CU Plato and Aristotle on Rhetoric Oratory Essay

This is the paper on Plato’s and Aristotle’s—on rhetoric/oratory.…

In our readings for class we have seen two perspectives—Plato’s and Aristotle’s—on
rhetoric/oratory (remember, both terms translate ῥητορική). In this paper you will need to:
1. Give an account of one of these thinker’s positions concerning rhetoric, using textual
evidence, you must quote and paraphrase with proper citation, to show that your
recreation of the account is accurate.
2. Give a preliminary evaluation of the account with argumentation for why the position is
right or wrong.
3. Provide some criticism of the position using the position of the other thinker, again with
quotes or paraphrases properly cited, or a plausible account of their position.
4. Write a response to the criticism from the perspective of the first position you described
and indicate if you hold that this response is able to answer the criticism.
Now, you need not ultimately develop the position that Plato and Aristotle are opposed in their
views on ῥητορική, but whatever position you take, you will need to argue for that position. The
paper is an argumentative paper; it cannot consist only in comparing and contrasting Aristotle
and Plato—you must stake out a position using those two thinkers. This means you will come
down on a side and what side you will take should be indicated in a thesis at the start of your
paper. Please reach out to me if you are unsure in any way with what you want to do; offering
guidance with these sorts of things is part of my job.
Do not forget that you will need to give a thesis at the start of your paper concerning your
ultimate position, i.e. who you take to be correct and why, before you launch into the accountgiving, and that what is in that thesis should direct what is relevant for the account that you give.
Given the number of tasks in this prompt, the page minimum for the paper is 7 double-spaced
pages, with 4/5ths of the last page needing to be full for it to count, and bibliographical or cover
pages not counting.
Citation format:
(Rhetoric I.1 1355b8-1355b22)
Since you are only allowed to cite internal sources, and please cite the in-text citations like the
one above.
The source I gave got each paragraphs’ mark on the left or the right column.
1. Plato—Gorgias
2. Aristotle—Rhetoric I.1-5
Class lecture
Gorgias Lecture

Rhetoric I.1-5 Lecture

Gorgias was a famous teacher of oratory and the author of oratorical display
pieces. He had served his native Leontini in Greek Sicily on embassies, including one to Athens in 427 B.C., when his artistically elaborate prose style made
a great and lasting impression. We loosely consider him a ‘sophist’, like the intellectuals whom Plato gathers together at Callias’ house in Protagoras, but
Plato pointedly reports Gorgias’ teaching as restricted to the art of public speaking: he did not offer to instruct young people in ‘virtue’—the qualities, whatever they were, that made a good person overall and a good citizen. Nonetheless, as Plato also makes clear, he praised so highly the speaking abilities that
his own teaching imparted that one could pardon ambitious young Athenians
like Callicles if they thought that, by learning oratory from him, they would
know everything a man needs in order to secure for himself the best life possible. And, as we learn from Meno, he did have striking things to say about the
nature of, and differences between, virtue in men and women, old persons and
young, and so on. So in the end not much separates him from the other itinerant teachers that, with him, we classify as ‘sophists’.
Socrates begins by skeptically seeking clarification from the elderly, respected
Gorgias about the nature and power of his ‘craft’—the skill at persuading people massed in assemblies and juries about what is good and what is right.
Gorgias is trapped in a contradiction when he admits that the true, skilled orator must know (and not merely speak persuasively on) his most particular subjects—right and wrong, justice and injustice in the lawcourts. When Gorgias
bows out, a fellow rhetorician takes over his side of the argument—the young
and rambunctious Polus, a real person. His name means ‘colt’—almost too
good to be true! Polus is intoxicated with the thought that rhetoric gives the
power to do what one pleases, even injustice if that suits the situation. Against
him, Socrates insists that in fact it is better to suffer injustice than to do it—
and, unable to deny this consistently, Polus in his turn falls to Socrates’ dialectic. In the remainder of the dialogue—more than half—Socrates contends with
Callicles, apparently also a real person, though we hear nothing about him outside this dialogue. The discussion develops into a contentious and sometimes
bitter dispute about which way of life is best—the selfish, domineering, pleasure-seeking one that Callicles associates with his own unbounded admiration
for rhetorical skill, or the philosophical life that Socrates champions, committed
to the objective existence of justice and the other virtues and devoted to learning about and living in accordance with them. Socrates struggles and struggles
to undermine Callicles’ views. He tries to bring Callicles to admit that some of
his own deepest convictions commit him to agreeing with Socrates: Socrates
thinks he knows better than Callicles what Callicles really believes. In giving
vent to strongly worded assertions of his own moral commitments, he seems to
adopt a conception of ‘irrational’ desires like that of Republic IV, incompatible
with the views he works with in the other ‘Socratic’ dialogues. Callicles,
though personally well disposed, is equally vehement and contemptuous in rejecting Socrates’ outlook—he refuses to succumb to the toils of Socratic logic.
If the methods of argument Socrates employs here produce at best an uneasy
standoff, the different methods of Republic II–IX may seem to Plato to offer a
Gorgias is so long, complex, and intellectually ambitious that it strains the
confines of a simple ‘Socratic’ dialogue—a portrait of Socrates carrying out
moral inquiries by his customary method of questioning others and examining
their opinions. Here Socrates is on the verge of becoming the take-charge, independent philosophical theorist that he is in such dialogues as Phaedo and Republic. Like those two works, Gorgias concludes with an eschatological myth,
affirming the soul’s survival after our death and its punishment or reward in
the afterlife for a life lived unjustly or the reverse.
In Phaedrus Socrates makes connected but different arguments about the nature and value of rhetoric. Whereas in Gorgias Socrates paints an unrelievedly
negative picture of the practice of rhetoric, in Phaedrus he finds legitimate
uses for it, so long as it is kept properly subordinate to philosophy.
CALLICLES: This, they say, is how you’re supposed to do your part in a
war or a battle, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Oh? Did we “arrive when the feast was over,” as the saying
goes? Are we late?1
CALLICLES: Yes, and a very urbane one it was! Gorgias gave us an admirable, varied presentation2 just a short while ago.
SOCRATES: But that’s Chaerephon’s fault, Callicles. He kept us loitering
about in the marketplace.
Translated by Donald J. Zeyl. Text: E. R. Dodds, Oxford (1959).
1. The setting of the dialogue is not clear. We may suppose that the conversation takes
place outside a public building in Athens such as the gymnasium (see the reference to
persons “inside” at 447c and 455c).
In the exchange that opens the dialogue, Callicles and Socrates are evidently alluding
to a Greek saying, unknown to us, the equivalent of the English phrase, “first at a feast,
last at a fray.” Cf. Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, Act 4, Sc. 2.
2. Gk. epideiknusthai. An epideixis was a lecture regularly given by sophists as a public
display of their oratorical prowess.
CHAEREPHON: That’s no problem, Socrates. I’ll make up for it, too. Gorgias
is a friend of mine, so he’ll give us a presentation—now, if you see fit, or
else some other time, if you like.
CALLICLES: What’s this, Chaerephon? Is Socrates eager to hear Gorgias?
CHAEREPHON: Yes. That’s the very thing we’re here for.
CALLICLES: Well then, come to my house any time you like. Gorgias is
staying with me and will give you a presentation there.
SOCRATES: Very good, Callicles. But would he be willing to have a discussion with us? I’d like to find out from the man what his craft can accomplish,
and what it is that he both makes claims about and teaches. As for the other
thing, the presentation, let him put that on another time, as you suggest.
CALLICLES: There’s nothing like asking him, Socrates. This was, in fact,
one part of his presentation. Just now he invited those inside to ask him
any question they liked, and he said that he’d answer them all.
SOCRATES: An excellent idea. Ask him, Chaerephon.
CHAEREPHON: Ask him what?
SOCRATES: What he is.
CHAEREPHON: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: Well, if he were a maker of shoes, he’d answer that he was
a cobbler, wouldn’t he? Or don’t you see what I mean?
CHAEREPHON: I do. I’ll ask him. Tell me, Gorgias, is Callicles right in
saying that you make claims about answering any question anyone might
put to you?
GORGIAS: He is, Chaerephon. In fact I just now made that very claim,
and I say that no one has asked me anything new in many a year.
CHAEREPHON: In that case I’m sure you’ll answer this one quite easily,
GORGIAS: Here’s your chance to try me, Chaerephon.
POLUS: By Zeus, Chaerephon! Try me, if you like! I think Gorgias is quite
worn out. He’s only just now finished a long discourse.
CHAEREPHON: Really, Polus? Do you think you’d give more admirable
answers than Gorgias?
POLUS: What does it matter, as long as they’re good enough for you?
CHAEREPHON: Nothing at all! You answer us then, since that’s what
you want.
POLUS: Ask your questions.
CHAEREPHON: I will. Suppose that Gorgias were knowledgeable in his
brother Herodicus’ craft. What would be the right name for us to call him
by then? Isn’t it the same one as his brother’s?
POLUS: Yes, it is.
CHAEREPHON: So we’d be right in saying that he’s a doctor?
CHAEREPHON: And if he were experienced in the craft of Aristophon the
son of Aglaophon or his brother, what would be the correct thing to
call him?
POLUS: A painter, obviously.
CHAEREPHON: Now then, since he’s knowledgeable in a craft, what is it,
and what would be the correct thing to call him?
POLUS: Many among men are the crafts experientially devised by experience, Chaerephon. Yes, it is experience that causes our times to march
along the way of craft, whereas inexperience causes them to march along
the way of chance. Of these various crafts various men partake in various
ways, the best men partaking of the best of them. Our Gorgias is indeed
in this group; he partakes of the most admirable of the crafts.
SOCRATES: Polus certainly appears to have prepared himself admirably
for giving speeches, Gorgias. But he’s not doing what he promised
GORGIAS: How exactly isn’t he, Socrates?
SOCRATES: He hardly seems to me to be answering the question.
GORGIAS: Why don’t you question him then, if you like?
SOCRATES: No, I won’t, not as long as you yourself may want to answer.
I’d much rather ask you. It’s clear to me, especially from what he has
said, that Polus has devoted himself more to what is called oratory than
to discussion.
POLUS: Why do you say that, Socrates?
SOCRATES: Because, Polus, when Chaerephon asks you what craft Gorgias
is knowledgeable in, you sing its praises as though someone were discrediting it. But you haven’t answered what it is.
POLUS: Didn’t I answer that it was the most admirable one?
SOCRATES: Very much so. No one, however, asked you what Gorgias’
craft is like, but what craft it is, and what one ought to call Gorgias. So,
just as when Chaerephon put his earlier questions to you and you answered
him in such an admirably brief way, tell us now in that way, too, what
his craft is, and what we’re supposed to call Gorgias. Or rather, Gorgias,
why don’t you tell us yourself what the craft you’re knowledgeable in is,
and hence what we’re supposed to call you?
