Callicles-and-Socrates by xiagong0815


									Dirk Baltzly

School of Philosophy & Bioethics

Callicles and Socrates on the
value of rhetoric
Our objective

• Plato depicts Socrates and Callicles as
  holding diametrically opposed attitudes
  to the value of rhetoric.
   – How do these opposed attitudes flow
     naturally from their different ideas about:
      > Well-being (eudaimonia)
      > Virtue
      > Knowledge?

Common and disputed ground

• What is worth learning?
   – What will benefit you.
• What is beneficial?
   – Getting what you want → Callicles’ hedonism
   – Getting what is good for you → Socrates’ wise, just,
     self-controlled character.
• What sort of person should I become?
   – The kind who can get what she wants → a rhetorician.
   – The kind who wants what she should → a philosopher

Preliminaries: Gorgias and Polus

• Gorgias of Leontium
   – Teacher of public speaking
   – His defence of Helen of Troy
      > She was either a) fated by the Gods to go to Troy; b)
        taken by force; c) persuaded by words (logoi); d)
        conquered by love. Not responsible.
      > The power of logos is like the power of drugs: different
        words can cause joy, sorrow, courage, etc. A person
        persuaded is no more responsible than a person

  What is rhetoric?

• Rhetoric = the ability to
  use speech to produce
  conviction, without
  knowledge, in the
  audience concerning what
  is just and what is unjust
  (Gorg. 455a)
    – You can’t teach the body
      politic about complicated
      things – only persuade

Socrates: rhetoric as gimmick and flattery

      REAL CRAFT                 MERE FLATTERY
• The Body                   • The Body
   – Athletic training          – Cosmetics: makes
                                  you look fit without
   – Medicine
                                  really being so.
• The Soul
                                – Fancy cookery: tastes
   – Legislation: aims to         pleasant but without
     make citizens whose          being good for you.
     souls are in good
     order                   • The Soul
   – Justice: punishment        – Sophistry
     that cures sicknesses      – Rhetoric
     of the soul                          » Gorg. 463e-

Polus v Socrates on power and injustice

• Does rhetoric make you powerful?
   – Polus: it allows you to do whatever you like.
   – Socrates: this is not power unless you know what is
     good for you.
• Example: using your rhetorical skill to successfully
  prosecute a man you know to be innocent.
   – Polus: better (for you) to be the perpetrator of injustice
     than the victim.
   – Socrates: better (for you) to be the victim of injustice
     than its perpetrator.

Polus’ admissions

1. It is better to be the perpetrator of
   injustice than the victim.
2. It is more shameful to be perpetrator of
   injustice than the victim.
3. The shameful is that which is painful or
   harmful or both.
   •   Socrates uses these admissions to trap
       Polus in a contradiction. (472c-79e)

The world turned upside down…

• The world according to Socrates
   – Better to be victim of injustice than perpetrator
   – Better to be caught and punished than to get
     away with it.
• Callicles:
     ‘For if you are serious and what you say is
     really true, must not the life of us human beings
     have been turned upside down, and must we
     not be doing quite the opposite, it seems, of
     what we ought to do?’ (481c)

Callicles’ indictment of Socrates’ “tricks”

• By convention (nomos), it is more
  shameful to commit injustice rather than
  suffer it.
   – By nature (physis), it is worse to be unable
     to stand up for oneself.
• By convention, people should all have a
  “fair” share.
   – By nature, the strong should take more for,
     being better men, they are entitled to it.

Callicles’ Diagnosis of Fairness

• Why does conventional
  justice require fairness?
   – Our conventions are a
     conspiracy of the weak
     and inferior against the
     few who are strong and
   – The natural order reveals
     how things should be

Callicles on pleasure, power, and rhetoric

        • Virtue / excellence (aretê): qualities
          that allow a thing to perform its
          function or achieve its natural goal
           – Our goal is the most pleasant life
                Pleasure consists in the process of
                satisfying a desire
               → Insatiable appetites and no
                conventional moral scruples about
                fairness are a virtue.
Callicles: Rhetoric good – Philosophy bad

• Rhetoric allows one to persuade and
  persuasion is useful in getting what you
• Socrates’ absorption in philosophy has
  made him unable to defend himself from
  unjust treatment. (summary 508d)
   – Such powerlessness is the
     most shameful thing by nature.

Socrates: Philosophy good – Rhetoric dangerous

• Socrates appeals to argument with Polus
  to show that this is wrong – the worst
  thing for you is doing injustice, not
  suffering it.
     (Socrates thinks that, in spite of Callicles’
     nature/convention distinction, this point is

 What you need

• To avoid being treated
  unjustly you might need
• To avoid doing injustice, you need only
  knowledge of good and evil.
   – Relies on Socrates’ claims
      > That no one does evil (what is bad for you)
      > That doing injustice is an evil (i.e. bad for you)

A bad crowd

• Rhetoric = flattery.
• To flatter those who hold power, you
  must become like them.
     ‘Hence if one of the young men in that city should
     reflect: In what way can I have great power, and no
     one may do me wrong?-- this, it would seem, is the
     path he must take, to accustom himself from his
     earliest youth to be delighted and annoyed by the
     same things as those who have influence, and
     contrive to be as like them as possible. (510d)’

A hidden danger

• In becoming like those in
  power, you increase the
  likelihood that you will do
  what is unjust (if those in power are
   Moral: rhetoric may protect us from the lesser
    danger of suffering injustice only by placing
    us at greater risk of the greater danger –
    doing injustice.

Some questions to ponder

• Is there anything that plays the role for
  us in 21st c. Australia that rhetoric plays
  for the ancient Greeks?
• Does ingratiating yourself to powerful
  people endanger your moral integrity?
• If it did, would what Socrates calls
  philosophy help you?


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