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Charmides, or Temperance
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Persons of the Dialogue
SOCRATES, who is the narrator
The Palaestra of Taureas, which is near the Porch of the King
Yesterday evening I returned from the army at Potidaea, and having
been a good while away, I thought that I should like to go and look
at my old haunts. So I went into the palaestra of Taureas, which is
over against the temple adjoining the porch of the King Archon, and
there I found a number of persons, most of whom I knew, but not all.
My visit was unexpected, and no sooner did they see me entering than
they saluted me from afar on all sides; and Chaerephon, who is a kind
of madman, started up and ran to me, seizing my hand, and saying,
How did you escape, Socrates?-(I should explain that an engagement
had taken place at Potidaea not long before we came away, of which
the news had only just reached Athens.)
You see, I replied, that here I am.
There was a report, he said, that the engagement was very severe,
and that many of our acquaintance had fallen.
That, I replied, was not far from the truth.
I suppose, he said, that you were present.
Then sit down, and tell us the whole story, which as yet we have only
I took the place which he assigned to me, by the side of Critias the
son of Callaeschrus, and when I had saluted him and the rest of the
company, I told them the news from the army, and answered their several
Then, when there had been enough of this, I, in my turn, began to
make enquiries about matters at home-about the present state of philosophy,
and about the youth. I asked whether any of them were remarkable for
wisdom or beauty, or both. Critias, glancing at the door, invited
my attention to some youths who were coming in, and talking noisily
to one another, followed by a crowd. Of the beauties, Socrates, he
said, I fancy that you will soon be able to form a judgment. For those
who are just entering are the advanced guard of the great beauty,
as he is thought to be, of the day, and he is likely to be not far
Who is he, I said; and who is his father?
Charmides, he replied, is his name; he is my cousin, and the son of
my uncle Glaucon: I rather think that you know him too, although he
was not grown up at the time of your departure.
Certainly, I know him, I said, for he was remarkable even then when
he was still a child, and I should imagine that by this time he must
be almost a young man.
You will see, he said, in a moment what progress he has made and what
he is like. He had scarcely said the word, when Charmides entered.
Now you know, my friend, that I cannot measure anything, and of the
beautiful, I am simply such a measure as a white line is of chalk;
for almost all young persons appear to be beautiful in my eyes. But
at that moment, when I saw him coming in, I confess that I was quite
astonished at his beauty and stature; all the world seemed to be enamoured
of him; amazement and confusion reigned when he entered; and a troop
of lovers followed him. That grown-up men like ourselves should have
been affected in this way was not surprising, but I observed that
there was the same feeling among the boys; all of them, down to the
very least child, turned and looked at him, as if he had been a statue.
Chaerephon called me and said: What do you think of him, Socrates?
Has he not a beautiful face?
Most beautiful, I said.
But you would think nothing of his face, he replied, if you could
see his naked form: he is absolutely perfect.
And to this they all agreed.
By Heracles, I said, there never was such a paragon, if he has only
one other slight addition.
What is that? said Critias.
If he has a noble soul; and being of your house, Critias, he may be
expected to have this.
He is as fair and good within, as he is without, replied Critias.
Then, before we see his body, should we not ask him to show us his
soul, naked and undisguised? he is just of an age at which he will
like to talk.
That he will, said Critias, and I can tell you that he is a philosopher
already, and also a considerable poet, not in his own opinion only,
but in that of others.
That, my dear Critias, I replied, is a distinction which has long
been in your family, and is inherited by you from Solon. But why do
you not call him, and show him to us? for even if he were younger
than he is, there could be no impropriety in his talking to us in
the presence of you, who are his guardian and cousin.
Very well, he said; then I will call him; and turning to the attendant,
he said, Call Charmides, and tell him that I want him to come and
see a physician about the illness of which he spoke to me the day
before yesterday. Then again addressing me, he added: He has been
complaining lately of having a headache when he rises in the morning:
now why should you not make him believe that you know a cure for the
Why not, I said; but will he come?
He will be sure to come, he replied.
He came as he was bidden, and sat down between Critias and me. Great
amusement was occasioned by every one pushing with might and main
at his neighbour in order to make a place for him next to themselves,
until at the two ends of the row one had to get up and the other was
rolled over sideways. Now my friend, was beginning to feel awkward;
former bold belief in my powers of conversing with him had vanished.
And when Critias told him that I was the person who had the cure,
he looked at me in such an indescribable manner, and was just going
to ask a question. And at that moment all the people in the palaestra
crowded about us, and, O rare! I caught a sight of the inwards of
his garment, and took the flame. Then I could no longer contain myself.
I thought how well Cydias understood the nature of love, when, in
speaking of a fair youth, he warns some one "not to bring the fawn
in the sight of the lion to be devoured by him," for I felt that I
had been overcome by a sort of wild-beast appetite. But I controlled
myself, and when he asked me if I knew the cure of the headache, I
answered, but with an effort, that I did know.
And what is it? he said.
I replied that it was a kind of leaf, which required to be accompanied
by a charm, and if a person would repeat the charm at the same time
that he used the cure, he would be made whole; but that without the
charm the leaf would be of no avail.
Then I will write out the charm from your dictation, he said.
With my consent? I said, or without my consent?
With your consent, Socrates, he said, laughing.
Very good, I said; and are you quite sure that you know my name?
I ought to know you, he replied, for there is a great deal said about
you among my companions; and I remember when I was a child seeing
you in company with my cousin Critias.
