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The Laches ( // ; Greek: Λάχης) is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato. Participants in the discourse present competing definitions of the concept of courage.
The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BCE by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by medieval Greek.
Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought, and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.
Courage is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Physical courage is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship, death or threat of death, while moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss.
Socrates was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher, of the Western ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, he made no writings, and is known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers writing after his lifetime, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. Other sources include the contemporaneous Antisthenes, Aristippus, and Aeschines of Sphettos. Aristophanes, a playwright, is the main contemporary author to have written plays mentioning Socrates during Socrates' lifetime, though a fragment of Ion of Chios' Travel Journal provides important information about Socrates' youth.
Aristides was an ancient Athenian statesman. Nicknamed "the Just", he flourished in the early quarter of Athens' Classical period and is remembered for his generalship in the Persian War. The ancient historian Herodotus cited him as "the best and most honourable man in Athens", and he received similarly reverent treatment in Plato's Socratic dialogues.
Nicias, was an Athenian politician and general during the period of the Peloponnesian War. Nicias was a member of the Athenian aristocracy and had inherited a large fortune from his father, which was invested in the silver mines around Attica's Mt. Laurium. Following the death of Pericles in 429 BC, he became the principal rival of Cleon and the democrats in the struggle for the political leadership of the Athenian state. He was a moderate in his political views and opposed the aggressive imperialism of the democrats. His principal aim was to conclude a peace with Sparta as soon as it could be obtained on terms favourable to Athens.
Lysimachus, son of Aristides, and Melesias, son of Thucydides (not the historian Thucydides), request advice from Laches and Nicias on whether or not they should have their sons (who are named after their famous grandfathers) trained to fight in armor. After each gives their opinion, Nicias for and Laches against, they seek Socrates for counsel.
Thucydides was an Athenian historian and general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the fifth-century BC war between Sparta and Athens until the year 411 BC. Thucydides has been dubbed the father of "scientific history" by those who accept his claims to have applied strict standards of impartiality and evidence-gathering and analysis of cause and effect, without reference to intervention by the deities, as outlined in his introduction to his work.
Socrates questions what the initial purpose of the training is meant to instill in the children. Once they determine that the purpose is to instill virtue, and more specifically courage, Socrates discusses with Laches and Nicias what exactly courage is. The bulk of the dialogue is then the three men (Laches, Nicias and Socrates) debating various definitions of courage.
Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness. In other words, it is a behavior that shows high moral standards. Doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. The opposite of virtue is vice.
Nicias argues in favor of an education in fighting in armour for young men. He mentions that it promotes physical fitness, prepares a man for military duties, gives an advantage over untrained opponents, helps one understand military strategy, makes one braver, and gives one a martial appearance.
Laches argues against the need for fighting in armour by claiming that the Spartans do not practice it; the instructors that Laches has seen are not brave soldiers and so have not benefitted from this knowledge; and it causes cowards to take foolish and damaging military risks.
Melesias and Lysimachus ask Socrates to decide which side is correct. Socrates begins by trying to clarify what the actual topic is. He determines that the issue is the care of young men's character and asks if there are qualified teachers for this. Socrates confesses not to be skilled in this and assumes that Laches and Nicias are either versed in character building or else know of experts in that field. Socrates proposes to question them about this to see if they have qualified expertise.
Nicias warns about Socrates' philosophical methods of getting the interlocuter to examine their own conscience. Laches states that he likes to hear discussions that are "musical", when a person's discourse is in tune with their actions. Paraphrasing Solon, Laches agrees to participate in Socrates' inquiry because he likes to learn from good men.
Solon was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker and poet. He is remembered particularly for his efforts to legislate against political, economic and moral decline in archaic Athens. His reforms failed in the short-term, yet he is often credited with having laid the foundations for Athenian democracy. He wrote poetry for pleasure, as patriotic propaganda, and in defence of his constitutional reforms.
