheirounti prattein hotioun) and are resorting to the use of force (kai biazomenô̢), no man alive will be able to resist you (oudeis hoios t’ estai enantiousthai anthrôpôn).’ – Charmides: ‘Well then (Mê toinun), don’t you resist me either (mêde su enantiou).’ – Socrates closes the dialogue with the words: ‘I won’t resist you then’ (Ou toinun enantiôsomai).’ (175e2-176d5)
This is why I am dating the dialogue in 404 B. C., in the early days of the reign of the Thirty, which Xenophon characterises as follows: ‘Now at Athens the Thirty had been chosen (Hoi de triakonta hê̢rethêsan men) as soon as the long walls (epei tachista ta makra teichê̢) and the walls around Piraeus (kai ta peri ton Peiraia) were demolished (kathê̢rethê); although chosen, however (hairethentes de), for the purpose (eph’ hô̢te) of framing a constitution (sungrapsai nomous) under which (kath’ houstinas) to conduct the government (politeusointo), they continually delayed framing and publishing this constitution (toutous men aei emellon sungraphein te kai apodeiknunai), but they appointed a Senate and the other magistrates (boulên te kai tas allas archas katestêsan) as they saw fit (hôs edokei autois). Then (epeita), as a first step (prôton men), they arrested and brought to trial for their lives those persons who, by common knowledge, had made a living in the time of democracy by acting as informers and had been offensive to the aristocrats (hous pantes ê̢desan en tê̢ dêmokratia̢ apo sukophantias zôntas kai tois kalois k’agathois bareis ontas, sullambanontes hupêgon thanatou); and the Senate (kai hê boulê) was glad (hêdeôs) to pronounce these people guilty (autôn katepsêphizeto), and the rest of the citizens (hoi te alloi) – at least all who were conscious that they were not of the same sort themselves (hosoi sunê̢desan heautois mê ontes toioutoi) – were not at all displeased (ouden êchthonto).’ (Hellenica II.iii.11-12, tr. C. L. Brownson)
I cannot see how Plato could have written the closing scene in the Charmides after the Thirty attempted to implicate Socrates in their crimes, of which Socrates said at his trial: ‘when the oligarchy of the Thirty was in power (epeidê de oligarchia egeneto), they sent for me and four others into the rotunda (hoi triakonta au metapempsamenoi me pempton auton eis tên tholon), and bade us bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis (prosetaxan agagein ek Salaminos Leonta ton Salaminion), as they wanted to put him to death (hina apothanoi) … when we came out of the rotunda (all’ epeidê ek tês tholou exêlthomen) the other four (hoi men tettares) went to Salamis (ô̢chonto eis Salamina) and fetched Leon (kai êgagon Leonta), but I went quietly home (egô de ô̢chomên apiôn oikade). For which I might have lost my life (kai isôs an dia tauta apethanon), had not the power of the Thirty (ei mê hê archê) shortly afterwards come to an end (dia tacheôn kateluthê).’ (Plato, Apology 32c4-d8, tr. B. Jowett)
In his old age, in the Seventh Letter, Plato pointed to this incident as the decisive reason after which ‘I became indignant (eduscherana te) and I withdrew myself (kai emauton epanêgagon) from the evils of those days (apo tôn tote kakôn, 325a4-5)’.