I am glad to find that you remember me, I said; for I shall now be
more at home with you and shall be better able to explain the nature
of the charm, about which I felt a difficulty before. For the charm
will do more, Charmides, than only cure the headache. I dare say that
you have heard eminent physicians say to a patient who comes to them
with bad eyes, that they cannot cure his eyes by themselves, but that
if his eyes are to be cured, his head must be treated; and then again
they say that to think of curing the head alone, and not the rest
of the body also, is the height of folly. And arguing in this way
they apply their methods to the whole body, and try to treat and heal
the whole and the part together. Did you ever observe that this is
what they say?
Yes, he said.
And they are right, and you would agree with them?
Yes, he said, certainly I should.
His approving answers reassured me, and I began by degrees to regain
confidence, and the vital heat returned. Such, Charmides, I said,
is the nature of the charm, which I learned when serving with the
army from one of the physicians of the Thracian king Zamolxis, who
are to be so skilful that they can even give immortality. This Thracian
told me that in these notions of theirs, which I was just now mentioning,
the Greek physicians are quite right as far as they go; but Zamolxis,
he added, our king, who is also a god, says further, "that as you
ought not to attempt to cure the eyes without the head, or the head
without the body, so neither ought you to attempt to cure the body
without the soul; and this," he said, "is the reason why the cure
of many diseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas, because they
are ignorant of the whole, which ought to be studied also; for the
part can never be well unless the whole is well." For all good and
evil, whether in the body or in human nature, originates, as he declared,
in the soul, and overflows from thence, as if from the head into the
eyes. And therefore if the head and body are to be well, you must
begin by curing the soul; that is the first thing. And the cure, my
dear youth, has to be effected by the use of certain charms, and these
charms are fair words; and by them temperance is implanted in the
soul, and where temperance is, there health is speedily imparted,
not only to the head, but to the whole body. And he who taught me
the cure and the charm at the same time added a special direction:
"Let no one," he said, "persuade you to cure the head, until he has
first given you his soul to be cured by the charm. For this," he said,
"is the great error of our day in the treatment of the human body,
that physicians separate the soul from the body." And he added with
emphasis, at the same time making me swear to his words, "Let no one,
however rich, or noble, or fair, persuade you to give him the cure,
without the charm." Now I have sworn, and I must keep my oath, and
therefore if you will allow me to apply the Thracian charm first to
your soul, as the stranger directed, I will afterwards proceed to
apply the cure to your head. But if not, I do not know what I am to
do with you, my dear Charmides.
Critias, when he heard this, said: The headache will be an unexpected
gain to my young relation, if the pain in his head compels him to
improve his mind: and I can tell you, Socrates, that Charmides is
not only pre-eminent in beauty among his equals, but also in that
quality which is given by the charm; and this, as you say, is temperance?
Yes, I said.
Then let me tell you that he is the most temperate of human beings,
and for his age inferior to none in any quality.
Yes, I said, Charmides; and indeed I think that you ought to excel
others in all good qualities; for if I am not mistaken there is no
one present who could easily point out two Athenian houses, whose
union would be likely to produce a better or nobler scion than the
two from which you are sprung. There is your father's house, which
is descended from Critias the son of Dropidas, whose family has been
commemorated in the panegyrical verses of Anacreon, Solon, and many
other poets, as famous for beauty and virtue and all other high fortune:
and your mother's house is equally distinguished; for your maternal
uncle, Pyrilampes, is reputed never to have found his equal, in Persia
at the court of the great king, or on the continent of Asia, in all
the places to which he went as ambassador, for stature and beauty;
that whole family is not a whit inferior to the other. Having such
ancestors you ought to be first in all things, and, sweet son of Glaucon,
your outward form is no dishonour to any of them. If to beauty you
add temperance, and if in other respects you are what Critias declares
you to be, then, dear Charmides, blessed art thou, in being the son
of thy mother. And here lies the point; for if, as he declares, you
have this gift of temperance already, and are temperate enough, in
that case you have no need of any charms, whether of Zamolxis or of
Abaris the Hyperborean, and I may as well let you have the cure of
the head at once; but if you have not yet acquired this quality, I
must use the charm before I give you the medicine. Please, therefore,
to inform me whether you admit the truth of what Critias has been
saying;-have you or have you not this quality of temperance?
Charmides blushed, and the blush heightened his beauty, for modesty
is becoming in youth; he then said very ingenuously, that he really
could not at once answer, either yes, or no, to the question which
I had asked: For, said he, if I affirm that I am not temperate, that
would be a strange thing for me to say of myself, and also I should
give the lie to Critias, and many others who think as he tells you,
that I am temperate: but, on the other hand, if I say that I am, I
shall have to praise myself, which would be ill manners; and therefore
I do not know how to answer you.
I said to him: That is a natural reply, Charmides, and I think that
you and I ought together to enquire whether you have this quality
about which I am asking or not; and then you will not be compelled
to say what you do not like; neither shall I be a rash practitioner
of medicine: therefore, if you please, I will share the enquiry with
you, but I will not press you if you would rather not.
There is nothing which I should like better, he said; and as far as
I am concerned you may proceed in the way which you think best.
I think, I said, that I had better begin by asking you a question;
for if temperance abides in you, you must have an opinion about her;
she must give some intimation of her nature and qualities, which may
enable you to form a notion of her. Is not that true?
Yes, he said, that I think is true.
You know your native language, I said, and therefore you must be able
to tell what you feel about this.
Certainly, he said.
