MICHAEL ERLER / LUC BRISSON (EDS.

)
GORGIAS – MENON
SELECTED PAPERS FROM THE
SEVENTH SYMPOSIUM PLATONICUM
International Plato Studies 25
ACADEMIA
Plato
Socrates
Michael Erler / Luc Brisson (Eds.)
Gorgias – Menon
International Plato Studies
Published under the auspices of the
International Plato Society
Series Editors:
Luc Brisson (Paris), Christopher J. Rowe (Durham),
María Isabel Santa Cruz (Buenos Aires), Mauro Tulli (Pisa),
Thomas A. Szlezák (Tübingen)
Volume 25
GORGIAS – MENON
SELECTED PAPERS FROM THE
SEVENTH SYMPOSIUM PLATONICUM
Edited by
MICHAEL ERLER AND LUC BRISSON
Academia Verlag Sankt Augustin
Illustration on the cover by courtesy of the Bodleian Library,
Oxford, MS. Ashmole 304, fol. 31 v.
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LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS
Frederik Arends, Bonaventuracollege, Leiden
Graziano Arrighetti, Università degli Studi di Pisa
Hayden W. Ausland, The University of Montana
Francisco Bravo, Universidad Central de Venezuela
Thomas C. Brickhouse, Lynchburg College, Virginia
Luc Brisson, CNRS, Villejuif
Giovanni Casertano, Università di Napoli
Benoît Castelnérac, Université de Sherbrooke
Elisabetta Cattanei, Università di Cagliari
John J. Cleary, Boston College & National University of Ireland, Maynooth
Louis-André Dorion, Université de Montréal
Theodor Ebert, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Rafael Ferber, Universität Luzern / Universität Zürich
Franco Ferrari, Université de Salerno
Lloyd P. Gerson, University of Toronto
Christopher Gill, University of Exeter
Edward C. Halper, University of Georgia
Aleš Havlíček, Karls Universität Prag
Christoph Helmig, Oberassistent für Forschung des Fonds für Wissenschaftliche Forschung,
Flandern (FWO)
Charles Kahn, University of Pennsylvania
Yuji Kurihara, Tokyo Gakugei University
Annie Larivée, Brock University, Ontario
Arnaud Macé, Université de Franche-Comté, Besançon
Walter Mesch, Universität Heidelberg
Maurizio Migliori, Università di Macerata
Julius Moravczik, Stanford University, California
Linda M. Napolitano, Università di Trieste
Michel Narcy, CNRS, Villejuif
Ada Neschke-Hentschke, Université de Lausanne
Noburu Notomi, Keio University, Tokyo
Erik Nis Ostenfeld, University of Aarhus
Terry Penner, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Vasilis Politis, Trinity College, Dublin
François Renaud, Université de Moncton, Nouveau-Brunswick
Christopher Rowe , University of Durham
Samuel Scolnicov, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Nicholas D. Smith, Lewis and Clark College, Oregon
Richard F. Stalley , University of Glasgow
Jan Szaif, University of California at Davis
Thomas Alexander Szlezák, Universität Tübingen
Harold Tarrant, University of Newcastle, New South Wales
Holger Thesleff, University of Helsinki
List of contributors VI
Mauro Tulli, Università degli Studi di Pisa
Thomas M. Tuozzo, University of Kansas
Álvaro Vallejo, University of Granada
Matthias Vorwerk, The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.
Moon–Heum Yang, Dongguk University, Seoul
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of contributors ....................................................................................... V
Table of contents ....................................................................................... VII
Michael Erler Vorwort ......................................................................... X
1. De Vogel Lecture, Sauders Memorial Lecture
Terry Penner The Death of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus”............ 3
Harold Tarrant Studying Plato and Platonism Together:
Meno-related Observations............................................ 20
2. Gorgias
John J. Cleary Erotic Paideia in Plato’s Symposium............................. 33
Lloyd P. Gerson Plato’s Gorgias and ‘Political Happiness’..................... 46
Frederik Arends Why Socrates came too late for Gorgias’ epideixis:
Plato’s Gorgias as political philosophy......................... 52
Noburu Notomi Plato’s Critique of Gorgias: Power, the Other,
and Truth....................................................................... 57
Christopher Gill Form and outcome of arguments
in Plato’s Gorgias.......................................................... 62
Ada Neschke-Hentschke Der Dialog Gorgias und die Tradition
des europäischen Naturrechts........................................ 66
Mauro Tulli Il Gorgia e la lira di Anfione......................................... 72
Holger Thesleff The Gorgias re-written – why? ..................................... 78
Arnaud Macé Gorgias, le Gorgias, et l’ordre de l’âme........................ 83
Christopher Rowe The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias .......................... 90
Francisco Bravo El Gorgias de Platon: ¿Anti-hedonista o anti-relativista? 102
Erik Nis Ostenfeld The Meaning and Justification of a Paradox:
Wrongdoing is Involuntary. The refutation of Polus..... 108
Richard F. Stalley The Politics of the Gorgias ........................................... 116
Julius Moravczik Goodness Trumps Pleasure-loving in the Gorgias........ 122
Thomas C. Brickhouse
and Nicholas D. Smith The Myth of the Afterlife in Plato’s Gorgias ................ 128
Álvaro Vallejo Myth and Rhetoric in the Gorgias................................. 138
Giovanni Casertano 21 punti su persuasione e verità nel Gorgia .................. 144
Walter Mesch Analogien und Antistrophen.
Zur Bestimmung der Rhetorik in Platons Gorgias ........ 149
Hayden W. Ausland Socrates’ Argument with Gorgias, the Craft Analogy,
and Justice ..................................................................... 158
Maurizio Migliori Socrate e Gorgia di fronte all’insegnamento
della virtù ...................................................................... 162
Table of contents VIII
3. Meno
Graziano Arrighetti Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dell’al di là? ...................... 173
Theodor Ebert “The Theory of Recollection in Plato’s Meno”:
Against a Myth of Platonic Scholarship ........................ 184
Luc Brisson La réminiscence dans le Ménon (81c5-d5) .................... 199
Linda M. Napolitano Anamnesi e dialettica nel ‘Menone’ .............................. 204
Jan Szaif Requirements of Knowledge according to the Meno..... 212
Yuji Kurihara Goodness, Desire and Thought
in Plato’s Meno (77b-78b)............................................. 218
Benoît Castelnérac Comment acquérir la vertu?
La tripartition phúsis, áskesis, máthesis dans le Ménon 223
Aleš Havlíček Die Bedeutung der phronêsis für die Erläuterung
der aretê im Menon ....................................................... 228
Edward C. Halper A Lesson from the Meno ............................................... 234
Thomas M. Tuozzo Knowing Meno Blindfolded: The Dialectic of Essence
and Quality in the Meno ................................................ 243
Elisabetta Cattanei Due geometrie per il Menone ........................................ 248
Moon–Heum Yang ‘Similarity’ in the Solution to the Duplication Problem
in Plato’s Meno.............................................................. 253
4. Comprehensive papers
Rafael Ferber What did Socrates know and how did he know it?........ 263
Vasilis Politis Is Socrates Paralyzed by his State of Aporia?
Meno 79e7-80d4............................................................ 268
Christoph Helmig Der Gegensatz von Platon und Aristoteles
in den neuplatonischen Interpretationen des
Menonparadoxons und der Anamnesislehre.................. 273
Samuel Scolnicov The structure and object of anamnesis .......................... 278
Louis-André Dorion Le Gorgias et la défense de Socrate dans l’Apologie .... 284
Franco Ferrari La transizione epistemica .............................................. 290
Matthias Vorwerk Der Arzt, der Koch und die Kinder.
Rhetorik und Philosophie im Wettstreit......................... 297
Michel Narcy Socrate, l’esclave, les sophistes et les géomètres........... 303
François Renaud Rhétorique, Dialectique, Maïeutique:
Le commentaire du Gorgias par Olympiodore.............. 309
Annie Larivée Combattre le mal par le mal. Socrate et sa méthode
de soin homéopathique dans le Gorgias ........................ 317
Charles Kahn Prolepsis in Gorgias and Meno?.................................... 325
Thomas Alexander Szlezák c ~. ,c ¡ ~µ , ¦u c.., c ¬c cµ,
cu,,.|u, ucµ, (Men. 81 c 9- d11)
Die Implikationen der ‘Verwandtschaft’
der gesamten Natur........................................................ 333
Table of contents IX
Bibliography ....................................................................................... 345
Index Locorum ....................................................................................... 368
Subject Index ....................................................................................... 388
VORWORT
Dieser Band enthält eine Auswahl der Vorträge, die anläßlich des VII. Symposium
Platonicum der International Plato Society vom 26. bis 31. Juli 2004 in Würzburg unter den
Auspizien der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Mainzer Akademie der
Wissenschaften und der Literatur gehalten wurden. Die Tagung wurde von dem Bayerischen
Staatsministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst, der Deutschen Forschungs-
gemeinschaft, dem Universitätsbund der Universität Würzburg und der Julius-Maxmilians-
Universität Würzburg unterstützt. Sie fand in den Räumen der von Balthasar Neumann
erbauten Würzburger Residenz – eines Unesco Kulturerbes – und der Neubaukirche statt. Das
Jahr 2004 hat für die deutsche, aber auch die internationale Platonforschung eine besondere
Bedeutung, jährte sich doch zum zweihundertstenmal der Erscheinungsbeginn der
epochemachenden Übersetzung des Platonischen Oeuvres durch Friedrich Schleiermacher
(erschienen 1804-1817), welche den engen Zusammenhang von literarischer Gestaltung und
philosophischem Gehalt des platonischen Dialoges in den Blickpunkt der künftigen
Forschung rückte. Seither hat das Interesse an Platon, dem Philosophen, aber auch an Platon,
dem Autor, bis hin in den Fernen Osten stetig zugenommen. Nicht zuletzt für diese
Internationalität der Platonforschung legte die Tagung mit zeitweise über 300 Gästen aus
mehr als 35 Ländern ein lebendiges Zeugnis ab.
Thema des VII. Symposium Platonicum waren die Dialoge Gorgias und Menon. Die in
diesen beiden zentralen Dialogen aufgeworfenen Fragen nach dem richtigen Leben, nach
Möglichkeiten der Erkenntnis, nach Überwindung von Werterelativismus, nach angemessener
Auseinandersetzung mit den Sophisten – um nur einige zu nennen – boten Gelegenheit zu
anregenden Interpretationsansätzen und teilweise kontrovers, aber immer fair geführten
Diskussionen, die den internationalen Forschungsstand widerspiegelten und zu einem
weiterführenden, fruchtbaren Gedankenaustausch über die Grenzen kultureller Unterschiede
hinweg führten. Die hier abgedruckten Aufsätze vermitteln – so hoffen wir – einen Eindruck
von der anregenden, und von platonischen eunoia geprägten Atmosphäre.
Danken möchte ich als ehemaliger Präsident und Ausrichter der Tagung weiterhin allen
denjenigen, deren Beiträge hier gedruckt vorliegen, darüber hinaus aber auch allen
Mitgliedern unserer Gesellschaft und allen Gästen, die die Tagung durch Vorträge, durch
Diskussionsbeiträge oder durch ihre Anwesenheit bereichert und die von allen als fruchtvoll
und anregend empfundene Atmosphäre der Tagung mitgeprägt haben. Bedanken möchte ich
mich schließlich auch an dieser Stelle bei meinen Würzburger Mitarbeiterinnen und
Mitarbeitern, die in verschiedenster Weise zur Vorbereitung und zum reibungslosen Ablauf
der Tagung entscheidend beigetragen haben. Besonders hervorgehoben sei Herr Dr. Stefan
Schorn, der mich in der Zeit der Vorbereitung nie im Stich gelassen hat, sondern mir immer
eine wichtige Hilfe war, als ich neben der Präsidentschaft auch Pflichten als Dekan und
Senator der Universität zu erfüllen hatte.
Entsprechend der auch in den vorhergehenden Tagungsbänden üblichen Praxis wurde
auch in diesem Band kein Versuch unternommen, die unterschiedlichen Zitierweisen,
Abkürzungen oder andere technische Eigenheiten der Beiträge einander anzugleichen. Die
Unterschiede seien vielmehr Zeugnis für die unterschiedlichen wissenschaftlichen Kulturen
und für die Vielfalt und Internationalität, die in unserer Gesellschaft gepflegt wird. Die
Vorwort XI
Indices sollen helfen, das Buch bei aller Fülle des gebotenen Materials leichter benutzbar zu
machen.
Möge das Buch den Teilnehmern der Tagung Erinnerungshilfe an hoffentlich angenehm
verbrachte Stunden in Würzburg und allen Lesern Anregung zu eigener Platonlektüre sein.
Verantwortlich für den Band zeichnen Michael Erler und Luc Brisson. In Dankbarkeit
gedenken wir am Ende dieses Vorwortes Catherine Joubaud, die die redaktionelle Arbeit an
diesem Band übernommen hatte und während dieser Tätigkeit an den Folgen einer langen und
schweren Krankheit, gegen die sie mit Mut und Würde gekämpft hatte, verstarb. Der
vorliegende Band legt für ihre Kompetenz Zeugnis ab. Ihre Menschlichkeit wird uns fehlen.
Sophie Grapotte hat das Manuskript für die Publikation vorbereitet. Annie Larivée hat an der
Erstellung der beiden Indices gearbeitet, die Bibliographie korrigiert und das gesamte
Manuskript gelesen. Ihnen sei herzlich gedankt.
Michael Erler,Würzburg
Luc Brisson, Paris

Dezember 2006
1
DE VOGEL LECTURE,
SAUDERS MEMORIAL LECTURE
The Death of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus”
The C.J. de Vogel Lecture
Terry Penner
I am not here tonight to announce the end of an era in Socrates scholarship – though I
believe that is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Too much work remains by way of
convincing people that the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” should be entirely dropped. (This is
not to deny that proponents of the so-called “elenchus” have been some of the major
contributors in the history of Socrates scholarship.) I am here tonight simply to press the case
for recognizing that the usual sorts of attempts – such as we find in the attribution to Socratic
dialectic of the so-called “elenchus” – to unite
(a) the deductive methods of modern logic (which are central to the so-called
“elenchus”)
with
(b) the interpretation of what Plato’s characters are saying in his dialogues,
cannot produce viable offspring.
When interpreters formulate what characters in a Platonic dialogue are saying in the
course of (what looks like) a particular discrete argument, into the deductive representations
characteristic of the so-called method of “elenchus”, they make two crucial assumptions, both
of which I shall here reject as inappropriate to the analysis of any arguments in any of Plato’s
dialogues. The first is that
LT we can reduce
what a speaker is saying by means of a given sentence
to
what the given sentence says.
This reduction is an instance of the “linguistic turn” so popular amongst a great many
analytical philosophers. Once the initial reduction to sentences is accomplished, the
interpreter then embodies the sentence in the deductive formulation which is to represent the
supposed “elenchus” – with the account of what the sentence says being determined by the
usual devices of meanings or semantical interpretations assigned to the expressions (referring
The Death of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” 4
expressions, predicates, and so forth) which make up the sentence.
1
(Analytical philosophers
working on Plato, who mostly grow out of the great nineteenth century philological tradition,
are always – and to a fault – as careful about Plato’s exact words as one might hope from
those who have taken the “linguistic turn”.)
2
It is in these deductive formulations that the second crucial assumption shows up – what
Ryle 1945 speaks of as the “logical powers” doctrine:
LP What a sentence A says is the same as what a sentence B says just in case both
sentences have the same “logical powers”, that is, they both follow logically from the
very same sentences, and any sentences that follow logically from the one follow
logically from the other.
Thus it is enough to make A and B say something different – express different
“propositions”, as logicians often put it – that one of them does not follow logically from the
other; and enough to make A and B logically independent propositions (and so even more
certainly different propositions) that neither follows logically from the other. (I shall use
interchangeably “A follows logically from B”, “A is a logical consequence of B”, “A follows
from B by logic alone”, and “B entails A”.)
I shall argue that these two assumptions together are sufficient to show that the so-called
“Socratic Elenchus” yields serious misrepresentations of what the speakers in the dialogues
are saying. For if I can show that what the speakers say by means of given sentences is
misrepresented by what the given sentences say (as construed in terms of the “logical powers”
doctrine), then, since I take it that Socratic dialectic concerns arguments about what people –
the interlocutors – are saying, we will be forced to conclude that Socratic dialectic is
misrepresented by construing it in accordance with the methods of the so-called “Socratic
Elenchus”.
There will not be space, in this shortened version of my lecture, to speak at any length
about other defects I see in almost all applications of modern methods of logic to Platonic
texts. The reader should be aware, however, that my reservations about such applications go
well beyond considerations of the “linguistic turn” (LT) and the “logical powers” doctrine
(LP). There are a few remarks on this topic in the concluding section and in the appendix
below.
Just to help people see where I am going in the present version of the lecture, I can
single out how I think the employment of (LT) + (LP) in the so-called “elenchus” leads to the
misrepresentation of what the interlocutors in bits of Socratic dialectic are saying, as a result
of interpreters simply ignoring three different sorts of context, to each of which we need to
look if we are to capture unarticulated parts of what speakers are saying. The first sort of
context consists in the personal style, and background beliefs of the speaker, as well as in the
speaker’s culural and social milieu.
Second, there is the literary context that need to be assimilated from the author’s (or
reporter’s) methods of representing the dialectic, which itself provides important clues to
what the interlocutors are saying. Prominent here is the plot of a dialogue. (And make no
mistake, Plato’s dialogues are most extraordinarily finely crafted and plotted pieces of work.)
1
For a slightly fuller account of the process whereby arguments are put into logical form and assessed for soundness
and validity, see the Appendix below.
2
What is worrying is that they sometimes combine this concern for exact words with something less than care for
larger contexts in which the words appear. “Look! Socrates says it right here!” See further the remarks on plot in
sec. 4 below, as well as Penner, unpublished.
Terry Penner 5
The third sort of context brings in what, in a wider view, is far the most important way
in which the so-called “elenchus” fails to capture what interlocutors are saying in Plato’s
dialogues. This is what I shall call here the real-world context of what the speakers are
saying. This sort of context has been central to much of my own work over the past several
decades. It shows up in particular in my account of the Socratic desire for the real good, and
of the Forms as the real natures of things. In the case of desire, it shows up in the following
way. I claim that Socrates and Plato rightly hold that the truth about what the good is that
Barbara, say, desires for herself is part of what (modern philosophers would call) the content
of what Barbara is speaking of or referring to. That real truth is not only what is there outside
of Barbara’s psychological state. It is also – in a way which Barbara herself cannot be totally
aware of – part of the very inside of her psychological state. What Barbara desires – from the
inside – is not what she thinks is the good for herself, nor is it what anyone else might think is
the good for her; rather it is what really is the good for her, even if that good is different from
what Barbara or any one else thinks it is. This real (and unknown) good is not only what
Barbara desires (recall Republic VI.505E-506A), but also what she is saying she desires. (The
reference to the real good, even if it is different from what Barbara or anyone else thinks it is,
is quite as much involved when we are considering what Barbara says or believes she desires
as when we are saying what she desires.) It is not her apparent good which Barbara desires
(pace Aristotle), nor is it something she (perhaps mistakenly, and in any case consciously)
desires.
In the case of the Forms, when I want to cut, I want to cut, not in accordance with my
beliefs about cutting, nor in accordance with the conventions of our language about “cutting”,
but in accordance with the real nature of cutting (Cratylus 387A with 385D-386A), even if
that differs from how I think of it, or from what the conventions of my language say about it.
So too, to switch to a modern case, cancer researchers want to speak of, and to discover, not
what people (even the researchers themselves) think is the real nature of cancer, or what some
lexicographer or scientist writing a dictionary entry says it is, but what cancer really is – even
if it is different from what anyone has ever supposed it to be. It is these real natures – the
good, the real nature of cutting, the Form of Cancer – which people are generally referring to
(intend to refer to) when they use such words as “good”, “cutting”, “cancer”. Once more, the
real truth, and real natures, are – in the sort of way indicated – part of what interlocutors are
speaking of.
I realize, of course, that the views I attribute to Socrates and Plato about the real good
and real natures in my characterization of this “real-world context” are both exegetically and
philosophically controversial. By what right do I bring such controversial views into
interpretations of Plato? By right of whatever arguments I have found in the dialogues for
supposing that these views are there to be found; and by right of whatever arguments I have
found for supposing the Socratic/Platonic views I take to be there are truer than the
corresponding views of Aristotle and modern interpreters in the analytic tradition. I came to
these exegetical and philosophical views at the same time as I was coming to the view that the
point of studying Socrates and Plato is not simply to identify their errors from modern
philosophical points of view, but to learn from them enough to see how much modern
philosophical work could be improved with some deep study of Plato, and of Socrates in
Plato. So I do not apologize that some of my work on Socrates and Plato is, inconveniently,
only intelligible to those interpreters willing to consider some revision to the philosophical
viewpoints they tend initially to bring to their dialectic.
Since there is not space for me to treat of all three sorts of contexts in relation to which
the methods of logic employed in the so-called “elenchus” seem to me to fall short, I shall set
The Death of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” 6
the last two aside, for brief treatment in a final section pointing beyond the present paper.
(This though the real-world context was quite as central to my argument in Würzburg, as was
the first sort.) I choose the first sort of context because it gives us a particularly
straightforward way to see both that the whole idea of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus”, as it
showed up originally in Robinson 1953, needs to be given up, and also that all three of the
interesting attempts to improve that idea associated with what I shall call early Vlastos
(1956), later Vlastos (1994 [1983]), and Benson 2000 must also be given up.
In the next section, I introduce an example of how I believe that the “logical powers”
doctrine short-changes the first sort of context, and so delivers the wrong answers about what
Euthyphro is saying when he uses the sentence “Piety is what is loved by the gods”. In sec.2, I
proceed to a characterization of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus”, along with three important
developments of the theory of the “elenchus”, each occasioned by difficulties in earlier
attempts to preserve the theory. In sec.3, I show how, if I am right in what I say about the
example in sec.1, this example refutes the claim that the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” will be
able to represent faithfully such Socratic arguments as that directed towards Euthyphro’s
claim that piety is what is loved by the gods. The refutation will also apply to all three of the
developments of the theory of the “elenchus” just mentioned. Sec.4 introduces briefly the two
other sorts of context I have not considered in the earlier parts of the paper, where, once
again, the so-called “elenchus” is quite inadequate to account for them; and an appendix adds
some brief remarks about other ways in which modern methods of logic seem to be applied to
Plato interpretation without due philosophical – or exegetical – circumspection.
1. What Euthyphro is saying when he uses the sentence “Piety is what is loved by the
gods”.
What the “logical powers” doctrine gives us is a theory of what sentences say. I have
already noted that this doctrine, which originates in Frege 1879, 2-3, has it that two sentences
say the same thing if and only if they entail and are entailed by all the same sentences. (To
such a doctrine, anyone who employs the notion of logical consequence is necessarily
committed.)
3
To take an example which will be important in the next section, if what
Euthyphro is saying by means of a given sentence reduces to what the given sentence says,
then what the “logical powers” doctrine forces on an interpreter is the view that if instead of
1 Piety is what is loved by the gods,
Euthyphro had used one of the following sentences:
1a Piety is what is loved by such beings as the gods.
1b Piety is what is loved by such beings as the Greek gods.
1c Piety is what is loved by such beings as Zeus and Cronos,
he would have been saying something different in each case, depending upon which of the
three sentences he actually used. For example, (1a) does not entail (1b) without the additional
premise that the Greek gods exist, and they are such beings as the gods. Hence (1a) and (1b)
3
Those who know the works of Quine and Davidson will note that those two devotees of holistic approaches to what
sentences say are willy-nilly committed to the “logical powers” doctrine in their use of logical consequence,
entailment, and so forth – as for example in Davidson (1967), 25-6, or as in the importance Quine associates with
such notions as decidability, completeness, incompleteness, and so forth. Once this cat has been let out of the bag,
there is no stopping short of the very narrow identity conditions for things people say which are the product of the
“logical powers” doctrine.
Terry Penner 7
do not say the same thing. Equally obviously, (1c) is logically independent of (1a), since
neither entails the other without some further premise, such as “Zeus and Cronos are gods”.
As against this, I say that if we had asked Euthyphro whether if he had used (1b) or (1c)
instead of (1a), he would have been saying the same thing, he would have answered, on this
occasion “Of course. What do you think?” And if pressed he might well have said,
Look, Socrates, stop quibbling about the exact words with which I am expressing my
point. You asked me what I thought. Well, I can tell you what I think using different
expressions. Pick whichever of these expressions you want – and there are lots more.
You know what I am saying here. I know what I am saying here. Who gives a damn what
exact expression I use?!
Now how do I know this? Or, rather, what makes me suppose that this is the reasonable
assumption to make about what Euthyphro is saying? No text shows flat out that I am right. It
is an assumption I make on the basis of the kinds of contextual consideration I mention above.
For example, it involves the judgment that,
• given what we can gather from the dialogue about the kind of person (and
thinker) Euthyphro is;
• given the probable primacy of interest in the Greek gods amongst Athenians
serious about their own religion – at any rate if their approach to religion is
similar to that of the dogmatic Euthyphro (the relevance of this factor we infer
from such understanding as we have of 5
th
century Athens); and
• given Euthyphro’s evident familiarity with such Greek gods as Zeus and
Cronos (here the dialogue as a whole gives direct evidence),
he would certainly suppose that he would be referring to the same thing whichever of the
three expressions, “such beings as the gods”, “such beings as the Greek gods”, and “such
beings as Zeus and Cronos”, he were to use. And since the three sentences (1a), (1b), and (1c)
from which we began are otherwise identical, all having “Piety is what is loved by ....” as a
common part, it will presumably follow that Euthyphro would have been saying the same
thing whichever of the three sentences he had used. Furthermore, it will be reasonable for us
to infer from our judgment of Plato’s reasons for choosing Euthyphro as the interlocutor for
an examination of what piety is that Plato himself would have regarded Euthyphro as
referring to the same thing whichever of the three expressions Euthyphro had used.
To sum up, I hold it to be intuitively clear that
2 If we attend to what Euthyphro intended to refer to on this occasion, he would have
regarded as quite interchangeable the three expressions
such beings as the gods
such beings as the Greek gods
and
such beings as Zeus and Cronos.
The Death of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” 8
And
3 since Euthyphro attributes the same thing to each of the beings in the three sentences
he uses – namely, that piety is what is loved by these beings – it is arguable that what
Euthyphro is saying should be the same in all three cases.
4
Such is the intuitive basis for considering that what a speaker is referring to on a
particular occasion by means of a given referring expression might be different from what the
referring expression refers to on that occasion. Such too is the intuitive basis for considering
that what a speaker is saying on a particular occasion by means of a given sentence might be
different from what the sentence says on that occasion.
I grant of course that if we were talking about the use of these three sentences made by
someone else on some different occasion (or even by Euthyphro himself on a different
occasion), it might well be the case that, on that other occasion, Euthyphro or that other
person would be saying something different. (Take, for example, a person who believes in
gods, but either does not believe in the Greek gods, or does not think Zeus and Cronos are
gods.) This is a way of granting that the sentences using these three different ways of saying
something about the gods must indeed say something different about them – on all occasions,
even that one with Euthyphro which we are envisaging. For one of the fundamental principles
of logic in all of its most rigorous versions has been that in any logical language (or in any
natural language interpretable in terms of a logical language), the same name shall always
stand for the same object, the same predicate for the same attribute, the same sentence for
what the sentence says (= the same proposition the sentence expresses). Put otherwise, this is
a way of saying that for an argument entirely lacking context – if there are any such
arguments (perhaps mathematical proofs might approximate here, depending on one’s theory
of proof in mathematics) – we will be able to identify what the speaker is saying with what
the sentence says, or, alternatively, to reduce the first to the second.
5
The issue here is precisely whether or not what a person says on a particular occasion by
means of a given sentence is given by what the sentence says on that occasion. I shall claim
that it is not enough that what the sentence says is different. And I shall argue that an
approach that supposes it is enough will be inappropriate to the kinds of cases we are
considering: cases that occur in Socratic dialogue.
4
Those familiar with what John Perry has called “the lasso problem” for “what sentences say” will see that I am here
attempting to postpone the settling of the analogous problem for what a speaker is saying. I take it to be enough
for a person’s saying the same thing in this sort of case that the person apply the same attribute to the same object.
(The “lasso problem” is the problem that, in Frege, there are overpowering reasons to suppose that the reference
of a sentence – a function of the reference of its parts – is its truth value. This conclusion is a variant of Leibniz’s
less troubling – if equally arresting – view that the individual concept of Alexander the Great contains the whole
history of the world.)
5
That what someone is saying, using (1a), (1b), and (1c), would have to be different even for Euthyphro on this
occasion is a feature of the necessarily largely context-independent character of modern logic (see the appendix
below). The point that different speakers’ use of the same non-indexical expressions in different contexts will
have to refer to the same thing, is exactly parallel with a key point about Frege’s theory of propositions, first
noticed, so far as I know, by Paul Benacerraf (see Evans (1982), 19 n.19). This is that if Lois believes Clark is a
wimp, and does not believe Superman is a wimp, then the two beliefs in question, and the two propositions in
question, are different. But then that makes the belief different not only for Lois (which is plausible enough) but
even for Clark himself. He has to regard the proposition that Clark is a wimp and the proposition that Superman is
a wimp as different propositions, and therefore as representing different beliefs of his! Now, I say, this is not a
plausible view. Surely they are not different beliefs of Clark’s. But Frege’s logic, in parallel to the present case,
makes them different beliefs and different propositions. The largely context-independent character of applications
of modern logic shows up here too, therefore, in the question of the identity conditions of things people are
saying.
Terry Penner 9
So if I am right that
(a) proponents of the so-called “elenchus”, as a result of their direct application of
modern logic to Socratic arguments (which commits them to the “logical powers”
doctrine of what sentences say), will be committed to taking what Euthyphro is saying
when he uses the expression “such beings as the gods” to be different from what he
would be saying when he uses the expression “such beings as Zeus and Cronos”),
and if I am right that
(b) what Euthyphro would be saying on such an occasion would in fact be the same,
and that
(c) it makes an important difference to how we understand Socratic argument whether or
not Euthyphro would be saying the same thing or not,
then there will be good reason to reject the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” as an account of
Socratic argumentation. Such, in a nutshell, is an indication of the basis of my argument.
I turn now to making good on hypothesis (c), that
it does make an important difference to how we understand Socratic argument whether
or not Euthyphro would be saying the same thing or not,
and to showing, as in hypothesis (a), that
proponents of the “Socratic Elenchus” are indeed committed to the “logical powers”
doctrine of what sentences say.
2. The so-called “Socratic Elenchus”, its troubles, and three developments of it
Let us review the present situation with the so-called “elenchus”. In the dialectical back-
and-forth of question-and-answer which constitutes central parts of Plato’s dialogues
– especially such stylometrically early dialogues (with parts of others) as may justly be called
“Socratic” – Socrates uses his questions to pit against each other apparently different things
he gets his interlocutor to say concerning certain ethical matters. Very frequently, Socrates
uses the questions he asks to bring these things his interlocutor says into contradiction with
each other (though sometimes what happens is that Socrates leads the interlocutor to see that
there are implications of the things which he, the interlocutor, is saying which, while short of
formal contradiction, will impel the interlocutor to reject the things first said, so that in either
case the interlocutor will no longer wish to say what he first thought he wanted to say).
6
And
so the interlocutor’s position is refuted.
This being the nature of Socratic dialogue, it becomes all too natural for modern
philosophers (especially those in the analytic tradition) to follow (i) Robinson 1953, (ii)
Vlastos 1956, and (iii) Vlastos 1994 [1983], in construing these dialectical passes as for the
most part the deduction of formal contradictions from the propositions involved in the
argument, as premises expressive of the things the interlocutor is saying. The propositions in
question are taken to entail the logical inconsistency which is the immediate conclusion of the
6
The contradictions people see in their thought – contra-dictions – are not always formal contradictions, though
logicians will generally suppose that any such cases can be reduced to formal contradictions between sentences.
Consider, for example, the first refutation of “Piety is what is loved by the gods” at Euthyphro 7A-8A by bringing
Euthyphro to the conclusion that the same things are both loved and hated by the gods. This hardly engenders a
formal contradiction.
The Death of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” 10
“elenchus”.
7
Thus we have the following characterization in Vlastos 1994 [1983], 11, of
Socrates’ supposedly deductive methods of refutation.
[1] The interlocutor asserts a thesis, p, which Socrates considers false and targets for
refutation.
[2] Socrates secures agreement to further premises, say q and r (each of which may stand
for a conjunct of propositions). The agreement is ad hoc: Socrates argues from {q, r} not to
them.
[3] Socrates then argues, and the interlocutor agrees that q & r entail (sic) not-p.
[4] Socrates then claims that he has shown that not-p is true, p false. (My Italics)
It is true that the words “entail” and “proposition” are the only words in this account
which are heavy with modern logical theory. “Entail” is understood as logical consequence
– the semantical consequence supposedly underwriting its proof-theoretic cousin, the process
of deduction-from-premises, in such a way as to ensure that true premises will never lead to a
false conclusion. “Propositions” are understood to introduce what the sentences used as
premises severally express – conveying what the person introducing these sentences into the
argument is saying (supposing, denying, and so forth). But a glance at the way in which those
who attribute the so-called “elenchus” to the early dialogues explain what the use of the so-
called “elenchus” shows us will reveal the constant use of words such as “logic”, “deduction”,
“logical consequence”, “valid”, “sound”, “logical inconsistency”, along with the already
familiar “entail” and “proposition”.
8
So here we have the attribution to Socrates of methods of
argument that brings those methods into close relation with the methods of modern logic, and
necessarily impose on analyses of arguments construed in terms of the so-called “Socratic
Elenchus” the requirements of modern logic, and, in particular, the “logical powers” doctrine.
So widely has it been accepted that this characterization of Socratic dialectic is along the
right lines, that I have simply ceded the name “Socratic Elenchus” to Robinson, Vlastos, and
their followers. It is because I do not myself accept that this purely deductive (and semantical)
picture gives a correct characterization of Socratic dialectical argument, that I refer to it, when
speaking in my own person, as ‘the so-called ‘Socratic Elenchus’” or “the so-called
‘elenchus’”.
Now, as a matter of fact, this purely deductive picture of most Socratic dialectic has
caused trouble for its proponents right from the start. Why did this not alert proponents of the
so-called “elenchus” to the doubtfulness of this way of construing Socrates? I believe it is
because, philosophically, they themselves saw no alternative to employing this way of
analyzing an argument in accordance with modern logic. These troubles for the so-called
“elenchus” may be detailed in terms of three developments of considerable interest in the
picture of the “elenchus” which, beginning with Vlastos (1956), its more important
7
The plainly non-deductive steps that often show up in such arguments are taken to be (sub-) arguments from analogy
which, following Aristotle, interpreters generally consider to be inductive rather than deductive. Interpreters are
undeterred. They take it for granted that with these allegedly untroubling exceptions, if we merely take the
conclusions of such inductive sub-arguments as [primitive] premises of the deduction, then the entire argument
can still be treated as a pure deduction.
8
For the primary premise p together with the secondary premisses q and r entailing an inconsistency, see Robinson
(1953
2
), 7, 15, 22; Vlastos (1994), 11, 20, 21, 23, 25, Brickhouse and Smith (2000), 93, 83, cf. 79-80, Benson
(2000), 33, 48, 62-4, 65, nn.26; 95. For validity and soundness, cf. Robinson (1953
2
), 15; Santas (1979) 136, 138,
166, 178-9; Vlastos (1994), 20, nn. 40, 41; Irwin (1995), 18, 20 with 40; also Benson (2000), 45-6, 49, 69 n.47.
The reference to propositions (or whatever one chooses to call those things that are individuated by the “logical
powers” doctrine) is of course ubiquitous.
Terry Penner 11
proponents have endorsed in an effort to see the difficulties which arise and to get around
them. They are, first,
(A) Vlastos’s earlier worry (1956) that, contrary to the conclusion that the primary
proposition p of Vlastos’s schema of the so-called “elenchus” has been refuted, all that is
deductively and semantically justified is that at least one of p, q, and r is false, so that all
Socrates could possibly be establishing is the mere inconsistency of the propositions in the
interlocutor’s entire premise-set {p,q,r}. The supposed refutation of p was in no way justified.
This difficulty Vlastos calls “the problem of the elenchus”. The resulting reflection on
Socrates’ grasp of what he was doing – he didn’t see he was committing a gross fallacy – was
by no means pleasing to Vlastos. Nor should it please any enthusiast for Plato.
Second, there is
(B) Vlastos’s later semi-Davidsonian attempt to overcome what he calls “the problem of
the elenchus” by finding a way to rule out the possibility of rejecting the q and the r when it is
discovered that {p,q,r} is inconsistent. Starting from the reasonable view that Socrates might
well, in some of these deductions, have up his sleeve perfectly good [albeit non-deductive]
arguments for holding on to these secondary propositions q, r, Vlastos then goes a bit over the
edge, suggesting now that in all of these deductions Socrates himself believed that all of his
secondary premises q, r were true, as well as believing that they were justified in one of two
ways: either, first, by the long survival of these propositions against various other [for the
most part merely] hypothesized exercises of the so-called “elenchus”, or, second, by a
supposed Socratic confidence, based on his experience with the so-called “elenchus”, that
such survival of the propositions q, r could in all cases be [inductively] projected on the basis
of a range of relevant hypothesized past elenchi. From this Vlastos supposed that he could get
the result he wished: the refutation of p by the deduction of an inconsistency from {p,q,r}
would in these circumstances once more be justified. (It’s simply that the rejection of not-q
and not-r is again by inductive means.)
9
Third, there is
(C) Benson’s counter-attack on Vlastos’s later solution, by pointing to clear counter-
examples for this semi-Davidsonian solution to “the problem of the elenchus”. Benson draws
attention to cases of distinct [and, as logicians would say, logically independent] secondary
propositions q, r in so-called “Socratic elenchi” which Socrates could not possibly have
believed true, let alone justified by past experience with the so-called “elenchus”.
Here is one of Benson’s counter-examples to Vlastos’s later position (B): In refuting the
primary proposition that
1 Piety is what is loved by the gods,
(6E-8B) Socrates uses the secondary premise (7E-8B) that
4 What Zeus loves, Cronos hates.
Remember that both Benson and Vlastos are committed to the position that (1) and (4)
are logically independent of each other since neither follows from the other by logic alone,
without some such further premise as that Zeus and Cronos are such beings as the gods.
Accordingly, the idea is that using the premise about Zeus and Cronos, Socrates can reduce
9
The talk of purely deductive argument begins to look increasingly threadbare.
The Death of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” 12
this account of piety to contradiction (or at least a near-contradiction). But the secondary
premise about Zeus and Cronos is of a type Socrates has already said clearly enough (5E-6B)
he cannot be brought to accept. Thus Benson concludes that Vlastos’s semi-Davidsonian
move of supposing Socrates thought that all secondary premises he used were true, falls to
this counter-example (along with a few others),
10
and, as a result, Benson advocates a return to
the status quo ante – to stage (A), the stage of Vlastos’s earlier worry, where all that a so-
called “Socratic Elenchus” could show is the inconsistency of the conjunction of the primary
proposition p and the secondary propositions q, r. This worry in stage (A) cannot be met,
according to Benson. So get used to it! If we wish Socratic argument to be coherent, Benson
now proposes, we must take it – at any rate, in all of his [absolutely central] “elenctic”
passages – that Socrates was only aiming to show inconsistency in certain whole positions
espoused by interlocutors. That is, to save Socrates from the gross fallacy thrown up in
position (A), we must apply this suggestion – that Socrates was only attempting to show his
interlocutors’ opinions inconsistent – to all so-called “elenctic” argument. In that case, if
Socrates were ever to argue that particular claims are false or true, – and Benson grants he
does – then grounds would have to be found other than “elenctic” argument for holding that
he has established or refuted particular propositions. Without such non-“elenctic” arguments,
we would almost certainly be led to infer from the claim that
5 Socrates claims to have no knowledge [of the good]
the claim that
6 Socrates never argues for any beliefs of his own [about the good].
If adopting Benson’s position on the so-called “elenchus” were even to suggest that this
inference should be accepted, we might well feel some considerable discomfort with
Benson’s view.
11
All of this being said about Benson vs. Vlastos, what I want to draw attention to is not
any of the points on which Benson and Vlastos are in disagreement, but a point on which they
absolutely agree. The point on which Benson and Vlastos, both early and late, agree – and on
which they are followed by pretty well everyone else who has taken up the issue – is that
Socratic dialectic, with the qualifications noted above about certain inductive steps, is purely
deductive in character. The idea of deduction here involves not only the proof-theoretic
notion of derivability from premises via antecedently determinate formal rules of inference,
but also the kind of semantical underwriting that will ensure, no matter what interpretations
10
See Benson (2000), 48-52, 40-43.
11
Benson saves himself from this difficulty by himself endorsing – for claims Socrates is evidently endorsing (which
always occur, according to Benson, outside of “elenctic” contexts) – the essentially Vlastosian (and semi-
Davidsonian) move to arguing for truth from inductive evidence of [hypothesized] repeated elenchi (91-92). What
is more, Benson’s complicated notion of Socratic knowledge, as both a propositional state and a dunamis, requires
of the dunamis much the same holistic, Davidsonian conception of knowledge of such things as the good (e.g.,
Benson (2000), 191-3, 220). Like Davidson, Benson wants to hew both to holism and (n.3 above) to the
propositions required by the “logical powers” doctrine, to which, as I have said, any proponent of the notion of
logical consequence is committed. (It is of course this propositional element to which I am objecting, both in
Davidson and in Benson. But I should note here that, on the other hand, Benson rightly, and generously, notes the
affinity of certain other parts of what he is doing to earlier material of mine which at any rate lies in a certain
proximity to holism.) It may be added to what was said in nn.3, 7, and 9 above, that once the non-deductive appeal
to survival of [hypothesized] repeated past elenchi has become central to Benson’s explanations of the [perfectly
obvious] fact that Socrates very often argues for some claim of his own, the motive for construing so-called
“elenctic” passages deductively is correspondingly weakened. Why shouldn’t all of the arguments in Socratic
dialectic involve substantial (non-logical) principles of inference?
Terry Penner 13
are assigned to the non-logical constants, that deductive inferences of the form in question
will never lead from truth to falsity, that is, from true premises to a false conclusion.
Now how does the example introduced in the preceding section concerning the three
variants (1a), (1b), and (1c) of “Piety is what is loved by the gods” show well-founded my
discomfort with the deployment of modern notions of logical consequence and logical
inconsistency that are built into the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” by all of (a) Robinson and
early Vlastos, (b) later Vlastos, and (c) Benson? As announced earlier, I think it lies in the
fact that each position assumes that
what a speaker is saying on a particular occasion by means of a given sentence
is given by (and indeed reduced to)
what the speaker’s sentence says on that occasion.
12
In the next section, I illustrate this claim of mine by showing how rejection of the
identity or reduction in question undercuts both the positions, early and late, of Vlastos, as
well as that of Benson in his attack on later Vlastos.
3. Consequences of my argument for the disagreement between Benson and Vlastos
Suppose, just for the moment, that I am right that what Euthpyro would on this occasion
be saying would be the same, whether he used “the gods” as in (1), “such beings as the gods”,
as in (1a) or “such beings as Zeus and Cronos” as in (1c). Then I put the case that he would
also be saying the same thing had he used the sentence
1d Piety is what is loved by such beings as Zeus and Cronos who are such that Zeus
castrated Cronos for murdering Zeus’ siblings,
or even the sentence
1e Piety is what is loved by such beings as Zeus and Cronos who are such that what
Zeus loves, Cronos hates.
And if this is correct, it seems plain that what Euthyphro is saying in assenting to “What
Zeus loves, Cronos hates” – what proponents of the so-called “elenchus” would call “granting
the supposed secondary proposition that what Zeus loves, Cronos hates” – does not advert to
a secondary proposition (or a secondary anything else) logically independent of what
Euthyphro would be saying when he used the original sentence
1 Piety is what is loved by the gods.
12
I have said above that this identification or reduction of what the speaker is saying to what the speaker’s sentences
say is characteristic of the so-called “linguistic turn”, which also has the Hume-like (empiricism-like) effect of
limiting what people can say or think or express to the conceptual resources supplied by language. This is true
even of those (often Wittgensteinian) proponents of the “linguistic turn” who don’t have much truck with formal
logic, and so need not accept the “logical powers” doctrine. I have questioned this move elsewhere in defense of
Plato’s account of what the speakers in the lowest level of the Cave get to speak about. (Penner (2006)) This
“linguistic turn”, not only in philosophy generally, but in modern logic, philosophy of logic, philosophy of
language, and foundations of mathematics, has come to dominate most of modern philosophy – first among
science-minded philosophers but increasingly within the whole field. It originates, in my own non-professional
opinion, in the formalism that Hilbert introduced in response to serious problems both with axiomatics and with
the effect of the antinomies of set theory on our use of infinities in mathematics. (More on Hilbert in the Appendix
below.)
The Death of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” 14
For we can now see that what Euthyphro was saying when he assented to the sentence
“What Zeus loves, Cronos hates” is merely part of (an aspect of) what was already included in
what he was saying in the original sentence about the gods.
Of course, as before, others using the various sentences in question (or Euthyphro using
them on other occasions) may well be saying something different by means of the two
sentences. But does that show that Euthyphro is saying something different on this occasion?
(See n.5 above.)
To return to Benson and Vlastos, notice that the question at issue here is not whether
(theories of what people are saying aside) my account of the argument shows Euthyphro’s
position doesn’t add up, while the accounts of Vlastos and Benson fail to show this. For if the
theories of myself, Vlastos, and Benson as to what people are saying were equally viable, all
three accounts of what Euthyphro is saying would show in their different ways the flaws in
Euthyphro’s position. The question at issue is rather whether the methods of analysis Benson
and Vlastos use equally correctly represent what Euthyphro is saying. My position, of course,
is that both are fatally connected to the “linguistic turn” together with the “logical powers”
doctrine, and so are based on an incorrect account of what Euthyphro is saying.
I am not denying here that Benson’s argument against Vlastos is correct ad hominem.
For if Vlastos accepts what Euthyphro is saying in terms of what his sentences say (and the
logical powers doctrine of when sentences say the same thing), he will have to grant that this
is a clear counter-example to the claim that Socrates himself accepts all [logically
independent] secondary premises in so-called “elenchi”. At the same time, Benson’s own
acceptance of the sentential criterion for what Euthyphro is saying, along with his acceptance
of the logical powers doctrine, both of which he shares with Vlastos, shows his own argument
(that all Socrates can be arguing for is the logical inconsistency of Euthyphro’s total position)
is also incorrect. Socrates’ argument against “Piety is what is loved by the gods” is not at all
undercut by the assumption common to Vlastos and Benson that Euthyphro was in a position
to give up what he is saying when he says “Piety is what is loved by the gods” instead of what
he is saying when he says“What Zeus loves, Cronos hates”.
I conclude that both Vlastos’s later position and Benson’s position should be rejected –
which is, in effect, to say that the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” should be entirely rejected as
an account of Socrates’ dialectical methods.
But then, what is so special about my account, where
7 what Euthyphro is saying using the sentence “What Zeus loves, Cronos hates” is part
of what he is saying when he uses the sentence “Piety is what is loved by the gods”?
Is my account not just another Davidsonian holistic account of what people are saying
using particular sentences – though now such holistic accounts of what people are saying may
appear precisely in so-called “elenctic” passages? And don’t later Vlastos and Benson both
resort to something Davidsonian in arguing either (in Vlastos’s case) that a principle of
inference (infer the truth of a given proposition from its surviving repeated and varyied
“elenchi”) getting us those secondary premises that happen to be true, or (in Benson’s case)
getting us, via holistic dunameis, those conclusions Socrates thinks true which do not appear
in elenchi? Well, to some extent. Benson’s dunameis do show something of this kind of
Davidsonianism, Vlastos’s not much. Neither shows signs of the full blown Davidsonian
holism, which surely would accept my claim (7). How so? The problem is that a full-blown
Davidsonian holism may not resort at any point to the “logical powers” doctrine, since that
would precisely undo (7). (Unfortunately, Davidson himself falls into this trap sometimes: see
n.3 above.) We need to give up the logical powers doctrine entirely. And then there can be no
Terry Penner 15
call to represent Socratic dialectic, even in so-called “elenchi” as proceeding by way of
deductions backed by logical consequence.
But the question still arises whether I am not giving a Davidsonian holistic analysis of
the Euthyphro argument, albeit one that entirely eschews such notions as logical consequence,
validity, soundness, and the like. On this there is only one thing I feel able to say here: that
holistic analyses inevitably end up as (what are, from my point of view, though not
Davidson’s) coherence theories, or at least “internal realisms”, thoroughly committed to the
“linguistic turn” (see n.12 init.). Such features certainly do not characterize any view I myself
could endorse, or that I can imagine attributing to Socrates or Plato. Those such as Socrates
and Plato who believe in a real good which we all desire, and in real natures independent of
anything our language makes available to us, will not be holists – however much they would
always choose holism over empiricism if those were our only choices.
4. Conclusions and further remarks.
I have argued here that when arguments in Socratic dialogues are analyzed in terms of
the propositions and entailments of modern logic (as happens in the so-called “Socratic
Elenchus”, they commit interpreters not only to the “linguistic turn”, in which
what speakers are saying by means of given sentences is reduced to what those
sentences say,
but also to
the “logical powers” doctrine of the identity of what the speakers are saying;
and that
this unfortunate combination gives the wrong identity conditions for what speakers are
saying.
And I have argued that
the failure here is a failure to account adequately for at least one sort of context – that
which consists in the speaker’s background beliefs, personal style, and the cultural
milieu from which the speaker springs.
A second sort of context which also tends to be falsified by these modern methods of
interpretation is that of the literary form given to the dialogue by the person who writes or
reports what the speaker is saying in the relevant conversation. I have argued elsewhere that
one of the bad features of the sorts of analyses of Platonic arguments given by proponents of
the so-called “elenchus” is that the dialogues tend to get atomized into a sequence of (at best
loosely) connected, but quite discrete arguments; and that we see this particularly clearly in
how little interpreters have attempted to connect the “longer road” of Republic Book IV
(concerning, apparently, the parts of the soul) with the account of the “longer road” of
Republic Book VI (concerning the metaphysics of the Form of the Good). These passages in
Books IV and VI tend, in most writing on the Republic, to become two isolated series of
arguments. If interpreters did not rush so easily to isolate particular arguments or “elenchi”,
they might ask whether the plot, for example, did not require some more hard-working effort
to say just how Plato could have thought that the arguments concerning the Form of the Good
supplied important information about how we should construe the earlier arguments
The Death of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” 16
apparently concerning the parts of the soul. (Where analytical philosophers excuse themselves
by saying “Dear Plato, you know, once he gets the metaphysical bit between his teeth, he
can’t get back to the subject he was offering to illuminate”, I want to say that it is analytical
philosophers who have the bit between their teeth – the bit, namely, of logical analysis of
allegedly discrete arguments.) Thus may the too quick application of modern methods of
logic lead us to miss one of the truly masterful moves in the plot of the Republic, and lead to
all sorts of misinterpretations of, for example, the Form of the Good. (See Penner 2005b.)
Last is the third, and, in my view, much the most important sort of context which I think
is all too easily missed if we read Socratic arguments by treating them as “elenchi”. This is
what I have called above the “real world” context. (My treatment of this sort of context was
quite as important as the material presented above to my actual lecture in Würzburg. I chose
to cut it out here only in the interests of space. I hope to say a good deal more on it
elsewhere.) To emphasize the remarks above just briefly here, when Socrates hears Peter
saying that he desires what is best over all, he takes Peter there to be saying that he wants
what is really best (not just what Peter thinks best, not just what is apparently best, and not
just something “under the description ‘what is best’.”) Here Socrates takes it that this thing
that is best over all, to which Peter is (inwardly) directed, is not what Peter thinks is best, but
what is really best, even if that is different from what Peter supposes it is. (Peter desires it in
ignorance of what it really is – as scientists seeking to know the real nature of cancer seek that
real nature even if it is different from what they think it is; or as I seek to speak of my loved
ones as they really are, even though I do so through a fog of misconceptions of how it really
is with them.) The effect of this understanding of what people are referring to, and of what
they are saying, is that context involves not only the sorts of considerations (concerning a
speaker’s background beliefs and cultural milieu) which I have brought up in my arguments
against Vlastos and Benson, and considerations of plot, but also reality itself, the real truth.
(We have to judge what someone is saying in terms of the real truth about the parts of reality
to which they intend to refer.)
13
On this view, surprisingly enough, it makes a difference even to what someone intends
to refer to, what the truth is about that thing in reality. Hence, in general, people do not know
13
Prominent in my lecture also – as indications of the way in which Socrates is committed to treating how things are in
the real world as involved in the sorts of things people say or things people believe, were passages where Socrates
makes it clear that the interlocutors do not know what it is that they are saying (or what it is that they believe). To
take just four examples, an astonished Polus is told at Gorgias 466D4-5 that he is denying that doing whatever
seems best is great power. Again, at 474B6-10, he is told that, contrary to what he may think he believes and
prefers, he actually prefers suffering injustice to doing it. At Lysis 205D5-10, an astonished Hippothales is told
that (unbeknownst to himself) what he presents as praise of Lysis is actually praise of himself. And at Smp 202B-
C, Socrates presents himself as thinking that he believes that Erôs is a god, while Diotima assures him that he, like
Diotima herself, actually believes that Erôs is not a god. (It should go without saying that, as one who eschews
meanings in any context whatever, I do not here counsel the transparent device of getting out of one’s difficulties
by postulating a special sense of “believes” or “says” in the way Vlastos [1983] (1994), 23-4 does.)
It will be clear that on the sort of [Socratic-Platonic] sort of view of what people are saying which I have been
presenting here, people will not in general be aware of what it is that they are saying, what it is that they prefer, or
what it is that they are praising – except to the extent that they have knowledge of the truth of the matter about the
situation. This is the bringing into context of what the real truth is (even if what that real truth is should be
unknown to any of the interlocutors). This sort of context, as I have remarked at the end of the preceding section,
is what torpedoes any form of holism, even amongst those who eschew the logical powers doctrine. For, from a
Socratic/Platonic point of view, holism is a form of coherence theory, which is hardly what is involved in the
ultra-realism of Socratic and Platonic accounts of desire for the real good.
If you want to know what people are saying by means of their sentences, you can’t just work with what their sentences
say. It is not enough to just run through the application of some meanings or semantical rules to the sentences of
Socrates and his interlocutors to get what it is that they are saying. You will have to use your head – and
everything you know about people, about societies, about plot, and about the real truth of the matter about the
things Socrates and his interlocutors are talking about – if you are to succeed in getting clear about what they are
saying.
Terry Penner 17
what it is that they are referring to. (Thus, those we love most, for example, are always in
some measure unrevealed to us. But it is them to which we intend to refer, not to someone
who fits some [mis]conception we have of that person. So it is with the good we wish for
those we love – we want it even if it differs from what we think it is. Thus I do not in general
know what that good is that I wish for my children and grandchildren. For all that, it is that
good which I wish for them. (I wish for them neither what I think is the good for them, nor
even what they think is the good for them.) But then I cannot know what my state of intending
to refer to the real good is here except to the extent I know what that real good is. Modern
logic (and so the so-called “elenchus”) – including, incidentally, the logics of psychological
contexts that descend to us from Frege – is quite unequipped to deal with such features of
context as Socrates’ intention to refer to the real good. What logic can tell us about is at most
sentences about the good where everything contextual not explicit in the sentences is to be
disregarded.
14
But that make it ill-designed for the kind of dialectical coming to grips with the
good that we find in Socratic dialectic. (As Antonio Chu has pointed out to me, I really need
to add here the consequence I fully embrace that passages where the so-called “elenchus”
shows up are actually passages attempting to lead the interlocutor to something Socrates will
reasonably suppose is at least closer to the real truth. They are not about establishing
something formal.) It is for this reason too that I think it is time to drop the so-called “Socratic
Elenchus”.
15
Appendix: Further problems in applying modern logic to things people say.
The difficulties I have raised above for the distinction between what speakers are saying
and what sentences say could have been raised equally against any version of logic that
philosophers have used from Aristotle to Hume and Kant. For Aristotle too, logical
consequence is a matter of logical form, and logical form is determined by the language of the
logic of the syllogism, say. (Thus, contrary to the doctrine of the categories, all names stand
for the same type of thing, and all predicate expressions stand for exactly the same type of
things and for the same attribute in all contexts. As in modern logic, the language chosen
imposes its form on the logic.) But if we choose to use the methods of modern logic instead
– the only rational choice for one who would employ logic at all – entirely new problems of
the utmost seriousness arise, and make the application of logic to a conversations a much
more delicate matter. Few interpreters of Plato have shown any kind of awareness of the
hazards that await them here. Let me explain.
Prior to the invention in 1879 of the new symbolic logic of Frege, logic (in the limited
form available) was regarded, and with some justice, as (in Ryle’s phrase) a “topic-neutral”
discipline which could be used without itself prejudging any questions whatever about
“matters of fact and real existence”. Hence logic could be used as a neutral tool for examining
questions of metaphysics and ethics without obtruding any metaphysical views of its own on
the subject matter. But when logic expanded in the nineteenth century by finally providing for
relations and multiple quantification (as needed both for ordinary speech and for such
mathematical purposes as the ε, δ definitions of limits and continuity), two almost entirely
new problems emerged. The first is that it became obvious that all sorts of existence
assumptions were necessary to logic. To name just three, we have, first, the existence of
logical forms (which my 1987 points out is hardly less daring metaphysically than the
14
See further the appendix below on more shortcomings to the way in which modern interpreters apply methods of
modern logic to the interpretation of the dialogues.
15
I owe thanks to a number of people for very helpful comments or conversations, of whom I single out Jerry Santas,
George Anagnostopoulos, Alex Santana, Hugh Benson, and, as often, especially Antonio Chu.
The Death of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” 18
existence of Platonic Forms – thus making logical arguments against the existence of the
Forms highly questionable). Second, we have the existence of extensions (sets!) for every
predicate if (meta)-proofs of soundness, and completeness were to be carried out. And, third,
it turns out that we need an infinity of counting numbers (since such meta-proofs require
mathematical induction). Logic could now no longer be metaphysically neutral on questions
of existence.
The second problem was even more troubling. A series of damaging contradictions were
found in the very foundations of logic, especially the “Cantor paradox” and the “Russell
paradox” in set theory, and the (ancient) “Liar paradox” for the theory of truth and reference,
i.e., formal semantics. These contradictions forced all sorts of restrictions and limitations onto
logic. The trouble with most uses of the notions of validity, entailment, and the like, as we see
them applied by analytical philosophers interpreting Platonic texts, is that they presuppose all
sorts of restrictions and limitations with no philosophical motivation other than the ad hoc
reason that without something from within a wide range of possible restrictions logic will end
up self-contradictory. Thus the meta-proofs of soundness and consistency for first-order
quantification theory presuppose that there is an extension for every predicate, no matter how
complex. (Consider, for example, the range of the schematic predicate-letter A in the rule of
universal instantiation: xA → Aa.). But the objects in the domain ranged over by
“everything” may not include any of those extensions. Why not? Because if we allowed those
extensions into the domain, the theory would immediately become self-contradictory by
virtue of the Russell contradiction. So they are excluded by fiat! Not much of a
recommendation for the first-order logical theory which many have taken to be “the language
of science”, or for an account of what (we think) exists in terms of what our theory quantifies
over. And since logic can hardly do without extensions, we must add sets to our ontology –
making modern logic no more secure than set theory.
And consider only what is necessary to get a theory of truth and reference for a language
of logic (again necessary for the above mentioned meta-proofs) which can be applied to
Socratic conversations. (There can be no such natural language, Tarski thought.) Here the
anglophone interpreter must use an English containing no predicate “is true” that can be
applied to sentences in English. Is it clear that any English speaker, for example, speaks, or
could speak, an English which lacks the predicate “ ... is a true sentence” as applicable to any
of its sentences? But such restrictions are necessary if we are to have a logic that is
antecedently prepared to deal systematically with any subject whatever. Indeed, we may
wonder whether conversation, even philosophical conversation, attempts to proceed within
such Gargantuan antecedent systematisation; and even whether that is desirable – especially if
it is going to proceed under such strong ontological assumptions and such stringent
restrictions and limitations.
Of course it might be said, contrary to what I have been suggesting, throughout, that a
proponent of the so-called “Socratic Elenchus” need not inject the full apparatus of axiomatic
systems of logic + Tarskian semantics into his or her use of the idea of logical consequence,
and that all such a proponent would need is the (“baby logic”) idea of its being the case that
when the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. But this is a mistake. The modal
word “must” needs some explanation, some motivation (for example, in terms of all possible
worlds, the existence and the non-existence of possibilities, and so forth). Such explanations
inevitably cause more trouble than the non-modal “true under all (re)-interpretations” which
itself requires the full panoply of restrictions.
One final point. It might seem that in protesting against the reduction of what speakers
are saying to what sentences say, I am saying that logic deals only in sentences – as if logic
Terry Penner 19
did not allow for the interpretations of sentences. But I do allow for such interpretations. My
problem here is that (in a kind of analogue to “Meaning determines reference”: see my 2005a)
semantical rules determine reference for words and phrases, and with a characteristic
insouciance to context (bar a few “indexicals”). For such interpretations (such correlations
with reality) occur only in the following way. In a modified version of Hilbert’s unrestricted
formalism, one first disinterprets all non-logical constants (though still in accordance with
logical types: sentence-symbols for truth-bearers, predicate-symbols for attributes
[Aristotelian such-es], name-symbols for objects [Aristotelian this-es], and so forth); then,
second, one decides logical form on the basis of the largely disinterpreted formulas and
subformulas; then, third, one systematically (re)interprets the disinterpreted formulas and
subformulas, using semantical rules, in terms of the particular things or attributes referred to
by the sentences in question.
It is true that in some modern work in philosophy of language, there is an attempt to
allow for such contextual matters as are involved with explicitly token-reflexive (or indexical)
expressions or grammatical features, such as “I”, “he”, “then”, “here”, tense, and so forth. I
am suggesting here, however, that this is far too little concession to context. I myself believe
that what a person is referring to in using a given subject or predicate may always be more or
less contextual. From a logician’s point of view, of course, some things must be context-
independent, or the very utility of the discipline will be severely limited. What I am
suggesting here is that the discipline is severely limited for purposes of accounting for what
people say (as opposed to what their sentences say) in the course of their arguments. Indeed I
doubt that contextual considerations of the breadth required for analysis of the Socratic
arguments now under discussion can be provided for in the only sorts of logic systematically
enough developed to be available to us.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
Studying Plato and Platonism Together: Meno-related
Observations
The Matthias Baltes Memorial Lecture
Harold Tarrant
It has been an honour to offer a lecture in memory of Matthias Baltes, a man of great
personal qualities and a genuine Platonist. This paper will try to let Plato inform my reading
of later Platonists, and to use their insights to enrich our reading of the dialogues. Matthias
achieved this particularly in relation to the influential Timaeus, to which his contribution was
extensive,
1
while the Meno is a more attractive target for one who prefers to write on
dialogues less well known in antiquity.
i. Where should we look for doctrine in the Meno?
The Theaetetus-Commentary, an early Middle Platonist work extant to about Theaetetus
158a,
2
gives the Meno special significance for the early pages of the Theaetetus. Indeed, the
commentator assumes that Meno 98a provides the definition of knowledge that the Theaetetus
looks for in vain (III, XV), and the theme of recollection functions centrally in the
understanding of Socratic education (XLVI-XLVIII). Recollection, as usual in Middle
Platonism, was explained in relation to the common notions, but the Platonist nature of the
theory is not in doubt: such notions depend on a pre-natal vision as suggested by Meno itself
(81c). A link with Phaedo is also prominent, and though the terminology of the Ideas or
paradigms is never imported into this discussion (which concerns a dialogue where no Ideas
are explicitly mentioned), the commentator assumes that the vision had been Idea-directed.
The commentator did not see Meno as an epistemological work rather than an ethical
one. It was for him a dialogue of investigation, like Theaetetus itself. According to column
LIX, it is Socrates’ tactic in such investigations (zêtêseis) to ask questions without supplying
answers. His position is not altogether hidden from those with experience of his techniques,
but that does not involve a non-aporetic conclusion – on the main topic of investigation. It is
precisely because Theaetetus is investigating how individual pieces of knowledge arise that
1
Baltes (1972), (1976/1978). The index to Der Platonismus in der Antike, (band 1-4) contains 3.5 pages of references
to Tim., but only one to Meno (4.257 n.11).
2
The main papyrus to 153d1, with fragments of 157b-8a.
Harold Tarrant 21
Socrates can give no explanation of them. Instead, it can teach a Middle Platonist a great deal
about such key topics as the Socratic learning process and the moral goal itself (VII 14-20,
foreshadowing later discussion). On peripheral issues, many of central importance, Socrates is
ready to reveal what he believes. This must apply to all dialogues that our author would
recognise as zetetic,
3
but I confine myself here with four:
1. Theaetetus can say little definitive about knowledge, but remain the key text for
the telos.
