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The Gorgias by Plato. - HTML preview

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Platos Gorgias

And now the combat deepens. In Callicles, far more than and attacking Socrates, whom he accuses of trifling and in any sophist or rhetorician, is concentrated the spirit of word-splitting; he is scandalized that the legitimate conse-evil against which Socrates is contending, the spirit of the quences of his own argument should be stated in plain terms; world, the spirit of the many contending against the one after the manner of men of the world, he wishes to pre-wise man, of which the Sophists, as he describes them in serve the decencies of life. But he cannot consistently main-the Republic, are the imitators rather than the authors, be-tain the bad sense of words; and getting confused between ing themselves carried away by the great tide of public opin-the abstract notions of better, superior, stronger, he is eas-ion. Socrates approaches his antagonist warily from a disily turned round by Socrates, and only induced to continue tance, with a sort of irony which touches with a light hand the argument by the authority of Gorgias. Once, when both his personal vices (probably in allusion to some scan-Socrates is describing the manner in which the ambitious dal of the day) and his servility to the populace. At the same citizen has to identify himself with the people, he partially time, he is in most profound earnest, as Chaerephon re-recognizes the truth of his words.

marks. Callicles soon loses his temper, but the more he is The Socrates of the Gorgias may be compared with the irritated, the more provoking and matter of fact does Socrates of the Protagoras and Meno. As in other dialogues, Socrates become. A repartee of his which appears to have he is the enemy of the Sophists and rhetoricians; and also been really made to the omniscient Hippias, according to of the statesmen, whom he regards as another variety of the the testimony of Xenophon (Mem.), is introduced. He is same species. His behaviour is governed by that of his op-called by Callicles a popular declaimer, and certainly shows ponents; the least forwardness or egotism on their part is that he has the power, in the words of Gorgias, of being as met by a corresponding irony on the part of Socrates. He long as he pleases, or as short as he pleases (compare must speak, for philosophy will not allow him to be silent.

Protag.). Callicles exhibits great ability in defending himself He is indeed more ironical and provoking than in any other 8

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of Platos writings: for he is fooled to the top of hisbent by he ironically attributes to his ignorance of the manner in the worldliness of Callicles. But he is also more deeply in which a vote of the assembly should be taken. This is said earnest. He rises higher than even in the Phaedo and Crito: to have happened last year (B.C. 406), and therefore the at first enveloping his moral convictions in a cloud of dust assumed date of the dialogue has been fixed at 405 B.C., and dialectics, he ends by losing his method, his life, himself, when Socrates would already have been an old man. The in them. As in the Protagoras and Phaedrus, throwing aside date is clearly marked, but is scarcely reconcilable with an-the veil of irony, he makes a speech, but, true to his charac-other indication of time, viz. the recent usurpation of ter, not until his adversary has refused to answer any more Archelaus, which occurred in the year 413; and still less questions. The presentiment of his own fate is hanging over with the recent death of Pericles, who really died twenty-him. He is aware that Socrates, the single real teacher of poli-four years previously (429 B.C.) and is afterwards reckoned tics, as he ventures to call himself, cannot safely go to war among the statesmen of a past age; or with the mention of with the whole world, and that in the courts of earth he will Nicias, who died in 413, and is nevertheless spoken of as a be condemned. But he will be justified in the world below.

living witness. But we shall hereafter have reason to ob-Then the position of Socrates and Callicles will be reversed; serve, that although there is a general consistency of times all those things unfit for ears polite which Callicles has proph-and persons in the Dialogues of Plato, a precise dramatic esied as likely to happen to him in this life, the insulting lan-date is an invention of his commentators (Preface to Re-guage, the box on the ears, will recoil upon his assailant. (Com-public).

pare Republic, and the similar reversal of the position of the The conclusion of the Dialogue is remarkable, (1) for lawyer and the philosopher in the Theaetetus).

the truly characteristic declaration of Socrates that he is ig-There is an interesting allusion to his own behaviour at norant of the true nature and bearing of these things, while the trial of the generals after the battle of Arginusae, which he affirms at the same time that no one can maintain any 9

