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Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 2, 2008

Ancient Philosophy

Hyeok Yu
Pages 213-226

Plato’s Charmides
Temperance, Incantation, and the Unity of the Dialogue

Plato’s Charmides has generally been regarded as an aporetic dialogue, which attempts to define temperance (swfrosu/nh) and ends in aporia, without any positive answer. My paper aims to understand the dialogue as suggesting positive answers to the questions about the nature of temperance. I am focusing on the following: at the outset of the dialogue Socrates is supposed to cure Charmides’ headache; the cure is not only a matter of bodily care, but also a matter of care for one’s soul. Quoting a Thracian doctor, he maintains the soul needs to be treated by using certain charms, which are beautiful words (tou\j lo/gouj ... tou\j kalou/j), and that from such beautiful words temperance comes into being in souls; once temperance has come into being and is present in the souls, then it is easy to bring about health both for the head and for the rest of the body (157a3-b1). This was the initial point from which the interlocutors begin to investigate whether temperance is present in Charmides, and what temperance is. Even by the end of the dialogue, however, Charmides has not been proved to have temperance; he is still in need of charms. Apparently Socrates has not given any charm he promised to Charmides. In a sense, only the argument/discussion itself can be considered as a sort of incantation, insofar as it will cure the soul of Charmides. But I suggest there is actually a hint in the dialogue: the Delphic inscription –“Know thyself!”- can be taken as beautiful words which are worth reciting with a full understanding of its implications, though it is not presented by Socrates but by Critias. This will explain the unity of the Charmides.

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