Plan for the Evening
- Leading class discussion
- Plato’s Gorgias
- Encomium of Helen
Introduction from Robin Waterfield
As I mentioned last week, had I been a more forward thinker, I would have insisted on a particular translation to keep us less confused. Oh well, maybe next time. I did want to offer some ideas from a well-known translator of Plato’s texts (including Gorgias). Waterfield’s Introduction sheds light on some goals for this dialogue:
- p. x: Gorgias is “an investigation…into human nature and ways of life.” Notice that Waterfield doesn’t say way—singular—of life. (italics mine)
- p. xi: “We live by our beliefs…if their beliefs change…the way they live will change.”
- p. xviii: Plato and Socrates believed “rational planning” can yield pleasure and reject absolute hedonism, which is “satisfaction of desire.”
- p. xxix: “Plato takes consistency to be a criterion of truth.” Is this possible? Can we achieve consistency or just try to approach it? Are we in violation of truth if we consistently rationalize our way out of inconsistencies in our beliefs?
- p. xxxi: “Certainty on a topic closes doors and stops one searching further.”
- p. xxxv: Waterfield inspires me to ask: Can we prove anything beyond a shadow of a doubt? What do these dialogues do or teach?
- p. 5: “Experience and experimentation have led people to develop professional expertise in a number of areas.”
- p. 16: “Conviction and knowledge aren’t the same.” Conviction can be true or false; knowledge can only be true.
In order to believe this about knowledge, one has to assume what?
An aside on socially hierarchy of truth (least to greatest):
- Tastes and Convictions
- p. 17: Rhetoric may produce conviction but not educate about right and wrong. It doesn’t assume the audience understands the subject.
- p. 34: Socrates believes rhetoric is a branch of flattery.
Can one be a rhetorician or a flatterer? Or is one both?
- p. 35: “Rhetoricians and dictators are the least powerful…because they almost never do what they want, rather than what they think it’s best for them to do.” Only expertise can lead one to know what is truly good and, therefore, what you want.
Let’s think about broad vs. specific expertise.
- p. 37: We don’t want the immediate; we want the end result.
What does it mean to want something bad for us or to want something that will lead us to harm?
Could one also want something that keeps them safe but hinders their experience?
- p. 38: “We don’t…want to slaughter people…we want to do these things only if they’re in our self-interest, but if they’re not we don’t want to do them.
Compare the above statement to incarcerations and social welfare programs.
- p. 39: “One can want and not want the same thing under different descriptions.”
The Problem of Truth
- p. 47: “The truth can never be proved wrong.”
The Problem of Rhetoric
- 61: Socrates claims that rhetoric can’t be used “to defend wrongs…being committed by ourselves, our parents, friends, children, or country.” Rhetoric should be to bring people to justice.
- p. 69: Callicles implores Socrates to learn the practice of rhetoric because not knowing it makes one incapable of defending oneself or instructing others.
- p. 72: Callicles believes “natural right” includes “the forcible seizure of property belonging to inferior people by anyone superior.”
- p. 79: Callicles on hedonism—“the only authentic way of life is to do nothing to hinder or restrain the expansion of one’s desire, until they can grow no larger.” Also, not everyone can do this, so “that’s why they condemn those who can.”
- p. 79: Callicles doesn’t believe that a superior person would exchange freedom “for the voluntary acceptance of a master—namely, the conventions, opinions, and strictures of the majority.”
Therefore, the cowardly majority, who indulge, espouses that it’s wrong to indulge…they’re all just pointless trumpery.”
- p. 94: What is the best way to live one’s life? “Manly activities” and “rhetorical training” “or is this philosophical life of mine better?”
How do we determine what’s the best life?
- p. 105: “a disciplined person must act in an appropriate manner towards both gods and his fellow human beings.”
- p. 105: “to be happy…seek out and practice self-discipline” and don’t be self-indulgent.
- p. 127: Socrates will always aim for “moral improvement rather than gratification and pleasure.”
Gorgias’ “Encomium of Helen”
The online translation makes a point to claim it’s different from Kennedy’s.
This speech is most likely a refined oratory used for didactic purposes, a class lesson. Observing the structure is obvious (especially in the Kennedy translation with the subheadings), so let’s consider what makes it persuasive. Thinking forward to your rhetorical analyses, how is meaning built into this speech? What might be a priori, and what might be a posteriori?
Consider Gorgias’ views on:
Persuasion (good, bad, beautiful)
This speech is an often anthologized work from the 5th century B.C.E., so it’s a major work of Western Civilization. Did Gorgias just argue that no crime of passion should be seen as unjust? After all, love etches itself on the soul and may shape an individual’s actions.
On to Aristotle! Like I mentioned before. I like the Kennedy translation.