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other view without being ridiculous. The profession of ig-attempted to resist the popular will would be put to death norance reminds us of the earlier and more exclusively before he had done any good to himself or others. Here he Socratic Dialogues. But neither in them, nor in the Apol-anticipates such a fate for himself, from the fact that he is ogy, nor in the Memorabilia of Xenophon, does Socrates

the only man of the present day who performs his public express any doubt of the fundamental truths of morality.

duties at all. The two points of view are not really inconsis-He evidently regards this among the multitude of questent, but the difference between them is worth noticing: tions which agitate human life as the principle which alone Socrates is and is not a public man. Not in the ordinary remains unshaken. He does not insist here, any more than sense, like Alcibiades or Pericles, but in a higher one; and in the Phaedo, on the literal truth of the myth, but only on this will sooner or later entail the same consequences on the soundness of the doctrine which is contained in it, that him. He cannot be a private man if he would; neither can doing wrong is worse than suffering, and that a man should he separate morals from politics. Nor is he unwilling to be be rather than seem; for the next best thing to a mans be-a politician, although he foresees the dangers which await ing just is that he should be corrected and become just; also him; but he must first become a better and wiser man, for that he should avoid all flattery, whether of himself or of he as well as Callicles is in a state of perplexity and uncer-others; and that rhetoric should be employed for the main-tainty. And yet there is an inconsistency: for should not tenance of the right only. The revelation of another life is a Socrates too have taught the citizens better than to put him recapitulation of the argument in a figure.

to death?

(2) Socrates makes the singular remark, that he is himself And now, as he himself says, we will resume the argu-the only true politician of his age. In other passages, espe-ment from the beginning.

cially in the Apology, he disclaims being a politician at all.

Socrates, who is attended by his inseparable disciple, There he is convinced that he or any other good man who Chaerephon, meets Callicles in the streets of Athens. He is 10

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informed that he has just missed an exhibition of Gorgias, make a speech, but not how to answer a question. He wishes which he regrets, because he was desirous, not of hearing that Gorgias would answer him. Gorgias is willing enough, Gorgias display his rhetoric, but of interrogating him con-and replies to the question asked by Chaerephon,that he cerning the nature of his art. Callicles proposes that they is a rhetorician, and in Homeric language, boasts himself shall go with him to his own house, where Gorgias is stay-to be a good one. At the request of Socrates he promises ing. There they find the great rhetorician and his younger to be brief; for he can be as long as he pleases, and as short friend and disciple Polus.

as he pleases. Socrates would have him bestow his length on others, and proceeds to ask him a number of questions, SOCRATES: Put the question to him, Chaerephon.

which are answered by him to his own great satisfaction, CHAEREPHON: What question?

and with a brevity which excites the admiration of Socrates.

SOCRATES: Who is he?such a question as would elicit The result of the discussion may be summed up as fol-from a man the answer, I am a cobbler.

lows:

Rhetoric treats of discourse; but music and medicine, and Polus suggests that Gorgias may be tired, and desires to other particular arts, are also concerned with discourse; in answer for him. Who is Gorgias? asks Chaerephon, imi-what way then does rhetoric differ from them? Gorgias tating the manner of his master Socrates. One of the best draws a distinction between the arts which deal with words, of men, and a proficient in the best and noblest of experi-and the arts which have to do with external actions. Socrates mental arts, etc., replies Polus, in rhetorical and balanced extends this distinction further, and divides all productive phrases. Socrates is dissatisfied at the length and arts into two classes: (1) arts which may be carried on in unmeaningness of the answer; he tells the disconcerted vol-silence; and (2) arts which have to do with words, or in unteer that he has mistaken the quality for the nature of the which words are coextensive with action, such as arithmetic, art, and remarks to Gorgias, that Polus has learnt how to 11

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geometry, rhetoric. But still Gorgias could hardly have and he now defines rhetoric as the art of persuading in the meant to say that arithmetic was the same as rhetoric. Even law courts, and in the assembly, about the just and unjust.