Socrates uses a medical analogy to help define goodness: If eyes can be improved by adding sight to them, then a boys' character can be improved by adding goodness to it. As knowledge of what sight is is necessary before it can be considered as an improvement, so too it is necessary to have knowledge of what good is before it is used to improve a character. Rather than try to define what the whole of goodness is, Socrates thinks it would be easier to define an aspect of goodness that is relevant to the question: bravery.
Laches advances that to be brave is to be a soldier who can hold his position in combat without running away. Socrates explains that his definition is very specific to military infantry and what he was really looking for is a notion of bravery that pertains to all military situations and extends to all situations in life.
Laches offers an opinion that courage is "a certain perseverance of the soul". However, Socrates challenges this idea by arguing that there are many instances in battle when the prudent thing to do is to withdraw or flee. Since courage is a virtue, Socrates argues, it cannot contradict prudence, and therefore the idea that courage always demands perseverance must be false. Laches is forced to admit this contradiction.
Socrates expresses his perplexity in trying to account for bravery. Laches wishes to pursue the conversation, saying that he has a sense of what bravery is, but is not able to express it properly. Socrates states that like a good huntsman pursuing a trail, they must persevere in the search for their quarry. They invite Nicias to give his definition of bravery.
Nicias then offers another definition. He suggests that courage is "knowledge of what is to be feared and hoped for both in war and in all other matters".
Since bravery is the knowledge of what is fearful and encouraging, Socrates asks if a pig could be brave. Nicias denies that animals can be brave as he believes that a certain amount of wisdom is necessary for bravery and that very few people can be considered brave. Socrates playfully suggest that Nicias is being influenced by a sophist named Damon and offers to respond to Nicias' assertion.
Nicias agrees that something 'fearful' is the expectation of a future evil and something 'hopeful' is the expectation of a future good. Socrates then argues that full knowledge of any subject involves an understanding not only of future matters, but also of past and present. Thus if courage is the knowledge of future evils and goods, it must also necessarily be the knowledge of those of the present and past too. He then asserts that Nicias' definition actually amounts to a definition of all virtue (since it implies knowledge of all good and evil) and therefore, since courage is in fact only a part of virtue, a contradiction arises and the definition must be false.
And so, in the end, Socrates finds both his companions' theories to be unsatisfactory, and the dialogue ends in aporia, an English term derived from the ancient Greek ἀπορία meaning "philosophical confusion".
In philosophy, Aporia is a puzzle or state of puzzlement. In rhetoric, it is a useful expression of doubt.
There are many different interpretations as to why the dialogue ends in aporia. Certain commentators, such as Iain Lane, view the Socratic method of elenchus as an end in itself; that debate is the central premise and function of the dialogue[ citation needed ]. Others, such as Gregory Vlastos, see the dialogue ending because of the specific deficiencies of the characters' definitions.
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The Socratic method, also known as method of Elenchus, elenctic method, or Socratic debate, is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions. It is a dialectical method, involving a discussion in which the defense of one point of view is questioned; one participant may lead another to contradict themselves in some way, thus weakening the defender's point. This method is named after the Classical Greek philosopher Socrates and is introduced by him in Plato's Theaetetus as midwifery (maieutics) because it is employed to bring out definitions implicit in the interlocutors' beliefs, or to help them further their understanding.
Euthyphro, by Plato, is a Socratic dialogue whose events occur in the weeks before the trial of Socrates, between Socrates and Euthyphro. The dialogue covers subjects such as the meaning of piety and justice.
Protagoras is a dialogue by Plato. The traditional subtitle is "or the Sophists". The main argument is between the elderly Protagoras, a celebrated Sophist, and Socrates. The discussion takes place at the home of Callias, who is host to Protagoras while he is in town, and concerns the nature of Sophists, the unity and the teachability of virtue. A total of twenty-one people are named as present.
Meno is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato. It appears to attempt to determine the definition of virtue, or arete, meaning virtue in general, rather than particular virtues, such as justice or temperance. The first part of the work is written in the Socratic dialectical style and Meno is reduced to confusion or aporia. In response to Meno's paradox, however, Socrates introduces positive ideas: the immortality of the soul, the theory of knowledge as recollection (anamnesis), which Socrates demonstrates by posing a mathematical puzzle to one of Meno's slaves, the method of hypothesis, and, in the final lines, the distinction between knowledge and true belief.
