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MICHAEL ERLER / LUC BRISSON (EDS.

)
GORGIAS MENON
SELECTED PAPERS FROM THE
SEVENTH SYMPOSIUM PLATONICUM
International Plato Studies 25
ACADEMIA
Plato
Socrates
Michael Erler / Luc Brisson (Eds.)
Gorgias Menon
International Plato Studies
Published under the auspices of the
International Plato Society
Series Editors:
Luc Brisson (Paris), Christopher J. Rowe (Durham),
Mara Isabel Santa Cruz (Buenos Aires), Mauro Tulli (Pisa),
Thomas A. Szlezk (Tbingen)
Volume 25
GORGIAS MENON
SELECTED PAPERS FROM THE
SEVENTH SYMPOSIUM PLATONICUM
Edited by
MICHAEL ERLER AND LUC BRISSON
Academia Verlag Sankt Augustin
Illustration on the cover by courtesy of the Bodleian Library,
Oxford, MS. Ashmole 304, fol. 31 v.
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LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS
Frederik Arends, Bonaventuracollege, Leiden
Graziano Arrighetti, Universit degli Studi di Pisa
Hayden W. Ausland, The University of Montana
Francisco Bravo, Universidad Central de Venezuela
Thomas C. Brickhouse, Lynchburg College, Virginia
Luc Brisson, CNRS, Villejuif
Giovanni Casertano, Universit di Napoli
Benot Castelnrac, Universit de Sherbrooke
Elisabetta Cattanei, Universit di Cagliari
John J. Cleary, Boston College & National University of Ireland, Maynooth
Louis-Andr Dorion, Universit de Montral
Theodor Ebert, Universitt Erlangen-Nrnberg
Rafael Ferber, Universitt Luzern / Universitt Zrich
Franco Ferrari, Universit de Salerno
Lloyd P. Gerson, University of Toronto
Christopher Gill, University of Exeter
Edward C. Halper, University of Georgia
Ale Havlek, Karls Universitt Prag
Christoph Helmig, Oberassistent fr Forschung des Fonds fr Wissenschaftliche Forschung,
Flandern (FWO)
Charles Kahn, University of Pennsylvania
Yuji Kurihara, Tokyo Gakugei University
Annie Larive, Brock University, Ontario
Arnaud Mac, Universit de Franche-Comt, Besanon
Walter Mesch, Universitt Heidelberg
Maurizio Migliori, Universit di Macerata
Julius Moravczik, Stanford University, California
Linda M. Napolitano, Universit di Trieste
Michel Narcy, CNRS, Villejuif
Ada Neschke-Hentschke, Universit de Lausanne
Noburu Notomi, Keio University, Tokyo
Erik Nis Ostenfeld, University of Aarhus
Terry Penner, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Vasilis Politis, Trinity College, Dublin
Franois Renaud, Universit de Moncton, Nouveau-Brunswick
Christopher Rowe , University of Durham
Samuel Scolnicov, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Nicholas D. Smith, Lewis and Clark College, Oregon
Richard F. Stalley , University of Glasgow
Jan Szaif, University of California at Davis
Thomas Alexander Szlezk, Universitt Tbingen
Harold Tarrant, University of Newcastle, New South Wales
Holger Thesleff, University of Helsinki
List of contributors VI
Mauro Tulli, Universit degli Studi di Pisa
Thomas M. Tuozzo, University of Kansas
lvaro Vallejo, University of Granada
Matthias Vorwerk, The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.
MoonHeum Yang, Dongguk University, Seoul
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of contributors ....................................................................................... V
Table of contents ....................................................................................... VII
Michael Erler Vorwort ......................................................................... X
1. De Vogel Lecture, Sauders Memorial Lecture
Terry Penner The Death of the so-called Socratic Elenchus............ 3
Harold Tarrant Studying Plato and Platonism Together:
Meno-related Observations............................................ 20
2. Gorgias
John J. Cleary Erotic Paideia in Platos Symposium............................. 33
Lloyd P. Gerson Platos Gorgias and Political Happiness..................... 46
Frederik Arends Why Socrates came too late for Gorgias epideixis:
Platos Gorgias as political philosophy......................... 52
Noburu Notomi Platos Critique of Gorgias: Power, the Other,
and Truth....................................................................... 57
Christopher Gill Form and outcome of arguments
in Platos Gorgias.......................................................... 62
Ada Neschke-Hentschke Der Dialog Gorgias und die Tradition
des europischen Naturrechts........................................ 66
Mauro Tulli Il Gorgia e la lira di Anfione......................................... 72
Holger Thesleff The Gorgias re-written why? ..................................... 78
Arnaud Mac Gorgias, le Gorgias, et lordre de lme........................ 83
Christopher Rowe The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias .......................... 90
Francisco Bravo El Gorgias de Platon: Anti-hedonista o anti-relativista? 102
Erik Nis Ostenfeld The Meaning and Justification of a Paradox:
Wrongdoing is Involuntary. The refutation of Polus..... 108
Richard F. Stalley The Politics of the Gorgias ........................................... 116
Julius Moravczik Goodness Trumps Pleasure-loving in the Gorgias........ 122
Thomas C. Brickhouse
and Nicholas D. Smith The Myth of the Afterlife in Platos Gorgias ................ 128
lvaro Vallejo Myth and Rhetoric in the Gorgias................................. 138
Giovanni Casertano 21 punti su persuasione e verit nel Gorgia .................. 144
Walter Mesch Analogien und Antistrophen.
Zur Bestimmung der Rhetorik in Platons Gorgias ........ 149
Hayden W. Ausland Socrates Argument with Gorgias, the Craft Analogy,
and Justice ..................................................................... 158
Maurizio Migliori Socrate e Gorgia di fronte allinsegnamento
della virt ...................................................................... 162
Table of contents VIII
3. Meno
Graziano Arrighetti Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dellal di l? ...................... 173
Theodor Ebert The Theory of Recollection in Platos Meno:
Against a Myth of Platonic Scholarship ........................ 184
Luc Brisson La rminiscence dans le Mnon (81c5-d5) .................... 199
Linda M. Napolitano Anamnesi e dialettica nel Menone .............................. 204
Jan Szaif Requirements of Knowledge according to the Meno..... 212
Yuji Kurihara Goodness, Desire and Thought
in Platos Meno (77b-78b)............................................. 218
Benot Castelnrac Comment acqurir la vertu?
La tripartition phsis, skesis, mthesis dans le Mnon 223
Ale Havlek Die Bedeutung der phronsis fr die Erluterung
der aret im Menon ....................................................... 228
Edward C. Halper A Lesson from the Meno ............................................... 234
Thomas M. Tuozzo Knowing Meno Blindfolded: The Dialectic of Essence
and Quality in the Meno ................................................ 243
Elisabetta Cattanei Due geometrie per il Menone ........................................ 248
MoonHeum Yang Similarity in the Solution to the Duplication Problem
in Platos Meno.............................................................. 253
4. Comprehensive papers
Rafael Ferber What did Socrates know and how did he know it?........ 263
Vasilis Politis Is Socrates Paralyzed by his State of Aporia?
Meno 79e7-80d4............................................................ 268
Christoph Helmig Der Gegensatz von Platon und Aristoteles
in den neuplatonischen Interpretationen des
Menonparadoxons und der Anamnesislehre.................. 273
Samuel Scolnicov The structure and object of anamnesis .......................... 278
Louis-Andr Dorion Le Gorgias et la dfense de Socrate dans lApologie .... 284
Franco Ferrari La transizione epistemica .............................................. 290
Matthias Vorwerk Der Arzt, der Koch und die Kinder.
Rhetorik und Philosophie im Wettstreit......................... 297
Michel Narcy Socrate, lesclave, les sophistes et les gomtres........... 303
Franois Renaud Rhtorique, Dialectique, Maeutique:
Le commentaire du Gorgias par Olympiodore.............. 309
Annie Larive Combattre le mal par le mal. Socrate et sa mthode
de soin homopathique dans le Gorgias ........................ 317
Charles Kahn Prolepsis in Gorgias and Meno?.................................... 325
Thomas Alexander Szlezk c ~. ,c ~ , u c.., c c c,
cu,,.|u, uc, (Men. 81 c 9- d11)
Die Implikationen der Verwandtschaft
der gesamten Natur........................................................ 333
Table of contents IX
Bibliography ....................................................................................... 345
Index Locorum ....................................................................................... 368
Subject Index ....................................................................................... 388
VORWORT
Dieser Band enthlt eine Auswahl der Vortrge, die anllich des VII. Symposium
Platonicum der International Plato Society vom 26. bis 31. Juli 2004 in Wrzburg unter den
Auspizien der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Mainzer Akademie der
Wissenschaften und der Literatur gehalten wurden. Die Tagung wurde von dem Bayerischen
Staatsministerium fr Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst, der Deutschen Forschungs-
gemeinschaft, dem Universittsbund der Universitt Wrzburg und der Julius-Maxmilians-
Universitt Wrzburg untersttzt. Sie fand in den Rumen der von Balthasar Neumann
erbauten Wrzburger Residenz eines Unesco Kulturerbes und der Neubaukirche statt. Das
Jahr 2004 hat fr die deutsche, aber auch die internationale Platonforschung eine besondere
Bedeutung, jhrte sich doch zum zweihundertstenmal der Erscheinungsbeginn der
epochemachenden bersetzung des Platonischen Oeuvres durch Friedrich Schleiermacher
(erschienen 1804-1817), welche den engen Zusammenhang von literarischer Gestaltung und
philosophischem Gehalt des platonischen Dialoges in den Blickpunkt der knftigen
Forschung rckte. Seither hat das Interesse an Platon, dem Philosophen, aber auch an Platon,
dem Autor, bis hin in den Fernen Osten stetig zugenommen. Nicht zuletzt fr diese
Internationalitt der Platonforschung legte die Tagung mit zeitweise ber 300 Gsten aus
mehr als 35 Lndern ein lebendiges Zeugnis ab.
Thema des VII. Symposium Platonicum waren die Dialoge Gorgias und Menon. Die in
diesen beiden zentralen Dialogen aufgeworfenen Fragen nach dem richtigen Leben, nach
Mglichkeiten der Erkenntnis, nach berwindung von Werterelativismus, nach angemessener
Auseinandersetzung mit den Sophisten um nur einige zu nennen boten Gelegenheit zu
anregenden Interpretationsanstzen und teilweise kontrovers, aber immer fair gefhrten
Diskussionen, die den internationalen Forschungsstand widerspiegelten und zu einem
weiterfhrenden, fruchtbaren Gedankenaustausch ber die Grenzen kultureller Unterschiede
hinweg fhrten. Die hier abgedruckten Aufstze vermitteln so hoffen wir einen Eindruck
von der anregenden, und von platonischen eunoia geprgten Atmosphre.
Danken mchte ich als ehemaliger Prsident und Ausrichter der Tagung weiterhin allen
denjenigen, deren Beitrge hier gedruckt vorliegen, darber hinaus aber auch allen
Mitgliedern unserer Gesellschaft und allen Gsten, die die Tagung durch Vortrge, durch
Diskussionsbeitrge oder durch ihre Anwesenheit bereichert und die von allen als fruchtvoll
und anregend empfundene Atmosphre der Tagung mitgeprgt haben. Bedanken mchte ich
mich schlielich auch an dieser Stelle bei meinen Wrzburger Mitarbeiterinnen und
Mitarbeitern, die in verschiedenster Weise zur Vorbereitung und zum reibungslosen Ablauf
der Tagung entscheidend beigetragen haben. Besonders hervorgehoben sei Herr Dr. Stefan
Schorn, der mich in der Zeit der Vorbereitung nie im Stich gelassen hat, sondern mir immer
eine wichtige Hilfe war, als ich neben der Prsidentschaft auch Pflichten als Dekan und
Senator der Universitt zu erfllen hatte.
Entsprechend der auch in den vorhergehenden Tagungsbnden blichen Praxis wurde
auch in diesem Band kein Versuch unternommen, die unterschiedlichen Zitierweisen,
Abkrzungen oder andere technische Eigenheiten der Beitrge einander anzugleichen. Die
Unterschiede seien vielmehr Zeugnis fr die unterschiedlichen wissenschaftlichen Kulturen
und fr die Vielfalt und Internationalitt, die in unserer Gesellschaft gepflegt wird. Die
Vorwort XI
Indices sollen helfen, das Buch bei aller Flle des gebotenen Materials leichter benutzbar zu
machen.
Mge das Buch den Teilnehmern der Tagung Erinnerungshilfe an hoffentlich angenehm
verbrachte Stunden in Wrzburg und allen Lesern Anregung zu eigener Platonlektre sein.
Verantwortlich fr den Band zeichnen Michael Erler und Luc Brisson. In Dankbarkeit
gedenken wir am Ende dieses Vorwortes Catherine Joubaud, die die redaktionelle Arbeit an
diesem Band bernommen hatte und whrend dieser Ttigkeit an den Folgen einer langen und
schweren Krankheit, gegen die sie mit Mut und Wrde gekmpft hatte, verstarb. Der
vorliegende Band legt fr ihre Kompetenz Zeugnis ab. Ihre Menschlichkeit wird uns fehlen.
Sophie Grapotte hat das Manuskript fr die Publikation vorbereitet. Annie Larive hat an der
Erstellung der beiden Indices gearbeitet, die Bibliographie korrigiert und das gesamte
Manuskript gelesen. Ihnen sei herzlich gedankt.
Michael Erler,Wrzburg
Luc Brisson, Paris

Dezember 2006
1
DE VOGEL LECTURE,
SAUDERS MEMORIAL LECTURE
The Death of the so-called Socratic Elenchus
The C.J. de Vogel Lecture
Terry Penner
I am not here tonight to announce the end of an era in Socrates scholarship though I
believe that is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Too much work remains by way of
convincing people that the so-called Socratic Elenchus should be entirely dropped. (This is
not to deny that proponents of the so-called elenchus have been some of the major
contributors in the history of Socrates scholarship.) I am here tonight simply to press the case
for recognizing that the usual sorts of attempts such as we find in the attribution to Socratic
dialectic of the so-called elenchus to unite
(a) the deductive methods of modern logic (which are central to the so-called
elenchus)
with
(b) the interpretation of what Platos characters are saying in his dialogues,
cannot produce viable offspring.
When interpreters formulate what characters in a Platonic dialogue are saying in the
course of (what looks like) a particular discrete argument, into the deductive representations
characteristic of the so-called method of elenchus, they make two crucial assumptions, both
of which I shall here reject as inappropriate to the analysis of any arguments in any of Platos
dialogues. The first is that
LT we can reduce
what a speaker is saying by means of a given sentence
to
what the given sentence says.
This reduction is an instance of the linguistic turn so popular amongst a great many
analytical philosophers. Once the initial reduction to sentences is accomplished, the
interpreter then embodies the sentence in the deductive formulation which is to represent the
supposed elenchus with the account of what the sentence says being determined by the
usual devices of meanings or semantical interpretations assigned to the expressions (referring
The Death of the so-called Socratic Elenchus 4
expressions, predicates, and so forth) which make up the sentence.
1
(Analytical philosophers
working on Plato, who mostly grow out of the great nineteenth century philological tradition,
are always and to a fault as careful about Platos exact words as one might hope from
those who have taken the linguistic turn.)
2
It is in these deductive formulations that the second crucial assumption shows up what
Ryle 1945 speaks of as the logical powers doctrine:
LP What a sentence A says is the same as what a sentence B says just in case both
sentences have the same logical powers, that is, they both follow logically from the
very same sentences, and any sentences that follow logically from the one follow
logically from the other.
Thus it is enough to make A and B say something different express different
propositions, as logicians often put it that one of them does not follow logically from the
other; and enough to make A and B logically independent propositions (and so even more
certainly different propositions) that neither follows logically from the other. (I shall use
interchangeably A follows logically from B, A is a logical consequence of B, A follows
from B by logic alone, and B entails A.)
I shall argue that these two assumptions together are sufficient to show that the so-called
Socratic Elenchus yields serious misrepresentations of what the speakers in the dialogues
are saying. For if I can show that what the speakers say by means of given sentences is
misrepresented by what the given sentences say (as construed in terms of the logical powers
doctrine), then, since I take it that Socratic dialectic concerns arguments about what people
the interlocutors are saying, we will be forced to conclude that Socratic dialectic is
misrepresented by construing it in accordance with the methods of the so-called Socratic
Elenchus.
There will not be space, in this shortened version of my lecture, to speak at any length
about other defects I see in almost all applications of modern methods of logic to Platonic
texts. The reader should be aware, however, that my reservations about such applications go
well beyond considerations of the linguistic turn (LT) and the logical powers doctrine
(LP). There are a few remarks on this topic in the concluding section and in the appendix
below.
Just to help people see where I am going in the present version of the lecture, I can
single out how I think the employment of (LT) + (LP) in the so-called elenchus leads to the
misrepresentation of what the interlocutors in bits of Socratic dialectic are saying, as a result
of interpreters simply ignoring three different sorts of context, to each of which we need to
look if we are to capture unarticulated parts of what speakers are saying. The first sort of
context consists in the personal style, and background beliefs of the speaker, as well as in the
speakers culural and social milieu.
Second, there is the literary context that need to be assimilated from the authors (or
reporters) methods of representing the dialectic, which itself provides important clues to
what the interlocutors are saying. Prominent here is the plot of a dialogue. (And make no
mistake, Platos dialogues are most extraordinarily finely crafted and plotted pieces of work.)
1
For a slightly fuller account of the process whereby arguments are put into logical form and assessed for soundness
and validity, see the Appendix below.
2
What is worrying is that they sometimes combine this concern for exact words with something less than care for
larger contexts in which the words appear. Look! Socrates says it right here! See further the remarks on plot in
sec. 4 below, as well as Penner, unpublished.
Terry Penner 5
The third sort of context brings in what, in a wider view, is far the most important way
in which the so-called elenchus fails to capture what interlocutors are saying in Platos
dialogues. This is what I shall call here the real-world context of what the speakers are
saying. This sort of context has been central to much of my own work over the past several
decades. It shows up in particular in my account of the Socratic desire for the real good, and
of the Forms as the real natures of things. In the case of desire, it shows up in the following
way. I claim that Socrates and Plato rightly hold that the truth about what the good is that
Barbara, say, desires for herself is part of what (modern philosophers would call) the content
of what Barbara is speaking of or referring to. That real truth is not only what is there outside
of Barbaras psychological state. It is also in a way which Barbara herself cannot be totally
aware of part of the very inside of her psychological state. What Barbara desires from the
inside is not what she thinks is the good for herself, nor is it what anyone else might think is
the good for her; rather it is what really is the good for her, even if that good is different from
what Barbara or any one else thinks it is. This real (and unknown) good is not only what
Barbara desires (recall Republic VI.505E-506A), but also what she is saying she desires. (The
reference to the real good, even if it is different from what Barbara or anyone else thinks it is,
is quite as much involved when we are considering what Barbara says or believes she desires
as when we are saying what she desires.) It is not her apparent good which Barbara desires
(pace Aristotle), nor is it something she (perhaps mistakenly, and in any case consciously)
desires.
In the case of the Forms, when I want to cut, I want to cut, not in accordance with my
beliefs about cutting, nor in accordance with the conventions of our language about cutting,
but in accordance with the real nature of cutting (Cratylus 387A with 385D-386A), even if
that differs from how I think of it, or from what the conventions of my language say about it.
So too, to switch to a modern case, cancer researchers want to speak of, and to discover, not
what people (even the researchers themselves) think is the real nature of cancer, or what some
lexicographer or scientist writing a dictionary entry says it is, but what cancer really is even
if it is different from what anyone has ever supposed it to be. It is these real natures the
good, the real nature of cutting, the Form of Cancer which people are generally referring to
(intend to refer to) when they use such words as good, cutting, cancer. Once more, the
real truth, and real natures, are in the sort of way indicated part of what interlocutors are
speaking of.
I realize, of course, that the views I attribute to Socrates and Plato about the real good
and real natures in my characterization of this real-world context are both exegetically and
philosophically controversial. By what right do I bring such controversial views into
interpretations of Plato? By right of whatever arguments I have found in the dialogues for
supposing that these views are there to be found; and by right of whatever arguments I have
found for supposing the Socratic/Platonic views I take to be there are truer than the
corresponding views of Aristotle and modern interpreters in the analytic tradition. I came to
these exegetical and philosophical views at the same time as I was coming to the view that the
point of studying Socrates and Plato is not simply to identify their errors from modern
philosophical points of view, but to learn from them enough to see how much modern
philosophical work could be improved with some deep study of Plato, and of Socrates in
Plato. So I do not apologize that some of my work on Socrates and Plato is, inconveniently,
only intelligible to those interpreters willing to consider some revision to the philosophical
viewpoints they tend initially to bring to their dialectic.
Since there is not space for me to treat of all three sorts of contexts in relation to which
the methods of logic employed in the so-called elenchus seem to me to fall short, I shall set
The Death of the so-called Socratic Elenchus 6
the last two aside, for brief treatment in a final section pointing beyond the present paper.
(This though the real-world context was quite as central to my argument in Wrzburg, as was
the first sort.) I choose the first sort of context because it gives us a particularly
straightforward way to see both that the whole idea of the so-called Socratic Elenchus, as it
showed up originally in Robinson 1953, needs to be given up, and also that all three of the
interesting attempts to improve that idea associated with what I shall call early Vlastos
(1956), later Vlastos (1994 [1983]), and Benson 2000 must also be given up.
In the next section, I introduce an example of how I believe that the logical powers
doctrine short-changes the first sort of context, and so delivers the wrong answers about what
Euthyphro is saying when he uses the sentence Piety is what is loved by the gods. In sec.2, I
proceed to a characterization of the so-called Socratic Elenchus, along with three important
developments of the theory of the elenchus, each occasioned by difficulties in earlier
attempts to preserve the theory. In sec.3, I show how, if I am right in what I say about the
example in sec.1, this example refutes the claim that the so-called Socratic Elenchus will be
able to represent faithfully such Socratic arguments as that directed towards Euthyphros
claim that piety is what is loved by the gods. The refutation will also apply to all three of the
developments of the theory of the elenchus just mentioned. Sec.4 introduces briefly the two
other sorts of context I have not considered in the earlier parts of the paper, where, once
again, the so-called elenchus is quite inadequate to account for them; and an appendix adds
some brief remarks about other ways in which modern methods of logic seem to be applied to
Plato interpretation without due philosophical or exegetical circumspection.
1. What Euthyphro is saying when he uses the sentence Piety is what is loved by the
gods.
What the logical powers doctrine gives us is a theory of what sentences say. I have
already noted that this doctrine, which originates in Frege 1879, 2-3, has it that two sentences
say the same thing if and only if they entail and are entailed by all the same sentences. (To
such a doctrine, anyone who employs the notion of logical consequence is necessarily
committed.)
3
To take an example which will be important in the next section, if what
Euthyphro is saying by means of a given sentence reduces to what the given sentence says,
then what the logical powers doctrine forces on an interpreter is the view that if instead of
1 Piety is what is loved by the gods,
Euthyphro had used one of the following sentences:
1a Piety is what is loved by such beings as the gods.
1b Piety is what is loved by such beings as the Greek gods.
1c Piety is what is loved by such beings as Zeus and Cronos,
he would have been saying something different in each case, depending upon which of the
three sentences he actually used. For example, (1a) does not entail (1b) without the additional
premise that the Greek gods exist, and they are such beings as the gods. Hence (1a) and (1b)
3
Those who know the works of Quine and Davidson will note that those two devotees of holistic approaches to what
sentences say are willy-nilly committed to the logical powers doctrine in their use of logical consequence,
entailment, and so forth as for example in Davidson (1967), 25-6, or as in the importance Quine associates with
such notions as decidability, completeness, incompleteness, and so forth. Once this cat has been let out of the bag,
there is no stopping short of the very narrow identity conditions for things people say which are the product of the
logical powers doctrine.
Terry Penner 7
do not say the same thing. Equally obviously, (1c) is logically independent of (1a), since
neither entails the other without some further premise, such as Zeus and Cronos are gods.
As against this, I say that if we had asked Euthyphro whether if he had used (1b) or (1c)
instead of (1a), he would have been saying the same thing, he would have answered, on this
occasion Of course. What do you think? And if pressed he might well have said,
Look, Socrates, stop quibbling about the exact words with which I am expressing my
point. You asked me what I thought. Well, I can tell you what I think using different
expressions. Pick whichever of these expressions you want and there are lots more.
You know what I am saying here. I know what I am saying here. Who gives a damn what
exact expression I use?!
Now how do I know this? Or, rather, what makes me suppose that this is the reasonable
assumption to make about what Euthyphro is saying? No text shows flat out that I am right. It
is an assumption I make on the basis of the kinds of contextual consideration I mention above.
For example, it involves the judgment that,
given what we can gather from the dialogue about the kind of person (and
thinker) Euthyphro is;
given the probable primacy of interest in the Greek gods amongst Athenians
serious about their own religion at any rate if their approach to religion is
similar to that of the dogmatic Euthyphro (the relevance of this factor we infer
from such understanding as we have of 5
th
century Athens); and
given Euthyphros evident familiarity with such Greek gods as Zeus and
Cronos (here the dialogue as a whole gives direct evidence),
he would certainly suppose that he would be referring to the same thing whichever of the
three expressions, such beings as the gods, such beings as the Greek gods, and such
beings as Zeus and Cronos, he were to use. And since the three sentences (1a), (1b), and (1c)
from which we began are otherwise identical, all having Piety is what is loved by .... as a
common part, it will presumably follow that Euthyphro would have been saying the same
thing whichever of the three sentences he had used. Furthermore, it will be reasonable for us
to infer from our judgment of Platos reasons for choosing Euthyphro as the interlocutor for
an examination of what piety is that Plato himself would have regarded Euthyphro as
referring to the same thing whichever of the three expressions Euthyphro had used.
To sum up, I hold it to be intuitively clear that
2 If we attend to what Euthyphro intended to refer to on this occasion, he would have
regarded as quite interchangeable the three expressions
such beings as the gods
such beings as the Greek gods
and
such beings as Zeus and Cronos.
The Death of the so-called Socratic Elenchus 8
And
3 since Euthyphro attributes the same thing to each of the beings in the three sentences
he uses namely, that piety is what is loved by these beings it is arguable that what
Euthyphro is saying should be the same in all three cases.
4
Such is the intuitive basis for considering that what a speaker is referring to on a
particular occasion by means of a given referring expression might be different from what the
referring expression refers to on that occasion. Such too is the intuitive basis for considering
that what a speaker is saying on a particular occasion by means of a given sentence might be
different from what the sentence says on that occasion.
I grant of course that if we were talking about the use of these three sentences made by
someone else on some different occasion (or even by Euthyphro himself on a different
occasion), it might well be the case that, on that other occasion, Euthyphro or that other
person would be saying something different. (Take, for example, a person who believes in
gods, but either does not believe in the Greek gods, or does not think Zeus and Cronos are
gods.) This is a way of granting that the sentences using these three different ways of saying
something about the gods must indeed say something different about them on all occasions,
even that one with Euthyphro which we are envisaging. For one of the fundamental principles
of logic in all of its most rigorous versions has been that in any logical language (or in any
natural language interpretable in terms of a logical language), the same name shall always
stand for the same object, the same predicate for the same attribute, the same sentence for
what the sentence says (= the same proposition the sentence expresses). Put otherwise, this is
a way of saying that for an argument entirely lacking context if there are any such
arguments (perhaps mathematical proofs might approximate here, depending on ones theory
of proof in mathematics) we will be able to identify what the speaker is saying with what
the sentence says, or, alternatively, to reduce the first to the second.
5
The issue here is precisely whether or not what a person says on a particular occasion by
means of a given sentence is given by what the sentence says on that occasion. I shall claim
that it is not enough that what the sentence says is different. And I shall argue that an
approach that supposes it is enough will be inappropriate to the kinds of cases we are
considering: cases that occur in Socratic dialogue.
4
Those familiar with what John Perry has called the lasso problem for what sentences say will see that I am here
attempting to postpone the settling of the analogous problem for what a speaker is saying. I take it to be enough
for a persons saying the same thing in this sort of case that the person apply the same attribute to the same object.
(The lasso problem is the problem that, in Frege, there are overpowering reasons to suppose that the reference
of a sentence a function of the reference of its parts is its truth value. This conclusion is a variant of Leibnizs
less troubling if equally arresting view that the individual concept of Alexander the Great contains the whole
history of the world.)
5
That what someone is saying, using (1a), (1b), and (1c), would have to be different even for Euthyphro on this
occasion is a feature of the necessarily largely context-independent character of modern logic (see the appendix
below). The point that different speakers use of the same non-indexical expressions in different contexts will
have to refer to the same thing, is exactly parallel with a key point about Freges theory of propositions, first
noticed, so far as I know, by Paul Benacerraf (see Evans (1982), 19 n.19). This is that if Lois believes Clark is a
wimp, and does not believe Superman is a wimp, then the two beliefs in question, and the two propositions in
question, are different. But then that makes the belief different not only for Lois (which is plausible enough) but
even for Clark himself. He has to regard the proposition that Clark is a wimp and the proposition that Superman is
a wimp as different propositions, and therefore as representing different beliefs of his! Now, I say, this is not a
plausible view. Surely they are not different beliefs of Clarks. But Freges logic, in parallel to the present case,
makes them different beliefs and different propositions. The largely context-independent character of applications
of modern logic shows up here too, therefore, in the question of the identity conditions of things people are
saying.
Terry Penner 9
So if I am right that
(a) proponents of the so-called elenchus, as a result of their direct application of
modern logic to Socratic arguments (which commits them to the logical powers
doctrine of what sentences say), will be committed to taking what Euthyphro is saying
when he uses the expression such beings as the gods to be different from what he
would be saying when he uses the expression such beings as Zeus and Cronos),
and if I am right that
(b) what Euthyphro would be saying on such an occasion would in fact be the same,
and that
(c) it makes an important difference to how we understand Socratic argument whether or
not Euthyphro would be saying the same thing or not,
then there will be good reason to reject the so-called Socratic Elenchus as an account of
Socratic argumentation. Such, in a nutshell, is an indication of the basis of my argument.
I turn now to making good on hypothesis (c), that
it does make an important difference to how we understand Socratic argument whether
or not Euthyphro would be saying the same thing or not,
and to showing, as in hypothesis (a), that
proponents of the Socratic Elenchus are indeed committed to the logical powers
doctrine of what sentences say.
2. The so-called Socratic Elenchus, its troubles, and three developments of it
Let us review the present situation with the so-called elenchus. In the dialectical back-
and-forth of question-and-answer which constitutes central parts of Platos dialogues
especially such stylometrically early dialogues (with parts of others) as may justly be called
Socratic Socrates uses his questions to pit against each other apparently different things
he gets his interlocutor to say concerning certain ethical matters. Very frequently, Socrates
uses the questions he asks to bring these things his interlocutor says into contradiction with
each other (though sometimes what happens is that Socrates leads the interlocutor to see that
there are implications of the things which he, the interlocutor, is saying which, while short of
formal contradiction, will impel the interlocutor to reject the things first said, so that in either
case the interlocutor will no longer wish to say what he first thought he wanted to say).
6
And
so the interlocutors position is refuted.
This being the nature of Socratic dialogue, it becomes all too natural for modern
philosophers (especially those in the analytic tradition) to follow (i) Robinson 1953, (ii)
Vlastos 1956, and (iii) Vlastos 1994 [1983], in construing these dialectical passes as for the
most part the deduction of formal contradictions from the propositions involved in the
argument, as premises expressive of the things the interlocutor is saying. The propositions in
question are taken to entail the logical inconsistency which is the immediate conclusion of the
6
The contradictions people see in their thought contra-dictions are not always formal contradictions, though
logicians will generally suppose that any such cases can be reduced to formal contradictions between sentences.
Consider, for example, the first refutation of Piety is what is loved by the gods at Euthyphro 7A-8A by bringing
Euthyphro to the conclusion that the same things are both loved and hated by the gods. This hardly engenders a
formal contradiction.
The Death of the so-called Socratic Elenchus 10
elenchus.
7
Thus we have the following characterization in Vlastos 1994 [1983], 11, of
Socrates supposedly deductive methods of refutation.
[1] The interlocutor asserts a thesis, p, which Socrates considers false and targets for
refutation.
[2] Socrates secures agreement to further premises, say q and r (each of which may stand
for a conjunct of propositions). The agreement is ad hoc: Socrates argues from {q, r} not to
them.
[3] Socrates then argues, and the interlocutor agrees that q & r entail (sic) not-p.
[4] Socrates then claims that he has shown that not-p is true, p false. (My Italics)
It is true that the words entail and proposition are the only words in this account
which are heavy with modern logical theory. Entail is understood as logical consequence
the semantical consequence supposedly underwriting its proof-theoretic cousin, the process
of deduction-from-premises, in such a way as to ensure that true premises will never lead to a
false conclusion. Propositions are understood to introduce what the sentences used as
premises severally express conveying what the person introducing these sentences into the
argument is saying (supposing, denying, and so forth). But a glance at the way in which those
who attribute the so-called elenchus to the early dialogues explain what the use of the so-
called elenchus shows us will reveal the constant use of words such as logic, deduction,
logical consequence, valid, sound, logical inconsistency, along with the already
familiar entail and proposition.
8
So here we have the attribution to Socrates of methods of
argument that brings those methods into close relation with the methods of modern logic, and
necessarily impose on analyses of arguments construed in terms of the so-called Socratic
Elenchus the requirements of modern logic, and, in particular, the logical powers doctrine.
So widely has it been accepted that this characterization of Socratic dialectic is along the
right lines, that I have simply ceded the name Socratic Elenchus to Robinson, Vlastos, and
their followers. It is because I do not myself accept that this purely deductive (and semantical)
picture gives a correct characterization of Socratic dialectical argument, that I refer to it, when
speaking in my own person, as the so-called Socratic Elenchus or the so-called
elenchus.
Now, as a matter of fact, this purely deductive picture of most Socratic dialectic has
caused trouble for its proponents right from the start. Why did this not alert proponents of the
so-called elenchus to the doubtfulness of this way of construing Socrates? I believe it is
because, philosophically, they themselves saw no alternative to employing this way of
analyzing an argument in accordance with modern logic. These troubles for the so-called
elenchus may be detailed in terms of three developments of considerable interest in the
picture of the elenchus which, beginning with Vlastos (1956), its more important
7
The plainly non-deductive steps that often show up in such arguments are taken to be (sub-) arguments from analogy
which, following Aristotle, interpreters generally consider to be inductive rather than deductive. Interpreters are
undeterred. They take it for granted that with these allegedly untroubling exceptions, if we merely take the
conclusions of such inductive sub-arguments as [primitive] premises of the deduction, then the entire argument
can still be treated as a pure deduction.
8
For the primary premise p together with the secondary premisses q and r entailing an inconsistency, see Robinson
(1953
2
), 7, 15, 22; Vlastos (1994), 11, 20, 21, 23, 25, Brickhouse and Smith (2000), 93, 83, cf. 79-80, Benson
(2000), 33, 48, 62-4, 65, nn.26; 95. For validity and soundness, cf. Robinson (1953
2
), 15; Santas (1979) 136, 138,
166, 178-9; Vlastos (1994), 20, nn. 40, 41; Irwin (1995), 18, 20 with 40; also Benson (2000), 45-6, 49, 69 n.47.
The reference to propositions (or whatever one chooses to call those things that are individuated by the logical
powers doctrine) is of course ubiquitous.
Terry Penner 11
proponents have endorsed in an effort to see the difficulties which arise and to get around
them. They are, first,
(A) Vlastoss earlier worry (1956) that, contrary to the conclusion that the primary
proposition p of Vlastoss schema of the so-called elenchus has been refuted, all that is
deductively and semantically justified is that at least one of p, q, and r is false, so that all
Socrates could possibly be establishing is the mere inconsistency of the propositions in the
interlocutors entire premise-set {p,q,r}. The supposed refutation of p was in no way justified.
This difficulty Vlastos calls the problem of the elenchus. The resulting reflection on
Socrates grasp of what he was doing he didnt see he was committing a gross fallacy was
by no means pleasing to Vlastos. Nor should it please any enthusiast for Plato.
Second, there is
(B) Vlastoss later semi-Davidsonian attempt to overcome what he calls the problem of
the elenchus by finding a way to rule out the possibility of rejecting the q and the r when it is
discovered that {p,q,r} is inconsistent. Starting from the reasonable view that Socrates might
well, in some of these deductions, have up his sleeve perfectly good [albeit non-deductive]
arguments for holding on to these secondary propositions q, r, Vlastos then goes a bit over the
edge, suggesting now that in all of these deductions Socrates himself believed that all of his
secondary premises q, r were true, as well as believing that they were justified in one of two
ways: either, first, by the long survival of these propositions against various other [for the
most part merely] hypothesized exercises of the so-called elenchus, or, second, by a
supposed Socratic confidence, based on his experience with the so-called elenchus, that
such survival of the propositions q, r could in all cases be [inductively] projected on the basis
of a range of relevant hypothesized past elenchi. From this Vlastos supposed that he could get
the result he wished: the refutation of p by the deduction of an inconsistency from {p,q,r}
would in these circumstances once more be justified. (Its simply that the rejection of not-q
and not-r is again by inductive means.)
9
Third, there is
(C) Bensons counter-attack on Vlastoss later solution, by pointing to clear counter-
examples for this semi-Davidsonian solution to the problem of the elenchus. Benson draws
attention to cases of distinct [and, as logicians would say, logically independent] secondary
propositions q, r in so-called Socratic elenchi which Socrates could not possibly have
believed true, let alone justified by past experience with the so-called elenchus.
Here is one of Bensons counter-examples to Vlastoss later position (B): In refuting the
primary proposition that
1 Piety is what is loved by the gods,
(6E-8B) Socrates uses the secondary premise (7E-8B) that
4 What Zeus loves, Cronos hates.
Remember that both Benson and Vlastos are committed to the position that (1) and (4)
are logically independent of each other since neither follows from the other by logic alone,
without some such further premise as that Zeus and Cronos are such beings as the gods.
Accordingly, the idea is that using the premise about Zeus and Cronos, Socrates can reduce
9
The talk of purely deductive argument begins to look increasingly threadbare.
The Death of the so-called Socratic Elenchus 12
this account of piety to contradiction (or at least a near-contradiction). But the secondary
premise about Zeus and Cronos is of a type Socrates has already said clearly enough (5E-6B)
he cannot be brought to accept. Thus Benson concludes that Vlastoss semi-Davidsonian
move of supposing Socrates thought that all secondary premises he used were true, falls to
this counter-example (along with a few others),
10
and, as a result, Benson advocates a return to
the status quo ante to stage (A), the stage of Vlastoss earlier worry, where all that a so-
called Socratic Elenchus could show is the inconsistency of the conjunction of the primary
proposition p and the secondary propositions q, r. This worry in stage (A) cannot be met,
according to Benson. So get used to it! If we wish Socratic argument to be coherent, Benson
now proposes, we must take it at any rate, in all of his [absolutely central] elenctic
passages that Socrates was only aiming to show inconsistency in certain whole positions
espoused by interlocutors. That is, to save Socrates from the gross fallacy thrown up in
position (A), we must apply this suggestion that Socrates was only attempting to show his
interlocutors opinions inconsistent to all so-called elenctic argument. In that case, if
Socrates were ever to argue that particular claims are false or true, and Benson grants he
does then grounds would have to be found other than elenctic argument for holding that
he has established or refuted particular propositions. Without such non-elenctic arguments,
we would almost certainly be led to infer from the claim that
5 Socrates claims to have no knowledge [of the good]
the claim that
6 Socrates never argues for any beliefs of his own [about the good].
If adopting Bensons position on the so-called elenchus were even to suggest that this
inference should be accepted, we might well feel some considerable discomfort with
Bensons view.
11
All of this being said about Benson vs. Vlastos, what I want to draw attention to is not
any of the points on which Benson and Vlastos are in disagreement, but a point on which they
absolutely agree. The point on which Benson and Vlastos, both early and late, agree and on
which they are followed by pretty well everyone else who has taken up the issue is that
Socratic dialectic, with the qualifications noted above about certain inductive steps, is purely
deductive in character. The idea of deduction here involves not only the proof-theoretic
notion of derivability from premises via antecedently determinate formal rules of inference,
but also the kind of semantical underwriting that will ensure, no matter what interpretations
10
See Benson (2000), 48-52, 40-43.
11
Benson saves himself from this difficulty by himself endorsing for claims Socrates is evidently endorsing (which
always occur, according to Benson, outside of elenctic contexts) the essentially Vlastosian (and semi-
Davidsonian) move to arguing for truth from inductive evidence of [hypothesized] repeated elenchi (91-92). What
is more, Bensons complicated notion of Socratic knowledge, as both a propositional state and a dunamis, requires
of the dunamis much the same holistic, Davidsonian conception of knowledge of such things as the good (e.g.,
Benson (2000), 191-3, 220). Like Davidson, Benson wants to hew both to holism and (n.3 above) to the
propositions required by the logical powers doctrine, to which, as I have said, any proponent of the notion of
logical consequence is committed. (It is of course this propositional element to which I am objecting, both in
Davidson and in Benson. But I should note here that, on the other hand, Benson rightly, and generously, notes the
affinity of certain other parts of what he is doing to earlier material of mine which at any rate lies in a certain
proximity to holism.) It may be added to what was said in nn.3, 7, and 9 above, that once the non-deductive appeal
to survival of [hypothesized] repeated past elenchi has become central to Bensons explanations of the [perfectly
obvious] fact that Socrates very often argues for some claim of his own, the motive for construing so-called
elenctic passages deductively is correspondingly weakened. Why shouldnt all of the arguments in Socratic
dialectic involve substantial (non-logical) principles of inference?
Terry Penner 13
are assigned to the non-logical constants, that deductive inferences of the form in question
will never lead from truth to falsity, that is, from true premises to a false conclusion.
Now how does the example introduced in the preceding section concerning the three
variants (1a), (1b), and (1c) of Piety is what is loved by the gods show well-founded my
discomfort with the deployment of modern notions of logical consequence and logical
inconsistency that are built into the so-called Socratic Elenchus by all of (a) Robinson and
early Vlastos, (b) later Vlastos, and (c) Benson? As announced earlier, I think it lies in the
fact that each position assumes that
what a speaker is saying on a particular occasion by means of a given sentence
is given by (and indeed reduced to)
what the speakers sentence says on that occasion.
12
In the next section, I illustrate this claim of mine by showing how rejection of the
identity or reduction in question undercuts both the positions, early and late, of Vlastos, as
well as that of Benson in his attack on later Vlastos.
3. Consequences of my argument for the disagreement between Benson and Vlastos
Suppose, just for the moment, that I am right that what Euthpyro would on this occasion
be saying would be the same, whether he used the gods as in (1), such beings as the gods,
as in (1a) or such beings as Zeus and Cronos as in (1c). Then I put the case that he would
also be saying the same thing had he used the sentence
1d Piety is what is loved by such beings as Zeus and Cronos who are such that Zeus
castrated Cronos for murdering Zeus siblings,
or even the sentence
1e Piety is what is loved by such beings as Zeus and Cronos who are such that what
Zeus loves, Cronos hates.
And if this is correct, it seems plain that what Euthyphro is saying in assenting to What
Zeus loves, Cronos hates what proponents of the so-called elenchus would call granting
the supposed secondary proposition that what Zeus loves, Cronos hates does not advert to
a secondary proposition (or a secondary anything else) logically independent of what
Euthyphro would be saying when he used the original sentence
1 Piety is what is loved by the gods.
12
I have said above that this identification or reduction of what the speaker is saying to what the speakers sentences
say is characteristic of the so-called linguistic turn, which also has the Hume-like (empiricism-like) effect of
limiting what people can say or think or express to the conceptual resources supplied by language. This is true
even of those (often Wittgensteinian) proponents of the linguistic turn who dont have much truck with formal
logic, and so need not accept the logical powers doctrine. I have questioned this move elsewhere in defense of
Platos account of what the speakers in the lowest level of the Cave get to speak about. (Penner (2006)) This
linguistic turn, not only in philosophy generally, but in modern logic, philosophy of logic, philosophy of
language, and foundations of mathematics, has come to dominate most of modern philosophy first among
science-minded philosophers but increasingly within the whole field. It originates, in my own non-professional
opinion, in the formalism that Hilbert introduced in response to serious problems both with axiomatics and with
the effect of the antinomies of set theory on our use of infinities in mathematics. (More on Hilbert in the Appendix
below.)
The Death of the so-called Socratic Elenchus 14
For we can now see that what Euthyphro was saying when he assented to the sentence
What Zeus loves, Cronos hates is merely part of (an aspect of) what was already included in
what he was saying in the original sentence about the gods.
Of course, as before, others using the various sentences in question (or Euthyphro using
them on other occasions) may well be saying something different by means of the two
sentences. But does that show that Euthyphro is saying something different on this occasion?
(See n.5 above.)
To return to Benson and Vlastos, notice that the question at issue here is not whether
(theories of what people are saying aside) my account of the argument shows Euthyphros
position doesnt add up, while the accounts of Vlastos and Benson fail to show this. For if the
theories of myself, Vlastos, and Benson as to what people are saying were equally viable, all
three accounts of what Euthyphro is saying would show in their different ways the flaws in
Euthyphros position. The question at issue is rather whether the methods of analysis Benson
and Vlastos use equally correctly represent what Euthyphro is saying. My position, of course,
is that both are fatally connected to the linguistic turn together with the logical powers
doctrine, and so are based on an incorrect account of what Euthyphro is saying.
I am not denying here that Bensons argument against Vlastos is correct ad hominem.
For if Vlastos accepts what Euthyphro is saying in terms of what his sentences say (and the
logical powers doctrine of when sentences say the same thing), he will have to grant that this
is a clear counter-example to the claim that Socrates himself accepts all [logically
independent] secondary premises in so-called elenchi. At the same time, Bensons own
acceptance of the sentential criterion for what Euthyphro is saying, along with his acceptance
of the logical powers doctrine, both of which he shares with Vlastos, shows his own argument
(that all Socrates can be arguing for is the logical inconsistency of Euthyphros total position)
is also incorrect. Socrates argument against Piety is what is loved by the gods is not at all
undercut by the assumption common to Vlastos and Benson that Euthyphro was in a position
to give up what he is saying when he says Piety is what is loved by the gods instead of what
he is saying when he saysWhat Zeus loves, Cronos hates.
I conclude that both Vlastoss later position and Bensons position should be rejected
which is, in effect, to say that the so-called Socratic Elenchus should be entirely rejected as
an account of Socrates dialectical methods.
But then, what is so special about my account, where
7 what Euthyphro is saying using the sentence What Zeus loves, Cronos hates is part
of what he is saying when he uses the sentence Piety is what is loved by the gods?
Is my account not just another Davidsonian holistic account of what people are saying
using particular sentences though now such holistic accounts of what people are saying may
appear precisely in so-called elenctic passages? And dont later Vlastos and Benson both
resort to something Davidsonian in arguing either (in Vlastoss case) that a principle of
inference (infer the truth of a given proposition from its surviving repeated and varyied
elenchi) getting us those secondary premises that happen to be true, or (in Bensons case)
getting us, via holistic dunameis, those conclusions Socrates thinks true which do not appear
in elenchi? Well, to some extent. Bensons dunameis do show something of this kind of
Davidsonianism, Vlastoss not much. Neither shows signs of the full blown Davidsonian
holism, which surely would accept my claim (7). How so? The problem is that a full-blown
Davidsonian holism may not resort at any point to the logical powers doctrine, since that
would precisely undo (7). (Unfortunately, Davidson himself falls into this trap sometimes: see
n.3 above.) We need to give up the logical powers doctrine entirely. And then there can be no
Terry Penner 15
call to represent Socratic dialectic, even in so-called elenchi as proceeding by way of
deductions backed by logical consequence.
But the question still arises whether I am not giving a Davidsonian holistic analysis of
the Euthyphro argument, albeit one that entirely eschews such notions as logical consequence,
validity, soundness, and the like. On this there is only one thing I feel able to say here: that
holistic analyses inevitably end up as (what are, from my point of view, though not
Davidsons) coherence theories, or at least internal realisms, thoroughly committed to the
linguistic turn (see n.12 init.). Such features certainly do not characterize any view I myself
could endorse, or that I can imagine attributing to Socrates or Plato. Those such as Socrates
and Plato who believe in a real good which we all desire, and in real natures independent of
anything our language makes available to us, will not be holists however much they would
always choose holism over empiricism if those were our only choices.
4. Conclusions and further remarks.
I have argued here that when arguments in Socratic dialogues are analyzed in terms of
the propositions and entailments of modern logic (as happens in the so-called Socratic
Elenchus, they commit interpreters not only to the linguistic turn, in which
what speakers are saying by means of given sentences is reduced to what those
sentences say,
but also to
the logical powers doctrine of the identity of what the speakers are saying;
and that
this unfortunate combination gives the wrong identity conditions for what speakers are
saying.
And I have argued that
the failure here is a failure to account adequately for at least one sort of context that
which consists in the speakers background beliefs, personal style, and the cultural
milieu from which the speaker springs.
A second sort of context which also tends to be falsified by these modern methods of
interpretation is that of the literary form given to the dialogue by the person who writes or
reports what the speaker is saying in the relevant conversation. I have argued elsewhere that
one of the bad features of the sorts of analyses of Platonic arguments given by proponents of
the so-called elenchus is that the dialogues tend to get atomized into a sequence of (at best
loosely) connected, but quite discrete arguments; and that we see this particularly clearly in
how little interpreters have attempted to connect the longer road of Republic Book IV
(concerning, apparently, the parts of the soul) with the account of the longer road of
Republic Book VI (concerning the metaphysics of the Form of the Good). These passages in
Books IV and VI tend, in most writing on the Republic, to become two isolated series of
arguments. If interpreters did not rush so easily to isolate particular arguments or elenchi,
they might ask whether the plot, for example, did not require some more hard-working effort
to say just how Plato could have thought that the arguments concerning the Form of the Good
supplied important information about how we should construe the earlier arguments
The Death of the so-called Socratic Elenchus 16
apparently concerning the parts of the soul. (Where analytical philosophers excuse themselves
by saying Dear Plato, you know, once he gets the metaphysical bit between his teeth, he
cant get back to the subject he was offering to illuminate, I want to say that it is analytical
philosophers who have the bit between their teeth the bit, namely, of logical analysis of
allegedly discrete arguments.) Thus may the too quick application of modern methods of
logic lead us to miss one of the truly masterful moves in the plot of the Republic, and lead to
all sorts of misinterpretations of, for example, the Form of the Good. (See Penner 2005b.)
Last is the third, and, in my view, much the most important sort of context which I think
is all too easily missed if we read Socratic arguments by treating them as elenchi. This is
what I have called above the real world context. (My treatment of this sort of context was
quite as important as the material presented above to my actual lecture in Wrzburg. I chose
to cut it out here only in the interests of space. I hope to say a good deal more on it
elsewhere.) To emphasize the remarks above just briefly here, when Socrates hears Peter
saying that he desires what is best over all, he takes Peter there to be saying that he wants
what is really best (not just what Peter thinks best, not just what is apparently best, and not
just something under the description what is best.) Here Socrates takes it that this thing
that is best over all, to which Peter is (inwardly) directed, is not what Peter thinks is best, but
what is really best, even if that is different from what Peter supposes it is. (Peter desires it in
ignorance of what it really is as scientists seeking to know the real nature of cancer seek that
real nature even if it is different from what they think it is; or as I seek to speak of my loved
ones as they really are, even though I do so through a fog of misconceptions of how it really
is with them.) The effect of this understanding of what people are referring to, and of what
they are saying, is that context involves not only the sorts of considerations (concerning a
speakers background beliefs and cultural milieu) which I have brought up in my arguments
against Vlastos and Benson, and considerations of plot, but also reality itself, the real truth.
(We have to judge what someone is saying in terms of the real truth about the parts of reality
to which they intend to refer.)
13
On this view, surprisingly enough, it makes a difference even to what someone intends
to refer to, what the truth is about that thing in reality. Hence, in general, people do not know
13
Prominent in my lecture also as indications of the way in which Socrates is committed to treating how things are in
the real world as involved in the sorts of things people say or things people believe, were passages where Socrates
makes it clear that the interlocutors do not know what it is that they are saying (or what it is that they believe). To
take just four examples, an astonished Polus is told at Gorgias 466D4-5 that he is denying that doing whatever
seems best is great power. Again, at 474B6-10, he is told that, contrary to what he may think he believes and
prefers, he actually prefers suffering injustice to doing it. At Lysis 205D5-10, an astonished Hippothales is told
that (unbeknownst to himself) what he presents as praise of Lysis is actually praise of himself. And at Smp 202B-
C, Socrates presents himself as thinking that he believes that Ers is a god, while Diotima assures him that he, like
Diotima herself, actually believes that Ers is not a god. (It should go without saying that, as one who eschews
meanings in any context whatever, I do not here counsel the transparent device of getting out of ones difficulties
by postulating a special sense of believes or says in the way Vlastos [1983] (1994), 23-4 does.)
It will be clear that on the sort of [Socratic-Platonic] sort of view of what people are saying which I have been
presenting here, people will not in general be aware of what it is that they are saying, what it is that they prefer, or
what it is that they are praising except to the extent that they have knowledge of the truth of the matter about the
situation. This is the bringing into context of what the real truth is (even if what that real truth is should be
unknown to any of the interlocutors). This sort of context, as I have remarked at the end of the preceding section,
is what torpedoes any form of holism, even amongst those who eschew the logical powers doctrine. For, from a
Socratic/Platonic point of view, holism is a form of coherence theory, which is hardly what is involved in the
ultra-realism of Socratic and Platonic accounts of desire for the real good.
If you want to know what people are saying by means of their sentences, you cant just work with what their sentences
say. It is not enough to just run through the application of some meanings or semantical rules to the sentences of
Socrates and his interlocutors to get what it is that they are saying. You will have to use your head and
everything you know about people, about societies, about plot, and about the real truth of the matter about the
things Socrates and his interlocutors are talking about if you are to succeed in getting clear about what they are
saying.
Terry Penner 17
what it is that they are referring to. (Thus, those we love most, for example, are always in
some measure unrevealed to us. But it is them to which we intend to refer, not to someone
who fits some [mis]conception we have of that person. So it is with the good we wish for
those we love we want it even if it differs from what we think it is. Thus I do not in general
know what that good is that I wish for my children and grandchildren. For all that, it is that
good which I wish for them. (I wish for them neither what I think is the good for them, nor
even what they think is the good for them.) But then I cannot know what my state of intending
to refer to the real good is here except to the extent I know what that real good is. Modern
logic (and so the so-called elenchus) including, incidentally, the logics of psychological
contexts that descend to us from Frege is quite unequipped to deal with such features of
context as Socrates intention to refer to the real good. What logic can tell us about is at most
sentences about the good where everything contextual not explicit in the sentences is to be
disregarded.
14
But that make it ill-designed for the kind of dialectical coming to grips with the
good that we find in Socratic dialectic. (As Antonio Chu has pointed out to me, I really need
to add here the consequence I fully embrace that passages where the so-called elenchus
shows up are actually passages attempting to lead the interlocutor to something Socrates will
reasonably suppose is at least closer to the real truth. They are not about establishing
something formal.) It is for this reason too that I think it is time to drop the so-called Socratic
Elenchus.
15
Appendix: Further problems in applying modern logic to things people say.
The difficulties I have raised above for the distinction between what speakers are saying
and what sentences say could have been raised equally against any version of logic that
philosophers have used from Aristotle to Hume and Kant. For Aristotle too, logical
consequence is a matter of logical form, and logical form is determined by the language of the
logic of the syllogism, say. (Thus, contrary to the doctrine of the categories, all names stand
for the same type of thing, and all predicate expressions stand for exactly the same type of
things and for the same attribute in all contexts. As in modern logic, the language chosen
imposes its form on the logic.) But if we choose to use the methods of modern logic instead
the only rational choice for one who would employ logic at all entirely new problems of
the utmost seriousness arise, and make the application of logic to a conversations a much
more delicate matter. Few interpreters of Plato have shown any kind of awareness of the
hazards that await them here. Let me explain.
Prior to the invention in 1879 of the new symbolic logic of Frege, logic (in the limited
form available) was regarded, and with some justice, as (in Ryles phrase) a topic-neutral
discipline which could be used without itself prejudging any questions whatever about
matters of fact and real existence. Hence logic could be used as a neutral tool for examining
questions of metaphysics and ethics without obtruding any metaphysical views of its own on
the subject matter. But when logic expanded in the nineteenth century by finally providing for
relations and multiple quantification (as needed both for ordinary speech and for such
mathematical purposes as the , definitions of limits and continuity), two almost entirely
new problems emerged. The first is that it became obvious that all sorts of existence
assumptions were necessary to logic. To name just three, we have, first, the existence of
logical forms (which my 1987 points out is hardly less daring metaphysically than the
14
See further the appendix below on more shortcomings to the way in which modern interpreters apply methods of
modern logic to the interpretation of the dialogues.
15
I owe thanks to a number of people for very helpful comments or conversations, of whom I single out Jerry Santas,
George Anagnostopoulos, Alex Santana, Hugh Benson, and, as often, especially Antonio Chu.
The Death of the so-called Socratic Elenchus 18
existence of Platonic Forms thus making logical arguments against the existence of the
Forms highly questionable). Second, we have the existence of extensions (sets!) for every
predicate if (meta)-proofs of soundness, and completeness were to be carried out. And, third,
it turns out that we need an infinity of counting numbers (since such meta-proofs require
mathematical induction). Logic could now no longer be metaphysically neutral on questions
of existence.
The second problem was even more troubling. A series of damaging contradictions were
found in the very foundations of logic, especially the Cantor paradox and the Russell
paradox in set theory, and the (ancient) Liar paradox for the theory of truth and reference,
i.e., formal semantics. These contradictions forced all sorts of restrictions and limitations onto
logic. The trouble with most uses of the notions of validity, entailment, and the like, as we see
them applied by analytical philosophers interpreting Platonic texts, is that they presuppose all
sorts of restrictions and limitations with no philosophical motivation other than the ad hoc
reason that without something from within a wide range of possible restrictions logic will end
up self-contradictory. Thus the meta-proofs of soundness and consistency for first-order
quantification theory presuppose that there is an extension for every predicate, no matter how
complex. (Consider, for example, the range of the schematic predicate-letter A in the rule of
universal instantiation: xA Aa.). But the objects in the domain ranged over by
everything may not include any of those extensions. Why not? Because if we allowed those
extensions into the domain, the theory would immediately become self-contradictory by
virtue of the Russell contradiction. So they are excluded by fiat! Not much of a
recommendation for the first-order logical theory which many have taken to be the language
of science, or for an account of what (we think) exists in terms of what our theory quantifies
over. And since logic can hardly do without extensions, we must add sets to our ontology
making modern logic no more secure than set theory.
And consider only what is necessary to get a theory of truth and reference for a language
of logic (again necessary for the above mentioned meta-proofs) which can be applied to
Socratic conversations. (There can be no such natural language, Tarski thought.) Here the
anglophone interpreter must use an English containing no predicate is true that can be
applied to sentences in English. Is it clear that any English speaker, for example, speaks, or
could speak, an English which lacks the predicate ... is a true sentence as applicable to any
of its sentences? But such restrictions are necessary if we are to have a logic that is
antecedently prepared to deal systematically with any subject whatever. Indeed, we may
wonder whether conversation, even philosophical conversation, attempts to proceed within
such Gargantuan antecedent systematisation; and even whether that is desirable especially if
it is going to proceed under such strong ontological assumptions and such stringent
restrictions and limitations.
Of course it might be said, contrary to what I have been suggesting, throughout, that a
proponent of the so-called Socratic Elenchus need not inject the full apparatus of axiomatic
systems of logic + Tarskian semantics into his or her use of the idea of logical consequence,
and that all such a proponent would need is the (baby logic) idea of its being the case that
when the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. But this is a mistake. The modal
word must needs some explanation, some motivation (for example, in terms of all possible
worlds, the existence and the non-existence of possibilities, and so forth). Such explanations
inevitably cause more trouble than the non-modal true under all (re)-interpretations which
itself requires the full panoply of restrictions.
One final point. It might seem that in protesting against the reduction of what speakers
are saying to what sentences say, I am saying that logic deals only in sentences as if logic
Terry Penner 19
did not allow for the interpretations of sentences. But I do allow for such interpretations. My
problem here is that (in a kind of analogue to Meaning determines reference: see my 2005a)
semantical rules determine reference for words and phrases, and with a characteristic
insouciance to context (bar a few indexicals). For such interpretations (such correlations
with reality) occur only in the following way. In a modified version of Hilberts unrestricted
formalism, one first disinterprets all non-logical constants (though still in accordance with
logical types: sentence-symbols for truth-bearers, predicate-symbols for attributes
[Aristotelian such-es], name-symbols for objects [Aristotelian this-es], and so forth); then,
second, one decides logical form on the basis of the largely disinterpreted formulas and
subformulas; then, third, one systematically (re)interprets the disinterpreted formulas and
subformulas, using semantical rules, in terms of the particular things or attributes referred to
by the sentences in question.
It is true that in some modern work in philosophy of language, there is an attempt to
allow for such contextual matters as are involved with explicitly token-reflexive (or indexical)
expressions or grammatical features, such as I, he, then, here, tense, and so forth. I
am suggesting here, however, that this is far too little concession to context. I myself believe
that what a person is referring to in using a given subject or predicate may always be more or
less contextual. From a logicians point of view, of course, some things must be context-
independent, or the very utility of the discipline will be severely limited. What I am
suggesting here is that the discipline is severely limited for purposes of accounting for what
people say (as opposed to what their sentences say) in the course of their arguments. Indeed I
doubt that contextual considerations of the breadth required for analysis of the Socratic
arguments now under discussion can be provided for in the only sorts of logic systematically
enough developed to be available to us.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
Studying Plato and Platonism Together: Meno-related
Observations
The Matthias Baltes Memorial Lecture
Harold Tarrant
It has been an honour to offer a lecture in memory of Matthias Baltes, a man of great
personal qualities and a genuine Platonist. This paper will try to let Plato inform my reading
of later Platonists, and to use their insights to enrich our reading of the dialogues. Matthias
achieved this particularly in relation to the influential Timaeus, to which his contribution was
extensive,
1
while the Meno is a more attractive target for one who prefers to write on
dialogues less well known in antiquity.
i. Where should we look for doctrine in the Meno?
The Theaetetus-Commentary, an early Middle Platonist work extant to about Theaetetus
158a,
2
gives the Meno special significance for the early pages of the Theaetetus. Indeed, the
commentator assumes that Meno 98a provides the definition of knowledge that the Theaetetus
looks for in vain (III, XV), and the theme of recollection functions centrally in the
understanding of Socratic education (XLVI-XLVIII). Recollection, as usual in Middle
Platonism, was explained in relation to the common notions, but the Platonist nature of the
theory is not in doubt: such notions depend on a pre-natal vision as suggested by Meno itself
(81c). A link with Phaedo is also prominent, and though the terminology of the Ideas or
paradigms is never imported into this discussion (which concerns a dialogue where no Ideas
are explicitly mentioned), the commentator assumes that the vision had been Idea-directed.
The commentator did not see Meno as an epistemological work rather than an ethical
one. It was for him a dialogue of investigation, like Theaetetus itself. According to column
LIX, it is Socrates tactic in such investigations (ztseis) to ask questions without supplying
answers. His position is not altogether hidden from those with experience of his techniques,
but that does not involve a non-aporetic conclusion on the main topic of investigation. It is
precisely because Theaetetus is investigating how individual pieces of knowledge arise that
1
Baltes (1972), (1976/1978). The index to Der Platonismus in der Antike, (band 1-4) contains 3.5 pages of references
to Tim., but only one to Meno (4.257 n.11).
2
The main papyrus to 153d1, with fragments of 157b-8a.
Harold Tarrant 21
Socrates can give no explanation of them. Instead, it can teach a Middle Platonist a great deal
about such key topics as the Socratic learning process and the moral goal itself (VII 14-20,
foreshadowing later discussion). On peripheral issues, many of central importance, Socrates is
ready to reveal what he believes. This must apply to all dialogues that our author would
recognise as zetetic,
3
but I confine myself here with four:
1. Theaetetus can say little definitive about knowledge, but remain the key text for
the telos.
2. Protagoras can say nothing definitive about the interrelationship of the virtues,
and yet offer Middle Platonists an account of how virtue arises, given in
Protagoras great rhesis.
4
3. Euthydemus has no solution for dealing with eristic sophistry, but contained
scenes depicting the education of Cleinias that had already influenced Socratic
ethics.
5
4. Meno finds no final account of the origin or nature of political excellence,
being the archetypal dialogue of investigation (ztsis),
6
but offers insights
about how we arrive at knowledge or correct opinions.
So Meno could be given the Thrasyllan subtitle On Excellence (D.L. 3.59), and still be
most utilised by Middle Platonists for its views on knowledge. Anything said in Meno about
knowledge could be used in the interpretation of Platos epistemology in other works, but
similarly anything Protagoras says about political excellence the excellence for which adult
males become famed in their cities was liable to be used in reading Meno.
However, it cannot be simply assumed that Protagoras became an authority figure for
Platonic ethics. There are competing views of excellence in Meno, the political excellence that
Meno himself actively pursues (91a), and a more exacting concept favoured by Socrates
possibly identical with moral knowledge but not achievable without divine help. What
Meno wants is virtually what Protagoras offers, an excellence that seemed inappropriate in
woman, child, or slave. What Socrates pursues, even as he educates Meno, may also be
related to Protagoras, but to the literary digression. There it had been humanly impossible to
be excellent in a complete and continuous fashion (344a); that was within a god's grasp alone
(343c), and those who got closest were recipients of divine favour (345c). There the
acquisition and subsequent loss of knowledge were the only great blessings and disasters one
3
In the division of Thrasyllus at least, comparable dialogues include Euthphr., Alc. I and II, Theag, Chrm., La., Lys.,
Grg., Hi.Ma., Hi.Mi., Ion. The better known works likely to pose difficulties were Alc. I and Grg. As a work on
rhetoric (D.L. 3.59) and its power, Grg. can be seen as exploring the principal topic (Phdr. was afforded more
credibility), but uncompromising on the desirability of justice. When seen as a work about the human being Alc. I
seems rather didactic, but Platonist tradition regarded the Socrates of the third and final part (on the human being)
as a midwife rather than a teacher (Proc. In Alc. 12-14; Olymp. In Alc. 1), and that of the first part as more
elenctic. Only in the second, protreptic part (120e-124b) does Socrates (a) digress, and (b) take a more didactic
stance, and that has little to do with the nature of humans.
4
Protagoras is here an authority figure, cautious and pious, without the agnosticism of the historical Protagoras. For
this speech seen as Platonic doctrine see Tarrant (2000), 113 and 136. Until 324d2 Protagoras uses myth, a
typical vehicle for inviting in-depth interpretation, only then moving into straightforward reasoned exposition.
5
Annas (1999), 31-51, rightly makes much of the Euthd.s ethical digressions in the establishment of some possible
stoicising features of Middle Platonic ethics, and indeed it had influenced the Stoics themselves, as Striker (1994)
shows (cf. Long (1988)). For the digressions importance in al-Farabis arrangement of dialogues see Tarrant
(2003).
6
See 81d-e and 86b-c, confirming the utility of the recollection argument in making people more zetetic (zttikoi:
found in genuine works only at Meno 81e1 and twice in Rep. For Aristotle (Pol. 1265a12) and the Axiochus
(366b6) this on-going investigative character is typical of the Platonic Socrates.
Studying Plato and Platonism Together: Meno-related Observations 22
could experience (344c-5b). For knowledge would render moral mistakes impossible (345d-
e). Such is the uncompromising nature of this concept of excellence that there is no
excellence other than real excellence (343d-e), in defiance of passages in Meno, Euthydemus,
Phaedo, and Republic that mention a popular or political excellence dependent only on
habituation. Those able to become excellent temporarily are to be praised, but this transient
condition is not a part of their nature.
These competing views of excellence were seen as operating within Meno too. As I shall
soon argue, Cicero De Legibus 1.24-32 involves an interpretation of the Meno, read in close
conjunction with Phaedo, Timaeus, and above all Protagoras long rhesis from Protagoras.
7
Cicero knows he is dealing with a specifically social or political type of excellence. Arguing
for the natural origin of law, he emphasises societys natural inclination towards goodness.
Societys virtues are thus not remote, though natural gifts must be actively employed under
the oversight of law. But for the individual there is at least one further stage if one is to
achieve true virtue, true likeness to god (1.25). This involves a leader (1.30), and requires
recognition of our true selves and our celestial origins (1.59, 1.25). The virtues required for
societys operations fell short of the wisdom-related excellence to which gifted individuals
should aim.
The result of detecting two concepts of excellence within dialogues like Meno and
Protagoras is that Middle Platonism operates with two, and usually three categories of
excellence. These are natural good qualities, good patterns of behaviour acquired by practice,
and true excellences involving the acquisition of moral knowledge. It is characteristic only of
the last that they occur together in one person, while others may often be present individually.
A detailed theory of grades of excellence is not what the ancients looked for in Meno, given
that it is a ztsis about excellence. Rather, the dialogue could not for them be understood
without different conceptions of excellence, while its later pages concentrated on so-called
political excellence. While such a view deserves our consideration, it must be balanced
against the works strong push for a single definition of excellence. If we take Platos
Socrates at face value, then we see that he would not readily accept two or three genuine
kinds of virtue that resist a unitary definition. But could there be one real kind, permitting
various shadows and reflections?
So dialogues like the Meno were seen as making their most direct and valuable
contribution through digressions rather than through the main topic of inquiry. Whereas
modern interpretations of the Meno may be dismissive of the theme of recollection because it
is technically a digression, an ancient theory of interpretation required one to take digressions
in this type of dialogue as serious sources of doctrine for here Plato could reveal doctrine in
ways impermissible during the principal inquiry, where only hints might be offered. Where
ancient and modern are so opposed I cannot insist that the ancients were right. But what they
offer is better than postulating one theory of excellence for each of the dialogues separately,
which are then placed in a notional chronological sequence to explain their developing
differences.
ii. Myth and religious themes in Meno
Another modern reason for devaluing the recollection theme is its appeal to the readers
inner religious intuitions and to alleged statements of unspecified priests, priestesses, and
inspired poets, as well as to Pindar (81a-c). The dialogue itself puts all such persons in the
class of those whose authority comes from divine inspiration rather than knowledge (99c-d),
7
Tarrant (2005), Chapter 5.
Harold Tarrant 23
so why should we take what they say seriously? Their pronouncements conjure up images
from mythology, and so link the origin of recollection with sights on a journey through Hades
rather than with the constructs of reason. There are two mistakes here which the ancients
rarely made, one which wrongly devalues myth, an essential weapon of Platos armoury, and
another which fails to see how seriously Plato and his readers took divine inspiration. Truth
uttered by inspired persons is indeed not their knowledge, but these people are allegedly
habitually correct on matters not humanly knowable.
To take the first mistake, the ancients most commonly regarded Platonic myths as
particularly intense passages, ultimately revealing the thoughts of their author. This is seen in
the way that the Iamblichan curriculum gave prominence to dialogues with mythical material,
the twelve including Gorgias, Phaedo, Cratylus, Statesman, Phaedrus, Symposium, and
Timaeus (anon. Proleg. 26). Furthermore, Proclus in the Platonic Theology treats as canonical
the myths of several dialogues including the Protagoras, Gorgias, Phaedo, Republic, and
Statesman,
8
while passing over reasoned passages. The conviction that there is hidden truth in
myths is already observable in Plutarch, who devises his own myths for similar contexts, and
in other Middle Platonists. It continues in Olympiodorus (in Gorg. 46-50). Myth in the Greek
tradition appealed subtly to those who were culturally Greek, and offers a tool for
awakening what Plato saw as a readers inner awareness. If we find it difficult to explain why
a rather nervous Meno (81a7-9) is charmed by Socrates into paying attention, it is because we
do not have the same cultural response. Plutarch, however, spoke of respected religious rites
as aiming to recover as in a dream the pre-natal vision that proper philosophy aims to remind
us of rationally (Mor. 422c).
9
Indeed, there is something dreamlike about the way in which
the Meno introduces recollection, but let us not doubt the authors seriousness. By devaluing
the religious machinery of Meno priests, prophets, dreams, and mysteries we may make it
more intelligible to students today, but only at the expense of purifying Plato of what was
once the defining characteristic of Platonism: the confidence that an inner voice can tell us
something about ourselves, about what we are, and what we should strive to be.
iii. How seriously should we take the theia moira motif?