GORGIAS: It’s oratory, Socrates.
SOCRATES: So we’re supposed to call you an orator?
GORGIAS: Yes, and a good one, Socrates, if you really want to call me
“what I boast myself to be,” as Homer puts it.3
SOCRATES: Of course I do.
GORGIAS: Call me that then.
SOCRATES: Aren’t we to say that you’re capable of making others orators too?
GORGIAS: That’s exactly the claim I make. Not only here, but elsewhere, too.
SOCRATES: Well now, Gorgias, would you be willing to complete the
discussion in the way we’re having it right now, that of alternately
asking questions and answering them, and to put aside for another
3. Iliad vi.211.
time this long style of speechmaking like the one Polus began with?
Please don’t go back on your promise, but be willing to give a brief
answer to what you’re asked.
GORGIAS: There are some answers, Socrates, that must be given by way
of long speeches. Even so, I’ll try to be as brief as possible. This, too, in
fact, is one of my claims. There’s no one who can say the same things
more briefly than I.
SOCRATES: That’s what we need, Gorgias! Do give me a presentation of
this very thing, the short style of speech, and leave the long style for some
other time.
GORGIAS: Very well, I’ll do that. You’ll say you’ve never heard anyone
make shorter speeches.
SOCRATES: Come then. You claim to be knowledgeable in the craft of
oratory and to be able to make someone else an orator, too. With which
of the things there are is oratory concerned? Weaving, for example, is
concerned with the production of clothes, isn’t it?
SOCRATES: And so, too, music is concerned with the composition of tunes?
SOCRATES: By Hera, Gorgias, I do like your answers. They couldn’t be
GORGIAS: Yes, Socrates, I daresay I’m doing it quite nicely.
SOCRATES: And so you are. Come and answer me then that way about
oratory, too. About which, of the things there are, is it knowledge?
GORGIAS: About speeches.
SOCRATES: What sort of speeches, Gorgias? Those that explain how sick
people should be treated to get well?
SOCRATES: So oratory isn’t concerned with all speeches.
GORGIAS: Oh, no.
SOCRATES: But it does make people capable of speaking.
SOCRATES: And also to be wise in what they’re speaking about?
GORGIAS: Of course.
SOCRATES: Now does the medical craft, the one we were talking about
just now, make people able both to have wisdom about and to speak about
the sick?
GORGIAS: Necessarily.
SOCRATES: This craft, then, is evidently concerned with speeches too.
SOCRATES: Speeches about diseases, that is?
GORGIAS: Exactly.
SOCRATES: Isn’t physical training also concerned with speeches, speeches
about good and bad physical condition?
GORGIAS: Yes, it is.
SOCRATES: In fact, Gorgias, the same is true of the other crafts, too. Each
of them is concerned with those speeches that are about the object of the
particular craft.
GORGIAS: Apparently.
SOCRATES: Then why don’t you call the other crafts oratory, since you
call any craft whatever that’s concerned with speeches oratory? They’re
concerned with speeches, too!
GORGIAS: The reason, Socrates, is that in the case of the other crafts the
knowledge consists almost completely in working with your hands and
activities of that sort. In the case of oratory, on the other hand, there
isn’t any such manual work. Its activity and influence depend entirely on
speeches. That’s the reason I consider the craft of oratory to be concerned
with speeches. And I say that I’m right about this.
SOCRATES: I’m not sure I understand what sort of craft you want to call
it. I’ll soon know more clearly. Tell me this. There are crafts for us to
practice, aren’t there?
SOCRATES: Of all the crafts there are, I take it that there are those that
consist for the most part of making things and that call for little speech,
and some that call for none at all, ones whose task could be done even
silently. Take painting, for instance, or sculpture, or many others. When
you say that oratory has nothing to do with other crafts, it’s crafts of this
sort I think you’re referring to. Or aren’t you?
GORGIAS: Yes, Socrates. You take my meaning very well.
SOCRATES: And then there are other crafts, the ones that perform their
whole task by means of speeches and that call for practically no physical
work besides, or very little of it. Take arithmetic or computation or geometry, even checkers and many other crafts. Some of these involve speeches
to just about the same degree as they do activity, while many involve
speeches more. All their activity and influence depend entirely on speeches.
I think you mean that oratory is a craft of this sort.
SOCRATES: But you certainly don’t want to call any of these crafts oratory,
do you, even though, as you phrase it, oratory is the craft that exercises
its influence through speech. Somebody might take you up, if he wanted
to make a fuss in argument, and say, “So you’re saying that arithmetic is
oratory, are you, Gorgias?” I’m sure, however, that you’re not saying that
either arithmetic or geometry is oratory.
GORGIAS: Yes, you’re quite correct, Socrates. You take my meaning
SOCRATES: Come on, then. Please complete your answer in the terms of
my question. Since oratory is one of those crafts which mostly uses speech,
and since there are also others of that sort, try to say what it is that oratory,
which exercises its influence through speeches, is about. Imagine someone
asking me about any of the crafts I mentioned just now, “Socrates, what
is the craft of arithmetic?” I’d tell him, just as you told me, that it’s one of
those that exercise their influence by means of speech. And if he continued,
“What are they crafts about?” I’d say that they’re about even and odd,
however many of each there might be. If he then asked, “What is the craft
you call computation?” I’d say that this one, too, is one of those that
exercise their influence entirely by speech. And if he then continued, “What
is it about?” I’d answer in the style of those who draw up motions in the
Assembly that in other respects computation is like arithmetic—for it’s
about the same thing, even and odd—yet it differs from arithmetic insofar
as computation examines the quantity of odd and even, both in relation
to themselves and in relation to each other. And if someone asked about
astronomy and I replied that it, too, exercises its influence by means of
speech, then if he asked, “What are the speeches of astronomy about,
Socrates?” I’d say that they’re about the motions of the stars, the sun and
the moon, and their relative velocities.
GORGIAS: And you’d be quite right to say so, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Come, Gorgias, you take your turn. For oratory is in fact one
of those crafts that carry out and exercise their influence entirely by speech,
isn’t it?
GORGIAS: That’s right.
SOCRATES: Tell us then: what are they crafts about? Of the things there are,
which is the one that these speeches used by oratory are concerned with?
GORGIAS: The greatest of human concerns, Socrates, and the best.
SOCRATES: But that statement, too, is debatable, Gorgias. It isn’t at all
clear yet, either. I’m sure that you’ve heard people at drinking parties
singing that song in which they count out as they sing that “to enjoy good
health is the best thing; second is to have turned out good looking; and
third”—so the writer of the song puts it—“is to be honestly rich.”
GORGIAS: Yes, I’ve heard it. Why do you mention it?
SOCRATES: Suppose that the producers of the things the songwriter
praised were here with you right now: a doctor, a physical trainer, and a
financial expert. Suppose that first the doctor said, “Socrates, Gorgias is
telling you a lie. It isn’t his craft that is concerned with the greatest good
for humankind, but mine.” If I then asked him, “What are you, to say
that?” I suppose he’d say that he’s a doctor. “What’s this you’re saying?
Is the product of your craft really the greatest good?” “Of course, Socrates,”
I suppose he’d say, “seeing that its product is health. What greater good
for humankind is there than health?” And suppose that next in his turn
the trainer said, “I too would be amazed, Socrates, if Gorgias could present
you with a greater good derived from his craft than the one I could provide
from mine.” I’d ask this man, too, “What are you, sir, and what’s your
product?” “I’m a physical trainer,” he’d say, “and my product is making
people physically good-looking and strong.” And following the trainer
the financial expert would say, I’m sure with an air of considerable scorn
for all, “Do consider, Socrates, whether you know of any good, Gorgias’
or anyone else’s, that’s a greater good than wealth.” We’d say to him,
“Really? Is that what you produce?” He’d say yes. “As what?” “As a
financial expert.” “Well,” we’ll say, “is wealth in your judgment the greatest
good for humankind?” “Of course,” he’ll say. “Ah, but Gorgias here disputes that. He claims that his craft is the source of a good that’s greater
than yours,” we’d say. And it’s obvious what question he’d ask next. “And
what is this good, please? Let Gorgias answer me that!” So come on,
Gorgias. Consider yourself questioned by both these men and myself, and
give us your answer. What is this thing that you claim is the greatest good
for humankind, a thing you claim to be a producer of?
GORGIAS: The thing that is in actual fact the greatest good, Socrates. It
is the source of freedom for humankind itself and at the same time it is
for each person the source of rule over others in one’s own city.
SOCRATES: And what is this thing you’re referring to?
GORGIAS: I’m referring to the ability to persuade by speeches judges in
a law court, councillors in a council meeting, and assemblymen in an
assembly or in any other political gathering that might take place. In point
of fact, with this ability you’ll have the doctor for your slave, and the
physical trainer, too. As for this financial expert of yours, he’ll turn out
to be making more money for somebody else instead of himself; for you,
in fact, if you’ve got the ability to speak and to persuade the crowds.
SOCRATES: Now I think you’ve come closest to making clear what craft
you take oratory to be, Gorgias. If I follow you at all, you’re saying that
oratory is a producer of persuasion. Its whole business comes to that, and
that’s the long and short of it. Or can you mention anything else oratory
can do besides instilling persuasion in the souls of an audience?
GORGIAS: None at all, Socrates. I think you’re defining it quite adequately.
That is indeed the long and short of it.
SOCRATES: Listen then, Gorgias. You should know that I’m convinced
I’m one of those people who in a discussion with someone else really want
to have knowledge of the subject the discussion’s about. And I consider
you one of them, too.
GORGIAS: Well, what’s the point, Socrates?
SOCRATES: Let me tell you now. You can know for sure that I don’t know
what this persuasion derived from oratory that you’re talking about is, or
what subjects it’s persuasion about. Even though I do have my suspicions
about which persuasion I think you mean and what it’s about, I’ll still ask
you just the same what you say this persuasion produced by oratory is,
and what it’s about. And why, when I have my suspicions, do I ask you
and refrain from expressing them myself? It’s not you I’m after, it’s our
discussion, to have it proceed in such a way as to make the thing we’re
talking about most clear to us. Consider, then, whether you think I’m being
fair in resuming my questions to you. Suppose I were to ask you which
of the painters Zeuxis is. If you told me that he’s the one who paints
pictures, wouldn’t it be fair for me to ask, “Of what sort of pictures is he
the painter, and where?”
GORGIAS: Yes, it would.
SOCRATES: And isn’t the reason for this the fact that there are other
painters, too, who paint many other pictures?
SOCRATES: But if no one besides Zeuxis were a painter, your answer
would have been a good one?