in the arts which are concerned with words there are differ-But still there are two sorts of persuasion: one which gives ences. What then distinguishes rhetoric from the other arts knowledge, and another which gives belief without knowl-which have to do with words? The words which rhetoric edge; and knowledge is always true, but belief may be ei-uses relate to the best and greatest of human things. But ther true or false,there is therefore a further question: tell me, Gorgias, what are the best? Health first, beauty which of the two sorts of persuasion does rhetoric effect in next, wealth third, in the words of the old song, or how courts of law and assemblies? Plainly that which gives be-would you rank them? The arts will come to you in a body, lief and not that which gives knowledge; for no one can each claiming precedence and saying that her own good is impart a real knowledge of such matters to a crowd of per-superior to that of the restHow will you choose between sons in a few minutes. And there is another point to be them? I should say, Socrates, that the art of persuasion, considered:when the assembly meets to advise about walls which gives freedom to all men, and to individuals power or docks or military expeditions, the rhetorician is not taken in the state, is the greatest good. But what is the exact na-into counsel, but the architect, or the general. How would ture of this persuasion?is the persevering retort: You could Gorgias explain this phenomenon? All who intend to be-not describe Zeuxis as a painter, or even as a painter of come disciples, of whom there are several in the company, figures, if there were other painters of figures; neither can and not Socrates only, are eagerly asking:About what then you define rhetoric simply as an art of persuasion, because will rhetoric teach us to persuade or advise the state?

there are other arts which persuade, such as arithmetic, Gorgias illustrates the nature of rhetoric by adducing the which is an art of persuasion about odd and even numbers.

example of Themistocles, who persuaded the Athenians to Gorgias is made to see the necessity of a further limitation, build their docks and walls, and of Pericles, whom Socrates 12

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himself has heard speaking about the middle wall of the Gorgias appears to have fallen, and which he is inclined to Piraeus. He adds that he has exercised a similar power over think may arise out of a misapprehension of his own. The the patients of his brother Herodicus. He could be chosen rhetorician has been declared by Gorgias to be more pera physician by the assembly if he pleased, for no physician suasive to the ignorant than the physician, or any other ex-could compete with a rhetorician in popularity and influ-pert. And he is said to be ignorant, and this ignorance of ence. He could persuade the multitude of anything by the his is regarded by Gorgias as a happy condition, for he has power of his rhetoric; not that the rhetorician ought to abuse escaped the trouble of learning. But is he as ignorant of just this power any more than a boxer should abuse the art of and unjust as he is of medicine or building? Gorgias is com-self-defence. Rhetoric is a good thing, but, like all good pelled to admit that if he did not know them previously he things, may be unlawfully used. Neither is the teacher of must learn them from his teacher as a part of the art of the art to be deemed unjust because his pupils are unjust rhetoric. But he who has learned carpentry is a carpenter, and make a bad use of the lessons which they have learned and he who has learned music is a musician, and he who from him.

has learned justice is just. The rhetorician then must be a Socrates would like to know before he replies, whether just man, and rhetoric is a just thing. But Gorgias has al-Gorgias will quarrel with him if he points out a slight incon-ready admitted the opposite of this, viz. that rhetoric may sistency into which he has fallen, or whether he, like him-be abused, and that the rhetorician may act unjustly. How self, is one who loves to be refuted. Gorgias declares that is the inconsistency to be explained?

he is quite one of his sort, but fears that the argument may The fallacy of this argument is twofold; for in the first be tedious to the company. The company cheer, and place, a man may know justice and not be justhere is the Chaerephon and Callicles exhort them to proceed. Socrates old confusion of the arts and the virtues;nor can any gently points out the supposed inconsistency into which teacher be expected to counteract wholly the bent of natu-13

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ral character; and secondly, a man may have a degree of light or gratification. But is not rhetoric a fine thing? I have justice, but not sufficient to prevent him from ever doing not yet told you what rhetoric is. Will you ask me another wrong. Polus is naturally exasperated at the sophism, which questionWhat is cookery? What is cookery? An experi-he is unable to detect; of course, he says, the rhetorician, ence or routine of making a sort of delight or gratification.

like every one else, will admit that he knows justice (how Then they are the same, or rather fall under the same class, can he do otherwise when pressed by the interrogations of and rhetoric has still to be distinguished from cookery.