So I turn to the comparison between politician and prophet, a comparison prepared at
92c when Socrates calls Anytus a prophet because he operated according to a conviction
without empirical foundation. If prophets and inspired were thought to allow an inner voice to
speak, then so too was Socrates, who in the Apology declares himself the recipient of
commands by nearly every form of divine communication (33c). So too were the rhapsode
and his audience in Ion (535e-6d). More worryingly, so, in the Meno, was the politician (99d-
e). It is easy for the politicians inner voice to be treated as mere irony, colouring the whole
treatment of religious inspiration too. Indeed, we are meant to suspect irony here and ponder
what might be meant, but Socrates resumes the theme at e3 with apparent seriousness, and
without dissent from a potentially sceptical interlocutor.
When Aristotle considers the means by which we might become either excellent or
happy in either the Nicomachean or the Eudemian Ethics, he utilises the same list of
candidates as Meno. Excellence might be caused by our nature, by teaching and learning, by
practice and habit, by luck (cf. 99a), and, most importantly, divine apportionment as at 99e
(theia moira).
10
When in Eudemian Ethics 8.2 Aristotle considers why some people seem to
8
See Theol. 1.5; he confines himself to the myths of Prt. and Grg., and to parts of Rep., one of these being the myth.
9
The speaker is Cleombrotus, reporting the words of a prophet who functioned near the Red Sea.
10
EN 1099b9-11 and EE 1214a15-25; EN 1179b20-23, where nature is also included, though puzzlingly this is rolled
together with luck and divine dispensation.
Studying Plato and Platonism Together: Meno-related Observations 24
have a quality of luckiness, the terms of the discussion are again reminiscent of Meno (whose
politician seems good at guesswork). In a textually difficult passage at 1248a29-b7, he notes
that some have repeated success, which might be explained by some kind of inspiration. He
believes that divine influence might explain insights into the future too. So there is a kind of
luckiness of divine origin, getting things right in people who seem to act on impulse. So
divine dispensation, as something able to account for on-going political success, is taken
seriously.
If Aristotle has no reason to rationalise away the divine machinery of Meno, what about
Platos other close colleagues? We lack their books, but their views may be reflected in the
dubia. While some scholars think Plato wrote them, that is hardly a problem in this case. The
Seventh Epistle speaks of a theia moira regularly between 326b and 337e. It combines the
ideas of divine allocation and divine piece of luck (theia tych), most noticeably at 337e1-2.
The context is political throughout, and the author writes of the exceptional political
opportunity that would be offered by the most auspicious circumstances. At 326b he talks of
politicians coming to philosophise by some divine allocation, and at 336e2-3 of the divine
piece of luck (theia tych) required to give a man even a small share of correct judgement
thus linking divine influence with mere doxa.
The link with the Meno is obvious too in Epistle II,
11
where at 313b the author addresses
Dionysius on his claim to have grasped esoteric doctrines. Here a public figure comes to
philosophise by a theia moira that is linked directly with Menos theme that unbound views
are unstable, unlike knowledge (95b-98a). Dionysius opinions have the same epistemological
status as those of excellent politicians in Meno. They occur by theia moira, they lack a bond
without further study, and hence they are unstable. A process that will lead to the required
stability is outlined at 313d.
12
In Theages, Socrates daimonion is described at length in this work, and is said to have
accompanied him since childhood by divine apportionment. Socrates possesses this prophetic
gift irrespective of human cognitive powers, and it even rejects some pupils for him (129e)
and determines what progress others make (130e). Socrates does not control the outcomes of
his education!
Of the spuria, the De Virtute, which Mark Reuter makes much use of in an article on the
end of the Meno,
13
sets out to answer, more directly, the same question that Meno poses at the
outset, though here it is asked by a didactic Socrates, not his interlocutor. It proceeds directly
to empirical material from in and around the Anytus scene,
14
and fnally Socrates responds
openly to a request for his own view. The excellence of politicians is a divine thing, similar to
a prophetic gift, coming neither from nature nor from craft (techn), but from divine
inspiration. Its power is prophetic, as it involves predicting political outcomes. Divine control
is exercised over the citys fortunes by creation or removal of good politicians! This author
takes the comparison between prophet and habitually successful politician as doctrine,
noticing how much guess-work about outcomes is involved like a gamblers guesses that
habitually defy the odds and win.
11
The work is of interest to me however late one places it, and I treat it here in spite of there being an excellent case
for placing it later than the Old Academy (Keyser, 1998).
12
This involves repeated messages to Plato about his queries and difficulties until all issues are resolved. This process
is not like any learning process in the Meno, where educator, not student, asks questions. Rather, the author recalls
the need felt by the reader of a book to ask supplementary questions at Phaedrus 275d-e, a passage otherwise
influential upon the author of a work notoriously suspicious of the written word (312d, 314a-c).
13
Reuter (2001).
14
89b (cf. 379a-b); 377a6-378c4 relates closely to 93d194e2, 376c4-377a5 relates more loosely to 92c3-93d1, and
376b1-c3 is roughly connected with 90b7-91b2.
Harold Tarrant 25
We must not be as blind to irony at the end of Meno as the author of the De Virtute was.
Nor could the author of Gorgias easily have attributed divine gifts (in the normal sense) to
Pericles or Themistocles. But Gorgias regarded Aristides more favourably for always
choosing justice over injustice (526b), and Aristides could not teach his own excellence (94a).
So the concept of a political excellence founded on less than knowledge was not one for Plato
to dismiss altogether, as seen from Phaedo 68c8-69a9 and 82a11-b3 or Republic 430b6-c6
and 619c-d. References to senseless andreia and senseless sphrosyn at Meno 88b
(cf. Euthd. 281c) suggest a complex theory here too. This is why later Platonism was entirely
comfortable with the notion of grades of excellence. These would begin with natural gifts, go
on to the practice-induced qualities usually known as political excellence, and proceed to
the knowledge-related excellence outlined in the Phaedo, known in Middle Platonism as
complete excellence.
15
So signs of irony at 99d-e do not herald a Socratic lie, but warn that he is being
provocative, that we should not simplify, and that further reflection is needed. This is again
hinted at by the use of Tiresias as the analogue for any politician who genuinely did know.
Even as inspired prophets can fall seriously short of the prince of prophets himself, so an
Aristides must still fall seriously short of the ideal.
iv. Variations on a Theme of Recollection
That Plato himself took the theme of recollection seriously may be deduced from its use
in Phaedo and Phaedrus. Its reappearance in Cicero
16
and a long line of Middle Platonists and
Neoplatonists, none of whom had to apologise for it, testifies to the power of its grip on the
Platonist mind. But how far is it the Menos version of the theory that was of influence? Since
we are dealing with unitarians, who recognised no sharp differences between periods of
composition, Menos contribution is difficult to assess. Phaedo and Phaedrus, being
dialogues that attracted commentaries early and entered the Neoplatonic curriculum, were the
best known sources. What the theory meant to later Platonists changed along with their
estimation of what was important, so that it becomes associated with the process of reversion
(epistroph) in Neoplatonism.
17
An earlier emphasis on its epistemological function, and the
Middle Platonist association with the common notions and their explication (diarthrsis),
fades by this time.
18
However, I now consider an extract from Olympiodorus On the Gorgias attacking the
empiricist view that we can progress from acquaintance (peira) and experience (empeiria) to
craft (techn). He thinks Polus mistaken in supposing that experience is the creative cause of
craft at Gorgias 448c:
This happens because we possess the required cognitive principles (logoi) and set
them in motion. It is like someone exposing glowing embers by removing ashes
which have long hidden them: he is not said to have created a fire but to have
revealed it. Or it is like someone purging an eye of a sty: he makes a contribution,
15
See Tarrant (2005), Chapter 7, where I detect a similar three-level theory in Alcinous, Apuleius, and anon. Tht. The
levels of virtue in Neoplatonism are more complicated and involve extra grades; for Plotinus (particularly
Enn. 1.2) see Dillon (1993) and (1996); for Olympiodorus and late Neoplatonism, see Westerink (1976), 116-18; I
have also benefited from a hitherto unpublished paper by Luc Brisson with a focus on Plotinus and Porphyry.
16
Tusculan Disputations 1.57, with allusions at De Legibus 1.25 and De Divinatione 1.115.
17
Plot. Enn. IV.8.4.28-30, V.3.2.13-16; Proc. In Rep. 2.351.15-17 and extract 5 from the Commentary on the
Chaldaean Oracles, for which see the Bud edition of the Chaldaean Oracles by des Places and Segonds (Paris,
1996), 211.18-20.
18
But see Proc. In Alc. 191, with reference to the Phaedo and, interestingly, to Statesman 277d.
Studying Plato and Platonism Together: Meno-related Observations 26
but does not himself create light. So too the [cognitive] powers in us have need of
something to remind us, analogous as we are to a sleeping geometrician.
19
This is the Demaratan interpretation of recollection, made famous by Scott,
20
who rejects
it, and named after its appearance in a text associated with Plutarch (fr. 215d). Plutarch held
the Middle Platonist view that a layer of false doctrine was to be removed before the process
of recollection could begin, as in the first of the Quaestiones Platonicae.
21
But let us consider
the origins of the Demeratan view in antiquity. The sleeping geometrician immediately recalls
the examination of the slave in Meno, a slave who has done no geometry before, and whose
first experience of it is dream-like (85c). Editors note the use of the curious example of a
sleeping geometrician in Aristotles On Generation of Animals, 735a10.
22
The context there
whether the embryo is a living creature scarcely explains Olympiodorus use of this
example, for Aristotle had simply been distinguishing between different levels of privation:
the waking, but resting, geometrician, differs from the sleeping one as well as from the one
solving geometrical problems. Why should Olympiodorus have remembered it, unless
perhaps Aristotles example derives from Academic discussion of the recollection passage
itself?
Aristotle knew Meno 80d-86e well. At An.Po. 71a29-30 he tackles the problem of
knowing that a particular unfamiliar triangle has angles whose sum is two right-angles. One
has universal knowledge required, but no particular knowledge. Without such a distinction, he
says, the paradox from the Meno (80d) applies. So Aristotle took the opening paradox
seriously, and took recollection seriously as an attempted solution. Again, at An.Pr. 67a21-26,
he mentions the recollection argument, referring to the Meno. He ignores details, and does not
approach the text over-literally, but he sees the Meno as showing something important about
how we draw on prior knowledge. Clearly, the passage was the source of lively discussion in
the Academy.
How does this concern the sleeping geometrician? What would have been attractive to
the Academy is the distinction between two levels of latent mathematical knowledge.
23
There
is one level where latent knowledge is unknown to its possessor and in need of preliminary
actualisation, and another where he is aware of the knowledge available and may resume its
employment. Both cases differ from mere ability to learn if required, and neither yet exercises
the knowledge. The slave in Meno at first has subconscious latent knowledge, then becomes
aware through diagrams of the knowledge within him, but still falls short of knowledge. He is
like one who has just awakened perhaps (85c), but nobody could call him a geometrician.
However Aristotle came by his analogy, it was important in later Platonism that
recollection involves two stages of actualisation, a mental awakening and a refinement or
clarification. The two stages may be described as unfolding and dissection (anon. Tht. XLVII
42-45), or nourishing and confirming (Plutarch, Mor. 1000e), or awakening and calling forth
and refining and clarifying (Albinus, Prologue 6). The first process involves nothing
especially philosophical, the second does. The two stages are already reflected in the first
19
In Grg. 3.2, trans. Jackson, Lycos, and Tarrant (1998), 79. The sleeping geometrician, explicitly linked with
Aristotles physical works, occurs again at Elias, in Cat. 244.29.
20
See Scott (1987) and (1995).
21
999e-1000c. This view underlies the education program of Albinus Prol. 6, and anon. Tht. XLVII 21-24 speaks of
the common notions in the young Theaetetus being not too far obscured.
22
For discussion of this passage see Sprague (1977), 236-7.
23
Examples used in a comparable passage of Theaetetus are the arithmetician and grammarian (198e). However, the
analogy of the sleeping/waking geometrician is different from the analogy of the doves in the wild and the doves
in the aviary in that dialogue (197c-8d). The former represent knowledge that is not known to be available at all
(and not within grasp), while the latter represent knowledge that is available on demand.
Harold Tarrant 27
book of Ciceros De Legibus (24-30), where the presence within us of natural notions
explains firstly why humans share certain universal concepts that cannot derive from
sensation, and secondly how these provide the springboard for knowledge and excellence
alike (26-27, 30). Cicero requires that this second stage should involve the taking apart at the
joints of these notions, enodatio in Latin,
24
diarthrsis in Greek.
25
The second stage, if I read
Cicero correctly at the end of 1.30,
26
requires guidance (though not teaching). As 1.59 shows,
the guiding force is wisdom, presumably from outside. So Cicero requires a teacher to step in
only for stage two, while Middle Platonism needed him also to cut away layers of false
opinion hiding the required notions. First we need the conceptual guidance of natural notions,
and then we must spell out in detail what they involved. We see this from the end of 1.24,
where, possibly with an allusion to another of Menos themes, all men know they must
acknowledge a god, but few understand what sort of god they should acknowledge.
This distinction, between a level at which recollection contributes to the conceptual
sorting of experiences (not, of course, to concept formation)
27
and a level at which one can
offer a full account of what had then been dimly recollected, is reminiscent of Phaedo (74d-
76c). But Meno, while silent on concepts, is clearly offering a shadowy stage at which latent
knowledge contributes to our adoption of the right view, while promising another stage where
knowledge will be possible. And Meno employs the skills of Socrates to facilitate the first
stage as well as the second. The geometrician within the slave is at first sleeping. Socrates
awakens it by exposing his original sloppy answers, and once awake it will guide the slave to
correct answers. But further questioning can, it is claimed, produce knowledge proper. The
challenge now is to turn the newly awakened geometrician into an actual geometrician. It
would not surprise me, then, if Aristotle had found the analogy of the geometrician within
Academic debate, debate actually prompted by the Meno. And it would not surprise me if
Olympiodorus had derived his recollection-related use of the analogy from an ancient source
more directly related to the Meno.
These two stages are mirrored in a puzzling feature of Middle Platonist theology. In
Alcinous recollection plays only a small part in the arguments for immortality (25, 177.45-
178.12), and a passing one in epistemology (4, 155.32-34). The recovery of the souls former
knowledge is due to tiny sparks of reason (178.9) and made manifest in the natural notions, a
gift of nature that is the foundation of scientific reason (155.24-36). But the exercise of these
natural notions is the bodily counterpart of disembodied intellection (nosis), so that
disembodied minds should experience something analogous to the awakening and
enlightenment that belongs to recollection. Accordingly we find that the unmoved first god
must first awaken the universal soul, or more specifically its intellect, and then turn it towards
itself. There is agreement between the chapters on theology and on physics, for the same two
stages are found both at 10 165.1-3 and 14 169.37-41.
28
The deeply slumbering soul
29
is
roused into action by the unmoved god, and its turning towards that god enables it to receive
the ideas from that higher being. So in theology too we have awakening followed by
enlightenment. Is that recollection? Well, 169.37-41 explains why Plato speaks as if an
24
The correct reading at 1.26 may be obscuras intellegentias enodavit, not enudavit and certainly not inchoavit.
This term is guaranteed by parallels such as Top. 31, Off. 3.76, 81, Tusc. 4.53, Orator 116. But see also Dyck
(2004), 139, whose reading is of interest.
25
Particularly in anon. Tht. XLVI 44, XLVII 45, LIII 46 (cf. Bastianini-Sedley (1995), 535; Plut. (Sandbach) fr. 215f.)
26
The received text affirms that there is no human being incapable of reaching excellence if they obtain a guide
(ducem nactus). Some editors insert <naturam>, mistakenly. There is no conflict with nullo docente (1.27).
Guidance is precisely what Socrates offers in the Meno, teaching is precisely what it denies.
27
Here Scott (1987) convinces; see now Dimas (2003).
28
This passage appears in Drrie-Baltes (1996/8), as Baustein 144.1.
29
Whittaker (1990), 114, has a useful note on the key term karos here.
Studying Plato and Platonism Together: Meno-related Observations 28
ungenerated universe was generated in time, and hence the wakening of the world-souls
intellect and its contemplation of Ideas was an on-going process. A parallel in Plutarchs De
Animae Procreatione, in which God assists the slumbering world soul to awaken and to return
to the Ideas, is indeed closely linked with the cyclic universe of Statesman.
30
Though
reversion (epistroph) is more important than recollection here,
31
such reversion will be
connected with recollection in Neoplatonism.
32
I conclude, therefore, that there is a strange
but interesting analogy between the activation of the worlds intellect and the activation of
recollection in us, following a standard macrocosm-microcosm pattern.
Some Platonists, then, might hint that, as the sleeping geometrician awakens within
Menos slave, we should be recalling too that once-sleeping mathematician in the sky, of
Timaean ancestry, summoned first to wakefulness and then to active contemplation by an
object of love who moves us even more certainly than Socrates. By heeding the Platonists of
antiquity we shall not refuse to look even to the Timaeus for enlightenment as to how one
should read the Meno and vice-versa. With this epistroph to his Timaeus, I conclude my
paper for our sleeping Platonist.
University of Newcastle, NSW
30
See Mor. 1026e-f; there is some discussion of this passage in Drrie-Baltes (1996/8), 462-3.
31
As also at Mor. 1026f and 1024c-d.
32
See n. 18.
2
GORGIAS
Erotic Paideia in Platos Symposium
John J. Cleary
Introduction
It is generally accepted that Ers is a central theme of Platos Symposium, but it is not so
obvious that the topic of paideia is equally central to the dialogue, such that one can claim
that erotic paideia serves as one of its leitmotifs. Hence textual evidence combined with
interpretive argument is required to make the case, and that is what I propose to do in this
paper. Among the many functions which the symposium as an institution served within
classical Greek society, a central one was the social initiation of young aristocratic males by
older men. Pederasty was tolerated and even regulated in the ancient Greek polis because it
promoted class solidarity, as well as being conducive to military valour. So it was no accident
that the practice of pederasty was widespread within the military barracks in ancient Sparta,
which was subsequently outdone by Thebes with its so-called Sacred Band. Thus within
ancient Athens a primary locus for pederastic activity was the gymnasium, while another was
the symposium as a social institution that provided a traditional kind of civic education.
1
However, Plato was not an uncritical admirer of pederasty, as is clear from the Republic
and Laws, but in the Symposium he tries to show how it can serve a higher purpose if it is
directed in the right way towards more spiritual goals. I want to argue that describing such
redirection is the chief purpose of Socratess report on the lesson of Diotima, which also
involves a dialogue between teacher and student. This educational exchange succeeds because
the preliminary refutation of Socrates helps to free him from mistaken assumptions about
Ers and thereby enables him to transcend his attachment to particular erotic objects. By
contrast, I claim that the subsequent encounter between Alcibiades and Socrates is designed
by Plato to show how erotic paideia can fail in the case of someone who is unable to
transcend his erotic attachment to particular persons and his powerful desire for popular
success. Just as Callicles in the Gorgias is in love with Demos, so also Alcibiades is in love
with Socrates but yet is unable to make the ascent to the Good and the Beautiful that is
described in the speech of Diotima.
Section 1: Questioning Agathon
After Agathons amazing (thaumastos) speech, Socrates confesses (198b-c) himself to
be at a loss. He praises the beautiful language of the speech, but he then exposes its contents
1
For the Greeks, the symposium served as a milieu for celebrating manly arte. For instance, the educational maxims
of Theognis (239) were composed to be sung at such banquets, while Xenophanes (Frg. 1 Diehl) says that the
symposium is the place for keeping alive the memory of true arte.
Erotic Paideia in Platos Symposium 34
to refutation. In effect, Socrates reveals the speech of Agathon to be a typical rhetorical
exercise in which style takes precedence over substance, so that it fails to say anything
essential about the nature of Ers. Socrates ironically confesses that he thought one should tell
the truth about everything in an encomium, while picking out from these truths the most
beautiful (kallista) things and arranging them in the best way. The rhetorical approach, by
contrast, involves attributing the greatest and most beautiful (kallista) characteristics possible
to the thing being praised, irrespective of whether or not it is true. Consequently, Socrates
invites Phaedrus to choose whether he wants to hear the truth (talth) being told about Ers
in whatever way seems right to Socrates. In this way, Socrates sets the terms for his own
dialectical speech, which is clearly marked off from previous rhetorical speeches.
With the permission of Phaedrus (the father of the logos), Socrates begins by
questioning Agathon on the contents of his beautiful speech in which he had promised first to
show (epideixai) the sort of character which Ers has (hopoios tis estin) and then to proceed
to what it produces (ta erga). Socrates approves of this procedure of first specifying the
nature of something and then stating its effects. Here we find some indications of the proper
order of inquiry in dialectic. It is noteworthy that not only this part of Socratess contribution
but also a significant portion of his report on Diotimas teaching follows the question-and-
answer format, in which Socrates replaces Agathon as the respondent. Indeed, we are
presented with a younger Socrates who ostensibly had made the same mistaken assumptions
about Ers as did Agathon, and which were corrected by Diotima. In short, as Christopher
Rowe (1998) has rightly noted, Socrates speaks his piece in a rather special way, which has
more in common with his own preferred method of conversation (dialegesthai) than with the
set speeches of the other contributors, even if it reaches a predetermined conclusion. But I
want to show how the process of erotic paideia involves dialectical question-and-answer as an
indispensable method for philosophical inquiry, which itself is a manifestation of intellectual
desire prompted by awareness of a lack.
In brief, the elenctic argument goes as follows (200c): (a) Love is of certain things
(relative) and (b) it is of whatever is lacking (endeia) in those who desire or love something.
Socrates now (201a) reminds Agathon that he had said that divine activities came about
through love of beautiful things (erta kaln), since there is no love of ugly things (aischrn).
From this claim Socrates draws the implication that Love is of some beauty which it does not
possess, so that Agathon cannot be correct to claim that Love itself is Beautiful (kalon).
Agathon complacently admits (201b10-c1) that he didnt know (eidenai) what he was talking
about, even although he spoke beautifully. Socrates continues with his questions: Isnt the
good also beautiful? If so, then Ers lacks the good, since he lacks the beautiful. While
Agathon concedes defeat to Socrates, the latter insists that it is not himself but rather the truth
(altheia) which is difficult to resist. Here a clear contrast is drawn between the personal
competition involved in rhetoric and the search for impersonal truth in dialectic.
Rowe, 172, sees this as a crucial test case for Socratess sincerity in his discussion with
Agathon because, if Dover is right, this claim is so much hot air. If Socrates really were to
have no more concern for the truth than Agathon, this would jeopardize one of the main
theses of the Symposium, about the difference between poetry/rhetoric and Socratic/Platonic
philosophy. Rowe thinks that the important issue is the quality of the argument, which he
finds to be pretty high. Agathon accepts that he didnt know what he was talking about but
thinks the problem is that Socrates is a better debater, though the latter insists that he merely
represents the impersonal truth of the matter. Rowe suggests that Agathon is dropped by Plato
because he is an inadequate partner for Socrates in philosophical discussion but I want to go
further by suggesting that he is incapable of taking the next step in erotic paideia, even after
John J. Cleary 35
becoming aware of his ignorance about Ers, because his personal vanity predisposed him to
play the part of a beloved rather than that of a lover. Furthermore, his awareness of being
refuted by Socrates does not provoke him to engage in further inquiry about Ers, so it would
appear that he lacks the characteristic desire to learn the truth which belongs to a
philosophical nature.
Section 2: Socrates as budding philosopher
Socrates now (201d1) begins his report on the account of Ers received from Diotima a
wise woman or prophetess who had taught him about erotics (ertica edidaxen). But what has
already been agreed with Agathon remains in place, when Socrates undertakes to give a report
of his conversation with Diotima.
2
Once again, he emphasizes the proper order of inquiry:
One should first say who Ers is, and what character he has, before saying what he does.
Socrates remarks (201e) that it seems easiest (rhaston) to proceed with describing Ers
through close questioning in the manner of Diotima. But it is not obvious on the face of it that
this is the best or easiest way to proceed, so perhaps some clarification can be found by
examining the procedure itself. For instance, there is an important similarity between the
views of young Socrates and of Agathon: Socrates responded to Diotimas questions, just as
Agathon had answered Socrates; i.e. by saying that Ers was a great god (megas theos).
Diotima then set about refuting Socrates by means of the same arguments he himself used
against Agathon in concluding that Ers was neither beautiful nor good.
The first step is to establish that there is something in the middle between knowledge
and ignorance, just as between the beautiful and the ugly, since Socrates had been assuming
that these are exclusive and exhaustive opposites. He admits to making that assumption,
which is then examined by Diotima, using the example of knowledge and ignorance as
opposites. Her objection is that there is something in between (metaxu) wisdom and ignorance
(sophias kai amathias); namely, correct opinion (orth doxa). She argues as follows (200a5):
having correct beliefs, even without being able to give a rational account (logon didonai) of
them, is neither knowing (epistasthai) since how could something irrational (alogon) be
knowledge (epistm) nor is it ignorance (amathia) for how could something that hit on
what is the case be ignorance? Thus correct belief lies between knowledge and ignorance.
By implication, therefore, something that is not beautiful is not necessarily ugly. In the
case of Ers, though it is admitted not to be good or beautiful, yet it is not to be supposed ugly
or bad, but rather something between these two things. However, Socrates objects that Ers is
agreed (homologeitai) by everyone to be a great god (megas theos). Diotima asks whether
those who know also accept this and Socrates asserts that absolutely everyone (sumpanton)
agrees to it. Diotima rejects this assertion on the grounds that there are people who say that
Ers is not a god at all; for instance, herself and Socrates. She justifies this claim as follows
(202c6ff.): Socrates cannot deny that all gods are happy and beautiful (eudaimonas kai
kalous), so it is those individuals who possess good and beautiful things who are called
happy. But it has already been agreed (by Agathon and Socrates) that a lack (endeia) of good
and beautiful things makes Ers desire the very things he lacks. So he cannot be a god, if he
has no portion (amoiros) of beautiful and good things. Thus Socratess own view implies that
Ers is not a god.
2
Obviously, this conversation is a Platonic fiction in which Diotima seems to be a mantic witness to divine truth about
Ers. Perhaps this is Platos dramatic means of preserving the Socratic claim to the sort of ignorance that drives
dialectical inquiry.
Erotic Paideia in Platos Symposium 36
But, on the other hand, this does not mean that Ers is mortal (thntos) as he may have
an intermediate (metaxu) status; namely, that of a spirit (daimonion). The power (dunamis) of
such a spirit is that of interpreting and conveying things from men to gods and from gods to
men. Situated in the middle, Ers bridges the gap between gods and men, so that the whole
(cosmos) is bound closely together (202e6-7). It is in this way that the expertise of the seer
(mantik) works its effects, and that of priests, and all those concerned with sacrifices, rites,
and spells. Since gods do not mingle with mankind, it is through such expertise that all
intercourse (homilia) and conversation (dialektos) takes place between gods and men, and the
person who is wise about such things is a spirit-like man (daimonos anr). There are many
spirits of this kind, and one of them is Ers. In light of such an account, it would appear that
Diotima herself is a suitable medium for conveying to Socrates divine wisdom about Ers.
In response to a question from Socrates about the origins of Ers, Diotima now departs
from her short answer format to tell a rather long story (muthos) about the genealogy of Ers,
which links him closely with Aphrodite. According to this myth, Ers is the son of Poverty
(Penia) who was impregnated by Resource (Poros) on the birthday of Aphrodite. That is why
Ers is the follower (akolouthos) and attendant (therapon) of Aphrodite, and also because he
is by nature (phusei) a lover (erasts) in relation to what is beautiful (peri to kalon). The
implications of this genealogy for understanding the nature of Ers are spelled out (203b5) as
follows: Since he is the son of Resource and Poverty, Ers is always poor (penes aei esti) and
very far from delicate (apalos) and beautiful (kalos), as Agathon thinks. Instead, he is hard,
dirty, barefoot, homeless, always sleeping on the ground, without blankets, stretching out
under the sky in doorsteps and by the roadside. In effect, due to his mothers nature, he
always has lack (endeia) as companion. On the other hand, the inheritance from his father
(Resource) makes him a schemer (epiboulos) after the beautiful and good, while he is also
courageous (andreios), impetuous and intense, a clever hunter (thereutes deinos), always
weaving new devices (mechanas). Clearly, the similarity in description between Ers and
Socrates is deliberate and significant.
3
Just like Socrates, Ers is said to be both desirous of wisdom and resourceful (porimos)
in looking for it, philosophizing through all his life, a clever magician, sorcerer and sophist.
What Ers gets for himself is always slipping away from him, so that he is neither
resourceless (aporei) at any moment, nor rich (ploutei) but is in the middle (en mesoi)
between wisdom (sophias) and ignorance (amathias). On the one hand (204a), no god
philosophizes or desires to become wise (for gods are already wise), nor does anyone else
who is wise philosophize (which implies a lack). But, on the other hand, neither does the
completely ignorant person philosophize or desire to become wise as he is not aware of what
he lacks and so cannot desire it. Hence those who philosophize are neither the wise nor the
ignorant but rather those in between (metaxu), where Ers also belongs.
4
Wisdom (Sophia) is
actually one of the most beautiful things, and Ers is desire for what is beautiful (peri to
kalon), so that Ers is necessarily a philosopher, and as such stands between wisdom and
ignorance. The cause of this intermediate status is his birth: he has a father who is wise and
resourceful (euporos) and a mother who is not wise and is resourceless (aporos).
Before moving on, let me briefly outline the pedagogical implications of this description
of the nature and genealogy of Ers. Clearly, Ers involves an acute awareness of some lack,
and this fits quite well with the aporetic character of Socratic inquiry. The puzzlement in the
3
This similarity has been noticed by Renaissance scholars like Ficino, in his Symposium commentary (oratio 7), and
by many modern scholars, including Osborne (1994), 93-101, who makes much of the similarity in descriptions.
4
According to Kahn (1996), 265, Platos Lysis gives us a brief glimpse of the erotic model for philosophy that is taken
up by Diotima in the Symposium.
John J. Cleary 37
interlocutor which is induced through question-and-answer should serve in the ideal case as a
stimulant for further inquiry, if one has a genuinely philosophical nature. This may be one of
the reasons why the description of Ers that emerges from the genealogy also applies so well
to Socrates. Neither of them are conceited beauties like Agathon but rather bereft and hungry
lovers who subsist somewhere in between plenty and poverty. It is no accident that this turns
out to be the intermediate realm occupied by the genuine philosopher.
Section 3: The process and goal of erotic paideia
Drawing Diotima back into the routine of short question-and-answer, Socrates now
(204c6) asks about Ers and human beings: Why is Ers always of beautiful things? Diotima
speaks of trying to teach (didaxei) Socrates about the function of Ers in human life, which
she does by questioning him. Why does the person who loves, love beautiful things? In order
to possess them for himself. But what will that person get by possessing them? Socrates is
stumped by that question, so Diotima reformulates it in terms of the good: if the person loves
good things, why does he love them? The ultimate goal of having the good is to be happy
(eudaimn). Those who are happy are so by virtue of having good things, and one need not go
on to ask a further question as to why the person wants to be happy. The answer itself seems
to be complete, since this desire to possess good things is common to all human beings. In
effect, the line of questioning ends with the acceptance of a general axiom.
With reference to the myth of Aristophanes, Diotima declares that love is neither of a
half nor of a whole, unless it turns out to be good. In summary (206a11), she claims that love
is of the permanent possession of what is good, and this is agreed by Socrates to be most true
(althestata). Given that permanent nature, however, the next question posed by Diotima is
about the product (ergon) of the activity of love. Socrates confesses himself unable to answer
and claims that this is what he seeks to learn from Diotima. She informs him that the activity
of love is giving birth in the beautiful in relation both to body and soul. Socrates expresses his
puzzlement at this by complaining that only a seer could discern what she means. In her role
as seer, Diotima undertakes to reveal the mystery by means of an explanatory account.
According to this account (206c), all human beings are pregnant both in body and in
soul, and naturally want to give birth when they come to be of the right age. Yet they cannot
give birth in the ugly but only in the beautiful. The intercourse (sunousia) of man and woman
is a kind of giving birth, which is something divine (theion). Despite their mortality, living
creatures share in this immortal (athanaton) dimension through pregnancy and procreation.
The conclusion here (206e) represents a deliberate correction of the previous account of love:
Ers is not simply of the beautiful but rather it is of procreation and giving birth in the
beautiful. The explanation given for this is that procreation is something everlasting
(aeigenes) and immortal (athanaton), in so far as anything mortal can be. And, according to
the previous agreement, it is immortality together with the good that must be desired, if love
is of the permanent possession of the good (207a1). From this argument it necessarily follows
that love is of immortality. As if to underline the theme of paideia, Socrates repeats that
Diotima taught (edidaske) him all these things when she talked about erotic matters. The clear
implication is that erotic paideia itself involves the sort of student-teacher relationship where
the one who knows is leading the one who desires to know.
In line with Diotimas dialogical manner of teaching, there follows another question
(207a5): What do you think, Socrates, is the cause of this love and this desire? She draws a
parallel with the lower animals, which suffer terribly as a result of this desire to procreate.
They are stricken with the effects of love, first for intercourse with each other, and then for
nurturing their offspring, so that the weakest are prepared to fight the strongest to protect their
Erotic Paideia in Platos Symposium 38
offspring, and are prepared to die for them, torturing themselves with hunger so as to rear
them, and doing whatever is necessary. Even if we assume that humans do this as a result of
calculation (ek logismou), it is hard to discover the cause of animals being affected so
powerfully by Ers. Socrates confesses his ignorance and Diotima chides him as follows: Do
you think you will ever become an expert in erotics (deinos .. ta ertica), if you dont think
about these things? Socrates repeats that he has come to Diotima because he needs a teacher.
He begs Diotima to tell him the cause (aitia) of this (suffering of animals) and of everything
else to do with love. Once again, it is noteworthy how the young Socrates is placed in the
suppliant position of a student who seeks enlightenment from Diotima about the origins and
causes of Ers. Presumably, that puts him in the same position as a lover (erasts) who is
painfully aware of what he lacks.
Beginning from the agreed nature (phusis) of Ers, Diotima applies (207c7) the point to
animals as well as to human beings; i.e. so far as it can, mortal nature seeks to exist for ever
and to be immortal (athanatos). But it can achieve this only through the process of coming-
into-being (genesis) because it always (aei) leaves behind something else that is new in place
of the old. This applies even to individual organisms, during the time in which a living
creature is said to be alive and to be the same individual (to auto). Diotima maintains (207e)
that the same is true of the soul, since its traits, habits, opinions, desires, pleasures, pains and
fears never remain the same in any individual, but rather some are coming into existence,
others are passing away. She explains that it is even stranger in the case of our pieces of
knowledge (epistmai); since not only are some of them coming into existence and others
passing away, but each individual piece of knowledge is subject to the same process. For what
we call rehearsing (meltan) exists because knowledge goes out of us; forgetting is the
departure of knowledge, and going over something creates in us again a new memory in place
of the one that is leaving us, and so preserves our knowledge in such a way as to make it seem
the same. This notion of going over something repeatedly was dramatically highlighted at the
beginning of the Symposium, as if to underline the mnemonic power of rehearsal for making
Socrates immortal in the memory of his students and lovers. Perhaps that illustrates one of the
functions of erotic paideia through question-and-answer; i.e. that we can stabilize our right
opinions through continual inquiry which is driven by desire for the good.
In this way, then, everything mortal is preserved (szetai), not by always being
absolutely the same (to auto aei einai) like the divine, but by virtue of the fact that what is
departing and decaying with age leaves behind in us something new of the same sort that it
was. It is by these means that the mortal partakes of immortality, both body and everything
else; whereas what is immortal (athanaton) partakes of it in a different way. So, Diotima says
to Socrates, dont be surprised that by nature (phusei) everything values what springs from
itself: this eagerness (spoud) and this love (ers) that every creature shares is for the sake of
immortality. But Socrates (208b7) feigns surprise on hearing this, and asks the most wise
Diotima if what she says is really true. Just like an accomplished sophist, Diotima assures him
that he can be sure of it, and now applies the lesson to human beings, whose irrationality
shows in their love of honour. For the sake of fame they are ready to run all risks, even more
so than they are for the sake of their children; i.e. they will spend money, undergo any
suffering, and even die for fame. For instance, Diotima suggests that it was for the sake of
immortal memory of their courage that Alcestis died for Admetus, that Achilles died for
Patroclus, and that Codrus died for the sake of his childrens succession to the throne. From
these examples, she now draws (208d7) the generalization: it is for the sake of immortal
virtue and this sort of glorious reputation that everyone does everything; and even more so in
the case of better people because they are in love with immortality.
John J. Cleary 39
By way of applying this generalization, Diotima says (208e) that those who are pregnant
in their bodies turn their attention more towards women, and their love is directed in this way,
securing immortality, as they imagine, for themselves for all time by having children (dia
paidogonias). By comparison (209a), those who are pregnant in their souls conceive and
bring to birth wisdom (phronsis) and the rest of virtue of which all the poets are reputedly
procreators. But by far the greatest and most beautiful kind of wisdom is the setting in order
(diakosmsis) of the affairs of the city and households, which is called moderation
(sphrosun) and justice (dikaiosun).
5
When by divine gift someone is pregnant in soul
with those things from youth onwards, and on coming to the right age desires to give birth
and procreate, then he goes around looking for the beautiful object in which he might
procreate, for he will never do so in what is ugly. So he welcomes beautiful bodies rather than
ugly ones, because he is pregnant, and if he encounters a soul that is beautiful and noble and
naturally well-endowed, he gives an even warmer welcome to the combination of beautiful
body and soul. And towards this person he is immediately full of resource (euporei) when it
comes to saying things about virtue (logon peri arts), and what sort of thing the good man
must be concerned with, and the activities such a man should involve himself in and he tries
to educate him (epicheirein paideuein) The close connection between paideia and erotic
attraction is very clear from the language used here, whether that refers to the conventions of
pederastic love or to the Socratic delight in engaging young men in conversation.
Diotima claims (209c2) that it is by contact with what is beautiful and associating with
it, that he brings to birth and procreates the things with which he was for so long pregnant.
And he joins with the other person in nurturing what has been born, with the result that such
people enjoy a much greater partnership (koinnian) with each other than the sort people
share through their children, and a firmer affection (philian) between them, insofar as their
sharing involves children of a more beautiful and immortal kind. She goes on to make the
controversial claim that everyone would prefer children of this sort over human children. For
example, Lycurgus left behind him the laws of Sparta, which have been the saviours of Sparta
and indeed of the whole of Greece. In Athens Solon is also honoured for having generated
laws and similarly many men are honoured among Greeks and Barbarians for having
generated many conspicuously beautiful things, including virtue (art) of all kinds. The
evidence for this is the fact that cults (hiera) have been established for them because of their
having children (paidas) of this sort, whereas none has ever yet been set up for anyone
because of their having human children.
Let me sum up the tentative conclusions arising from this section. The dominant
procedure of Diotimas lesson about Eros is that of putting some leading questions to Socrates
about the causes and goals of love. For instance, in response to the question as to why a
person loves good things, it is concluded that happiness is the ultimate goal for all human
action. On the assumption that human love is creative, there arises the question about its
product. At the physical level, of course, the product of sexual intercourse between male and
female is a child, whereas logoi are the products of erotic desire at the psychic level.
However, Eros is not simply of the beautiful but involves procreation in the beautiful, while
the ultimate goal of erotic desire is to achieve immortality. At the level of body, this goal can
only be attained through the replacement of one generation by another. Similarly, at the
psychic level, immortality is attainable only through the replacement of individual pieces of
knowledge, which are preserved against forgetfulness by rehearsing them. From this
5
Ostensibly, since he desires political success, this is the sort of wisdom that Alcibiades seeks from Socrates in
exchange for sexual favours.
Erotic Paideia in Platos Symposium 40
perspective, one might see how the Socratic method of question-and-answer helps to stabilize
knowledge in the soul.
Section 4: Culmination of erotic paideia as initiation into the Mysteries
Diotima accepts (210a) that Socrates could be initiated into these (lower) kinds of
erotica, but doubts whether he will reach those aspects of the higher mysteries (telea kai
epoptika) for the sake of which she has taught him the lower as the proper approach. Still she
promises to tell him the next part, sparing no effort, and urges him to try to follow
(hepesthai). At this point she seems to abandon the dialogical exchange with Socrates in
favour of a monological narrative. She emphasizes (210a5) that the correct approach to the
higher mysteries is as follows: the young person must turn to beautiful bodies (kala smata)
and, if his guide leads him correctly, he must fall in love with a single body and there
procreate beautiful words (logous kalous). According to Christopher Rowe (1998), 192, this
passage is talking about the correct way to go about the business of erotics; i.e. what our goal
should be, or rather, what our goal really is, and how we should set about achieving it, both in
life as a whole and in our erotic relationships. The central figure is that of the lover, the
paiderasts (211b6) who is led by someone else through various stages of understanding of
beauty, each stage issuing in his procreating logoi apparently within some beloved (person
or thing?). We can make historical sense of these references in terms of the fact that initiation
into the lesser (or small) Mysteries at Agrae (in the city) was a necessary qualification for
initiation into the Greater Mysteries at Eleusis (outside the city). When applied here, the point
of the reference is that Socrates will need to learn what has gone before in order to grasp what
follows. As a revelation of the sacred objects, the epopteia represented the high point of the
Eleusinian Mysteries. Within the context of Diotimas teaching, the final revelation is the
ultimate goal of the whole dialectical inquiry for the sake of which she has taught Socrates
everything that has led up to the vision of Beauty Itself.
The stages in the famous ascent passage can be read either logically as steps of
increasing generalization or epistemologically in terms of more universal objects, culminating
in the most universal object, Beauty Itself. But the real interest of the passage for me is the
pedagogical steps that are set out by analogy with stages of initiation into the Mysteries. The
first step is to fall in love with a beautiful body, which induces in the lover the desire to
produce beautiful offspring. The next step (210a8) is to realize for himself that one and the
same kind of beauty is to be found in any body whatever. The next stage (210b6) is for him to
consider beauty in souls as more valuable than beauty in the body, This leads to the
production of beautiful words rather than beautiful offspring, which was characteristic of the
first stage. It is clear that these words are intended to educate young men in virtue, especially
with regard to the ordering of the polis. For instance, at 209a5 it was already said that the
greatest and most beautiful kind of wisdom is the setting in order (diakosmsis) of the affairs
of the city and households, which is called moderation (sophrosun) and justice
(dikaiosun). Just as in the case of natural childbirth, so also this kind of procreation in words
requires a suitable partner who has the right kind of beauty. So the lover embraces a beloved
who is beautiful in soul and body, and tries to educate him by means of the right words,
which flow out of him like semen. After political activities, which are still more or less
particular, there is a transition to different kinds of knowledge where one can observe the
beauty of knowledge, so that one is no longer slavishly attached to the beauty belonging to
particular things. According to Diotimas account, this generates many beautiful words and
thoughts in the form of unstinting philosophical creativity.
John J. Cleary 41
Diotima says (210e) that whoever is led by his teacher thus far in relation to love matters
(pros ta ertica) and contemplates (themenos) the various beautiful things in order and in the
correct way (orths) will now approach the final goal (pros telos) of matters of love, and will
suddenly (exaiphnes) catch sight of a beauty that is amazing in its nature (210e4-5); i.e. that
very beauty which was the goal of all his previous labours. Its distinguishing characteristics
are as follows:(1) First it is a beauty that always exists (aei on) and that neither comes into
being nor perishes, neither increases nor diminishes. (2) Secondly, it is not beautiful in one
respect but ugly in another respect. When someone moves upwards, away from particular
beautiful things, through the correct kind of boy-loving (paiderastein), and begins to catch
sight of that beauty (ekeino to kalon), he would practically have the final goal within his
reach. For this is what is involved in approaching love matters (ta ertica) or to be led by
someone else to them (hup allou agesthai) in the correct way (orths); i.e. beginning from
these beautiful things here, one must always move upwards for the sake of beauty itself, using
the other things as steps, from one to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies; from beautiful
bodies to beautiful activities, from activities to beautiful sciences and finally from sciences to
that science which is the science of nothing other than beauty itself (autou ekeinou tou kalou
mathma 211d), in order that one may finally know what beauty itself is (he esti kalon).
By way of summary for this section, allow me to review briefly the implications for
erotic paideia of this elaborate parallel with initiation into the traditional Mysteries of Eleusis.
This talk of being led by a teacher into the higher Mysteries implies that the leader is already
initiated, so that Diotima is a philosopher who is leading Socrates to enlightenment about
Ers through the ascent to Beauty or the Good. The stages of that ascent are set out very
schematically yet the method of leading remains unclear, since Diotima merely urges Socrates
to follow her as best he can. The first step seems to be based on the natural desire to procreate
in a beautiful body, but the basis for the second step is less obvious. Presumably, the lover is
led to realize that the same beauty is to be found in all beautiful bodies through Socratic
questioning that leads to generalization. Through increasing generalization, the lover ascends
to the level of practical wisdom which is concerned with political affairs, dealing with virtues
like moderation and justice. Even higher generalizations are involved in the theoretical
wisdom of the many different sciences like mathematics, which possess their own kind of
beauty. However, the desire for eternal beauty reflected in the sciences draws the lover further
beyond that level towards the Good and the Beautiful, which transcend all human goods. But
no details are given of the educational procedure by which that goal is finally reached,
although the explicit parallel with the Mysteries suggests that the final illumination is gained
by the initiate only after quite elaborate preparation in the hands of an experienced guide.
Section 5: Alcibiades as a failure in erotic paideia
The appearance of Alcibiades in a drunken state, accompanied by a flute girl and his
head wreathed with ivy and violets, is symbolic of the god Dionysus giving the award first to
a poet and then to a philosopher. Alcibiades declares (212e4) that he has come to crown from
his own head the wisest (sophotatou) and most beautiful (kallistou) head. He takes back
(213e) some ribbons from Agathon in order to crown Socratess amazing head, while
explaining that Socrates uses words to defeat everyone. It is clear both that Alcibiades sees
the Socratic dialectic as being agonistic in character, and that he implicitly espouses the
Homeric motto: Always to excel (the others). Despite being the darling of the Athenian
mob, he has been rejected by one of the ugliest men in Athens who has forced him to give up
this role as a beloved and to become instead a needy lover. This was a great shock to his
Erotic Paideia in Platos Symposium 42
pride, jolting him out of the sort of complacency that typifies Agathon; with the result that
Alcibiades learned to see the beautiful logoi that are hidden within the ugly body of Socrates.
This why he compares Socrates to one of the Silenus figures found in statuary-shops,
which are made by craftsmen complete with pipes and auloi. When you open them up by
taking them apart, they turn out to have statues of gods inside them. Alcibiades also declares
Socrates to be like the satyr, Marsyas. He challenges Socrates to deny that he is Silenus-like
in physical appearance (eidos), and he promises to show how Socrates is like these satyrs in
everything else. Alcibiades insists (215c5) that Socrates differs from Marsyas only in doing
the same thing without instruments and through simple (artless) words. Alcibiades testifies on
oath (215d6-7) about the sort of effect which he has felt under the spell of Socrates. He says
(215e1) that it is similar to the state of the Corybantes, only much worse; i.e. heart leaping,
tears pouring out under the impact of Socratess words. As a result, Alcibiades reports that he
frequently considered that life was not worth living, given his present condition (of slavery to
desire), but yet he fails to change his life.
Alcibiades admits that if he were ready to listen to Socrates he would be unable to resist
because Socrates forces (anankazei) him to see that, although there is much that he himself
lacks, yet he neglects himself and instead takes care of the business of the Athenians. So
Alcibiades forcibly stops his ears and bolts, as if running away from the Sirens, to prevent
himself from sitting and listening to Socrates. Alcibiades now (216a-b) confesses that
Socrates is the only person in the world before whom he has experienced shame (to
aischunesthai). Why? For he is conscious of being incapable of arguing against doing what
Socrates tells him to do, yet he yields to his desire for honour (tim) bestowed by ordinary
people. Thus he bolts from Socrates like a runaway slave and when he sees Socrates again he
is ashamed of what was already agreed in previous discussions. In effect, he fails to make
progress under the tutelage of Socrates.
6
Alcibiades promises (216d1) to reveal the real character of Socrates concealed by his
feigning of being in love with beautiful young men and of being ignorant of everything. All of
these appearances are his external (exthen) covering, like that of the sculpted Silenus;
whereas inside (endthen), when he is opened up, Socrates is full of moderation
(sophrosun). Alcibiades assures them that Socrates doesnt care at all whether someone is
(physically) beautiful nor does he care if someone is rich or has any of the things that gives a
man honour in the eyes of ordinary people and makes them call him blessed. Socrates thinks
that all these possessions are worthless and that we are nothing; so that he is continually
pretending and playing with people. But when Socrates is in earnest, and so is opened up,
Alcibiades claims that he has seen the statues (agalmata) inside and that they appeared to him
so divine (theia) and golden (chrusa), and so outstandingly beautiful (pankala) and amazing
(thaumasta) that he had to do whatever Socrates told him.
But Alcibiadess account of his attempted seduction of Socrates belies the claim to have
understood the inner nature of Socrates. Thinking that Socrates was seriously attracted by his
youthful looks, Alcibiades considered it amazingly fortunate that he could hear from Socrates
everything he knew in return for (sexual) favours. Alcibiades emphasizes how proud he was
of his own physical appearance. In order to snare him as a lover, Alcibiades arranged to be
alone with Socrates in the hope that he would make overtures to him as a lover (erasts)
would to a young beloved (paidikois). But Alcibiades was surprised to discover that nothing
6
Lear (1998), Ch. 7, claims that this failure reflects badly on ers as a means for getting human lovers to transcend the
particular objects of their desire, and that this is Platos intention in drawing attention to the fixation of Alcibiades
on his earthly loves. I do not find this consistent with Platos use of erotic language to characterize the whole
ascent to a vision of Beauty Itself.
John J. Cleary 43
like that happened, as Socrates conducted his habitual kind of conversation with Alcibiades
and then left after spending the day with him. Next (217c) Alcibiades invited Socrates to
exercise with him (naked in the gymnasium), thinking that he would get somewhere through
physical contact. But Socrates did exercise and wrestle with Alcibiades without becoming
sexually excited in any way. After exhausting these indirect strategies, Alcibiades decided to
try a direct assault on Socrates, since he had started the whole seduction and he did not want
to face rejection.
So Alcibiades invited Socrates to dine with him, like a lover (erasts) plotting to have
his way with his beloved (paidikois). Knowing well the game that was afoot, Socrates was
slow to accept this invitation but eventually did so, only to leave immediately after dinner. On
that occasion, Alcibiades was too ashamed to detain Socrates, but on the next occasion he
kept the conversation going late into the night, so as to force Socrates to stay. This new
strategy of seducing Socrates through conversation seems to suggest that only rational
persuasion could force him to stay.
However, Alcibiades tells of how he made a direct attempt to seduce Socrates by
offering sexual favours in return for knowledge. He continues to treat Socrates as a
prospective lover (erasts), though the roles have been silently reversed. His proposal to
Socrates is cloaked in the conventional language surrounding pederasty in ancient Athens.
Alcibiades expresses a desire to become as good a person as possible and considers Socrates
the most effective collaborator for this purpose. Socrates is described (218d-e) as having
listened in his usual fashion with great pretence of seriousness (eirniks) before replying that
Alcibiades is trying to cheat him by getting hold of truly beautiful things in return for only
apparently beautiful ones, just like a swindle in some commercial exchange.
The subsequent (219a) ironic warning reflects the typical pose of Socratic ignorance:
You need to take a better look, my fine friend, in case you are mistaken about me and Im
really nothing. The sight of the mind (dianoias opsis) begins to see sharply (oxu blepein)
when the sight of the eyes starts to fade from its prime, and you are still far away from that.
This reply encapsulates the essence of the whole ascent to intelligible beauty, and also the
failure of Alcibiades to make that ascent. Alcibiades does not quite understand (219a6) the
ironic intention of Socrates and restates his own case (i.e. that he is ready to gratify Socrates
in exchange for wisdom), asking Socrates to consider what is best for both. Socrates agrees to
deliberate together on how to act in the best way for both of them in the present situation and
all others. But Alcibiades is still fixated on his desire for conquest, and he interprets
Socratess agreement as evidence that his arrows have struck home. So he wraps his cloak
around both of them on the same couch, and for the whole night he embraces that truly
superhuman and amazing man. Having made his best move in vain, Alcibiades complains that
Socrates got the better of him, looked down on him, laughed at his beauty and treated it
criminally (hubrisen). Using the language of the lawcourts and addressing his audience as
jurors (dikastai), Alcibiades accuses Socrates of hubris for despising his physical beauty.
Alcibiades admits (219d) that he had no success in seducing Socrates and describes his
own ambiguous state of mind. On the one hand, he had been humiliated but, on the other
hand, he admired Socrates for his self-control (sphrosun) and his courage (andreia) because
he never expected to meet a person with that sort of wisdom (phronsis) and endurance
(karteria). As a result, Alcibiades couldnt be angry and deprive himself of Socratess
company (sunousia), yet he had no idea how to win him over. He couldnt bribe him with
money, nor could he seduce him by using his own physical beauty; so he was completely at a
loss (eporoun) and went around in a state of enslavement (katadedoulomenos) to this unique
individual.
Erotic Paideia in Platos Symposium 44
By way of testimony to the strangeness of Socrates, Alcibiades now tells of his
experience on the expedition to Potidaea, when [like lovers] they shared the same mess. He
offers several pieces of evidence for the extraordinary character of Socrates: (1) he endured
hardships (karterein tois ponois) better than everyone else; e.g. when they were without food
or cut off. (2) when it came to feasting, he was the only one able to take proper advantage,
especially when he was forced to partake in drinking he outlasted everyone else; and the most
amazing thing is that no one has ever seen Socrates drunk. (3) With regards to feats of
endurance (kartereseis) in the cold of winter, Socrates did amazing (thaumasia) things; e.g. in
a terrible frost when everyone wore warm clothing and footwear, he went around barefoot,
wearing a light cloak. The other soldiers looked askance at him, as though he were despising
them. (4) Alcibiades tells of how Socrates stood all day and night wrestling with some
intellectual puzzle (as in the Symposium itself), yet he wouldnt give it up and stood there
inquiring. The soldiers (especially the Ionians) wondered at this intellectual feat of
concentration, which could only be externally observed as physical endurance in standing
stock still for so long.
As if to confirm the traditional military function of pederastic love, Alcibiades gives
evidence of Socratess bravery in battle because it is only right (dikaion) to pay tribute to him
for this. On the occasion of a battle in which the generals gave a prize to Alcibiades for being
the best (taristeia), he acknowledges that Socrates saved his life because he wouldnt desert
him when he had been wounded but rather managed to bring both himself and his weapons (a
point of military honour) to safety. On another occasion Socrates displayed bravery on the
retreat from Delium, when Alcibiades happened to be a cavalryman while Socrates was a
hoplite. The army was breaking ranks into a rout, and Socrates was withdrawing along with
Laches, when Alcibiades came along on his horse and shouted encouragement, promising not
to desert them. This could be seen as repayment of an earlier debt to Socrates or as the
undying loyalty of lovers. In describing his demeanour, Alcibiades uses the same words as
Aristophanes about how Socrates behaved in Athens: swaggering and casting his eyes this
way and that i.e. observing (paraskopon) people, both friends and enemies, in the same calm
way, and making it plain to everyone far and near that they would meet stiff resistance if they
laid a hand on him.
Alcibiades claims (221c) that there are many other amazing things (thaumasia) things to
be said in praise of Socrates yet the most amazing thing is that there is no one like Socrates
among present or past generations. While Achilles could be compared to Brasidas, and
Pericles to Nestor and Antenor, Socrates is so strange (atopia) both in himself and the things
he says that one could never find anyone like him if one looked among past and present
generations, unless one compared him to silenuses and satyrs. This comparison is now (221d-
e) elaborated further: Socratess words (logoi) are like the silenuses that open up. If one were
willing to listen to what Socrates says, it might appear absurd at first because of the terms in
which it is clothed, like some mischievous skin of a satyr; e.g. he talks of pack-asses,
blacksmiths, cobblers and tanners. He always appears to be saying the same things in the
same ways, so that an inexperienced (apeiros) and silly (anotos) person might laugh at what
he says. But (222a) if one were to see these words opened up, and one were to get inside
(through Socratic dialogue) then one would first discover that they are the only words with
any intelligence (nous) within them; and then that they are divine to the highest degree and
contain within them the greatest number of statues of virtue (agalamata artes) and have the
greatest extension; i.e. they extend to everything that it is appropriate for the man who means
to be a person of quality (kaloi kagathoi) to consider. We should notice that Plato here
transforms the conventional ideal of a gentleman into that of a truly noble person.
John J. Cleary 45
Alcibiades then (222a-b) concludes his praise of Socrates while reminding his audience
of the crimes (hubrisen) that Socrates has allegedly committed against him. He adds that
Socrates has committed hubris against other young noblemen like Charmides and
Euthydemus by being deceptive in playing the conventional role of lover (hs erasts), while
becoming more of a beloved (paidika) himself rather than a lover. This claim emphasizes the
shift in roles within the Symposium from that of beloved to that of lover, which is a necessary
part of the initial ascent towards Beauty Itself. Thus Alcibiades warns Agathon not to be
deceived by Socrates but to learn from the sufferings of others, so as not to have to learn like
a fool from his own suffering.
Conclusion
With the exception of two short interludes, the so-called speech of Diotima about Ers is
dominated by question-and-answer exchanges between herself and Socrates, which continue
the dialogical exchange between Socrates and Agathon. I have drawn attention to this fact
because I think it is a significant feature of erotic paideia that questioning makes the student
aware of a lack of knowledge and thereby stimulates a desire for what is lacking. This
provides a neat parallel with the character of Ers as a desire for the Beautiful and the Good,
which prompts the lover to generate beautiful things, whether these should be children in a
beautiful body or logoi as offspring of a beautiful soul. The ultimate purpose of erotic paideia,
however, is to lead the lover to a vision of Beauty or the Good itself, which transcends all
particular beauties of body and soul. The steps of such an ascent are outlined schematically by
Diotima, who suggests that Socrates will be ready for initiation into the higher Mysteries
through her previous lessons about Ers which took the form of question-and-answer. By
contrast, we can see that Agathon has failed to make any progress, even after he has been
refuted, presumably because his vanity as a beloved object prevents him from adopting the
role of a lover who becomes aware of a lack in himself and thereby is driven to inquire. By
comparison with Agathon, however, Alcibiades does progress from the role of beloved
(despite his vanity about his beauty) to that of a lover, when he is faced with the mystery of
Socrates whose physical ugliness hides the beautiful logoi within. This discovery of the
spiritual beauty of Socrates is already a great achievement for Alcibiades, given the ancient
Greek aversion to physical ugliness, but yet he fails to progress further up the ladder of
beauty. What is the significance of Alcibiadess failure to make that ascent to Beauty Itself?
Does it simply reflect a flaw in his character or does it indicate some basic flaw in human ers
as a means for this ascent, as Jonathan Lear (1998) has suggested? My claim is that his failure
reveals a character flaw (like the gifted young men in the Republic who go badly wrong) and
is not to be attributed to some basic deficiency in erotic paideia, which can lead someone to
Beauty or the Good if one is willing and able to be led properly by a philosophical guide.
Boston College & NUI Maynooth, Ireland
Platos Gorgias and Political Happiness
Lloyd P. Gerson
Olympiodorus defines the aim (c- ,) of Platos Gorgias as the discussion of those
ethical principles that bring us to political happiness.
1
The odd expression political
happiness does not appear in Plato. On might suppose that political happiness just refers to
the happiness found in the ideal polis. But then what is the implicit contrast in the use of the
adjective political? Is there another type of happiness, independent of the polis that
Olympiodorus has in mind? For an answer to this specific question, we have to go
surprisingly far afield. In fact, we have to go to the commentary of Michael of Ephesus on
Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics, a work by the learned Byzantine scholar written almost
certainly in the first half of the 12
th
century CE.
2
But appeal to Michael in this regard is not
really so far-fetched. First, Michael was anything but an original thinker. The remnants of
his commentary (on Books 5, 9, and 10), like his other extant commentaries on Sophistic
Elenchus and some biological works, reveal an able but unimaginative compiler of earlier
commentary material. That earlier material is largely Neoplatonic commentaries on Aristotle
from the third to the 6
th
centuries CE. Although we have no record of an Ethics commentary
by Olympiodorus, we do have good reason to believe that Olympiodorus shared with other 6
th
century CE contemporary Neoplatonists the assumption that Aristotles philosophy was, as
Simplicius put, in harmony (cu.|. c) with Platonism.
3
We may for this reason attempt to
make judicious use of Michaels commentary for understanding Olympiodorus interpretation
of Platos Gorgias.
What Michael says is this.
4
Aristotle distinguished two types of virtue, ethical and
theoretical. Accordingly, he distinguished two types of happiness, one for each type of virtue.
The first type, political happiness, is the happiness of the composite human being; the
second, theoretical or contemplative, is the happiness of the primary and real human being,
the intellect.
5
Michael adds a point that will concern us below, namely, that Platonists (by
which he means of course those whom we call Neoplatonists) distinguished political from
1
See Olympiodorus In Gorg. Proem 4, 17-20: c. | ~.|u| ~. c- , cu ~. .. ~. | cy.| ~. | -.-. |
o.c.y- |c. ~. | .uc. | c , . . ~ | .~.- | .u oc.|. c|.
2
See the seminal work by R. Browning (1990), 393-406.
3
See e.g., In Cat. 7, 31-3.
4
See In EN X 578, 14-23: . ..o c .~ o.~~ , ~. c-~.- , | -c. -.- | -c. .~.- | . .- ~u
H..c~u -cuc.| (. ,c Hc~.|.-. .~.c, ..|c. .,uc. ~c, .~.-c, ~.| -.-.|) ... u|
o.~~ -c~` cu ~u , c .~ , . | -.- , o. -..~.- , -c. o.c ~u ~ -c. .u oc.|. c o.~~ , . |
.| ~. .~. ... ... .. .~.-, .uoc.|.c,, -c-` | .~.-, .uoc..| -c.. ~c y...
~. ,., . | ~u ~. o. .,.. .. ~, -..~.-, .uoc.|.c, -c. ~u -c~` cu~| .uoc.|,, , .c~.|
. ~., -c. |~., c|-.,, . | . | o| ~. |u , -c. . .,.|.|, ~.u~, .u oc. .| ~.
.~.-. .u oc.|..
5
See In EN X 572, 2. Cf. c -.| , c|-.,, 578, 21; 579, 16; 599, 37. At 592, 9-11, Michael explicitly claims
that Aristotle and Plato share the same view about this.
Lloyd P. Gerson 47
ethical virtue as well. My present concern is that political happiness is identified by Michael
as an inferior form of happiness belonging to the composite whereas the higher happiness
belongs to the true human being, the intellect.
There are certainly solid grounds for believing that Michael interprets Aristotle correctly
in this regard. The distinction between the human being and that which we really are is as
plain as anything in the text of Nicomachean Ethics.
6
But my concern is not primarily with
the interpretation of Aristotle ethics; rather, I want to show that political happiness in
Olympiodorus account of the aim of Gorgias was understood by him in exactly the same
way. Now we know that Plato in Alcibiades identified the person with the soul over against
the composite of soul and body.
7
And in Phaedo, the argument for the immortality of the soul
is, certainly, an argument for the immortality of the person over against his embodied inferior.
And finally, in Republic that Plato distinguished the human being from what he calls the
human being within the human being, meaning evidently the intellect.
8
But what is the
justification for foisting this distinction on Gorgias even up to the point of identifying its aim
as dealing with those things that are conducive to what is, by implication, an inferior form of
happiness?
The answer to this question opens up one very super size can of worms. For it requires
us to consider the principles for interpreting any Platonic dialogue. If Olympiodorus and the
tradition of which he is a more than respectable representative are right, then it is not possible
to interpret adequately any dialogue in isolation. One might at this point expect me to follow
with the words from any other dialogue. But that would be to saddle Olympiodorus with a
crude error. For no dialogue or dialogues of Platos can provide the non question-begging
fulcrum for interpreting the rest. For instance, Charles Kahn has recently argued that
Republic provides the interpretative principles at least for all dialogues prior to it.
9
But this
proleptic treatment of the dialogues prior to Republic can be trumped by a claim that
Republic itself is proleptic to Platos unwritten teachings or by other claims that Republic is
superseded by later, critical dialogues.
For Olympiodorus, the proper context for interpreting any Platonic dialogue is
Platonism itself. This will no doubt seem a breathtaking leap and, potentially, dangerously
circular. For what access have we to Platonism except through the dialogues? But for a
Platonist like Olympiodorus this question belies confusion between the falsehood that
knowing a nature or essence is just knowing an inductive generalization and the truth that we
come to know a nature or essence via our encounters with its instances or manifestations. In
short, the understanding of Platonism is prior to the understanding of how the dialogues
should be read or taught in order best to reveal it.
10
The only consistent alternative to this
view is the other extreme, according to which the interpretation of every dialogue is
hermetically sealed off from the interpretation of every other.
11
This is but a step from
complete skepticism. But even if this is true that is, even if we wished to maintain that we
have no idea what Platos views were this would still not prevent us from exploring the
6
See EN X 7, 1177b30-1178a8. See also the line here referred to, namely, IX 8, 1169a2: ~. . | u | ~u-`
[intellect] .-cc~, .c~.| c .c~c, u - co|, Also, IX 4, 1166a22-3; IX 8, 1168b31-3. Also, X 7,
1177a12-19. Cf. I 5, 1097a25-b21; X 5, 1175b36-1176a29.
7
See Alc. I 131A-B. Cf. Lg. 959B3-4.
8
See Rep. 589A7.
9
See Kahn (1996).
10
See, e.g., Plotinus V 1.8, 10-14 who holds in effect that Platos expression of Platonism is not the first, though it is
the best. Cf. Proclus PT I, 1 who lauds Plotinus, Iamblichus, Theodore of Asine, and others, as exegetes of the
Platonic revelation (~u, ~ , Hc~.|.- , . ~.. c, .,~c ,). Also, V 33, 21 34, 2.
11
This is the position that Grote tried to maintain, though quite unsuccessfully, as C.C.W. Taylor (2002), 74-83,
esp. 79-81, shows.
Platos Gorgias and Political Happiness 48
nature of the philosophical position that is Platonism and attaining a kind of reflective
equilibrium between that and all the expressions of it in the dialogues and in the oral
tradition.
12
Specifically, Olympiodorus follow the ordering of the reading of the dialogues probably
begun by Iamblichus.
13
That order is: Alcibiades I, Gorgias, Phaedo, Cratylus, Theaetetus,
Sophist, Statesman, Phaedrus, Symposium, Philebus, Timaeus, and Parmenides. There is no
space to discuss the entire rationale for this order, the reasons for the placement of the last
two, or the curious omissions, such as Republic. Here, I am only concerned with
Olympiodorus traditional view that Gorgias is to be read after Alcibiades and before Phaedo.
According to this view,
Having learned in Alcibiades that we are soul, that is, a rational soul, we ought to
establish both its political virtues and its purificatory ones. Hence, since we should
understand political matters first, the dialogue is necessarily read after that one, and
next comes Phaedo, which deals with the purificatory virtues.
14

Political virtue is here supposed to lead to political happiness, but instead of this being
contrasted with Michaels contemplative happiness, we get for Phaedo purificatory
virtues, presumably corresponding to the ethical virtue that Michael says the Platonists
distinguished from the political. What Olympiodorus finds in Plato and Michael does not find
in Aristotle is a kind of virtue between the political and the virtue that constitutes the most
happy life, a life that Aristotle calls theoretical and Plato calls philosophical.
15
What is
conducive to that life is the purificatory virtue of Phaedo; what is conducive to political virtue
is the subject of Gorgias.
What I want to concentrate on now is why we should believe Olympiodorus that we
should read Gorgias as concerned with political virtue which is the same question as: why is
it illuminating to read Gorgias after Alcibiades and before Phaedo. Let us begin with the
Phaedo passage in which Plato himself speaks of popular or political virtue.
16
These are the
ordinary virtues, that human beings practice (. .~.~o.u- ~.,) by custom and habit and
without philosophy and intellect. As the parallel Republic passages make clear, this virtue
is concerned with externals, that is, with behavior. By contrast, the virtue that is a sort of
purification is the justice, temperance, and courage of a philosopher.
17
How are we to
understand this contrast? How is, say, political justice or temperance related to philosophical
justice or temperance?
We will recall that Michael says that the political virtues belong to the composite and
theoretical virtue belongs to the real human being. The only way of appreciating
Michaels distinction as it applies to Plato is to inquire into the matter of the identity of the
12
See Gerson (2005).
13
See Westerink-Trouillard (1990). It is worth adding, I think, that no Neoplatonists supposed that there was a
uniquely correct pedagogical order.
14
See In Gorg. 6, 12-17: c- |~., ,c . | ~. `A-..c o ~. uy .c.|, -c. uy ,.- , ...|
-c~-.cc. ~c, ~. .~.-c, cu~, c .~c , -c. ~c, -c-c~.-c , u-u| ...o o.. ~c .~.-c
~.| .. o. |c., c|c,-c. ., u ~, o.c,, .~` .-..|| c|c,.|. c-.~c., -c. .~c ~u~|
4c.o.| . , . y.| ~c , -c-c~.-c ,.
15
Cf. e.g., Rep. 581D-E.
16
Phd. 82A10-B3. Cf. 69B6-7, where this sort of virtue is called an illusory faade (c-.c,c.c), fit for slaves. Cf.
Protag. 323A7, B2; 324A1 where Protagoras uses the term political virtue in the same way without of course the
pejorative Platonic overtones. Cf. Rep. 365C3-4 and 500D8 with 518D3-519A6 where the popular virtues are
identified as the so-called virtues of the soul and especially 619C7-D1 for participation in virtue by habit
(.-..) without philosophy. At 430C3, courage is characterized as political. At 443C10-D1, characterizing
justice, Plato contrasts external behavior with internal virtue, which is concerned with what is truly oneself
and ones own' (c-., .. .cu~| -c. ~c .cu~u ).
17
See Phd. 67C5, 69B8-C3.
Lloyd P. Gerson 49
us in the question what is the good for us? The answer is not the answer to the question
what is the good for a human being, that is, the composite, if we are not that. And that is,
of course, exactly what Alcibiades tells us. For it argues that the person is a soul and that the
body is an instrument. So, the good for us is the good of a soul, not the good of the body.
But the contrast between soul and body is crude and ultimately quite misleading. For if we
have put before us a choice between pursuing the good of our soul or the good of our body, it
is hardly obvious that we should prefer the former to the latter since in a perfectly natural
sense the good of our body is our good. I mean that it is a good that we experience. So, even
if we could understand political virtue as concerned with the good of our bodies and
purificatory virtue as concerned with the good of our souls, there is no way of telling why we
should regard one as superior to the other rather than just recognizing as the excellences of
alternative lifestyles.
The argument in Phaedo is, therefore, required to clarify the true person and hence what
its virtue is. Only if this is done would we be in a position to show that the virtue of the
bodily instrument is inferior. The clarification is made via a proof for the immortality of the
soul. This proof, however, must be a proof of the immortality of the person who is at least in
some way continuous with the person in the body. This is done by showing that discarnate
knowledge is at least available to us in an embodied state, that is, such knowledge enables us
to make judgments about the deficiencies of sensibles. The reason why political virtue is an
inferior sort of virtue is that it is not the virtue of the ideal person, who is the subject of
discarnate knowledge; it is only the virtue of the person who is the subject of the states of the
composite.
The question we need to ask now is why we should think that all this heavy duty
metaphysical material is relevant much less necessary for interpreting Gorgias.
Olympiodorus answer to this question is straightforward. He argues that the virtue that
is the formal cause of political happiness is the virtues of the fourth book of Republic.
18
Specifically, citing the passage in Gorgias 504D1-3, he notes that temperance is the order
(- c,) of the parts of the soul and justice the arrangement (~c .,).
19
Olympiodorus
assumes that ordering of the soul indicates the virtues as they are described in Republic IV.
It will perhaps be objected that this supposed indication is question begging. For even if, in
the light of Republic, we read the account of the virtues in Gorgias as the account of the
virtues of the embodied person and identify these as constituted by external behavior, there is
no requirement that we read Gorgias in this light. Even more, there is no requirement that we
read that account as pertaining to an inferior form of virtue as Phaedo would have it.
Someone who is confident in having the ability to distinguish Socratic from Platonic ethics
and who is also inclined to see Gorgias as a reflection of the former will especially object to
the view that Socrates arguments in Gorgias do not establish the nature of the best life or of
true happiness. What needs to be shown is that the claims made about the ethical principles
leading us to political happiness do not stand on their own, that they can only be compelling if
political happiness is not the ideal. The life recommended by Socrates in Gorgias can only be
shown to be superior to the life recommended by Gorgias, Polus, or Callicles, if the life
Socrates recommends is not the best life. And this cannot be known unless Platonism itself is
adduced as the appropriate context.
