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The Charmides - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XI - Essays on Philosophy and the Classics 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XI - Essays on Philosophy and the Classics, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by F.E. Sparshott (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978).
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[Holograph MS, Berg Collection, New York Public Library, entitled “Notes on the Charmides of Plato.” Paper watermarked 1828. Not mentioned in JSM’s bibliography. For details concerning the manuscript and the transcription, see the Textual Introduction, lxxxi-lxxxii above; for a discussion of this and the other translations of Plato, see also the Introduction, xvii-xxviii above.]
the subject of this dialogue is σωϕροσύνη, which includes the two ideas of prudence and temperance, with a sort of etymological reference to thought, and good sense,* and may perhaps in general be best translated by the word considerateness, as when we speak of considerate conduct, and a considerate character or disposition. To the purposes however of the present dialogue, the words good sense seem better adapted.†
The interlocutors are Socrates, Critias (afterwards the head of the Thirty Tyrants, though long a disciple of Socrates) and a young man named Charmides, who appears to have been celebrated for his personal beauty, the effect of which upon the bystanders and even upon Socrates himself, that philosopher (who is the narrator of the conversation) describes in terms which to our modern ideas appear singularly high-flown.
Socrates seeing, at the Taurean palæstra, the exceeding beauty of this young man, & being told by his cousin & guardian, Critias, that he was equally excellent in mind, expressed a desire to converse with him. Critias offered to bring this about, & called upon Charmides to approach, pretending to have found a physician who could cure him of a headach which he had complained of. Socrates, being asked whether he was this physician, pretended that he was, and that his remedy was a certain herb, but that its efficacy depended upon its being used together with a particular incantation: the power of which was not confined to the head, but gave health to the whole man. “You must have heard,” he continued, “from good physicians, that if a man comes to them with diseased eyes, they cannot cure the eyes separately, but in order to remedy the complaint of the eyes they must make applications to the whole body. It is the same with respect to this incantation. I was taught it by some Thracian physicians, whose power is said to extend even to conferring immortality. They told me, that the Grecian physicians were right in that maxim of theirs, which I just mentioned, but the Thracian god Zalmoxis had taught, that as the eyes could not be cured without the head nor the head without the body, so neither can the body without the mind, & that the reason why most diseases prove too strong for the Greek physicians, is, that they attempt to treat one part of the human being, being unacquainted with the nature of the whole. All good & all evil come originally from the mind, & that must be in a proper state before the condition of any other part of the system can be rectified. But the appliances which keep the mind in a proper state, are of the nature of incantation, to wit, Doctrine, Discussion, Argument. By these, σωϕροσύνη, or good sense, is generated, & where that exists, it is easy to procure health for the body. This physician, therefore,” added Socrates, “who taught me the remedy for headach, made me swear solemnly never to suffer any one to prevail upon me to apply it to his head unless he will first allow me to apply the incantation to his mind. If therefore you, Charmides, will first place your mind under my care that I may administer the incantation, I will apply the remedy to your head; if not, I can do nothing for you.”
Critias observed, that the headach which Charmides was afflicted with, would be an excellent thing for him if it forced him to improve his mental health also for the sake of the bodily: that however he already excelled his contemporaries not less in this very quality of good sense than in personal beauty. “If so,” said Socrates, “he has no occasion for the incantation, & we may proceed at once to administer the remedy for headach: but if he is still deficient in σωϕροσύνη, we must begin with the incantation.” He therefore asked Charmides whether he deemed himself to possess a sufficiency of this quality or not. Charmides not liking either to say that he did, or to admit that he did not, Socrates proposed a mode of examining him, so as to ascertain the point.
“If,” said he, “you possess good sense, you must have some opinion on the subject of it. For if this quality is in you, it must make its existence perceptible in some manner, from which you must be enabled to form some opinion, what, & what kind of thing it is.”—“Certainly,” answered Charmides.—“Can you then tell what in your opinion it is?”—Charmides, after some hesitation, answered, that he thought it consisted in doing every thing in an orderly and quiet manner, as for instance, walking quietly, & talking quietly, and so forth. In short, it seemed to him he said to be a certain tranquillity. The idea which he seemed to wish to express, was that of a kind of external decency, & personal reserve.
