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Laches

Plato

Part Six (192b–194b)

Part Five (189d–192b)

Part Six (192b–194b), page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary

Laches attempts to provide Socrates with his complete definition of courage by stating that all cases of courage are "a sort of endurance of the soul." Socrates, however, responds that not every kind of endurance seems to be courage. To further his point, Socrates asks Laches if he would consider courage to be a noble quality, to which Laches replies that he would. Socrates then asks Laches if he would consider a wise endurance to be good and noble, to which Laches replies that he would. Socrates then asks Laches what he would say of a foolish endurance and whether that would not be regarded as evil and hurtful. Laches agrees with Socrates that such endurance would be evil and hurtful.

With this distinction in mind, Laches revises his definition of courage to include only the wise endurance of the soul and not the foolish endurance. In response, however, Socrates questions the notion of wise. He asks Laches whether it would be an example of courage if a man were to show endurance by spending his money wisely, knowing that by spending, he will acquire more in the end. Socrates similarly asks if it would be considered a case of courage if a person in battle calculated that the forces of his own army had outnumbered the other forces and that therefore he would have little chance of getting injured. Socrates continues to ask who would seem to be the more courageous one, the soldier who wisely calculates his superior position and then endures, or the soldier who enters the battle foolishly and then endures against all odds. To this question, Laches naturally answers that the soldier who enters battle foolishly is the more courageous of the two.

Having established that in this case a foolish endurance is more courageous than a wise endurance, Socrates goes on to further contradict Laches's theory—that courage is a wise endurance of the soul—by citing other examples in which a foolish endurance seems more courageous than a wise endurance. Socrates remarks how a soldier who fights on horses having no knowledge of them seems more courageous than the trained cavalryman who fights with wisdom of horses. A person who attempts to use a sling or a bow in battle having no knowledge of the craft seems more courageous than a person who uses such weapons with knowledge of them. A person who descends a well in diving and cannot swim is obviously more courageous than a person who descends a well and can swim.

Thus, Socrates fully contradicts Laches's theory that courage is only a wise endurance of the soul. Having done so, however, Socrates continues to explore the paradoxes of this result. Socrates states that before he and Laches had assumed that foolish endurance was base and hurtful to them. Since courage was considered to be a noble quality, they assumed that it could not be base and hurtful and therefore not foolish. But now Socrates states, "on the contrary we are saying that the foolish endurance, which was before held in dishonor, is courage." At this point, Socrates notes that their words and their deeds are most severely out of tune with one another in the way that Laches fears. To try to focus their discussion, Socrates suggests that they practice what they are speaking of. Namely, he wishes that he and Laches would themselves practice courage and endurance in their search for the meaning of those words. Despite Socrates's optimism, however, Laches is in despair at not being able to express the meaning of courage especially since, as a great warrior, he has experienced so much of it.

Analysis

This section begins and ends with Laches's failed attempts to define the meaning of courage in a most universal and abstract way. Socrates's basic methodology in the section is to make Laches state what seems to be an obvious fact about courage, only to show how it fails to cover every case of what might be considered courage. Socrates then forces Laches to make a statement about courage that covers the new situation, but more often then not this new statement about courage is contradictory with the old one.

Socrates first asks if Laches considers courage to be a noble quality and Laches replies positively. Since courage is a part of virtue, which is always noble, it is fundamental to the definition of courage that it also be a noble quality. Having established that courage is noble, Socrates asks Laches if even a foolish endurance, which is evil and hurtful, is also courageous. It has been stated that courage is a noble quality. It has also been stated that foolish endurance is evil and hurtful. Since nothing that is evil and hurtful can be noble, then nothing that is evil and foolish can exemplify courage. And since nothing that is evil and hurtful can be courage, then foolish endurance cannot be courage. Thus, Socrates with pointed questions whittles down the definition of courage to a mere wise endurance.

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