GORGIAS: Of course.
SOCRATES: Come then, and tell me about oratory. Do you think that
oratory alone instills persuasion, or do other crafts do so too? This is the
sort of thing I mean: Does a person who teaches some subject or other
persuade people about what he’s teaching, or not?
GORGIAS: He certainly does, Socrates. He persuades most of all.
SOCRATES: Let’s talk once more about the same crafts we were talking
about just now. Doesn’t arithmetic or the arithmetician teach us everything
that pertains to number?
GORGIAS: Yes, he does.
SOCRATES: And he also persuades?
SOCRATES: So arithmetic is also a producer of persuasion.
GORGIAS: Apparently.
SOCRATES: Now if someone asks us what sort of persuasion it produces
and what it’s persuasion about, I suppose we’d answer him that it’s the
persuasion through teaching about the extent of even and odd. And we’ll
be able to show that all the other crafts we were just now talking about
are producers of persuasion, as well as what the persuasion is and what
it’s about. Isn’t that right?
SOCRATES: So oratory isn’t the only producer of persuasion.
GORGIAS: That’s true.
SOCRATES: In that case, since it’s not the only one to produce this product
but other crafts do it too, we’d do right to repeat to our speaker the question
we put next in the case of the painter: “Of what sort of persuasion is
oratory a craft, and what is its persuasion about?” Or don’t you think it’s
right to repeat that question?
GORGIAS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: Well then, Gorgias, since you think so too, please answer.
GORGIAS: The persuasion I mean, Socrates, is the kind that takes place
in law courts and in those other large gatherings, as I was saying a moment
ago. And it’s concerned with those matters that are just and unjust.
SOCRATES: Yes, Gorgias, I suspected that this was the persuasion you
meant, and that these are the matters it’s persuasion about. But so you
won’t be surprised if in a moment I ask you again another question like
this, about what seems to be clear, and yet I go on with my questioning—
as I say, I’m asking questions so that we can conduct an orderly discussion.
It’s not you I’m after; it’s to prevent our getting in the habit of secondguessing and snatching each other’s statements away ahead of time. It’s
to allow you to work out your assumption in any way you want to.
GORGIAS: Yes, I think that you’re quite right to do this, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Come then, and let’s examine this point. Is there something
you call “to have learned”?
GORGIAS: There is.
SOCRATES: Very well. And also something you call “to be convinced”?
GORGIAS: Yes, there is.
SOCRATES: Now, do you think that to have learned, and learning, are the
same as to be convinced and conviction, or different?
GORGIAS: I certainly suppose that they’re different, Socrates.
SOCRATES: You suppose rightly. This is how you can tell: If someone
asked you, “Is there such a thing as true and false conviction, Gorgias?”
you’d say yes, I’m sure.
SOCRATES: Well now, is there such a thing as true and false knowledge?
GORGIAS: Not at all.
SOCRATES: So it’s clear that they’re not the same.
GORGIAS: That’s true.
SOCRATES: But surely both those who have learned and those who are
convinced have come to be persuaded?
GORGIAS: That’s right.
SOCRATES: Would you like us then to posit two types of persuasion, one
providing conviction without knowledge, the other providing knowledge?
GORGIAS: Yes, I would.
SOCRATES: Now which type of persuasion does oratory produce in law
courts and other gatherings concerning things that are just and unjust?
The one that results in being convinced without knowing or the one that
results in knowing?
GORGIAS: It’s obvious, surely, that it’s the one that results in conviction.
SOCRATES: So evidently oratory produces the persuasion that comes from
being convinced, and not the persuasion that comes from teaching, concerning what’s just and unjust.
SOCRATES: And so an orator is not a teacher of law courts and other
gatherings about things that are just and unjust, either, but merely a persuader, for I don’t suppose that he could teach such a large gathering
about matters so important in a short time.
GORGIAS: No, he certainly couldn’t.
SOCRATES: Well now, let’s see what we’re really saying about oratory.
For, mind you, even I myself can’t get clear yet about what I’m saying.
When the city holds a meeting to appoint doctors or shipbuilders or some
other variety of craftsmen, that’s surely not the time when the orator will
give advice, is it? For obviously it’s the most accomplished craftsman who
should be appointed in each case. Nor will the orator be the one to give
advice at a meeting that concerns the building of walls or the equipping
of harbors or dockyards, but the master builders will be the ones. And
when there is a deliberation about the appointment of generals or an
arrangement of troops against the enemy or an occupation of territory, it’s
not the orators but the generals who’ll give advice then. What do you say
about such cases, Gorgias? Since you yourself claim both to be an orator
and to make others orators, we’ll do well to find out from you the characteristics of your craft. You must think of me now as eager to serve your
interests, too. Perhaps there’s actually someone inside who wants to become your pupil. I notice some, in fact a good many, and they may well
be embarrassed to question you. So, while you’re being questioned by me,
consider yourself being questioned by them as well: “What will we get if
we associate with you, Gorgias? What will we be able to advise the city
on? Only about what’s just and unjust or also about the things Socrates
was mentioning just now?” Try to answer them.
GORGIAS: Well, Socrates, I’ll try to reveal to you clearly everything oratory
can accomplish. You yourself led the way nicely, for you do know, don’t
you, that these dockyards and walls of the Athenians and the equipping
of the harbor came about through the advice of Themistocles and in some
cases through that of Pericles, but not through that of the craftsmen?4
SOCRATES: That’s what they say about Themistocles, Gorgias. I myself
heard Pericles when he advised us on the middle wall.
GORGIAS: And whenever those craftsmen you were just now speaking
of are appointed, Socrates, you see that the orators are the ones who give
advice and whose views on these matters prevail.
SOCRATES: Yes, Gorgias, my amazement at that led me long ago to ask
what it is that oratory can accomplish. For as I look at it, it seems to me
to be something supernatural in scope.
GORGIAS: Oh yes, Socrates, if only you knew all of it, that it encompasses
and subordinates to itself just about everything that can be accomplished.
And I’ll give you ample proof. Many a time I’ve gone with my brother or
with other doctors to call on some sick person who refuses to take his
medicine or allow the doctor to perform surgery or cauterization on him.
And when the doctor failed to persuade him, I succeeded, by means of
no other craft than oratory. And I maintain too that if an orator and a
doctor came to any city anywhere you like and had to compete in speaking
in the assembly or some other gathering over which of them should be
appointed doctor, the doctor wouldn’t make any showing at all, but the
one who had the ability to speak would be appointed, if he so wished.
And if he were to compete with any other craftsman whatever, the orator
more than anyone else would persuade them that they should appoint
him, for there isn’t anything that the orator couldn’t speak more persuasively about to a gathering than could any other craftsman whatever. That’s
how great the accomplishment of this craft is, and the sort of accomplishment it is! One should, however, use oratory like any other competitive
skill, Socrates. In other cases, too, one ought not to use a competitive skill
against any and everybody, just because he has learned boxing, or boxing
and wrestling combined, or fighting in armor, so as to make himself be
superior to his friends as well as to his enemies. That’s no reason to strike,
stab, or kill one’s own friends! Imagine someone who after attending
4. Themistocles and Pericles were Athenian statesmen of the fifth century
wrestling school, getting his body into good shape and becoming a boxer,
went on to strike his father and mother or any other family member or
friend. By Zeus, that’s no reason to hate physical trainers and people who
teach fighting in armor, and to exile them from their cities! For while
these people imparted their skills to be used justly against enemies and
wrongdoers, and in defense, not aggression, their pupils pervert their
strength and skill and misuse them. So it’s not their teachers who are
wicked, nor does that make the craft guilty or wicked; those who misuse
it, surely, are the wicked ones. And the same is true for oratory as
well. The orator has the ability to speak against everyone on every
subject, so as in gatherings to be more persuasive, in short, about
anything he likes, but the fact that he has the ability to rob doctors or
other craftsmen of their reputations doesn’t give him any more of a
reason to do it. He should use oratory justly, as he would any competitive
skill. And I suppose that if a person who has become an orator goes
on with this ability and this craft to commit wrongdoing, we shouldn’t
hate his teacher and exile him from our cities. For while the teacher
imparted it to be used justly, the pupil is making the opposite use of
it. So it’s the misuser whom it’s just to hate and exile or put to death,
not the teacher.
SOCRATES: Gorgias, I take it that you, like me, have experienced many
discussions and that you’ve observed this sort of thing about them: it’s
not easy for the participants to define jointly what they’re undertaking to
discuss, and so, having learned from and taught each other, to conclude
their session. Instead, if they’re disputing some point and one maintains
that the other isn’t right or isn’t clear, they get irritated, each thinking
the other is speaking out of spite. They become eager to win instead of
investigating the subject under discussion. In fact, in the end some have
a most shameful parting of the ways, abuse heaped upon them, having
given and gotten to hear such things that make even the bystanders upset
with themselves for having thought it worthwhile to come to listen to such
people. What’s my point in saying this? It’s that I think you’re now saying
things that aren’t very consistent or compatible with what you were first
saying about oratory. So, I’m afraid to pursue my examination of you, for
fear that you should take me to be speaking with eagerness to win against
you, rather than to have our subject become clear. For my part, I’d be
pleased to continue questioning you if you’re the same kind of man I am,
otherwise I would drop it. And what kind of man am I? One of those who
would be pleased to be refuted if I say anything untrue, and who would
be pleased to refute anyone who says anything untrue; one who, however,
wouldn’t be any less pleased to be refuted than to refute. For I count being
refuted a greater good, insofar as it is a greater good for oneself to be
delivered from the worst thing there is than to deliver someone else from
it. I don’t suppose there’s anything quite so bad for a person as having
false belief about the things we’re discussing right now. So if you say
you’re this kind of man, too, let’s continue the discussion; but if you think
we should drop it, let’s be done with it and break it off.
GORGIAS: Oh yes, Socrates, I say that I myself, too, am the sort of person
you describe. Still, perhaps we should keep in mind the people who are
present here, too. For quite a while ago now, even before you came, I gave
them a long presentation, and perhaps we’ll stretch things out too long if
we continue the discussion. We should think about them, too, so as not
to keep any of them who want to do something else.
CHAEREPHON: You yourselves hear the commotion these men are making,
Gorgias and Socrates. They want to hear anything you have to say. And
as for myself, I hope I’ll never be so busy that I’d forego discussions such
as this, conducted in the way this one is, because I find it more practical
to do something else.
CALLICLES: By the gods, Chaerephon, as a matter of fact I, too, though
I’ve been present at many a discussion before now, don’t know if I’ve ever
been so pleased as I am at the moment. So if you’re willing to discuss,
even if it’s all day long, you’ll be gratifying me.
SOCRATES: For my part there’s nothing stopping me, Callicles, as long
as Gorgias is willing.