In order, then, that I may form a conjecture whether you have temperance
abiding in you or not, tell me, I said, what, in your opinion, is
At first he hesitated, and was very unwilling to answer: then he said
that he thought temperance was doing things orderly and quietly, such
things for example as walking in the streets, and talking, or anything
else of that nature. In a word, he said, I should answer that, in
my opinion, temperance is quietness.
Are you right, Charmides? I said. No doubt some would affirm that
the quiet are the temperate; but let us see whether these words have
any meaning; and first tell me whether you would not acknowledge temperance
to be of the class of the noble and good?
But which is best when you are at the writing-master's, to write the
same letters quickly or quietly?
And to read quickly or slowly?
And in playing the lyre, or wrestling, quickness or sharpness are
far better than quietness and slowness?
And the same holds in boxing and in the pancratium?
And in leaping and running and in bodily exercises generally, quickness
and agility are good; slowness, and inactivity, and quietness, are
That is evident.
Then, I said, in all bodily actions, not quietness, but the greatest
agility and quickness, is noblest and best?
And is temperance a good?
Then, in reference to the body, not quietness, but quickness will
be the higher degree of temperance, if temperance is a good?
True, he said.
And which, I said, is better-facility in learning, or difficulty in
Yes, I said; and facility in learning is learning quickly, and difficulty
in learning is learning quietly and slowly?
And is it not better to teach another quickly and energetically, rather
than quietly and slowly?
And which is better, to call to mind, and to remember, quickly and
readily, or quietly and slowly?
And is not shrewdness a quickness or cleverness of the soul, and not
And is it not best to understand what is said, whether at the writing-master's
or the music-master's, or anywhere else, not as quietly as possible,
but as quickly as possible?
And in the searchings or deliberations of the soul, not the quietest,
as I imagine, and he who with difficulty deliberates and discovers,
is thought worthy of praise, but he who does so most easily and quickly?
Quite true, he said.
And in all that concerns either body or soul, swiftness and activity
are clearly better than slowness and quietness?
Clearly they are.
Then temperance is not quietness, nor is the temperate life quiet,-certainly
not upon this view; for the life which is temperate is supposed to
be the good. And of two things, one is true, either never, or very
seldom, do the quiet actions in life appear to be better than the
quick and energetic ones; or supposing that of the nobler actions,
there are as many quiet, as quick and vehement: still, even if we
grant this, temperance will not be acting quietly any more than acting
quickly and energetically, either in walking or talking or in anything
else; nor will the quiet life be more temperate than the unquiet,
seeing that temperance is admitted by us to be a good and noble thing,
and the quick have been shown to be as good as the quiet.
I think, he said, Socrates, that you are right.
Then once more, Charmides, I said, fix your attention, and look within;
consider the effect which temperance has upon yourself, and the nature
of that which has the effect. Think over all this, and, like a brave
youth, tell me-What is temperance?
After a moment's pause, in which he made a real manly effort to think,
he said: My opinion is, Socrates, that temperance makes a man ashamed
or modest, and that temperance is the same as modesty.
Very good, I said; and did you not admit, just now, that temperance
Yes, certainly, he said.
And the temperate are also good?
And can that be good which does not make men good?
And you would infer that temperance is not only noble, but also good?
That is my opinion.
Well, I said; but surely you would agree with Homer when he says,
Modesty is not good for a needy man?
Yes, he said; I agree.
Then I suppose that modesty is and is not good?
But temperance, whose presence makes men only good, and not bad, is
That appears to me to be as you say.
And the inference is that temperance cannot be modesty-if temperance
is a good, and if modesty is as much an evil as a good?
All that, Socrates, appears to me to be true; but I should like to
know what you think about another definition of temperance, which
I just now remember to have heard from some one, who said, "That temperance
is doing our own business." Was he right who affirmed that?
You monster! I said; this is what Critias, or some philosopher has
Some one else, then, said Critias; for certainly I have not.
But what matter, said Charmides, from whom I heard this?
No matter at all, I replied; for the point is not who said the words,
but whether they are true or not.
There you are in the right, Socrates, he replied.
To be sure, I said; yet I doubt whether we shall ever be able to discover
their truth or falsehood; for they are a kind of riddle.
What makes you think so? he said.
Because, I said, he who uttered them seems to me to have meant one
thing, and said another. Is the scribe, for example, to be regarded
as doing nothing when he reads or writes?
I should rather think that he was doing something.
And does the scribe write or read, or teach you boys to write or read,
your own names only, or did you write your enemies' names as well
as your own and your friends'?
As much one as the other.
And was there anything meddling or intemperate in this?
And yet if reading and writing are the same as doing, you were doing
what was not your own business?
But they are the same as doing.
And the healing art, my friend, and building, and weaving, and doing
anything whatever which is done by art,-these all clearly come under
the head of doing?
And do you think that a state would be well ordered by a law which
compelled every man to weave and wash his own coat, and make his own
shoes, and his own flask and strigil, and other implements, on this
principle of every one doing and performing his own, and abstaining
from what is not his own?
I think not, he said.
But, I said, a temperate state will be a well ordered state.
Of course, he replied.
Then temperance, I said, will not be doing one's own business; not
at least in this way, or doing things of this sort?
Then, as I was just now saying, he who declared that temperance is
a man doing his own business had another and a hidden meaning; for
I do not think that he could have been such a fool as to mean this.
Was he a fool who told you, Charmides?
Nay, he replied, I certainly thought him a very wise man.
Then I am quite certain that he put forth his definition as a riddle,
thinking that no one would know the meaning of the words "doing his
I dare say, he replied.