The Socratic problem is a term used in historical scholarship concerning attempts at reconstructing a historical and philosophical image of Socrates based on the variable, and sometimes contradictory, nature of the existing sources on his life. Scholars rely upon the extant sources such as those of contemporaries like Aristophanes or disciples of Socrates like Plato and Xenophon for knowing anything about Socrates. However, these sources contain contradictory details of his life, words, and beliefs when taken together. This complicates the attempts at reconstructing the beliefs and philosophical views held by the historical Socrates. It is apparent to scholarship that this problem is now deemed a task seeming impossible to clarify and thus perhaps now classified as unsolvable.
Socratic dialogue is a genre of literary prose developed in Greece at the turn of the fourth century BC. It is preserved in the works of Plato and Xenophon. The discussion of moral and philosophical problems between two or more characters in a dialogue is an illustration of one version of the Socratic method. The dialogues are either dramatic or narrative and Socrates is often the main participant.
The Menexenus is a Socratic dialogue of Plato, traditionally included in the seventh tetralogy along with the Greater and Lesser Hippias and the Ion. The speakers are Socrates and Menexenus, who is not to be confused with Socrates' son Menexenus. The Menexenus of Plato's dialogue appears also in the Lysis, where he is identified as the "son of Demophon", as well as the Phaedo.
Sophroniscus, husband of Phaenarete, was the father of the Philosopher Socrates.
Aeschines of Sphettus or Aeschines Socraticus, son of Lysanias, of the deme Sphettus of Athens, was a philosopher who in his youth a follower of Socrates. Historians call him Aeschines Socraticus—"the Socratic Aeschines"—to distinguish him from the more historically influential Athenian orator also named Aeschines. His name is sometimes but now rarely written as Aischines or Æschines
The Clitophon is a 4th-century BC dialogue traditionally ascribed to Plato, though the work's authenticity is debated. It is the shortest dialogue in Plato's traditional corpus. It centers on a discussion between Clitophon and Socrates, with Socrates remaining mostly silent. Most scholarship until recently has been concerned with the authenticity rather than the actual meaning and contents of Clitophon.
The Statesman, also known by its Latin title, Politicus, is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato. The text depicts a conversation among Socrates, the mathematician Theodorus, another person named Socrates, and an unnamed philosopher from Elea referred to as "the Stranger". It is ostensibly an attempt to arrive at a definition of "statesman," as opposed to "sophist" or "philosopher" and is presented as following the action of the Sophist.
The prominent Athenian statesman Alcibiades has been criticized by ancient comic writers and appears in several Socratic dialogues. He enjoys an important afterlife, in literature and art, having acquired symbolic status as the personification of ambition and sexual profligacy. He continues to fascinate the world and appears in several significant works of modern literature.
Laches was an Athenian aristocrat and general during the Peloponnesian War.
Callicles was an ancient Athenian political philosopher best remembered for his role in Plato’s dialogue Gorgias, where he "presents himself as a no-holds-barred, bare-knuckled, clear-headed advocate of Realpolitik". While he provides a counter-argument to Plato’s philosophical ideas, the lack of other contemporaneous sources about him suggests that he may be no more than a character created by Plato for the dialogue. Another idea proposed is that Callicles is a fragment of what Plato may be, had he not Socrates to guide him. He is the antithesis to Socrates.
"I know that I know nothing" is a saying derived from Plato's account of the Greek philosopher Socrates. It is also called the Socratic paradox. The phrase is not one that Socrates himself is ever recorded as saying.
Crito of Alopece was an ancient Athenian agriculturist depicted in the Socratic literature of Plato and Xenophon, where he appears as a faithful and lifelong companion of the philosopher Socrates. Although the later tradition of ancient scholarship attributed philosophical works to Crito, modern scholars do not consider him to have been an active philosopher, but rather a member of Socrates' inner circle through childhood friendship.