- Laches (dialogue)
Laches, also known as Courage, is a Socratic dialogue written by
Plato, and concerns the topic of courage.Lysimachus, son of Aristides, and Melesias, son of Thucydides (not the historian Thucydides), request advice from Laches and Niciason 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 Socratesfor council. Instead of answering the question, 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.
Laches offers an offhand opinion that courage is "a certain perseverance of the soul". However, Socrates immediately 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 and is subsequently silenced by Socrates' critique.
Nicias then offers another definition, this time from a more philosophical angle. He suggests that courage is "knowledge of future good and evil". Socrates pursues two lines of argument in order to contradict this definition. Firstly, he argues that to know all good and evil means to possess all virtue. Secondly, he argues that in order to fully understand future good and evil, one must also understand past and present good and evil. Socrates is able to convince Nicias that these two lines of argument are true. 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", or confusion.
There are many different interpretations as to why the 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. Others, such as
Gregory Vlastos, see the dialogue ending because of the specific deficiencies of the characters' definitions.
Benjamin Jowett's [http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=1584 1892 translation]
*W. R. M. Lamb's [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Plat.+Lach.+178a 1925 translation]
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