Socrates proceeded to catechize him further, asking him whether he did not consider good sense to be an admirable thing?—“Certainly,” replied he.—“Whether, now, in learning to write, is it more admirable to write copies rapidly, or quietly?”—“Rapidly.”—“And to read, rapidly or slowly?”—“Rapidly.”—“To play on the harp? To box, or wrestle? To run? To learn? To teach? To recollect?” In all these operations, Charmides was forced to admit, that quickness was more meritorious than slowness, or tranquillity; and moreover in thinking, he admitted that sagacity consisted in quickness & sharpness of mind, not slowness and tranquillity: So again in deliberation, that the greater excellence was in him who could deliberate quickest, not him who did it most slowly and quietly. Good sense, therefore, did not consist in tranquillity, and it was necessary that Charmides should consider again & give another answer.
He answered, that good sense made men sensible to shame, & seemed to be much the same thing with modesty. To this Socrates answered, by asking him whether he did not admit that sense was a good quality?—“Yes.”—“And do you not think that Homer is in the right, when he says, that it is not good for a needy man to be ashamed?”[*] —“I do.”—“Then there is good shame and bad shame.”—“Yes.”—“But sense is always good.”—“It is.”—“Then sense is not the same thing with sensibility to shame.”
Charmides assented, & suggested another definition of sense which he had just recollected to have heard, viz. that it consisted in confining oneself to one’s own business.
Socrates compared this definition to a riddle; “for,” said he, “it cannot have been meant in the literal sense of the words. Do you think that a grammarian, or teacher of languages (γραμματιστής) in teaching children to read & write their own or any other tongue, reads and writes nothing but his own name, & taught you when you were a child to read & write nothing but your own name? Did you not write the names of friends & enemies indiscriminately?”—“We did.”—“Did you act contrary to good sense in so doing?”—“No.”—“But you were not confining yourselves to your own business.”—“True.”—“And to give medical attendance, to build, to weave, in short to practise any art, is to transact some business, is it not?”—“Yes.”—“But would a state be well administered if the law were, that each man should weave & dye his own coat, & make his own shoes, &c. and not meddle with other men’s business?”—“No.”—“But if it were sensibly administered it must be well administered.”—“Yes.”—“Then sense does not consist literally in confining oneself to one’s own business.”—“So it seems.”—“Then the person who gave you this definition, meant it, as I said before, as a riddle: or was he some very silly person?”—“No,” answered Charmides, “he was a very wise person.”—“Then it must have been meant as a riddle, because it was difficult to guess what was meant by confining oneself to one’s own business. Can you tell what it is?”—“No,” answered Charmides, “nor perhaps could the author himself,” looking at Critias, & smiling.
Critias, who was evidently the person meant, though he had disclaimed it, interposed in behalf of the definition, and said, that he did not consider these handicraft occupations to be entitled to the name of business. “For Hesiod,” said he, “declares, that business is no disgrace.[*] Do you think he meant that shoemaking & sausageselling* were no disgrace? Work is a different thing from business: Work may be a reproach, but that only is business which is noble and useful. This therefore ought to be considered one’s own business; & all mischievous things, should be considered as foreign to us. In this signification, Hesiod & other wise men thought that the sensible man is he who confines himself to his own business.”