GORGIAS: It’ll be to my shame ever after, Socrates, if I weren’t willing,
when I myself have made the claim that anyone may ask me anything he
wants. All right, if it suits these people, carry on with the discussion, and
ask what you want.
SOCRATES: Well then, Gorgias, let me tell you what surprises me in the
things you’ve said. It may be that what you said was correct and that I’m
not taking your meaning correctly. Do you say that you’re able to make
an orator out of anyone who wants to study with you?
SOCRATES: So that he’ll be persuasive in a gathering about all subjects,
not by teaching but by persuading?
GORGIAS: Yes, that’s right.
SOCRATES: You were saying just now, mind you, that the orator will be
more persuasive even about health than a doctor is.
GORGIAS: Yes I was, more persuasive in a gathering, anyhow.
SOCRATES: And doesn’t “in a gathering” just mean “among those who
don’t have knowledge”? For, among those who do have it, I don’t suppose
that he’ll be more persuasive than the doctor.
GORGIAS: That’s true.
SOCRATES: Now if he’ll be more persuasive than a doctor, doesn’t he
prove to be more persuasive than the one who has knowledge?
GORGIAS: Yes, that’s right.
SOCRATES: Even though he’s not a doctor, right?
SOCRATES: And a non-doctor, I take it, isn’t knowledgeable in the thing
in which a doctor is knowledgeable.
GORGIAS: That’s obvious.
SOCRATES: So when an orator is more persuasive than a doctor, a nonknower will be more persuasive than a knower among non-knowers. Isn’t
this exactly what follows?
GORGIAS: Yes it is, at least in this case.
SOCRATES: The same is true about the orator and oratory relative to the
other crafts, too, then. Oratory doesn’t need to have any knowledge of the
state of their subject matters; it only needs to have discovered some device
to produce persuasion in order to make itself appear to those who don’t
have knowledge that it knows more than those who actually do have it.
GORGIAS: Well, Socrates, aren’t things made very easy when you come
off no worse than the craftsmen even though you haven’t learned any
other craft but this one?
SOCRATES: Whether the orator does or does not come off worse than the
others because of this being so, we’ll examine in a moment if it has any
bearing on our argument. For now, let’s consider this point first. Is it the
case that the orator is in the same position with respect to what’s just and
unjust, what’s shameful and admirable, what’s good and bad, as he is
about what’s healthy and about the subjects of the other crafts? Does he
lack knowledge, that is, of what these are, of what is good or what is bad,
of what is admirable or what is shameful, or just or unjust? Does he employ
devices to produce persuasion about them, so that—even though he doesn’t
know—he seems, among those who don’t know either, to know more than
someone who actually does know? Or is it necessary for him to know,
and must the prospective student of oratory already be knowledgeable in
these things before coming to you? And if he doesn’t, will you, the oratory
teacher, not teach him any of these things when he comes to you—for
that’s not your job—and will you make him seem among most people to
have knowledge of such things when in fact he doesn’t have it, and to
seem good when in fact he isn’t? Or won’t you be able to teach him oratory
at all, unless he knows the truth about these things to begin with? How
do matters such as these stand, Gorgias? Yes, by Zeus, do give us your
revelation and tell us what oratory can accomplish, just as you just now
said you would.
GORGIAS: Well, Socrates, I suppose that if he really doesn’t have this
knowledge, he’ll learn these things from me as well.
SOCRATES: Hold it there. You’re right to say so. If you make someone an
orator, it’s necessary for him to know what’s just and what’s unjust, either
beforehand, or by learning it from you afterwards.
GORGIAS: Yes, it is.
SOCRATES: Well? A man who has learned carpentry is a carpenter, isn’t he?
SOCRATES: And isn’t a man who has learned music a musician?
SOCRATES: And a man who has learned medicine a doctor? And isn’t
this so too, by the same reasoning, with the other crafts? Isn’t a man who
has learned a particular subject the sort of man his knowledge makes him?
GORGIAS: Yes, he is.
SOCRATES: And, by this line of reasoning, isn’t a man who has learned
what’s just a just man too?
GORGIAS: Yes, absolutely.
SOCRATES: And a just man does just things, I take it?
SOCRATES: Now isn’t an orator necessarily just, and doesn’t a just man
necessarily want to do just things?
GORGIAS: Apparently so.
SOCRATES: Therefore an orator will never want to do what’s unjust.
GORGIAS: No, apparently not.
SOCRATES: Do you remember saying a little earlier that we shouldn’t
complain against physical trainers or exile them from our cities if the boxer
uses his boxing skill to do what’s unjust, and that, similarly, if an orator
uses his oratorical skill unjustly we shouldn’t complain against his teacher
or banish him from the city, but do so to the one who does what’s unjust,
the one who doesn’t use his oratorical skill properly? Was that said or not?
GORGIAS: Yes, it was.
SOCRATES: But now it appears that this very man, the orator, would never
have done what’s unjust, doesn’t it?
GORGIAS: Yes, it does.
SOCRATES: And at the beginning of our discussion, Gorgias, it was said
that oratory would be concerned with speeches, not those about even and
odd, but those about what’s just and unjust. Right?
SOCRATES: Well, at the time you said that, I took it that oratory would
never be an unjust thing, since it always makes its speeches about justice.
But when a little later you were saying that the orator could also use
oratory unjustly, I was surprised and thought that your statements weren’t
consistent, and so I made that speech in which I said that if you, like me,
think that being refuted is a profitable thing, it would be worthwhile to
continue the discussion, but if you don’t, to let it drop. But now, as we
subsequently examine the question, you see for yourself too that it’s agreed
that, quite to the contrary, the orator is incapable of using oratory unjustly
and of being willing to do what’s unjust. By the Dog, Gorgias, it’ll take
more than a short session to go through an adequate examination of how
these matters stand!
POLUS: Really, Socrates? Is what you’re now saying about oratory what
you actually think of it? Or do you really think, just because Gorgias was
too ashamed not to concede your further claim that the orator also knows
what’s just, what’s admirable, and what’s good, and that if he came to
him without already having this knowledge to begin with, he said that he
would teach him himself, and then from this admission maybe some
inconsistency crept into his statements—just the thing that gives you delight, you’re the one who leads him on to face such questions—who do
you think would deny that he himself knows what’s just and would teach
others? To lead your arguments to such an outcome is a sign of great
SOCRATES: Most admirable Polus, it’s not for nothing that we get ourselves
companions and sons. It’s so that, when we ourselves have grown older
and stumble, you younger men might be on hand to straighten our lives
up again, both in what we do and what we say. And if Gorgias and I are
stumbling now in what we say—well, you’re on hand, straighten us up
again. That’s only right. And if you think we were wrong to agree on it,
I’m certainly willing to retract any of our agreements you like, provided
that you’re careful about just one thing.
POLUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: That you curb your long style of speech, Polus, the style you
tried using at first.
POLUS: Really? Won’t I be free to say as much as I like?
SOCRATES: You’d certainly be in a terrible way, my good friend, if upon
coming to Athens, where there’s more freedom of speech than anywhere
else in Greece, you alone should miss out on it here. But look at it the
other way. If you spoke at length and were unwilling to answer what
you’re asked, wouldn’t I be in a terrible way if I’m not to have the freedom
to stop listening to you and leave? But if you care at all about the discussion
we’ve had and want to straighten it up, please retract whatever you think
best, as I was saying just now. Take your turn in asking and being asked
questions the way Gorgias and I did, and subject me and yourself to
refutation. You say, I take it, that you know the same craft that Gorgias
knows? Or don’t you?
POLUS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: And don’t you also invite people to ask you each time whatever
they like, because you believe you’ll answer as one who has knowledge?
POLUS: Certainly.
SOCRATES: So now please do whichever of these you like: either ask
questions or answer them.
POLUS: Very well, I shall. Tell me, Socrates, since you think Gorgias is
confused about oratory, what do you say it is?
SOCRATES: Are you asking me what craft I say it is?
POLUS: Yes, I am.
SOCRATES: To tell you the truth, Polus, I don’t think it’s a craft at all.
POLUS: Well then, what do you think oratory is?
SOCRATES: In the treatise that I read recently, it’s the thing that you say
has produced craft.5
POLUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: I mean a knack.6
POLUS: So you think oratory’s a knack?
SOCRATES: Yes, I do, unless you say it’s something else.
POLUS: A knack for what?
SOCRATES: For producing a certain gratification and pleasure.
POLUS: Don’t you think that oratory’s an admirable thing, then, to be
able to give gratification to people?
5. Alternatively, “ . . . it’s something of which you claim to have made a craft.”
6. Gk. empeiria, translated “experience” at 448c.
SOCRATES: Really, Polus! Have you already discovered from me what
I say it is, so that you go on to ask me next whether I don’t think it’s admirable?
POLUS: Haven’t I discovered that you say it’s a knack?
SOCRATES: Since you value gratification, would you like to gratify me on
a small matter?
POLUS: Certainly.
SOCRATES: Ask me now what craft I think pastry baking is.
POLUS: All right, I will. What craft is pastry baking?
SOCRATES: It isn’t one at all, Polus. Now say, “What is it then?”
POLUS: All right.
SOCRATES: It’s a knack. Say, “A knack for what?”
POLUS: All right.
SOCRATES: For producing gratification and pleasure, Polus.
POLUS: So oratory is the same thing as pastry baking?
SOCRATES: Oh no, not at all, although it is a part of the same practice.
POLUS: What practice do you mean?
SOCRATES: I’m afraid it may be rather crude to speak the truth. I hesitate
to do so for Gorgias’ sake, for fear that he may think I’m satirizing what
he practices. I don’t know whether this is the kind of oratory that Gorgias
practices—in fact in our discussion a while ago we didn’t get at all clear
on just what he thinks it is. But what I call oratory is a part of some
business that isn’t admirable at all.
GORGIAS: Which one’s that, Socrates? Say it, and don’t spare my feelings.
SOCRATES: Well then, Gorgias, I think there’s a practice that’s not craftlike,
but one that a mind given to making hunches takes to, a mind that’s bold
and naturally clever at dealing with people. I call it flattery, basically. I
think that this practice has many other parts as well, and pastry baking,
too, is one of them. This part seems to be a craft, but in my account of it
it isn’t a craft but a knack and a routine. I call oratory a part of this, too,
along with cosmetics and sophistry. These are four parts, and they’re
directed to four objects. So if Polus wants to discover them, let him do so.
He hasn’t discovered yet what sort of part of flattery I say oratory is.
Instead, it’s escaped him that I haven’t answered that question yet, and
so he goes on to ask whether I don’t consider it to be admirable. And I
won’t answer him whether I think it’s admirable or shameful until I first
tell what it is. That wouldn’t be right, Polus. If, however, you do want to
discover this, ask me what sort of part of flattery I say oratory is.