Naturally, showing this in extenso is a formidable task. In the remainder of the paper, let
me offer a sketch of how it could be done. Socrates recommends a life of self-control as
18
See In Gorg. 15, 5, 1-4. Cf. 24, 1, 2ff.
19
Ibid., 34, 2, 10-12.
Platos Gorgias and Political Happiness 50
preferable to a life of the limitless pursuit of pleasure.
20
This claim depends upon a purely
formal argument: somethings good depends upon its orderliness, its being arranged
according to the craft appropriate to it.
21
Callicles has himself already agreed that since there
are some bad pleasures, some craft is required to sort out the beneficial ones from their
opposites.
22
The argument does not tell us what this good is for a human being, only that a
life in pursuit of limitless pleasure could not be it.
23
It could not tell us what this good is
without identifying whose good exactly we are talking about.
Similarly, Socrates argument against Polus that tyrants do what seems best to them but
not what they want is in principle inconclusive.
24
For though the argument shows that there is
no entailment relation from it seems to be good for me to it is good for me, it hardly
follows from this that tyranny is not a good life choice. The victory of the self-restrained life
over the tyrannical life in this dialogue is shallow and provisional, though it is for all that a
victory of sorts. So long as the question is: what is the best life for the human being, the
composite, the answer must be inconclusive since there are no substantive grounds available
for privileging the desires of the rational subject from those of the appetitive subject. There is
only the formal argument that suggests that the ultimate subject, that is, the real me, is to be
identified with that which adjudicates the demands of the subject of appetite, namely, the
rational subject. Someone who opted for the life of the licentious tyrant is then, at least,
saddled with the logical oddness of pursuing the good of that which is distinct from the
subject who endorses this good. What Plato is assuming here but does not explain is that this
logical oddness is removed only if the subject who endorses is identical with the subject who
desires. In short, it is removed only if one identifies ones own good with the good of the
subject of rational desires.
The eschatological myth at the end of Gorgias has frequently been castigated as sort of a
philosophical letdown after the supposedly rigorous dialectical defeat of Callicles. What is
a myth about divine rewards and punishments doing in a dialogue which is supposed to be
maintaining the view that virtue and vice are automatically and intrinsically recompensed?
As Olympiodorus interprets the myth, Socrates is showing (not demonstrating) to Callicles
that we must hold up for ourselves a criterion of action in accord with the recognition that we
should act autonomously (cu ~-.| ~., . |., c..|).
25
For Olympiodorus, this means
that the true self is a rational agent.
26
And, connecting the myth with the notion of political
happiness, this recognition is achieved by the practice of virtue, specifically the political
virtue that Socrates has hitherto extolled.
27
Such virtue is both intrinsically desirable
(because it is virtue) and also instrumental to the reversion to self (. .c~ ,
. cu~ |) that Neoplatonists generally understood the perfection of persons to consist in. It is
no concession to a Callicles to claim that virtue is instrumental if we are talking about the
virtue that is self-restraint. This virtue is instrumental to the self-recognition of the true
person and hence to that persons true good.
According to the Neoplatonic interpretation of Gorgias which Olympiodorus reflects,
that dialogue sets up the idea of an implicit contrast between the political virtues and the
20
See Gorg. 506C5-507A3.
21
Similar to the purely formal arguments used to refute Thrasymachus in Republic I.
22
Ibid., 499B4-500A6.
23
A similar argumentative strategy is employed in Philebus. See Gerson (2003), 251-65.
24
See Gorg. 467C5-468E5.
25
In Gorg. 48, 5, 3.
26
Ibid., 48, 6, 4; 49, 6, 10-12. In the latter passage, it is clear that the rational part of the tripartite soul is
autonomous.
27
Ibid., 50, 4, 5-7.
Lloyd P. Gerson 51
purificatory virtues of Phaedo. These consist of the reorientation or, better, transformation of
the self into an autonomous agent. The agent of transformation is philosophy, as practiced
by Socrates and his interlocutors, but also by the student. It is to them (rather than to a
clueless Callicles) that a proof of the immortality of the soul is directed. It is only the
philosopher who recognizes that this proof is a proof of the immortality of ones true self.
University of Toronto
Why Socrates came too late for Gorgias epideixis:
Platos Gorgias as political philosophy
Frederik Arends
The connection between rhetoric and power is given almost from the beginning of
Platos Gorgias: as soon as Socrates dissects Gorgias epideictic Ta megista tn anthrpein
pragmatn kai arista (451d7-8), Gorgias claims that rhetoric protects from slavery, gives
power over the others (452d7; cf. 456a8) and makes all producers of the goods traditionally
appreciated most (451e3-5) work to the advantage of the rhetor (452e1-8). In fact, Gorgias
claims that rhetoric gives supreme power within the polis, based on its superior art of
persuading people when assembled in masses (457a6; cf. 454b5-6; 456c6; 502c9).
Gorgias claim here about rhetoric can be compared with what is known from Politeia as
Gyges Ring : by making the person wearing the ring invisible, Gyges Ring gives the
power to do whatever one likes, to commit any injustice without being hindered or punished,
thus paving the way to tyranny (359c6 ff.). In Politeia Glaucon claims that everybody would
use this ring in the way mentioned above if owning it (360b4-6). The rest of Politeia may be
read as an attempt to prove that, contrary to Glaucons opinion, there is a possibility of
preventing the abuse of Gyges Ring, of the absolute power given to the philosopher-kings
in order to bring about the kakn paula tais polesi / end to the troubles of the states
(Resp. 473d5-6). Socrates confronts Gorgias with the comparable question of how it is
possible to prevent the abuse of power gained by having a command of rhetoric. That at least
seems to be the intention behind the question of whether students of rhetoric should possess
knowledge of good and bad, decent and indecent, just and unjust (459c8ff.).
In the case of Polus (466a4 ff.) a second motive appears for obtaining a command of
rhetoric: Polus admires people like Archelaus of Macedonia (470d5), who started from
nothing to become a tyrant (471a5 ff.; cf. 466b11), thus attaining true eudaimonia (470d1-3;
cf. 472c8-d3). For Polus, it does not matter which method the tyrant used to acquire his
eudaimonia (469a1). Polus does not believe that Socrates would not be willing to become a
tyrant if such an opportunity arose: su ara turannein ouk an deksaio? (469c3; cf. 468e6 f.;
471e1).
Using the terms of Gyges Ring in Politeia, Polus happy tyrant possesses impunity
after having done injustice.
1
Rhetoric however also offers impunity: whoever has a thorough
command of rhetoric will win every lawsuit when accused of adikia (466b4-d4); so rhetoric
gives absolute power, as does tyranny (468d2-3; 478e6-479b1); rhetoric enables people, while
remaining within the bounds of democracy, to approach the impunity and eudaimonia of
1
Quotations, in transliteration, are according to Burnets Oxford edition.Power is understood 469c-470a as the
capacity to prevent being punished after one has done injustice.
Frederik Arends 53
tyrants; rhetoric is, for a democrat, the politically correct way of attaining the eudaimonia of
the tyrant.
Another aspect of rhetorics connection with power is to be found in Callicles
(481b6 ff.). Initially, Callicles speaks less about rhetoric than about matters concerned with
the philosophy of law. In his philosophical considerations, however, power plays a
dominating role. In his opinion, might is right and success justifies every act of violence,
which he believes is illustrated in literature (484b1 ff.) as well as in political and military
history (483d3-e1); the Empire of the Persians in particular (483d6-7) provides him with
examples of the subordination of right to might: hs hai megalai poleis epi tas smikras kata to
phusei dikaion erchontai, as Socrates summarizes Callicles (488c4-5).
Polus suggested that Socrates is hypocritical if declining tyranny even though it would
be possible for him to become a tyrant (469c3). How sincere however is Polus himself?
2
On
the one hand, he is a representative of conventional decency (487b1-2; cf. 482c5-e2), but on
the other, he admires the bestial tyrant Archelaus of Macedonia (470d5 f.). Polus
ambivalence is not exceptional: in Politeia II, Glaucon and Adimantus attack the hypocrisy
present in all traditional education and in the literary and religious tradition of the Greeks
(Resp. 366e), as the message of this tradition is that you only have to seem just, not to be just,
and that a man is most successful in life when he knows how to combine the appearance of
justice with the reality of injustice (365b6 f.). In terms of Politeia, Polus represents the moral
ambivalence of tradition and normality.
This ambivalence can also be found in Callicles, the lover of the Athenian demos
(481d4-5; 513a2, b5-6) who finds the paradigm for Athenian politics in the history of Persian
imperialism. Darius attacking the Scythians and Xerxes attacking Greece illustrate for him
that, if one looks at the behavior of states as a whole (483d4; cf. 488c4-5), the natural
dikaion is for the better to rule the worse and for the stronger to rule the weaker (483d1;
492a5-b8). Again Politeia offers a useful parallel: injustice performed by a polis as a whole
means imperialism, as illustrated in Socrates question to Thrasymachos: polin phais an
adikon einai kai allas poleis epicheirein doulousthai adiks kai katadedoulsthai, pollas de
kai huphheauti echein doulsamenn? (Resp. 351b1-3; cf. Gorg. 456a8).
Callicles appears to be the rhetorical climax of a triklon about rhetoric and power: a)
for Gorgias, command of rhetoric means supreme power within ones democratic polis
(452d7; cf. 456a1-3), as illustrated by Themistocles and Pericles (455e2-3); b) for Polus,
rhetoric is the second best way of achieving the eudaimonia of the tyrant; c) for Callicles, the
ideal is the polis of Athens ruling its empire as a tyrant rules his polis. Athenian imperialist
thalassocracy forms the background of the dialogue, from the beginning (455b6-7; 455d8-e6)
to the end (503c1-6; 514a2-7; 515-519).
In addition to rhetoric being the key to power, Callicles also mentions a further function
of rhetoric, which has so far been neglected: rhetoric as an instrument of self-protection
(483b1 ff.; 456e2-4). Social and political life is dangerous; even within the polis one is
surrounded by enemies /echthroi
3
whose permanent aim is to do injustice to their enemies
and rob them of their possessions (486c1), even of their life (508d2-3). In order to prepare
oneself for this dangerous struggle, one has to acquire social and political experience (484c4-
e3); expressed in modern terms, one should become a member of relevant social and political
networks (hetairotatois, 487d3; ts huparchouss politeias hetairon einai, 510a9-10),
because without these one is helpless on the battlefield of the polis. Whoever fails to
2
It is relevant here that both Gorgias and Plos are xenoi (487a7), as this restricts their freedom of speech.
3
See: 480e5-481b1 (4x); 486c1; cf. 492c2.
Why Socrates came too late for Gorgias epideixis 54
acquire this experience and these connections over time, will be a defenseless victim of his
enemies (486a-c). And that is the most humiliating thing that Callicles can imagine (483a7-
b4; 486a4-c3; 508c4-d4; 527c6-7).
Callicles hints here at something that becomes more manifest in Politeia: in all existing
poleis, political life is characterized by stasis, a latent or manifest civil war, so that
citizens of the same polis are never neutral to each other but always behave either as enemies
or as friends (Resp. 422a1-423b10). Stasis forms the political background of the traditional
interpretation of justice in Politeia as tous philous eu poiein kai tous echthrous kaks (Resp.
332d7; 335a8-10, e2-3; cf. 334b8-9), leaving no room for correct neutrality to fellow
citizens.
4
In his answer to Callicles, Socrates makes it clear that Callicles desire for self-
protection against injustice will compel him to assimilate to people who will not hesitate to do
injustice to those who are not considered by them to be friends; so the fear of becoming a
victim of injustice compels one to do injustice to others (510d4-511b5; 513a1-c3). This in
turn compels one to adopt a social and political role that could be described as being a
member of a political organization that acts as a mutual insurance company prone to using
criminal methods. Modern parallels are obvious.
Arguing on the basis that rhetoric functions as an instrument of self-protection and
survival in a polis where one has many enemies and few friends, Callicles stresses the danger
which a protracted preoccupation with philosophy implies for making the transition to
rhetoric, and thereby for ones survival.
Callicles recognizes that philosophy, if studied for a limited time when one is young
(484c4 ff.; 485a-d; 486a, esp. 5-7), may be useful for later life as an adult citizen (491b1; c6-
7); at the same time, however, he thinks that it is vital to quit philosophy in due course,
because young adults have to become familiar with social and political life (485d5; ta meiz,
484c4-5); studying philosophy is useful for later life if and only if this study remains
propedeutical; whoever continues with philosophy for too long becomes a weirdo (484d2 f.)
and puts his survival at risk, as he will not be able to defend himself and his friends against
injustice (484c7-8; 486b6-c3; 487d1-2; 508d1-3). There is no mention here of rhetoric being
an instrument of power, let alone an instrument of absolute power: rhetoric has receded to
being an instrument of self-protection and survival, to dikanik (512b7).
The obvious question then arises as to the extent to which one should in Callicles
opinion train ones wits (487c5-d2; 488a1; 484c7) and study philosophy. Callicles
indicates that there is an opportune time, a proper moment elsewhere in Platos work
referred to as kairos
5
at which one should end ones philosophical learning and begin the
process of social and political learning.
6
Before examining Socrates answer in detail, it is
important to point out that as can be seen in Politeia Plato considers Callicles argument
in Gorgias to be of great relevance: in Politeia, the paideia of future philosopher-kings is
intertwined with the acquisition of exo-philosophical, practical, especially military
experiences (525b8; 537a4 f.). This paideia is not a direct educational implementation of the
Liberation from the Cave.
7
Expressed in terms of the Cave, those who are exposed to the
paideia of philosopher-kings will repeatedly be liberated through only a part of the way out of
the Cave, then will temporarily be brought back into the Cave to become familiar with
non-philosophical practice, and then will be liberated through the next part of the way out,
4
Gorgias 492b5-c3; Resp. 419a3-4.
5
See: Resp. 370b8, c4; cf. Lane (1998) and my review article in Polis, 18 (2001), 140-3.
6
See: m pera tou deontos, 487c7; 485a-486a1 (esp. 485a3-7) is devoted to this problem.
7
See: Arends (1988), 335 ff.
Frederik Arends 55
only to be brought back again, etc. etc. In Politeias elaborated paideia of philosopher-kings,
the exitus linea recta - as still outlined in the Allegory of the Cave - has been transformed
into an exitus interruptus. The philosopher-kings paideia does not find its philosophical
completion before (s)he enters his/her fifties (540a4 ff.); but all exo-philosophical practical
knowledge relevant for a ruler should already have been acquired in the years before arriving
at the summit of philosophical knowledge. The educational curriculum of Politeia therefore
recognizes the importance of Callicles argument in Gorgias: whoever continues philosophy
for too long a time and becomes familiar with the reality of power at too late a moment, or not
at all, is useless for exercising power (Resp. 487c6-d5).
The basis for Socrates answer to Callicles is to be found in the discussion with Polus,
where Socrates claims that true politik techn should be understood as therapeia ts psuchs
8
and that so-called rhetoric is no more than a phantom of a part of politik techn (463d2;
cf. e4), if one understands Gorgias and Polus rhtorik techn in the way Socrates does:
persuasion among ignorants (454b-455c). Already here, Socrates connects true rhetoric
(504d5-6; cf. tn kaloumenn rhtorikn, 448d9; cf. 504d5-6) and politik techn as aiming at
improving the psyche of the citizens, the politai (504d1-e3; 505b3 f.). To think about rhetoric
should not, in Socrates opinion, be separated from the question of true politik techn. This
explains the second part of this papers title: Platos Gorgias as political philosophy.
In response to Callicles objection that philosophy makes one unable to protect oneself
and ones friends against adikeisthai, Socrates answers that philosophy par excellence enables
self-protection, if self-protection means the protection of that which most deserves to be
protected: ones psyche, in the first place, but in the end also ones polis (480b8; 507d4-5;
cf. eme kai ta ema, 508e2, 4-5).
9
Callicles fear of becoming a victim of injustice was the
starting point of a causal sequence ultimately leading to doing injustice to others: the fear of
suffering injustice causes the need for self-protection, which causes involvement in political
life, which causes assimilation to the powerful (512e5-513a3), which as doing injustice to
others is considered to be just if these others are enemies in fact compels one to do
injustice to others. And so the desire to protect oneself against suffering injustice / adikeisthai
causes involvement in a political culture which, expressed in terms of Politeia and Nomoi, is
characterized by stasis. Here one begins to understand why Socrates philosophical therapeia
ts psuchs (cf. 464b4) forms a very part of the politik techn (464b4), and why he calls
himself the only true statesman of Athens (521d7-8).
The unconditional priority of the integrity of ones own psyche, pleaded by Socrates
until the end of the dialogue, has as its consequence the unconditional choice against any
form of adikein, even when one has to choose between adikeisthai and adikein. Socrates is
realistic enough to consider adikeisthai as something very undesirable (509c6 ff.); he does not
however, unlike Callicles, consider adikeisthai as the greatest evil, against which one should
protect oneself even at the cost of doing injustice to others. In Socrates opinion, injustice to
others is the greatest evil, to be avoided under all circumstances. This rigorous standpoint has
political consequences: if one considers adikein to be worse than adikeisthai, one will not in
order to prevent ones own adikeisthai become a member of political associations urging
adikein.
8
Care of the psyche (e.g. 477d-e) has to be understood as care of the moral foundations of a polis: true rhetoric
aims at the psychai (tais psuchais, 504d6-7; plural !) of the citizens (tois politais, 504d9); sphrosun of
individual and polis is the skopos, aiming at which both individual and polis have to live (507d7-8; 508b5-6).
Philosophy procures the epistm required in order to define the skopos of true politik.
9
The bridge from psuch to polis is to be found at 501 d1-4 : mian psuchn duo kai pollas ... hathroais; for the
political dimension of hathroais, see: Resp. 492B5-7 (sunkathezomenoi hathrooi polloi) and 493a8-9 (tn polln
hotan hathroisthsin).
Why Socrates came too late for Gorgias epideixis 56
The desire for self-protection requires one to acquire the dunamis tou m adikeisthai
(509d4-5), as Socrates recognizes and Callicles enthusiastically affirms (509d6). However
Socrates conviction that to do injustice is the greatest evil also requires a kind of power:
whoever wants to protect oneself against becoming the subject of adikia has to acquire the
power and techn of not committing injustice.
10
At this point the distinction between
empeiria and techn introduced earlier in the dialogue (463a6 ff.) becomes functional, and the
fact that Callicles finally conceded the non-identity of pleasant and good (499b4 ff.; 500d6 f.;
506c6-7!).
To establish the unpleasant nature of adikeisthai one does not need a techn: common
human empeiria is in this case enough. The political consequence of the unpleasant nature of
adikeisthai is the polis-in-stasis. However in order to recognize the wickedness of adikein,
such that even the most unpleasant form of adikeisthai would be preferable to adikein, one
cannot seek refuge in the evidence of common empeiria: one needs a techn of the good, of
the psyche, of the effects of adikein on the psyche, and finally one even needs an
eschatology.
11
For Socrates, philosophy means acquiring the knowledge that enables us to prefer
adikeisthai to adikein. And this makes us see when, according to Socrates, the kairos has
come for the transition from philosophy to rhetoric and politics: when one has acquired the
knowledge to choose if compelled to choose in favor of adikeisthai. Prior to this point in
time, one is not qualified for h hs alths politik and for prattein ta politika (521d7-8).
Socrates elenchus of rhetoric shows that as a rule people get involved in politics before
they clearly understand the absolute necessity of choosing, if they are compelled to choose, in
favor of adikeisthai; by their premature transition to rhetoric and politics, they get familiar
with an incorrect concept of rhetoric (as an art of defending injustice), with a political reality
that urges one to do injustice, and with a concept of politik techn which makes it
understandable why in Politikos all so-called politikoi will be characterized as stasiastikoi
(Pol. 303c2).
If understood this way, the basic question of Gorgias concerns the kairos for the
transition from philosophy to rhetoric and politics. The dialogue indicates what philosophical
insights should have been acquired before one is qualified to make the transition to the polis
(513e2-515c5). In Callicles opinion, one should quit philosophy as soon as philosophy
begins to threaten the prevention of ones own adikeisthai, i.e. when a young man though
becoming adult shows no interest in becoming familiar with existing social and political
conventions. In Socrates opinion however, one does not arrive at the kairos before one has
acquired the insight enabling us to opt against adikein, even if this means the risk of
adikeisthai.
Against this background, the beginning of Gorgias with the hosts (Callicles) caustic
remark to one of his guests (Socrates) arriving post festum (447a1-4) anticipates the essence
of the dialogue: for Callicles, it is characteristic of philosophy that the philosopher arrives too
late for rhetoric; from the philosophers perspective, however, who has been delayed by
philosophical questions (447a7-8), one always arrives too early at rhetoric if there still are
philosophical questions to be answered. Which explains the first part of this papers title:
Why Socrates came too late for Gorgias epideixis.
Leiden
10
See: dunamin tina kai technn scl. tou m adikein, 509e1 (cf. d7); 510a3-4.
11
See: technikou, 500a6; epistmona tn dikain, 508c2; cf. technikai, 501b4; technikos, 504d6. For the eschatology,
see: 523a1-527a4.
Platos Critique of Gorgias: Power, the Other, and Truth
Noburu Notomi
1. Rereading Platos Gorgias
Gorgias, the rhetorician and sophist from Leontini of Sicily, was no doubt one of the
most influential intellectuals from the late fifth to the early fourth century BCE. After his
applauded debut at the Athenian Assembly in 427 BCE., Gorgias art of rhetoric enchanted
many politicians and young citizens in Athens and other Greek cities, including Meno,
Antisthenes, Alcidamas, and Isocrates, of whom many became powerful rivals of Plato.
Plato has Gorgias converse with Socrates in his eponymous dialogue. In spite of the
historical importance, however, the Gorgias of Platos Gorgias has not been focused on by its
interpreters, mainly because he does not seem to be clever enough to avoid Socrates
refutation or snare. Did Plato belittle this great sophist? Or was Gorgias really a trivial
figure, whose thought has little that we need to take seriously?
Here I examine Platos critique of Gorgias as the basic project of his dialogue Gorgias
on two points. First, Plato targets the historical Gorgias
1
, and criticizes his dangerous idea
that rhetoric provides the absolute power to rule others. This idea can be detected in his
extant works, especially in the Encomium of Helen. Second, Gorgias notion of truth, implied
in that work, is radically different from that of philosophers, so that the argument between
him and Socrates in the first part of the Gorgias turns out to be systematically ambiguous.
Contrary to the appearance and traditional interpretation, Gorgias is not refuted by Socrates.
2. Rhetorical power in the Encomium of Helen
Gorgias wrote an encomium (or a defense) of the mythical beauty, Helen (DK 82 B11).
His real aim is to demonstrate the power of his art of rhetoric and thereby to recruit pupils.
Plato grasps the essence of his art and fights against it in the Gorgias.
In the preface of the Encomium, Gorgias proclaims that by giving reasoning (logismos)
to the speech (logos), he exhibits the truth (2; cf. 13). Truth (altheia) is first declared the
kosmos of a speech (1). However, the word kosmos has a double meaning: order and
ornament
2
. In the former sense, truth means the speech representing good order, but in the
latter, truth is only decoration of speech. Gorgias must be exploiting this ambiguity, or fuses
them in speaking of truth as kosmos
3
.
1
The anecdote that Gorgias praised Platos talent of satire when he listened to the Gorgias (Athenaeus XI 505D = DK
82 A15a) is not entirely imaginary, since he was probably alive until the 380s (ca. 490-380BCE.).
2
I agree with Wardy (1996), 30, 156 n.8, against MacDowell (1982), 28.
3
For the convergence of beauty and truth, see Verdenius (1981), 122.
Platos Critique of Gorgias: Power, the Other, and Truth 58
The author, after declaring the truth, appeals to plausibility (eikos, 5; cf. 7) by
presenting four possible causes of Helens flight to Troy: she was either compelled by divine
necessity, or seized by force, or persuaded by speech, or captivated by love (5-6, 20). These
four do not exhaust the possibility (hence we cannot expect the logical truth), but they are
instead designed to overlap to culminate in the third cause, namely, the divine power of
speech; Gorgias demonstrates that persuasion by speech employs inevitable force (8-14).
Speech is a man of great power (dynasts megas), which completes divine activities (8),
and its power (dynamis) dominates the soul (cf. 10, 12, 14). Speech gives an audience great
pleasure, and holds the power of life and death, just like drugs (14). Now persuasion is more
a matter of enchantment, deception, magic, and pedantry. This speech appeals to belief
(doxa), which are relied on as the souls adviser, though being slippery and unreliable (cf. 8,
10-11, 13). Gorgias subverts the epistemological status of belief, so that he deliberately blurs
the distinction between belief and truth
4
.
Here the key notion is power. Helen is defended as being overwhelmed by the
absolute power. She is first depicted as a weak victim, who resisted but was forced by
violence to become powerless. Next, when a speech persuades her to obey willingly and
pleasantly, she is no longer an independent agent, but becomes an object of rule and power.
The absolute power that rhetoric wields puts the other under its control. The other who is
persuaded primarily means Helen, but also implies us, the readers. For Gorgias aim is to
appeal to the audience (readers) and attracts them (us) by his power of rhetoric. Rhetoric
manipulates young citizens of political ambition (like Callicles and Meno), especially when
this speech itself wields great power over its readers.
< stronger > rule <weaker >
logos power psych
<male> <female>
Subtext: Gorgias (persuading) We = readers
defending
Text: Paris persuading Helen
His initial promise of truth gradually reveals its true meaning; through this (written)
speech, Gorgias persuades us that the power of rhetoric produces truth. The notion of truth
diverges from what philosophers like Socrates presuppose (absolute truth). It is not simply
by deceiving others with falsehood but by forming truth through persuasion (rhetorical
truth) in an audiences soul that rhetoric wields the great power.
3. Platos examination of Gorgias
By confronting Socrates with Gorgias and his followers, Polus and Callicles, Plato
reveals the root of his influence and thereby criticizes him in a fundamental way. The sharp
contrast between the two dissociates philosophy from rhetoric, and in this way, he aims at
once to defend his master Socrates and to establish philosophy. Platos critique of Gorgias
4
Rhetoric resorts to truth in contrast to belief (cf. Antiphon 2.2.2, DK 87 B44 A2.21-23); Gorgias himself uses this
contrast by calling doxa the most untrustworthy thing (Defense of Palamedes, 24).
Noburu Notomi 59
first examines the notion of power in a radical way, and then saves the other in
philosophical inquiry.
First, Plato reveals that the secret of Gorgias rhetoric lies in the appeal to the power to
rule others. The initial question is what power (dynamis) Gorgias art has (447C, 456A,
460A), and Socrates examination of rhetoric gradually unfolds what he has in mind. He
confidently proclaims that his art enables an audience to entertain the greatest good:
[Gorgias 452D-E]
Gorg: It is in reality the greatest good, Socrates, and is responsible for freedom
5
for
men themselves, and at the same time for rule over others in ones own city.
Soc: Then what do you say this is?
Gorg: I say it is the power to persuade by speech jurymen in the jury-court,
council-men in the Council Chamber, assembly-men in the Assembly, and in every
other gathering, whatever political gathering there may be. And I tell you, with this
power you will hold the doctor as your slave, the trainer as your slave and this
money-maker here will turn out to make money for someone else not for himself,
but for you with the power to speak and persuade the masses.
Gorgias advertises through epideictic speech that the daemonic power of rhetoric
practically captures all powers and keeps them under its control (456A; cf. 455D-456C).
This exactly corresponds to the essence of rhetoric suggested in the Encomium.
In the Meno, the young Meno presents as Gorgias definition of virtue to be able to rule
over people (73C-D)
6
. Also, in the Philebus, Protarchus introduces Gorgias idea that the
art of persuasion is superior to all others because it enslaves all the rest, with their own
consent, not by force (58A-B). These references confirm the same underlying ideology.
Against this, Plato argues that the concept of power is not monolithic: the power to do
what one thinks (dokein) good does not necessarily bring him or her good things. In the
second part, Socrates refutes Polus, who, following Gorgias idea, maintains that a
rhetorician, just like a tyrant, can wield absolute power over other people (466B-E, 473C).
Through the dialogue, Polus has to admit the conclusion that power does not always realize
what one wishes, namely, the good (466B-468E, 469C-470A). By this argument Plato
attempts to divide power into real and apparent; rhetoric provides us with apparent power
only. Here we should note that Plato neither denies that speech has power, nor insists that its
power is bad in itself (cf. 481D-482B). Rather he distinguishes between power and good, so
as to secure the true power which brings about truth and the good, employed by the true art of
speech.
Second, the recurrent contrast between rhetoric (long speech) and dialogue (question and
answer) indicates a crucial difference in attitude toward the other. A rhetorician like Gorgias
is always concerned with the indefinite many, who listen to him, and by means of long
beautiful speeches tries to keep them under control. For Gorgias the other is simply the
object of persuasion and rule. By contrast, a philosopher like Socrates does not take the many
into account, but considers his interlocutor(s) only (472B-C, 474A, etc.). For Socrates the
other, with whom he engages in dialogue and reaches agreement, is each particular self he
faces. Philosophical dialogue is realized between you and me. The role of the other
clearly indicates how Socrates philosophy differs from Gorgias rhetoric. Socratic dialogue
5
Gorgias mentions freedom (eleutheria), the catchword of Athenian democracy, as the power of ruling and
enslaving the other (cf. 483A-B, 485B-C; cf. Laws 890A).
6
Socrates immediately points out that such virtue is limited to free citizens, but excludes slaves and children (and
certainly women) (Meno 73D).
Platos Critique of Gorgias: Power, the Other, and Truth 60
encourages shared inquiry into truth through examination between responsible selves. Yet
rhetoric concerns truth in a different way.
4. Rhetorical truth versus absolute truth
Socrates is usually taken to have successfully refuted Gorgias at the end of the first part.
However, we must note that this view is given by Polus and followed by Callicles (461B-C,
482C-D), while there is no guarantee at all that they understand Gorgias correctly
7
.
According to their diagnosis, Gorgias made one unnecessary but fatal concession to Socrates,
which caused contradiction in his own statements: he should not have admitted that a
rhetorician teaches justice to his pupils. They suggest that this small failure allowed Socrates
to refute him. Yet Gorgias neither agrees nor disagrees with this diagnosis. Taking our
analysis of Gorgias rhetoric into account, the argument of the first part can be interpreted
differently.
The contradiction alleged by Polus is between the following two statements of Gorgias
8
:
(S1) A rhetorician produces persuasion without knowing about justice (454E-
455A).
(S2) A rhetorician knows justice and can teach it to his pupils (459C-460B).
Since S1 seems a basic tenet of rhetoric, one may easily assure that S2 is the unsuitable
concession, as Polus believes. However, S2 is also important because the rhetorician takes a
position superior to others in being able to persuade them of each issue. If Gorgias argues on
the different notion of truth, he can maintain both S1 and S2 as two sides of the same art of
rhetoric.
The first crucial step was to admit that rhetoric produces persuasion without knowledge
(S1: 454C-455A). Socrates initially proposes a general distinction between learning and
believing (pistis), to which Gorgias gives his assent. With this distinction, Socrates next asks
which of the two a rhetorician concerns in persuading people in jury-courts (454E). In the
conclusion, Socrates again refers to rhetorical persuasion in court:
[Gorgias 455A]
Soc: Then neither does the rhetorician teach juries and the other mobs about just
and unjust things, but only produces persuasiveness. For presumably he couldnt
teach such great matters to such a large mob in a short time
9
.
Gorg: No indeed.
In the law court, where a case is examined in a limited time (imagine that a murder
happened in a dark place with few witnesses in the remote past), there is no hope to attain the
absolute truth from the beginning. What matters there is a rhetorical truth, that is, which
speech is more persuasive and convincing; otherwise, everything will equally be false. On
this basis, Gorgias can insist at once (S1) that rhetorical persuasion deals with belief, and
(S2) that, as far as the rhetorician has power to persuade the other, he provides truth and
7
They at least misunderstand Socrates argument and intention (pace Dodds (1959), 263):
(1) Socrates did not entrap his interlocutors with tricks (e.g. equivocation of nomi and physei; cf. 483A).
(2) Socrates did not rejoice at their failures (cf. 461D, 482D).
8
The contradiction that Socrates points out at the end (460C-461B) is different from Polus version:
(S3) A rhetorician knows justice, and consequently is just, so that he never acts unjustly (460B-C).
(S4) A rhetorician may use his art of rhetoric unjustly (456C-457C, 460E-461A).
9
The limit of time in court is measured by water-clock; remember the argument of Theaetetus 201A-C.
Noburu Notomi 61
knowledge. In a word, the power of persuasion constitutes truth. Their arguments miss each
other on the two fundamentally different bases.
When Socrates, based on the sharp distinction between knowing and believing, proposes
that a rhetorician without knowing is persuasive and only appears (phainesthai, dokein) to
know to the ignorant (459B-E), Gorgias looks happy with this description of his magical
power of rhetoric (459C). On the other hand, he professes that the pupils who lack
knowledge can learn justice from the rhetoric teacher (S2). By this Gorgias must mean that,
since the rhetorician wields the power of persuasion and in this sense knows how to bring
about truth in an audiences mind, the same power and knowledge can be given to anyone
who wants to learn. Here his audience play a double role, as pupils to be made powerful
rhetoricians and as the object of his persuasion, when he performs a speech in front of his
potential pupils (cf. 455C-D).
With this distinction accepted, the argument in the first part remains systematically
ambiguous. Socrates, based on absolute truth and knowledge, sees a crucial contradiction in
Gorgias statements, between S1 and S2, whereas Gorgias, based on rhetorical truth, sees the
same argument differently, as representing the magical power of his art of rhetoric. Gorgias
would not admit that he was refuted, while his followers, Polus and Callicles, accept Socrates
refutation and thereby stand on the same (absolutist) basis of knowledge; in order to defend
their master by means of logos, they take S1 as the essence of rhetoric, and reject S2.
Therefore, the fundamental gap is left unbridged in the first part between Socrates and
Gorgias, and the gap is passed to the subsequent exchanges with Polus and Callicles, where a
true refutation becomes possible
10
. This reading may suggest how deep Plato sees the root of
rivalry between rhetoric and philosophy lies
11
.
Keio University
10
Therefore, this understanding of the strategy in the three parts is different from the traditional one (e.g. Irwin (1979),
9).
11
Id like to thank Tatsumi Niijima and Christopher Gill for valuable comments on the earlier versions.
Form and outcome of arguments in Platos Gorgias
Christopher Gill
Those of us who work in British universities in the era of Teaching Quality Assurance
have become familiar with the idea that educational programmes have Intended Learning
Outcomes (ILOs). This discussion of a specific section of the Gorgias (505e-509c) is
designed as the basis of an enquiry into the ILO of the Gorgias. In particular, I am concerned
with the relationship between the form of the argument (and of the dialogue generally) and the
learning outcome for the reader.
In general, I assume that it is highly implausible to think that the ILO of an early
Platonic dialogue
1
perhaps any Platonic dialogue is that the reader should
straightforwardly accept the main lines of argument and the conclusions offered by Socrates.
There are a whole series of features which discourage this learning outcome. These include
aporiai in the course of arguments and at the end of dialogues, incomplete lines of analysis,
and explicit comments by Socrates urging re-examination of the conclusions, the
assumptions, or the method of argument used to reach conclusions. For instance, at the end of
the Charmides (175b-d), Socrates highlights a series of unjustified assumptions made in the
course of the argument, which have, even so, failed to enable them to reach firm conclusions
on the questions raised. The Protagoras ends with Socrates suggesting that the two
participants have reversed their original positions and that they need to re-address the whole
subject at a more fundamental level (361a-d). Although the suggestion about the reversal of
positions is not wholly plausible, there are features of the argument that do genuinely invite
further, and far-reaching, re-examination.
2
I assume that this is not to be seen as a merely formal or symbolic feature of the early
Platonic dialogues but one with serious philosophical implications, which has, indeed, had
important consequences in the philosophical reception of these dialogues. Few Platonic
arguments have been more protreptic
3
in their effect than the final main argument in the
Protagoras, the denial of psychological conflict between parts. This, apparently, stimulated
the radically different analysis of psychological conflict in Book 4 of Platos Republic, and,
certainly, provoked Aristotles revision of Socrates argument in his analysis of akrasia in
Nicomachean Ethics 7.3. It also stimulated the rethinking and re-adoption of the unitary
psychological model, with its profound implications for understanding alleged inner conflict,
by the Stoics and Donald Davidson.
4
This example illustrates the potential range of the
Intended Learning Outcomes of a Platonic dialogue, that is, the responses which the dialogues
1
On Platonic chronology, see Kahn (2002).
2
See further on this type of interpretation, seen as applying in different ways to all Platos dialogues, Gill (1996).
3
On the interlocking of dialectic and protreptic in Platos dialogues (e.g. Euthydemus), see Gill (2000).
4
See Pl. Rep. 435-441, Arist. NE 7.3, especially 1147b13-17; on the Stoics see e.g. Price (1995), ch. 4, and on
Davidson (and Plato), Penner (1990).
Christopher Gill 63
have produced and which they seem designed to invite. The dialogues have stimulated root-
and-branch replacement, on the one hand (if this is how we should understand the argument
of Book 4 of the Republic), and the re-adoption of the core ideas, but with substantive
psychological, ethical, or epistemological modifications, on the other. Of course, more
modest responses are possible, such as repairing localised gaps or contradictions in the
existing argument or recasting the lines of argument in new terminology. However, the form
of the dialogues seems to invite some creative philosophical response other than accepting
Socrates lines of argument and conclusions as doctrines to be straightforwardly adopted.
But is the Gorgias different? Certainly, it seems to be different: neither the argument nor
its conclusion is explicitly aporetic, and Socrates has, for much of the discussion, an
affirmative, even dogmatic or didactic tone. This is nowhere clearer than in 505e-509c. Here,
Socrates dialectical exchange with Callicles breaks down and Socrates, exceptionally,
continues the argument for both of them. Socrates uses this breakdown in discussion to sum
up key conclusions, as he presents them, reached in his preceding arguments with Polus and
Callicles. One of these is that virtue or goodness consists in order (identified with sphrosun
in the case of psychic order), and that we should therefore work to gain sphrosun rather
than the maximization of pleasures (506c-508b). A second conclusion is that, since doing
wrong is both more shameful and worse than suffering it, we should seek to obtain the
capacity or craft by which to avoid this (508b-509e). His comments also imply ideas often
seen as central to Socrates thinking: that the virtues are unified (507a-c), that virtue is the
basis of (or identical with) happiness (507c-d), that no one does wrong willingly but only out
of error (509e).
Given this aspect of Gorgias 505e-509c, it is not surprising that the passage is used by
scholars aiming to define core Socratic theories or doctrines. For instance, Gregory Vlastos
cites 507b8-c7 in support of his claim that Socrates maintains that virtue and happiness are
interentailing (because virtue is either sufficient for or identical with happiness) (1991: 223-
4). For Charles Kahn, the passage is a prime source for doctrines that he sees as underlying
the characteristic Socratic paradoxes outlined here. The idea that wrongdoing is involuntary
(509e) is taken to imply the larger claim that we are all motivated by a rational desire
(boulesthai) for the good (1996: 138-9). The idea that virtue consists in a kind of natural
harmony or order in the psyche (507e-508a) is seen as providing theoretical support for
the claim that virtue is fundamental for happiness (508b-c) (Kahn 1996: 142-3).
Certain of the more affirmative or dogmatic features of this passage also served as
crucial support for Vlastoss second and very famous interpretation of the function of
Socratic elenchus. Instead of seeing elenchus as designed to expose logical consistency and
inconsistency, as he had previously supposed, Vlastos maintained that elenchus, by exposing
inconsistency in the interlocutors beliefs, enables Socrates to gain at least provisional
knowledge of the truth. Vlastos was especially impressed by the confident tone in this
passage:
These things that have become plain in the preceding arguments are, as I say, held
down and bound by arguments of iron and adamant (to put it rather crudely) ... My
position (logos) at least is always the same: I dont know how these things are, but
no one Ive met, as in this case, has been able to say anything different without
being ridiculous. (508e6-509a1, a4-7).
The confident tone, especially in the first part of this statement, picks up Socrates
earlier claim, made in connection with the idea that virtue is the basis of happiness, that these
things are true(507c8-9). It also builds on the comment, in connection with the idea that
doing injustice is worse than suffering it, that what you thought Polus admitted from shame
Form and outcome of arguments in Platos Gorgias 64
is true (alth) (508b7-8).
5
Vlastos also recognised a more aporetic note in the second
sentence cited earlier (I dont know how these things are). This picks up the earlier
comment that, while everyone should strive competitively to know the truth (to althes) as
being a common good (koinon agathon), the things I am saying I do not assert as one who
knows (eids), but I am searching in common with you (zt koin(i) meth humn) (505e4-
506a4). But, at least in his later analysis of the elenchus, Vlastos interprets the idea of shared
enquiry in the light of Socrates confident truth-claims. Hence, Vlastos supposes, Socrates
believes he has gained knowledge of truth through repeated acts of elenchus. Socrates is
conscious that his belief-set is consistent (and, provisionally at least, true) and that this
enables him to expose the inconsistency of his interlocutors. What stimulates continued
enquiry by Socrates is only the increasingly theoretical possibility that he might be shown
up as inconsistent and also the acknowledgement that he lacks divine certainty in knowledge.
6
It is, presumably, this analysis of the role of elenchus that justifies Vlastoss use of part of this
passage (507b8-c7), along with other extracts from the early dialogues, to reconstruct a
systematic theory or set of doctrines, about the relationship between virtue and happiness,
which he ascribed to Socrates (1991, ch. 8).
So it is clear that this way of reading this passage of the Gorgias (505e-509c), namely as
didactic in its content and approach, has had substantial implications at least within one, very
influential, strand of Anglo-American analytic scholarship on Plato.
7
But are we really
justified in seeing this part of the Gorgias, or the Gorgias as a whole, as so different in its
intended learning outcome from other early Platonic dialogues such as the Protagoras? I
think there are several reasons for scepticism about this way of reading the passage. One, very
obvious, reason is that this is only Socrates report of the results of the preceding argument.
His partner in dialogue, Callicles, is mutinously silent throughout the passage. To this degree,
Socrates explicit project, of which we are reminded at the start of the passage (505e4-506a4),
of shared search for an agreed account of truth as a common good, has collapsed, since the
conclusions stated by Socrates are not supported even by the reluctant assent of the
interlocutor. Also, one of these conclusions, that doing wrong is both more shameful and
worse than suffering it (508b-c), depends on the results of a notoriously questionable
argument (474b-475e), whose problematic character has been brought out by both Kahn and
Vlastos.
8
It is in connection with this argument that Socrates, twice, claims to have proved
what is true (alth), a claim that Vlastos found so significant for understanding the function
of elenchus.
9
If we assume that the Plato was also aware of the questionable logic of this
argument, the fact that emphatic truth-claims are based on this specific argument is a further
signal that we should be cautious about accepting Socrates confident claims in 508e-509a.
Thirdly, Socrates characterisation of virtue as psychic order introduces several striking new
themes. These include the idea that kosmos is a function of the universe and human society as
well as the virtuous psyche, coupled with the idea of proportionate equality as an ethical
norm. These ideas, for us, evoke later Plato dialogues, especially the Republic and Timaeus.
10
5
See also Socrates comment near the end of his dialogue with Polus: Has it not been proved (apodedeiktai) that what
was said is true (alth)? 479e7.
6
See Vlastos (1994), ch. 1, especially 17-33, ch. 2, especially 58-66.
7
Vlastoss views on elenchus and knowledge have generated a huge secondary literature since their first publication in
papers in the 1980s. See e.g. (both critical of Vlastos in different ways) Benson (2000) and Beversluis (2000); also
Gill (2004b).
8
Vlastos describes it as a rotten argument, and exempts Socrates from cheating only on the (a priori) ground that
Socrates moral seriousness would not allow him to do so on an issue of such importance: Vlastos (1991), 139-48,
especially 146-7; also Kahn (1983), 86-97, (1996), 135, n. 11.
9
479e7, cited in n. 5 above, and 508b8-c1.
10
See e.g. Pl. Rep. 500b-d, Tim. 29e-37c, 90a-d. See further Burnyeat (2000), Gill (2004a).
Christopher Gill 65
By the same token, they are themes which have not formed part of the dialectical discussion
on which Socrates, allegedly, bases his statement of agreed conclusions and the confident
truth-claims associated with these.
These points add up to a single overall impression, I think, which is that
Socrates summary of the conclusions of the argument has a strongly rhetorical character.
The summary is assertive in an uncharacteristically unqualified way and it also goes beyond
what the preceding discussion (or its monologic continuation in 505e-509c) justifies as an
account of agreed conclusions of shared enquiry. Socrates himself admits later that his style
of argument becomes more rhetorical in the course of the discussion, when he says to
Callicles you have made me become a real mob-orator, alths dmgorein, 519d5-7).
This style is also evident in the passages noted earlier, which make strong truth-claims about
the outcome of the preceding argument.
11
Socrates adoption of a rhetorical style emerges in
(what he himself characterises as) a rather crude (agroikoteron) characterisation of the force
of his argument. He claims that the conclusions of his argument are bound by chains of iron
and argument and virtually dismisses the idea that Callicles or anyone more headstrong
(neanikteros) will be able to unloose these chains (509a1-4). Indeed, these passages in the
Gorgias, which so strongly shaped Vlastoss interpretation of the function of elenchus,
express what one might call the rhetoric of truth-claims, rather than the dialectical analysis
of them; they are formulated in an unqualified way and are not securely based in the agreed
outcomes of shared search.
But, if we accept this characterisation of Socrates style of discourse here, what follows
for our interpretation of the passage and for the larger question of whether this passage, and
the dialogue as a whole, should be read to put it simply as didactic or protreptic in
approach? In its immediate context, the rhetorically assertive summary of alleged conclusions
seems designed to provoke Callicles into re-entering the argument, as he actually does in
509c-e (though also lured by some ambiguous comments by Socrates).
12
More broadly,
however, this feature of the passage underlines what one might call the embedded character
of Platonic dialectic; that is, the localisation of arguments and conclusions within a specific
dialectical encounter with its own cast of characters and mode of discourse.
13
Also, the
rhetorical character of Socrates assertions might act as a signal particularlyto someone who
knows any other early Platonic dialogues that Socrates is assertive and confident about the
truth-claims of the outcome of his dialectical shared search dialectic in a way that he tends not
to be elsewhere and in a way that we might want to endorse. This signal is, certainly, less
overt than the explicitly protreptic comments in the Charmides (175b-c), Protagoras (361a-d)
and elsewhere. There is also less evidence that the arguments of the Gorgias have served as a
catalyst for new theories than in the case of the final argument of the Protagoras.
14
But this
signal should be enough, I believe, to make us think twice or more before assuming that
Plato intends to show Socrates offering an authoritative summary of his doctrines in this
passage. We should also be cautious about supposing that the passage suggests that the
representation of Socratic dialectic is designed to communicate unqualified knowledge of
truth, and that this is the intended learning outcome of an early Platonic dialogue.
University of Exeter, UK
11
507b8-d6, especially c8-9, 508b3-c3, 508e6-509b1.
12
Socrates raises the question of how to secure a power (dunamis) to avoid suffering - and also doing - injustice
(508d-e).
13
On this feature, see further Gill (2002), 153-61.
14
Long (2002), 70-4, highlights the influence on Epictetus of Platos Gorgias, but as an exemplar of dialectical method
and moral seriousness rather than as a source of arguments to be re-examined.
Der Dialog Gorgias und die Tradition des europischen
Naturrechts
Ada Neschke-Hentschke
Einleitung
Im zeitgenssischen Rechts- und Verfassungsstaat sind die Inhaber der politischen
Macht darauf verpflichtet, die natrlichen Rechte des Menschen zu schtzen.
1
Es handelt sich
bei dieser Pflicht um ein Gebot der natrlichen Gerechtigkeit. Der Begriff der natrlichen
Gerechtigkeit bildet den Kern der europischen Naturrechtstradition, deren Ursprnge, wie
schon der Ausdruck natrliche Gerechtigkeit iustitia naturalis ~ u c.. o. -c.|
anzeigt, in die griechisch-rmische Antike zurckreichen. Meine hier vorgeschlagene Lektre
des platonischen Dialogs Gorgias ist von dem Erkenntnisinteresse geleitet, diesen Ursprngen
nachzugehen.
ber den Beginn der Naturrechtstradition in der Antike herrscht nun keineswegs
Klarheit. Er ist vielmehr durch eine weit verbreitete communis opinio verdeckt, die besagt,
dass das europische Naturrecht eine Erfindung der Sophistik sei. Diese Meinung vertreten
renommierte Naturrechtshistoriker wie K.-H. Ilting
2
; krzlich hat auch Christoph Horn in
seiner wichtigen Einfhrung in die Politische Philosophie den Naturrechtsgedanken auf die
Sophistik zurckgefhrt
3
und damit die communis opinio erneut geltend gemacht. Fr diese
These liefert ihm Platos Gorgias eine Referenz : nicht nur beruft sich die Dialogfigur des
Kallikles auf ein Gesetz der Natur (| , ~ , u c..,) und auf ein natrliches Gerechtes
(~ u c.. o. -c.|), sondern dieser Kallikles gilt auch als Vertreter der Sophistik.
4
Wir stellen nun dieser Auffassung die These entgegen, dass der Ursprung des
europischen Naturrechts keineswegs bei den Sophisten, sondern bei Plato zu suchen sei. Ein
klares Zeugnis fr unsere Gegenthese liefert der platonische Thetet und das 10. Buch der
Nomoi ; hier resmiert Plato die politische Theorie des Protagoras und anderer anonymer
Denker mit dem Hinweis darauf, dass sie ein natrliches Gerechtes unmglich mache
(Thetet 172 b2-b7 ; Nomoi X, 889 e5-890 a2). Vor allem aber konzipiert Plato emphatisch
seine Polis in den Nomoi als ein auf das Naturrecht gegrndetes Gemeinwesen; denn die
Herrschaft der Vernunft, d.h. des Gesetzes, bedeutet, dass das natrliche Gerechte zum
Massstab aller (positiven) Gesetzgebung zu erheben ist (Nomoi VI, 757 a5-757 c8).
5
1
Stourzh (1975).
2
Ilting (1983), 36-41.
3
Horn (2003), 17. Ch. Horn nuanciert allerdings anschliessend diese Bemerkung und teilt die ausdrckliche Theorie
einer naturrechtlichen Begrndung des Staates Aristoteles zu. Gegen beide Thesen vgl. jedoch Neschke-
Hentschke (1995), 107 ss., 167 ss.
4
Horn (2003), 17.
5
Im Kontext von Nomoi VI erscheint das Natrliche als das Gttliche . Anders Buch X, wo der Gottesbeweis
sich an andere Adressaten wendet.
Ada Neschke-Hentschke 67
In einer Rekonstruktion der politischen Philosophie Platos und ihrer Rezeption habe ich
zu zeigen versucht, dass die europische Naturrechtstradition auf die platonischen Nomoi,
vermittelt durch Ciceros De legibus und Augustins Cicerorezeption in seinem Frhwerk,
zurckgeht,
6
also keineswegs auf die Sophistik. Die Argumente fr diese Beurteilung der
Naturrechtstradition sttzen sich auf zwei Verfahren :
Auf eine Begriffsklrung : Was heisst europisches Naturrecht ?
Auf eine Neuinterpretation des Gorgias im Lichte dieser Begriffsklrung.
Heute und hier erlaubt mir die gebotene Krze eines Vortrags nur, eine Skizze meiner
Argumente zu geben, ich verweise auf die ausfhrliche Darstellung in meiner Arbeit zum
Politischen Platonismus.
7
1. Was heisst europische Naturrechtstradition ?
Die europische Naturrechtstradition umfasst drei fundamentale Annahmen :
Es gibt ein Recht bzw. Gerechtes von Natur (ius naturale iustitia naturalis).
Dieses Recht hat als Quelle eines natrliches Gesetz (Rechtsquellenlehre).
Das Naturrecht liefert die hchste Norm fr alles gesetzte, positive ,
d.h. staatliche Recht. Es bindet die politische Macht an dieses Recht.
Die Ausarbeitung dieser Thesen hat eine differenzierte Terminologie hervorgerufen, die
aber in dem modernen Ausdruck Naturrecht verschleiert wird. Ich erlutere daher das
Wesentliche der Naturrechtstradition mithilfe einer Begriffsklrung.
So umfasst in den modernen europischen Sprachen (ausser der englischen) das Wort
Naturrecht (droit naturel, diritto naturale, derecho naturale) sowohl das natrliche Recht
(= ~ u c.. o. -c.|, ius naturale, natural right), als auch seine Quelle, d.h. das natrliche
Gesetz. Letzteres fllt seit den Stoikern mit der die Normen und daher auch das Recht
setzenden Vernunft zusammen (SVF, III ; 78, 2 ; 79, 40). Dieses Gesetz wird zur lex naturalis
bei Cicero, Augustin und Thomas von Aquin und zum englischen natural law .
8
Die
normensetzende Vernunft postuliert nun, jede Rechtsnorm (ius) der natrlichen Gerechtigkeit
(iustitia naturalis) zu unterstellen, bzw. mit ihr zu identifizieren.
9
Zusammengefasst : Es ist typisch fr die europische Naturrechtstradition, eine
rechtsschaffende Instanz, die lex naturalis, anzunehmen ; diese setzt die natrlichen Normen
(iura naturalia), die alle der natrlichen Gerechtigkeit entsprechen und daher mit dieser
identifiziert werden knnen : ius naturale und iustitia naturalis werden austauschbar so
besonders ausdrcklich bei den mittelalterlichen Juristen, die die platonische Gerechtigkeit
mit dem rmischen Naturrecht identifizieren und beides als Produkt der gttlichen Schpfung
interpretieren.
10
6
Neschke-Hentschke (2003).
7
Siehe Anmerkung 6 und Anmerkung 3.
8
Die Trennung von natural right und natural law wird vor allem von Th. Hobbes klargemacht (Hobbes (1966), 99).
9
Die iustitia naturalis ist die lateinische bersetzung des physei dikaion durch den sptantiken Kommentator von
Platos Timaios, Calcidius. Vgl. Timaeus a Calcidio translatus, commentarioque instructus, hsg. v. J.H. Waszink
(1962), 59-60. Dazu Neschke-Hentschke (2003), Leon 1.3.
10
Dazu Neschke-Hentschke (2003), loc.cit., und ausfhrlicher Neschke-Hentscke (2005b).
Der Dialog Gorgias und die Tradition des europischen Naturrechts 68
In dem modernen Wort Naturrecht stecken somit drei zu unterscheidende lateinische
Begriffe :
die lex naturalis, das natrliche Gesetz griechisch : der ,, oder | , ~,
uc..,.
das ius naturale, das natrliche Recht griechisch : ~ u c.. o. -c.|.
und die iustitia naturalis bzw. die aequitas, die natrliche Gerechtigkeit griechisch
ebenfalls : ~ u c.. o. -c.| (~ o. -c.| cu ~ bei Plato).
11
Das Eigentmliche der europischen Naturrechtstradition besteht nun in der
Politisierung der natrlichen Gerechtigkeit : sie wird hchste Norm fr die Ordnung der
politischen Gemeinschaft, deren Eigenart in dem Phnomen einer obersten Macht besteht (bei
Aristoteles als -u.c cy bezeichnet).
12
Die natrliche Gerechtigkeit hat zur Aufgabe, die
Ausbung der hchsten Macht an ein rationales Prinzip zu binden. Es handelt sich um eine
mathematische Rationalitt, die Proportionalitt oder geometrische Gleichheit ; letztere
verlangt, jedem das Seine zuzuteilen das suum cuique tribuere. Politisch kommt dieses
Prinzip zur Anwendung, wenn die oberste politische Macht nach diesem Kriterium verteilt
wird. Damit sollen Machtkmpfe, d.h. Gewaltanwendung verhindert werden. Das skulare
Festhalten am Prinzip des suum cuique in der europischen Naturrechtstradition verweist auf
die kontinuierliche Intention und Motivation der politischen Denker dieser Tradition, dank
eines rationalen Prinzips die Gewaltlosigkeit der politischen Gemeinschaft zu sichern. Dieses
Prinzip hiess vormals Gerechtigkeit, heute Rechtsstaatlichkeit.
13
2. Die Lektre des Gorgias im Lichte der Begriffsklrung
Unsere Lektre des Gorgias muss somit auf zwei Fragen antworten :
Wie verhlt sich das von Kallikles formulierte Naturrecht zu der Naturrechts-
tradition ?
Und : Ist Kallikles ein Sophist ?
Da wir die zweite Frage negativ beantworten werden, werden wir abschliessend kurz die
Frage nach dem Anteil der Sophistik an der europischen Naturrechtstradition stellen.
2.1. Das Naturrecht des Kallikles und das europische Naturrecht
In seiner berhmten Rede (Gorgias 483 a7-e4) vertritt Kallikles das Recht des
Strkeren , d.h. er vertritt das Recht der Gewalt . Er bedient sich dabei einer Rhetorik, die
dem habituellen griechischen Rechtsdenken folgt. Letzteres unterscheidet sich vom
rmischen Denken grundlegend dadurch, ausschliesslich das Gesetz zur Quelle des Rechts zu
machen. Alles Recht geht auf ein Gesetz zurck alles gesetzliche Recht ist gerecht.
14
Dieser
Gewohnheit folgend verankert auch Kallikles das Recht des Strkeren in einem Gesetz von
Natur und macht somit das ihm folgende Recht zu einem Naturrecht. Ein die Gewalt
einsetzendes Recht ist jedoch, einer anderen griechischen Tradition folgend, durchaus ein
Paradox. In der Tat, seit Hesiod ist fr die Griechen das Recht dadurch definiert, dass es
11
Im rmischen Sprachgebrauch wird Recht als ius und gerechtes Recht als aequum ius bezeichnet. Diese Trennung
fehlt in der griechischen Sprache.
12
Die -u.c cy (Aristoteles, Politik III, 14, 1285 a4) wird zur summa potestas, bzw. zum summum imperium, das
seit J. Bodin als Souvernitt ein wesentliches Merkmal des Staates ausmacht (Bodin (1583), 1).
13
Dazu grundlegend Bckenfrde (1991), 143-169.
14
Vgl. z. B. DK II, 89, 11 Aufl. 1964, 400-404 (Anon. Iamblichi). Hier sind o. -c.| und | .| Synonyme ; ebenso
Aristoteles, Nikomachische Ethik, V, Kp. 1-3. Zum griechischen Rechtsdenken vgl. Triantaphyllopoulos (1985).
Ada Neschke-Hentschke 69
Gewalt ausschliesst. Fr Hesiod nmlich besteht der Unterschied von Mensch und Tier gerade
darin, dass allein der Mensch seine Konflikte nicht durch Gewalt (.c), sondern das Recht
(o. -) zu regeln imstande ist (Hesiod, Erga 276-285). In dieser Tradition stehen nicht nur
Aischylos Eumeniden, sondern die gesamte Konstruktion der attischen Isonomia mit ihrer
komplexen Organisation der Gerichtsbarkeit und Rechtsfindung.
15
Das von Kallikles
beanspruchte Naturrecht auf Gewalt ist also bereits im griechischen Sinne berhaupt kein
Recht : es ist ein Trugbild, besser die Perversion des Rechts. Es usurpiert jedoch den Namen
des Rechts mit der Folge, dass sich die Negation des Rechts Recht nennt. Es ist nun evident,
dass mit der von Kallikles vertretenen Negation des Rechts kein Denken begrndet wird, das,
wie das Denken der europischen Naturrechtstradition, die Garantie der Gewaltlosigkeit im
Recht sucht und seine Suche darauf konzentiert, ein solches Recht zu finden, das sich auf eine
massgeblichere Ordnung als die blosse menschliche Konvention beziehen kann, nmlich die
Ordnung der Natur.
Der Ursprung des europischen Naturrechtsdenkens kann somit keinesfalls im
sogenannten Naturrecht des Kallikles festgemacht werden.
2.2. Ist Kallikles ein Sophist ?
Die Auffassung, Kallikles sei ein Sophist, kann sich auf zwei Argumente sttzen :
Kallikles ist ein Schler des Sophisten Gorgias.
Plato selber stellt ihn als Vertreter der Sophistik dar.
In welchem Sinn sprechen wir heute von Sophistik, nennen wir z.B. Gorgias einen
Sophisten ? Wir verwenden dabei den seit Kerferd und Guthrie allgemein akzeptierten
historiographischen Term, die ambulanten Wanderlehrer der Rhetorik Sophisten zu nennen.
16
Kallikles dagegen ist ein athenischer Politiker von der Partei der Oligarchen, der sich bei
Gorgias seine Ausbildung erwirbt. Er ist im historiographischen Sinn kein Sophist, da er nicht
selber die Rhetorik lehrt.
Nun stellt aber Plato Kallikles als Sophisten vor und dies auf Grund der raffinierten
Konstruktion seines Dialogs Gorgias : in diesem Dialog verkrpern die Gesprchspartner
Ideen, .. o, d.h. Formen des Wissens, die der platonische Sokrates in einer Begriffsdihrese
differenziert. Der Dialog fragt ausdrcklich nach der Idee der Rhetorik : ~. , ~.-
(Gorgias 448 e6-449 a2)? Diese Frage wird, ohne Entwicklung kurzerhand durch Sokrates
dahin gehend beantwortet, dass er die Rhetorik als blosse Routine (....c) vom wirklichen
Wissen (. .c~ , ~. y|) abgrenzt (Gorgias 461 b10-c5). Erst nach der Begrndung
gefragt, entwickelt er ein dihretisches Schema, das seine abrupte Behauptung erlutert
(Gorgias 464 b2-466 a4). Erinnern wir kurz die sokratische Dihrese.
17
Das Wissen, um das es geht, ist das politische Wissen ; sein Ziel besteht darin, das Gute
zu verwirklichen, indem es die Menschen besser macht. Dazu tragen seine zwei Disziplinen
bei : die Kunst des Richters (o.-cc~.-), die die Fehler des Menschen durch Strafe ausmerzt,
und die Gesetzgebung (|-.~.- ), die die Normen aufstellt, deren Befolgung den
Menschen gut macht. Im Gorgias wird von diesem Wissen nur die Rechtssprechung in einer
Dialogfigur personifiziert : es ist der platonische Sokrates, der sie in seinem Elenchus
gegenber Kallikles ausbt, indem er diesen straft (Gorgias 505 c3). Daher bedeutet sein
Tun politisches Handeln und er kann als der einzige wahre Politiker Athens bezeichnet
15
Vgl. Bleicken (1995
4
), 203-228.
16
Guthrie (1971), 27-54.
17
Vgl. Schema der Begriffe im Gorgias in Neschke-Hentschke (1995), 110.
Der Dialog Gorgias und die Tradition des europischen Naturrechts 70
werden (Gorgias 521 d6). Wer hingegen der wahre Gesetzgeber sein knnte und was sein
Gesetz ausmachen wrde, bleibt, trotz mancher Hinweise, unausgefhrt. Im Dialog prsent
sind dagegen die beiden perversen Formen des politischen Wissens : denn die Vertreter der
Fehlform der richterlichen Rhetorik sie heisst ~.- sind Gorgias und Polos, die diese
~.- als ihren Beruf beanspruchen. Der Vertreter der falschen Gesetzgebung dagegen ist
Kallikles. Da Plato nun die falsche Gesetzgebung c.c~.- nennt, ist Kallikles im
platonischen Sinn ein Sophist.
Was aber ist ein Sophist im platonischen Sinn ? Im Dialog Politikos sind es die
perversen politischen Systeme (Politikos 291 b6-c6). Sie haben mit Kallikles im Gorgias
gemein, dass sie falsche, d.h. perverse Normen geben, hier roi genannt. Letztere bewirken,
dass das echte politische Wissen nicht aktiv werden kann. Sophisten im platonischen Sinne
verhelfen falschen Normen zur Geltung ; insofern knnen sie die Maske des wissenden
Normengebers, des Gesetzgebers, anlegen und die Menschen tuschen. Der Gegensatz der
wahren und falschen Norm ist dabei im Gorgias auf den Gegensatz von Lust und Gutem
zugespitzt : Die c.c~.- macht die Lust zur hchsten Norm, wissende Gesetzgebung das
Gute (Gorgias 491 e6-492 a3).
Mit dem Wort Sophist will Plato also die falschen Gesetzgeber bezeichnen. Die Rede
des Kallikles vom Gesetz der Natur ist somit eine Erfindung Platos, um seinen paradoxen
Sophistikbegriff zu illustrieren : notwendigerweise muss Kallikles in dieser Dramaturgie des
Dialogs vom Gesetz und der durch das Gesetz gesetzten Norm, dem Recht und Gerechten,
sprechen. Und da seine Norm sich durchaus auf kein bestehendes positives Gesetz berufen
kann, muss er das Naturgesetz bemhen. Dass es sich dabei um die Perversion, ja Negation
von Recht und Gerechtigkeit handelt, entspringt somit der Intention Platos zu zeigen, wie man
im Namen des Rechts, dank der Manipulation der Sprache, sein Gegenteil verteidigen kann.
Nun hat aber die platonische Erfindung durchaus reale Wurzeln, mit anderen Worten,
Plato zeichnet Kallikles als Vertreter der politischen Rhetorik, wie sie in Athen tatschlich
auftreten konnte. Es scheint nun, dass diese politische Rhetorik durchaus zu
naturrechtlichen berlegungen im Sinne des Kallikles imstande war. Zeugnis dafr liefert
nmlich der Melier-Dialog bei Thukydides, in dem die Athener das Recht des Strkeren als
eine Naturnorm apostrophieren (Thukydides V, 105, 2). In Kallikles wird daher zugleich der
attische Imperialismus und allgemein das Machtstreben der Politiker (der Oligarchen in
Athen) getroffen.
18
In Platos Interpretation dient das Machtstreben ausschliesslich dem Ziel
der Lustmaximierung, da die Macht den Zugang zu allen Formen der Lust bereitstellt.
19
Unser Fazit muss daher lauten : Die These von Kallikles als einem Sophisten und
Urheber der europischen Naturrechtstradition kann sich keinesfalls auf Platos Gorgias
berufen. Der Dialog deutet vielmehr an, wie ein solches echtes Naturrecht aussehen wird. Der
Hinweis auf die geometrische Gleichheit als Prinzip des Kosmos ist eine dieser Andeutungen
(Gorgias 507 c-508 a4), eine zweite findet sich in dem Hinweis auf die Ordnung (- c,,
|,) der Seele (Gorgias 503 d5-504 d3). Platos eigenes Naturrecht wird in der Idee des
Gerechten bestehen, d.h. in der Ordnung stiftenden geometrischen Gleichheit, in der jedes
Teil das Seine tut (~ . cu~u c ~~..| suum cuique). Deren Wirkung auf das Individuum
und die Polis zeigt Plato in der Politeia in theoretischer Absicht und nur modellhaft ;
20
in den
18
Ein weiterer interessanter Zeuge des verbreiteten Imperialismus der Griechen ist Aristoteles, der ausfhrlich kritisch
das Machtstreben der Poleis diskutiert (Politik, VII, 1-3, besonders 1325 a24-1325 b14).
19
In seiner Demokratiekritik in der Politeia besteht Plato darauf, dass in der Demokratie die Masslosigkeit des
Luststrebens als die wirkliche Quelle der demokratischen Ordnungslosigkeit anzusehen ist (Politeia VIII, 558 c8-
559 d6).
20
Politeia V, 472 c4 : cc o..,c~, .|.-c...
Ada Neschke-Hentschke 71
Nomoi dagegen bildet die geometrische Gleichheit das Prinzip der Organisation der Polis und
durchdringt das gesamte Gesetzeswerk.
21
3. Das negative sophistische Naturrecht
Was bleibt aber, jenseits des platonischen Gorgias von der These eines sophistischen
Naturrechts als Begrndung der europischen Naturrechtstradition ? Schon Wilhelm Dilthey
hat 1883 mit seinem Ausdruck des negativen sophistischen Naturrechts das Richtige
gesagt : das Eigene der Sophistik war es, ein Naturrecht zu leugnen. Am ersten Anfang stehen
sich Natur und Recht unvershnlich gegenber. Nach dem Naturphilosophen Archelaos
(DK, II, 60, A.1) und dem Sophisten Antiphon im 5. Jahrhundert v. Chr. ist kein
Gerechtes ein Recht (o. -c.|) von Natur (u c..). Alles Recht ist positiv, ist durch
Gesetz (|,) oder Satzung (-. c.,). Diesem positiven Recht stellt Antiphon eine Norm von
Natur entgegen ; sie ist rein individualistisch und der politischen Norm entgegengesetzt.
22
Die
Norm der Natur dient keineswegs zur Begrndung des Rechts, bzw. der gerechten Ordnung
der politischen Gemeinschaft, der Inhaberin der obersten Macht. Die europische
Naturrechtstradition hat jedoch eine Theorie ausgebildet, die das natrliche Recht zur
obersten Norm der politischen Gemeinschaft macht. Hierin erweist sie sich als
ausschliessliche Erbin Platos ; denn nicht nur hat Plato als erster den Begriff des Gerechten
geklrt, durch und seit Plato gilt das Wort Augustins : Ein Staat ohne Gerechtigkeit ist gar
kein Staat, sondern eine Ruberbande.
23
Die von Augustin gemeinte Gerechtigkeit aber hat
zum konkreten Inhalt die natrliche Gerechtigkeit Platos, die Cicero in die konzise lateinische
Formel des suum cuique gegossen hatte. Der moderne Rechtsstaat ist als ein Erbe dieser
Tradition anzusehen.
24
Universitt Lausanne
21
Vgl. Nomoi VI, 757 b-d : Es darf kein Gesetz geben, das nicht der geometrischen Gleichheit enspricht.
22
Vgl. Nill (1985).
23
Augustin, ber den Gottesstaat, Buch IV, 4.
24
Vgl. Neschke-Hentschke (2005a).
Il Gorgia e la lira di Anfione
Mauro Tulli
La critica pi sensibile allinterpretazione letteraria del dialogo, la critica che non a torto
suggerisce limmagine di Platone doctus, pronto a descrivere, nella trama della sua
produzione, le regole della sua produzione, tende a sottolineare il rapporto di Platone con la
poesia
1
. Il rapporto indiscutibile nel Gorgia, nel discorso di Callicle a Socrate che sposta la
ricerca su felicit e scelta di vita, dopo la confutazione di Polo (482 c-486 d).
E indiscutibile se non altro perch Platone qui mutua dallAntiope, la tragedia di
Euripide, parole, motivi e nuclei argomentativi. A tal punto che, per i 48 frammenti sicuri,
leditore dellAntiope oggi trova nel discorso di Callicle una fonte preziosa quanto il solito
Stobeo e quanto il papiro Flinders Petrie (I 1-2) che offre 116 versi dallesodo, con la cattura
di Lico e larrivo di Hermes ex machina (223 Kannicht). Dal discorso di Callicle dipende in
particolare la ricostruzione del discorso di Zeto nellagone con Anfione, i figli di Antiope, in
fuga da Tebe perch vittima di Dirce: ben 4 dei 6 frammenti per circa 19 versi dei 27 che la
tradizione conserva (184-186 e 188 Kannicht). E difficile individuare la sede dellagone:
dopo la parodo, forse subito dopo una sticomitia del corifeo con Anfione. In ogni caso la
funzione dellagone doveva risultare decisiva per la trama, con Anfione al termine alleato di
Zeto nel proteggere Antiope, prima contro Dirce, nellesodo contro Lico. E la durata
dellagone doveva sottolineare di per s questa funzione: dopo il discorso di Zeto la replica,
della quale la tradizione conserva 14 frammenti per circa 36 versi (189-202 Kannicht)
2
.
Ma torniamo al rapporto di Platone con lAntiope. Certo, indispensabile, prima di ogni
considerazione, affrontare un problema che, a torto, consuma da tempo il dibattito sul Gorgia:
il discorso di Callicle nasconde un rifiuto della poesia e in particolare della tragedia, per
forma e per contenuto? Manca una prova, ma la critica per lo pi lo crede, sia per la
valutazione complessiva che Platone offre della poesia nella Repubblica (392 c-398 b e,
596 a-599 b) sia per la constatazione che qui, a regolare il rapporto di Platone con lAntiope,
giunge la maschera di Callicle, non di Socrate
3
. Certo, non possibile prescindere
1
Cf. Erler (2003), 153-173. Per capire lorigine, la forza e le singole sfumature di questa interpretazione del dialogo,
preziose le pagine di Giuliano (2000), 1-43, ora in Giuliano (2004), 240-282.