“I thought from the first,” answered Socrates, “that by one’s own, you meant all good things and by business all good works. I have heard Prodicus make a hundred such verbal distinctions. But you may impose names in whatever way you please, only let us know to what thing, each of your names is applied. Let us begin again from the beginning. Sense, you say, is the doing of good things.”—“Yes.”—“He who does evil then is not sensible, you think?”—“And do not you?”—“The question is not what I think, but what you say.”—“I say, that he who does good & avoids evil is sensible, he who does evil & not good, is not sensible, & I am willing to define sense, as the doing of what is good.”—“May be so. But I am surprised if you think that men may be sensible without knowing that they are so.”—“But I do not think so.”—“Do you not think that a physician, in curing a sick man, does what is beneficial both to himself & to the person cured?”—“Yes.”—“Then he does what is right.”—“But he who does what is right, is sensible.”—“Yes.”—“Now, must a physician necessarily know, whether he has done a benefit by curing or not? And in general, must any workman know, as a matter of course, whether the work he has accomplished will or will not turn out beneficial to himself?”—“Perhaps not.”—“Then a physician may sometimes act beneficially or detrimentally, without knowing that he has done so, & may therefore, by your definition, be sensible without knowing it.”
“This,” answered Critias, “is impossible: & if any of my former admissions leads necessarily to this, I had rather retract the admission, than allow that a person may be sensible, not knowing himself. For I think that good sense chiefly consists in self-knowledge, & that the celebrated inscription at Delphi, Know thyself, was intended as a salution from the God, not according to the usual form, Rejoice, but equivalent to this, Be sensible, being a more proper exhortation on meeting, than to rejoice. I will therefore give up all that has been said, in which perhaps you were right, & perhaps I, though neither of us said any thing very clear. But I am now ready to maintain if you deny it that good sense is, to know ourselves.”
Socrates told Critias that he was not to consider him as knowing any thing about the matter, so as either to deny or admit, but that he was ready to join in enquiring into it.
“You say that good sense is to know oneself. Now if it is to know, it is a sort of knowledge.”—“Yes.”—“The knowledge of something.”—“Yes, of oneself.”—“Medicine is the knowledge of what is conducive to health, is it not?”—“Yes.”—“If you were to ask me, what was the use of medicine, or the knowledge of what conduces to health, & what effect it produces, I should answer, It is of great use, for it produces an admirable thing, viz. health.”—“Yes.”—“And if you asked me what is the effect produced by Architecture, or the knowledge of building, I should answer, Edifices; & so forth. Now you ought to be able to tell me, what is the excellent effect produced by good sense, which you say, is the knowledge of oneself.”
“This,” replied Critias, “is not a right question. For good sense is not like other branches of knowledge, nor are they like each other; but you interrogate as if they were. Can you shew any effect produced by arithmetic, or geometry, or many other arts, in the manner in which cloth is produced by weaving, or houses by architecture? You cannot.”—“True. But I can shew you in each of these branches of knowledge, something, different from the knowledge itself, something which is the subject of the knowledge, something which it is the knowledge of. For instance, arithmetic is the knowledge of number, which is not the same thing with arithmetic: Statics, is the knowledge of the specific gravities of bodies, which are a different thing from Statics itself.”—“True.”—“What, then, is Good Sense the knowledge of, different from Good Sense itself?”
“You mistake again,” answered Critias, “in the same way: You have hit upon the very point which distinguishes good sense from all other kinds of knowledge, & you are looking for a resemblance between them. All other kinds of knowledge, are knowledge of other things, but not of themselves: Good Sense, is a knowledge likewise of itself. And you know this well, but you are doing what you just now disclaimed, you are attempting to refute me, not regarding the subject itself.”—“You are wrong,” answered Socrates, “in supposing that even if I do refute you, I do so on any other account than that which would induce me, in a similar case, to enquire into the grounds of my own notions, that I might not fancy that I knew the subject when I did not. And I am now enquiring into this subject, chiefly for my own sake, next perhaps for that of my friends. Do you not think it a common advantage to all men, that the nature of all things should be explained & cleared up?”—“Extremely so.”—“Answer, then, & do not mind whether you or I be refuted, but attend to the argument & see whether that can be refuted & what is the consequence if it be.”—“I will do so, for what you say appears reasonable.”—“Tell me, then, what you say with respect to Good Sense?”