POLUS: I shall. Tell me what sort of part it is.
SOCRATES: Would you understand my answer? By my reasoning, oratory
is an image of a part of politics.
POLUS: Well? Are you saying that it’s something admirable or shameful?
SOCRATES: I’m saying that it’s a shameful thing—I call bad things shameful—since I must answer you as though you already know what I mean.
GORGIAS: By Zeus, Socrates, I myself don’t understand what you
mean, either!
SOCRATES: Reasonably enough, Gorgias. I’m not saying anything clear
yet. This colt here is youthful and impulsive.
GORGIAS: Never mind him. Please tell me what you mean by saying that
oratory is an image of a part of politics.
SOCRATES: All right, I’ll try to describe my view of oratory. If this isn’t
what it actually is, Polus here will refute me. There is, I take it, something
you call body and something you call soul?
GORGIAS: Yes, of course.
SOCRATES: And do you also think that there’s a state of fitness for each
of these?
GORGIAS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: All right. Is there also an apparent state of fitness, one that
isn’t real? The sort of thing I mean is this. There are many people who
appear to be physically fit, and unless one is a doctor or one of the fitness
experts, one wouldn’t readily notice that they’re not fit.
GORGIAS: That’s true.
SOCRATES: I’m saying that this sort of thing exists in the case of both the
body and the soul, a thing that makes the body and the soul seem fit when
in fact they aren’t any the more so.
GORGIAS: That’s so.
SOCRATES: Come then, and I’ll show you more clearly what I’m saying,
if I can. I’m saying that of this pair of subjects there are two crafts. The
one for the soul I call politics; the one for the body, though it is one, I
can’t give you a name for offhand, but while the care of the body is a
single craft, I’m saying it has two parts: gymnastics and medicine. And in
politics, the counterpart of gymnastics is legislation, and the part that
corresponds to medicine is justice. Each member of these pairs has features
in common with the other, medicine with gymnastics and justice with
legislation, because they’re concerned with the same thing. They do, however, differ in some way from each other. These, then, are the four parts,
and they always provide care, in the one case for the body, in the other
for the soul, with a view to what’s best. Now flattery takes notice of them,
and—I won’t say by knowing, but only by guessing—divides itself into four,
masks itself with each of the parts, and then pretends to be the characters
of the masks. It takes no thought at all of whatever is best; with the lure
of what’s most pleasant at the moment, it sniffs out folly and hoodwinks
it, so that it gives the impression of being most deserving. Pastry baking
has put on the mask of medicine, and pretends to know the foods that
are best for the body, so that if a pastry baker and a doctor had to compete
in front of children, or in front of men just as foolish as children, to
determine which of the two, the doctor or the pastry baker, had expert
knowledge of good food and bad, the doctor would die of starvation. I
call this flattery, and I say that such a thing is shameful, Polus—it’s you
I’m saying this to—because it guesses at what’s pleasant with no consideration for what’s best. And I say that it isn’t a craft, but a knack, because
it has no account of the nature of whatever things it applies by which it
applies them,7 so that it’s unable to state the cause of each thing. And I
refuse to call anything that lacks such an account a craft. If you have any
quarrel with these claims, I’m willing to submit them for discussion.
So pastry baking, as I say, is the flattery that wears the mask of medicine.
Cosmetics is the one that wears that of gymnastics in the same way; a
mischievous, deceptive, disgraceful and ill-bred thing, one that perpetrates
deception by means of shaping and coloring, smoothing out and dressing
up, so as to make people assume an alien beauty and neglect their own,
which comes through gymnastics. So that I won’t make a long-style speech,
I’m willing to put it to you the way the geometers do—for perhaps you
follow me now—that what cosmetics is to gymnastics, pastry baking is to
medicine; or rather, like this: what cosmetics is to gymnastics, sophistry
is to legislation, and what pastry baking is to medicine, oratory is to justice.
However, as I was saying, although these activities are naturally distinct
in this way, yet because they are so close, sophists and orators tend to be
mixed together as people who work in the same area and concern themselves with the same things. They don’t know what to do with themselves,
and other people don’t know what to do with them. In fact, if the soul
didn’t govern the body but the body governed itself, and if pastry baking
and medicine weren’t kept under observation and distinguished by the
soul, but the body itself made judgments about them, making its estimates
by reference to the gratification it receives, then the world according to
Anaxagoras would prevail, Polus my friend—you’re familiar with these
views—all things would be mixed together in the same place, and there
would be no distinction between matters of medicine and health, and
matters of pastry baking.8
You’ve now heard what I say oratory is. It’s the counterpart in the soul
to pastry baking, its counterpart in the body. Perhaps I’ve done an absurd
thing: I wouldn’t let you make long speeches, and here I’ve just composed
a lengthy one myself. I deserve to be forgiven, though, for when I made
my statements short you didn’t understand and didn’t know how to deal
with the answers I gave you, but you needed a narration. So if I don’t
know how to deal with your answers either, you must spin out a speech,
too. But if I do, just let me deal with them. That’s only fair. And if you
now know how to deal with my answer, please deal with it.
POLUS: What is it you’re saying, then? You think oratory is flattery?
SOCRATES: I said that it was a part of flattery. Don’t you remember, Polus,
young as you are? What’s to become of you?
POLUS: So you think that good orators are held in low regard in their
cities, as flatterers?
SOCRATES: Is this a question you’re asking, or some speech you’re beginning?
7. The translation here follows the mss, rejecting Dodds’ emendation.
8. Anaxagoras’ book began with the words “All things were together,” describing the
primordial state of the universe.
POLUS: I’m asking a question.
SOCRATES: I don’t think they’re held in any regard at all.
POLUS: What do you mean, they’re not held in any regard? Don’t they
have the greatest power in their cities?
SOCRATES: No, if by “having power” you mean something that’s good
for the one who has the power.
POLUS: That’s just what I do mean.
SOCRATES: In that case I think that orators have the least power of any
in the city.
POLUS: Really? Don’t they, like tyrants, put to death anyone they want,
and confiscate the property and banish from their cities anyone they see fit?
SOCRATES: By the Dog, Polus! I can’t make out one way or the other with
each thing you’re saying whether you’re saying these things for yourself
and revealing your own view, or whether you’re questioning me.
POLUS: I’m questioning you.
SOCRATES: Very well, my friend. In that case, are you asking me two
questions at once?
POLUS: What do you mean, two?
SOCRATES: Weren’t you just now saying something like “Don’t orators,
like tyrants, put to death anyone they want, don’t they confiscate the
property of anyone they see fit, and don’t they banish them from their
POLUS: Yes, I was.
SOCRATES: In that case I say that these are two questions, and I’ll answer
you both of them. I say, Polus, that both orators and tyrants have the least
power in their cities, as I was saying just now. For they do just about
nothing they want to, though they certainly do whatever they see most
fit to do.
POLUS: Well, isn’t this having great power?
SOCRATES: No; at least Polus says it isn’t.
POLUS: I say it isn’t? I certainly say it is!
SOCRATES: By . . . , you certainly don’t! since you say that having great
power is good for the one who has it.
POLUS: Yes, I do say that.
SOCRATES: Do you think it’s good, then, if a person does whatever he
sees most fit to do when he lacks intelligence? Do you call this “having
great power” too?
POLUS: No, I do not.
SOCRATES: Will you refute me, then, and prove that orators do have
intelligence, and that oratory is a craft, and not flattery? If you leave me
unrefuted, then the orators who do what they see fit in their cities, and
the tyrants, too, won’t have gained any good by this. Power is a good
thing, you say, but you agree with me that doing what one sees fit without
intelligence is bad. Or don’t you?
POLUS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: How then could it be that orators or tyrants have great power
in their cities, so long as Socrates is not refuted by Polus to show that they
do what they want?
POLUS: This fellow—
SOCRATES: —denies that they do what they want. Go ahead and refute me.
POLUS: Didn’t you just now agree that they do what they see fit?
SOCRATES: Yes, and I still do.
POLUS: Don’t they do what they want, then?
SOCRATES: I say they don’t.
POLUS: Even though they do what they see fit?
SOCRATES: That’s what I say.
POLUS: What an outrageous thing to say, Socrates! Perfectly monstrous!
SOCRATES: Don’t attack me, my peerless Polus, to address you in your
own style. Instead, question me if you can, and prove that I’m wrong.
Otherwise you must answer me.
POLUS: All right, I’m willing to answer, to get some idea of what
you’re saying.
SOCRATES: Do you think that when people do something, they want the
thing they’re doing at the time, or the thing for the sake of which they do
what they’re doing? Do you think that people who take medicines prescribed by their doctors, for instance, want what they’re doing, the act of
taking the medicine, with all its discomfort, or do they want to be healthy,
the thing for the sake of which they’re taking it?
POLUS: Obviously they want their being healthy.
SOCRATES: With seafarers, too, and those who make money in other ways,
the thing they’re doing at the time is not the thing they want—for who
wants to make dangerous and troublesome sea voyages? What they want
is their being wealthy, the thing for the sake of which, I suppose, they
make their voyages. It’s for the sake of wealth that they make them.
POLUS: Yes, that’s right.
SOCRATES: Isn’t it just the same in all cases, in fact? If a person does
anything for the sake of something, he doesn’t want this thing that he’s
doing, but the thing for the sake of which he’s doing it?
SOCRATES: Now is there any thing that isn’t either good, or bad, or, what
is between these, neither good nor bad?
POLUS: There can’t be, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Do you say that wisdom, health, wealth and the like are good,
and their opposites bad?
POLUS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: And by things which are neither good nor bad you mean
things which sometimes partake of what’s good, sometimes of what’s bad,
and sometimes of neither, such as sitting or walking, running or making
sea voyages, or stones and sticks and the like? Aren’t these the ones you
mean? Or are there any others that you call things neither good nor bad?
POLUS: No, these are the ones.
SOCRATES: Now whenever people do things, do they do these intermediate things for the sake of good ones, or the good things for the sake of the
intermediate ones?
POLUS: The intermediate things for the sake of the good ones, surely.
SOCRATES: So it’s because we pursue what’s good that we walk whenever
we walk; we suppose that it’s better to walk. And conversely, whenever
we stand still, we stand still for the sake of the same thing, what’s good.
Isn’t that so?
SOCRATES: And don’t we also put a person to death, if we do, or banish
him and confiscate his property because we suppose that doing these
things is better for us than not doing them?
POLUS: That’s right.
SOCRATES: Hence, it’s for the sake of what’s good that those who do all
these things do them.
POLUS: I agree.
SOCRATES: Now didn’t we agree that we want, not those things that we
do for the sake of something, but that thing for the sake of which we
do them?
