Socrates at Work on Virtue and Knowledge in Plato’s Laches

Part of the Modern Studies in Philosophy book series


Some of Plato’s early works, such as the Laches and the Charmides, have not traditionally received the attention accorded such Socratic dialogues as the Protagoras, the Meno, and the Gorgias. Yet, these subsequent dialogues discuss themes and problems first broached in these earlier works: the theme that virtue is knowledge of good and evil, and that this knowledge is akin to science; the problem of the unity of virtue; the Socratic insistence that practical, ethical problems be solved by appeal to knowledge, not to votes; the problem of how it is possible to know that oneself or others have such knowledge. All these philosophical concerns are treated in perceptive and illuminating discussions in the Laches and the Charmides. Both as introductions to the Socratic method and to subsequent Platonic works, and as original contributions to philosophic problems still of concern today, these dialogues deserve greater study and attention than they have traditionally or recently received. In this essay I wish to begin such a study with an analysis of the Laches.


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  1. 18.
    Prt. 360D. There are a few differences between Nicias’ and Socrates’ definitions, but they do not seem significant. For example, Socrates uses σoϕία rather than ἐπιστήμη, but earlier (357–58) Socrates used both terms to refer to knowledge of good and evil; and the conclusions that Lyons reaches regarding the relations between the two terms further confirms that no great significance can be attached to this difference (John Lyons, Structural Semantics, Oxford, 1963, pp. 227–28).Google Scholar

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© Gregory Vlastos 1971

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