2
Cf. Carter (1986), 163-173. Pur con 20 frammenti per circa 63 versi, un materiale di per s prezioso, la critica non
riesce a percepire senza ombre lorganizzazione drammatica dellagone. Da quale situazione deriva il discorso di
Zeto, da un rifiuto a cu|-.u ..|? Kambitsis (1972), XXII-XXX, giunge a dire possibile dopo la replica un
raddoppiamento dellagone. Ma la norma dellagone per la quale perde il discorso che lo apre, la norma che
Aristofane richiama nelle Nuvole (940-948)? Cf. Guidorizzi (1996), 298. Non giusto prescindere dalle parole di
unepistola di Orazio a Lollio (I 18, 41-48), con Anfione che cessisse putatur. Al termine dellagone, con o senza
raddoppiamento, la polemica di Zeto con Anfione proseguiva e ben presto, verso dopo verso, coglieva la
persuasione. Cf. Schwinge (1968), 57-113.
3
La maschera di Callicle corrisponde a un Callicle dellAtene storica? Un problema sterile, annoso, in forma nuova
suscitato dalla correzione di McDowell (1962), 153-154, sul testo di Andocide (I 127): Kc.o, in Kc.-,.
Cf. Kerferd-Flashar (1998), 85-86, 133-134.
Mauro Tulli 73
nellindagine dalla valutazione complessiva che Platone offre della poesia. Ma la maschera di
Callicle? A tal punto riesce a condizionare questa sezione del Gorgia?
In realt la prospettiva politica di Callicle non lontanissima da Platone. Lattrito fra
|, e u c., che ne costituisce la sostanza trova una conferma nel Critone (50 a-54 d) con
la prosopopea delle leggi e anima nel Menesseno (244 d-246 a) la lode di Atene
4
. Per non dire
dellimmagine con la quale prende forza, il ou , che solleva il capo e riesce ben presto a
rompere le catene, molto simile al padrone che lospite di Atene indica nelle Leggi (874 e-
875 d)
5
. Certo, il tempo impedisce una riflessione complessiva. Ma utile descrivere alcuni
dettagli, di grande rilievo proprio perch Platone li sistema fra le parole che ricava
dallAntiope.
- Callicle sostiene che anche luomo ben dotato deve arginare la pratica della filosofia.
In particolare luomo ben dotato per natura. Nella Repubblica (484 a-502 c) e nella VII
Lettera (342 a-344 d) la forza intellettuale che offre la natura un requisito indispensabile per
luomo che decide di progredire sul campo del sapere, forza intellettuale di spessore concreto,
.u c -..c e |
6
.
- Lignoranza del variegato intreccio di o|c. o . .-u. c. che dirige il destinatario
per Callicle un pericolo nel discorso, sia privato sia in assemblea. Un pericolo che Platone
riconosce nel Fedro (259 e-274 b): dalla definizione della retorica nuova quale uyc,.,. c
deriva lesigenza di capire il destinatario. Questa esigenza giunge al culmine con la celebre
sezione della Retorica di Aristotele su -, e c -, (1377 b 16-1391 b 6)
7
.
- Callicle sostiene che la pratica della filosofia impedisce di risolvere un problema
concreto e rende luomo ridicolo quanto ridicolo luomo che, dopo lunga militanza politica,
vuole frequentare le o.c~.c. della filosofia. Non manca una conferma: il timore del
ridicolo che circonda luomo preso dalla ricerca emerge nel Teeteto (172 c-177 c) con
laneddoto su Talete nel pozzo e la VII Epistola (342 a-344 d) non tace del ridicolo che tronca
subito il cammino della ricerca
8
.
E possibile ripetere che nel Gorgia per capire la prospettiva di Platone basta rovesciare
di segno il discorso di Callicle? Offre solo sarcasmo la sezione del Gorgia su felicit e scelta
di vita? Ben altro suggerisce questa indagine: la maschera di Callicle nasconde il volto di
Platone
9
.
Tragedia che la critica per lo pi attribuisce al periodo fra il 411 e il 408, prima della
partenza di Euripide, ma su base metrica riconducibile forse al periodo semisevero, fra il 427
e il 419, lAntiope suscit senza dubbio grande impressione ad Atene per lintreccio
affascinante, per la forza drammatica, per la riflessione sulletica, per la sostanza politica,
esito del rapporto conflittuale di Tebe con Sicione, per il problema religioso di Dirce, gi
vittima del furore che travolge Agave
10
. Il testo divenne senza dubbio celebre. Ne offre una
prova liconografia che per il mito di Antiope, dal cratere di Berlino (B SMPK F 3296),
dipinto in Sicilia subito dopo il 400, al toro Farnese (N MAN 6002), plasmato in originale a
4
Cf. Decleva Caizzi (1986), 291-310.
5
Cf. Vegetti (2003), 86-103. Lospite di Atene ha una prospettiva pessimistica: il ou , che solleva il capo manca.
Da qui linevitabile codice penale. Cf. Schpsdau (2004), 51-72.
6
Cf. Dixsaut (1985), 241-294.
7
Cf. Wisse (1989), 9-76.
8
Cf. Mader (1977), 29-42.
9
Un Selbst, un io, sepolto nella trama della politica ideale: classica la sezione che offre Jaeger (1944), 188-227, trad.
it., 211-272.
10
Cf. Matthiessen (2002), 253-256. Lo scolio alle Rane di Aristofane (53), con lIpsipile, le Fenicie, lAntiope fra il
411 e il 408, dopo lAndromeda, confonde lAntiope con lAntigone, per Cropp-Fick (1985), 74-76. E forse Dirce
la menade che, nel Papiro di Ossirinco 3317, giunge dal paese degli uccelli con la |..,: una sequenza
dellAntiope? Cf. Luppe (1989), 13-17.
Il Gorgia e la lira di Anfione 74
Rodi fra il 160 e il 150, dipende per lo pi da Euripide
11
. Pur e silentio, una conferma nella
produzione del IV secolo: dopo lAntiope di Euripide, nessuna tragedia sul mito di Antiope,
solo una parodia comica di successo, lAntiope di Eubulo.
Fra il 390 e il 385, periodo che la critica suggerisce per la composizione del Gorgia,
lAntiope di Euripide circolava fra le case di Atene, su volumina e per tradizione
mnemonica
12
. Celebre il testo, celebre la trama, celebre la raffigurazione dei personaggi. Una
pur veloce sequenza evocava subito, fra il 390 e il 385, una ben particolare situazione o una
ben particolare concezione. LAntiope giunge a Platone carica di una grande forza
connotativa. E non difficile postulare una grande forza connotativa per lagone di Zeto con
Anfione, motore, cardine della tragedia
13
.
Lagone ha per tema la scelta di vita. Una scelta che la critica per lo pi tende a
riassumere quale scelta fra vita dazione, vita di Zeto, e vita contemplativa. E senza dubbio
questa la scelta che Platone indica nel Gorgia. Vita dazione o vita contemplativa? Dopo la
citazione di Pindaro, | , c |~.| cc..u , (169 a, 1-6 Maehler), con il paradigma di
Eracle, superiore a Gerione, dunque destinato a trionfare, Callicle sostiene che decisiva la
prima, perch non dipende certo dalla filosofia lesperienza pubblica e privata indispensabile
per l c| -c , -c ,c- ,. E qui la citazione di Euripide, nella sezione del discorso che
ben presto colloca la pratica della filosofia fra le moine del ..c -.| e che la esclude per
ladulto. Questa mia la situazione di Zeto, riconosce Callicle, nellagone con Anfione. Vita
dazione, vita di Zeto, contro filosofia, con Anfione pronto, nelle parole che offre Callicle
dopo le accuse di Zeto, a riassumere la vita di Socrate. Ma Callicle va ben al di l di Euripide:
non ha rapporto con Anfione il rinvio al processo del 399. Un rinvio crudele, perch il
processo del 399 deriva da una vita che non ha risorse contro il delatore pi stolto, c|u
cu , -c. y- ,. Per sgretolare la vita speculativa basta limpegno di Anito e di
Meleto
14
.
Ma lAntiope? Quale scelta indica Euripide nellagone di Zeto con Anfione? Senza
dubbio la vita di Zeto la vita dazione che splende quale paradigma nella produzione di
Omero, la vita eroica. Euripide ne richiama la funzione decisiva e ad un tempo ne offre
uninterpretazione con la forza nuova che nasce dalla politica di Atene: vita dazione per
sconfiggere la violenza, Dirce, o la tirannide, Lico
15
. Ma quale vita emerge con Anfione? La
vita contemplativa, la vita nel segno della filosofia e della ricerca?
In realt, nella ricostruzione che la critica suggerisce, Anfione, forse dopo le parole del
pastore, intonava un canto per A. - e Ic. c: con la lira, vestito da citaredo, appariva il
protettore della Musa (182 a Kannicht). Nellagone infuriava sulla Musa una sequenza di Zeto
in rapporto con la riflessione arcaica sulla poesia, da Omero e da Esiodo alla II Istmica di
Pindaro (1-11): c, |, . .||, yc ~.| c ~. (183 Kannicht)
16
. Colpiva dunque il
canto la massima che Platone inserisce fra le parole di Callicle (184 Kannicht). Subito dopo,
11
Anche per la coppa ellenistica di Atene (A NM 11798), indagine di Simon (1981), 854-857.
12
Puntuale, per Dalfen (2004), 114-118, il rapporto fra la composizione del Gorgia e lesperienza pitagorica in Italia
meridionale. Ma lo vede gi Dodds (1959), 18-30.
13
Di Benedetto (2005), in stampa, ne scopre una presenza sottile anche nella sezione finale del Protagora (351 b-357
e). Zeto non dimentica il problema che ha qui Platone. Il piacere travolge la u c.,, la soffoca: uc., ,c
. y.~c., ~c| ,u-.. c, o| , cc.| ~., (187 Kannicht).
14
Cf. Friedlnder (1964

), 241-243, trad. it., 680-682. Il rinvio al processo del 399 al termine del dialogo (520 d-522 e)
prende forza. Certo inserisce qui un clima da tragedia ben conciliabile con la citazione di Euripide: non grande
la distanza dalla Kreuzung ellenistica. Nel mito dellaldil (523 a-527 e), non a torto, Nightingale (1995), 60-92,
vede la funzione che nellAntiope ha il discorso di Hermes ex machina. Cf. Rechenauer (2002), 231-250.
15
Deriva da qui lattrito radicale fra i personaggi che la tradizione prima non suggerisce: il discorso di Nestore a
Menelao, documentato per i Cipria da Proclo nella Crestomazia (110-117 Severyns), non ad esempio
conciliabile con linnocenza di Antiope. Cf. Jouan (1966), 375-377.
16
Cf. Arrighetti (1989), 56-84.
Mauro Tulli 75
lo spettatore ascoltava una sequenza di Zeto in rapporto invece con la riflessione classica sulla
poesia e in particolare con la riflessione di Aristofane nelle Tesmoforiazuse (130-175):
,u|c.-. . o.c. .., . c~. (185 Kannicht)
17
. Al termine, poggiava sul
paradigma della poesia linvito allazione, Musa di altro tipo, Musa del corpo e dei |.,
capace di favorire il canto dellagricoltura o la ~. y| per le mandrie (188 Kannicht). Anfione
ricordava forse nellagone, pur senza lenigma di Pacuvio sulla tartaruga (IV Ribbeck

),
lorigine della lira, compenso di Hermes al grande Apollo per il furto dei buoi (190 Kannicht).
E forse nellagone ben presto ribadiva la sua costellazione ideale: y |,, il tempo, |.u c,
lispirazione, u |. o. c, il canto (192 Kannicht)
18
. Certo, al di l della poesia, la polemica
doveva investire ogni forma di espressione intellettuale. Pacuvio, fedele al testo di Euripide,
non evitava nellagone, per la Rhetorica ad Herennium (II 27, 43), il problema della ratio
sapientiae o dellutilitas virtutis. A prescindere dalla celebre lode anapestica della ricerca, il
c-c.c ,, pur senza una conferma della tradizione plausibile nellAntiope (910
Kannicht)
19
. Ma la pratica della poesia non perdeva la sua funzione centrale per lanima: .,.
. | u | c o.., parole che pronunciava, certo al termine, Anfione, orgoglioso di gestire un
canto non contaminato da sofferenza politica (202 Kannicht). E quale caratteristica
liconografia gli attribuisce la lira, dallo specchio etrusco di Parigi (P CM 1327), ornato
subito dopo il 300, al dipinto sulle mura di Tebe che richiama Filostrato (I 10, 1-5)
20
.
Con questa forza connotativa lAntiope invade la trama del Gorgia e Anfione sostituisce
Socrate nel discorso di Callicle. Filosofia o canto, vita speculativa o vita per la poesia? Non
difficile rispondere: Platone, con la citazione dallAntiope nel discorso di Callicle, sostiene
che la filosofia canto, che la vita speculativa nasce dalla vita per la poesia, che la sua
produzione tende a sviluppare la produzione di Euripide perch Socrate, con la sua ricerca
.~c ..c-. .| . | ,.|. c ~.. | ~.~~c .|, lerede migliore di Anfione. Nelle Leggi la
citt da creare trova un paradigma per la c.o..c nel dialogo prima registrato fra lospite di
Atene, Clinia e Megillo. Un paradigma di per s favorito da un . . |.c -.. |, lispirazione
di Anfione, dunque capace di esercitare la funzione della poesia (811 b-812 d). Ma paradigma
il corpus intero che Platone offre, se al corpus intero allude il termine c o.c
21
. E lordine
stesso della citt da creare ha il tema, la forza della tragedia migliore, della tragedia che pi
aderisce al sapere (816 d-817 d). Non questa la poesia della tradizione, che per lo pi
nasconde, fra le pieghe di un manto ingannevole, un contenuto dannoso per la c.o..c.
Platone qui pronto a gareggiare con Euripide, a gareggiare per ~. y|, autore di scene con
Socrate che sostituisce alla lira di Anfione la sua ricerca per le strade di Atene.
La critica per lo pi crede questa coscienza tipica dellultima fase
22
. Ma che funzione ha
lindagine che Platone offre con lo Ione (533 c-536 d)? Il rifiuto dell . |-uc.cc , che
anima la poesia certo nasconde una concezione della filosofia quale poesia nuova, capace di
assorbire la poesia nella cornice del sapere
23
. La quarta forma di c|. c che scopre il Fedro
(249 b-250 b), la filosofia, razionale, non episodica follia della o.c|.c, in rapporto con
l . |-uc.cc ,. Deriva per lo pi da u |c~c, ma pur sempre una follia,
indispensabile per la ricerca sul paradigma che il corpo non riesce a percepire, lideale che
17
Cf. Paduano (1996), 93-101.
18
Frammenti che la ricostruzione di Jouan-Van Looy (2002), 228-229, colloca prima dellagone. Quale interpretazione
avanzare per y|,? Forse otium, cy , con Giuliano nella XXX Epistola (57, 7-12 Bidez)?
19
La critica vede qui linfluenza di Anassagora e della ricerca sulla u c.,. Cf. Di Benedetto (1971), 303-319.
20
Anche per il rilievo imperiale di Palazzo Spada (R PS 1620), indagine di Heger (1981), 718-723.
21
Cf. Gaiser (1984), 103-123. Il termine co.c indica un rapporto serrato fra discorso e discorso. Platone giunge a
unimmagine simile nella sezione del Fedro sul mito di Thamus e Theuth (275 c-277 a): c~ -, e
discorso ,|c.,. Cf. Regali (2005), in stampa.
22
Cf. Dalfen (1974), 282-325.
23
Cf. Bttner (2000), 255-365.
Il Gorgia e la lira di Anfione 76
splende nelle dimore degli dei, per Demodoco e per Anfione, da Omero alle scene di
Euripide, origine della poesia
24
. Ma gi nel Fedone (60 c-61 c) la filosofia tende a investire il
campo della poesia con il celebre aneddoto su Socrate che obbedisce al sogno nel carcere di
Atene, uc.- | . .. -c. . ,cu. Certo, culmine della poesia la filosofia. Ma se il
sogno richiede poesia comune, popolare? Da qui, con ironica prudenza, la trasposizione di
Esopo in poesia, perch la poesia di per s ha per tema il mito
25
. Questa constatazione
suggerisce un canone dinterpretazione per il dialogo, per le opere di Platone, trama
inscindibile di filosofia e poesia, di ricerca e mito. Una filosofia che richiama e trascende la
poesia del passato emerge al termine del Simposio (223 b-d), con le misteriose parole sul
possibile rapporto di tragedia e commedia
26
. Possibile nellambito della filosofia, se autore di
poesia l c ,c- , .,c , della Repubblica (471 c-473 b), capace di scorgere non
lingannevole trama fenomenica, ma il -c | ideale che la forza di . ., indica
27
. Il rifiuto
della poesia, esito sofferto dellantica o.cc con la filosofia, nella Repubblica (607 b-
608 b) non totale, sia perch tende a investire la poesia della tradizione, ma non la poesia di
lode colma di c .~ , sia perch forse auspica unazione difensiva, con il compito di mostrare
che la poesia della tradizione ha pur sempre una funzione per la c.o..c
28
. E poesia di lode
Crizia offre con le pagine su Atlantide nel Timeo (19 b-21 d), lode non abituale del passato di
Atene che deriva dalla produzione, dallesperienza di Solone, ma che procede nel Crizia
(106 a-108 d) con il codice della tragedia.
Dunque Callicle, nobile, convinto erede di Zeto, nel mettere fra le mani di Socrate la lira
di Anfione, offre una conferma del rapporto fra filosofia e poesia, centrale nelle opere di
Platone gi dalla prima fase. La vita speculativa che respinge non che la forma nuova di una
vita nel segno della poesia
29
. Senza dubbio quale forma nuova di una vita nel segno della
poesia la recepiva il destinatario, per la forza connotativa delle parole di Euripide. Parole di
un testo celebre che doveva sottolineare, contro la vita dazione, lesigenza, la funzione della
poesia. Certo, Anfione appariva dopo lagone alleato di Zeto nel proteggere Antiope, prima
contro Dirce, nellesodo contro Lico. Ma Hermes, nei versi che offre il papiro Flinders Petrie
(I 1-2), non dimentica la sua scelta di vita: gli attribuisce il compito di onorare gli dei e di
alleggerire con la seduzione di alberi e pietre limpegno sulle mura di Tebe dalle sette porte
(223 Kannicht)
30
. Fra la vita dazione, la politica, e la vita speculativa, la filosofia, Platone,
pur sempre legato alle vicende di Siracusa e di Atene, auspica una mirabile armonia. Mirabile
24
La quarta forma di c|.c offre il sapere che Socrate indica nel Fedro (279 b-c) con le parole a Pan. Cf. Gaiser
(1989), 105-140, trad. it., 27-81, ora in Gaiser (2004), 501-530.
25
Il sogno nel carcere di Atene richiama laneddoto su Platone che da giovane coltiva la poesia e in particolare la
tragedia. Laneddoto nasce forse con Dicearco (47 Mirhady) e, per influenza della Repubblica (596 a-599 b),
tende nella tradizione a creare un attrito fra la poesia e la filosofia: Platone, convinto da Socrate, per Diogene
Laerzio (III 4-5) -c~... ~u A.|uc.c-u -.c~u, la sua produzione. Cf. Riginos (1976), 43-48. Un
attrito che Platone giunge a risolvere con il dialogo in fertile armonia.
26
Cf. Clay (1975), 238-261. Un rapporto che il dialogo rende concreto perch Agatone, la tragedia, ne anima le scene a
lato di Aristofane, la commedia. Socrate, la filosofia, offre il sapere comune, la ~. y| per la poesia nuova.
Cf. Rowe (1998), 59-69.
27
Inserisce limmagine, gi di Simonide per Plutarco (346 f), nella riflessione sulla .c., positiva e sulla .c.,
negativa Naddaff (2002), 67-91. L c,c- , .,c, Platone, che offre un paradigma con la sua produzione.
Cf. Halliwell (2002), 118-147. Un paradigma per il pittore della politica reale, per il pittore che la Repubblica
(500 b-502 a) richiama subito dopo: limmagine, simile pur con slittamento di funzione, certo non stupisce nella
trama che osserva Szlezk (2003a), 35-56.
28
Ben presto Aristotele attribuisce il compito a s: non dimentica le parole di Platone. Cf. Arrighetti (1991), 13-34.
29
E difficile in questa luce trascurare il termine che nel discorso di Callicle, dopo la citazione di Pindaro, allude a una
caratteristica positiva della filosofia: per il giovane capace di moderazione la pratica della filosofia gradevole,
yc..|. Ma il termine ha nelle Leggi (680 b-d) valore simile per la poesia di Omero. Cf. Tulli (2003), 227-231.
30
Cf. Canto (1987), 333. Un discorso di grande forza, sul -.,.. |, con l . --u -c che mostrava Lico sul punto
di crollare, per lagguato di Zeto e Anfione. La ricostruzione drammatica difficile. Cf. Hose (1990), 270-274.
Mauro Tulli 77
quanto esteriore, perch nella Repubblica (473 b-474 c) o nella VII Epistola (324 b-326 b)
tende a risolvere la politica nella filosofia
31
.
Certo, Aristotele scopre sempre pi lesigenza della vita dazione. Ad esempio nellEtica
Nicomachea (1140 a 24-1145 a 5) riconosce, in base a una riflessione che procede con
Dicearco (33-52 Mirhady), lc .~ per eccellenza utile nella trama del particolare, la
|c.,
32
. Polemone, dopo la morte di Senocrate, indica un c.~ che ha un concreto
scopo nella vita dazione. Da qui, per Diogene Laerzio (IV 18), un rifiuto del dialogo in
funzione speculativa per unetica da esercitare sul campo. Ma in questa indagine, fra
lAccademia e il Peripato, cosa rimane del rapporto fra filosofia e poesia? Cosa rimane della
lira di Anfione? Ben poco. Il sogno nel carcere di Atene, il sogno di Socrate, svanisce, perch
svanisce la forza letteraria che di per s colloca Platone al culmine della produzione greca.
Universit di Pisa
31
Per unlite sempre a distanza dalla vita dazione, dalla vita di Siracusa e di Atene? Respinge questa prospettiva
Vegetti (2000), 107-147.
32
Cf. Kenny (1992), 103-112.
The Gorgias re-written why?
Holger Thesleff
Why is the Charmides a narrated dialogue, but the Laches written in direct dramatic
form? Why is Protagoras narrated but Gorgias dramatic? Indeed, sometimes a change of
purpose may affect the form of a Platonic dialogue: Theaetetus, Parmenides, and also the
Republic, are likely examples of such changes of the aim and the audience.
1
I shall argue in
this paper that the Gorgias was first conceived as a narrative by Socrates, but then written in
dramatic form, as a personal appeal by Plato to a particular kind of audience.
*
Chronology is of little help for explaining the choice of dialogue form, though there is a
general trend in Platos oeuvre from narrated to dramatic form, and many of the minor
dramatic pieces are certainly not early. But the Gorgias is in various ways anomalous.
2
Dialogues wrought and written as a narrative were on the whole produced as written
literature. Here Plato followed a Socratic tradition.
3
With the dramatic dialogues, however,
we are facing a problem with consequences rarely noticed.
Since ancient manuscripts normally did not use character sigla denoting who is saying
what in a dramatic dialogue, prima vista reading was difficult especially with texts where
more than two speakers occur. Our text of Gorgias has at least one example of an early
confusion resulting from this lack.
4
In Greek drama, the actors were trained to cope with the
distribution of the roles, but Platonic dialogues were not meant for the stage. Very probably
Platos Academy trained specific readers (anagnstai) to present dramatic manuscripts,
5
and
so the habit of writing purely dramatic dialogues was easily established there. But did Plato
publish dramatic pieces before that?
We might imagine Plato, or anybody who wanted to record a Socratic conversation, to
have notes of the dialogue written down for his own use. The emphasis was on what
Socrates said; the interlocutor could be just an anonymous friend; e.g., Hipparchus or De
Justo represent this skeleton form. When reading his text to an audience, the author or his
stand-in had to orally improvise some sort of setting and to differentiate the speakers. And
before the manuscripts of dialogues such as Hippias Minor or Laches were habitually put in
1
On revision, see Thesleff (1982), 83-87; (1989), 7. Capra (2003) has made some additional observations on the
dramatic vs. the narrated dialogue form.
2
See in general Thesleff (1982), and the general scepticism of e.g. Annas (2002). For a recent, selective summary of
the chronological issue, see Kahn (2002) (who puts Gorgias relatively early), with comments by C.L.Griswold.
3
For the other Socratics, see Van der Waerdt (1994), notably D.Clay. Plato, however, seems always to have been
rather restrictive with publicity: see Thesleff (2002).
4
Gorgias 448a5: Thesleff (2003), referring to J.Andrieu and E.Turner who pointed out the important fact that ancient
manuscripts lacked sigla. See further e.g. Dodds (1959): 190 f., 327, 371, etc.
5
Young Aristotle may have acted as an anagnsts in the Academy (cf. Dring (1957), 108 who interprets the
evidence differently); for later parallels, see LSJ s.v. A slave has this function in Theaetetus 143bc.
Holger Thesleff 79
the hands of trained readers, the explicatory oral improvisation was entirely up to the author
himself unless there existed a written background narrative, which in these cases has left no
traces in our manuscript tradition.

In the Gorgias, however, there are such traces. It looks very probable that the opening
hints of a background narrative (notably 447b7-9, and d6) are not just notes for an oral
elaboration of a setting, but remnants of an earlier written narrative. The present form of the
dialogue makes such notes seem superfluous and even irrelevant, and certainly confusing to a
reader who does not know Platos eventual intentions.
It can be tentatively argued that a first, narrated version of the dialogue finished
approximately with the aporia at the end of the Polus chapter (481b). We have, then, a fairly
consistent whole that follows a traditional pattern. We may imagine Socrates as the narrator.
He records that he and Chaerephon arrive too late to an epideictic performance by Gorgias,
perhaps in a gymnasium. They are invited to the house of Callias (sic!) where Gorgias is
staying during his visit to Athens. There the discussion is conducted with Gorgias and his fan
and follower, Polus. Several persons are present as listeners.
This setting pattern, including the introductory change of scene, is well known from
Protagoras (with varieties in Symposium, Republic I, also Phaedrus and Parmenides, and
Xenophons Symposium), and it can be traced back to some of Eupolis comedies, certainly
the Kolakes of the year 421.
6
Socrates confrontation with two main interlocutors is
parallelled in many narrated dialogues. Also structurally, the hypothetical first version
conforms to a typical Platonic pattern. There is a peripety in the centre, when Gorgias is
refuted (464b) and Polus takes over. And the end is ironically aporetic, implying an indirect
triumph of Socratic dialectic and moralism over the alleged sophia of rhetoricians.
The climactic structure of the present version, with its more and more dominating
Socrates, is commonly regarded as unique and somewhat odd. Yet the dialogue is normally
interpreted as a coherent whole representing perhaps a transitional move, a slide, from
Socraticism to more independent Platonic philosophy. I suggest we see this as an example of
a two-stage composition. Believers in the conventional Socratic stage theory must admit that
the Gorgias is anomalous, anyway, if seen as a transitional monolith. We must look for
something to explain the contrast between the Gorgias - Polus chapters and the Callicles
chapter, including the repetitions and inconsistencies, and the elaborations and developments
in the latter.
7
Stylometry does not help us very far, though one distinguishing feature may be
relevant, namely the striking use of -ton verbals found only in the Callicles chapter.
8
With the intervention of Callicles, change in grip and mood becomes quite manifest.
The most remarkable thematic shift is the move from the subject of irresponsible rhetoric to a
confrontation of two ways of life. There is also a more philosophical basis to much of what is
said in this chapter. This is peculiarly evident in the extensive section 503d-508c where
Platos Socrates claims, with increasing frankness (parrhsia), that the order and self-control
required for justice and for happiness in the individual soul (which the politicians neglect) is
somehow akin to the cosmic order with its geometrical proportions.
9
It is doubtful, however,
that this exhibits a development of Platos thought: the emphasis is just very different from
the first part of the work (and from most of the so-called early dialogues).
6
Note kolakeia, Gorgias 466a ff. For Socrates presence in Eupolis Kolakes, see fr. 352, 361, and 157-158. The
Dmoi (cf. Gorgias 481d) was also set in the house of Callias and included an eulogy of the Athenian statesmen.
7
A great number of scholars have noted and given ad hoc explanations of such inconsistencies and doublings.
8
H. Tarrant in an unpublished paper.
9
This is perhaps the most frequently discussed passage in the dialogue.
The Gorgias re-written why? 80
Callicles as a dialogue character is worth some consideration. His historical identity is
open to doubt.
10
He is not a professional orator or politician, but a young man on the verge of
making a political career in Athens, intelligent and well educated, in a way a young
Alcibiades. Evidently Plato has felt himself free to manipulate Callicles into a type that he
needed as a serious challenger of his Ideal Philosopher. He is careful to put Callicles into his
social context (especially 481c-e, 487a-d), as if he were not well known to Platos own
audience. Whatever allusions his name may have given to Platos contemporaries (Charicles,
Callistratus, and others have been suggested; even Aristocles, allegedly Platos original
name), a pun on Callias, the traditional host of visiting sophists, is pretty obvious (and
compare Agathon in Symposium, also inevitably punning on Callias).
I take it that the first version of the Gorgias was set in the house of Callias, and that
Callicles is a later intruder in the setting and the course of the dialogue. An unknown young
Callicles as the Athenian xenos of the famous Gorgias, looks an anomaly from the start. And
it is very remarkable that Socrates most formidable adversary should be the host of the place,
not a guest, and indeed the host whose well-meaning hospitality and neutral interest in the
issues at stake were stated in the beginning. In fact, it is Gorgias, not Callicles, who
eventually takes over the role of a chairman.
11
I find it hard to avoid assuming that the change of Callias into a symbolic Callicles was
motivated by circumstances that made Plato add the last and heaviest chapter, made him
change the thematic emphasis and grip, and indeed, made him drop the background narrative.
The fact that there are remnants of the original story left in the beginning, perhaps updated
with the forceful opening words (447a1) polemou kai machs, is hardly a sign of more
careless editing than, for instance, the somewhat clumsy attachment of the first book to the
body of the Republic (where the formal narrative is, rather artificially, preserved to the end).
In the Gorgias, the background story and the narrated form totally lost their raison dtre
when Plato suddenly, it seems, took over the role of Socrates.
Suddenly, yes. It is this new personal approach that I would regard as the chief reason
for writing the dialogue as we have it. The rhetorical rhseis to which Platos Socrates now
resorts instead of dialectic, and the several mythic ingredients (all of which occur in the
Callicles chapter), all amount to a kind of psuchaggia. Modern critics have seen that
Socrates, in the Callicles chapter, really tries to, but does not entirely, convince his listeners.
12
Almost explicitly he says: I know very much more about these matters than you do! He is
neither Socrates the gadfly-ironist (466a, 467bc, etc.), nor Plato whispering in a corner
(485d). Both rhetoric and dialectic fail; but the fault is with the listeners, the Callicles type
of Athenians, not so much with the Philosopher.
I find it important to consider that the direct dramatic form of prose dialogue was
originally more pointedly personal than the narrative form. The dramatic (mimetic)
dialogue form brought the speakers close to the audience, even if the author or presenter may
have had to improvise a setting and make us imagine that somebody has memorized the
conversation. In most of the Platonic dramatic dialogues (before the late ones) Socrates
speaks to his audience face to face, as it were; sometimes he is supposed to be alone with his
listener, the interlocutor. The dramatic frames of some narrated dialogues, and the off-stage
comments (see especially Euthydemus and Phaedo), always imply quite specific situations. A
narrated dialogue gave a certain concrete distance in place and time to the issues treated.
Now, insofar as Plato wanted really to change roles with his protagonist, Socrates, and make
10
References in Nails (2002), 75-77. For the earlier discussion, note Thesleff (1982), 108 f.
11
Cf. 458d, 463e; and 497b, 506b.
12
E.g. Babut (1992); Beversluis (2000), 367 ff.; Fussi (2000); Seeck (2001), 48 ff.
Holger Thesleff 81
Socrates speak as Plato, confronting himself with a new and contemporary audience, yet
preserving the illusion of dialogue, he had to drop the metaxu tn logn (the inserenda) as far
as possible, and address, as a new Socrates,
13
his audience directly and to update his
interlocutor, as we have seen.
It has often been seen and said that the Gorgias reflects some kind of crisis. If one is,
like me, sceptical about fundamental changes in Platos philosophical outlook and his
methods, it is natural in the first place to look for external circumstances as causing the
change in approach and dialogue form of Gorgias. The first part, including the Polus chapter,
fits in well with the general situation in Athens in the 390s and with the pressure of public
rhetoric upon the Socratics, notably with the attack of Polycrates.
14
It presents the somewhat
ambivalent triumph of Socratic dialectic in an historical context.
But then we have Platos self-testimony in the Seventh Letter which I regard as a very
important document. Here Plato tells us in so many words (325a-326b) that, after the trial of
Socrates, he went on trying to take part in Athenian political life. More and more frustrated,
however, but convinced about the semi-utopia of Philosophers Rule as the only stable
solution, he left for his first voyage to the West. I venture to suggest that this crisis of
political frustration and slight desperation is reflected particularly in the second part of the
Gorgias, the Callicles chapter.
15
Though I am trying, in this paper, to avoid chronological speculation, I want to intimate
that I am inclined (in partial agreement with Charles Kahn and some others) to think that both
versions of Gorgias were written before the voyage, before Plato had met Dion, and certainly
before he had happily settled in the Akademeia park to discuss and teach philosophy to
philosophically inclined audiences. The emphasis on teaching in Meno (and Protagoras,
Laches, Alcibiades I, etc.) appears to reflect a somewhat later stage. The ambience of the
Gorgias is Athenian political life.
16
All in all, the second version appears to be an appeal by Plato to a select audience in
Athens. It is (again interestingly) not a plea for a philosophical life. It is basically a Socratic
exhortation (parainesis) to taking care of the soul. But this care is seen as a condition of
statesmanship, with an eye for the positions of both an Amphion and a Zethus. The Gorgias
has often been characterized as a protreptic writing, but in fact it is protreptic in a very narrow
sense. The supposed listeners were (politically) influential Athenians not potential
philosophers nor, alas, Corinthian farmers! The rhetoric of the dialogue is directed to a non-
philosophical social lite who are very aware of Socrates shortcomings.
The generally serious tone, the lack of thought experiments, the scarcity of irony and
play or sophistry in the Callicles chapter, in spite of various allusions, and the climactic
structure, are all important clues to the interpretation. The core of the message of the
dialogue, as we have it, is contained in Socrates last set of speeches. The logos must
continue, but not as an instrument of power or life-saving, as the rhetoricians want to have it.
The aim of the leading logos that Plato calls for at the very end (527e) is to refine ones own
moral excellence. And the ethics of the dialogue focusses on true leadership.
13
I and others missed this special aspect of the Gorgias in our contributions to Press (ed. 2000).
14
Platos much-discussed relations with Isocrates are probably less relevant here than Polycrates; cf. Dodds (1959),
270-272; Thesleff (1982), 32-34. Could the choice of Polus as the supporter of Gorgias contain a pun on
Polycrates?
15
Though the idea of Philosophers Rule had occurred to Plato before 392: see Thesleff (1997).
16
Among the alleged reminiscences of the West, including geometry (see e.g. Guthrie (1975), 284 f.), there is nothing
that Plato could not have picked up in Athens. But perhaps he read the Gorgias to Dion (note Seventh Letter
334c-335c). If Platos birth can be dated as late as ca. 424 (Nails (2002), 243-247), the Menexenus can be
interpreted as another farewell to Athens.
The Gorgias re-written why? 82
Plato had a strong vision of the philosophers task, but he also felt his own shortcomings
when confronted with public or practical life. He knew that the right kind of philosophizing
is difficult and will never totally convince people like Callicles. Socrates had eventually
failed with Alcibiades, Critias, Charmides, young Aristides, Theages, and many others as
everybody in Athens new but their cases could be taken up by Plato for testing (perhaps
later on), just as Callicles is tested here.
*
To sum up: The Platonic dramatic dialogue, in its literarily wrought form, was originally
mimetic and personal. This claim has a bearing not only on the interpretation of the Gorgias.
Whereas the narrated (diegetic) dialogues were originally written for repeated presentation
to somewhat larger audiences, most of the dramatic (mimetic) dialogues were, before the
late period, written in more specific circumstances where the new Socrates was speaking to
his listeners face to face. The Laches ends (201a) with a personal appeal rather like the
Gorgias. Academic literacy later tended to prefer the dramatic form since the setting was felt
to be more or less irrelevant, and trained readers could cope correctly with the flow of the
dialogue and the distribution of the utterances, namely, in manuscripts still lacking sigla.
The hypothesis of a two-stage composition and the select audience will explain many of
the apparent anomalies in Gorgias. If I am right, very specific circumstances occasioned
Plato to give to the dialogue a new dramatic form and to introduce Callicles as Socrates
interlocutor. Even if the background narrative was never literarily elaborated (I strongly
believe it was), the dramatic form must have been designed to be read by Plato himself:
others could not have managed the opening setting. His approach here is almost uniquely
personal. The dialogue is a piece of lively, extempore, sometimes ambivalent reasoning. It
was meant to be presented personally by Plato to a particular kind of audience, as a direct
appeal to future leaders in Athens.
In this paper, I have not discussed details. I hope the above considerations suffice to
show that Platos choice of the more personal, dramatic form is relevant to the interpretation
of Gorgias. The dialogue reflects Platoss personal sentiments at a particular period of his
life. The relevance of this kind of choice in other cases, for instance the Laches, is certainly
worth pondering and debate.
University of Helsinki
Gorgias, le Gorgias, et lordre de lme
Arnaud Mac
English abstract : the comparison between Helena 8-14 and Gorgias 503d-504e shows
similarities in the conception of the causality of speech on souls, and, furthermore, in the
conception of what is modified within the soul through this process, i. e. its order, or taxis.
This use of taxis, central to the argument of both writers, leads, in the case of Plato, to precise
the causality and mode of presence of qualities in the soul. A seminal part of Platos theory of
participation is therefore at stake in this passage and it shows that the elaboration of this
theory has something to do, at least in the case of souls, with the assessment of the causality
of logos on these very souls.
tre un auditeur, couter quelquun parler : voil une situation dont Gorgias et Platon
nous apprennent quelle est le lieu dun grand danger pour nos mes, peut-tre du plus grand
des dangers. Platon et Gorgias, par del la rude critique laquelle lun a soumis lautre dans
ses ouvrages
1
, ont un point commun : peu de penseurs ont, autant queux en leur temps,
accord un tel pouvoir au discours, un effet tel sur les mes que celles-ci, rendues vulnrables
la puissance des mots, prennent le risque, chaque fois quelles parlent et quelles coutent,
de se voir profondment affectes dans leur tre mme. Nous ne prtendrons pas dcouvrir la
parent entre ces deux auteurs sur la question du pouvoir accord au discours sur lme, dj
fort bien analyse
2
. Nous souhaitons nanmoins y revenir, afin de marquer davantage le fait
que cette parent doit tre mesure non seulement en termes de puissance du discours mais
encore eu gard la conception que lon se fait de la nature des effets quil a sur lme et
corrlativement de la nature de l'me susceptible de subir de tels effets. Or cest de ce dernier
point de vue que Platon prolonge plus encore Gorgias et que cette hritage savre avoir le
plus de consquences pour la rflexion platonicienne : Platon, en nommant, aprs Gorgias,
taxis ce qui, dans lme, peut-tre modifi par le discours, en vient clarifier pour lui-
mme la cause et le mode de prsence des vertus dans lme.
1
Cest sur ce point que se concentre lessentiel de la littrature secondaire consacre au rapport entre Gorgias et
Platon. On se reportera sur ce point la bibliographie rassemble par Luc Brisson, avec le concours de Benot
Castelnrac, in Dixsaut-Brancacci (ds. 2002). Le titre de ltude de Gigon (1985) pourrait rsumer lui seul la
perspective dans laquelle Gorgias est abord dans cette littrature : il sagit de Gorgias bei Platon . Nous nous
inscrivons au contraire dans une perspective comparatiste.
2
Leszl (1985), prolongeant ainsi la perspective de Sss (1910).
Gorgias, le Gorgias, et lordre de lme 84
I. La causalit du discours sur lme selon lloge dHlne.
Les paragraphes 8-14 de lloge dHlne
3
forment un vritable loge du discours
4
.
Avec Gorgias, lenchantement dont est capable la desse Peith trouve comme vecteur
principal le discours
5
: la desse de la persuasion quitte le cortge dAphrodite et ses divers
cultes pour devenir la desse de la Rhtorique
6
et le discours hrite des pouvoirs propres
la desse. Il mrite donc dtre class ( 6), comme lune des quatre causes possibles de
laction, au mme titre que les causes divines, la violence et lamour. On passe en revue les
effets de chacune des causes (dcret divin, fin du 6 ; usage violent de la force 7 ; puissance
du discours 8-14 ; puissance dros 15-19). La description de la puissance du discours
compte trois temps, que lon pourrait dcrire comme les trois tapes dune procdure
dinduction (epagg) : affirmation de la puissance du discours et de son effet sur lme (8),
passage en revue de diffrentes tekhnai dans lexercice desquelles lusage du discours savre
produire des effets sur lme humaine (9-13) ; explicitation de la causalit du discours sur
lme en gnral, laide dune analogie avec une tekhn qui, quant elle, en tout cas dans la
description que choisit den faire Gorgias, nexerce pas son action par le discours, savoir la
mdecine (14). Chacun des paragraphes gnraux (8 et 14) affirme la puissance du discours :
pour commencer sous la forme de la toute-puissance du matre ( ,, ou|c c~, . ,c,
. c~. |, 8) et, pour finir, sous la forme de la capacit dun art avoir des effets ( ~. ~u
,u ou |c., , ~ | ~ , uy , ~c .|, 14). Ainsi, cet loge du discours nous fait
parcourir le mme trajet que le Gorgias, dun sens lautre de la dunamis : de la toute-
puissance revendique par Polos la capacit de lart
7
. Le paragraphe 8 livre une formule qui
sera dcline tout au long de lepagg :
Il est capable, en effet, de faire cesser la peur, de dissiper le chagrin, de provoquer
la joie, et daugmenter la piti. Quil en est bien ainsi, cest ce que je vais vous
montrer.
8
Ce pouvoir se caractrise donc par deux types daction corrlatifs, selon un versant
positif (faire natre quelque chose) et un versant ngatif (faire disparatre quelque chose), de
telle sorte que, lorsque lon a affaire des contraires, dissiper lun et provoquer lautre
reviennent au mme. Les exemples qui suivent (8-13) permettent chaque fois de prciser la
modalit et les effets particuliers chacun des usages du discours. Le tableau suivant
rcapitule lensemble :
3
EH (8-14)= DK 82 B 11 (8-14). Nous nous rfrons au texte grec dit par Donadi (1982).
4
Duncan (1937).
5
Nol (1989), 143-145.
6
Ibid., 144.
7
Mac (2003), 9-14.
8
EH, 8, traduction M.-P. Nol.
Arnaud Mac 85
Type dart agissant par la
parole
Moyen daction spcifique Effet sur lme
Posie Discours en mesure ( ,|
. y|~c . ~|)
9
par lequel on
reprsente les bonheurs et des
revers que rencontrent les
actions des autres
Affection qui lui est propre
(. o. | ~. c -c) en
loccurrence pouvante, piti,
regret
Magie Incantations inspires des dieux
au moyen de discours (c. ,c
.|-.. o.c ,.| ...oc.)
10
Modification de lopinion de
lme
Discours sur les choses clestes Faire apparatre des choses
incroyables et invisibles
Modification de lopinion de
lme (vacuation dune
opinion, production dune autre
oppose)
Plaidoyers judiciaires lart avec lequel le discours
est crit, non la vrit selon
laquelle il est dit
Modification de lopinion en
charmant une foule nombreuse
Discussions philosophiques Vitesse de la pense Modification de lopinion

Les effets sont les mmes : quelque chose est produit dans lme et/ou vacu de lme,
savoir un pathos qui lui est propre, quil sagisse de plaisir, de peine ou dune opinion,
vacus ou produits. Ainsi Gorgias peut-il affirmer que la persuasion, lorsquelle sadjoint au
discours (c.u cc ~. . ,..) va jusqu marquer lme de son empreinte, la manire
dont elle veut (-c. ~ | uy | . ~u.cc~ ., .u.~)
11
. Le 14 permet dexpliciter
de manire gnrale le modle daction luvre dans chacun de ces arts, et, surtout, de
prciser la nature de la chose qui est affecte.
Pour ce faire, une analogie est propose avec un art, la mdecine, art qui fait exception
par rapport tous les autres numrs jusquici en cela quil nest pas dcrit comme un art
agissant par le discours.
[14] Il y a le mme rapport (~ | cu ~ | o. ,| . y..) entre la puissance du
discours et lordre de lme ( ~. ~u ,u ou|c., , ~| ~, uy,
~c .|) quentre lordonnance
12
des remdes et la nature du corps ( ~. ~.|
cc-.| ~c., , ~| ~.| c.c~.| uc.|) : de mme en effet que
certains remdes vacuent hors du corps certaines humeurs et dautres remdes
dautres humeurs, et que certains font cesser la maladie et dautres la vie, de la
mme faon parmi les discours, il y a ceux qui affligent, ceux qui rjouissent, ceux
9
Sur la faon dont Gorgias, par les expressions quil emploie pour dfinir la posie et de la magie, insiste sur la
prsence du discours en elles, cf. Nol (1989), 150. On peut aussi y voir une faon de transfrer au discours la
puissance attribue la musique, cf. Kroll (1911), 168-169.
10
Voir note prcdente.
11
Ibid., 13.
12
Nous entendons par ordonnance le fait, pour le mdecin, de prescrire le remde, et choisissons ce sens au risque
donc dattnuer leffet voulu par Gorgias avec la rptition de taxis. Nous donnons ici ce terme le sens de
suntaxis, prescription, comme en Lois, XI, 925 b 7-8 : -c~c ~ | ~c .| ~u | u. Il sagit du fait de prescrire
un loi, de linstituer, sens actif quil faut distinguer de celui dordre, que lon retrouve dans loccurrence
prcdente, ou dans lexpression ~c ., ~. -c. | ,, lordre et la loi (Lois, 780d ou 875d). On retrouve
significativement le mme jeu de mots entre lordre et la prescription mdicale en Gorgias 504 a 2-4.
Gorgias, le Gorgias, et lordre de lme 86
qui effraient, ceux qui redonnent de lassurance aux auditeurs, ceux encore qui, par
la persuasion, soignent lme et en vacuent quelque mal.
13
Cette analogie claire lorigine du mode daction attribu au discours : celui-ci agit sur
les affections de lme la faon dont le remde agit sur les humeurs du corps
14
. Il sagit en
outre de prciser la nature de ce qui ptit sous leffet des discours, par analogie avec ce qui
ptit sous leffet des remdes, savoir la nature du corps. Quest-ce que la nature du corps ?
Lusage qui en est fait ici semble assez conforme celui que lon trouve dans les traits
hippocratiques :
Le corps de lhomme a en lui sang, pituite, bile jaune et noire ; cest l ce qui en
constitue la nature ( uc., ~u c.c~,,) et ce qui y cre la maladie et la sant.
Il y a essentiellement sant quand ces principes sont dans un juste rapport de crase,
de force et de quantit, et que le mlange en est parfait ; il y a maladie quand un de
ces principes est soit en dfaut soit en excs, ou, sisolant dans le corps, nest pas
combin avec tout le reste.
15
La nature du corps est un mlange dhumeurs. Ce mlange suppose un quilibre, une
mesure. Le remde vacue le trop plein dune humeur qui rompt lquilibre. Mais trop dun
remde peut tuer : en vacuant une humeur au-del du rtablissement de lquilibre, le remde
se fait poison pouvant ainsi faire cesser la maladie comme la vie, suivant la formule de
Gorgias. Lanalogie suggre donc que les affections de lme doivent aussi composer un tel
mlange et que les discours, suscitant telle ou telle affection, peuvent ramener ou
compromettre la sant dans lme. Le terme de taxis dcrit lquilibre, la norme par rapport
laquelle se mesure laction des discours.
Bien quart du discours et mdecine, celle-ci agissant par les remdes et non par les
discours, aient t nettement distingus
16
, il est dsormais possible de qualifier lart du
discours comme une autre forme de mdecine, agissant par les discours, lincantation
17
. Or, le
fait que ces deux sortes de mdecine existent dans la culture grecque, comme de manire plus
gnrale dans les cultures indo-europennes, sous la forme dune tripartition entre la
mdecine par les remdes (les plantes), par le couteau et par la parole, a d considrablement
aider la mise en place de cette analogie chez Gorgias, comme cela a jou chez Platon, ainsi
quon la montr
18
. Il nest pas tonnant que ces deux auteurs, partageant le souci daffirmer
avec vigueur la causalit du discours sur lme, par une analogie avec la mdecine, exploitent
lhritage de la mdecine par les incantations : lart de la parole, redfini la fois comme
13
EH, nous traduisons.
14
Sur lusage par Gorgias de la thorie mdicale des humeurs pour penser leffet de la parole, notamment potique, cf.
H. Flashar (1956), en particulier 18 sq.
15
De la nature de lhomme, 4, 1-7, traduction J. Jouanna (1975).
16
Nous ne suivons donc pas Adkins (1983), 114, dans lide quil y aurait une confusion chez Gorgias entre un modle
mdical rationaliste (hippocratique, agissant par les remdes) et un modle mdical incluant lincantation.
Largumentation ne met pas sur le mme plan la rfrence la magie et celle qui est faite la mdecine : la
premire ne revient pas pour dsigner la modalit dopration de la mdecine, qui agit par des remdes sur le
corps, mais seulement celle du discours sur lme.
17
Cest en tant que magie agissant sur lme que le discours est compar la mdecine agissant sur les corps. Sur le
fait que Gorgias recueille l une tradition qui remonte au moins Eschyle, cf. Nol (1989), ibid. Sur la faon dont
Platon reprend ce thme, cf. le relev de W. Leszl sur la rfrence la magie, chez Platon, pour dcrire la
causalit de la parole sur lme, Leszl (1985), 67-69. Lauteur note tout particulirement lorigine magico-
religieuse de la psychagogia, terme dsignant le fait de guider les mes des morts, origine dont se souvient Platon
dans les Lois (X, 909 b 3-5).
18
Brisson (2000).
Arnaud Mac 87
magie et comme mdecine, sapproprie alors les prestiges dune ancienne mdecine, celle du
gurisseur-magicien
19
.
Enfin, Gorgias, au sortir de ces quelques paragraphes, dlivre une leon ambigu. Dun
ct, il affirme la puissance du discours partout o elle suscite quelque chose dans lme,
quil sagisse ou non dune illusion ou dune tromperie. De lautre, par lanalogie avec
lusage des remdes, il nous donne lide dune norme naturelle, dun ordre, par rapport
laquelle certains effets dans lme seront bnfiques ou au contraire destructeurs. Gorgias
sarrte laffirmation gnrale de la causalit des discours sur lme : quil soit remde ou
poison, le discours agit. Nanmoins, par lanalogie quil met en place, il a ouvert, sans la
poser, le champ dune nouvelle question : celle de la nature du savoir, quivalent celui du
mdecin pour le corps, qui permettrait de connatre et de rtablir la taxis dans lme. Cest par
l quil revient Platon, dans le Gorgias, davoir prolong lanalogie pose par Gorgias.
II. Leffet des discours et lordre de lme, dveloppement de lanalogie entre lart du
discours et la mdecine dans le Gorgias de Platon
Laffinit entre Gorgias et Platon sur la question du pouvoir de la parole tient avant tout
au recours lanalogie entre les arts qui ont lme pour objet et ceux qui ont le corps pour
objet
20
. Comme dans lloge dHlne, elle permet chez Platon de dfinir le mode daction du
discours sur lme, et, par ailleurs, de nommer ce qui, dans lme ou de lme, est modifi par
le discours. Cette analogie est lun des fils conducteurs du Gorgias : Socrate en fait un usage
rcurrent contre Gorgias, puis contre Polos, puis encore contre Callicls, afin de dfinir par
analogie la mdecine, 1) lobjet (la bonne disposition, euexia), 2) le mode daction
(dbarrasser du mal, linjustice), et 3) la connaissance du patient propres un art ayant lme
pour objet
21
. Mais, jusquen 503d, lart ayant lme pour objet nest pas caractris comme un
art agissant par le discours cest par le chtiment que la justice sest avant tout manifeste.
Cest par lhomme de bien quun tel art de la parole entre en scne, en 503d. Or ce
passage marque le dveloppement le plus abouti de lanalogie entre art ayant pour objet le
corps et art ayant lme pour objet, puisquon y prcise quils ont pour action effective dy
produire un ordre . Le titre de spcialiste (dmiourgos) est accord un certain nombre
dactivits qui prsente les mmes caractristiques : ne rien faire au hasard mais en ayant en
vue un seul objectif que ce quil ralise dispose en soi dune forme dtermine (c ` .,
c | .. o , ~. cu ~. cy ~u ~ . ,c .~c.)
22
. Que signifie le terme eidos dans ce contexte ?
On a hsit entre la signification daspect et celui de structure au sens opratoire
23
.
Mais Socrate, comme dans la premire occurrence de lanalogie consacre au mode daction
(477 e-478 b), prend soin de passer par un troisime type dart pour rapprocher lart de lme
et lart du corps : cest lart de la construction qui prend ici la place de lart de la finance, et
cest par lui que leidos dont il sagit trouve sa signification concrte, savoir celui de lordre
qui est propre la chose fabrique et quelle manifeste :
Prends par exemple, si tu veux, les peintres, les constructeurs de maisons, de
navires et tous les autres spcialistes (~u , cu, c |~c, o.u,u,),
prends celui que tu voudras parmi ceux-l, et vois comment chacun dispose
19
Nol (1989), 148-149. LAuteur a marqu quel point lappropriation par la rhtorique des pouvoir magiques
dabord attribus au gurisseur est luvre chez les sophistes du V
e
sicle.
20
Leszl (1985), 71.
21
Respectivement Gorgias 464a-466a, 477 e-478 b et 500b-501c. Cf. Mac (2003) respectivement 36-38, 50-54 et 66-
67.
22
Gorgias, 503 e1-4, nous traduisons.
23
G. Jeanmart in Motte-Rutten-Somville (ds. 2003), 83.
Gorgias, le Gorgias, et lordre de lme 88
chacune des choses quil dispose en vue dun ordre donn (.., ~c.| ~.|c
.-cc~, .-cc~| ~. -c.| c | ~.- ) et contraint chaque chose convenir avec
les autres et sharmoniser (cc|c,-c .. ~ .~.| ~. . ~. . . | ~.
.. |c. -c. c ~~..|), jusqu ce que le tout constitue une chose ordonne et bien
dispose (.., c| ~ c c| cuc~ c~c. ~.~c,. || ~. -c. -.-c. ||
c ,c).
24
Leidos, ici, cest lunit interne, propre la chose ordonne. On a remarqu lcho
pythagoricien des termes employs ici par Platon (~.~c,. || ~. -c. -.-c. ||) et
postul une influence commune subie par Gorgias et par Platon
25
. La chose, aussi probable
semble-t-elle, reste difficile prouver
26
. Nous nous en tiendrons la rcurrence que nous
pouvons constater entre le texte de Gorgias et celui de Platon, savoir celle du terme taxis qui
explicite ici celui deidos.
Lanalogie est complte avec un nouveau groupe dactivits, celui des arts qui ont pour
objet le corps, la mdecine et la gymnastique.
Et il en va de mme avec les autres spcialistes (o.u,. ) dont nous avons
parl, ceux qui ont pour objet le corps (. .. ~ c.c), le matre de
gymnastique et le mdecin, qui mettent ainsi en quelque faon le corps en ordre et
en accorde les lments (-cu c. u ~ c. c -c. cu|~c ~~uc.|).
27
Par sa prescription, le mdecin rtablit lordre du corps, laccord entre ses lments, qui,
comme ceux de la maison, en viennent former un tout harmonieux. Nous touchons ici au
moment dcisif o Platon reprend et outrepasse tout la fois le geste de Gorgias. Etablir
lanalogie entre ordre de lme et ordre du corps permet Socrate dy trouver la norme qui
dfinit en eux ltat dexcellence :
Donc, une maison faite avec ordre, dont la disposition est belle (~c.., cc -c.
-cu ~uyucc .-. c), serait une maison de qualit (yc~ ) ; mais une maison
faite sans ordre (c ~c. c,) serait minable ! oui, en effet. Cest donc pareil pour
un navire ! Oui. Et lorsquil sagit de nos corps, nous assurons que cest pareil !
Oui, parfaitement. Et pour lme ? Est-ce par le dsordre (c ~c. c,) prsent en
elle quelle est une me de qualit ? Nest-ce pas plutt par lordre quon y trouve,
par sa disposition intrieure ( ~c.., ~. -c. -cu ~.|,) ? Si on sen tient
ce quon a dit plus haut, on est forc de rpondre oui !
28

Lordre ne sert plus seulement indiquer la profondeur de ce que la parole peut affecter
en lme, il est devenu une norme qui a pour envers un dsordre, et il permet de distinguer
entre ceux qui ont la comptence de le produire et ceux qui ne sauront que lui nuire. La
frontire entre flatterie et tekhn passe l, et cest celle qui va opposer les mauvais orateurs et
celui que Socrate dfinit maintenant. Lhomme de bien, par ses discours, produit dans lme
lordre, comme larchitecte dans la maison et le mdecin dans le corps :
Cest en ayant en vue ces choses-l que cet orateur-l, celui qui est comptent et
bon (~.y|.- , ~. -c. c ,c- ,), prsentera ses discours aux mes auxquelles il
sadresse et dans toutes ses actions, quil lui arrive de donner ou de prendre, il aura
toujours lesprit dirig vers ce but, faire advenir dans les mes des citoyens la
justice (~. , . ~c., o.-c.cu | . | . | ~c. , uyc. , ,. ,|~c.) et les
24
503 e4-504 a1.
25
Cf. Pohlenz (1913), 152 sq.
26
Sur la difficult de statuer sur linfluence pythagoricienne chez Platon, cf. Brisson in Dixsaut-Brancacci (2002).
27
Ibid., 504 a2-4. On notera le jeu de mots sur suntass, mettre en ordre un tout et, pour un mdecin, faire une
ordonnance. Cf. Gorgias, EH 14, supra.
28
504 a7-504 b6.
Arnaud Mac 89
dbarrasser de linjustice (co.-. c o. c cc ~~~c.), y faire natre la temprance
et les dbarrasser de lincontinence, et dy faire natre toutes les autres vertus et de
faire quen disparaissent les vices.
29
La dtermination de leffet de laction du discours comptent sur lme apparat donc
comme production des vertus. Cest que, dans les lignes prcdentes (504 b6-d3), lordre
produit par le discours dans la chose a pu tre qualifi comme cause des qualits qui y sont
prsentes, comme ce partir de quoi en elle nat (. u . | cu ~. ... ,. ,|.~c.)
30
la
qualit. On peut en extraire le tableau suivant :
Lieu de la causalit Nom du type dordre produit Nom de leffet de lordre
(~. .- ~, ~c.., ~. -c. ~u
-cu ,.,|. |. , b7-9)
Dans le corps
(.| ~. c. c~., b7)
sain (u ,...| |, c9) La sant et toutes les autres
qualits physiques ( u ,. ..c
,. ,|.~c. -c. c c .~
~u c. c~,, c9-d1)
Dans lme
(~ uy , c1)
discipline et loi (| . | ~.
-c. | ,, d2-3)
Justice et temprance (c9-d1)
Platon tire ici de lanalogie gorgianique un rsultat dune grande importance pour la
philosophie des dialogues : la taxis hrite de Gorgias, cet ordre interne la chose, devient,
dans ces pages du Gorgias, ce qui prcisment la rend telle ou telle, ce partir de quoi, par
exemple, les hommes deviennent polics et ordonns ( -.| -c. | .. ,. ,||~c. -c.
- c.., d2-3) or, ajoute Socrate, cest cela, la justice et la temprance (~cu~c o` . c~.|
o.-c.cu | ~. -c. c.cu |, d4). Lordre est la cause des qualits tout simplement parce
quil nest autre que le mode de prsence de ces mmes qualits dans la chose
31
. Un lment
sminal de la thorie de la participation est pos.
Universit de Franche-Comt
29
504 d5-e3.
30
504 c9.
31
On comprend ainsi pourquoi ce texte a pu apparatre Stenzel (1931
2
, chapitre 2) comme le fondement dune
doctrine de lart-eidos , thse reprise et dveloppe par Krmer ((1959), 120, n. 174), ou Khn (1960)
comme le fondement dune mtaphysique possible.
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias
1
Christopher Rowe
1. Background.
What has become the traditional Anglophone view of Platos writing divides it up into
three periods: early, middle, and late. Early usually means Socratic, i.e., closer to the
thought of the historical Socrates; middle tends to mean including reference to a theory of
separated Forms (vel sim.); late means anything after that. (The late dialogues, on this
traditional, Anglophone view, are a collection of dialogues that have rather little in common,
except that the kind of philosophy they represent seems to those who wish to see it that way
closer to what we moderns, or we modern Anglophones, call philosophy.)
2
Nowadays,
however, this way of looking at the dialogues let us call it the developmentalist view
looks distinctly less attractive than it once did, notwithstanding the support that it appears to
derive from Aristotles reading of Plato, and the emphasis it gives to that point about
separation. The main reason for this is the recognition that the developmental model has
nothing to support it apart from Aristotle and a basic psychological plausibility: what more
plausible, so the argument goes, and more natural, than to suppose that Plato started by
reproducing, or exploring, what was essentially his master Socrates thinking, but then moved
on, beyond Socrates (especially in metaphysics, if one takes Aristotles line) and finally
entered a period of mature reflection, in which, perhaps, he abandoned some of the optimistic
constructions of his middle period?
3
For if we take, just by itself, the evidence afforded by
1
The present paper is, or rather was, the third in a series of three papers on the Gorgias, all of them sharing a virtually
identical first section (Background), and an overlapping second (The problem of the Gorgias). The first paper
in the series, A Problem in the Gorgias: How is Punishment Supposed to help with Intellectual Error?, will
appear in a volume on akrasia edited by Pierre Destre (Brill 2006), while the second, The Good and the Just in
Platos Gorgias, has already appeared a little prematurely in Damir Barbaric (ed.), Platon ber das Gute und
die Gerechtigkeit (Wrzburg, Knigshausen & Neumann, 2005, 73-92), and will reappear, in slightly revised
form, in a Festschrift for Jerry Santas edited by George Anagnostopoulos. The content of all three papers will
eventually be brought together as part of a book, Plato and the Art of Philosophical Writing (forthcoming 2006).
2
For a recent restatement of this traditional view of the dialogues as dividing into early-(transitional)-middle-late, Fine
(2003), n.1 to Introduction. Fine refers back, for a defence of the traditional view, to Vlastos (1991), ch. 2 and 3;
however these two chapters are mostly concerned with a different proposal (that through a Socrates in Plato we
can come to know the thought of the Socrates of history: Vlastos (1991), 81), and presupposes the traditional
division of Platos works rather than defending it.
3
Such a picture of the evolution of Platos thought is likely to appear particularly appealing against the background of
a general assumption that progress in philosophy is linear, and of the more particular assumption that Aristotle is a
much more evolved specimen of a philosopher than his teacher Plato, and Plato than his teacher, Socrates. Fines
book (2003) reflects both assumptions, which are indeed endemic among British and American scholars. I myself
regard such assumptions as at least unhelpful, to the extent that it interferes with our giving Plato, and Socrates, a
decent hearing; and the present essay firmly rejects them. That is to say, I am not in the least inclined to treat the
kinds of positions I shall attribute to the Socrates of the Gorgias (who is, in my present view, not so distantly
related to the real Socrates) as quaint, or simply false. Part of the point of the present attempt to recover what this
Christopher Rowe 91
the measurement of Platos style,
4
what we seem to find is an early group which contains both
Socratic dialogues, i.e. dialogues untouched by middle-period Form-theory, and three of
the central dialogues that contain that very theory: Cratylus, Phaedo and Symposium.
5
We
may, of course, choose to ignore this plain fact, and carry on as normal; but it should at least
be unsettling, for those of us who have tended to rely on the traditional early-middle-late
division, to discover that, for all we know, Plato may have been writing middle-period
dialogues even while he was writing early ones.
6
My own inference from the situation as I have described it is that a re-think is needed.
But in any case my collaboration with Terry Penner, and especially our work on the Lysis,
7
has convinced me that the real division among those dialogues not labelled as late late
dialogues I leave to one side, in the present context is to be made in relation to a different
theory: not the theory of Forms (whatever we decide that that theory is, and whatever we
think separation is
8
), but rather a particular theory, which Aristotle recognises as Socrates,
9
about human motivation: the theory commonly labelled as intellectualism, although the
precise nature of Socratic intellectualism is frequently mis-stated and misunderstood.
10
The
Socrates saying is that in my view which I share with my friend, colleague, and co-author Terry Penner it
stands a rather good chance of being true.
4
This is not to say that we must necessarily believe everything we are told by the stylometrists, whose track record at
least in more recent times has not been uniformly good. However (a) at least some of their conclusions appear to
be reasonably firm; and (b) in any case the traditional early-middle-late paradigm has generally been thought
(mistakenly: see below) to be supported by those firmer conclusions.
5
See especially Kahn (1996); and Kahn (2002), 93-127. At first sight, the division into three stylistic groups
[proposed by a number scholars working mainly in the nineteenth century] seems to confirm [the] theory of
Platos development [in question], since all of his Socratic dialogues are firmly located in the earliest group. But
this first sight is misleading. The central group does not at all coincide with what are called the middle
dialogues, since the intermediate group defined stylistically includes both Parmenides and Theaetetus, which are
generally counted as late from a developmental point of view. On the other hand, the early group includes
Symposium, Phaedo, and Cratylus. A traditional developmentalist who recognizes that the stylistic division is
chronological must simply accept the fact that Platos stylistic and philosophical developments do not proceed at
the same pace (Kahn (2002), 96).
6
Which is merely a different way of saying what Kahn says in the last sentence cited in the preceding footnote.
7
See Penner and Rowe (2005).
8
[Aristotle] writes as though separation is the big differentiator between Plato and Socrates, says Gail Fine (in
Separation reprinted in Fine (2003), at 298). She thinks this untrue; commitment to separation [capacity for
independent existence, 255-6] is as muted in the middle dialogues as lack of commitment to it is in the Socratic
dialogues. Separation is not, however, the only feature Aristotle points to in differentiating Plato from Socrates;
and perhaps other of his claims are on firmer ground. Aristotle also claims, for example, that for Socrates, unlike
Plato, all universals are sensible, that is, are sensible properties. Now Plato, as we have seen, accepts NR [non-
reducibility]; forms are nonsensible properties, properties non-reducible to, and indefinable in terms of, sensible
properties (Fine, ibid.). It is metaphysics, then, that still seems to divide Plato from Socrates, for Fine.
9
And which he seems to regard simply as false, and so uninteresting, and/or a mere historical relic. See e.g.
Nicomachean Ethics III.4, where the theory is dismissed as self-contradictory: the consequence, for those who
say that the object of wish is the good, is that what the person making an incorrect choice wishes for is not wished
for (for if it is wished for, it will also be good; but in fact it may have been bad) (1113a17-19). Platos mistake
about universals (as Aristotle conceives it) is, by contrast, interesting and important. For Aristotles recognition of
the theory dismissed in NE III.4 as Socratic, see e.g. Terry Penner (2002a), 189-212, and Rowe (2002), 213-225.
10
For one splendidly clear statement of the general outline of the theory in question, see Taylor (2000), 62-3. This is, I
suppose, what Thomas C.Brickhouse and Nicholas D.Smith have called somewhat puzzlingly: see the second
paragraph of this note the traditional account of Socratic intellectualism (Brickhouse-Smith (2002), 22).
Brickhouse and Smith attribute to Socrates a more complex moral psychology, one that retains a central tenet of
pure intellectualism, namely, that no one acts contrary to what he or she believes is best, but which also assigns
a specific causal role to nonrational desires (ibid.) a role that will require reason to control them. If this were
indeed Socrates view, then I suggest it will not merely be that Platos mature moral psychology owes a
greater debt to its Socratic predecessor than most commentators have realised (Brickhouse-Smith (2002), 35);
Socrates moral psychology will be virtually indistinguishable from that of the Republic. Cf. 2 below. A specific
criticism that should be made of the Brickhouse-Smith paper which of course bears directly on the issues
discussed in the present paper is that it allows a myth to determine central elements in Socratic thinking. For
what I myself propose to make of talk of incurables in the myth of the Gorgias, see n.39 below and for (what I
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias 92
Lysis turns out to be a pretty single-minded statement, and exploration, of the Socratic
intellectualist position; and the consequence is that that position can no longer be written off
11
as an isolated feature, limited to a controversial argument based on a variety of hedonism
that Socrates introduces against Protagoras at Protagoras 351E ff.
12
Once properly understood
(especially with the help of the Lysis), intellectualism is revealed as key to the proper
appreciation of the argumentation of a range of dialogues that includes the Symposium as well
as the group of dialogues traditionally labeled as Socratic. Yet in Book IV of the Republic
Socrates seems specifically to reject intellectualism,
13
and numerous other dialogues clearly
imply its rejection. At the same time, whatever interpretation we put on the Platonic theory of
forms, i.e. as separated or otherwise, that theory seems to have rather few implications for
any part of what Socrates either was about, historically, or appears to be about in any of those
dialogues that it may be appropriate to label as Socratic.
14
Platos thinking about forms, or in
general his thinking about metaphysics and epistemology, by itself tends merely to add to, and
does not significantly change, the ideas that he inherited from Socrates.
15
Given all of this, the dialogues in question
16
will still tend naturally to fall into two
groups not, now, by the Aristotelian (metaphysical) criterion, but rather according to
whether they (a) presuppose, explore, or otherwise make use of, or alternatively (b) reject or
ignore this (apparently) Socratic theory. The turning-point in Plato, both in terms of his
relationship to Socrates and, I propose, in general,
17
is marked by that moment when he ceases
to be interested in, and indeed begins positively begins to argue against, that theory.
18
If it is
true that there are intellectualist dialogues, on the one hand, and non-intellectualist (or
anti-intellectualist) dialogues on the other, the easiest hypothesis seems to be that Plato
began by thinking the Socratic position powerful, and central (for in numerous dialogues it is
central), but later came to think differently, and to suppose that he needed a different line, one
that would improve on, make good what he had come to see as the defects of, the original
Socratic account of human action. Or at any rate so I myself hypothesize.
What is this intellectualist theory of motivation (or, perhaps better, theory of action; it
is not just a theory of desire)? Briefly, and at bottom, it consists in the claims (a) that all
human agents always and only desire the good; (b) that what they desire is the real good, not
the apparent good; and (c) that what we do on any occasion is determined by this desire
take to be) other and not dissimilar mis-statements of the essentials of Socratic intellectualism, see Cooper (1982),
577-87, and Irwin (1979).
11
As it is, for example, by Kahn (1996), ch.8.
12
Or, alternatively and more generally, dismissed as unworthy of a good philosopher like Plato. For a slightly more
extended treatment of the issues here, see Rowe (2003), 17-32.
13
I.e. in the course of arguing for the existence of three parts of the soul, one rational and two irrational, the irrational
parts (respectively spirited and appetitive) themselves being capable of causing the agent to act even contrary
to reason. Such actions are ruled out by the intellectualist model, according to which all desires are for the (real)
good, and the only difference between agents who get things wrong and those who get things right is in the state
of their beliefs. See below.
14
I.e. either by the traditional criterion (i.e., showing no evidence of middle period metaphysics) or by the criterion I
am here proposing (i.e., whether resting on or alternatively rejecting intellectualist premises).
15
Pace e.g. Fine (2003), e.g. in Separation.
16
Once again, for the purposes of the present argument I continue to restrict myself to those dialogues traditionally
labelled early and middle.
17
The question of what motivates us human beings is, I presume, likely to be central on anyones account of Platos
philosophy; my own view is that it is, and remains, closer to the centre of Platos thinking than anything in the
spheres of metaphysics and ontology, or of epistemology, though I recognize that I may well be in a minority in
holding this.
18
It is of course theoretically possible that Plato alternated: now using/applying the one sort of theory, now the other.
The consequences of the two theories are, however, so large (see Rowe (2003), 28 ff.) that I count this as no more
than a theoretical possibility.
Christopher Rowe 93
together with whatever beliefs we have about what will in fact contribute to our real good.
Hence the label intellectualist: we only ever do what we think will be good for us. So virtue
[or excellence] is knowledge, or would be if it could ever be realised, and also is one
because, if the theory is correct, and is nevertheless to make room for virtues/excellences like
justice, courage, and the rest, then they must all be a matter of making the right calculations in
relation to good and bad. (Virtue is knowledge, then, in that it is a matter of knowledge of
what is truly good and truly bad; and it is one for the same reason.) And given all of this, it
will simply be impossible for anyone to do, or (as I prefer to put it) go, wrong willingly; one
can only go wrong through ignorance.