POLUS: Yes, very much so.
SOCRATES: Hence, we don’t simply want to slaughter people, or exile
them from their cities and confiscate their property as such; we want to
do these things if they are beneficial, but if they’re harmful we don’t. For
we want the things that are good, as you agree, and we don’t want those
that are neither good nor bad, nor those that are bad. Right? Do you think
that what I’m saying is true, Polus, or don’t you? Why don’t you answer?
POLUS: I think it’s true.
SOCRATES: Since we’re in agreement about that then, if a person who’s
a tyrant or an orator puts somebody to death or exiles him or confiscates
his property because he supposes that doing so is better for himself when
actually it’s worse, this person, I take it, is doing what he sees fit, isn’t he?
SOCRATES: And is he also doing what he wants, if these things are actually
bad? Why don’t you answer?
POLUS: All right, I don’t think he’s doing what he wants.
SOCRATES: Can such a man possibly have great power in that city, if in
fact having great power is, as you agree, something good?
POLUS: He cannot.
SOCRATES: So, what I was saying is true, when I said that it is possible
for a man who does in his city what he sees fit not to have great power,
nor to be doing what he wants.
POLUS: Really, Socrates! As if you wouldn’t welcome being in a position
to do what you see fit in the city, rather than not! As if you wouldn’t be
envious whenever you’d see anyone putting to death some person he saw
fit, or confiscating his property or tying him up!
SOCRATES: Justly, you mean, or unjustly?
POLUS: Whichever way he does it, isn’t he to be envied either way?
SOCRATES: Hush, Polus.
POLUS: What for?
SOCRATES: Because you’re not supposed to envy the unenviable or the
miserable. You’re supposed to pity them.
POLUS: Really? Is this how you think it is with the people I’m talking about?
SOCRATES: Of course.
POLUS: So, you think that a person who puts to death anyone he sees
fit, and does so justly, is miserable and to be pitied?
SOCRATES: No, I don’t, but I don’t think he’s to be envied either.
POLUS: Weren’t you just now saying that he’s miserable?
SOCRATES: Yes, the one who puts someone to death unjustly is, my friend,
and he’s to be pitied besides. But the one who does so justly isn’t to
be envied.
POLUS: Surely the one who’s put to death unjustly is the one who’s both
to be pitied and miserable.
SOCRATES: Less so than the one putting him to death, Polus, and less
than the one who’s justly put to death.
POLUS: How can that be, Socrates?
SOCRATES: It’s because doing what’s unjust is actually the worst thing
there is.
POLUS: Really? Is that the worst? Isn’t suffering what’s unjust still worse?
SOCRATES: No, not in the least.
POLUS: So you’d rather want to suffer what’s unjust than do it?
SOCRATES: For my part, I wouldn’t want either, but if it had to be one
or the other, I would choose suffering over doing what’s unjust.
POLUS: You wouldn’t welcome being a tyrant, then?
SOCRATES: No, if by being a tyrant you mean what I do.
POLUS: I mean just what I said a while ago, to be in a position to do
whatever you see fit in the city, whether it’s putting people to death or
exiling them, or doing any and everything just as you see fit.
SOCRATES: Well, my wonderful fellow! I’ll put you a case, and you criticize
it. Imagine me in a crowded marketplace, with a dagger up my sleeve,
saying to you, “Polus, I’ve just got myself some marvelous tyrannical
power. So, if I see fit to have any one of these people you see here put to
death right on the spot, to death he’ll be put. And if I see fit to have one
of them have his head bashed in, bashed in it will be, right away. If I see
fit to have his coat ripped apart, ripped it will be. That’s how great my
power in this city is!” Suppose you didn’t believe me and I showed you
the dagger. On seeing it, you’d be likely to say, “But Socrates, everybody
could have great power that way. For this way any house you see fit
might be burned down, and so might the dockyards and triremes of the
Athenians, and all their ships, both public and private.” But then that’s
not what having great power is, doing what one sees fit. Or do you think
it is?
POLUS: No, at least not like that.
SOCRATES: Can you then tell me what your reason is for objecting to this
sort of power?
POLUS: Yes, I can.
SOCRATES: What is it? Tell me.
POLUS: It’s that the person who acts this way is necessarily punished.
SOCRATES: And isn’t being punished a bad thing?
POLUS: Yes, it really is.
SOCRATES: Well then, my surprising fellow, here again you take the view
that as long as acting as one sees fit coincides with acting beneficially, it
is good, and this, evidently, is having great power. Otherwise it is a bad
thing, and is having little power. Let’s consider this point, too. Do we
agree that sometimes it’s better to do those things we were just now talking
about, putting people to death and banishing them and confiscating their
property, and at other times it isn’t?
POLUS: Yes, we do.
SOCRATES: This point is evidently agreed upon by you and me both?
SOCRATES: When do you say that it’s better to do these things then? Tell
me where you draw the line.
POLUS: Why don’t you answer that question yourself, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Well then, Polus, if you find it more pleasing to listen to me,
I say that when one does these things justly, it’s better, but when one does
them unjustly, it’s worse.
POLUS: How hard it is to refute you, Socrates! Why, even a child could
refute you and show that what you’re saying isn’t true!
SOCRATES: In that case, I’ll be very grateful to the child, and just as
grateful to you if you refute me and rid me of this nonsense. Please don’t
falter now in doing a friend a good turn. Refute me.
POLUS: Surely, Socrates, we don’t need to refer to ancient history to refute
you. Why, current events quite suffice to do that, and to prove that many
people who behave unjustly are happy.
SOCRATES: What sorts of events are these?
POLUS: You can picture this man Archelaus, the son of Perdiccas, ruling
Macedonia, I take it?
SOCRATES: Well, if I can’t picture him, I do hear things about him.
POLUS: Do you think he’s happy or miserable?
SOCRATES: I don’t know, Polus. I haven’t met the man yet.
POLUS: Really? You’d know this if you had met him, but without that
you don’t know straight off that he’s happy?
SOCRATES: No, I certainly don’t, by Zeus!
POLUS: It’s obvious, Socrates, that you won’t even claim to know that
the Great King9 is happy.
9. The King of Persia, whose riches and imperial power embodied the popular idea
of supreme happiness.
SOCRATES: Yes, and that would be true, for I don’t know how he stands
in regard to education and justice.
POLUS: Really? Is happiness determined entirely by that?
SOCRATES: Yes, Polus, so I say anyway. I say that the admirable and good
person, man or woman, is happy, but that the one who’s unjust and wicked
is miserable.
POLUS: So on your reasoning this man Archelaus is miserable?
SOCRATES: Yes, my friend, if he is in fact unjust.
POLUS: Why of course he’s unjust! The sovereignty which he now holds
doesn’t belong to him at all, given the fact that his mother was a slave of
Alcetas, Perdiccas’ brother. By rights he was a slave of Alcetas, and if he
wanted to do what’s just, he’d still be a slave to Alcetas, and on your
reasoning would be happy. As it is, how marvelously “miserable” he’s
turned out to be, now that he’s committed the most heinous crimes. First
he sends for this man, his very own master and uncle, on the pretext of
restoring to him the sovereignty that Perdiccas had taken from him. He
entertains him, gets him drunk, both him and his son Alexander, his own
cousin and a boy about his own age. He then throws them into a wagon,
drives it away at night, and slaughters and disposes of them both. And
although he’s committed these crimes, he remains unaware of how “miserable” he’s become, and feels no remorse either. He refuses to become
“happy” by justly bringing up his brother and conferring the sovereignty
upon him, the legitimate son of Perdiccas, a boy of about seven to whom
the sovereignty was by rights due to come. Instead, not long afterward,
he throws him into a well and drowns him, telling the boy’s mother
Cleopatra that he fell into the well chasing a goose and lost his life. For
this very reason now, because he’s committed the most terrible of crimes
of any in Macedonia, he’s the most “miserable” of all Macedonians instead
of the happiest, and no doubt there are some in Athens, beginning with
yourself, who’d prefer being any other Macedonian at all to being Archelaus.
SOCRATES: Already at the start of our discussions, Polus, I praised you
because I thought you were well educated in oratory. But I also thought
that you had neglected the practice of discussion. And now is this all there
is to the argument by which even a child could refute me, and do you
suppose that when I say that a person who acts unjustly is not happy, I
now stand refuted by you by means of this argument? Where did you get
that idea, my good man? As a matter of fact, I disagree with every single
thing you say!
POLUS: You’re just unwilling to admit it. You really do think it’s the way
I say it is.
SOCRATES: My wonderful man, you’re trying to refute me in oratorical
style, the way people in law courts do when they think they’re refuting
some claim. There, too, one side thinks it’s refuting the other when it
produces many reputable witnesses on behalf of the arguments it presents,
while the person who asserts the opposite produces only one witness, or
none at all. This “refutation” is worthless, as far as truth is concerned, for
it might happen sometimes that an individual is brought down by the
false testimony of many reputable people. Now too, nearly every Athenian
and alien will take your side on the things you’re saying, if it’s witnesses
you want to produce against me to show that what I say isn’t true. Nicias
the son of Niceratus will testify for you, if you like, and his brothers along
with him, the ones whose tripods are standing in a row in the precinct of
Dionysus. Aristocrates the son of Scellias will too, if you like, the one to
whom that handsome votive offering in the precinct of Pythian Apollo
belongs. And so will the whole house of Pericles, if you like, or any other
local family you care to choose. Nevertheless, though I’m only one person,
I don’t agree with you. You don’t compel me; instead you produce many
false witnesses against me and try to banish me from my property, the
truth. For my part, if I don’t produce you as a single witness to agree with
what I’m saying, then I suppose I’ve achieved nothing worth mentioning
concerning the things we’ve been discussing. And I suppose you haven’t
either, if I don’t testify on your side, though I’m just one person, and you
disregard all these other people.
There is, then, this style of refutation, the one you and many others
accept. There’s also another, one that I accept. Let’s compare the one with
the other and see if they’ll differ in any way. It’s true, after all, that the
matters in dispute between us are not at all insignificant ones, but pretty
nearly those it’s most admirable to have knowledge about, and most shameful not to. For the heart of the matter is that of recognizing or failing to
recognize who is happy and who is not. To take first the immediate question
our present discussion’s about: you believe that it’s possible for a man
who behaves unjustly and who is unjust to be happy, since you believe
Archaelaus to be both unjust and happy. Are we to understand that this
is precisely your view?
POLUS: That’s right.
SOCRATES: And I say that that’s impossible. This is one point in dispute
between us. Fair enough. Although he acts unjustly, he’ll be happy—that
is, if he gets his due punishment?
POLUS: Oh no, certainly not! That’s how he’d be the most miserable!
