Charmides, or Temperance
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Charmides, or Temperance.
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Charmides, or Temperance
Written 380 B.C.E
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
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 off himself.
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
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
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
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 headache?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
That is my opinion.
Well, I said; but surely you would agree with Homer when he
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
You monster! I said; this is what Critias, or some philosopher
has told you.
Some one else, then, said Critias; for certainly I have
But what matter, said Charmides, from whom I heard
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
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
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
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 own
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
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 understand them?
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
I entirely agree, said Critias, and accept the
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
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
What! I asked; do you mean to say that doing and making are not
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
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,
I do, he said.
Then not he who does evil, but he who does good, is
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 another
I think that he may.
And he who does so does his duty?
And does not he who does his duty act temperately or
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
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 of
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
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
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
Tell me, then, I said, what you mean to affirm about
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
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
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
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
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
But surely we are assuming a science of this kind, which, having no
subject-matter, is a science of itself and of the other
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
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
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
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
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
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 understands.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
And are you about to use violence, without even going through the forms
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.