This is what the Socrates of the Republic then famously denies: that is, when he argues
in Book IV for the existence of two irrational parts of the soul, which can and this is the
crucial point actually overcome reason, perhaps even knowledge. The argument in Republic
may indeed be taken as going out of its way to underline the conflict between its conclusion
and the intellectualist position.
19
And the difference is quite fundamental. For if we all
possess irrational elements or parts that are capable of causing us to act independently of, or
even in direct contravention of, what our reason tells us to do, then it will plainly be
insufficient merely to talk to people, in the way that the Socrates of the dialogues seems to do,
in order to change their behaviour; we shall need to deal with their irrational parts as well
which will require irrational, i.e. political, and rhetorical, means. It is no accident, I propose,
that a large part of the rest of the Republic is occupied with talk about political institutions,
including a state-run education system involving what is in many respects a kind of
conditioning.
20
How different this Socrates is from the essentially a-political, or un-political,
Socrates of the Apology, or the Crito, or ... That other Socrates claimed that what was needed
was philosophy, dialectic; thinking things through. But now that is no longer enough: one
may think as much as one likes, and yet if we pay them no heed, our irrational elements may
still ambush us, by night if not by day.
21
2. The problem of the Gorgias
So the proposal is that the so-called early and middle dialogues (that is, again, all
apart from the late dialogues) would be better divided roughly speaking into pre-Republic
and post-Republic. That will, evidently, give us a new early and a new middle, but it
seems better to avoid that terminology, insofar as middle tends to be so heavily associated
with the move to the new metaphysics (separated forms, etc.). In any case, my claim is that
some of the relevant dialogues feature the Socratic, intellectualist, theory of action, and
19
At Republic 438A-439B Socrates argues specifically that there are desires (appetites) that are not good-directed:
Therefore, let no one catch us unprepared or disturb us by claiming that no one has an appetite for drink but
rather good drink, nor food but good food, on the grounds that everyone after all has appetite for [desires:
epithumei] good things, so that if thirst is an appetite, it will be an appetite for good drink (Socrates at 438A1-
5, in Grube-Reeve translation (1997)).
20
Again, see Rowe (2003).
21
See Republic IX, 571B4-572A1 (cited, in the Grube/Reeve translation, with omissions): Some of our unnecessary
pleasures and desires seem to me to be lawless. They are probably [are likely to be: kinduneuousi] present in
everyone, but they are held in check by the laws and by the better desires in alliance with reason. In a few people,
they have been eliminated entirely or only a few weak ones remain, while in others they are stronger and more
numerous. What desires do you mean? Those that are awakened in sleep, when the rest of the soul the
rational, gentle, and ruling part slumbers. Then the beastly and savage part, full of drink, casts off sleep and
seeks to find a way to gratify itself On the other hand, I suppose that someone who is healthy and moderate
with himself goes to sleep only after having done the following: First, he rouses his rational part and feasts it on
fine arguments and speculations; second, he neither starves nor feasts his appetites, so that they will slumber and
not disturb his best part with either their pleasure or their pain .
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias 94
some feature a radically different, if rather more familiar, kind of theory of action. I say more
familiar: who nowadays would accept the Socratic denial of akrasia or, to put it better,
his explanation of what others, including the Plato of the Republic, treat as lack of control,
or, in that spectacular bit of English mistranslation, weakness of will?
22
We moderns are
ourselves liable to take it for granted that we can be overcome by desire we are all used to
saying I dont know what came over me, I couldnt help it, and so on. No, says Socrates,
you are wrong you could help it; nothing made you do it. You acted as you did because of
the state of your beliefs (so, if you dont like what you did, youd better do something about
your beliefs). Or so he would respond in the ambit of some of the dialogues (the ones I am
proposing to call truly Socratic, including the Symposium that old middle dialogue,
which is nonetheless thoroughly intellectualist in its treatment of human behaviour)
23
; in
others, (perhaps) starting from the Republic, it looks as if he comes more over to what I have
called the familiar modern position though even then he will be rather less inclined than we
often are to accept it as any sort of defence that something came over me. (Pull yourself
together! will be his response even while apparently still holding that such cases are, in
Aristotelian terms, involuntary.
24
But of course, as the Republic shows, he thinks that some
will be more capable of pulling themselves together than others; others will need external
help.)
Now in this whole context, the Gorgias may well seem to be something of an anomaly.
25
For on the one hand the Gorgias contains one of the most spectacular applications of the
Socratic theory of action, in the shape of Socrates claim that orators and tyrants have no
power a claim from which he not only never retreats, in the rest of the dialogue, but on
which he seems to build even more surprising, paradoxical, even (apparently) comical claims.
Those apparently enviable people, who so Gorgias has claimed can do whatever they
want, in fact Socrates says do nothing they want, only what seems best to them. How
ridiculous! responds Polus. But of course Socrates is perfectly serious: they dont do what
they want. Why not? Because they dont have the knowledge to enable them to distinguish
properly between good and bad, and lacking that, they fail to get what is really good for them
which must be what they want; doesnt everyone want what is really good for them? Who
22
Mistranslation, because it presupposes either that the Greeks had a concept of the will, or that any true picture of the
world must inevitably make room for such a concept. Both presuppositions are questionable, to the extent that a
concept of the will surfaced only centuries later, to provide for the resolution of mental conflicts conflicts, that
is, of just the sort whose existence Socrates, and others (notably the Stoics), deny.
23
So that, strikingly, passionate or romantic love, ers, can be described (by Socrates and the priestess Diotima)
without any recourse to the concept of irrational, non-good-directed desires.
24
Just so Socrates counterpart as main speaker in the Laws is still to be found insisting, Socratically, that no one
does/goes wrong willingly. It is what is really good that at least some part even of the Platonic divided soul still
desires.
25
Vlastos (1991), ch.2, treats the Gorgias as straightforwardly one of the dialogues of Platos earlier period (p. 46);
evidently he misses the kinds of problems that I here identify problems that suggest at least some kind of
transitional status for the Gorgias. For Vlastos, transitional dialogues are early ones that are merely missing the
elenchus according to his unnecessarily narrow notion of elenchus (i.e., examination, challenge, (attempt
at) refutation, which actually appears to be a standard part of Platos notion of philosophical method: see e.g.
Penner-Rowe (2005). Fine (2003), 1, does treat the Gorgias as transitional but she does not state her grounds for
doing so. From the perspective of the present series of papers, however, the most important reference will be to
Irwins commentary on the Gorgias (Irwin (1979)), which sees the dialogue as using, and failing to reconcile, two
different approaches to good-independent desires: (1) The unhealthy soul has a faulty conception of its good,
and needs to be restrained because otherwise its desires all good-dependent will mislead it. (2) Its strong good-
independent desires make it incontinent [weak-willed], so that it needs control The conclusions of [the] two
lines of argument [depending on these different approaches] in the dialogue are never satisfactorily reconciled
(218). What I primarily set out to resist in the present series of papers (see n.1 above) is something very like
Irwins account here; though I differ significantly in the way I state (1), the Socratic position. See following note.
Christopher Rowe 95
ever was satisfied with what merely seems good, and isnt in fact so? This, surely, is the full
Socratic position.
26
Yet on the other hand and this is what makes the dialogue seem anomalous the
Gorgias is likely, to most readers, to look in significant respects significantly un-Socratic. In
the first place, it appears a thoroughly, and un-Socratically political dialogue,
27
one that in
numerous respects seems to foreshadow the Republic: the whole discussion, after all, centres
around issues of power and the place if any of rhetoric in society; and in one of the
climactic moments of the dialogue, Socrates the philosopher declares himself, bizarrely, to be
(possibly) the only true statesman in existence.
28
It will then probably appear entirely
consonant with this strongly political aspect of the Gorgias that the dialogue has a great deal
to say about punishment; for after all it is the state, or the city, that punishes. And punishment,
surely, uses force, which I have argued ought strictly to be useless on a Socratic account of
motivation and action. However there is something else that looks prima facie even more
obviously un-Socratic about the Gorgias. For from almost the beginning of his argument with
Callicles in the last third of the dialogue, Socrates relies heavily on the idea that we need to
control ourselves, and especially our desires; and that at once seems to involve him in
allowing for the possibility of our failing to control ourselves and our desires or, in other
words, of his allowing for the possibility of akrasia, and the kind of divided soul that goes
with it. But how can Socrates do that, while remaining Socrates?
29
The specific problem of the prominence of the theme of punishment in the Gorgias was
the subject of the first of the series to which the present paper belongs, A Problem in the
Gorgias.
30
The conclusion of that paper was that Socrates in fact nowhere endorses the
ordinary conception of punishment with which he appears to be working, and which Polus
and Callicles take him to be working. His strategy is to take on his interlocutors/opponents,
and to worst them (with whatever degree of success), on what appear to them to be their own
terms, while actually developing a dialectical argument that functions more successfully in
terms of his own, rather more radical perspectives. Thus, while he does not directly challenge
Polus and Callicles notion of punishment (flogging, imprisonment, etc.), he finds different
ways of indicating that he himself prefers a different kind of punishment one that consists
in the very kind of dialectic that he is administering to Polus and to Callicles; and in fact his
argument with Polus or so I claimed is likely to look distinctly more persuasive on the
basis that it is this, rather odd, kind of punishment that is really in question. Certainly
neither Polus nor most of his contemporaries would have supposed that point of flogging,
26
See Penner (1991), 147-202. One absolutely crucial difference between Penners interpretation and Irwins (1979) of
Socrates position is that Penner sees it as insisting however paradoxically that we only desire what is really
good for us. Insofar as Irwin talks of [good-dependent] desires as potentially misleading the soul, and so
apparently being responsible for its faulty conception of its good (passage cited in preceding n.), he evidently
does not take this line. (Good-dependent, then, will have a distinctly weaker force than in Penners
interpretation.) My own interpretation will follow Penners and not Irwins.
27
The Socrates of the Gorgias, as one of Vlastoss dialogues of Platos earlier period, ought to lack that elaborate
political theory [sc. of the Republic] whose ranking order of constitutions places democracy with the worst of
contemporary forms of government, lower than timocracy and oligarchy, preferable only to lawless tyranny
(Vlastos (1991), ibid.). That, I suppose, he does lack; yet in political terms the Gorgias goes far beyond the Crito,
which Vlastos seems to take as defining the political dimension of the early dialogues not least in virtue of that
stunning moment, at (Gorgias) 521-522 (to which I shall shortly advert in the main text, and in 3 below) when
Socrates claims to be perhaps the only true statesman alive. It is surely less far from here to the philosopher-
ruler of the Republic than it is to citizen Socrates in the Crito.
28
See preceding note. (For my own reading of Gorgias 521-522, see A Problem in the Gorgias [n.1 above].)
29
See the preceding two paragraphs. The denial of the possibility of conflict between reason and passion (desire)
seems to be the hallmark of the Socratic position: what people want, what they are passionate about, is their real
good, and their real good only (which is why tyrants and orators have no power).
30
See n.1 above.
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias 96
imprisonment or, still less, execution, however justly imposed, was to improve the criminal;
and they would surely be right to be skeptical and this is about the least paradoxical of his
proposals. But try substituting dialectic the only kind of punishment an intellectualist
Socrates can consistently advocate for flogging and the rest, and things begin to look rather
different, and (so far as his argument with Polus goes, at least), more plausible.
What lies behind this strategy of Socrates is not some sort of sleight of hand, or an
attempt to fool his interlocutors (what would Plato have to gain from that, when he is pulling
all the strings?), but rather a sense of what dialectic might, or even would, achieve with a
Polus or a Callicles, given sufficient time, in contrast with what it can achieve with them as
they are now. Or, to put it another way, Socrates constructs his argument on the basis of a
combination of what the other two will accept, in the context of their present beliefs, together
with what he, Socrates, actually thinks is true. The result, from the perspective of the reader,
is an understanding of the kind of argument that Socrates would have mounted if left to
himself, or if confronted with someone like himself, overlaid with the sort of argument he
needs to mount in order to make headway with the particular individuals facing him, equipped
with the sets of beliefs they currently have. Just so, at (Gorgias) 474C8-D2, as he begins his
attempt to show that Polus and everybody else really believe, despite what they say, that
doing injustice is worse than suffering it, Socrates suggests that if Polus accepts that doing
injustice is more shameful (aischion), he will also accept that it is worse. This, as I argued in
The Good and the Just in Platos Gorgias,
31
would have been Socrates own preferred route
to the conclusion from Polus admission about the greater shamefulness of doing injustice
(because for him, fine and good are the same), but Polus rejects it. I understand,, says
Socrates, it seems that you dont think fine and good the same thing, and bad and shameful
and then proceeds to offer Polus an analysis of the fine which Polus accepts, as sufficient to
separate the fine from the good, but which Socrates can use to reach his conclusion without in
any way having to compromise his own preferred analysis.
32
The general upshot of this, for the present context, is perhaps twofold. First, all that talk
about controlling oneself in the Gorgias is likely to look all the more disturbing, the more
genuinely Socratic (and intellectualist) the surrounding context turns out to be. But, secondly,
and as it were by way of compensation, the results reached in those two papers suggest that
we need to exercise the greatest caution in deciding exactly what Socrates is accepting in his
own person, insofar as what he says may be partly shaped by the beliefs and assumptions of
his interlocutors. Just as it frequently takes time whether in the Gorgias or elsewhere for
Socrates to establish just what it is that those interlocutors are saying, or want to say, so we
need to take time to establish what he wants to say. It cannot necessarily be read directly off
the surface of the text.
3. Ruling oneself in the Gorgias.
The problem, highlighted by Terry Irwin,
33
of the juxtaposition in the Gorgias of
Socratic intellectualism with an emphasis on the need for self-control, and for a kind of
psychic order, was the subject more than twenty years ago of a useful treatment by John
Cooper,
34
in which he claims to show against Irwin that the moral psychology of the
31
I.e. the second paper in the present series (n.1 above).
32
For another, more straightforward, example of the same sort of phenomenon, contrast 467E, where Socrates allows
health, wealth, and other such things as goods, with 511C-512C, which seems to suggest that even life itself is
not always a good.
33
See n.25 above.
34
Cooper (1982); see also Cooper (1999), 29-75.
Christopher Rowe 97
Gorgias is in fact Socratic through and through. And Cooper too wholeheartedly advocates
the need to distinguish between Socrates perspective and that of his interlocutors: they may
appear to be saying the same things, but that may hide very different views of the matter.
Socrates does indeed argue that it is better for anyone to be temperate, master of himself
(enkrats heautou), ruling the pleasures and appetites within him (491D10-E1), than it is to
be, as Callicles urges, unrestrained, full of varied appetites and skilled at fulfilling them. But
whatever Callicles may be understanding about the psychological processes and conditions
that govern these two kinds of person, Socrates can and should be understood as conceiving
them from the perspective of his own Socratic theory. The crucial point is that the argument
he mounts does not depend upon which view of these matters, Callicles or Socrates, one
adopts; in either case Callicles praise of intemperance is shown to be unjustified.
35
However Coopers view of the Socratic theory in question is radically different from
the one I proposed in 1 and 2 above. Here is how he sums up Socrates position: First,
[Socrates] maintains that whenever a human being does any action he does it with the idea,
and because he thinks, that it is the best thing overall for him to do in the circumstances. This
is agreed ground. However the next part is not. [Socrates] maintains, secondly, a thesis about
desire, apparently counting hunger, thirst, and sexual appetite for these purposes as desires:
every desire is for its possessors overall good (perhaps, of course, on a mistaken conception
of what that good consists in)
36
. But of course Socrates is not saying that all the desires we
experience conform to and derive from (depend upon) our considered view of where our
good lies. In fact the dependence runs in the other direction: whatever desire we have, in
having it we judge that whatever it is the desire for will contribute to our overall good
37
Each desire I have, then (on this account) involves Cooper describes the relation as
entailing
38
a judgement about my overall good, i.e., that whatever it is that the desire is
for will contribute to [my] overall good, and there are no good-independent desires.
39
But
my considered view, which is presumably not entailed by a desire, may, or if it rests on
knowledge
40
will, trump my desire-entailed judgements about my overall good.
In this picture each desire comes as a package, as it were, with a judgement, so that any
clashes will be between judgements and not desires, and since these are all judgements about
the agents overall good, they can and will be resolved in a peaceful manner.
41
Anything that
Socrates commits himself to with Callicles, Cooper claims, will fit this picture without
remainder. Self-control [on the Socratic theory] depends upon whether or not one lets ones
appetites grow to the point where they imply a false view of ones good and thereby how one
acts. The text at 491D-E [where Socrates asks Callicles whether people wont need to
rule/control themselves before they rule others] contains nothing incompatible with the
natural assumption that Socrates means by self-mastery precisely this, as his own theory
allows: he is asking Callicles whether his superior men will master themselves and their
pleasures in this way, i.e., by preventing large appetites from arising, with their implications
for where the agents overall good lies.
42
Again, the notion of psychic order Socrates
argues for [at 503D-505B, with 506E-507A] is perfectly compatible with his usual theory
35
Cooper (1982), 581. The whole passage cited resonates closely with my discussions of other aspects of the Gorgias
in A Problem in the Gorgias and The Good and the Just in Platos Gorgias (n.1 above).
36
The sentence omitted here is: Irwin calls this second thesis a thesis about the good-dependence of all desires.
37
Cooper (1982), 582-3.
38
Cooper (1982), 583.
39
Cf. Irwin (commentary), 191, ad 491D4.
40
Cooper (1982), 583.
41
When [potential] conflicts [between desires] threaten to arise they must be immediately settled, by the
disappearance of one or other of the competing judgments, and so of the (incipient) desire that entails it (ibid.).
42
Ibid.
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias 98
of action and motivation, because as he explains it, it is all a question of coming to have the
different desires in appropriate strengths and frequencies; so that in acting from whatever
desire one happens to be experiencing at the moment, one will consistently and correctly be
aiming at ones own overall good (cf. 505A-B).
43
In Coopers view, then, Socrates argues on the basis that all our desires are good-
dependent (in the way defined, i.e., as entailing, and being inseparable from, judgements
about our overall good. Callicles, by contrast, accepts desires that are independent of
thoughts about the good,
44
and so has a quite different conception of self-control. Both men
use the same language, but have in mind quite different things when they use it. So the
Gorgias is saved for Socrates (at least thus far).
45
But, as I have indicated (and as the passages
cited from his essay demonstrate), Coopers reconstruction of Socrates position is
fundamentally different from my own. Most importantly, Coopers reconstruction has
Socrates making our desires be of the apparent good (i.e., until they are controlled or
managed by knowledge, or perhaps by the considered view); whereas on the account of the
matter proposed in 1 and 2 of the present paper, desires for Socrates will always and only
be of the real good.
Now one could argue at length about the relative philosophical merits of the two
positions in question. I have no space to do that here (though I note in passing that Cooper
thinks the moral psychology of the Republic clearly better than his version of its Socratic
counterpart).
46
Instead, I shall content myself with pointing out that Coopers version of
Socrates position will not explain what I called in 1 one of the most spectacular
applications of the Socratic theory of action, namely the claim that orators and tyrants have
no power (466A ff.). They have no power, Socrates says, because they do not do what they
want, only what they think best, and doing what one thinks best when one has no nous, as
orators and tyrants do, never did anyone any good.
47
But if Socrates wants to say what Cooper
wants him to say, then orators and tyrants actually do do what they want that is, whatever it
is that is the (albeit erroneous) object of desire for which they do the heinous things Polus
envies them for having the power to do. Their desire for that object political influence, say,
or money, or security will entail the judgement that political influence, money, or security
will contribute to their overall good. So with Coopers version, the paradox would fail to have
any bite even on Socrates own theory, and would even contradict it; whereas on the version I
outlined in 1, 2 above, what Socrates says in 466A ff., while paradoxical, will be literally
true.
It may be, of course, that we are not supposed to take 466A ff. seriously. Irwin, for
example, describes Socrates claim as stated in deliberately paradoxical terms and, we will
find, overstated.
48
And Cooper himself finds indications in this dialogue of a certain
distancing on Platos part from the Socratic theory of action and virtue which, nonetheless
and however precariously, manages to emerge unscathed from the discussion;
49
perhaps the
present passage is one of those cases where the way in which [the interlocutors] views are
formulated and refuted makes it clear enough, if one reads attentively, that Plato is drawing
43
Cooper (1982), 584-5.
44
Cooper (1982), 583.
45
See following note.
46
Cooper sees Plato as using Callicles position to identify the weaknesses of Socrates. (But in the Gorgias Plato
leaves completely undeveloped the problems for the Socratic theory of human motivation that the Calliclean view
suggests, p.585.) See below.
47
The full claim is that orators (sc. and tyrants) have least power in the city (466B9-10): i.e., because they can do
worse things than others, and so get even less of what they want than ordinary ignorant people (see 525D).
48
Irwin (commentary) ad 466B.
49
Cooper (1982), 585.
Christopher Rowe 99
special attention to certain assumptions of Socrates and inviting the reader to consider
whether they are justified
50
Or maybe the claim at 466A ff. should be treated as a jeu
desprit unconnected with Socrates theory. Yet especially given its position, at the very
beginning of the whole series of arguments against Polus it not only appears to be central to
Socrates own positive case against the opposition, but it is closely linked with other ideas
that contribute to that same case: for example, the idea that it is the ends of our actions that
we desire, not our actions themselves (467C-468D), which resurfaces, and is amplified, in the
conversation with Callicles more than twenty Stephanus pages later (499E-500B).
51
To the
extent that he fails to incorporate 466A ff. into his treatment
52
, I suggest that Cooper is in fact
in danger of introducing another self-contradiction in Socrates argument in the Gorgias in
place of the one of which he sets out, against Irwin, to prove him innocent. Far from
emerg[ing] unscathed from the discussion, the Socratic theory of action and virtue seems
rather to emerge lame and limping.
53
How then to explain the phenomena that talk about ruling oneself and about the need
for psychic order on the alternative version of the Socratic theory that I have
recommended? The main part of the answer is simple: Socrates specifically introduces the
idea of ruling oneself in terms of what the many think. Im talking about each [ruler]
ruling himself. Or shouldnt he do this at all, rule himself, but only rule the others? What
are you talking about, ruling himself? Nothing complicated, but just as the many say
temperate (sphrn), master of himself (enkrats), ruling the pleasures and appetites within
him. (491D7-E1) The effect is to move the debate on to Callicles territory, for he accepts
the same sort of model of human nature as the many (reason on the one side, [good-
independent] desires on the other) as the many, even though he claims to reject the standards
of behaviour they base on it. But there is nothing to prevent Socrates having his own way of
seeing what Callicles and the many see in terms of controlling ones pleasures and desires
54
and something of that special way of seeing things surfaces, I propose, at 500A, when he
asks Callicles to agree to the suggestion, originally accepted by Polus in 467-8, that just as we
should do things actions for the sake of good ends (a special Socratic idea if ever there
was one), so we should also do pleasant things for the sake of good things. Of course
Callicles will have his own way of reading this; but equally, because of the connection
with 467-8, Socrates will have his way of reading it too, one that integrates it with his general
account of the good, and so of human motivation. (The pleasantness of a thing, he will be
saying, is never an adequate reason for choosing it; to suppose otherwise will be a mistake
about the nature of the good.)
50
Cooper (1982), 586.
51
No mere flash in the pan, then (see 3 of The Good and the Just [n.1 above]) any more than is the main claim
about the powerlessness of orators and tyrants (cf. n.47 above).
52
In fact, Cooper seems to have a generally low opinion of the quality of Socrates argumentative strategy in the
Gorgias: as perceptive readers have long seen Socrates final refutation of Gorgias (460A ff.) turns on a
tendentious and wholly unargued use against him of the specifically Socratic doctrine that if one knows justice
one must be just. Similarly for the notorious final argument against Polus (474D-475C), etc. (Cooper (1982),
585-6). On the latter argument, see my paper The Good and the Just (n.1 above); as for that final refutation of
Gorgias, the use of that Socratic doctrine is not in fact wholly unargued, since the idea is introduced via an
epagg of kinds of practical expertise (carpentry, music, medicine), among which justice is by implication
counted a move which is presumably not unconnected with the immediately following treatment of dikaiosun
as the political counterpart of medicine. As to why Plato should suppose Gorgias might, or should, accept any
such move, cf. text to nn. 65-7 in The Good and the Just in Platos Gorgias, and more generally, Part II of
Penner-Rowe (2005).
53
I also note, in passing, that on Coopers analysis of Socrates treatment of (supposed) cases of weakness of will,
any such events will apparently be a matter of a change of mind caused by desire which might seem to make the
Socratic denial of akrasia a somewhat technical affair (though maybe that is all it was).
54
As Cooper agrees: see above.
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias 100
Similarly with the idea of psychic taxis and kosmos.
55
In 503E-504A, in talking about
how craftsmen put their materials in order (eis taxin, E6), Socrates speaks of their fitting
different parts together ( each compels one thing to be fitting and suitable to
another ), and then passes to the soul via the body, where again ordering might be
thought of as a matter of fitting parts together (adjusting the proportions of different
elements); it is then easy enough to understand his treatment of the soul in the same terms,
especially when he introduces the lawful and law as what brings about psychic order.
(That is, we seem to be, still, on the familiar ground occupied by the many, and by Callicles:
reason versus desire.) But even as he does this, he also takes us away from the familiar. And
for the structurings
56
and orderings of the soul the name is lawful and law, from which
people become lawful and orderly; and these [?] are justice and temperance (sphrosun). Do
you say so, or not? Let it be so. Then wont that rhetor, the craftsman, the good one,
57
look to these things when he applies whatever speeches he makes to souls, , and when he
gives whatever he gives, and when he takes away whatever he takes away? Hell always have
his mind on this; to see that the souls of the citizens acquire justice and get rid of injustice
(504D1-E2) Here, we are back with the dikaiosun which is a part of politik, improving
peoples souls just as the medical doctor heals their bodies, and with Gorgias orator, who
knows about justice and so brings about justice in others.
58
But that is not, of course, what real
orators are like. Socrates has suddenly shifted to talking about what orators should be; just as
he will go on to talk about what politicians should be i.e., like himself, the true doctor of
souls, telling people the straightforward truth (521D-522A). And that suggests a different
kind of justice altogether, and an altogether different kind of talk: dialectic, not rhetoric.
59
The rest of the argument here in 503-5
60
has its own version of that same analogy as in 521-2:
doctors dont give lots of food or drink, and the pleasantest (504E7-8) to their sick patients;
they actually prevent them from filling themselves up with what they desire. Just so with the
soul: as long as it is corrupt, by being senseless [without nous: anotos], intemperate, unjust,
and impious, we should restrain it from its appetites, and not allow it to do anything else
except what will make it better (505B2-4). Or, to put it another way, 521-522 tells us how
Socrates, or a Socratic expert, would handle sick souls.
An objection: how will talking to people restrain their appetites? Does Socrates really
suppose that peoples passions can be controlled by merely reasoning with them? These are, I
respond, badly formed questions. Socrates theory just does not allow for appetites getting out
of hand, by themselves. If someone has what we are inclined to call an insatiable appetite,
Socrates will stay firm, and call even that a matter of intellectual error: the person just has the
wrong beliefs about the good he believes passionately, as it were, that the so-called objects
of his appetite are the things to go for. This is how he will understand the Calliclean
individual. We, and Callicles, will analyse this persons situation in terms of passion, even of
passion overcoming reason; and that is why we will talk about the need to restrain his
55
Cf. Cooper (1982), 584: the notion of psychic order Socrates here [503D-505B, with 506C-507A] argues for is
perfectly compatible with his usual theory of action and motivation, because as he explains it, it is all a question of
different desires in appropriate strengths and frequencies . The passages in question actually have very little
directly to say about this idea, though they may be compatible with it. See below.
56
Irwin prefers structures for taxeis here, but as he obviously accepts, the point is clearly about ordering, not just
about order.
57
That is, the good, expert orator.
58
Cf. n.52 above, on 460A ff.
59
For a fuller treatment of this proposal, see A Problem in the Gorgias (n.1 above).
60
The conclusion is at 505B11-12: Thus being tempered (or punished: kolazesthai) is better for the soul than
intemperance .
Christopher Rowe 101
desires, and Callicles will applaud him for not restraining them.
61
And these are the terms in
which Socrates chooses to frame his argument. But he does not endorse those terms. Those
people who have souls in bad condition do not, on Socrates account, desire what they say
they desire; what they really desire they dont know at all. They just need to become better,
i.e., wiser, people (though it will still be true that they should be stopped, or should stop
themselves, from going for what they presently go for, in ignorance).
The moral psychology of the Gorgias, then, I claim, is Socratic, and fully intellectualist.
The Socrates of this dialogue is the same Socrates who inhabits the Lysis, the Charmides a
work that examines what sphrosun is without once introducing the idea of mental conflict
into the discussion or the Symposium.
62
I do not pretend that all the work necessary to show
this has been done in the present paper, or indeed in the whole series of three papers of which
it forms a part. Nevertheless I hope to have made a beginning.
University of Durham
61
Though as a matter of fact Callicles claims that this is the courageous and intelligent choice (492A2-3, etc.).
62
On the Symposium as a Socratic dialogue, see 1 above.
El Gorgias de Platon: Anti-hedonista o anti-relativista?
Francisco Bravo

1
Muchos piensan que el Gorgias es un ataque al hedonismo tico. Este ataque fuera
menos problemtico si no pareciera tambin un rechazo al hedonismo de Scrates en el
Protgoras
1
. Segn ste, lo agradable y lo bueno se identifican (~ cu ~ c. |~c. ou ~.
-c. c ,c- |)
2
. Es lo que Calicles sostiene en el Gorgias
3
, pero ahora en contra de Scrates,
empeado en refutarlo
4
. Para este ltimo: (1) la vida buena es la vida de placer (351c); (2) el
placer es el ~. , que hace que las cosas buenas sean dignas de perseguirse (354a-d). En el
Gorgias, la proposicin (1) pertenece a Calicles, mientras que Scrates parece refutarla. En
cuanto a (2), la invierte por completo, arguyendo que el placer debe buscarse en vista del
bien, no el bien en vista del placer. Qu ha ocurrido entre el Protgoras y el Gorgias? Una
evolucin, explicable en un pensamiento en proceso?Una simple decantacin, atribuible al
ahondamiento en el anlisis? Una contradiccin, por s desconcertante?
Hay que descartar la hiptesis de la evolucin, pues tanto el Protgoras como el
Gorgias se consideran dilogos de juventud. Prima facie, tambin hay que eliminar la
hiptesis de Gosling-Taylor
5
de que en el Gorgias hay una decantacin del hedonismo del
Protgoras. Los contrastes aludidos implican mucho ms que eso, y parecen conformar una
contradiccin del tipo p.-p. Tal vez para conjurar la presencia de esta ltima, algunos
sostienen que el hedonismo del Protgoras no pertenece ni a Scrates ni a Platn
6
y que, por
tanto, en el intervalo que hay entre los dilogos en cuestin no caben ni evolucin, ni
decantacin, ni contradiccin. Pero esta postura no satisface a quienes, adems de leer en el
Protgoras un hedonismo propiamente dicho, se lo atribuyen a Scrates y su discpulo
7
.
Necesitamos, pues, una explicacin ms plausible a unos y otros; una que permita considerar
tan socrtico-platnica la postura hedonista del Protgoras como la aparentemente anti-
hedonsita del Gorgias.
1
Cf. Gosling-Taylor (1982), 69.
2
Prot. 351 e 6.
3
Gorg. 495 a 2-3: ~.| .. |c. ~ cu ~ ou -c. c,c- |.
4
Cf. Gorg. 500 d.
5
Gosling-Taylor (1982), 69.
6
Esta interpretacin anti-hedonista ha sido defendida por J.P. Sullivan (1961), 25, E.R. Dodds (1959), 249 y
G.M. Grube (cf. Bravo (2003), 187).
7
Entre estos, cf. Grote (1888) II, 314-315, Hackforth (1928) 41 y Tenkku (1956), 56-59.
Francisco Bravo 103
2
La primera con visos de plausibilidad se debe a Gosling-Taylor, en su obra de 1982
8
.
Segn ella, el Gorgias no ataca el hedonismo ilustrado del Protgoras, sino el sibarita de
Calicles. Los argumentos de Scrates contra el segundo no tienen, pues, ninguna fuerza
contra el primero
9
. Recordemos que Calicles adopta una postura hedonista cuando Scrates
asevera que los gobernantes han de gobernar, no slo a los otros, sino tambin a s mismos
(cu~| .cu~u)
10
, disciplinando placeres y apetitos (~. | o|. | -c. . .-u.. | c y|~c
~. | . | . cu~. )
11
. Calicles replica que lo apropiado al -.. ~~| es la vida de placer,
consistente, segn Gosling-Taylor, en dar rienda suelta a los placeres corporales a corto
plazo (short-term), por vehementes que sean
12
. Su postura contrastara con la de Scrates en
el Protgoras, donde lo bueno es lo placentero significara lo bueno es lo placentero a
largo plazo (long-term)
13
. El aporte de Gosling-Taylor consiste, pues, en distinguir entre
placeres a corto y a largo plazo: Calicles identifica el bien con los del primer grupo, Scrates
con los del segundo. Y as, lo que defiende en el Protgoras no sera lo que ataca en el
Gorgias. La contradiccin entre estos dilogos sera, pues, meramente aparente. Pero estos
intrpretes dejan sin responder una pregunta que de algn modo se plantean
14
: por qu el
Scrates del Gorgias no recurre al hedonismo genuino del Protgoras para corregir el espurio
de Calicles? Gosling-Taylor alegan que un recurso de esta ndole sera legtimo con un
hedonista confeso, no con Calicles, que, de entrada, no es un hedonista, sino un realista
poltico. Aunque as fuere, llega a adoptar una postura hedonista. Si Scrates ha defendido un
hedonismo genuino guiado por la .~~.- , se impona, en el Gorgias, una argumentacin
correctiva, encaminada a rechazar el espurio de Calicles. Mi punto de vista es que sta no est
ausente. Antes de mostrarla, me referir a otra objecin a Gosling-Taylor, proveniente de
G. Rudebusch
15
.
Segn l, la distincin entre placeres a corto y largo plazo destruye la premisa hedonista
que el Protgoras requiere para demostrar la imposibilidad de la c-cc.c al como la
conceba la tradicin helnica y la formul Eurpides
16
en el siglo V. Para esta tradicin,
muchos hombres reconocen lo mejor, pero no quieren actuar en conformidad con ello ()
porque se dejan vencer por el placer
17
. Para refutar la c -cc.c as concebida
18
, Scrates
parte de la identificacin hedonista de bueno y placentero
19
. Una vez admitida, los defensores
de la c -cc. c deben admitir que su defensa es absurda (,..| ~| ,| ,.,|.c-c.
20
),
pues sostiene que el incontinente hace el mal sabiendo que es el mal () porque es vencido
por el bien ( ~~..|, u ~. | c ,c-. |)
21
. Insistimos en que esta conclusin absurda
requiere como premisa la identidad de bien y placer. Pero esta premisa desaparece si uno de
sus trminos, el placer, no significa siempre lo mismo, sino a veces placer a corto y otras a
largo plazo. Se plantea eo ipso el problema de saber cul de los dos tipos se identifica con el
8
Gosling-Taylor (1982), 69-78; cf. Rudebusch (1989), 27.
9
Cf. Gosling-Taylor (1982), 69 y 76.
10
Gorg. 491 d 7.
11
Gorg. 491 e 1.
12
Gorg. 491 e 7 492 a 2.
13
Gosling-Taylor (1982), 71.
14
Cf. Gosling-Taylor (1982), 77.
15
Cf. Rudebusch (1989), 28-31.
16
Cf. Eurpides, Medea, 1077-79; Hiplito, 380-83.
17
Prot. 352 d 5-7; cf. 352 c 4-7.
18
Cf. Prot. 352 c 4-7.
19
Prot. 351 e 5-6.
20
Prot. 355 a 6.
21
Prot. 355 d 2-3.
El Gorgias de Platon: Anti-hedonista o anti-relativista? 104
bien. En la interpretacin de Gosling-Taylor, Scrates cree que los placeres a largo plazo.
Pero recordemos que Scrates niega toda diferencia cualitativa entre placeres a corto y a largo
plazo. Imaginando que alguien le dice que lo agradable inmediato supera con mucho a lo
agradable por venir, replica que slo puede hacerlo en tanto placer ( o|). Como esto no
ocurre, la superioridad del placer inmediato ser meramente cuantitativa, no cualitativa: no
puede superarlo por otra cosa (~. c.)
22
. La alternativa de Rudebusch para superar esta
dificultad es otra distincin, que sera de otra ndole que la anterior. Para l, la distincin
crucial es la que Scrates hace entre magnitud real y magnitud aparente de placer. Constata,
en efecto, que la misma magnitud (~c cu~c .,.-) se manifiesta ante la vista ms grande
o ms pequea, segn que est ms o menos cerca
23
de ella. Y pregunta cul es la condicin
de nuestra salvacin, al tener que elegir entre estos dos tipos de magnitudes. Su respuesta, en
el Protgoras, es que no la fuerza de las apariencias ( ~u c.|. |u ou |c.,), sino el
arte de la medida (.~~.- )
24
La exigencia del Gorgias no es otra. Tambin l distingue
entre el bien y el placer meramente aparente. Ahora bien, segn Rudebusch, esta distincin,
contrariamente a la que se da entre placeres a corto y a largo plazo, no destruye el argumento
de Scrates contra la c-cc.c en el Protgoras. Creo, empero, que ella tiene el
inconveniente de confinarse en el dominio de lo puramente accidental, el de las cantidades,
dejando de lado lo esencial, a saber, el ser del placer en su conjunto. Huelga decir que o|
no es slo cantidad, sino tambin cualidad y otras categoras. El hedonismo, en todo caso, sea
cual fuere, no identifica el bien con un aspecto del placer, sino con el ser del placer en su
globalidad. Admitamos que la distincin entre magnitudes reales y puramente aparentes de
placer no destruye la premisa hedonista, necesaria para la refutacin de la c -cc. c. An as,
insisto en que el hedonismo no identifica el bien con ciertas cantidades de placer, sino con el
ser del placer. En consecuencia, la distincin crucial para que el Gorgias siga defendiendo el
hedonismo ilustrado del Protgoras y rechace el sibarita de Calicles no es la que se da entre
placeres a corto y a largo plazo, o entre cantidades de placer reales y puramente aparentes,
sino entre placeres reales y aparentes.
Esta distincin coincide con la que el Gorgias hace entre placeres buenos y malos
25
y el
Filebo entre placeres verdaderos y falsos
26
. Es obvio que para ste y el Protgoras slo los
placeres buenos pueden ser reales, es decir, tener el ser propio de tales, y slo los reales son
ontolgica, epistemolgica y nomolgicamente verdaderos. De ah el caveat de Scrates en el
Gorgias: puede ser que el bien no sea idntico con toda especie de placer (c-.. u
~u ~ ~ c ,c- |, ~ c |~., yc. ..|). Slo los placeres stricto sensu (reales,
verdaderos y buenos) pueden identificarse con el bien, y slo esta identificacin puede
considerarse como un hedonismo genuino. Ahora bien, la condicin del Protgoras para que
los placeres sean reales, verdaderos y buenos y su prosecucin un hedonismo genuino no es
que giren en torno a tal o cual objeto (somtico o mental), sino que sean determinados por la
.~~.- .
Es importante ver que esta condicin se repite en el Gorgias. Segn l, se es ms
dichoso en el orden que en el desorden
27
y una vida bien ordenada vale ms que otra
desordenada
28
. Y es que, ontolgicamente hablando, la cualidad de una cosa radica en el
22
Prot. 356 a 4-8.
23
Prot. 356 c 5-6.
24
Prot. 356 d3-4.
25
Cf. Gorg. 495 a-b.
26
Cf. Fil. 35c-41b.
27
Gorg. 493 d 1-2.
28
Gorg. 494 a 4-5.
Francisco Bravo 105
orden y la proporcin (~c .., c c c c -c. - cu
29
). Es, pues, natural que el alma misma
sea lo que es gracias a cierto orden y a ciertas proporciones
30
. Ahora bien, en el alma, el
orden y la armona se llaman disciplina y ley, que son los constitutivos de la justicia y la
sabidura
31
. Es por eso que el artista y el virtuoso tienden a realizar cierto plan (.. o , ~.),
buscando en los elementos que manejan un orden riguroso
32
y aspirando a la belleza de las
justas proporciones
33
. Es obvio que este proyecto no puede ser cumplido por quienquiera y
menos por un hombre desordenado, sino por quien posee una competencia particular para
cada cosa
34
. Ante estas reflexiones del Gorgias, es imposible no pensar en la .~~.- del
Protgoras. Slo quien la posee es capaz de decidir: (1) cul es el placer real y cul slo
aparente; (2) cul se identifica y cul no se identifica con el bien. Recordemos, por otra parte,
la insistencia con que el Gorgias opone el arte (~. y|) a la mera experiencia (. ... c)
35
.
T. y| tiene, en este dilogo, para la determinacin del placer verdadero, el mismo papel que
la .~~.- en el Protgoras. As como en ste, slo quien posee la .~~.- puede
determinar, mediante el clculo, la cualidad y la cantidad de placer que lo hace verdadero y lo
identifica con el bien, as, en el Gorgias, el ~.y|.- , es el nico que, tras determinar la
naturaleza del placer (~| u c.| ~, o|,) y establecer su causa (~ | c. ~. c|)
36
, sabe
distinguir cul es bueno y cul malo
37
, y, por tanto, cul es un placer real y cul slo un
simulacro. Calicles, por ejemplo, no es el ~.y|.- , requerido, sino un emprico vido de
placeres: (1) puramente somticos
38
; (2) desmesurados, llenndose de ellos lo ms posible
39
;
(3) insaciables, cual toneles agujereados que se llenan con una criba
40
. Para Scrates, stos no
son placeres reales; hay, pues, que verlos como otra cosa que el bien (. c~. . ~.|
,. ,|.~c. ~ ou ~u c ,c-u), y su cultivo como otra cosa que el hedonismo ilustrado del
Gorgias y el Protgoras.
As, el hedonismo sibarita de Calicles en el Gorgias es rechazado y corregido por el
ilustrado de Scrates en el Protgoras. Para corregirlo, Scrates no distingue entre placeres a
corto y largo plazo (Gosling-Taylor), ni entre cantidades reales y aparentes de placer
(Rudebusch), sino entre placeres reales y aparentes. Los primeros, inseparables del orden, se
alcanzan con ayuda de la .~~.- . Uno de los propsitos de Scrates en el Gorgias es
lograr que Calicles prefiera a una vida no saciada y desenfrenada (c c~., -c.
c-cc~.,), otra bien ordenada (~ | -c. .,)
41
; que vea que se es ms feliz en el orden
que en el desorden
42
. No es claro que lo consiga, pero obtiene al menos que su interlocutor,
yendo en contra de lo que ha sostenido hasta ahora
43
, pretenda que nadie olvida distinguir
entre placeres mejores y peores
44
.
29
Gorg. 504a7.
30
Gorg. 504 b 5.
31
Gorg. 504 d 1-3.
32
Gorg. 503 e 2 y 4-5.
33
Gorg. 504 a.
34
Gorg. 500 a 8-9.
35
Cf. Gorg. 463 a - 466 a, 500 a, 501 a - e.
36
Gorg. 501 a 5-6.
37
Cf. Gorg. 500 a.
38
Cf. Gorg. 494 b-c; 499 d.
39
Gorg. 494 b 2.
40
Gorg. 493 a-c.
41
Gorg. 493 c 6-7.
42
Gorg. 493 d 1-2.
43
Cf. Gorg. 495 a-b.
44
Gorg. 499 b 7-8.
El Gorgias de Platon: Anti-hedonista o anti-relativista? 106
3
Es, pues, plausible sostener que el Gorgias no combate el hedonismo cientfico del
Protgoras. No slo no lo hace, sino que, como observa Rudebusch, las pruebas de que
Scrates es hedonista no se dan slo en aqul, sino tambin en el Gorgias
45
. Qu
combate, pues, el Gorgias en esta materia? (1) El pseudo-hedonismo de Calicles,
caracterizado por la desmesura. (2) Tal vez con ms denuedo, el relativismo protagrico del
homo mensura que le sirve de base. Rudebusch observa oportunamente que uno de los
combates ms persistentes del Gorgias es el librado contra el protagorismo tico. ste
empieza en el dilogo Scrates - Polo. Al pretender Polo que la retrica es un arte, Scrates
replica que es un empirismo (. ... c), como la cocina y la cosmtica
46
. Razn? No
persigue el bien, sino cierto tipo de placer y con l, la adulacin de sus destinatarios
47
. As se
explica que oradores y tiranos sean los menos poderosos de los hombres, pues no hacen nada
de lo que desean, sino slo lo que les parece mejor ( ~. c | cu ~. , o . ~.c~|
.. |c.)
48
. Polo cree, empero, que ser capaz de hacer lo que parece lo mejor basta para ser
todopoderoso, pues equivale a hacer lo que parece deseable, y hacer lo que parece deseable
es hacer lo que es deseable. Defiende, pues, las siguientes dos proposiciones
49
:
(1) cualquier objeto, en la medida en que me parece deseable, me es realmente deseable;
(2) cualquiera de mis estados de la mente, en la medida en que me parece un deseo, es
un deseo.
Es fcil ver que (1) y (2) son variantes de la tesis protagrica segn la cual todo lo que
a cada uno parece eso es (~ o-u | . -c c~. ~u ~ -c. . c~.|)
50
, derivada del principio
igualmente protagrico del .~| c|-.,
51
. Protgoras y su epgono niegan toda
diferencia entre lo aparente y lo real. Para refutar este protagorismo en el dominio tico,
Scrates logra
52
que Polo acepte distinguir: (a) entre deseables intrnsecos y extrnsecos; por
ejemplo, entre la salud, deseable en vista de s misma, y la medicina, deseable en vista de la
salud
53
; (b) entre deseos condicionales e incondicionales: deseamos algo slo si es til o
bello
54
. Luego muestra que los deseables extrnsecos dependen de relaciones causales
exteriores al agente y que ste puede ignorar en el momento de desearlos. Puede ocurrir que
un tirano d muerte a alguien, parecindole que con ello se consolida en el poder, y resulte
que, por factores que desconoce al actuar, desate una revuelta que termina en su
derrocamiento. No podemos, pues, ser relativistas en cuanto a lo extrnsecamente deseable:
un hombre dice Scrates puede ser capaz de hacer en la ciudad lo que le parece bueno
(c o-.. cu ~.), sin ser por ello todopoderoso ( . ,c ou |cc-c.) ni hacer lo que desea
(o. ... | c u .~c.)
55
, pues deseamos nuestro bien real (o. ... | c
u .~c.)
56
y no slo el que parece serlo
57
.
45
Rudebusch (1989), 38.
46
Gorg. 462 c, 465 e.
47
Gorg. 462 c, 465 a.
48
Gorg. 466 e 1-2.
49
Cf. Rudebusch (1989), 33.
50
Platn, Teet. 152 a 7-8; 161 c 2-3; Crat. 386 a; cf. Sexto E., Adv. Math. VII, 60
51
Cf. Platn, Crat. 386a 1; Teet. 152 a 2-3; 161 c: Sexto E., Adv. Math. VII, 60; Diog. IX, 51.
52
Cf. Rudebusch (1989), 34.
53
Cf. Gorg. 467 c-d; Eutid.281 b-d.
54
Cf. Gorg. 468 c.
55
Gorg. 468 e 5-6.
56
Cf. la objecin de Aristteles en EN, III, 4, 1113 a 17 ss.
57
Gorg. 468 c 6-7.
Francisco Bravo 107
Podemos serlo en cuanto a lo intrnsecamente deseable? Se identifica lo que parece tal
con lo que lo es realmente? El criterio invocado por Calicles es la nocin de apetito
(. .cu. c). Las proposiciones protagricas de Polo quedan entonces as:
(1) Para todo objeto, si ste me es apetecible, ste me es intrnsecamente deseable;
(2) Para cualquiera de mis estados psicolgicos, si ste me parece un apetito, ste es un
deseo mo incondicional.
Estas tesis protagricas estn a la base del hedonismo de Calicles. Segn l, vivir bien
es alimentar en s mismo los apetitos ms fuertes (~c , . | . .-u. c, ~c , .cu~u .c | . ,
.,. c~c,) en vez de reprimirlos; y estar en capacidad de satisfacerlos, por fuertes que sean,
con valenta e inteligencia, prodigndoles todo cuanto exigen
58
. Como se ve, la presencia del
apetito es criterio de cmo actuar y, lo que es ms, de cmo ser o no ser lo que la naturaleza
nos exige. La razn es que busca su objeto en vista de s mismo, pese a ser como un tonel
agujereado (., ~.~. |, .. . -,
59
) que se llena con cribas (-c-. |,), es decir,
una potencia no saciada e insaciable. As, lo caracterstico del apetito es que su objeto, por
parecer apetecible, es intrnsecamente deseable
60
, y, por ser deseable, se mueve en el dominio
de las apariencias. El placer, en particular, parece apetecible. Es, pues, intrnsecamente
deseable y, por desmesurado que parezca, se identifica con el bien. La nica medida que
Calicles le impone es el apetito de cada instante, es decir, el . ~| c |-., de
Protgoras. Y es esto, adems del hedonismo sibarita que en l se funda, lo que Scrates
refuta con los argumentos de Gorgias 495 c-497 d y 497 e-499 d.
4
Concluyamos, pues, con Rudebusch
61
: el Scrates del Gorgias no refuta el hedonismo
ilustrado que ha defendido en el Protgoras, sino, (1) el hedonismo sibarita de Calicles, que
es un hedonismo espurio; (2) an con ms denuedo, el protagorismo en el dominio del bien,
es decir, el relativismo tico que le sirve de base.

Universidad Central de Venezuela
58
Gorg. 491 e 7-10: cf. 492 d 5-7.
59
Gorg. 493 b 2-3.
60
Rudebusch (1989), 37.
61
Rudebusch (1989), 38.
The Meaning and Justification of a Paradox: Wrongdoing
is Involuntary. The Refutation of Polus.
Erik Nis Ostenfeld
Contents:
I. Introduction, II. The Problem (Preliminary Overview, The power argument, Desire,
Power and Expertise, The Paradox that Virtue is Knowledge), III. Derivation of the Paradox,
IV. Conclusion.
I. Introduction
At the end of his conversation with Callicles, when Callicles has dropped out, and when
Socrates has outlined his own positive argument for the identity of justice and self-restraint
with happiness (the human good), Socrates turns to the practical question of how to avoid
suffering and doing injustice. The question is formulated in terms of whether wishing not to
either suffer or do injustice is enough, or whether we need some kind of power/techne in
addition.
I will concentrate here on the avoidance of doing injustice. When Socrates asks Callicles
about the requirements for this (whether power and techne are needed) Callicles does not
respond straightaway, at least not until asked, to whether Socrates and Polus did not correctly
conclude that no one wants to do wrong, but everyone who does wrong does so unwillingly
(medena boulomenon adikein, all akontas tous adikountas pantas adikein) (G. 509d7-e7).
Several questions are raised by this passage: (1) where exactly in the Gorgias did Polus
and Socrates conclude that no one wants to do wrong, but everyone who does wrong does so
unwillingly? (2) How does Socrates (Plato) think that, and how in fact is the paradox that
wrongdoing is involuntary
1
derived, if at all. Is the paradox derived solely from the power
argument about orators lack of power (G. 466b4-468e5)
2
? Or are other theses required? (3)
Is the paradox seen as or in fact established? And (4) what is this power/techne that is
required in addition to our wishing not to do injustice, and which is apparently missing in
cases of wrongdoing? Socrates relates the question of power/techne to involuntary
wrongdoing in G. 509d7-e7. Wrongdoing seems to rest on a lack of power/techne. Can we get
some light on this question of moral knowledge from the power argument? I shall attempt
answering these questions by sketching answers to the following questions in turn:
What role is played by the argument against the power of orators? And especially by
the thesis that all men desire the good and nothing but the good?
1
What does akon here mean? Unwillingly, in ignorance, or unintentionally?
2
In the rest of my paper I shall refer to the argument against the alleged power of orators (G. 466b-468e) as the power
argument.
Erik Nis Ostenfeld 109
What notion of desire do we have here and what kind of knowledge (power, techne) is
involved in virtue?
What role if any is played by other Socratic paradoxes?
There is no agreement among scholars on the validity and soundness of the power
argument and its relevance for the paradox that no one does wrong willingly. Hence, there is
no agreement either on the derivation of that paradox. As for the prudential paradox
(universal desire for the good), its import and status are controversial and so is the argument
for it. There also seem to be different opinions about the role of other paradoxes. I shall have
to comment on these problems in the sequel.
II. The Problem
Preliminary overview
In the conversation with Callicles Socrates, referring to his earlier conversation with
Polus, suggests that to ward off doing wrong (adikein) one must not only wish not to do
wrong, but also have some power and technical knowledge to be studied and practised
(G. 509de). Moreover, the conclusion of the conversation with Polus is claimed to be that
nobody does wrong (adikein) willingly (boulomenos), but all who do wrong do it unwillingly
(akontas)
3
(=moral paradox). If anything, this formulation of the paradox makes it
absolutely clear that wrongdoing is unwanted.
4
It is implied to be due to ignorance
(i.e. unknowingly).
5
But what knowledge is required?
Now, if we have to point to some specific passage in the Polus conversation, it may be
suggested that Socrates is referring to the statement of the power argument which runs like
this: If someone kills somebody supposing it will benefit himself but where in fact it is
worse for himself (kakion), he may be doing what he likes, but not what he wants (for we
dont want to harm ourselves).
6
This amounts to saying that doing such things is not wanted in
case it is obviously harmful for oneself. It is not equivalent to saying that wrongdoing is
involuntary. Nevertheless it does seem to be the only explicit reference to a thesis about
involuntary action in the Polus conversation.
What we can infer from the argument then is that no one does self-harmful things
voluntarily. Premises (9) and (6), and the power argument in general do not seem to be about
morals except by accident. So, if Socrates at G. 509de really means to refer to this argument
he must either misremember the exact wording of the argument or illegitimately generalize
the result to cover moral action or simply mix up the prudential and moral senses of kakon or
perhaps, most likely, he does not intend to distinguish them.
7
Alternatively, he is not thinking
exclusively of this argument but of the whole conversation with Polus. In an attempt to clarify
this issue let us take a closer look at
The Power Argument (G. 466b-468e):
Refutandum: orators have power (466b4-5), because they do what they like (466b11-c2)
(i.e. power is to do what you like 466e1-5)
3
Socrates thinks that he and Polus have proved the moral paradox. As I shall show, in the power argument alone he
strictly speaking has only demonstrated the prudential paradox (I borrow Santas terminology).
4
Against Weiss (1985).
5
Cf. McTighe (1984) and Santas (1964).
6
Cf. premises (9) and implicitly (6) of the argument, set out below.
7
Cf. nn. 20-21 below. According to M. 87e1-3 the good is useful. Thus virtue being good is useful.
The Meaning and Justification of a Paradox 110
1) having power is good for you (466b6-7)
2) doing as you like unintelligently is bad for you (466e9-12)
3) doing as you like unintelligently is not power (466e9-12) 1, 2
3a) orators doing as they like unintelligently do not do well, have no power (466e13-
467a10) 3 (Not accepted by Polus)
--------------------
4) if you do something x for the sake of something else y, then you dont want x but y
(467d6-e1)
5) there is something good, something bad and something neither good nor bad (467e1-
468a4)
6) the neutral is done for the sake of the (i.e. our
8
) good (468a5-b4), which is the sole
end for our actions (we want the good, not the bad nor the neutral) (468c5-8)
------------------------
7) killings, banishments, etc. are neutral things, which we do for the sake of our good
(468b4-8) 6
8) we dont want to kill, banish, etc. as such, unless it benefits us (468c2-5, cf. b6)
4,5,6,7
9) if someone kills someone supposing it will benefit (ameinon) himself but where in
fact it is harmful (kakion), he may be doing what he likes, but not what he wants (we dont
want the harmful) (468d1-7) 8
10) in such a case he has no power (468d7-e3) 3, 9
11) it is possible to do what you like without having great power or doing what you
want (468e3-5, cf. 466b9-10, d6-8) 10
It should be obvious that the argument falls into two parts (premises 1-3, and premises
4-11).
9
Still, it should be considered one argument since the second part exploits assumptions
from the first part.
10
If I have done justice to the argument by the formulation above, the first part of this
argument is an ignoratio elenchi. Socrates proves something irrelevant. He refutes what Polus
has not claimed: that power is doing what one likes without intelligence (nous). In fact,
Socrates contends later on (470a), with the assent of Polus, that Polus thinks that, if one acts
as one likes and the result is advantageous to oneself, then it is a good and great power. And
in context this is not mindless action, but calculated mischief.
Reason or intelligence (nous) is of course necessary to having power and Polus would
surely agree. However, it can be argued that Socrates presupposes the results of the
conversation with Gorgias: that the orator lacks professional knowledge (455a, 459bc).
11
Arguably, he also presupposes his own idea, advanced earlier in the conversation with Polus,
that the orator lacks knowledge (465a), including moral knowledge (464d). This reference
back is all but explicit (466e13-467a5).
In fact, Gorgias did not agree that the orator himself was lacking moral knowledge
(459e-460a), only that he does not teach his audience morals (455a). But this will not help.
8
It is clear from the examples given of goods (467e4-5) that they are personal and real goods such as riches, health and
wisdom. Cf. also 468b6, c3-4.
9
Formally, there is a shift in questioner: first (466a-467a) Polus puts the questions, then Socrates takes over (though
Polus part is blurred somewhat by the messy character of the conversation here). I owe this literary observation to
Hayden Ausland.
10
Penner (1991) has made a penetrating and original analysis of this argument, the best available to my mind, because
it is very lucid, philosophically convincing and sensitive to the text. Though I do not of course share all his views
on this matter I am much indebted to his stimulating work.
11
This is argued by Penner (1991), 156 ff.
Erik Nis Ostenfeld 111
Polus taunted Socrates at the start of their conversation that he had shamed Gorgias into
claiming that the orator knows about right and wrong, and he also shares, one assumes, his
teachers opinion of the orators lack of professional knowledge (techne). Nevertheless,
Socrates has not shown in the argument we are considering that the orator is without
intelligence or reason (nous).
12
The second part of the argument shows that if the orator is mistaken about his own good,
then he has no power. It is not demonstrated that he necessarily is mistaken. The argument is
not in fact categorical. It has a hypothetical premise (9) (468d1ff) saying that if one kills...and
is mistaken about ones own good, then etc.. This hypothetical nature of the proof is mirrored
in the conclusion that it is possible to do what you like without great power (468e3-5).
It could be replied that the argument rests on implicit but reasonable assumptions: the
orator is likely to make mistakes, due to lack of knowledge. But it is still not proved that he
necessarily makes vital mistakes about his own happiness. That he does not possess
professional knowledge neither deprives him of intelligence nor need it affect his conception
of what is good for him nor his conception of what is morally good. Another defence of the
argument might go: assume Socrates idea of current rhetoric as mental cookery (465b,
465d7f), not a science but a knack with no notion of the good of the soul.
13
However, this is,
as we have seen, Socrates view of the matter (465d7), dogmatically advanced (462bff,
463aff, 463eff), and with no explicit acceptance by Polus.
14
Furthermore, it is claimed that
oratory does not aim at the good of the souls of the audience, but nothing is said or implied
about the good of the orators own soul. So, with such assumptions the argument as a whole
cannot be said to be fair to Polus when he with most moderns takes it as a general proof that
orators are powerless.
15
However, given the premises does the conclusion follow? In other words, is the
argument valid? McTighe and Penner (1991) have diametrically opposite views here.
16
The
first regards the argument as invalid and merely ad hominem, while the latter finds it entirely
successful (149). It seems to me to be valid in the form I have reconstructed it. The
conclusion follows if the premises are granted.
How far does Socrates subscribe to the premises? Is Socrates simply refuting Polus out
of his own mouth, without committing himself to the premises used?
17
Here we must note first
of all that Socrates at G. 509de does claim as a common conclusion what is presumably
premise (9) and implicitly premise (6) of the power argument. Secondly, we find the crucial
premise (6) about the universal desire for the true good both elsewhere in the Gorgias as a
12
Here I must disagree with Penner who claims that the unscientific character of rhetoric is what makes orators
unintelligent. Socrates may think so (466e13), but that does not make it true. It does not follow that the orator
himself is made unintelligent by his occupation.
13
What does Socrates imply by the notion the good of the soul? The moral good, or the advantageous? Presumably
both, because according to him the morally good is the advantageous. But this is just the issue at stake and a
controversial point that Polus (and Callicles) would deny.
14
Polus does not agree with the long monologue of Socrates in which he offers his view of rhetoric. The power
argument follows straight on that speech.
15
Premises 1-3 (not 3a) and 4-10 are all accepted, though Polus is unhappy about 11 when Socrates (as a restatement
of 466d7-e2) rubs his nose in it (468e3ff). He unfortunately does not realize the modality of the conclusion (which
is only a possibility). The hypothetical character of the proof, though clear enough in the premises, is not
conspicuous in the conclusion. Polus accepts that miscalculation is a weakness, but he apparently reckons with
intelligent orators/tyrants having success (470a10-12). Secondly, the possible smuggling in of morality under
cover of usefulness is unfair. Finally, the first part of the argument unfairly implies lack of intelligence in orators.
16
McTighe (1984) construes my premises 4-11 as a separate argument and in a way that does not do justice to Plato
and thus makes his argument vulnerable. Thus McTighes premise 1 is a misstatement of G. 465c5-e1 in
categorical terms.
17
McTighe (1984) does not think that Socrates ascribes to the universal desire for the good (premise 6) or indeed to the
idea that what is desired is different from what seems good.
The Meaning and Justification of a Paradox 112
premise shared by Socrates (499e f)
18
and elsewhere in the Corpus (e.g. Meno 78b1-2). We
can also note that Socrates accepts the final conclusion (11) of the argument. Moreover,
premise (1), that power is good for the possessor, needed for that final conclusion, is clearly
shared by Socrates (it is the usual second step in a refutation after the statement of the
refutandum: a basic moral belief, an endoxon, that usually leads to refutation). Moreover, a
corollary of the power argument (obvious only to Socrates) is that power is not to do as you
like, but, with insight, to do as you want to increase your own mental good in the long run,
and that is clearly an unconventional (Socratic) view (466d6-e1, 467a8-10).
19
Moreover, there
is no reason to doubt that Socrates accepts (2), and (4) and (5), whatever qualms we may
have. (7) and (8) are natural and Socratic consequences of the ethical egoism or self-concern
that is being offered (confirmed at 470c2-3). Hence, it seems legitimate to use the power
argument and its premises as evidence for Socratic ethics. It is not a merely dialectical ploy. If
this is correct, we can and should use the power argument in the understanding and derivation
of the moral paradox.
Now the crucial lesson of the power argument when seen from our perspective (i.e.
G. 509d-e) is that, as everyone only wants the good for himself, the tyrant or orator does not
really want the eventually self-harming things (kaka) he is doing. He intends them all right,
but doing such things in the mistaken belief that they are advantageous (agatha)
20
for himself
means doing what he likes but not what he wants. The things he does are neutral in the
argument (premise 7). Socrates and Polus are later agreed about this (470b), they part on the
required motivation for such acts. What is important to see and stress is that in the power
argument it is only observed that such dramatic actions may assume the character of good/bad
depending on their results. In the argument such actions as killings, banishment, etc. are only
observed sometimes to have adverse effects on the agent. This means that the power argument
is about prudence: useful and harmful acts. But we are warned that such action (which is in
fact immoral for Socrates if done for materialistic reasons, e.g. self-aggrandizement) may turn
out adversely for the agent. The underlying thesis that all seek the good is psychological and
prudential, meaning that all seek their own good and advantage. It is not obviously a moral
thesis, meaning that all seek to be good. First, this is blatantly false, and secondly, this is not
what is needed for the conclusion, i.e. that the tyrant or orator does nothing of what he wishes,
namely his own good. Hence we cannot claim that the paradox that no one does wrong
willingly is proved here.
21
That needs further argument to convince sophists, and us, the
readers of Plato.
We have to look further on in the G. for separate arguments that doing wrong is always
and necessarily harmful to the agent.
22
Polus is still unclear about this at 469b10. When we get
18
McTighe (1984) has a perceptive note 76 about the reformulation of this premise: all action should be (dein) done
for the sake of the good. This, he argues, is Socratic, not the original formulation of the power argument. True, but
I am not convinced that this formulation, in context, is inconsistent with the earlier. Socrates is on to argue that
knowledge is required in acting well (G. 500a). It is this knowledge that should be present.
19
According to McTighe (1984), 219f, Socrates does not share the view that power is good as it is inconsistent with his
view of the status of popular goods. I fail to see Socratic power as a popular good.
20
Strictly, the Greek is kakion and ameinon respectively (G. 468d3-4).
21
Unless of course it is assumed that Socrates equivocates on or is otherwise exploiting the double meaning of
kaka/agatha. Note, however, that there is a parallel argument in the Meno which is prudential (M. 77c-78b).
Cf. Bluck (1961), 257, and Santas (1979), 314 n.11. The famous argument against akrasia in the Prot. is also
prudential (see e.g. 353c-354b where the evilness of acts consists entirely in uncomfortable consequences, and the
goodness in good health, riches, etc. Cf. Xen. Mem. iii.ix.4). Moral language surfaces after the elenchus at
Pr. 358b3-6. Santas, who holds that Pr. 352b-358d4 is prudential, finds 353c7 problematic as possibly moral
(1979, 314-5 n. 11). Irwin 143 simply claims that the paradox, as he calls the rejection of incontinence, is argued
for at Pr. 353cff and Meno 77b-78b. If I am right it is not as simple as that.
22
In the power argument killing, banishing, etc. are in themselves neutral (466c2-7), but may be good if advantageous
for the agent or bad if the opposite. For Socrates, in the ensuing discussion, they may be good and advantageous
Erik Nis Ostenfeld 113
a proof that injustice is harmful to the agent, then we also get the needed premise for the
paradox that no one does wrong voluntarily:
we all want the good for ourselves
we know/believe that injustice is harmful (extra premise)
no one wants injustice or does wrong voluntarily
Desire
In the Gorgias the argument for the paradox of the involuntariness of bad (i.e. harmful)
action involves the (here unargued) claim that we all always wish for our own true good but
may be mistaken as to what that good really and in the long run is.
23
Thus, I may be
misguided as to what is good for me in the end, i.e. my over-all good, or I may be confused
about the means to that end, even if it is rightly identified. We may think that our end is a life
of power and influence or a life of pleasure. Or we may think that sweets are contributing to
our real good although in fact they are bad, or we may expel immigrants from our country
under the impression that this is good for us, whereas it is in fact bad or harmful (for us too).
Hence, in general, even desire for the good is not sufficient for obtaining it, if the agent,
as is generally the case, be mistaken about what that good is. Knowledge (i.e., power and
techne) is required as well.
Power and expertise
The power and technical knowledge of the final conclusion (G. 509e) are what is needed
to avoid mistakes in ones choices of presumed advantageous strategies. The required
knowledge is learnt (mathesis)
24
and trained (askesis). Hence it may be assumed that both
theoretical and practical knowledge is meant.
What Plato has in mind by power (dunamis) at G. 509d ff. should preferably be
gathered from the Gorgias itself. In the power argument power is understood by Socrates
as good for the possessor (466b6-7), an ability to do, not as you like but rather, as you want
(implied at 466d6-e2)
25
, and it is implied (466e9-11) that while unintelligent desire is
powerless and harmful (467a4-5), intelligent (meta nou) desire is, we understand, powerful.
Hence it may be suggested that what is not enough to save us from wrongdoing is
misinformed desire (boulesis 509d7) and that power at G. 509d-e may be the insight into
the personal good that informs desire correctly.
The Paradox that Virtue Is Knowledge
In the early dialogues we find the dictum that virtue is knowledge
26
(the moral paradox)
and that the man who has learnt what is just is a just man (G. 460b-d). He always behaves
justly and does not even desire to do otherwise. What does this tell us about the required
knowledge? And how is this moral paradox related to the power argument?
if just (470c2-3), bad and disadvantageous if unjust. For him the criterial goods are justice and other virtues.
Justice has become a value and good. But we need to be convinced that he is right.
23
Good or bad means, for Socrates, having good consequences for us, or having bad consequences for us.
Cf. G. 468c3-4, Meno 87e2, cf. also Xen. Mem. iv.6.8ff.
24
Apol. 26a: ean math pausomai ho ge akn poi.
25
Ability is defined in HMin 366b as doing what you want when you want (bouletai). Cf. Ly. 207: happiness
implies freedom and possibility of doing what one wants (epithymia, or boulesis 208a1).
26
E.g. Meno 88c-89a, Prot.357ab, La.199cd, Ch.174cd, Euthyd. 279d, 280a, HMin 375d, G. 460b-d.
The Meaning and Justification of a Paradox 114
The knowledge that is virtue seems special because it is so personal that we must act on
it. Why is this so? The power argument implies that the needed knowledge is of ones own
good (i.e. knowledge of oneself, cf. know thyself!), including the knowledge that, e.g.,
justice (implying order and harmony) is ones good. The knowledge that justice is my good is
the knowledge that is virtue, and if we are convinced that justice is our own good (and not
pleasure or influence or whatever), then our desire for our own good is redirected toward
justice: moral knowledge has informed our natural desire. Understanding what our true
interest is it only remains to perceive instances hereof or discovering the means to this end.
III. Derivation of the paradox and the strategy of the conversation with Polus.
It has been suggested that the moral paradox (virtue is knowledge, and involuntary
wrongdoing) follows (or is meant to follow) from the power argument alone, or from that and
other arguments advanced in the course of the conversation with Polus. Some (e.g. Irwin 143)
have opted for the first alternative, while Santas rightly to my mind takes the second
alternative (though I have some qualifications to make). McTighe and Weiss regard the power
argument as irrelevant. I hope it is clear why I cannot accept that.
The final conclusion of the Polus round (509de) is, as we have seen, (A1) to ward off
doing wrong (i.e. to be virtuous) one must not only wish not to do wrong but also have some
power and technical knowledge to be studied and practised, and (A2) the (alleged) conclusion
of the power argument is: nobody does wrong (adikein) willingly (boulomenos), but all who
do wrong do it unwillingly (akontas) (=the moral paradox).
27
But (B) the actual conclusion
of the power argument was in effect: doing disadvantageous things is unwilling. Why
then this misrepresentation? The reason appears to me to be as follows:
From (A2) it follows that the paradox oudeis hekn kakos should be understood as
saying that wrongdoing is (basically) unwilling, due to a misguided idea of what ones real
good is. And that is the reason why it is introduced here to help Callicles with answering
whether we do not need a power/technical knowledge to be virtuous. But it is an inaccurate
and unsatisfactory reference, if it is solely to the power argument, which most readers would
take to be about prudential action. However, the reference is still useful because, according to
Socrates, imprudent action shares with immoral action a need of knowledge. For Socrates it is
basically the same knowledge in so far as (for him) immoral action is imprudent action. But
this is not obvious to others than Socrates. We need it spelled out and proved by separate
arguments.
Hence it follows that for Polus and us, the readers, the justification of the moral paradox
of involuntary wrongdoing depends (apart from the paradox contained in the power argument:
a special view of human nature, i.e. a universal desire for the true human good, i.e. premise
(6) of the power argument), on one other paradox: the thesis that justice or morality is for
our true good and benefit (later implied at G. 469b8-9 and argued, esp. at G. 474c-475e)
(this second paradox is needed as premise (6) of the power argument cannot be taken by us to
involve a moral dimension).
If, therefore, everybody wants the good, and, if the agent (therefore?
28
) knows or
believes that injustice is bad, then nobody wants injustice or does wrong voluntarily. No
more premises are needed. If injustice nevertheless does occur, it must be because the agent is
ignorant of the fact that injustice is bad (harmful for the agent).
27
This clarifies the meaning of the Socratic paradox oudeis hekn kakos. Akn here means not unintentionally but
unwillingly. It is not my will that is misguided, but my intention, the cognitive part of me that is to be faulted,
cf. n. 24.
28
For Socrates this second premise is implied in the first.
Erik Nis Ostenfeld 115
IV. Conclusion
The aim of this paper has been to clarify the meaning and justification of the central
Socratic paradox that wrongdoing is involuntary.
I offer, I suspect, an in some respects new
29
analysis of the power argument that gives us
a sound and valid argument for the possibility of lack of power and desire satisfaction in
orators and tyrants. I have stressed the hypothetical nature of the conclusion, because it is less
counterintuitive than the traditional understanding of the text. An important sub-conclusion of
the proof is the paradoxical thesis that no one does harmful things voluntarily (468a-c). An
important premise is that all men have a desire for their own good, good here meaning
useful for the agent, and that all human action is motivated by this desire (a paradox). All
desire is good-dependent and desire is coupled with real (not apparent) good.