And what is the meaning of a man doing his own business? Can you tell
Indeed, I cannot; and I should not wonder if the man himself who used
this phrase did not understand what he was saying. Whereupon he laughed
slyly, and looked at Critias.
Critias had long been showing uneasiness, for he felt that he had
a reputation to maintain with Charmides and the rest of the company.
He had, however, hitherto managed to restrain himself; but now he
could no longer forbear, and I am convinced of the truth of the suspicion
which I entertained at the time, that Charmides had heard this answer
about temperance from Critias. And Charmides, who did not want to
answer himself, but to make Critias answer, tried to stir him up.
He went on pointing out that he had been refuted, at which Critias
grew angry, and appeared, as I thought, inclined to quarrel with him;
just as a poet might quarrel with an actor who spoiled his poems in
repeating them; so he looked hard at him and said--
Do you imagine, Charmides, that the author of this definition of temperance
did not understand the meaning of his own words, because you do not
Why, at his age, I said, most excellent Critias, he can hardly be
expected to understand; but you, who are older, and have studied,
may well be assumed to know the meaning of them; and therefore, if
you agree with him, and accept his definition of temperance, I would
much rather argue with you than with him about the truth or falsehood
of the definition.
I entirely agree, said Critias, and accept the definition.
Very good, I said; and now let me repeat my question-Do you admit,
as I was just now saying, that all craftsmen make or do something?
And do they make or do their own business only, or that of others
They make or do that of others also.
And are they temperate, seeing that they make not for themselves or
their own business only?
Why not? he said.
No objection on my part, I said, but there may be a difficulty on
his who proposes as a definition of temperance, "doing one's own business,"
and then says that there is no reason why those who do the business
of others should not be temperate.
Nay, said he; did I ever acknowledge that those who do the business
of others are temperate? I said, those who make, not those who do.
What! I asked; do you mean to say that doing and making are not the
No more, he replied, than making or working are the same; thus much
I have learned from Hesiod, who says that "work is no disgrace." Now
do you imagine that if he had meant by working and doing such things
as you were describing, he would have said that there was no disgrace
in them-for example, in the manufacture of shoes, or in selling pickles,
or sitting for hire in a house of ill-fame? That, Socrates, is not
to be supposed: but I conceive him to have distinguished making from
doing and work; and, while admitting that the making anything might
sometimes become a disgrace, when the employment was not honourable,
to have thought that work was never any disgrace at all. For things
nobly and usefully made he called works; and such makings he called
workings, and doings; and he must be supposed to have called such
things only man's proper business, and what is hurtful, not his business:
and in that sense Hesiod, and any other wise man, may be reasonably
supposed to call him wise who does his own work.
O Critias, I said, no sooner had you opened your mouth, than I pretty
well knew that you would call that which is proper to a man, and that
which is his own, good; and that the markings of the good you would
call doings, for I am no stranger to the endless distinctions which
Prodicus draws about names. Now I have no objection to your giving
names any signification which you please, if you will only tell me
what you mean by them. Please then to begin again, and be a little
plainer. Do you mean that this doing or making, or whatever is the
word which you would use, of good actions, is temperance?
I do, he said.
Then not he who does evil, but he who does good, is temperate?
Yes, he said; and you, friend, would agree.
No matter whether I should or not; just now, not what I think, but
what you are saying, is the point at issue.
Well, he answered; I mean to say, that he who does evil, and not good,
is not temperate; and that he is temperate who does good, and not
evil: for temperance I define in plain words to be the doing of good
And you may be very likely right in what you are saying; but I am
curious to know whether you imagine that temperate men are ignorant
of their own temperance?
I do not think so, he said.
And yet were you not saying, just now, that craftsmen might be temperate
in doing another's work, as well as in doing their own?
I was, he replied; but what is your drift?
I have no particular drift, but I wish that you would tell me whether
a physician who cures a patient may do good to himself and good to
I think that he may.
And he who does so does his duty?
And does not he who does his duty act temperately or wisely?
Yes, he acts wisely.
But must the physician necessarily know when his treatment is likely
to prove beneficial, and when not? or must the craftsman necessarily
know when he is likely to be benefited, and when not to be benefited,
by the work which he is doing?
I suppose not.
Then, I said, he may sometimes do good or harm, and not know what
he is himself doing, and yet, in doing good, as you say, he has done
temperately or wisely. Was not that your statement?
Then, as would seem, in doing good, he may act wisely or temperately,
and be wise or temperate, but not know his own wisdom or temperance?
But that, Socrates, he said, is impossible; and therefore if this
is, as you imply, the necessary consequence of any of my previous
admissions, I will withdraw them, rather than admit that a man can
be temperate or wise who does not know himself; and I am not ashamed
to confess that I was in error. For self-knowledge would certainly
be maintained by me to be the very essence of knowledge, and in this
I agree with him who dedicated the inscription, "Know thyself!" at
Delphi. That word, if I am not mistaken, is put there as a sort of
salutation which the god addresses to those who enter the temple;
as much as to say that the ordinary salutation of "Hail!" is not right,
and that the exhortation "Be temperate!" would be a far better way
of saluting one another. The notion of him who dedicated the inscription
was, as I believe, that the god speaks to those who enter his temple,
not as men speak; but, when a worshipper enters, the first word which
he hears is "Be temperate!" This, however, like a prophet he expresses
in a sort of riddle, for "Know thyself!" and "Be temperate!" are the
same, as I maintain, and as the letters imply, and yet they may be
easily misunderstood; and succeeding sages who added "Never too much,"
or, "Give a pledge, and evil is nigh at hand," would appear to have
so misunderstood them; for they imagined that "Know thyself!" was
a piece of advice which the god gave, and not his salutation of the
worshippers at their first coming in; and they dedicated their own
inscription under the idea that they too would give equally useful
pieces of advice. Shall I tell you, Socrates, why I say all this?
