Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Ending of "Gorgias"

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on  June 22, 2008 ]

In Plato's dialogue "Gorgias," Socrates inquires of the Sophist Gorgias as to the meaning of rhetoric.  This, however, is but one of at least two topics in the dialogue.  Very quickly the focus of inquiry shifts, when Callicles comes on the scene.  Callicles defends the tyrant and usurper Archelaus.   For Callicles, right is might.  The long winding argument of Socrates leads in an opposite direction.  Socrates argues that men are good by nature, but do evil through a lack of knowledge of the good.   Those who really know the good will not do evil because the attractions of evil will not possess their souls.  (This is a somewhat cursory synopsis of his argument.  I am the first to admit that I may not be presenting it adequately.)

What I find most compelling in "Gorgias" is the end.   First, Socrates relates what he calls a myth regarding what happens to our souls after our death, the myth of the Blessed Isles, the abode of the good, and of Tartarus, the prison of the damned.  All men upon their deaths are judged and sent to one place or the other.  In the last paragraph of the "Gorgias," Socrates urges us not to return evil for evil.   Even if we suffer evil, our good will live within us.   His words suggest something of the Sermon on the Mount, although he lived more than three centuries before the time of Christ.   The following, taken from Benjamin Jowett's translation, is the last paragraph of "Gorgias":    

    " Follow me then, and I will lead you where you will be happy in life and after death, as the argument shows. And never mind if some one despises you as a fool, and insults you, if he has a mind; let him strike you, by Zeus, and do you be of good cheer, and do not mind the insulting blow, for you will never come to any harm in the practice of virtue, if you are a really good and true man. When we have practised virtue together, we will apply ourselves to politics, if that seems desirable, or we will advise about whatever else may seem good to us, for we shall be better able to judge then. In our present condition we ought not to give ourselves airs, for even on the most important subjects we are always changing our minds; so utterly stupid are we! Let us, then, take the argument as our guide, which has revealed to us that the best way of life is to practise justice and every virtue in life and death. This way let us go; and in this exhort all men to follow, not in the way to which you trust and in which you exhort me to follow you; for that way, Callicles, is nothing worth. "


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