“I say,” answered Critias, “that it alone of all kinds of knowledge, is knowledge of itself & of the other kinds of knowledge.”—“Then if it be a knowledge of knowledge, it is likewise a knowledge of ignorance?”—“Yes.”—“Then, the sensible man alone will know himself, & will be able to distinguish, what he knows & what he does not know; and likewise, he & no other will be able to judge of other men, what they know, & what they fancy they know when they really do not. And Good Sense & self-knowledge consist in knowing what we know & what we are ignorant of. Is this your meaning?”—“Yes.”—“Let us then first enquire, whether it be a possible thing or not, to know what we know & what we are ignorant of: & next, if it be possible, what would be the use of it to us.”—“Certainly.”—“I, then,” said Socrates, “am puzzled. Is this knowledge, of which you are speaking, the knowledge of nothing whatever but of itself & of other kinds of knowledge, & of ignorance?”—“Certainly.”—“This is very paradoxical: for if you make the same supposition in other things, it will appear to you impossible.”—“How?”—“Do you think, that there is a faculty of sight, which is not the sight of any visible object, but of itself & other faculties of sight & of non-sight, & which does not see any colour, but sees itself & other seeing faculties?”—“Certainly not.”—“Or is there any hearing faculty, which hears, not any sound, but only itself & other hearing faculties?”—“No.”—“Or any desire, which desires, not any pleasure, but itself & other pleasures?”—“No.”—“Or any will, which wills, not any good, but itself & other wills?”—“No.”—“Or any love, which loves, not any lovely object, but itself & other loves?”—“No.”—“Or any fear, which fears itself & other fears, but does not fear any danger?”—“No.”—“Or any thinking faculty, which thinks itself & other thinking faculties, but does not think any particular thought?”—“No.”—“But there is a Knowledge which is not the knowledge of any Acquirement, but of itself & other knowledges.”—“There is.”—“Is not this paradoxical? Let us not however for that reason pronounce it untrue, but enquire whether it is true or no.”
“This knowledge is the knowledge of something.”—“Yes.”—“That which is larger, too, must be larger than something.”—“Yes.”—“Than something smaller.”—“Undoubtedly.”—“Then if we could find any larger thing, which is larger than itself & other larger things, but is not larger than those things than which other things are larger, would not this thing if it be larger, be also smaller, than itself?”—“Of necessity.”—“And if there be any thing, which is double of all other doubles & of itself, it must likewise be half of itself: for whatever is double, is the double of a half. And what is more than itself, must be less than itself, what is heavier must be lighter; what is older, must be younger, &c.; in short, whatever is itself the object to which its distinguishing quality is referred, must likewise have in itself the opposite & correlative quality or object. For instance, hearing, is always relative to a voice.”—“It is.”—“Then if hearing hears itself, it hears itself hearing a voice.”—“Yes.”—“And if sight sees itself, sight must have some colour: for that which has no colour cannot be seen.”—“Certainly.”—“In the case of some of the things, therefore, which we have supposed to be their own objects, or correlatives, the supposition is clearly impossible; & in the remainder it appears extremely unlikely. We need, therefore, a man equal to the task of deciding, whether there is nothing which is capable of being the object to which its own distinguishing property is relative; or whether some things are capable & others not; & if some things are capable, whether knowledge is one of them, which, in that case, we have termed Good Sense. I do not esteem myself to be equal to this task. And I can neither affirm there may be a Knowledge of knowledge, nor if there is, can I admit that it is the same thing with Good Sense, until I have examined whether a knowledge of this sort would benefit us or not. For I conceive Good Sense to be something noble & beneficial. Do you therefore shew, first, that there can be a Knowledge of knowledge & of ignorance, next that besides being possible, it is likewise useful.”
