Plato and the Virtue of Courage
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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This book is dedicated to my parents and their enthusiastic pursuit of, and respect for, education for its own sake. Their loving and generous support has benefited me in too many ways to enumerate. I was able to make significant progress on this book through the financial support of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in the program on Constitutional Government at Harvard University and through the intellectual and moral...
Introduction: The Problem of Courage
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Courage is an essential political virtue and should be of serious interest to anyone interested in politics. Indeed, if only because the courage of its citizenry is crucial to the survival of any nation, courage is arguably the virtue that nations celebrate more than any other, including justice. Consider the lyrics of the national anthems even of liberal democracies, whose peaceable inclinations, from...
Chapter One: Courage and the Education in Virtue
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Plato's Laches, which is subtitled, "On Courage," is his most explicit treatment of courage.1 In the dialogue, two highly esteemed Athenian generals, Laches and Nicias, offer different definitions of courage. Both men would seem to be experts on the subject. At the time when the action of the dialogue occurs, Nicias is not only a leading Athenian general but perhaps the most powerful man in Athens...
Chapter Two: Noble Courage Socrates and Laches
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A fundamental question: why this particular title? That the dialogue bears the name of Laches (and not, say, Nicias) suggests that understanding him and his opinion of courage is somehow integral to understanding the dialogue. We have seen that Laches cares a great deal about courage. He is willing to be examined by Socrates on the subject because he has witnessed Socrates' valor on the...
Chapter Three: Courage and Wisdom: Socrates and Nicias
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Laches' inability to decide whether courage is prudent or foolish steadfastness leaves him and Socrates without a coherent account of courage. Socrates therefore appeals to Nicias to help them discover one. Acceding to Socrates' plea, Nicias claims that he is repeating something that he has often heard Socrates say. Purporting to quote Socrates, he says that "each of us is good...
Chapter Four: The Nature of Spiritedness
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An inquiry into what the Republic has to teach about the relationship between spiritedness and courage must not overlook that this teaching is not the dialogue's primary theme.1 That theme is justice. The bulk of the conversation reported in the Republic deals with the efforts of Socrates and two young companions to construct a city in speech in order to illuminate the nature of...
Chapter Five: The Guardians' Education in Courage
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Socrates' account of political courage emerges as he elaborates how courage should be inculcated in the city's future guardians. His elaboration of the guardians' education emerges by way of his critique and reform of the traditional Homeric teachings about the gods, Hades, and heroes. A fundamental part of this task is taming the guardians' spirited natures, since spiritedness...
Chapter Six: Courage and Philosophy
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A careful examination of Socrates' attempt to cultivate courage in the guardians invites us to investigate the argument underlying Socrates' indication that the "finer" kind of courage is exercised above all with a view to the good of an individual's own soul. Why, in other words, is the noble courage displayed by the guardians in their devotion to the city not as good as courage gets? As we have...
Conclusion: The Promise of Courage
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Despite the differences in their treatments of courage, the Laches and the Republic together yield a single teaching about courage: courage properly understood is both the cause and consequence of wisdom. It is the consequence of wisdom because, as the Laches shows, the tensions that Socrates exposes at the heart of heroic or noble courage establish a coherent standard for courage that is genuinely...
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Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2006