Nothing Is Of Value If It Lacks the Good

In the dialogue Charmides, Socrates and Critias have an interesting conversation about the interplay between know-how and moral knowledge.

I daresay we can learn something from it.

Socrates and Critias had been discussing what complete knowledge would do in different fields (medicine, prophecy…) when Socrates admits:

“Now I quite agree that mankind, thus provided, would live and act according to knowledge, for wisdom would watch and prevent ignorance from intruding on us.”

And further:

“But whether by acting according to knowledge we shall act well and be happy, my dear Critias,— this is a point which we have not yet been able to determine.”

Critias rejoins that knowledge must play some role for the happy life. Whereupon Socrates asks, knowledge of what? All the particular fields that Socrates lists fail – and Critias ends up confessing that he had in mind knowledge of good and evil all along. Is this identical to know-how in one field or even in all fields taken together? Socrates insists that know-how in particular fields is distinct from knowledge of good and evil:

“For, let me ask you, Critias, whether, if you take away this, medicine will not equally give health, and shoemaking equally produce shoes, and the art of the weaver clothes?—whether the art of the pilot will not equally save our lives at sea, and the art of the general in war?
CRITIAS: Quite so.
SOCRATES: And yet, my dear Critias, none of these things will be well or beneficially done, if the science of the good be wanting.

And so, among others, if Socrates is right, perfect health management is useless in case there is no knowledge of good and evil.

Image by © Bar Harel, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

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