SOCRATES: But if a man who acts unjustly doesn’t get his due, then, on
your reasoning, he’ll be happy?
POLUS: That’s what I say.
SOCRATES: On my view of it, Polus, a man who acts unjustly, a man who
is unjust, is thoroughly miserable, the more so if he doesn’t get his due
punishment for the wrongdoing he commits, the less so if he pays and
receives what is due at the hands of both gods and men.
POLUS: What an absurd position you’re trying to maintain, Socrates!
SOCRATES: Yes, and I’ll try to get you to take the same position too, my
good man, for I consider you a friend. For now, these are the points we
differ on. Please look at them with me. I said earlier, didn’t I, that doing
what’s unjust is worse than suffering it?
POLUS: Yes, you did.
SOCRATES: And you said that suffering it is worse.
SOCRATES: And I said that those who do what’s unjust are miserable,
and was “refuted” by you.
POLUS: You certainly were, by Zeus!
SOCRATES: So you think, Polus.
POLUS: So I truly think.
SOCRATES: Perhaps. And again, you think that those who do what’s unjust
are happy, so long as they don’t pay what is due.
POLUS: I certainly do.
SOCRATES: Whereas I say that they’re the most miserable, while those
who pay their due are less so. Would you like to refute this too?
POLUS: Why, that’s even more “difficult” to refute than the other
claim, Socrates!
SOCRATES: Not difficult, surely, Polus. It’s impossible. What’s true is
never refuted.
POLUS: What do you mean? Take a man who’s caught doing something
unjust, say, plotting to set himself up as tyrant. Suppose that he’s caught,
put on the rack, castrated, and has his eyes burned out. Suppose that he’s
subjected to a host of other abuses of all sorts, and then made to witness
his wife and children undergo the same. In the end he’s impaled or tarred.
Will he be happier than if he hadn’t got caught, had set himself up as
tyrant, and lived out his life ruling in his city and doing whatever he liked,
a person envied and counted happy by fellow citizens and aliens alike?
Is this what you say is impossible to refute?
SOCRATES: This time you’re spooking me, Polus, instead of refuting me.
Just before, you were arguing by testimony. Still, refresh my memory on
a small point: if the man plots to set himself up as tyrant unjustly, you said?
POLUS: Yes, I did.
SOCRATES: In that case neither of them will ever be the happier one,
neither the one who gains tyrannical power unjustly, nor the one who
pays what is due, for of two miserable people one could not be happier
than the other. But the one who avoids getting caught and becomes a
tyrant is the more miserable one. What’s this, Polus? You’re laughing? Is
this now some further style of refutation, to laugh when somebody makes
a point, instead of refuting him?
POLUS: Don’t you think you’ve been refuted already, Socrates, when
you’re saying things the likes of which no human being would maintain?
Just ask any one of these people.
SOCRATES: Polus, I’m not one of the politicians. Last year I was elected
to the Council by lot, and when our tribe was presiding and I had to call
for a vote, I came in for a laugh. I didn’t know how to do it. So please
don’t tell me to call for a vote from the people present here. If you have
no better “refutations” than these to offer, do as I suggested just now: let
me have my turn, and you try the kind of refutation I think is called for.
For I do know how to produce one witness to whatever I’m saying, and
that’s the man I’m having a discussion with. The majority I disregard.
And I do know how to call for a vote from one man, but I don’t even
discuss things with the majority. See if you’ll be willing to give me a
refutation, then, by answering the questions you’re asked. For I do believe
that you and I and everybody else consider doing what’s unjust worse
than suffering it, and not paying what is due worse than paying it.
POLUS: And I do believe that I don’t, and that no other person does,
either. So you’d take suffering what’s unjust over doing it, would you?
SOCRATES: Yes, and so would you and everyone else.
POLUS: Far from it! I wouldn’t, you wouldn’t, and nobody else would,
SOCRATES: Won’t you answer, then?
POLUS: I certainly will. I’m eager to know what you’ll say, in fact.
SOCRATES: So that you’ll know, answer me as though this were my first
question to you. Which do you think is worse, Polus, doing what’s unjust
or suffering it?
POLUS: I think suffering it is.
SOCRATES: You do? Which do you think is more shameful, doing what’s
unjust or suffering it? Tell me.
POLUS: Doing it.
SOCRATES: Now if doing it is in fact more shameful, isn’t it also worse?
POLUS: No, not in the least.
SOCRATES: I see. Evidently you don’t believe that admirable and good are
the same, or that bad and shameful are.
POLUS: No, I certainly don’t.
SOCRATES: Well, what about this? When you call all admirable things
admirable, bodies, for example, or colors, shapes and sounds, or practices,
is it with nothing in view that you do so each time? Take admirable bodies
first. Don’t you call them admirable either in virtue of their usefulness,
relative to whatever it is that each is useful for, or else in virtue of some
pleasure, if it makes the people who look at them get enjoyment from
looking at them? In the case of the admirability of a body, can you mention
anything other than these?
POLUS: No, I can’t.
SOCRATES: Doesn’t the same hold for all the other things? Don’t you call
shapes and colors admirable on account of either some pleasure or benefit
or both?
POLUS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: Doesn’t this also hold for sounds and all things musical?
SOCRATES: And certainly things that pertain to laws and practices—the
admirable ones, that is—don’t fall outside the limits of being either pleasant
or beneficial, or both, I take it.
POLUS: No, I don’t think they do.
SOCRATES: Doesn’t the same hold for the admirability of the fields of
learning, too?
POLUS: Yes indeed. Yes, Socrates, your present definition of the admirable
in terms of pleasure and good is an admirable one.
SOCRATES: And so is my definition of the shameful in terms of the opposite, pain and bad, isn’t it?
POLUS: Necessarily so.
SOCRATES: Therefore, whenever one of two admirable things is more
admirable than the other, it is so because it surpasses the other either in
one of these, pleasure or benefit, or in both.
POLUS: Yes, that’s right.
SOCRATES: And whenever one of two shameful things is more shameful
than the other, it will be so because it surpasses the other either in pain
or in badness. Isn’t that necessarily so?
SOCRATES: Well now, what were we saying a moment ago about doing
what’s unjust and suffering it? Weren’t you saying that suffering it is
worse, but doing it more shameful?
POLUS: I was.
SOCRATES: Now if doing what’s unjust is in fact more shameful than
suffering it, wouldn’t it be so either because it is more painful and surpasses
the other in pain, or because it surpasses it in badness, or both? Isn’t that
necessarily so, too?
POLUS: Of course it is.
SOCRATES: Let’s look at this first: does doing what’s unjust surpass suffering it in pain, and do people who do it hurt more than people who suffer it?
POLUS: No, Socrates, that’s not the case at all!
SOCRATES: So it doesn’t surpass it in pain, anyhow.
POLUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: So, if it doesn’t surpass it in pain, it couldn’t at this point
surpass it in both.
POLUS: Apparently not.
SOCRATES: This leaves it surpassing it only in the other thing.
SOCRATES: In badness.
POLUS: Evidently.
SOCRATES: So, because it surpasses it in badness, doing what’s unjust
would be worse than suffering it.
POLUS: That’s clear.
SOCRATES: Now didn’t the majority of mankind, and you earlier, agree
with us that doing what’s unjust is more shameful than suffering it?
SOCRATES: And now, at least, it’s turned out to be worse.
POLUS: Evidently.
SOCRATES: Would you then welcome what’s worse and what’s more
shameful over what is less so? Don’t shrink back from answering, Polus.
You won’t get hurt in any way. Submit yourself nobly to the argument,
as you would to a doctor, and answer me. Say yes or no to what I ask you.
POLUS: No, I wouldn’t, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And would any other person?
POLUS: No, I don’t think so, not on this reasoning, anyhow.
SOCRATES: I was right, then, when I said that neither you nor I nor any
other person would take doing what’s unjust over suffering it, for it really
is something worse.
POLUS: So it appears.
SOCRATES: So you see, Polus, that when the one refutation is compared
with the other, there is no resemblance at all. Whereas everyone but me
agrees with you, you are all I need, although you’re just a party of one,
for your agreement and testimony. It’s you alone whom I call on for a
vote; the others I disregard. Let this be our verdict on this matter, then.
Let’s next consider the second point in dispute between us, that is whether
a wrongdoer’s paying what is due is the worst thing there is, as you were
supposing, or whether his not paying it is even worse, as I was.
Let’s look at it this way. Are you saying that paying what is due and
being justly disciplined for wrongdoing are the same thing?
POLUS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: Can you say, then, that all just things aren’t admirable, insofar
as they are just? Think carefully and tell me.
POLUS: Yes, I think they are.
SOCRATES: Consider this point, too. If somebody acts upon something,
there also has to be something that has something done to it by the one
acting upon it?
POLUS: Yes, I think so.
SOCRATES: And that it has done to it what the thing acting upon it does,
and in the sort of way the thing acting upon it does it? I mean, for example,
that if somebody hits, there has to be something that’s being hit?
POLUS: There has to be.
SOCRATES: And if the hitter hits hard or quickly, the thing being hit is
hit that way, too?
SOCRATES: So the thing being hit gets acted upon in whatever way the
hitting thing acts upon it?
POLUS: Yes, that’s right.
SOCRATES: So, too, if somebody performs surgical burning, then there
has to be something that’s being burned?
POLUS: Of course.
SOCRATES: And if he burns severely or painfully, the thing that’s being
burned is burned in whatever way the burning thing burns it?
POLUS: That’s right.
SOCRATES: Doesn’t the same account also hold if a person makes a surgical
cut? For something is being cut.
SOCRATES: And if the cut is large or deep or painful, the thing being cut
is cut in whatever way the cutting thing cuts it?
POLUS: So it appears.
SOCRATES: Summing it up, see if you agree with what I was saying just
now, that in all cases, in whatever way the thing acting upon something
acts upon it, the thing acted upon is acted upon in just that way.
POLUS: Yes, I do agree.
SOCRATES: Taking this as agreed, is paying what is due a case of being
acted upon or of acting upon something?
POLUS: It must be a case of being acted upon, Socrates.
SOCRATES: By someone who acts?
POLUS: Of course. By the one administering discipline.
SOCRATES: Now one who disciplines correctly disciplines justly?
SOCRATES: Thereby acting justly, or not?
POLUS: Yes, justly.
SOCRATES: So the one being disciplined is being acted upon justly when
he pays what is due?
POLUS: Apparently.
SOCRATES: And it was agreed, I take it, that just things are admirable?
POLUS: That’s right.
SOCRATES: So one of these men does admirable things, and the other, the
one being disciplined, has admirable things done to him.
SOCRATES: If they’re admirable, then, aren’t they good? For they’re either
pleasant or beneficial.
POLUS: Necessarily so.
SOCRATES: Hence, the one paying what is due has good things being
done to him?
