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Gorgias

Plato

Important Quotations Explained

507a–527e

Key Facts

Rhetoric [is] to justice what cookery is to medicine.

With this early (465c) analogy comes a crucial claim concerning one of the dialogue's central topics: rhetoric. Socrates discusses what he believes are false arts, such as cookery and beautification. Each of these flawed pursuits chases a more worthy counterpart (medicine and gymnastics respectively). The key distinction between the true and the false arts lies in the fact that the latter target the pleasant, ignoring the good and thereby create a false impression of value within their recipients. True arts, by contrast, aim at the good and thus by nature benefit those on whom they are practiced. In this statement, then, Socrates defines rhetoric as a mere false impression of the more pure notion of justice, just as the false routine of cookery is to the true art of medicine: each provides a hollow image of something more wholesome and real.

The claim reveals Socrates's (and through him Plato's) strong distaste for rhetoric and oration, despite his own use of speech later in the dialogue.

[It is] worse to do than to suffer wrong.

This short phrase in 473a represents a focal point of the dialogue. In spite of Callicles's reluctance, Socrates insists upon the greater shame involved with committing, as opposed to being the victim of, a wrongful act. This more acute shame itself results from the higher degree of evil involved with inflicting, rather than suffering, wrong, as Callicles himself concedes. One's doing wrong therefore is worse (in terms of justice and injustice) than one's having wrong done to him or her.

Though rhetoric and virtue resound within Gorgias as key topics, they also fall within the realm of an even more essential consideration—that of right and wrong (justice and injustice). Whether couched in terms of physical and mental health, the so-called 'good life,' politics, or any other subject, each strain of discourse within the text moves quickly towards an analysis of what is right or wrong inside the specific field of inquiry. In light of this consideration, the claim Socrates so simply expresses here about justice and injustice—right and wrong—carries with it implications for the entire range of issues within this work.

[T]hat part of the soul in foolish people where the desires reside—the uncontrolled and nonretentive part—he likened to a leaky jar, because it can never be filled.

Socrates utilizes this leaky jar metaphor (493b) in order to display the significance of temperance, a driving theme of the dialogue. Essentially, Socrates intends to prove that the control of (rather than a giving-in to) one's desires brings a person closer to virtue. This metaphorical imagery comes on the heels of Callicles's proposal that proper living results from one's possessing the bravery and intelligence to satisfy desires. It illustrates that a being who continually stokes the fires of his or her appetites will never be able to quell their ever-growing want and need. Just as a larger hole means more can get through and thus requires more to be filled, so too does a stronger desire require more and more for its satisfaction.

The claim here marks the beginning of a crucial argument within this work. Socrates ultimately means to tout temperance and justice as the main aspects of a good life, a notion that itself is (or, at least, should be) the highest aspiration of any human. By so vividly depicting the nature of a soul (jar) without control (leaky), a vital point becomes quite clear—so much so that even Callicles has no choice but to agree.

[T]he good is not the same as the pleasant, my friend, nor the evil as the painful.

Herein lies a foundation for the overall line of reasoning operating within Gorgias. This quotation from 497d (addressed to Callicles) explains Socrates's placement of medicine, gymnastics and justice against cookery, beautification and rhetoric; it helps to justify controlling rather than satisfying desires in an effort to seek virtue. It plays into a discussion of power, as well as the question of justice, all because of its inherent distinction. Throughout most of the text, Socrates endeavors through these (and various other) matters to show that his fellow citizens have come to mistake things directly pleasant for those that comprise a more long-term good and well- being, to the detriment of Athenian society. Underlying them all, however, is this one principle of the good and the pleasant being frequently not the same; the evil and the painful existing as oftentimes separate. In a certain sense, the entire work embodies an attempted proof of this assertion.

[T]he words lawfulness and law are applied to all order and regularity of the soul…and this means justice and temperance.

This pronouncement combines the highest forms of good as defined by Socrates throughout Gorgias, and as such it denotes a climax of the argumentative aspects at play within the work. By this late point in the text (504d), Socrates's already has stated his goal of defining the virtuous life, and the other participants have accepted laws of behavior as the means by which to attain this virtue. Moreover, matters of the soul have been established as the highest and most pure of human considerations, since this is the eternal aspect of human beings. Temperance and justice therefore complete the formula by providing law and order for the soul.

Despite its simple and brief formulation, this equation contains an intense richness and complexity of ideas within its framework. It is the result of a meticulous filtering process performed by Plato through the personages of his dialogue. In other words, Socrates could have stated this point earlier in his conversation. By waiting until all contentions about the core issues in question have been resolved, Socrates effectively renders this statement his essential thesis about how properly to live—which itself in turn is the point of Gorgias.

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