2. Protagoras can say nothing definitive about the interrelationship of the virtues,
and yet offer Middle Platonists an account of how virtue arises, given in
Protagoras’ great rhesis.
4
3. Euthydemus has no solution for dealing with eristic sophistry, but contained
scenes depicting the education of Cleinias that had already influenced Socratic
ethics.
5
4. Meno finds no final account of the origin or nature of political excellence,
being the archetypal dialogue of investigation (zêtêsis),
6
but offers insights
about how we arrive at knowledge or correct opinions.
So Meno could be given the Thrasyllan subtitle On Excellence (D.L. 3.59), and still be
most utilised by Middle Platonists for its views on knowledge. Anything said in Meno about
knowledge could be used in the interpretation of Plato’s epistemology in other works, but
similarly anything Protagoras says about political excellence – the excellence for which adult
males become famed in their cities – was liable to be used in reading Meno.
However, it cannot be simply assumed that ‘Protagoras’ became an authority figure for
Platonic ethics. There are competing views of excellence in Meno, the political excellence that
‘Meno’ himself actively pursues (91a), and a more exacting concept favoured by Socrates –
possibly identical with moral knowledge but not achievable without divine help. What
‘Meno’ wants is virtually what ‘Protagoras’ offers, an excellence that seemed inappropriate in
woman, child, or slave. What Socrates pursues, even as he educates ‘Meno’, may also be
related to Protagoras, but to the literary digression. There it had been humanly impossible to
be excellent in a complete and continuous fashion (344a); that was within a god's grasp alone
(343c), and those who got closest were recipients of divine favour (345c). There the
acquisition and subsequent loss of knowledge were the only great blessings and disasters one
3
In the division of Thrasyllus at least, comparable dialogues include Euthphr., Alc. I and II, Theag, Chrm., La., Lys.,
Grg., Hi.Ma., Hi.Mi., Ion. The better known works likely to pose difficulties were Alc. I and Grg. As a work on
rhetoric (D.L. 3.59) and its power, Grg. can be seen as exploring the principal topic (Phdr. was afforded more
credibility), but uncompromising on the desirability of justice. When seen as a work about the human being Alc. I
seems rather didactic, but Platonist tradition regarded the Socrates of the third and final part (on the human being)
as a midwife rather than a teacher (Proc. In Alc. 12-14; Olymp. In Alc. 1), and that of the first part as more
elenctic. Only in the second, protreptic part (120e-124b) does Socrates (a) digress, and (b) take a more didactic
stance, and that has little to do with the nature of humans.
4
‘Protagoras’ is here an authority figure, cautious and pious, without the agnosticism of the historical Protagoras. For
this speech seen as Platonic doctrine see Tarrant (2000), 113 and 136. Until 324d2 ‘Protagoras’ uses myth, a
typical vehicle for inviting in-depth interpretation, only then moving into straightforward reasoned exposition.
5
Annas (1999), 31-51, rightly makes much of the Euthd.’s ethical digressions in the establishment of some possible
stoicising features of Middle Platonic ethics, and indeed it had influenced the Stoics themselves, as Striker (1994)
shows (cf. Long (1988)). For the digressions’ importance in al-Farabi’s arrangement of dialogues see Tarrant
(2003).
6
See 81d-e and 86b-c, confirming the utility of the recollection argument in making people more zetetic (zêtêtikoi:
found in genuine works only at Meno 81e1 and twice in Rep. For Aristotle (Pol. 1265a12) and the Axiochus
(366b6) this on-going investigative character is typical of the Platonic Socrates.
Studying Plato and Platonism Together: Meno-related Observations 22
could experience (344c-5b). For knowledge would render moral mistakes impossible (345d-
e). Such is the uncompromising nature of this concept of excellence that there is no
excellence other than real excellence (343d-e), in defiance of passages in Meno, Euthydemus,
Phaedo, and Republic that mention a popular or political excellence dependent only on
habituation. Those able to become excellent temporarily are to be praised, but this transient
condition is not a part of their nature.
These competing views of excellence were seen as operating within Meno too. As I shall
soon argue, Cicero De Legibus 1.24-32 involves an interpretation of the Meno, read in close
conjunction with Phaedo, Timaeus, and above all Protagoras’ long rhesis from Protagoras.
7
Cicero knows he is dealing with a specifically social or political type of excellence. Arguing
for the natural origin of law, he emphasises society’s natural inclination towards goodness.
Society’s virtues are thus not remote, though natural gifts must be actively employed under
the oversight of law. But for the individual there is at least one further stage if one is to
achieve true virtue, true likeness to god (1.25). This involves a leader (1.30), and requires
recognition of our true selves and our celestial origins (1.59, 1.25). The virtues required for
society’s operations fell short of the wisdom-related excellence to which gifted individuals
should aim.
The result of detecting two concepts of excellence within dialogues like Meno and
Protagoras is that Middle Platonism operates with two, and usually three categories of
excellence. These are natural good qualities, good patterns of behaviour acquired by practice,
and true excellences involving the acquisition of moral knowledge. It is characteristic only of
the last that they occur together in one person, while others may often be present individually.
A detailed theory of grades of excellence is not what the ancients looked for in Meno, given
that it is a zêtêsis about excellence. Rather, the dialogue could not for them be understood
without different conceptions of excellence, while its later pages concentrated on so-called
‘political excellence’. While such a view deserves our consideration, it must be balanced
against the work’s strong push for a single definition of excellence. If we take Plato’s
‘Socrates’ at face value, then we see that he would not readily accept two or three genuine
kinds of virtue that resist a unitary definition. But could there be one real kind, permitting
various shadows and reflections?
So dialogues like the Meno were seen as making their most direct and valuable
contribution through digressions rather than through the main topic of inquiry. Whereas
modern interpretations of the Meno may be dismissive of the theme of recollection because it
is technically a digression, an ancient theory of interpretation required one to take digressions
in this type of dialogue as serious sources of doctrine – for here Plato could reveal doctrine in
ways impermissible during the principal inquiry, where only hints might be offered. Where
ancient and modern are so opposed I cannot insist that the ancients were right. But what they
offer is better than postulating one theory of excellence for each of the dialogues separately,
which are then placed in a notional chronological sequence to explain their ‘developing’
differences.
ii. Myth and religious themes in Meno
Another modern reason for devaluing the recollection theme is its appeal to the reader’s
inner religious intuitions and to alleged statements of unspecified priests, priestesses, and
inspired poets, as well as to Pindar (81a-c). The dialogue itself puts all such persons in the
class of those whose authority comes from divine inspiration rather than knowledge (99c-d),
7
Tarrant (2005), Chapter 5.
Harold Tarrant 23
so why should we take what they say seriously? Their pronouncements conjure up images
from mythology, and so link the origin of recollection with sights on a journey through Hades
rather than with the constructs of reason. There are two mistakes here which the ancients
rarely made, one which wrongly devalues myth, an essential weapon of Plato’s armoury, and
another which fails to see how seriously Plato and his readers took divine inspiration. Truth
uttered by inspired persons is indeed not their knowledge, but these people are allegedly
habitually correct on matters not humanly knowable.
To take the first mistake, the ancients most commonly regarded Platonic myths as
particularly intense passages, ultimately revealing the thoughts of their author. This is seen in
the way that the Iamblichan curriculum gave prominence to dialogues with mythical material,
the twelve including Gorgias, Phaedo, Cratylus, Statesman, Phaedrus, Symposium, and
Timaeus (anon. Proleg. 26). Furthermore, Proclus in the Platonic Theology treats as canonical
the myths of several dialogues including the Protagoras, Gorgias, Phaedo, Republic, and
Statesman,
8
while passing over reasoned passages. The conviction that there is hidden truth in
myths is already observable in Plutarch, who devises his own myths for similar contexts, and
in other Middle Platonists. It continues in Olympiodorus (in Gorg. 46-50). Myth in the Greek
tradition appealed subtly to those who were culturally ‘Greek’, and offers a tool for
awakening what Plato saw as a reader’s inner awareness. If we find it difficult to explain why
a rather nervous Meno (81a7-9) is charmed by Socrates into paying attention, it is because we
do not have the same cultural response. Plutarch, however, spoke of respected religious rites
as aiming to recover as in a dream the pre-natal vision that proper philosophy aims to remind
us of rationally (Mor. 422c).
9
Indeed, there is something dreamlike about the way in which
the Meno introduces recollection, but let us not doubt the author’s seriousness. By devaluing
the religious machinery of Meno – priests, prophets, dreams, and mysteries – we may make it
more intelligible to students today, but only at the expense of purifying Plato of what was
once the defining characteristic of Platonism: the confidence that an inner voice can tell us
something about ourselves, about what we are, and what we should strive to be.
iii. How seriously should we take the theia moira motif?
So I turn to the comparison between politician and prophet, a comparison prepared at
92c when Socrates calls Anytus a prophet because he operated according to a conviction
without empirical foundation. If prophets and inspired were thought to allow an inner voice to
speak, then so too was Socrates, who in the Apology declares himself the recipient of
commands by nearly every form of divine communication (33c). So too were the rhapsode
and his audience in Ion (535e-6d). More worryingly, so, in the Meno, was the politician (99d-
e). It is easy for the politician’s inner voice to be treated as mere irony, colouring the whole
treatment of religious inspiration too. Indeed, we are meant to suspect irony here and ponder
what might be meant, but Socrates resumes the theme at e3 with apparent seriousness, and
without dissent from a potentially sceptical interlocutor.
When Aristotle considers the means by which we might become either excellent or
happy in either the Nicomachean or the Eudemian Ethics, he utilises the same list of
candidates as Meno. Excellence might be caused by our nature, by teaching and learning, by
practice and habit, by luck (cf. 99a), and, most importantly, divine apportionment as at 99e
(theia moira).
10
When in Eudemian Ethics 8.2 Aristotle considers why some people seem to
8
See Theol. 1.5; he confines himself to the myths of Prt. and Grg., and to parts of Rep., one of these being the myth.
9
The speaker is Cleombrotus, reporting the words of a prophet who functioned near the Red Sea.
10
EN 1099b9-11 and EE 1214a15-25; EN 1179b20-23, where ‘nature’ is also included, though puzzlingly this is rolled
together with luck and divine dispensation.
Studying Plato and Platonism Together: Meno-related Observations 24
have a quality of luckiness, the terms of the discussion are again reminiscent of Meno (whose
politician seems good at guesswork). In a textually difficult passage at 1248a29-b7, he notes
that some have repeated success, which might be explained by some kind of inspiration. He
believes that divine influence might explain insights into the future too. So there is a kind of
luckiness of divine origin, getting things right in people who seem to act on impulse. So
divine dispensation, as something able to account for on-going political success, is taken
seriously.
If Aristotle has no reason to rationalise away the divine machinery of Meno, what about
Plato’s other close colleagues? We lack their books, but their views may be reflected in the
dubia. While some scholars think Plato wrote them, that is hardly a problem in this case. The
Seventh Epistle speaks of a theia moira regularly between 326b and 337e. It combines the
ideas of divine allocation and divine piece of luck (theia tychê), most noticeably at 337e1-2.
The context is political throughout, and the author writes of the exceptional political
opportunity that would be offered by the most auspicious circumstances. At 326b he talks of
politicians coming to philosophise by some divine allocation, and at 336e2-3 of the divine
piece of luck (theia tychê) required to give a man even a small share of correct judgement
– thus linking divine influence with mere doxa.
The link with the Meno is obvious too in Epistle II,
11
where at 313b the author addresses
Dionysius on his claim to have grasped esoteric doctrines. Here a public figure comes to
philosophise by a theia moira that is linked directly with Meno’s theme that unbound views
are unstable, unlike knowledge (95b-98a). Dionysius’ opinions have the same epistemological
status as those of excellent politicians in Meno. They occur by theia moira, they lack a bond
without further study, and hence they are unstable. A process that will lead to the required
stability is outlined at 313d.
12
In Theages, Socrates’ daimonion is described at length in this work, and is said to have
accompanied him since childhood by divine apportionment. Socrates possesses this prophetic
gift irrespective of human cognitive powers, and it even rejects some pupils for him (129e)
and determines what progress others make (130e). Socrates does not control the outcomes of
his education!
Of the spuria, the De Virtute, which Mark Reuter makes much use of in an article on the
end of the Meno,
13
sets out to answer, more directly, the same question that Meno poses at the
outset, though here it is asked by a didactic Socrates, not his interlocutor. It proceeds directly
to empirical material from in and around the Anytus scene,
14
and fnally Socrates responds
openly to a request for his own view. The excellence of politicians is a divine thing, similar to
a prophetic gift, coming neither from nature nor from craft (technê), but from divine
inspiration. Its power is prophetic, as it involves predicting political outcomes. Divine control
is exercised over the city’s fortunes by creation or removal of good politicians! This author
takes the comparison between prophet and habitually successful politician as doctrine,
noticing how much guess-work about outcomes is involved – like a gambler’s guesses that
habitually defy the odds and win.
11
The work is of interest to me however late one places it, and I treat it here in spite of there being an excellent case
for placing it later than the Old Academy (Keyser, 1998).
12
This involves repeated messages to Plato about his queries and difficulties until all issues are resolved. This process
is not like any learning process in the Meno, where educator, not student, asks questions. Rather, the author recalls
the need felt by the reader of a book to ask supplementary questions at Phaedrus 275d-e, a passage otherwise
influential upon the author of a work notoriously suspicious of the written word (312d, 314a-c).
13
Reuter (2001).
14
89b (cf. 379a-b); 377a6-378c4 relates closely to 93d1–94e2, 376c4-377a5 relates more loosely to 92c3-93d1, and
376b1-c3 is roughly connected with 90b7-91b2.
Harold Tarrant 25
We must not be as blind to irony at the end of Meno as the author of the De Virtute was.
Nor could the author of Gorgias easily have attributed divine gifts (in the normal sense) to
Pericles or Themistocles. But Gorgias regarded Aristides more favourably for always
choosing justice over injustice (526b), and Aristides could not teach his own excellence (94a).
So the concept of a political excellence founded on less than knowledge was not one for Plato
to dismiss altogether, as seen from Phaedo 68c8-69a9 and 82a11-b3 or Republic 430b6-c6
and 619c-d. References to senseless andreia and senseless sôphrosynê at Meno 88b
(cf. Euthd. 281c) suggest a complex theory here too. This is why later Platonism was entirely
comfortable with the notion of grades of excellence. These would begin with natural gifts, go
on to the practice-induced qualities usually known as ‘political’ excellence, and proceed to
the knowledge-related excellence outlined in the Phaedo, known in Middle Platonism as
‘complete’ excellence.
15
So signs of irony at 99d-e do not herald a Socratic lie, but warn that he is being
provocative, that we should not simplify, and that further reflection is needed. This is again
hinted at by the use of Tiresias as the analogue for any politician who genuinely did know.
Even as inspired prophets can fall seriously short of the prince of prophets himself, so an
Aristides must still fall seriously short of the ideal.
iv. Variations on a Theme of Recollection
That Plato himself took the theme of recollection seriously may be deduced from its use
in Phaedo and Phaedrus. Its reappearance in Cicero
16
and a long line of Middle Platonists and
Neoplatonists, none of whom had to apologise for it, testifies to the power of its grip on the
Platonist mind. But how far is it the Meno’s version of the theory that was of influence? Since
we are dealing with unitarians, who recognised no sharp differences between periods of
composition, Meno’s contribution is difficult to assess. Phaedo and Phaedrus, being
dialogues that attracted commentaries early and entered the Neoplatonic curriculum, were the
best known sources. What the theory meant to later Platonists changed along with their
estimation of what was important, so that it becomes associated with the process of reversion
(epistrophê) in Neoplatonism.
17
An earlier emphasis on its epistemological function, and the
Middle Platonist association with the common notions and their explication (diarthrôsis),
fades by this time.
18
However, I now consider an extract from Olympiodorus On the Gorgias attacking the
empiricist view that we can progress from acquaintance (peira) and experience (empeiria) to
craft (technê). He thinks Polus mistaken in supposing that experience is the creative cause of
craft at Gorgias 448c:
This happens because we possess the required cognitive principles (logoi) and set
them in motion. It is like someone exposing glowing embers by removing ashes
which have long hidden them: he is not said to have created a fire but to have
revealed it. Or it is like someone purging an eye of a sty: he makes a contribution,
15
See Tarrant (2005), Chapter 7, where I detect a similar three-level theory in Alcinous, Apuleius, and anon. Tht. The
levels of virtue in Neoplatonism are more complicated and involve extra grades; for Plotinus (particularly
Enn. 1.2) see Dillon (1993) and (1996); for Olympiodorus and late Neoplatonism, see Westerink (1976), 116-18; I
have also benefited from a hitherto unpublished paper by Luc Brisson with a focus on Plotinus and Porphyry.
16
Tusculan Disputations 1.57, with allusions at De Legibus 1.25 and De Divinatione 1.115.
17
Plot. Enn. IV.8.4.28-30, V.3.2.13-16; Proc. In Rep. 2.351.15-17 and extract 5 from the Commentary on the
Chaldaean Oracles, for which see the Budé edition of the Chaldaean Oracles by des Places and Segonds (Paris,
1996), 211.18-20.
18
But see Proc. In Alc. 191, with reference to the Phaedo and, interestingly, to Statesman 277d.
Studying Plato and Platonism Together: Meno-related Observations 26
but does not himself create light. So too the [cognitive] powers in us have need of
something to remind us, analogous as we are to a sleeping geometrician.
19
This is the Demaratan interpretation of recollection, made famous by Scott,
20
who rejects
it, and named after its appearance in a text associated with Plutarch (fr. 215d). Plutarch held
the Middle Platonist view that a layer of false doctrine was to be removed before the process
of recollection could begin, as in the first of the Quaestiones Platonicae.
21
But let us consider
the origins of the Demeratan view in antiquity. The sleeping geometrician immediately recalls
the examination of the slave in Meno, a slave who has done no geometry before, and whose
first experience of it is dream-like (85c). Editors note the use of the curious example of a
sleeping geometrician in Aristotle’s On Generation of Animals, 735a10.
22
The context there
– whether the embryo is a living creature – scarcely explains Olympiodorus’ use of this
example, for Aristotle had simply been distinguishing between different levels of privation:
the waking, but resting, geometrician, differs from the sleeping one as well as from the one
solving geometrical problems. Why should Olympiodorus have remembered it, unless
perhaps Aristotle’s example derives from Academic discussion of the recollection passage
itself?
Aristotle knew Meno 80d-86e well. At An.Po. 71a29-30 he tackles the problem of
knowing that a particular unfamiliar triangle has angles whose sum is two right-angles. One
has universal knowledge required, but no particular knowledge. Without such a distinction, he
says, the paradox from the Meno (80d) applies. So Aristotle took the opening paradox
seriously, and took recollection seriously as an attempted solution. Again, at An.Pr. 67a21-26,
he mentions the recollection argument, referring to the Meno. He ignores details, and does not
approach the text over-literally, but he sees the Meno as showing something important about
how we draw on prior knowledge. Clearly, the passage was the source of lively discussion in
the Academy.
How does this concern the sleeping geometrician? What would have been attractive to
the Academy is the distinction between two levels of latent mathematical knowledge.
23
There
is one level where latent knowledge is unknown to its possessor and in need of preliminary
actualisation, and another where he is aware of the knowledge available and may resume its
employment. Both cases differ from mere ability to learn if required, and neither yet exercises
the knowledge. The slave in Meno at first has subconscious latent knowledge, then becomes
aware through diagrams of the knowledge within him, but still falls short of knowledge. He is
like one who has just awakened perhaps (85c), but nobody could call him a geometrician.
However Aristotle came by his analogy, it was important in later Platonism that
‘recollection’ involves two stages of actualisation, a mental awakening and a refinement or
clarification. The two stages may be described as unfolding and dissection (anon. Tht. XLVII
42-45), or nourishing and confirming (Plutarch, Mor. 1000e), or awakening and calling forth
and refining and clarifying (Albinus, Prologue 6). The first process involves nothing
especially philosophical, the second does. The two stages are already reflected in the first
19
In Grg. 3.2, trans. Jackson, Lycos, and Tarrant (1998), 79. The sleeping geometrician, explicitly linked with
Aristotle’s ‘physical works’, occurs again at Elias, in Cat. 244.29.
20
See Scott (1987) and (1995).
21
999e-1000c. This view underlies the education program of Albinus Prol. 6, and anon. Tht. XLVII 21-24 speaks of
the ‘common notions’ in the young Theaetetus being not too far obscured.
22
For discussion of this passage see Sprague (1977), 236-7.
23
Examples used in a comparable passage of Theaetetus are the arithmetician and grammarian (198e). However, the
analogy of the sleeping/waking geometrician is different from the analogy of the doves in the wild and the doves
in the aviary in that dialogue (197c-8d). The former represent knowledge that is not known to be available at all
(and not within grasp), while the latter represent knowledge that is available on demand.
Harold Tarrant 27
book of Cicero’s De Legibus (24-30), where the presence within us of natural notions
explains firstly why humans share certain universal concepts that cannot derive from
sensation, and secondly how these provide the springboard for knowledge and excellence
alike (26-27, 30). Cicero requires that this second stage should involve the ‘taking apart at the
joints’ of these notions, enodatio in Latin,
24
diarthrôsis in Greek.
25
The second stage, if I read
Cicero correctly at the end of 1.30,
26
requires guidance (though not teaching). As 1.59 shows,
the guiding force is wisdom, presumably from outside. So Cicero requires a teacher to step in
only for stage two, while Middle Platonism needed him also to cut away layers of false
opinion hiding the required notions. First we need the conceptual guidance of natural notions,
and then we must spell out in detail what they involved. We see this from the end of 1.24,
where, possibly with an allusion to another of Meno’s themes, all men know they must
acknowledge a god, but few understand what sort of god they should acknowledge.
This distinction, between a level at which ‘recollection’ contributes to the conceptual
sorting of experiences (not, of course, to concept formation)
27
and a level at which one can
offer a full account of what had then been dimly ‘recollected’, is reminiscent of Phaedo (74d-
76c). But Meno, while silent on concepts, is clearly offering a shadowy stage at which latent
knowledge contributes to our adoption of the right view, while promising another stage where
knowledge will be possible. And Meno employs the skills of Socrates to facilitate the first
stage as well as the second. The geometrician within the slave is at first sleeping. Socrates
awakens it by exposing his original sloppy answers, and once awake it will guide the slave to
correct answers. But further questioning can, it is claimed, produce knowledge proper. The
challenge now is to turn the newly awakened geometrician into an actual geometrician. It
would not surprise me, then, if Aristotle had found the analogy of the geometrician within
Academic debate, debate actually prompted by the Meno. And it would not surprise me if
Olympiodorus had derived his recollection-related use of the analogy from an ancient source
more directly related to the Meno.
These two stages are mirrored in a puzzling feature of Middle Platonist theology. In
Alcinous ‘recollection’ plays only a small part in the arguments for immortality (25, 177.45-
178.12), and a passing one in epistemology (4, 155.32-34). The recovery of the soul’s former
knowledge is due to tiny sparks of reason (178.9) and made manifest in the natural notions, a
gift of nature that is the foundation of scientific reason (155.24-36). But the exercise of these
natural notions is the bodily counterpart of disembodied intellection (noêsis), so that
disembodied minds should experience something analogous to the awakening and
enlightenment that belongs to recollection. Accordingly we find that the unmoved first god
must first awaken the universal soul, or more specifically its intellect, and then turn it towards
itself. There is agreement between the chapters on theology and on physics, for the same two
stages are found both at 10 165.1-3 and 14 169.37-41.
28
The deeply slumbering soul
29
is
roused into action by the unmoved god, and its turning towards that god enables it to receive
the ideas from that higher being. So in theology too we have awakening followed by
enlightenment. Is that ‘recollection’? Well, 169.37-41 explains why Plato speaks as if an
24
The correct reading at 1.26 may be obscuras … intellegentias enodavit, not enudavit and certainly not inchoavit.
This term is guaranteed by parallels such as Top. 31, Off. 3.76, 81, Tusc. 4.53, Orator 116. But see also Dyck
(2004), 139, whose reading is of interest.
25
Particularly in anon. Tht. XLVI 44, XLVII 45, LIII 46 (cf. Bastianini-Sedley (1995), 535; Plut. (Sandbach) fr. 215f.)
26
The received text affirms that there is no human being incapable of reaching excellence if they obtain a guide
(ducem nactus). Some editors insert <naturam>, mistakenly. There is no conflict with nullo docente (1.27).
Guidance is precisely what Socrates offers in the Meno, teaching is precisely what it denies.
27
Here Scott (1987) convinces; see now Dimas (2003).
28
This passage appears in Dörrie-Baltes (1996/8), as Baustein 144.1.
29
Whittaker (1990), 114, has a useful note on the key term karos here.
Studying Plato and Platonism Together: Meno-related Observations 28
ungenerated universe was generated in time, and hence the wakening of the world-soul’s
intellect and its contemplation of Ideas was an on-going process. A parallel in Plutarch’s De
Animae Procreatione, in which God assists the slumbering world soul to awaken and to return
to the Ideas, is indeed closely linked with the cyclic universe of Statesman.
30
Though
reversion (epistrophê) is more important than recollection here,
31
such reversion will be
connected with recollection in Neoplatonism.
32
I conclude, therefore, that there is a strange
but interesting analogy between the activation of the world’s intellect and the activation of
recollection in us, following a standard macrocosm-microcosm pattern.
Some Platonists, then, might hint that, as the sleeping geometrician awakens within
Meno’s slave, we should be recalling too that once-sleeping mathematician in the sky, of
Timaean ancestry, summoned first to wakefulness and then to active contemplation by an
object of love who moves us even more certainly than Socrates. By heeding the Platonists of
antiquity we shall not refuse to look even to the Timaeus for enlightenment as to how one
should read the Meno and vice-versa. With this epistrophê to his Timaeus, I conclude my
paper for our sleeping Platonist.
University of Newcastle, NSW
30
See Mor. 1026e-f; there is some discussion of this passage in Dörrie-Baltes (1996/8), 462-3.
31
As also at Mor. 1026f and 1024c-d.
32
See n. 18.
2
GORGIAS
Erotic Paideia in Plato’s Symposium
John J. Cleary
Introduction
It is generally accepted that Erôs is a central theme of Plato’s Symposium, but it is not so
obvious that the topic of paideia is equally central to the dialogue, such that one can claim
that ‘erotic paideia’ serves as one of its leitmotifs. Hence textual evidence combined with
interpretive argument is required to make the case, and that is what I propose to do in this
paper. Among the many functions which the symposium as an institution served within
classical Greek society, a central one was the social initiation of young aristocratic males by
older men. Pederasty was tolerated and even regulated in the ancient Greek polis because it
promoted class solidarity, as well as being conducive to military valour. So it was no accident
that the practice of pederasty was widespread within the military barracks in ancient Sparta,
which was subsequently outdone by Thebes with its so-called ‘Sacred Band’. Thus within
ancient Athens a primary locus for pederastic activity was the gymnasium, while another was
the symposium as a social institution that provided a traditional kind of civic education.
1
However, Plato was not an uncritical admirer of pederasty, as is clear from the Republic
and Laws, but in the Symposium he tries to show how it can serve a higher purpose if it is
directed in the right way towards more spiritual goals. I want to argue that describing such
redirection is the chief purpose of Socrates’s report on the lesson of Diotima, which also
involves a dialogue between teacher and student. This educational exchange succeeds because
the preliminary refutation of Socrates helps to free him from mistaken assumptions about
Erôs and thereby enables him to transcend his attachment to particular erotic objects. By
contrast, I claim that the subsequent encounter between Alcibiades and Socrates is designed
by Plato to show how erotic paideia can fail in the case of someone who is unable to
transcend his erotic attachment to particular persons and his powerful desire for popular
success. Just as Callicles in the Gorgias is in love with Demos, so also Alcibiades is in love
with Socrates but yet is unable to make the ascent to the Good and the Beautiful that is
described in the speech of Diotima.
Section 1: Questioning Agathon
After Agathon’s ‘amazing’ (thaumastos) speech, Socrates confesses (198b-c) himself to
be at a loss. He praises the beautiful language of the speech, but he then exposes its contents
1
For the Greeks, the symposium served as a milieu for celebrating manly arête. For instance, the educational maxims
of Theognis (239) were composed to be sung at such banquets, while Xenophanes (Frg. 1 Diehl) says that the
symposium is the place for keeping alive the memory of true arête.
Erotic Paideia in Plato’s Symposium 34
to refutation. In effect, Socrates reveals the speech of Agathon to be a typical rhetorical
exercise in which style takes precedence over substance, so that it fails to say anything
essential about the nature of Erôs. Socrates ironically confesses that he thought one should tell
the truth about everything in an encomium, while picking out from these truths the most
beautiful (kallista) things and arranging them in the best way. The rhetorical approach, by
contrast, involves attributing the greatest and most beautiful (kallista) characteristics possible
to the thing being praised, irrespective of whether or not it is true. Consequently, Socrates
invites Phaedrus to choose whether he wants to hear the truth (talêthê) being told about Erôs
in whatever way seems right to Socrates. In this way, Socrates sets the terms for his own
dialectical speech, which is clearly marked off from previous rhetorical speeches.
With the permission of Phaedrus (the father of the logos), Socrates begins by
questioning Agathon on the contents of his beautiful speech in which he had promised first to
show (epideixai) the sort of character which Erôs has (hopoios tis estin) and then to proceed
to what it produces (ta erga). Socrates approves of this procedure of first specifying the
nature of something and then stating its effects. Here we find some indications of the proper
order of inquiry in dialectic. It is noteworthy that not only this part of Socrates’s contribution
but also a significant portion of his report on Diotima’s teaching follows the question-and-
answer format, in which Socrates replaces Agathon as the respondent. Indeed, we are
presented with a younger Socrates who ostensibly had made the same mistaken assumptions
about Erôs as did Agathon, and which were corrected by Diotima. In short, as Christopher
Rowe (1998) has rightly noted, Socrates speaks his piece in a rather special way, which has
more in common with his own preferred method of conversation (dialegesthai) than with the
set speeches of the other contributors, even if it reaches a predetermined conclusion. But I
want to show how the process of erotic paideia involves dialectical question-and-answer as an
indispensable method for philosophical inquiry, which itself is a manifestation of intellectual
desire prompted by awareness of a lack.
In brief, the elenctic argument goes as follows (200c): (a) Love is of certain things
(relative) and (b) it is of whatever is lacking (endeia) in those who desire or love something.
Socrates now (201a) reminds Agathon that he had said that divine activities came about
through love of beautiful things (erôta kalôn), since there is no love of ugly things (aischrôn).
From this claim Socrates draws the implication that Love is of some beauty which it does not
possess, so that Agathon cannot be correct to claim that Love itself is Beautiful (kalon).
Agathon complacently admits (201b10-c1) that he didn’t know (eidenai) what he was talking
about, even although he spoke beautifully. Socrates continues with his questions: Isn’t the
good also beautiful? If so, then Erôs lacks the good, since he lacks the beautiful. While
Agathon concedes defeat to Socrates, the latter insists that it is not himself but rather the truth
(alêtheia) which is difficult to resist. Here a clear contrast is drawn between the personal
competition involved in rhetoric and the search for impersonal truth in dialectic.
Rowe, 172, sees this as a crucial test case for Socrates’s sincerity in his discussion with
Agathon because, if Dover is right, this claim is so much hot air. If Socrates really were to
have no more concern for the truth than Agathon, this would jeopardize one of the main
theses of the Symposium, about the difference between poetry/rhetoric and Socratic/Platonic
philosophy. Rowe thinks that the important issue is the quality of the argument, which he
finds to be pretty high. Agathon accepts that he didn’t know what he was talking about but
thinks the problem is that Socrates is a better debater, though the latter insists that he merely
represents the impersonal truth of the matter. Rowe suggests that Agathon is dropped by Plato
because he is an inadequate partner for Socrates in philosophical discussion but I want to go
further by suggesting that he is incapable of taking the next step in erotic paideia, even after
John J. Cleary 35
becoming aware of his ignorance about Erôs, because his personal vanity predisposed him to
play the part of a beloved rather than that of a lover. Furthermore, his awareness of being
refuted by Socrates does not provoke him to engage in further inquiry about Erôs, so it would
appear that he lacks the characteristic desire to learn the truth which belongs to a
philosophical nature.
Section 2: Socrates as budding philosopher
Socrates now (201d1) begins his report on the account of Erôs received from Diotima – a
wise woman or prophetess who had taught him about erotics (erôtica edidaxen). But what has
already been agreed with Agathon remains in place, when Socrates undertakes to give a report
of his conversation with Diotima.
2
Once again, he emphasizes the proper order of inquiry:
One should first say who Erôs is, and what character he has, before saying what he does.
Socrates remarks (201e) that it seems easiest (rhaston) to proceed with describing Erôs
through close questioning in the manner of Diotima. But it is not obvious on the face of it that
this is the best or easiest way to proceed, so perhaps some clarification can be found by
examining the procedure itself. For instance, there is an important similarity between the
views of young Socrates and of Agathon: Socrates responded to Diotima’s questions, just as
Agathon had answered Socrates; i.e. by saying that Erôs was a great god (megas theos).
Diotima then set about refuting Socrates by means of the same arguments he himself used
against Agathon in concluding that Erôs was neither beautiful nor good.
The first step is to establish that there is something in the middle between knowledge
and ignorance, just as between the beautiful and the ugly, since Socrates had been assuming
that these are exclusive and exhaustive opposites. He admits to making that assumption,
which is then examined by Diotima, using the example of knowledge and ignorance as
opposites. Her objection is that there is something in between (metaxu) wisdom and ignorance
(sophias kai amathias); namely, correct opinion (orthê doxa). She argues as follows (200a5):
having correct beliefs, even without being able to give a rational account (logon didonai) of
them, is neither knowing (epistasthai) – since how could something irrational (alogon) be
knowledge (epistêmê) – nor is it ignorance (amathia) – for how could something that hit on
what is the case be ignorance? Thus correct belief lies between knowledge and ignorance.
By implication, therefore, something that is not beautiful is not necessarily ugly. In the
case of Erôs, though it is admitted not to be good or beautiful, yet it is not to be supposed ugly
or bad, but rather something between these two things. However, Socrates objects that Erôs is
agreed (homologeitai) by everyone to be a great god (megas theos). Diotima asks whether
‘those who know’ also accept this and Socrates asserts that absolutely everyone (sumpanton)
agrees to it. Diotima rejects this assertion on the grounds that there are people who say that
Erôs is not a god at all; for instance, herself and Socrates. She justifies this claim as follows
(202c6ff.): Socrates cannot deny that all gods are happy and beautiful (eudaimonas kai
kalous), so it is those individuals who possess good and beautiful things who are called
happy. But it has already been agreed (by Agathon and Socrates) that a lack (endeia) of good
and beautiful things makes Erôs desire the very things he lacks. So he cannot be a god, if he
has no portion (amoiros) of beautiful and good things. Thus Socrates’s own view implies that
Erôs is not a god.
2
Obviously, this conversation is a Platonic fiction in which Diotima seems to be a mantic witness to divine truth about
Erôs. Perhaps this is Plato’s dramatic means of preserving the Socratic claim to the sort of ignorance that drives
dialectical inquiry.
Erotic Paideia in Plato’s Symposium 36
But, on the other hand, this does not mean that Erôs is mortal (thnêtos) as he may have
an intermediate (metaxu) status; namely, that of a spirit (daimonion). The power (dunamis) of
such a spirit is that of interpreting and conveying things from men to gods and from gods to
men. Situated in the middle, Erôs bridges the gap between gods and men, so that the whole
(cosmos) is bound closely together (202e6-7). It is in this way that the expertise of the seer
(mantikê) works its effects, and that of priests, and all those concerned with sacrifices, rites,
and spells. Since gods do not mingle with mankind, it is through such expertise that all
intercourse (homilia) and conversation (dialektos) takes place between gods and men, and the
person who is wise about such things is a spirit-like man (daimonos anêr). There are many
spirits of this kind, and one of them is Erôs. In light of such an account, it would appear that
Diotima herself is a suitable ‘medium’ for conveying to Socrates divine wisdom about Erôs.
In response to a question from Socrates about the origins of Erôs, Diotima now departs
from her short answer format to tell a rather long story (muthos) about the genealogy of Erôs,
which links him closely with Aphrodite. According to this myth, Erôs is the son of Poverty
(Penia) who was impregnated by Resource (Poros) on the birthday of Aphrodite. That is why
Erôs is the follower (akolouthos) and attendant (therapon) of Aphrodite, and also because he
is by nature (phusei) a lover (erastês) in relation to what is beautiful (peri to kalon). The
implications of this genealogy for understanding the nature of Erôs are spelled out (203b5) as
follows: Since he is the son of Resource and Poverty, Erôs is always poor (penes aei esti) and
very far from delicate (apalos) and beautiful (kalos), as Agathon thinks. Instead, he is hard,
dirty, barefoot, homeless, always sleeping on the ground, without blankets, stretching out
under the sky in doorsteps and by the roadside. In effect, due to his mother’s nature, he
always has lack (endeia) as companion. On the other hand, the inheritance from his father
(Resource) makes him a schemer (epiboulos) after the beautiful and good, while he is also
courageous (andreios), impetuous and intense, a clever hunter (thereutes deinos), always
weaving new devices (mechanas). Clearly, the similarity in description between Erôs and
Socrates is deliberate and significant.
3
Just like Socrates, Erôs is said to be both desirous of wisdom and resourceful (porimos)
in looking for it, philosophizing through all his life, a clever magician, sorcerer and sophist.
What Erôs gets for himself is always slipping away from him, so that he is neither
resourceless (aporei) at any moment, nor rich (ploutei) but is in the middle (en mesoi)
between wisdom (sophias) and ignorance (amathias). On the one hand (204a), no god
philosophizes or desires to become wise (for gods are already wise), nor does anyone else
who is wise philosophize (which implies a lack). But, on the other hand, neither does the
completely ignorant person philosophize or desire to become wise as he is not aware of what
he lacks and so cannot desire it. Hence those who philosophize are neither the wise nor the
ignorant but rather those in between (metaxu), where Erôs also belongs.
4
Wisdom (Sophia) is
actually one of the most beautiful things, and Erôs is desire for what is beautiful (peri to
kalon), so that Erôs is necessarily a philosopher, and as such stands between wisdom and
ignorance. The cause of this intermediate status is his birth: he has a father who is wise and
resourceful (euporos) and a mother who is not wise and is resourceless (aporos).
Before moving on, let me briefly outline the pedagogical implications of this description
of the nature and genealogy of Erôs. Clearly, Erôs involves an acute awareness of some lack,
and this fits quite well with the aporetic character of Socratic inquiry. The puzzlement in the
3
This similarity has been noticed by Renaissance scholars like Ficino, in his Symposium commentary (oratio 7), and
by many modern scholars, including Osborne (1994), 93-101, who makes much of the similarity in descriptions.
4
According to Kahn (1996), 265, Plato’s Lysis gives us a brief glimpse of the erotic model for philosophy that is taken
up by Diotima in the Symposium.
John J. Cleary 37
interlocutor which is induced through question-and-answer should serve in the ideal case as a
stimulant for further inquiry, if one has a genuinely philosophical nature. This may be one of
the reasons why the description of Erôs that emerges from the genealogy also applies so well
to Socrates. Neither of them are conceited beauties like Agathon but rather bereft and hungry
lovers who subsist somewhere in between plenty and poverty. It is no accident that this turns
out to be the intermediate realm occupied by the genuine philosopher.
Section 3: The process and goal of erotic paideia
Drawing Diotima back into the routine of short question-and-answer, Socrates now
(204c6) asks about Erôs and human beings: Why is Erôs always of beautiful things? Diotima
speaks of trying to teach (didaxei) Socrates about the function of Erôs in human life, which
she does by questioning him. Why does the person who loves, love beautiful things? In order
to possess them for himself. But what will that person get by possessing them? Socrates is
stumped by that question, so Diotima reformulates it in terms of the good: if the person loves
good things, why does he love them? The ultimate goal of having the good is to be happy
(eudaimôn). Those who are happy are so by virtue of having good things, and one need not go
on to ask a further question as to why the person wants to be happy. The answer itself seems
to be complete, since this desire to possess good things is common to all human beings. In
effect, the line of questioning ends with the acceptance of a general axiom.
With reference to the myth of Aristophanes, Diotima declares that love is neither of a
half nor of a whole, unless it turns out to be good. In summary (206a11), she claims that love
is of the permanent possession of what is good, and this is agreed by Socrates to be most true
(alêthestata). Given that permanent nature, however, the next question posed by Diotima is
about the product (ergon) of the activity of love. Socrates confesses himself unable to answer
and claims that this is what he seeks to learn from Diotima. She informs him that the activity
of love is giving birth in the beautiful in relation both to body and soul. Socrates expresses his
puzzlement at this by complaining that only a seer could discern what she means. In her role
as seer, Diotima undertakes to reveal the mystery by means of an explanatory account.
According to this account (206c), all human beings are pregnant both in body and in
soul, and naturally want to give birth when they come to be of the right age. Yet they cannot
give birth in the ugly but only in the beautiful. The intercourse (sunousia) of man and woman
is a kind of giving birth, which is something divine (theion). Despite their mortality, living
creatures share in this immortal (athanaton) dimension through pregnancy and procreation.
The conclusion here (206e) represents a deliberate correction of the previous account of love:
Erôs is not simply of the beautiful but rather it is of procreation and giving birth in the
beautiful. The explanation given for this is that procreation is something everlasting
(aeigenes) and immortal (athanaton), in so far as anything mortal can be. And, according to
the previous agreement, it is immortality together with the good that must be desired, if love
is of the permanent possession of the good (207a1). From this argument it necessarily follows
that love is of immortality. As if to underline the theme of paideia, Socrates repeats that
Diotima taught (edidaske) him all these things when she talked about erotic matters. The clear
implication is that erotic paideia itself involves the sort of student-teacher relationship where
the one who knows is leading the one who desires to know.
In line with Diotima’s dialogical manner of teaching, there follows another question
(207a5): What do you think, Socrates, is the cause of this love and this desire? She draws a
parallel with the lower animals, which suffer terribly as a result of this desire to procreate.
They are stricken with the effects of love, first for intercourse with each other, and then for
nurturing their offspring, so that the weakest are prepared to fight the strongest to protect their
Erotic Paideia in Plato’s Symposium 38
offspring, and are prepared to die for them, torturing themselves with hunger so as to rear
them, and doing whatever is necessary. Even if we assume that humans do this as a result of
calculation (ek logismou), it is hard to discover the cause of animals being affected so
powerfully by Erôs. Socrates confesses his ignorance and Diotima chides him as follows: Do
you think you will ever become an expert in erotics (deinos .. ta erôtica), if you don’t think
about these things? Socrates repeats that he has come to Diotima because he needs a teacher.
He begs Diotima to tell him the cause (aitia) of this (suffering of animals) and of everything
else to do with love. Once again, it is noteworthy how the young Socrates is placed in the
suppliant position of a student who seeks enlightenment from Diotima about the origins and
causes of Erôs. Presumably, that puts him in the same position as a lover (erastês) who is
painfully aware of what he lacks.
Beginning from the agreed nature (phusis) of Erôs, Diotima applies (207c7) the point to
animals as well as to human beings; i.e. so far as it can, mortal nature seeks to exist for ever
and to be immortal (athanatos). But it can achieve this only through the process of coming-
into-being (genesis) because it always (aei) leaves behind something else that is new in place
of the old. This applies even to individual organisms, during the time in which a living
creature is said to be alive and to be the same individual (to auto). Diotima maintains (207e)
that the same is true of the soul, since its traits, habits, opinions, desires, pleasures, pains and
fears never remain the same in any individual, but rather some are coming into existence,
others are passing away. She explains that it is even stranger in the case of our pieces of
knowledge (epistêmai); since not only are some of them coming into existence and others
passing away, but each individual piece of knowledge is subject to the same process. For what
we call ‘rehearsing’ (melêtan) exists because knowledge goes out of us; forgetting is the
departure of knowledge, and going over something creates in us again a new memory in place
of the one that is leaving us, and so preserves our knowledge in such a way as to make it seem
the same. This notion of going over something repeatedly was dramatically highlighted at the
beginning of the Symposium, as if to underline the mnemonic power of rehearsal for making
Socrates immortal in the memory of his students and lovers. Perhaps that illustrates one of the
functions of erotic paideia through question-and-answer; i.e. that we can stabilize our right
opinions through continual inquiry which is driven by desire for the good.
In this way, then, everything mortal is preserved (sôzetai), not by always being
absolutely the same (to auto aei einai) like the divine, but by virtue of the fact that what is
departing and decaying with age leaves behind in us something new of the same sort that it
was. It is by these means that the mortal partakes of immortality, both body and everything
else; whereas what is immortal (athanaton) partakes of it in a different way. So, Diotima says
to Socrates, don’t be surprised that by nature (phusei) everything values what springs from
itself: this eagerness (spoudê) and this love (erôs) that every creature shares is for the sake of
immortality. But Socrates (208b7) feigns surprise on hearing this, and asks the most wise
Diotima if what she says is really true. Just like an accomplished sophist, Diotima assures him
that he can be sure of it, and now applies the lesson to human beings, whose irrationality
shows in their love of honour. For the sake of fame they are ready to run all risks, even more
so than they are for the sake of their children; i.e. they will spend money, undergo any
suffering, and even die for fame. For instance, Diotima suggests that it was for the sake of
immortal memory of their courage that Alcestis died for Admetus, that Achilles died for
Patroclus, and that Codrus died for the sake of his children’s succession to the throne. From
these examples, she now draws (208d7) the generalization: it is for the sake of immortal
virtue and this sort of glorious reputation that everyone does everything; and even more so in
the case of better people because they are in love with immortality.
John J. Cleary 39
By way of applying this generalization, Diotima says (208e) that those who are pregnant
in their bodies turn their attention more towards women, and their love is directed in this way,
securing immortality, as they imagine, for themselves for all time by having children (dia
paidogonias). By comparison (209a), those who are pregnant in their souls conceive and
bring to birth wisdom (phronêsis) and the rest of virtue of which all the poets are reputedly
procreators. But by far the greatest and most beautiful kind of wisdom is the setting in order
(diakosmêsis) of the affairs of the city and households, which is called ‘moderation’
(sôphrosunê) and ‘justice’ (dikaiosunê).
5
When by divine gift someone is pregnant in soul
with those things from youth onwards, and on coming to the right age desires to give birth
and procreate, then he goes around looking for the beautiful object in which he might
procreate, for he will never do so in what is ugly. So he welcomes beautiful bodies rather than
ugly ones, because he is pregnant, and if he encounters a soul that is beautiful and noble and
naturally well-endowed, he gives an even warmer welcome to the combination of beautiful
body and soul. And towards this person he is immediately full of resource (euporei) when it
comes to saying things about virtue (logon peri arêtês), and what sort of thing the good man
must be concerned with, and the activities such a man should involve himself in and he tries
to educate him (epicheirein paideuein) The close connection between paideia and erotic
attraction is very clear from the language used here, whether that refers to the conventions of
pederastic love or to the Socratic delight in engaging young men in conversation.
Diotima claims (209c2) that it is by contact with what is beautiful and associating with
it, that he brings to birth and procreates the things with which he was for so long pregnant.
And he joins with the other person in nurturing what has been born, with the result that such
people enjoy a much greater partnership (koinônian) with each other than the sort people
share through their children, and a firmer affection (philian) between them, insofar as their
sharing involves ‘children’ of a more beautiful and immortal kind. She goes on to make the
controversial claim that everyone would prefer children of this sort over human children. For
example, Lycurgus left behind him the laws of Sparta, which have been the saviours of Sparta
and indeed of the whole of Greece. In Athens Solon is also honoured for having generated
laws and similarly many men are honoured among Greeks and Barbarians for having
generated many conspicuously beautiful things, including virtue (arêtê) of all kinds. The
evidence for this is the fact that cults (hiera) have been established for them because of their
having children (paidas) of this sort, whereas none has ever yet been set up for anyone
because of their having human children.
Let me sum up the tentative conclusions arising from this section. The dominant
procedure of Diotima’s lesson about Eros is that of putting some leading questions to Socrates
about the causes and goals of love. For instance, in response to the question as to why a
person loves good things, it is concluded that happiness is the ultimate goal for all human
action. On the assumption that human love is creative, there arises the question about its
product. At the physical level, of course, the product of sexual intercourse between male and
female is a child, whereas logoi are the products of erotic desire at the psychic level.
However, Eros is not simply of the beautiful but involves procreation in the beautiful, while
the ultimate goal of erotic desire is to achieve immortality. At the level of body, this goal can
only be attained through the replacement of one generation by another. Similarly, at the
psychic level, immortality is attainable only through the replacement of individual pieces of
knowledge, which are preserved against forgetfulness by rehearsing them. From this
5
Ostensibly, since he desires political success, this is the sort of wisdom that Alcibiades seeks from Socrates in
exchange for sexual favours.
Erotic Paideia in Plato’s Symposium 40
perspective, one might see how the Socratic method of question-and-answer helps to stabilize
knowledge in the soul.
Section 4: Culmination of erotic paideia as initiation into the Mysteries
Diotima accepts (210a) that Socrates could be initiated into these (lower) kinds of
erotica, but doubts whether he will reach those aspects of the higher mysteries (telea kai
epoptika) for the sake of which she has taught him the lower as the proper approach. Still she
promises to tell him the next part, sparing no effort, and urges him to try to follow
(hepesthai). At this point she seems to abandon the dialogical exchange with Socrates in
favour of a monological narrative. She emphasizes (210a5) that the correct approach to the
higher mysteries is as follows: the young person must turn to beautiful bodies (kala sômata)
and, if his guide leads him correctly, he must fall in love with a single body and there
procreate beautiful words (logous kalous). According to Christopher Rowe (1998), 192, this
passage is talking about the correct way to go about the business of erotics; i.e. what our goal
should be, or rather, what our goal really is, and how we should set about achieving it, both in
life as a whole and in our erotic relationships. The central figure is that of the lover, the
paiderastês (211b6) who is ‘led’ by someone else through various stages of understanding of
beauty, each stage issuing in his ‘procreating’ logoi apparently within some beloved (person
or thing?). We can make historical sense of these references in terms of the fact that initiation
into the lesser (or small) Mysteries at Agrae (in the city) was a necessary qualification for
initiation into the Greater Mysteries at Eleusis (outside the city). When applied here, the point
of the reference is that Socrates will need to learn what has gone before in order to grasp what
follows. As a revelation of the sacred objects, the epopteia represented the high point of the
Eleusinian Mysteries. Within the context of Diotima’s teaching, the final revelation is the
ultimate goal of the whole dialectical inquiry for the sake of which she has taught Socrates
everything that has led up to the vision of Beauty Itself.
The stages in the famous ‘ascent’ passage can be read either logically as steps of
increasing generalization or epistemologically in terms of more universal objects, culminating
in the most universal object, Beauty Itself. But the real interest of the passage for me is the
pedagogical steps that are set out by analogy with stages of initiation into the Mysteries. The
first step is to fall in love with a beautiful body, which induces in the lover the desire to
produce beautiful offspring. The next step (210a8) is to realize for himself that one and the
same kind of beauty is to be found in any body whatever. The next stage (210b6) is for him to
consider beauty in souls as more valuable than beauty in the body, This leads to the
production of beautiful words rather than beautiful offspring, which was characteristic of the
first stage. It is clear that these words are intended to educate young men in virtue, especially
with regard to the ordering of the polis. For instance, at 209a5 it was already said that the
greatest and most beautiful kind of wisdom is the setting in order (diakosmêsis) of the affairs
of the city and households, which is called ‘moderation’ (sophrosunê) and ‘justice’
(dikaiosunê). Just as in the case of natural childbirth, so also this kind of procreation in words
requires a suitable partner who has the right kind of beauty. So the lover embraces a beloved
who is beautiful in soul and body, and tries to educate him by means of the right words,
which flow out of him like semen. After political activities, which are still more or less
particular, there is a transition to different kinds of knowledge where one can observe the
beauty of knowledge, so that one is no longer slavishly attached to the beauty belonging to
particular things. According to Diotima’s account, this generates many beautiful words and
thoughts in the form of unstinting philosophical creativity.
John J. Cleary 41
Diotima says (210e) that whoever is led by his teacher thus far in relation to love matters
(pros ta erôtica) and contemplates (theômenos) the various beautiful things in order and in the
correct way (orthôs) will now approach the final goal (pros telos) of matters of love, and will
suddenly (exaiphnes) catch sight of a beauty that is amazing in its nature (210e4-5); i.e. that
very beauty which was the goal of all his previous labours. Its distinguishing characteristics
are as follows:(1) First it is a beauty that always exists (aei on) and that neither comes into
being nor perishes, neither increases nor diminishes. (2) Secondly, it is not beautiful in one
respect but ugly in another respect. When someone moves upwards, away from particular
beautiful things, through the correct kind of boy-loving (paiderastein), and begins to catch
sight of that beauty (ekeino to kalon), he would practically have the final goal within his
reach. For this is what is involved in approaching love matters (ta erôtica) or to be led by
someone else to them (hup’ allou agesthai) in the correct way (orthôs); i.e. beginning from
these beautiful things here, one must always move upwards for the sake of beauty itself, using
the other things as steps, from one to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies; from beautiful
bodies to beautiful activities, from activities to beautiful sciences and finally from sciences to
that science which is the science of nothing other than beauty itself (autou ekeinou tou kalou
mathêma – 211d), in order that one may finally know what beauty itself is (he esti kalon).
By way of summary for this section, allow me to review briefly the implications for
erotic paideia of this elaborate parallel with initiation into the traditional Mysteries of Eleusis.
This talk of being led by a teacher into the higher Mysteries implies that the leader is already
initiated, so that Diotima is a philosopher who is leading Socrates to enlightenment about
Erôs through the ascent to Beauty or the Good. The stages of that ascent are set out very
schematically yet the method of leading remains unclear, since Diotima merely urges Socrates
to follow her as best he can. The first step seems to be based on the natural desire to procreate
in a beautiful body, but the basis for the second step is less obvious. Presumably, the lover is
led to realize that the same beauty is to be found in all beautiful bodies through Socratic
questioning that leads to generalization. Through increasing generalization, the lover ascends
to the level of practical wisdom which is concerned with political affairs, dealing with virtues
like moderation and justice. Even higher generalizations are involved in the theoretical
wisdom of the many different sciences like mathematics, which possess their own kind of
beauty. However, the desire for eternal beauty reflected in the sciences draws the lover further
beyond that level towards the Good and the Beautiful, which transcend all human goods. But
no details are given of the educational procedure by which that goal is finally reached,
although the explicit parallel with the Mysteries suggests that the final illumination is gained
by the initiate only after quite elaborate preparation in the hands of an experienced guide.
Section 5: Alcibiades as a failure in erotic paideia
The appearance of Alcibiades in a drunken state, accompanied by a flute girl and his
head wreathed with ivy and violets, is symbolic of the god Dionysus giving the award first to
a poet and then to a philosopher. Alcibiades declares (212e4) that he has come to crown from
his own head the wisest (sophotatou) and most beautiful (kallistou) head. He takes back
(213e) some ribbons from Agathon in order to crown Socrates’s amazing head, while
explaining that Socrates uses words to defeat everyone. It is clear both that Alcibiades sees
the Socratic dialectic as being agonistic in character, and that he implicitly espouses the
Homeric motto: ‘Always to excel (the others)’. Despite being the darling of the Athenian
mob, he has been rejected by one of the ugliest men in Athens who has forced him to give up
this role as a beloved and to become instead a needy lover. This was a great shock to his
Erotic Paideia in Plato’s Symposium 42
pride, jolting him out of the sort of complacency that typifies Agathon; with the result that
Alcibiades learned to see the beautiful logoi that are hidden within the ugly body of Socrates.
This why he compares Socrates to one of the Silenus figures found in statuary-shops,
which are made by craftsmen complete with pipes and auloi. When you open them up by
taking them apart, they turn out to have statues of gods inside them. Alcibiades also declares
Socrates to be like the satyr, Marsyas. He challenges Socrates to deny that he is Silenus-like
in physical appearance (eidos), and he promises to show how Socrates is like these satyrs in
everything else. Alcibiades insists (215c5) that Socrates differs from Marsyas only in doing
the same thing without instruments and through simple (artless) words. Alcibiades testifies on
oath (215d6-7) about the sort of effect which he has felt under the spell of Socrates. He says
(215e1) that it is similar to the state of the Corybantes, only much worse; i.e. heart leaping,
tears pouring out under the impact of Socrates’s words. As a result, Alcibiades reports that he
frequently considered that life was not worth living, given his present condition (of slavery to
desire), but yet he fails to change his life.
Alcibiades admits that if he were ready to listen to Socrates he would be unable to resist
because Socrates forces (anankazei) him to see that, although there is much that he himself
lacks, yet he neglects himself and instead takes care of the business of the Athenians. So
Alcibiades forcibly stops his ears and bolts, as if running away from the Sirens, to prevent
himself from sitting and listening to Socrates. Alcibiades now (216a-b) confesses that
Socrates is the only person in the world before whom he has experienced shame (to
aischunesthai). Why? For he is conscious of being incapable of arguing against doing what
Socrates tells him to do, yet he yields to his desire for honour (timê) bestowed by ordinary
people. Thus he bolts from Socrates like a runaway slave and when he sees Socrates again he
is ashamed of what was already agreed in previous discussions. In effect, he fails to make
progress under the tutelage of Socrates.
6
Alcibiades promises (216d1) to reveal the real character of Socrates concealed by his
feigning of being in love with beautiful young men and of being ignorant of everything. All of
these appearances are his external (exôthen) covering, like that of the sculpted Silenus;
whereas inside (endôthen), when he is opened up, Socrates is full of moderation
(sophrosunê). Alcibiades assures them that Socrates doesn’t care at all whether someone is
(physically) beautiful nor does he care if someone is rich or has any of the things that gives a
man honour in the eyes of ordinary people and makes them call him blessed. Socrates thinks
that all these possessions are worthless and that we are nothing; so that he is continually
pretending and playing with people. But when Socrates is in earnest, and so is opened up,
Alcibiades claims that he has seen the statues (agalmata) inside and that they appeared to him
so divine (theia) and golden (chrusa), and so outstandingly beautiful (pankala) and amazing
(thaumasta) that he had to do whatever Socrates told him.
But Alcibiades’s account of his attempted seduction of Socrates belies the claim to have
understood the inner nature of Socrates. Thinking that Socrates was seriously attracted by his
youthful looks, Alcibiades considered it amazingly fortunate that he could hear from Socrates
everything he knew in return for (sexual) favours. Alcibiades emphasizes how proud he was
of his own physical appearance. In order to snare him as a lover, Alcibiades arranged to be
alone with Socrates in the hope that he would make overtures to him as a lover (erastês)
would to a young beloved (paidikois). But Alcibiades was surprised to discover that nothing
6
Lear (1998), Ch. 7, claims that this failure reflects badly on erôs as a means for getting human lovers to transcend the
particular objects of their desire, and that this is Plato’s intention in drawing attention to the fixation of Alcibiades
on his earthly loves. I do not find this consistent with Plato’s use of erotic language to characterize the whole
ascent to a vision of Beauty Itself.
John J. Cleary 43
like that happened, as Socrates conducted his habitual kind of conversation with Alcibiades
and then left after spending the day with him. Next (217c) Alcibiades invited Socrates to
exercise with him (naked in the gymnasium), thinking that he would get somewhere through
physical contact. But Socrates did exercise and wrestle with Alcibiades without becoming
sexually excited in any way. After exhausting these indirect strategies, Alcibiades decided to
try a direct assault on Socrates, since he had started the whole seduction and he did not want
to face rejection.
So Alcibiades invited Socrates to dine with him, like a lover (erastês) plotting to have
his way with his beloved (paidikois). Knowing well the game that was afoot, Socrates was
slow to accept this invitation but eventually did so, only to leave immediately after dinner. On
that occasion, Alcibiades was too ashamed to detain Socrates, but on the next occasion he
kept the conversation going late into the night, so as to force Socrates to stay. This new
strategy of seducing Socrates through conversation seems to suggest that only rational
persuasion could ‘force’ him to stay.
However, Alcibiades tells of how he made a direct attempt to seduce Socrates by
offering sexual favours in return for knowledge. He continues to treat Socrates as a
prospective lover (erastês), though the roles have been silently reversed. His proposal to
Socrates is cloaked in the conventional language surrounding pederasty in ancient Athens.
Alcibiades expresses a desire to become as good a person as possible and considers Socrates
the most effective collaborator for this purpose. Socrates is described (218d-e) as having
listened in his usual fashion with great pretence of seriousness (eirônikôs) before replying that
Alcibiades is trying to cheat him by getting hold of truly beautiful things in return for only
apparently beautiful ones, just like a swindle in some commercial exchange.
The subsequent (219a) ironic warning reflects the typical pose of Socratic ignorance:
You need to take a better look, my fine friend, in case you are mistaken about me and I’m
really nothing. The sight of the mind (dianoias opsis) begins to see sharply (oxu blepein)
when the sight of the eyes starts to fade from its prime, and you are still far away from that.
This reply encapsulates the essence of the whole ascent to intelligible beauty, and also the
failure of Alcibiades to make that ascent. Alcibiades does not quite understand (219a6) the
ironic intention of Socrates and restates his own case (i.e. that he is ready to gratify Socrates
in exchange for wisdom), asking Socrates to consider what is best for both. Socrates agrees to
deliberate together on how to act in the best way for both of them in the present situation and
all others. But Alcibiades is still fixated on his desire for conquest, and he interprets
Socrates’s agreement as evidence that his arrows have struck home. So he wraps his cloak
around both of them on the same couch, and for the whole night he embraces that truly
superhuman and amazing man. Having made his best move in vain, Alcibiades complains that
Socrates got the better of him, looked down on him, laughed at his beauty and treated it
criminally (hubrisen). Using the language of the lawcourts and addressing his audience as
jurors (dikastai), Alcibiades accuses Socrates of hubris for despising his physical beauty.
Alcibiades admits (219d) that he had no success in seducing Socrates and describes his
own ambiguous state of mind. On the one hand, he had been humiliated but, on the other
hand, he admired Socrates for his self-control (sôphrosunê) and his courage (andreia) because
he never expected to meet a person with that sort of wisdom (phronêsis) and endurance
(karteria). As a result, Alcibiades couldn’t be angry and deprive himself of Socrates’s
company (sunousia), yet he had no idea how to win him over. He couldn’t bribe him with
money, nor could he seduce him by using his own physical beauty; so he was completely at a
loss (eporoun) and went around in a state of enslavement (katadedoulomenos) to this unique
individual.
Erotic Paideia in Plato’s Symposium 44
By way of testimony to the strangeness of Socrates, Alcibiades now tells of his
experience on the expedition to Potidaea, when [like lovers] they shared the same mess. He
offers several pieces of evidence for the extraordinary character of Socrates: (1) he endured
hardships (karterein tois ponois) better than everyone else; e.g. when they were without food
or cut off. (2) when it came to feasting, he was the only one able to take proper advantage,
especially when he was forced to partake in drinking he outlasted everyone else; and the most
amazing thing is that no one has ever seen Socrates drunk. (3) With regards to feats of
endurance (kartereseis) in the cold of winter, Socrates did amazing (thaumasia) things; e.g. in
a terrible frost when everyone wore warm clothing and footwear, he went around barefoot,
wearing a light cloak. The other soldiers looked askance at him, as though he were despising
them. (4) Alcibiades tells of how Socrates stood all day and night wrestling with some
intellectual puzzle (as in the Symposium itself), yet he wouldn’t give it up and stood there
inquiring. The soldiers (especially the Ionians) wondered at this intellectual feat of
concentration, which could only be externally observed as physical endurance in standing
stock still for so long.
As if to confirm the traditional military function of pederastic love, Alcibiades gives
evidence of Socrates’s bravery in battle because it is only right (dikaion) to pay tribute to him
for this. On the occasion of a battle in which the generals gave a prize to Alcibiades for being
the best (t’aristeia), he acknowledges that Socrates saved his life because he wouldn’t desert
him when he had been wounded but rather managed to bring both himself and his weapons (a
point of military honour) to safety. On another occasion Socrates displayed bravery on the
retreat from Delium, when Alcibiades happened to be a cavalryman while Socrates was a
hoplite. The army was breaking ranks into a rout, and Socrates was withdrawing along with
Laches, when Alcibiades came along on his horse and shouted encouragement, promising not
to desert them. This could be seen as repayment of an earlier debt to Socrates or as the
undying loyalty of lovers. In describing his demeanour, Alcibiades uses the same words as
Aristophanes about how Socrates behaved in Athens: ‘swaggering and casting his eyes this
way and that’ i.e. observing (paraskopon) people, both friends and enemies, in the same calm
way, and making it plain to everyone far and near that they would meet stiff resistance if they
laid a hand on him.