Critias being puzzled & talking obscurely to hide his embarrassment, Socrates proposed that they should for the sake of the argument, allow that such a thing as Knowledge of knowledge may exist. “Supposing this to be possible, how would it enable a man the more to know what things he knows and what he is ignorant of? For we said that in this consists Self-knowledge, and good sense.”—“Surely,” answered Critias. “If a man has that knowledge which knows itself, he becomes such as this knowledge, which he has. When a man has swiftness, he is swift; when he has beauty, he is beautiful; when he has knowledge, he is knowing. When therefore he has that knowledge which is knowledge of itself, he comes to know himself.”—“I do not doubt that: When he has that which is self-knowing, he will know himself: But will he therefore know what things he knows & of what he is ignorant?”—“That is the same thing.”—“Perhaps: but I am just as I was before, still puzzled: for I do not understand, that to know what things we know, is the same as to know of what we are ignorant.”—“What do you mean?”—“I mean this. Will the knowledge of knowledge, be capable of any thing more than to distinguish that this is knowledge & that is not knowledge?”—“Nothing else.”—“And is the knowledge & ignorance of the Salubrious, the same as the knowledge & ignorance of the Just?”—“No.”—“The one is Medicine, the other Politics, but we are speaking only of Knowledge. Now we must suppose a person who does not know the Salubrious, nor the Just, but only knows Knowledge. This person will be able to discern, whether or not he knows something, & has some knowledge, and the same of any one else.”—“Yes.”—“But how can he, merely by this knowledge, distinguish what it is which he knows? For the Salubrious is to be known not by good sense, but by Medicine, the Harmonious, not by good sense but by Music; the Architectural, not by good sense but by Architecture.”—“So it seems.”—“If therefore good sense be only the Knowledge of knowledge, how can he by means of it, know that he knows the Salubrious, or the Architectural?”—“Not at all.”—“Then he who is ignorant of these separate sciences will not know what he knows, but only that he knows something.”—“So it appears.”—“Then good sense does not consist in knowing what things he knows & does not know, but only in knowing that he does know or does not know.”—“It would seem so.”—“Neither then will he be able to put to the test any other man who asserts that he knows something, & distinguish whether he really knows what he says he knows, or not: He will only know, that the man has some knowledge, but Good Sense will not enable him to know of what.”—“Allowed.”—“Then he will not be able to distinguish a real from a pretended physician, & so on. This may be seen from the following circumstance. If a sensible man, or any other man, wishes to distinguish a real from a sham physician, what will he do?—He will not enter into conversation with him on the subject of Medicine; for the physician understands only the Salubrious & the Insalubrious: he knows nothing about Knowledge; that we have assigned to good sense alone.”—“We have.”—“But Medicine is Knowledge; therefore the physician knows nothing on the subject of Medicine.”—“True.”—“The sensible man will therefore know, that the physician has some knowledge; but if he wishes to try what knowledge, will he not enquire, What things it is the knowledge of? Do we not after having ascertained that what is in question is some Knowledge, ascertain what knowledge by asking what is it the knowledge of?”—“Yes.”—“Medicine is distinguished from other kinds of knowledge, by its being the knowledge of the Salubrious & the Insalubrious.”—“It is.”—“Then he who wishes to examine Medicine, must examine it in these things, in which it exists, not in those in which it does not exist.”—“True.”—“Then he who wishes to examine the physician, must examine him in the Salubrious and the Insalubrious.”—“So it seems.”—“And he examines him in order to try whether what he says on these subjects is true, & what he does, proper?”—“Certainly.”—“Can he do this, but by means of Medicine?”—“No.”—“Nobody then but the Physician can do it; not the sensible man; for he would need to be a Physician into the bargain.”—“Yes.”—“If, then, Good Sense is the knowledge only of Knowledge and Ignorance, it cannot distinguish a real from a pretended physician, nor the man who really knows any other thing, from a pretender, except those of one’s own art, whom, of course, all artists can distinguish.”—“So it appears.”—“What, then, is the use of good sense, thus defined? For if, as we at first supposed, the sensible man knew that he knows what he really does know, & that he knows not, what he really does not know, it would be a great advantage to be sensible: for we, & all over whom we had influence, would lead an unerring life: we should never attempt what we knew not how to do, but would find out those who knew, & entrust it to them; nor should we ever permit those whom we could influence, to do any thing but what they could do well, i.e., what they had the knowledge of. A family or a state, or any thing else which was governed by this sort of Good Sense, would be well governed, for every thing in it would be well done, & those who do all things well are happy. These were the effects which we expected from Good Sense, when we thought that it was the knowledge of what we know & know not.”—“Yes.”—“But it now appears that no such knowledge exists.”—“It does.”—“Perhaps, the use of this Good Sense, which is the knowledge of Knowledge & of Ignorance, is only, that he who possesses it is enabled to learn every thing else more easily, & that every thing appears more clearly to him, in as much as, besides the particular thing which he learns, he perceives his knowledge of it likewise. And he will be better able to judge of other men’s knowledge of those particular things which he also has learnt, than those who merely know the particular thing without knowing the knowledge. Is this the advantage which is to be derived from good sense, & have we been looking out for some thing greater than is really to be found?”—“Perhaps it may be so.”