My object is to leave the previous discussion (in which I know not
whether you or I are more right, but, at any rate, no clear result
was attained), and to raise a new one in which I will attempt to prove,
if you deny, that temperance is self-knowledge.
Yes, I said, Critias; but you come to me as though I professed to
know about the questions which I ask, and as though I could, if I
only would, agree with you. Whereas the fact is that I enquire with
you into the truth of that which is advanced from time to time, just
because I do not know; and when I have enquired, I will say whether
I agree with you or not. Please then to allow me time to reflect.
Reflect, he said.
I am reflecting, I replied, and discover that temperance, or wisdom,
if implying a knowledge of anything, must be a science, and a science
Yes, he said; the science of itself.
Is not medicine, I said, the science of health?
And suppose, I said, that I were asked by you what is the use or effect
of medicine, which is this science of health, I should answer that
medicine is of very great use in producing health, which, as you will
admit, is an excellent effect.
And if you were to ask me, what is the result or effect of architecture,
which is the science of building, I should say houses, and so of other
arts, which all have their different results. Now I want you, Critias,
to answer a similar question about temperance, or wisdom, which, according
to you, is the science of itself. Admitting this view, I ask of you,
what good work, worthy of the name wise, does temperance or wisdom,
which is the science of itself, effect? Answer me.
That is not the true way of pursuing the enquiry, Socrates, he said;
for wisdom is not like the other sciences, any more than they are
like one another: but you proceed as if they were alike. For tell
me, he said, what result is there of computation or geometry, in the
same sense as a house is the result of building, or a garment of weaving,
or any other work of any other art? Can you show me any such result
of them? You cannot.
That is true, I said; but still each of these sciences has a subject
which is different from the science. I can show you that the art of
computation has to do with odd and even numbers in their numerical
relations to themselves and to each other. Is not that true?
Yes, he said.
And the odd and even numbers are not the same with the art of computation?
They are not.
The art of weighing, again, has to do with lighter and heavier; but
the art of weighing is one thing, and the heavy and the light another.
Do you admit that?
Now, I want to know, what is that which is not wisdom, and of which
wisdom is the science?
You are just falling into the old error, Socrates, he said. You come
asking in what wisdom or temperance differs from the other sciences,
and then you try to discover some respect in which they are alike;
but they are not, for all the other sciences are of something else,
and not of themselves; wisdom alone is a science of other sciences,
and of itself. And of this, as I believe, you are very well aware:
and that you are only doing what you denied that you were doing just
now, trying to refute me, instead of pursuing the argument.
And what if I am? How can you think that I have any other motive in
refuting you but what I should have in examining into myself? which
motive would be just a fear of my unconsciously fancying that I knew
something of which I was ignorant. And at this moment I pursue the
argument chiefly for my own sake, and perhaps in some degree also
for the sake of my other friends. For is not the discovery of things
as they truly are, a good common to all mankind?
Yes, certainly, Socrates, he said.
Then, I said, be cheerful, sweet sir, and give your opinion in answer
to the question which I asked, never minding whether Critias or Socrates
is the person refuted; attend only to the argument, and see what will
come of the refutation.
I think that you are right, he replied; and I will do as you say.
Tell me, then, I said, what you mean to affirm about wisdom.
I mean to say that wisdom is the only science which is the science
of itself as well as of the other sciences.
But the science of science, I said, will also be the science of the
absence of science.
Very true, he said.
Then the wise or temperate man, and he only, will know himself, and
be able to examine what he knows or does not know, and to see what
others know and think that they know and do really know; and what
they do not know, and fancy that they know, when they do not. No other
person will be able to do this. And this is wisdom and temperance
and self-knowledge-for a man to know what he knows, and what he does
not know. That is your meaning?
Yes, he said.
Now then, I said, making an offering of the third or last argument
to Zeus the Saviour, let us begin again, and ask, in the first place,
whether it is or is not possible for a person to know that he knows
and does not know what he knows and does not know; and in the second
place, whether, if perfectly possible, such knowledge is of any use.
That is what we have to consider, he said.
And here, Critias, I said, I hope that you will find a way out of
a difficulty into which I have got myself. Shall I tell you the nature
of the difficulty?
By all means, he replied.
Does not what you have been saying, if true, amount to this: that
there must be a single science which is wholly a science of itself
and of other sciences, and that the same is also the science of the
absence of science?
But consider how monstrous this proposition is, my friend: in any
parallel case, the impossibility will be transparent to you.
How is that? and in what cases do you mean?
In such cases as this: Suppose that there is a kind of vision which
is not like ordinary vision, but a vision of itself and of other sorts
of vision, and of the defect of them, which in seeing sees no colour,
but only itself and other sorts of vision: Do you think that there
is such a kind of vision?
Or is there a kind of hearing which hears no sound at all, but only
itself and other sorts of hearing, or the defects of them?
There is not.
Or take all the senses: can you imagine that there is any sense of
itself and of other senses, but which is incapable of perceiving the
objects of the senses?
I think not.
Could there be any desire which is not the desire of any pleasure,
but of itself, and of all other desires?
Or can you imagine a wish which wishes for no good, but only for itself
and all other wishes?
I should answer, No.
Or would you say that there is a love which is not the love of beauty,
but of itself and of other loves?
