06.14.2018: One Chapter of Nonfiction

Today’s soundtrack is Thelonious Monk: Monk’s Dream.

This morning, I’m reading the third and final part of Socrates’ dialogue “Charmides,” from The Dialogues of Socrates, by Plato. The first part is here; the second is here.

Picking up where I left off, Critias had just agreed with Socrates that “the discovery of things as they truly are [was] a good common to all mankind” (p. 28), and they continued to discuss the meaning of temperance, and whether temperance was the science of self-knowledge and wisdom. Critias asserted that “wisdom is the only science which is the science of itself as well as of other sciences” (p. 28). Now, since any scientific field will also look at what a thing looks like in the absence of that field’s study, then this “science of science [...] will also be the science of the absence of science” (p. 28), said Socrates. Critias agreed. So Socrates summed up what he understood to be Critias’ position on the matter: “[T]his is wisdom and temperance and self-knowledge - for a man to know what he knows, and what he does not know” (p. 29). Critias affirmed that this is his meaning. Having confirmed Critias’ beliefs, Socrates pointed out the two foundational points of Critias’ definition: “let us [...] 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” (p. 29). Socrates then went through a rather long and convoluted series of examples of things and their relationships with themselves, ultimately showing that a science of science and the absence of science was unlikely to exist, and even if it did exist, would probably not be good, and since temperance is good and beneficial, this proposed science could not have been what was meant by temperance. So Critias and Socrates moved on to discuss knowledge of self, and whether it is the same as knowing what one knows and does not know.

Socrates pointed out that knowledge in one field is not the same as knowledge in another field, and said that a science of sciences could not “do more than determine that of two things on is and the other is not science or knowledge” (p. 33); thus, this kind of science could not show a person “that he knows health, or knows building” (p. 34), or does not. Moreover, no wise man could test a pretender of knowledge unless he was specifically trained in the same field as the pretender claimed the be knowledgeable in. So temperance, if the science of wisdom, would not be beneficial; and since temperance is beneficial, temperance could not be the science of sciences. And if the benefit of wisdom is knowing what is known and not known, and wisdom is the science of sciences, but knowing what is known and not known does not make a man wise, then wisdom cannot be this science of sciences. But if a man is aware of his own knowledge and ignorance, then “he who possesses such knowledge will more easily learn anything which he learns” (p. 36). But would this man be wise, or even happy? For is knowledge what leads to happiness? A specific knowledge is not beneficial; a universal knowledge is not beneficial. Only knowledge that enables man to discern good from evil is beneficial, said Critias. Socrates, however, believes that if there is a science of good and evil - and if there is a science of good and evil, “then wisdom or temperance will not be of use” (p. 40), because if “wisdom is the only the knowledge of knowledge and ignorance” (p. 40), but the knowledge of good and evil is not advantageous, wisdom has no advantage to man. So wisdom has no advantage to man, and knowledge is useless, and temperance cannot be defined, lamented Socrates, poking fun at the way that Critias had talked in circles, constantly changing his definitions and meanings. Socrates called himself a fool. Charmides said that he didn’t believe what Socrates was saying; he believed that Socrates did know the nature of “this gift of wisdom and temperance” (p. 42). So Critias told Charmides that the proof of his temperance would be if he would become a follower of Socrates; Socrates accepted.