Alcibiades claims (221c) that there are many other amazing things (thaumasia) things to
be said in praise of Socrates yet the most amazing thing is that there is no one like Socrates
among present or past generations. While Achilles could be compared to Brasidas, and
Pericles to Nestor and Antenor, Socrates is so strange (atopia) both in himself and the things
he says that one could never find anyone like him if one looked among past and present
generations, unless one compared him to silenuses and satyrs. This comparison is now (221d-
e) elaborated further: Socrates’s words (logoi) are like the silenuses that open up. If one were
willing to listen to what Socrates says, it might appear absurd at first because of the terms in
which it is clothed, like some mischievous skin of a satyr; e.g. he talks of pack-asses,
blacksmiths, cobblers and tanners. He always appears to be saying the same things in the
same ways, so that an inexperienced (apeiros) and silly (anoêtos) person might laugh at what
he says. But (222a) if one were to see these words opened up, and one were to get inside
(through Socratic dialogue) then one would first discover that they are the only words with
any intelligence (nous) within them; and then that they are divine to the highest degree and
contain within them the greatest number of statues of virtue (agalamata arêtes) and have the
greatest extension; i.e. they extend to everything that it is appropriate for the man who means
to be a person of quality (kaloi kagathoi) to consider. We should notice that Plato here
transforms the conventional ideal of a gentleman into that of a truly noble person.
John J. Cleary 45
Alcibiades then (222a-b) concludes his praise of Socrates while reminding his audience
of the crimes (hubrisen) that Socrates has allegedly committed against him. He adds that
Socrates has committed hubris against other young noblemen like Charmides and
Euthydemus by being deceptive in playing the conventional role of lover (hôs erastês), while
becoming more of a beloved (paidika) himself rather than a lover. This claim emphasizes the
shift in roles within the Symposium from that of beloved to that of lover, which is a necessary
part of the initial ascent towards Beauty Itself. Thus Alcibiades warns Agathon not to be
deceived by Socrates but to learn from the sufferings of others, so as not to have to learn like
a fool from his own suffering.
Conclusion
With the exception of two short interludes, the so-called speech of Diotima about Erôs is
dominated by question-and-answer exchanges between herself and Socrates, which continue
the dialogical exchange between Socrates and Agathon. I have drawn attention to this fact
because I think it is a significant feature of erotic paideia that questioning makes the student
aware of a lack of knowledge and thereby stimulates a desire for what is lacking. This
provides a neat parallel with the character of Erôs as a desire for the Beautiful and the Good,
which prompts the lover to generate beautiful things, whether these should be children in a
beautiful body or logoi as offspring of a beautiful soul. The ultimate purpose of erotic paideia,
however, is to lead the lover to a vision of Beauty or the Good itself, which transcends all
particular beauties of body and soul. The steps of such an ascent are outlined schematically by
Diotima, who suggests that Socrates will be ready for initiation into the higher Mysteries
through her previous lessons about Erôs which took the form of question-and-answer. By
contrast, we can see that Agathon has failed to make any progress, even after he has been
refuted, presumably because his vanity as a beloved object prevents him from adopting the
role of a lover who becomes aware of a lack in himself and thereby is driven to inquire. By
comparison with Agathon, however, Alcibiades does progress from the role of beloved
(despite his vanity about his beauty) to that of a lover, when he is faced with the mystery of
Socrates whose physical ugliness hides the beautiful logoi within. This discovery of the
spiritual beauty of Socrates is already a great achievement for Alcibiades, given the ancient
Greek aversion to physical ugliness, but yet he fails to progress further up the ladder of
beauty. What is the significance of Alcibiades’s failure to make that ascent to Beauty Itself?
Does it simply reflect a flaw in his character or does it indicate some basic flaw in human erôs
as a means for this ascent, as Jonathan Lear (1998) has suggested? My claim is that his failure
reveals a character flaw (like the gifted young men in the Republic who go badly wrong) and
is not to be attributed to some basic deficiency in erotic paideia, which can lead someone to
Beauty or the Good if one is willing and able to be led properly by a philosophical guide.
Boston College & NUI Maynooth, Ireland
Plato’s Gorgias and ‘Political Happiness’
Lloyd P. Gerson
Olympiodorus defines the ‘aim’ (c- ¬,) of Plato’s Gorgias as ‘the discussion of those
ethical principles that bring us to political happiness’.
1
The odd expression ‘political
happiness’ does not appear in Plato. On might suppose that ‘political happiness’ just refers to
the happiness found in the ideal polis. But then what is the implicit contrast in the use of the
adjective ‘political’? Is there another type of happiness, independent of the polis that
Olympiodorus has in mind? For an answer to this specific question, we have to go
surprisingly far afield. In fact, we have to go to the commentary of Michael of Ephesus on
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, a work by the learned Byzantine scholar written almost
certainly in the first half of the 12
th
century CE.
2
But appeal to Michael in this regard is not
really so far-fetched. First, Michael was anything but an original thinker. The remnants of
his commentary (on Books 5, 9, and 10), like his other extant commentaries on Sophistic
Elenchus and some biological works, reveal an able but unimaginative compiler of earlier
commentary material. That earlier material is largely Neoplatonic commentaries on Aristotle
from the third to the 6
th
centuries CE. Although we have no record of an Ethics commentary
by Olympiodorus, we do have good reason to believe that Olympiodorus shared with other 6
th
century CE contemporary Neoplatonists the assumption that Aristotle’s philosophy was, as
Simplicius put, in ‘harmony’ (cuµ¦.|. c) with Platonism.
3
We may for this reason attempt to
make judicious use of Michael’s commentary for understanding Olympiodorus’ interpretation
of Plato’s Gorgias.
What Michael says is this.
4
Aristotle distinguished two types of virtue, ethical and
theoretical. Accordingly, he distinguished two types of happiness, one for each type of virtue.
The first type, political happiness, is the happiness of the ‘composite’ human being; the
second, theoretical or contemplative, is the happiness of the ‘primary and real human being’,
the intellect.
5
Michael adds a point that will concern us below, namely, that Platonists (by
which he means of course those whom we call ‘Neoplatonists’) distinguished political from
1
See Olympiodorus In Gorg. Proem 4, 17-20: ¦cµ. | ~.|u| ~. c-¬ , cu ~. ¬.¡. ~. | c¡y.| ~. | µ -.-. |
o.c·.y-µ |c. ~. | ¦.¡uc. | µ µc , . ¬. ~µ | ¬·.~.-µ | .u oc.µ|. c|.
2
See the seminal work by R. Browning (1990), 393-406.
3
See e.g., In Cat. 7, 31-3.
4
See In EN X 578, 14-23: . ¬..oµ µ c ¡.~µ o.~~µ , µ ~. ¬¡c-~.-µ , µ | -c. µ -.-µ | -c. ¬·.~.-µ | . .- ~u
H.¡.¬c~u -c·uc.| (. ,c¡ H·c~.|.-. .~.¡c, ..|c. ·.,uc. ~c, ¬·.~.-c, ~.| µ-.-.|) .¬.. u|
o.~~µ -c~` cu ~u , µ c ¡.~µ , µ µ. | µ -.-µ , µ o. -..¡µ~.-µ , -c. o.c ~u ~ -c. µ .u oc.µ|. c o.~~µ , . |
µ.| ~. ¬¡.~. ¡.¡·.. ..¬. ¬.¡. ¬·.~.-µ, .uoc.µ|.c,, -c-` µ| ¬·.~.-, .uoc.µ.| -cµ.. ~c y..¡.
~. ·,., . | ~u ~. o. ·.,.. ¬.¡. ~µ, -..¡µ~.-µ, .uoc.µ|.c, -c. ~u -c~` cu~µ| .uoc.µ|,, , .c~.|
¬¡. ~., -c. |~., c|-¡.¬,, . | µµ. | oµ·| ~. |u , -c. . ¬.,.|µ.|, ~.u~, .u oc. µ.| ~.
¬·.~.-. .u oc.µ|..
5
See In EN X 572, 2. Cf. c ·µ-.| , c|-¡.¬,, 578, 21; 579, 16; 599, 37. At 592, 9-11, Michael explicitly claims
that Aristotle and Plato share the same view about this.
Lloyd P. Gerson 47
ethical virtue as well. My present concern is that ‘political happiness’ is identified by Michael
as an inferior form of happiness belonging to the ‘composite’ whereas the higher happiness
belongs to the ‘true human being’, the intellect.
There are certainly solid grounds for believing that Michael interprets Aristotle correctly
in this regard. The distinction between the human being and ‘that which we really are’ is as
plain as anything in the text of Nicomachean Ethics.
6
But my concern is not primarily with
the interpretation of Aristotle ethics; rather, I want to show that ‘political happiness’ in
Olympiodorus’ account of the aim of Gorgias was understood by him in exactly the same
way. Now we know that Plato in Alcibiades identified the person with the soul over against
the composite of soul and body.
7
And in Phaedo, the argument for the immortality of the soul
is, certainly, an argument for the immortality of the person over against his embodied inferior.
And finally, in Republic that Plato distinguished the human being from what he calls ‘the
human being within the human being’, meaning evidently the intellect.
8
But what is the
justification for foisting this distinction on Gorgias even up to the point of identifying its aim
as dealing with those things that are conducive to what is, by implication, an inferior form of
happiness?
The answer to this question opens up one very super size can of worms. For it requires
us to consider the principles for interpreting any Platonic dialogue. If Olympiodorus and the
tradition of which he is a more than respectable representative are right, then it is not possible
to interpret adequately any dialogue in isolation. One might at this point expect me to follow
with the words ‘from any other dialogue’. But that would be to saddle Olympiodorus with a
crude error. For no dialogue or dialogues of Plato’s can provide the non question-begging
fulcrum for interpreting the rest. For instance, Charles Kahn has recently argued that
Republic provides the interpretative principles at least for all dialogues prior to it.
9
But this
‘proleptic’ treatment of the dialogues prior to Republic can be trumped by a claim that
Republic itself is proleptic to Plato’s ‘unwritten teachings’ or by other claims that Republic is
superseded by later, critical dialogues.
For Olympiodorus, the proper ‘context’ for interpreting any Platonic dialogue is
Platonism itself. This will no doubt seem a breathtaking leap and, potentially, dangerously
circular. For what access have we to Platonism except through the dialogues? But for a
Platonist like Olympiodorus this question belies confusion between the falsehood that
knowing a nature or essence is just knowing an inductive generalization and the truth that we
come to know a nature or essence via our encounters with its instances or manifestations. In
short, the understanding of Platonism is prior to the understanding of how the dialogues
should be read or taught in order best to reveal it.
10
The only consistent alternative to this
view is the other extreme, according to which the interpretation of every dialogue is
hermetically sealed off from the interpretation of every other.
11
This is but a step from
complete skepticism. But even if this is true – that is, even if we wished to maintain that we
have no idea what Plato’s views were – this would still not prevent us from exploring the
6
See EN X 7, 1177b30-1178a8. See also the line here referred to, namely, IX 8, 1169a2: ~. µ. | u | ~u-`
[intellect] .-cc~, .c~.| µ µc ·.c~c, u - coµ·|, … Also, IX 4, 1166a22-3; IX 8, 1168b31-3. Also, X 7,
1177a12-19. Cf. I 5, 1097a25-b21; X 5, 1175b36-1176a29.
7
See Alc. I 131A-B. Cf. Lg. 959B3-4.
8
See Rep. 589A7.
9
See Kahn (1996).
10
See, e.g., Plotinus V 1.8, 10-14 who holds in effect that Plato’s expression of Platonism is not the first, though it is
the best. Cf. Proclus PT I, 1 who lauds Plotinus, Iamblichus, Theodore of Asine, and others, as ‘exegetes of the
Platonic revelation’ (~u, ~µ , H·c~.|.-µ , . ¬¬~.. c, .çµ,µ~c ,). Also, V 33, 21 – 34, 2.
11
This is the position that Grote tried to maintain, though quite unsuccessfully, as C.C.W. Taylor (2002), 74-83,
esp. 79-81, shows.
Plato’s Gorgias and ‘Political Happiness’ 48
nature of the philosophical position that is Platonism and attaining a kind of reflective
equilibrium between that and all the expressions of it in the dialogues and in the oral
tradition.
12
Specifically, Olympiodorus follow the ordering of the reading of the dialogues probably
begun by Iamblichus.
13
That order is: Alcibiades I, Gorgias, Phaedo, Cratylus, Theaetetus,
Sophist, Statesman, Phaedrus, Symposium, Philebus, Timaeus, and Parmenides. There is no
space to discuss the entire rationale for this order, the reasons for the placement of the last
two, or the curious omissions, such as Republic. Here, I am only concerned with
Olympiodorus’ traditional view that Gorgias is to be read after Alcibiades and before Phaedo.
According to this view,
Having learned in Alcibiades that we are soul, that is, a rational soul, we ought to
establish both its political virtues and its purificatory ones. Hence, since we should
understand political matters first, the dialogue is necessarily read after that one, and
next comes Phaedo, which deals with the purificatory virtues.
14

Political virtue is here supposed to lead to political happiness, but instead of this being
contrasted with Michael’s ‘contemplative happiness’, we get for Phaedo ‘purificatory
virtues’, presumably corresponding to the ‘ethical virtue’ that Michael says the Platonists
distinguished from the political. What Olympiodorus finds in Plato and Michael does not find
in Aristotle is a kind of virtue between the political and the virtue that constitutes the most
happy life, a life that Aristotle calls ‘theoretical’ and Plato calls ‘philosophical’.
15
What is
conducive to that life is the purificatory virtue of Phaedo; what is conducive to political virtue
is the subject of Gorgias.
What I want to concentrate on now is why we should believe Olympiodorus that we
should read Gorgias as concerned with political virtue which is the same question as: why is
it illuminating to read Gorgias after Alcibiades and before Phaedo. Let us begin with the
Phaedo passage in which Plato himself speaks of ‘popular or political virtue’.
16
These are the
‘ordinary virtues’, that human beings practice (. ¬.~.~µo.u- ~.,) by custom and habit and
‘without philosophy and intellect’. As the parallel Republic passages make clear, this virtue
is concerned with ‘externals’, that is, with behavior. By contrast, the virtue that is ‘a sort of
purification’ is the justice, temperance, and courage of a philosopher.
17
How are we to
understand this contrast? How is, say, political justice or temperance related to philosophical
justice or temperance?
We will recall that Michael says that the political virtues belong to the ‘composite’ and
‘theoretical’ virtue belongs to the ‘real human being’. The only way of appreciating
Michael’s distinction as it applies to Plato is to inquire into the matter of the identity of the
12
See Gerson (2005).
13
See Westerink-Trouillard (1990). It is worth adding, I think, that no Neoplatonists supposed that there was a
uniquely correct pedagogical order.
14
See In Gorg. 6, 12-17: µc- |~., ,c ¡ . | ~. `A·-.¡.c oµ ~. ¦uyµ .cµ.|, -c. ¦uyµ µ ·,.-µ , ¦..·µ.|
-c~¡-.cc. ~c, ~. ¬·.~.-c, cu~µ, c ¡.~c , -c. ~c, -c-c¡~.-c , u-u| .¬..oµ o.. ~c ¬·.~.-c
¬¡ ~.¡| .. o. |c., c|c,-c. ., u ~, o.c·,, µ.~` .-..|| c|c,.|. c-.~c., -c. µ.~c ~u~|
4c.o.| . , . y.| ~c , -c-c¡~.-c ,.
15
Cf. e.g., Rep. 581D-E.
16
Phd. 82A10-B3. Cf. 69B6-7, where this sort of virtue is called an ‘illusory façade’ (c-.c,¡c¦.c), fit for slaves. Cf.
Protag. 323A7, B2; 324A1 where Protagoras uses the term ‘political virtue’ in the same way without of course the
pejorative Platonic overtones. Cf. Rep. 365C3-4 and 500D8 with 518D3-519A6 where the ‘popular’ virtues are
identified as the ‘so-called virtues of the soul’ and especially 619C7-D1 for participation in virtue by ‘habit’
(.-..) ‘without philosophy’. At 430C3, courage is characterized as ‘political’. At 443C10-D1, characterizing
justice, Plato contrasts ‘external’ behavior with ‘internal’ virtue, which is concerned with what is ‘truly oneself
and one’s own' (c·µ-., ¬.¡. .cu~| -c. ~c .cu~u ).
17
See Phd. 67C5, 69B8-C3.
Lloyd P. Gerson 49
‘us’ in the question ‘what is the good for us’? The answer is not the answer to the question
‘what is the good for a human being’, that is, the ‘composite’, if we are not that. And that is,
of course, exactly what Alcibiades tells us. For it argues that the person is a soul and that the
body is an instrument. So, the good for us is the good of a soul, not the good of the body.
But the contrast between soul and body is crude and ultimately quite misleading. For if we
have put before us a choice between pursuing the good of our soul or the good of our body, it
is hardly obvious that we should prefer the former to the latter since in a perfectly natural
sense the good of our body is our good. I mean that it is a good that we experience. So, even
if we could understand political virtue as concerned with the good of our bodies and
purificatory virtue as concerned with the good of our souls, there is no way of telling why we
should regard one as superior to the other rather than just recognizing as the excellences of
alternative lifestyles.
The argument in Phaedo is, therefore, required to clarify the true person and hence what
its virtue is. Only if this is done would we be in a position to show that the virtue of the
bodily ‘instrument’ is inferior. The clarification is made via a proof for the immortality of the
soul. This proof, however, must be a proof of the immortality of the person who is at least in
some way continuous with the person in the body. This is done by showing that discarnate
knowledge is at least available to us in an embodied state, that is, such knowledge enables us
to make judgments about the deficiencies of sensibles. The reason why political virtue is an
inferior sort of virtue is that it is not the virtue of the ideal person, who is the subject of
discarnate knowledge; it is only the virtue of the person who is the subject of the states of the
composite.
The question we need to ask now is why we should think that all this heavy duty
metaphysical material is relevant much less necessary for interpreting Gorgias.
Olympiodorus’ answer to this question is straightforward. He argues that the virtue that
is the formal cause of political happiness is the virtues of the fourth book of Republic.
18
Specifically, citing the passage in Gorgias 504D1-3, he notes that temperance is the ‘order’
(- cµ,) of the parts of the soul and justice the ‘arrangement’ (~c ç.,).
19
Olympiodorus
assumes that ‘ordering of the soul’ indicates the virtues as they are described in Republic IV.
It will perhaps be objected that this supposed indication is question begging. For even if, in
the light of Republic, we read the account of the virtues in Gorgias as the account of the
virtues of the embodied person and identify these as constituted by external behavior, there is
no requirement that we read Gorgias in this light. Even more, there is no requirement that we
read that account as pertaining to an inferior form of virtue as Phaedo would have it.
Someone who is confident in having the ability to distinguish Socratic from Platonic ethics
and who is also inclined to see Gorgias as a reflection of the former will especially object to
the view that Socrates’ arguments in Gorgias do not establish the nature of the best life or of
true happiness. What needs to be shown is that the claims made about the ethical principles
leading us to political happiness do not stand on their own, that they can only be compelling if
political happiness is not the ideal. The life recommended by Socrates in Gorgias can only be
shown to be superior to the life recommended by Gorgias, Polus, or Callicles, if the life
Socrates recommends is not the best life. And this cannot be known unless Platonism itself is
adduced as the appropriate context.
Naturally, showing this in extenso is a formidable task. In the remainder of the paper, let
me offer a sketch of how it could be done. Socrates recommends a life of self-control as
18
See In Gorg. 15, 5, 1-4. Cf. 24, 1, 2ff.
19
Ibid., 34, 2, 10-12.
Plato’s Gorgias and ‘Political Happiness’ 50
preferable to a life of the limitless pursuit of pleasure.
20
This claim depends upon a purely
formal argument: something’s good depends upon its orderliness, its being arranged
according to the craft appropriate to it.
21
Callicles has himself already agreed that since there
are some bad pleasures, some craft is required to sort out the beneficial ones from their
opposites.
22
The argument does not tell us what this good is for a human being, only that a
life in pursuit of limitless pleasure could not be it.
23
It could not tell us what this good is
without identifying whose good exactly we are talking about.
Similarly, Socrates’ argument against Polus that tyrants do what seems best to them but
not what they want is in principle inconclusive.
24
For though the argument shows that there is
no entailment relation from ‘it seems to be good for me’ to ‘it is good for me’, it hardly
follows from this that tyranny is not a good life choice. The victory of the self-restrained life
over the tyrannical life in this dialogue is shallow and provisional, though it is for all that a
victory of sorts. So long as the question is: what is the best life for the human being, the
‘composite’, the answer must be inconclusive since there are no substantive grounds available
for privileging the desires of the rational subject from those of the appetitive subject. There is
only the formal argument that suggests that the ultimate subject, that is, the real me, is to be
identified with that which adjudicates the demands of the subject of appetite, namely, the
rational subject. Someone who opted for the life of the licentious tyrant is then, at least,
saddled with the logical oddness of pursuing the good of that which is distinct from the
subject who endorses this good. What Plato is assuming here but does not explain is that this
logical oddness is removed only if the subject who endorses is identical with the subject who
desires. In short, it is removed only if one identifies one’s own good with the good of the
subject of rational desires.
The eschatological myth at the end of Gorgias has frequently been castigated as sort of a
philosophical letdown after the supposedly rigorous dialectical ‘defeat’ of Callicles. What is
a myth about divine rewards and punishments doing in a dialogue which is supposed to be
maintaining the view that virtue and vice are automatically and intrinsically recompensed?
As Olympiodorus interprets the myth, Socrates is showing (not demonstrating) to Callicles
that we must hold up for ourselves a criterion of action in accord with the recognition that ‘we
should act autonomously’ (cu ~-.|µ ~., . |.¡,µ c.µ.|).
25
For Olympiodorus, this means
that the true self is a rational agent.
26
And, connecting the myth with the notion of political
happiness, this recognition is achieved by the practice of virtue, specifically the ‘political
virtue’ that Socrates has hitherto extolled.
27
Such virtue is both intrinsically desirable
(because it is virtue) and also instrumental to the ‘reversion to self’ (. ¬.c~¡¦µ ¬¡,
. cu~ |) that Neoplatonists generally understood the perfection of persons to consist in. It is
no concession to a Callicles to claim that virtue is instrumental – if we are talking about the
virtue that is self-restraint. This virtue is instrumental to the self-recognition of the true
person and hence to that person’s true good.
According to the Neoplatonic interpretation of Gorgias which Olympiodorus reflects,
that dialogue sets up the idea of an implicit contrast between the political virtues and the
20
See Gorg. 506C5-507A3.
21
Similar to the purely formal arguments used to refute Thrasymachus in Republic I.
22
Ibid., 499B4-500A6.
23
A similar argumentative strategy is employed in Philebus. See Gerson (2003), 251-65.
24
See Gorg. 467C5-468E5.
25
In Gorg. 48, 5, 3.
26
Ibid., 48, 6, 4; 49, 6, 10-12. In the latter passage, it is clear that the rational part of the tripartite soul is
‘autonomous’.
27
Ibid., 50, 4, 5-7.
Lloyd P. Gerson 51
purificatory virtues of Phaedo. These consist of the reorientation or, better, transformation of
the self into an ‘autonomous agent’. The agent of transformation is philosophy, as practiced
by Socrates and his interlocutors, but also by the student. It is to them (rather than to a
clueless Callicles) that a proof of the immortality of the soul is directed. It is only the
philosopher who recognizes that this proof is a proof of the immortality of one’s true self.
University of Toronto
Why Socrates came too late for Gorgias’ epideixis:
Plato’s Gorgias as political philosophy
Frederik Arends
The connection between rhetoric and power is given almost from the beginning of
Plato’s Gorgias: as soon as Socrates dissects Gorgias’ epideictic Ta megista tôn anthrôpeiôn
pragmatôn … kai arista (451d7-8), Gorgias claims that rhetoric protects from slavery, gives
power over the others (452d7; cf. 456a8) and makes all producers of the goods traditionally
appreciated most (451e3-5) work to the advantage of the rhetor (452e1-8). In fact, Gorgias
claims that rhetoric gives supreme power within the polis, based on its superior art of
persuading people when assembled in masses (457a6; cf. 454b5-6; 456c6; 502c9).
Gorgias’ claim here about rhetoric can be compared with what is known from Politeia as
“Gyges’ Ring” : by making the person wearing the ring invisible, Gyges’ Ring gives the
power to do whatever one likes, to commit any injustice without being hindered or punished,
thus paving the way to tyranny (359c6 ff.). In Politeia Glaucon claims that everybody would
use this ring in the way mentioned above if owning it (360b4-6). The rest of Politeia may be
read as an attempt to prove that, contrary to Glaucon’s opinion, there is a possibility of
preventing the abuse of “Gyges’ Ring”, of the absolute power given to the philosopher-kings
in order to bring about the kakôn paula tais polesi / ‘end to the troubles of the states’
(Resp. 473d5-6). Socrates confronts Gorgias with the comparable question of how it is
possible to prevent the abuse of power gained by having a command of rhetoric. That at least
seems to be the intention behind the question of whether students of rhetoric should possess
knowledge of good and bad, decent and indecent, just and unjust (459c8ff.).
In the case of Polus (466a4 ff.) a second motive appears for obtaining a command of
rhetoric: Polus admires people like Archelaus of Macedonia (470d5), who started from
nothing to become a tyrant (471a5 ff.; cf. 466b11), thus attaining true eudaimonia (470d1-3;
cf. 472c8-d3). For Polus, it does not matter which method the tyrant used to acquire his
eudaimonia (469a1). Polus does not believe that Socrates would not be willing to become a
tyrant if such an opportunity arose: su ara turannein ouk an deksaio? (469c3; cf. 468e6 f.;
471e1).
Using the terms of “Gyges’ Ring” in Politeia, Polus’ “happy tyrant” possesses impunity
after having done injustice.
1
Rhetoric however also offers impunity: whoever has a thorough
command of rhetoric will win every lawsuit when accused of adikia (466b4-d4); so rhetoric
gives absolute power, as does tyranny (468d2-3; 478e6-479b1); rhetoric enables people, while
remaining within the bounds of democracy, to approach the impunity and eudaimonia of
1
Quotations, in transliteration, are according to Burnet’s Oxford edition.‘Power’ is understood 469c-470a as the
capacity to prevent being punished after one has done injustice.
Frederik Arends 53
tyrants; rhetoric is, for a democrat, the politically correct way of attaining the eudaimonia of
the tyrant.
Another aspect of rhetoric’s connection with power is to be found in Callicles
(481b6 ff.). Initially, Callicles speaks less about rhetoric than about matters concerned with
the philosophy of law. In his philosophical considerations, however, power plays a
dominating role. In his opinion, might is right and success justifies every act of violence,
which he believes is illustrated in literature (484b1 ff.) as well as in political and military
history (483d3-e1); the Empire of the Persians in particular (483d6-7) provides him with
examples of the subordination of right to might: hôs hai megalai poleis epi tas smikras kata to
phusei dikaion erchontai, as Socrates summarizes Callicles (488c4-5).
Polus suggested that Socrates is hypocritical if declining tyranny even though it would
be possible for him to become a tyrant (469c3). How sincere however is Polus himself?
2
On
the one hand, he is a representative of conventional decency (487b1-2; cf. 482c5-e2), but on
the other, he admires the bestial tyrant Archelaus of Macedonia (470d5 f.). Polus’
ambivalence is not exceptional: in Politeia II, Glaucon and Adimantus attack the hypocrisy
present in all traditional education and in the literary and religious tradition of the Greeks
(Resp. 366e), as the message of this tradition is that you only have to seem just, not to be just,
and that a man is most successful in life when he knows how to combine the appearance of
justice with the reality of injustice (365b6 f.). In terms of Politeia, Polus represents the moral
ambivalence of tradition and “normality”.
This ambivalence can also be found in Callicles, the “lover” of the Athenian demos
(481d4-5; 513a2, b5-6) who finds the paradigm for Athenian politics in the history of Persian
imperialism. Darius attacking the Scythians and Xerxes attacking Greece illustrate for him
that, if one looks at the behavior of states as a whole (483d4; cf. 488c4-5), the “natural
dikaion” is for the better to rule the worse and for the stronger to rule the weaker (483d1;
492a5-b8). Again Politeia offers a useful parallel: injustice performed by a polis as a whole
means imperialism, as illustrated in Socrates’ question to Thrasymachos: polin phaiês an
adikon einai kai allas poleis epicheirein doulousthai adikôs kai katadedoulôsthai, pollas de
kai huph’heautêi echein doulôsamenên? (Resp. 351b1-3; cf. Gorg. 456a8).
Callicles appears to be the rhetorical climax of a trikôlon about rhetoric and power: a)
for Gorgias, command of rhetoric means supreme power within one’s democratic polis
(452d7; cf. 456a1-3), as illustrated by Themistocles and Pericles (455e2-3); b) for Polus,
rhetoric is the second best way of achieving the eudaimonia of the tyrant; c) for Callicles, the
ideal is the polis of Athens ruling its empire as a tyrant rules his polis. Athenian imperialist
thalassocracy forms the background of the dialogue, from the beginning (455b6-7; 455d8-e6)
to the end (503c1-6; 514a2-7; 515-519).
In addition to rhetoric being the key to power, Callicles also mentions a further function
of rhetoric, which has so far been neglected: rhetoric as an instrument of self-protection
(483b1 ff.; 456e2-4). Social and political life is dangerous; even within the polis one is
surrounded by enemies /echthroi
3
whose permanent aim is to do injustice to their enemies
and rob them of their possessions (486c1), even of their life (508d2-3). In order to prepare
oneself for this dangerous struggle, one has to acquire social and political experience (484c4-
e3); expressed in modern terms, one should become a member of relevant social and political
“networks” (hetairotatois, 487d3; tês huparchousês politeias hetairon einai, 510a9-10),
because without these one is helpless on the “battlefield” of the polis. Whoever fails to
2
It is relevant here that both Gorgias and Pôlos are xenoi (487a7), as this restricts their freedom of speech.
3
See: 480e5-481b1 (4x); 486c1; cf. 492c2.
Why Socrates came too late for Gorgias’ epideixis 54
acquire this experience and these connections over time, will be a defenseless victim of his
enemies (486a-c). And that is the most humiliating thing that Callicles can imagine (483a7-
b4; 486a4-c3; 508c4-d4; 527c6-7).
Callicles hints here at something that becomes more manifest in Politeia: in all existing
poleis, political life is characterized by stasis, a – latent or manifest – civil war, so that
citizens of the same polis are never neutral to each other but always behave either as enemies
or as friends (Resp. 422a1-423b10). Stasis forms the political background of the traditional
interpretation of justice in Politeia as tous philous eu poiein kai tous echthrous kakôs (Resp.
332d7; 335a8-10, e2-3; cf. 334b8-9), leaving no room for correct neutrality to fellow
citizens.
4
In his answer to Callicles, Socrates makes it clear that Callicles’ desire for self-
protection against injustice will compel him to assimilate to people who will not hesitate to do
injustice to those who are not considered by them to be “friends”; so the fear of becoming a
victim of injustice compels one to do injustice to others (510d4-511b5; 513a1-c3). This in
turn compels one to adopt a social and political role that could be described as being a
member of a political organization that acts as a mutual insurance company prone to using
criminal methods. Modern parallels are obvious.
Arguing on the basis that rhetoric functions as an instrument of self-protection and
survival in a polis where one has many enemies and few friends, Callicles stresses the danger
which a protracted preoccupation with philosophy implies for making the transition to
rhetoric, and thereby for one’s survival.
Callicles recognizes that philosophy, if studied for a limited time when one is young
(484c4 ff.; 485a-d; 486a, esp. 5-7), may be useful for later life as an adult citizen (491b1; c6-
7); at the same time, however, he thinks that it is vital to quit philosophy in due course,
because young adults have to become familiar with social and political life (485d5; ta meizô,
484c4-5); studying philosophy is useful for later life if and only if this study remains
propedeutical; whoever continues with philosophy for too long becomes a ‘weirdo’ (484d2 f.)
and puts his survival at risk, as he will not be able to defend himself and his ‘friends’ against
injustice (484c7-8; 486b6-c3; 487d1-2; 508d1-3). There is no mention here of rhetoric being
an instrument of power, let alone an instrument of absolute power: rhetoric has receded to
being an instrument of self-protection and survival, to dikanikê (512b7).
The obvious question then arises as to the extent to which one should – in Callicles’
opinion – “train one’s wits” (487c5-d2; 488a1; 484c7) and study philosophy. Callicles
indicates that there is an ‘opportune time’, a ‘proper moment’ – elsewhere in Plato’s work
referred to as kairos
5
– at which one should end one’s philosophical learning and begin the
process of social and political learning.
6
Before examining Socrates’ answer in detail, it is
important to point out that – as can be seen in Politeia – Plato considers Callicles’ argument
in Gorgias to be of great relevance: in Politeia, the paideia of future ‘philosopher-kings’ is
intertwined with the acquisition of ‘exo-philosophical’, practical, especially military
experiences (525b8; 537a4 f.). This paideia is not a direct educational implementation of the
“Liberation from the Cave”.
7
Expressed in terms of the “Cave”, those who are exposed to the
paideia of philosopher-kings will repeatedly be liberated through only a part of the way out of
the “Cave”, then will temporarily be brought back into the “Cave” to become familiar with
non-philosophical practice, and then will be liberated through the next part of the way out,
4
Gorgias 492b5-c3; Resp. 419a3-4.
5
See: Resp. 370b8, c4; cf. Lane (1998) and my review article in Polis, 18 (2001), 140-3.
6
See: mê pera tou deontos, 487c7; 485a-486a1 (esp. 485a3-7) is devoted to this problem.
7
See: Arends (1988), 335 ff.
Frederik Arends 55
only to be brought back again, etc. etc. In Politeia’s elaborated paideia of philosopher-kings,
the exitus linea recta - as still outlined in the “Allegory of the Cave” - has been transformed
into an exitus interruptus. The philosopher-king’s paideia does not find its philosophical
completion before (s)he enters his/her fifties (540a4 ff.); but all ‘exo-philosophical’ practical
knowledge relevant for a ruler should already have been acquired in the years before arriving
at the summit of philosophical knowledge. The educational curriculum of Politeia therefore
recognizes the importance of Callicles’ argument in Gorgias: whoever continues philosophy
for too long a time and becomes familiar with the reality of power at too late a moment, or not
at all, is useless for exercising power (Resp. 487c6-d5).
The basis for Socrates’ answer to Callicles is to be found in the discussion with Polus,
where Socrates claims that true politikê technê should be understood as therapeia tês psuchês
8
and that so-called “rhetoric” is no more than “a phantom of a part of politikê technê” (463d2;
cf. e4), if one understands Gorgias’ and Polus’ rhêtorikê technê in the way Socrates does:
persuasion among ignorants (454b-455c). Already here, Socrates connects true rhetoric
(504d5-6; cf. tên kaloumenên rhêtorikên, 448d9; cf. 504d5-6) and politikê technê as aiming at
improving the psyche of the citizens, the politai (504d1-e3; 505b3 f.). To think about rhetoric
should not, in Socrates’ opinion, be separated from the question of true politikê technê. This
explains the second part of this paper’s title: “Plato’s Gorgias as political philosophy.”
In response to Callicles’ objection that philosophy makes one unable to protect oneself
and one’s friends against adikeisthai, Socrates answers that philosophy par excellence enables
self-protection, if ‘self-protection’ means the protection of that which most deserves to be
protected: one’s psyche, in the first place, but in the end also one’s polis (480b8; 507d4-5;
cf. eme kai ta ema, 508e2, 4-5).
9
Callicles’ fear of becoming a victim of injustice was the
starting point of a causal sequence ultimately leading to doing injustice to others: the fear of
suffering injustice causes the need for self-protection, which causes involvement in political
life, which causes assimilation to the powerful (512e5-513a3), which – as doing injustice to
others is considered to be just if these others are ‘enemies’ – in fact compels one to do
injustice to others. And so the desire to protect oneself against suffering injustice / adikeisthai
causes involvement in a political culture which, expressed in terms of Politeia and Nomoi, is
characterized by stasis. Here one begins to understand why Socrates’ philosophical therapeia
tês psuchês (cf. 464b4) forms a very part of the politikê technê (464b4), and why he calls
himself the only true statesman of Athens (521d7-8).
The unconditional priority of the integrity of one’s own psyche, pleaded by Socrates
until the end of the dialogue, has as its consequence the unconditional choice against any
form of adikein, even when one has to choose between adikeisthai and adikein. Socrates is
realistic enough to consider adikeisthai as something very undesirable (509c6 ff.); he does not
however, unlike Callicles, consider adikeisthai as the greatest evil, against which one should
protect oneself even at the cost of doing injustice to others. In Socrates’ opinion, injustice to
others is the greatest evil, to be avoided under all circumstances. This rigorous standpoint has
political consequences: if one considers adikein to be worse than adikeisthai, one will not – in
order to prevent one’s own adikeisthai – become a member of political associations urging
adikein.
8
‘Care of the psyche’ (e.g. 477d-e) has to be understood as care of the moral foundations of a polis: ‘true rhetoric’
aims at the psychai (tais psuchais, 504d6-7; plural !) of the citizens (tois politais, 504d9); sôphrosunê of
individual and polis is the skopos, aiming at which both individual and polis have to live (507d7-8; 508b5-6).
Philosophy procures the epistêmê required in order to define the skopos of true politikê.
9
The ‘bridge’ from psuchê to polis is to be found at 501 d1-4 : mian psuchên … duo kai pollas ... hathroais; for the
political dimension of hathroais, see: Resp. 492B5-7 (sunkathezomenoi hathrooi polloi) and 493a8-9 (tôn pollôn
… hotan hathroisthôsin).
Why Socrates came too late for Gorgias’ epideixis 56
The desire for self-protection requires one to acquire the dunamis tou mê adikeisthai
(509d4-5), as Socrates recognizes and Callicles enthusiastically affirms (509d6). However
Socrates’ conviction that to do injustice is the greatest evil also requires a kind of ‘power’:
whoever wants to protect oneself against becoming the subject of adikia has to acquire the
“power and technê of not committing injustice”.
10
At this point the distinction between
empeiria and technê introduced earlier in the dialogue (463a6 ff.) becomes functional, and the
fact that Callicles finally conceded the non-identity of pleasant and good (499b4 ff.; 500d6 f.;
506c6-7!).
To establish the unpleasant nature of adikeisthai one does not need a technê: common
human empeiria is in this case enough. The political consequence of the unpleasant nature of
adikeisthai is the polis-in-stasis. However in order to recognize the wickedness of adikein,
such that even the most unpleasant form of adikeisthai would be preferable to adikein, one
cannot seek refuge in the evidence of common empeiria: one needs a ‘technê of the good’, of
the psyche, of the effects of adikein on the psyche, and finally one even needs an
eschatology.
11
For Socrates, philosophy means acquiring the knowledge that enables us to prefer
adikeisthai to adikein. And this makes us see when, according to Socrates, the kairos has
come for the transition from philosophy to rhetoric and politics: when one has acquired the
knowledge to choose – if compelled to choose – in favor of adikeisthai. Prior to this point in
time, one is not qualified for hê hôs alêthôs politikê and for prattein ta politika (521d7-8).
Socrates’ elenchus of rhetoric shows that as a rule people get involved in politics before
they clearly understand the absolute necessity of choosing, if they are compelled to choose, in
favor of adikeisthai; by their premature transition to rhetoric and politics, they get familiar
with an incorrect concept of rhetoric (as an art of defending injustice), with a political reality
that urges one to do injustice, and with a concept of politikê technê which makes it
understandable why in Politikos all so-called politikoi will be characterized as stasiastikoi
(Pol. 303c2).
If understood this way, the basic question of Gorgias concerns the kairos for the
transition from philosophy to rhetoric and politics. The dialogue indicates what philosophical
insights should have been acquired before one is qualified to make the transition to the polis
(513e2-515c5). In Callicles’ opinion, one should quit philosophy as soon as philosophy
begins to threaten the prevention of one’s own adikeisthai, i.e. when a young man though
becoming adult shows no interest in becoming familiar with existing social and political
conventions. In Socrates’ opinion however, one does not arrive at the kairos before one has
acquired the insight enabling us to opt against adikein, even if this means the risk of
adikeisthai.
Against this background, the beginning of Gorgias – with the host’s (Callicles’) caustic
remark to one of his guests (Socrates) arriving post festum (447a1-4) – anticipates the essence
of the dialogue: for Callicles, it is characteristic of philosophy that the philosopher arrives too
late for rhetoric; from the philosopher’s perspective, however, who has been delayed by
philosophical questions (447a7-8), one always arrives too early at rhetoric if there still are
philosophical questions to be answered. Which explains the first part of this paper’s title:
“Why Socrates came too late for Gorgias’ epideixis”.
Leiden
10
See: dunamin tina kai technên scl. tou mê adikein, 509e1 (cf. d7); 510a3-4.
11
See: technikou, 500a6; epistêmona tôn dikaiôn, 508c2; cf. technikai, 501b4; technikos, 504d6. For the eschatology,
see: 523a1-527a4.
Plato’s Critique of Gorgias: Power, the Other, and Truth
Noburu Notomi
1. Rereading Plato’s Gorgias
Gorgias, the rhetorician and sophist from Leontini of Sicily, was no doubt one of the
most influential intellectuals from the late fifth to the early fourth century BCE. After his
applauded debut at the Athenian Assembly in 427 BCE., Gorgias’ art of rhetoric enchanted
many politicians and young citizens in Athens and other Greek cities, including Meno,
Antisthenes, Alcidamas, and Isocrates, of whom many became powerful rivals of Plato.
Plato has Gorgias converse with Socrates in his eponymous dialogue. In spite of the
historical importance, however, the Gorgias of Plato’s Gorgias has not been focused on by its
interpreters, mainly because he does not seem to be clever enough to avoid Socrates’
refutation or snare. Did Plato belittle this great sophist? Or was Gorgias really a trivial
figure, whose thought has little that we need to take seriously?
Here I examine Plato’s critique of Gorgias as the basic project of his dialogue Gorgias
on two points. First, Plato targets the historical Gorgias
1
, and criticizes his dangerous idea
that rhetoric provides the absolute power to rule others. This idea can be detected in his
extant works, especially in the Encomium of Helen. Second, Gorgias’ notion of truth, implied
in that work, is radically different from that of philosophers, so that the argument between
him and Socrates in the first part of the Gorgias turns out to be systematically ambiguous.
Contrary to the appearance and traditional interpretation, Gorgias is not refuted by Socrates.
2. Rhetorical power in the Encomium of Helen
Gorgias wrote an encomium (or a defense) of the mythical beauty, Helen (DK 82 B11).
His real aim is to demonstrate the power of his art of rhetoric and thereby to recruit pupils.
Plato grasps the essence of his art and fights against it in the Gorgias.
In the preface of the Encomium, Gorgias proclaims that by giving reasoning (logismos)
to the speech (logos), he exhibits the truth (§2; cf. §13). Truth (alêtheia) is first declared “the
kosmos of a speech” (§1). However, the word “kosmos” has a double meaning: order and
ornament
2
. In the former sense, truth means the speech representing good order, but in the
latter, truth is only decoration of speech. Gorgias must be exploiting this ambiguity, or fuses
them in speaking of truth as kosmos
3
.
1
The anecdote that Gorgias praised Plato’s talent of satire when he listened to the Gorgias (Athenaeus XI 505D = DK
82 A15a) is not entirely imaginary, since he was probably alive until the 380s (ca. 490-380BCE.).
2
I agree with Wardy (1996), 30, 156 n.8, against MacDowell (1982), 28.
3
For the convergence of beauty and truth, see Verdenius (1981), 122.
Plato’s Critique of Gorgias: Power, the Other, and Truth 58
The author, after declaring the truth, appeals to plausibility (eikos, §5; cf. 7) by
presenting four possible causes of Helen’s flight to Troy: she was either compelled by divine
necessity, or seized by force, or persuaded by speech, or captivated by love (§5-6, 20). These
four do not exhaust the possibility (hence we cannot expect the logical truth), but they are
instead designed to overlap to culminate in the third cause, namely, the divine power of
speech; Gorgias demonstrates that persuasion by speech employs inevitable force (§8-14).
Speech is “a man of great power” (dynastês megas), which completes divine activities (§8),
and its power (dynamis) dominates the soul (cf. §10, 12, 14). Speech gives an audience great
pleasure, and holds the power of life and death, just like drugs (§14). Now persuasion is more
a matter of enchantment, deception, magic, and pedantry. This speech appeals to belief
(doxa), which are relied on as the soul’s adviser, though being slippery and unreliable (cf. §8,
10-11, 13). Gorgias subverts the epistemological status of belief, so that he deliberately blurs
the distinction between belief and truth
4
.
Here the key notion is “power”. Helen is defended as being overwhelmed by the
absolute power. She is first depicted as a weak victim, who resisted but was forced by
violence to become powerless. Next, when a speech persuades her to obey willingly and
pleasantly, she is no longer an independent agent, but becomes an object of rule and power.
The absolute power that rhetoric wields puts the other under its control. “The other” who is
persuaded primarily means Helen, but also implies us, the readers. For Gorgias’ aim is to
appeal to the audience (readers) and attracts them (us) by his power of rhetoric. Rhetoric
manipulates young citizens of political ambition (like Callicles and Meno), especially when
this speech itself wields great power over its readers.
< stronger > ⎯ rule ⎯ <weaker >
logos power psychê
<male> <female>
Subtext: Gorgias (persuading) We = readers
defending
Text: Paris persuading Helen
His initial promise of truth gradually reveals its true meaning; through this (written)
speech, Gorgias persuades us that the power of rhetoric produces truth. The notion of “truth”
diverges from what philosophers like Socrates presuppose (“absolute truth”). It is not simply
by deceiving others with falsehood but by forming truth through persuasion (“rhetorical
truth”) in an audience’s soul that rhetoric wields the great power.
3. Plato’s examination of Gorgias
By confronting Socrates with Gorgias and his followers, Polus and Callicles, Plato
reveals the root of his influence and thereby criticizes him in a fundamental way. The sharp
contrast between the two dissociates philosophy from rhetoric, and in this way, he aims at
once to defend his master Socrates and to establish philosophy. Plato’s critique of Gorgias
4
Rhetoric resorts to truth in contrast to belief (cf. Antiphon 2.2.2, DK 87 B44 A2.21-23); Gorgias himself uses this
contrast by calling doxa “the most untrustworthy thing” (Defense of Palamedes, 24).
Noburu Notomi 59
first examines the notion of “power” in a radical way, and then saves “the other” in
philosophical inquiry.
First, Plato reveals that the secret of Gorgias’ rhetoric lies in the appeal to the power to
rule others. The initial question is what “power” (dynamis) Gorgias’ art has (447C, 456A,
460A), and Socrates’ examination of rhetoric gradually unfolds what he has in mind. He
confidently proclaims that his art enables an audience to entertain the greatest good:
[Gorgias 452D-E]
Gorg: It is in reality the greatest good, Socrates, and is responsible for freedom
5
for
men themselves, and at the same time for rule over others in one’s own city.
Soc: Then what do you say this is?
Gorg: I say it is the power to persuade by speech jurymen in the jury-court,
council-men in the Council Chamber, assembly-men in the Assembly, and in every
other gathering, whatever political gathering there may be. And I tell you, with this
power you will hold the doctor as your slave, the trainer as your slave – and this
money-maker here will turn out to make money for someone else – not for himself,
but for you with the power to speak and persuade the masses.
Gorgias advertises through epideictic speech that the daemonic power of rhetoric
“practically captures all powers and keeps them under its control” (456A; cf. 455D-456C).
This exactly corresponds to the essence of rhetoric suggested in the Encomium.
In the Meno, the young Meno presents as Gorgias’ definition of virtue “to be able to rule
over people” (73C-D)
6
. Also, in the Philebus, Protarchus introduces Gorgias’ idea that “the
art of persuasion is superior to all others because it enslaves all the rest, with their own
consent, not by force” (58A-B). These references confirm the same underlying ideology.
Against this, Plato argues that the concept of power is not monolithic: the power to do
what one thinks (dokein) good does not necessarily bring him or her good things. In the
second part, Socrates refutes Polus, who, following Gorgias’ idea, maintains that a
rhetorician, just like a tyrant, can wield absolute power over other people (466B-E, 473C).
Through the dialogue, Polus has to admit the conclusion that power does not always realize
what one wishes, namely, the good (466B-468E, 469C-470A). By this argument Plato
attempts to divide “power” into real and apparent; rhetoric provides us with apparent power
only. Here we should note that Plato neither denies that speech has power, nor insists that its
power is bad in itself (cf. 481D-482B). Rather he distinguishes between power and good, so
as to secure the true power which brings about truth and the good, employed by the true art of
speech.
Second, the recurrent contrast between rhetoric (long speech) and dialogue (question and
answer) indicates a crucial difference in attitude toward the other. A rhetorician like Gorgias
is always concerned with the indefinite many, who listen to him, and by means of long
beautiful speeches tries to keep them under control. For Gorgias “the other” is simply the
object of persuasion and rule. By contrast, a philosopher like Socrates does not take the many
into account, but considers his interlocutor(s) only (472B-C, 474A, etc.). For Socrates “the
other”, with whom he engages in dialogue and reaches agreement, is each particular self he
faces. Philosophical dialogue is realized between “you” and “me”. The role of the other
clearly indicates how Socrates’ philosophy differs from Gorgias’ rhetoric. Socratic dialogue
5
Gorgias mentions “freedom” (eleutheria), the catchword of Athenian democracy, as the power of ruling and
enslaving the other (cf. 483A-B, 485B-C; cf. Laws 890A).
6
Socrates immediately points out that such virtue is limited to free citizens, but excludes slaves and children (and
certainly women) (Meno 73D).
Plato’s Critique of Gorgias: Power, the Other, and Truth 60
encourages shared inquiry into truth through examination between responsible selves. Yet
rhetoric concerns “truth” in a different way.
4. Rhetorical truth versus absolute truth
Socrates is usually taken to have successfully refuted Gorgias at the end of the first part.
However, we must note that this view is given by Polus and followed by Callicles (461B-C,
482C-D), while there is no guarantee at all that they understand Gorgias correctly
7
.
According to their diagnosis, Gorgias made one unnecessary but fatal concession to Socrates,
which caused contradiction in his own statements: he should not have admitted that a
rhetorician teaches justice to his pupils. They suggest that this small failure allowed Socrates
to refute him. Yet Gorgias neither agrees nor disagrees with this diagnosis. Taking our
analysis of Gorgias’ rhetoric into account, the argument of the first part can be interpreted
differently.
The contradiction alleged by Polus is between the following two statements of Gorgias
8
:
(S1) A rhetorician produces persuasion without knowing about justice (454E-
455A).
(S2) A rhetorician knows justice and can teach it to his pupils (459C-460B).
Since S1 seems a basic tenet of rhetoric, one may easily assure that S2 is the unsuitable
concession, as Polus believes. However, S2 is also important because the rhetorician takes a
position superior to others in being able to persuade them of each issue. If Gorgias argues on
the different notion of truth, he can maintain both S1 and S2 as two sides of the same art of
rhetoric.
The first crucial step was to admit that rhetoric produces persuasion without knowledge
(S1: 454C-455A). Socrates initially proposes a general distinction between learning and
believing (pistis), to which Gorgias gives his assent. With this distinction, Socrates next asks
which of the two a rhetorician concerns in persuading people in jury-courts (454E). In the
conclusion, Socrates again refers to rhetorical persuasion in court:
[Gorgias 455A]
Soc: Then neither does the rhetorician teach juries and the other mobs about just
and unjust things, but only produces persuasiveness. For presumably he couldn’t
teach such great matters to such a large mob in a short time
9
.
Gorg: No indeed.
In the law court, where a case is examined in a limited time (imagine that a murder
happened in a dark place with few witnesses in the remote past), there is no hope to attain the
absolute truth from the beginning. What matters there is a rhetorical truth, that is, which
speech is more persuasive and convincing; otherwise, everything will equally be false. On
this basis, Gorgias can insist at once (S1’) that rhetorical persuasion deals with belief, and
(S2’) that, as far as the rhetorician has power to persuade the other, he provides truth and
7
They at least misunderstand Socrates’ argument and intention (pace Dodds (1959), 263):
(1) Socrates did not entrap his interlocutors with tricks (e.g. equivocation of nomôi and physei; cf. 483A).
(2) Socrates did not rejoice at their failures (cf. 461D, 482D).
8
The contradiction that Socrates points out at the end (460C-461B) is different from Polus’ version:
(S3) A rhetorician knows justice, and consequently is just, so that he never acts unjustly (460B-C).
(S4) A rhetorician may use his art of rhetoric unjustly (456C-457C, 460E-461A).
9
The limit of time in court is measured by water-clock; remember the argument of Theaetetus 201A-C.
Noburu Notomi 61
knowledge. In a word, the power of persuasion constitutes truth. Their arguments miss each
other on the two fundamentally different bases.
When Socrates, based on the sharp distinction between knowing and believing, proposes
that a rhetorician without knowing is persuasive and only appears (phainesthai, dokein) to
know to the ignorant (459B-E), Gorgias looks happy with this description of his magical
power of rhetoric (459C). On the other hand, he professes that the pupils who lack
knowledge can learn justice from the rhetoric teacher (S2). By this Gorgias must mean that,
since the rhetorician wields the power of persuasion and in this sense knows how to bring
about truth in an audience’s mind, the same power and knowledge can be given to anyone
who wants to learn. Here his audience play a double role, as pupils to be made powerful
rhetoricians and as the object of his persuasion, when he performs a speech in front of his
potential pupils (cf. 455C-D).
With this distinction accepted, the argument in the first part remains systematically
ambiguous. Socrates, based on absolute truth and knowledge, sees a crucial contradiction in
Gorgias’ statements, between S1 and S2, whereas Gorgias, based on rhetorical truth, sees the
same argument differently, as representing the magical power of his art of rhetoric. Gorgias
would not admit that he was refuted, while his followers, Polus and Callicles, accept Socrates’
refutation and thereby stand on the same (absolutist) basis of knowledge; in order to defend
their master by means of logos, they take S1 as the essence of rhetoric, and reject S2.
Therefore, the fundamental gap is left unbridged in the first part between Socrates and
Gorgias, and the gap is passed to the subsequent exchanges with Polus and Callicles, where a
true refutation becomes possible
10
. This reading may suggest how deep Plato sees the root of
rivalry between rhetoric and philosophy lies
11
.
Keio University
10
Therefore, this understanding of the strategy in the three parts is different from the traditional one (e.g. Irwin (1979),
9).
11
I’d like to thank Tatsumi Niijima and Christopher Gill for valuable comments on the earlier versions.
Form and outcome of arguments in Plato’s Gorgias
Christopher Gill
Those of us who work in British universities in the era of Teaching Quality Assurance
have become familiar with the idea that educational programmes have ‘Intended Learning
Outcomes’ (ILOs). This discussion of a specific section of the Gorgias (505e-509c) is
designed as the basis of an enquiry into the ILO of the Gorgias. In particular, I am concerned
with the relationship between the form of the argument (and of the dialogue generally) and the
learning outcome for the reader.
In general, I assume that it is highly implausible to think that the ILO of an early
Platonic dialogue
1
– perhaps any Platonic dialogue – is that the reader should
straightforwardly accept the main lines of argument and the conclusions offered by Socrates.
There are a whole series of features which discourage this learning outcome. These include
aporiai in the course of arguments and at the end of dialogues, incomplete lines of analysis,
and explicit comments by Socrates urging re-examination of the conclusions, the
assumptions, or the method of argument used to reach conclusions. For instance, at the end of
the Charmides (175b-d), Socrates highlights a series of unjustified assumptions made in the
course of the argument, which have, even so, failed to enable them to reach firm conclusions
on the questions raised. The Protagoras ends with Socrates suggesting that the two
participants have reversed their original positions and that they need to re-address the whole
subject at a more fundamental level (361a-d). Although the suggestion about the reversal of
positions is not wholly plausible, there are features of the argument that do genuinely invite
further, and far-reaching, re-examination.
2
I assume that this is not to be seen as a merely formal or symbolic feature of the early
Platonic dialogues but one with serious philosophical implications, which has, indeed, had
important consequences in the philosophical reception of these dialogues. Few Platonic
arguments have been more ‘protreptic’
3
in their effect than the final main argument in the
Protagoras, the denial of psychological conflict between parts. This, apparently, stimulated
the radically different analysis of psychological conflict in Book 4 of Plato’s Republic, and,
certainly, provoked Aristotle’s revision of Socrates’ argument in his analysis of akrasia in
Nicomachean Ethics 7.3. It also stimulated the rethinking and re-adoption of the unitary
psychological model, with its profound implications for understanding alleged inner conflict,
by the Stoics and Donald Davidson.
4
This example illustrates the potential range of the
Intended Learning Outcomes of a Platonic dialogue, that is, the responses which the dialogues
1
On Platonic chronology, see Kahn (2002).
2
See further on this type of interpretation, seen as applying in different ways to all Plato’s dialogues, Gill (1996).
3
On the interlocking of dialectic and protreptic in Plato’s dialogues (e.g. Euthydemus), see Gill (2000).
4
See Pl. Rep. 435-441, Arist. NE 7.3, especially 1147b13-17; on the Stoics see e.g. Price (1995), ch. 4, and on
Davidson (and Plato), Penner (1990).
Christopher Gill 63
have produced and which they seem designed to invite. The dialogues have stimulated root-
and-branch replacement, on the one hand (if this is how we should understand the argument
of Book 4 of the Republic), and the re-adoption of the core ideas, but with substantive
psychological, ethical, or epistemological modifications, on the other. Of course, more
modest responses are possible, such as repairing localised gaps or contradictions in the
existing argument or recasting the lines of argument in new terminology. However, the form
of the dialogues seems to invite some creative philosophical response other than accepting
Socrates’ lines of argument and conclusions as doctrines to be straightforwardly adopted.
But is the Gorgias different? Certainly, it seems to be different: neither the argument nor
its conclusion is explicitly aporetic, and Socrates has, for much of the discussion, an
affirmative, even dogmatic or didactic tone. This is nowhere clearer than in 505e-509c. Here,
Socrates’ dialectical exchange with Callicles breaks down and Socrates, exceptionally,
continues the argument for both of them. Socrates uses this breakdown in discussion to sum
up key conclusions, as he presents them, reached in his preceding arguments with Polus and
Callicles. One of these is that virtue or goodness consists in order (identified with sôphrosunê
in the case of psychic order), and that we should therefore work to gain sôphrosunê rather
than the maximization of pleasures (506c-508b). A second conclusion is that, since doing
wrong is both more shameful and worse than suffering it, we should seek to obtain the
capacity or craft by which to avoid this (508b-509e). His comments also imply ideas often
seen as central to Socrates’ thinking: that the virtues are unified (507a-c), that virtue is the
basis of (or identical with) happiness (507c-d), that no one does wrong willingly but only out
of error (509e).
Given this aspect of Gorgias 505e-509c, it is not surprising that the passage is used by
scholars aiming to define core Socratic theories or doctrines. For instance, Gregory Vlastos
cites 507b8-c7 in support of his claim that Socrates maintains that virtue and happiness are
interentailing (because virtue is either sufficient for or identical with happiness) (1991: 223-
4). For Charles Kahn, the passage is a prime source for doctrines that he sees as underlying
the characteristic Socratic paradoxes outlined here. The idea that wrongdoing is involuntary
(509e) is taken to imply the larger claim that ‘we are all motivated by a rational desire
(boulesthai) for the good’ (1996: 138-9). The idea that virtue consists in a kind of natural
‘harmony ‘ or ‘order’ in the psyche (507e-508a) is seen as providing theoretical support for
the claim that virtue is fundamental for happiness (508b-c) (Kahn 1996: 142-3).
Certain of the more affirmative or dogmatic features of this passage also served as
crucial support for Vlastos’s second – and very famous – interpretation of the function of
Socratic elenchus. Instead of seeing elenchus as designed to expose logical consistency and
inconsistency, as he had previously supposed, Vlastos maintained that elenchus, by exposing
inconsistency in the interlocutor’s beliefs, enables Socrates to gain at least provisional
knowledge of the truth. Vlastos was especially impressed by the confident tone in this
passage:
These things that have become plain in the preceding arguments are, as I say, held
down and bound by arguments of iron and adamant (to put it rather crudely) ... My
position (logos) at least is always the same: I don’t know how these things are, but
no one I’ve met, as in this case, has been able to say anything different without
being ridiculous. (508e6-509a1, a4-7).
The confident tone, especially in the first part of this statement, picks up Socrates’
earlier claim, made in connection with the idea that virtue is the basis of happiness, that ‘these
things are true’(507c8-9). It also builds on the comment, in connection with the idea that
doing injustice is worse than suffering it, that ‘what you thought Polus admitted from shame
Form and outcome of arguments in Plato’s Gorgias 64
is true (alêthê) (508b7-8).
5
Vlastos also recognised a more aporetic note in the second
sentence cited earlier (‘I don’t know how these things are’). This picks up the earlier
comment that, while everyone should strive competitively to know the truth (to alêthes) as
being a ‘common good’ (koinon agathon), ‘the things I am saying I do not assert as one who
knows (eidôs), but I am searching in common with you (zêtô koinê(i) meth’ humôn)’ (505e4-
506a4). But, at least in his later analysis of the elenchus, Vlastos interprets the idea of shared
enquiry in the light of Socrates’ confident truth-claims. Hence, Vlastos supposes, Socrates
believes he has gained knowledge of truth through repeated acts of elenchus. Socrates is
conscious that his belief-set is consistent (and, provisionally at least, true) and that this
enables him to expose the inconsistency of his interlocutors. What stimulates continued
enquiry by Socrates is only the – increasingly theoretical – possibility that he might be shown
up as inconsistent and also the acknowledgement that he lacks divine certainty in knowledge.
6
It is, presumably, this analysis of the role of elenchus that justifies Vlastos’s use of part of this
passage (507b8-c7), along with other extracts from the early dialogues, to reconstruct a
systematic theory or set of doctrines, about the relationship between virtue and happiness,
which he ascribed to Socrates (1991, ch. 8).
So it is clear that this way of reading this passage of the Gorgias (505e-509c), namely as
didactic in its content and approach, has had substantial implications at least within one, very
influential, strand of Anglo-American analytic scholarship on Plato.
7
But are we really
justified in seeing this part of the Gorgias, or the Gorgias as a whole, as so different in its
intended learning outcome from other early Platonic dialogues such as the Protagoras? I
think there are several reasons for scepticism about this way of reading the passage. One, very
obvious, reason is that this is only Socrates’ report of the results of the preceding argument.
His partner in dialogue, Callicles, is mutinously silent throughout the passage. To this degree,
Socrates’ explicit project, of which we are reminded at the start of the passage (505e4-506a4),
of ‘shared search’ for an agreed account of truth as a ‘common good’, has collapsed, since the
conclusions stated by Socrates are not supported even by the reluctant assent of the
interlocutor. Also, one of these conclusions, that doing wrong is both more shameful and
worse than suffering it (508b-c), depends on the results of a notoriously questionable
argument (474b-475e), whose problematic character has been brought out by both Kahn and
Vlastos.
8
It is in connection with this argument that Socrates, twice, claims to have proved
what is ‘true’ (alêthê), a claim that Vlastos found so significant for understanding the function
of elenchus.
9
If we assume that the Plato was also aware of the questionable logic of this
argument, the fact that emphatic truth-claims are based on this specific argument is a further
signal that we should be cautious about accepting Socrates’ confident claims in 508e-509a.
Thirdly, Socrates’ characterisation of virtue as psychic order introduces several striking new
themes. These include the idea that kosmos is a function of the universe and human society as
well as the virtuous psyche, coupled with the idea of ‘proportionate equality’ as an ethical
norm. These ideas, for us, evoke later Plato dialogues, especially the Republic and Timaeus.
10
5
See also Socrates’ comment near the end of his dialogue with Polus: ‘Has it not been proved (apodedeiktai) that what
was said is true (alêthê)?’ 479e7.
6
See Vlastos (1994), ch. 1, especially 17-33, ch. 2, especially 58-66.
7
Vlastos’s views on elenchus and knowledge have generated a huge secondary literature since their first publication in
papers in the 1980s. See e.g. (both critical of Vlastos in different ways) Benson (2000) and Beversluis (2000); also
Gill (2004b).
8
Vlastos describes it as a ‘rotten argument’, and exempts Socrates from cheating only on the (a priori) ground that
Socrates’ moral seriousness would not allow him to do so on an issue of such importance: Vlastos (1991), 139-48,
especially 146-7; also Kahn (1983), 86-97, (1996), 135, n. 11.
9
479e7, cited in n. 5 above, and 508b8-c1.
10
See e.g. Pl. Rep. 500b-d, Tim. 29e-37c, 90a-d. See further Burnyeat (2000), Gill (2004a).
Christopher Gill 65
By the same token, they are themes which have not formed part of the dialectical discussion
on which Socrates, allegedly, bases his statement of agreed conclusions and the confident
truth-claims associated with these.
These points add up to a single overall impression, I think, which is that
Socrates’ summary of the conclusions of the argument has a strongly rhetorical character.
The summary is assertive in an uncharacteristically unqualified way and it also goes beyond
what the preceding discussion (or its monologic continuation in 505e-509c) justifies as an
account of agreed conclusions of shared enquiry. Socrates himself admits later that his style
of argument becomes more rhetorical in the course of the discussion, when he says to
Callicles ‘you have made me become a real ‘mob-orator’, alêthôs dêmêgorein’, 519d5-7).