I should not.
Or did you ever know of a fear which fears itself or other fears,
but has no object of fear?
I never did, he said.
Or of an opinion which is an opinion of itself and of other opinions,
and which has no opinion on the subjects of opinion in general?
But surely we are assuming a science of this kind, which, having no
subject-matter, is a science of itself and of the other sciences?
Yes, that is what is affirmed.
But how strange is this, if it be indeed true: must not however as
yet absolutely deny the possibility of such a science; let us rather
consider the matter.
You are quite right.
Well then, this science of which we are speaking is a science of something,
and is of a nature to be a science of something?
Just as that which is greater is of a nature to be greater than something
Which is less, if the other is conceived to be greater?
To be sure.
And if we could find something which is at once greater than itself,
and greater than other great things, but not greater than those things
in comparison of which the others are greater, then that thing would
have the property of being greater and also less than itself?
That, Socrates, he said, is the inevitable inference.
Or if there be a double which is double of itself and of other doubles,
these will be halves; for the double is relative to the half?
That is true.
And that which is greater than itself will also be less, and that
which is heavier will also be lighter, and that which is older will
also be younger: and the same of other things; that which has a nature
relative to self will retain also the nature of its object: I mean
to say, for example, that hearing is, as we say, of sound or voice.
Is that true?
Then if hearing hears itself, it must hear a voice; for there is no
other way of hearing.
And sight also, my excellent friend, if it sees itself must see a
colour, for sight cannot see that which has no colour.
Do you remark, Critias, that in several of the examples which have
been recited the notion of a relation to self is altogether inadmissible,
and in other cases hardly credible-inadmissible, for example, in the
case of magnitudes, numbers, and the like?
But in the case of hearing and sight, or in the power of self-motion,
and the power of heat to burn, this relation to self will be regarded
as incredible by some, but perhaps not by others. And some great man,
my friend, is wanted, who will satisfactorily determine for us, whether
there is nothing which has an inherent property of relation to self,
or some things only and not others; and whether in this class of self-related
things, if there be such a class, that science which is called wisdom
or temperance is included. I altogether distrust my own power of determining
these matters: I am not certain whether there is such a science of
science at all; and even if there be, I should not acknowledge this
to be wisdom or temperance, until I can also see whether such a science
would or would not do us any good; for I have an impression that temperance
is a benefit and a good. And therefore, O son of Callaeschrus, as
you maintain that temperance or wisdom is a science of science, and
also of the absence of science, I will request you to show in the
first place, as I was saying before, the possibility, and in the second
place, the advantage, of such a science; and then perhaps you may
satisfy me that you are right in your view of temperance.
Critias heard me say this, and saw that I was in a difficulty; and
as one person when another yawns in his presence catches the infection
of yawning from him, so did he seem to be driven into a difficulty
by my difficulty. But as he had a reputation to maintain, he was ashamed
to admit before the company that he could not answer my challenge
or determine the question at issue; and he made an unintelligible
attempt to hide his perplexity. In order that the argument might proceed,
I said to him, Well then Critias, if you like, let us assume that
there is this science of science; whether the assumption is right
or wrong may hereafter be investigated. Admitting the existence of
it, will you tell me how such a science enables us to distinguish
what we know or do not know, which, as we were saying, is self-knowledge
or wisdom: so we were saying?
Yes, Socrates, he said; and that I think is certainly true: for he
who has this science or knowledge which knows itself will become like
the knowledge which he has, in the same way that he who has swiftness
will be swift, and he who has beauty will be beautiful, and he who
has knowledge will know. In the same way he who has that knowledge
which is self-knowing, will know himself.
I do not doubt, I said, that a man will know himself, when he possesses
that which has self-knowledge: but what necessity is there that, having
this, he should know what he knows and what he does not know?
Because, Socrates, they are the same.
Very likely, I said; but I remain as stupid as ever; for still I fail
to comprehend how this knowing what you know and do not know is the
same as the knowledge of self.
What do you mean? he said.
This is what I mean, I replied: I will admit that there is a science
of science;-can this do more than determine that of two things one
is and the other is not science or knowledge?
No, just that.
But is knowledge or want of knowledge of health the same as knowledge
or want of knowledge of justice?
The one is medicine, and the other is politics; whereas that of which
we are speaking is knowledge pure and simple.
And if a man knows only, and has only knowledge of knowledge, and
has no further knowledge of health and justice, the probability is
that he will only know that he knows something, and has a certain
knowledge, whether concerning himself or other men.
Then how will this knowledge or science teach him to know what he
knows? Say that he knows health;-not wisdom or temperance, but the
art of medicine has taught it to him; and he has learned harmony from
the art of music, and building from the art of building, neither,
from wisdom or temperance: and the same of other things.
That is evident.
How will wisdom, regarded only as a knowledge of knowledge or science
of science, ever teach him that he knows health, or that he knows
It is impossible.
Then he who is ignorant of these things will only know that he knows,
but not what he knows?
Then wisdom or being wise appears to be not the knowledge of the things
which we do or do not know, but only the knowledge that we know or
do not know?
That is the inference.
Then he who has this knowledge will not be able to examine whether
a pretender knows or does not know that which he says that he knows:
he will only know that he has a knowledge of some kind; but wisdom
will not show him of what the knowledge is?
Neither will he be able to distinguish the pretender in medicine from
the true physician, nor between any other true and false professor
of knowledge. Let us consider the matter in this way: If the wise
man or any other man wants to distinguish the true physician from
the false, how will he proceed? He will not talk to him about medicine;
and that, as we were saying, is the only thing which the physician
And, on the other hand, the physician knows nothing of science, for
this has been assumed to be the province of wisdom.
