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2016 | 5 | 1 | 179-194

Article title

Dialectic, Drama and Self-Knowledge in Plato’s Charmides


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Charmides is a dialogue highly indicative of the importance that the prologues to Plato’s works have for our understanding of the whole spirit and philosophical content of each dialogue as a whole. It is representative of the Platonic tendency to always combine philosophical content with dramatic form through narrative and drama, in order to enhance the reader’s and audience’s insight into the inquiries of his philosophical work. Following this line of presentation, the prologue of Charmides prefigures the understanding of the central themes of the dialogue; focusing on the depiction of Socrates as a therapist and of Dialectic as a therapy or a kind of remedy, which through the process of dialectical engagement and interaction reestablishes the relation of each interlocutor to his own self. The Apollonian ideal of self-knowledge (know thyself) is construed as a “greeting” of the god to worshipers who enter the temple, not as a moral counsel or as a piece of advice. This distinction implies the difference between a knowledge conveyed from without and a knowledge discovered by insightful inner search of one’s self. Within the passages 165c to 175a, sōphrosunē is presented and examined as “the knowledge of what one knows and what one does not know.” It has been claimed that in this part of the dialogue, the Socratic model of self-knowledge is subjected by Plato to the Socratic elenchus, where he attempts to make a criticism of it. I believe that this section of the dialogue is an extended excursus, aimed towards introducing and examining a model of self-knowledge different from that of Socrates, Critias’ model of self-knowledge. This model of self-knowledge poses a whole series of philosophical problems; the relation between the subject and the object of knowledge, the possibility of their identification or the distinction between them, the possibility of the existence of an internal and external object of knowledge, the relation of this model of self-knowledge with other kinds or domains of knowledge, and the question whether external knowledge or knowledge of other knowledges is a constituent of knowledge of knowledge. The question of the possibility of knowledge of knowledge is not definitely rejected, especially if we consider that in all of this discussion there is a hint towards the way in which philosophy works and relates to other kinds of knowledge. I believe, however, that in the last part of the dialogue, where the knowledge of good and bad emerges, Plato again meets Socrates and becomes reconciled with him. The only knowledge that is useful and beneficial is knowledge of good and bad. In this way Plato chooses to put forward a self-conscious model of self-knowledge, which does not presuppose, as Critias’ model does, the critical examination of knowledge or the critical distance from knowledge. This self-conscious model of self-knowledge is connected with the knowledge of good and bad. On the one hand doing of good presupposes knowledge of good and bad and on the other, “doing one’s own things” presupposes self-knowledge. The possibility of knowing good and bad is ensured by each person, either through looking deep within himself or by orientating towards the Idea of the Good itself.









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  • University of Patras, Greece



Guest Editor of the Issue: Piotr Jaroszyński

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Publication order reference



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