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Gorgias

Plato

498a–506e

488e–499e

507a–527e

Summary

Socrates returns to the question of justice now that the value of temperance has been established according to the separation of pleasure from the good, a distinction that is further emphasized with examples such as a coward (bad) and a brave (good) man each feeling equal pleasure upon the termination of a battle. Even though a man with courage is more in possession (in a state of) good than the coward since it is more virtuous to be brave, there exists no difference in the pleasure these two types of men may feel corresponding to their respective possession of the good. The coward, though 'worse,' feels pleasure and plain to at least a similar degree to the brave, 'better' man. Along these same lines, a sensible man experiences pain and pleasure to an extent resembling that undergone by a silly man, to which point Callicles assents. Or again, the wise and fools alike experience pleasure and pain in a like amount, despite their differences in other aspects. From this, the good and the bad are distributed in ways that are not connected to the distribution of pleasure and pain.

Socrates therefore declares once more that the good is not the pleasant, for surely otherwise these alternately good and bad men would not share in equal amounts of pleasure. Since good and bad occur in quantities differing from the simultaneous levels of pleasure and pain in a given body in certain circumstances (such as the example of a brave man and coward after battle mentioned immediately above), the two variables are independent of one another. He moves on to state that the good is the goal of all our actions, and that all else should be done for its sake. Moreover, he maintains that the true focus of this discussion lies in "what kind of life one should live—proper existence." With this formulation a fundamental feature of the Gorgias' argument takes root: proper existence (most abstractly) consists of, at the very least, performing all actions for the sake of the good. How more specifically to do so remains to be articulated.

Socrates's next move towards answering this question is to refer back to his distinction of art from flattery. Both he and Callicles now agree on this conception, and their consensus leads them to press on even further towards the answers they seek. The two consider skills such as painting and building, arriving at the conclusion that all crafts involve a certain establishment of harmony through order and regulation within the particular realm. In this way, then, physical trainers and doctors provide order and discipline to the body, and all objects, bodies, and entities derive benefit from regulation and suffering from disorder. Finally, Socrates offers the clearest statement of the features of good living contained within the dialogue. Order and discipline of the body lead to its health and strength. Order and regularity of the soul mean justice and temperance. Health, strength, justice, and temperance constitute proper existence as defined by Socrates (and therefore, of course, by Plato).

Analysis

By this point in Gorgias Socrates has all but shouted out the theme of the dialogue for those who will listen. It seems no mistake on Plato's part that the strains of such a unifying undercurrent should arise into a more complete picture by this point in the dialogue. He repeatedly has attempted to seek the nature of the good life in terms of a wide range of specific human pursuits such as health and politics. Most of the key components have been comprehensively established and all that remains is their integration and actual application to life through a combination of the abstract values and goals discovered here with the specific choices and actions of which all humans are capable and with which all humans are faced. And, with his placement of the good as the driving purpose of all actions within a proper existence, Plato provides the reader with the necessary vehicle for such a unification. This is the case because every significant inquiry within the text easily can be construed in terms of the relation between its conclusions and the good. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight this common thread appears undeniable.

Such is the case with Socrates's discussions of rhetoric, art, routine, the pleasant, power, justice and temperance: he undertakes each investigation in terms of how and to what degree the given arena interacts with and attains the good. Furthermore, the order and harmony of philosophical treatment of this conception closely mirror that of the framework itself. In other words, a person must work to establish health, strength, justice, and temperance each on their own. Only with the eventual augmentation and subsequent integration of these attributes, though, do order and harmony arise, in the form of a proper existence. Good living is nothing but the combination of these various features for the sake of the good.

Similarly, Socrates's exploration and definition of these matters requires much careful thought and deliberation. The qualities must first be examined independently. However, only with the eventual interaction between the investigations of these various notions (e.g. justice through temperance) does a harmony of the terrain arise, in the form of an inquiry into good living. The important larger question derives its substance entirely from an integration of the smaller ones. Such a pattern of emergence in a certain sense reveals just how significant this formula of harmony through order and regulation was for Plato. It not only constitutes the appropriate ordering of body and soul in the quest for a proper existence. It also serves to dictate a harmonious structure for this most crucial of philosophical inquiries. In light of the close proximity of Gorgias to Socrates's death and its importance to Plato both in terms of this proximity and in terms of his overall life pursuit of a system of objective virtue, this emergent pattern hardly seems accidental. Quite the contrary, it appears to present a model in its form for what the proper human inquiry into and pursuit of virtue should resemble in actuality.

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