Laches

Summary

Part Six (192b–194b)

Summary Part Six (192b–194b)

Next Socrates proceeds to show that Laches's definition is not only inadequate, but how in many cases courageous action is the exact opposite of a wise endurance. He takes the cases of the cavalryman, the diver, and the fighter with bow or sling and in each case shows that the person who endures without wisdom is more courageous than the person who endures with wisdom. Thus, Socrates has drawn out of Laches two separate premises that unfortunately contradict one another. The first premise is that a person is courageous if he or she endures with wisdom. The second is that a person who endures foolishly is more courageous than a person who endures with wisdom. Socrates points out this contradiction in Laches's search for a definition of courage and concludes that the two of them are not speaking in tune.

By stating that he and Laches are not speaking in tune, Socrates does not mean merely to discourage Laches or emphasize his lack of knowledge (although he does that too). Socrates considers speaking out of tune to mean that one's words do not line up with his deeds. It is a strange fact, not to be lost upon readers, that even a great courageous general seems to be unable to put into words what he believes courage to be. One may interpret this failure in either of two ways. It may seem that Socrates wishes to impress upon Laches that it is impossible to have any sort of knowledge of courage at all since according to Socrates the only genuine piece of knowledge a person can have is that he knows nothing. However, it seems that there must be a difference between an extremely courageous person such as Laches and an ordinary coward. Since there seems to be no one who knows enough about courage to speak of it, perhaps one ought to consider Laches's continuously courageous behavior as a kind of knowledge. One might conclude that knowledge of a virtue such as courage is not known in the way a normal art form is or in the way that instructors in the art of fighting with armor pretend to know what it is. Rather than being the kind of thing that is known consciously and spoken in words, courage may be considered to be the kind of thing only embodied. A person who could speak for hours about the subject of courage, but who behaved cowardly in battle, seems to have little real knowledge of what most people consider "courage." This focus on embodiment rather than on spoken knowledge is re-emphasized again by Socrates when he asks Laches to try to embody the very courage and endurance he seeks in his investigation.