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Gorgias

Plato

480a–487e

469a–479e

480a–487e, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary

Socrates continues by questioning what use, if any, exists for the practice of rhetoric. Still addressing Polus for now, Socrates maintains that this routine is only helpful for a man who intends to do wrong, since its only possible operation is that of persuasion by verbal trickery and a false appeal to the pleasant in order to deceive about what is good in any specific set of circumstances. For, rhetoric does not aim at truth, nor does it target virtue.

Socrates goes on to make several extreme claims regarding retribution for wrongful acts, claims that apparently follow from his discussion of justice with Callicles. These statements include notions of desiring that one's enemy escape punishment for evil acts in order that they may suffer the most, or more specifically that an enemy who steals a large sum of money from somewhere endures the harshest retribution if allowed to keep the money, never confronted by demands for its return. Such propositions once again rely upon earlier arguments made regarding the ability of punishment to relieve those punished of some of the shame and corruption of their soul which results from committing wrong, as well as the fact that lack of punishment for such wrongdoing fails to rid its possessor's soul of that evil for which they should be punished in order for it to be removed.

An angry Callicles replies, frustrated with what he sees as Socrates's own verbal deception—that of "a true mob orator." Callicles feels Socrates utilizes dialogue to set traps, twist meanings, and ascribe significance to people's words where they themselves did not intend such meaning. Furthermore, Callicles argues that Socrates searches for the good by means of human convention as opposed to the more accurate teacher, nature. Callicles ultimately declares the pursuit of philosophy through adulthood to be disgraceful, and he says that Socrates's wild use of other people's words ludicrous and embarrassing.

Socrates's position remains unthreatened by Callicles's aggression. Furthermore, Socrates's fellow Athenian further undercuts the strength of his own view through the outpouring of this anger. This is so since, while Socrates maintains a consistent method and perspective throughout the argument, even with his supposed verbal trickery (which conversely takes root in logic), Callicles (and the other interlocutors) jump wildly between opinions in near-violent reaction to Socrates rather than because of their own beliefs.

Undaunted by the barrage of insults, Socrates intimates to Callicles that if any one individual is qualified to help examine a soul for good and evil with Socrates it is Callicles, since he possesses the three crucial qualities: knowledge, good will, and frankness (unlike Gorgias and Polus). Socrates also suggests that any agreement between Callicles and himself will be equivalent to truth, due to their joint possession of these key qualities.

Analysis

Socrates's assertion that rhetoric is only suited to those who wish to do wrong goes against Socrates's claim that one should take every precaution not to do wrong, since the infliction of such evil necessitates either punishment for the actions or the actor's soul stewing in unpunished evil, either of which alternatives consists in great suffering for the actor who undergoes the process described (and, of the two, we already know committing wrong without receiving punishment to be worse).

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