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The Implicit Refutation of Critias 1

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Abstract At Charmides 163, Critias attempts to extricate himself from refutation by proposing a Prodicean distinction between praxis and poiēsis. I argue that this distinction leads him further into contradictions.

1. Graziosi B. Boys-Stones G. R. , Haubold J. H. "‘Hesiod in Classical Athens: Rhapsodes, Orators, and Platonic Discourse’" Plato and Hesiod 2010 Oxford 111 132
2. Hazebroucq M. La Folie Humaine et ses Remèdes. Platon: Charmide ou de la modération 1997 Paris
3. Murphy D. J. "‘Critical Notes on Plato’s Charmides’" Mnemosyne 2007 Vol 60 213 234
4. Roochnik D. L. Of Art and Wisdom: Plato’s Understanding of Techne 1996 University Park, PA
5. Tuckey T. G. Plato’s Charmides 1951 Cambridge
6. Tuozzo T. M. Plato’s Charmides. Positive Elenchus in a ‘Socratic’ Dialogue 2011 Cambridge
7. Wolfsdorf D. Trials of Reason. Plato and the Crafting of Philosophy 2008a Oxford
8. Wolfsdorf D. "‘Hesiod, Prodicus and the Socratics on Work and Pleasure’" Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 2008b Vol 35 1 18
9. FN1 1)I first studied the Charmidesintensively in a seminar that I co-taught with M. M. McCabe at King’s College in the early ’90s. I am grateful to her and to other members of the seminar, including Rafe Woolf and Charles Brittain, for the inspiration behind this paper. And as always, my deepest thanks go to Liz Karns.
10. FN2 2)Hazebroucq 1997, 216: Critias ‘utilise un argument de fait qui revient à dire, sans prendre la responsabilité de le dire, que les métiers des dēmiourgoine sont pas, le plus souvent, de belles occupations, conformément au préjugé aristocratique.’ Wolfsdorf 2008 a, 222, explores the ‘sociopolitical significance’ of the distinction, while his 2008 b, 3 says that Critias’ distinction ‘has an ideological edge’. Tuozzo 2011, 176 n. 31: Critias’ ‘aristocratic sentiments here . . . would be deeply offensive to proponents of Athenian democracy.’
11. FN3 3)Both in Wolfsdorf 2008 b, and in Graziosi 2010, esp. discussion at 120-5.
12. FN4 4)Tuckey 1951, 22; Roochnik 1996, 111: ‘such Prodicean wordplay does not address the serious questions attending the definition.’ Hazebroucq 1997, 224, and 218: ‘Socrate répond à la distinction faite par Critias en la négligeant, en la tenant pour littéralement insignifiante: il est indifférent d’employer tel ou tel terme, pourvu que Critias en explicite chaque fois le sens . . .’
13. FN5 5)And yet the inference from ‘X does the things of others’ to ‘X does not do X’s own thing’ is surely fallacious in general. Compare: Society frowns on adults who do not support themselves; but adults who support their children are supporting someone else, and therefore not supporting themselves; therefore, society frowns on adults who support their children. The point here is not simply that it is possible to do one’s own thing in addition to doing the things of others; it is also possible to do one’s own thing exactly by doing the things of others. These complications lead away from the Charmides, towards the Republic.
14. FN6 6)I apologize for the inelegance of such barbarisms as ‘ poiein-ing’. But it is the best way to keep the relevant Greek words before the reader’s eye. The alternative of introducing fixed translations (e.g. poiein= ‘do’, prattein= ‘make’ etc.) requires the reader to keep track of distinctions that must always be arbitrary in English (which one was ‘do’: poieinor prattein?). In addition, the English words in this case are so ubiquitous that it is hard to avoid using them in the metalanguage, and thus courting more confusion (‘When Critias makes the distinction between making and doing, as he does at 163b, what is he doing by making such a distinction?’). A second apology is needed for my use of the Greek infinitive as the equivalent of finite verbs in English, both in the singular and plural. I could have adjusted every instance to context ( prattousihere and poiuontesthere), but this too would distract from the distinction.
15. FN7 7)I follow Burnet (following Heindorf) in reading eiin 163a11: on this see Murphy 2007. Murphy’s advocacy of interrogative poufor the indefinite poustrikes me as plausible, but with either reading the same sense can be had: Critias asks a question of the form: ‘Did I say Q if I said P?’ and expects the obvious answer to be: ‘No; P does not entail Q.’ But of course P would entail Q if pratteinand poieinwere synonymous, and this thought then provokes Socrates’ next question.
