domingo, 31 de mayo de 2015

Plato - Laches (English edition).

Nothing can be so opposed to pain that courage. This is what make us do acts which even can be life threatening such as reckless acts for ourselves. Laches is one of many Plato's books related to finding out an appropriate definition on a discussion. Here are many definitions, but regrettably they cannot reach a definitive one. Categorized as a youth book, Laches strongly shares a similar structure with Eutifrón (This one is written in Spanish, sorry) the tireless pursuit of a definition.



  • Lysimachus
  • Laches
  • Nicias
  • Socrates
  • Melesias
  • Aristides

Use of weapons

Dialog begins with Lysimachus talking Nicias and Laches about a man who was wearing an armor. Lysimachus took advantage in order to tell them that he wanted to talk them about teaching children to be the best men.

Lysimachus tell them he is with his son called Aristides and his friend's son Melesias called Thucydides. In order to start the discussion, Lysimachus give them some examples about what he does with his son. One of these are they eat together and they talk frankly about their father's feat, but unfortunately they cannot talk about their own feat. Lysimachus has heard that there is not nothing better than to learn fencing.

Arrival of Socrates

Nicias and Laches accept help them only if they call Socrates. Lysimachus agreed Socrates can talk about this topic and he asks him the following question.

Is fencing useful to learn for young people?

Before Socrates starts the discussion, he ask them, as he was younger at that time, pass the turn to more experienced people in relation to the topic. Socrates will interrupts whenever is necessary. 

Nicias's opinion

Nicias tells us use of weapons is beneficial in all sense. It improves bodies and takes away laziness. Horsemanship is another beneficial discipline to learn because it has the same effect than the previous one. 

He adds that one on one battle is one of the most important activity. Once ranks are broken, a soldier should know how to attack and to protect himself person to person. Then they can learn about tactics and finally he could become a war expert.

Laches's opinion

Laches argues Nicias because the art of war is not a science as many people say. It would be ideal to be a science, but how can we know that? the teacher can deceive us about that. For example, Lacedaemons stopped practicing war; if it is important, why Lacedaemons stopped practicing considering they were the most powerful army? 

In addition, Laches talks about a warrior that was tied on a boat rigging enemy. Beholders were laughing about that issue and even enemies cannot stop laughing.

That is how Laches warns about the possibility of war and wrestling could not be a science, considering what he has experienced.  

Experts should talk

When Laches's discourse finished, Lysimachus tells Socrates to vote for the best option (Beneficial or not beneficial). However, Socrates does not think that is appropriate to be persuade through votes. On the contrary, he thinks it would be better to be persuaded by someone who is an expert about the topic. 

Therefore, Socrates proposes that who knows the topic well, he/she can persuade anyone, even if it is just one. What should be investigated, Socrates says, is if someone in the group can talk about it. 


As anyone is a real expert in this topic, Socrates states to analyze the problem from another perspective. And the definition dialog begins: What is Virtue? Laches tells Socrates it is not necessary to talk about that because anyone can know what virtue is. But Socrates insists on analyzing what virtue is event though just a part of it.

In order to address the issue of fencing, they must research the virtue part related to fencing. This part is called ''Courage'' 

Laches's first definition

Laches states the first definition without any difficulty: 

''If a man is willing to remain at his post and to defend himself against the enemy without running away, then you may rest assured that he is a man of courage''

Nevertheless, Socrates argues Laches's definition because if a man is truly courageous just staying in his place, it does not mean that man is courageous. He gave an example of Spartan Hoplites who were carrying weak shields in the Platea's battle. They could not be able to stay in their position and they left.

In this way, Laches's definition would be too narrow and it would need to be wider because courageous not only implies stay in a position and do not flee. Besides, It can be transferable to other kinds of fights such as marines or horsemanship?

Laches's second definition 

Considering the previous narrow definition, Laches tries another definition again.

''It is a sort of endurance of the soul'' 

Again, Socrates is not convinced with this definition because he is not considering all endurance instances of courage. 

Think about Socrates example:

  • When endurance is accompanied with wisdom is good, but when is accompanied with foolishness, it can not be good.

Thereby, Laches is not considering all kinds of endurance; therefore, it would not be a good definition about courage. Furthermore, What would happen if in battle the most appropriate attitude is to retreat and not to stay? That is why reckless and endurance cannot be good allies. 

Nicias's first definition (and the third definition of courage)

When Socrates and Laches could not reach a definition, they ask for help to Nicias in order to check if he can offer a good one. 

Nicias gives the following definition:

''The knowledge of the fearful and the hopeful in war and in every other situation''. 
Laches cannot understand what Nicias talks about. Laches knew that courage was something separated from the knowledge and now, Nicias says that is related to.

A little bit angry, Laches face Nicias's definition saying that it would not be possible that courage is people with knowledge about fearful and hopeful is courageous.  Indeed, Can we call a doctor or a farmer ''courageous'' because they know about fearful and hopeful?

Nicias argues Laches saying that he did not understand anything. Can doctors understand about sickness fearful? They know about their science, but they do not know what is fearful and hopeful. Only courageous can know what fearful and hopeful is.

Laches says that if doctors cannot be courageous, so, seers have to be because Who else know about fearful but seers? However, Nicias tells him that seers only knows about future and not precisely about fearful and hopeful. Laches asks himself, So who is courageous?

Socrates's intervention about Nicias's definition

It has been demonstrated doctors and farmers cannot be courageous because they do not know what fearful and hopeful is. Then, Socrates asks Nicias if animals are courageous. Nicias says no. They cannot be courageous due to its lack of knowledge. They are just rash and mad. 

Can we call children courageous at the age when sense is not developed? According to Nicias, no. Besides, in order to be courageous they would need knowledge and they did not have it.

Socrates's second intervention

Socrates wants to come back at the beginning in order to analyze in details what they were talking. 

First of all, we have to consider things that produce fearful and hopeful. Things that produce fearful are future evils; on the contrary, things that produce hopeful are future goods. The knowledge of these things make us ''courageous''.

Not only that, Nicias assures courageous is the knowledge of all good and evil things and they are even extent to past and future. Nevertheless, Socrates says if courage has those characteristics, it will no be possible that courageous cannot be a part of virtue, but virtue as a whole.

Finally, they cannot reach a conclusion because it seems to be that Nicias was not talking about courageous, but virtue. 


As most Plato's youth dialogues, there is not a definition or conclusion for what was stated at the beginning. Notwithstanding, we can define what courageous is, not only define it but more important, we can identify and recognized it. However, not all humans have in certain circumstances. 

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