Harmony of city and soul : Plato and the classical virtue of moderation
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This study examines and defends moderation as a moral, political, and philosophic virtue. I argue that modern political theory, despite its success in curbing certain excesses, is unable to account fully for our contemporary struggles with immoderation because it fails to treat moderation as a holistic virtue. To address this theoretical deficit, and to recover the unity of a virtue that has become fragmented and neglected in our age, I turn to the treatment of moderation found in Plato’s Charmides and Republic—the two dialogues in which Socrates asks and answers the question: what is moderation? I argue that Plato’s Charmides is not an early dialogue to be left behind as we move on to the Republic. Rather, it is through the interplay between the two dialogues that a full picture of moderation as a harmony of the city and soul emerges. Lessons learned from the Charmides must be remembered in order to temper the utopian ambitions inspired by Plato’s Republic. Moderating our own hopes for a world in which reason reigns, we see the need for cultivating both self and civic restraint in the absence of a perfectly harmonious whole. Nevertheless, moderation in the form of a genuine harmony orchestrated by reason remains a model of excellence, best embodied by Socrates himself. Understanding moderation in this light, we can see most clearly the sources in human nature of what Plato’s Socrates calls the “many limbs” of immoderation, from hedonism to tyranny. More important, in understanding Socratic moderation we recover a compelling vision of the virtue.