Background: Socrates encounters Gorgias

Plato’s Gorgias
Background: Socrates encounters Gorgias, Polus, and then the wily
With Gorgias, an examination of oratory, a kind of “knack”
Against Callicles, argues the life of the orator-politician is
unjust and shameful. Defends the life of the philosopher.
Exchange with Callicles
Against Polus, Socrates had argued that doing what is unjust
is more shameful than suffering it. Polus finally agreed.
Callicles enters, rejecting this principle. It is true “by law,” but
not “by nature.”
By nature, the truth is “That the superior should take by
force what belongs to the inferior, that the better should
rule the worse and the more worthy have a greater
share than the less worthy…” (59)
Socrates’s principle is merely a law or convention that
the weak and the many foist upon the few and the
strong in order to prevent them from taking a greater
share (53)
Shameful to be a philosopher (57)
Socrates seeks clarification: Who are the superior, the better,
or the more worthy?
Those who do in fact rule? If so, they are the weak and
the many (59).
Callicles specifies who is “superior”
the intelligent and brave (63, toward bottom)
“the man who’ll live correctly ought to allow his own
appetites to get as large as possible and not restrain
them…he ought to be competent to devote himself to
them by virtue of his bravery and intelligence, and to fill
them with whatever he may have an appetite for at the
time.” (64, bottom)
Socrates asks: Is such a person happy?
“The insatiable, undisciplined life” is like being a leaky jar.
Isn’t one better off with “the orderly life, the life that is
satisfied with its circumstances”? (66-7)
Callicles denies this
Living pleasantly lies, not in being full or content, but in
the pleasure of having “as much as possible flow
in” (67)
Any pleasure? Even that of scratching an itch?
Even for one’s whole life? Callicles accepts this.
Two main arguments then settle the matter in Socrates’ favor:
1. Mixed sensations argument (71, bottom)
Conclusion: Feeling enjoyment isn’t the same thing as doing
well, and pain isn’t the same as doing badly.
1. For one is either doing well or doing badly. These
can’t be mixed. (71, 72-3)
2. But pleasure is always mixed with pain. There is
pleasure in the satisfaction of appetites only if one
experiences pain (hunger, thirst).
Shouldn’t Callicles say that one does well when
one has the greatest possible level of pleasure
2. Equal pleasures argument (74, 75-6)

Conclusion: Being good can’t be the same as having (some)
balance of pleasure and pain.
1. The brave and cowardly can have the same
pleasures and pains
2. Even when they do, the brave are better
Can Callicles reject premise 1: bravery is better only
when it gives one greater overall pleasure?
Position is “shameful”
Callicles goes soft; Socrates concludes
The only beneficial pleasures are those arising from
excellence of soul, i.e., a soul that is self-ruled, well-ordered,
disciplined, just (83)
Even the sons of kings, tyrants, and potentates need a
“regime of self-control and justice” in order to be happy.

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