This style is also evident in the passages noted earlier, which make strong truth-claims about
the outcome of the preceding argument.
11
Socrates’ adoption of a rhetorical style emerges in
(what he himself characterises as) a ‘rather crude’ (agroikoteron) characterisation of the force
of his argument. He claims that the conclusions of his argument are bound ‘by chains of iron
and argument’ and virtually dismisses the idea that Callicles or ‘anyone more headstrong’
(neanikôteros)’ will be able to unloose these chains (509a1-4). Indeed, these passages in the
Gorgias, which so strongly shaped Vlastos’s interpretation of the function of elenchus,
express what one might call ‘the rhetoric of truth-claims’, rather than the dialectical analysis
of them; they are formulated in an unqualified way and are not securely based in the agreed
outcomes of ‘shared search’.
But, if we accept this characterisation of Socrates’ style of discourse here, what follows
for our interpretation of the passage and for the larger question of whether this passage, and
the dialogue as a whole, should be read – to put it simply – as didactic or protreptic in
approach? In its immediate context, the rhetorically assertive summary of alleged conclusions
seems designed to provoke Callicles into re-entering the argument, as he actually does in
509c-e (though also lured by some ambiguous comments by Socrates).
12
More broadly,
however, this feature of the passage underlines what one might call the ‘embedded’ character
of Platonic dialectic; that is, the localisation of arguments and conclusions within a specific
dialectical encounter with its own cast of characters and mode of discourse.
13
Also, the
rhetorical character of Socrates’ assertions might act as a signal – particularlyto someone who
knows any other early Platonic dialogues – that Socrates is assertive and confident about the
truth-claims of the outcome of his dialectical shared search dialectic in a way that he tends not
to be elsewhere – and in a way that we might want to endorse. This signal is, certainly, less
overt than the explicitly protreptic comments in the Charmides (175b-c), Protagoras (361a-d)
and elsewhere. There is also less evidence that the arguments of the Gorgias have served as a
catalyst for new theories than in the case of the final argument of the Protagoras.
14
But this
signal should be enough, I believe, to make us think twice – or more – before assuming that
Plato intends to show Socrates offering an authoritative summary of his doctrines in this
passage. We should also be cautious about supposing that the passage suggests that the
representation of Socratic dialectic is designed to communicate unqualified knowledge of
truth, and that this is the intended learning outcome of an early Platonic dialogue.
University of Exeter, UK
11
507b8-d6, especially c8-9, 508b3-c3, 508e6-509b1.
12
Socrates raises the question of how to secure a ‘power’ (dunamis) to avoid suffering - and also doing - injustice
(508d-e).
13
On this feature, see further Gill (2002), 153-61.
14
Long (2002), 70-4, highlights the influence on Epictetus of Plato’s Gorgias, but as an exemplar of dialectical method
and moral seriousness rather than as a source of arguments to be re-examined.
Der Dialog Gorgias und die Tradition des europäischen
Naturrechts
Ada Neschke-Hentschke
Einleitung
Im zeitgenössischen Rechts- und Verfassungsstaat sind die Inhaber der politischen
Macht darauf verpflichtet, die natürlichen Rechte des Menschen zu schützen.
1
Es handelt sich
bei dieser Pflicht um ein Gebot der natürlichen Gerechtigkeit. Der Begriff der natürlichen
Gerechtigkeit bildet den Kern der europäischen Naturrechtstradition, deren Ursprünge, wie
schon der Ausdruck « natürliche Gerechtigkeit » iustitia naturalis – ~ ¦u c.. o. -c.|
anzeigt, in die griechisch-römische Antike zurückreichen. Meine hier vorgeschlagene Lektüre
des platonischen Dialogs Gorgias ist von dem Erkenntnisinteresse geleitet, diesen Ursprüngen
nachzugehen.
Über den Beginn der Naturrechtstradition in der Antike herrscht nun keineswegs
Klarheit. Er ist vielmehr durch eine weit verbreitete communis opinio verdeckt, die besagt,
dass das europäische Naturrecht eine Erfindung der Sophistik sei. Diese Meinung vertreten
renommierte Naturrechtshistoriker wie K.-H. Ilting
2
; kürzlich hat auch Christoph Horn in
seiner wichtigen Einführung in die Politische Philosophie den Naturrechtsgedanken auf die
Sophistik zurückgeführt
3
und damit die communis opinio erneut geltend gemacht. Für diese
These liefert ihm Platos Gorgias eine Referenz : nicht nur beruft sich die Dialogfigur des
Kallikles auf ein Gesetz der Natur (| µ, ~µ , ¦u c..,) und auf ein natürliches Gerechtes
(~ ¦u c.. o. -c.|), sondern dieser Kallikles gilt auch als Vertreter der Sophistik.
4
Wir stellen nun dieser Auffassung die These entgegen, dass der Ursprung des
europäischen Naturrechts keineswegs bei den Sophisten, sondern bei Plato zu suchen sei. Ein
klares Zeugnis für unsere Gegenthese liefert der platonische Theätet und das 10. Buch der
Nomoi ; hier resümiert Plato die politische Theorie des Protagoras und anderer anonymer
Denker mit dem Hinweis darauf, dass sie ein natürliches Gerechtes unmöglich mache
(Theätet 172 b2-b7 ; Nomoi X, 889 e5-890 a2). Vor allem aber konzipiert Plato emphatisch
seine Polis in den Nomoi als ein auf das Naturrecht gegründetes Gemeinwesen; denn die
Herrschaft der Vernunft, d.h. des Gesetzes, bedeutet, dass das natürliche Gerechte zum
Massstab aller (positiven) Gesetzgebung zu erheben ist (Nomoi VI, 757 a5-757 c8).
5
1
Stourzh (1975).
2
Ilting (1983), 36-41.
3
Horn (2003), 17. Ch. Horn nuanciert allerdings anschliessend diese Bemerkung und teilt die ausdrückliche Theorie
einer naturrechtlichen Begründung des Staates Aristoteles zu. Gegen beide Thesen vgl. jedoch Neschke-
Hentschke (1995), 107 ss., 167 ss.
4
Horn (2003), 17.
5
Im Kontext von Nomoi VI erscheint das « Natürliche » als das « Göttliche ». Anders Buch X, wo der Gottesbeweis
sich an andere Adressaten wendet.
Ada Neschke-Hentschke 67
In einer Rekonstruktion der politischen Philosophie Platos und ihrer Rezeption habe ich
zu zeigen versucht, dass die europäische Naturrechtstradition auf die platonischen Nomoi,
vermittelt durch Ciceros De legibus und Augustins Cicerorezeption in seinem Frühwerk,
zurückgeht,
6
– also keineswegs auf die Sophistik. Die Argumente für diese Beurteilung der
Naturrechtstradition stützen sich auf zwei Verfahren :
• Auf eine Begriffsklärung : « Was heisst europäisches Naturrecht » ?
• Auf eine Neuinterpretation des Gorgias im Lichte dieser Begriffsklärung.
Heute und hier erlaubt mir die gebotene Kürze eines Vortrags nur, eine Skizze meiner
Argumente zu geben, ich verweise auf die ausführliche Darstellung in meiner Arbeit zum
Politischen Platonismus.
7
1. Was heisst « europäische Naturrechtstradition » ?
Die europäische Naturrechtstradition umfasst drei fundamentale Annahmen :
• Es gibt ein « Recht bzw. Gerechtes von Natur » (ius naturale – iustitia naturalis).
• Dieses Recht hat als Quelle eines natürliches Gesetz (Rechtsquellenlehre).
• Das Naturrecht liefert die höchste Norm für alles gesetzte, « positive »,
d.h. « staatliche » Recht. Es bindet die politische Macht an dieses Recht.
Die Ausarbeitung dieser Thesen hat eine differenzierte Terminologie hervorgerufen, die
aber in dem modernen Ausdruck « Naturrecht » verschleiert wird. Ich erläutere daher das
Wesentliche der Naturrechtstradition mithilfe einer Begriffsklärung.
So umfasst in den modernen europäischen Sprachen (ausser der englischen) das Wort
Naturrecht (droit naturel, diritto naturale, derecho naturale) sowohl das natürliche Recht
(= ~ ¦u c.. o. -c.|, ius naturale, natural right), als auch seine Quelle, d.h. das natürliche
Gesetz. Letzteres fällt seit den Stoikern mit der die Normen und daher auch das Recht
setzenden Vernunft zusammen (SVF, III ; 78, 2 ; 79, 40). Dieses Gesetz wird zur lex naturalis
bei Cicero, Augustin und Thomas von Aquin und zum englischen « natural law ».
8
Die
normensetzende Vernunft postuliert nun, jede Rechtsnorm (ius) der natürlichen Gerechtigkeit
(iustitia naturalis) zu unterstellen, bzw. mit ihr zu identifizieren.
9
Zusammengefasst : Es ist typisch für die europäische Naturrechtstradition, eine
rechtsschaffende Instanz, die lex naturalis, anzunehmen ; diese setzt die natürlichen Normen
(iura naturalia), die alle der natürlichen Gerechtigkeit entsprechen und daher mit dieser
identifiziert werden können : ius naturale und iustitia naturalis werden austauschbar – so
besonders ausdrücklich bei den mittelalterlichen Juristen, die die platonische Gerechtigkeit
mit dem römischen Naturrecht identifizieren und beides als Produkt der göttlichen Schöpfung
interpretieren.
10
6
Neschke-Hentschke (2003).
7
Siehe Anmerkung 6 und Anmerkung 3.
8
Die Trennung von natural right und natural law wird vor allem von Th. Hobbes klargemacht (Hobbes (1966), 99).
9
Die iustitia naturalis ist die lateinische Übersetzung des physei dikaion durch den spätantiken Kommentator von
Platos Timaios, Calcidius. Vgl. Timaeus a Calcidio translatus, commentarioque instructus, hsg. v. J.H. Waszink
(1962), 59-60. Dazu Neschke-Hentschke (2003), Leçon 1.3.
10
Dazu Neschke-Hentschke (2003), loc.cit., und ausführlicher Neschke-Hentscke (2005b).
Der Dialog Gorgias und die Tradition des europäischen Naturrechts 68
In dem modernen Wort Naturrecht stecken somit drei zu unterscheidende lateinische
Begriffe :
• die lex naturalis, das natürliche Gesetz – griechisch : der ·,, oder | µ, ~µ,
¦uc..,.
• das ius naturale, das natürliche Recht – griechisch : ~ ¦u c.. o. -c.|.
• und die iustitia naturalis bzw. die aequitas, die natürliche Gerechtigkeit – griechisch
ebenfalls : ~ ¦u c.. o. -c.| (~ o. -c.| cu ~ bei Plato).
11
Das Eigentümliche der europäischen Naturrechtstradition besteht nun in der
« Politisierung » der natürlichen Gerechtigkeit : sie wird höchste Norm für die Ordnung der
politischen Gemeinschaft, deren Eigenart in dem Phänomen einer obersten Macht besteht (bei
Aristoteles als -u¡.c c¡yµ bezeichnet).
12
Die natürliche Gerechtigkeit hat zur Aufgabe, die
Ausübung der höchsten Macht an ein rationales Prinzip zu binden. Es handelt sich um eine
mathematische Rationalität, die Proportionalität oder geometrische Gleichheit ; letztere
verlangt, jedem das Seine zuzuteilen – das suum cuique tribuere. Politisch kommt dieses
Prinzip zur Anwendung, wenn die oberste politische Macht nach diesem Kriterium verteilt
wird. Damit sollen Machtkämpfe, d.h. Gewaltanwendung verhindert werden. Das säkulare
Festhalten am Prinzip des suum cuique in der europäischen Naturrechtstradition verweist auf
die kontinuierliche Intention und Motivation der politischen Denker dieser Tradition, dank
eines rationalen Prinzips die Gewaltlosigkeit der politischen Gemeinschaft zu sichern. Dieses
Prinzip hiess vormals Gerechtigkeit, heute Rechtsstaatlichkeit.
13
2. Die Lektüre des Gorgias im Lichte der Begriffsklärung
Unsere Lektüre des Gorgias muss somit auf zwei Fragen antworten :
• Wie verhält sich das von Kallikles formulierte Naturrecht zu der Naturrechts-
tradition ?
• Und : Ist Kallikles ein Sophist ?
Da wir die zweite Frage negativ beantworten werden, werden wir abschliessend kurz die
Frage nach dem Anteil der Sophistik an der europäischen Naturrechtstradition stellen.
2.1. Das Naturrecht des Kallikles und das europäische Naturrecht
In seiner berühmten Rede (Gorgias 483 a7-e4) vertritt Kallikles « das Recht des
Stärkeren », d.h. er vertritt das « Recht der Gewalt ». Er bedient sich dabei einer Rhetorik, die
dem habituellen griechischen Rechtsdenken folgt. Letzteres unterscheidet sich vom
römischen Denken grundlegend dadurch, ausschliesslich das Gesetz zur Quelle des Rechts zu
machen. Alles Recht geht auf ein Gesetz zurück – alles gesetzliche Recht ist gerecht.
14
Dieser
Gewohnheit folgend verankert auch Kallikles das Recht des Stärkeren in einem « Gesetz von
Natur » und macht somit das ihm folgende Recht zu einem Naturrecht. Ein die Gewalt
einsetzendes Recht ist jedoch, einer anderen griechischen Tradition folgend, durchaus ein
Paradox. In der Tat, seit Hesiod ist für die Griechen das Recht dadurch definiert, dass es
11
Im römischen Sprachgebrauch wird Recht als ius und gerechtes Recht als aequum ius bezeichnet. Diese Trennung
fehlt in der griechischen Sprache.
12
Die -u¡.c c¡yµ (Aristoteles, Politik III, 14, 1285 a4) wird zur summa potestas, bzw. zum summum imperium, das
seit J. Bodin als Souveränität ein wesentliches Merkmal des Staates ausmacht (Bodin (1583), 1).
13
Dazu grundlegend Böckenförde (1991), 143-169.
14
Vgl. z. B. DK II, 89, 11 Aufl. 1964, 400-404 (Anon. Iamblichi). Hier sind o. -c.| und | µ.µ| Synonyme ; ebenso
Aristoteles, Nikomachische Ethik, V, Kp. 1-3. Zum griechischen Rechtsdenken vgl. Triantaphyllopoulos (1985).
Ada Neschke-Hentschke 69
Gewalt ausschliesst. Für Hesiod nämlich besteht der Unterschied von Mensch und Tier gerade
darin, dass allein der Mensch seine Konflikte nicht durch Gewalt (¡.c), sondern das Recht
(o. -µ) zu regeln imstande ist (Hesiod, Erga 276-285). In dieser Tradition stehen nicht nur
Aischylos’ Eumeniden, sondern die gesamte Konstruktion der attischen Isonomia mit ihrer
komplexen Organisation der Gerichtsbarkeit und Rechtsfindung.
15
Das von Kallikles
beanspruchte Naturrecht auf Gewalt ist also bereits im griechischen Sinne überhaupt kein
Recht : es ist ein Trugbild, besser die Perversion des Rechts. Es usurpiert jedoch den Namen
des Rechts mit der Folge, dass sich die Negation des Rechts Recht nennt. Es ist nun evident,
dass mit der von Kallikles vertretenen Negation des Rechts kein Denken begründet wird, das,
wie das Denken der europäischen Naturrechtstradition, die Garantie der Gewaltlosigkeit im
Recht sucht und seine Suche darauf konzentiert, ein solches Recht zu finden, das sich auf eine
massgeblichere Ordnung als die blosse menschliche Konvention beziehen kann, nämlich die
Ordnung der Natur.
Der Ursprung des europäischen Naturrechtsdenkens kann somit keinesfalls im
sogenannten « Naturrecht » des Kallikles festgemacht werden.
2.2. Ist Kallikles ein Sophist ?
Die Auffassung, Kallikles sei ein Sophist, kann sich auf zwei Argumente stützen :
• Kallikles ist ein Schüler des Sophisten Gorgias.
• Plato selber stellt ihn als Vertreter der Sophistik dar.
In welchem Sinn sprechen wir heute von Sophistik, nennen wir z.B. Gorgias einen
Sophisten ? Wir verwenden dabei den seit Kerferd und Guthrie allgemein akzeptierten
historiographischen Term, die ambulanten Wanderlehrer der Rhetorik Sophisten zu nennen.
16
Kallikles dagegen ist ein athenischer Politiker von der Partei der Oligarchen, der sich bei
Gorgias seine Ausbildung erwirbt. Er ist im historiographischen Sinn kein Sophist, da er nicht
selber die Rhetorik lehrt.
Nun stellt aber Plato Kallikles als Sophisten vor und dies auf Grund der raffinierten
Konstruktion seines Dialogs Gorgias : in diesem Dialog verkörpern die Gesprächspartner
Ideen, .. oµ, d.h. Formen des Wissens, die der platonische Sokrates in einer Begriffsdihärese
differenziert. Der Dialog fragt ausdrücklich nach der Idee der Rhetorik : ~. , µ ¡ µ~¡.-µ
(Gorgias 448 e6-449 a2)? Diese Frage wird, ohne Entwicklung kurzerhand durch Sokrates
dahin gehend beantwortet, dass er die Rhetorik als blosse Routine (.µ¬..¡.c) vom wirklichen
Wissen (. ¬.c~µ µµ, ~. y|µ) abgrenzt (Gorgias 461 b10-c5). Erst nach der Begründung
gefragt, entwickelt er ein dihäretisches Schema, das seine abrupte Behauptung erläutert
(Gorgias 464 b2-466 a4). Erinnern wir kurz die sokratische Dihärese.
17
Das Wissen, um das es geht, ist das politische Wissen ; sein Ziel besteht darin, das Gute
zu verwirklichen, indem es die Menschen besser macht. Dazu tragen seine zwei Disziplinen
bei : die Kunst des Richters (o.-cc~.-µ), die die Fehler des Menschen durch Strafe ausmerzt,
und die Gesetzgebung (|µ-.~.-µ ), die die Normen aufstellt, deren Befolgung den
Menschen gut macht. Im Gorgias wird von diesem Wissen nur die Rechtssprechung in einer
Dialogfigur personifiziert : es ist der platonische Sokrates, der sie in seinem Elenchus
gegenüber Kallikles ausübt, indem er diesen « straft » (Gorgias 505 c3). Daher bedeutet sein
Tun politisches Handeln und er kann als der einzige wahre Politiker Athens bezeichnet
15
Vgl. Bleicken (1995
4
), 203-228.
16
Guthrie (1971), 27-54.
17
Vgl. Schema der Begriffe im Gorgias in Neschke-Hentschke (1995), 110.
Der Dialog Gorgias und die Tradition des europäischen Naturrechts 70
werden (Gorgias 521 d6). Wer hingegen der wahre Gesetzgeber sein könnte und was sein
Gesetz ausmachen würde, bleibt, trotz mancher Hinweise, unausgeführt. Im Dialog präsent
sind dagegen die beiden perversen Formen des politischen Wissens : denn die Vertreter der
Fehlform der richterlichen Rhetorik – sie heisst ¡ µ~¡.-µ – sind Gorgias und Polos, die diese
¡ µ~¡.-µ als ihren Beruf beanspruchen. Der Vertreter der falschen Gesetzgebung dagegen ist
Kallikles. Da Plato nun die falsche Gesetzgebung c¦.c~.-µ nennt, ist Kallikles im
platonischen Sinn ein Sophist.
Was aber ist ein Sophist im platonischen Sinn ? Im Dialog Politikos sind es die
perversen politischen Systeme (Politikos 291 b6-c6). Sie haben mit Kallikles im Gorgias
gemein, dass sie falsche, d.h. perverse Normen geben, hier Óroi genannt. Letztere bewirken,
dass das echte politische Wissen nicht aktiv werden kann. Sophisten im platonischen Sinne
verhelfen falschen Normen zur Geltung ; insofern können sie die Maske des wissenden
Normengebers, des Gesetzgebers, anlegen und die Menschen täuschen. Der Gegensatz der
wahren und falschen Norm ist dabei im Gorgias auf den Gegensatz von Lust und Gutem
zugespitzt : Die c¦.c~.-µ macht die Lust zur höchsten Norm, wissende Gesetzgebung das
Gute (Gorgias 491 e6-492 a3).
Mit dem Wort Sophist will Plato also die falschen Gesetzgeber bezeichnen. Die Rede
des Kallikles vom Gesetz der Natur ist somit eine Erfindung Platos, um seinen paradoxen
Sophistikbegriff zu illustrieren : notwendigerweise muss Kallikles in dieser Dramaturgie des
Dialogs vom Gesetz und der durch das Gesetz gesetzten Norm, dem Recht und Gerechten,
sprechen. Und da seine Norm sich durchaus auf kein bestehendes positives Gesetz berufen
kann, muss er das Naturgesetz bemühen. Dass es sich dabei um die Perversion, ja Negation
von Recht und Gerechtigkeit handelt, entspringt somit der Intention Platos zu zeigen, wie man
im Namen des Rechts, dank der Manipulation der Sprache, sein Gegenteil verteidigen kann.
Nun hat aber die platonische Erfindung durchaus reale Wurzeln, mit anderen Worten,
Plato zeichnet Kallikles als Vertreter der politischen Rhetorik, wie sie in Athen tatsächlich
auftreten konnte. Es scheint nun, dass diese politische Rhetorik durchaus zu
« naturrechtlichen » Überlegungen im Sinne des Kallikles imstande war. Zeugnis dafür liefert
nämlich der Melier-Dialog bei Thukydides, in dem die Athener das Recht des Stärkeren als
eine Naturnorm apostrophieren (Thukydides V, 105, 2). In Kallikles wird daher zugleich der
attische Imperialismus und allgemein das Machtstreben der Politiker (der Oligarchen in
Athen) getroffen.
18
In Platos Interpretation dient das Machtstreben ausschliesslich dem Ziel
der Lustmaximierung, da die Macht den Zugang zu allen Formen der Lust bereitstellt.
19
Unser Fazit muss daher lauten : Die These von Kallikles als einem Sophisten und
Urheber der europäischen Naturrechtstradition kann sich keinesfalls auf Platos Gorgias
berufen. Der Dialog deutet vielmehr an, wie ein solches echtes Naturrecht aussehen wird. Der
Hinweis auf die geometrische Gleichheit als Prinzip des Kosmos ist eine dieser Andeutungen
(Gorgias 507 c-508 a4), eine zweite findet sich in dem Hinweis auf die Ordnung (- cµ,,
|µ,) der Seele (Gorgias 503 d5-504 d3). Platos eigenes Naturrecht wird in der Idee des
Gerechten bestehen, d.h. in der Ordnung stiftenden geometrischen Gleichheit, in der jedes
Teil das Seine tut (~ . cu~u ¬¡c ~~..| – suum cuique). Deren Wirkung auf das Individuum
und die Polis zeigt Plato in der Politeia in theoretischer Absicht und nur modellhaft ;
20
in den
18
Ein weiterer interessanter Zeuge des verbreiteten Imperialismus der Griechen ist Aristoteles, der ausführlich kritisch
das Machtstreben der Poleis diskutiert (Politik, VII, 1-3, besonders 1325 a24-1325 b14).
19
In seiner Demokratiekritik in der Politeia besteht Plato darauf, dass in der Demokratie die Masslosigkeit des
Luststrebens als die wirkliche Quelle der demokratischen Ordnungslosigkeit anzusehen ist (Politeia VIII, 558 c8-
559 d6).
20
Politeia V, 472 c4 : ¬c¡c o..,µc~, .|.-c...
Ada Neschke-Hentschke 71
Nomoi dagegen bildet die geometrische Gleichheit das Prinzip der Organisation der Polis und
durchdringt das gesamte Gesetzeswerk.
21
3. Das negative sophistische Naturrecht
Was bleibt aber, jenseits des platonischen Gorgias von der These eines sophistischen
Naturrechts als Begründung der europäischen Naturrechtstradition ? Schon Wilhelm Dilthey
hat 1883 mit seinem Ausdruck des « negativen sophistischen Naturrechts » das Richtige
gesagt : das Eigene der Sophistik war es, ein Naturrecht zu leugnen. Am ersten Anfang stehen
sich Natur und Recht unversöhnlich gegenüber. Nach dem Naturphilosophen Archelaos
(DK, II, 60, A.1) und dem Sophisten Antiphon im 5. Jahrhundert v. Chr. ist kein
« Gerechtes » ein Recht (o. -c.|) von Natur (¦u c..). Alles Recht ist positiv, ist durch
Gesetz (|µ,) oder Satzung (-. c.,). Diesem positiven Recht stellt Antiphon eine Norm von
Natur entgegen ; sie ist rein individualistisch und der politischen Norm entgegengesetzt.
22
Die
Norm der Natur dient keineswegs zur Begründung des Rechts, bzw. der gerechten Ordnung
der politischen Gemeinschaft, der Inhaberin der obersten Macht. Die europäische
Naturrechtstradition hat jedoch eine Theorie ausgebildet, die das natürliche Recht zur
obersten Norm der politischen Gemeinschaft macht. Hierin erweist sie sich als
ausschliessliche Erbin Platos ; denn nicht nur hat Plato als erster den Begriff des Gerechten
geklärt, durch und seit Plato gilt das Wort Augustins : Ein Staat ohne Gerechtigkeit ist gar
kein Staat, sondern eine Räuberbande.
23
Die von Augustin gemeinte Gerechtigkeit aber hat
zum konkreten Inhalt die natürliche Gerechtigkeit Platos, die Cicero in die konzise lateinische
Formel des suum cuique gegossen hatte. Der moderne Rechtsstaat ist als ein Erbe dieser
Tradition anzusehen.
24
Universität Lausanne
21
Vgl. Nomoi VI, 757 b-d : Es darf kein Gesetz geben, das nicht der geometrischen Gleichheit enspricht.
22
Vgl. Nill (1985).
23
Augustin, Über den Gottesstaat, Buch IV, 4.
24
Vgl. Neschke-Hentschke (2005a).
Il Gorgia e la lira di Anfione
Mauro Tulli
La critica più sensibile all’interpretazione letteraria del dialogo, la critica che non a torto
suggerisce l’immagine di Platone “doctus”, pronto a descrivere, nella trama della sua
produzione, le regole della sua produzione, tende a sottolineare il rapporto di Platone con la
poesia
1
. Il rapporto è indiscutibile nel Gorgia, nel discorso di Callicle a Socrate che sposta la
ricerca su felicità e scelta di vita, dopo la confutazione di Polo (482 c-486 d).
E’ indiscutibile se non altro perché Platone qui mutua dall’Antiope, la tragedia di
Euripide, parole, motivi e nuclei argomentativi. A tal punto che, per i 48 frammenti sicuri,
l’editore dell’Antiope oggi trova nel discorso di Callicle una fonte preziosa quanto il solito
Stobeo e quanto il papiro Flinders Petrie (I 1-2) che offre 116 versi dall’esodo, con la cattura
di Lico e l’arrivo di Hermes ex machina (223 Kannicht). Dal discorso di Callicle dipende in
particolare la ricostruzione del discorso di Zeto nell’agone con Anfione, i figli di Antiope, in
fuga da Tebe perché vittima di Dirce: ben 4 dei 6 frammenti per circa 19 versi dei 27 che la
tradizione conserva (184-186 e 188 Kannicht). E’ difficile individuare la sede dell’agone:
dopo la parodo, forse subito dopo una sticomitia del corifeo con Anfione. In ogni caso la
funzione dell’agone doveva risultare decisiva per la trama, con Anfione al termine alleato di
Zeto nel proteggere Antiope, prima contro Dirce, nell’esodo contro Lico. E la durata
dell’agone doveva sottolineare di per sé questa funzione: dopo il discorso di Zeto la replica,
della quale la tradizione conserva 14 frammenti per circa 36 versi (189-202 Kannicht)
2
.
Ma torniamo al rapporto di Platone con l’Antiope. Certo, è indispensabile, prima di ogni
considerazione, affrontare un problema che, a torto, consuma da tempo il dibattito sul Gorgia:
il discorso di Callicle nasconde un rifiuto della poesia e in particolare della tragedia, per
forma e per contenuto? Manca una prova, ma la critica per lo più lo crede, sia per la
valutazione complessiva che Platone offre della poesia nella Repubblica (392 c-398 b e,
596 a-599 b) sia per la constatazione che qui, a regolare il rapporto di Platone con l’Antiope,
giunge la maschera di Callicle, non di Socrate
3
. Certo, non è possibile prescindere
1
Cf. Erler (2003), 153-173. Per capire l’origine, la forza e le singole sfumature di questa interpretazione del dialogo,
preziose le pagine di Giuliano (2000), 1-43, ora in Giuliano (2004), 240-282.
2
Cf. Carter (1986), 163-173. Pur con 20 frammenti per circa 63 versi, un materiale di per sé prezioso, la critica non
riesce a percepire senza ombre l’organizzazione drammatica dell’agone. Da quale situazione deriva il discorso di
Zeto, da un rifiuto a cu|-µ¡.u ..|? Kambitsis (1972), XXII-XXX, giunge a dire possibile dopo la replica un
raddoppiamento dell’agone. Ma la norma dell’agone per la quale perde il discorso che lo apre, la norma che
Aristofane richiama nelle Nuvole (940-948)? Cf. Guidorizzi (1996), 298. Non è giusto prescindere dalle parole di
un’epistola di Orazio a Lollio (I 18, 41-48), con Anfione che cessisse putatur. Al termine dell’agone, con o senza
raddoppiamento, la polemica di Zeto con Anfione proseguiva e ben presto, verso dopo verso, coglieva la
persuasione. Cf. Schwinge (1968), 57-113.
3
La maschera di Callicle corrisponde a un Callicle dell’Atene storica? Un problema sterile, annoso, in forma nuova
suscitato dalla correzione di McDowell (1962), 153-154, sul testo di Andocide (I 127): Kc··.oµ, in Kc··.-·µ,.
Cf. Kerferd-Flashar (1998), 85-86, 133-134.
Mauro Tulli 73
nell’indagine dalla valutazione complessiva che Platone offre della poesia. Ma la maschera di
Callicle? A tal punto riesce a condizionare questa sezione del Gorgia?
In realtà la prospettiva politica di Callicle non è lontanissima da Platone. L’attrito fra
|µ, e ¦u c., che ne costituisce la sostanza trova una conferma nel Critone (50 a-54 d) con
la prosopopea delle leggi e anima nel Menesseno (244 d-246 a) la lode di Atene
4
. Per non dire
dell’immagine con la quale prende forza, il ou ·, che solleva il capo e riesce ben presto a
rompere le catene, molto simile al padrone che l’ospite di Atene indica nelle Leggi (874 e-
875 d)
5
. Certo, il tempo impedisce una riflessione complessiva. Ma è utile descrivere alcuni
dettagli, di grande rilievo proprio perché Platone li sistema fra le parole che ricava
dall’Antiope.
- Callicle sostiene che anche l’uomo ben dotato deve arginare la pratica della filosofia.
In particolare l’uomo ben dotato per natura. Nella Repubblica (484 a-502 c) e nella VII
Lettera (342 a-344 d) la forza intellettuale che offre la natura è un requisito indispensabile per
l’uomo che decide di progredire sul campo del sapere, forza intellettuale di spessore concreto,
.u µc -..c e µ|µ µµ
6
.
- L’ignoranza del variegato intreccio di µ o|c. o . ¬.-uµ. c. che dirige il destinatario è
per Callicle un pericolo nel discorso, sia privato sia in assemblea. Un pericolo che Platone
riconosce nel Fedro (259 e-274 b): dalla definizione della retorica nuova quale ¦uyc,.,. c
deriva l’esigenza di capire il destinatario. Questa esigenza giunge al culmine con la celebre
sezione della Retorica di Aristotele su µ-, e ¬c -, (1377 b 16-1391 b 6)
7
.
- Callicle sostiene che la pratica della filosofia impedisce di risolvere un problema
concreto e rende l’uomo ridicolo quanto ridicolo è l’uomo che, dopo lunga militanza politica,
vuole frequentare le o.c~¡.¡c. della filosofia. Non manca una conferma: il timore del
ridicolo che circonda l’uomo preso dalla ricerca emerge nel Teeteto (172 c-177 c) con
l’aneddoto su Talete nel pozzo e la VII Epistola (342 a-344 d) non tace del ridicolo che tronca
subito il cammino della ricerca
8
.
E’ possibile ripetere che nel Gorgia per capire la prospettiva di Platone basta rovesciare
di segno il discorso di Callicle? Offre solo sarcasmo la sezione del Gorgia su felicità e scelta
di vita? Ben altro suggerisce questa indagine: la maschera di Callicle nasconde il volto di
Platone
9
.
Tragedia che la critica per lo più attribuisce al periodo fra il 411 e il 408, prima della
partenza di Euripide, ma su base metrica riconducibile forse al periodo semisevero, fra il 427
e il 419, l’Antiope suscitò senza dubbio grande impressione ad Atene per l’intreccio
affascinante, per la forza drammatica, per la riflessione sull’etica, per la sostanza politica,
esito del rapporto conflittuale di Tebe con Sicione, per il problema religioso di Dirce, già
vittima del furore che travolge Agave
10
. Il testo divenne senza dubbio celebre. Ne offre una
prova l’iconografia che per il mito di Antiope, dal cratere di Berlino (B SMPK F 3296),
dipinto in Sicilia subito dopo il 400, al toro Farnese (N MAN 6002), plasmato in originale a
4
Cf. Decleva Caizzi (1986), 291-310.
5
Cf. Vegetti (2003), 86-103. L’ospite di Atene ha una prospettiva pessimistica: il ou ·, che solleva il capo manca.
Da qui l’inevitabile codice penale. Cf. Schöpsdau (2004), 51-72.
6
Cf. Dixsaut (1985), 241-294.
7
Cf. Wisse (1989), 9-76.
8
Cf. Mader (1977), 29-42.
9
Un “Selbst”, un io, sepolto nella trama della politica ideale: classica la sezione che offre Jaeger (1944), 188-227, trad.
it., 211-272.
10
Cf. Matthiessen (2002), 253-256. Lo scolio alle Rane di Aristofane (53), con l’Ipsipile, le Fenicie, l’Antiope fra il
411 e il 408, dopo l’Andromeda, confonde l’Antiope con l’Antigone, per Cropp-Fick (1985), 74-76. E’ forse Dirce
la menade che, nel Papiro di Ossirinco 3317, giunge dal paese degli uccelli con la |.¡¡.,: una sequenza
dell’Antiope? Cf. Luppe (1989), 13-17.
Il Gorgia e la lira di Anfione 74
Rodi fra il 160 e il 150, dipende per lo più da Euripide
11
. Pur e silentio, una conferma è nella
produzione del IV secolo: dopo l’Antiope di Euripide, nessuna tragedia sul mito di Antiope,
solo una parodia comica di successo, l’Antiope di Eubulo.
Fra il 390 e il 385, periodo che la critica suggerisce per la composizione del Gorgia,
l’Antiope di Euripide circolava fra le case di Atene, su volumina e per tradizione
mnemonica
12
. Celebre il testo, celebre la trama, celebre la raffigurazione dei personaggi. Una
pur veloce sequenza evocava subito, fra il 390 e il 385, una ben particolare situazione o una
ben particolare concezione. L’Antiope giunge a Platone carica di una grande forza
connotativa. E non è difficile postulare una grande forza connotativa per l’agone di Zeto con
Anfione, motore, cardine della tragedia
13
.
L’agone ha per tema la scelta di vita. Una scelta che la critica per lo più tende a
riassumere quale scelta fra vita d’azione, vita di Zeto, e vita contemplativa. E’ senza dubbio
questa la scelta che Platone indica nel Gorgia. Vita d’azione o vita contemplativa? Dopo la
citazione di Pindaro, | µ, ¬c |~.| ¡cc.·.u , (169 a, 1-6 Maehler), con il paradigma di
Eracle, superiore a Gerione, dunque destinato a trionfare, Callicle sostiene che decisiva è la
prima, perché non dipende certo dalla filosofia l’esperienza pubblica e privata indispensabile
per l’ c|µ ¡ -c· , -c ,c- ,. E’ qui la citazione di Euripide, nella sezione del discorso che
ben presto colloca la pratica della filosofia fra le moine del µ..¡c -.| e che la esclude per
l’adulto. Questa mia è la situazione di Zeto, riconosce Callicle, nell’agone con Anfione. Vita
d’azione, vita di Zeto, contro filosofia, con Anfione pronto, nelle parole che offre Callicle
dopo le accuse di Zeto, a riassumere la vita di Socrate. Ma Callicle va ben al di là di Euripide:
non ha rapporto con Anfione il rinvio al processo del 399. Un rinvio crudele, perché il
processo del 399 deriva da una vita che non ha risorse contro il delatore più stolto, ¬c|u
¦cu ·, -c. µy-µ¡ ,. Per sgretolare la vita speculativa basta l’impegno di Anito e di
Meleto
14
.
Ma l’Antiope? Quale scelta indica Euripide nell’agone di Zeto con Anfione? Senza
dubbio la vita di Zeto è la vita d’azione che splende quale paradigma nella produzione di
Omero, la vita eroica. Euripide ne richiama la funzione decisiva e ad un tempo ne offre
un’interpretazione con la forza nuova che nasce dalla politica di Atene: vita d’azione per
sconfiggere la violenza, Dirce, o la tirannide, Lico
15
. Ma quale vita emerge con Anfione? La
vita contemplativa, la vita nel segno della filosofia e della ricerca?
In realtà, nella ricostruzione che la critica suggerisce, Anfione, forse dopo le parole del
pastore, intonava un canto per A. -µ ¡ e Ic. c: con la lira, vestito da citaredo, appariva il
protettore della Musa (182 a Kannicht). Nell’agone infuriava sulla Musa una sequenza di Zeto
in rapporto con la riflessione arcaica sulla poesia, da Omero e da Esiodo alla II Istmica di
Pindaro (1-11): c¡, |, ¦. ·.||, y¡µµc ~.| c ~µµ.·µ (183 Kannicht)
16
. Colpiva dunque il
canto la massima che Platone inserisce fra le parole di Callicle (184 Kannicht). Subito dopo,
11
Anche per la coppa ellenistica di Atene (A NM 11798), indagine di Simon (1981), 854-857.
12
Puntuale, per Dalfen (2004), 114-118, il rapporto fra la composizione del Gorgia e l’esperienza pitagorica in Italia
meridionale. Ma lo vede già Dodds (1959), 18-30.
13
Di Benedetto (2005), in stampa, ne scopre una presenza sottile anche nella sezione finale del Protagora (351 b-357
e). Zeto non dimentica il problema che ha qui Platone. Il piacere travolge la ¦u c.,, la soffoca: µ ¦uc., ,c¡
. y.~c., ~c| ,·u-.. c, µo|µ , µ cc.| ~., µ (187 Kannicht).
14
Cf. Friedländer (1964
³
), 241-243, trad. it., 680-682. Il rinvio al processo del 399 al termine del dialogo (520 d-522 e)
prende forza. Certo inserisce qui un clima da tragedia ben conciliabile con la citazione di Euripide: non è grande
la distanza dalla Kreuzung ellenistica. Nel mito dell’aldilà (523 a-527 e), non a torto, Nightingale (1995), 60-92,
vede la funzione che nell’Antiope ha il discorso di Hermes ex machina. Cf. Rechenauer (2002), 231-250.
15
Deriva da qui l’attrito radicale fra i personaggi che la tradizione prima non suggerisce: il discorso di Nestore a
Menelao, documentato per i Cipria da Proclo nella Crestomazia (110-117 Severyns), non è ad esempio
conciliabile con l’innocenza di Antiope. Cf. Jouan (1966), 375-377.
16
Cf. Arrighetti (1989), 56-84.
Mauro Tulli 75
lo spettatore ascoltava una sequenza di Zeto in rapporto invece con la riflessione classica sulla
poesia e in particolare con la riflessione di Aristofane nelle Tesmoforiazuse (130-175):
,u|c.-µ. µ. o.c¬¡. ¬.., µ¡¦. µc~. (185 Kannicht)
17
. Al termine, poggiava sul
paradigma della poesia l’invito all’azione, Musa di altro tipo, Musa del corpo e dei ¬|.,
capace di favorire il canto dell’agricoltura o la ~. y|µ per le mandrie (188 Kannicht). Anfione
ricordava forse nell’agone, pur senza l’enigma di Pacuvio sulla tartaruga (IV Ribbeck
³
),
l’origine della lira, compenso di Hermes al grande Apollo per il furto dei buoi (190 Kannicht).
E forse nell’agone ben presto ribadiva la sua costellazione ideale: y¡ |,, il tempo, ¬|.u µc,
l’ispirazione, u µ|. o. c, il canto (192 Kannicht)
18
. Certo, al di là della poesia, la polemica
doveva investire ogni forma di espressione intellettuale. Pacuvio, fedele al testo di Euripide,
non evitava nell’agone, per la Rhetorica ad Herennium (II 27, 43), il problema della ratio
sapientiae o dell’utilitas virtutis. A prescindere dalla celebre lode anapestica della ricerca, il
µc-c¡.cµ ,, pur senza una conferma della tradizione plausibile nell’Antiope (910
Kannicht)
19
. Ma la pratica della poesia non perdeva la sua funzione centrale per l’anima: .,.
µ. | u | c o.µ., parole che pronunciava, certo al termine, Anfione, orgoglioso di gestire un
canto non contaminato da sofferenza politica (202 Kannicht). E quale caratteristica
l’iconografia gli attribuisce la lira, dallo specchio etrusco di Parigi (P CM 1327), ornato
subito dopo il 300, al dipinto sulle mura di Tebe che richiama Filostrato (I 10, 1-5)
20
.
Con questa forza connotativa l’Antiope invade la trama del Gorgia e Anfione sostituisce
Socrate nel discorso di Callicle. Filosofia o canto, vita speculativa o vita per la poesia? Non è
difficile rispondere: Platone, con la citazione dall’Antiope nel discorso di Callicle, sostiene
che la filosofia è canto, che la vita speculativa nasce dalla vita per la poesia, che la sua
produzione tende a sviluppare la produzione di Euripide perché Socrate, con la sua ricerca
µ.~c µ..¡c-. .| . | ,.|. c ~¡.. | µ ~.~~c ¡.|, è l’erede migliore di Anfione. Nelle Leggi la
città da creare trova un paradigma per la ¬c.o..c nel dialogo prima registrato fra l’ospite di
Atene, Clinia e Megillo. Un paradigma di per sé favorito da un’ . ¬. ¬|.c -.. |, l’ispirazione
di Anfione, dunque capace di esercitare la funzione della poesia (811 b-812 d). Ma paradigma
è il corpus intero che Platone offre, se al corpus intero allude il termine c o.·¦c
21
. E l’ordine
stesso della città da creare ha il tema, la forza della tragedia migliore, della tragedia che più
aderisce al sapere (816 d-817 d). Non è questa la poesia della tradizione, che per lo più
nasconde, fra le pieghe di un manto ingannevole, un contenuto dannoso per la ¬c.o..c.
Platone qui è pronto a gareggiare con Euripide, a gareggiare per ~. y|µ, autore di scene con
Socrate che sostituisce alla lira di Anfione la sua ricerca per le strade di Atene.
La critica per lo più crede questa coscienza tipica dell’ultima fase
22
. Ma che funzione ha
l’indagine che Platone offre con lo Ione (533 c-536 d)? Il rifiuto dell’ . |-uc.ccµ , che
anima la poesia certo nasconde una concezione della filosofia quale poesia nuova, capace di
assorbire la poesia nella cornice del sapere
23
. La quarta forma di µc|. c che scopre il Fedro
(249 b-250 b), la filosofia, razionale, non episodica follia della o.c|.c, è in rapporto con
l’ . |-uc.ccµ ,. Deriva per lo più da u ¬µ|µµc~c, ma è pur sempre una follia,
indispensabile per la ricerca sul paradigma che il corpo non riesce a percepire, l’ideale che
17
Cf. Paduano (1996), 93-101.
18
Frammenti che la ricostruzione di Jouan-Van Looy (2002), 228-229, colloca prima dell’agone. Quale interpretazione
avanzare per y¡|,? Forse otium, cy·µ , con Giuliano nella XXX Epistola (57, 7-12 Bidez)?
19
La critica vede qui l’influenza di Anassagora e della ricerca sulla ¦u c.,. Cf. Di Benedetto (1971), 303-319.
20
Anche per il rilievo imperiale di Palazzo Spada (R PS 1620), indagine di Heger (1981), 718-723.
21
Cf. Gaiser (1984), 103-123. Il termine co.·¦c indica un rapporto serrato fra discorso e discorso. Platone giunge a
un’immagine simile nella sezione del Fedro sul mito di Thamus e Theuth (275 c-277 a): ¬c~µ¡ ¡µ-, e
discorso ,|µc.,. Cf. Regali (2005), in stampa.
22
Cf. Dalfen (1974), 282-325.
23
Cf. Büttner (2000), 255-365.
Il Gorgia e la lira di Anfione 76
splende nelle dimore degli dei, per Demodoco e per Anfione, da Omero alle scene di
Euripide, origine della poesia
24
. Ma già nel Fedone (60 c-61 c) la filosofia tende a investire il
campo della poesia con il celebre aneddoto su Socrate che obbedisce al sogno nel carcere di
Atene, µuc.-µ | ¬. .. -c. . ¡,c¸u. Certo, culmine della poesia è la filosofia. Ma se il
sogno richiede poesia comune, popolare? Da qui, con ironica prudenza, la trasposizione di
Esopo in poesia, perché la poesia di per sé ha per tema il mito
25
. Questa constatazione
suggerisce un canone d’interpretazione per il dialogo, per le opere di Platone, trama
inscindibile di filosofia e poesia, di ricerca e mito. Una filosofia che richiama e trascende la
poesia del passato emerge al termine del Simposio (223 b-d), con le misteriose parole sul
possibile rapporto di tragedia e commedia
26
. Possibile nell’ambito della filosofia, se autore di
poesia è l’ c ,c- , ¸.,¡c ¦, della Repubblica (471 c-473 b), capace di scorgere non
l’ingannevole trama fenomenica, ma il -c· | ideale che la forza di . ¡., indica
27
. Il rifiuto
della poesia, esito sofferto dell’antica o.c¦¡c con la filosofia, nella Repubblica (607 b-
608 b) non è totale, sia perché tende a investire la poesia della tradizione, ma non la poesia di
lode colma di c ¡.~µ , sia perché forse auspica un’azione difensiva, con il compito di mostrare
che la poesia della tradizione ha pur sempre una funzione per la ¬c.o..c
28
. E poesia di lode
Crizia offre con le pagine su Atlantide nel Timeo (19 b-21 d), lode non abituale del passato di
Atene che deriva dalla produzione, dall’esperienza di Solone, ma che procede nel Crizia
(106 a-108 d) con il codice della tragedia.
Dunque Callicle, nobile, convinto erede di Zeto, nel mettere fra le mani di Socrate la lira
di Anfione, offre una conferma del rapporto fra filosofia e poesia, centrale nelle opere di
Platone già dalla prima fase. La vita speculativa che respinge non è che la forma nuova di una
vita nel segno della poesia
29
. Senza dubbio quale forma nuova di una vita nel segno della
poesia la recepiva il destinatario, per la forza connotativa delle parole di Euripide. Parole di
un testo celebre che doveva sottolineare, contro la vita d’azione, l’esigenza, la funzione della
poesia. Certo, Anfione appariva dopo l’agone alleato di Zeto nel proteggere Antiope, prima
contro Dirce, nell’esodo contro Lico. Ma Hermes, nei versi che offre il papiro Flinders Petrie
(I 1-2), non dimentica la sua scelta di vita: gli attribuisce il compito di onorare gli dei e di
alleggerire con la seduzione di alberi e pietre l’impegno sulle mura di Tebe dalle sette porte
(223 Kannicht)
30
. Fra la vita d’azione, la politica, e la vita speculativa, la filosofia, Platone,
pur sempre legato alle vicende di Siracusa e di Atene, auspica una mirabile armonia. Mirabile
24
La quarta forma di µc|.c offre il sapere che Socrate indica nel Fedro (279 b-c) con le parole a Pan. Cf. Gaiser
(1989), 105-140, trad. it., 27-81, ora in Gaiser (2004), 501-530.
25
Il sogno nel carcere di Atene richiama l’aneddoto su Platone che da giovane coltiva la poesia e in particolare la
tragedia. L’aneddoto nasce forse con Dicearco (47 Mirhady) e, per influenza della Repubblica (596 a-599 b),
tende nella tradizione a creare un attrito fra la poesia e la filosofia: Platone, convinto da Socrate, per Diogene
Laerzio (III 4-5) -c~.¦·.ç. ¬¡ ~u A.|uc.c-u -.c~¡u, la sua produzione. Cf. Riginos (1976), 43-48. Un
attrito che Platone giunge a risolvere con il dialogo in fertile armonia.
26
Cf. Clay (1975), 238-261. Un rapporto che il dialogo rende concreto perché Agatone, la tragedia, ne anima le scene a
lato di Aristofane, la commedia. Socrate, la filosofia, offre il sapere comune, la ~. y|µ per la poesia nuova.
Cf. Rowe (1998), 59-69.
27
Inserisce l’immagine, già di Simonide per Plutarco (346 f), nella riflessione sulla µ.µµc., positiva e sulla µ.µµc.,
negativa Naddaff (2002), 67-91. L’ c,c- , ¸.,¡c¦, è Platone, che offre un paradigma con la sua produzione.
Cf. Halliwell (2002), 118-147. Un paradigma per il pittore della politica reale, per il pittore che la Repubblica
(500 b-502 a) richiama subito dopo: l’immagine, simile pur con slittamento di funzione, certo non stupisce nella
trama che osserva Szlezák (2003a), 35-56.
28
Ben presto Aristotele attribuisce il compito a sé: non dimentica le parole di Platone. Cf. Arrighetti (1991), 13-34.
29
E’ difficile in questa luce trascurare il termine che nel discorso di Callicle, dopo la citazione di Pindaro, allude a una
caratteristica positiva della filosofia: per il giovane capace di moderazione la pratica della filosofia è gradevole,
yc¡..|. Ma il termine ha nelle Leggi (680 b-d) valore simile per la poesia di Omero. Cf. Tulli (2003), 227-231.
30
Cf. Canto (1987), 333. Un discorso di grande forza, sul -.·,.. |, con l’ . --u -·µµc che mostrava Lico sul punto
di crollare, per l’agguato di Zeto e Anfione. La ricostruzione drammatica è difficile. Cf. Hose (1990), 270-274.
Mauro Tulli 77
quanto esteriore, perché nella Repubblica (473 b-474 c) o nella VII Epistola (324 b-326 b)
tende a risolvere la politica nella filosofia
31
.
Certo, Aristotele scopre sempre più l’esigenza della vita d’azione. Ad esempio nell’Etica
Nicomachea (1140 a 24-1145 a 5) riconosce, in base a una riflessione che procede con
Dicearco (33-52 Mirhady), l’c ¡.~µ per eccellenza utile nella trama del particolare, la
¦¡|µc.,
32
. Polemone, dopo la morte di Senocrate, indica un’ c¡.~µ che ha un concreto
scopo nella vita d’azione. Da qui, per Diogene Laerzio (IV 18), un rifiuto del dialogo in
funzione speculativa per un’etica da esercitare sul campo. Ma in questa indagine, fra
l’Accademia e il Peripato, cosa rimane del rapporto fra filosofia e poesia? Cosa rimane della
lira di Anfione? Ben poco. Il sogno nel carcere di Atene, il sogno di Socrate, svanisce, perché
svanisce la forza letteraria che di per sé colloca Platone al culmine della produzione greca.
Università di Pisa
31
Per un’élite sempre a distanza dalla vita d’azione, dalla vita di Siracusa e di Atene? Respinge questa prospettiva
Vegetti (2000), 107-147.
32
Cf. Kenny (1992), 103-112.
The Gorgias re-written – why?
Holger Thesleff
Why is the Charmides a narrated dialogue, but the Laches written in direct dramatic
form? Why is Protagoras narrated but Gorgias dramatic? Indeed, sometimes a change of
purpose may affect the form of a Platonic dialogue: Theaetetus, Parmenides, and also the
Republic, are likely examples of such changes of the aim and the audience.
1
I shall argue in
this paper that the Gorgias was first conceived as a narrative by Socrates, but then written in
dramatic form, as a personal appeal by Plato to a particular kind of audience.
*
Chronology is of little help for explaining the choice of dialogue form, though there is a
general trend in Plato’s oeuvre from narrated to dramatic form, and many of the minor
dramatic pieces are certainly not early. But the Gorgias is in various ways anomalous.
2
Dialogues wrought and written as a narrative were on the whole produced as written
literature. Here Plato followed a Socratic tradition.
3
With the dramatic dialogues, however,
we are facing a problem with consequences rarely noticed.
Since ancient manuscripts normally did not use character sigla denoting who is saying
what in a dramatic dialogue, prima vista reading was difficult especially with texts where
more than two speakers occur. Our text of Gorgias has at least one example of an early
confusion resulting from this lack.
4
In Greek drama, the actors were trained to cope with the
distribution of the roles, but Platonic dialogues were not meant for the stage. Very probably
Plato’s Academy trained specific readers (anagnôstai) to present dramatic manuscripts,
5
and
so the habit of writing purely dramatic dialogues was easily established there. But did Plato
‘publish’ dramatic pieces before that?
We might imagine Plato, or anybody who wanted to record a Socratic conversation, to
have notes of the dialogue written down for his own use. The emphasis was on what
Socrates said; the interlocutor could be just an anonymous friend; e.g., Hipparchus or De
Justo represent this skeleton form. When reading his text to an audience, the author or his
stand-in had to orally improvise some sort of setting and to differentiate the speakers. And
before the manuscripts of dialogues such as Hippias Minor or Laches were habitually put in
1
On ‘revision’, see Thesleff (1982), 83-87; (1989), 7. Capra (2003) has made some additional observations on the
dramatic vs. the narrated dialogue form.
2
See in general Thesleff (1982), and the general scepticism of e.g. Annas (2002). For a recent, selective summary of
the chronological issue, see Kahn (2002) (who puts Gorgias relatively early), with comments by C.L.Griswold.
3
For the other Socratics, see Van der Waerdt (1994), notably D.Clay. Plato, however, seems always to have been
rather restrictive with publicity: see Thesleff (2002).
4
Gorgias 448a5: Thesleff (2003), referring to J.Andrieu and E.Turner who pointed out the important fact that ancient
manuscripts lacked sigla. See further e.g. Dodds (1959): 190 f., 327, 371, etc.
5
Young Aristotle may have acted as an anagnôstês in the Academy (cf. Düring (1957), 108 who interprets the
evidence differently); for later parallels, see LSJ s.v. A slave has this function in Theaetetus 143bc.
Holger Thesleff 79
the hands of trained readers, the explicatory oral improvisation was entirely up to the author
himself – unless there existed a written background narrative, which in these cases has left no
traces in our manuscript tradition.

In the Gorgias, however, there are such traces. It looks very probable that the opening
hints of a background narrative (notably 447b7-9, and d6) are not just notes for an oral
elaboration of a setting, but remnants of an earlier written narrative. The present form of the
dialogue makes such notes seem superfluous and even irrelevant, and certainly confusing to a
reader who does not know Plato’s eventual intentions.
It can be tentatively argued that a first, narrated version of the dialogue finished
approximately with the aporia at the end of the Polus chapter (481b). We have, then, a fairly
consistent whole that follows a traditional pattern. We may imagine Socrates as the narrator.
He records that he and Chaerephon arrive too late to an epideictic performance by Gorgias,
perhaps in a gymnasium. They are invited to the house of Callias (sic!) where Gorgias is
staying during his visit to Athens. There the discussion is conducted with Gorgias and his fan
and follower, Polus. Several persons are present as listeners.
This setting pattern, including the introductory change of scene, is well known from
Protagoras (with varieties in Symposium, Republic I, also Phaedrus and Parmenides, and
Xenophon’s Symposium), and it can be traced back to some of Eupolis’ comedies, certainly
the Kolakes of the year 421.
6
Socrates’ confrontation with two main interlocutors is
parallelled in many narrated dialogues. Also structurally, the hypothetical first version
conforms to a typical Platonic pattern. There is a peripety in the centre, when Gorgias is
refuted (464b) and Polus takes over. And the end is ironically aporetic, implying an indirect
triumph of Socratic dialectic and moralism over the alleged sophia of rhetoricians.
The climactic structure of the present version, with its more and more dominating
Socrates, is commonly regarded as unique and somewhat odd. Yet the dialogue is normally
interpreted as a coherent whole representing perhaps a transitional move, a slide, from
Socraticism to more independent Platonic philosophy. I suggest we see this as an example of
a two-stage composition. Believers in the conventional Socratic stage theory must admit that
the Gorgias is anomalous, anyway, if seen as a transitional monolith. We must look for
something to explain the contrast between the Gorgias - Polus chapters and the Callicles
chapter, including the repetitions and inconsistencies, and the elaborations and developments
in the latter.
7
Stylometry does not help us very far, though one distinguishing feature may be
relevant, namely the striking use of -téon verbals found only in the Callicles chapter.
8
With the intervention of Callicles, change in grip and mood becomes quite manifest.
The most remarkable thematic shift is the move from the subject of irresponsible rhetoric to a
confrontation of two ways of life. There is also a more philosophical basis to much of what is
said in this chapter. This is peculiarly evident in the extensive section 503d-508c where
Plato’s Socrates claims, with increasing frankness (parrhêsia), that the order and self-control
required for justice and for happiness in the individual soul (which the politicians neglect) is
somehow akin to the cosmic order with its geometrical proportions.
9
It is doubtful, however,
that this exhibits a development of Plato’s thought: the emphasis is just very different from
the first part of the work (and from most of the so-called ‘early’ dialogues).
6
Note kolakeia, Gorgias 466a ff. For Socrates’ presence in Eupolis’ Kolakes, see fr. 352, 361, and 157-158. The
Dêmoi (cf. Gorgias 481d) was also set in the house of Callias and included an eulogy of the Athenian statesmen.
7
A great number of scholars have noted and given ad hoc explanations of such inconsistencies and doublings.
8
H. Tarrant in an unpublished paper.
9
This is perhaps the most frequently discussed passage in the dialogue.
The Gorgias re-written – why? 80
Callicles as a dialogue character is worth some consideration. His historical identity is
open to doubt.
10
He is not a professional orator or politician, but a young man on the verge of
making a political career in Athens, intelligent and well educated, in a way a young
Alcibiades. Evidently Plato has felt himself free to manipulate Callicles into a type that he
needed as a serious challenger of his Ideal Philosopher. He is careful to put Callicles into his
social context (especially 481c-e, 487a-d), as if he were not well known to Plato’s own
audience. Whatever allusions his name may have given to Plato’s contemporaries (Charicles,
Callistratus, and others have been suggested; even Aristocles, allegedly Plato’s original
name), a pun on Callias, the traditional host of visiting sophists, is pretty obvious (and
compare Agathon in Symposium, also inevitably punning on Callias).
I take it that the first version of the Gorgias was set in the house of Callias, and that
Callicles is a later intruder in the setting and the course of the dialogue. An unknown young
Callicles as the Athenian xenos of the famous Gorgias, looks an anomaly from the start. And
it is very remarkable that Socrates’ most formidable adversary should be the host of the place,
not a guest, and indeed the host whose well-meaning hospitality and neutral interest in the
issues at stake were stated in the beginning. In fact, it is Gorgias, not Callicles, who
eventually takes over the role of a chairman.
11
I find it hard to avoid assuming that the change of Callias into a symbolic ‘Callicles’ was
motivated by circumstances that made Plato add the last and heaviest chapter, made him
change the thematic emphasis and grip, and indeed, made him drop the background narrative.
The fact that there are remnants of the original story left in the beginning, perhaps updated
with the forceful opening words (447a1) polemou kai machês, is hardly a sign of more
careless editing than, for instance, the somewhat clumsy attachment of the first book to the
body of the Republic (where the formal narrative is, rather artificially, preserved to the end).
In the Gorgias, the background story and the narrated form totally lost their raison d’être
when Plato suddenly, it seems, took over the role of Socrates.
Suddenly, yes. It is this new personal approach that I would regard as the chief reason
for writing the dialogue as we have it. The rhetorical rhêseis to which Plato’s Socrates now
resorts instead of dialectic, and the several mythic ingredients (all of which occur in the
Callicles chapter), all amount to a kind of psuchagôgia. Modern critics have seen that
Socrates, in the Callicles chapter, really tries to, but does not entirely, convince his listeners.
12
Almost explicitly he says: “I know very much more about these matters than you do!” He is
neither Socrates the gadfly-ironist (466a, 467bc, etc.), nor Plato whispering in a corner
(485d). Both rhetoric and dialectic fail; but the fault is with the listeners, the Callicles type
of Athenians, not so much with the Philosopher.
I find it important to consider that the direct dramatic form of prose dialogue was
– originally – more pointedly personal than the narrative form. The dramatic (‘mimetic’)
dialogue form brought the speakers close to the audience, even if the author or presenter may
have had to improvise a setting and make us imagine that somebody has memorized the
conversation. In most of the Platonic dramatic dialogues (before the late ones) Socrates
speaks to his audience face to face, as it were; sometimes he is supposed to be alone with his
listener, the interlocutor. The dramatic frames of some narrated dialogues, and the off-stage
comments (see especially Euthydemus and Phaedo), always imply quite specific situations. A
narrated dialogue gave a certain concrete distance in place and time to the issues treated.
Now, insofar as Plato wanted really to change roles with his protagonist, Socrates, and make
10
References in Nails (2002), 75-77. For the earlier discussion, note Thesleff (1982), 108 f.
11
Cf. 458d, 463e; and 497b, 506b.
12
E.g. Babut (1992); Beversluis (2000), 367 ff.; Fussi (2000); Seeck (2001), 48 ff.
Holger Thesleff 81
Socrates speak as Plato, confronting himself with a new and contemporary audience, yet
preserving the illusion of dialogue, he had to drop the metaxu tôn logôn (the inserenda) as far
as possible, and address, as a new Socrates,
13
his audience directly – and to update his
interlocutor, as we have seen.
It has often been seen and said that the Gorgias reflects some kind of crisis. If one is,
like me, sceptical about fundamental changes in Plato’s philosophical outlook and his
methods, it is natural in the first place to look for external circumstances as causing the
change in approach and dialogue form of Gorgias. The first part, including the Polus chapter,
fits in well with the general situation in Athens in the 390s and with the pressure of public
rhetoric upon the Socratics, notably with the attack of Polycrates.
14
It presents the somewhat
ambivalent triumph of Socratic dialectic in an historical context.
But then we have Plato’s self-testimony in the Seventh Letter which I regard as a very
important document. Here Plato tells us in so many words (325a-326b) that, after the trial of
Socrates, he went on trying to take part in Athenian political life. More and more frustrated,
however, but convinced about the semi-utopia of Philosophers’ Rule as the only stable
solution, he left for his first voyage to the West. I venture to suggest that this crisis of
political frustration and slight desperation is reflected particularly in the second part of the
Gorgias, the Callicles chapter.
15
Though I am trying, in this paper, to avoid chronological speculation, I want to intimate
that I am inclined (in partial agreement with Charles Kahn and some others) to think that both
versions of Gorgias were written before the voyage, before Plato had met Dion, and certainly
before he had happily settled in the Akademeia park to discuss and teach philosophy to
philosophically inclined audiences. The emphasis on teaching in Meno (and Protagoras,
Laches, Alcibiades I, etc.) appears to reflect a somewhat later stage. The ambience of the
Gorgias is Athenian political life.
16
All in all, the second version appears to be an appeal by Plato to a select audience in
Athens. It is (again interestingly) not a plea for a philosophical life. It is basically a Socratic
exhortation (parainesis) to taking care of the soul. But this care is seen as a condition of
statesmanship, with an eye for the positions of both an Amphion and a Zethus. The Gorgias
has often been characterized as a protreptic writing, but in fact it is protreptic in a very narrow
sense. The supposed listeners were (politically) influential Athenians – not potential
philosophers nor, alas, Corinthian farmers! The rhetoric of the dialogue is directed to a non-
philosophical social élite who are very aware of Socrates’ shortcomings.
The generally serious tone, the lack of thought experiments, the scarcity of irony and
play or ‘sophistry’ in the Callicles chapter, in spite of various allusions, and the climactic
structure, are all important clues to the interpretation. The core of the message of the
dialogue, as we have it, is contained in Socrates’ last set of speeches. The logos must
continue, but not as an instrument of power or life-saving, as the rhetoricians want to have it.
The aim of the leading logos that Plato calls for at the very end (527e) is to refine one’s own
moral excellence. And the ethics of the dialogue focusses on true leadership.
13
I and others missed this special aspect of the Gorgias in our contributions to Press (ed. 2000).
14
Plato’s much-discussed relations with Isocrates are probably less relevant here than Polycrates; cf. Dodds (1959),
270-272; Thesleff (1982), 32-34. Could the choice of Polus as the supporter of Gorgias contain a pun on
Polycrates?
15
Though the idea of Philosophers’ Rule had occurred to Plato before 392: see Thesleff (1997).
