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Laches

Plato

Part Seven (194b–197c)

Part Six (192b–194b)

Part Seven (194b–197c), page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary

Having exhausted Laches with his elenchus, Socrates invites Nicias to join in the debate with them. Nicias quickly replies that he believes Socrates to have been going about trying to define courage the wrong way. Nicias begins by quoting a phrase that he once heard from the mouth of Socrates, "every man is good in that which he is wise, and bad in that in which he is unwise." Nicias continues that if the courageous man is good, then he is also wise and that therefore all courageous men are wise. Nicias moves from this point to say that courage itself is neither foolish nor wise but is itself a kind of wisdom.

Socrates proceeds to question Nicias about the kind of wisdom he believes courage to be. He first asks if it is the kind of wisdom that "plays the lyre." Nicias responds that it is not, but rather that "courage is the knowledge of that which inspires fear or confidence in war or in anything." Laches, however, objects to Nicias, claiming that certainly there is a difference between courage and wisdom. Laches, in an effort to disprove the point made by Nicias examines several analogies. Laches states that physicians study the dangers of disease and husbandmen study the dangers of husbandry. However, just because such people have knowledge of that which inspires them with confidence or fear in their own arts, they are not more courageous for this fact alone.

Nicias responds to Laches that he is confused in thinking that the physician's knowledge of illness extends beyond the nature of health and disease. He claims that Laches is falsely assuming that a physician has knowledge of whether health or illness is more terrible to a person or whether life is always better than death. The only person who has knowledge of such things according to Nicias is the man who is skilled in the grounds of fear and hope, and that man, Nicias says, is courageous.

At this point, Laches retorts that Nicias is equating the courageous man with the soothsayer. Laches argues that it is a soothsayer who best knows the grounds of hope and fear since soothsayers must know best in a given situation whether it is better to live or to die. In response to this, Nicias claims that soothsayers are not courageous for they do not know the grounds of fear and hope. Soothsayers, according to Nicias "ought only to know the signs of things that are about to come to pass." That is to say, soothsayers may only predict if something is going to pass. Nicias claims that only the courageous, who know the grounds of fear and hope would be qualified to say whether it is better to suffer or not to suffer once the situation is at hand.

Laches aptly criticizes Nicias for being as confusing as possible. Socrates then steps in to resolve the debate between the two men. Socrates restates Nicias's argument that since courage is the knowledge of the grounds of hope and fear, neither the soothsayer nor the physician possesses such a skill. Furthermore, if neither a physician nor a soothsayer is capable of having such knowledge, Socrates argues, then there is also no wild animal wise enough to have such knowledge. Socrates goes on to say that according to Nicias's doctrine of courage, he cannot admit that any wild beast, whether a lion, leopard, or boar, is courageous. Socrates claims that upon this view one cannot say that a lion or bull is any more courageous than a stag or a monkey.

Nicias, however, embraces this criticism of Socrates, claiming that he would not wish to describe any animal as courageous. Nicias proceeds to draw a distinction between what he calls "fearlessness" and courage. Nicias states that animals have no fear of danger because they lack understanding. To him, they are only "fearless and senseless." Nicias says no sooner would he call an animal courageous than he would call courageous an unknowing child stumbling into battle. Nicias believes that the thoughtful quality of courage is possessed by the few thinking men who have the wisdom and knowledge of the grounds of fear and hope. For this exclusivity, Laches accuses Nicias of dressing himself up in words "while seeking to deprive of the honor of courage those whom all the world acknowledges to be courageous."

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