The other necessary ingredient in virtue, apart from desire, is power and expertise. As
could be expected, the power argument has an important implication here: power is an ability
to do as you want, i.e. achieve your own good. Hence power is good for you. Expertise
(techne) seems to be used much in the same sense. This power/expertise/knowledge that is
virtue (a paradox) is implied in the power argument to be knowledge of ones own good.
When added to or informing our natural desire for our good we get virtue.
Finally, I derive the paradox that no one does wrong voluntarily from two paradoxes:
that all men seek what in fact and truly benefits them and that justice benefits them (and
injustice is harmful). No more premises are needed.
University of Aarhus
29
My debt to several of the sophisticated analyses (esp. Santas and Penner) already available is unavoidable and
should be apparent and acknowledged. This is really a matter of standing on the shoulders of others.
The Politics of the Gorgias
Richard F. Stalley
It is not surprising that the Gorgias has often been seen as strongly antidemocratic.
1
It is
primarily a critique of the rhetoricians. Against them it argues that orators have no knowledge
of what is truly good for themselves or for the citizens. Rhetoric does not embody rational
understanding and aims at pleasure and the appearance of good rather than at the good itself
(461a-466a). At the same time the dialogue accepts at face value Gorgiass claim that orators
exercise virtually unlimited power over courts and assemblies, the major institutions of
democracy. The orator could even get himself appointed as public physician in preference to a
genuine doctor (456b-c). Democracy is thus represented as an irrational constitution in which
an ignorant mob takes decisions at the behest of orators who are equally ignorant (458e-
459b). At the same time the character of the orators is represented in the blackest terms.
Gorgias believes that oratory should be used only for just purposes but even he has to agree
that this will not always happen (456d-457c). Polus and Callicles, for their part, represent the
orators as ready to exploit the populace in any way they please. This makes democracy
morally indistinguishable from tyranny (466c, 482c-486c). Later in the dialogue the argument
is directed explicitly against the leadership and institutions of Athenian democracy. Socrates
claims that no Athenian politician, not even Pericles, has done the city any good (515b-518d).
He goes on to liken his own trial to that of a doctor prosecuted by a sweet-maker before a jury
of children (521d-522a). Within this general framework there are more specific anti-
democratic arguments. Against Polus Socrates argues that orators lack real power. Because
they do not know what is truly good for them they do what pleases them not what they really
want (466a-468e). This argument not only attacks the leadership of democratic states but also
undermines the democratic conception of freedom as the ability to do what one wants
2
If the
populace is ignorant of the good it cannot do what it really wants and hence cannot be free.
Against Callicles, Socrates argues that human good consists in the order and harmony of the
soul rather than in the indulgence of desires (500a-506a). Since democracy has been
represented as a constitution which aims to gratify the whims of the populace this implies that
democracy is the political embodiment of lawlessness and moral depravity.
In spite of all this, some scholars have given democratic readings of the Gorgias. In
doing so, they have been largely influenced by the image of a Socrates whose lifestyle and
philosophical method seem anything but authoritarian. Euben, for example argues that the
dialogue criticises contemporary practices that distort democracy rather than democracy
1
Dodds (1959), 30-4, Vickers (1988), 85-90. Some see Plato as imposing his own illiberal views on an essentially
liberal Socrates. See Popper (1966
5
), 302-3; Irwin (1979), 217. Vlastos (1973), 195, avoids the conflict between
the Gorgias and his own democratic interpretation of the Platonic Socrates by characterising it as having
exclusively moral concerns.
2
Republic 557b; Aristotle Politics 1310a31-2, 1317b10-12.
Richard F. Stalley 117
itself
.
3
He can say this because he locates democracy in a Habermasian ideal of
communicative reasoning in which dialogue and deliberation are governed by ideas of
frankness, mutuality, consensus and rational argument (338). In his view, Gorgias, Polus and
Callicles all offer distorted views of politics as domination. Socrates talk of a political techne
may seem like a recipe for authoritarianism, but, as Euben reads him, Socrates does not
endorse even this kind of techne. The ultimate source of authority in the Gorgias is dialectic
or dialogue itself. Socrates believes that dialectic can be taught or practised by anyone. He
hopes to create a citizenry capable of thinking for itself and thus immune to rhetorical
manipulation, a citizenry moreover, that is willing or even anxious to accept the
responsibilities of power which democracy requires (341).
One may ask here whether Eubens concept of democracy has anything to do with the
political institutions of cities like Athens. The assembly took major decisions by a majority
vote after relatively short discussion, and the popular courts, relied on large juries and
provided little opportunity for discussion and compromise. These institutions gave little scope
for the fragile negotiations, driven by the desire for compromise and consensus which,
characterise Eubens conception of democracy. Neither do these ideals figure in
contemporary accounts of democracy. There was, of course, plenty of emphasis on the
importance of free discussion. But this was not, so far as I can see, taken to require
negotiation and compromise. Demosthenes (20. 108) even claims that competition rather than
agreement is the essence of democracy. So even if the Gorgias did show a sympathy for
democracy as some theorists now understand that term, it could not be seen as friendly to
democracy as understood by the Greeks.
A second difficulty with Eubens account concerns his understanding of Socrates as
presented in the Gorgias. There are indeed passages where he seems to emphasise the
importance of free and open discussion (457c-458b, 471d-472d, 486d-488b)
4
. Famously he
also insists that he needs only one witness, the person with whom he is discussing (472b-c).
But as several scholars have pointed out Socrates is not, in practice, particularly concerned to
elucidate and understand the real views of his interlocutors. His main aim is apparently to
reduce them to inconsistency and some of the tactics he uses seem downright unfair. He is
satisfied to secure the verbal agreement of those he talks with, however grudgingly that may
be given. He makes no real attempt to understand his interlocutors point of view, and
certainly does not look for compromise or consensus.
5
These questions about Socrates method raise more fundamental philosophical issues
which are well brought out by Benjamin Barber
.
6
In replying to Euben he argues that Socrates
in the Gorgias cannot be seen as democratic because he assumes a foundationalist
epistemology. As Barber uses this term, to adopt a foundationalist view of political theory is,
it seems, to claim that there are principles of politics which are true and can be known as
such. He holds that, in political theory at least, foundationalism is thoroughly mistaken.
Because there is no truth in political matters political deliberation must be seen as a matter
of reconciling adversarial interests, of forging common values, of deciding what to do in
common at the very moment we cannot agree on the truth or even whether there is such a
thing. In Barbers view this anti-foundationalism underpins democracy. If there is no truth all
we can seek is a consensus about how to conduct our affairs. As Barber puts it elsewhere,
democratic politics is precisely not a cognitive system concerned with what we know and
3
Euben (1996), 327-359.
4
Monoson (2000), 161-5 argues that these passages implicitly appeal to democratic values.
5
On this point see Beversluis (2000), chs 14-16.
6
Barber (1996), 361-375.
The Politics of the Gorgias 118
how we know it, but a system of conduct concerned with what we will together and what we
do together and how we agree on what we will to do. It is practical not speculative, about
action rather than about truth.
7
Barber surely has an important point here. Although Socrates denies having knowledge,
he never suggests that there is no such thing as knowledge or truth. Indeed he presents his
dialectic as, above all, a quest for truth (471e-472a, 487e). Thus, in his own terms, Barber is
right to see Socrates as a foundationalist. His critique of democracy presupposes that there is
such a thing as truth, that it is directly relevant to political decisions, and that it can be known.
But Barbers belief that epistemological foundationalism, understood in this sense, is
incompatible with genuine democracy is open to question. If he was right not only would
Socrates, as depicted in the Gorgias, and Plato himself be fundamentally undemocratic, but so
also would be most other philosophers, including many avowed democrats. As Barber himself
acknowledges, anti-foundationalism implies that all values, including democratic values such
as equality and freedom, are ultimately up for negotiation.
Clearly this raises broad philosophical issues going well beyond the scope of this paper.
But I shall argue now that we do not need to embrace Barbers anti-foundationalism in order
to see what is wrong with the Gorgiass critiques of democracy. The trouble lies not so much
in the idea that there can be knowledge of political matters but rather with the assumptions
made about the kind of knowledge in question. In particular the anti-democratic arguments
described above rest on two key assumptions. The first is the conception of knowledge as
expertise. This is at work from the early pages of the Gorgias, where Socrates insists that if
the rhetorician is good at speaking there must be some specific topic about which he is an
expert. But it is most conspicuous at 454c-455b where Socrates distinguishes two kinds of
persuasion, one producing knowledge (. .c~ ) and the other mere conviction (. c~.,).
Gorgias accepts that the persuasion produced by rhetoric is of the latter kind. The orator
cannot produce knowledge in his audience because he does not have time to teach people.
The assumption implicit in this passage, that there is a clear distinction between
knowledge and true belief and between the ways in which they are imparted, underpins much
of the argument in the Gorgias.
8
At 459a-c Gorgias has argued that the orator is so persuasive
that even in matters of health he will be more effective than a doctor at convincing a mob
(y,). Socrates takes this to imply that someone who lacks knowledge can be more
convincing than someone who has it. Rhetoric is thus revealed as the art that enables an
ignorant person to convince an ignorant audience. It is assumed here that to have knowledge
is to be an expert who knows all about a subject, and that those who are not expert on a
subject are ignorant of it. The passage thus combines a strong conception of knowledge as
expertise with a correspondingly broad conception of ignorance as embracing anyone who
lacks complete understanding.
This strong conception of knowledge reappears in the closing phase of the argument
with Gorgias. There Socrates purports to find an inconsistency between Gorgias admission
that justice can be misused and his claim that he will have to teach his pupils justice if they do
not already know it (460a-461b). The argument here depends, inter alia, on the assumption
that someone who has learned justice must know all about justice and therefore cannot make
mistakes.
There is no question that the strong conception of knowledge makes democracy look
absurd. Democracy, as generally understood consists in the rule of the many. Plato assumes,
7
Barber (1998), 19-30.
8
Vickers (1988), 87, sees this as one of a number of false dichotomies with which Plato bolsters his case against
rhetoric.
Richard F. Stalley 119
quite plausibly, that the mass of the population cannot have expert knowledge of anything. It
does not help to argue that the many make their decisions on the advice of politicians, for
Socrates opponents accept that the orators who exercise power in a democracy do not have
an expert knowledge of what is good either for themselves, or for the city. So, if knowledge
implies expertise, a democratic constitution is, by its very nature, one where the ignorant
masses make decisions at the behest of ignorant politicians.
Putting the point in this way, makes it is obvious where the argument has gone wrong.
Those who lack the experts knowledge of a subject do not necessarily have no relevant
knowledge whatever. So saying that there are no infallible experts on political matters does
not imply that there is no room for ideas of truth and knowledge in politics. Indeed one can
argue, as some Greek democrats evidently did, that collectively a popular assembly knows
plenty about political matters. It has a vast experience of human character and of everyday
life and stands at least as good a chance of making correct judgements as any individual. So
democracy can be justified as a way of placing in common the knowledge of many
individuals.
9
If this is right the anti-democratic arguments of the Gorgias arise, not so much
from the assumption that there can be knowledge in politics, as from what I have called the
strong conception of that knowledge the assumption that we can always draw a sharp
distinction between the knowledgeable and the ignorant.
The argument with Polus introduces a second key idea, or set of ideas, which I shall call
the internal conception of the good. The primary thought here is that human good consists
neither in external advantages such as the possession of wealth or friends nor in the well-
being of the body, but rather in some internal state of the soul. In the Gorgias, this view is
derived from Socrates conviction that it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. Since
those who suffer wrong are obviously not benefited in their bodies or external possessions
this is readily taken to imply that wrong-doing must harm the soul and conversely that doing
right benefits the soul (477b-e, 479b, 504b-c). It is easy to think of the welfare of the soul as
analogous to the health of the body. Since health is often considered to be a kind of order and
harmony this suggests that the welfare of the soul requires discipline or restraint. This can be
exercised either by oneself or by the civic authorities (505b-c). The result is an attractive
picture in which the order of the just soul and of the well-governed polis reflects the larger
order of the cosmos (508a).
From the political point of view, this picture has disturbing implications. It implies that a
statesman who seeks the good of the citizens, will not be concerned with tasks such as
defending the city, preserving order or maintaining a sound economy, so much as with the
state of the citizens souls. Moreover, since on the internal conception of the good the wicked
do not appreciate how miserable they are, it implies that individuals may not know what is
truly good for them. To put the point another way, democracies are based on the idea that
each citizen is generally in the best position to judge what is good for himself or herself. A
well-governed city will enable everyone to pursue their own good in their own way. The
conception of the good adopted in the Gorgias implies that we are not, in general, well placed
to determine what is in our interests and that the task of the city is to do what is best for us
whether we like it or not.
Taken together, the strong conception of knowledge and the view of human good as
consisting in the health of the soul clearly imply that the only kind of state which could truly
promote the good of the citizens would be one ruled by experts who have the knowledge and
power to keep the souls of the citizens in good condition. Clearly no democracy can satisfy
9
Aristotle, Politics III. 11, 1281a39-1282b13.
The Politics of the Gorgias 120
this requirement. But the same also goes for all other familiar forms of constitution.
Tyrannies, aristocracies and oligarchies manifestly do not have expert rulers who care for the
souls of the citizens. Indeed, since Socrates himself disclaims this kind of expertise (509a), it
seems that no one in the world as we know it is qualified to rule. So, although the arguments
of the Gorgias are, in the first instance, directed at Athenian democracy, they threaten to
undermine any other form of constitution that is likely to exist. In this sense the dialogue
seems anti-political rather than anti-democratic. It suggests that there never will be a truly
satisfactory constitution. This impression is confirmed when Socrates claims that he is the
only one who attempts the true art of politics (521d) because he alone is concerned with the
true welfare of his fellow citizens. Since he has no aspirations to be a ruler in the traditional
sense, this suggests that no human government can ever achieve its true goal. It is also
significant that, having condemned the judicial practices of Athens, he compares the Athenian
courts, not with those of some other city on earth, but with the court that will try us after death
(522d-524a). His arguments imply that no earthly rulers and no earthly court can be of much
value.
The Republic can be seen as offering one kind of resolution to the problems raised in the
Gorgias. It is highly critical of all existing constitutions for reasons resembling those offered
in the Gorgias. It contrasts them with an imaginary city governed by genuine experts who
have had a lifelong training in philosophy. But this does not provide a solution to any
practical problem because it is most unlikely that there ever will be philosopher kings.
Moreover the account of the philosophers knowledge makes one wonder how they could be
qualified to rule on earth. Their claim to rule is based on their knowledge of the forms, but
they have to rule in the changing world, which, according to Plato, lies in the sphere of belief
rather than knowledge. So there is a real question as to whether the Republics constitution
provides any kind of solution to political problems in the real world.
The Laws differs from the Republic in that one could imagine its ideal state coming into
existence somewhere in the Greek world. In particular it does not require philosopher rulers.
The right people must hold office but their eligibility does not depend on their having
knowledge as such. True belief is an acceptable substitute. They acquire beliefs from a moral
training common to all citizens and through the wisdom and experience that comes with age
(632c cf. 653a, 688b, 689a, 689b, 864a). There is, thus, no sharp dichotomy between those
who have the knowledge requisite for government and those who do not. All citizens play
some part in government but a complex system of elections ensures that only the wisest
among them attain the highest offices.
10
Even then there are many devices to ensure that no
individual exercises untrammelled power.
11
The main reason why the Laws takes a more relaxed view on questions of knowledge
and belief is that those who hold office will not have ultimate sovereignty. They are obliged
to follow a strict code of laws. These embody divine principles of reason and, as in the
Gorgias, are apparently seen as reflecting the divine order of the universe (713c-715d). They
are established by a wise legislator and their rational foundation is a main preoccupation of
the nocturnal council. They are accompanied by persuasive preambles which ensure, that so
far as possible, citizens obey them of their own free will rather than through fear of
penalties.
12
The city is thus governed in accordance with laws of reason which are seen as
embodying knowledge. But the rationality of its governance does not depend on the expertise
10
See Stalley (1983), 186-90.
11
See Stalley (1983), 115-6.
12
719e-723d. As commentators have noticed the preambles embody a new kind of rhetoric. Vickers (1988), 143, sees
this as reducing rhetoric to its lowest point. Yunis (1996), ch VIII, offers a more favourable assessment.
Richard F. Stalley 121
of individual citizens. The Laws thus assumes that there are objectively true principles of
politics but, because these principles are enshrined in law it does not require those who hold
office to have knowledge in the strong sense envisaged in the Gorgias.
The Laws systematically develops the other major theme we noted in the Gorgias, the
internal conception of the good. This lies at the heart of all the institutions and legislative
proposals described in the dialogue. They are explicitly aimed at developing in the souls of
the citizens a harmony between the passions and desires on the one hand and true judgements
about the good on the other (631b-632d, 653b-c, 659d-e). The penal code is based on the idea
that, since crime is symptomatic of disease in the soul, the primary aim of the legislator, who
establishes the legal code, and of the courts which put it into practice, is to cure the criminal
of his wickedness (854c-855a, 862d-863c, 933e-934c).
The Laws describes a regime that is genuinely political in the sense that one could
conceive of it coming into being in the world as we actually know it, and which is also
directed to the goal identified in the Gorgias maintaining the health of the citizens souls.
But, because it is governed by law it does not require expert rulers. Ordinary people who have
been brought up to obey the law and have internalised its values will be able to conduct the
business of government. Seen in this light, the Laws answers the problems raised in the
Gorgias, but it does not abandon the central principles that gave rise to those problems. It still
insists that the city must be governed in accordance with objective truths about human good.
It also retains and, indeed, greatly develops the idea that the primary concern of government
is the welfare of the citizens souls. But because knowledge is enshrined in law rather than in
the souls of the rulers, the state it describes looks capable of being realised in the real world.
The city of the Laws contains features which to us, if not to Platos contemporaries, may
appear democratic: all citizens take part in government, officials are mostly elected and there
is even an assembly, though its powers are unclear. There is also an insistence that decisions
should be taken only after prolonged and careful discussion. This may appeal to modern
theorists of democracy, but the constitution is not democratic in either the ancient or the
modern sense. This is because it is based on a code of law that cannot be readily changed.
That code embodies principles of right and wrong which are not the result of human choices
but are the product of reason and are implicit in the nature of the universe as a whole. The
fundamental principles by which the city is governed are thus beyond debate. The task of
government is to follow these principles and thus to make the citizens good. It does not allow
them to choose their own way of life. In the Gorgiass terms it gives them what they really
want not what pleases them.
University of Glasgow
Goodness Trumps Pleasure-loving in the Gorgias
Julius Moravcsik
Among the various subjects addressed in the Gorgias the superiority of goodness (or the
good life) over pleasure (or the love of pleasure) stands out as an account of complex ethical,
epistemological, and ontological issues. (494a-506d). On the surface the issue is simple. A
contemporary modern moral philosopher might treat this as a pure conceptual clash, to be
resolved by analyzing the meanings of the relevant words. But Plato sees behind clashes over
words and sentences a complex clash over what is good for humans, what we HUMANS
ARE, and what the right ways are to find out what the appropriate answers are to these
questions. Plato does not merely analyze good and pleasure. He dwells into the
psychological features of those who claim to take goodness and pleasure as identical. What
are the salient features of the characters of those who prefer pleasure to all else? Thus we do
not compare merely good and pleasure, but also the good-seekers and the pleasure-seekers.
This presupposes that both good-seekers and pleasure-seekers have unitary characters. We
shall return to this presupposition later. The comparison is laid out in the well known form of
a dialogue between two speakers representing the sides. The duel is meant to show that the
identification leads to contradictions. Thus one might think that the conclusion is: give up
either pleasure or the good as highest values. But, as is well known, this is not Platos
conclusion. He thinks he can show that we must separate the two, and retain only goodness as
the final value. Plato wants to use the so-called elenchus as his philosophical weapon in this
undertaking. But if elenchus can only show that two given propositions, A, and B, clash, how
will we draw from this a positive conclusion?
Let us turn, then to the examination of the elenchus. Why not just reach Platos preferred
conclusion via logical deduction or simple rhetorical discussion? The second option is not
open to Plato since he will insist at the end that only rational arguments can be used in such
important discussions. The first option raises interesting questions, many of which we cannot
answer in this essay. (Careful examination of the elenchus was offered in recent times, by
Gregory Vlastos).
1
It suffice to say that Platos main aim seems to be not just to get some sort
of a deductive conclusion, but arrive at both speakers having a clearer conception of
themselves, and human nature and key problems in human lives. We do not just want to prove
something about goodness (from what premises?) but also clear the minds of the dueling
persons. Thus Platos final aim is to awaken deep rational understanding in the minds of both
speakers (495e 1,2). In recent times T. Irwin gave an interesting logical analysis of our
dialogue.
2
1
Vlastos (1991), 114-119, more on elenchus.
2
Irwin (1979).
Julius Moravczik 123
I. Clash of Equals?
Let us agree that the aim of the exercise is to help the speakers reach an agreement that
engenders self-knowledge so that we see that key conclusions were already in our mind, we
need only recollect. (474b 6-9, and 494d,e). Showing something to be deductible is one
way, but the Platonic material discloses many different ways for gaining understanding of
important concepts. Derivability from premises all the disputant agree on is one way to gain
insight, but not the only way.
Analogies are also helpful. Imposing uniform meaning on concepts within certain
constraints is another way. At times Plato and other philosophers use the device of simile for
illumination. Proportional comparisons can also shed light on abstract concepts. As we shall
see, with these devices we will be able to show also why Plato thinks that there are privileged
concepts involved in this battle that cannot be given up, thus providing the needed asymmetry
for showing the pleasure-lover to be mistaken. In the Platonic discussions these methods of
bringing intellectual light, are called examples of Anamnesis or recollection. It is
analogous to recollection, because within that process too, our understanding of something
not given to the mind via perception is growing, and becomes applicable in more and more
ways. Furthermore, the understood concepts become foundations for the understanding and
applications of others. Examples that come up in other dialogues include numbers, similarity,
and beauty. In modern semantics many will call these basic undefinable concepts. They are
also called primitives, because there is no further layer of concepts in terms of which these
can be defined. If we say that all concepts can be defined, we land in a conceptual infinite
regress. This is not to say that all concepts that Plato thinks we need to have grow in us via
anamnesis, must be primitives, but they must be eventually linked somehow to primitives.
3
Let us consider evidence that makes the interpretation of the fight with the pleasure-
lovers more a matter of anamnesis and not just a matter of deductions. The mere possibility of
interpreting various points made in the debate that shows differences in the structures of
different types of concepts is not enough, but relevant. As we shall see, concepts involved in
structures of sense impressions are very different from those in terms of which we describe
parts of character, or the realm of mathematics. But another bit of evidence is provided by the
fact that there are two quite different presentations given to deny the pleasure-lovers claims. If
only deduction matters, why is not one enough? One might reply that often in mathematics
classes we prove things in more than one way. But this is not because we are skeptical about
one argument, but because by proving a theorem in more than one way, we want to increase
the understanding of the student of the concept in question so that it can be used in different
contexts of application. Thus, our interpretation cannot claim decisiveness, but in comparison
with other interpretations, considerable plausibility. In this way we can see the discussion as
both pointing to contradictions, and to strengthen a grasp of certain key concepts, the
fundamentality of which emerges only in the last part of the text which we are examining.
As a background to Presentation I we should keep in mind that in the 480s Callicles
renounced the conventional values (well known virtues, and other items). We need to
juxtapose with these Callicles own values: luxury, intemperance, and, in general, freedom
from rational control. So the Calliclean hero acts on impulse and not choices made by
reason. He must be separated from the agent who lets reason guide him toward the maximal
pleasure.
3
Robinson (1941).
Goodness Trumps Pleasure-loving in the Gorgias 124
One of the chief characteristic of pleasure is something that it shares with other sense
impressions. This is its passivity. Visual images, or pleasant sensations do not emerge as ends
of human action. Rather these emerge as a result by what is happening to us. Hence already at
this stage we see the emerging contrast between the active aspects of agency and the passive
nature of being formed by what happens to us.
In addition to the passivity, we should observe the lack of stability in our trying to lead a
pleasurable life. Thus the presentation contains also a separately introduced thesis. This is the
leaky jar simile (494a). It says that the pleasure of processes like drinking and eating.
produce pleasure but at the same time also the pain of feeling the incompleteness of the
pleasure since it comes with the presence of pain. (Feeling the lack of what we want.)
Furthermore, the replenishments never leave us in a stable position. What fills us, flows again
out, as if from a leaky jar. Thus our pleasures of these kinds after they filled us disappear
again, leaving our pleasures impure. But we must be careful not to over-interpret what
Plato shows in the first presentation. He will show only that being a human agent is an
impossibility given Callicles extreme pleasure-loving. Plato has not shown that given the
mere rejection of pleasure as the highest aim, we showed the defense of the traditional virtues
as parts of the highest good. In the first presentation of Socrates thesis, then, (495a-497d) we
find a number of interesting contrasts between different types of concepts. Socrates tests our
intuitions concerning these contrasts, and wants us to see if the contrasts are in tune with the
construal of pleasure as the highest value. Thus the good and the bad are contrasted with
eating, drinking and their opposites. While good and bad behave like legitimate opposites
insofar as they can follow each other but do not occur (with suitable restrictions on what we
talk about,) simultaneously, pleasure of drinking and thirst appear side by side, thus not
behaving as legitimate opposites would. Thus since the conceptual contours of good and
pleasure differ, they cannot be identical.
The key presentation comes after some preliminary material that is worth some
attention. It is brought up that Callicles views clash with the conventional shame of the times
and also with what were regarded as the traditional virtues. But Callicles is aware of that, and
is quite content to live with this. He thinks that his views move on a deeper level, and that
compared to these matters, shame and conventional morality are merely on the surface
(494d, e). It is worth noting that Socrates agrees with this stance, even though his conception
of what is deep is different. As he says much later, at issue is how people ought to live. This
cannot be decided by conventional shame and what seems good.
We should also note the significance of Socrates insisting on analyzing, e.g. what is
good, as goodness penetrated the subject under discussion. This is an ontological analysis;
Plato wants to stress that we are not talking merely about how language is used, but also
about underlying ontological configurations.
4
The conceptual differences unearthed among
concept-types may strike us as remote from important moral issues. But closer scrutiny shows
that not to be the case. We can deduce from what was presented so far the following three
aspects of a concept like pleasure.
(a) We never have something like pleasure in pure form. It is always mixed with its
negative opposite.
(b) The application of concepts like pleasure always leaves us in a state of
incompleteness.
4
Irwin (1979), 203. I agree with Irwin that the terminology: F-ness is present requires no specific ontology, but it does
assume some form of realism.
Julius Moravczik 125
(c) There is a causal link between the two pseudo-opposites as these functions in our
lives. (To make this work we also need the leaky jar hypothesis.)
Given the Platonic view of life in nature, these are negatives. The impurity of pleasure
must be contrasted with the achievability of purity of wisdom. We need not keep filling
ourselves with new and new bits of wisdom in order to remain wise.
Perhaps the most difficult of these aspects to swallow for a modern audience is (b)
incompleteness. A sympathetic reading will point out that Platos conception is couched in an
overall teleological conception of reality. The perfect is the complete, that which does not
lack anything. Platos example would be and in the dialogues often is mathematics-
geometry. With something like pleasure there is a need for constant replenishment. This is not
the case with goodness or wisdom. There is a kind of self-sufficiency that Platonic goodness
and wisdom can attain that is not possible for earthly pleasures.
As we survey the first presentation we see that it claims only the thesis that goodness
and pleasure are not identical. This leaves us options; e.g., why not place pleasure above
goodness? Our difficulty is that, as we saw, the mere elenchtic structure will not give us
sufficient ammunition. We need to turn to the second presentation to see how goodness can
triumph even in the face of these obstacles.
II. Beyond the Elenchus
Pleasure and pain do not behave as genuine opposites. Those, like good-bad, health and
illness, cannot co-exist, while in the case of pleasure and pain in certain contexts at least they
must co-exist. (As an obvious example we see hunger and eating.)
We see here arguments relying on everyday concepts and everyday connections as well
as separations. The arguments might strike us strange, because these are basically not ethical
arguments. One cannot help but have some sympathy with Callicles who feels that these
arguments involving eating and drinking are not really ethical arguments. But what Socrates
wants to achieve is precisely the understanding that purely conceptual issues can have
important bearings on ethical judgments.
What does the conclusion reached so far have to do with ethics? Our answer must be to
some extent speculative. One can draw a number of consequences, but it is not clear how
many of these Plato had in mind. Certainly, the presentation shows that apart from direct
ethical impact, an examination of the ontological structure of pleasure that reveals we find
characteristics in pleasure and other impressions do help to see preoccupation with pleasure
wrong-headed. As we pointed out, pleasure and other impressions are passive. But we tend to
construe goodness as tied to the acting agent. (We mean here by acting something very
wide that includes also what is questionably translated at times as contemplation. As
examples from MENO etc. show this is not mere staring at equations but also mathematical
activity and thus the analogue for interaction with the Forms.) It is tempting to name the
goods of Callicles consumer goods. And indeed many of the goods fit that label (food,
drink). But we cannot talk in a straightforward manner about pleasure as something which we
consume. Still, there are many similarities. The pleasures are temporary, they do not lead
somewhere. Above all, mere hedonistic enjoyment does not constitute the notion of an action
and of an agent. Something can be a pleasure-machine without having the characteristics
that constitute agency. This is the gist of the first presentation. The second leads us to the
notion of action. As we shall see, the material after these two presentations leads us to the
notion of a good agent and what that requires. The second presentation is not required by the
logic of the first. Rather, it leads the discussion to a higher level.
Goodness Trumps Pleasure-loving in the Gorgias 126
The second presentation shows that pleasure by itself does not discriminate between
wisdom and folly. Pleasure can be had by both the wise and the foolish. But then on Callicles
view folly and knowledge are equally close or distant to the good life. So why exercise
choice, and reflexion? We might as well opt by impulse.
At this point Callicles is led to admit that some pleasures are better than others (499b 8).
We are not told directly what the ground for the reversal is. Maybe Callicles is represented as
thinking that this concession will not harm his cause; pleasure is still on top. Alternatively,
that conviction might be coupled with the view that the concession brings him closer to
common sense view, which, while not crucial might still help the cause. But the concession
harms Callicles' cause fundamentally. For the question will be raised: on what grounds do we
place some pleasures higher than others? Terms like beneficial worthy and choice enter
the frame. Unlike pleasure, these are active terms. Hierarchical thinking emerges also. We
are told that all has to be built around the pyramid that has the good at its summit (500a).
Thus some rational principle of selection is needed. The activities of choosing, evaluating, are
not presented as having merely some hedonistic value. Thus we can posit a cognitive structure
that will be called into action in assigning worth to certain options, and the activity of which
calls for some notion of value that is distinct and not inferior to that of pleasure. This does not
eliminate the important positive role of that pleasure can play. But the preference fixing can
bring in character traits, and matters of health. The mere possibility of bringing into play such
notions gives us then a minimal and partial sketch of agency, or perhaps better phrased
agential ingredients. But this still leaves us with many questions. How do we know which
pleasure is better than the other? Can the evaluation be subjective? How do we know whether
what we judge as the highest value is indeed this? Plato does not give systematic reply for that
here. Instead, he brings in his favorite example, health (499d). Even the most rabid cynic will
not say that health may be good for some people but not for others. Bubonic plague is bad for
everybody. Thus thinking about the morally highest good will be analogous to how we would
defend the objectivity and intrinsic value of health. We might pause briefly and ask whether
Plato is entitled from what he presented so far to conclude that we need a separate craft to
deal with that question. (Why not just individuals with wisdom?) Pursuing this matter would
take us too far from our immediate subject. But Plato does say that we need to evaluate not
only moments and momentary states but also practices. Why? The most plausible answer
seems to me that just as health covers activities over a period, so Plato thinks of evaluating
what is relevant to the highest good to deal with extended periods. From an agents point of
view these periods will be activities or practices. Thus this passage strengthens the
interpretation given earlier that Plato deals with humans in these ethical contexts as agents,
more specifically agents over longer periods, like a lifespan. Indeed, Plato moves from
practices to the appropriate temporal slice for a human to be measured, namely a life (500a-
c4).
5
What is a life? It could be viewed as simply a biological process, the biological mode of
existence. But from the context of this dialogue we can see that Plato means to talk about life
here in the richest sense. Roughly, Plato seems to think of a good human life as the exercise
of the good human potentialities (which are the good ones? the ones analogous to the ones
constituting health.) The choices require the right kind of explanation of what we investigate
as a potentially good means towards the highest good, or what constitutes the analogue of
health. Plato reaches again as his example for medicine (501a) We need to discern the nature
of what we examine, and to provide an explanation for it. We must add to bring out the
Platonic flavor, that the explanation will be in many ways in teleological terms. One might
5
Penner (1973), 133, 144. interesting discussion of whether virtue is a techne.
Julius Moravczik 127
rush things and reach for the Forms as what is needed for the objective valuational
examination, but this is not necessary. To be sure, the text earlier deals briefly with structures
like goodness is attached to an object if is to be good, and similar other examples of the
pattern F makes an object an f.
III. From the Elenchus to the Undeniable
But the mere usage of such language is not yet a strong reason to attribute to Plato an
exact metaphysical ontology. In any case, the ethical theory and psychology of these passages
function well regardless of whether they contain a precise ontology or not. The key point is
that by the time we are at the end of the second presentation, we see some key ingredients of
what one would call agency, and with that the claim that as in the case of health, the agent
relies on objective normative concepts to guide him in leading a worthy life.
6
Thus we travel
the route from the impulsive pleasure-loving human to the person who has some key
ingredients that agency, and thus the full life according to Plato demand.
Plato illustrates what he means by lives. But the illustrations leave one a bit puzzled.
For these are not the intellectual life versus life of pleasure kind of contrasts, but the contrast
between the life of the mind and the political life. As a contrast between two life-styles this
will suffice. But one would want to know how Plato would rate these. The intellectual life is
presumably better than the political one. But that is not better than the life of pleasure. Is there
a gradation system here? I do not see that Plato answers this either here or later in the
dialogue.
We can also raise the question: to what extent did Plato prove the life of pleasure to be
inferior? According to the interpretation presented here, Plato offers a conditional proof. But
that is not the question-begging argument that hedonism is inferior if we stick to the
traditional virtues.
7
As was said earlier, the argument goes through without the Platonic
virtues having a key role.
8
But I did propose that what Plato regards as having pragmatic
necessity, i.e. that though not a priori, we cannot conceive of our life without it, is human
agency. We live lives, that involves practices, that involve choosing, and deciding. Arguments
about how to insure that our decisions are well grounded constitute a separate chapter.
9
It should be added that Plato does use the moral psychology outlined here also as one of
the cornerstones for a deep and far-reaching attack on democracy. Has that been refuted
since? How much of it should we still use today as criticisms? These questions should be left
with the audience.
Stanford University
6
Dodds (1959), 314. Some have questioned validity of Socrates presentations, E.G. Dodds thinks a hedonist would
reject the claim that a good man is both brave and practical. But if we interpret brave here as able then the
argument seems binding.
7
The issues seem similar to latter discussions of J.S. Mill as a hedonist. In my view Mills distinguishing between
different kinds of pleasures strengthen rather than weaken his ethics.
8
Ross (1953), 43 calls our attention to the very wide range that good covers in the Greek of this time; going beyond
the human goods.
9
Vlastos (1973), 206-207, reminds us that elenchus corrects directly false beliefs, it can correct conduct only
indirectly.
The Myth of the Afterlife in Platos Gorgias
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith
I. Introduction
In Platos Gorgias Polus and then Callicles recommend rhetoric to Socrates on the
ground that without skill in persuasive speech Socrates will be at the mercy of anyone who
might wish to drag him into court and have him put to death. At the end of the dialogue,
however, Socrates turns the tables on Callicles by telling him a very fine account (mala
kalos logos 523a1) of why the worst thing that can happen to one is to arrive in Hades with
a soul filled with wrongdoings (522e3-4), which will leave him dizzy and speechless when he
is put on trial before the judges in the afterlife (526e4-527a4). Socrates allows that Callicles
will probably think it is only a myth (muthos), but insists that he himself counts is as an
account (logos, 523a2), which Socrates says he regards as true (523a2, 524a8-b1), and finds
persuasive (526d3-4).
Scholars generally sympathetic to Socratic philosophy, and generally willing to credit at
least some parts of the Gorgias as a good source on Socratic philosophy, have given at least
three reasons why we should regard the myth at the end of the dialogue as Platonic and not
Socratic, in content and style. One such reason is that in his own appraisal of the myth,
Socrates is very clear in saying that this is the account of the afterlife he finds most persuasive
and believes. But such a profession of faith, we are told, is not compatible with what he says
in other dialogues that are held to be more reliable sources on Socratic philosophy. Another
reason the myth is claimed not to represent Socratic views accurately is that the moral
psychology it propounds and on which it relies, and especially in the way it depicts the uses
and benefits of painful punishments, is not compatible with the way that other (again,
putatively more reliable) Platonic dialogues represent Socratic positions. Finally, the mere
fact that we find Socrates propounding a myth is taken as evidence by some that Plato has
ceased to make any effort at the end of the Gorgias to represent Socratic positions accurately.
In this paper we will make no attempt to argue for or against the thesis that some of
Platos dialogues (including, perhaps, at least some parts of the Gorgias) represent Socratic
philosophy accurately and consistently. This is, of course, a hotly controversial issue in itself,
but it is not a thesis we need to defend here. Precisely because those whose arguments we
criticize herein also accept this thesis, we propose to assume, for our purposes here, that it
makes sense to take some of Platos dialogues (generally called the early or Socratic
dialogues) as reliable sources on Socratic philosophy. Our question for this paper, then, is
this: Granting that the other dialogues generally accepted as reliably Socratic are such, are the
arguments against counting the Gorgias myth as genuinely Socratic good ones? We argue in
this paper that the three arguments for discounting the Gorgias myth as Socratic do not
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith 129
provide good reasons for counting anything we find in that myth as less likely to be genuinely
Socratic than anything we find in any of Platos supposedly more reliable dialogues.
II. Death and the Afterlife
In the Apology, Socrates says he regards it as the most shameful ignorance to fear
death as if they knew it were the greatest of evils, when for all they know it might in fact be
the greatest of blessings (29a4-b6). At the end of the Apology, Socrates says that death might
be one of two things, and makes no claim to find either of the two accounts more plausible
than the other. This apparent agnosticism about death cannot be squared with the sort of
conviction we find in the Gorgias, we are told,
1
and so we should not count the myth in the
Gorgias as reflecting genuinely Socratic views.
As we forecast in the introduction to this paper, we are not persuaded by this position.
First, it is worth noting that what Socrates says he regards as the most shameful ignorance
in the Apology is the fear of death as if it were the greatest of evils. Plainly, this is not only
compatible with what Socrates tells Callicles in the Gorgias; in fact, we can see that the
moral of the story, as it were, in both cases, is exactly the same: One should fear vice more
than death, since vice and not death poses the greatest threat to ones well-being. In the
Apology, Socrates says that, for all anyone knows, death might even be the greatest of
blessings. The same would seem to be true in the Gorgias account of those who die with
souls unstained by vice.
But what about Socrates final speech in the Apology, in which he declares that death
might either be total annihilation or else a migration to some other place? Mark McPherran
offers five arguments as to why this passage in the Apology cannot be squared with what
Plato has Socrates say about the afterlife in the Gorgias myth. First, McPherran claims,
Socrates presents his two competing postmortem alternatives in the Apology free of
any assessment of their relative likelihood, and in context this has the rhetorical
effect of suggesting that in his view both are accorded equal probability. After all,
were Socrates to have judged the probabilities to be unequal...we would expect to
hear something about the matter, given that at least most of the jurors he wishes to
console would find greater comfort than his actual argument provides were he to
reveal that in his judgment (and for whatever reasons he may have) his account of
migration is the more likely alternative of the two he presents. (McPherran (1996),
266-267)
McPherrans argument is plainly based upon two important claims:
(C1) The way in which Socrates identifies the two possibilities in the Apology has the
rhetorical effect of suggesting that in his view both are accorded equal probability.
(C2) If Socrates did not think the two possibilities were equiprobable he would do a
better job of consoling the jurors to whom he is speaking (those who voted in his favor) to tell
them of his belief in the migration option.
We do not accept either of these claims. Consider the following case: Mary is planning
to work late some night, but confronts her nervous spouse, John, who expresses concern that
Marys staying out so late might not be safe. Mary responds by saying, Look...dont worry.
One of two things can happen: Either there wont be any murderers, rapists, or other bad guys
lurking about when I leave the office and drive home, or there will be. If there are none, then
neither of us has anything to worry about, do we? But if there is one, then you know that my
1
McPherran (1996), 264.
The Myth of the Afterlife in Platos Gorgias 130
building is extremely well patrolled (especially at night), and the police also assiduously
patrol the streets I use to get home much more intensely at night than during the day and
so if there is some bad guy who tries to get me, he will be caught in the act and thrown in jail.
In a way, that would be an even better result, wouldnt it, since then society would have one
less bad guy on the streets to worry about! So, chill out and dont worry. Ill be fine!
The rhetorical structure of Marys argument, we contend, though similar in the relevant
way to Socrates final speech to his jurors, should not be conceived to have the rhetorical
effect of assigning equal probability to the two options she offers. In most cases (assuming
that both are rational, and that local conditions are not wildly unusual), it is fair to assume that
Mary and John would regard the first alternative as the most likely one. In general, when
spouses worry about one anothers safety in this way, it is not that they regard their spouse as
having a 50-50 chance of being assaulted if they stay out late...but even the smallest chance is
ground for worry. Similarly, what Socrates expects his jurors to think is the more likely
option (or what they might think he thinks is the more likely option) will have everything to
do with what the Greeks perceived to be the most common opinion and nothing to do with
the alleged rhetorical effect of Socrates presentation of the two options. We would hazard
the guess that the most likely alternative, according to Socrates jurors, would be the
migration option. But whether or not we are right about this, we see no reason to suppose that
presenting two options in the way Socrates does provides any significant rhetorical suggestion
that the two options are equally probable.
In fact, we are inclined to think that a correct rhetorical analysis of Socrates speech
would actually conclude that, if anything, Socrates leaves more of an impression that he
favors the migration option over the extinction option. Rhetorically, we find it significant that
the migration option gets much more elaboration and detail than the extinction option
receives, thereby putting extra weight on it, and also we note that Socrates offers the
migration option after he reviews the extinction, leaving the best wine for last. Of course,
neither consideration is decisive, and we are not suggesting that Socrates actually does tip his
hand, as it were; we are claiming only that McPherrans analysis of Socrates argument
actually leaves out rhetorically significant aspects that would tend to lead to a different
conclusion than what McPherran claims we are forced to by the rhetorical effect of the
argument.
We also do not accept McPherrans second claim (C2), that his jurors would be better
consoled if he signaled his preference of the migration option. Socrates has, as we noted
earlier, already made clear that no one knows what happens after death. But he is aware that
people fear death and that is not because they actually know what will happen, but because
people dont know. To counteract this fear, Socrates creates a constructive dilemma.
2
Either
death is annihilation, or if it is not annihilation, then the soul goes somewhere else. Socrates
assumes that his jurors dont know which of these two options it will be, and their anxiety on
his behalf is based upon fear of the unknown. By forming a constructive dilemma, however,
he tries to show them that according to the best reasoning available to them (that is, thinking
of annihilation in terms of sleeping, and thinking of the migration of the soul in terms of what
they have heard about this in myths), no matter what death turns out to be, there is reason for
good hope about it. Now, if Socrates were, instead, to lecture them about which of the two
options he personally found more probable, he is less likely to reassure his jurors about their
fears, and more likely to convince them (especially if they are inclined to believe the other
option) that his own fearlessness is only a product of his own faith in a conception of the
2
Our own earlier view of this argument (Brickhouse-Smith (1989), 157-262) was rightly criticized in Rudebusch
(1991). In our comments here, we follow Rudebuschs understanding of this passage.
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith 131
afterlife they find themselves unable to share with confidence. The virtue of his argument, as
a constructive dilemma which does not logically favor either alternative, is that it serves to
address the fears of his jurors no matter what conception of death they happen to fear or
favour the most, without leaving the unfortunate impression that Socrates own calm
attitude is one they can only share if they also share his specific beliefs about the afterlife.
McPherrans second argument immediately follows his first one:
Also, if Socrates were to leave the impression of equal probability in place while
believing the contrary on a matter of such grave moral import, he would be in
danger of violating the various legal and moral commitments that oblige him ... to
tell the truth, to foster care for the soul, and to hold nothing back from his jurors
(McPherran (1996), 267)
We also do not accept this argument. For one thing, as we have already said, even if the
logic of Socrates argument does not favor either alternative, we see no reason for supposing
that Socrates has in any way asserted or implied that he finds the two options equally
probable. But secondly, the point of Socrates argument here and elsewhere is precisely that
what might happen to us after death is not a matter of grave moral import; rather, the only
matter of grave moral import is how we decide to live our lives. If we do that well, then
whatever might happen to us at death will presumably be nothing to fear. Truth is, of course,
important to Socrates. But the truth he must tell them is that there is no good reason to fear
death we see no reason for thinking that he must also then go on and confess all of his own
personal tendencies in this matter, especially if they are not relevant (and likely to be
counterproductive, as we argued above) to what he is seeking to do. Even if he is inclined to
think that death is migration of the soul to Hades, as he claims in the Gorgias, we see
absolutely no need for him to tell his jurors this in the Apology, and find no fault of openness
or honesty in his failure to go into this. Death is one of two things, and neither is to be
feared. That seems enough for what he seeks to do in the Apology, and no doubt that
sufficiency is why Socrates (and Plato) leave it at that.
McPherrans third argument goes as follows:
Finally, if Socrates nonetheless harbored the unexpected judgment that migration is
more likely than annihilation in the Apology, but is only forthcoming about it in the
Gorgias, we must suppose that Socrates endorsed a quite startling metaphysical
supposition that Plato is willing to portray him as having declared but nowhere
proved. But that scenario is rather at odds with Socrates well-known dedication to
rational justification. (McPherran (1996), 267)
Our reply to this argument can be brief: We find nothing startling here, and nothing
at odds with Socrates well-known dedication to rational justification. Socrates expresses a
number of metaphysical beliefs that he nowhere proves in the existence of gods, in the
divine nature of his own daimonion, in the existence of other minds, and so on. Precisely
because Socrates main philosophical interests are ethical and epistemological, we find
nothing at all surprising in the idea that all or nearly all of his many metaphysical beliefs go
without proof in Platos early dialogues. In making this argument, we note, McPherran
neglects to mention even one case in which Socrates actually undertakes to offer a proof of
some metaphysical belief in Platos early or Socratic dialogues.
McPherrans fourth argument is that the myth of the afterlife in the Gorgias has more in
common with the great myths of the Phaedo and Republic than it does with anything we find
in the other early or Socratic dialogues (McPherran (1996), 268). Again, we disagree. If we
The Myth of the Afterlife in Platos Gorgias 132
compare the content of the myth of the afterlife in the Gorgias with the migration option in
Socrates last remarks in the Apology, we find clear and obvious overlaps. First, there will be
judges there (Minos, Rhadamanthus, Aeacus, and Triptolemus in the Apology and the same
group less Triptolemus in the Gorgias), and so McPherrans remark that the Apologys
Socrates says nothing about postmortem punishments (McPherran (1996), 269) is
unpersuasive. At any rate, McPherran owes us an explanation of what the judges in the
Apologys afterlife account are there to do, especially when they encounter an evil and vicious
soul. The issue of punishment does not need to be pursued in the Apology precisely because
Socrates is talking about what he thinks might happen to him and other good people when he
or they arrive in Hades. Judgment in the afterlife is also plainly implied in the Crito, where
Socrates has the personified laws warn that he will receive harsh treatment from the laws in
Hades if he seeks to damage the laws of Athens (Crito 54c6-8). McPherran dismisses this
obvious parallel as dubious evidence, since there the personified laws of Athens, not
Socrates in his own voice, assume the souls migration (McPherran (1996), 265). We
wonder if McPherran would say the same thing about every other claim Socrates gives to the
personified laws especially when these are demonstrably confirmed in other early dialogues,
as the evidence of the Apology and Gorgias does in this case. Moreover, we find
McPherrans view in stark contrast to Socrates own words now not given to the personified
laws only a few lines later, where he expresses his own agreement with everything the laws
had argued with a level of conviction that is actually quite rare in Platos dialogues (Crito
54d2-8).
The myths of the afterlife we find in the Phaedo, Republic, and other later dialogues are
more striking in their dissimilarities, rather than in their similarities, to the Gorgias myth. In
the Gorgias, there is no trace of a suggestion that the soul might be reincarnated. Yet this is
the central feature of the afterlife myths in the later dialogues. We agree with McPherran that
the later myths show clear traces of Orphic and Pythagorean sources, but we are
unconvinced by McPherrans claim that the Gorgias myth, too, reveals a Socrates who thinks
that death is life and life is death, [and] that the body is a tomb (McPherran 1996, 268).
McPherrans final argument is that the Gorgias myth makes reference to a moral
psychology that does not parallel the intellectualist moral psychology of the early dialogues
(McPherran (1996), 268). We consider this position in the next section, but our conclusion so
far should be plain: Nothing in the eschatology of the Gorgias myth, at any rate, distinguishes
it in doctrine in any way from what can be found in other early dialogues. Let us turn, then,
to the issue of moral psychology.
III. Moral Psychology
Until recently, one could find general consensus on the claim that the Socrates
represented in Platos early dialogues was an intellectualist of such a sort as to fail to
recognize any motivational factors other than the desire for benefit. This, we are often told, is
what explains his denial of akrasia or what is often called weakness of will the behavior in
which one acts in a way that is contrary to what one thinks is best for one. The Socrates of
the early dialogues explicitly denies that this ever occurs. But several scholars have also
claimed that in his discussion with Callicles generally, and in particular in his discussion of
the uses of punishment in the afterlife, Socrates reveals a commitment to the existence of the
very sorts of motivational factors he rejects everywhere else the sorts of appetites for
pleasures (and aversions to pains) that might actually compete with, and potentially subvert,
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith 133
ones desire for benefit.
3
This new moral psychology is explained as Platos first step
towards the more complicated moral psychology of the tripartite soul that is later fully
developed in the Republic, Phaedrus, and Timaeus.
This claim is familiar enough in the literature that we will not bother repeating yet again
the common features of the arguments typically given for this view. Nor will we here discuss
yet again the familiar worry scholars express about this view that it imputes to Socrates two
distinct and contradictory accounts of motivation within a single dialogue, without plainly
signaling that there has been such a shift in Socrates view.
4
But it will be worthwhile to see
how and why the myth of the afterlife in the Gorgias is supposed to be infected with
Platonic (but non-Socratic) psychological elements. The problem with the myth, we are
told, is its conception of the proper uses of punishment.
Here is what Socrates has to say in the myth that convinces so many scholars it must
express nascent Platonic, rather than the familiar Socratic, view of moral psychology:
Punishment makes anyone, when he has been punished rightly by another, become
better and profit from it, or be made an example to the others, in order that when
others see the sufferings which he endures will, in fear, become better. Those who
have committed remediable wrongs are the ones benefitted and pay the penalty by
gods and men. Nevertheless, it is through pain and suffering that they achieve their
benefit, both here and in Hades. For there is no other way to be rid of injustice.
The problem with this account, from the Socratic point of view, is most clearly stated
by Terry Penner, who explains the conflict this way:
There is in Platos early dialogues [...] a certain intellectualism that is quite
foreign to the middle and later dialogues [...]. Indeed, that intellectualism, with its
implication that only philosophical dialogue can improve ones fellow citizens, is
decisively rejected by Plato in the parts of the soul doctrine in the Republic. [...]
For Socrates, when people act badly or viciously or even just out of moral
weakness, that will be merely a result of an intellectual mistake. (Penner (2000),
164-5; emphasis in original).
The reason Socrates appeal to the uses of fear and pain in punishment, in the Gorgias
myth, cannot be a genuinely Socratic point of view, we are told, is that we have too much
reliable evidence for attributing to Socrates the view that everyone always and only acts in
such a way as to pursue what they take to be their own benefit. That is why wrongdoing is
always merely a result of an intellectual mistake, as Penner puts it, and of course, the only
method for correction of intellectual mistakes Socrates appears to recognize is
philosophical dialogue. And because we all aim for what is beneficial to us, when we go
wrong, our wrongdoing is involuntary. This is why Socrates chastises Meletus, in the
Apology:
Come then. Are you putting me on trial here on the ground that I corrupt the youth
and make them worse voluntarily or involuntarily?
3
For an excellent discussion of Socrates intellectualism, as it is traditionally conceived, see Nehamas (1999), 27-58.
See also Irwin (1977), 76-96; Irwin (1995), 75-76. Various expressions of the view that there is such a shift in the
depiction of Socrates moral psychology within the Gorgias may be found in Cornford (1933), 306-307; Irwin
(1979), note on 507b, 222, and Irwin (1977), 123-124; Penner (2000); Cooper (1999), 29-75. Although Charles
Kahn thinks it makes good sense to see the Gorgias as having been written before the Protagoras, he thinks that
the moral psychology implicit in the Gorgias leaves open the possibility of acting for the sake of pleasure,
contrary to ones conception of the good. See Kahn (1988), 89 and Kahn (1996), 42-48, 125-128.
4
See, e.g., Irwin (1979), notes on 468ab and 507b; Brickhouse-Smith (1994) section 3.5.5; McPherran (1996), 268-
269 n. 72. A very different explanation of this supposed shift is offered in Cooper (1999), 29-75.
The Myth of the Afterlife in Platos Gorgias 134
I say you do it voluntarily.
Whats that, Meletus? Are you at your age so much wiser than I am at mine that
you knew that bad people always do something evil to those whore their closest
neighbors, whereas good people always do something good, but Ive reached the
point of such ignorance that I dont know this, because if I make someone Im with
bad, Im liable to receive something bad from him, and so Im doing such an evil
voluntarily, as you say? Im not persuaded by you about these things, Meletus, nor
do I think anyone else is! Either I dont corrupt them, or if I do corrupt them, I do
so involuntarily, so that, either way, youre not telling the truth! If I corrupt them
involuntarily, however, the law here isnt to bring people to trial for errors of this
sort but to take them aside in private to teach and admonish them. For its clear that
once I understand, Ill stop what Im doing involuntarily. (Apology 25d6-26a5)
The infliction of painful punishments, such as Socrates imagines in the Gorgias myth, then,
we are told to conclude, have no place in Socratic philosophy. There are several difficulties
with this argument, however, not the least is what Socrates seems to point to in the very next
line of this same passage in the Apology:
But youve avoided associating with me and you didnt want to instruct me, and
instead wanted to bring me here to trial where its the law to try those who need
punishment, not instruction. (Apology 26a5-8)
If, as Penner puts it, Socrates is convinced that only philosophical dialogue can improve
ones fellow citizens, the distinction he makes here in the Apology between cases (such as
Socrates claims his own would be, if he truly were corrupting the youth) in which instruction
is appropriate, and other sorts of cases, where a court trial and punishment are appropriate,
would make no sense. In Penners view, Socrates would have to believe that no one belongs
to the second group.
According to the established view of the conflict between Socratic and Platonic moral
psychology, the shift from the Socratic to an antecedent of the mature Platonic psychology
occurs within the discussion with Callicles in the Gorgias. When he was speaking with
Polus, however, Socrates speaks from the truly Socratic perspective, because he argues there
that every act we take is for the sake of what is beneficial (Gorgias 468b7-8). But even in the
discussion with Polus, Socrates plainly recognizes that there are cases in which just discipline
of wrongdoers involves the infliction of pain. At 476d9-477a2, Socrates establishes that one
punished justly either undergoes something pleasant or something beneficial. In the context
of the argument, which of the two options it is, is never in doubt: The wrongdoer Polus
admires so much avoids punishment precisely because it is expected to be painful. As
Socrates puts it,
From what weve just agreed to, it is likely that that those who refuse to face justice
are doing the same sort of thing [as those who avoid medical treatment], Polus.
They see its painfulness, but are blind to its benefit and are ignorant of how much
more wretched it is to live with an unhealthy soul than with an unhealthy body, and
with a soul thats rotten and unjust and impious. And so it is that they avoid facing
justice and getting rid of the greatest evil. (Gorgias 479b5-c2)
So what kinds of pains does Socrates have in mind as just cases of paying what is due
here? He mentions lectures and lashings at 478e3, flogging at 480c8, and imprisonment,
fines, exile, and even capital punishment at 480d1-3. If he really supposed that only
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith 135
philosophical dialogue can improve ones fellow citizens, Socrates recognition of such an
impressive array of other forms of appropriate discipline would be simply inexplicable.
5
The established view of Socratic intellectualism holds that the only motivational factor
in human behavior that needs to be included in explanations of behavior is our desire for
benefit. This generic desire, coupled with our judgments of what things in the world will
benefit us, is all that is needed for a full explanation of why we do whatever we do. But
again, this traditional view of Socratic psychology faces a number of texts in early or Socratic
dialogues other than the Gorgias in which Socrates plainly and explicitly recognizes other
motivational factors. Of course, scholars readily recognize the appearance of such other
factors in the Gorgias. For example, in his discussion with Callicles, Socrates refers to the
part of the soul in which the appetites (epithumiai) happen to be (493a3-4). Later, Socrates
refers to the filling up of the appetites (epithumias apopimplanai, 505a6-10). Scholars
dismiss these passages, however, on the ground that Plato has already begun to insert his own
psychological views by the time he depicts Socrates conversing with Callicles.
6
But there are
other passages in the early dialogues that make it clear that Socrates all along recognized
some psychological elements that aim at ends other than the good.
7
In the Laches, for
example, Socrates says that pleasures, pains, appetites, and fears all provide opportunities for
people to display courage (Laches 191e4-7), and in the Charmides, Socrates draws a
distinction between appetite, which he says aims at pleasure, and what he calls boulesis, or
wish, which he says aims at what is good (167e1-5). Socrates himself shows a degree of
susceptibility to the effects of such an appetite being aroused in him when he struggles for
self-control as he suddenly burns with desire (ephlegomn, 155d4) for the youthful
Charmides.
8
5
We discuss these and other passages in which Socrates appears prepared to endorse the use of painful punishments in
Brickhouse-Smith (2000), 216-226.
6
Or as Cooper (1999) has proposed, that Plato reveals a weakness in the Socratic account by having Callicles
introduce the more Platonic account. We see no reason to believe that Callicles view causes Socrates to shift
ground, and therefore we see no reason to accept any of the various accounts of the supposedly new psychology
in this section of the dialogue.
7
First to point this out, in a paper from which we have learned a great deal, was Daniel T. Devereux (in Devereux
(1995)).
8
Socrates recognition of epithumiai, and why these cannot be understood in terms of the desire for the good, is
admirably discussed in Devereux (1992), 778-783, and in Devereux (1995). Most scholars have simply supposed
that Socrates recognized only the desire for the good (or happiness, or for whatever is best for the agent). Terry
Penner has developed a somewhat different view, which at least acknowledges the existence of the epithumiai.
But Penner sees them as mere hankerings, itches, or drives [that] cannot automatically result in action when put
together with a belief (Penner (1991), 201 n. 45; see also Penner (1990), 59-60, and Penner (1997), 124). We
think that Penner fails to recognize clearly enough the important role the epithumiai can play in action. We do
agree, however, with Penners explanation of why the role of the epithumiai in action should not be understood in
terms of non-rational desires. See esp. Penner (1990), 40: Let me indicate briefly here how Socrates will argue
that if I act on a desire to eat this chocolate bar here, it will be a rational desire on which I am acting. The
suggestion is that in such cases, the force of the hormonal changes which induce the juices to flow is integrated
into the agents calculation of the degree of expected good to be gained by taking and eating the chocolate bar
(see also 55-61). But the way we understand this is to grant that the epithumiai can play a role in an agents acting
as he does, but then to conceive of the role they play in terms of the agents calculation of the degree of expected
good; accordingly, every action (as opposed to every urge one might feel) must be understood as the result of
some judgment one has made about ones good. Naomi Reshotko (1995), 336-341) has recently offered what
initially looked to us to be a very similar picture to ours, calling the proto-desires and explaining their role in
motivation and action in a way we thought epithumiai compatible with our own. (See also Reshotko (1990), 110.)
In private communication, however, she has affirmed her agreement with Penner on the issues on which our view
differs from his. Neither Penner nor Reshotko agree with our attempt to show how the epithumiai figure in
Socrates endorsement of corporal punishment, and we assume they would also disagree with our account of how
some souls become irreparably ruined. Plainly, we do not agree with Penner that Socrates believes that only
philosophical dialogue can improve ones fellow citizens (Penner (2000), 164).
The Myth of the Afterlife in Platos Gorgias 136
We have explored how Socrates might have conceived of the uses for painful
punishments elsewhere,
9
and so will not repeat our arguments at length here. The gist of our
view is simply that the appetites act in such a way as to influence how and what we judge in
the world to be beneficial to us. Attracted to something from which we anticipate some
pleasure, our appetite represents that object to us as a benefit to be pursued. If we have
knowledge of good and bad, the appeals of our appetites will never be capable of overturning
our sober judgments; if we lack knowledge, but seek to maintain our appetites in a restrained
and disciplined state, we can also hope to resist their distorting and intoxicating influence
over our faculty of judgment. But if we allow them to become engorged by indulging them
(as Callicles, for example, proposes), then we will become habituated in such a way as
usually or always to judge our own benefit as consisting in the pursuit of whatever pleasure
might be at hand. Painful punishments, then, provide their benefit by assisting the wrongdoer
in regaining discipline and control over his appetites, thus allowing him once again to make
more sober and thus better judgments about what really is in his long-term interest.
If we are right about Socrates recognition of the distorting (and potentially ruinous)
10
effects of the appetites, and also about his many apparently approving references to
punishment in the early dialogues, including several other than Socrates discussion with
Callicles in the Gorgias, then it follows that the view of punishment Plato has Socrates
provide in the myth of the afterlife at the end of that dialogue is entirely consistent with the
philosophy Plato gives to Socrates elsewhere in the early or Socratic dialogues. And if this is
true, then unless scholars can find some other element in the myth they can point to that
does not accord with Platos other depictions of his mentor in the early dialogues we must
conclude that there is nothing in the actual content of the myth that we cannot attribute to
Socrates as confidently as we attribute anything else to him on the basis of Platos testimony.
IV. Can Socrates Tell a Myth?
At Crito 46b4-6, Socrates patiently explains to his old friend what Crito must surely
have known for a long time already. Im not just now, Socrates says, but in fact Ive
always been the sort of person whos persuaded by nothing but the reason that appears to me
to be best when Ive considered it. The final problem that scholars have noted with the myth
of the afterlife in the Gorgias is not in its content, but simply in the fact that it is a myth. It is
one thing, for Plato who recognizes the influence of non-rational psychological factors over
us to attempt some persuasion through non-rational appeals like myths, in the later
dialogues. But for an intellectualist like Socrates, who is supposed to think that only
philosophical dialogue can improve ones fellow citizens, it is simply not conceivable that
he would resort to the strikingly un-philosophical method of trying to improve Callicles by
appealing to the sophists fears of painful punishments in a mythological tale.
In one sense, all we need to do to respond to this argument is to refer back to our
argument of the last section. There, we argued that Socratic psychology all along recognized
the effects of non-rational factors, such as appetites and emotions (such as fears), on human
behavior. If so, then there would seem to be no philosophical reason for thinking that
Socrates could not or would not employ myths in his attempts to act as the only true political
craftsman in Athens (see Gorgias 521d6-8). Just discipline sometimes works by appealing
in a mythological tale to the sophist's fears of painful punishments. Indeed, Socrates seems to
9
Brickhouse-Smith (2000), 216-226.
10
On the idea that souls can become incurably evil, see Gorgias 480a6-b2, 525c1-6; Crito 47e7-48a4. We discuss
what it would be for someone to have an incurable soul in Brickhouse-Smith (2002).
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith 137
think that one is much improved by fearing the right things, and not fearing the wrong things
(see Apology 28b6-c1, d5-9), and so if he can get Callicles to fear wrongdoing by telling this
myth, his doing so would seem to be entirely in keeping with his own characterization of his
mission in Athens.
It is true, of course, that the Gorgias is the only dialogue in the group ordinarily
regarded as early or Socratic in which Socrates employs a full-blown myth in his attempt to
persuade an interlocutor. Such myths, admittedly, are rather more common in the later
dialogues. But non-rational appeals and extra-logical rhetorical devices of various sorts are
nonetheless abundant in the relevant group of dialogues. Is it, for example, Socrates
dedication to rational justification (McPherran (1996), 267) that makes him decide to present
the arguments for staying in prison by imagining them posed by the personified laws of
Athens? And what is the purely rational justification of Socrates pretense, in the Hippias
Major of having to confront a close relative (304d3), whom Hippias would not know if
Socrates were to name him (290e2), who lives in Socrates own house (304d3-4) and who
insults and abuses him whenever he acts as if he has some wisdom that he lacks (286c3 ff.
and passim)? If Socrates were exclusively dedicated to rational justification, then why does
he go along with Critias suggestion that he pretend to have magical healing powers, as he
does with an elaborate tale of having a special leaf and charm in the beginning of the
Charmides (155b5 ff.)? Socrates brags about shaming and reproaching people into changing
their ways in several passages in the Apology (29d7-e3, 30a1, 30e3-31a2), and acknowledges
the risk he faces that his jurors might vote against him, not just because they have false beliefs
about him, but because of anger (Apology 31a3-5, 34b7-d1), and he also recognizes that anger
(Apology 23c8-9), ambition (23e1) and a propensity to violence (23e1) in his slanderers have
played a role in his coming to have such a bad reputation in Athens.
Moreover, Socrates frequently seems willing, if not to relate whole myths, to employ
references and quotes from well-known myths and mythological tales in his own persuasive
attempts. We began, in fact, by discussing Socrates discussion of myths of the afterlife, as
one of the possibilities for what death might be, in the Apology (40e4-41c7). But earlier in
that same work, as he was completing his defense speech, Socrates dedication to rational
justification certainly allowed him to compare himself to Achilles (28c1-d4), to quote Homer
at 34d5, to lend authority to his defense by calling the god at Delphi as a witness (20e7-8),
and to scoff at Anaxagoras for rejecting the myths that say the sun and moon are gods (26d1-
e3) and use beliefs about the relationships between gods and demi-gods, certainly obtained
from mythical accounts, in his refutation of Meletus (27c5-d10). In fact, Socrates is often
quite willing to recruit some myth or popular tale in order to boost his arguments, and if we
are right about his moral psychology, his willingness to do this is entirely consistent with his
dedication to rational justification. Accordingly, we find nothing strange in the idea that he
might choose to complete one of his persuasions especially one with a particularly
recalcitrant interlocutor such as Callicles, with a final appeal to a chastening myth. It may be
that the myth at the end of the Gorgias is something that Plato concocted out of whole cloth
a tale that was never in fact told by Socrates. Our argument in this paper, however, has
been that there is no good reason for thinking that Socrates could not or would not have
resorted to such a tactic, or that he could not or would not have believed what he says he
believes in that myth.
Lynchburg College - Lewis and Clark College
Myth and Rhetoric in the Gorgias
lvaro Vallejo
1. The unity of myth and logos.
The reception of platonic thought in the history of philosophy has conferred myths with
a diverse lot, from (a) those who sought to do away with it, stating, as Hegel did, that myths
can be dismissed as alien to the true philosophy of Plato, to (b) those who have overvalued it,
considering myths to be an exceptional path to gain access to certain problems that cannot be
addressed through logos, thereby constituting the highest expression of Platonic metaphysics
1
.
Myth should be understood in its indivisible unity with logos: myth cannot be eliminated
because the basic logical concepts by which Plato articulates his philosophy are in many cases
intertwined with the categories and schemes of thought emerging from myth
2
; however, myth
does not go beyond logos, because Plato is conscious of the epistemological limitations of
myth, which, as he dared define, is discourse in general false but that contains something of
truth (Republic II 377a5-6).
In my opinion, a Platonic dialogue is constructed in such a way that its unity makes
sense of all the elements that comprise it. Our interpretation cannot, therefore, dispense with
the mythic form that Plato has chosen as a means of expressing some of the ideas of which he
is firmly convinced, and we must inquire into the reasons for myth in the economy of the
Platonic dialogue. However, there is a second reason to do so, which takes us to the very heart
of the Platonic concept of myth. The existence of a judgement after death, to which the
eschatological myths refer, cannot be demonstrated in any way. When Protagoras told his
famous version of the myth of Prometheus, he could transmit his thought equally by either
myth or logos (Protagoras 320c3-4), because in reality this is a transparent allegory that can
be translated into merely rational and argumentative language
3
. However, this is not the case
with Plato. I am not saying that Plato has not used the allegorical myths themselves
4
, but
rather that in counterpoint to mere allegory the particular character of the eschatological
myths is their attempt to express something that cannot be stated in the language of logos
5
.
1
(a) Hegel (1883), vol.II, 150 sq.; (b) see, e.g., Hirsch (1971), X, R.C. Stewart (1989), 277, Rechenauer (2002), 234.
2
On the unity of myth and dialectic or myth and the most intimate philosophical thought of Plato, see, e.g., Brochard
(1912), 5 sq., Findlay (1980), 165, Carchia (1986), 41-64, n. 216.
3
Nevertheless, see Morgan (2003), 138 sq.
4
On the differences between myth and allegory see, e.g., Frutiger (1930), 101-103 and J.A. Stewart (1905), 222 and
236.
5
See, in this sense, Garca Calvo (1964), 306.
lvaro Vallejo 139
2. Myth comes to the aid of logos.
Callicles (486b) accuses Socrates of practising a type of wisdom that leaves the human
defenceless against the contingencies of life in the polis, given that it would not provide the
capacity for self-defence (486c). This is a kind of wisdom the incapacity of which is judged
in light of the two fundamental characteristics by which Callicles assesses the appropriateness
of the word (486a2) that is, credibility and persuasion. It is the rhetorical ideal of discourse,
the values of which Plato vigorously opposes in the name of a moral doctrine that invokes the
inner order of the spirit as the true foundation of human existence. The response to Callicles
is formulated by Socrates with reasoning of iron and steel (509a1-2) and, in short, has much
to say from a rational standpoint in favour of wisdom and its meaning in human life. Indeed,
the refutation of hedonism and the rejection of an instrumentalist conception of reason are
very important from a mere argumentative perspective.
Socrates furthermore appeals to the stories of an ingenious man (493a on, 493d3) and
images (493d5) filled with plasticity to persuade Callicles that unrestrained behaviour is a
disgrace to the soul and is a terrible existence (492e), but all these expressive resources still
remain almost entirely on the horizon of the earthly dimension of human life, and in fact are
easily translatable to argued discourse characteristic of logos
6
.
However, the fact remains that such images do not succeed in persuading (493d1-4)
Callicles to change his position. The refutation of hedonism, meticulously argued by Socrates
had no effect at all on Callicles (501c7), who merely answered to please Gorgias until
abandoning the conversation (505c5-e1; 516b4, 516c8, etc.). The dialogue develops the
dramatic action with complete coherence that demands the presence of myth. This does not
appear previously, as has been indicated on more than one occasion
7
, but rather at the end of
the work, as occurs with the other great eschatological myths of the Phaedo or the Republic.
From my perspective, the dialogue itself presents the reasons that make mythic discourse
necessary. Among these are, firstly, the repeated threats of Callicles throughout the work. He
predicts that Socrates will be incapable of defending himself or his followers and thus will
perish unjustly accused (486b6, 522c6). Still, this signifies the apparent superiority of
rhetoric over the philosophy practised by Socrates and over the uselessness of a kind of
knowledge that gives itself only to charlatanism and to meaningless trifles (486c8, 497b7)
that fail to help a man in danger. The inferiority of philosophy, alleged by Callicles, is
demonstrated in the tribunal before which Socrates is destined to appear (521c5). The
response of Socrates does not lack argued reasoning (cfr.508c6, 509b4, 509b7, 509c3, c8,
etc.) aimed at showing that the most powerful defence (522d2-3) is to say nothing unjust
against men or against the gods (522c-d). This defence, however, works only within the
inner world of values that rule the ksmos of the soul. Rhetoric triumphs in the distorted
order of the polis in which Socrates is to be condemned as a doctor prosecuted by a cook
before a jury of children (521e3-4). If the threats of Callicles are the reasons, within the work
itself, which demand the presence of myth to pronounce the final word in the conflict between
philosophy and rhetoric, myth is called for also by the situation of the reader. When the
reader has the Gorgias in his hands, he knows that Socrates indeed perished unjustly
condemned. Throughout the work, the ideals of justice and moderation are argued for on the
basis of an earthly concept of existence and soul. However, this argumentation, in the eyes of
6
Zaslavsky, 1981, 196-7, attributes a mythic character to these paragraphs, whereas others deny this (Frutiger (1930),
112). In 493b4-7, there is a clear reference to the punishment that the uninitiated will receive in Hades (see
Guthrie (1980), 305), but the fundamental objective is to show that the dissolute are obligated to undergo
extreme hardships (494a1) in this life for the type of existence they have chosen.
