The Laws is an extensive dialogue that represents one of the most thorough philosophical views by Plato. In the Laws, the Athenian looks for an analysis that will classify the virtues beneficial to the life of a human and the state. Virtues are qualities that are considered morally good and desirable in a person. He began by stating that the human virtues that include health, beauty, strength, and wealth are of lesser value than the divine virtues. These human virtues will lead into the divine virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and courage. (631b-c) Sophrosune, the Greek word for temperance, is a fundamental virtue to the political good of the state. In this paper, I will first discuss Plato’s general explanation of sophrosune in the Laws. Then, I will examine the educational system that is expected to teach sophrosune to young men. And finally, I will illustrate Plato’s description of “drinking parties”.
A common definition of sophrosune signifies the ability to abstain one’s appetites, or in other words ‘self-control’. The Laws explains sophrosune in a broader view, that not only it is focused on self-control but also moderation, harmony, and self-knowledge. Plato’s description of sophrosune includes knowing when to let go and when to pursue your desires. In Book V, Plato mentions the balance between pleasures and pains.
Again, in the case of a life that has a few small and calm pleasures and pains, we want the life in which the pleasures predominate and don’t want the life in which the opposite predominate.[…] One must understand that all ways of life open to us are naturally limited by this range of alternatives, and on the basis one must decide which ways of life we wish for by nature. If we claim we wish something beyond these alternatives, we are speaking from a certain ignorance and lack of experience of what the ways of life are really are. (733c-e)
Plato praises that the life of moderation is inevitable, and should be understood by all. The temperance of moderate pains and moderate pleasures is always present. The life with greater pleasures than pain is the life that is wanted by all, and the people who are living a life opposite of this must be unwillingly living this way. Further, Plato believes that a person should not let their emotions, dominate their sense of reason. People are governed by emotions they cannot control. Through reason, one can redeem control over the emotions by wiping the negative emotions out. Therefore, it is paramount for the emotions to be controlled and well moderated to attain the virtue of sophrosune.
The Athenian considers an educational system that encourages the study of virtues. The education that he suggests is a kind of training that gives the youth aspirations to be ideal citizens. These educational institutions should teach the youth how to govern and be governed. In Book II, the Athenian discusses the phases of such an educational system:
Well, I say the first infantile sensation in children is the sensation of pleasure and pain, and that it is in these that virtue and vice first come into being in the soul; as for prudence, and true opinions that are firmly held, he is a fortunate person to who it comes even in old age. He who does possess them, and all the good things that go with them, is a perfect human being. Education, I say, is the virtue that first comes into being in children. (653a-b)
The first sensation of pleasure and pain are the path by which virtue first comes into being in the soul. Children are considered to be specifically susceptible to discovering the pleasant things. Developing habits of living in moderation at a young age, leads to a generally more pleasant life. In order to achieve the advantage of developing the virtue of sophrosune, it is crucial that the youth…