Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gorgias (Part III: The Speech of Callicles)

(up to 492c)

With the entrance of Callicles, we get a new beginning. This is signaled by a repetition (481b):

CALLICLES: Tell me, Chaerephon, is Socrates in earnest about this or is he joking?

CHAEREPHON: I think he's in dead earnest about this, Callicles. There's nothing like asking him, though.

This calls back to the very beginning of the dialogue (447c), when Callicles, asked if Gorgias would be willing to discuss his craft, replied that there was nothing like asking him. Everything up to this point has been laying down the materials. It will now take a new shape and everything will be raised to a new level.

Callicles demands to know if Socrates is joking, since if what he is saying is true, everything in the world will be turned upside down. Socrates responds that he and Callicles have in common that they each love two things. Socrates loves Alcibiades son of Cleinias and also philosophy. Callicles, on the other hand, loves the citizenry (in Greek, Demos) of Athens and also the Demos son of Pyrilampes. (Demos son of Pyrilampes is Plato's stepbrother, through his mother's second husband.) Callicles is unable to contradict either Demos: he just says whatever they want him to say, and is willing to shift back and forth, and sometimes the only way to stop him from saying something is to get his beloveds to stop saying it. Likewise, if Callicles wants Socrates to say something different, he will have to make sure that Socrates' beloved, philosophy, stops saying them. And philosophy, unlike Alcibiades, is unwavering.

Thus Socrates in effect issues a challenge to Callicles: Callicles must refute philosophy or he will be stuck disagreeing with himself forever. Callicles takes up the challenge. The following is an outline of the speech I give my students:

The Speech of Callicles: Basic Themes

I. Diagnosis (482c-482e)

A. Why did Gorgias and Polus fail? They were ashamed to say what they thought out of deference to convention or custom.
1. Gorgias was ashamed to say that he would teach the power of persuasion to people who were ignorant of justice.
2. Polus was shamed into agreeing that doing what’s unjust is more shameful than enduring it.

B. How has Socrates been outmaneuvering the orators? By equivocating between convention and nature.

II. NOMOS and PHYSIS (482e-484c)

A. There is a distinction between what is just or admirable by convention (nomos) and what is just or admirable by nature (physis).

B. What is just by nature is for the superior or strong to have the greater share.
1. This is shown by animals in the state of nature.
2. It is also shown by relations between nations (e.g., Persia and Greece).

C. What is just by convention is imposed by the weak and the many, and requires that everyone be treated equally.

D. By nature it is better to do wrong than endure it, although by convention it is better to endure wrong than to do it.

E. The weak and the many, who are inferior, impose their will on the strong, who are superior, by educating them from an early age that being weak and stupid is better.

III. The Indictment of Philosophy (484c-486d)

A. Philosophy is only good in limited amounts at certain times of life.

B. Even the strong and intelligent become slavish when they spend too much time with philosophy, never saying anything important, appropriate, or suitable to a free person.

C. It is therefore excessive word-chopping in philosophy that is really shameful, because it makes people useless.

D. Because Socrates, despite his intelligence, dabbles too much in philosophy, if anyone decided to trump up charges against him, he wouldn’t be able to defend himself, but would be punished, even to the point of being put to death, if his enemies wanted it; it is Socrates, not the orators, who should be ashamed.

IV. Who are the superior people? (Clarifications from 491d-492c)

A. Those who have the phronesis (= prudence/intelligence) and andreia (=courage/bravery) to control society.

B. The superior do not control themselves, because this is slavish and stupid.

C. The best and happiest person is the one who allows his appetites and desires to grow as large as possible, without ever restraining them, and has the competence and intelligence to fulfill them.


Additional Remarks

* Callicles' distinction between nomos and physis is a common theme. Antiphon the Sophist, who lived in the fifth century, has some extant fragments of his work, Truth, in which he makes precisely this distinction, and something like the distinction is found in Thucydides' famous Melian Dialogue.

* Socrates refers to Euripides' play Antiope. The play, unfortunately, has not survived except in fragments, but we do know something of the background myth. Zethus and Amphion were twin sons of Antiope. Amphion was a great musician, taught by Hermes; Zethus became a hunter and herdsman. Together they built the walls of Thebes; according to the myth, Zethus had to carry stones one by one, but Amphion simply played music and the stones moved themselves into place. From what we can tell of the play, however, it covers the events leading up to this founding of the city. Euripides at one point has Zethus and Amphion arguing, and Zethus is trying to convince Amphion to give up music: music is unwise because it takes a well-favored man and makes him inferior. Amphion apparently loses the debate, but Hermes, in one of Euripides' typical deus ex machina endings, shows up and proves Amphion right.

Socrates in his comments about Demos portrayed Callicles and himself as doubles of each other. Callicles does the same, making them twins like Zethus and Amphion. Thus Callicles and Socrates are in a way mirror images of each other. It is ironic, though, that Callicles associates himself with Zethus, given that Amphion in some sense shows himself superior as a founder of the city of Thebes; too ironic, perhaps, not to be in view.

* Socrates mentions that Callicles is "partners in wisdom" (487c) with Teisander of Aphidnae, Andron son of Androtion, and Nausicydes of Cholarges. Of the first and the last I don't know anything but Andron son of Androtion was a sophist, and is mentioned as such in Protagoras. The others are likely also sophists.

* By 492c, all four of what would become known as the cardinal virtues are on the table. Callicles has distinguished two kinds of dikaiosyne, justice; the real kind of justice goes to the superior person, who has phronesis, prudence, and andreia, fortitude, although he certainly means here something more like 'cunning' and 'manliness' -- brains and balls, in fact, to use the vulgar expression. Socrates asks whether the superior person also needs sophrosyne, temperance or self-control, and Callicles denies this vehemently. This, which will let Socrates put the argument with Polus in a different light, will become a key element of the argument: Socrates will argue that temperance or self-control is necessary for justice and the good life in the city.

to be continued

1 comment:

  1. branemrys10:27 PM

    It is a good cliffhanger point! And it has exactly the structure of one, too: Callicles has predicted exactly what Socrates' philosophy will get him, and he's right, so it seems Callicles has demolished Socrates -- but will our hero escape at the last minute? Tune in next time....


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