And further, since medicine is science, we must infer that he does
not know anything of medicine.
Then the wise man may indeed know that the physician has some kind
of science or knowledge; but when he wants to discover the nature
of this he will ask, What is the subject-matter? For the several sciences
are distinguished not by the mere fact that they are sciences, but
by the nature of their subjects. Is not that true?
And medicine is distinguished from other sciences as having the subject-matter
of health and disease?
And he who would enquire into the nature of medicine must pursue the
enquiry into health and disease, and not into what is extraneous?
And he who judges rightly will judge of the physician as a physician
in what relates to these?
He will consider whether what he says is true, and whether what he
does is right, in relation to health and disease?
But can any one attain the knowledge of either unless he have a of
No one at all, it would seem, except the physician can have this knowledge;
and therefore not the wise man; he would have to be a physician as
well as a wise man.
Then, assuredly, wisdom or temperance, if only a science of science,
and of the absence of science or knowledge, will not be able to distinguish
the physician who knows from one who does not know but pretends or
thinks that he knows, or any other professor of anything at all; like
any other artist, he will only know his fellow in art or wisdom, and
no one else.
That is evident, he said.
But then what profit, Critias, I said, is there any longer in wisdom
or temperance which yet remains, if this is wisdom? If, indeed, as
we were supposing at first, the wise man had been able to distinguish
what he knew and did not know, and that he knew the one and did not
know the other, and to recognize a similar faculty of discernment
in others, there would certainly have been a great advantage in being
wise; for then we should never have made a mistake, but have passed
through life the unerring guides of ourselves and of those who are
under us; and we should not have attempted to do what we did not know,
but we should have found out those who knew, and have handed the business
over to them and trusted in them; nor should we have allowed those
who were under us to do anything which they were not likely to do
well and they would be likely to do well just that of which they had
knowledge; and the house or state which was ordered or administered
under the guidance of wisdom, and everything else of which wisdom
was the lord, would have been well ordered; for truth guiding, and
error having been eliminated, in all their doings, men would have
done well, and would have been happy. Was not this, Critias, what
we spoke of as the great advantage of wisdom to know what is known
and what is unknown to us?
Very true, he said.
And now you perceive, I said, that no such science is to be found
I perceive, he said.
May we assume then, I said, that wisdom, viewed in this new light
merely as a knowledge of knowledge and ignorance, has this advantage:-that
he who possesses such knowledge will more easily learn anything which
he learns; and that everything will be clearer to him, because, in
addition to the knowledge of individuals, he sees the science, and
this also will better enable him to test the knowledge which others
have of what he knows himself; whereas the enquirer who is without
this knowledge may be supposed to have a feebler and weaker insight?
Are not these, my friend, the real advantages which are to be gained
from wisdom? And are not we looking and seeking after something more
than is to be found in her?
That is very likely, he said.
That is very likely, I said; and very likely, too, we have been enquiring
to no purpose; as I am led to infer, because I observe that if this
is wisdom, some strange consequences would follow. Let us, if you
please, assume the possibility of this science of sciences, and further
admit and allow, as was originally suggested, that wisdom is the knowledge
of what we know and do not know. Assuming all this, still, upon further
consideration, I am doubtful, Critias, whether wisdom, such as this,
would do us much good. For we were wrong, I think, in supposing, as
we were saying just now, that such wisdom ordering the government
of house or state would be a great benefit.
How so? he said.
Why, I said, we were far too ready to admit the great benefits which
mankind would obtain from their severally doing the things which they
knew, and committing the things of which they are ignorant to those
who were better acquainted with them.
Were we not right in making that admission?
I think not.
How very strange, Socrates!
By the dog of Egypt, I said, there I agree with you; and I was thinking
as much just now when I said that strange consequences would follow,
and that I was afraid we were on the wrong track; for however ready
we may be to admit that this is wisdom, I certainly cannot make out
what good this sort of thing does to us.
What do you mean? he said; I wish that you could make me understand
what you mean.
I dare say that what I am saying is nonsense, I replied; and yet if
a man has any feeling of what is due to himself, he cannot let the
thought which comes into his mind pass away unheeded and unexamined.
I like that, he said.
Hear, then, I said, my own dream; whether coming through the horn
or the ivory gate, I cannot tell. The dream is this: Let us suppose
that wisdom is such as we are now defining, and that she has absolute
sway over us; then each action will be done according to the arts
or sciences, and no one professing to be a pilot when he is not, or
any physician or general, or any one else pretending to know matters
of which he is ignorant, will deceive or elude us; our health will
be improved; our safety at sea, and also in battle, will be assured;
our coats and shoes, and all other instruments and implements will
be skilfully made, because the workmen will be good and true. Aye,
and if you please, you may suppose that prophecy, which is the knowledge
of the future, will be under the control of wisdom, and that she will
deter deceivers and set up the true prophets in their place as the
revealers of the future. Now I quite agree that mankind, thus provided,
would live and act according to knowledge, for wisdom would watch
and prevent ignorance from intruding on us. But whether by acting
according to knowledge we shall act well and be happy, my dear Critias,-this
is a point which we have not yet been able to determine.
Yet I think, he replied, that if you discard knowledge, you will hardly
find the crown of happiness in anything else.
But of what is this knowledge? I said. Just answer me that small question.
Do you mean a knowledge of shoemaking?
Or of working in brass?