16
Among the alleged reminiscences of the West, including geometry (see e.g. Guthrie (1975), 284 f.), there is nothing
that Plato could not have picked up in Athens. But perhaps he read the Gorgias to Dion (note Seventh Letter
334c-335c). If Plato’s birth can be dated as late as ca. 424 (Nails (2002), 243-247), the Menexenus can be
interpreted as another farewell to Athens.
The Gorgias re-written – why? 82
Plato had a strong vision of the philosopher’s task, but he also felt his own shortcomings
when confronted with public or practical life. He knew that the right kind of philosophizing
is difficult and will never totally convince people like Callicles. Socrates had eventually
failed with Alcibiades, Critias, Charmides, young Aristides, Theages, and many others – as
‘everybody’ in Athens new – but their cases could be taken up by Plato for testing (perhaps
later on), just as Callicles is tested here.
*
To sum up: The Platonic dramatic dialogue, in its literarily wrought form, was originally
mimetic and personal. This claim has a bearing not only on the interpretation of the Gorgias.
Whereas the narrated (‘diegetic’) dialogues were originally written for repeated presentation
to somewhat larger audiences, most of the dramatic (‘mimetic’) dialogues were, before the
late period, written in more specific circumstances where the new Socrates was speaking to
his listeners face to face. The Laches ends (201a) with a personal appeal rather like the
Gorgias. Academic literacy later tended to prefer the dramatic form since the setting was felt
to be more or less irrelevant, and trained readers could cope correctly with the flow of the
dialogue and the distribution of the utterances, namely, in manuscripts still lacking sigla.
The hypothesis of a two-stage composition and the select audience will explain many of
the apparent anomalies in Gorgias. If I am right, very specific circumstances occasioned
Plato to give to the dialogue a new dramatic form and to introduce Callicles as Socrates’
interlocutor. Even if the background narrative was never literarily elaborated (I strongly
believe it was), the dramatic form must have been designed to be read by Plato himself:
others could not have managed the opening setting. His approach here is almost uniquely
personal. The dialogue is a piece of lively, extempore, sometimes ambivalent reasoning. It
was meant to be presented personally by Plato to a particular kind of audience, as a direct
appeal to future leaders in Athens.
In this paper, I have not discussed details. I hope the above considerations suffice to
show that Plato’s choice of the more personal, dramatic form is relevant to the interpretation
of Gorgias. The dialogue reflects Platos’s personal sentiments at a particular period of his
life. The relevance of this kind of choice in other cases, for instance the Laches, is certainly
worth pondering and debate.
University of Helsinki
Gorgias, le Gorgias, et l’ordre de l’âme
Arnaud Macé
English abstract : the comparison between Helena 8-14 and Gorgias 503d-504e shows
similarities in the conception of the causality of speech on souls, and, furthermore, in the
conception of what is modified within the soul through this process, i. e. its order, or taxis.
This use of taxis, central to the argument of both writers, leads, in the case of Plato, to precise
the causality and mode of presence of qualities in the soul. A seminal part of Plato’s theory of
participation is therefore at stake in this passage and it shows that the elaboration of this
theory has something to do, at least in the case of souls, with the assessment of the causality
of logos on these very souls.
Être un auditeur, écouter quelqu’un parler : voilà une situation dont Gorgias et Platon
nous apprennent qu’elle est le lieu d’un grand danger pour nos âmes, peut-être du plus grand
des dangers. Platon et Gorgias, par delà la rude critique à laquelle l’un a soumis l’autre dans
ses ouvrages
1
, ont un point commun : peu de penseurs ont, autant qu’eux en leur temps,
accordé un tel pouvoir au discours, un effet tel sur les âmes que celles-ci, rendues vulnérables
à la puissance des mots, prennent le risque, à chaque fois qu’elles parlent et qu’elles écoutent,
de se voir profondément affectées dans leur être même. Nous ne prétendrons pas découvrir la
parenté entre ces deux auteurs sur la question du pouvoir accordé au discours sur l’âme, déjà
fort bien analysée
2
. Nous souhaitons néanmoins y revenir, afin de marquer davantage le fait
que cette parenté doit être mesurée non seulement en termes de puissance du discours mais
encore eu égard à la conception que l’on se fait de la nature des effets qu’il a sur l’âme et
corrélativement de la nature de l'âme susceptible de subir de tels effets. Or c’est de ce dernier
point de vue que Platon prolonge plus encore Gorgias et que cette héritage s’avère avoir le
plus de conséquences pour la réflexion platonicienne : Platon, en nommant, après Gorgias,
« taxis » ce qui, dans l’âme, peut-être modifié par le discours, en vient à clarifier pour lui-
même la cause et le mode de présence des vertus dans l’âme.
1
C’est sur ce point que se concentre l’essentiel de la littérature secondaire consacrée au rapport entre Gorgias et
Platon. On se reportera sur ce point à la bibliographie rassemblée par Luc Brisson, avec le concours de Benoît
Castelnérac, in Dixsaut-Brancacci (éds. 2002). Le titre de l’étude de Gigon (1985) pourrait résumer à lui seul la
perspective dans laquelle Gorgias est abordé dans cette littérature : il s’agit de « Gorgias bei Platon ». Nous nous
inscrivons au contraire dans une perspective comparatiste.
2
Leszl (1985), prolongeant ainsi la perspective de Süss (1910).
Gorgias, le Gorgias, et l’ordre de l’âme 84
I. La causalité du discours sur l’âme selon l’Éloge d’Hélène.
Les paragraphes 8-14 de l’Éloge d’Hélène
3
forment un véritable éloge du discours
4
.
Avec Gorgias, l’enchantement dont est capable la déesse Peithô trouve comme vecteur
principal le discours
5
: la déesse de la persuasion quitte le cortège d’Aphrodite et ses divers
cultes pour devenir « la déesse de la Rhétorique »
6
et le discours hérite des pouvoirs propres à
la déesse. Il mérite donc d’être classé (§ 6), comme l’une des quatre causes possibles de
l’action, au même titre que les causes divines, la violence et l’amour. On passe en revue les
effets de chacune des causes (décret divin, fin du §6 ; usage violent de la force §7 ; puissance
du discours § 8-14 ; puissance d’Éros § 15-19). La description de la puissance du discours
compte trois temps, que l’on pourrait décrire comme les trois étapes d’une procédure
d’induction (epagôgè) : affirmation de la puissance du discours et de son effet sur l’âme (§8),
passage en revue de différentes tekhnai dans l’exercice desquelles l’usage du discours s’avère
produire des effets sur l’âme humaine (§9-13) ; explicitation de la causalité du discours sur
l’âme en général, à l’aide d’une analogie avec une tekhnè qui, quant à elle, en tout cas dans la
description que choisit d’en faire Gorgias, n’exerce pas son action par le discours, à savoir la
médecine (§14). Chacun des paragraphes généraux (8 et 14) affirme la puissance du discours :
pour commencer sous la forme de la toute-puissance du maître (· ,, ou|c c~µ, µ. ,c,
. c~. |, §8) et, pour finir, sous la forme de la capacité d’un art à avoir des effets (µ ~. ~u
· ,u ou |cµ., ¬¡ , ~µ | ~µ , ¦uyµ , ~c ç.|, §14). Ainsi, cet « éloge du discours » nous fait
parcourir le même trajet que le Gorgias, d’un sens à l’autre de la dunamis : de la toute-
puissance revendiquée par Polos à la capacité de l’art
7
. Le paragraphe 8 livre une formule qui
sera déclinée tout au long de l’epagôgè :
Il est capable, en effet, de faire cesser la peur, de dissiper le chagrin, de provoquer
la joie, et d’augmenter la pitié. Qu’il en est bien ainsi, c’est ce que je vais vous
montrer.
8
Ce pouvoir se caractérise donc par deux types d’action corrélatifs, selon un versant
positif (faire naître quelque chose) et un versant négatif (faire disparaître quelque chose), de
telle sorte que, lorsque l’on a affaire à des contraires, dissiper l’un et provoquer l’autre
reviennent au même. Les exemples qui suivent (§8-13) permettent à chaque fois de préciser la
modalité et les effets particuliers à chacun des usages du discours. Le tableau suivant
récapitule l’ensemble :
3
EH (8-14)= DK 82 B 11 (8-14). Nous nous référons au texte grec édité par Donadi (1982).
4
Duncan (1937).
5
Noël (1989), 143-145.
6
Ibid., 144.
7
Macé (2003), 9-14.
8
EH, § 8, traduction M.-P. Noël.
Arnaud Macé 85
Type d’art agissant par la
parole
Moyen d’action spécifique Effet sur l’âme
Poésie Discours en mesure (· ,|
. y|~c µ. ~¡|)
9
par lequel on
représente « les bonheurs et des
revers que rencontrent les
actions des autres »
Affection qui lui est propre
(. o. | ~. ¬c -µµc) – en
l’occurrence épouvante, pitié,
regret
Magie Incantations inspirées des dieux
au moyen de discours (c. ,c ¡
.|-.. o.c ·,.| .¬..oc.)
10
Modification de l’opinion de
l’âme
Discours sur les choses célestes Faire apparaître des choses
incroyables et invisibles
Modification de l’opinion de
l’âme (évacuation d’une
opinion, production d’une autre
opposée)
Plaidoyers judiciaires « l’art avec lequel le discours
est écrit, non la vérité selon
laquelle il est dit »
Modification de l’opinion en
charmant une foule nombreuse
Discussions philosophiques Vitesse de la pensée Modification de l’opinion

Les effets sont les mêmes : quelque chose est produit dans l’âme et/ou évacué de l’âme,
à savoir un pathos qui lui est propre, qu’il s’agisse de plaisir, de peine ou d’une opinion,
évacués ou produits. Ainsi Gorgias peut-il affirmer que la persuasion, lorsqu’elle s’adjoint au
discours (¬¡c.u cc ~. . · ,..) va jusqu’à marquer l’âme de son empreinte, à la manière
dont elle veut (-c. ~µ | ¦uyµ | . ~u¬.cc~ ¬., .¡u·.~)
11
. Le § 14 permet d’expliciter
de manière générale le modèle d’action à l’œuvre dans chacun de ces arts, et, surtout, de
préciser la nature de la chose qui est affectée.
Pour ce faire, une analogie est proposée avec un art, la médecine, art qui fait exception
par rapport à tous les autres énumérés jusqu’ici en cela qu’il n’est pas décrit comme un art
agissant par le discours.
[14] Il y a le même rapport (~ | cu ~ | o. · ,| . y..) entre la puissance du
discours et l’ordre de l’âme (µ ~. ~u ·,u ou|cµ., ¬¡, ~µ| ~µ, ¦uyµ,
~c ç.|) qu’entre l’ordonnance
12
des remèdes et la nature du corps (µ ~. ~.|
¦c¡µc-.| ~cç., ¬¡, ~µ| ~.| c.µc~.| ¦uc.|) : de même en effet que
certains remèdes évacuent hors du corps certaines humeurs et d’autres remèdes
d’autres humeurs, et que certains font cesser la maladie et d’autres la vie, de la
même façon parmi les discours, il y a ceux qui affligent, ceux qui réjouissent, ceux
9
Sur la façon dont Gorgias, par les expressions qu’il emploie pour définir la poésie et de la magie, insiste sur la
présence du discours en elles, cf. Noël (1989), 150. On peut aussi y voir une façon de transférer au discours la
puissance attribuée à la musique, cf. Kroll (1911), 168-169.
10
Voir note précédente.
11
Ibid., § 13.
12
Nous entendons par « ordonnance » le fait, pour le médecin, de prescrire le remède, et choisissons ce sens au risque
donc d’atténuer l’effet voulu par Gorgias avec la répétition de taxis. Nous donnons ici à ce terme le sens de
suntaxis, prescription, comme en Lois, XI, 925 b 7-8 : -c~c ~µ | ~c ç.| ~u | µu. Il s’agit du fait de prescrire
un loi, de l’instituer, sens actif qu’il faut distinguer de celui d’ordre, que l’on retrouve dans l’occurrence
précédente, ou dans l’expression ~c ç., ~. -c. | µ,, l’ordre et la loi (Lois, 780d ou 875d). On retrouve
significativement le même jeu de mots entre l’ordre et la prescription médicale en Gorgias 504 a 2-4.
Gorgias, le Gorgias, et l’ordre de l’âme 86
qui effraient, ceux qui redonnent de l’assurance aux auditeurs, ceux encore qui, par
la persuasion, soignent l’âme et en évacuent quelque mal.
13
Cette analogie éclaire l’origine du mode d’action attribué au discours : celui-ci agit sur
les affections de l’âme à la façon dont le remède agit sur les humeurs du corps
14
. Il s’agit en
outre de préciser la nature de ce qui pâtit sous l’effet des discours, par analogie avec ce qui
pâtit sous l’effet des remèdes, à savoir la nature du corps. Qu’est-ce que la nature du corps ?
L’usage qui en est fait ici semble assez conforme à celui que l’on trouve dans les traités
hippocratiques :
Le corps de l’homme a en lui sang, pituite, bile jaune et noire ; c’est là ce qui en
constitue la nature (µ ¦uc., ~u c.µc~,,) et ce qui y crée la maladie et la santé.
Il y a essentiellement santé quand ces principes sont dans un juste rapport de crase,
de force et de quantité, et que le mélange en est parfait ; il y a maladie quand un de
ces principes est soit en défaut soit en excès, ou, s’isolant dans le corps, n’est pas
combiné avec tout le reste.
15
La nature du corps est un mélange d’humeurs. Ce mélange suppose un équilibre, une
mesure. Le remède évacue le trop plein d’une humeur qui rompt l’équilibre. Mais trop d’un
remède peut tuer : en évacuant une humeur au-delà du rétablissement de l’équilibre, le remède
se fait poison – pouvant ainsi faire cesser la maladie comme la vie, suivant la formule de
Gorgias. L’analogie suggère donc que les affections de l’âme doivent aussi composer un tel
mélange et que les discours, suscitant telle ou telle affection, peuvent ramener ou
compromettre la santé dans l’âme. Le terme de taxis décrit l’équilibre, la norme par rapport à
laquelle se mesure l’action des discours.
Bien qu’art du discours et médecine, celle-ci agissant par les remèdes et non par les
discours, aient été nettement distingués
16
, il est désormais possible de qualifier l’art du
discours comme une autre forme de médecine, agissant par les discours, l’incantation
17
. Or, le
fait que ces deux sortes de médecine existent dans la culture grecque, comme de manière plus
générale dans les cultures indo-européennes, sous la forme d’une tripartition entre la
médecine par les remèdes (les plantes), par le couteau et par la parole, a dû considérablement
aider la mise en place de cette analogie chez Gorgias, comme cela a joué chez Platon, ainsi
qu’on l’a montré
18
. Il n’est pas étonnant que ces deux auteurs, partageant le souci d’affirmer
avec vigueur la causalité du discours sur l’âme, par une analogie avec la médecine, exploitent
l’héritage de la médecine par les incantations : l’art de la parole, redéfini à la fois comme
13
EH, nous traduisons.
14
Sur l’usage par Gorgias de la théorie médicale des humeurs pour penser l’effet de la parole, notamment poétique, cf.
H. Flashar (1956), en particulier 18 sq.
15
De la nature de l’homme, 4, 1-7, traduction J. Jouanna (1975).
16
Nous ne suivons donc pas Adkins (1983), 114, dans l’idée qu’il y aurait une confusion chez Gorgias entre un modèle
médical rationaliste (hippocratique, agissant par les remèdes) et un modèle médical incluant l’incantation.
L’argumentation ne met pas sur le même plan la référence à la magie et celle qui est faite à la médecine : la
première ne revient pas pour désigner la modalité d’opération de la médecine, qui agit par des remèdes sur le
corps, mais seulement celle du discours sur l’âme.
17
C’est en tant que magie agissant sur l’âme que le discours est comparé à la médecine agissant sur les corps. Sur le
fait que Gorgias recueille là une tradition qui remonte au moins à Eschyle, cf. Noël (1989), ibid. Sur la façon dont
Platon reprend ce thème, cf. le relevé de W. Leszl sur la référence à la magie, chez Platon, pour décrire la
causalité de la parole sur l’âme, Leszl (1985), 67-69. L’auteur note tout particulièrement l’origine magico-
religieuse de la psychagogia, terme désignant le fait de guider les âmes des morts, origine dont se souvient Platon
dans les Lois (X, 909 b 3-5).
18
Brisson (2000).
Arnaud Macé 87
magie et comme médecine, s’approprie alors les prestiges d’une ancienne médecine, celle du
guérisseur-magicien
19
.
Enfin, Gorgias, au sortir de ces quelques paragraphes, délivre une leçon ambiguë. D’un
côté, il affirme la puissance du discours partout où elle suscite quelque chose dans l’âme,
qu’il s’agisse ou non d’une illusion ou d’une tromperie. De l’autre, par l’analogie avec
l’usage des remèdes, il nous donne l’idée d’une norme naturelle, d’un ordre, par rapport à
laquelle certains effets dans l’âme seront bénéfiques ou au contraire destructeurs. Gorgias
s’arrête à l’affirmation générale de la causalité des discours sur l’âme : qu’il soit remède ou
poison, le discours agit. Néanmoins, par l’analogie qu’il met en place, il a ouvert, sans la
poser, le champ d’une nouvelle question : celle de la nature du savoir, équivalent à celui du
médecin pour le corps, qui permettrait de connaître et de rétablir la taxis dans l’âme. C’est par
là qu’il revient à Platon, dans le Gorgias, d’avoir prolongé l’analogie posée par Gorgias.
II. L’effet des discours et l’ordre de l’âme, développement de l’analogie entre l’art du
discours et la médecine dans le Gorgias de Platon
L’affinité entre Gorgias et Platon sur la question du pouvoir de la parole tient avant tout
au recours à l’analogie entre les arts qui ont l’âme pour objet et ceux qui ont le corps pour
objet
20
. Comme dans l’Éloge d’Hélène, elle permet chez Platon de définir le mode d’action du
discours sur l’âme, et, par ailleurs, de nommer ce qui, dans l’âme ou de l’âme, est modifié par
le discours. Cette analogie est l’un des fils conducteurs du Gorgias : Socrate en fait un usage
récurrent contre Gorgias, puis contre Polos, puis encore contre Calliclès, afin de définir par
analogie à la médecine, 1) l’objet (la bonne disposition, euexia), 2) le mode d’action
(débarrasser du mal, l’injustice), et 3) la connaissance du patient propres à un art ayant l’âme
pour objet
21
. Mais, jusqu’en 503d, l’art ayant l’âme pour objet n’est pas caractérisé comme un
art agissant par le discours – c’est par le châtiment que la justice s’est avant tout manifestée.
C’est par « l’homme de bien » qu’un tel art de la parole entre en scène, en 503d. Or ce
passage marque le développement le plus abouti de l’analogie entre art ayant pour objet le
corps et art ayant l’âme pour objet, puisqu’on y précise qu’ils ont pour action effective d’y
produire un « ordre ». Le titre de « spécialiste » (dèmiourgos) est accordé à un certain nombre
d’activités qui présente les mêmes caractéristiques : ne rien faire au hasard mais en ayant en
vue un seul objectif – que ce qu’il réalise dispose en soi d’une forme déterminée (c ··` ¬.,
c | .. o , ~. cu ~. cyµ ~u ~ . ¡,c ¸.~c.)
22
. Que signifie le terme eidos dans ce contexte ?
On a hésité entre la signification « d’aspect » et celui de « structure au sens opératoire »
23
.
Mais Socrate, comme dans la première occurrence de l’analogie consacrée au mode d’action
(477 e-478 b), prend soin de passer par un troisième type d’art pour rapprocher l’art de l’âme
et l’art du corps : c’est l’art de la construction qui prend ici la place de l’art de la finance, et
c’est par lui que l’eidos dont il s’agit trouve sa signification concrète, à savoir celui de l’ordre
qui est propre à la chose fabriquée et qu’elle manifeste :
Prends par exemple, si tu veux, les peintres, les constructeurs de maisons, de
navires et tous les autres spécialistes (~u , c··u, ¬c |~c, oµµ.u¡,u,),
prends celui que tu voudras parmi ceux-là, et vois comment chacun dispose
19
Noël (1989), 148-149. L’Auteur a marqué à quel point l’appropriation par la rhétorique des pouvoir magiques
d’abord attribués au guérisseur est à l’œuvre chez les sophistes du V
e
siècle.
20
Leszl (1985), 71.
21
Respectivement Gorgias 464a-466a, 477 e-478 b et 500b-501c. Cf. Macé (2003) respectivement 36-38, 50-54 et 66-
67.
22
Gorgias, 503 e1-4, nous traduisons.
23
G. Jeanmart in Motte-Rutten-Somville (éds. 2003), 83.
Gorgias, le Gorgias, et l’ordre de l’âme 88
chacune des choses qu’il dispose en vue d’un ordre donné (.., ~cç.| ~.|c
.-cc~, .-cc~| ~. -µc.| c | ~.-µ ) et contraint chaque chose à convenir avec
les autres et à s’harmoniser (¬¡cc|c,-c ¸.. ~ .~.¡| ~. . ~. ¡. ¬¡. ¬| ~.
.. |c. -c. c ¡µ ~~..|), jusqu’à ce que le tout constitue une chose ordonnée et bien
disposée (.., c| ~ c ¬c| cuc~µ cµ~c. ~.~c,µ. || ~. -c. -.-cµµµ. ||
¬¡c ,µc).
24
L’eidos, ici, c’est l’unité interne, propre à la chose ordonnée. On a remarqué l’écho
pythagoricien des termes employés ici par Platon (~.~c,µ. || ~. -c. -.-cµµµ. ||) et
postulé une influence commune subie par Gorgias et par Platon
25
. La chose, aussi probable
semble-t-elle, reste difficile à prouver
26
. Nous nous en tiendrons à la récurrence que nous
pouvons constater entre le texte de Gorgias et celui de Platon, à savoir celle du terme taxis qui
explicite ici celui d’eidos.
L’analogie est complétée avec un nouveau groupe d’activités, celui des arts qui ont pour
objet le corps, la médecine et la gymnastique.
Et il en va de même avec les autres spécialistes (oµµ.u¡,. ) dont nous avons
parlé, ceux qui ont pour objet le corps (. ¬.¡. ~ c.µc), le maître de
gymnastique et le médecin, qui mettent ainsi en quelque façon le corps en ordre et
en accorde les éléments (-cµu c. ¬u ~ c. µc -c. cu|~c ~~uc.|).
27
Par sa prescription, le médecin rétablit l’ordre du corps, l’accord entre ses éléments, qui,
comme ceux de la maison, en viennent à former un tout harmonieux. Nous touchons ici au
moment décisif où Platon reprend et outrepasse tout à la fois le geste de Gorgias. Etablir
l’analogie entre ordre de l’âme et ordre du corps permet à Socrate d’y trouver la norme qui
définit en eux l’état d’excellence :
Donc, une maison faite avec ordre, dont la disposition est belle (~cç.., c¡c -c.
-cµu ~uyucc .-. c), serait une maison de qualité (y¡µc~µ ) ; mais une maison
faite sans ordre (c ~cç. c,) serait minable ! – oui, en effet. – C’est donc pareil pour
un navire ! – Oui. Et lorsqu’il s’agit de nos corps, nous assurons que c’est pareil !
– Oui, parfaitement. – Et pour l’âme ? Est-ce par le désordre (c ~cç. c,) présent en
elle qu’elle est une âme de qualité ? N’est-ce pas plutôt par l’ordre qu’on y trouve,
par sa disposition intérieure (µ ~cç.., ~. -c. -cµu ~.|,) ? – Si on s’en tient
à ce qu’on a dit plus haut, on est forcé de répondre oui !
28

L’ordre ne sert plus seulement à indiquer la profondeur de ce que la parole peut affecter
en l’âme, il est devenu une norme qui a pour envers un désordre, et il permet de distinguer
entre ceux qui ont la compétence de le produire et ceux qui ne sauront que lui nuire. La
frontière entre flatterie et tekhnè passe là, et c’est celle qui va opposer les mauvais orateurs et
celui que Socrate définit maintenant. L’homme de bien, par ses discours, produit dans l’âme
l’ordre, comme l’architecte dans la maison et le médecin dans le corps :
C’est en ayant en vue ces choses-là que cet orateur-là, celui qui est compétent et
bon (~.y|.- , ~. -c. c ,c- ,), présentera ses discours aux âmes auxquelles il
s’adresse et dans toutes ses actions, qu’il lui arrive de donner ou de prendre, il aura
toujours l’esprit dirigé vers ce but, faire advenir dans les âmes des citoyens la
justice (~. , ¬·. ~c., o.-c.cu |µ µ. | . | ~c. , ¦uyc. , ,. ,|µ~c.) et les
24
503 e4-504 a1.
25
Cf. Pohlenz (1913), 152 sq.
26
Sur la difficulté de statuer sur l’influence pythagoricienne chez Platon, cf. Brisson in Dixsaut-Brancacci (2002).
27
Ibid., 504 a2-4. On notera le jeu de mots sur suntassô, mettre en ordre un tout et, pour un médecin, faire une
ordonnance. Cf. Gorgias, EH 14, supra.
28
504 a7-504 b6.
Arnaud Macé 89
débarrasser de l’injustice (co.-. c o. c ¬c··c ~~µ~c.), y faire naître la tempérance
et les débarrasser de l’incontinence, et d’y faire naître toutes les autres vertus et de
faire qu’en disparaissent les vices.
29
La détermination de l’effet de l’action du discours compétent sur l’âme apparaît donc
comme production des vertus. C’est que, dans les lignes précédentes (504 b6-d3), l’ordre
produit par le discours dans la chose a pu être qualifié comme cause des qualités qui y sont
présentes, comme « ce à partir de quoi en elle… naît » (.ç u . | cu ~. ... ,. ,|.~c.)
30
la
qualité. On peut en extraire le tableau suivant :
Lieu de la causalité Nom du type d’ordre produit Nom de l’effet de l’ordre
(~. .- ~µ, ~cç.., ~. -c. ~u
-cµu ,.,|µ. |. , b7-9)
Dans le corps
(.| ~. c. µc~., b7)
« sain » (u ,...| |, c9) La santé et toutes les autres
qualités physiques (µ u ,. ..c
,. ,|.~c. -c. µ c ··µ c ¡.~µ
~u c. µc~,, c9-d1)
Dans l’âme
(~µ ¦uyµ , c1)
« discipline et loi » (| µ.µ | ~.
-c. | µ,, d2-3)
Justice et tempérance (c9-d1)
Platon tire ici de l’analogie gorgianique un résultat d’une grande importance pour la
philosophie des dialogues : la taxis héritée de Gorgias, cet ordre interne à la chose, devient,
dans ces pages du Gorgias, ce qui précisément la rend telle ou telle, ce à partir de quoi, par
exemple, les hommes deviennent policés et ordonnés ( -.| -c. | µ.µ. ,. ,||~c. -c.
- cµ.., d2-3) – or, ajoute Socrate, c’est cela, la justice et la tempérance (~cu~c o` . c~.|
o.-c.cu |µ ~. -c. c.¦¡cu |µ, d4). L’ordre est la cause des qualités tout simplement parce
qu’il n’est autre que le mode de présence de ces mêmes qualités dans la chose
31
. Un élément
séminal de la théorie de la participation est posé.
Université de Franche-Comté
29
504 d5-e3.
30
504 c9.
31
On comprend ainsi pourquoi ce texte a pu apparaître à Stenzel (1931
2
, chapitre 2) comme le fondement d’une
« doctrine de l’arètè-eidos », thèse reprise et développée par Krämer ((1959), 120, n. 174), ou à Kühn (1960)
comme le fondement d’une métaphysique possible.
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias
1
Christopher Rowe
1. Background.
What has become the traditional Anglophone view of Plato’s writing divides it up into
three periods: ‘early’, ‘middle’, and’ late’. ‘Early’ usually means ‘Socratic’, i.e., closer to the
thought of the historical Socrates; ‘middle’ tends to mean ‘including reference to a theory of
“separated” Forms’ (vel sim.); ‘late’ means anything after that. (The ‘late’ dialogues, on this
traditional, Anglophone view, are a collection of dialogues that have rather little in common,
except that the kind of philosophy they represent seems – to those who wish to see it that way
– closer to what we moderns, or we modern Anglophones, call ‘philosophy’.)
2
Nowadays,
however, this way of looking at the dialogues – let us call it the ‘developmentalist’ view –
looks distinctly less attractive than it once did, notwithstanding the support that it appears to
derive from Aristotle’s reading of Plato, and the emphasis it gives to that point about
‘separation’. The main reason for this is the recognition that the developmental model has
nothing to support it apart from Aristotle – and a basic psychological plausibility: what more
plausible, so the argument goes, and more natural, than to suppose that Plato started by
reproducing, or exploring, what was essentially his master Socrates’ thinking, but then moved
on, beyond Socrates (especially in metaphysics, if one takes Aristotle’s line) – and finally
entered a period of mature reflection, in which, perhaps, he abandoned some of the optimistic
constructions of his ‘middle’ period?
3
For if we take, just by itself, the evidence afforded by
1
The present paper is, or rather was, the third in a series of three papers on the Gorgias, all of them sharing a virtually
identical first section (‘Background’), and an overlapping second (‘The problem of the Gorgias’). The first paper
in the series, ‘A Problem in the Gorgias: How is Punishment Supposed to help with Intellectual Error?’, will
appear in a volume on akrasia edited by Pierre Destrée (Brill 2006), while the second, ‘The Good and the Just in
Plato’s Gorgias’, has already appeared – a little prematurely – in Damir Barbaric (ed.), Platon über das Gute und
die Gerechtigkeit (Würzburg, Königshausen & Neumann, 2005, 73-92), and will reappear, in slightly revised
form, in a Festschrift for Jerry Santas edited by George Anagnostopoulos. The content of all three papers will
eventually be brought together as part of a book, Plato and the Art of Philosophical Writing (forthcoming 2006).
2
For a recent restatement of this traditional view of the dialogues as dividing into early-(transitional)-middle-late, Fine
(2003), n.1 to Introduction. Fine refers back, for a defence of the traditional view, to Vlastos (1991), ch. 2 and 3;
however these two chapters are mostly concerned with a different proposal (‘that through a “Socrates” in Plato we
can come to know the thought of the Socrates of history’: Vlastos (1991), 81), and presupposes the traditional
division of Plato’s works rather than defending it.
3
Such a picture of the evolution of Plato’s thought is likely to appear particularly appealing against the background of
a general assumption that progress in philosophy is linear, and of the more particular assumption that Aristotle is a
much more evolved specimen of a philosopher than his teacher Plato, and Plato than his teacher, Socrates. Fine’s
book (2003) reflects both assumptions, which are indeed endemic among British and American scholars. I myself
regard such assumptions as at least unhelpful, to the extent that it interferes with our giving Plato, and Socrates, a
decent hearing; and the present essay firmly rejects them. That is to say, I am not in the least inclined to treat the
kinds of positions I shall attribute to the Socrates of the Gorgias (who is, in my present view, not so distantly
related to the real Socrates) as quaint, or simply false. Part of the point of the present attempt to recover what this
Christopher Rowe 91
the measurement of Plato’s style,
4
what we seem to find is an early group which contains both
‘Socratic’ dialogues, i.e. dialogues untouched by ‘middle-period’ Form-theory, and three of
the central dialogues that contain that very theory: Cratylus, Phaedo and Symposium.
5
We
may, of course, choose to ignore this plain fact, and carry on as normal; but it should at least
be unsettling, for those of us who have tended to rely on the traditional early-middle-late
division, to discover that, for all we know, Plato may have been writing ‘middle-period’
dialogues even while he was writing ‘early’ ones.
6
My own inference from the situation as I have described it is that a re-think is needed.
But in any case my collaboration with Terry Penner, and especially our work on the Lysis,
7
has convinced me that the real division among those dialogues not labelled as ‘late’ – ‘late’
dialogues I leave to one side, in the present context – is to be made in relation to a different
theory: not the ‘theory of Forms’ (whatever we decide that that theory is, and whatever we
think ‘separation’ is
8
), but rather a particular theory, which Aristotle recognises as Socrates’,
9
about human motivation: the theory commonly labelled as ‘intellectualism’, although the
precise nature of Socratic intellectualism is frequently mis-stated and misunderstood.
10
The
Socrates saying is that in my view – which I share with my friend, colleague, and co-author Terry Penner – it
stands a rather good chance of being true.
4
This is not to say that we must necessarily believe everything we are told by the stylometrists, whose track record – at
least in more recent times – has not been uniformly good. However (a) at least some of their conclusions appear to
be reasonably firm; and (b) in any case the traditional early-middle-late paradigm has generally been thought
(mistakenly: see below) to be supported by those firmer conclusions.
5
See especially Kahn (1996); and Kahn (2002), 93-127. ‘At first sight, the division into three stylistic groups
[proposed by a number scholars working mainly in the nineteenth century] seems to confirm [the] theory of
Plato’s development [in question], since all of his “Socratic” dialogues are firmly located in the earliest group. But
this first sight is misleading. The central group does not at all coincide with what are called the “middle”
dialogues, since the intermediate group defined stylistically includes both Parmenides and Theaetetus, which are
generally counted as “late” from a developmental point of view. On the other hand, the “early” group includes
Symposium, Phaedo, and Cratylus. A traditional developmentalist who recognizes that the stylistic division is
chronological must simply accept the fact that Plato’s stylistic and philosophical developments do not proceed at
the same pace’ (Kahn (2002), 96).
6
Which is merely a different way of saying what Kahn says in the last sentence cited in the preceding footnote.
7
See Penner and Rowe (2005).
8
‘… [Aristotle] writes as though separation is the big differentiator between Plato and Socrates’, says Gail Fine (in
‘Separation’ reprinted in Fine (2003), at 298). She thinks this untrue; ‘commitment to separation [‘capacity for
independent existence’, 255-6] is as muted in the middle dialogues as lack of commitment to it is in the Socratic
dialogues’. ‘Separation is not, however, the only feature Aristotle points to in differentiating Plato from Socrates;
and perhaps other of his claims are on firmer ground. Aristotle also claims, for example, that for Socrates, unlike
Plato, all universals are sensible, that is, are sensible properties. Now Plato, as we have seen, accepts NR [non-
reducibility]; forms are nonsensible properties, properties non-reducible to, and indefinable in terms of, sensible
properties’ (Fine, ibid.). It is metaphysics, then, that still seems to divide Plato from Socrates, for Fine.
9
And which he seems to regard simply as false, and so uninteresting, and/or a mere historical relic. See e.g.
Nicomachean Ethics III.4, where the theory is dismissed as self-contradictory: ‘the consequence, for those who
say that the object of wish is the good, is that what the person making an incorrect choice wishes for is not wished
for (for if it is wished for, it will also be good; but in fact it may have been bad)’ (1113a17-19). Plato’s mistake
about universals (as Aristotle conceives it) is, by contrast, interesting and important. For Aristotle’s recognition of
the theory dismissed in NE III.4 as Socratic, see e.g. Terry Penner (2002a), 189-212, and Rowe (2002), 213-225.
10
For one splendidly clear statement of the general outline of the theory in question, see Taylor (2000), 62-3. This is, I
suppose, what Thomas C.Brickhouse and Nicholas D.Smith have called – somewhat puzzlingly: see the second
paragraph of this note – ‘the traditional account of Socratic intellectualism’ (Brickhouse-Smith (2002), 22).
Brickhouse and Smith ‘attribute to Socrates a more complex moral psychology, one that retains a central tenet of
“pure intellectualism”, namely, that no one acts contrary to what he or she believes is best, but which also assigns
a specific causal role to nonrational desires’ (ibid.) – a role that will require reason to control them. If this were
indeed Socrates’ view, then – I suggest – it will not merely be that ‘Plato’s mature moral psychology owes a
greater debt to its Socratic predecessor than most commentators have realised’ (Brickhouse-Smith (2002), 35);
Socrates’ moral psychology will be virtually indistinguishable from that of the Republic. Cf. §2 below. A specific
criticism that should be made of the Brickhouse-Smith paper – which of course bears directly on the issues
discussed in the present paper – is that it allows a myth to determine central elements in Socratic thinking. For
what I myself propose to make of talk of ‘incurables’ in the myth of the Gorgias, see n.39 below – and for (what I
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias 92
Lysis turns out to be a pretty single-minded statement, and exploration, of the Socratic
intellectualist position; and the consequence is that that position can no longer be written off
11
as an isolated feature, limited to a controversial argument – based on a variety of hedonism –
that Socrates introduces against Protagoras at Protagoras 351E ff.
12
Once properly understood
(especially with the help of the Lysis), intellectualism is revealed as key to the proper
appreciation of the argumentation of a range of dialogues that includes the Symposium as well
as the group of dialogues traditionally labeled as ‘Socratic’. Yet in Book IV of the Republic
Socrates seems specifically to reject intellectualism,
13
and numerous other dialogues clearly
imply its rejection. At the same time, whatever interpretation we put on the Platonic theory of
forms, i.e. as ‘separated’ or otherwise, that theory seems to have rather few implications for
any part of what Socrates either was about, historically, or appears to be about in any of those
dialogues that it may be appropriate to label as ‘Socratic’.
14
Plato’s thinking about forms, or in
general his thinking about metaphysics and epistemology, by itself tends merely to add to, and
does not significantly change, the ideas that he inherited from Socrates.
15
Given all of this, the dialogues in question
16
will still tend naturally to fall into two
groups – not, now, by the Aristotelian (metaphysical) criterion, but rather according to
whether they (a) presuppose, explore, or otherwise make use of, or alternatively (b) reject or
ignore this (apparently) Socratic theory. The turning-point in Plato, both in terms of his
relationship to Socrates and, I propose, in general,
17
is marked by that moment when he ceases
to be interested in, and indeed begins positively begins to argue against, that theory.
18
If it is
true that there are ‘intellectualist’ dialogues, on the one hand, and ‘non-intellectualist’ (or
‘anti-intellectualist’) dialogues on the other, the easiest hypothesis seems to be that Plato
began by thinking the Socratic position powerful, and central (for in numerous dialogues it is
central), but later came to think differently, and to suppose that he needed a different line, one
that would improve on, make good what he had come to see as the defects of, the original
Socratic account of human action. Or at any rate so I myself hypothesize.
What is this ‘intellectualist’ theory of motivation (or, perhaps better, theory of action; it
is not just a theory of desire)? Briefly, and at bottom, it consists in the claims (a) that all
human agents always and only desire the good; (b) that what they desire is the real good, not
the apparent good; and (c) that what we do on any occasion is determined by this desire
take to be) other and not dissimilar mis-statements of the essentials of Socratic intellectualism, see Cooper (1982),
577-87, and Irwin (1979).
11
As it is, for example, by Kahn (1996), ch.8.
12
Or, alternatively and more generally, dismissed as unworthy of a good philosopher like Plato. For a slightly more
extended treatment of the issues here, see Rowe (2003), 17-32.
13
I.e. in the course of arguing for the existence of three parts of the soul, one rational and two irrational, the irrational
parts (respectively ‘spirited’ and ‘appetitive’) themselves being capable of causing the agent to act even contrary
to reason. Such actions are ruled out by the ‘intellectualist’ model, according to which all desires are for the (real)
good, and the only difference between agents who get things wrong and those who get things right is in the state
of their beliefs. See below.
14
I.e. either by the traditional criterion (i.e., showing no evidence of ‘middle period’ metaphysics) or by the criterion I
am here proposing (i.e., whether resting on or alternatively rejecting intellectualist premises).
15
Pace e.g. Fine (2003), e.g. in ‘Separation’.
16
Once again, for the purposes of the present argument I continue to restrict myself to those dialogues traditionally
labelled ‘early’ and ‘middle’.
17
The question of what motivates us human beings is, I presume, likely to be central on anyone’s account of Plato’s
philosophy; my own view is that it is, and remains, closer to the centre of Plato’s thinking than anything in the
spheres of metaphysics and ontology, or of epistemology, though I recognize that I may well be in a minority in
holding this.
18
It is of course theoretically possible that Plato alternated: now using/applying the one sort of theory, now the other.
The consequences of the two theories are, however, so large (see Rowe (2003), 28 ff.) that I count this as no more
than a theoretical possibility.
Christopher Rowe 93
together with whatever beliefs we have about what will in fact contribute to our real good.
Hence the label ‘intellectualist’: we only ever do what we think will be good for us. So ‘virtue
[or ‘excellence’] is knowledge’, or would be if it could ever be realised, and also ‘is one’ –
because, if the theory is correct, and is nevertheless to make room for virtues/excellences like
justice, courage, and the rest, then they must all be a matter of making the right calculations in
relation to good and bad. (‘Virtue is knowledge’, then, in that it is a matter of knowledge of
what is truly good and truly bad; and it is one for the same reason.) And given all of this, it
will simply be impossible for anyone to do, or (as I prefer to put it) go, wrong willingly; one
can only go wrong through ignorance.
This is what the Socrates of the Republic then famously denies: that is, when he argues
in Book IV for the existence of two irrational parts of the soul, which can – and this is the
crucial point – actually overcome reason, perhaps even knowledge. The argument in Republic
may indeed be taken as going out of its way to underline the conflict between its conclusion
and the ‘intellectualist’ position.
19
And the difference is quite fundamental. For if we all
possess irrational elements or parts that are capable of causing us to act independently of, or
even in direct contravention of, what our reason tells us to do, then it will plainly be
insufficient merely to talk to people, in the way that the Socrates of the dialogues seems to do,
in order to change their behaviour; we shall need to deal with their irrational parts as well –
which will require irrational, i.e. political, and rhetorical, means. It is no accident, I propose,
that a large part of the rest of the Republic is occupied with talk about political institutions,
including a state-run education system involving what is in many respects a kind of
conditioning.
20
How different this Socrates is from the essentially a-political, or un-political,
Socrates of the Apology, or the Crito, or ... That other Socrates claimed that what was needed
was philosophy, dialectic; thinking things through. But now that is no longer enough: one
may think as much as one likes, and yet if we pay them no heed, our irrational elements may
still ambush us, by night if not by day.
21
2. The problem of the Gorgias
So the proposal is that the so-called ‘early’ and ‘middle’ dialogues (that is, again, all
apart from the late dialogues) would be better divided – roughly speaking – into pre-Republic
and post-Republic. That will, evidently, give us a new ‘early’ and a new ‘middle’, but it
seems better to avoid that terminology, insofar as ‘middle’ tends to be so heavily associated
with the move to the new metaphysics (‘separated’ forms, etc.). In any case, my claim is that
some of the relevant dialogues feature the ‘Socratic’, intellectualist, theory of action, and
19
At Republic 438A-439B Socrates argues specifically that there are desires (‘appetites’) that are not good-directed:
‘Therefore, let no one catch us unprepared or disturb us by claiming that no one has an appetite for drink but
rather good drink, nor food but good food, on the grounds that everyone after all has appetite for [‘desires’:
epithumei] good things, so that if thirst is an appetite, it will be an appetite for good drink …’ (Socrates at 438A1-
5, in Grube-Reeve translation (1997)).
20
Again, see Rowe (2003).
21
See Republic IX, 571B4-572A1 (cited, in the Grube/Reeve translation, with omissions): ‘“Some of our unnecessary
pleasures and desires seem to me to be lawless. They are probably [are likely to be: kinduneuousi] present in
everyone, but they are held in check by the laws and by the better desires in alliance with reason. In a few people,
they have been eliminated entirely or only a few weak ones remain, while in others they are stronger and more
numerous.” “What desires do you mean?” “Those that are awakened in sleep, when the rest of the soul – the
rational, gentle, and ruling part – slumbers. Then the beastly and savage part, full of drink, casts off sleep and
seeks to find a way to gratify itself … On the other hand, I suppose that someone who is healthy and moderate
with himself goes to sleep only after having done the following: First, he rouses his rational part and feasts it on
fine arguments and speculations; second, he neither starves nor feasts his appetites, so that they will slumber and
not disturb his best part with either their pleasure or their pain …’.
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias 94
some feature a radically different, if rather more familiar, kind of theory of action. I say ‘more
familiar’: who nowadays would accept the Socratic ‘denial of akrasia’ – or, to put it better,
his explanation of what others, including the Plato of the Republic, treat as ‘lack of control’,
or, in that spectacular bit of English mistranslation, ‘weakness of will’?
22
We moderns are
ourselves liable to take it for granted that we can be overcome by desire – we are all used to
saying ‘I don’t know what came over me’, ‘I couldn’t help it’, and so on. ‘No,’ says Socrates,
‘you are wrong – you could help it; nothing made you do it. You acted as you did because of
the state of your beliefs (so, if you don’t like what you did, you’d better do something about
your beliefs).’ Or so he would respond in the ambit of some of the dialogues (the ones I am
proposing to call truly ‘Socratic’, including the Symposium – that old ‘middle’ dialogue,
which is nonetheless thoroughly intellectualist in its treatment of human behaviour)
23
; in
others, (perhaps) starting from the Republic, it looks as if he comes more over to what I have
called the familiar modern position – though even then he will be rather less inclined than we
often are to accept it as any sort of defence that ‘something came over me’. (‘Pull yourself
together!’ will be his response – even while apparently still holding that such cases are, in
Aristotelian terms, involuntary.
24
But of course, as the Republic shows, he thinks that some
will be more capable of pulling themselves together than others; others will need external
help.)
Now in this whole context, the Gorgias may well seem to be something of an anomaly.
25
For on the one hand the Gorgias contains one of the most spectacular applications of the
Socratic theory of action, in the shape of Socrates’ claim that orators and tyrants have no
power – a claim from which he not only never retreats, in the rest of the dialogue, but on
which he seems to build even more surprising, paradoxical, even (apparently) comical claims.
Those apparently enviable people, who – so Gorgias has claimed – can do whatever they
want, in fact – Socrates says – do nothing they want, only what seems best to them. ‘How
ridiculous!’ responds Polus. But of course Socrates is perfectly serious: they don’t do what
they want. Why not? Because they don’t have the knowledge to enable them to distinguish
properly between good and bad, and lacking that, they fail to get what is really good for them
– which must be what they want; doesn’t everyone want what is really good for them? Who
22
Mistranslation, because it presupposes either that the Greeks had a concept of the will, or that any true picture of the
world must inevitably make room for such a concept. Both presuppositions are questionable, to the extent that a
concept of the will surfaced only centuries later, to provide for the resolution of mental conflicts – conflicts, that
is, of just the sort whose existence Socrates, and others (notably the Stoics), deny.
23
So that, strikingly, passionate or romantic love, erôs, can be described (by Socrates and the priestess Diotima)
without any recourse to the concept of irrational, non-good-directed desires.
24
Just so Socrates’ counterpart as main speaker in the Laws is still to be found insisting, Socratically, that ‘no one
does/goes wrong willingly’. It is what is really good that at least some part even of the Platonic divided soul still
desires.
25
Vlastos (1991), ch.2, treats the Gorgias as straightforwardly one of ‘the dialogues of Plato’s earlier period’ (p. 46);
evidently he misses the kinds of problems that I here identify – problems that suggest at least some kind of
transitional status for the Gorgias. For Vlastos, ‘transitional’ dialogues are early ones that are merely missing the
‘elenchus’ according to his unnecessarily narrow notion of ‘elenchus’ (i.e., ‘examination’, ‘challenge’, ‘(attempt
at) refutation’, which actually appears to be a standard part of Plato’s notion of philosophical method: see e.g.
Penner-Rowe (2005). Fine (2003), 1, does treat the Gorgias as ‘transitional’ but she does not state her grounds for
doing so. From the perspective of the present series of papers, however, the most important reference will be to
Irwin’s commentary on the Gorgias (Irwin (1979)), which sees the dialogue as using, and failing to reconcile, two
different approaches to ‘good-independent’ desires: ‘(1) The unhealthy soul has a faulty conception of its good,
and needs to be restrained because otherwise its desires – all good-dependent – will mislead it. (2) Its strong good-
independent desires make it incontinent [‘weak-willed’], so that it needs control … The conclusions of [the] two
lines of argument [depending on these different approaches] in the dialogue are never satisfactorily reconciled’
(218). What I primarily set out to resist in the present series of papers (see n.1 above) is something very like
Irwin’s account here; though I differ significantly in the way I state (1), the Socratic position. See following note.
Christopher Rowe 95
ever was satisfied with what merely seems good, and isn’t in fact so? This, surely, is the full
Socratic position.
26
Yet on the other hand – and this is what makes the dialogue seem anomalous – the
Gorgias is likely, to most readers, to look in significant respects significantly un-Socratic. In
the first place, it appears a thoroughly, and un-Socratically political dialogue,
27
one that in
numerous respects seems to foreshadow the Republic: the whole discussion, after all, centres
around issues of power and the place – if any – of rhetoric in society; and in one of the
climactic moments of the dialogue, Socrates the philosopher declares himself, bizarrely, to be
(possibly) the only true statesman in existence.
28
It will then probably appear entirely
consonant with this strongly political aspect of the Gorgias that the dialogue has a great deal
to say about punishment; for after all it is the state, or the city, that punishes. And punishment,
surely, uses force, which I have argued ought strictly to be useless on a Socratic account of
motivation and action. However there is something else that looks – prima facie – even more
obviously un-Socratic about the Gorgias. For from almost the beginning of his argument with
Callicles in the last third of the dialogue, Socrates relies heavily on the idea that we need to
control ourselves, and especially our desires; and that at once seems to involve him in
allowing for the possibility of our failing to control ourselves and our desires – or, in other
words, of his allowing for the possibility of akrasia, and the kind of divided soul that goes
with it. But how can Socrates do that, while remaining Socrates?
29
The specific problem of the prominence of the theme of punishment in the Gorgias was
the subject of the first of the series to which the present paper belongs, ‘A Problem in the
Gorgias’.
30
The conclusion of that paper was that Socrates in fact nowhere endorses the
ordinary conception of punishment with which he appears to be working, and which Polus
and Callicles take him to be working. His strategy is to take on his interlocutors/opponents,
and to worst them (with whatever degree of success), on what appear to them to be their own
terms, while actually developing a dialectical argument that functions more successfully in
terms of his own, rather more radical perspectives. Thus, while he does not directly challenge
Polus’ and Callicles’ notion of punishment (flogging, imprisonment, etc.), he finds different
ways of indicating that he himself prefers a different kind of ‘punishment’ – one that consists
in the very kind of dialectic that he is administering to Polus and to Callicles; and in fact his
argument with Polus – or so I claimed – is likely to look distinctly more persuasive on the
basis that it is this, rather odd, kind of ‘punishment’ that is really in question. Certainly
neither Polus nor most of his contemporaries would have supposed that point of flogging,
26
See Penner (1991), 147-202. One absolutely crucial difference between Penner’s interpretation and Irwin’s (1979) of
Socrates’ position is that Penner sees it as insisting – however paradoxically – that we only desire what is really
good for us. Insofar as Irwin talks of [‘good-dependent’] desires as potentially ‘misleading’ the soul, and so
apparently being responsible for its ‘faulty conception of its good’ (passage cited in preceding n.), he evidently
does not take this line. (‘Good-dependent’, then, will have a distinctly weaker force than in Penner’s
interpretation.) My own interpretation will follow Penner’s and not Irwin’s.
27
The Socrates of the Gorgias, as one of Vlastos’s ‘dialogues of Plato’s earlier period’, ought to lack that ‘elaborate
political theory [sc. of the Republic] whose ranking order of constitutions places democracy with the worst of
contemporary forms of government, lower than timocracy and oligarchy, preferable only to lawless tyranny’
(Vlastos (1991), ibid.). That, I suppose, he does lack; yet in political terms the Gorgias goes far beyond the Crito,
which Vlastos seems to take as defining the political dimension of the ‘early’ dialogues – not least in virtue of that
stunning moment, at (Gorgias) 521-522 (to which I shall shortly advert in the main text, and in §3 below) when
Socrates claims to be – perhaps – the only true statesman alive. It is surely less far from here to the philosopher-
ruler of the Republic than it is to citizen Socrates in the Crito.
28
See preceding note. (For my own reading of Gorgias 521-522, see ‘A Problem in the Gorgias’ [n.1 above].)
29
See the preceding two paragraphs. The denial of the possibility of conflict between reason and passion (desire)
seems to be the hallmark of the Socratic position: what people want, what they are passionate about, is their real
good, and their real good only (which is why tyrants and orators have no power).
30
See n.1 above.
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias 96
imprisonment or, still less, execution, however justly imposed, was to improve the criminal;
and they would surely be right to be skeptical – and this is about the least paradoxical of his
proposals. But try substituting dialectic – the only kind of ‘punishment’ an intellectualist
Socrates can consistently advocate – for flogging and the rest, and things begin to look rather
different, and (so far as his argument with Polus goes, at least), more plausible.
What lies behind this strategy of Socrates’ is not some sort of sleight of hand, or an
attempt to fool his interlocutors (what would Plato have to gain from that, when he is pulling
all the strings?), but rather a sense of what dialectic might, or even would, achieve with a
Polus or a Callicles, given sufficient time, in contrast with what it can achieve with them as
they are now. Or, to put it another way, Socrates constructs his argument on the basis of a
combination of what the other two will accept, in the context of their present beliefs, together
with what he, Socrates, actually thinks is true. The result, from the perspective of the reader,
is an understanding of the kind of argument that Socrates would have mounted if left to
himself, or if confronted with someone like himself, overlaid with the sort of argument he
needs to mount in order to make headway with the particular individuals facing him, equipped
with the sets of beliefs they currently have. Just so, at (Gorgias) 474C8-D2, as he begins his
attempt to show that Polus and everybody else really believe, despite what they say, that
doing injustice is worse than suffering it, Socrates suggests that if Polus accepts that doing
injustice is more shameful (aischion), he will also accept that it is worse. This, as I argued in
‘The Good and the Just in Plato’s Gorgias’,
31
would have been Socrates’ own preferred route
to the conclusion from Polus’ admission about the greater shamefulness of doing injustice
(because for him, fine and good are the same), but Polus rejects it. ‘I understand,’, says
Socrates, ‘it seems that you don’t think fine and good the same thing, and bad and shameful’
– and then proceeds to offer Polus an analysis of the fine which Polus accepts, as sufficient to
separate the fine from the good, but which Socrates can use to reach his conclusion without in
any way having to compromise his own preferred analysis.
32
The general upshot of this, for the present context, is perhaps twofold. First, all that talk
about ‘controlling oneself’ in the Gorgias is likely to look all the more disturbing, the more
genuinely Socratic (and intellectualist) the surrounding context turns out to be. But, secondly,
and as it were by way of compensation, the results reached in those two papers suggest that
we need to exercise the greatest caution in deciding exactly what Socrates is accepting in his
own person, insofar as what he says may be partly shaped by the beliefs and assumptions of
his interlocutors. Just as it frequently takes time – whether in the Gorgias or elsewhere – for
Socrates to establish just what it is that those interlocutors are saying, or want to say, so we
need to take time to establish what he wants to say. It cannot necessarily be read directly off
the surface of the text.
3. ‘Ruling oneself’ in the Gorgias.
The problem, highlighted by Terry Irwin,
33
of the juxtaposition in the Gorgias of
Socratic intellectualism with an emphasis on the need for self-control, and for a kind of
psychic order, was the subject more than twenty years ago of a useful treatment by John
Cooper,
34
in which he claims to show – against Irwin – that the moral psychology of the
31
I.e. the second paper in the present series (n.1 above).
32
For another, more straightforward, example of the same sort of phenomenon, contrast 467E, where Socrates allows
‘health, wealth, and other such things’ as goods, with 511C-512C, which seems to suggest that even life itself is
not always a good.
33
See n.25 above.
34
Cooper (1982); see also Cooper (1999), 29-75.
Christopher Rowe 97
Gorgias is in fact Socratic through and through. And Cooper too wholeheartedly advocates
the need to distinguish between Socrates’ perspective and that of his interlocutors: they may
appear to be saying the same things, but that may hide very different views of the matter.
‘… Socrates does indeed argue that it is better for anyone to be “temperate, master of himself
(enkratês heautou), ruling the pleasures and appetites within him” (491D10-E1), than it is to
be, as Callicles urges, unrestrained, full of varied appetites and skilled at fulfilling them. But
whatever Callicles may be understanding about the psychological processes and conditions
that govern these two kinds of person, Socrates can and should be understood as conceiving
them from the perspective of his own Socratic theory. The crucial point is that the argument
he mounts does not depend upon which view of these matters, Callicles’ or Socrates’, one
adopts; in either case Callicles’ praise of intemperance is shown to be unjustified.’
35
However Cooper’s view of the ‘Socratic theory’ in question is radically different from
the one I proposed in §§1 and 2 above. Here is how he sums up Socrates’ position: ‘First,
[Socrates] maintains that whenever a human being does any action he does it with the idea,
and because he thinks, that it is the best thing overall for him to do in the circumstances.’ This
is agreed ground. However the next part is not. ‘[Socrates] maintains, secondly, a thesis about
desire, apparently counting hunger, thirst, and sexual appetite for these purposes as desires:
every desire is for its possessor’s overall good (perhaps, of course, on a mistaken conception
of what that good consists in) …
36
. But of course Socrates is not saying that all the desires we
experience conform to and derive from (“depend upon”) our considered view of where our
good lies. In fact the dependence runs in the other direction: whatever desire we have, in
having it we judge that whatever it is the desire for will contribute to our overall good …’
37
Each desire I have, then (on this account) involves – Cooper describes the relation as
‘entailing’
38
– a judgement about my overall good, i.e., ‘that whatever it is that the desire is
for will contribute to [my] overall good’, and there are no ‘good-independent’ desires.
39
But
my ‘considered view’, which is presumably not ‘entailed’ by a desire, may, or – if it ‘rests on
knowledge’
40
– will, trump my desire-entailed judgements about my overall good.
In this picture each desire comes as a package, as it were, with a judgement, so that any
clashes will be between judgements and not desires, and since these are all judgements about
the agent’s overall good, they can and will be resolved in a peaceful manner.
41
Anything that
Socrates commits himself to with Callicles, Cooper claims, will fit this picture without
remainder. ‘Self-control [on the Socratic theory] depends upon whether or not one lets one’s
appetites grow to the point where they imply a false view of one’s good and thereby how one
acts. The text at 491D-E [where Socrates asks Callicles whether people won’t need to
rule/control themselves before they rule others] contains nothing incompatible with the
natural assumption that Socrates means by self-mastery precisely this, as his own theory
allows: he is asking Callicles whether his “superior men” will master themselves and their
pleasures in this way, i.e., by preventing large appetites from arising, with their implications
for where the agent’s overall good lies.’
42
Again, ‘… the notion of “psychic order” Socrates
… argues for [at 503D-505B, with 506E-507A] is perfectly compatible with his usual theory
35
Cooper (1982), 581. The whole passage cited resonates closely with my discussions of other aspects of the Gorgias
in ‘A Problem in the Gorgias’ and ‘The Good and the Just in Plato’s Gorgias’ (n.1 above).
36
The sentence omitted here is: ‘Irwin calls this second thesis a thesis about the “good-dependence” of all desires’.
37
Cooper (1982), 582-3.
38
Cooper (1982), 583.
39
Cf. Irwin (commentary), 191, ad 491D4.
40
Cooper (1982), 583.
41
‘When [potential] conflicts [between desires] threaten to arise they must be immediately settled, by the
disappearance of one or other of the competing judgments, and so of the (incipient) desire that entails it’ (ibid.).
42
Ibid.
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias 98
of action and motivation, because as he explains it, it is all a question of coming to have the
different desires in appropriate strengths and frequencies; so that in acting from whatever
desire one happens to be experiencing at the moment, one will consistently and correctly be
aiming at one’s own overall good (cf. 505A-B).’
43
In Cooper’s view, then, Socrates argues on the basis that all our desires are ‘good-
dependent’ (in the way defined, i.e., as entailing, and being inseparable from, judgements
about our overall good. Callicles, by contrast, accepts ‘desires that are independent of
thoughts about the good’,
44
and so has a quite different conception of self-control. Both men
use the same language, but have in mind quite different things when they use it. So the
Gorgias is saved for Socrates (at least thus far).
45
But, as I have indicated (and as the passages
cited from his essay demonstrate), Cooper’s reconstruction of Socrates’ position is
fundamentally different from my own. Most importantly, Cooper’s reconstruction has
Socrates making our desires be of the apparent good (i.e., until they are controlled or
managed by knowledge, or perhaps by the ‘considered view’); whereas on the account of the
matter proposed in §§1 and 2 of the present paper, desires for Socrates will always and only
be of the real good.
Now one could argue at length about the relative philosophical merits of the two
positions in question. I have no space to do that here (though I note in passing that Cooper
thinks the moral psychology of the Republic clearly better than – his version of – its Socratic
counterpart).
46
Instead, I shall content myself with pointing out that Cooper’s version of
Socrates’ position will not explain what I called in §1 ‘one of the most spectacular
applications of the Socratic theory of action’, namely the claim that orators and tyrants have
no power (466A ff.). They have no power, Socrates says, because they do not do what they
want, only what they think best, and doing what one thinks best when one has no nous, as
orators and tyrants do, never did anyone any good.
47
But if Socrates wants to say what Cooper
wants him to say, then orators and tyrants actually do do what they want – that is, whatever it
is that is the (albeit erroneous) object of desire for which they do the heinous things Polus
envies them for having the power to do. Their desire for that object – political influence, say,
or money, or security – will ‘entail’ the judgement that political influence, money, or security
will contribute to their overall good. So with Cooper’s version, the paradox would fail to have
any bite even on Socrates’ own theory, and would even contradict it; whereas on the version I
outlined in §§1, 2 above, what Socrates says in 466A ff., while paradoxical, will be literally
true.
It may be, of course, that we are not supposed to take 466A ff. seriously. Irwin, for
example, describes Socrates’ claim as ‘stated in deliberately paradoxical terms – and, we will
find, overstated’.
48
And Cooper himself finds ‘indications in this dialogue of a certain
distancing on Plato’s part from the Socratic theory of action and virtue which, nonetheless
and however precariously, manages to emerge unscathed from the discussion’;
49
perhaps the
present passage is one of those cases where ‘the way in which [the interlocutors]’ views are
formulated and refuted makes it clear enough, if one reads attentively, that Plato is drawing
43
Cooper (1982), 584-5.
44
Cooper (1982), 583.
45
See following note.
46
Cooper sees Plato as using Callicles’ position to identify the weaknesses of Socrates’. (‘But … in the Gorgias Plato
leaves completely undeveloped the problems for the Socratic theory of human motivation that the Calliclean view
suggests’, p.585.) See below.
47
The full claim is that orators (sc. and tyrants) have least power in the city (466B9-10): i.e., because they can do
worse things than others, and so get even less of what they want than ordinary ignorant people (see 525D).
48
Irwin (commentary) ad 466B.
49
Cooper (1982), 585.
Christopher Rowe 99
special attention to certain assumptions of Socrates and inviting the reader to consider
whether they are justified …’
50
Or maybe the claim at 466A ff. should be treated as a jeu
d’esprit unconnected with Socrates’ theory. Yet – especially given its position, at the very
beginning of the whole series of arguments against Polus – it not only appears to be central to
Socrates’ own positive case against the opposition, but it is closely linked with other ideas
that contribute to that same case: for example, the idea that it is the ends of our actions that
we desire, not our actions themselves (467C-468D), which resurfaces, and is amplified, in the
conversation with Callicles more than twenty Stephanus pages later (499E-500B).
51
To the
extent that he fails to incorporate 466A ff. into his treatment
52
, I suggest that Cooper is in fact
in danger of introducing another self-contradiction in Socrates’ argument in the Gorgias in
place of the one of which he sets out, against Irwin, to prove him innocent. Far from
‘emerg[ing] unscathed from the discussion’, the ‘Socratic theory of action and virtue’ seems
rather to emerge lame and limping.
53
How then to explain the phenomena – that talk about ‘ruling oneself’ and about the need
for ‘psychic order’ – on the alternative version of the Socratic theory that I have
recommended? The main part of the answer is simple: Socrates specifically introduces the
idea of ‘ruling oneself’ in terms of what the many think. ‘“I’m talking about each [ruler]
ruling himself. Or shouldn’t he do this at all, rule himself, but only rule the others?” “What
are you talking about, ‘ruling himself’?” “Nothing complicated, but just as the many say –
temperate (sôphrôn), master of himself (enkratês), ruling the pleasures and appetites within
him.”’ (491D7-E1) The effect is to move the debate on to Callicles’ territory, for he accepts
the same sort of model of human nature as ‘the many’ (reason on the one side, [‘good-
independent’] desires on the other) as the many, even though he claims to reject the standards
of behaviour they base on it. But there is nothing to prevent Socrates having his own way of
seeing what Callicles and the many see in terms of ‘controlling one’s pleasures and desires’
54
– and something of that special way of seeing things surfaces, I propose, at 500A, when he
asks Callicles to agree to the suggestion, originally accepted by Polus in 467-8, that just as we
should do things – actions – for the sake of good ends (a special Socratic idea if ever there
was one), so we should also do pleasant things for the sake of good things. Of course
Callicles will have his own way of reading this; but equally, because of the connection
with 467-8, Socrates will have his way of reading it too, one that integrates it with his general
account of the good, and so of human motivation. (The pleasantness of a thing, he will be
saying, is never an adequate reason for choosing it; to suppose otherwise will be a mistake
about the nature of the good.)
50
Cooper (1982), 586.
