How Laches, Nicias, Socrates, and Plato Defined Courage
The identification of the core of courage was essential to the philosophy of Socrates and Plato. Socrates never explicitly stated his thoughts on any philosophical category but used his own maieutic techniques to bring his interlocutor to a deep understanding of the knowledge under discussion. Thus, one of Plato’s most notable Dialogues, Laches, is devoted to defining this term. In this text, the character of Socrates communicates with two military opponents, Laches and Nicias, to define what, as they believe, lies in courage. The interpretation of each of the opponents does not satisfy Socrates, and they end up defining courage together.
For example, Laches originally postulated courage as the soldier’s ability to fight bravely and defend his neighbor steadfastly. Indeed, this raises a number of doubts since courage is not necessarily identified with the art of war, and, moreover, history knows many examples of strategic retreat by an army. After a clarifying question from Socrates, Laches again defines courage as the fortitude to endure difficulties and remain calm. This interpretation seems to define the nature of courage better but still considers only one of its marginal aspects. In particular, following this definition’s logic, there is no difference between courage and unjustified endurance.
The second opponent of Plato’s Socrates was Nicias, who viewed the core of courage from another point of view. The man argued that courage is an understanding of danger and a knowledge of safety in a way that wisely and skillfully juxtaposes them. Thus, a man of courage weighs all sides of a situation through the paradigm of good and Evil in order to make a choice. Socrates, however, refutes this idea by deductively showing that knowledge of danger is also intrinsic to not being a courageous human. Finally, Plato, through Socrates, postulates that courage is resilience-based primarily on knowledge of the moral categories of evil and good.
To summarize the above, the problem of courage was indeed a component of the Socratic theory. This reasoning is cited in the Laches, in which it was shown that the original interpretations of the term were reduced to only some of the aspects of objective courage. However, as a result of the joint discussion of the three sides, the discussion arrives at a comprehensive understanding of courage that satisfies all participants.