POLUS: Evidently.
SOCRATES: Hence, he’s being benefited?
SOCRATES: Is his benefit the one I take it to be? Does his soul undergo
improvement if he’s justly disciplined?
POLUS: Yes, that’s likely.
SOCRATES: Hence, one who pays what is due gets rid of something bad
in his soul?
SOCRATES: Now, is the bad thing he gets rid of the most serious one?
Consider it this way: in the matter of a person’s financial condition, do
you detect any bad thing other than poverty?
POLUS: No, just poverty.
SOCRATES: What about that of a person’s physical condition? Would you
say that what is bad here consists of weakness, disease, ugliness, and
the like?
POLUS: Yes, I would.
SOCRATES: Do you believe that there’s also some corrupt condition of
the soul?
POLUS: Of course.
SOCRATES: And don’t you call this condition injustice, ignorance, cowardice, and the like?
POLUS: Yes, certainly.
SOCRATES: Of these three things, one’s finances, one’s body, and one’s
soul, you said there are three states of corruption, namely poverty, disease,
and injustice?
SOCRATES: Which of these states of corruption is the most shameful? Isn’t
it injustice, and corruption of one’s soul in general?
POLUS: Very much so.
SOCRATES: And if it’s the most shameful, it’s also the worst?
POLUS: What do you mean, Socrates?
SOCRATES: I mean this: What we agreed on earlier implies that what’s
most shameful is so always because it’s the source either of the greatest
pain, or of harm, or of both.
POLUS: Very much so.
SOCRATES: And now we’ve agreed that injustice, and corruption of soul
as a whole, is the most shameful thing.
POLUS: So we have.
SOCRATES: So either it’s most painful and is most shameful because it
surpasses the others in pain, or else in harm, or in both?
POLUS: Necessarily so.
SOCRATES: Now is being unjust, undisciplined, cowardly, and ignorant
more painful than being poor or sick?
POLUS: No, I don’t think so, Socrates, given what we’ve said, anyhow.
SOCRATES: So the reason that corruption of one’s soul is the most shameful
of them all is that it surpasses the others by some monstrously great harm
and astounding badness, since it doesn’t surpass them in pain, according
to your reasoning.
POLUS: So it appears.
SOCRATES: But what is surpassing in greatest harm would, I take it,
certainly be the worst thing there is.
SOCRATES: Injustice, then, lack of discipline and all other forms of corruption of soul are the worst thing there is.
POLUS: Apparently so.
SOCRATES: Now, what is the craft that gets rid of poverty? Isn’t it that
of financial management?
SOCRATES: What’s the one that gets rid of disease? Isn’t it that of medicine?
POLUS: Necessarily.
SOCRATES: What’s the one that gets rid of corruption and injustice? If
you’re stuck, look at it this way: where and to whom do we take people
who are physically sick?
POLUS: To doctors, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Where do we take people who behave unjustly and without discipline?
POLUS: To judges, you mean?
SOCRATES: Isn’t it so they’ll pay what’s due?
POLUS: Yes, I agree.
SOCRATES: Now don’t those who administer discipline correctly employ
a kind of justice in doing so?
POLUS: That’s clear.
SOCRATES: It’s financial management, then, that gets rid of poverty, medicine that gets rid of disease, and justice that gets rid of injustice and indiscipline.
POLUS: Apparently.
SOCRATES: Which of these, now, is the most admirable?
POLUS: Of which, do you mean?
SOCRATES: Of financial management, medicine, and justice.
POLUS: Justice is by far, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Doesn’t it in that case provide either the most pleasure, or
benefit, or both, if it really is the most admirable?
SOCRATES: Now, is getting medical treatment something pleasant? Do
people who get it enjoy getting it?
POLUS: No, I don’t think so.
SOCRATES: But it is beneficial, isn’t it?
SOCRATES: Because they’re getting rid of something very bad, so that it’s
worth their while to endure the pain and so get well.
POLUS: Of course.
SOCRATES: Now, would a man be happiest, as far as his body goes, if
he’s under treatment, or if he weren’t even sick to begin with?
POLUS: If he weren’t even sick, obviously.
SOCRATES: Because happiness evidently isn’t a matter of getting rid of
something bad; it’s rather a matter of not even contracting it to begin with.
POLUS: That’s so.
SOCRATES: Very well. Of two people, each of whom has something bad
in either body or soul, which is the more miserable one, the one who is
treated and gets rid of the bad thing or the one who doesn’t but keeps it?
POLUS: The one who isn’t treated, it seems to me.
SOCRATES: Now, wasn’t paying what’s due getting rid of the worst thing
there is, corruption?
POLUS: It was.
SOCRATES: Yes, because such justice makes people self-controlled, I take
it, and more just. It proves to be a treatment against corruption.
SOCRATES: The happiest man, then, is the one who doesn’t have any
badness in his soul, now that this has been shown to be the most serious
kind of badness.
POLUS: That’s clear.
SOCRATES: And second, I suppose, is the man who gets rid of it.
POLUS: Evidently.
SOCRATES: This is the man who gets lectured and lashed, the one who
pays what is due.
SOCRATES: The man who keeps it, then, and who doesn’t get rid of it, is
the one whose life is the worst.
POLUS: Apparently.
SOCRATES: Isn’t this actually the man who, although he commits the most
serious crimes and uses methods that are most unjust, succeeds in avoiding
being lectured and disciplined and paying his due, as Archelaus according
to you, and the other tyrants, orators, and potentates have put themselves
in a position to do?
POLUS: Evidently.
SOCRATES: Yes, my good man, I take it that these people have managed
to accomplish pretty much the same thing as a person who has contracted
very serious illnesses, but, by avoiding treatment manages to avoid paying
what’s due to the doctors for his bodily faults, fearing, as would a child,
cauterization or surgery because they’re painful. Don’t you think so, too?
POLUS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: It’s because he evidently doesn’t know what health and bodily
excellence are like. For on the basis of what we’re now agreed on, it looks
as though those who avoid paying what is due also do the same sort of
thing, Polus. They focus on its painfulness, but are blind to its benefit and
are ignorant of how much more miserable it is to live with an unhealthy
soul than with an unhealthy body, a soul that’s rotten with injustice and
impiety. This is also the reason they go to any length to avoid paying what
is due and getting rid of the worst thing there is. They find themselves
funds and friends, and ways to speak as persuasively as possible. Now if
what we’re agreed on is true, Polus, are you aware of what things follow
from our argument? Or would you like us to set them out?
POLUS: Yes, if you think we should anyhow.
SOCRATES: Does it follow that injustice, and doing what is unjust, is the
worst thing there is?
POLUS: Yes, apparently.
SOCRATES: And it has indeed been shown that paying what is due is
what gets rid of this bad thing?
POLUS: So it seems.
SOCRATES: And that if it isn’t paid, the bad thing is retained?
SOCRATES: So, doing what’s unjust is the second worst thing. Not paying
what’s due when one has done what’s unjust is by its nature the first worst
thing, the very worst of all.
POLUS: Evidently.
SOCRATES: Now wasn’t this the point in dispute between us, my friend?
You considered Archelaus happy, a man who committed the gravest crimes
without paying what was due, whereas I took the opposite view, that
whoever avoids paying his due for his wrongdoing, whether he’s Archelaus
or any other man, is and deserves to be miserable beyond all other men, and
that one who does what’s unjust is always more miserable than the one
who suffers it, and the one who avoids paying what’s due always more
miserable than the one who does pay it. Weren’t these the things I said?
SOCRATES: Hasn’t it been proved that what was said is true?
POLUS: Apparently.
SOCRATES: Fair enough. If these things are true then, Polus, what is the
great use of oratory? For on the basis of what we’re agreed on now, what
a man should guard himself against most of all is doing what’s unjust,
knowing that he will have trouble enough if he does. Isn’t that so?
POLUS: Yes, that’s right.
SOCRATES: And if he or anyone else he cares about acts unjustly, he
should voluntarily go to the place where he’ll pay his due as soon as
possible; he should go to the judge as though he were going to a doctor,
anxious that the disease of injustice shouldn’t be protracted and cause his
soul to fester incurably. What else can we say, Polus, if our previous
agreements really stand? Aren’t these statements necessarily consistent
with our earlier ones in only this way?
POLUS: Well yes, Socrates. What else are we to say?
SOCRATES: So, if oratory is used to defend injustice, Polus, one’s own or
that of one’s relatives, companions, or children, or that of one’s country
when it acts unjustly, it is of no use to us at all, unless one takes it to be
useful for the opposite purpose: that he should accuse himself first and
foremost, and then too his family and anyone else dear to him who happens
to behave unjustly at any time; and that he should not keep his wrongdoing
hidden but bring it out into the open, so that he may pay his due and get
well; and compel himself and the others not to play the coward, but to
grit his teeth and present himself with grace and courage as to a doctor for
cauterization and surgery, pursuing what’s good and admirable without
taking any account of the pain. And if his unjust behavior merits flogging,
he should present himself to be whipped; if it merits imprisonment, to be
imprisoned; if a fine, to pay it; if exile, to be exiled; and if execution, to
be executed. He should be his own chief accuser, and the accuser of other
members of his family, and use his oratory for the purpose of getting rid
of the worst thing there is, injustice, as the unjust acts are being exposed.
Are we to affirm or deny this, Polus?
POLUS: I think these statements are absurd, Socrates, though no doubt
you think they agree with those expressed earlier.
SOCRATES: Then either we should abandon those, or else these necessarily follow?
POLUS: Yes, that’s how it is.
SOCRATES: And, on the other hand, to reverse the case, suppose a man
had to harm someone, an enemy or anybody at all, provided that he didn’t
suffer anything unjust from this enemy himself—for this is something to
be on guard against—if the enemy did something unjust against another
person, then our man should see to it in every way, both in what he does
and what he says, that his enemy does not go to the judge and pay his
due. And if he does go, he should scheme to get his enemy off without
paying what’s due. If he’s stolen a lot of gold, he should scheme to get
him not to return it but to keep it and spend it in an unjust and godless
way both on himself and his people. And if his crimes merit the death
penalty, he should scheme to keep him from being executed, preferably
never to die at all but to live forever in corruption, but failing that, to have
him live as long as possible in that condition. Yes, this is the sort of thing
I think oratory is useful for, Polus, since for the person who has no intention
of behaving unjustly it doesn’t seem to me to have much use—if in fact
it has any use at all—since its usefulness hasn’t in any way become apparent
so far.
CALLICLES: Tell me, Chaerephon, is Socrates in earnest about this or is
he joking?
CHAEREPHON: I think he’s in dead earnest about this, Callicles. There’s
nothing like asking him, though.
CALLICLES: By the gods! Jus…

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