7
See Friedlnder, (1973), 189.
Myth and Rhetoric in the Gorgias 140
the reader, would have been insufficient and Plato is obliged to seek in the afterlife a new
dimension of human existence without which the Socratic theory of the soul would lead to an
unconvincing tragic heroism.
For this reason, myth must come to the aid of logos, invoking the eschatological
superiority of the soul
8
. Myth places Callicles at a trial in the hereafter, where he will be as
defenceless and unarmed as Socrates in front of his earthly judges (527a1-3). The
eschatological dimension enables a reversal of the terms, allowing Socrates to censure
Callicles, because the latter will not be able to help himself when he has to face the ultimate
destiny of his soul (526e4-5). The differences observed between this myth and the other
eschatological myths of Plato derive in part from the rhetorical nature of the situation in
which Socrates finds himself, in which the theme of the trial dominates the scene
9
. The
solitude of the soul in the state
10
and its vulnerability in the randomness of political struggles
is reversed in the scenario of myth thanks to the transcendental dimension that is opened up.
The set has been designed by Plato to dismantle the power of rhetoric, the strength of which
depends only on the dominance of injustice in a world distorted by political battles. Myth
opens a contest (c,.|, 526e4) that, in Socrates opinion, bears more importance than all
the previous ones that have taken place. Its fundamental feature is that rhetorical resources
are of no use in it: its transcendental nature corrects the injustices of trials that are held in this
world under the auspices and with the very techniques of rhetoric. This is because, in the
hereafter, the soul is judged naked that is, without being able to hide itself in the realm of
appearances, where the persuasive skills of orators exert their force. Rhetoric is not authentic
knowledge because it builds its persuasion under the cover of verisimilitude, which has value
only for the ignorant (459d5-6, 465b3-5, etc). However, the nakedness of the soul, stripped
of the body, makes it impossible to conceal the truth that in earthly trials permits criminals to
veil their evil with images of illusion and deceit. The beauty and nobility of the accused, or
his wealth and the witnesses (523c5-6) that he might call in his favour, together with
credible and persuasive words that take advantage of all these assets, do not aid the soul,
which must face judges who cannot be deceived because they also have been stripped of their
bodies and their passions, so that in the trial it is the soul by itself (523e3) that judges, free
of any illusion. Myth dramatically constructs a situation which is able to dissolve the realm of
appearances that allows the triumph of rhetoric, because the soul has to reveal the truth of its
moral nature and disclose whether there is something truly healthy in it (524e4) or whether it
is the result of lies and flattery in which rhetoric has educated it, keeping it away from the
truth (525a3). With this, furthermore, moral doctrine is naturally reversed, because the
virtues that Callicles had extolled (492c) are precisely those that caused him to be condemned
in the trial where the soul must confront its fate.
3. Myth and persuasion.
Plato has insisted many times on the persuasive function of myths, and this attribute is
especially relevant in those that are eschatological in nature, because they constitute a moral
exhortation intended to imprint a certain direction on human will in favour of justice and
moderation (527c5)
11
. For a person such as Callicles, who is ruled by pleasure and who does
8
See Szlezk (1992), 269.
9
See Annas (1982), 122-125, Alt (1982), 285 sq.
10
See Reinhardt (1960), 238.
11
On the persuasive function of myths, see Brisson (1982), 93 sq., 145, 171, etc.; Pieper (1984), 68-70; Vallejo (1993),
passim; also in the Phaedo, Socrates finds himself as though he were before a tribunal (63b-d), in front of people
lvaro Vallejo 141
not allow himself to be persuaded by Socratic reasoning (494a-b), a discourse suited to his
soul must be constructed (cf. Phaedrus 271a1-b5), and myth here, as in the Phaedo (114d), is
conceived to fight against a pthos and act on sensitivity
12
. In the myth, regardless of
whatever true doctrine lies within it, there are elements of discourse that are directed at the
irrational, because Plato in the Gorgias is now especially concerned with this part of the soul
in which the passions reside (493b1), precisely for being easy to manipulate and persuade
(493a6-7). Despite that Plato believes in the essential truth of eschatological myth, he would
have no objection in accepting, as we know (Republic 377a5-6), that myth is a mixture of
truth and fantasy and in which there is, therefore, broad space to design a discourse that
speaks with images appropriate to this part of the soul. Plato indeed resorts to images capable
of evoking pleasure and above all pain (525b7, 525c5-6), not only in the Gorgias, but also in
the other eschatological myths of the Phaedo (114a-b) and the Republic (614e6-615a4),
precisely to act on this irrational part of the soul, which does not allow itself to be exorcised
by the logical reasoning of argumentation.
In this sense, it could be stated that myth constitutes a reversal of the rhetorical situation,
with which it has many elements in common. First of all, as we see, it does not address
reason, but rather that part of the soul where the passions reside (Gorgias 493b1) or to that
frightened child in each of us (Phaedo 77d-e)
13
, whom we must try to persuade and even
dissuade from false beliefs (77e4-6) with the charming discourse of myth. Pleasure and pain
are the basic psychological mechanisms by which persuasion occurs in this part of the soul.
Both are instruments of sensitivity and by means of them the soul is nailed to the body,
which forces it to believe that whatever the body states is true (Phaedo 83c5 and d6).
Persuasion results when the soul feels obligated to believe (83c5) and the most effective
psychological mechanism to achieve this consists, in short, of using pain and pleasure,
because these move it to consider truer whatever is associated with its most intense emotional
experiences
14
. Secondly, however, Socrates appears as a conjurer (. . o , 78a1) of the evils
and fears that assail the soul, because his eschatological rhetoric pursued the same end as
should guide true rhetoric (Gorgias 504d-e), which consists of transforming those passions
(517b5) in order to reestablish the health of the soul and do everything necessary in favour of
justice (527c3-4). Thirdly, Socrates knows that the persuasive potential of rhetoric, and
consequently the power that this places within reach is determined by whether the orator
respects the beliefs of the audience being addressed (513b8-c2). Therefore, even when Plato
can operate with great liberty in adapting his mythic tales to the moralizing purposes that he
pursues, he must make use of the mythic tradition to give an air of orthodoxy
15
to the tale
that makes it consistent with the beliefs of the listener. Let us recall that this is not only
Callicles but also the reader addressed by the Gorgias, and therefore its mythic eschatology
invokes Homer from the very beginning in order to connect with the endoxa of the
community, which provide the frame of reference by which the persuasive verisimilitude of
the word must abide.
Fourthly, we might ask ourselves about the epistemic framework on which myth is
based. Gorgias said in the Encomium (82DKB11) that the word is a great sovereign that
that are not easily persuaded (63a, 77e, 84d-e, etc.); cfr. Republic 621c, where myth can save us if we allow
ourselves to be persuaded by it.
12
See Boyanc (1937), 156-7; Edelstein (1949), 472 sq.; Smith (1986), 23; Brisson (1982), 93 and 144, Vallejo (1993),
172-3, etc. On the relationship between myth and incantation in Plato, see Boyanc (1937), 155-165; Lan (1958),
298-333, Dodds (1980), 199, Morrow (1953), 238 sq.; and Brisson (1982), 96 sq.
13
Cfr. Republic 330d7-8.
14
Cfr. Phaedo 83c6-7.
15
Dodds (1959), 373; see also Segal (1978), 326, Ward (2002), 14 sq., Most (2002), 11-13.
Myth and Rhetoric in the Gorgias 142
takes refuge in the vacillations and lack of certainty of opinion. Rhetorical persuasion is
clearly delineated in the Gorgias as a conviction that is transmitted to the ignorant (459a4)
concerning issues of which the orator has no knowledge either (459b8). Now, myth also
exerts its persuasive power by the ignorance of humans regarding their final destiny. If they
had this prnoia to which Gorgias refers (82DKB11.7), it would be impossible to persuade
them, in the same way as the judges could not be convinced of the innocence of the accused if
they had witnessed his crime. Plato is fully conscious of the uncertainty in which myth
operates, although he considers it true (523a2), because this makes sense in the space that
emerges in human discourse when, investigating, we cannot find anything better or truer
(527a7-8). This brings him closer once again to rhetoric for the dependence of the dxa in
which he must work, since myth can convey only beliefs, no matter how respectable they may
be
16
. Myth cannot function on the same level as logos, but rather goes much further to
penetrate a sphere where there is room only to hope and to confront the risk of believing
(Phaedo 114d 5-6). In my opinion, it is a mistake to underestimate the difference between the
two levels. There are those who contend that myth does nothing more than transpose in
images the lines drawn first by rational analysis
17
or that myth upholds metaphysical
presuppositions that can be translated from the pstis to true opinion and from this to rational
knowledge
18
, but Plato has enough epistemic sensibility to insist that this represents discourse
of another kind. Its true moral can be completely consistent with the virtues of justice for
human life, as can be elucidated by means of logos, but myth, with its eschatological
dimension, opens another world of considerations beyond human understanding
19
. The myth
of Er is the supernatural revelation of a man who has returned from the other world, while the
mythic eschatology of the Gorgias is based on the beliefs of Socrates
20
(524a8), and the tale of
Phaedo expresses a truth upheld through a dramatic setting that no reasonable person
(114d2) could regard as true. It cannot be assured rationally that there will be a judgement of
the soul after death: this cannot be demonstrated and therefore, for the very uncertainty of the
proposition, the persuasion operating in the myth is possible.
Finally, I find another similarity between rhetoric and mythology, this being the attitude
that mythic discourse demands of the listener. Certainly, its makrologic nature moves closer
to the -c., distinctive of Protagoras (cfr.Protagoras 328d4) than to Socratic dialectic,
because now what is demanded of the listener or reader is not so much that he activate his
intelligence, with the corrosive effect that this could exert on all belief, but simply that he
listen (c-u. 523a1, cfr. Republic 614d3) and witness the spectacle of the images that the
orator places before his eyes
21
.
The transcendental dimension of human existence and the judgement of the soul in the
hereafter enable, in this scenario, the deflation of the ostensible power enjoyed by rhetoric in
the Athenian state; but the question is whether the Platonic myths inaugurate a new rhetoric.
The response cannot be unyielding. On the one hand, many points of connection exist, as we
have seen, because both rhetoric and Platonic eschatological mythology are at the service of
16
On the relationship between myths and dxa, see, e.g., Levi (1946), 220-225; Tarrant (1990), 20-22, denies that
myth transmits true opinions (22), but it is difficult to see how myth can exert any effect without the existence
of opinions, e.g., those referring to the destiny of the soul in the hereafter.
17
Jaeger (1972), 540, attributes to the myth in the Gorgias a mere function of summary and synthesis within the work
of art.
18
See McMinn (1990), 225 and 234; Bescond (1986), 67-87 and Anton (1963/4), 165 and 171.
19
See Friedlnder (1973),189; see also Guthrie (1970), 241 sq. Dodds (1945), 23, speaks, in my opinion, correctly of
two types of truths truths of religion and truths of reason. The former cannot be demonstrated, such as the
existence of a judgement after death, and Plato does not claim for these more than a mere probability.
20
See Irwin (1979), 243.
21
Myth, as Matti (1988), 69, stated, reduces the listener to passivity.
lvaro Vallejo 143
persuasion. However, there are also differences, since this sort of rhetoric in Plato, as in
Aristotle, is also, in the apt expression of P. Ricoeur, a rhetoric under the vigilance of
philosophy
22
. I do not believe that its potential lies in prompting an impulse for
knowledge
23
in the soul to project it into the upper sphere of the . .c~ , but the
persuasion at which Plato is aiming is undoubtedly a point of encounter and mediation of
reason with the other irrational powers of human life, and is not, like the rhetoric practiced by
Gorgias (459c sq.), a mere instrument that is morally neutral and which can be placed at the
service of the highest bidder. It is discourse directed at the irrational, which touches the
emotional fibres of the soul, but bears a message for mankind and constitutes discourse of
moral exhortation that has been designed by the intelligence to overcome forces which, left to
their own dynamic, threaten to destroy the inner cosmos that makes human existence possible.
University of Granada
22
Ricoeur (1980), 17.
23
Erkenntnisimpulses, as stated by Rechenauer (2002), 240.
21 punti su persuasione e verit nel Gorgia
Giovanni Casertano
1. Mi riesce difficile riassumere in 15.000 caratteri un testo sulla verit nel Gorgia.
Capisco comunque le norme editoriali. E mi adeguo. Ma non presenter il riassunto di un
testo molto pi ampio, bens una serie di punti, o tesi, sul tipo di quelle 95 presentate a
Wittenberg (ma qui sono solo 21). Naturalmente, prive di ogni . . o..., che possa
giustificarle.
2. Il Gorgia un dialogo di contrapposizioni. H ., e c y, guerra e battaglia: le
parole iniziali con cui Callicle accoglie Socrate arrivato tardi alla festa (447a3)
costituiscono una chiave di lettura dellintero dialogo. Battaglie, dalle quali esce un solo
vincitore, ma che non n Socrate n uno dei suoi oppositori.
3. Prima fra tutte le contrapposizioni, evidenziata esplicitamente ed implicitamente,
quella tra retorica e giustizia, che richiama quella tra retorica e filosofia e quindi, un po pi
problematicamente, quella tra opinione e scienza, tra credere di sapere e sapere.
Lopposizione costruita da Socrate, con chiarezza di schema, alle pagine 464-465.
4. Lopposizione tra retorica e giustizia netta. E si colora di un carattere fondamentale:
quello della differenza tra scienza, o sapere, o anche sapere tecnico, e pura pratica empirica. E
infatti la retorica non una tecnica, ma un fare (462b11) una pratica (462c3), pratica che
produce una certa gioia o piacere (462c7), una mera pratica (465a3) che non sa dare affatto
ragione (465a3) di ci di cui si occupa, n della sua natura n della causa (465a5) di ciascuna
cosa.
5. Il carattere fondamentale della retorica quello di indurre nellascoltatore una
credenza, non una cognizione, perch il conoscere diverso dal credere: c -c., diversa
da . c~., (454d2); e poich pu esistere una credenza vera ed una falsa, ma non una scienza
(454d6-7) vera ed una falsa, chiaro (454d7) dunque che scienza e credenza non sono la
stessa cosa (454d8). Il fatto di indurre negli altri una credenza separata dalla conoscenza,
priva cio di |u ,, pone immediatamente la retorica nel campo di unempiria ingannatrice: la
retorica non ha bisogno di sapere come stanno le cose (459b8), le basta aver inventato
(459b9-c1) non una tecnica ma un artificio della persuasione (459b8-c1), per dar
limpressione (459c1) a coloro che non sanno di sapere pi di quelli che sanno.
6. Ma il rapporto tra sapere, credenza e persuasione non pu essere quello di una netta
separazione e quindi di una contrapposizione: perch, ammesso che la retorica non faccia
altro che persuadere coloro che non sanno, anche la scienza deve mettere in atto dei
meccanismi di persuasione e quindi di convinzione, di credenza. Per cui lopposizione non
pu essere semplicisticamente tra conoscenza e credenza, bens allinterno stesso della
credenza, che pu essere quella indotta dalla scienza oppure quella indotta dallopinione. Se
esiste allora una connessione tra persuasione, credenza e opinione, ne esister unaltra tra
persuasione, credenza e scienza. In altri termini, la persuasione e la credenza appartengono sia
Giovanni Casertano 145
alla scienza che allopinione. Allora dobbiamo stabilire (cfr. 454e3) due specie di persuasione
(454e3): una che produce credenza senza il sapere (454e3-4), laltra che produce il sapere
(454e8). La persuasione che produce il sapere sempre legittima, perch non pu esistere una
scienza ora vera ora falsa, mentre quella che produce la credenza a volte lo e a volte non lo
. La persuasione dunque non prerogativa solo della retorica, ma anche della scienza.
7. La credenza (. c~.,) lopinione (o c): ampiamente attestato nellorizzonte
platonico, nel quale pu esistere appunto unopinione vera ed unopinione falsa. E se la
persuasione appartiene sia allopinione che alla scienza, in questo ambito sia alla retorica che
alla giustizia, o alla filosofia, chiaro che tutta lopposizione a questo punto si gioca su di un
altro parametro. Che quello fondamentale della verit. Ma sar proprio lintroduzione del
parametro della verit, coniugato a quello della persuasione, a rendere estremamente
problematico tutto il discorso platonico, al di l delle apparentemente chiare e nette
distinzioni e contrapposizioni.
8. La contrapposizione tra retorica e giustizia, o tra retorica e filosofia, si mostra anche
nei metodi che ciascuna mette in opera: . . o..., e o.c.,.c-c. sono le due procedure che,
sempre ad apertura di dialogo (447a6, b2, b8, c1, 448d10-11), segnano subito il contrasto tra
Socrate e i suoi interlocutori. Il metodo dialettico comporta lesercizio della confutazione
reciproca dei dialoganti, non a scopo di semplice vittoria sullinterlocutore, ma proprio allo
scopo di giungere a buon fine nella propria ricerca (457c-458c). Nellorizzonte della verit.
9. Se ti confuto, dice Socrate, lo faccio non perch mi batto contro di te, ma perch mi
batto per largomento stesso (457e5): io mi lascio confutare volentieri (458a2) se dico
qualcosa di non vero (458a3), e confuto volentieri se qualcuno dice qualcosa di non vero. E
proprio a questo punto che si dischiude lorizzonte di unambiguit : cercare, indagare con le
parole il senso di altre parole, confutare e venire confutati nella convinzione di essere nella
verit, oltre che nel tentativo di trovare una verit, non un fatto tanto semplice. Perch,
infatti, lespressione se dico qualcosa di non vero indica il fatto che io posseggo una certa
opinione che considero vera ma che non lo pi nel momento in cui tu mi confuti, ed io
riconosco le ragioni del tuo confutarmi: acquisisco cos unaltra opinione, che questa volta
considero vera in rapporto alla precedente non pi vera. E se confuto te, lo stesso processo
pu avvenire in te (cfr. 453a-c).
10. Contrapposizioni di opinioni, dunque: il Gorgia, in effetti, un importante esempio,
tra laltro, proprio dellesistenza di questa possibilit (che pu darsi comunque nella
maggioranza delle discussioni, filosofiche e non) di discutere senza comunicare, di un
discutere cio in cui ciascuno espone le proprie opinioni e le contrappone a quelle dellaltro,
sottintende sensi, ed impone sensi, alle parole dellaltro senza curarsi della loro reale
presenza, ed andando avanti nelle proprie dimostrazioni in una condizione di totale
estraneit al mondo dellaltro.
11. Ma comunque in una presunzione di verit: Socrate dice la verit se il suo discorso
(che, nel confrontarsi con quello degli altri, esprime la sua opinione) riesce a far apparire
conseguente la sua tesi con le premesse poste in comune e concordate tra gli interlocutori:
fatto che in genere, nella drammaturgia platonica, gli riesce quasi sempre. Ma allo stesso
tempo Socrate convinto che il suo discorso, nonostante la dichiarazione di non sapere ma di
cercare, corrisponde alla verit, e sulla base di questa presunzione di verit confuta il discorso
dellaltro (cio ritiene che il discorso dellaltro vada confutato in quanto non vero); oppure
disposto a lasciarsi confutare in quanto riconosce che il discorso dellaltro sia vero (cio
ritiene che il proprio discorso vada confutato in quanto non vero). Nellun caso come
nellaltro, c una convinzione di verit presupposta alla confutazione, e quindi al discorso
dimostrativo-confutatorio vero e proprio; in altri termini, la situazione di partenza di un
21 punti su persuasione e verit nel Gorgia 146
dialogo quella in cui due interlocutori si affrontano, ciascuno credendo nella verit della
propria opinione e cercando di confutare quella dellaltro ritenuta falsa. Ma, formalmente, la
verit di unopinione rispetto allaltra pu essere affermata, cio riconosciuta dai due
interlocutori insieme, solo alla fine del dialogo, e precisamente quando uno dei due addiviene
allopinione dellaltro; o si trova una terza opinione che risulti accettata da ambedue, e perci
stabilita come vera (457-458, 476a-479e).
12. In effetti un accordo non si determina in nessun punto del nostro dialogo. Anche
perch per trovare un accordo c bisogno di unaltra condizione, che qui nel Gorgia
completamente assente. C bisogno dellamicizia tra i dialoganti. Questa condizione, alla
quale qui si accenna soltanto (473a), e chiaramente in tono ironico, cio a sottolineare che
appunto non c, stabilita chiaramente nel Menone (75b-d). Nel Gorgia non c. Gli
interlocutori non sono amici, e si fanno portatori non solo di concezioni diverse, ma
principalmente di modi diversi, se non opposti, di intendere e vivere la vita. E tutta
latmosfera del dialogo ad essere segnata, piuttosto, da inimicizia e incompatibilit tra gli
interlocutori, mascherate (ma nemmeno poi tanto) dalle profusioni di cordialit e di
gentilezze.
13. Limportanza dellaccordo viene sottolineata, comunque, proprio in relazione
allacquisizione della verit (472b-c). Nel corso della disputa con Polo (in 474c5-475c9), e
poi in quella con Callicle, Socrate lo afferma esplicitamente: Io so bene che, se tu
concorderai con me sulle opinioni della mia anima, esse da quel momento saranno vere
senzaltro (486e5-6). Lopinione concordata, dunque, diventa vera solo a partire dal
momento in cui viene concordata. E tra coloro che lhanno concordata: Il mio e il tuo
consenso sar realmente il raggiungimento (487e7) della verit.
14. Questa caratterizzazione della verit comporta una conseguenza. Nella discussione
tra Callicle e i suoi amici era prevalsa lopinione che la filosofia un esercizio conveniente
tra i giovani, ma che non bisogna esagerare e quindi filosofare anche in et matura, quando le
occupazioni di un uomo dovrebbero essere altre. In base a tutte le puntualizzazioni precedenti
fatte da Socrate, in particolare a 486e, lopinione concordata tra Callicle ed i suoi amici
vera. La stessa opinione per, nellincontro tra Callicle e Socrate, diventa falsa, e perci
devessere confutata da Socrate. Il che non significa soltanto che unopinione, appunto, pu
essere vera o falsa, fatto che non turba nessuno, ma comporta anche unaltra domanda: se la
verit sempre lopinione concordata, pu esistere una verit che sia indipendente dal
contesto in cui viene enunciata?
15. Il fatto che i meccanismi della persuasione, sui quali si basa la possibilit della
realizzazione di un accordo, non dipendono esclusivamente dalla rigore e dalla correttezza dei
procedimenti dimostrativi. Alle spalle di Platone e del Gorgia, c sempre Gorgia. Con la sua
affermazione (Encomio di Elena) che la parola, il discorso, deve moltissimo della sua
efficacia persuasiva alle qualit della sfera del -u,, del c-,, insomma dell -, di colui
al quale si parla. Ci sono almeno tre punti nel nostro dialogo in cui questo appare
chiaramente. In 481-482 Socrate comincia con lo stabilire, in linea generale, che se gli uomini
non avessero in comune una certa affezione (481c5-6) e ognuno avesse unaffezione
particolare (481c7) non sarebbe facile manifestare (481d1) ad un altro la propria affezione
(481d1). Ma qui i due amori, di Callicle e di Socrate, appaiono opposti. Questo ci porta a
dedurre che non basta identificare la possibilit di comunicare e di accordarsi tra due
dialoganti con la presenza in loro di un pathos e di un eros, ma occorrerebbe anche che essi
fossero accomunati dallo stesso pathos e dallo stesso eros, dal momento che latteggiamento
concreto di ciascuno non dovuto al fatto che sente, ma che sente una cosa e non
unaltra. Ed allora la premessa vera ad un reale accordo che si senta la stessa cosa. Con
Giovanni Casertano 147
tutto ci che ne consegue: tra laltro, che si pu convincere realmente solo chi sente gi in
modo analogo al nostro.
16. Il secondo punto a fine dialogo, a combattimento ormai concluso tra Socrate e
Callicle, quando non resta al primo che ricorrere al mito. Dove Socrate, rifiutando linvito di
Callicle ad adulare gli Ateniesi e preannunciando che se mai entrer, da accusato, in un
tribunale, vi entrer come uomo che non ha mai commesso ingiustizia, prevede anche che
sar giudicato cos come un medico accusato da un cuoco davanti a bambini.
17. Il terzo passo in 513b-c. Socrate, a conclusione del suo lungo discorso che
contrappone il vivere a lungo al vivere bene (511c-513b), enuncia quello che potrebbe essere
una costatazione dordine generale: Ognuno si rallegra di sentire discorsi conformi al
proprio carattere (513b8-c1) e si irrita, invece, dei discorsi estranei a lui. Al che Callicle
ribatte: non so come, mi pare che tu parli bene (513c4), ma provo laffezione (513c5) che
capita ai pi: non sono abbastanza persuaso (513c5-6). E, a conferma appunto del fatto che
allaccordo ed alla convinzione, e a dispetto di qualsivoglia dimostrazione, cos come alla
verit, fanno da ostacolo appunto le passioni, Socrate cos spiega: lamore del popolo che ti
contrappone a me (513c7-8).
18. Un carattere formale della verit la sua inconfutabilit, sempre (473b10-11); ma
una qualit che prescinde dal contenuto della tesi sostenuta: ciascuno dei sostenitori di tesi
contrapposte ritiene infatti la propria inconfutabile, appunto in quanto vera. La
contrapposizione dei due discorsi, insieme alla formalit della verit, si riscontra in tutta la
discussione sulla felicit di Archelao. Questa un fatto verificabile con lesperienza: ma la
verit di una conclusione risiede sempre e solo nel discorso : stando al discorso, infatti, che
lingiusto infelice, io so che, se Archelao ingiusto, allora infelice, indipendentemente
dalla verifica pratica che consiste nel verificare se Archelao effettivamente ingiusto e quindi
nel sapere se infelice. In altri termini, la definizione della felicit a stabilire se uno
felice o no. Ma in due discorsi che collidono e non trovano un accordo, verit rimane la
pleonexia per Callicle e per coloro che condividono le sue concezioni ed il suo modo di vita,
verit rimane la giustizia per Socrate e per coloro che lo seguono. E le due verit sono
contrapposte. Stabilire, dunque, che pu esistere una credenza, e dunque unopinione, vera ed
una falsa, ma pu esistere soltanto una scienza vera (454d), allora solo uno stabilire in via di
principio: infatti nel confronto e nello scontro tra le opinioni che si potr concordare,
eventualmente, quale lopinione vera, e dunque la verit.
19. Il richiamarsi ad una verit dei fatti non modifica la situazione. Callicle afferma
che la sua verit comprovata dai fatti (492c4-5). Socrate, da un lato, riafferma una verit che
prescinda completamente da ogni riferimento ai fatti, cio a numero e qualit delle
testimonianze su fatti, addotti a favore della verit di una tesi (471e7-472a1, 472b4-5, 474a,
476a, 482c1, 482c3): riafferma cio che preferisce restare da solo con la propria verit
piuttosto che contraddirsi. Ma, dallaltro lato, non pu sfuggire allesigenza di portare fatti a
conferma delle proprie opinioni. Quando Callicle cita i nomi di Cimone, Milziade e Pericle,
adducendo a sostegno della propria tesi la testimonianza delle loro opere in vantaggio della
citt, Socrate cita a sua volta unaltra prova, e cio il fatto che a Cimone e a Temistocle gli
Ateniesi diedero lostracismo, votarono per precipitare Milziade nella voragine, e Pericle fu
condannato alla fine della sua carriera per concussione, e per poco non fu condannato anche a
morte: fatto assolutamente in contrasto con la tesi che quei politici avevano reso migliori i
cittadini.
20. Ci troviamo, insomma, nel Gorgia, sempre di fronte a due opinioni contrapposte.
Tutti gli interlocutori possono in effetti convenire su tutte le caratteristiche della verit
enunciate da Socrate: la sua inconfutabilit, il suo dover presentarsi in un discorso
21 punti su persuasione e verit nel Gorgia 148
argomentativo corretto, e principalmente il suo esser confermata dai fatti. Eppure gli
interlocutori possono continuare a non trovare un accordo e quindi a non convincersi
reciprocamente. La conferma della verit nei fatti, in particolare, un carattere che non vale a
convincere della verit di un discorso, perch sempre linterpretazione ed il senso di quel
fatto che costituiscono laffermazione di verit in un discorso, e di falsit nel discorso
opposto. Questa situazione esplicita: per Callicle natura e legge sono contrapposte (483a7-
b1), e la natura stessa dimostra (483c9) che giusto che il migliore abbia pi del peggiore e il
pi potente del meno potente: e per lui questa la verit (484c4). Ma anche Socrate, dopo
aver ripetuto di non sapere in effetti come stanno le cose, afferma che tutti quelli che parlano
diversamente da lui appaiono ridicoli, e dunque le cose stanno come egli sostiene (509a7).
Poco prima, dimostrando che piacere e bene non sono la stessa cosa, aveva drasticamente
concluso: Io sostengo questo e affermo che la verit (507c8-9).
21. Il Gorgia dunque la rappresentazione di una battaglia. Una battaglia, nella quale i
due contendenti sono ambedue convinti di possedere la verit e lo proclamano apertamente;
proclamando cos la falsit (o la ridicolaggine) del discorso contrapposto. Una battaglia, nella
quale le confutazioni che ciascuno rivolge al discorso dellaltro non hanno nessun effetto, non
dimostrano assolutamente nulla per la persona alla quale sono rivolte. C una totale
estraneit tra gli interlocutori, esplicitamente riconosciuta (cfr. ancora 453c, 462e-463a, 472d-
473a, 489b-492d), uno scontro tra ,. c |~.-.. .|.: discorsi che non trovano alcuna
mediazione. Perch, in fondo, la verit non solo un fatto di pura logica, ma principalmente
di scelta di vita.
Universit di Napoli
Analogien und Antistrophen.
Zur Bestimmung der Rhetorik in Platons Gorgias
Walter Mesch
Platons Gorgias enthlt eine Bestimmung der Rhetorik, die hufig zu Verwunderung,
Befremdung und Ablehnung gefhrt hat. Die Rhetorik ist demnach berhaupt keine Kunst
(techne), sondern wie das Kochen nur eine Erfahrung (empeiria) in der Bewirkung eines
gewissen Wohlgefallens und von Lust (462e). Als eine bloe Erfahrung bzw. Fertigkeit
(tribe) gehre sie mit dem Kochen, dem Herausputzen und der Sophistik zu den
Schmeicheleien (kolakeiai), die eine natrliche Treffsicherheit ohne Technik besen (463a-
c). Die besondere Schmeichelei der Rhetorik liege darin, da sie von einem Teile der
Staatskunst das Schattenbild sei (463c). Um diese schwer verstndliche Bestimmung zu
erlutern, verweist Sokrates zunchst auf die Differenz von Leib und Seele, wobei er betont,
da in beiden Fllen ein scheinbares von einem wahrhaften Wohlbefinden unterschieden
werden msse (464a). Dann setzt er zu einer etwas lngeren Rede an, die jene vier
Schmeicheleien durch vier antistrophische Knste ergnzt (464b/c), Schmeicheleien als
Verkleidungen von Knsten bestimmt (464c-465b) und ihre Verhltnisse durch Analogien
verdeutlicht (465c). Als Ergebnis hlt er schlielich fest, die Rhetorik sei Antistrophe des
Kochens, fr die Seele, was jenes fr den Leib (465e).
Es ist schwer, diese Passage angemessen zu verstehen. Einerseits nimmt sie im
Gesprchsverlauf eine zentrale Stellung ein, weil sie systematisierende Konsequenzen aus
dem Vorangegangenen zieht, an denen Sokrates auch im folgenden festhlt. Andererseits
gelangt sie zu ihrem radikalen Ergebnis, indem sie von weitreichenden Voraussetzungen
ausgeht, die sie nur uerst knapp erlutert. Wie nicht anders zu erwarten, sind diese
Voraussetzungen deshalb hufig kritisiert worden. Man hat bezweifelt, da Erfahrung und
Kunst bzw. scheinbares und wahres Wohlbefinden strikt differenziert werden knnten, da
sich jene Schmeicheleien tatschlich in die angefhrten Knste verkleiden wrden und da
Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit als Antistrophen von Gymnastik und Medizin zu betrachten
wren.
1
Blickt man auf das radikale Ergebnis, das aus diesen Voraussetzungen gewonnen
wird, mu seine auffllige Einseitigkeit irritieren. Der systematische Aufwand zielt scheinbar
nur auf eine Widerlegung der falschen Rhetorik. Von der wahren Rhetorik, die auf
dialektischer Grundlage vom Guten berzeugt und deshalb als techne zu gelten vermag, ist
1
Irwin (1979) verweist z.B. darauf, da es nicht klar sei, wie weit sich Sokrates auf irgendeine akzeptierte
Unterscheidung von empeiria und techne beziehe und wie weit er eine eigene Unterscheidung herausarbeite (130).
Noch deutlicher ist seine Kritik am Verkleidungsgedanken: But surely Socrates is wrong to say that cookery
pretends to offer healthy food (134). Dodds (1959) bezweifelt die Triftigkeit der Antistrophen, weil den
individuellen Leibesknsten keine politischen Seelenknste entsprechen knnten. Das wahre Gegenstck zu
Gymnastik und Medizin knne allenfalls die Erziehung sein. Im Hintergrund stehe jedoch Platons berzeugung,
da Politik wesentlich auf Erziehung ziele (227).
Analogien und Antistrophen 150
noch keine Rede, obwohl spter deutlich wird, da sie in denselben Zusammenhang gehrt
(503a).
Nun kann man natrlich sagen, da der sokratische Schlag gegen die zeitgenssischen
Redner durch die Bercksichtigung der wahren Rhetorik weniger wirkungsvoll geworden
wre.
2
Und da es Platon zunchst darum gehen mute, diesen Schlag wirkungsvoll zu
fhren, bevor er sein eigenes Rhetorikverstndnis erlutern konnte, ist sicher nachvollziehbar.
Dennoch bleibt die Frage, wie sich die umfassende Anlage der sokratischen Argumentation
mit ihrem einseitigen Widerlegungsziel vereinbaren lt. Es ist nmlich kaum zu bersehen,
da hierin eine gewisse Spannung liegt, zumal die spttische Bestimmung der Rhetorik als
Antistrophe des Kochens einen bissigen Humor verrt, der auffallend mit dem belehrenden
Ton der Ableitung kontrastiert. Was sich in dieser Spannung zeigt, wird meines Erachtens erst
dann deutlich, wenn man erkennt, da die sokratische Argumentation ein Beispiel jener
wahren Rhetorik liefert, die spter ausdrcklich eingefhrt wird. Da Sokrates hier selbst eine
lngere Rede hlt, die auf das dialektische Versagen des begriffsstutzigen Polos reagiert, ist
bereits hufig bemerkt, aber nicht genauer analysiert worden.
3
Ich mchte im folgenden
versuchen, die Bedeutung dieser sokratischen Rhetorik zu erlutern, indem ich mich auf das
Verhltnis von Analogien und Antistrophen konzentriere. Dabei drfte es zunchst ratsam
sein, an den Gesamtrahmen der Problematik zu erinnern.
I
Das Verstndnis der Rhetorik, das der Gorgias entwickelt, wird vorrangig durch ihre
Kritik bestimmt. Es geht weniger darum, was sie aus Sicht der platonischen Dialektik sein
knnte und sollte, als darum, was sie im zeitgenssischen Kontext ist. Sokrates kritisiert das
Selbstverstndnis der Rhetorik, wie es von der berhmten Titelfigur vertreten wird. In dessen
Zentrum steht die methodenstolze Annahme, die rhetorische Sprachbeherrschung mache den
Redner berzeugender als jeden Fachmann (452e). Dadurch sei sie das grte Gut (megiston
agathon), das in jeder Polis erlaube, selbst frei zu sein und ber andere zu herrschen (452d).
Als ihr Bettigungsfeld dienten Gerichte und andere politische Versammlungen, auf denen sie
berzeugend vom Gerechten und Ungerechten zu reden ermgliche (454b). Die sokratische
Kritik hlt dem entgegen, da es sich dabei nur um ein unsachliches berreden handeln
knne, solange der effektvollen Gestaltung der Sprache keine Einsicht in ihren Gegenstand
entspreche. Ohne Einsicht in die Gerechtigkeit erzeuge die rhetorische peitho lediglich
Glauben ohne Wissen, drfe sie lediglich als glaubenmachend (pisteutikes), nicht aber als
belehrend (didaskalikes) gelten (454e-455a).
Gorgias stimmt zwar zu, ist aber keineswegs beeindruckt. Vielmehr kommt er auf seinen
Grundgedanken zurck und lobt erneut die dynamis der Rhetorik, die so gro sei, da sie in
jedem politischen Meinungsstreit zu siegen erlaube (456a). Einen starken Beleg liefere der
Sieg des Redners ber den Arzt. Wenn es darum ginge, Kranke zu einer unangenehmen
Behandlung zu berreden oder sich von einer Versammlung zum Arzt whlen zu lassen, sei
immer der Redner erfolgreicher. Denn es gibt nichts, worber nicht ein Redner berredender
sprche als irgendein Sachverstndiger vor dem Volke. (456c) Obwohl Gorgias betont, da
der Redner diese allumfassende dynamis nicht ungerecht gebrauchen drfe, steht sie doch so
sehr im Zentrum seines Rhetorikverstndnisses, da ihre Restriktion durch Gerechtigkeit
uerlich wirkt. Sie scheint mit dem Wesen der gorgianischen Rhetorik gar nichts zu tun zu
haben, sondern lediglich einer konventionellen Moral geschuldet zu sein. Sokrates konstruiert
2
Hellwig (1973), 38.
3
Man vgl. etwa Friedlnder (1957
2
), 234; Babut (1992), 70; Dalfen (2004), 241 und 246.
Walter Mesch 151
daraus sogar einen Widerspruch. Entweder beziehe sich die Rhetorik auf die Gerechtigkeit,
wie Gorgias zunchst behauptet habe, und knne deshalb gar nicht ungerecht gebraucht
werden, oder ihr ungerechter Gebrauch sei mglich, wie er spter behauptet habe, und ihr
Bezug auf die Gerechtigkeit lasse sich nicht aufrecht erhalten (460d-461a).
Dieser Widerspruch entsteht freilich nur, wenn der rhetorische Bezug auf die
Gerechtigkeit anders als im Falle der Gesundheit, wo der Redner als medizinischer Laie mit
dem Arzt konkurriert echtes Wissen voraussetzt und sich nicht mit dessen Schein zufrieden
gibt (459c-e). Gorgias hatte dies kurz zuvor eingerumt. Wenn jemand zu ihm kme, der
zufllig noch nicht wte, was Gerechtigkeit sei, so wre auch das von ihm zu lernen (460a).
Mit diesem Eingestndnis liefert er das Motiv fr das Eingreifen des Polos, der darin eine
Inkonsequenz sieht. Gorgias htte sich lediglich geschmt, das Wissen um die Gerechtigkeit
fr unwesentlich zu erklren, weil hierin niemand unwissend und unfhig zur Lehre sein
wolle (461b/c). Dabei geht Polos offenkundig davon aus, da sich die Rhetorik zur
Gerechtigkeit nicht anders verhlt als zur Gesundheit oder einem anderen Expertenthema.
Aus seiner Sicht besitzt Wissen auch hier keine limitierende Funktion. Der Redner mag zwar
ebenso ber konventionelles Gerechtigkeitswissen verfgen wie weniger begabte
Zeitgenossen. Aber diese Konventionen drfen den Gebrauch der Rhetorik nicht
einschrnken, wenn ihr Erfolg nicht behindert werden soll. Auch hier mu vom Redner
Schein angestrebt werden, wenn er zur berredung beitrgt.
In gewisser Weise wird diese Auffassung durch die sokratische Kritik besttigt, weil
sich die Rhetorik als Antistrophe des Kochens genauso wenig auf die Gerechtigkeit bezieht
wie das Kochen auf die Gesundheit. Anders als Polos glaubt, bedeutet dies allerdings, da die
Rhetorik gar nichts Schnes, Gutes oder Wahres ist. Denn ihre Miachtung des Wissens fhrt
nach Sokrates dazu, da sie lediglich Angenehmes trifft, das dem Unwissenden gut zu sein
scheint, nicht aber wahrhaft Gutes. Wegen dieses Miverstndnisses ist ihre dynamis
keineswegs so gro, wie sie sich dnkt, sondern uerst gering, weil der Redner letztlich das
Gegenteil dessen erreicht, was er anstrebt. Indem Sokrates die Rhetorik in ein System von
Schmeicheleien einordnet, die Knste nachahmen, ohne deren Ziel zu treffen, fat er die
verschiedenen Aspekte dieses Miverstndnisses zusammen. Es kann deshalb kaum
berraschen, da die Grundlinien seiner Kritik auch im Fortgang des Gesprchs bestimmend
bleiben. Dies gilt nicht nur fr den zweiten Teil der Auseinandersetzung mit Polos, der das
Thema der dynamis erneut in den Vordergrund rckt (466a ff.), sondern auch fr die lange
Auseinandersetzung mit Kallikles, dessen Eingreifen das Gesprch abermals radikalisiert und
Sokrates vor allem Gelegenheit dazu gibt, die Differenz von Angenehmem und Gutem
genauer zu erlutern (494c ff.). Obwohl das Gesprch zunehmend ethische Voraussetzungen
thematisiert, bleibt der Zusammenhang mit dem Rhetorikthema durchgngig gewahrt.
Dabei wird deutlich, da der blo rhetorische Umgang mit der Sprache nach Platon
unweigerlich auf sophistische Ansichten ber Glck, Tugend und Erziehung fhrt. Wer
glaube, bloes berreden diene dem Erfolg, weil es eine geschickte Tuschung ermgliche,
der tusche nicht nur andere, sondern auch sich selbst. Denn das gute Leben sei ohne Einsicht
in das wahrhaft Gute nicht zu verwirklichen. Aus platonischer Sicht mu die zeitgenssische
Rhetorik daher ebenso unnachsichtig widerlegt werden wie die Sophistik, zumal sie deren
wichtigstes Instrument ist (vgl. Prot. 319a). Ihre sophistische Tendenz zeigt sich auch in der
Dramaturgie des Dialogs, die den gemigten Gorgias durch seine radikalen Schler
berbieten lt. Whrend Gorgias den Redner auf Gerechtigkeit verpflichtet, orientieren sich
Polos und Kallikles am Ideal der Tyrannis, die konventionell als ungerecht gilt. Indem sie die
Tyrannis mit dem gorgianischen Ziel freier Herrschaft identifizieren, sind sie nicht blo
bedenkliche Figuren, die sich zufllig seiner Rhetorik bedienen, sondern entlarven ihre fatale
Analogien und Antistrophen 152
Tendenz. Die Dynamis einer rein methodisch verstandenen Rhetorik ldt dazu ein, wie die
Dynamis eines Tyrannen gebraucht zu werden. Jene Antistrophe des Kochens, die lediglich
Schattenbild (eidolon) der Gerechtigkeit bzw. Rechtsprechung ist, hat also durchaus fatale
Konsequenzen. Und da dies so ist, zeigt bereits das sokratische System der Schmeicheleien,
indem es Rhetorik und Sophistik parallelisiert.
II
Nachdem deutlich geworden ist, wie unsere Passage mit der Gesamtthematik des
Dialogs verknpft ist, gilt es nun, ihre umstrittene Argumentation genauer zu analysieren.
Was versucht Sokrates eigentlich zu zeigen? Und vor allem: Wie versucht er es zu zeigen?
Meines Erachtens hat man dem sokratischen Vorgehen hufig zu wenig Aufmerksamkeit
gewidmet und sich zu sehr auf die schematisch darstellbaren Verhltnisse von vier Knsten
und vier Schmeicheleien konzentriert.
4
Auerdem hat man die verschiedenen Verhltnisarten
oft nicht deutlich genug voneinander unterschieden. Vor allem sind Antistrophen keine
Analogien, sondern besondere Verhltnisse, die in der sokratischen Argumentation zum Teil
Analogien fundieren und zum Teil auf der Grundlage von Analogien erschlossen werden, und
zwar auf der Grundlage von Analogien, die wiederum in einer bestimmten Weise zu
verstehen sind, weil sie auf eine bestimmte Weise, nmlich fundiert durch Antistrophen,
eingefhrt werden. Solange diese antistrophische Fundierung der sokratischen Analogien
unbercksichtigt bleibt, besteht die Gefahr, da man die sokratische Argumentation fr
wissenschaftlicher hlt, als sie es beansprucht. Denn nur hierin zeigt sich, wie sie sich als
wahre Rhetorik realisieren und auf eine genaue Erluterung der skizzierten Verhltnisse
verzichten kann. Umkehrt wird erst hierin verstndlich, wie Sokrates in seiner Rhetorikkritik
auf Rhetorik zurckgreifen kann, ohne sich selbst zu widerlegen.
In seiner kleinen Rede argumentiert Sokrates zunchst in drei Schritten, bevor er
nochmals betont, wie wichtig es ist, da der Krper durch die Seele beherrscht wird, und das
Ergebnis formuliert, da sich die Rhetorik antistrophisch zum Kochen verhlt. Erstens
werden Seelentechnai von Leibestechnai unterschieden und ihr Verhltnis als Antistrophe
gedeutet. Dabei besitzen die Seelentechnai der Gesetzgebung (nomothetike) und
Gerechtigkeit (dikaiosyne)
5
den gemeinsamen Namen der Staatskunst (politike), whrend die
Leibestechnai keinen gemeinsamen Namen besitzen: Ich setze von diesem einen Dienst am
Leibe wiederum zwei Teile, zum einen die Gymnastik (gymnastike), zum anderen die
Medizin (iatrike), vom Dienst am Staat als antistrophisch zur Gymnastik die Gesetzgebung
und als antistrophisch zur Medizin die Gerechtigkeit. (464b) Was im vorliegenden Kontext
eine Antistrophe ist, mu primr von hieraus verstanden werden. Zweitens fhrt er auf der
Seite des Leibes das Kochen (opsopoiike) und das Herausputzen (kommotike) als
Verkleidungen der Medizin und der Gymnastik an. Die Verkleidung, durch die sich
Schmeicheleien an die Stelle von technai setzen, wird nur fr diese Verkleidungen von
Leibestechnai erlutert, und mu deshalb primr von hieraus verstanden werden. Im Zentrum
steht dabei die Verkleidung des Koches in den Arzt, weil sie den Bezugspunkt fr das
Verstndnis der Rhetorik liefert. Drittens bildet Sokrates nach dem Vorbild der Geometer
4
Besonders differenziert ist die Darstellung bei Schmalzriedt (1969), 213 ff.
5
Der Kontext macht klar, da Gerechtigkeit hier die techne der Rechtsprechung meint. Man mag sich deshalb
fragen, warum im Text nicht ausdrcklich von Rechtsprechung (dikastike) die Rede ist. Ich vermute, da der
uerliche Systembruch mit dem Ungengen der traditionellen Rechtsprechung zu tun hat, die aus platonischer
Sicht viel zu stark durch die zeitgenssische Rhetorik geprgt ist, um als techne der Gerechtigkeit gelten zu
knnen. Ein aufflliger Hinweis auf den Gerechtigkeitsbezug wahrer Rechtsprechung mu von hieraus geboten
erscheinen. Die sophistische Prgung der traditionellen Gesetzgebung drfte aus platonischer Sicht dagegen
geringer sein.
Walter Mesch 153
eine Reihe von Analogien, nmlich da (1) wie das Herausputzen zur Gymnastik, so das
Kochen zur Medizin, oder vielmehr (2) wie das Herausputzen zur Gymnastik, so die
Sophistik zur Gesetzgebung, und (3) wie das Kochen zur Medizin, so die Rhetorik zur
Gerechtigkeit. (465c) Die erste Analogie ist nur deshalb bedeutsam, weil sich das
Herausputzen etwas leichter als Verkleidung verstehen lt als das fr die Rhetorik
wichtigere Kochen. Von zentraler Bedeutung sind dagegen die zweite und die dritte Analogie,
die auch Sophistik und Rhetorik als Verkleidungen erlutern.
Was mit diesen Schritten gewonnen sein soll, liegt auf der Hand. Offenkundig versuchen
die Analogien (im dritten Schritt), das Verstndnis der Verkleidung (aus dem zweiten Schritt)
auf Sophistik und Rhetorik zu beziehen. Sophistik und Rhetorik verhalten sich demnach so zu
Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit, wie Herausputzen und Kochen zu Gymnastik und Medizin,
nmlich wie bloe Verkleidungen zum Verkleideten bzw. Schattenbilder zu ihren Vorbildern.
Nimmt man dies mit dem antistrophischen Verhltnis von Seelentechnai zu Leibestechnai
(aus dem ersten Schritt) zusammen, lt sich auch ein antistrophisches Verhltnis von bloen
Seelenfertigkeiten zu Leibesfertigkeiten behaupten, wie es fr die Rhetorik explizit geschieht
und fr die Sophistik leicht zu ergnzen wre. Die Rhetorik ist Antistrophe des Kochens und
die Sophistik Antistrophe des Herausputzens (465e). Sie sind Antistrophen, weil ihre
technischen Vorbilder Antistrophen sind. Denn Abbilder, die nichts anderes sind als
Verkleidungen ihrer Vorbilder, mssen zueinander im selben Verhltnis stehen wie diese.
Geht man von den Analogien aus, die auch Sophistik und Rhetorik als bloe Verkleidungen
technischer Vorbilder bestimmen, ist das Ergebnis der Argumentation also unschwer
nachvollziehbar. Doch was erlaubt es den Analogien eigentlich, Sophistik und Rhetorik als
Verkleidungen von Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit zu bestimmen? Wodurch wird es fr
Sokrates mglich, auf der Seite der Seele dasselbe Verhltnis auszumachen, wie es auf der
Seite des Leibes bereits erlutert wurde?
Es ist keineswegs leicht, diese Fragen zu beantworten, und zwar aus gutem Grund. Denn
die Analogien werden ja gerade als Abkrzungen eingefhrt, die eine allzu lange Rede
verhindern sollen (465b). Eine ausfhrliche Erluterung sophistischer und rhetorischer
Verkleidung liefern sie deshalb nicht. Gleichwohl wird man sie kaum als bloe Behauptungen
betrachten drfen, wenn sie irgendeinen Beitrag zur Argumentation leisten sollen. Und da
sie als ein solcher Beitrag intendiert sind, zeigt nicht nur der Vergleich mit dem Vorgehen der
Geometer, sondern auch der zweite Schritt der Argumentation, der ja schon behauptet hatte,
alle Schmeicheleien seien Verkleidungen von Knsten, obwohl dies nur fr die Seite des
Leibes ausgefhrt wurde. Sogar schon vor seiner eigentlichen Rede hatte Sokrates gesagt, die
Rhetorik sei das Schattenbild von einem Teile der Staatskunst. In den Analogien soll also
sicher mehr geliefert werden als eine bloe Wiederholung dieser These oder ihrer spteren
Konkretisierung, die das Schattenbild als Verkleidung erlutert. Es geht darum, verstndlich
zu machen, als was sich die Rhetorik verkleidet, weil nur damit wirklich verstndlich werden
kann, inwiefern sie berhaupt eine Verkleidung ist. Dabei geht es klarerweise darum, sie von
hnlichen Phnomenen zu unterscheiden und eine mglichst trennscharfe Bestimmung zu
finden. Da die Sophistik mit in den Blick kommt, kann vor dem Hintergrund des bisherigen
Gesprchsverlaufs also kaum berraschen. Und damit sind wir wieder bei der Frage
angekommen, was es eigentlich erlaubt, die Sophistik als Verkleidung der Gesetzgebung und
die Rhetorik als Verkleidung der Gerechtigkeit zu erlutern.
Meines Erachtens lt sich nur dann eine Antwort finden, wenn man den zweiten Schritt
mit dem ersten Schritt der sokratischen Argumentation verbindet. Sophistik und Rhetorik sind
Verkleidungen von Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit, weil Herausputzen und Kochen
Verkleidungen von Gymnastik und Medizin sind und Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit
Analogien und Antistrophen 154
Antistrophen von Gymnastik und Medizin. Die Analogien (2) und (3) lassen sich anders als
die Analogie (1), die sich auf Verhltnisse des Leibes beschrnkt, nur dann angemessen
verstehen, wenn man erkennt, inwiefern sie antistrophisch fundiert sind. Und antistrophisch
fundiert sind sie insofern, als nur dann verstndlich zu machen ist, warum die Verkleidungen
auf der Seite der Seele denen auf der Seite des Leibes entsprechen sollen, wenn davon
ausgegangen wird, da die verkleideten technai eine derartige Entsprechung aufweisen. Es
mu davon ausgegangen werden, da Seelentechnai Antistrophen von Leibestechnai sind,
weshalb eine bestimmte Seelentechne einer bestimmten Leibestechne entspricht. Was damit
gemeint ist, zeigt sich an der Differenz der Leibestechnai. Die Gesetzgebung drfte der
Gymnastik entsprechen, weil sie ebenso auf die Herstellung des Guten fr die Seele zielt wie
diese auf die Herstellung des Guten fr den Leib. Als techne der Rechtsprechung drfte die
Gerechtigkeit dagegen ebenso auf dessen Wiederherstellung zielen wie die Medizin.
Der Zusammenhang ist so offensichtlich, da er von den meisten Interpreten erkannt
wurde: In der Gesetzgebung wird Gerechtigkeit hergestellt wie Gesundheit in der Gymnastik
und in der Rechtsprechung wird Gerechtigkeit wiederhergestellt wie Gesundheit in der
Medizin. Nur wenn dieser Zusammenhang aus dem ersten Schritt gilt, kann aus dem zweiten
Schritt gefolgert werden, da sich Sophistik und Rhetorik zu Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit
verhalten wie Herausputzen und Kochen zu Gymnastik und Medizin, da sie nmlich ebenso
Verkleidungen bestimmter Seelentechnai sind wie sich diese in bestimmte Leibestechnai
verkleiden. Dabei ist natrlich vorausgesetzt, da es sich auch hier um irgendwelche
Verkleidungen handelt und da keine anderen technai als Vorbilder in Frage kommen.
Folgern lt sich deshalb nur die Zuordnung von Sophistik und Gesetzgebung bzw. von
Rhetorik und Gerechtigkeit. Oder negativ formuliert: Ausgeschlossen wird ihre Zuordnung
ber Kreuz. Obwohl sich Sophistik und Rhetorik ebenso hneln wie Gesetzgebung und
Gerechtigkeit, mssen sie nach deren Vorbild unterschieden werden (464c, 465c). Die
Sophistik ist Verkleidung einer techne, die ebenso auf die Herstellung des Guten fr die Seele
zielt wie das Herausputzen auf die Herstellung des Guten fr den Krper. Die Rhetorik
verkleidet sich dagegen ebenso in eine technische Wiederherstellung dieses Guten wie das
Kochen. Im Grunde geschieht in den Analogien (2) und (3) somit gar nichts anderes als eine
bertragung des antistrophischen Verhltnisses von Seelen- und Leibestechnai (aus dem
ersten Schritt) auf ihre Verkleidungen, die durch eine Erluterung der Verkleidung von
Leibestechnai (aus dem zweiten Schritt) vermittelt ist.
Es wre deshalb nicht richtig, die drei Schritte der Argumentation als Etablierung dreier
unabhngiger Prmissen zu betrachten, aus deren Verbindung dann erst noch zu folgern wre,
da die Rhetorik Antistrophe des Kochens ist. Denn einerseits ist der dritte Schritt bereits eine
Folgerung aus den beiden vorangegangenen Schritten. Und andererseits versteht man nur,
warum sich die Rhetorik zur Gesetzgebung verhlt wie das Kochen zur Medizin, bzw. warum
sie ebenso eine Verkleidung ist wie das Kochen, indem man versteht, warum sie eine
Antistrophe des Kochens ist, bzw. warum auch sie Verkleidung einer techne ist, der es um die
Wiederherstellung eines Guten geht. Es ist deshalb kein Zufall, da Sokrates am Ende seiner
Rede keine (weitere) Folgerung zieht, sondern nur auf etwas aufmerksam macht, das in den
Analogien bereits verstanden sein mu. Was ich nun meine, da die Rhetorik sei, hast du
gehrt (akekoas), nmlich die Antistrophe zum Kochen, fr die Seele, was diese fr den
Leib. Die Behauptung dieses antistrophischen Verhltnisses ist also nur insofern durch
Analogien fundiert, als es in den Analogien (2) und (3) implizit vorweggenommen ist, nicht
aber insofern, als es durch die Analogien begrndet wrde. Umgekehrt hngt die Geltung
dieser Analogien aber durchaus von der Geltung des antistrophischen Verhltnisses zwischen
Walter Mesch 155
Seelen- und Leibestechnai ab. Denn ohne dieses Verhltnis und die Verkleidung von
Leibestechnai sind sie nicht zu begrnden.
III
Was ist von dieser Argumentation zu halten? Ich hatte angedeutet, da mir die
antistrophische Fundierung der Analogien zu zeigen scheint, inwiefern die sokratische
Rhetorikkritik rhetorisch vorgeht, ohne sich selbst zu widerlegen. Diese Andeutung gilt es
nun abschlieend auszufhren. Offenkundig handelt es sich um eine Argumentation, die ihre
Prmissen nicht eingehend problematisiert, diskutiert und przisiert, sondern nur im Umri
skizziert. Erlutert werden sie eigentlich nur insofern, als Sokrates die postulierten
Verhltnisse in der Seele durch einen Vergleich mit dem Krper veranschaulicht. Wir
erfahren nicht genauer, was ein eidolon ist, und erst recht nicht, ob es in der Seele dieselbe
Form besitzt wie im beispielhaft angefhrten Leib. Geliefert wird lediglich eine anschauliche
Erluterung einer viergliedrigen Schmeichelei, die sich als techne verkleidet (hypodusa), was
fr das Herausputzen besonders einleuchtet, weil sich die Metapher der Verkleidung hier
beinahe buchstblich auffassen lt. Wir erfahren nicht genauer, was eine techne ist, und erst
recht nicht, ob sie im Falle der Gesetzgebung und Rechtspflege dieselbe Form besitzen kann
wie bei Gymnastik und Medizin. Zumindest erfahren wir nicht mehr, als da eine techne
wirklich auf das Gute zielt und den Grund ihres Vorgehens anzugeben wei. Und was dies
bedeutet, ergibt sich primr aus der Konkurrenz von Arzt und Koch, die bei einer ditetischen
Medizin auf Anhieb einzuleuchten vermag.
In der sokratischen Erluterung von Seelenverhltnissen durch Leibesverhltnisse
spielen Analogien und Antistrophen eine entscheidende Rolle. Warum dies so ist, lt sich im
Fall der Antistrophen besonders leicht einsehen. Es handelt sich hier nmlich um
Verhltnisse, die eine gewisse bereinstimmung begrnden, ohne umkehrbar zu sein. Der
Ausdruck antistrophos stammt bekanntlich aus der Dichtung und bezeichnet dort eine
bereinstimmung von Strophe und Gegenstrophe, die sich daraus ergibt, da die
Gegenstrophe auf die Strophe antwortet (Chorlyrik, Chre von Dramen). Wie unschwer zu
erkennen ist, kann dies Verhltnis trotz der bereinstimmung beider Strophen nicht
umgekehrt werden, weil die Strophe nun einmal keine Antwort auf die Gegenstrophe
darstellt. Die vorangehende Strophe gibt vielmehr einseitig vor, wonach sich die folgende zu
richten hat. Indem Sokrates fr das Verhltnis von Seelen- und Leibestechnai die Metapher
der Antistrophe verwendet, signalisiert er dem musisch gebildeten Polos, da es hier um eine
vergleichbare Ausrichtung geht. Gesagt wird nicht, da sich Seelen- und Leibestechnai
wechselseitig entsprechen, sondern da die Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit
Gegenstrophen zur Gymnastik und Medizin sind. Dasselbe gilt natrlich fr die
Schmeicheleien. Gesagt wird nicht, da sich Seelen- und Leibesfertigkeiten wechselseitig
entsprechen, sondern da die Sophistik und Rhetorik Gegenstrophen zum Herausputzen
und Kochen sind. Der Grund ist offensichtlich. Im vorliegenden Kontext wre eine
Umkehrung argumentativ sinnlos, weil es nur darum geht, die postulierten Verkleidungen auf
der Seite der Seele anhand der einfacheren Verkleidungen auf der Seite des Krpers zu
veranschaulichen. Eine Umkehrung knnte zur berzeugung des Polos berhaupt nichts
beitragen.
Wie ich zu zeigen versuchte, dienen die Analogien demselben Zweck. Allerdings ist dies
auf den ersten Blick nicht ganz so leicht zu sehen, weil sie rein formal immer umkehrbar sind.
Wenn gilt: Wie A zu B, so C zu D, gilt notwendig auch Wie C zu D, so A zu B. Die
Analogien, die Sokrates anfhrt, sind aber sicher nicht so zu verstehen. Auch bei ihnen wre
eine Umkehrung argumentativ sinnlos. Dies gilt schon fr die Analogie (1), die das Verhltnis
Analogien und Antistrophen 156
von Kochen und Medizin durch das Verhltnis von Herausputzen und Gymnastik erlutert,
weil es etwas leichter als Verkleidung zu erkennen ist. Und es gilt erst recht fr die
Analogien (2) und (3), die auf dieser Grundlage erlutern, wie sich Sophistik und Rhetorik zu
Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit verhalten. Ich habe zu zeigen versucht, da sich diese
Analogien nur verstehen lassen, indem man versteht, da Sophistik und Rhetorik
Antistrophen des Herausputzens und Kochens sind. Sie lassen sich nur verstehen, indem man
ihre antistrophische Fundierung nachvollzieht. Aus diesem Grund sind sie ebenso unumkehr-
bar wie die zugrundeliegenden Antistrophen. Die Rhetorik ist Antistrophe des Kochens, nicht
aber das Kochen Antistrophe der Rhetorik, und zwar deshalb, weil die Gerechtigkeit
Antistrophe der Medizin ist und weil sich die Rhetorik zur Gerechtigkeit verhlt wie das
Kochen zur Medizin, nmlich wie die Verkleidung einer das Gute wiederherstellenden techne
zum verkleideten Vorbild.
6
Dabei hat das unterstellte weil dieser Argumentation nur den
Status einer Veranschaulichung. Die Rhetorik ist Antistrophe des Kochens, weil sich das
Kochen als anschauliches Beispiel fr die Defizienz anbietet, die Sokrates der Rhetorik
nachzuweisen versucht.
Es ist vor allem diese Argumentationsstruktur, die das sokratische Vorgehen rhetorisch
macht, weniger ihre Umsetzung durch eine zusammenhngende und schmuckvolle Rede, die
das Fragen durch das Antworten ersetzt. Da dies so ist, zeigt sich, wenn man es mit der
vorgetragenen Bestimmung vergleicht. Denn Sokrates richtet seine Erluterung von
Seelenfertigkeiten auf hnliche Weise an Leibesfertigkeiten aus, wie sich die Rhetorik auf den
Leib bezieht, wenn man dieser Erluterung folgt. Dabei trgt er allerdings dialektisch zu
erluternden Differenzen Rechnung, die von Rednern sonst unbercksichtigt gelassen werden,
und fhrt somit bereits jene wahre Rhetorik vor, auf die er spter ausdrcklich zurckkommt.
Folgt man der sokratischen Argumentation, ist die bliche Rhetorik zwar Antistrophe des
Kochens, aber sie wei darum nicht. Wegen ihrer hnlichkeit mit der Sophistik droht
vielmehr eine bestndige Verwechslung, in der die Differenz von Herstellung und
Wiederherstellung bersehen wird (465c). Noch schlimmer ist die Verwechslung von wahrem
und scheinbarem Gut, die Sokrates fr die Gesundheit des Leibes darauf zurckfhrt, da die
Differenz von Leib und Seele unbercksichtigt bleibt. Wie er sagt, kann der Leib selbst nicht
beurteilen, was fr ihn das Beste wre, weil fr ihn nur das Angenehme zhlt. Dasselbe gilt
natrlich fr eine Seele, die sich nur an der Annehmlichkeit des Leibes orientiert. Und genau
dies scheint Sokrates der rhetorischen Verkleidung einer Seelentechne vorwerfen zu wollen.
Fr sie trifft die paradoxe Auffassung des Anaxagoras zu, da alle Dinge (ungesondert)
zugleich sind (465d). Die Rhetorik verfehlt das Gut der Seele bereits insofern, als sie es nicht
hinreichend vom Gut des Leibes trennt.
Da Sokrates dieses Defizit vorfhrt, indem er sich selbst am Leib orientiert, drfte vor
allem zwei Grnde haben. Einerseits dient dies Vorgehen der berzeugung seines
rhetorischen Gesprchspartners, indem es sich so weit wie irgend mglich auf
Zusammenhnge einstellt, die dessen fehlgeleiteter Seele berzeugend erscheinen.
6
Es hilft deshalb wenig, wenn Schmalzriedt (1969) darauf hinweist, da die antistrophische Korrespondenz als
Analogie bzw. Proportion darstellbar sei, obwohl dies im Text nicht expressis verbis getan werde (216). Auch
wenn gilt: gymnastike : nomothetike = iatrike : dikaiosyne bzw. kommotike : sophistike = opsopoiike : rhetorike,
wobei die Identitt dieser Verhltnisse natrlich in beide Richtungen zu lesen ist, bleibt fr die identisch gesetzten
Verhltnisse wie gymnastike : nomothetike oder iatrike : diakaiosyne festzuhalten, da es sich um Antistrophen
handelt, die nur in einer Richtung gelten. So ist etwa die nomothetike Antistrophe der gymnastike, nicht aber
umgekehrt. Schmalzriedt lt diesen entscheidenden Punkt in seiner Formulierung unbercksichtigt und begibt
sich damit der Mglichkeit herauszufinden, warum der Text die sogenannte antistrophische Korrespondenz nicht
als Analogie bzw. Proportion darstellt. Es bleibt deshalb auch offen, warum der hhere Wert von dikaiosyne
und nomothetike im Vergleich zu iatrike und gymnastike, wie Schmalzriedt richtig bemerkt, im Text berhaupt
nicht zur Geltung kommt (219).
Walter Mesch 157
Andererseits bringt er damit in den Blick, da Rhetorik mehr zu sein vermag, als ihre
zeitgenssische Realisierung zeigt. Auf diese Weise gleicht Platon die Einseitigkeit seiner
Rhetorikkritik aus und vermittelt die systematische Anlage seiner Argumentation mit ihrem
polemischen Ergebnis. Die Widerlegung der falschen Rhetorik durch die wahre Rhetorik hat
nicht nur eine humoristische Pointe, sondern auch eine sachliche. Sie pat nicht nur zur
spttischen Behandlung des Polos, indem sie dessen dialektisches Versagen durch einen
rhetorischen Sieg des Sokrates ergnzt, sondern dient auch dem Verstndnis der umstrittenen
Disziplin, indem sie die Vermittlung von Differenzen vorfhrt, die sich in der agonalen
Atmosphre des Dialogs kaum thematisieren lassen. Folgt man der sokratischen
Argumentation, ist die bliche Rhetorik eigentlich nicht die Antistrophe des Kochens,
sondern das Schattenbild einer Gerechtigkeit, in die sie sich zum Zweck der Tuschung
verkleidet. Was dies fr ihr Verhltnis zur Dialektik bedeutet, wird zwar nicht erlutert, wohl
aber gezeigt. Letztlich geht es darum, das tuschende Schattenbild durch ein Verstndnis
frderndes Abbild zu ersetzen. Die wahre Rhetorik mu an die Stelle der falschen treten.
Indem diese bereits vorgefhrt wird, ist die Passage ein herausragendes Beispiel fr Platons
Kunst, gleichzeitig auf verschiedenen Ebenen zu agieren, ohne die Deutlichkeit der
Darstellung zu beeintrchtigen.
Universitt Heidelberg
Socrates Argument with Gorgias, the Craft Analogy, and
Justice
Hayden W. Ausland
Socrates reduces Gorgias to silence with a conclusion that the rhetorician, as an artisan,
can do no injustice. Gorgias earlier maintained that rhetoric comprises all special arts, adding
that it is transmitted for just use, so that it is no fault of the teacher, if a pupil uses it unjustly.
These claims arose via two arguments one by which rhetoric seemingly lacks any technical
competence, since there is always some more precise special art (455a8-456c7, an argument
from competence), and a second by which a rhetorician exhibits the ability to use his
combative art either justly or unjustly (456c7-457c3, from ambivalence). Similar dialectical
moves occur sometimes again in juxtaposition in other Platonic works, most notably in
Republic 1, when Socrates is examining Polemarchus account of justice (332c5ff. and
333e3ff.), but also in such dialogues as the Charmides, Hippias Minor, Ion, and Erastae.
They evidently derive from an older repertory (cf. Dissoi Logoi 8).
Moderns normally hold the versions in Republic 1 fallacious in treating justice as an art,
offering solutions of three main kinds. Most adduce (a) a faculty of will integral to moral
action, as distinct from artistic activity, so that the arguments suggest a volitional account of
virtue. Some postulate (b) a distinction between artistic capacity or knowledge and the
habitual state underlying the moral virtues, so that Socrates craft-analogy willy-nilly
anticipates an Aristotelian solution. A few invoke (c) germane distinctions found in the
dialogues themselves or in ancient technical discussions, e.g., that an art is either specialized
or general in its competence, and always has two parts one related to its subject, and another
for transmitting the art itself. Viewed from these perspectives, Socrates arguments can
assume differing aspects, but these properly distinct strains can be confused (for all three
intermingled, see Gigon 1976, 38-40). If the analogy of justice with art in Republic 1 is
faulty, it has proven hard to assign fault. Some credit a breakthrough first to Aristotle, but
others hold Plato himself conscious of the analogys limitations. The latter will hold
Polemarchus confused by sophistical influence, or else charge Socrates with fallacy. A
common dramatic approach thus finds a reduction of moral intellectualism. Either Socrates
is pointing this out to Polemarchus (and so Plato to his readers), or perhaps Plato has grown
critical of Socrates own intellectualism.
Here a theoretical problem arises. To assume that virtue aims at some generally
conceived good, while special arts are value-free is to suggest that an Augustinian will, an
Aristotelian state (or choice), or a superordinate art is needed before an art can be directed at
some good. The idea is regularly read into ancient treatments, despite the evidence against it.
(See, e.g., Aristotle, EN, 1094a1f.) The idea that techne is in itself value-free derives from the
modern assimilation of art to instrumental science and the related distinction between
Hayden W. Ausland 159
scientific facts and moral values (cf. Heidegger 1954, 9). The confusion occasions
imprecision even in accounts of the third kind mentioned. A higher art can illuminate a lower
arts proper good with reference to a higher good (cf. Charmides 164a1-c6 with Aristotle,
MM 1182a32-b6 and b22-31), or the good aimed at by the lower art must yield to some higher
good. But only in the latter case does the higher art affect the practice of the lower, which
otherwise pursues its proper good. A physician does not need to be told that his aim is health
which is exactly why he would have to be instructed to refrain from it. Justice will itself be
spoken of as an art under an internal compulsion to do what is right later on in the Republic.
One must doubt whether either Socrates or Plato means to distinguish it from art at all in
Republic 1.
A second problem is literary. The supposed general point of Socrates arguments
against Polemarchus is nowhere stated. If the conclusion is implicit, are the arguments
always so intended? In the Charmides, Socrates employs the argument from competence
constructively, to show temperance self-reflexive (165c1ff.). In the Hippias Minor, he argues
outrageously from ambivalence that the liar and the truthful man are one and the same
(365d6ff.). Neither dialogue is about justice; each argument serves a contextual end. But the
forms can also work together. In the Erastae, Socrates first argues from competence that
philosophers appear to be bad and useless men and then invokes ambivalence in order to
assimilate philosophy to practical virtues and the political art, as distinct from the banausic
crafts (136b3ff. and 137b7ff.). Both points recall constructive features of the Republics main
argument (cf. 379e9ff. and 487b1ff.) though some will regard them a signs of an imitator.
In any case, the Erastae reveals philosophy as a special art with general application in the
practical field as an art of primary resort. It certainly does not try to show that philosophy is
no art. Order and effect are reversed in the Ion, where Socrates shows first that the rhapsodes
ability cannot be properly technical, since he would then be able to discourse about poets
other than Homer (531a1ff., from ambivalence). Afterward he shows Ion ignorant of
Homers technical descriptions, concluding that he must either be superior to special artisans
or divinely inspired. (536e1ff., from competence) In this dialogue alone is there an explicit
conclusion that the activity in question is not an art. Socrates elevates Ions activity above the
realm of the ordinary arts, though some will read this as Socratic irony. It is in any case
again no apt model for the usual reading of Republic 1.