16. FN8 8)Thus Critias first denies that poieinis the same as prattein, and next denies that poieinis the same as ergazesthai. This is consistent with his already believing what he will soon say, that pratteinand ergazesthaiare the same. Wolfsdorf 2008 a, 221 seems not to understand this when he accuses Critias of confusion in the presentation of his distinction: ‘he claims that there is a distinction between doing ( prattein), making ( poiein), and working ( ergazesthai) . . . [H]e explains that things made ( poioumena) finely and usefully are works. In other words, working is a kind of making. However, Critias then identifies works ( ergasiai) and things done ( praxeis). Thus, Critias initially claims that working and doing are distinct, but then identifies the two.’ This charge is misplaced. Critias never initially claimed that ergazesthaiand pratteinwere distinct from each other, only that each was distinct from poiein.
17. FN9 9)Critias says that Hesiod calls things that are done admirably and beneficially erga. In most contexts, this assertion would be compatible with his calling other things ergaas well, e.g. things not done admirably and beneficially. But what he must mean here is that he calls onlysuch things erga. For in the prior sentence he said that no ergonis ever any kind of reproach. The syntactical subject of the Greek sentence is functioning as the logical predicate, an effect we can reproduce in English with cleft constructions such as: ‘It is things done admirably and beneficially that he calls erga.’ The sentence is not answering the question: ‘What does he call the things done admirably and beneficially?’, but rather the question: ‘Which are the things that he calls erga?’
18. FN10 10)In other contexts it might be germane to distinguish poiēsisand ergasiafrom poiēmaand ergonas process-words from product-words. But nothing is made of any such distinction here.
19. FN11 11)This certainly happens with verbs, where ou phēmimeans ‘I deny’ and ou didōmimeans ‘I withhold’. And something like this can happen with urbane accusations, e.g. ‘stranger, this was not done well’, implicating that it was done badly. Cf. Herodotus 5.39, when the Spartan king complains that the ephors advise him ou kalōs, i.e. badly.
20. FN12 12)Hazebroucq 1997 assumes that Critias rules out a tertium quidbetween good and bad, and she condemns his distinction both for that reason, and because it characterizes the extremes by negation of their opposites: ‘La division est cependant mauvaise parce que le critère en est un jugement normative procédant par exclusion, sans qu’on pense ce qui caractérise positivement chacune des deux espèces distinguées: un ergonn’est jamais honteux, un poiēmal’est quelquefois, donc l’ ergasiaou praxisest belle et honorable quand la poiēsisn’est pas honteuse, et la poiēsisest honteuse quand elle n’est pas belle’ (216). In a footnote on the same page (216 n. 2) she compares Critias’ error to the mistake that Socrates makes in Symposium201e-202a, when he responds to Diotima’s assertion that Eros is not beautiful and good, by inferring that Eros must be ugly and bad. Hazebroucq’s comments here are helpful, and I think that she is right that Critias imagines only two options (sc. that every poiēsisis either positively bad or positively good). In the main text, I offer him an additional option simply to show that it will not help him escape from the central incoherence.
21. FN13 13)If one has an account of ‘doing’ that is demanding (e.g. that one is ‘doing’ only when one is acting from a prohairesis) but trivial (in that it is automatically met whenever the agent is assessment-apt), then one can fail to meet the conditions for being temperate, by failing to meet the conditions for performing a demanding doing (e.g. one walks, but not from a prohairesis). But by the same token, one will also fail to be assessment-apt in that regard – one will not be judged intemperate merely for failing to be ‘doing’ anything. That absurdity is avoided.

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Affiliations: 1: Sage School of Philosophy, Cornell University 218 Goldwin Smith Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853-3201 USA


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