“Perhaps it may,” resumed Socrates: “but perhaps we are wrong altogether. I judge by something extremely strange which occurs to me, respecting good sense, if it is what we now affirm it to be. Let us, if you will grant that it is possible to know knowledge, & that the knowledge of knowledge, would enable us as we supposed at first, to know what things we know & do not know. Granting the possibility of all this, let us enquire whether it would be of any utility. For I think that we were wrong in admitting that sense, if it consisted in this, would be a great good.”—“How?”—“It was a rash admission, that mankind would be greatly benefitted if each man were to perform only what he knows, & to resign what he knows not, to others who know it.”—“Is not this right?”—“I think not.”—“This is strange indeed.”—“So it seems to me. But I think, that if good sense consists in this, it is not clear that it does us any good whatever.”—“Let us hear what you have to say.”—“I dare say that I am wrong; but nevertheless if we have any regard for ourselves, we must examine the thoughts which occur to us, & not carelessly pass them by.”—“True.”—“If good sense, such as we have defined it, governed our actions, every thing would be done according to knowledge, & no sham pilot, or physician or general, pretending to know what he did not, would deceive us. Our bodies would be more healthy than now, we should be exposed to fewer dangers at sea & in war, & all our furniture, clothes, & effects would be constructed by good workmen. If you think fit, we will add a prophetic knowledge of the future, and Good Sense shall be supposed to reject all imposters & induce us to give our confidence to genuine soothsayers & prophets. That the human race, thus directed, would live according to knowledge, I allow: for Good Sense, would not suffer Ignorance to intrude itself. But that, acting according to knowledge, we should act well & be happy, I cannot yet understand.”—“But you will not easily find any other characteristic of acting well, except acting according to knowledge.”—“Instruct me then a little farther. According to what knowledge? The knowledge of shoemaking?”—“Certainly not.”—“Of working in brass?”—“No.”—“In wool, or in timber, & so forth?”—“No.”—“Then we give up the doctrine, that he is happy who lives according to knowledge: for it seems that there may be people living according to knowledge whom you do not call happy. Your happy man, it seems, must live according to the knowledge of some particular subject. Perhaps you mean, the man I mentioned before, who knows the future, the prophet. Do you mean him, or somebody else?”—“Both him & somebody else.”—“Whom? Do you mean, him who besides the future, should know all the past & the present, & be ignorant of nothing? You cannot say that there is any person more knowing than he.”—“Certainly not.”—“I desire, then, to know, what branch of knowledge it is, which makes him happy? All equally?”—“Not equally.”—“Which does it most? Of what past, present, & future things is it the knowledge? Of chess-playing?”—“No.”—“Of number?”—“No.”—“Of the Salubrious?”—“More so.”—“And what most of all?”—“Of Good & Evil.”—“See how you have been drawing me round in a circle, disguising from me that what makes us act well & be happy, is not to live according to Knowledge, though it were the knowledge of all other things, but only according to the single knowledge of Good & Evil. For, take this away, & Medicine will still give us health, Shoemaking, shoes, Weaving, garments. Navigation will save us from drowning, & Generalship will protect us in war. But to accomplish these things well & beneficially, will be wanting.”—“True.”—“Good sense, therefore is not what we said it was; it is that which would be beneficial. It is not the knowledge of knowledge & ignorance, but the knowledge of good & evil.”—“But would not the former be beneficial? For, suppose that Good Sense is the knowledge of knowledges: it would thus survey & rule over all other knowledges, & among others the knowledge of good & evil, & would therefore benefit us.”—“Pray would it give us health, or would that be the result only of medicine? Would it produce all those things, which are the result of the other arts? or would that be reserved for those arts themselves? Did we not admit, that Good Sense is the knowledge solely of knowledge & ignorance, not of any thing else?”—“True.”—“Then it would not give us health.”—“No.”—“That belongs to another art.”—“Yes.”—“Neither then, would it give us Good: for that we have assigned to a different art.”—“We have.”—“How then can Sense be useful, since it does not cause us any good?”—“Not at all, it would seem.”