51
No mere flash in the pan, then (see §3 of ‘The Good and the Just’ [n.1 above]) – any more than is the main claim
about the powerlessness of orators and tyrants (cf. n.47 above).
52
In fact, Cooper seems to have a generally low opinion of the quality of Socrates’ argumentative strategy in the
Gorgias: ‘… as perceptive readers have long seen … Socrates’ final refutation of Gorgias (460A ff.) turns on a
tendentious and wholly unargued use against him of the specifically Socratic doctrine that if one “knows justice”
one must be just. Similarly for the notorious final argument against Polus (474D-475C)’, etc. (Cooper (1982),
585-6). On the latter argument, see my paper ‘The Good and the Just’ (n.1 above); as for that ‘final refutation of
Gorgias, the ‘use’ of that ‘Socratic doctrine’ is not in fact ‘wholly unargued’, since the idea is introduced via an
epagôgê of kinds of practical expertise (carpentry, music, medicine), among which justice is by implication
counted – a move which is presumably not unconnected with the immediately following treatment of dikaiosunê
as the political counterpart of medicine. As to why Plato should suppose Gorgias might, or should, accept any
such move, cf. text to nn. 65-7 in ‘The Good and the Just in Plato’s Gorgias’, and more generally, Part II of
Penner-Rowe (2005).
53
I also note, in passing, that on Cooper’s analysis of Socrates’ treatment of (supposed) cases of ‘weakness of will’,
any such events will apparently be a matter of a change of mind caused by desire – which might seem to make the
Socratic denial of akrasia a somewhat technical affair (though maybe that is all it was).
54
As Cooper agrees: see above.
The Moral Psychology of the Gorgias 100
Similarly with the idea of psychic taxis and kosmos.
55
In 503E-504A, in talking about
how craftsmen put their materials in order (eis taxin, E6), Socrates speaks of their fitting
different parts together (‘… each … compels one thing to be fitting and suitable to
another …’), and then passes to the soul via the body, where again ‘ordering’ might be
thought of as a matter of fitting parts together (adjusting the proportions of different
elements); it is then easy enough to understand his treatment of the soul in the same terms,
especially when he introduces the ‘lawful’ and ‘law’ as what brings about psychic order.
(That is, we seem to be, still, on the familiar ground occupied by the many, and by Callicles:
reason versus desire.) But even as he does this, he also takes us away from the familiar. ‘“And
for the structurings
56
and orderings of the soul the name is “lawful” and “law”, from which
people become lawful and orderly; and these [?] are justice and temperance (sôphrosunê). Do
you say so, or not?” “Let it be so.” “Then won’t that rhetor, the craftsman, the good one,
57
look to these things when he applies whatever speeches he makes to souls, …, and when he
gives whatever he gives, and when he takes away whatever he takes away? He’ll always have
his mind on this; to see that the souls of the citizens acquire justice and get rid of injustice …’
(504D1-E2) Here, we are back with the dikaiosunê which is a part of politikê, improving
people’s souls just as the medical doctor heals their bodies, and with Gorgias’ orator, who
knows about justice and so brings about justice in others.
58
But that is not, of course, what real
orators are like. Socrates has suddenly shifted to talking about what orators should be; just as
he will go on to talk about what politicians should be – i.e., like himself, the true ‘doctor’ of
souls, telling people the straightforward truth (521D-522A). And that suggests a different
kind of ‘justice’ altogether, and an altogether different kind of talk: dialectic, not rhetoric.
59
The rest of the argument here in 503-5
60
has its own version of that same analogy as in 521-2:
doctors don’t give ‘lots of food or drink, and the pleasantest’ (504E7-8) to their sick patients;
they actually prevent them from filling themselves up with what they desire. Just so with the
soul: ‘as long as it is corrupt, by being senseless [without nous: anoêtos], intemperate, unjust,
and impious, we should restrain it from its appetites, and not allow it to do anything else
except what will make it better’ (505B2-4). Or, to put it another way, 521-522 tells us how
Socrates, or a Socratic expert, would handle sick souls.
An objection: how will talking to people ‘restrain their appetites’? Does Socrates really
suppose that people’s passions can be controlled by merely reasoning with them? These are, I
respond, badly formed questions. Socrates’ theory just does not allow for appetites getting out
of hand, by themselves. If someone has what we are inclined to call an insatiable appetite,
Socrates will stay firm, and call even that a matter of intellectual error: the person just has the
wrong beliefs about the good – he believes passionately, as it were, that the so-called objects
of his appetite are the things to go for. This is how he will understand the Calliclean
individual. We, and Callicles, will analyse this person’s situation in terms of passion, even of
passion overcoming reason; and that is why we will talk about the need to ‘restrain his
55
Cf. Cooper (1982), 584: ‘the notion of “psychic order” Socrates here [503D-505B, with 506C-507A] argues for is
perfectly compatible with his usual theory of action and motivation, because as he explains it, it is all a question of
different desires in appropriate strengths and frequencies …’. The passages in question actually have very little
directly to say about this idea, though they may be compatible with it. See below.
56
Irwin prefers ‘structures’ for taxeis here, but as he obviously accepts, the point is clearly about ordering, not just
about order.
57
That is, the good, expert orator.
58
Cf. n.52 above, on 460A ff.
59
For a fuller treatment of this proposal, see ‘A Problem in the Gorgias’ (n.1 above).
60
The conclusion is at 505B11-12: ‘Thus being tempered (or ‘punished’: kolazesthai) is better for the soul than
intemperance …’.
Christopher Rowe 101
desires’, and Callicles will applaud him for not restraining them.
61
And these are the terms in
which Socrates chooses to frame his argument. But he does not endorse those terms. Those
people who have souls in bad condition do not, on Socrates’ account, desire what they say
they desire; what they really desire they don’t know at all. They just need to become better,
i.e., wiser, people (though it will still be true that they should be stopped, or should stop
themselves, from going for what they presently go for, in ignorance).
The moral psychology of the Gorgias, then, I claim, is Socratic, and fully intellectualist.
The Socrates of this dialogue is the same Socrates who inhabits the Lysis, the Charmides – a
work that examines what sôphrosunê is without once introducing the idea of mental conflict
into the discussion – or the Symposium.
62
I do not pretend that all the work necessary to show
this has been done in the present paper, or indeed in the whole series of three papers of which
it forms a part. Nevertheless I hope to have made a beginning.
University of Durham
61
Though as a matter of fact Callicles claims that this is the courageous and intelligent choice (492A2-3, etc.).
62
On the Symposium as a Socratic dialogue, see §1 above.
El Gorgias de Platon: ¿Anti-hedonista o anti-relativista?
Francisco Bravo

1
Muchos piensan que el Gorgias es un ataque al hedonismo ético. Este ataque fuera
menos problemático si no pareciera también un rechazo al hedonismo de Sócrates en el
Protágoras
1
. Según éste, “lo agradable y lo bueno se identifican (~ cu ~ ¦c. |µ~c. µ ou ~.
-c. c ,c- |)
2
. Es lo que Calicles sostiene en el Gorgias
3
, pero ahora en contra de Sócrates,
empeñado en refutarlo
4
. Para este último: (1) la vida buena es la vida de placer (351c); (2) el
placer es el ~. ·, que hace que las cosas buenas sean dignas de perseguirse (354a-d). En el
Gorgias, la proposición (1) pertenece a Calicles, mientras que Sócrates parece refutarla. En
cuanto a (2), la invierte por completo, arguyendo que el placer debe buscarse en vista del
bien, no el bien en vista del placer. ¿Qué ha ocurrido entre el Protágoras y el Gorgias? ¿Una
evolución, explicable en un pensamiento en proceso?¿Una simple decantación, atribuible al
ahondamiento en el análisis? ¿Una contradicción, por sí desconcertante?
Hay que descartar la hipótesis de la evolución, pues tanto el Protágoras como el
Gorgias se consideran diálogos de juventud. Prima facie, también hay que eliminar la
hipótesis de Gosling-Taylor
5
de que en el Gorgias hay una “decantación del hedonismo del
Protágoras”. Los contrastes aludidos implican mucho más que eso, y parecen conformar una
contradicción del tipo p.-p. Tal vez para conjurar la presencia de esta última, algunos
sostienen que el hedonismo del Protágoras no pertenece ni a Sócrates ni a Platón
6
y que, por
tanto, en el intervalo que hay entre los diálogos en cuestión no caben ni evolución, ni
decantación, ni contradicción. Pero esta postura no satisface a quienes, además de leer en el
Protágoras un hedonismo propiamente dicho, se lo atribuyen a Sócrates y su discípulo
7
.
Necesitamos, pues, una explicación más plausible a unos y otros; una que permita considerar
tan socrático-platónica la postura hedonista del Protágoras como la aparentemente anti-
hedonsita del Gorgias.
1
Cf. Gosling-Taylor (1982), 69.
2
Prot. 351 e 6.
3
Gorg. 495 a 2-3: ¬ ~.¡| ¦µ ¸ .. |c. ~ cu ~ µ ou -c. c,c- |.
4
Cf. Gorg. 500 d.
5
Gosling-Taylor (1982), 69.
6
Esta interpretación “anti-hedonista” ha sido defendida por J.P. Sullivan (1961), 25, E.R. Dodds (1959), 249 y
G.M. Grube (cf. Bravo (2003), 187).
7
Entre estos, cf. Grote (1888) II, 314-315, Hackforth (1928) 41 y Tenkku (1956), 56-59.
Francisco Bravo 103
2
La primera con visos de plausibilidad se debe a Gosling-Taylor, en su obra de 1982
8
.
Según ella, el Gorgias no ataca el hedonismo “ilustrado” del Protágoras, sino el sibarita de
Calicles. Los argumentos de Sócrates contra el segundo no tienen, pues, ninguna fuerza
contra el primero
9
. Recordemos que Calicles adopta una postura hedonista cuando Sócrates
asevera que los gobernantes han de gobernar, no sólo a los otros, sino también a sí mismos
(cu~| .cu~u)
10
, disciplinando placeres y apetitos (~. | µ o|. | -c. . ¬.-uµ.. | c ¡y|~c
~. | . | . cu~. )
11
. Calicles replica que lo apropiado al -¡.. ~~| es la vida de placer,
consistente, según Gosling-Taylor, en dar rienda suelta a los placeres corporales a corto
plazo (short-term), por vehementes que sean
12
. Su postura contrastaría con la de Sócrates en
el Protágoras, donde “lo bueno es lo placentero” significaría “lo bueno es lo placentero a
largo plazo (long-term)”
13
. El aporte de Gosling-Taylor consiste, pues, en distinguir entre
placeres a corto y a largo plazo: Calicles identifica el bien con los del primer grupo, Sócrates
con los del segundo. Y así, lo que defiende en el Protágoras no sería lo que ataca en el
Gorgias. La contradicción entre estos diálogos sería, pues, meramente aparente. Pero estos
intérpretes dejan sin responder una pregunta que de algún modo se plantean
14
: ¿por qué el
Sócrates del Gorgias no recurre al hedonismo genuino del Protágoras para corregir el espurio
de Calicles? Gosling-Taylor alegan que un recurso de esta índole sería legítimo con un
hedonista confeso, no con Calicles, que, de entrada, no es un hedonista, sino un realista
político. Aunque así fuere, llega a adoptar una postura hedonista. Si Sócrates ha defendido un
hedonismo genuino guiado por la µ.~¡µ~.-µ , se imponía, en el Gorgias, una argumentación
correctiva, encaminada a rechazar el espurio de Calicles. Mi punto de vista es que ésta no está
ausente. Antes de mostrarla, me referiré a otra objeción a Gosling-Taylor, proveniente de
G. Rudebusch
15
.
Según él, la distinción entre placeres a corto y largo plazo destruye la premisa hedonista
que el Protágoras requiere para demostrar la imposibilidad de la c-¡cc.c al como la
concebía la tradición helénica y la formuló Eurípides
16
en el siglo V. Para esta tradición,
“muchos hombres reconocen lo mejor, pero no quieren actuar en conformidad con ello (…)
porque se dejan vencer por el placer”
17
. Para refutar la c -¡cc.c así concebida
18
, Sócrates
parte de la identificación hedonista de bueno y placentero
19
. Una vez admitida, los defensores
de la c -¡cc. c deben admitir que su defensa es absurda (,.·.| ~| ·,| ,.,|.c-c.
20
),
pues sostiene que el incontinente “hace el mal sabiendo que es el mal (…) porque es vencido
por el bien (µ ~~.µ.|, u ¬ ~. | c ,c-. |)”
21
. Insistimos en que esta conclusión absurda
requiere como premisa la identidad de bien y placer. Pero esta premisa desaparece si uno de
sus términos, el placer, no significa siempre lo mismo, sino a veces placer a corto y otras a
largo plazo. Se plantea eo ipso el problema de saber cuál de los dos tipos se identifica con el
8
Gosling-Taylor (1982), 69-78; cf. Rudebusch (1989), 27.
9
Cf. Gosling-Taylor (1982), 69 y 76.
10
Gorg. 491 d 7.
11
Gorg. 491 e 1.
12
Gorg. 491 e 7 – 492 a 2.
13
Gosling-Taylor (1982), 71.
14
Cf. Gosling-Taylor (1982), 77.
15
Cf. Rudebusch (1989), 28-31.
16
Cf. Eurípides, Medea, 1077-79; Hipólito, 380-83.
17
Prot. 352 d 5-7; cf. 352 c 4-7.
18
Cf. Prot. 352 c 4-7.
19
Prot. 351 e 5-6.
20
Prot. 355 a 6.
21
Prot. 355 d 2-3.
El Gorgias de Platon: ¿Anti-hedonista o anti-relativista? 104
bien. En la interpretación de Gosling-Taylor, Sócrates cree que los placeres a largo plazo.
Pero recordemos que Sócrates niega toda diferencia cualitativa entre placeres a corto y a largo
plazo. Imaginando que alguien le dice que lo agradable inmediato supera con mucho a lo
agradable por venir, replica que sólo puede hacerlo en tanto placer (µ µo|µ). Como esto no
ocurre, la superioridad del placer inmediato será meramente cuantitativa, no cualitativa: “no
puede superarlo por otra cosa (~. c··.)”
22
. La alternativa de Rudebusch para superar esta
dificultad es otra distinción, que sería de otra índole que la anterior. Para él, la “distinción
crucial” es la que Sócrates hace entre magnitud real y magnitud aparente de placer. Constata,
en efecto, que “la misma magnitud (~c cu~c µ.,.-µ) se manifiesta ante la vista más grande
o más pequeña, según que esté más o menos cerca”
23
de ella. Y pregunta cuál es la condición
de nuestra salvación, al tener que elegir entre estos dos tipos de magnitudes. Su respuesta, en
el Protágoras, es que no la fuerza de las apariencias (µ ~u ¦c.|µ. |u ou |cµ.,), sino el
arte de la medida (µ.~¡µ~.-µ )
24
La exigencia del Gorgias no es otra. También él distingue
entre el bien y el placer meramente aparente. Ahora bien, según Rudebusch, esta distinción,
“contrariamente a la que se da entre placeres a corto y a largo plazo, no destruye el argumento
de Sócrates contra la c-¡cc.c en el Protágoras”. Creo, empero, que ella tiene el
inconveniente de confinarse en el dominio de lo puramente “accidental”, el de las cantidades,
dejando de lado lo esencial, a saber, el ser del placer en su conjunto. Huelga decir que µ o|µ
no es sólo cantidad, sino también cualidad y otras categorías. El hedonismo, en todo caso, sea
cual fuere, no identifica el bien con un aspecto del placer, sino con el ser del placer en su
globalidad. Admitamos que la distinción entre magnitudes reales y puramente aparentes de
placer no destruye la premisa hedonista, necesaria para la refutación de la c -¡cc. c. Aún así,
insisto en que el hedonismo no identifica el bien con ciertas cantidades de placer, sino con el
ser del placer. En consecuencia, la distinción crucial para que el Gorgias siga defendiendo el
hedonismo ilustrado del Protágoras y rechace el sibarita de Calicles no es la que se da entre
placeres a corto y a largo plazo, o entre cantidades de placer reales y puramente aparentes,
sino entre placeres reales y aparentes.
Esta distinción coincide con la que el Gorgias hace entre placeres buenos y malos
25
y el
Filebo entre placeres verdaderos y falsos
26
. Es obvio que para éste y el Protágoras sólo los
placeres buenos pueden ser reales, es decir, tener el ser propio de tales, y sólo los reales son
ontológica, epistemológica y nomológicamente verdaderos. De ahí el caveat de Sócrates en el
Gorgias: “puede ser que el bien no sea idéntico con toda especie de placer (c-¡.. µµ u
~u ~ µ ~ c ,c- |, ~ ¬c |~., yc. ¡..|)”. Sólo los placeres stricto sensu (reales,
verdaderos y buenos) pueden identificarse con el bien, y sólo esta identificación puede
considerarse como un hedonismo genuino. Ahora bien, la condición del Protágoras para que
los placeres sean reales, verdaderos y buenos y su prosecución un hedonismo genuino no es
que giren en torno a tal o cual objeto (somático o mental), sino que sean determinados por la
µ.~¡µ~.-µ .
Es importante ver que esta condición se repite en el Gorgias. Según él, “se es más
dichoso en el orden que en el desorden”
27
y “una vida bien ordenada vale más que otra
desordenada”
28
. Y es que, ontológicamente hablando, la cualidad de una cosa radica en “el
22
Prot. 356 a 4-8.
23
Prot. 356 c 5-6.
24
Prot. 356 d3-4.
25
Cf. Gorg. 495 a-b.
26
Cf. Fil. 35c-41b.
27
Gorg. 493 d 1-2.
28
Gorg. 494 a 4-5.
Francisco Bravo 105
orden y la proporción (~c ç.., c ¡c c ¡c -c. - cµu
29
)”. Es, pues, natural que el alma misma
sea lo que es “gracias a cierto orden y a ciertas proporciones”
30
. Ahora bien, “en el alma, el
orden y la armonía se llaman disciplina y ley”, que son los constitutivos de la “justicia y la
sabiduría”
31
. Es por eso que el artista y el virtuoso tienden a realizar “cierto plan” (.. o , ~.),
buscando en los elementos que manejan un “orden riguroso”
32
y aspirando a “la belleza de las
justas proporciones”
33
. Es obvio que este proyecto no puede ser cumplido por quienquiera y
menos por un hombre desordenado, sino por quien posee “una competencia particular para
cada cosa”
34
. Ante estas reflexiones del Gorgias, es imposible no pensar en la µ.~¡µ~.-µ del
Protágoras. Sólo quien la posee es capaz de decidir: (1) cuál es el placer real y cuál sólo
aparente; (2) cuál se identifica y cuál no se identifica con el bien. Recordemos, por otra parte,
la insistencia con que el Gorgias opone el arte (~. y|µ) a la mera experiencia (. µ¬..¡. c)
35
.
T. y|µ tiene, en este diálogo, para la determinación del placer verdadero, el mismo papel que
la µ.~¡µ~.-µ en el Protágoras. Así como en éste, sólo quien posee la µ.~¡µ~.-µ puede
determinar, mediante el cálculo, la cualidad y la cantidad de placer que lo hace verdadero y lo
identifica con el bien, así, en el Gorgias, el ~.y|.- , es el único que, tras determinar la
naturaleza del placer (~µ| ¦u c.| ~µ, µ o|µ,) y establecer su causa (~µ | c. ~. c|)
36
, sabe
distinguir cuál es bueno y cuál malo
37
, y, por tanto, cuál es un placer real y cuál sólo un
simulacro. Calicles, por ejemplo, no es el ~.y|.- , requerido, sino un empírico ávido de
placeres: (1) puramente somáticos
38
; (2) desmesurados, llenándose de ellos “lo más posible”
39
;
(3) insaciables, cual toneles agujereados que se llenan con una criba
40
. Para Sócrates, éstos no
son placeres reales; hay, pues, que verlos como “otra cosa que el bien” (. c~. . ~.¡|
,. ,|.~c. ~ µ ou ~u c ,c-u), y su cultivo como otra cosa que el hedonismo ilustrado del
Gorgias y el Protágoras.
Así, el hedonismo sibarita de Calicles en el Gorgias es rechazado y corregido por el
ilustrado de Sócrates en el Protágoras. Para corregirlo, Sócrates no distingue entre placeres a
corto y largo plazo (Gosling-Taylor), ni entre cantidades reales y aparentes de placer
(Rudebusch), sino entre placeres reales y aparentes. Los primeros, inseparables del orden, se
alcanzan con ayuda de la µ.~¡µ~.-µ . Uno de los propósitos de Sócrates en el Gorgias es
lograr que Calicles “prefiera a una vida no saciada y desenfrenada (c ¬·µ c~., -c.
c-·cc~.,), otra bien ordenada (~ | -cµ. .,)”
41
; que vea que “se es más feliz en el orden
que en el desorden”
42
. No es claro que lo consiga, pero obtiene al menos que su interlocutor,
yendo en contra de lo que ha sostenido hasta ahora
43
, pretenda que nadie olvida distinguir
“entre placeres mejores y peores”
44
.
29
Gorg. 504a7.
30
Gorg. 504 b 5.
31
Gorg. 504 d 1-3.
32
Gorg. 503 e 2 y 4-5.
33
Gorg. 504 a.
34
Gorg. 500 a 8-9.
35
Cf. Gorg. 463 a - 466 a, 500 a, 501 a - e.
36
Gorg. 501 a 5-6.
37
Cf. Gorg. 500 a.
38
Cf. Gorg. 494 b-c; 499 d.
39
Gorg. 494 b 2.
40
Gorg. 493 a-c.
41
Gorg. 493 c 6-7.
42
Gorg. 493 d 1-2.
43
Cf. Gorg. 495 a-b.
44
Gorg. 499 b 7-8.
El Gorgias de Platon: ¿Anti-hedonista o anti-relativista? 106
3
Es, pues, plausible sostener que el Gorgias no combate el hedonismo científico del
Protágoras. No sólo no lo hace, sino que, como observa Rudebusch, las pruebas de que
“Sócrates es hedonista” no se dan sólo en aquél, sino también “en el Gorgias”
45
. ¿Qué
combate, pues, el Gorgias en esta materia? (1) El pseudo-hedonismo de Calicles,
caracterizado por la desmesura. (2) Tal vez con más denuedo, el relativismo protagórico del
homo mensura que le sirve de base. Rudebusch observa oportunamente que uno de los
combates más persistentes del Gorgias es el librado contra el protagorismo ético. Éste
empieza en el diálogo Sócrates - Polo. Al pretender Polo que la retórica es un arte, Sócrates
replica que es un empirismo (. µ¬..¡. c), como la cocina y la cosmética
46
. ¿Razón? No
persigue el bien, sino cierto tipo de placer y con él, la adulación de sus destinatarios
47
. Así se
explica que oradores y tiranos sean los menos poderosos de los hombres, pues “no hacen nada
de lo que desean”, sino sólo “lo que les parece mejor” ( ~. c | cu ~. , o çµ ¡. ·~.c~|
.. |c.)
48
. Polo cree, empero, que ser capaz de hacer lo que parece lo mejor basta para ser
todopoderoso, pues equivale a hacer lo que parece deseable, y hacer lo que parece deseable
es hacer lo que es deseable. Defiende, pues, las siguientes dos proposiciones
49
:
(1) cualquier objeto, en la medida en que me parece deseable, me es realmente deseable;
(2) cualquiera de mis estados de la mente, en la medida en que me parece un deseo, es
un deseo.
Es fácil ver que (1) y (2) son variantes de la tesis protagórica según la cual “todo lo que
a cada uno parece eso es (~ o-u | . -c c~. ~u ~ -c. . c~.|)”
50
, derivada del principio
igualmente protagórico del µ.~¡| c|-¡.¬,
51
. Protágoras y su epígono niegan toda
diferencia entre lo aparente y lo real. Para refutar este protagorismo en el dominio ético,
Sócrates logra
52
que Polo acepte distinguir: (a) entre deseables intrínsecos y extrínsecos; por
ejemplo, entre la salud, deseable en vista de sí misma, y la medicina, deseable en vista de la
salud
53
; (b) entre deseos condicionales e incondicionales: deseamos algo sólo si es útil o
bello
54
. Luego muestra que los deseables extrínsecos dependen de relaciones causales
exteriores al agente y que éste puede ignorar en el momento de desearlos. Puede ocurrir que
un tirano dé muerte a alguien, pareciéndole que con ello se consolida en el poder, y resulte
que, por factores que desconoce al actuar, desate una revuelta que termina en su
derrocamiento. No podemos, pues, ser relativistas en cuanto a lo extrínsecamente deseable:
“un hombre – dice – Sócrates puede ser capaz de hacer en la ciudad lo que le parece bueno
(c o-.. cu ~.), sin ser por ello todopoderoso (µµ µ. ,c ou |cc-c.) ni hacer lo que desea
(µµo. ¬... | c ¡u ·.~c.)”
55
, pues “deseamos nuestro bien real” (µµo. ¬... | c
¡u ·.~c.)
56
y no sólo el que parece serlo
57
.
45
Rudebusch (1989), 38.
46
Gorg. 462 c, 465 e.
47
Gorg. 462 c, 465 a.
48
Gorg. 466 e 1-2.
49
Cf. Rudebusch (1989), 33.
50
Platón, Teet. 152 a 7-8; 161 c 2-3; Crat. 386 a; cf. Sexto E., Adv. Math. VII, 60
51
Cf. Platón, Crat. 386a 1; Teet. 152 a 2-3; 161 c: Sexto E., Adv. Math. VII, 60; Diog. IX, 51.
52
Cf. Rudebusch (1989), 34.
53
Cf. Gorg. 467 c-d; Eutid.281 b-d.
54
Cf. Gorg. 468 c.
55
Gorg. 468 e 5-6.
56
Cf. la objeción de Aristóteles en EN, III, 4, 1113 a 17 ss.
57
Gorg. 468 c 6-7.
Francisco Bravo 107
¿Podemos serlo en cuanto a lo intrínsecamente deseable? ¿Se identifica lo que parece tal
con lo que lo es realmente? El criterio invocado por Calicles es la noción de apetito
(. ¬.cuµ. c). Las proposiciones protagóricas de Polo quedan entonces así:
(1’) Para todo objeto, si éste me es apetecible, éste me es intrínsecamente deseable;
(2’) Para cualquiera de mis estados psicológicos, si éste me parece un apetito, éste es un
deseo mío incondicional.
Estas tesis protagóricas están a la base del hedonismo de Calicles. Según él, “vivir bien”
es “alimentar en sí mismo los apetitos más fuertes (~c , µ. | . ¬.-uµ. c, ~c , .cu~u .c | . ,
µ.,. c~c,) en vez de reprimirlos; y estar en capacidad de satisfacerlos, por fuertes que sean,
con valentía e inteligencia, prodigándoles todo cuanto exigen”
58
. Como se ve, la presencia del
apetito es criterio de cómo actuar y, lo que es más, de cómo ser o no ser lo que la naturaleza
nos exige. La razón es que busca su objeto en vista de sí mismo, pese a ser como “un tonel
agujereado” (., ~.~¡µµ. |, .. µ ¬. -,
59
) que se llena con “cribas” (-c-. |,), es decir,
una potencia no saciada e insaciable. Así, lo característico del apetito es que su objeto, por
parecer apetecible, es intrínsecamente deseable
60
, y, por ser deseable, se mueve en el dominio
de las apariencias. El placer, en particular, parece apetecible. Es, pues, intrínsecamente
deseable y, por desmesurado que parezca, se identifica con el bien. La única medida que
Calicles le impone es el apetito de cada instante, es decir, el µ. ~¡| c |-¡.¬, de
Protágoras. Y es esto, además del hedonismo sibarita que en él se funda, lo que Sócrates
refuta con los argumentos de Gorgias 495 c-497 d y 497 e-499 d.
4
Concluyamos, pues, con Rudebusch
61
: el Sócrates del Gorgias no refuta el hedonismo
ilustrado que ha defendido en el Protágoras, sino, (1) el hedonismo sibarita de Calicles, que
es un hedonismo espurio; (2) aún con más denuedo, el protagorismo en el dominio del bien,
es decir, el relativismo ético que le sirve de base.

Universidad Central de Venezuela
58
Gorg. 491 e 7-10: cf. 492 d 5-7.
59
Gorg. 493 b 2-3.
60
Rudebusch (1989), 37.
61
Rudebusch (1989), 38.
The Meaning and Justification of a Paradox: Wrongdoing
is Involuntary. The Refutation of Polus.
Erik Nis Ostenfeld
Contents:
I. Introduction, II. The Problem (Preliminary Overview, The ‘power argument’, Desire,
Power and Expertise, The Paradox that Virtue is Knowledge), III. Derivation of the Paradox,
IV. Conclusion.
I. Introduction
At the end of his conversation with Callicles, when Callicles has dropped out, and when
Socrates has outlined his own positive argument for the identity of justice and self-restraint
with happiness (the human good), Socrates turns to the practical question of how to avoid
suffering and doing injustice. The question is formulated in terms of whether wishing not to
either suffer or do injustice is enough, or whether we need some kind of power/techne in
addition.
I will concentrate here on the avoidance of doing injustice. When Socrates asks Callicles
about the requirements for this (whether power and techne are needed) Callicles does not
respond straightaway, at least not until asked, to whether Socrates and Polus did not correctly
conclude that no one wants to do wrong, but everyone who does wrong does so unwillingly
(medena boulomenon adikein, all’ akontas tous adikountas pantas adikein) (G. 509d7-e7).
Several questions are raised by this passage: (1) where exactly in the Gorgias did Polus
and Socrates conclude that no one wants to do wrong, but everyone who does wrong does so
unwillingly? (2) How does Socrates (Plato) think that, and how in fact is the paradox that
‘wrongdoing is involuntary’
1
derived, if at all. Is the paradox derived solely from the ’power
argument’ about orators’ lack of power (G. 466b4-468e5)
2
? Or are other theses required? (3)
Is the paradox seen as or in fact established? And (4) what is this power/techne that is
required in addition to our wishing not to do injustice, and which is apparently missing in
cases of wrongdoing? Socrates relates the question of power/techne to involuntary
wrongdoing in G. 509d7-e7. Wrongdoing seems to rest on a lack of power/techne. Can we get
some light on this question of moral knowledge from the power argument? I shall attempt
answering these questions by sketching answers to the following questions in turn:
– What role is played by the argument against the power of orators? And especially by
the thesis that ‘all men desire the good and nothing but the good’?
1
What does akon here mean? Unwillingly, in ignorance, or unintentionally?
2
In the rest of my paper I shall refer to the argument against the alleged power of orators (G. 466b-468e) as the ‘power
argument’.
Erik Nis Ostenfeld 109
– What notion of desire do we have here and what kind of knowledge (power, techne) is
involved in virtue?
– What role if any is played by other Socratic paradoxes?
There is no agreement among scholars on the validity and soundness of the power
argument and its relevance for the paradox that no one does wrong willingly. Hence, there is
no agreement either on the derivation of that paradox. As for the ‘prudential paradox’
(universal desire for the good), its import and status are controversial and so is the argument
for it. There also seem to be different opinions about the role of other paradoxes. I shall have
to comment on these problems in the sequel.
II. The Problem
Preliminary overview
In the conversation with Callicles Socrates, referring to his earlier conversation with
Polus, suggests that to ward off doing wrong (adikein) one must not only wish not to do
wrong, but also have some power and technical knowledge to be studied and practised
(G. 509de). Moreover, the conclusion of the conversation with Polus is claimed to be that
nobody does wrong (adikein) willingly (boulomenos), but all who do wrong do it unwillingly
(akontas)
3
(=‘moral paradox’). If anything, this formulation of the paradox makes it
absolutely clear that wrongdoing is unwanted.
4
It is implied to be due to ignorance
(i.e. unknowingly).
5
But what knowledge is required?
Now, if we have to point to some specific passage in the Polus conversation, it may be
suggested that Socrates is referring to the statement of the ‘power argument’ which runs like
this: ‘If someone kills somebody supposing it will benefit himself but where in fact it is
worse for himself (kakion), he may be doing what he likes, but not what he wants’ (for we
don’t want to harm ourselves).
6
This amounts to saying that doing such things is not wanted in
case it is obviously harmful for oneself. It is not equivalent to saying that wrongdoing is
involuntary. Nevertheless it does seem to be the only explicit reference to a thesis about
involuntary action in the Polus conversation.
What we can infer from the argument then is that no one does self-harmful things
voluntarily. Premises (9) and (6), and the power argument in general do not seem to be about
morals except by accident. So, if Socrates at G. 509de really means to refer to this argument
he must either misremember the exact wording of the argument or illegitimately generalize
the result to cover moral action or simply mix up the prudential and moral senses of kakon or
perhaps, most likely, he does not intend to distinguish them.
7
Alternatively, he is not thinking
exclusively of this argument but of the whole conversation with Polus. In an attempt to clarify
this issue let us take a closer look at
The Power Argument (G. 466b-468e):
Refutandum: orators have power (466b4-5), because they do what they like (466b11-c2)
(i.e. power is to do what you like 466e1-5)
3
Socrates thinks that he and Polus have proved the ‘moral paradox’. As I shall show, in the ‘power argument’ alone he
strictly speaking has only demonstrated the ‘prudential paradox’ (I borrow Santas’ terminology).
4
Against Weiss (1985).
5
Cf. McTighe (1984) and Santas (1964).
6
Cf. premises (9) and implicitly (6) of the argument, set out below.
7
Cf. nn. 20-21 below. According to M. 87e1-3 the good is useful. Thus virtue being good is useful.
The Meaning and Justification of a Paradox 110
1) having power is good for you (466b6-7)
2) doing as you like unintelligently is bad for you (466e9-12)
3) doing as you like unintelligently is not power (466e9-12) 1, 2
3a) orators doing as they like unintelligently do not do well, have no power (466e13-
467a10) 3 (Not accepted by Polus)
--------------------
4) if you do something x for the sake of something else y, then you don’t want x but y
(467d6-e1)
5) there is something good, something bad and something neither good nor bad (467e1-
468a4)
6) the neutral is done for the sake of the (i.e. our
8
) good (468a5-b4), which is the sole
end for our actions (we want the good, not the bad nor the neutral) (468c5-8)
------------------------
7) killings, banishments, etc. are neutral things, which we do for the sake of our good
(468b4-8) 6
8) we don’t want to kill, banish, etc. ‘as such’, unless it benefits us (468c2-5, cf. b6)
4,5,6,7
9) if someone kills someone supposing it will benefit (ameinon) himself but where in
fact it is harmful (kakion), he may be doing what he likes, but not what he wants (we don’t
want the harmful) (468d1-7) 8
10) in such a case he has no power (468d7-e3) 3, 9
11) it is possible to do what you like without having great power or doing what you
want (468e3-5, cf. 466b9-10, d6-8) 10
It should be obvious that the argument falls into two parts (premises 1-3, and premises
4-11).
9
Still, it should be considered one argument since the second part exploits assumptions
from the first part.
10
If I have done justice to the argument by the formulation above, the first part of this
argument is an ignoratio elenchi. Socrates proves something irrelevant. He refutes what Polus
has not claimed: that power is doing what one likes without intelligence (nous). In fact,
Socrates contends later on (470a), with the assent of Polus, that Polus thinks that, if one acts
as one likes and the result is advantageous to oneself, then it is a good and great power. And
in context this is not mindless action, but calculated mischief.
Reason or intelligence (nous) is of course necessary to having power and Polus would
surely agree. However, it can be argued that Socrates presupposes the results of the
conversation with Gorgias: that the orator lacks professional knowledge (455a, 459bc).
11
Arguably, he also presupposes his own idea, advanced earlier in the conversation with Polus,
that the orator lacks knowledge (465a), including moral knowledge (464d). This reference
back is all but explicit (466e13-467a5).
In fact, Gorgias did not agree that the orator himself was lacking moral knowledge
(459e-460a), only that he does not teach his audience morals (455a). But this will not help.
8
It is clear from the examples given of goods (467e4-5) that they are personal and real goods such as riches, health and
wisdom. Cf. also 468b6, c3-4.
9
Formally, there is a shift in questioner: first (466a-467a) Polus puts the questions, then Socrates takes over (though
Polus’ part is blurred somewhat by the messy character of the conversation here). I owe this literary observation to
Hayden Ausland.
10
Penner (1991) has made a penetrating and original analysis of this argument, the best available to my mind, because
it is very lucid, philosophically convincing and sensitive to the text. Though I do not of course share all his views
on this matter I am much indebted to his stimulating work.
11
This is argued by Penner (1991), 156 ff.
Erik Nis Ostenfeld 111
Polus taunted Socrates at the start of their conversation that he had shamed Gorgias into
claiming that the orator knows about right and wrong, and he also shares, one assumes, his
teacher’s opinion of the orator’s lack of professional knowledge (techne). Nevertheless,
Socrates has not shown in the argument we are considering that the orator is without
intelligence or reason (nous).
12
The second part of the argument shows that if the orator is mistaken about his own good,
then he has no power. It is not demonstrated that he necessarily is mistaken. The argument is
not in fact categorical. It has a hypothetical premise (9) (468d1ff) saying that if one kills...and
is mistaken about one’s own good, then etc.. This hypothetical nature of the proof is mirrored
in the conclusion that it is possible to do what you like without great power (468e3-5).
It could be replied that the argument rests on implicit but reasonable assumptions: the
orator is likely to make mistakes, due to lack of knowledge. But it is still not proved that he
necessarily makes vital mistakes about his own happiness. That he does not possess
professional knowledge neither deprives him of intelligence nor need it affect his conception
of what is good for him nor his conception of what is morally good. Another defence of the
argument might go: assume Socrates’ idea of current rhetoric as mental cookery (465b,
465d7f), not a science but a knack with no notion of the good of the soul.
13
However, this is,
as we have seen, Socrates’ view of the matter (465d7), dogmatically advanced (462bff,
463aff, 463eff), and with no explicit acceptance by Polus.
14
Furthermore, it is claimed that
oratory does not aim at the good of the souls of the audience, but nothing is said or implied
about the good of the orator’s own soul. So, with such assumptions the argument as a whole
cannot be said to be fair to Polus when he with most moderns takes it as a general proof that
orators are powerless.
15
However, given the premises does the conclusion follow? In other words, is the
argument valid? McTighe and Penner (1991) have diametrically opposite views here.
16
The
first regards the argument as invalid and merely ad hominem, while the latter finds it entirely
successful (149). It seems to me to be valid in the form I have reconstructed it. The
conclusion follows if the premises are granted.
How far does Socrates subscribe to the premises? Is Socrates simply refuting Polus out
of his own mouth, without committing himself to the premises used?
17
Here we must note first
of all that Socrates at G. 509de does claim as a common conclusion what is presumably
premise (9) and implicitly premise (6) of the power argument. Secondly, we find the crucial
premise (6) about the universal desire for the true good both elsewhere in the Gorgias as a
12
Here I must disagree with Penner who claims that the unscientific character of rhetoric is what makes orators
unintelligent. Socrates may think so (466e13), but that does not make it true. It does not follow that the orator
himself is made unintelligent by his occupation.
13
What does Socrates imply by the notion ‘the good of the soul’? The moral good, or the advantageous? Presumably
both, because according to him the morally good is the advantageous. But this is just the issue at stake and a
controversial point that Polus (and Callicles) would deny.
14
Polus does not agree with the long monologue of Socrates in which he offers his view of rhetoric. The power
argument follows straight on that speech.
15
Premises 1-3 (not 3a) and 4-10 are all accepted, though Polus is unhappy about 11 when Socrates (as a restatement
of 466d7-e2) rubs his nose in it (468e3ff). He unfortunately does not realize the modality of the conclusion (which
is only a possibility). The hypothetical character of the proof, though clear enough in the premises, is not
conspicuous in the conclusion. Polus accepts that miscalculation is a weakness, but he apparently reckons with
intelligent orators/tyrants having success (470a10-12). Secondly, the possible smuggling in of morality under
cover of usefulness is unfair. Finally, the first part of the argument unfairly implies lack of intelligence in orators.
16
McTighe (1984) construes my premises 4-11 as a separate argument and in a way that does not do justice to Plato
and thus makes his argument vulnerable. Thus McTighe’s premise 1 is a misstatement of G. 465c5-e1 in
categorical terms.
17
McTighe (1984) does not think that Socrates ascribes to the universal desire for the good (premise 6) or indeed to the
idea that what is desired is different from what seems good.
The Meaning and Justification of a Paradox 112
premise shared by Socrates (499e f)
18
and elsewhere in the Corpus (e.g. Meno 78b1-2). We
can also note that Socrates accepts the final conclusion (11) of the argument. Moreover,
premise (1), that power is good for the possessor, needed for that final conclusion, is clearly
shared by Socrates (it is the usual second step in a refutation after the statement of the
refutandum: a basic moral belief, an endoxon, that usually leads to refutation). Moreover, a
corollary of the power argument (obvious only to Socrates) is that power is not to do as you
like, but, with insight, to do as you want to increase your own mental good in the long run,
and that is clearly an unconventional (Socratic) view (466d6-e1, 467a8-10).
19
Moreover, there
is no reason to doubt that Socrates accepts (2), and (4) and (5), whatever qualms we may
have. (7) and (8) are ‘natural’ and Socratic consequences of the ethical egoism or self-concern
that is being offered (confirmed at 470c2-3). Hence, it seems legitimate to use the power
argument and its premises as evidence for Socratic ethics. It is not a merely dialectical ploy. If
this is correct, we can and should use the power argument in the understanding and derivation
of the moral paradox.
Now the crucial lesson of the power argument when seen from our perspective (i.e.
G. 509d-e) is that, as everyone only wants the good for himself, the tyrant or orator does not
really want the eventually self-harming things (kaka) he is doing. He intends them all right,
but doing such things in the mistaken belief that they are advantageous (agatha)
20
for himself
means doing what he likes but not what he wants. The things he does are neutral in the
argument (premise 7). Socrates and Polus are later agreed about this (470b), they part on the
required motivation for such acts. What is important to see and stress is that in the power
argument it is only observed that such dramatic actions may assume the character of good/bad
depending on their results. In the argument such actions as killings, banishment, etc. are only
observed sometimes to have adverse effects on the agent. This means that the power argument
is about prudence: useful and harmful acts. But we are warned that such action (which is in
fact immoral for Socrates if done for materialistic reasons, e.g. self-aggrandizement) may turn
out adversely for the agent. The underlying thesis that all seek the good is psychological and
prudential, meaning that all seek their own good and advantage. It is not obviously a moral
thesis, meaning that all seek to be good. First, this is blatantly false, and secondly, this is not
what is needed for the conclusion, i.e. that the tyrant or orator does nothing of what he wishes,
namely his own good. Hence we cannot claim that the paradox that no one does wrong
willingly is proved here.
21
That needs further argument to convince sophists, and us, the
readers of Plato.
We have to look further on in the G. for separate arguments that doing wrong is always
and necessarily harmful to the agent.
22
Polus is still unclear about this at 469b10. When we get
18
McTighe (1984) has a perceptive note 76 about the reformulation of this premise: all action should be (dein) done
for the sake of the good. This, he argues, is Socratic, not the original formulation of the power argument. True, but
I am not convinced that this formulation, in context, is inconsistent with the earlier. Socrates is on to argue that
knowledge is required in acting well (G. 500a). It is this knowledge that should be present.
19
According to McTighe (1984), 219f, Socrates does not share the view that power is good as it is inconsistent with his
view of the status of popular goods. I fail to see Socratic power as a popular good.
20
Strictly, the Greek is kakion and ameinon respectively (G. 468d3-4).
21
Unless of course it is assumed that Socrates equivocates on or is otherwise exploiting the double meaning of
kaka/agatha. Note, however, that there is a parallel argument in the Meno which is prudential (M. 77c-78b).
Cf. Bluck (1961), 257, and Santas (1979), 314 n.11. The famous argument against akrasia in the Prot. is also
prudential (see e.g. 353c-354b where the evilness of acts consists entirely in uncomfortable consequences, and the
goodness in good health, riches, etc. Cf. Xen. Mem. iii.ix.4). Moral language surfaces after the elenchus at
Pr. 358b3-6. Santas, who holds that Pr. 352b-358d4 is prudential, finds 353c7 problematic as possibly moral
(1979, 314-5 n. 11). Irwin 143 simply claims that ‘the paradox’, as he calls the rejection of incontinence, is argued
for at Pr. 353cff and Meno 77b-78b. If I am right it is not as simple as that.
22
In the power argument killing, banishing, etc. are in themselves neutral (466c2-7), but may be good if advantageous
for the agent or bad if the opposite. For Socrates, in the ensuing discussion, they may be good and advantageous
Erik Nis Ostenfeld 113
a proof that injustice is harmful to the agent, then we also get the needed premise for the
paradox that no one does wrong voluntarily:
– we all want the good for ourselves
– we know/believe that injustice is harmful (extra premise)
– no one wants injustice or does wrong voluntarily
Desire
In the Gorgias the argument for the paradox of the involuntariness of bad (i.e. harmful)
action involves the (here unargued) claim that we all always wish for our own true good but
may be mistaken as to what that good really and in the long run is.
23
Thus, I may be
misguided as to what is good for me in the end, i.e. my over-all good, or I may be confused
about the means to that end, even if it is rightly identified. We may think that our end is a life
of power and influence or a life of pleasure. Or we may think that sweets are contributing to
our real good although in fact they are bad, or we may expel immigrants from our country
under the impression that this is good for us, whereas it is in fact bad or harmful (for us too).
Hence, in general, even desire for the good is not sufficient for obtaining it, if the agent,
as is generally the case, be mistaken about what that good is. Knowledge (i.e., power and
techne) is required as well.
Power and expertise
The power and technical knowledge of the final conclusion (G. 509e) are what is needed
to avoid mistakes in one’s choices of presumed advantageous strategies. The required
knowledge is learnt (mathesis)
24
and trained (askesis). Hence it may be assumed that both
theoretical and practical knowledge is meant.
What Plato has in mind by ‘power’ (dunamis) at G. 509d ff. should preferably be
gathered from the Gorgias itself. In the ‘power argument’ ‘power’ is understood by Socrates
as good for the possessor (466b6-7), an ability to do, not as you like but rather, as you want
(implied at 466d6-e2)
25
, and it is implied (466e9-11) that while unintelligent desire is
powerless and harmful (467a4-5), intelligent (meta nou) desire is, we understand, powerful.
Hence it may be suggested that what is not enough to save us from wrongdoing is
misinformed desire (boulesis 509d7) and that ‘power’ at G. 509d-e may be the insight into
the personal good that informs desire correctly.
The Paradox that Virtue Is Knowledge
In the early dialogues we find the dictum that virtue is knowledge
26
(the moral paradox)
and that the man who has learnt what is just is a just man (G. 460b-d). He always behaves
justly and does not even desire to do otherwise. What does this tell us about the required
knowledge? And how is this ‘moral paradox’ related to the power argument?
if just (470c2-3), bad and disadvantageous if unjust. For him the criterial goods are justice and other virtues.
Justice has become a value and good. But we need to be convinced that he is right.
23
‘Good’ or ‘bad’ means, for Socrates, ‘having good consequences for us,’ or ‘having bad consequences for us’.
Cf. G. 468c3-4, Meno 87e2, cf. also Xen. Mem. iv.6.8ff.
24
Apol. 26a: ean mathô pausomai ho ge akôn poiô.
25
‘Ability’ is defined in HMin 366b as ‘doing what you want when you want (bouletai)’. Cf. Ly. 207: happiness
implies freedom and possibility of doing what one wants (epithymia, or boulesis 208a1).
26
E.g. Meno 88c-89a, Prot.357ab, La.199cd, Ch.174cd, Euthyd. 279d, 280a, HMin 375d, G. 460b-d.
The Meaning and Justification of a Paradox 114
The knowledge that is virtue seems special because it is so personal that we must act on
it. Why is this so? The power argument implies that the needed knowledge is of one’s own
good (i.e. knowledge of oneself, cf. know thyself!), including the knowledge that, e.g.,
justice (implying order and harmony) is one’s good. The knowledge that justice is my good is
the knowledge that is virtue, and if we are convinced that justice is our own good (and not
pleasure or influence or whatever), then our desire for our own good is redirected toward
justice: moral knowledge has informed our natural desire. Understanding what our true
interest is it only remains to perceive instances hereof or discovering the means to this end.
III. Derivation of the paradox and the strategy of the conversation with Polus.
It has been suggested that the moral paradox (virtue is knowledge, and involuntary
wrongdoing) follows (or is meant to follow) from the power argument alone, or from that and
other arguments advanced in the course of the conversation with Polus. Some (e.g. Irwin 143)
have opted for the first alternative, while Santas rightly to my mind takes the second
alternative (though I have some qualifications to make). McTighe and Weiss regard the power
argument as irrelevant. I hope it is clear why I cannot accept that.
The final conclusion of the Polus round (509de) is, as we have seen, (A1) to ward off
doing wrong (i.e. to be virtuous) one must not only wish not to do wrong but also have some
power and technical knowledge to be studied and practised, and (A2) the (alleged) conclusion
of the ‘power argument’ is: nobody does wrong (adikein) willingly (boulomenos), but all who
do wrong do it unwillingly (akontas) (=the moral paradox).
27
But (B) the actual conclusion
of the ‘power argument’ was in effect: doing disadvantageous things is unwilling. Why
then this ‘misrepresentation’? The reason appears to me to be as follows:
From (A2) it follows that the paradox oudeis hekôn kakos should be understood as
saying that wrongdoing is (basically) unwilling, due to a misguided idea of what one’s real
good is. And that is the reason why it is introduced here to help Callicles with answering
whether we do not need a power/technical knowledge to be virtuous. But it is an inaccurate
and unsatisfactory reference, if it is solely to the power argument, which most readers would
take to be about prudential action. However, the reference is still useful because, according to
Socrates, imprudent action shares with immoral action a need of knowledge. For Socrates it is
basically the same knowledge in so far as (for him) immoral action is imprudent action. But
this is not obvious to others than Socrates. We need it spelled out and proved by separate
arguments.
Hence it follows that for Polus and us, the readers, the justification of the moral paradox
of involuntary wrongdoing depends (apart from the paradox contained in the power argument:
a special view of human nature, i.e. a universal desire for the true human good, i.e. premise
(6) of the power argument), on one other paradox: the thesis that justice or morality is for
our true good and benefit (later implied at G. 469b8-9 and argued, esp. at G. 474c-475e)
(this second paradox is needed as premise (6) of the power argument cannot be taken by us to
involve a moral dimension).
If, therefore, everybody wants the good, and, if the agent (therefore?
28
) knows or
believes that injustice is bad, then nobody wants injustice or does wrong voluntarily. No
more premises are needed. If injustice nevertheless does occur, it must be because the agent is
ignorant of the fact that injustice is bad (harmful for the agent).
27
This clarifies the meaning of the Socratic paradox oudeis hekôn kakos. Akôn here means not ‘unintentionally’ but
‘unwillingly’. It is not my will that is misguided, but my intention, the cognitive part of me that is to be faulted,
cf. n. 24.
28
For Socrates this second premise is implied in the first.
Erik Nis Ostenfeld 115
IV. Conclusion
The aim of this paper has been to clarify the meaning and justification of the central
Socratic paradox that wrongdoing is involuntary.
I offer, I suspect, an in some respects new
29
analysis of the power argument that gives us
a sound and valid argument for the possibility of lack of power and desire satisfaction in
orators and tyrants. I have stressed the hypothetical nature of the conclusion, because it is less
counterintuitive than the traditional understanding of the text. An important sub-conclusion of
the proof is the paradoxical thesis that no one does harmful things voluntarily (468a-c). An
important premise is that all men have a desire for their own good, ‘good’ here meaning
‘useful for the agent’, and that all human action is motivated by this desire (a paradox). All
desire is ‘good-dependent’ and desire is coupled with real (not apparent) good.
The other necessary ingredient in virtue, apart from desire, is power and expertise. As
could be expected, the power argument has an important implication here: power is an ability
to do as you want, i.e. achieve your own good. Hence power is good for you. Expertise
(techne) seems to be used much in the same sense. This power/expertise/knowledge that is
virtue (a paradox) is implied in the power argument to be knowledge of one’s own good.
When added to or informing our natural desire for our good we get virtue.
Finally, I derive the paradox that no one does wrong voluntarily from two paradoxes:
that all men seek what in fact and truly benefits them and that justice benefits them (and
injustice is harmful). No more premises are needed.
University of Aarhus
29
My debt to several of the sophisticated analyses (esp. Santas and Penner) already available is unavoidable and
should be apparent and acknowledged. This is really a matter of standing on the shoulders of others.
The Politics of the Gorgias
Richard F. Stalley
It is not surprising that the Gorgias has often been seen as strongly antidemocratic.
1
It is
primarily a critique of the rhetoricians. Against them it argues that orators have no knowledge
of what is truly good for themselves or for the citizens. Rhetoric does not embody rational
understanding and aims at pleasure and the appearance of good rather than at the good itself
(461a-466a). At the same time the dialogue accepts at face value Gorgias’s claim that orators
exercise virtually unlimited power over courts and assemblies, the major institutions of
democracy. The orator could even get himself appointed as public physician in preference to a
genuine doctor (456b-c). Democracy is thus represented as an irrational constitution in which
an ignorant mob takes decisions at the behest of orators who are equally ignorant (458e-
459b). At the same time the character of the orators is represented in the blackest terms.
Gorgias believes that oratory should be used only for just purposes but even he has to agree
that this will not always happen (456d-457c). Polus and Callicles, for their part, represent the
orators as ready to exploit the populace in any way they please. This makes democracy
morally indistinguishable from tyranny (466c, 482c-486c). Later in the dialogue the argument
is directed explicitly against the leadership and institutions of Athenian democracy. Socrates
claims that no Athenian politician, not even Pericles, has done the city any good (515b-518d).
He goes on to liken his own trial to that of a doctor prosecuted by a sweet-maker before a jury
of children (521d-522a). Within this general framework there are more specific anti-
democratic arguments. Against Polus Socrates argues that orators lack real power. Because
they do not know what is truly good for them they do what pleases them not what they really
want (466a-468e). This argument not only attacks the leadership of democratic states but also
undermines the democratic conception of freedom as the ability to do what one wants
2
If the
populace is ignorant of the good it cannot do what it really wants and hence cannot be free.
Against Callicles, Socrates argues that human good consists in the order and harmony of the
soul rather than in the indulgence of desires (500a-506a). Since democracy has been
represented as a constitution which aims to gratify the whims of the populace this implies that
democracy is the political embodiment of lawlessness and moral depravity.
In spite of all this, some scholars have given democratic readings of the Gorgias. In
doing so, they have been largely influenced by the image of a Socrates whose lifestyle and
philosophical method seem anything but authoritarian. Euben, for example argues that the
dialogue criticises contemporary practices that distort democracy rather than democracy
1
Dodds (1959), 30-4, Vickers (1988), 85-90. Some see Plato as imposing his own illiberal views on an essentially
liberal Socrates. See Popper (1966
5
), 302-3; Irwin (1979), 217. Vlastos (1973), 195, avoids the conflict between
the Gorgias and his own democratic interpretation of the Platonic Socrates by characterising it as having
‘exclusively moral concerns’.
2
Republic 557b; Aristotle Politics 1310a31-2, 1317b10-12.
Richard F. Stalley 117
itself
.
3
He can say this because he locates democracy in ‘a Habermasian ideal of
communicative reasoning in which dialogue and deliberation are governed by ideas of
frankness, mutuality, consensus and rational argument’ (338). In his view, Gorgias, Polus and
Callicles all offer distorted views of politics as domination. Socrates’ talk of a political techne
may seem like a recipe for authoritarianism, but, as Euben reads him, Socrates does not
endorse even this kind of techne. The ultimate source of authority in the Gorgias is dialectic
or dialogue itself. Socrates believes that dialectic can be taught or practised by anyone. He
hopes to create ‘a citizenry capable of thinking for itself and thus immune to rhetorical
manipulation, a citizenry moreover, that is willing or even anxious to accept the
responsibilities of power which democracy requires’ (341).
One may ask here whether Euben’s concept of democracy has anything to do with the
political institutions of cities like Athens. The assembly took major decisions by a majority
vote after relatively short discussion, and the popular courts, relied on large juries and
provided little opportunity for discussion and compromise. These institutions gave little scope
for the ‘fragile negotiations’, driven by the desire for compromise and consensus which,
characterise Euben’s conception of democracy. Neither do these ideals figure in
contemporary accounts of democracy. There was, of course, plenty of emphasis on the
importance of free discussion. But this was not, so far as I can see, taken to require
negotiation and compromise. Demosthenes (20. 108) even claims that competition rather than
agreement is the essence of democracy. So even if the Gorgias did show a sympathy for
democracy as some theorists now understand that term, it could not be seen as friendly to
democracy as understood by the Greeks.
A second difficulty with Euben’s account concerns his understanding of Socrates as
presented in the Gorgias. There are indeed passages where he seems to emphasise the
importance of free and open discussion (457c-458b, 471d-472d, 486d-488b)
4
. Famously he
also insists that he needs only one witness, the person with whom he is discussing (472b-c).
But as several scholars have pointed out Socrates is not, in practice, particularly concerned to
elucidate and understand the real views of his interlocutors. His main aim is apparently to
reduce them to inconsistency and some of the tactics he uses seem downright unfair. He is
satisfied to secure the verbal agreement of those he talks with, however grudgingly that may
be given. He makes no real attempt to understand his interlocutors’ point of view, and
certainly does not look for compromise or consensus.
5
These questions about Socrates’ method raise more fundamental philosophical issues
which are well brought out by Benjamin Barber
.
6
In replying to Euben he argues that Socrates
in the Gorgias cannot be seen as democratic because he assumes a ‘foundationalist’
epistemology’. As Barber uses this term, to adopt a foundationalist view of political theory is,
it seems, to claim that there are principles of politics which are true and can be known as
such. He holds that, in political theory at least, foundationalism is thoroughly mistaken.
Because there is no truth in political matters political deliberation must be seen as ‘ a matter
of reconciling adversarial interests, of forging common values, of deciding what to do in
common at the very moment we cannot agree on the “truth” or even whether there is such a
thing.’ In Barber’s view this anti-foundationalism underpins democracy. If there is no truth all
we can seek is a consensus about how to conduct our affairs. As Barber puts it elsewhere,
democratic politics ‘is precisely not a cognitive system concerned with what we know and
3
Euben (1996), 327-359.
4
Monoson (2000), 161-5 argues that these passages implicitly appeal to democratic values.
5
On this point see Beversluis (2000), chs 14-16.
6
Barber (1996), 361-375.
The Politics of the Gorgias 118
how we know it, but a system of conduct concerned with what we will together and what we
do together and how we agree on what we will to do. It is practical not speculative, about
action rather than about truth.’
7
Barber surely has an important point here. Although Socrates denies having knowledge,
he never suggests that there is no such thing as knowledge or truth. Indeed he presents his
dialectic as, above all, a quest for truth (471e-472a, 487e). Thus, in his own terms, Barber is
right to see Socrates as a foundationalist. His critique of democracy presupposes that there is
such a thing as truth, that it is directly relevant to political decisions, and that it can be known.
But Barber’s belief that epistemological foundationalism, understood in this sense, is
incompatible with genuine democracy is open to question. If he was right not only would
Socrates, as depicted in the Gorgias, and Plato himself be fundamentally undemocratic, but so
also would be most other philosophers, including many avowed democrats. As Barber himself
acknowledges, anti-foundationalism implies that all values, including democratic values such
as equality and freedom, are ultimately up for negotiation.
Clearly this raises broad philosophical issues going well beyond the scope of this paper.
But I shall argue now that we do not need to embrace Barber’s anti-foundationalism in order
to see what is wrong with the Gorgias’s critiques of democracy. The trouble lies not so much
in the idea that there can be knowledge of political matters but rather with the assumptions
made about the kind of knowledge in question. In particular the anti-democratic arguments
described above rest on two key assumptions. The first is the conception of knowledge as
expertise. This is at work from the early pages of the Gorgias, where Socrates insists that if
the rhetorician is good at speaking there must be some specific topic about which he is an
expert. But it is most conspicuous at 454c-455b where Socrates distinguishes two kinds of
persuasion, one producing knowledge (. ¬.c~µ µµ) and the other mere conviction (¬. c~.,).
Gorgias accepts that the persuasion produced by rhetoric is of the latter kind. The orator
cannot produce knowledge in his audience because he does not have time to teach people.
The assumption implicit in this passage, that there is a clear distinction between
knowledge and true belief and between the ways in which they are imparted, underpins much
of the argument in the Gorgias.
8
At 459a-c Gorgias has argued that the orator is so persuasive
that even in matters of health he will be more effective than a doctor at convincing a mob
(y·,). Socrates takes this to imply that someone who lacks knowledge can be more
convincing than someone who has it. Rhetoric is thus revealed as the art that enables an
ignorant person to convince an ignorant audience. It is assumed here that to have knowledge
is to be an expert who knows all about a subject, and that those who are not expert on a
subject are ignorant of it. The passage thus combines a strong conception of knowledge as
expertise with a correspondingly broad conception of ignorance as embracing anyone who
lacks complete understanding.
This strong conception of knowledge reappears in the closing phase of the argument
with Gorgias. There Socrates purports to find an inconsistency between Gorgias’ admission
that justice can be misused and his claim that he will have to teach his pupils justice if they do
not already know it (460a-461b). The argument here depends, inter alia, on the assumption
that someone who has learned justice must know all about justice and therefore cannot make
mistakes.
There is no question that the strong conception of knowledge makes democracy look
absurd. Democracy, as generally understood consists in the rule of the many. Plato assumes,
7
Barber (1998), 19-30.
8
Vickers (1988), 87, sees this as one of a number of false dichotomies with which Plato bolsters his case against
rhetoric.
Richard F. Stalley 119
quite plausibly, that the mass of the population cannot have expert knowledge of anything. It
does not help to argue that the many make their decisions on the advice of politicians, for
Socrates’ opponents accept that the orators who exercise power in a democracy do not have
an expert knowledge of what is good either for themselves, or for the city. So, if knowledge
implies expertise, a democratic constitution is, by its very nature, one where the ignorant
masses make decisions at the behest of ignorant politicians.
Putting the point in this way, makes it is obvious where the argument has gone wrong.
Those who lack the expert’s knowledge of a subject do not necessarily have no relevant
knowledge whatever. So saying that there are no infallible experts on political matters does
not imply that there is no room for ideas of truth and knowledge in politics. Indeed one can
argue, as some Greek democrats evidently did, that collectively a popular assembly knows
plenty about political matters. It has a vast experience of human character and of everyday
life and stands at least as good a chance of making correct judgements as any individual. So
democracy can be justified as a way of placing in common the knowledge of many
individuals.
9
If this is right the anti-democratic arguments of the Gorgias arise, not so much
from the assumption that there can be knowledge in politics, as from what I have called the
strong conception of that knowledge – the assumption that we can always draw a sharp
distinction between the knowledgeable and the ignorant.
The argument with Polus introduces a second key idea, or set of ideas, which I shall call
‘the internal conception of the good’. The primary thought here is that human good consists
neither in external advantages such as the possession of wealth or friends nor in the well-
being of the body, but rather in some internal state of the soul. In the Gorgias, this view is
derived from Socrates’ conviction that it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. Since
those who suffer wrong are obviously not benefited in their bodies or external possessions
this is readily taken to imply that wrong-doing must harm the soul and conversely that doing
right benefits the soul (477b-e, 479b, 504b-c). It is easy to think of the welfare of the soul as
analogous to the health of the body. Since health is often considered to be a kind of order and
harmony this suggests that the welfare of the soul requires discipline or restraint. This can be
exercised either by oneself or by the civic authorities (505b-c). The result is an attractive
picture in which the order of the just soul and of the well-governed polis reflects the larger
order of the cosmos (508a).
From the political point of view, this picture has disturbing implications. It implies that a
statesman who seeks the good of the citizens, will not be concerned with tasks such as
defending the city, preserving order or maintaining a sound economy, so much as with the
state of the citizens’ souls. Moreover, since on the internal conception of the good the wicked
do not appreciate how miserable they are, it implies that individuals may not know what is
truly good for them. To put the point another way, democracies are based on the idea that
each citizen is generally in the best position to judge what is good for himself or herself. A
well-governed city will enable everyone to pursue their own good in their own way. The
conception of the good adopted in the Gorgias implies that we are not, in general, well placed
to determine what is in our interests and that the task of the city is to do what is best for us
whether we like it or not.
Taken together, the strong conception of knowledge and the view of human good as
consisting in the health of the soul clearly imply that the only kind of state which could truly
promote the good of the citizens would be one ruled by experts who have the knowledge and
power to keep the souls of the citizens in good condition. Clearly no democracy can satisfy
9
Aristotle, Politics III. 11, 1281a39-1282b13.
The Politics of the Gorgias 120
this requirement. But the same also goes for all other familiar forms of constitution.