Or in wool, or wood, or anything of that sort?
No, I do not.
Then, I said, we are giving up the doctrine that he who lives according
to knowledge is happy, for these live according to knowledge, and
yet they are not allowed by you to be happy; but I think that you
mean to confine happiness to particular individuals who live according
to knowledge, such for example as the prophet, who, as I was saying,
knows the future. Is it of him you are speaking or of some one else?
Yes, I mean him, but there are others as well.
Yes, I said, some one who knows the past and present as well as the
future, and is ignorant of nothing. Let us suppose that there is such
a person, and if there is, you will allow that he is the most knowing
of all living men.
Certainly he is.
Yet I should like to know one thing more: which of the different kinds
of knowledge makes him happy? or do all equally make him happy?
Not all equally, he replied.
But which most tends to make him happy? the knowledge of what past,
present, or future thing? May I infer this to be the knowledge of
the game of draughts?
Nonsense about the game of draughts.
Or of computation?
Or of health?
That is nearer the truth, he said.
And that knowledge which is nearest of all, I said, is the knowledge
The knowledge with which he discerns good and evil.
Monster! I said; you have been carrying me round in a circle, and
all this time hiding from me the fact that the life according to knowledge
is not that which makes men act rightly and be happy, not even if
knowledge include all the sciences, but one science only, that of
good and evil. For, let me ask you, Critias, whether, if you take
away this, medicine will not equally give health, and shoemaking equally
produce shoes, and the art of the weaver clothes?-whether the art
of the pilot will not equally save our lives at sea, and the art of
the general in war?
And yet, my dear Critias, none of these things will be well or beneficially
done, if the science of the good be wanting.
But that science is not wisdom or temperance, but a science of human
advantage; not a science of other sciences, or of ignorance, but of
good and evil: and if this be of use, then wisdom or temperance will
not be of use.
And why, he replied, will not wisdom be of use? For, however much
we assume that wisdom is a science of sciences, and has a sway over
other sciences, surely she will have this particular science of the
good under her control, and in this way will benefit us.
And will wisdom give health? I said; is not this rather the effect
of medicine? Or does wisdom do the work any of the other arts, do
they not each of them do their own work? Have we not long ago asseverated
that wisdom is only the knowledge of knowledge and of ignorance, and
of nothing else?
That is obvious.
Then wisdom will not be the producer of health.
The art of health is different.
Nor does wisdom give advantage, my good friend; for that again we
have just now been attributing to another art.
How then can wisdom be advantageous, when giving no advantage?
That, Socrates, is certainly inconceivable.
You see then, Critias, that I was not far wrong in fearing that I
could have no sound notion about wisdom; I was quite right in depreciating
myself; for that which is admitted to be the best of all things would
never have seemed to us useless, if I had been good for anything at
an enquiry. But now I have been utterly defeated, and have failed
to discover what that is to which the imposer of names gave this name
of temperance or wisdom. And yet many more admissions were made by
us than could be fairly granted; for we admitted that there was a
science of science, although the argument said No, and protested against
us; and we admitted further, that this science knew the works of the
other sciences (although this too was denied by the argument), because
we wanted to show that the wise man had knowledge of what he knew
and did not know; also we nobly disregarded, and never even considered,
the impossibility of a man knowing in a sort of way that which he
does not know at all; for our assumption was, that he knows that which
he does not know; than which nothing, as I think, can be more irrational.
And yet, after finding us so easy and good-natured, the enquiry is
still unable to discover the truth; but mocks us to a degree, and
has gone out of its way to prove the inutility of that which we admitted
only by a sort of supposition and fiction to be the true definition
of temperance or wisdom: which result, as far as I am concerned, is
not so much to be lamented, I said. But for your sake, Charmides,
I am very sorry-that you, having such beauty and such wisdom and temperance
of soul, should have no profit or good in life from your wisdom and
temperance. And still more am I grieved about the charm which I learned
with so much pain, and to so little profit, from the Thracian, for
the sake of a thing which is nothing worth. I think indeed that there
is a mistake, and that I must be a bad enquirer, for wisdom or temperance
I believe to be really a great good; and happy are you, Charmides,
if you certainly possess it. Wherefore examine yourself, and see whether
you have this gift and can do without the charm; for if you can, I
would rather advise you to regard me simply as a fool who is never
able to reason out anything; and to rest assured that the more wise
and temperate you are, the happier you will be.
Charmides said: I am sure that I do not know, Socrates, whether I
have or have not this gift of wisdom and temperance; for how can I
know whether I have a thing, of which even you and Critias are, as
you say, unable to discover the nature?-(not that I believe you.)
And further, I am sure, Socrates, that I do need the charm, and as
far as I am concerned, I shall be willing to be charmed by you daily,
until you say that I have had enough.
Very good, Charmides, said Critias; if you do this I shall have a
proof of your temperance, that is, if you allow yourself to be charmed
by Socrates, and never desert him at all.
You may depend on my following and not deserting him, said Charmides:
if you who are my guardian command me, I should be very wrong not
to obey you.
And I do command you, he said.
Then I will do as you say, and begin this very day.
You sirs, I said, what are you conspiring about?
We are not conspiring, said Charmides, we have conspired already.
And are you about to use violence, without even going through the
forms of justice?
Yes, I shall use violence, he replied, since he orders me; and therefore
you had better consider well.
But the time for consideration has passed, I said, when violence is
employed; and you, when you are determined on anything, and in the
mood of violence, are irresistible.
Do not you resist me then, he said.
I will not resist you, I replied.
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