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Gorgias Research Papers

Gorgias research papers can cover any aspect of the rhetorician that is known in the writings of Socrates. The philosophy writers at Paper Masters are experts in explicating ancient Greek philosophy.

A good research paper on Gorgias attempts to discuss Plato’s dialogue Gorgias from the standpoint of the following:

  1. Socrates’ conception of the true nature of the art of politics;
  2. The relationship between rhetoric and politics;
  3. The explicit and implicit presuppositions inherent in Socrates’ arguments about the nature of knowledge, human good, and the proper end of politics;
  4. The mind set of Callicles;
  5. Socrates’ justifications for his own arguments. 
  6. We shall end with a brief evaluation of the effectiveness of Socrates’ arguments.
Gorgias

The nature of politics comes to the fore after the discussion of the nature of rhetoric.  Qua art politics deals with the care of the human soul; it bifurcates into legislation and justice.  The care of the soul is likened to the care of the body, with legislation corresponding to gymnastics and justice corresponding to medicine.  Just as gymnastics and medicine are what is best for the body, the aim of legislation and justice, the aim of politics, if politics is to have legitimacy, is what is best for the souls of men.  

Socrates encounters the rhetorician, Gorgias, at the beginning of the dialogue and this encounter is a typical example of the type of elenctic disputation that is such a common feature in the early dialogues.  Under Socrates’ questioning Gorgias’ makes a series of attempted definitions and claims for the nature and excellence of the art of rhetoric; these Socrates destroys one by one.  What emerges from the rubble of Gorgias’ refuted statements is a vague notion that rhetoric has to do with words, persuasion, and public policy. 

Explicitly, knowledge is contrasted with belief. If we substitute “opinion” for belief, then this idea is a very familiar part of the Platonic corpus. It is found in the Republic where opinion is said to lie in the domain between knowledge and ignorance, and found also in Timaeus where “mind” and “true opinion” are seen as distinct. The famous “allegory of the cave” is illustrative of the knowledge-opinion dichotomy.  Implicitly, knowledge in Plato is related to an ontological scale in which some existents may have a higher existential status than others.  The perfection of “knowledge” is always linked to the issue of “knowledge of what”.  You can fully “know” a Platonic Form; you can only have an opinion about some sensory perception of an earthly manifestation of that form.

The good for human beings is the achievement of a state of virtue, “the man and woman are noble and good I call happy, but the evil and base I call wretched”.  In his argument with Polus Socrates establishes that, if one commits a crime, it is better to be punished than go unpunished.  Justice and virtue being the greatest of human goods, that which is conducive to their achievement and possession is what makes for real happiness irrespective of whether or not it is pleasurable.

Politically, then, the task of the wise man is to produce a morals based polity in which men will be made better, i.e. achieve true happiness, through the achievement in turn of personal virtue. This idea is both highly idealistic and inherently puritanical.

We now come to Callicles, the most interesting and formidable of the interlocutors encountered by Socrates in this dialogue.  In volume three of his Paideia; The Ideals of Greek Culture, Werner Jaeger describes this man as “the true representative of pleonexia, the lust for power”.  Callicles, unlike Polus, most emphatically does not share Socrates’ underlying set of predispositions concerning human happiness, the nature of politics, and the nature of knowledge. He is a cold wind blowing from another place, a kind of archetype of what Orwell called “priests of power”.

In an argument similar to that used by Nietzsche in Toward the Genealogy of Morals, Callicles tells Socrates that he has pandered to the mass mentality.  He has looked at the “fine and noble” not in terms of their true nature, but in terms of false human conventions about them.  Those who frame laws and conventions are the “weaker folk, the majority” who “frame the laws for themselves and their own advantage”.  What nature decrees, i.e., what is true by virtue of its being according to the true way of things, is “that it is right for the better to have advantage over the worse”.  And among the animals and between many states “right is recognized to be sovereignty and the advantage of the stronger over the weaker.

Callicles then provides an opening to Socrates by equating the good life with a kind of sybaritic existence in which the strong gratify their thirst for pleasure.  This allows Socrates to begin making distinctions between the pleasant and the good. This, in turn, leads through a chain of inference in which the good is distinguished by order and arrangement and this leads, in its turn, to the virtue of temperance.  Next, the art of happiness, having as its propaedeutic temperance, and temperance being related to the possession of justice and virtue, it is justice and virtue upon which happiness is ultimately grounded.

How effective is Socrates’ reasoning in Gorgias?  I would argue that it is not very effective.  The Social Darwinism of Callicles is not effective either, but, it seems to me, Socrates’ argument stumbles on his own unthinking elitism.

 

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