Tyrannies, aristocracies and oligarchies manifestly do not have expert rulers who care for the
souls of the citizens. Indeed, since Socrates himself disclaims this kind of expertise (509a), it
seems that no one in the world as we know it is qualified to rule. So, although the arguments
of the Gorgias are, in the first instance, directed at Athenian democracy, they threaten to
undermine any other form of constitution that is likely to exist. In this sense the dialogue
seems anti-political rather than anti-democratic. It suggests that there never will be a truly
satisfactory constitution. This impression is confirmed when Socrates claims that he is the
only one who attempts the true art of politics (521d) because he alone is concerned with the
true welfare of his fellow citizens. Since he has no aspirations to be a ruler in the traditional
sense, this suggests that no human government can ever achieve its true goal. It is also
significant that, having condemned the judicial practices of Athens, he compares the Athenian
courts, not with those of some other city on earth, but with the court that will try us after death
(522d-524a). His arguments imply that no earthly rulers and no earthly court can be of much
value.
The Republic can be seen as offering one kind of resolution to the problems raised in the
Gorgias. It is highly critical of all existing constitutions for reasons resembling those offered
in the Gorgias. It contrasts them with an imaginary city governed by genuine experts who
have had a lifelong training in philosophy. But this does not provide a solution to any
practical problem because it is most unlikely that there ever will be philosopher kings.
Moreover the account of the philosophers’ knowledge makes one wonder how they could be
qualified to rule on earth. Their claim to rule is based on their knowledge of the forms, but
they have to rule in the changing world, which, according to Plato, lies in the sphere of belief
rather than knowledge. So there is a real question as to whether the Republic’s constitution
provides any kind of solution to political problems in the real world.
The Laws differs from the Republic in that one could imagine its ideal state coming into
existence somewhere in the Greek world. In particular it does not require philosopher rulers.
The right people must hold office but their eligibility does not depend on their having
knowledge as such. True belief is an acceptable substitute. They acquire beliefs from a moral
training common to all citizens and through the wisdom and experience that comes with age
(632c cf. 653a, 688b, 689a, 689b, 864a). There is, thus, no sharp dichotomy between those
who have the knowledge requisite for government and those who do not. All citizens play
some part in government but a complex system of elections ensures that only the wisest
among them attain the highest offices.
10
Even then there are many devices to ensure that no
individual exercises untrammelled power.
11
The main reason why the Laws takes a more relaxed view on questions of knowledge
and belief is that those who hold office will not have ultimate sovereignty. They are obliged
to follow a strict code of laws. These embody divine principles of reason and, as in the
Gorgias, are apparently seen as reflecting the divine order of the universe (713c-715d). They
are established by a wise legislator and their rational foundation is a main preoccupation of
the nocturnal council. They are accompanied by persuasive preambles which ensure, that so
far as possible, citizens obey them of their own free will rather than through fear of
penalties.
12
The city is thus governed in accordance with laws of reason which are seen as
embodying knowledge. But the rationality of its governance does not depend on the expertise
10
See Stalley (1983), 186-90.
11
See Stalley (1983), 115-6.
12
719e-723d. As commentators have noticed the preambles embody a new kind of rhetoric. Vickers (1988), 143, sees
this as reducing rhetoric ‘to its lowest point’. Yunis (1996), ch VIII, offers a more favourable assessment.
Richard F. Stalley 121
of individual citizens. The Laws thus assumes that there are objectively true principles of
politics but, because these principles are enshrined in law it does not require those who hold
office to have knowledge in the strong sense envisaged in the Gorgias.
The Laws systematically develops the other major theme we noted in the Gorgias, the
internal conception of the good. This lies at the heart of all the institutions and legislative
proposals described in the dialogue. They are explicitly aimed at developing in the souls of
the citizens a harmony between the passions and desires on the one hand and true judgements
about the good on the other (631b-632d, 653b-c, 659d-e). The penal code is based on the idea
that, since crime is symptomatic of disease in the soul, the primary aim of the legislator, who
establishes the legal code, and of the courts which put it into practice, is to cure the criminal
of his wickedness (854c-855a, 862d-863c, 933e-934c).
The Laws describes a regime that is genuinely political in the sense that one could
conceive of it coming into being in the world as we actually know it, and which is also
directed to the goal identified in the Gorgias – maintaining the health of the citizens’ souls.
But, because it is governed by law it does not require expert rulers. Ordinary people who have
been brought up to obey the law and have internalised its values will be able to conduct the
business of government. Seen in this light, the Laws answers the problems raised in the
Gorgias, but it does not abandon the central principles that gave rise to those problems. It still
insists that the city must be governed in accordance with objective truths about human good.
It also retains and, indeed, greatly develops the idea that the primary concern of government
is the welfare of the citizens’ souls. But because knowledge is enshrined in law rather than in
the souls of the rulers, the state it describes looks capable of being realised in the real world.
The city of the Laws contains features which to us, if not to Plato’s contemporaries, may
appear democratic: all citizens take part in government, officials are mostly elected and there
is even an assembly, though its powers are unclear. There is also an insistence that decisions
should be taken only after prolonged and careful discussion. This may appeal to modern
theorists of democracy, but the constitution is not democratic in either the ancient or the
modern sense. This is because it is based on a code of law that cannot be readily changed.
That code embodies principles of right and wrong which are not the result of human choices
but are the product of reason and are implicit in the nature of the universe as a whole. The
fundamental principles by which the city is governed are thus beyond debate. The task of
government is to follow these principles and thus to make the citizens good. It does not allow
them to choose their own way of life. In the Gorgias’s terms it gives them what they really
want not what pleases them.
University of Glasgow
Goodness Trumps Pleasure-loving in the Gorgias
Julius Moravcsik
Among the various subjects addressed in the Gorgias the superiority of goodness (or the
good life) over pleasure (or the love of pleasure) stands out as an account of complex ethical,
epistemological, and ontological issues. (494a-506d). On the surface the issue is simple. A
contemporary modern moral philosopher might treat this as a pure conceptual clash, to be
resolved by analyzing the meanings of the relevant words. But Plato sees behind clashes over
words and sentences a complex clash over what is good for humans, what we HUMANS
ARE, and what the right ways are to find out what the appropriate answers are to these
questions. Plato does not merely analyze ‘good’ and ‘pleasure’. He dwells into the
psychological features of those who claim to take goodness and pleasure as identical. What
are the salient features of the characters of those who prefer pleasure to all else? Thus we do
not compare merely good and pleasure, but also the good-seekers and the pleasure-seekers.
This presupposes that both good-seekers and pleasure-seekers have unitary characters. We
shall return to this presupposition later. The comparison is laid out in the well known form of
a dialogue between two speakers representing the sides. The “duel” is meant to show that the
identification leads to contradictions. Thus one might think that the conclusion is: give up
either pleasure or the good as highest values. But, as is well known, this is not Plato’s
conclusion. He thinks he can show that we must separate the two, and retain only goodness as
the final value. Plato wants to use the so-called elenchus as his philosophical weapon in this
undertaking. But if elenchus can only show that two given propositions, A, and B, clash, how
will we draw from this a positive conclusion?
Let us turn, then to the examination of the elenchus. Why not just reach Plato’s preferred
conclusion via logical deduction or simple rhetorical discussion? The second option is not
open to Plato since he will insist at the end that only rational arguments can be used in such
important discussions. The first option raises interesting questions, many of which we cannot
answer in this essay. (Careful examination of the elenchus was offered in recent times, by
Gregory Vlastos).
1
It suffice to say that Plato’s main aim seems to be not just to get some sort
of a deductive conclusion, but arrive at both speakers having a clearer conception of
themselves, and human nature and key problems in human lives. We do not just want to prove
something about goodness (from what premises?) but also clear the minds of the dueling
persons. Thus Plato’s final aim is to awaken deep rational understanding in the minds of both
speakers (495e 1,2). In recent times T. Irwin gave an interesting logical analysis of our
dialogue.
2
1
Vlastos (1991), 114-119, more on elenchus.
2
Irwin (1979).
Julius Moravczik 123
I. Clash of Equals?
Let us agree that the aim of the exercise is to help the speakers reach an agreement that
engenders self-knowledge so that we see that key conclusions were already in our mind, we
need only “recollect”. (474b 6-9, and 494d,e). Showing something to be deductible is one
way, but the Platonic material discloses many different ways for gaining understanding of
important concepts. Derivability from premises all the disputant agree on is one way to gain
insight, but not the only way.
Analogies are also helpful. Imposing uniform meaning on concepts within certain
constraints is another way. At times Plato and other philosophers use the device of simile for
illumination. Proportional comparisons can also shed light on abstract concepts. As we shall
see, with these devices we will be able to show also why Plato thinks that there are privileged
concepts involved in this battle that cannot be given up, thus providing the needed asymmetry
for showing the pleasure-lover to be mistaken. In the Platonic discussions these methods of
bringing intellectual light, are called examples of “Anamnesis” or “recollection”. It is
analogous to recollection, because within that process too, our understanding of something
not given to the mind via perception is “growing”, and becomes applicable in more and more
ways. Furthermore, the understood concepts become foundations for the understanding and
applications of others. Examples that come up in other dialogues include numbers, similarity,
and beauty. In modern semantics many will call these basic undefinable concepts. They are
also called primitives, because there is no further layer of concepts in terms of which these
can be defined. If we say that all concepts can be defined, we land in a conceptual infinite
regress. This is not to say that all concepts that Plato thinks we need to have grow in us via
anamnesis, must be primitives, but they must be eventually linked somehow to primitives.
3
Let us consider evidence that makes the interpretation of the fight with the pleasure-
lovers more a matter of anamnesis and not just a matter of deductions. The mere possibility of
interpreting various points made in the debate that shows differences in the structures of
different types of concepts is not enough, but relevant. As we shall see, concepts involved in
structures of sense impressions are very different from those in terms of which we describe
parts of character, or the realm of mathematics. But another bit of evidence is provided by the
fact that there are two quite different presentations given to deny the pleasure-lovers claims. If
only deduction matters, why is not one enough? One might reply that often in mathematics
classes we prove things in more than one way. But this is not because we are skeptical about
one argument, but because by proving a theorem in more than one way, we want to increase
the understanding of the student of the concept in question so that it can be used in different
contexts of application. Thus, our interpretation cannot claim decisiveness, but in comparison
with other interpretations, considerable plausibility. In this way we can see the discussion as
both pointing to contradictions, and to strengthen a grasp of certain key concepts, the
fundamentality of which emerges only in the last part of the text which we are examining.
As a background to Presentation I we should keep in mind that in the 480’s Callicles
renounced the conventional values (well known virtues, and other items). We need to
juxtapose with these Callicles’ own values: luxury, intemperance, and, in general, freedom
from rational control. So the Calliclean “hero” acts on impulse and not choices made by
reason. He must be separated from the agent who lets reason guide him toward the maximal
pleasure.
3
Robinson (1941).
Goodness Trumps Pleasure-loving in the Gorgias 124
One of the chief characteristic of pleasure is something that it shares with other sense
impressions. This is its passivity. Visual images, or pleasant sensations do not emerge as ends
of human action. Rather these emerge as a result by what is happening to us. Hence already at
this stage we see the emerging contrast between the active aspects of agency and the passive
nature of being formed by what happens to us.
In addition to the passivity, we should observe the lack of stability in our trying to lead a
pleasurable life. Thus the presentation contains also a separately introduced thesis. This is the
“leaky jar” simile (494a). It says that the pleasure of processes like drinking and eating.
produce pleasure but at the same time also the pain of feeling the incompleteness of the
pleasure since it comes with the presence of pain. (Feeling the lack of what we want.)
Furthermore, the replenishments never leave us in a stable position. What fills us, flows again
out, as if from a leaky jar. Thus our pleasures of these kinds after they filled us disappear
again, leaving our pleasures “impure”. But we must be careful not to over-interpret what
Plato shows in the first presentation. He will show only that being a human agent is an
impossibility given Callicles’ extreme pleasure-loving. Plato has not shown that given the
mere rejection of pleasure as the highest aim, we showed the defense of the traditional virtues
as parts of the highest good. In the first presentation of Socrates’ thesis, then, (495a-497d) we
find a number of interesting contrasts between different types of concepts. Socrates tests our
intuitions concerning these contrasts, and wants us to see if the contrasts are in tune with the
construal of pleasure as the highest value. Thus the good and the bad are contrasted with
eating, drinking and their opposites. While good and bad behave like legitimate opposites
insofar as they can follow each other but do not occur (with suitable restrictions on what we
talk about,) simultaneously, pleasure of drinking and thirst appear side by side, thus not
behaving as legitimate opposites would. Thus since the conceptual contours of good and
pleasure differ, they cannot be identical.
The key presentation comes after some preliminary material that is worth some
attention. It is brought up that Callicles’ views clash with the conventional shame of the times
and also with what were regarded as the traditional virtues. But Callicles is aware of that, and
is quite content to live with this. He thinks that his views move on a deeper level, and that
compared to these matters, shame and conventional morality are merely on the surface
(494d, e). It is worth noting that Socrates agrees with this stance, even though his conception
of what is deep is different. As he says much later, at issue is how people ought to live. This
cannot be decided by conventional shame and what seems good.
We should also note the significance of Socrates insisting on analyzing, e.g. what is
good, as goodness penetrated the subject under discussion. This is an ontological analysis;
Plato wants to stress that we are not talking merely about how language is used, but also
about underlying ontological configurations.
4
The conceptual differences unearthed among
concept-types may strike us as remote from important moral issues. But closer scrutiny shows
that not to be the case. We can deduce from what was presented so far the following three
aspects of a concept like pleasure.
(a) We never have something like pleasure in “pure form”. It is always mixed with its
negative opposite.
(b) The application of concepts like pleasure always leaves us in a state of
incompleteness.
4
Irwin (1979), 203. I agree with Irwin that the terminology: F-ness is present requires no specific ontology, but it does
assume some form of realism.
Julius Moravczik 125
(c) There is a causal link between the two pseudo-opposites as these functions in our
lives. (To make this work we also need the “leaky jar” hypothesis.)
Given the Platonic view of life in nature, these are negatives. The impurity of pleasure
must be contrasted with the achievability of purity of wisdom. We need not keep filling
ourselves with new and new bits of wisdom in order to remain wise.
Perhaps the most difficult of these aspects to swallow for a modern audience is (b)
incompleteness. A sympathetic reading will point out that Plato’s conception is couched in an
overall teleological conception of reality. The perfect is the complete, that which does not
lack anything. Plato’s example would be – and in the dialogues often is – mathematics-
geometry. With something like pleasure there is a need for constant replenishment. This is not
the case with goodness or wisdom. There is a kind of self-sufficiency that Platonic goodness
and wisdom can attain that is not possible for earthly pleasures.
As we survey the first presentation we see that it claims only the thesis that goodness
and pleasure are not identical. This leaves us options; e.g., why not place pleasure above
goodness? Our difficulty is that, as we saw, the mere elenchtic structure will not give us
sufficient ammunition. We need to turn to the second presentation to see how goodness can
triumph even in the face of these obstacles.
II. Beyond the Elenchus
Pleasure and pain do not behave as genuine opposites. Those, like good-bad, health and
illness, cannot co-exist, while in the case of pleasure and pain in certain contexts at least they
must co-exist. (As an obvious example we see hunger and eating.)
We see here arguments relying on everyday concepts and everyday connections as well
as separations. The arguments might strike us strange, because these are basically not ethical
arguments. One cannot help but have some sympathy with Callicles who feels that these
arguments involving eating and drinking are not really ethical arguments. But what Socrates
wants to achieve is precisely the understanding that purely conceptual issues can have
important bearings on ethical judgments.
What does the conclusion reached so far have to do with ethics? Our answer must be to
some extent speculative. One can draw a number of consequences, but it is not clear how
many of these Plato had in mind. Certainly, the presentation shows that apart from direct
ethical impact, an examination of the ontological structure of pleasure that reveals we find
characteristics in pleasure and other impressions do help to see preoccupation with pleasure
wrong-headed. As we pointed out, pleasure and other impressions are passive. But we tend to
construe goodness as tied to the acting agent. (We mean here by “acting” something very
wide that includes also what is questionably translated at times as contemplation. As
examples from MENO etc. show this is not mere staring at equations but also mathematical
activity and thus the analogue for interaction with the Forms.) It is tempting to name the
“goods” of Callicles “consumer goods”. And indeed many of the goods fit that label (food,
drink). But we cannot talk in a straightforward manner about pleasure as something which we
consume. Still, there are many similarities. The pleasures are temporary, they do not “lead”
somewhere. Above all, mere hedonistic enjoyment does not constitute the notion of an action
and of an agent. Something can be a “pleasure-machine” without having the characteristics
that constitute agency. This is the gist of the first presentation. The second leads us to the
notion of action. As we shall see, the material after these two presentations leads us to the
notion of a good agent and what that requires. The second presentation is not required by the
logic of the first. Rather, it leads the discussion to a higher level.
Goodness Trumps Pleasure-loving in the Gorgias 126
The second presentation shows that pleasure by itself does not discriminate between
wisdom and folly. Pleasure can be had by both the wise and the foolish. But then on Callicles’
view folly and knowledge are equally close or distant to the good life. So why exercise
choice, and reflexion? We might as well opt by impulse.
At this point Callicles is led to admit that some pleasures are better than others (499b 8).
We are not told directly what the ground for the reversal is. Maybe Callicles is represented as
thinking that this concession will not harm his cause; pleasure is still on top. Alternatively,
that conviction might be coupled with the view that the concession brings him closer to
common sense view, which, while not crucial might still help the cause. But the concession
harms Callicles' cause fundamentally. For the question will be raised: on what grounds do we
place some pleasures higher than others? Terms like ‘beneficial’ ‘worthy’ and ‘choice’ enter
the frame. Unlike ‘pleasure’, these are active terms. Hierarchical thinking emerges also. We
are told that all has to be built around the pyramid that has the good at its summit (500a).
Thus some rational principle of selection is needed. The activities of choosing, evaluating, are
not presented as having merely some hedonistic value. Thus we can posit a cognitive structure
that will be called into action in assigning worth to certain options, and the activity of which
calls for some notion of value that is distinct and not inferior to that of pleasure. This does not
eliminate the important positive role of that pleasure can play. But the preference fixing can
bring in character traits, and matters of health. The mere possibility of bringing into play such
notions gives us then a minimal and partial sketch of agency, or perhaps better phrased
agential ingredients. But this still leaves us with many questions. How do we know which
pleasure is better than the other? Can the evaluation be subjective? How do we know whether
what we judge as the highest value is indeed this? Plato does not give systematic reply for that
here. Instead, he brings in his favorite example, health (499d). Even the most rabid cynic will
not say that health may be good for some people but not for others. Bubonic plague is bad for
everybody. Thus thinking about the morally highest good will be analogous to how we would
defend the objectivity and intrinsic value of health. We might pause briefly and ask whether
Plato is entitled from what he presented so far to conclude that we need a separate “craft” to
deal with that question. (Why not just individuals with wisdom?) Pursuing this matter would
take us too far from our immediate subject. But Plato does say that we need to evaluate not
only moments and momentary states but also practices. Why? The most plausible answer
seems to me that just as health covers activities over a period, so Plato thinks of evaluating
what is relevant to the highest good to deal with extended periods. From an agent’s point of
view these periods will be activities or practices. Thus this passage strengthens the
interpretation given earlier that Plato deals with humans in these ethical contexts as agents,
more specifically agents over longer periods, like a lifespan. Indeed, Plato moves from
practices to the appropriate temporal slice for a human to be measured, namely a life (500a-
c4).
5
What is a life? It could be viewed as simply a biological process, the biological mode of
existence. But from the context of this dialogue we can see that Plato means to talk about life
here in the richest sense. Roughly, Plato seems to think of a good human life as the exercise
of the good human potentialities (which are the good ones? the ones analogous to the ones
constituting health.) The choices require the right kind of explanation of what we investigate
as a potentially good means towards the highest good, or what constitutes the analogue of
health. Plato reaches again as his example for medicine (501a) We need to discern the nature
of what we examine, and to provide an explanation for it. We must add to bring out the
Platonic flavor, that the explanation will be in many ways in teleological terms. One might
5
Penner (1973), 133, 144. interesting discussion of whether virtue is a techne.
Julius Moravczik 127
rush things and reach for the Forms as what is needed for the objective valuational
examination, but this is not necessary. To be sure, the text earlier deals briefly with structures
like goodness is attached to an object if is to be good, and similar other examples of the
pattern F makes an object an f.
III. From the Elenchus to the Undeniable
But the mere usage of such language is not yet a strong reason to attribute to Plato an
exact metaphysical ontology. In any case, the ethical theory and psychology of these passages
function well regardless of whether they contain a precise ontology or not. The key point is
that by the time we are at the end of the second presentation, we see some key ingredients of
what one would call agency, and with that the claim that as in the case of health, the agent
relies on objective normative concepts to guide him in leading a worthy life.
6
Thus we travel
the route from the impulsive pleasure-loving human to the person who has some key
ingredients that agency, and thus the full life – according to Plato – demand.
Plato illustrates what he means by “lives”. But the illustrations leave one a bit puzzled.
For these are not the intellectual life versus life of pleasure kind of contrasts, but the contrast
between the life of the mind and the political life. As a contrast between two life-styles this
will suffice. But one would want to know how Plato would rate these. The intellectual life is
presumably better than the political one. But that is not better than the life of pleasure. Is there
a gradation system here? I do not see that Plato answers this either here or later in the
dialogue.
We can also raise the question: to what extent did Plato “prove” the life of pleasure to be
inferior? According to the interpretation presented here, Plato offers a conditional proof. But
that is not the question-begging argument that hedonism is inferior if we stick to the
traditional virtues.
7
As was said earlier, the argument goes through without the Platonic
virtues having a key role.
8
But I did propose that what Plato regards as having “pragmatic
necessity”, i.e. that though not a priori, we cannot conceive of our life without it, is human
agency. We live lives, that involves practices, that involve choosing, and deciding. Arguments
about how to insure that our decisions are well grounded constitute a separate “chapter”.
9
It should be added that Plato does use the moral psychology outlined here also as one of
the cornerstones for a deep and far-reaching attack on democracy. Has that been refuted
since? How much of it should we still use today as criticisms? These questions should be left
with the audience.
Stanford University
6
Dodds (1959), 314. Some have questioned validity of Socrates’ presentations, E.G. Dodds thinks a hedonist would
reject the claim that a good man is both brave and practical. But if we interpret “brave” here as “able” then the
argument seems binding.
7
The issues seem similar to latter discussions of J.S. Mill as a hedonist. In my view Mill’s distinguishing between
different kinds of pleasures strengthen rather than weaken his ethics.
8
Ross (1953²), 43 calls our attention to the very wide range that ‘good’ covers in the Greek of this time; going beyond
the human goods.
9
Vlastos (1973), 206-207, reminds us that elenchus corrects directly false beliefs, it can correct conduct only
indirectly.
The Myth of the Afterlife in Plato’s Gorgias
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith
I. Introduction
In Plato’s Gorgias Polus and then Callicles recommend rhetoric to Socrates on the
ground that without skill in persuasive speech Socrates will be at the mercy of anyone who
might wish to drag him into court and have him put to death. At the end of the dialogue,
however, Socrates turns the tables on Callicles by telling him a “very fine account” (mala
kalos logos – 523a1) of why the worst thing that can happen to one is to arrive in Hades with
a soul filled with wrongdoings (522e3-4), which will leave him dizzy and speechless when he
is put on trial before the judges in the afterlife (526e4-527a4). Socrates allows that Callicles
will probably think it is only a myth (muthos), but insists that he himself counts is as an
“account” (logos, 523a2), which Socrates says he regards as true (523a2, 524a8-b1), and finds
persuasive (526d3-4).
Scholars generally sympathetic to Socratic philosophy, and generally willing to credit at
least some parts of the Gorgias as a good source on Socratic philosophy, have given at least
three reasons why we should regard the myth at the end of the dialogue as Platonic and not
Socratic, in content and style. One such reason is that in his own appraisal of the myth,
Socrates is very clear in saying that this is the account of the afterlife he finds most persuasive
and believes. But such a profession of faith, we are told, is not compatible with what he says
in other dialogues that are held to be more reliable sources on Socratic philosophy. Another
reason the myth is claimed not to represent Socratic views accurately is that the moral
psychology it propounds and on which it relies, and especially in the way it depicts the uses
and benefits of painful punishments, is not compatible with the way that other (again,
putatively more reliable) Platonic dialogues represent Socratic positions. Finally, the mere
fact that we find Socrates propounding a myth is taken as evidence by some that Plato has
ceased to make any effort at the end of the Gorgias to represent Socratic positions accurately.
In this paper we will make no attempt to argue for or against the thesis that some of
Plato’s dialogues (including, perhaps, at least some parts of the Gorgias) represent Socratic
philosophy accurately and consistently. This is, of course, a hotly controversial issue in itself,
but it is not a thesis we need to defend here. Precisely because those whose arguments we
criticize herein also accept this thesis, we propose to assume, for our purposes here, that it
makes sense to take some of Plato’s dialogues (generally called the “early” or “Socratic”
dialogues) as reliable sources on Socratic philosophy. Our question for this paper, then, is
this: Granting that the other dialogues generally accepted as reliably Socratic are such, are the
arguments against counting the Gorgias myth as genuinely Socratic good ones? We argue in
this paper that the three arguments for discounting the Gorgias myth as Socratic do not
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith 129
provide good reasons for counting anything we find in that myth as less likely to be genuinely
Socratic than anything we find in any of Plato’s supposedly more reliable dialogues.
II. Death and the Afterlife
In the Apology, Socrates says he regards it as “the most shameful ignorance” to fear
death as if they knew it were the greatest of evils, when for all they know it might in fact be
the greatest of blessings (29a4-b6). At the end of the Apology, Socrates says that death might
be one of two things, and makes no claim to find either of the two accounts more plausible
than the other. This apparent “agnosticism” about death cannot be squared with the sort of
conviction we find in the Gorgias, we are told,
1
and so we should not count the myth in the
Gorgias as reflecting genuinely Socratic views.
As we forecast in the introduction to this paper, we are not persuaded by this position.
First, it is worth noting that what Socrates says he regards as the “most shameful ignorance”
in the Apology is the fear of death as if it were the greatest of evils. Plainly, this is not only
compatible with what Socrates tells Callicles in the Gorgias; in fact, we can see that the
“moral of the story,” as it were, in both cases, is exactly the same: One should fear vice more
than death, since vice – and not death – poses the greatest threat to one’s well-being. In the
Apology, Socrates says that, for all anyone knows, death might even be the greatest of
blessings. The same would seem to be true in the Gorgias account of those who die with
souls unstained by vice.
But what about Socrates’ final speech in the Apology, in which he declares that death
might either be total annihilation or else a migration to some other place? Mark McPherran
offers five arguments as to why this passage in the Apology cannot be squared with what
Plato has Socrates say about the afterlife in the Gorgias myth. First, McPherran claims,
Socrates presents his two competing postmortem alternatives in the Apology free of
any assessment of their relative likelihood, and in context this has the rhetorical
effect of suggesting that in his view both are accorded equal probability. After all,
were Socrates to have judged the probabilities to be unequal...we would expect to
hear something about the matter, given that at least most of the jurors he wishes to
console would find greater comfort than his actual argument provides were he to
reveal that in his judgment (and for whatever reasons he may have) his account of
migration is the more likely alternative of the two he presents. (McPherran (1996),
266-267)
McPherran’s argument is plainly based upon two important claims:
(C1) The way in which Socrates identifies the two possibilities in the Apology has the
“rhetorical effect of suggesting that in his view both are accorded equal probability.”
(C2) If Socrates did not think the two possibilities were equiprobable he would do a
better job of consoling the jurors to whom he is speaking (those who voted in his favor) to tell
them of his belief in the migration option.
We do not accept either of these claims. Consider the following case: Mary is planning
to work late some night, but confronts her nervous spouse, John, who expresses concern that
Mary’s staying out so late might not be safe. Mary responds by saying, “Look...don’t worry.
One of two things can happen: Either there won’t be any murderers, rapists, or other bad guys
lurking about when I leave the office and drive home, or there will be. If there are none, then
neither of us has anything to worry about, do we? But if there is one, then you know that my
1
McPherran (1996), 264.
The Myth of the Afterlife in Plato’s Gorgias 130
building is extremely well patrolled (especially at night), and the police also assiduously
patrol the streets I use to get home – much more intensely at night than during the day – and
so if there is some bad guy who tries to get me, he will be caught in the act and thrown in jail.
In a way, that would be an even better result, wouldn’t it, since then society would have one
less bad guy on the streets to worry about! So, chill out and don’t worry. I’ll be fine!”
The rhetorical structure of Mary’s argument, we contend, though similar in the relevant
way to Socrates’ final speech to his jurors, should not be conceived to have the rhetorical
effect of assigning equal probability to the two options she offers. In most cases (assuming
that both are rational, and that local conditions are not wildly unusual), it is fair to assume that
Mary and John would regard the first alternative as the most likely one. In general, when
spouses worry about one another’s safety in this way, it is not that they regard their spouse as
having a 50-50 chance of being assaulted if they stay out late...but even the smallest chance is
ground for worry. Similarly, what Socrates expects his jurors to think is the more likely
option (or what they might think he thinks is the more likely option) will have everything to
do with what the Greeks perceived to be the most common opinion – and nothing to do with
the alleged “rhetorical effect” of Socrates’ presentation of the two options. We would hazard
the guess that the most likely alternative, according to Socrates’ jurors, would be the
migration option. But whether or not we are right about this, we see no reason to suppose that
presenting two options in the way Socrates does provides any significant rhetorical suggestion
that the two options are equally probable.
In fact, we are inclined to think that a correct rhetorical analysis of Socrates’ speech
would actually conclude that, if anything, Socrates leaves more of an impression that he
favors the migration option over the extinction option. Rhetorically, we find it significant that
the migration option gets much more elaboration and detail than the extinction option
receives, thereby putting extra weight on it, and also we note that Socrates offers the
migration option after he reviews the extinction, “leaving the best wine for last.” Of course,
neither consideration is decisive, and we are not suggesting that Socrates actually does tip his
hand, as it were; we are claiming only that McPherran’s analysis of Socrates’ argument
actually leaves out rhetorically significant aspects that would tend to lead to a different
conclusion than what McPherran claims we are forced to by the “rhetorical effect” of the
argument.
We also do not accept McPherran’s second claim (C2), that his jurors would be better
consoled if he signaled his preference of the migration option. Socrates has, as we noted
earlier, already made clear that no one knows what happens after death. But he is aware that
people fear death – and that is not because they actually know what will happen, but because
people don’t know. To counteract this fear, Socrates creates a constructive dilemma.
2
Either
death is annihilation, or if it is not annihilation, then the soul goes somewhere else. Socrates
assumes that his jurors don’t know which of these two options it will be, and their anxiety on
his behalf is based upon fear of the unknown. By forming a constructive dilemma, however,
he tries to show them that according to the best reasoning available to them (that is, thinking
of annihilation in terms of sleeping, and thinking of the migration of the soul in terms of what
they have heard about this in myths), no matter what death turns out to be, there is reason for
“good hope” about it. Now, if Socrates were, instead, to lecture them about which of the two
options he personally found more probable, he is less likely to reassure his jurors about their
fears, and more likely to convince them (especially if they are inclined to believe the other
option) that his own fearlessness is only a product of his own faith in a conception of the
2
Our own earlier view of this argument (Brickhouse-Smith (1989), 157-262) was rightly criticized in Rudebusch
(1991). In our comments here, we follow Rudebusch’s understanding of this passage.
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith 131
afterlife they find themselves unable to share with confidence. The virtue of his argument, as
a constructive dilemma which does not logically favor either alternative, is that it serves to
address the fears of his jurors no matter what conception of death they happen to fear – or
favour – the most, without leaving the unfortunate impression that Socrates’ own calm
attitude is one they can only share if they also share his specific beliefs about the afterlife.
McPherran’s second argument immediately follows his first one:
Also, if Socrates were to leave the impression of equal probability in place while
believing the contrary on a matter of such grave moral import, he would be in
danger of violating the various legal and moral commitments that oblige him ... to
tell the truth, to foster care for the soul, and to “hold nothing back” from his jurors
(McPherran (1996), 267)
We also do not accept this argument. For one thing, as we have already said, even if the
logic of Socrates’ argument does not favor either alternative, we see no reason for supposing
that Socrates has in any way asserted or implied that he finds the two options equally
probable. But secondly, the point of Socrates’ argument here and elsewhere is precisely that
what might happen to us after death is not a “matter of grave moral import”; rather, the only
“matter of grave moral import” is how we decide to live our lives. If we do that well, then
whatever might happen to us at death will presumably be nothing to fear. Truth is, of course,
important to Socrates. But the truth he must tell them is that there is no good reason to fear
death – we see no reason for thinking that he must also then go on and confess all of his own
personal tendencies in this matter, especially if they are not relevant (and likely to be
counterproductive, as we argued above) to what he is seeking to do. Even if he is inclined to
think that death is migration of the soul to Hades, as he claims in the Gorgias, we see
absolutely no need for him to tell his jurors this in the Apology, and find no fault of openness
or honesty in his failure to go into this. “Death is one of two things,” and neither is to be
feared. That seems enough for what he seeks to do in the Apology, and no doubt that
sufficiency is why Socrates (and Plato) leave it at that.
McPherran’s third argument goes as follows:
Finally, if Socrates nonetheless harbored the unexpected judgment that migration is
more likely than annihilation in the Apology, but is only forthcoming about it in the
Gorgias, we must suppose that Socrates endorsed a quite startling metaphysical
supposition that Plato is willing to portray him as having declared but nowhere
proved. But that scenario is rather at odds with Socrates’ well-known dedication to
rational justification. (McPherran (1996), 267)
Our reply to this argument can be brief: We find nothing “startling” here, and nothing
“at odds with Socrates’ well-known dedication to rational justification.” Socrates expresses a
number of metaphysical beliefs that he nowhere proves – in the existence of gods, in the
divine nature of his own daimonion, in the existence of other minds, and so on. Precisely
because Socrates’ main philosophical interests are ethical and epistemological, we find
nothing at all surprising in the idea that all or nearly all of his many metaphysical beliefs go
without proof in Plato’s early dialogues. In making this argument, we note, McPherran
neglects to mention even one case in which Socrates actually undertakes to offer a proof of
some metaphysical belief in Plato’s early or Socratic dialogues.
McPherran’s fourth argument is that the myth of the afterlife in the Gorgias has more in
common with the great myths of the Phaedo and Republic than it does with anything we find
in the other early or Socratic dialogues (McPherran (1996), 268). Again, we disagree. If we
The Myth of the Afterlife in Plato’s Gorgias 132
compare the content of the myth of the afterlife in the Gorgias with the migration option in
Socrates’ last remarks in the Apology, we find clear and obvious overlaps. First, there will be
judges there (Minos, Rhadamanthus, Aeacus, and Triptolemus in the Apology and the same
group less Triptolemus in the Gorgias), and so McPherran’s remark that “the Apology’s
Socrates says nothing about postmortem punishments” (McPherran (1996), 269) is
unpersuasive. At any rate, McPherran owes us an explanation of what the judges in the
Apology’s afterlife account are there to do, especially when they encounter an evil and vicious
soul. The issue of punishment does not need to be pursued in the Apology precisely because
Socrates is talking about what he thinks might happen to him and other good people when he
or they arrive in Hades. Judgment in the afterlife is also plainly implied in the Crito, where
Socrates has the personified laws warn that he will receive harsh treatment from the laws in
Hades if he seeks to damage the laws of Athens (Crito 54c6-8). McPherran dismisses this
obvious parallel as “dubious evidence, since there the personified laws of Athens, not
Socrates in his own voice, assume the soul’s migration” (McPherran (1996), 265). We
wonder if McPherran would say the same thing about every other claim Socrates gives to the
personified laws – especially when these are demonstrably confirmed in other early dialogues,
as the evidence of the Apology and Gorgias does in this case. Moreover, we find
McPherran’s view in stark contrast to Socrates’ own words – now not given to the personified
laws – only a few lines later, where he expresses his own agreement with everything the laws
had argued with a level of conviction that is actually quite rare in Plato’s dialogues (Crito
54d2-8).
The myths of the afterlife we find in the Phaedo, Republic, and other later dialogues are
more striking in their dissimilarities, rather than in their similarities, to the Gorgias myth. In
the Gorgias, there is no trace of a suggestion that the soul might be reincarnated. Yet this is
the central feature of the afterlife myths in the later dialogues. We agree with McPherran that
the later myths show clear traces of “Orphic and Pythagorean sources,” but we are
unconvinced by McPherran’s claim that the Gorgias myth, too, reveals a Socrates who thinks
that “‘death is life and life is death,’ [and] that the body is a tomb” (McPherran 1996, 268).
McPherran’s final argument is that the Gorgias myth makes reference to a moral
psychology that “does not parallel the intellectualist moral psychology of the early dialogues”
(McPherran (1996), 268). We consider this position in the next section, but our conclusion so
far should be plain: Nothing in the eschatology of the Gorgias myth, at any rate, distinguishes
it in doctrine in any way from what can be found in other early dialogues. Let us turn, then,
to the issue of moral psychology.
III. Moral Psychology
Until recently, one could find general consensus on the claim that the Socrates
represented in Plato’s early dialogues was an intellectualist of such a sort as to fail to
recognize any motivational factors other than the desire for benefit. This, we are often told, is
what explains his denial of akrasia or what is often called weakness of will – the behavior in
which one acts in a way that is contrary to what one thinks is best for one. The Socrates of
the early dialogues explicitly denies that this ever occurs. But several scholars have also
claimed that in his discussion with Callicles generally, and in particular in his discussion of
the uses of punishment in the afterlife, Socrates reveals a commitment to the existence of the
very sorts of motivational factors he rejects everywhere else – the sorts of appetites for
pleasures (and aversions to pains) that might actually compete with, and potentially subvert,
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith 133
one’s desire for benefit.
3
This “new” moral psychology is explained as Plato’s first step
towards the more complicated moral psychology of the tripartite soul that is later fully
developed in the Republic, Phaedrus, and Timaeus.
This claim is familiar enough in the literature that we will not bother repeating yet again
the common features of the arguments typically given for this view. Nor will we here discuss
yet again the familiar worry scholars express about this view – that it imputes to Socrates two
distinct and contradictory accounts of motivation within a single dialogue, without plainly
signaling that there has been such a shift in Socrates’ view.
4
But it will be worthwhile to see
how and why the myth of the afterlife in the Gorgias is supposed to be “infected” with
Platonic (but non-Socratic) psychological elements. The “problem” with the myth, we are
told, is its conception of the proper uses of punishment.
Here is what Socrates has to say in the myth that convinces so many scholars it must
express nascent Platonic, rather than the familiar Socratic, view of moral psychology:
Punishment makes anyone, when he has been punished rightly by another, become
better and profit from it, or be made an example to the others, in order that when
others see the sufferings which he endures will, in fear, become better. Those who
have committed remediable wrongs are the ones benefitted and pay the penalty by
gods and men. Nevertheless, it is through pain and suffering that they achieve their
benefit, both here and in Hades. For there is no other way to be rid of injustice.
The “problem” with this account, from the Socratic point of view, is most clearly stated
by Terry Penner, who explains the conflict this way:
There is in Plato’s early dialogues [...] a certain “intellectualism” that is quite
foreign to the middle and later dialogues [...]. Indeed, that intellectualism, with its
implication that only philosophical dialogue can improve one’s fellow citizens, is
decisively rejected by Plato in the parts of the soul doctrine in the Republic. [...]
For Socrates, when people act badly or viciously or even just out of moral
weakness, that will be merely a result of an intellectual mistake. (Penner (2000),
164-5; emphasis in original).
The reason Socrates’ appeal to the uses of fear and pain in punishment, in the Gorgias
myth, cannot be a genuinely Socratic point of view, we are told, is that we have too much
reliable evidence for attributing to Socrates the view that everyone always and only acts in
such a way as to pursue what they take to be their own benefit. That is why wrongdoing is
always “merely a result of an intellectual mistake,” as Penner puts it, and of course, the only
method for “correction” of intellectual mistakes Socrates appears to recognize is
philosophical dialogue. And because we all aim for what is beneficial to us, when we go
wrong, our wrongdoing is involuntary. This is why Socrates chastises Meletus, in the
Apology:
Come then. Are you putting me on trial here on the ground that I corrupt the youth
and make them worse voluntarily or involuntarily?
3
For an excellent discussion of Socrates’ intellectualism, as it is traditionally conceived, see Nehamas (1999), 27-58.
See also Irwin (1977), 76-96; Irwin (1995), 75-76. Various expressions of the view that there is such a shift in the
depiction of Socrates’ moral psychology within the Gorgias may be found in Cornford (1933), 306-307; Irwin
(1979), note on 507b, 222, and Irwin (1977), 123-124; Penner (2000); Cooper (1999), 29-75. Although Charles
Kahn thinks it makes good sense to see the Gorgias as having been written before the Protagoras, he thinks that
the moral psychology implicit in the Gorgias leaves open the possibility of acting for the sake of pleasure,
contrary to one’s conception of the good. See Kahn (1988), 89 and Kahn (1996), 42-48, 125-128.
4
See, e.g., Irwin (1979), notes on 468ab and 507b; Brickhouse-Smith (1994) section 3.5.5; McPherran (1996), 268-
269 n. 72. A very different explanation of this supposed shift is offered in Cooper (1999), 29-75.
The Myth of the Afterlife in Plato’s Gorgias 134
I say you do it voluntarily.
What’s that, Meletus? Are you at your age so much wiser than I am at mine that
you knew that bad people always do something evil to those who’re their closest
neighbors, whereas good people always do something good, but I’ve reached the
point of such ignorance that I don’t know this, because if I make someone I’m with
bad, I’m liable to receive something bad from him, and so I’m doing such an evil
voluntarily, as you say? I’m not persuaded by you about these things, Meletus, nor
do I think anyone else is! Either I don’t corrupt them, or if I do corrupt them, I do
so involuntarily, so that, either way, you’re not telling the truth! If I corrupt them
involuntarily, however, the law here isn’t to bring people to trial for errors of this
sort but to take them aside in private to teach and admonish them. For it’s clear that
once I understand, I’ll stop what I’m doing involuntarily. (Apology 25d6-26a5)
The infliction of painful punishments, such as Socrates imagines in the Gorgias myth, then,
we are told to conclude, have no place in Socratic philosophy. There are several difficulties
with this argument, however, not the least is what Socrates seems to point to in the very next
line of this same passage in the Apology:
But you’ve avoided associating with me and you didn’t want to instruct me, and
instead wanted to bring me here to trial where it’s the law to try those who need
punishment, not instruction. (Apology 26a5-8)
If, as Penner puts it, Socrates is convinced that “only philosophical dialogue can improve
one’s fellow citizens,” the distinction he makes here in the Apology between cases (such as
Socrates claims his own would be, if he truly were corrupting the youth) in which instruction
is appropriate, and other sorts of cases, where a court trial and punishment are appropriate,
would make no sense. In Penner’s view, Socrates would have to believe that no one belongs
to the second group.
According to the established view of the conflict between Socratic and Platonic moral
psychology, the shift from the Socratic to an antecedent of the mature Platonic psychology
occurs within the discussion with Callicles in the Gorgias. When he was speaking with
Polus, however, Socrates speaks from the truly Socratic perspective, because he argues there
that every act we take is for the sake of what is beneficial (Gorgias 468b7-8). But even in the
discussion with Polus, Socrates plainly recognizes that there are cases in which just discipline
of wrongdoers involves the infliction of pain. At 476d9-477a2, Socrates establishes that one
punished justly either undergoes something pleasant or something beneficial. In the context
of the argument, which of the two options it is, is never in doubt: The wrongdoer Polus
admires so much avoids punishment precisely because it is expected to be painful. As
Socrates puts it,
From what we’ve just agreed to, it is likely that that those who refuse to face justice
are doing the same sort of thing [as those who avoid medical treatment], Polus.
They see its painfulness, but are blind to its benefit and are ignorant of how much
more wretched it is to live with an unhealthy soul than with an unhealthy body, and
with a soul that’s rotten and unjust and impious. And so it is that they avoid facing
justice and getting rid of the greatest evil. (Gorgias 479b5-c2)
So what kinds of pains does Socrates have in mind as just cases of “paying what is due”
here? He mentions “lectures and lashings” at 478e3, flogging at 480c8, and imprisonment,
fines, exile, and even capital punishment at 480d1-3. If he really supposed that “only
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith 135
philosophical dialogue can improve one’s fellow citizens,” Socrates’ recognition of such an
impressive array of other forms of appropriate discipline would be simply inexplicable.
5
The established view of Socratic intellectualism holds that the only motivational factor
in human behavior that needs to be included in explanations of behavior is our desire for
benefit. This generic desire, coupled with our judgments of what things in the world will
benefit us, is all that is needed for a full explanation of why we do whatever we do. But
again, this traditional view of Socratic psychology faces a number of texts in early or Socratic
dialogues other than the Gorgias in which Socrates plainly and explicitly recognizes other
motivational factors. Of course, scholars readily recognize the appearance of such other
factors in the Gorgias. For example, in his discussion with Callicles, Socrates refers to the
part of the soul “in which the appetites (epithumiai) happen to be” (493a3-4). Later, Socrates
refers to the “filling up of the appetites” (epithumias apopimplanai, 505a6-10). Scholars
dismiss these passages, however, on the ground that Plato has already begun to insert his own
psychological views by the time he depicts Socrates conversing with Callicles.
6
But there are
other passages in the early dialogues that make it clear that Socrates all along recognized
some psychological elements that aim at ends other than the good.
7
In the Laches, for
example, Socrates says that pleasures, pains, appetites, and fears all provide opportunities for
people to display courage (Laches 191e4-7), and in the Charmides, Socrates draws a
distinction between appetite, which he says aims at pleasure, and what he calls boulesis, or
wish, which he says aims at what is good (167e1-5). Socrates himself shows a degree of
susceptibility to the effects of such an appetite being aroused in him when he struggles for
self-control as he suddenly burns with desire (ephlegomôn, 155d4) for the youthful
Charmides.
8
5
We discuss these and other passages in which Socrates appears prepared to endorse the use of painful punishments in
Brickhouse-Smith (2000), 216-226.
6
Or as Cooper (1999) has proposed, that Plato reveals a weakness in the Socratic account by having Callicles
introduce the more “Platonic” account. We see no reason to believe that Callicles’ view causes Socrates to shift
ground, and therefore we see no reason to accept any of the various accounts of the supposedly “new” psychology
in this section of the dialogue.
7
First to point this out, in a paper from which we have learned a great deal, was Daniel T. Devereux (in Devereux
(1995)).
8
Socrates’ recognition of epithumiai, and why these cannot be understood in terms of the desire for the good, is
admirably discussed in Devereux (1992), 778-783, and in Devereux (1995). Most scholars have simply supposed
that Socrates recognized only the desire for the good (or happiness, or for whatever is best for the agent). Terry
Penner has developed a somewhat different view, which at least acknowledges the existence of the epithumiai.
But Penner sees them as “mere hankerings, itches, or drives [that] cannot automatically result in action when put
together with a belief” (Penner (1991), 201 n. 45; see also Penner (1990), 59-60, and Penner (1997), 124). We
think that Penner fails to recognize clearly enough the important role the epithumiai can play in action. We do
agree, however, with Penner’s explanation of why the role of the epithumiai in action should not be understood in
terms of “non-rational desires.” See esp. Penner (1990), 40: “Let me indicate briefly here how Socrates will argue
that if I act on a desire to eat this chocolate bar here, it will be a rational desire on which I am acting. The
suggestion is that in such cases, the force of the hormonal changes which induce the juices to flow is integrated
into the agent’s calculation of the degree of expected good to be gained by taking and eating the chocolate bar”
(see also 55-61). But the way we understand this is to grant that the epithumiai can play a role in an agent’s acting
as he does, but then to conceive of the role they play in terms of “the agent’s calculation of the degree of expected
good”; accordingly, every action (as opposed to every urge one might feel) must be understood as the result of
some judgment one has made about one’s good. Naomi Reshotko (1995), 336-341) has recently offered what
initially looked to us to be a very similar picture to ours, calling the “proto-desires” and explaining their role in
motivation and action in a way we thought epithumiai compatible with our own. (See also Reshotko (1990), 110.)
In private communication, however, she has affirmed her agreement with Penner on the issues on which our view
differs from his. Neither Penner nor Reshotko agree with our attempt to show how the epithumiai figure in
Socrates’ endorsement of corporal punishment, and we assume they would also disagree with our account of how
some souls become irreparably ruined. Plainly, we do not agree with Penner that Socrates believes that “only
philosophical dialogue can improve one’s fellow citizens” (Penner (2000), 164).
The Myth of the Afterlife in Plato’s Gorgias 136
We have explored how Socrates might have conceived of the uses for painful
punishments elsewhere,
9
and so will not repeat our arguments at length here. The gist of our
view is simply that the appetites act in such a way as to influence how and what we judge in
the world to be beneficial to us. Attracted to something from which we anticipate some
pleasure, our appetite represents that object to us as a benefit to be pursued. If we have
knowledge of good and bad, the appeals of our appetites will never be capable of overturning
our sober judgments; if we lack knowledge, but seek to maintain our appetites in a restrained
and disciplined state, we can also hope to resist their distorting and intoxicating influence
over our faculty of judgment. But if we allow them to become engorged by indulging them
(as Callicles, for example, proposes), then we will become habituated in such a way as
usually or always to judge our own benefit as consisting in the pursuit of whatever pleasure
might be at hand. Painful punishments, then, provide their benefit by assisting the wrongdoer
in regaining discipline and control over his appetites, thus allowing him once again to make
more sober – and thus better – judgments about what really is in his long-term interest.
If we are right about Socrates’ recognition of the distorting (and potentially ruinous)
10
effects of the appetites, and also about his many apparently approving references to
punishment in the early dialogues, including several other than Socrates’ discussion with
Callicles in the Gorgias, then it follows that the view of punishment Plato has Socrates
provide in the myth of the afterlife at the end of that dialogue is entirely consistent with the
philosophy Plato gives to Socrates elsewhere in the early or Socratic dialogues. And if this is
true, then – unless scholars can find some other element in the myth they can point to that
does not accord with Plato’s other depictions of his mentor in the early dialogues – we must
conclude that there is nothing in the actual content of the myth that we cannot attribute to
Socrates as confidently as we attribute anything else to him on the basis of Plato’s testimony.
IV. Can Socrates Tell a Myth?
At Crito 46b4-6, Socrates patiently explains to his old friend what Crito must surely
have known for a long time already. “I’m not just now,” Socrates says, “but in fact I’ve
always been the sort of person who’s persuaded by nothing but the reason that appears to me
to be best when I’ve considered it.” The final problem that scholars have noted with the myth
of the afterlife in the Gorgias is not in its content, but simply in the fact that it is a myth. It is
one thing, for Plato – who recognizes the influence of non-rational psychological factors over
us – to attempt some persuasion through non-rational appeals like myths, in the later
dialogues. But for an intellectualist like Socrates, who is supposed to think that “only
philosophical dialogue can improve one’s fellow citizens,” it is simply not conceivable that
he would resort to the strikingly un-philosophical method of trying to improve Callicles by
appealing to the sophist’s fears of painful punishments in a mythological tale.
In one sense, all we need to do to respond to this argument is to refer back to our
argument of the last section. There, we argued that Socratic psychology all along recognized
the effects of non-rational factors, such as appetites and emotions (such as fears), on human
behavior. If so, then there would seem to be no philosophical reason for thinking that
Socrates could not or would not employ myths in his attempts to act as the only “true political
craftsman” in Athens (see Gorgias 521d6-8). Just discipline sometimes works by appealing
in a mythological tale to the sophist's fears of painful punishments. Indeed, Socrates seems to
9
Brickhouse-Smith (2000), 216-226.
10
On the idea that souls can become incurably evil, see Gorgias 480a6-b2, 525c1-6; Crito 47e7-48a4. We discuss
what it would be for someone to have an incurable soul in Brickhouse-Smith (2002).
Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith 137
think that one is much improved by fearing the right things, and not fearing the wrong things
(see Apology 28b6-c1, d5-9), and so if he can get Callicles to fear wrongdoing by telling this
myth, his doing so would seem to be entirely in keeping with his own characterization of his
mission in Athens.
It is true, of course, that the Gorgias is the only dialogue in the group ordinarily
regarded as early or Socratic in which Socrates employs a full-blown myth in his attempt to
persuade an interlocutor. Such myths, admittedly, are rather more common in the later
dialogues. But non-rational appeals and extra-logical rhetorical devices of various sorts are
nonetheless abundant in the relevant group of dialogues. Is it, for example, “Socrates’
dedication to rational justification” (McPherran (1996), 267) that makes him decide to present
the arguments for staying in prison by imagining them posed by the personified laws of
Athens? And what is the purely “rational justification” of Socrates’ pretense, in the Hippias
Major of having to confront a “close relative” (304d3), whom Hippias would not know if
Socrates were to name him (290e2), who lives in Socrates’ own house (304d3-4) and who
insults and abuses him whenever he acts as if he has some wisdom that he lacks (286c3 ff.
and passim)? If Socrates were exclusively dedicated to rational justification, then why does
he go along with Critias’ suggestion that he pretend to have magical healing powers, as he
does with an elaborate tale of having a special leaf and charm in the beginning of the
Charmides (155b5 ff.)? Socrates brags about shaming and reproaching people into changing
their ways in several passages in the Apology (29d7-e3, 30a1, 30e3-31a2), and acknowledges
the risk he faces that his jurors might vote against him, not just because they have false beliefs
about him, but because of anger (Apology 31a3-5, 34b7-d1), and he also recognizes that anger
(Apology 23c8-9), ambition (23e1) and a propensity to violence (23e1) in his slanderers have
played a role in his coming to have such a bad reputation in Athens.
Moreover, Socrates frequently seems willing, if not to relate whole myths, to employ
references and quotes from well-known myths and mythological tales in his own persuasive
attempts. We began, in fact, by discussing Socrates’ discussion of myths of the afterlife, as
one of the possibilities for what death might be, in the Apology (40e4-41c7). But earlier in
that same work, as he was completing his defense speech, “Socrates’ dedication to rational
justification” certainly allowed him to compare himself to Achilles (28c1-d4), to quote Homer
at 34d5, to lend authority to his defense by calling the god at Delphi as a witness (20e7-8),
and to scoff at Anaxagoras for rejecting the myths that say the sun and moon are gods (26d1-
e3) and use beliefs about the relationships between gods and demi-gods, certainly obtained
from mythical accounts, in his refutation of Meletus (27c5-d10). In fact, Socrates is often
quite willing to recruit some myth or popular tale in order to boost his arguments, and if we
are right about his moral psychology, his willingness to do this is entirely consistent with his
“dedication to rational justification.” Accordingly, we find nothing strange in the idea that he
might choose to complete one of his persuasions – especially one with a particularly
recalcitrant interlocutor such as Callicles, with a final appeal to a chastening myth. It may be
that the myth at the end of the Gorgias is something that Plato concocted out of whole cloth
– a tale that was never in fact told by Socrates. Our argument in this paper, however, has
been that there is no good reason for thinking that Socrates could not or would not have
resorted to such a tactic, or that he could not or would not have believed what he says he
believes in that myth.
Lynchburg College - Lewis and Clark College
Myth and Rhetoric in the Gorgias
Álvaro Vallejo
1. The unity of myth and logos.
The reception of platonic thought in the history of philosophy has conferred myths with
a diverse lot, from (a) those who sought to do away with it, stating, as Hegel did, that myths
can be dismissed as alien to the true philosophy of Plato, to (b) those who have overvalued it,
considering myths to be an exceptional path to gain access to certain problems that cannot be
addressed through logos, thereby constituting the highest expression of Platonic metaphysics
1
.
Myth should be understood in its indivisible unity with logos: myth cannot be eliminated
because the basic logical concepts by which Plato articulates his philosophy are in many cases
intertwined with the categories and schemes of thought emerging from myth
2
; however, myth
does not go beyond logos, because Plato is conscious of the epistemological limitations of
myth, which, as he dared define, is discourse “in general false but that contains something of
truth” (Republic II 377a5-6).
In my opinion, a Platonic dialogue is constructed in such a way that its unity makes
sense of all the elements that comprise it. Our interpretation cannot, therefore, dispense with
the mythic form that Plato has chosen as a means of expressing some of the ideas of which he
is firmly convinced, and we must inquire into the reasons for myth in the economy of the
Platonic dialogue. However, there is a second reason to do so, which takes us to the very heart
of the Platonic concept of myth. The existence of a judgement after death, to which the
eschatological myths refer, cannot be demonstrated in any way. When Protagoras told his
famous version of the myth of Prometheus, he could transmit his thought equally by either
myth or logos (Protagoras 320c3-4), because in reality this is a transparent allegory that can
be translated into merely rational and argumentative language
3
. However, this is not the case
with Plato. I am not saying that Plato has not used the allegorical myths themselves
4
, but
rather that in counterpoint to mere allegory the particular character of the eschatological
myths is their attempt to express something that cannot be stated in the language of logos
5
.
1
(a) Hegel (1883), vol.II, 150 sq.; (b) see, e.g., Hirsch (1971), X, R.C. Stewart (1989), 277, Rechenauer (2002), 234.
2
On the unity of myth and dialectic or myth and “the most intimate” philosophical thought of Plato, see, e.g., Brochard
(1912), 5 sq., Findlay (1980), 165, Carchia (1986), 41-64, n. 216.
3
Nevertheless, see Morgan (2003), 138 sq.
4
On the differences between myth and allegory see, e.g., Frutiger (1930), 101-103 and J.A. Stewart (1905), 222 and
236.
5
See, in this sense, García Calvo (1964), 306.
Álvaro Vallejo 139
2. Myth comes to the aid of logos.
Callicles (486b) accuses Socrates of practising a type of wisdom that leaves the human
defenceless against the contingencies of life in the polis, given that it would not provide the
capacity for self-defence (486c). This is a kind of wisdom the incapacity of which is judged
in light of the two fundamental characteristics by which Callicles assesses the appropriateness
of the word (486a2) – that is, credibility and persuasion. It is the rhetorical ideal of discourse,
the values of which Plato vigorously opposes in the name of a moral doctrine that invokes the
inner order of the spirit as the true foundation of human existence. The response to Callicles
is formulated by Socrates “with reasoning of iron and steel” (509a1-2) and, in short, has much
to say from a rational standpoint in favour of wisdom and its meaning in human life. Indeed,
the refutation of hedonism and the rejection of an instrumentalist conception of reason are
very important from a mere argumentative perspective.
Socrates furthermore appeals to the stories of an ingenious man (493a on, 493d3) and
images (493d5) filled with plasticity to persuade Callicles that unrestrained behaviour is a
disgrace to the soul and is a terrible existence (492e), but all these expressive resources still
remain almost entirely on the horizon of the earthly dimension of human life, and in fact are
easily translatable to argued discourse characteristic of logos
6
.
However, the fact remains that such images do not succeed in persuading (493d1-4)
Callicles to change his position. The refutation of hedonism, meticulously argued by Socrates
had no effect at all on Callicles (501c7), who merely answered to please Gorgias until
abandoning the conversation (505c5-e1; 516b4, 516c8, etc.). The dialogue develops the
dramatic action with complete coherence that demands the presence of myth. This does not
appear previously, as has been indicated on more than one occasion
7
, but rather at the end of
the work, as occurs with the other great eschatological myths of the Phaedo or the Republic.
From my perspective, the dialogue itself presents the reasons that make mythic discourse
necessary. Among these are, firstly, the repeated threats of Callicles throughout the work. He
predicts that Socrates will be incapable of defending himself or his followers and thus will
perish unjustly accused (486b6, 522c6). Still, this signifies the apparent superiority of
rhetoric over the philosophy practised by Socrates and over the uselessness of a kind of
knowledge that gives itself only to charlatanism and to meaningless trifles (486c8, 497b7)
that fail to help a man in danger. The inferiority of philosophy, alleged by Callicles, is
demonstrated in the tribunal before which Socrates is destined to appear (521c5). The
response of Socrates does not lack argued reasoning (cfr.508c6, 509b4, 509b7, 509c3, c8,
etc.) aimed at showing that the most powerful defence (522d2-3) is “to say nothing unjust
against men or against the gods” (522c-d). This defence, however, works only within the
inner world of values that rule the kósmos of the soul. Rhetoric triumphs in the distorted
order of the polis in which Socrates is to be condemned as a doctor prosecuted by a cook
before a jury of children (521e3-4). If the threats of Callicles are the reasons, within the work
itself, which demand the presence of myth to pronounce the final word in the conflict between
philosophy and rhetoric, myth is called for also by the situation of the reader. When the
reader has the Gorgias in his hands, he knows that Socrates indeed perished unjustly
condemned. Throughout the work, the ideals of justice and moderation are argued for on the
basis of an earthly concept of existence and soul. However, this argumentation, in the eyes of
6
Zaslavsky, 1981, 196-7, attributes a mythic character to these paragraphs, whereas others deny this (Frutiger (1930),
112). In 493b4-7, there is a clear reference to the punishment that the uninitiated will receive in Hades (see
Guthrie (1980), 305), but the fundamental objective is to show that the dissolute are obligated to undergo
“extreme hardships” (494a1) in this life for the type of existence they have chosen.
7
See Friedländer, (1973), 189.
Myth and Rhetoric in the Gorgias 140
the reader, would have been insufficient and Plato is obliged to seek in the afterlife a new
dimension of human existence without which the Socratic theory of the soul would lead to an
unconvincing tragic heroism.
For this reason, myth must come to the aid of logos, invoking the eschatological
superiority of the soul
8
. Myth places Callicles at a trial in the hereafter, where he will be as
defenceless and unarmed as Socrates in front of his earthly judges (527a1-3). The
eschatological dimension enables a reversal of the terms, allowing Socrates to censure
Callicles, because the latter will not be able to help himself when he has to face the ultimate
destiny of his soul (526e4-5). The differences observed between this myth and the other
eschatological myths of Plato derive in part from the rhetorical nature of the situation in
which Socrates finds himself, in which the theme of the trial dominates the scene
9
. The
solitude of the soul in the state
10
and its vulnerability in the randomness of political struggles
is reversed in the scenario of myth thanks to the transcendental dimension that is opened up.
The set has been designed by Plato to dismantle the power of rhetoric, the strength of which
depends only on the dominance of injustice in a world distorted by political battles. Myth
opens a “contest” (c,.|, 526e4) that, in Socrates’ opinion, bears more importance than all
the previous ones that have taken place. Its fundamental feature is that rhetorical resources
are of no use in it: its transcendental nature corrects the injustices of trials that are held in this
world under the auspices and with the very techniques of rhetoric. This is because, in the
hereafter, the soul is judged naked – that is, without being able to hide itself in the realm of
appearances, where the persuasive skills of orators exert their force. Rhetoric is not authentic
knowledge because it builds its persuasion under the cover of verisimilitude, which has value
only for the ignorant (459d5-6, 465b3-5, etc). However, the nakedness of the soul, stripped
of the body, makes it impossible to conceal the truth that in earthly trials permits criminals to
veil their evil with images of illusion and deceit. The beauty and nobility of the accused, or
his wealth and the witnesses (523c5-6) that he might call in his favour, together with
“credible and persuasive” words that take advantage of all these assets, do not aid the soul,
which must face judges who cannot be deceived because they also have been stripped of their
bodies and their passions, so that in the trial it is “the soul by itself” (523e3) that judges, free
of any illusion. Myth dramatically constructs a situation which is able to dissolve the realm of
appearances that allows the triumph of rhetoric, because the soul has to reveal the truth of its
moral nature and disclose whether there is something truly healthy in it (524e4) or whether it
is the result of lies and flattery in which rhetoric has educated it, keeping it away from the
truth (525a3). With this, furthermore, moral doctrine is naturally reversed, because the
virtues that Callicles had extolled (492c) are precisely those that caused him to be condemned
in the trial where the soul must confront its fate.
3. Myth and persuasion.
Plato has insisted many times on the persuasive function of myths, and this attribute is
especially relevant in those that are eschatological in nature, because they constitute a moral
exhortation intended to imprint a certain direction on human will in favour of justice and
moderation (527c5)
11
. For a person such as Callicles, who is ruled by pleasure and who does
8
See Szlezák (1992), 269.
9
See Annas (1982), 122-125, Alt (1982), 285 sq.
10
See Reinhardt (1960), 238.
11
On the persuasive function of myths, see Brisson (1982), 93 sq., 145, 171, etc.; Pieper (1984), 68-70; Vallejo (1993),
passim; also in the Phaedo, Socrates finds himself as though he were before a tribunal (63b-d), in front of people
Álvaro Vallejo 141
not allow himself to be persuaded by Socratic reasoning (494a-b), a discourse suited to his
soul must be constructed (cf. Phaedrus 271a1-b5), and myth here, as in the Phaedo (114d), is
conceived to fight against a páthos and act on sensitivity
12
. In the myth, regardless of
whatever true doctrine lies within it, there are elements of discourse that are directed at the
irrational, because Plato in the Gorgias is now especially concerned with this part of the soul
in which the passions reside (493b1), precisely for being easy to manipulate and persuade
(493a6-7). Despite that Plato believes in the essential truth of eschatological myth, he would
have no objection in accepting, as we know (Republic 377a5-6), that myth is a mixture of
truth and fantasy and in which there is, therefore, broad space to design a discourse that
speaks with images appropriate to this part of the soul. Plato indeed resorts to images capable
of evoking pleasure and above all pain (525b7, 525c5-6), not only in the Gorgias, but also in
the other eschatological myths of the Phaedo (114a-b) and the Republic (614e6-615a4),
precisely to act on this irrational part of the soul, which does not allow itself to be exorcised
by the logical reasoning of argumentation.