Socrates?), but he thinks that great want of manners is shown

What is rhetoric? asks Polus once more. A part of a not in bringing the argument to such a pass. Socrates ironically very creditable whole, which may be termed flattery, is the replies, that when old men trip, the young set them on their reply. But what part? A shadow of a part of politics. This, legs again; and he is quite willing to retract, if he can be as might be expected, is wholly unintelligible, both to Gorgias shown to be in error, but upon one condition, which is that and Polus; and, in order to explain his meaning to them, Polus studies brevity. Polus is in great indignation at not Socrates draws a distinction between shadows or appear-being allowed to use as many words as he pleases in the ances and realities; e.g. there is real health of body or soul, free state of Athens. Socrates retorts, that yet harder will be and the appearance of them; real arts and sciences, and the his own case, if he is compelled to stay and listen to them.

simulations of them. Now the soul and body have two arts After some altercation they agree (compare Protag.), that waiting upon them, first the art of politics, which attends on Polus shall ask and Socrates answer.

the soul, having a legislative part and a judicial part; and

What is the art of Rhetoric? says Polus. Not an art at all, another art attending on the body, which has no generic replies Socrates, but a thing which in your book you affirm name, but may also be described as having two divisions, to have created art. Polus asks, What thing? and Socrates one of which is medicine and the other gymnastic. Corre-answers, An experience or routine of making a sort of de-sponding with these four arts or sciences there are four 14

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shams or simulations of them, mere experiences, as they sire? They have no power, and they only do what they may be termed, because they give no reason of their own think best, and never what they desire; for they never attain existence. The art of dressing up is the sham or simulation the true object of desire, which is the good. As if you, of gymnastic, the art of cookery, of medicine; rhetoric is Socrates, would not envy the possessor of despotic power, the simulation of justice, and sophistic of legislation. They who can imprison, exile, kill any one whom he pleases.

may be summed up in an arithmetical formula:

But Socrates replies that he has no wish to put any one to death; he who kills another, even justly, is not to be envied, Tiring : gymnastic :: cookery : medicine :: sophistic and he who kills him unjustly is to be pitied; it is better to

: legislation.

suffer than to do injustice. He does not consider that going And,

about with a dagger and putting men out of the way, or Cookery : medicine :: rhetoric : the art of justice.

setting a house on fire, is real power. To this Polus assents, on the ground that such acts would be punished, but he is And this is the true scheme of them, but when measured still of opinion that evil-doers, if they are unpunished, may only by the gratification which they procure, they become be happy enough. He instances Archelaus, son of Perdiccas, jumbled together and return to their aboriginal chaos.

the usurper of Macedonia. Does not Socrates think him Socrates apologizes for the length of his speech, which was happy?Socrates would like to know more about him; he necessary to the explanation of the subject, and begs Polus cannot pronounce even the great king to be happy, unless not unnecessarily to retaliate on him.

he knows his mental and moral condition. Polus explains

Do you mean to say that the rhetoricians are esteemed that Archelaus was a slave, being the son of a woman who flatterers? They are not esteemed at all. Why, have they was the slave of Alcetas, brother of Perdiccas king of not great power, and can they not do whatever they de-Macedonand he, by every species of crime, first murder-15

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ing his uncle and then his cousin and half-brother, obtained or burnt to death. Socrates replies, that if they are both the kingdom. This was very wicked, and yet all the world, criminal they are both miserable, but that the unpunished including Socrates, would like to have his place. Socrates is the more miserable of the two. At this Polus laughs out-dismisses the appeal to numbers; Polus, if he will, may sum-right, which leads Socrates to remark that laughter is a new mon all the rich men of Athens, Nicias and his brothers, species of refutation. Polus replies, that he is already re-Aristocrates, the house of Pericles, or any other great fam-futed; for if he will take the votes of the company, he will ilythis is the kind of evidence which is adduced in courts find that no one agrees with him. To this Socrates rejoins, of justice, where truth depends upon numbers. But Socrates that he is not a public man, and (referring to his own con-employs proof of another sort; his appeal is to one witness duct at the trial of the generals after the battle of Arginusae) only,that is to say, the person with whom he is speaking; is unable to take the suffrages of any company, as he had him he will convict out of his own mouth. And he is pre-shown on a recent occasion; he can only deal with one wit-pared to show, after his manner, that Archelaus cannot be ness at a time, and that is the person with whom he is argu-a wicked man and yet happy.

