Laches (dialogue)

Laches (dialogue)

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Laches (dialogue)'
Start a new discussion about 'Laches (dialogue)'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
The Laches is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

. Participants in the discourse present competing definitions of the concept of courage
Courage
Courage is the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation...

.

Characters

  • Socrates
    Socrates
    Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

  • Lysimachus - Son of the Athenian general and statesman, Aristides
    Aristides
    Aristides , 530 BC – 468 BC was an Athenian statesman, nicknamed "the Just".- Biography :Aristides was the son of Lysimachus, and a member of a family of moderate fortune. Of his early life, it is only told that he became a follower of the statesman Cleisthenes and sided with the aristocratic party...

    .
  • Melesias - A friend of Lysimachus.
  • Nicias
    Nicias
    Nicias or Nikias was an Athenian politician and general during the period of the Peloponnesian War. Nicias was a member of the Athenian aristocracy because he had inherited a large fortune from his father, which was invested into the silver mines around Attica's Mt. Laurium...

     - Athenian general and statesman, son of Niceratus.
  • Laches - Athenian general and statesman, son of Melanopus.
  • Aristides - Son of Lysimachus and grandson of the eponymous general and statesman.

Has Military Education a Place in Higher Education? [178a-180a]


Lysimachus, son of Aristides
Aristides
Aristides , 530 BC – 468 BC was an Athenian statesman, nicknamed "the Just".- Biography :Aristides was the son of Lysimachus, and a member of a family of moderate fortune. Of his early life, it is only told that he became a follower of the statesman Cleisthenes and sided with the aristocratic party...

, and Melesias, son of Thucydides
Thucydides (politician)
Thucydides was a prominent politician of ancient Athens and the leader for a number of years of the powerful conservative faction. While it is likely he is related to the later historian Thucydides son of Olorus, the details are uncertain; maternal grandfather and grandson fits the available...

 (not the historian Thucydides
Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

), request advice from Laches
Laches (person)
Laches was an Athenian aristocrat and general during the Peloponnesian War. His date of birth is unknown, but Plato asserts, not implausibly, that he was distinctly older than Socrates, who was born around 470 BC.In 427 BCE, Laches and Charoeades were sent to Sicily with a fleet of 20 ships in...

 and Nicias
Nicias
Nicias or Nikias was an Athenian politician and general during the period of the Peloponnesian War. Nicias was a member of the Athenian aristocracy because he had inherited a large fortune from his father, which was invested into the silver mines around Attica's Mt. Laurium...

 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, one for and one against, they seek Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

 for council.

Laches Introduces Socrates to the Discussion [180a-181d]


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
Virtue
Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality subjectively deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being....

, and more specifically courage
Courage
Courage is the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation...

, 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.

Nicias on the Virtues of Fighting in Armour [181e-182d]


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 on the Futility of Fighting in Armour [182e-184c]


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.

The Need for Expert Advice: Are the Generals Qualified to Speak about Education? [184d-187d]


Melesias and Lysumachus 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.

The Generals Agree to Cooperate with Socrates and Put Their Expertise to the Test [187e-189d]


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
Solon
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...

, Laches agrees to participate in Socrates' inquiry because he likes to learn from good men.

The Need to Define Bravery [189d-190d]


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 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' First Definition: To be Brave is to Stand and Fight [190e-192b]


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' Second Definition: bravery is Endurance [192b-193d]


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.

Impasse: Nicias is Asked to Help [193e-194c]


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' Definition: Bravery is a Special kind of Knowledge [194d-196c]


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".

Implications of Nicias' Definition: can Animals and Children be Brave? [196d-197e]


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 has Defined Goodness, Not Bravery [198a-199e]


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.

The Discussion Breaks Up: Socrates Suggests They All Have Much to Learn [200a-201a]


And so, in the end, Socrates finds both his companions' theories to be unsatisfactory, and the dialogue ends in aporia
Aporia
Aporia denotes, in philosophy, a philosophical puzzle or state of puzzlement, and, in rhetoric, a rhetorically useful expression of doubt.-Definitions:...

, the Greek term for philosophical confusion.

Critical commentary


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
Socratic method
The Socratic method , named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas...

 as an end in itself; that debate is the central premise and function of the dialogue. Others, such as Gregory Vlastos
Gregory Vlastos
Gregory Vlastos was a scholar of ancient philosophy, and author of several works on Plato and Socrates. He was also a Christian and has written on Christian faith as well.-Life and works:...

, see the dialogue ending because of the specific deficiencies of the characters' definitions.

External links