LACHES, or, Courage
Persons of the Dialogue : LYSIMACHUS, son of Aristides ; MELESIAS, son of Thucydides ; their sons ; NICIAS ; LACHES ; SOCRATES.
In the discussion of the main thesis of the Dialogue—‘What is Courage?’ the antagonism of the two characters is still more clearly brought out; and in this, as in the preliminary question, the truth is parted between them. Gradually, and not without difficulty, Laches is made to pass on from the more popular to the more philosophical; it has never occurred to him that there was any other courage than that of the soldier; and only by an effort of the mind can he frame a general notion at all. No sooner has this general notion been formed than it evanesces before the dialectic of Socrates; and Nicias appears from the other side with the Socratic doctrine, that courage is knowledge. This is explained to mean knowledge of things terrible in the future. But Socrates denies that the knowledge of the future is separable from that of the past and present; in other words, true knowledge is not that of the soothsayer but of the philosopher. And all knowledge will thus be equivalent to all virtue—a position which elsewhere Socrates is not unwilling to admit, but which will not assist us in distinguishing the nature of courage. In this part of the Dialogue the contrast between the mode of cross–examination which is practised by Laches and by Socrates, and also the manner in which the definition of Laches is made to approximate to that of Nicias, are worthy of attention.
Thus, with some intimation of the connexion and unity of virtue and knowledge, we arrive at no distinct result. The two aspects of courage are never harmonized. The knowledge which in the Protagoras is explained as the faculty of estimating pleasures and pains is here lost in an unmeaning and transcendental conception. Yet several true intimations of the nature of courage are allowed to appear: (1) That courage is moral as well as physical: (2) That true courage is inseparable from knowledge, and yet (3) is based on a natural instinct. Laches exhibits one aspect of courage; Nicias the other. The perfect image and harmony of both is only realized in Socrates himself.