ing. But he is certain that in the opinion of any man to do is The evil-doer is deemed happy if he escapes, and miser-worse than to suffer evil.

able if he suffers punishment; but Socrates thinks him less Polus, though he will not admit this, is ready to acknowl-miserable if he suffers than if he escapes. Polus is of opin-edge that to do evil is considered the more foul or ion that such a paradox as this hardly deserves refutation, dishonourable of the two. But what is fair and what is foul; and is at any rate sufficiently refuted by the fact. Socrates whether the terms are applied to bodies, colours, figures, has only to compare the lot of the successful tyrant who is laws, habits, studies, must they not be defined with refer-the envy of the world, and of the wretch who, having been ence to pleasure and utility? Polus assents to this latter doc-detected in a criminal attempt against the state, is crucified trine, and is easily persuaded that the fouler of two things 16

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must exceed either in pain or in hurt. But the doing cannot himself and others in enduring the necessary penalty. And exceed the suffering of evil in pain, and therefore must ex-similarly if a man has an enemy, he will desire not to pun-ceed in hurt. Thus doing is proved by the testimony of Polus ish him, but that he shall go unpunished and become worse himself to be worse or more hurtful than suffering.

and worse, taking care only that he does no injury to him-There remains the other question: Is a guilty man better self. These are at least conceivable uses of the art, and no off when he is punished or when he is unpunished? Socrates others have been discovered by us.

replies, that what is done justly is suffered justly: if the act is Here Callicles, who has been listening in silent amaze-just, the effect is just; if to punish is just, to be punished is ment, asks Chaerephon whether Socrates is in earnest, and just, and therefore fair, and therefore beneficent; and the on receiving the assurance that he is, proceeds to ask the benefit is that the soul is improved. There are three evils same question of Socrates himself. For if such doctrines from which a man may suffer, and which affect him in es-are true, life must have been turned upside down, and all tate, body, and soul;these are, poverty, disease, injustice; of us are doing the opposite of what we ought to be doing.

and the foulest of these is injustice, the evil of the soul, Socrates replies in a style of playful irony, that before because that brings the greatest hurt. And there are three men can understand one another they must have some arts which heal these evilstrading, medicine, justiceand common feeling. And such a community of feeling exists the fairest of these is justice. Happy is he who has never between himself and Callicles, for both of them are lovers, committed injustice, and happy in the second degree he and they have both a pair of loves; the beloved of Callicles who has been healed by punishment. And therefore the are the Athenian Demos and Demos the son of Pyrilampes; criminal should himself go to the judge as he would to the the beloved of Socrates are Alcibiades and philosophy. The physician, and purge away his crime. Rhetoric will enable peculiarity of Callicles is that he can never contradict his him to display his guilt in proper colours, and to sustain loves; he changes as his Demos changes in all his opinions; 17

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he watches the countenance of both his loves, and repeats dishonourable, but nature says that might is right. And their sentiments, and if any one is surprised at his sayings we are always taming down the nobler spirits among us to and doings, the explanation of them is, that he is not a free the conventional level. But sometimes a great man will rise agent, but must always be imitating his two loves. And this up and reassert his original rights, trampling under foot all is the explanation of Socrates peculiarities also. He is al-our formularies, and then the light of natural justice shines ways repeating what his mistress, Philosophy, is saying to forth. Pindar says, Law, the king of all, does violence with him, who unlike his other love, Alcibiades, is ever the same, high hand; as is indeed proved by the example of Heracles, ever true. Callicles must refute her, or he will never be at who drove off the oxen of Geryon and never paid for them.

unity with himself; and discord in life is far worse than the This is the truth, Socrates, as you will be convinced, if discord of musical sounds.

