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CHARMIDES, or TEMPERANCE by Plato, Part 04

I think, he said, Socrates, that you are right.
Then once more, Charmides, I said, fix your attention, and look within; consider the effect which temperance has upon yourself, and the nature of that which has the effect. Think over all this, and, like a brave youth, tell me-What is temperance?

After a moment's pause, in which he made a real manly effort to think, he said: My opinion is, Socrates, that temperance makes a man ashamed or modest, and that temperance is the same as modesty.

Very good, I said; and did you not admit, just now, that temperance is noble?

Yes, certainly, he said.
And the temperate are also good?
And can that be good which does not make men good?
Certainly not.
And you would infer that temperance is not only noble, but also good?

That is my opinion.
Well, I said; but surely you would agree with Homer when he says,

Modesty is not good for a needy man?

Yes, he said; I agree.
Then I suppose that modesty is and is not good?
But temperance, whose presence makes men only good, and not bad, is always good?

That appears to me to be as you say.
And the inference is that temperance cannot be modesty-if temperance is a good, and if modesty is as much an evil as a good?

All that, Socrates, appears to me to be true; but I should like to know what you think about another definition of temperance, which I just now remember to have heard from some one, who said, "That temperance is doing our own business." Was he right who affirmed that?

You monster! I said; this is what Critias, or some philosopher has told you.

Some one else, then, said Critias; for certainly I have not.
But what matter, said Charmides, from whom I heard this?
No matter at all, I replied; for the point is not who said the words, but whether they are true or not.

There you are in the right, Socrates, he replied.
To be sure, I said; yet I doubt whether we shall ever be able to discover their truth or falsehood; for they are a kind of riddle.

What makes you think so? he said.
Because, I said, he who uttered them seems to me to have meant one thing, and said another. Is the scribe, for example, to be regarded as doing nothing when he reads or writes?

I should rather think that he was doing something.
And does the scribe write or read, or teach you boys to write or read, your own names only, or did you write your enemies' names as well as your own and your friends'?

As much one as the other.
And was there anything meddling or intemperate in this?
Certainly not.
And yet if reading and writing are the same as doing, you were doing what was not your own business?

But they are the same as doing.
And the healing art, my friend, and building, and weaving, and doing anything whatever which is done by art,-these all clearly come under the head of doing?

And do you think that a state would be well ordered by a law which compelled every man to weave and wash his own coat, and make his own shoes, and his own flask and strigil, and other implements, on this principle of every one doing and performing his own, and abstaining from what is not his own?

I think not, he said.
But, I said, a temperate state will be a well ordered state.
Of course, he replied.
Then temperance, I said, will not be doing one's own business; not at least in this way, or doing things of this sort?

Clearly not.
Then, as I was just now saying, he who declared that temperance is a man doing his own business had another and a hidden meaning; for I do not think that he could have been such a fool as to mean this. Was he a fool who told you, Charmides?

Nay, he replied, I certainly thought him a very wise man.
Then I am quite certain that he put forth his definition as a riddle, thinking that no one would know the meaning of the words "doing his own business."

I dare say, he replied.
And what is the meaning of a man doing his own business? Can you tell me?

Indeed, I cannot; and I should not wonder if the man himself who used this phrase did not understand what he was saying. Whereupon he laughed slyly, and looked at Critias.


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