What is the purpose of these arguments in the Gorgias? They can hardly exalt rhetoric
above the realm of the banausic arts (cf. Charmides), when Socrates will shortly deny that
rhetoric is an art at all, degrading it to a lowly empirical habitude. But neither do they
embody ironic praise of rhetoric as a divine gift (cf. Ion). Their function must be special to
the context. As it happens, Socrates subsequent definition of rhetoric as a species of flattery
itself recalls Republic 1, where Socrates begins his criticism of Polemarchus in the same
terms, making the technai of medicine and cookery paradigmatic for justice (cf. 332c7, c12
and d2). Socrates presents the three cases under a universal aspect: art rendering what is
fitting or owing. Polemarchus responds that, as that medicine administers drugs food and
drink to bodies, and cookery administers seasonings to meats (opsa), so justice renders benefit
and harm to friends and enemies.
Questions of definitional method here arise. Why does Socrates use techne as his genus?
And why does he suggest a specific differentia by comparing it with medicine and cookery?
To answer these for the Republic requires a longer path, but the affinity with the Gorgias is
suggestive. Socrates there makes medicine and cookery somatic analogues for justice and
rhetoric, respectively, so as to expose a key difference, so why does he treat them as parallel
analogues for justice in Republic 1? Is justice somehow comparable to the false art of
Socrates' Argument with Gorgias, the Craft Analogy, and Justice 160
preparing opsa as well as to the true art of medicine? It is to be remembered that the city of
the guardians comes about as a direct consequence of Glaucons demand for sweetened opsa
(cf. 372c2f. and d4f.).
The Republics political teaching can be construed in these very technical terms.
Cookery in its negative connotation answers to the demand that foods be sweetened beyond
what is natural. Strictly speaking, opsa are cooked meats, but more loosely they are any kind
of relish for rendering nourishment palatable. They can also serve as dessert, being sweetened
for this purpose. But these relishes (even sweetened) are integral to a healthy diet. (cf.
Hippocrates, De Diaeta Salubri 1 and 4 with Galen XV.193 Khn). They are unhealthy if
they or their sweeteners become the mainstay of a diet. Relish thus has a legitimate function
in cooking subservient to dietetics, but where it becomes an independent focus things go
wrong (cf. Xenophon, Mem. 3.14 with Galen XI.680 Khn). Cookings goal is integral to that
of the higher art of medicine health; its own task it is to render the means to that end
palatable. When both art and activity are identified with their subordinates (as they seem
implicitly to be in Polemarchus answer to Socrates at 332d1), a sharp opposition like that of
the Gorgias emerges. Medicine reveals the same ambiguity by employing the confectioners
art, and a philosophical rhetoric does something analogous (cf. Themistius, Or. 5 [63b]).
The first examples Socrates offers Polemarchus already suggest that justice artistically
balances knowledge with experience, looking both to benefits and to means necessary to
render benefits acceptable as well as beneficial. In rhetorical terms, justice has both to
recognize the ends of deliberation and to invent probable arguments, which may require a
dose of pleasant falsehood (cf. Ioann. Sard., In Aphth. Prog. 24.12-22). Either art illuminates
justice differently. Analogous to medicine, justice seeks correctives to psychic disorders; as
cookery provides healthy nutrition as prophylaxis against disease (or deterioration after
recovery), it provides for the nourishment for the healthy soul. The pair of exempla speaks to
the curative and conservative sides of justice, remaining the principal images for these
throughout the Republic. One can see both why Socrates use these examples and why he uses
two: understanding justice means appreciating an inherent tension. And Socrates uses art as
his genus, since art always embraces such a tension.
Conversely, a theoretical distinction can illuminate the context in the Gorgias. The
ancient medical tradition distinguished art from experience, with some stressing a rational
principle as its basis, and others championing its empirical side. The dispute naturally
suggested a methodical compromise by which medical practice requires a cooperation of
both, rather than only one principle to the exclusion of the other. In the Gorgias, Socrates
concocts a similar controversy between rhetoric and justice, representing them in competition
for the title of art of corrective tending of the soul, and seeming to side with justice against
rhetoric. His severity in disparaging the latters empirical side gives pause, since he elsewhere
views rhetoric as an art compatible, or even identical with philosophy (cf. Phaedrus 270b1-10
with Olympiodorus, In Gorg. 85.15-20 W.). Moderns assurance of Platos development was
for some reason unavailable to the ancients, so that ancient writers familiar with the Phaedrus
had to wonder at Socrates behavior in the Gorgias. Aristides subsequently wrote a lengthy
defense of rhetoric, concluding that Plato indeed went to extremes in the Gorgias, but was in
fact there not attacking rhetoric, but flattery and sycophancy (Aristides, In Plat.13 and 454).
Platos speculative adherents appreciated the difficulty. In explaining the definition of
rhetoric Socrates offers Polus, Olympiodorus first sketches the senses in which rhetoric both
is and is not an art (In Gorg. 69.18-71.5 W.). He then adduces a schema not found in the
Gorgias, postulating three things: science, art, and experience (71.6-9 W.). Science differs
from art in the stability of its subject matter. Art differs from experience by having, like
Hayden W. Ausland 161
science, explanations for what it does. Art thus strikes a mean between science and
experience. It is like the former in its aetiological character; but it is like the latter in treating
things by nature changeable and unstable. It combines the strengths of a certain exactness
with an ability to meet uncertain challenges. Olympiodorus finally elevates even experience
above mere flattery, concluding that Socrates in the Gorgias is attacking popular, not
philosophical rhetoric (72.20-73.4). This political solution was rejected by Aristides, who,
like Gorgias himself, means to defend a well-intentioned ordinary rhetoric as an art as well
(Aristides, op. cit. 446ff.).
In this controversy an ambiguity about the status of rhetoric persists, for, not only is it
something commonly used as often for ill as for well (here the argument from ambivalence
can come into play), but, depending on the side one stresses, scientific or empirical, it can
appear to be, or to fall short of, an art (here the argument from competence enters). In the
Gorgias, Socrates both assimilates rhetoric to flattery and insists on its empirical nature to the
extent that he virtually collapses art together with science: rhetorics empirical character
becomes evidence that it is no art at all. His gambit is depicted dramatically by Plato as a
quasi-medical corrective extreme for another partys having driven the matter to the opposite,
empirical pole (cf. Gorgias 478d1-479c4 with Phaedo 86b5-c2, Aristotle, EN 1104b13-18,
and Celsus, De Medicina 3.9.2). Plato himself thus points to a compromise by which rhetoric
is an art in the sense explained by Olympiodorus, rather than a science simply. This
interpretation is corroborated when he makes the Socrates of Republic 1 compare justice not
only with medicine, but also with an art of cookery so conceived.
Plato sketches also the larger relation dramatically in the Gorgias. Socrates introduces
the question of competence (455a8ff.) but Gorgias completes it (455d6ff.) and himself adds
that of ambivalence as a corollary (456c7ff.). Moreover, the implications of the two
arguments, as Gorgias understands these, were fundamental for the subsequent technical
tradition, recurring, e.g., at the very opening of Aristotles own Ars Rhetorica. Gorgias, like
Aristotle, claims an unspecialized political field of application for the rhetorical art and
stresses the crucial distinction between its proper and improper use which Aristotle sees as
analogous to the distinction between the sophist and the dialectician, who share the same
capacity but exercise differing choices (cf. Aristotle, Ars Rhetorica 1355b8-10, 1354a1-3 and
1355 a21f. with Proclus, In Cratyl. 4). Gorgias speaks in terms of responsibility rather than
motivation, but the affinity is clear. So the argumentative and dramatic outcome of the two
arguments as they occur in the Gorgias prospectively combines the Socratic idea of an
unspecialized governing art with a Gorgian conception of moral responsibility. One reads
forward in the Gorgias expecting Plato to make Socrates hold Gorgias pupils responsible for
their misuse of his rhetorical teaching.
The University of Montana
Socrate e Gorgia di fronte allinsegnamento della virt
Maurizio Migliori
Perch Platone parla di anamnesi proprio nel Menone? Spiego la domanda e la sua
legittimit:
1. La trattazione dellanamnesi costituisce un inciso (80 D - 86 C) che non inerisce
affatto alla tematica in esame, la natura della virt e la sua insegnabilit. La ragione di
questo inserimento unobiezione eristica (80 D-E): non possibile fare ricerca,
poich non si pu cercare ci che si sa e nemmeno ci che non si sa. Ora, non solo tale
obiezione potrebbe comparire in uno qualsiasi dei primi dialoghi, e in alcuni a maggior
ragione, ma la risposta serve solo per poter procedere (86 C), cio apparentemente
1
Platone presenta una tesi di questa importanza senza alcuna ragione specifica!
2. Nel corso di questa trattazione Platone afferma ripetutamente
2
che non c bisogno di
un insegnamento; poi questo dato appare, pi che dimenticato, smentito dal ragiona-
mento successivo che vuole mettere in crisi laffermazione che la virt sapere sulla
base dellassenza di maestri!
In sintesi, sembra di essere di fronte a due ragionamenti contrapposti:
a) se vero quanto affermato nellesempio anamnestico, la scienza esclude insegna-
mento e maestri;
b) se vero quanto sostenuto nella parte finale del dialogo, se non ci sono maestri e
insegnamento non si d scienza.
Lasciamo per ora senza risposta il problema; vedremo alla fine di proporre una soluzione
plausibile.
1. Una strana lacuna nella memoria di Socrate e Menone
Il legame tra Menone e Gorgia stabilito dal testo stesso: nel Menone si ricorda
lincontro tra Socrate e Gorgia, cio il Gorgia, con due stranezze:
1. la pi rilevante che sia Socrate (71 C-D) sia Menone (73 C, 76 A-B) sembrano non
ricordare che cosa Gorgia dicesse intorno alla virt: si cerca la definizione gorgiana di
virt, ma non la si trova; dobbiamo trovare una ragione di questa stranezza;
2. Menone dichiara che ha apprezzato Gorgia perch si propone solo di rendere abili a
parlare e non promette di insegnare virt, anzi deride coloro che lo fanno (Menone, 95
B-C); invece nel Gorgia il sofista dichiara che gli allievi apprenderanno la giustizia da
1
Non posso in questa sede illustrare il gioco protrettico che ritengo centrale nella produzione scritta di Platone.
Rinvio per questo ai miei : Migliori (2000) et (2005).
2
82 A, 82 B, 84 C, 84 D, 85 B, 85 C; 85 D, 85 E.
Maurizio Migliori 163
lui, riconosce cio la necessit di un insegnamento morale. Malgrado le apparenze, non
c contraddizione. In Gorgia, 456 C-D, proprio il retore a introdurre il problema etico;
poi, posto da Socrate di fronte alla possibilit di avere un allievo che ignora che cosa sia la
giustizia, si limita ad affermare:
Ma io penso, Socrate, che, anche se non sa queste cose, le imparer da me (Gorgia,
460 A 3-4).
Tale formula generica non smentisce, ma conferma il Menone: il retore non fa
professione di insegnare etica, ma prima sembra darlo per scontato, poi lo assume come un
frutto naturale del suo stesso operare.
Questa debolezza metodica non viene poi smentita, anzi confermata dal contesto
dellintero dialogo. Infatti la successione dei tre interlocutori costituisce una sorta di
rigorizzazione
3
da cui emerge la figura tipica del retore: completo disinteresse per letica
e attenzione esclusiva allaffermazione di s. Lo svolgimento del dialogo risulta lineare:
Gorgia non privo di sensibilit morale, non cattivo come persona e come retore, ma non
pu essere maestro di etica: la rigorizzazione delle sue posizioni porta a Callicle, cio a esiti
immoralisti. Si pu discutere con lui sullinsegnamento della virt, ma gli interventi di Polo e
di Callicle mostrano nei fatti il fallimento etico-pratico del suo insegnamento.
Letta in questa chiave, lapparentemente paradossale condizione di Menone e di Socrate,
che non ricordano che cosa Gorgia afferma in merito alla virt (Menone, 76 A-B) acquista il
senso di un giudizio, visto che il sofista non possiede il concetto e la definizione di virt.
2. La ricerca sulla virt del Menone: la virt fronesis?
Com noto, il tema posto nel Menone in modo diretto: il giovane chiede a Socrate se
la virt a) pu essere insegnata, oppure b) ha bisogno di esercizio, oppure c) non pu essere
appresa in alcun modo ma solo un dono.
Prima si sostiene che la virt scienza poi, aporetizzata questa soluzione, Platone
sembra arrivare alla conclusione che la virt non che un dono. Ma questo uno dei grandi
giochi del dialogo, perch certamente non cos, per varie ragioni:
1. questa conclusione non vuole sostenere che la virt sempre ottenuta in dono, ma
solo spiegare come mai individui che non hanno scienza possiedono virt;
2. se non si contestualizza cos tale affermazione, bisognerebbe concludere che la virt
sempre legata alla retta opinione e non alla scienza. Certo Platone ha una alta
considerazione della vera opinione, come mostrano molti testi
4
. Tuttavia, il dibattito
del Menone verte tutto sul nesso tra scienza e virt. Bisogna quindi verificare se gli
argomenti proposti nella parte finale del dialogo mettono davvero in crisi questo nesso.
Alla ripresa del dibattito, Menone chiede di indagare subito se la virt insegnabile o no
(86 C ss.). Attraverso il cedimento di Socrate il testo ci offre la formulazione di una ipotesi
forte sulla natura della virt: la virt o scienza, e in questo caso pu essere insegnata, o non
lo , nel qual caso non pu essere insegnata (87 C ss.). Bisogna quindi verificare se scienza
o no.
3
Prima Polo e poi Callicle intervengono su quello che non andava concesso a Socrate. Il passaggio da un interlocutore
allaltro mediato dallaccusa, di Polo contro Gorgia (461 B-C) e di Callicle contro Polo (482 C-E), di aver fatto
concessioni che non andavano fatte. Gorgia ha sbagliato perch non ha avuto il coraggio di ammettere che il retore
non conosce il giusto, il bello e il buono, anzi si fatto carico di un possibile insegnamento su quei temi (461 B);
Polo ha sbagliato nel concedere che fare ingiustizia pi brutto del riceverla (482 D-E).
4
Cfr. ad esempio: Menone, 86 A, 97 B-C; Lettera Settima, 342 C-D; Simposio, 202 A.
Socrate e Gorgia di fronte allinsegnamento della virt 164
Qui il gioco di Platone si fa molto sottile perch si basa su una continua oscillazione tra
due estremi: da una parte egli sottolinea il nesso tra fronesis e virt in modo tanto spinto che
sembra che ci sia una sorta di identit, dallaltra fornisce una serie di segnali per rimarcare
che non cos.
La cosa paradossale che largomento chiarificatore posto, senza enfasi, allinizio
della trattazione, l dove si dice che la virt certo un bene:
Allora, se c qualche altro bene diverso separato (c y.. .||) dalla
scienza (..c~,) la virt potrebbe non essere una qualche scienza
(..c~); ma se non c alcun bene che la scienza (..c~) non abbracci,
lipotesi che sia una scienza (..c~|) una ipotesi corretta (Menone, 87 D 4-
8).
Qui occorre sottolineare alcune cose:
1. la trattazione a quanto pare concerne lepisteme, la forma massima di conoscenza;
2. Platone usa insieme due aggettivi: diverso-separato, che non sono affatto identici;
infatti, chiaro che, se la scienza necessaria alla virt, pu essere diversa ma non
separata dalla virt stessa;
3. questa ambiguit confermata dalla seconda frase: si domanda se pu esserci qualche
bene senza scienza, per poi passare ad affermare (come ipotesi) che la virt scienza;
tuttavia, il fatto che un bene sia dipendente e contenuto nella scienza non lo rende
identico alla scienza stessa
5
, pena dire che tutti i beni sono conoscenza.
Unulteriore conferma si pu ricavare dallambiguit del passaggio precedente:
Diciamo cos: se la virt una qualche qualit tra le realt che appartengono
all'anima, sar o non sar insegnabile? In primo luogo, se dissimile o simile alla
scienza, sar insegnabile o no, o come dicevamo poco fa, potr essere ricordata
(c|c|c~|) sia per noi indifferente usare luno o laltro termine ma allora
sar insegnabile? O non chiaro a tutti che ad un essere umano non si insegna
nientaltro che la scienza? (87 B 5 - C 3).
Rimandiamo a dopo la riflessione su questo straordinario rapporto di identit tra
apprendimento e anamnesi. Per ora ci interessa la questione del nesso virt insegnamento
scienza, problema risolto con laffermazione che solo la scienza, cio la forma massima di
conoscenza, insegnabile.
Ma i testi successivi dicono altro e presentano un continuo scorrimento semantico che
via via ci porta da una forma di conoscenza comunicabile e insegnabile ad una funzione
conoscitiva, rappresentata ambiguamente dalla fronesis.
1. Platone prima afferma (87 D - 88 A) che in forza della virt siamo buoni e quindi
utili, per cui la virt stessa buona e utile, poi ricorda che le cose buone, come salute,
forza, bellezza e ricchezza
6
, sono utili solo quando se ne fa un retto uso, in caso contrario
nuocciono; quindi, si parla di utilizzo corretto di una cosa che diviene buona e utile in
conseguenza.
5
un errore fatto anche nel Protagora, dove il sofista sostiene, a ragione, che perch si dia identit occorre che il
rapporto sia reciproco, cio se A = B allora B = A. Se questa reversibilit non si d, si ha solo una implicazione di
A con B, non una identit. Quindi, il fatto che i coraggiosi siano tali in forza della conoscenza non comporta che
sapienza e coraggio siano la stessa cosa (350 C - 351 B). E Socrate non ribatte nulla; dunque, chi dice che le virt
sono tout court scienza dimentica lobiezione di Protagora.
6
Si parte dai beni materiali, perch qui una identificazione impossibile: non si pu dire che la bellezza o la
ricchezza sono conoscenza, ma solo che non sono veri beni senza la guida del pensiero.
Maurizio Migliori 165
2. Il testo prosegue parlando dei beni dellanima, come temperanza, coraggio, memoria;
si chiarisce che, senza intelligenza (c |.u |u , 88 B 5, B 8) provocano danno, con
intelligenza (cu | |. , 88 B 5, .~c |u, B 7) vantaggi.
3. Socrate ne ricava un insegnamento di carattere generale:
Dunque, tutte le cose che lanima intraprende e compie sotto la guida del pensiero
(|c..,) raggiungono la felicit, sotto una guida della dissennatezza
(c cu |,) il contrario (Menone, 88 C 1-3).
Qui interviene non il nous ma la fronesis, che diventa il termine base di questa
trattazione e che pu significare sia conoscenza, sia pensiero, cio indicare sia un contenuto
sia una funzione conoscitiva. In questa seconda accezione pi facile attribuirgli il senso di
guida, opponendola ad ccu |~ (che altrimenti dovrebbe essere intesa come
ignoranza).
Se, dunque, la virt qualcosa insito nellanima e le necessariamente utile, deve
essere pensiero (|c.|), poich tutte le cose relative allanima in s e per s
non sono n utili n dannose, mentre, accompagnate da pensiero o dissennatezza
(| c.., c cu |,) diventano sia dannose sia utili. Secondo questo
ragionamento la virt, essendo utile, deve essere una qualche forma di pensiero
(|c.| ~.|c) (Menone, 88 C 4 - D 3).
Come si vede, il testo continuamente oscilla tra aggiunta e identit (sia pure in una
forma molto attenuata) di virt con fronesis.
1. Il ruolo di guida attribuito al pensiero viene subito dopo confermato, stabilendo anche
una sorta di processualit: la fronesis agisce sullanima e questa sulle scelte della vita
umana (Menone, 88 D-E).
2. La cosa tanto importante che Platone sente il bisogno di schematizzarla: per lessere
umano tutte le altre cose dipendono dallanima, quelle dellanima stessa, per essere
buone, dipendono dalla fronesis; quindi, il pensiero ci che utile (Menone, 88 E -
89 A). Lo schema risulta chiaro sulla base della distinzione essere umano anima:
lanima decide la vita buona dellessere umano, la fronesis organizza lanima e quindi
alla base dellutilit di tutte le cose.
3. Non resta che trarne una conclusione:
Diciamo che la virt utile? Dunque, diciamo che la virt fronesis o in tutto o
in qualche parte (Menone, 89 A 2-4).
Dopo tanti sforzi, Platone presenta non per lepisteme, quella che insegnabile, ma per
la fronesis ancora due ipotesi di relazione: una forte identit o un nesso di inerenza. Ma alla
luce di quanto abbiamo visto e soprattutto del duplice rapporto: fronesis anima, anima
essere umano, il pensiero risulta essere un elemento necessario, la guida senza la quale la
virt non esiste, con un nesso forte, ma che non d identit.
3. La pretesa aporetizzazione del nesso fronesis - virt
Ci sono varie ragioni per sostenere che questa tesi non viene affatto smentita:
1. largomento successivo dimostra solo che di fatto nessuno possiede la virt con
scienza, il che non prova che nessuno possa averla;
2. il testo esplicitamente presenta lipotesi che ci sia un uomo capace di avere tale
scienza e lo fa con estrema enfasi: come per Omero solo Tiresia fra le ombre saggio,
Socrate e Gorgia di fronte allinsegnamento della virt 166
cos costui, qui, sarebbe un essere vero accanto ad ombre (100 A). E Menone osserva
che Socrate ha parlato benissimo (-c .c~c). Quindi il filosofo, pur dicendo che ora
non c, ritiene che potrebbe esserci un virtuoso per scienza capace di insegnare la virt.
3. In questa chiave indicativa la lunga riflessione sulla retta opinione
7
(97 A - 99 A).
Colui che ha scienza e colui che ha retta opinione praticamente sono sullo stesso piano:
lopinione retta non meno utile della scienza. A Menone che vorrebbe accentuare lo
stacco tra le due forme conoscitive sfugge la vera differenza: la scienza stabile, mentre
le opinioni vere non lo sono, almeno finch non sono legate con un ragionamento
causale, che le rendere vere e stabili conoscenze (97 C - 98 A). E Socrate, pur
riconoscendo che parla per congetture, afferma che questa distinzione la porrebbe tra le
cose che sa (98 B).
Pertanto, se la virt richiede conoscenza ed escluso che dipenda dalla sola natura,
diventa centrale la questione dellinsegnamento. Ma prima di affrontare questo tema occorre
capire che tipo di conoscenza necessariamente implicata dalla virt.
Qualche risposta a questa domanda potremmo trarla dal Menone
8
, ma pi rilevante il
contributo del Gorgia: con Callicle abbiamo lesplicito rifiuto della filosofia come guida
dellessere umano (484 C ss.) e uno scontro tra due visioni della vita, una incentrata sulla
politica con un comportamento basato sullespansione delle passioni, laltra fondata sulla
filosofia e sullautocontrollo
9
, riproposto fin nella conclusione (527 E). In questa
valorizzazione di un sapere che diviene techne, rientra la distinzione fatta nella discussione
con Polo tra pratiche e lusinghe, basata sulla contrapposizione tra conoscenza e piacere (463
A ss.). Inoltre:
1. si separano le arti che cercano il piacere da quelle che si preoccupano del bene del
corpo e dellanima (501 A-C);
2. il bene viene collegato allordine, allarmonia, alla proporzione (503 E ss.);
3. ordine e armonia valgono per le cose, per il corpo e per lanima (503 E ss.);
4. in questultima realizzano giustizia e saggezza (504 D);
5. la vita proposta da Socrate ordinata (493 C-494 A);
6. la felicit maggiore per gli uomini che seguono regole (493 C-D);
7
A Platone interessa chiarire come sia possibile che, pur non avendo scienza, alcuni politici abbiano virt
(Menone, 99 B). La soluzione che hanno una retta opinione, il che non comporta un giudizio negativo: questi
virtuosi sono come vati e indovini, dicono verit senza sapere quello che dicono, dovrebbero essere chiamati
divini perch posseduti da un Dio (99 C-E).
8
Ad esempio: sotto il desiderio di cose cattive (77 B ss.) c un errore di valutazione: nessuno vuole essere infelice e
sventurato, quindi nessuno desidera le cose cattive, se non perch crede che queste giovino, perch ritiene buone
cose che in realt non lo sono. Tutto questo non serve ai fini della definizione: se la virt fosse desiderare cose
buone, tutti sarebbero sullo stesso piano (78 B). La differenza potrebbe consistere nel potere: il virtuoso sarebbe
quello in grado di procurarsi cose buone. Ma bisogna aggiungere giustamente. Cade quindi anche questa
definizione, perch si definisce virt con riferimento ad una sua parte. Tuttavia, questa proposta: 1) evidenzia la
questione degli strumenti di valutazione e quindi la necessaria presenza della razionalit; 2) ricorda un famoso
passaggio del Gorgia sulla differenza tra volere e desiderare. Ci che si vuole il Bene, che per non coincide
necessariamente con quello che sembra meglio (Gorgia, 466 C ss.): uno pu fare ci che gli pare e non fare ci
che vuole, chi non ha conoscenza non ha potere, anche se sembra averlo.
9
A Callicle teso alla conquista del potere Socrate impone il tema del dominio di s (491 D) che fa emergere la parola
virt associata a felicit: questa per Callicle consiste in dissolutezza, intemperanza e licenza (492 C). Socrate
chiarisce allopposto che: 1) il dominio fondamentale non riguarda gli altri ma quello che la ragione esercita
sulla vita; 2) come chi non vuole subire ingiustizia deve procurarsi un potere, cos deve fare chi non vuole
commetterla: non basta lintenzione, occorre un potere e unarte, perch chi ignora commetter ingiustizia
(509 D-E); 3) scienza e coraggio sono diversi (495 C); 4) il male maggiore unanima malvagia e corrotta
(511 A).
Maurizio Migliori 167
7. la virt la realizzazione di un ordine intrinseco alla cosa stessa (506 D - E);
8. la virt connessa allordine e alla regola e lanima ordinata saggia e buona, il che
comporta anche felicit (506 D - 507 C );
9. luguaglianza geometrica ha grande potere sia fra gli dei sia fra gli uomini;
10. per questo si rimprovera Callicle che persegue leccesso e trascura la geometria (507
E - 508 A).
Dunque, se la vita buona e felice dipende dallordine non si pu fare a meno del pensiero
e della conoscenza come guida dellessere umano, con una sottolineatura della dimensione
matematica
10
. Questo evidentemente manca agli attuali virtuosi: essi hanno il senso della
misura, ma non la teoria che la fonda.
4. Quale insegnamento?
Tutto questo non ci consente ancora di dire che per Platone la virt pu essere insegnata,
anzi al contrario Socrate afferma ben due volte che non pu esserlo (Menone, 94 B 7-8, E 2).
Il discorso sembra chiuso se Platone stesso non lo riaprisse, formulando lipotesi, non
richiesta dal ragionamento, che ci sia un uomo, diverso dai suoi simili, capace di rendere
politici anche gli altri (Menone, 100 A). E noi sappiamo che questo c:
SOCRATE Io credo di essere uno dei pochi Ateniesi, per non dire il solo, che
tenta la vera arte politica e il solo tra i contemporanei che la eserciti (Gorgia,
521 D 6-8).
Inoltre, non solo Platone richiama lattenzione sul fatto che sul piano tecnico un
insegnamento si d, citando medici e i suonatori di flauto (90 B-E), ma proprio dove sembra
negare il ruolo di insegnamento, dice una cosa diversa:
SOCRATE: Osserva che cosa a partire da questo dubbio scoprir cercando insieme
a me, mentre io non far che interrogarlo, senza insegnargli. E fa bene attenzione
se mi cogli ad insegnargli o a spiegargli, e non solo a chiedere le sue opinioni
(Menone, 84 C 10 - D 2).
Lassenza di un insegnamento diretto e frontale non esclude la presenza del maestro
nellindagine, per cui in un senso il maestro opera, in un altro no.
C unulteriore conferma nei due passi di Teognide: nel primo (95 D-E) si dice che se si
frequentano i buoni si apprendono cose buone, il contrario se ci si unisce ai cattivi; in questo
senso la virt insegnabile, meglio si apprende per comunanza di vita; poi (95 E - 96 A) si
esclude che si possa infondere nelluomo il senno, quasi fosse una nozione tecnica. Quindi,
Teognide indica i due sensi per cui la virt pu (nella ricerca e nella vita comune)
11
e non pu
(come dottrina) essere insegnata
12
.
Siamo quindi di fronte ad una serie di dati:
1. la virt senza conoscenza e pensiero non ha senso; solo se guidate dalla fronesis le
virt raggiungono un felice risultato;
10
Non a caso anche lesempio di anamnesi proposto nel Menone di natura matematica. Tutto ci rimanda alla
metretica, tema che qui non posso nemmeno sfiorare.
11
Non credo che sia strumentale ricordare la Lettera settima, 341 C 5- D 2, 344 B 1 - C 1.
12
Platone ostenta una pretesa contraddizione come gioco protrettico per costringere il lettore a scoprire i sensi diversi
nascosti sotto una stessa parola.
Socrate e Gorgia di fronte allinsegnamento della virt 168
2. si sottolinea la rilevanza della conoscenza, ad esempio riaffermando (77 B ss.) che
sotto il desiderio di cose cattive c un errore di valutazione;
3. alla fine del Menone si ribadisce la possibilit che ci sia qualcuno che possiede questa
scienza;
4. se si posseggono instabili, ma utili, rette opinioni, il passaggio alla scienza stabile
implica che queste vengano legate con un ragionamento causale;
5. questo, si afferma, la reminiscenza (97 E - 98 A)!
Il passaggio dalla retta opinione alla episteme, che rende possibile linsegnamento,
implica una ricerca che anche rinvio a conoscenze superiori, necessarie come cause, che
solo la reminiscenza rende possibile. Per questo Platone tratta della reminiscenza proprio in
questo dialogo!
Se non si accetta il concetto di gioco serio e la funzione protrettica dello scritto,
Platone sembra produrre dei non sense. Si torni al testo gi citato nel par. 3, 87 B 5 - C 3, in
cui si afferma in primo luogo che insegnare (ripetuto 4 volte) e ricordare anamneticamente
(c |c|c~ |) sono la stessa cosa tanto che indifferente usare luno o laltro termine!
Platone sembra voler quasi giungere ad una sorta di identit
Nulla impedisce che chi si ricordi di una cosa quello che gli uomini chiamano
apprendimento (Menone, 81 D 1-2).
La cosa appare ancora pi paradossale, in quanto allinizio dellesempio anamnestico
Menone aveva chiesto al filosofo di insegnargli (o.oc c., 81 E 5) in che senso apprendimento
anamnesi e Socrate laveva subito accusato di volerlo far cadere in contraddizione.
evidente che i termini hanno sensi diversi, un trucco che Platone usa spesso, a volte
esplicitandolo, a volte lasciandolo allintelligenza del lettore filosofo:
In sintesi:
1. se per insegnamento si intende una spiegazione o un indottrinamento, n scienza
filosofica n virt, che sono intrinsecamente connesse, si insegnano in questo modo,
come invece avviene per le tecniche;
2. nel procedimento dialogico c un insegnamento che consente, nella comunanza di
vita e di ricerca, di scoprire le cause superiori;
3. questo costituisce il vero sapere filosofico che necessita dellanamnesi;
4. questo pu e deve applicarsi anche alla virt;
5. la virt un possesso dellanima umana ottenibile con un sistema complesso di nessi,
che hanno bisogno del dominio della fronesis;
6. la virt pu essere scoperta con lapporto decisivo di quel tipo particolarissimo di
insegnamento, fatto di ricerca comune, che rimanda a conoscenze superiori.
Universit di Macerata
3
MENO
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dellal di l?
Graziano Arrighetti
Nel complesso dei problemi che il Menone presenta, quelli del brano 81a 10-e 2, che
comunemente anche se non da tutti viene definito mito, si presentano come di particolare
complessit e importanza, da molti punti di vista: per prima cosa per la collocazione nel
contesto del dialogo, e poi per i contenuti dottrinali, per come sono proposti e formulati in
stringate enunciazioni a ben guardare non sempre coerenti fra loro che introducono
principi fondamentali delletica e della gnoseologia platoniche seguendo modalit inconsuete.
La presente esposizione non presume n di dare soluzioni nuove ai problemi n di indicare vie
per superare le difficolt ma, sugli uni e sulle altre, intende proporre una riflessione condotta
alla luce di alcuni tentativi che sono stati esperiti in un passato pi o meno lontano.
Com noto, nel contesto delle argomentazioni del dialogo questa sezione segna un
punto di profonda articolazione: i tentativi di Menone di formulare una definizione della virt,
che del dialogo avevano occupato la prima parte, sono approdati ad un assoluto insuccesso, e
la ricerca, almeno sulla strada seguita sinora, viene a trovarsi bloccata nellimpossibilit di
procedere, e ci per riconoscimento comune sia di Menone che di Socrate: il primo perch,
dopo le confutazioni che i suoi tentativi hanno subto, viene a trovarsi in una situazione di
paralisi metaforicamente analoga a quella provocata dal contatto con la torpedine marina
(80a 4-8), Socrate perch finora ha insistito nella sua abituale professione di ignoranza
(80d 1). Cos la ricerca sembra sia arrivata ad un punto in cui gli interlocutori sono fermi in
una situazione che nella definizione datane sia da Menone stesso con il cos detto paradosso
(80e 1-5) che da Socrate (81e 1-5), suona come impossibilit per luomo di ricercare
alcunch, sia ci che conosce sia ci che non conosce, perch nel primo caso non ha alcuna
necessit di ricercare ci che gi conosce, nel secondo non sa che cosa ricercare.
E stato ripetutamente notato che questa situazione rivela forti somiglianze con altre che
si incontrano nei dialoghi aporetici, in particolare, in questo caso, nellEutidemo
1
; ma
nellEutidemo la ricerca non subisce battute darresto e i sofismi di Eutidemo e di
Dionisodoro relativi a chi impara, se impara chi sa o chi non sa (275d 2-276c 7), e a che cosa
impara, se impara ci che sa o ci che non sa (276d 1-277c 7) sofismi che pongono in
difficolt il giovane Clinia Socrate li smaschera serenamente dimostrando che si tratta di
semplici trucchi verbali (277d 1-278e 2). Per qui nel Menone la reazione di Socrate
completamente diversa: con un inatteso mutamento di tono, che si fa brusco e deciso, quasi
apodittico, rifiuta di affrontare in un modo qualunque la difficolt propostagli da Menone col
suo paradosso, negando a questa ogni reale validit col definirla un ..c~.- | ,|
1
Cfr., per es., Bluck (1961), 8-9, 271-272; Guthrie (1975), 238; Nehamas (1985), 1-30, in part. 5-9. Le componenti del
Menone che si connettono ai dialoghi aporetici sono state sistematicamente analizzate da Erler (1991), Indice dei
passi di Platone, s. v. Menone.
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dellal di l? 174
(80e 2)
2
, abbandona, da parte sua, ogni dubbio e qualunque atteggiamento di ignoranza
inserendo nel processo di ricerca, in maniera da nessun indizio preannunziata, clamorosi
elementi di certezza nei quali stato clto un tono di particolare solennit
3
, cos da imporre al
dialogo una svolta che stata definita drammatica
4
. Di queste certezze Socrate dichiara di
esser venuto a conoscenza da sacerdoti e sacerdotesse, da persone capaci di garantirne
lattendibilit, c- -c ,c c |o. | ~. -c. ,u|c.-. | c. | .. ~c -..c c ,c~c
(81a 5-6) [...] c., .. -. .. . | .~cy... |~c. ,| . ., ~` .. |c. o.o |c.
(81a 11-12); a quanto costoro affermano aggiunge la testimonianza di Pindaro e di altri poeti,
c. -.. . .. c.| (81b 2)
5
. Quello che queste autorevoli fonti dicono, cc. ,c , :
lanima immortale
ad essa accade talora di giungere alla fine, ~..u~c |, il che viene detto morire,
c-|c-..|, talora di rinascere, ,. ,|.c-c.,
ma che non muore mai, c uc-c. o`u o. ~.;
per questi motivi cio, parrebbe, per il fatto che lanima immortale necessario
dunque, o.. | o o.c ~cu~c, vivere la vita il pi santamente possibile, . , c.. ~c~c, 81b 3-
7. Di fatto, per, nonostante il valore causale di o.c ~cu~c che pare riferirsi a quanto detto
fin qui, la reale motivazione della necessit di vivere santamente Socrate la fa consistere,
introducendone la citazione con un semplice ,c , nel testo del Fr. 133 Maehler di Pindaro,
probabilmente da un threnos, in cui detto che Persefone, dopo unadeguata purificazione,
rinvia sulla terra le anime dalle quali, . - ~c |, sono destinati a nascere illustri sovrani,
cc. ., c ,cu. , uomini di impetuoso vigore, c-. |.. -c.|. , e di grandissima saggezza,
c.c .,.c~., i quali per il tempo futuro saranno chiamati dagli uomini puri eroi, .,
c ,|. .
Da quanto contenuto in queste fonti Socrate trae le conclusioni:
lanima, dunque, immortale e,
pi volte rinata, c-c |c~ , ~. u cc -c. c -., ,.,|u. c, 81c 5, si trova nella
condizione di aver visto, ..c-u.c, tutte le cose, sia di questo mondo sia dellAde, ~c
. |-c o. -c. ~c . | A.ou -c. c |~c y c~c,
e non c alcunch che non abbia appreso, u - . c~.| ~. u .c --.|, 81c 6-7,
per cui non sar motivo di meraviglia che essa sia in grado di ricordare ci che prima
ha appreso, u o. | -cucc- | [...] . | ~`.. |c. cu ~ | c |c|c- |c. c ,. -c. ~.|
. c~c~ 81c 7-8.
2
Il paradosso di Menone non da tutti viene considerato come pretestuoso: cfr., per es., Nacht (1948), 198-199;
Phillips (1948) 87-91; Moline (1969) 153-161: Nehamas (1985) passim; pi recentemente da cfr. Lampia
trattazione che del problema fa Lee (2001), 97-108.
3
Questa caratteristica stata messa in luce con molta forza da Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1992), 149-150, nel contesto
di una interpretazione del dialogo come manifesto programmatico proposto da Platone come maestro; a questo
proposito da cfr. anche Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1959), 212-220, nel capitolo non a caso intitolato
Schulgrndung. Su Wilamowitz interprete del Menone si avr occasione di tornare in sguito. Anche da un
punto di vista strettamente formale, la parte mitica introdotta da Socrate con modi inconsueti: cfr. Dalfen (2004),
422-423.
4
Anche per Friedlnder (1964
3
), 264-265, la drammatizzazione del paradosso di Menone rappresenta uno strumento
per segnare il passaggio ad un metodo di indagine del tutto diversa da quella della prima parte del dialogo; il
passaggio segnato dal mito con la conclusione, dal mito suggerita, della necessit della solerzia nella ricerca;
cfr. anche Schwarz (1966), 361-380, in part. 362.
5
Si pensa, oltre a Pindaro espressamente rammentato, che Platone alluda in particolare a Empedocle 146 D.K.:
cfr. Bluck (1961), 284-285.
Graziano Arrighetti 175
A tutto ci segue, dietro richiesta di Menone, la ben nota dimostrazione di geometria
6
,
raggiunta nel dialogo con lo schiavo, a riprova della dottrina della reminiscenza.
Le novit che improvvisamente fanno irruzione in questo brano, come la dottrina
dellimmortalit delle anime con quelle connesse della trasmigrazione e del conoscere come
reminiscenza, e quanto ad esse segue, cio le novit del metodo di ricerca, la dialettica
applicata alla ricerca matematica, prepotentemente proposte da Socrate, sar appena
necessario ricordare che hanno esercitato una importante influenza anche sugli studi intesi a
delineare, nei limiti in cui possibile, lo sviluppo e levoluzione del pensiero platonico. Nel
concluso ambito di questo dialogo, di tale sviluppo stata identificata come una
rappresentazione condensata: la prima parte corrisponderebbe al periodo socratico, quello che
aveva visto la composizione dei dialoghi aporetici, intesi soprattutto a smascherare le false
presunzioni di conoscenza; la seconda anticiperebbe in forma sintetica i contenuti dottrinali e
i metodi di indagine pi specificamente platonici; in poche parole, questa seconda parte la si
vista come la presentazione di un abbozzo del programma della ricerca che Platone avrebbe
svolto nel successivo periodo di sviluppo del suo pensiero, pi propriamente costruttivo e
originale
7
, distesamente realizzato in opere come il Fedone, con la compiuta concezione della
dottrina delle idee. Ancora: nelle due parti in cui il dialogo si articola, scandite da questa parte
mitica, si creduto di intravedere, delineate in netta distinzione, rispettivamente le figure di
Socrate, ovviamente nella prima, e quella di Platone nella seconda
8
, si parlato, addirittura,
della possibilit di percepire, nelle parole scritte, la loro voci
9
. Ma non solo. Di quel momento
cruciale dellevoluzione del pensiero di Platone che avrebbe visto il passaggio dal periodo
della fedelt nei confronti della tradizione socratica allinizio della pi libera e autonoma
costruzione del suo percorso di ricerca, il Menone, oltre a proporre la rappresentazione che si
detto, sarebbe la testimonianza diretta e dunque, di quel momento, starebbe addirittura a
segnare la data
10
.
6
Che la dimostrazione sia condotta con un argomento di geometria e riguardi limmortalit dellanima con la connessa
teoria della reminiscenza stato pensato non sia una coincidenza, ma che al fondo ci sia il pensiero pitagorico con
cui, si suppone, Platone sarebbe venuto in contatto in occasione della visita in Italia del 387 a. C.: cfr. Gulley
(1962), 11-13. Io nutro dei forti dubbi sul fatto che a Platone si siano rivelate dun colpo queste dottrine sulla
reincarnazione solo in occasione del suo viaggio in Italia e che, pertanto, prima di quel momento gli fossero
rimaste ignote; ci, ovviamente, senza voler negare la circostanza che la Magna Grecia ne sia stata il centro di
irradiazione: cfr. Dodds (1959), 296-298; anche Dodds, precedentemente, si era espresso in maniera decisa a
favore dellipotesti di unesperienza religiosa vissuta da Platone: cfr. Dodds (1945), 16-25, in part. 24. La
tradizionale collocazione del Menone quale viene generalmente supposta nella produzione di Platone
recisamente negata, nel contesto di un generale rifiuto della possibilit di seguire lo sviluppo del pensiero del
filosofo sulla base della cronologia dei dialoghi, da Trindade Santos (2000), 35-50.
7
Cfr. Guthrie (1975), 241: The Meno has been described as a microcosm of the whole series of Platos dialogues; a
chi risalga questa precisa formulazione e se qualcuno veramente ci sia stato che lha proposta esattamente in
questo modo, mi ignoto. Certo che lidea del Menone come documento intenzionalmente proposto e quasi
esibito della fine del periodo socratico della produzione platonica e annunzio e anticipazione delle nuove e pi
originali e costruttive vie di ricerca del filosofo, risale almeno fino a Zeller (1963
5
), 531-534; per Zeller un altro
segno delle novit platoniche che si affacciano in questo dialogo sarebbe lintroduzione del mito.
8
Cfr. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1959
5
), 214.
9
Cfr. Schwarz (1966), in part. 362; allinizio della ricerca, Schwarz, in 361-362, riprendeva in forma condensata e con
qualche accentuazione la posizione di Wilamowitz.
10
Dunque, anche sulla presenza di questi caratteri e contenuti che stata proposta la composizione del dialogo o in
coincidenza con la fine del primo periodo della produzione platonica o, con ben poca differenza, dellinizio del
periodo di mezzo. In questo senso, oltre a Wilamowitz nei luoghi rammentati (n. 3), Wilamowitz-Moellendorff
(1959
5
), in part. 212-220, e Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1992
3
), in part. 148-150, cfr. anche Friedlnder (1964
3
),
265-266; pi recentemente, Fine (1992), 200-226, in part. 207. Sul grosso problema della cronologia dei dialoghi
platonici cfr., di recente, i lavori rispettivamente di Kahn (2002) e di Griswold (1992), rispett. 93-127 e 129-144;
in generale sul Menone nel contesto della produzione platonica, cfr. Buchmann (1936), e la recensione di
Cherniss (1937) 497-500; Hoerber (1960), 78-102.
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dellal di l? 176
Non compito di questa relazione affrontare sistematicamente i difficili problemi
11
che
solleva questo modo di vedere il ruolo del Menone nel contesto della produzione platonica,
indubbiamente affascinante ma non tale da convincere; in merito si torner brevemente alla
fine di quanto si viene dicendo.
Torniamo ai dati contenuti del brano 81a 10-e 22.
Per prima cosa: qual lo statuto di questo passo? In altre parole: il brano ha
caratteristiche tali da permetterne una specifica definizione?
E poi, in secondo luogo: quale e di quale misura la congruenza dei contenuti di questo
brano con quanto altri dialoghi attestano riguardo ai medesimi temi?
Consideriamo nellordine questi due interrogativi.
Come si visto, nel brano, compreso il frammento pindarico, i temi trattati risultano
nellordine essere i seguenti:
le anime sono immortali, da ci la loro reincarnazione con la connessa necessit di
vivere santamente; come si gi detto, la citazione da Pindaro, apparentemente introdotta
soltanto come conferma della necessit di vivere santamente, o.. | o.c o ~cu ~c . ,
c.. ~c~c o.c.. |c. ~ | . |, propone, di questa necessit, anche la motivazione perch vi
si dice che dopo la morte le anime sono sottoposte ad un giudizio prima di tornare sulla terra
ad incarnarsi in vari tipi di uomini, per cui il brano pindarico serve anche come prova della
dottrina della reincarnazione;
la quantit delle conoscenze acquisite nelle diverse vite, sulla terra e nellAde, sembra
raggiungere la totalit perch comprende c |~c y c~c, 81c 6-7;
da ci la conseguente teoria del conoscere come reminiscenza secondo un
meccanismo per cui, riportata alla memoria una sola cosa, . | || c |c|c-. |~c,
possibile ~c c c |~c c |.u..|, 81d 2-3.
Ora, se si pone mente al fatto che fra le molte definizioni che sono state proposte per i
miti platonici dellal di l c anche quella, che pare condivisibile, che quei miti costituiscono
un elemento di connessione fra il di qua e lal di l, fra lallora e lora, fra il l e il qua
12
,
parrebbe inevitabile attribuire al passo del Menone di cui discutiamo i tratti del mito dellal di
l. Questa conclusione, per, non forse accettabile incondizionatamente, certo non viene
incondizionatamente accettata. Infatti, se in studi sia di carattere generale, sia anche specifici
ma dedicati ad altri problemi, questa parte del Menone viene abitualmente definita mito
ovviamente, e anche a ragione, senza che ogni volta si affronti limpegno di fornirne una
motivazione
13
accade di vedere che in ricerche anche molto importanti sui miti platonici,
comprese alcune di quelle espressamente dedicate ai miti dellal di l, questa parte del
11
Un esempio per tutti: quando Platone parla dellanima immortale che qui e nellAde, attraverso le molte
reincarnazioni, ha visto, ..c-u. c, tutte le cose e ne ha preso conoscenza, .c--.|, presupponeva gi la
dottrina delle idee? Si risponde che questa ipotesi va esclusa perch la dottrina delle idee rappresenta una
costruzione talmente complessa che non pu prescindere dalla elaborazione che ne viene proposta da dialoghi
come il Fedone e della quale nel Menone non appare traccia. Per Zeller (1963
5
), 534, esprimeva la convinzione
che il Menone presupponga, e in qualche modo testimoni, questa gi compiuta costruzione metafisica e che qui di
tale costruzione vengano proposti solo gli elementi essenziali, i fondamenti; Zeller seguito, nella sostanza, da
Guthrie (1975), 250.
12
Cfr. Dalfen (2002), 214-230, in part. 225; cfr. anche Dalfen (2004), 480-483.
13
Cfr., per es., Klein (1965), 95: The theme of learning is not presented here in an argument. It is taken up in a story,
a myth.
Graziano Arrighetti 177
Menone per lo pi ignorata
14
; e non sono nemmeno mancate sporadiche ma decise prese di
posizione contrarie allipotesi di considerare questo brano come un mito. Per fare un solo
esempio, stato osservato da parte di Hackforth nella sua traduzione commentata del Fedone
che, nel contesto generale del dialogo, Socrate lascia chiaramente capire che, come prova
della dottrina della reminiscenza, nutre piena fiducia nella dimostrazione geometrica condotta
con lo schiavo, ma non altrettanta nelle dottrina dellimmortalit e della reincarnazione
dellanima proclamate da sacerdoti e da poeti; cos, la credenza religiosa si rivela bisognosa
del supporto della ragione
15
. E da dire che questa obiezione, cos formulata, appare un po
troppo improntata al presupposto di una incompatibilit fra mythos e logos, ma anche da
aggiungere che, rifiutando a questo brano lo statuto di mito o negandone la funzione nel
contesto del dialogo, non si risolve il problema del perch della sua presenza. Quello che
appare certo che lobiezione, come minimo, rivela un non infondato disagio, come vedremo
meglio oltre.
Per il momento esaminiamo alcune caratteristiche che questo brano presenta, perch non
difficile constatare che ne richiamano altre, queste abitualmente ricorrenti in altri luoghi di
Platone incontrovertibilmente mitici
16
; quelle pi significative sono probabilmente le seguenti:
in 81a 5-6 Socrate si rif a fonti orali rappresentate da personaggi sapienti
17
, c - -c
,c c |o. | ~. -c. ,u|c.-. | c. | c. ~c -.. c c ,c~c, cos come da tradizione
orale derivano in genere i miti platonici; un caso esemplare, data anche la sua complessit,
ovviamente quello del Timeo-Crizia; per di pi, al pari di questi due dialoghi, anche nel
Menone il discorso di Socrate attinge a fonti sacerdotali. Inoltre, fonti orali sono addotte in
Politico 268e 8-269b 4 e 271a 4-b 3; talora possono essere rammentate con pi precisione
persone che sono state le remote fonti del mito, come Er con il suo racconto in Repubblica
614b 2-4, gli antenati in Politico 271a 5-8; altre volte ci si rif genericamente alla tradizione,
come in Fedone 107d 4-5, Gorgia 523a 1, 524a 8; ma riguardo al Menone da aggiungere
che, come fonti, sono rammentati non solo sacerdoti e sacerdotesse sapienti, ma anche i poeti,
c. -.. . .. c.|, e fra questi citato espressamente Pindaro
18
;
14
A puro titolo di esempio, cfr. Reinhardt (1960), 219-295, in part. 252-270; Annas (1982), 119-143; Brisson (1982);
importanti eccezioni sono rappresentate da due lavori pubblicati in Janka & Schfer (edd.) : Most (2002), 7-19 e
Dalfen (2002).
15
Hackforth prendeva posizione nei confronti dellopinione di Frutiger (1930), 75, che aveva definito con decisione il
carattere del brano come mitico: cfr. Hackforth (1955), 74: It seems fair to say that Plato, while not repudiating
the earlier argument (scil. il mito) for recollection and immortality, regards that now to be expounded as far
superior [...] it is of course introduced as a religion doctrine supported by poets, or rather perhaps as a corollary of
such doctrine; but the argument for it is completely rationalist (corsivo mio); con Hackforth consente Huber
(1964), 314. Confesso che per me restano poco comprensibili le motivazioni addotte da Zaslavsky (1981), 15, per
negare i caratteri di mito a questo brano: si tratterebbe di a descriptive account of the experience of learning as
experienced; questo a prescindere dalla stranezza dei criteri da Zaslavsky adottati per definire i miti platonici.
16
Queste caratteristiche sono state formulate da Most (2002) in part. 10, sulla base di un approccio che stato definito
discorsivo, che muove von den konkreten Bedingungen der kommunikativen Situation der Sprecher und der
Zuhrer. Le caratteristiche che qui consideriamo sono alcune delle otto individuate da Most, 11-13, e che sono le
seguenti: i miti di Platone 1) sono pronunziati come monologhi; 2) sono raccontati da un narratore pi vecchio
dellascoltatore; 3) si rifanno a pi antiche fonti orali; 4) narrano eventi non verificabili; 5) derivano la loro
autotevolezza non da esperienza diretta del narratore ma dalla tradizione; 7) sono proposti in forma non dialettica
ma come narrazioni o descrizioni; 8) sono collocati allinizio o alla fine di un contesto dialettico; come facile
vedere, anche quelle che in questa ricerca non menzioniamo in maniera specifica sono anchesse presenti nel
Menone. Most considera mito, sensa alcuna esitazione, questo brano del Menone e lo prende come testimonianza
delle caratteristiche 3), 4), 8).
17
Sulla caratterizzazione delle fonti dei miti come sapienti, cfr. Dodds (1959), 297; qui nel Menone questi sapienti
sono, cosa non consueta, pi precisamente definiti, per la precisione come sacerdoti e sacerdotesse; i poeti sono
quelli -....
18
Sui poeti come creatori di miti, cfr. Brisson (1982).
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dellal di l? 178
un altro tratto abitualmente presente si direbbe ovvio nei miti platonici, come
questo del Menone, che i contenuti, come accade in special modo in quelli sul destino
dellanima, riportano circostanze non verificabili
19
, proprio come accade, ma non solo, negli
altri miti escatologici del Fedone, del Gorgia, del Fedro e della Repubblica;
ancora: i miti hanno anche una funzione psicagogica, nel senso che esortano
alladozione di certi comportamenti o ad accogliere precisi convincimenti; questa funzione
nel caso del Menone triplice: il mito, prima di tutto, deve scuotere Menone dalla posizione
di scetticismo sulla possibilit di conoscere; in secondo luogo esorta ad una vita virtuosa, o.. |
o o.c ~cu~c . , c.. ~c~c o.c.. |c. ~ | . | (81b 6-7); non solo: dal mito, Socrate trae
la conseguenza che chi intrepido, .c | ~., c |o.., , e non si stanca di ricercare, -c.
c -c | ~. | (81d 3-4), sar anche in grado di ben applicare il procedimento della
reminiscenza; quello che egli chiama questo discorso, o. (,,), tale che, se creduto,
sar capace di rendere gli uomini attivi e solerti, . ,c~.-u , ~. -c. ~~.-u , (81d 7-
e 1); ed anche a questo riguardo ricorrono precise analogie in altri miti, per esempio e sia pure
senza la precisazione di conseguenze cos specifiche, ad una vita genericamente virtuosa
esortano i miti del Gorgia e della Repubblica
20
;
infine, stato notato da sempre
21
che i miti platonici sono collocati o allinizio o alla
fine di una discussione e quelli relativi al destino delle anime la discussione la concludono
22
;
nel Menone le parole di Socrate segnano, per di pi in maniera particolarmente decisa
drammatica stata appunto definita la fine di un tipo di ricerca che non ha portato frutto e
ne avviano una di genere completamente diverso, quello dialettico che propriamente
platonico.
Dunque, da un punto di vista che possiamo definire formale, saremmo autorizzati a
concludere che il brano di Menone 81a 10-e 2 rispetta alcuni importanti canoni abitualmente
in uso presso Platone per caratterizzare e proporre i suoi miti; ma, come si anticipato, questi
dati, di carattere appunto formale, non sempre si sono imposti come abbastanza convincenti
perch al brano venisse riconosciuto lo statuto del mito, tanto che sono state avanzate riserve
a questo proposito
23
. Riguardo alla validit dei motivi sui quali alcune di queste riserve sono
fondate, come quella per cui una compatibilit di mythos e logos sarebbe inaccettabile, ho gi
espresso dei dubbi: per coerenza, tanto per fare un solo esempio, il mito di Thamus e Theuth
di Fedro 274c 5-275b 2, non dovrebbe esser tollerabile accanto alla lunga dimostrazione dei
limiti della scrittura che Socrate conduce
24
.
19
Circostanza messa in luce anche da Brisson (1982), 127-128; cfr. anche Dodds (1959), 376-377.
20
Sul fatto che il mito del Menone tenda fortemente a incoraggiare verso lattivit indefessa della ricerca, ha insistito
molto Friedlnder (1964
3
), 265: Mythos ist nicht Abweg ins Traumland, sondern Aufruf zur Aktivitt: das ist der
sokratisch-platonische Pragmatismus. Relativamente al Gorgia e alla Repubblica la circostanza era notata da
Annas (1982), 122; lintento psicagogico del miti dellal di l stato messo in evidenza anche da Dalfen (2002),
225, uno dei pochi studiosi che, pur non dedicando una particolare attenzione al Menone (oggetto della sua ricerca
erano i miti dellApologia, del Gorgia, del Fedone e della Repubblica) hanno considerato il nostro brano come un
mito.
21
Almeno dai tempi di Zeller (1963
5
), 579 e n. 2.
22
Cfr. Dalfen (2002), 215.
23
Cfr. sopra, n. 15, a proposito di Hackfort (1955).
24
Su questi problemi ho proposto la mia opinione anche altrove: cfr. Arrighetti (1991), 13-34; per altre prese di
posizione, cfr., per es., Henrichs (1999), 223-248, in part. 224-225; Murray (1999), 251-262, in part. 261; Rowe
(1999), 263-278, in part. 278: tutti e tre questi lavori contengono riflessioni condivisibili; Rowe nega giustamente
lesistenza di unopposizione fra mythos e logos in Platone, ma torna a sostenere la tesi che del mito il filosofo si
serve nei confronti di people for whom other means are inappropriate by virtue of their own inadequate degree of
rationality, cosa della quale non sono convinto. In fondo una soluzione semplice e convincente
dellapparentemente tanto problematico rapporto fra mythos e logos era stata proposta da Dodds (1959), 376: a
Platonic myth is a kind of extrapolation, a prolongation into the unknown of the lines established by
Graziano Arrighetti 179
Piuttosto, ed cosa singolare, le difficolt che possono essere addotte contro il carattere
di mito del brano del Menone sono altre ed afferiscono anche queste a tratti formali, cos
come di carattere formale erano le ragioni in senso opposto, come si visto; infatti:
per prima cosa, il brano chiaramente non si presenta, proprio per le fonti immediate a
cui Socrate si rif
25
, come frutto dellinvenzione platonica, un tratto, questo, caratteristico che
invece abitualmente gli altri miti presentano;
e poi, se un mito, oltre al resto, deve essere nella sostanza costituito da eventi
strutturati in una narrazione
26
, qui nel brano del Menone, diversamente da tutti gli altri casi di
miti, platonici e no, non si ha alcuna narrazione ma una perentoria enunciazione di fatti;
per di pi, la connessione e la funzionalit di questi fatti ai fini del progredire della
ricerca che viene condotta nel dialogo appaiono cos poco evidenti che ne stata negata
addirittura lesistenza, e con ci affrontiamo il secondo degli interrogativi proposti sopra.
Della non funzionalit del mito un deciso sostenitore fu Wilamowitz, per il quale la
solennit con cui Platone introduce il richiamo di Socrate alla dottrina dei sacerdoti e delle
sacerdotesse sullimmortalit dellanima, appoggiata anche allautorevolezza di quanti fra i
poeti sono -.. ., sarebbe del tutto artificiosa, e la ragione sarebbe che Platone aveva bisogno
di enfatizzare questo passaggio dalla prima parte del dialogo, svoltasi in chiave rigorosamente
socratica, alla seconda, che doveva costituire come un manifesto di nuove vie di ricerca, le
sue, per proclamare che la verit, dopo il paradosso paralizzante di Menone, raggiungibile, e
che lui stesso, Platone, si proponeva come capace di essere la guida sulla strada per
raggiungerla
27
; ma, concludeva Wilamowitz, per procedere su questa strada la dottrina
delleternit dellanima non era affatto necessaria
28
.
La perentoriet di questa conclusione non ha avuto sguito nella storia degli studi su
questo luogo del Menone, ma la sostanza stata di fatto pi volte ripresa nei dubbi espressi
riguardo alla funzionalit del mito. E stata confermata, per esempio, la presenza di qualche
disarmonia nellargomentazione di Socrate, riscontrabile fra le due parti in cui si articola la
dimostrazione della teoria della reminiscenza: la prima parte, quella mitica (con le conclusioni
di Socrate), 81a 10-e 2, muove dallimmortalit dellanima verso la reminiscenza; la seconda,
81e 3-86c 2, contenente il dialogo con lo schiavo, procede in senso opposto
29
. Si notato
ancora che, a rigore, il paradosso che aveva paralizzato Menone non superato dalla dottrina
dellimmortalit dellanima contenuta nel mito, ma dallesame che Socrate conduce con lo
schiavo perch la reminiscenza serve solo a spiegare come quellesame sia possibile
30
.
Ovviamente, queste difficolt, queste disarmonie sono innegabili, ma si deve anche dire che
Wilamowitz le aveva superate con motivazioni non soddisfacenti perch fondate sul
presupposto che il mito abbia come unica funzione quella di segnare nella maniera pi vistosa
philosophical argument, ,,; laverla presente potrebbe aiutare a sdrammatizzare un problema che
drammatico non .
25
Cfr. sopra, n. 17.
26
Cfr. Dalfen (2002), 214: Mythen sind Erzhlstoffe.
27
Cfr. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1992
3
), 149: Platon den Menon schreibt, um zu zeigen, nicht nur, da man etwas
absolut finden kann, da es also Wissenschaft gibt, sondern auch, da er als Lehrer auftreten will oder eben
aufgetreten ist und vor den Welt aussprechen will, was er mit seinen Schlern treibt, und wie er es anfngt.
28
Aber di Ewigkeit der Seele ist fr diesen Dialog nicht ntig und noch weniger ihre so feierliche Einfhrung, in der
di Tne des Phaidon angeschlagen Werden. Verkennen wir noch, da der Menon ein Prludium ist, auf den
Unterricht der Akademie ebenso wie auf die grossen Werke, mit denen Platon sich tragt?: Wilamowitz-
Moellendorff (1992
3
), 150. La legittimit della compresenza di mythos e logos opportunamente sostenuta da
Dalfen (2004), 482.
29
Il procedere dalla reminiscenza allimmortalit dellamima analogo a quello che si d in Fedone, 72e 3-76a 7:
cfr. Friedlnder (1964
3
) 266; Gulley (1962), 17-18.
30
Cfr. Irwin (1977), 138-140 e Note relative, 314-316; Nehamas (1985) 24 n. 41.
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dellal di l? 180
il momento dellabbandono del Socrate storico da parte di Platone e della presentazione di
una specie di manifesto di ricerca e di insegnamento nellAccademia; ma bisogna anche
riconoscere che soluzioni alternative che abbiano caratteri di piena validit non facile
trovarne n, direi, sono state trovate.
Pu essere visto come un tentativo indiretto di dare un motivo alla presenza del mito nel
Menone lattribuzione ad esso della funzione di testimonianza di una importante esperienza
religiosa profondamente vissuta da Platone e tale da fornirgli il fondamento della sua teoria
gnoseologica. Ma anche da osservare che, seppure cos motivata, la presenza del mito
rimane sostanzialmente estranea ad un coerente e conseguente procedere della ricerca
condotta allinterno del dialogo. Gi sul presupposto che il mito sia anche testimonianza di
unesperienza religiosa si fonda lipotesi, abbastanza diffusa, che la sua presenza nel dialogo
dipenda da conoscenze acquisite da Platone in occasione della sua visita del 387 in Italia
31
. E,
a questo proposito, una riflessione particolarmente approfondita la si deve a Gregory
Vlastos
32
. Questi, pur accettando lipotesi di uninfluenza su Platone della credenza dei
Pitagorici nella reincarnazione e nella reminiscenza di conoscenze acquisite nelle altre vite, a
Platone rivendicava la grande originalit, partendo da questa acquisita credenza, di aver
saputo elevare ledificio della sua dottrina gnoseologica grazie alla quale era possibile
raggiungere uninnovativa spiegazione del processo di apprendimento per la quale ogni nuova
conoscenza era una reminiscenza; e questo, asseriva Vlastos, era un prodotto del genio di
Platone e di lui solo. La credenza nella reincarnazione era per Platone il contenuto di una fede
religiosa, come tale egli la presentava quando asseriva di derivarla da sacerdoti e
sacerdotesse, e di questa, per la prima volta, dava lannunzio nel Menone; prima, nei dialoghi
anteriori, non se ne riscontra alcuna menzione o allusione; fu solo grazie a tale credenza che
Platone pot giungere a quella scoperta epocale per la quale il conoscere non ha alcun bisogno
di conferma da parte della percezione sensoriale e non ammette alcuna refutazione che da
questa provenga
33
.
Come facile vedere, anche con Vlastos si tornava sostanzialmente, seppure per una via
diversa, alla posizione di Wilamowitz: questi attribuiva al mito del Menone la funzione di una
interruzione, artificiosamente drammatizzata, che preparasse lannunzio di un innovativo
programma di ricerca e, forse con qualche eccesso, almeno nel tono, ne escludeva la
funzionalit nel contesto del dialogo; ma anche Vlastos sembra non aver trovato altro modo di
attribuire una funzionalit al mito nel dialogo se non riconoscendo ad esso leccezionale
statuto di primo annunzio della conquista di una credenza religiosa che Platone aveva saputo
elevare a fondamento di una rivoluzionaria teoria gnoseologica. Di conseguenza si dovr
concludere che, per Vlastos, il processo della ricerca che nel Menone si svolge di sguito al
mito ha, nel mito, soltanto il suo fondamento ultimo, una specie di presupposto ideale, non il
logico precedente immediato. Tutte e due queste conclusioni, quella di Wilamowitz e quella
di Vlastos, anche se possono avere una componente di validit, lasciano tuttavia inspiegate le
particolarit che caratterizzano questo mito, sia per la sua presenza in s che per i suoi
contenuti.
A proposito dei contenuti, a questo punto opportuno considerarli ancora una volta e un
po pi particolarmente. La parte strettamente mitica, 81a 10-c 4 (in 81c 5-e 2 sono contenute
le conclusioni che trae Socrate), come si detto, si presenta come una perentoria
enunciazione di fatti:
31
Cfr. sopra, n. 6.
32
Cfr. Vlastos (1965), reprint in Vlastos (1995) in part. 159-165.
33
Cfr. Vlastos (1965), 164-165.
Graziano Arrighetti 181
sacerdoti e sacerdotesse, e quelli che fra i poeti sono -.. ., affermano che lanima
immortale, e anche se ~.cu~c , poi, di nuovo, ,. ,|.~c.,
per questo motivo, o.c o ~cu ~c, necessario trascorrere la vita il pi santamente
possibile;
infatti, ,c , da un brano di Pindaro
34
si viene a sapere che Persefone, dopo aver
accolto la .|c | cc.u . |-.,, rimanda sulla terra le anime dalle quali nasceranno
illustri sovrani, uomini di eccezionale vigore e uomini dotati di grande sapienza, che nel
tempo a venire sono destinati ad essere chiamati puri eroi.
Oltre ai problemi messi in luce da sempre, non difficile accorgersi dellesilit e della
scarsa chiarezza delle connessioni che intercorrono fra queste enunciazioni
35
:
per quanto riguarda limmortalit delle anime, questa dottrina, considerata di per s,
non comporta lobbligo di vivere santamente;
inoltre, come si visto, il contenuto del frammento pindarico, nonostante sia introdotto
da ,c , non costituisce motivazione adeguata dellobbligo di vivere santamente
36
perch, oltre
a lasciare nellincertezza in che cosa consista la .|c che Persefone esige e come e da chi
debba essere pagata, quanto prescritto non appare avere un valore universale, non rivolto
erga omnes, cos come appariva essere lobbligo di vivere santamente, almeno nella maniera
in cui stato sancito da Socrate, ma concerne solo alcune anime, quelle particolarmente
privilegiate che si reincarnano in sovrani, in uomini vigorosi e in sapienti, destinati diventare
eroi, e quindi allimmortalit, e a trascorrere il tempo infinito della loro beatitudine forse nelle
isole dei beati o dove che sia; ma certo che, una volta raggiunto lo status di eroi le loro
anime non sono sottoposte a reincarnazioni, e quindi in Pindaro linfinit della catena delle
reincarnazioni necessaria per raggiungere la conoscenza dei c |~c y c~c non
presupposta.
Non solo, ma nemmeno tutte le conseguenze che Socrate trae nella seconda parte del suo
discorso, 81c 5-e 2, risultano chiaramente motivate dai contenuti del mito:
cosa pu significare, sempre rimanendo allinterno di questo contesto, che, essendo la
natura tutta congenere con se stessa, ~ , u c.., c c c, cu,,.|u , u c,, nulla
impedisce che, richiamata una sola cosa alla memoria, anche tutte le altre possano essere
trovate, c 9-d 2?
e perch per poter procedere a questa riconquista delle cose conosciute luomo deve
essere c|o..,, non deve c -c|..| ~. |, e una volta che sar convinto che lanima
immortale e che ogni conoscere un ricordare diventer . ,c~.- , e ~~.- ,, d 5-e 2,
come ripetuto anche in 86b 7-c 2?
e infine il problema la cui soluzione costituisce la premessa irrinunciabile di ogni
possibilit di capire questo sistema gnoseologico cos come qui nel Menone appare proposto:
come si pu sostenere senza difficolt che lanima, nelle sue molte reincarnazioni e nel suo
permanere nellAde, abbia conosciuto tutto, ~c . |-c o. -c. ~c . | A.ou -c. c |~c
34
Non necessario in questa sede affrontare i difficili problemi che pone la dottrina del destino delle anime post
mortem enunciata da Pindaro in questo testo, non solo riguardo a cosa il poeta intenda con le parole .|c|
cc.u . |-., del v. 1, ma anche quale sia la coerenza di quanto qui contenuto con Ol. II 56-83: cfr. Bluck
(1961), 277-286; Cannat Fera (1990), 219-231.
35
Altre difficolt, inerenti alla vaghezza o imprecisione delle enunciazioni di Socrate, sono state messe in luce da
Klein (1965), 95-97.
36
Di una banalit sconcertante la spiegazione che propone Bluck (1961), 277, per il quale in Platone parlare
dellimmortalit dellanima non era possibile senza coinvolgere una menzione delle implicazioni morali, per cui
qui avremmo nulla di pi di una digressione.
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dellal di l? 182
y c~c, senza il minimo accenno allesistenza del mondo delle idee, delle forme eterne e
immutabili, e senza che venga precisato che sono differenti sia i modi di conoscere che gli
oggetti della conoscenza propri di questo mondo rispetto ai modi di conoscere e agli oggetti
della conoscenza nellAde?
Certo, per ognuna di queste domande si pu cercare, e si trova, nei dialoghi che al
Menone appaiono pi strettamente collegati e che vengono considerati di produzione
posteriore, una risposta che in qualche modo completi, precisi e chiarisca le asserzioni di
Socrate, e con ci passiamo a considerare il problema della posizione e della funzione di
questo brano nei confronti del resto della produzione platonica che comunemente si considera
posteriore al Menone
37
:
per esempio, per il carattere cu,,.| , della natura con la conseguente possibilit che,
conosciuta una cosa possano essere conosciute tutte le altre, si pu rimandare a Fedone 73c 4-
75c 6, ma il parallelo non adeguato perch in quel dialogo la circostanza per cui lesperienza
di un oggetto pu rimandare ad un altro, simile o dissimile, richiamata per arrivare a
dimostrare la conoscenza del concetto di uguaglianza, cio allidea delluguaglianza in s, ma
nel Menone del mondo delle idee non c traccia; si pu anche ipotizzare, come stato fatto
38
,
che Platone riecheggi la dottrina pitagorica, come a noi trasmessa da Porfirio, vita di
Pitagora 19 (8a D.-K.), relativa allimmortalit dellanima che trasmigrando perennemente da
un essere vivente ad un altro e tornando ad incarnarsi dopo un certo periodo nel medesimo
essere, nulla per lei risulta essere nuovo; ma neanche questo parallelo soddisfacente perch,
chiaramente, altro quanto sosteneva Pitagora sulla conoscenza di tutte le cose, altro e ben
pi complicato quello che afferma Socrate che, conosciuta una cosa, tutte possono essere
conosciute grazie alla reminiscenza;
a motivazione dellaffermazione di Socrate che la dottrina della reminiscenza rende
luomo c |o.. ,, . ,c~.- , e ~~.-, si pu richiamare e anche questo si fa
comunemente Fedone 85c 1-d 4
39
, dove Simmia proclama la sua convinzione della necessit
di indagare senza stancarsi e con ogni sforzo sul problema della morte perch il non farlo
sarebbe proprio di un c |u c-c-u c |o ,;
infine, riguardo ai diversi destini delle anime che si reincarnano, di cui si narra nel
frammento pindarico, pu essere richiamato Fedro 248c 2-e 3
40
dove si enumera la gerarchia
delle nove reincarnazioni secondo il -.c , Aocc~.. c,, ma occorre anche prendere atto
che molto al di l dellanalogia, appunto, di