“You see, then,” added Socrates, “that, as I feared, we are quite wrong, or we never should have come to the conclusion that what is acknowledged to be the noblest of all qualities is useless. We are therefore defeated, & cannot discover to what existing thing the name, Good Sense, was given by its inventor. And yet, we have made many admissions, which the argument did not compel us to. We admitted, that there may be a knowledge of knowledge, though the argument made against it; & we admitted that this knowledge would know the things, which are the subjects of the other kinds of knowledge (tho’ the argument would not allow this either) in order that a sensible man might know what things he knows, & of what he is ignorant. This we admitted, not considering the contradiction of supposing, that what a man is ignorant of, he nevertheless in some sort knows, since he knows himself to be ignorant of it. But with all this readiness of concession we could not discover the truth, but continued to give the name of Good Sense to something which turned out to be useless. I do not mind this so much for myself, but I am vexed on account of you, Charmides, if having not only so much beauty but extraordinary good sense, you will be never the better for it, nor will be in any way benefitted by it in your life: And I am vexed on account of the incantation which the Thracian taught me, that I learned with much trouble a thing which is good for nothing. I cannot believe that this is so, but rather conclude, that I am an unskilful enquirer, that Good Sense is in reality a great good, & that if you possess it you are fortunate. But see whether you have it, & do not require the incantation: for if you have it, I would advise you to think me a trifler & unable to investigate any thing, but to think yourself the more sensible you are, by so much the happier.”
Charmides answered, “I do not know whether I have it or not: how can I, since even you two are not able to discover what it is? But for all that, I am not persuaded by you; I think myself to have much need of the incantation, & I have no objection to have it administered by you as often as you please.”—“It will,” said Critias, “be to me a proof of your Good Sense, if you do allow Socrates to administer it, without intermission.”—“It would be very wrong,” answered Charmides, “if I did not obey you, who are my guardian.” And the dialogue ends with some lively conversation between Socrates & the other two, at the conclusion of which Socrates consents to do what they require.
This dialogue, therefore, like the Laches, terminates without any definite result, & can only be considered, like so many other works of Plato, to be a mere dialectical exercise, in which various ideas are thrown out, but no opinion definitely adhered to or maintained.
[* ]σώϕρων, ϕρονέω, ϕρόνησις.
[† ]The French word sagesse is nearly an exact synonyme of σωϕροσύνη, having the same ambiguities—expressing the same mixture of moral & intellectual qualities. To us with whom these different virtues are not jumbled under one name, there is no difficulty in distinguishing them. But it may easily be understood, that to a Greek the difficulty was great. We ourselves are apt to imagine that what bears the same name with another thing is the same likewise in its nature.
[[*] ]See Odyssey, trans. Murray, Vol. II, p. 176 (XVII, 347).
[[*] ]Hesiod, Works and Days, in Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns and Homerica (Greek and English), trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White (London: Heinemann; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 26 (311).
[* ]ταριχοπώλης, a seller of salt provision, or pickle.