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Gorgias

Summary

507a–527e

Summary 507a–527e

The remaining subjects and tone of this section represent a marked divergence from the style employed in all other sections. Socrates's words take on an urgency and length indicative of the import of that which he professes. He proceeds with increasingly longer and longer intervals between breaks in his speech where the others may offer their own perspectives. In fact, the patterns of speech here border on rhetoric or oration, the practice of which is quite uncharacteristic of Socratic and Platonic dialogue. In a direct application of the notion of virtue, Socrates criticizes false leaders and evil politicians for their deception by means of the pleasant rather than employing truth for the good. Socrates even states the importance of applying virtue to one's city and peers after it has been attained internally.

Plato also has Socrates predict the exact nature of his death, a decision quite striking given the text's completion after such a trial and execution actually took place. In fact, Socrates was killed by the very form of tyrannical evil he describes in this dialogue, for living the exact good life he defines therein. As a result, the entire work, and especially this last part of it, receives a large injection of meaning when viewed in the light of its history.

Last, by concluding with this story of the judgment in death, Plato accomplishes several goals. One such function of this story is to display that Socrates had nothing to fear from his death—since he lived according to the code of virtue, he died into eternal happiness. This exactly is the outcome of the proper existence he defines. Such knowledge helps to reconcile Socrates's admirers (especially Plato) with his execution. Another effect of this depiction of death is taking comfort in the fact that all evil people, especially corrupt tyrants like Socrates's executioners, eventually (when they die if not sooner) receive a portion of punishment equivalent to the wrongs they inflicted while alive. This again helps reconcile Socrates's unjust death with its apparent lack of repercussions.

The account serves to highlight the fundamental importance of virtue to human existence. So important is this composite art of proper living, in fact, that the degree to which one attains it determines the nature of that being's existence throughout eternity. In light of this virtually unimaginable significance, it should come as no surprise that virtue—the good life—is the overarching theme of this particular dialogue, as well as a major strain of Plato's life-long philosophical investigation.