you leave philosophy and pass on to the real business of Callicles answers, that Gorgias was overthrown because, life. A little philosophy is an excellent thing; too much is as Polus said, in compliance with popular prejudice he had the ruin of a man. He who has not passed his metaphysics

admitted that if his pupil did not know justice the rhetori-before he has grown up to manhood will never know the cian must teach him; and Polus has been similarly entangled, world. Philosophers are ridiculous when they take to poli-because his modesty led him to admit that to suffer is more tics, and I dare say that politicians are equally ridiculous honourable than to do injustice. By custom yes, but not when they take to philosophy: Every man, as Euripides by nature, says Callicles. And Socrates is always playing says, is fondest of that in which he is best. Philosophy is between the two points of view, and putting one in the place graceful in youth, like the lisp of infancy, and should be of the other. In this very argument, what Polus only meant cultivated as a part of education; but when a grown-up man in a conventional sense has been affirmed by him to be a lisps or studies philosophy, I should like to beat him. None law of nature. For convention says that injustice is of those over-refined natures ever come to any good; they 18

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avoid the busy haunts of men, and skulk in corners, whis-and he is not too modest to speak out (of this he has al-pering to a few admiring youths, and never giving utterance ready given proof), and his good-will is shown both by his to any noble sentiments.

own profession and by his giving the same caution against For you, Socrates, I have a regard, and therefore I say to philosophy to Socrates, which Socrates remembers hear-you, as Zethus says to Amphion in the play, that you have ing him give long ago to his own clique of friends. He will

a noble soul disguised in a puerile exterior. And I would pledge himself to retract any error into which he may have have you consider the danger which you and other philoso-fallen, and which Callicles may point out. But he would phers incur. For you would not know how to defend your-like to know first of all what he and Pindar mean by natural self if any one accused you in a law-court,there you would justice. Do they suppose that the rule of justice is the rule of stand, with gaping mouth and dizzy brain, and might be the stronger or of the better? There is no difference. Then murdered, robbed, boxed on the ears with impunity. Take are not the many superior to the one, and the opinions of my advice, then, and get a little common sense; leave to the many better? And their opinion is that justice is equal-others these frivolities; walk in the ways of the wealthy and ity, and that to do is more dishonourable than to suffer be wise.

wrong. And as they are the superior or stronger, this opin-Socrates professes to have found in Callicles the ion of theirs must be in accordance with natural as well as philosophers touchstone; and he is certain that any opin-conventional justice. Why will you continue splitting words?

ion in which they both agree must be the very truth. Callicles Have I not told you that the superior is the better? But has all the three qualities which are needed in a criticknowl-what do you mean by the better? Tell me that, and please edge, good-will, frankness; Gorgias and Polus, although to be a little milder in your language, if you do not wish to learned men, were too modest, and their modesty made drive me away. I mean the worthier, the wiser. You mean them contradict themselves. But Callicles is well-educated; to say that one man of sense ought to rule over ten thou-19

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sand fools? Yes, that is my meaning. Ought the physician ing what other men only think. According to his view, those then to have a larger share of meats and drinks? or the who want nothing are not happy. Why, says Callicles, if weaver to have more coats, or the cobbler larger shoes, or they were, stones and the dead would be happy. Socrates the farmer more seed? You are always saying the same in reply is led into a half-serious, half-comic vein of reflec-things, Socrates. Yes, and on the same subjects too; but tion. Who knows, as Euripides says, whether life may not you are never saying the same things. For, first, you defined be death, and death life? Nay, there are philosophers who the superior to be the stronger, and then the wiser, and maintain that even in life we are dead, and that the body now something else;what do you mean? I mean men of (soma) is the tomb (sema) of the soul. And some ingenious political ability, who ought to govern and to have more than Sicilian has made an allegory, in which he represents fools the governed. Than themselves? What do you mean? I as the uninitiated, who are supposed to be carrying water to mean to say that every man is his own governor. I see that a vessel, which is full of holes, in a similarly holey sieve, and you mean those dolts, the temperate. But my doctrine is, this sieve is their own soul. The idea is fanciful, but never-that a man should let his desires grow, and take the means theless is a figure of a truth which I want to make you ac-of satisfying them. To the many this is impossible, and there-knowledge, viz. that the life of contentment is better than fore they combine to prevent him. But if he is a king, and the life of indulgence. Are you disposed to ad