In this sense, it could be stated that myth constitutes a reversal of the rhetorical situation,
with which it has many elements in common. First of all, as we see, it does not address
reason, but rather that part of the soul where the passions reside (Gorgias 493b1) or to that
frightened “child” in each of us (Phaedo 77d-e)
13
, whom we must try to persuade and even
dissuade from false beliefs (77e4-6) with the charming discourse of myth. Pleasure and pain
are the basic psychological mechanisms by which persuasion occurs in this part of the soul.
Both are instruments of sensitivity and by means of them the soul is “nailed” to the body,
which forces it to believe that whatever the body states is true (Phaedo 83c5 and d6).
Persuasion results when the soul feels “obligated to believe” (83c5) and the most effective
psychological mechanism to achieve this consists, in short, of using pain and pleasure,
because these move it to consider truer whatever is associated with its most intense emotional
experiences
14
. Secondly, however, Socrates appears as a conjurer (. ¬. o , 78a1) of the evils
and fears that assail the soul, because his eschatological rhetoric pursued the same end as
should guide true rhetoric (Gorgias 504d-e), which consists of transforming those passions
(517b5) in order to reestablish the health of the soul and do everything necessary in favour of
justice (527c3-4). Thirdly, Socrates knows that the persuasive potential of rhetoric, and
consequently the power that this places within reach is determined by whether the orator
respects the beliefs of the audience being addressed (513b8-c2). Therefore, even when Plato
can operate with great liberty in adapting his mythic tales to the moralizing purposes that he
pursues, he must make use of the mythic tradition to “give an air of orthodoxy”
15
to the tale
that makes it consistent with the beliefs of the listener. Let us recall that this is not only
Callicles but also the reader addressed by the Gorgias, and therefore its mythic eschatology
invokes Homer from the very beginning in order to connect with the endoxa of the
community, which provide the frame of reference by which the persuasive verisimilitude of
the word must abide.
Fourthly, we might ask ourselves about the epistemic framework on which myth is
based. Gorgias said in the Encomium (82DKB11) that the word is a “great sovereign” that
that are not easily persuaded (63a, 77e, 84d-e, etc.); cfr. Republic 621c, where myth can save us “if we allow
ourselves to be persuaded by it.”
12
See Boyancé (1937), 156-7; Edelstein (1949), 472 sq.; Smith (1986), 23; Brisson (1982), 93 and 144, Vallejo (1993),
172-3, etc. On the relationship between myth and incantation in Plato, see Boyancé (1937), 155-165; Laín (1958),
298-333, Dodds (1980), 199, Morrow (1953), 238 sq.; and Brisson (1982), 96 sq.
13
Cfr. Republic 330d7-8.
14
Cfr. Phaedo 83c6-7.
15
Dodds (1959), 373; see also Segal (1978), 326, Ward (2002), 14 sq., Most (2002), 11-13.
Myth and Rhetoric in the Gorgias 142
takes refuge in “the vacillations and lack of certainty of opinion”. Rhetorical persuasion is
clearly delineated in the Gorgias as a conviction that is transmitted to the ignorant (459a4)
concerning issues of which the orator has no knowledge either (459b8). Now, myth also
exerts its persuasive power by the ignorance of humans regarding their final destiny. If they
had this prónoia to which Gorgias refers (82DKB11.7), it would be impossible to persuade
them, in the same way as the judges could not be convinced of the innocence of the accused if
they had witnessed his crime. Plato is fully conscious of the uncertainty in which myth
operates, although he considers it true (523a2), because this makes sense in the space that
emerges in human discourse when, “investigating”, we cannot “find anything better or truer”
(527a7-8). This brings him closer once again to rhetoric for the dependence of the dóxa in
which he must work, since myth can convey only beliefs, no matter how respectable they may
be
16
. Myth cannot function on the same level as logos, but rather goes much further to
penetrate a sphere where there is room only to hope and to confront the risk of believing
(Phaedo 114d 5-6). In my opinion, it is a mistake to underestimate the difference between the
two levels. There are those who contend that myth does nothing more than transpose in
images “the lines drawn first by rational analysis”
17
or that myth upholds “metaphysical
presuppositions” that can be translated from the pístis to true opinion and from this to rational
knowledge
18
, but Plato has enough epistemic sensibility to insist that this represents discourse
of another kind. Its true moral can be completely consistent with the virtues of justice for
human life, as can be elucidated by means of logos, but myth, with its eschatological
dimension, opens another world of considerations “beyond human understanding”
19
. The myth
of Er is the supernatural revelation of a man who has returned from the other world, while the
mythic eschatology of the Gorgias is based on the beliefs of Socrates
20
(524a8), and the tale of
Phaedo expresses a truth upheld through a dramatic setting that “no reasonable person”
(114d2) could regard as true. It cannot be assured rationally that there will be a judgement of
the soul after death: this cannot be demonstrated and therefore, for the very uncertainty of the
proposition, the persuasion operating in the myth is possible.
Finally, I find another similarity between rhetoric and mythology, this being the attitude
that mythic discourse demands of the listener. Certainly, its makrologic nature moves closer
to the -µ·µc., distinctive of Protagoras (cfr.Protagoras 328d4) than to Socratic dialectic,
because now what is demanded of the listener or reader is not so much that he activate his
intelligence, with the corrosive effect that this could exert on all belief, but simply that “he
listen” (c-u. 523a1, cfr. Republic 614d3) and witness the spectacle of the images that the
orator places before his eyes
21
.
The transcendental dimension of human existence and the judgement of the soul in the
hereafter enable, in this scenario, the deflation of the ostensible power enjoyed by rhetoric in
the Athenian state; but the question is whether the Platonic myths inaugurate a new rhetoric.
The response cannot be unyielding. On the one hand, many points of connection exist, as we
have seen, because both rhetoric and Platonic eschatological mythology are at the service of
16
On the relationship between myths and dóxa, see, e.g., Levi (1946), 220-225; Tarrant (1990), 20-22, denies that
myth transmits “true opinions” (22), but it is difficult to see how myth can exert any effect without the existence
of opinions, e.g., those referring to the destiny of the soul in the hereafter.
17
Jaeger (1972), 540, attributes to the myth in the Gorgias a mere function of “summary and synthesis within the work
of art”.
18
See McMinn (1990), 225 and 234; Bescond (1986), 67-87 and Anton (1963/4), 165 and 171.
19
See Friedländer (1973),189; see also Guthrie (1970), 241 sq. Dodds (1945), 23, speaks, in my opinion, correctly of
two types of truths – truths of religion and truths of reason. The former cannot be demonstrated, such as the
existence of a judgement after death, and Plato “does not claim for these more than a mere probability”.
20
See Irwin (1979), 243.
21
Myth, as Mattéi (1988), 69, stated, “reduces the listener to passivity”.
Álvaro Vallejo 143
persuasion. However, there are also differences, since this sort of rhetoric in Plato, as in
Aristotle, is also, in the apt expression of P. Ricoeur, a “rhetoric under the vigilance of
philosophy”
22
. I do not believe that its potential lies in prompting an “impulse for
knowledge”
23
in the soul to project it into the upper sphere of the . ¬.c~µ µµ, but the
persuasion at which Plato is aiming is undoubtedly a point of encounter and mediation of
reason with the other irrational powers of human life, and is not, like the rhetoric practiced by
Gorgias (459c sq.), a mere instrument that is morally neutral and which can be placed at the
service of the highest bidder. It is discourse directed at the irrational, which touches the
emotional fibres of the soul, but bears a message for mankind and constitutes discourse of
moral exhortation that has been designed by the intelligence to overcome forces which, left to
their own dynamic, threaten to destroy the inner cosmos that makes human existence possible.
University of Granada
22
Ricoeur (1980), 17.
23
“Erkenntnisimpulses”, as stated by Rechenauer (2002), 240.
21 punti su persuasione e verità nel Gorgia
Giovanni Casertano
1. Mi riesce difficile riassumere in 15.000 caratteri un testo sulla verità nel Gorgia.
Capisco comunque le norme editoriali. E mi adeguo. Ma non presenterò il riassunto di un
testo molto più ampio, bensì una serie di punti, o tesi, sul tipo di quelle 95 presentate a
Wittenberg (ma qui sono solo 21). Naturalmente, prive di ogni . ¬. o..ç., che possa
giustificarle.
2. Il Gorgia è un dialogo di contrapposizioni. H ·.µ, e µc yµ, guerra e battaglia: le
parole iniziali con cui Callicle accoglie Socrate arrivato tardi alla “festa” (447a3)
costituiscono una chiave di lettura dell’intero dialogo. Battaglie, dalle quali esce un solo
vincitore, ma che non è né Socrate né uno dei suoi oppositori.
3. Prima fra tutte le contrapposizioni, evidenziata esplicitamente ed implicitamente,
quella tra retorica e giustizia, che richiama quella tra retorica e filosofia e quindi, un po’ più
problematicamente, quella tra opinione e scienza, tra credere di sapere e sapere.
L’opposizione è costruita da Socrate, con chiarezza di schema, alle pagine 464-465.
4. L’opposizione tra retorica e giustizia è netta. E si colora di un carattere fondamentale:
quello della differenza tra scienza, o sapere, o anche sapere tecnico, e pura pratica empirica. E
infatti la retorica non è una tecnica, ma un fare (462b11) una pratica (462c3), pratica che
produce una certa gioia o piacere (462c7), una mera pratica (465a3) che non sa dare affatto
ragione (465a3) di ciò di cui si occupa, né della sua natura né della causa (465a5) di ciascuna
cosa.
5. Il carattere fondamentale della retorica è quello di indurre nell’ascoltatore una
credenza, non una cognizione, perché il conoscere è diverso dal credere: µc -µc., è diversa
da ¬. c~., (454d2); e poiché può esistere una credenza vera ed una falsa, ma non una scienza
(454d6-7) vera ed una falsa, è chiaro (454d7) dunque che scienza e credenza non sono la
stessa cosa (454d8). Il fatto di indurre negli altri una credenza separata dalla conoscenza,
priva cioè di |u ,, pone immediatamente la retorica nel campo di un’empiria ingannatrice: la
retorica non ha bisogno di sapere come stanno le cose (459b8), le basta aver inventato
(459b9-c1) non una tecnica ma un «artificio della persuasione» (459b8-c1), per dar
l’impressione (459c1) a coloro che non sanno di sapere più di quelli che sanno.
6. Ma il rapporto tra sapere, credenza e persuasione non può essere quello di una netta
separazione e quindi di una contrapposizione: perché, ammesso che la retorica non faccia
altro che persuadere coloro che non sanno, anche la scienza deve mettere in atto dei
meccanismi di persuasione e quindi di convinzione, di credenza. Per cui l’opposizione non
può essere semplicisticamente tra conoscenza e credenza, bensì all’interno stesso della
credenza, che può essere quella indotta dalla scienza oppure quella indotta dall’opinione. Se
esiste allora una connessione tra persuasione, credenza e opinione, ne esisterà un’altra tra
persuasione, credenza e scienza. In altri termini, la persuasione e la credenza appartengono sia
Giovanni Casertano 145
alla scienza che all’opinione. Allora dobbiamo stabilire (cfr. 454e3) due specie di persuasione
(454e3): una che produce «credenza senza il sapere» (454e3-4), l’altra che produce il sapere
(454e8). La persuasione che produce il sapere è sempre legittima, perché non può esistere una
scienza ora vera ora falsa, mentre quella che produce la credenza a volte lo è e a volte non lo
è. La persuasione dunque non è prerogativa solo della retorica, ma anche della scienza.
7. La credenza (¬. c~.,) è l’opinione (o çc): è ampiamente attestato nell’orizzonte
platonico, nel quale può esistere appunto un’opinione vera ed un’opinione falsa. E se la
persuasione appartiene sia all’opinione che alla scienza, in questo ambito sia alla retorica che
alla giustizia, o alla filosofia, è chiaro che tutta l’opposizione a questo punto si gioca su di un
altro parametro. Che è quello fondamentale della verità. Ma sarà proprio l’introduzione del
parametro della “verità”, coniugato a quello della persuasione, a rendere estremamente
problematico tutto il discorso platonico, al di là delle apparentemente chiare e nette
distinzioni e contrapposizioni.
8. La contrapposizione tra retorica e giustizia, o tra retorica e filosofia, si mostra anche
nei metodi che ciascuna mette in opera: . ¬. o..ç., e o.c·.,.c-c. sono le due procedure che,
sempre ad apertura di dialogo (447a6, b2, b8, c1, 448d10-11), segnano subito il contrasto tra
Socrate e i suoi interlocutori. Il metodo dialettico comporta l’esercizio della confutazione
reciproca dei dialoganti, non a scopo di semplice “vittoria” sull’interlocutore, ma proprio allo
scopo di giungere a buon fine nella propria ricerca (457c-458c). Nell’orizzonte della verità.
9. Se ti confuto, dice Socrate, lo faccio non perché mi batto contro di te, ma perché mi
batto per l’argomento stesso (457e5): io mi lascio confutare volentieri (458a2) se dico
qualcosa di non vero (458a3), e confuto volentieri se qualcuno dice qualcosa di non vero. E’
proprio a questo punto che si dischiude l’orizzonte di un’ambiguità : cercare, indagare con le
parole il senso di altre parole, confutare e venire confutati nella convinzione di “essere nella
verità”, oltre che nel tentativo di “trovare una verità”, non è un fatto tanto semplice. Perché,
infatti, l’espressione “se dico qualcosa di non vero” indica il fatto che io posseggo una certa
opinione che considero vera ma che non lo è più nel momento in cui tu mi confuti, ed io
riconosco le ragioni del tuo confutarmi: acquisisco così un’altra opinione, che questa volta
considero vera in rapporto alla precedente non più vera. E se confuto te, lo stesso processo
può avvenire in te (cfr. 453a-c).
10. Contrapposizioni di opinioni, dunque: il Gorgia, in effetti, è un importante esempio,
tra l’altro, proprio dell’esistenza di questa possibilità (che può darsi comunque nella
maggioranza delle discussioni, filosofiche e non) di discutere senza comunicare, di un
discutere cioè in cui ciascuno espone le proprie opinioni e le contrappone a quelle dell’altro,
sottintende sensi, ed impone sensi, alle parole dell’altro senza curarsi della loro reale
presenza, ed andando avanti nelle proprie dimostrazioni in una condizione di totale
“estraneità” al mondo dell’altro.
11. Ma comunque in una presunzione di verità: Socrate dice la verità se il suo discorso
(che, nel confrontarsi con quello degli altri, esprime la sua opinione) riesce a far apparire
conseguente la sua tesi con le premesse poste in comune e concordate tra gli interlocutori:
fatto che in genere, nella drammaturgia platonica, gli riesce quasi sempre. Ma allo stesso
tempo Socrate è convinto che il suo discorso, nonostante la dichiarazione di non sapere ma di
cercare, corrisponde alla verità, e sulla base di questa presunzione di verità confuta il discorso
dell’altro (cioè ritiene che il discorso dell’altro vada confutato in quanto non vero); oppure è
disposto a lasciarsi confutare in quanto riconosce che il discorso dell’altro sia vero (cioè
ritiene che il proprio discorso vada confutato in quanto non vero). Nell’un caso come
nell’altro, c’è una convinzione di verità presupposta alla confutazione, e quindi al discorso
dimostrativo-confutatorio vero e proprio; in altri termini, la situazione di partenza di un
21 punti su persuasione e verità nel Gorgia 146
dialogo è quella in cui due interlocutori si affrontano, ciascuno credendo nella verità della
propria opinione e cercando di confutare quella dell’altro ritenuta falsa. Ma, formalmente, la
verità di un’opinione rispetto all’altra può essere affermata, cioè riconosciuta dai due
interlocutori insieme, solo alla fine del dialogo, e precisamente quando uno dei due addiviene
all’opinione dell’altro; o si trova una terza opinione che risulti accettata da ambedue, e perciò
stabilita come vera (457-458, 476a-479e).
12. In effetti un “accordo” non si determina in nessun punto del nostro dialogo. Anche
perché per trovare un accordo c’è bisogno di un’altra condizione, che qui nel Gorgia è
completamente assente. C’è bisogno dell’amicizia tra i dialoganti. Questa condizione, alla
quale qui si accenna soltanto (473a), e chiaramente in tono ironico, cioè a sottolineare che
appunto non c’è, è stabilita chiaramente nel Menone (75b-d). Nel Gorgia non c’è. Gli
interlocutori non sono amici, e si fanno portatori non solo di concezioni diverse, ma
principalmente di modi diversi, se non opposti, di intendere e vivere la vita. E’ tutta
l’atmosfera del dialogo ad essere segnata, piuttosto, da inimicizia e incompatibilità tra gli
interlocutori, mascherate (ma nemmeno poi tanto) dalle profusioni di cordialità e di
gentilezze.
13. L’importanza dell’accordo viene sottolineata, comunque, proprio in relazione
all’acquisizione della verità (472b-c). Nel corso della disputa con Polo (in 474c5-475c9), e
poi in quella con Callicle, Socrate lo afferma esplicitamente: «Io so bene che, se tu
concorderai con me sulle opinioni della mia anima, esse da quel momento saranno vere
senz’altro (486e5-6)». L’opinione concordata, dunque, diventa vera solo a partire dal
momento in cui viene concordata. E tra coloro che l’hanno concordata: «Il mio e il tuo
consenso sarà realmente il raggiungimento (487e7) della verità».
14. Questa caratterizzazione della verità comporta una conseguenza. Nella discussione
tra Callicle e i suoi amici era prevalsa l’opinione che la filosofia è un esercizio conveniente
tra i giovani, ma che non bisogna esagerare e quindi filosofare anche in età matura, quando le
occupazioni di un uomo dovrebbero essere altre. In base a tutte le puntualizzazioni precedenti
fatte da Socrate, in particolare a 486e, l’opinione concordata tra Callicle ed i suoi amici è
vera. La stessa opinione però, nell’incontro tra Callicle e Socrate, diventa falsa, e perciò
dev’essere confutata da Socrate. Il che non significa soltanto che un’opinione, appunto, può
essere vera o falsa, fatto che non turba nessuno, ma comporta anche un’altra domanda: se la
verità è sempre l’opinione concordata, può esistere una “verità” che sia indipendente dal
contesto in cui viene enunciata?
15. Il fatto è che i meccanismi della persuasione, sui quali si basa la possibilità della
realizzazione di un accordo, non dipendono esclusivamente dalla rigore e dalla correttezza dei
procedimenti dimostrativi. Alle spalle di Platone e del Gorgia, c’è sempre Gorgia. Con la sua
affermazione (Encomio di Elena) che la parola, il discorso, deve moltissimo della sua
efficacia persuasiva alle qualità della sfera del -uµ,, del ¬c-,, insomma dell’ µ -, di colui
al quale si parla. Ci sono almeno tre punti nel nostro dialogo in cui questo appare
chiaramente. In 481-482 Socrate comincia con lo stabilire, in linea generale, che se gli uomini
non avessero in comune una certa affezione (481c5-6) e ognuno avesse un’affezione
particolare (481c7) non sarebbe facile manifestare (481d1) ad un altro la propria affezione
(481d1). Ma qui i due amori, di Callicle e di Socrate, appaiono opposti. Questo ci porta a
dedurre che non basta identificare la possibilità di comunicare e di accordarsi tra due
dialoganti con la presenza in loro di un pathos e di un eros, ma occorrerebbe anche che essi
fossero accomunati dallo stesso pathos e dallo stesso eros, dal momento che l’atteggiamento
concreto di ciascuno non è dovuto al fatto che “sente”, ma che “sente una cosa e non
un’altra”. Ed allora la premessa vera ad un reale accordo è che “si senta la stessa cosa”. Con
Giovanni Casertano 147
tutto ciò che ne consegue: tra l’altro, che si può convincere realmente solo chi sente già in
modo analogo al nostro.
16. Il secondo punto è a fine dialogo, a combattimento ormai concluso tra Socrate e
Callicle, quando non resta al primo che ricorrere al mito. Dove Socrate, rifiutando l’invito di
Callicle ad adulare gli Ateniesi e preannunciando che se mai entrerà, da accusato, in un
tribunale, vi entrerà come uomo che non ha mai commesso ingiustizia, prevede anche che
sarà giudicato così come un medico accusato da un cuoco davanti a bambini.
17. Il terzo passo è in 513b-c. Socrate, a conclusione del suo lungo discorso che
contrappone il vivere a lungo al vivere bene (511c-513b), enuncia quello che potrebbe essere
una costatazione d’ordine generale: «Ognuno si rallegra di sentire discorsi conformi al
proprio carattere (513b8-c1) e si irrita, invece, dei discorsi estranei a lui». Al che Callicle
ribatte: non so come, mi pare che tu parli bene (513c4), ma provo l’affezione (513c5) che
capita ai più: non sono abbastanza persuaso (513c5-6). E, a conferma appunto del fatto che
all’accordo ed alla convinzione, e a dispetto di qualsivoglia dimostrazione, così come alla
verità, fanno da ostacolo appunto le passioni, Socrate così spiega: è l’amore del popolo che ti
contrappone a me (513c7-8).
18. Un carattere formale della verità è la sua inconfutabilità, sempre (473b10-11); ma è
una qualità che prescinde dal contenuto della tesi sostenuta: ciascuno dei sostenitori di tesi
contrapposte ritiene infatti la propria inconfutabile, appunto in quanto vera. La
contrapposizione dei due discorsi, insieme alla formalità della verità, si riscontra in tutta la
discussione sulla felicità di Archelao. Questa è un fatto verificabile con l’esperienza: ma la
verità di una conclusione risiede sempre e solo nel discorso : “stando al discorso”, infatti, che
l’ingiusto è infelice, io so che, se Archelao è ingiusto, allora è infelice, indipendentemente
dalla verifica pratica che consiste nel verificare se Archelao è effettivamente ingiusto e quindi
nel sapere se è infelice. In altri termini, è la definizione della felicità a stabilire se uno è
felice o no. Ma in due discorsi che collidono e non trovano un accordo, verità rimane la
pleonexia per Callicle e per coloro che condividono le sue concezioni ed il suo modo di vita,
verità rimane la giustizia per Socrate e per coloro che lo seguono. E le due verità sono
contrapposte. Stabilire, dunque, che può esistere una credenza, e dunque un’opinione, vera ed
una falsa, ma può esistere soltanto una scienza vera (454d), è allora solo uno stabilire in via di
principio: è infatti nel confronto e nello scontro tra le opinioni che si potrà concordare,
eventualmente, quale è l’opinione vera, e dunque la verità.
19. Il richiamarsi ad una “verità dei fatti” non modifica la situazione. Callicle afferma
che la sua verità è comprovata dai fatti (492c4-5). Socrate, da un lato, riafferma una verità che
prescinda completamente da ogni riferimento ai fatti, cioè a numero e qualità delle
testimonianze su fatti, addotti a favore della verità di una tesi (471e7-472a1, 472b4-5, 474a,
476a, 482c1, 482c3): riafferma cioè che preferisce restare da solo con la propria verità
piuttosto che contraddirsi. Ma, dall’altro lato, non può sfuggire all’esigenza di portare fatti a
conferma delle proprie opinioni. Quando Callicle cita i nomi di Cimone, Milziade e Pericle,
adducendo a sostegno della propria tesi la testimonianza delle loro opere in vantaggio della
città, Socrate cita a sua volta un’altra “prova”, e cioè il fatto che a Cimone e a Temistocle gli
Ateniesi diedero l’ostracismo, votarono per precipitare Milziade nella voragine, e Pericle fu
condannato alla fine della sua carriera per concussione, e per poco non fu condannato anche a
morte: “fatto” assolutamente in contrasto con la tesi che quei politici avevano reso migliori i
cittadini.
20. Ci troviamo, insomma, nel Gorgia, sempre di fronte a due opinioni contrapposte.
Tutti gli interlocutori possono in effetti convenire su tutte le caratteristiche della verità
enunciate da Socrate: la sua inconfutabilità, il suo dover presentarsi in un discorso
21 punti su persuasione e verità nel Gorgia 148
argomentativo corretto, e principalmente il suo esser confermata dai fatti. Eppure gli
interlocutori possono continuare a non trovare un accordo e quindi a non convincersi
reciprocamente. La conferma della verità nei fatti, in particolare, è un carattere che non vale a
convincere della verità di un discorso, perché è sempre l’interpretazione ed il senso di quel
fatto che costituiscono l’affermazione di verità in un discorso, e di falsità nel discorso
opposto. Questa situazione è esplicita: per Callicle natura e legge sono contrapposte (483a7-
b1), e la natura stessa dimostra (483c9) che è giusto che il migliore abbia più del peggiore e il
più potente del meno potente: e per lui questa è la verità (484c4). Ma anche Socrate, dopo
aver ripetuto di non sapere in effetti come stanno le cose, afferma che tutti quelli che parlano
diversamente da lui appaiono ridicoli, e dunque le cose stanno come egli sostiene (509a7).
Poco prima, dimostrando che piacere e bene non sono la stessa cosa, aveva drasticamente
concluso: «Io sostengo questo e affermo che è la verità (507c8-9)».
21. Il Gorgia è dunque la rappresentazione di una battaglia. Una battaglia, nella quale i
due contendenti sono ambedue convinti di possedere la verità e lo proclamano apertamente;
proclamando così la falsità (o la ridicolaggine) del discorso contrapposto. Una battaglia, nella
quale le confutazioni che ciascuno rivolge al discorso dell’altro non hanno nessun effetto, non
“dimostrano” assolutamente nulla per la persona alla quale sono rivolte. C’è una totale
estraneità tra gli interlocutori, esplicitamente riconosciuta (cfr. ancora 453c, 462e-463a, 472d-
473a, 489b-492d), uno scontro tra · ,. c |~.-.. µ.|.: discorsi che non trovano alcuna
mediazione. Perché, in fondo, la verità non è solo un fatto di pura logica, ma principalmente
di scelta di vita.
Università di Napoli
Analogien und Antistrophen.
Zur Bestimmung der Rhetorik in Platons Gorgias
Walter Mesch
Platons Gorgias enthält eine Bestimmung der Rhetorik, die häufig zu Verwunderung,
Befremdung und Ablehnung geführt hat. Die Rhetorik ist demnach überhaupt keine Kunst
(techne), sondern wie das Kochen nur eine „Erfahrung (empeiria) in der Bewirkung eines
gewissen Wohlgefallens und von Lust“ (462e). Als eine bloße Erfahrung bzw. Fertigkeit
(tribe) gehöre sie mit dem Kochen, dem Herausputzen und der Sophistik zu den
Schmeicheleien (kolakeiai), die eine natürliche Treffsicherheit ohne Technik besäßen (463a-
c). Die besondere Schmeichelei der Rhetorik liege darin, daß sie „von einem Teile der
Staatskunst das Schattenbild“ sei (463c). – Um diese schwer verständliche Bestimmung zu
erläutern, verweist Sokrates zunächst auf die Differenz von Leib und Seele, wobei er betont,
daß in beiden Fällen ein scheinbares von einem wahrhaften Wohlbefinden unterschieden
werden müsse (464a). Dann setzt er zu einer etwas längeren Rede an, die jene vier
Schmeicheleien durch vier antistrophische Künste ergänzt (464b/c), Schmeicheleien als
Verkleidungen von Künsten bestimmt (464c-465b) und ihre Verhältnisse durch Analogien
verdeutlicht (465c). Als Ergebnis hält er schließlich fest, die Rhetorik sei Antistrophe des
Kochens, „für die Seele, was jenes für den Leib“ (465e).
Es ist schwer, diese Passage angemessen zu verstehen. Einerseits nimmt sie im
Gesprächsverlauf eine zentrale Stellung ein, weil sie systematisierende Konsequenzen aus
dem Vorangegangenen zieht, an denen Sokrates auch im folgenden festhält. Andererseits
gelangt sie zu ihrem radikalen Ergebnis, indem sie von weitreichenden Voraussetzungen
ausgeht, die sie nur äußerst knapp erläutert. Wie nicht anders zu erwarten, sind diese
Voraussetzungen deshalb häufig kritisiert worden. Man hat bezweifelt, daß Erfahrung und
Kunst bzw. scheinbares und wahres Wohlbefinden strikt differenziert werden könnten, daß
sich jene Schmeicheleien tatsächlich in die angeführten Künste verkleiden würden und daß
Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit als Antistrophen von Gymnastik und Medizin zu betrachten
wären.
1
Blickt man auf das radikale Ergebnis, das aus diesen Voraussetzungen gewonnen
wird, muß seine auffällige Einseitigkeit irritieren. Der systematische Aufwand zielt scheinbar
nur auf eine Widerlegung der falschen Rhetorik. Von der wahren Rhetorik, die auf
dialektischer Grundlage vom Guten überzeugt und deshalb als techne zu gelten vermag, ist
1
Irwin (1979) verweist z.B. darauf, daß es nicht klar sei, wie weit sich Sokrates auf irgendeine akzeptierte
Unterscheidung von empeiria und techne beziehe und wie weit er eine eigene Unterscheidung herausarbeite (130).
Noch deutlicher ist seine Kritik am Verkleidungsgedanken: „But surely Socrates is wrong to say that cookery
pretends to offer healthy food“ (134). Dodds (1959) bezweifelt die Triftigkeit der Antistrophen, weil den
individuellen Leibeskünsten keine politischen Seelenkünste entsprechen könnten. Das wahre Gegenstück zu
Gymnastik und Medizin könne allenfalls die Erziehung sein. Im Hintergrund stehe jedoch Platons Überzeugung,
daß Politik wesentlich auf Erziehung ziele (227).
Analogien und Antistrophen 150
noch keine Rede, obwohl später deutlich wird, daß sie in denselben Zusammenhang gehört
(503a).
Nun kann man natürlich sagen, daß der sokratische Schlag gegen die zeitgenössischen
Redner durch die Berücksichtigung der wahren Rhetorik weniger wirkungsvoll geworden
wäre.
2
Und daß es Platon zunächst darum gehen mußte, diesen Schlag wirkungsvoll zu
führen, bevor er sein eigenes Rhetorikverständnis erläutern konnte, ist sicher nachvollziehbar.
Dennoch bleibt die Frage, wie sich die umfassende Anlage der sokratischen Argumentation
mit ihrem einseitigen Widerlegungsziel vereinbaren läßt. Es ist nämlich kaum zu übersehen,
daß hierin eine gewisse Spannung liegt, zumal die spöttische Bestimmung der Rhetorik als
Antistrophe des Kochens einen bissigen Humor verrät, der auffallend mit dem belehrenden
Ton der Ableitung kontrastiert. Was sich in dieser Spannung zeigt, wird meines Erachtens erst
dann deutlich, wenn man erkennt, daß die sokratische Argumentation ein Beispiel jener
wahren Rhetorik liefert, die später ausdrücklich eingeführt wird. Daß Sokrates hier selbst eine
längere Rede hält, die auf das dialektische Versagen des begriffsstutzigen Polos reagiert, ist
bereits häufig bemerkt, aber nicht genauer analysiert worden.
3
Ich möchte im folgenden
versuchen, die Bedeutung dieser sokratischen Rhetorik zu erläutern, indem ich mich auf das
Verhältnis von Analogien und Antistrophen konzentriere. Dabei dürfte es zunächst ratsam
sein, an den Gesamtrahmen der Problematik zu erinnern.
I
Das Verständnis der Rhetorik, das der Gorgias entwickelt, wird vorrangig durch ihre
Kritik bestimmt. Es geht weniger darum, was sie aus Sicht der platonischen Dialektik sein
könnte und sollte, als darum, was sie im zeitgenössischen Kontext ist. Sokrates kritisiert das
Selbstverständnis der Rhetorik, wie es von der berühmten Titelfigur vertreten wird. In dessen
Zentrum steht die methodenstolze Annahme, die rhetorische Sprachbeherrschung mache den
Redner überzeugender als jeden Fachmann (452e). Dadurch sei sie das größte Gut (megiston
agathon), das in jeder Polis erlaube, selbst frei zu sein und über andere zu herrschen (452d).
Als ihr Betätigungsfeld dienten Gerichte und andere politische Versammlungen, auf denen sie
überzeugend vom Gerechten und Ungerechten zu reden ermögliche (454b). Die sokratische
Kritik hält dem entgegen, daß es sich dabei nur um ein unsachliches Überreden handeln
könne, solange der effektvollen Gestaltung der Sprache keine Einsicht in ihren Gegenstand
entspreche. Ohne Einsicht in die Gerechtigkeit erzeuge die rhetorische peitho lediglich
Glauben ohne Wissen, dürfe sie lediglich als „glaubenmachend“ (pisteutikes), nicht aber als
„belehrend“ (didaskalikes) gelten (454e-455a).
Gorgias stimmt zwar zu, ist aber keineswegs beeindruckt. Vielmehr kommt er auf seinen
Grundgedanken zurück und lobt erneut die dynamis der Rhetorik, die so groß sei, daß sie in
jedem politischen Meinungsstreit zu siegen erlaube (456a). Einen starken Beleg liefere der
Sieg des Redners über den Arzt. Wenn es darum ginge, Kranke zu einer unangenehmen
Behandlung zu überreden oder sich von einer Versammlung zum Arzt wählen zu lassen, sei
immer der Redner erfolgreicher. „Denn es gibt nichts, worüber nicht ein Redner überredender
spräche als irgendein Sachverständiger vor dem Volke.“ (456c) Obwohl Gorgias betont, daß
der Redner diese allumfassende dynamis nicht ungerecht gebrauchen dürfe, steht sie doch so
sehr im Zentrum seines Rhetorikverständnisses, daß ihre Restriktion durch Gerechtigkeit
äußerlich wirkt. Sie scheint mit dem Wesen der gorgianischen Rhetorik gar nichts zu tun zu
haben, sondern lediglich einer konventionellen Moral geschuldet zu sein. Sokrates konstruiert
2
Hellwig (1973), 38.
3
Man vgl. etwa Friedländer (1957
2
), 234; Babut (1992), 70; Dalfen (2004), 241 und 246.
Walter Mesch 151
daraus sogar einen Widerspruch. Entweder beziehe sich die Rhetorik auf die Gerechtigkeit,
wie Gorgias zunächst behauptet habe, und könne deshalb gar nicht ungerecht gebraucht
werden, oder ihr ungerechter Gebrauch sei möglich, wie er später behauptet habe, und ihr
Bezug auf die Gerechtigkeit lasse sich nicht aufrecht erhalten (460d-461a).
Dieser Widerspruch entsteht freilich nur, wenn der rhetorische Bezug auf die
Gerechtigkeit – anders als im Falle der Gesundheit, wo der Redner als medizinischer Laie mit
dem Arzt konkurriert – echtes Wissen voraussetzt und sich nicht mit dessen Schein zufrieden
gibt (459c-e). Gorgias hatte dies kurz zuvor eingeräumt. Wenn jemand zu ihm käme, der
zufällig noch nicht wüßte, was Gerechtigkeit sei, so wäre auch das von ihm zu lernen (460a).
Mit diesem Eingeständnis liefert er das Motiv für das Eingreifen des Polos, der darin eine
Inkonsequenz sieht. Gorgias hätte sich lediglich geschämt, das Wissen um die Gerechtigkeit
für unwesentlich zu erklären, weil hierin niemand unwissend und unfähig zur Lehre sein
wolle (461b/c). Dabei geht Polos offenkundig davon aus, daß sich die Rhetorik zur
Gerechtigkeit nicht anders verhält als zur Gesundheit oder einem anderen Expertenthema.
Aus seiner Sicht besitzt Wissen auch hier keine limitierende Funktion. Der Redner mag zwar
ebenso über konventionelles Gerechtigkeitswissen verfügen wie weniger begabte
Zeitgenossen. Aber diese Konventionen dürfen den Gebrauch der Rhetorik nicht
einschränken, wenn ihr Erfolg nicht behindert werden soll. Auch hier muß vom Redner
Schein angestrebt werden, wenn er zur Überredung beiträgt.
In gewisser Weise wird diese Auffassung durch die sokratische Kritik bestätigt, weil
sich die Rhetorik als Antistrophe des Kochens genauso wenig auf die Gerechtigkeit bezieht
wie das Kochen auf die Gesundheit. Anders als Polos glaubt, bedeutet dies allerdings, daß die
Rhetorik gar nichts Schönes, Gutes oder Wahres ist. Denn ihre Mißachtung des Wissens führt
nach Sokrates dazu, daß sie lediglich Angenehmes trifft, das dem Unwissenden gut zu sein
scheint, nicht aber wahrhaft Gutes. Wegen dieses Mißverständnisses ist ihre dynamis
keineswegs so groß, wie sie sich dünkt, sondern äußerst gering, weil der Redner letztlich das
Gegenteil dessen erreicht, was er anstrebt. Indem Sokrates die Rhetorik in ein System von
Schmeicheleien einordnet, die Künste nachahmen, ohne deren Ziel zu treffen, faßt er die
verschiedenen Aspekte dieses Mißverständnisses zusammen. Es kann deshalb kaum
überraschen, daß die Grundlinien seiner Kritik auch im Fortgang des Gesprächs bestimmend
bleiben. Dies gilt nicht nur für den zweiten Teil der Auseinandersetzung mit Polos, der das
Thema der dynamis erneut in den Vordergrund rückt (466a ff.), sondern auch für die lange
Auseinandersetzung mit Kallikles, dessen Eingreifen das Gespräch abermals radikalisiert und
Sokrates vor allem Gelegenheit dazu gibt, die Differenz von Angenehmem und Gutem
genauer zu erläutern (494c ff.). Obwohl das Gespräch zunehmend ethische Voraussetzungen
thematisiert, bleibt der Zusammenhang mit dem Rhetorikthema durchgängig gewahrt.
Dabei wird deutlich, daß der bloß rhetorische Umgang mit der Sprache nach Platon
unweigerlich auf sophistische Ansichten über Glück, Tugend und Erziehung führt. Wer
glaube, bloßes Überreden diene dem Erfolg, weil es eine geschickte Täuschung ermögliche,
der täusche nicht nur andere, sondern auch sich selbst. Denn das gute Leben sei ohne Einsicht
in das wahrhaft Gute nicht zu verwirklichen. Aus platonischer Sicht muß die zeitgenössische
Rhetorik daher ebenso unnachsichtig widerlegt werden wie die Sophistik, zumal sie deren
wichtigstes Instrument ist (vgl. Prot. 319a). Ihre sophistische Tendenz zeigt sich auch in der
Dramaturgie des Dialogs, die den gemäßigten Gorgias durch seine radikalen Schüler
überbieten läßt. Während Gorgias den Redner auf Gerechtigkeit verpflichtet, orientieren sich
Polos und Kallikles am Ideal der Tyrannis, die konventionell als ungerecht gilt. Indem sie die
Tyrannis mit dem gorgianischen Ziel freier Herrschaft identifizieren, sind sie nicht bloß
bedenkliche Figuren, die sich zufällig seiner Rhetorik bedienen, sondern entlarven ihre fatale
Analogien und Antistrophen 152
Tendenz. Die Dynamis einer rein methodisch verstandenen Rhetorik lädt dazu ein, wie die
Dynamis eines Tyrannen gebraucht zu werden. Jene Antistrophe des Kochens, die lediglich
Schattenbild (eidolon) der Gerechtigkeit bzw. Rechtsprechung ist, hat also durchaus fatale
Konsequenzen. Und daß dies so ist, zeigt bereits das sokratische System der Schmeicheleien,
indem es Rhetorik und Sophistik parallelisiert.
II
Nachdem deutlich geworden ist, wie unsere Passage mit der Gesamtthematik des
Dialogs verknüpft ist, gilt es nun, ihre umstrittene Argumentation genauer zu analysieren.
Was versucht Sokrates eigentlich zu zeigen? Und vor allem: Wie versucht er es zu zeigen?
Meines Erachtens hat man dem sokratischen Vorgehen häufig zu wenig Aufmerksamkeit
gewidmet und sich zu sehr auf die schematisch darstellbaren Verhältnisse von vier Künsten
und vier Schmeicheleien konzentriert.
4
Außerdem hat man die verschiedenen Verhältnisarten
oft nicht deutlich genug voneinander unterschieden. Vor allem sind Antistrophen keine
Analogien, sondern besondere Verhältnisse, die in der sokratischen Argumentation zum Teil
Analogien fundieren und zum Teil auf der Grundlage von Analogien erschlossen werden, und
zwar auf der Grundlage von Analogien, die wiederum in einer bestimmten Weise zu
verstehen sind, weil sie auf eine bestimmte Weise, nämlich fundiert durch Antistrophen,
eingeführt werden. Solange diese antistrophische Fundierung der sokratischen Analogien
unberücksichtigt bleibt, besteht die Gefahr, daß man die sokratische Argumentation für
wissenschaftlicher hält, als sie es beansprucht. Denn nur hierin zeigt sich, wie sie sich als
wahre Rhetorik realisieren und auf eine genaue Erläuterung der skizzierten Verhältnisse
verzichten kann. Umkehrt wird erst hierin verständlich, wie Sokrates in seiner Rhetorikkritik
auf Rhetorik zurückgreifen kann, ohne sich selbst zu widerlegen.
In seiner kleinen Rede argumentiert Sokrates zunächst in drei Schritten, bevor er
nochmals betont, wie wichtig es ist, daß der Körper durch die Seele beherrscht wird, und das
Ergebnis formuliert, daß sich die Rhetorik antistrophisch zum Kochen verhält. Erstens
werden Seelentechnai von Leibestechnai unterschieden und ihr Verhältnis als Antistrophe
gedeutet. Dabei besitzen die Seelentechnai der Gesetzgebung (nomothetike) und
Gerechtigkeit (dikaiosyne)
5
den gemeinsamen Namen der Staatskunst (politike), während die
Leibestechnai keinen gemeinsamen Namen besitzen: „Ich setze von diesem einen Dienst am
Leibe wiederum zwei Teile, zum einen die Gymnastik (gymnastike), zum anderen die
Medizin (iatrike), vom Dienst am Staat als antistrophisch zur Gymnastik die Gesetzgebung
und als antistrophisch zur Medizin die Gerechtigkeit.“ (464b) Was im vorliegenden Kontext
eine Antistrophe ist, muß primär von hieraus verstanden werden. Zweitens führt er auf der
Seite des Leibes das Kochen (opsopoiike) und das Herausputzen (kommotike) als
Verkleidungen der Medizin und der Gymnastik an. Die Verkleidung, durch die sich
Schmeicheleien an die Stelle von technai setzen, wird nur für diese Verkleidungen von
Leibestechnai erläutert, und muß deshalb primär von hieraus verstanden werden. Im Zentrum
steht dabei die Verkleidung des Koches in den Arzt, weil sie den Bezugspunkt für das
Verständnis der Rhetorik liefert. Drittens bildet Sokrates nach dem Vorbild der Geometer
4
Besonders differenziert ist die Darstellung bei Schmalzriedt (1969), 213 ff.
5
Der Kontext macht klar, daß „Gerechtigkeit“ hier die techne der Rechtsprechung meint. Man mag sich deshalb
fragen, warum im Text nicht ausdrücklich von Rechtsprechung (dikastike) die Rede ist. Ich vermute, daß der
äußerliche Systembruch mit dem Ungenügen der traditionellen Rechtsprechung zu tun hat, die aus platonischer
Sicht viel zu stark durch die zeitgenössische Rhetorik geprägt ist, um als techne der Gerechtigkeit gelten zu
können. Ein auffälliger Hinweis auf den Gerechtigkeitsbezug wahrer Rechtsprechung muß von hieraus geboten
erscheinen. Die sophistische Prägung der traditionellen Gesetzgebung dürfte aus platonischer Sicht dagegen
geringer sein.
Walter Mesch 153
eine Reihe von Analogien, „nämlich daß (1) wie das Herausputzen zur Gymnastik, so das
Kochen zur Medizin, oder vielmehr (2) wie das Herausputzen zur Gymnastik, so die
Sophistik zur Gesetzgebung, und (3) wie das Kochen zur Medizin, so die Rhetorik zur
Gerechtigkeit.“ (465c) Die erste Analogie ist nur deshalb bedeutsam, weil sich das
Herausputzen etwas leichter als Verkleidung verstehen läßt als das für die Rhetorik
wichtigere Kochen. Von zentraler Bedeutung sind dagegen die zweite und die dritte Analogie,
die auch Sophistik und Rhetorik als Verkleidungen erläutern.
Was mit diesen Schritten gewonnen sein soll, liegt auf der Hand. Offenkundig versuchen
die Analogien (im dritten Schritt), das Verständnis der Verkleidung (aus dem zweiten Schritt)
auf Sophistik und Rhetorik zu beziehen. Sophistik und Rhetorik verhalten sich demnach so zu
Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit, wie Herausputzen und Kochen zu Gymnastik und Medizin,
nämlich wie bloße Verkleidungen zum Verkleideten bzw. Schattenbilder zu ihren Vorbildern.
Nimmt man dies mit dem antistrophischen Verhältnis von Seelentechnai zu Leibestechnai
(aus dem ersten Schritt) zusammen, läßt sich auch ein antistrophisches Verhältnis von bloßen
Seelenfertigkeiten zu Leibesfertigkeiten behaupten, wie es für die Rhetorik explizit geschieht
und für die Sophistik leicht zu ergänzen wäre. Die Rhetorik ist Antistrophe des Kochens und
die Sophistik Antistrophe des Herausputzens (465e). Sie sind Antistrophen, weil ihre
technischen Vorbilder Antistrophen sind. Denn Abbilder, die nichts anderes sind als
Verkleidungen ihrer Vorbilder, müssen zueinander im selben Verhältnis stehen wie diese.
Geht man von den Analogien aus, die auch Sophistik und Rhetorik als bloße Verkleidungen
technischer Vorbilder bestimmen, ist das Ergebnis der Argumentation also unschwer
nachvollziehbar. Doch was erlaubt es den Analogien eigentlich, Sophistik und Rhetorik als
Verkleidungen von Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit zu bestimmen? Wodurch wird es für
Sokrates möglich, auf der Seite der Seele dasselbe Verhältnis auszumachen, wie es auf der
Seite des Leibes bereits erläutert wurde?
Es ist keineswegs leicht, diese Fragen zu beantworten, und zwar aus gutem Grund. Denn
die Analogien werden ja gerade als Abkürzungen eingeführt, die eine allzu lange Rede
verhindern sollen (465b). Eine ausführliche Erläuterung sophistischer und rhetorischer
Verkleidung liefern sie deshalb nicht. Gleichwohl wird man sie kaum als bloße Behauptungen
betrachten dürfen, wenn sie irgendeinen Beitrag zur Argumentation leisten sollen. Und daß
sie als ein solcher Beitrag intendiert sind, zeigt nicht nur der Vergleich mit dem Vorgehen der
Geometer, sondern auch der zweite Schritt der Argumentation, der ja schon behauptet hatte,
alle Schmeicheleien seien Verkleidungen von Künsten, obwohl dies nur für die Seite des
Leibes ausgeführt wurde. Sogar schon vor seiner eigentlichen Rede hatte Sokrates gesagt, die
Rhetorik sei das Schattenbild von einem Teile der Staatskunst. In den Analogien soll also
sicher mehr geliefert werden als eine bloße Wiederholung dieser These oder ihrer späteren
Konkretisierung, die das Schattenbild als Verkleidung erläutert. Es geht darum, verständlich
zu machen, als was sich die Rhetorik verkleidet, weil nur damit wirklich verständlich werden
kann, inwiefern sie überhaupt eine Verkleidung ist. Dabei geht es klarerweise darum, sie von
ähnlichen Phänomenen zu unterscheiden und eine möglichst trennscharfe Bestimmung zu
finden. Daß die Sophistik mit in den Blick kommt, kann vor dem Hintergrund des bisherigen
Gesprächsverlaufs also kaum überraschen. Und damit sind wir wieder bei der Frage
angekommen, was es eigentlich erlaubt, die Sophistik als Verkleidung der Gesetzgebung und
die Rhetorik als Verkleidung der Gerechtigkeit zu erläutern.
Meines Erachtens läßt sich nur dann eine Antwort finden, wenn man den zweiten Schritt
mit dem ersten Schritt der sokratischen Argumentation verbindet. Sophistik und Rhetorik sind
Verkleidungen von Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit, weil Herausputzen und Kochen
Verkleidungen von Gymnastik und Medizin sind und Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit
Analogien und Antistrophen 154
Antistrophen von Gymnastik und Medizin. Die Analogien (2) und (3) lassen sich anders als
die Analogie (1), die sich auf Verhältnisse des Leibes beschränkt, nur dann angemessen
verstehen, wenn man erkennt, inwiefern sie antistrophisch fundiert sind. Und antistrophisch
fundiert sind sie insofern, als nur dann verständlich zu machen ist, warum die Verkleidungen
auf der Seite der Seele denen auf der Seite des Leibes entsprechen sollen, wenn davon
ausgegangen wird, daß die verkleideten technai eine derartige Entsprechung aufweisen. Es
muß davon ausgegangen werden, daß Seelentechnai Antistrophen von Leibestechnai sind,
weshalb eine bestimmte Seelentechne einer bestimmten Leibestechne entspricht. Was damit
gemeint ist, zeigt sich an der Differenz der Leibestechnai. Die Gesetzgebung dürfte der
Gymnastik entsprechen, weil sie ebenso auf die Herstellung des Guten für die Seele zielt wie
diese auf die Herstellung des Guten für den Leib. Als techne der Rechtsprechung dürfte die
Gerechtigkeit dagegen ebenso auf dessen Wiederherstellung zielen wie die Medizin.
Der Zusammenhang ist so offensichtlich, daß er von den meisten Interpreten erkannt
wurde: In der Gesetzgebung wird Gerechtigkeit hergestellt wie Gesundheit in der Gymnastik
und in der Rechtsprechung wird Gerechtigkeit wiederhergestellt wie Gesundheit in der
Medizin. Nur wenn dieser Zusammenhang aus dem ersten Schritt gilt, kann aus dem zweiten
Schritt gefolgert werden, daß sich Sophistik und Rhetorik zu Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit
verhalten wie Herausputzen und Kochen zu Gymnastik und Medizin, daß sie nämlich ebenso
Verkleidungen bestimmter Seelentechnai sind wie sich diese in bestimmte Leibestechnai
verkleiden. Dabei ist natürlich vorausgesetzt, daß es sich auch hier um irgendwelche
Verkleidungen handelt und daß keine anderen technai als Vorbilder in Frage kommen.
Folgern läßt sich deshalb nur die Zuordnung von Sophistik und Gesetzgebung bzw. von
Rhetorik und Gerechtigkeit. Oder negativ formuliert: Ausgeschlossen wird ihre Zuordnung
über Kreuz. Obwohl sich Sophistik und Rhetorik ebenso ähneln wie Gesetzgebung und
Gerechtigkeit, müssen sie nach deren Vorbild unterschieden werden (464c, 465c). Die
Sophistik ist Verkleidung einer techne, die ebenso auf die Herstellung des Guten für die Seele
zielt wie das Herausputzen auf die Herstellung des Guten für den Körper. Die Rhetorik
verkleidet sich dagegen ebenso in eine technische Wiederherstellung dieses Guten wie das
Kochen. Im Grunde geschieht in den Analogien (2) und (3) somit gar nichts anderes als eine
Übertragung des antistrophischen Verhältnisses von Seelen- und Leibestechnai (aus dem
ersten Schritt) auf ihre Verkleidungen, die durch eine Erläuterung der Verkleidung von
Leibestechnai (aus dem zweiten Schritt) vermittelt ist.
Es wäre deshalb nicht richtig, die drei Schritte der Argumentation als Etablierung dreier
unabhängiger Prämissen zu betrachten, aus deren Verbindung dann erst noch zu folgern wäre,
daß die Rhetorik Antistrophe des Kochens ist. Denn einerseits ist der dritte Schritt bereits eine
Folgerung aus den beiden vorangegangenen Schritten. Und andererseits versteht man nur,
warum sich die Rhetorik zur Gesetzgebung verhält wie das Kochen zur Medizin, bzw. warum
sie ebenso eine Verkleidung ist wie das Kochen, indem man versteht, warum sie eine
Antistrophe des Kochens ist, bzw. warum auch sie Verkleidung einer techne ist, der es um die
Wiederherstellung eines Guten geht. Es ist deshalb kein Zufall, daß Sokrates am Ende seiner
Rede keine (weitere) Folgerung zieht, sondern nur auf etwas aufmerksam macht, das in den
Analogien bereits verstanden sein muß. „Was ich nun meine, daß die Rhetorik sei, hast du
gehört (akekoas), nämlich die Antistrophe zum Kochen, für die Seele, was diese für den
Leib.“ Die Behauptung dieses antistrophischen Verhältnisses ist also nur insofern durch
Analogien fundiert, als es in den Analogien (2) und (3) implizit vorweggenommen ist, nicht
aber insofern, als es durch die Analogien begründet würde. Umgekehrt hängt die Geltung
dieser Analogien aber durchaus von der Geltung des antistrophischen Verhältnisses zwischen
Walter Mesch 155
Seelen- und Leibestechnai ab. Denn ohne dieses Verhältnis und die Verkleidung von
Leibestechnai sind sie nicht zu begründen.
III
Was ist von dieser Argumentation zu halten? Ich hatte angedeutet, daß mir die
antistrophische Fundierung der Analogien zu zeigen scheint, inwiefern die sokratische
Rhetorikkritik rhetorisch vorgeht, ohne sich selbst zu widerlegen. Diese Andeutung gilt es
nun abschließend auszuführen. Offenkundig handelt es sich um eine Argumentation, die ihre
Prämissen nicht eingehend problematisiert, diskutiert und präzisiert, sondern nur im Umriß
skizziert. Erläutert werden sie eigentlich nur insofern, als Sokrates die postulierten
Verhältnisse in der Seele durch einen Vergleich mit dem Körper veranschaulicht. Wir
erfahren nicht genauer, was ein eidolon ist, und erst recht nicht, ob es in der Seele dieselbe
Form besitzt wie im beispielhaft angeführten Leib. Geliefert wird lediglich eine anschauliche
Erläuterung einer viergliedrigen Schmeichelei, die sich als techne verkleidet (hypodusa), was
für das Herausputzen besonders einleuchtet, weil sich die Metapher der Verkleidung hier
beinahe buchstäblich auffassen läßt. Wir erfahren nicht genauer, was eine techne ist, und erst
recht nicht, ob sie im Falle der Gesetzgebung und Rechtspflege dieselbe Form besitzen kann
wie bei Gymnastik und Medizin. Zumindest erfahren wir nicht mehr, als daß eine techne
wirklich auf das Gute zielt und den Grund ihres Vorgehens anzugeben weiß. Und was dies
bedeutet, ergibt sich primär aus der Konkurrenz von Arzt und Koch, die bei einer diätetischen
Medizin auf Anhieb einzuleuchten vermag.
In der sokratischen Erläuterung von Seelenverhältnissen durch Leibesverhältnisse
spielen Analogien und Antistrophen eine entscheidende Rolle. Warum dies so ist, läßt sich im
Fall der Antistrophen besonders leicht einsehen. Es handelt sich hier nämlich um
Verhältnisse, die eine gewisse Übereinstimmung begründen, ohne umkehrbar zu sein. Der
Ausdruck „antistrophos“ stammt bekanntlich aus der Dichtung und bezeichnet dort eine
Übereinstimmung von Strophe und Gegenstrophe, die sich daraus ergibt, daß die
Gegenstrophe auf die Strophe antwortet (Chorlyrik, Chöre von Dramen). Wie unschwer zu
erkennen ist, kann dies Verhältnis trotz der Übereinstimmung beider Strophen nicht
umgekehrt werden, weil die Strophe nun einmal keine Antwort auf die Gegenstrophe
darstellt. Die vorangehende Strophe gibt vielmehr einseitig vor, wonach sich die folgende zu
richten hat. Indem Sokrates für das Verhältnis von Seelen- und Leibestechnai die Metapher
der Antistrophe verwendet, signalisiert er dem musisch gebildeten Polos, daß es hier um eine
vergleichbare Ausrichtung geht. Gesagt wird nicht, daß sich Seelen- und Leibestechnai
wechselseitig entsprechen, sondern daß die Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit
„Gegenstrophen“ zur Gymnastik und Medizin sind. Dasselbe gilt natürlich für die
Schmeicheleien. Gesagt wird nicht, daß sich Seelen- und Leibesfertigkeiten wechselseitig
entsprechen, sondern daß die Sophistik und Rhetorik „Gegenstrophen“ zum Herausputzen
und Kochen sind. Der Grund ist offensichtlich. Im vorliegenden Kontext wäre eine
Umkehrung argumentativ sinnlos, weil es nur darum geht, die postulierten Verkleidungen auf
der Seite der Seele anhand der einfacheren Verkleidungen auf der Seite des Körpers zu
veranschaulichen. Eine Umkehrung könnte zur Überzeugung des Polos überhaupt nichts
beitragen.
Wie ich zu zeigen versuchte, dienen die Analogien demselben Zweck. Allerdings ist dies
auf den ersten Blick nicht ganz so leicht zu sehen, weil sie rein formal immer umkehrbar sind.
Wenn gilt: „Wie A zu B, so C zu D“, gilt notwendig auch „Wie C zu D, so A zu B“. Die
Analogien, die Sokrates anführt, sind aber sicher nicht so zu verstehen. Auch bei ihnen wäre
eine Umkehrung argumentativ sinnlos. Dies gilt schon für die Analogie (1), die das Verhältnis
Analogien und Antistrophen 156
von Kochen und Medizin durch das Verhältnis von Herausputzen und Gymnastik erläutert,
weil es etwas leichter als Verkleidung zu erkennen ist. Und es gilt erst recht für die
Analogien (2) und (3), die auf dieser Grundlage erläutern, wie sich Sophistik und Rhetorik zu
Gesetzgebung und Gerechtigkeit verhalten. Ich habe zu zeigen versucht, daß sich diese
Analogien nur verstehen lassen, indem man versteht, daß Sophistik und Rhetorik
Antistrophen des Herausputzens und Kochens sind. Sie lassen sich nur verstehen, indem man
ihre antistrophische Fundierung nachvollzieht. Aus diesem Grund sind sie ebenso unumkehr-
bar wie die zugrundeliegenden Antistrophen. Die Rhetorik ist Antistrophe des Kochens, nicht
aber das Kochen Antistrophe der Rhetorik, und zwar deshalb, weil die Gerechtigkeit
Antistrophe der Medizin ist und weil sich die Rhetorik zur Gerechtigkeit verhält wie das
Kochen zur Medizin, nämlich wie die Verkleidung einer das Gute wiederherstellenden techne
zum verkleideten Vorbild.
6
Dabei hat das unterstellte „weil“ dieser Argumentation nur den
Status einer Veranschaulichung. Die Rhetorik ist Antistrophe des Kochens, „weil“ sich das
Kochen als anschauliches Beispiel für die Defizienz anbietet, die Sokrates der Rhetorik
nachzuweisen versucht.
Es ist vor allem diese Argumentationsstruktur, die das sokratische Vorgehen rhetorisch
macht, weniger ihre Umsetzung durch eine zusammenhängende und schmuckvolle Rede, die
das Fragen durch das Antworten ersetzt. Daß dies so ist, zeigt sich, wenn man es mit der
vorgetragenen Bestimmung vergleicht. Denn Sokrates richtet seine Erläuterung von
Seelenfertigkeiten auf ähnliche Weise an Leibesfertigkeiten aus, wie sich die Rhetorik auf den
Leib bezieht, wenn man dieser Erläuterung folgt. Dabei trägt er allerdings dialektisch zu
erläuternden Differenzen Rechnung, die von Rednern sonst unberücksichtigt gelassen werden,
und führt somit bereits jene wahre Rhetorik vor, auf die er später ausdrücklich zurückkommt.
Folgt man der sokratischen Argumentation, ist die übliche Rhetorik zwar Antistrophe des
Kochens, aber sie weiß darum nicht. Wegen ihrer Ähnlichkeit mit der Sophistik droht
vielmehr eine beständige Verwechslung, in der die Differenz von Herstellung und
Wiederherstellung übersehen wird (465c). Noch schlimmer ist die Verwechslung von wahrem
und scheinbarem Gut, die Sokrates für die Gesundheit des Leibes darauf zurückführt, daß die
Differenz von Leib und Seele unberücksichtigt bleibt. Wie er sagt, kann der Leib selbst nicht
beurteilen, was für ihn das Beste wäre, weil für ihn nur das Angenehme zählt. Dasselbe gilt
natürlich für eine Seele, die sich nur an der Annehmlichkeit des Leibes orientiert. Und genau
dies scheint Sokrates der rhetorischen Verkleidung einer Seelentechne vorwerfen zu wollen.
Für sie trifft die paradoxe Auffassung des Anaxagoras zu, daß alle Dinge (ungesondert)
zugleich sind (465d). Die Rhetorik verfehlt das Gut der Seele bereits insofern, als sie es nicht
hinreichend vom Gut des Leibes trennt.
Daß Sokrates dieses Defizit vorführt, indem er sich selbst am Leib orientiert, dürfte vor
allem zwei Gründe haben. Einerseits dient dies Vorgehen der Überzeugung seines
rhetorischen Gesprächspartners, indem es sich so weit wie irgend möglich auf
Zusammenhänge einstellt, die dessen fehlgeleiteter Seele überzeugend erscheinen.
6
Es hilft deshalb wenig, wenn Schmalzriedt (1969) darauf hinweist, daß die „antistrophische“ Korrespondenz als
Analogie bzw. Proportion darstellbar sei, obwohl dies im Text nicht expressis verbis getan werde (216). Auch
wenn gilt: gymnastike : nomothetike = iatrike : dikaiosyne bzw. kommotike : sophistike = opsopoiike : rhetorike,
wobei die Identität dieser Verhältnisse natürlich in beide Richtungen zu lesen ist, bleibt für die identisch gesetzten
Verhältnisse wie gymnastike : nomothetike oder iatrike : diakaiosyne festzuhalten, daß es sich um Antistrophen
handelt, die nur in einer Richtung gelten. So ist etwa die nomothetike Antistrophe der gymnastike, nicht aber
umgekehrt. Schmalzriedt läßt diesen entscheidenden Punkt in seiner Formulierung unberücksichtigt und begibt
sich damit der Möglichkeit herauszufinden, warum der Text die sogenannte antistrophische Korrespondenz nicht
als Analogie bzw. Proportion darstellt. Es bleibt deshalb auch offen, warum der „höhere Wert“ von dikaiosyne
und nomothetike im Vergleich zu iatrike und gymnastike, wie Schmalzriedt richtig bemerkt, „im Text überhaupt
nicht zur Geltung kommt“ (219).
Walter Mesch 157
Andererseits bringt er damit in den Blick, daß Rhetorik mehr zu sein vermag, als ihre
zeitgenössische Realisierung zeigt. Auf diese Weise gleicht Platon die Einseitigkeit seiner
Rhetorikkritik aus und vermittelt die systematische Anlage seiner Argumentation mit ihrem
polemischen Ergebnis. Die Widerlegung der falschen Rhetorik durch die wahre Rhetorik hat
nicht nur eine humoristische Pointe, sondern auch eine sachliche. Sie paßt nicht nur zur
spöttischen Behandlung des Polos, indem sie dessen dialektisches Versagen durch einen
rhetorischen Sieg des Sokrates ergänzt, sondern dient auch dem Verständnis der umstrittenen
Disziplin, indem sie die Vermittlung von Differenzen vorführt, die sich in der agonalen
Atmosphäre des Dialogs kaum thematisieren lassen. Folgt man der sokratischen
Argumentation, ist die übliche Rhetorik eigentlich nicht die Antistrophe des Kochens,
sondern das Schattenbild einer Gerechtigkeit, in die sie sich zum Zweck der Täuschung
verkleidet. Was dies für ihr Verhältnis zur Dialektik bedeutet, wird zwar nicht erläutert, wohl
aber gezeigt. Letztlich geht es darum, das täuschende Schattenbild durch ein Verständnis
förderndes Abbild zu ersetzen. Die wahre Rhetorik muß an die Stelle der falschen treten.
Indem diese bereits vorgeführt wird, ist die Passage ein herausragendes Beispiel für Platons
Kunst, gleichzeitig auf verschiedenen Ebenen zu agieren, ohne die Deutlichkeit der
Darstellung zu beeinträchtigen.
Universität Heidelberg
Socrates’ Argument with Gorgias, the Craft Analogy, and
Justice
Hayden W. Ausland
Socrates reduces Gorgias to silence with a conclusion that the rhetorician, as an artisan,
can do no injustice. Gorgias earlier maintained that rhetoric comprises all special arts, adding
that it is transmitted for just use, so that it is no fault of the teacher, if a pupil uses it unjustly.
These claims arose via two arguments – one by which rhetoric seemingly lacks any technical
competence, since there is always some more precise special art (455a8-456c7, an argument
from “competence”), and a second by which a rhetorician exhibits the ability to use his
combative art either justly or unjustly (456c7-457c3, from “ambivalence”). Similar dialectical
moves occur – sometimes again in juxtaposition – in other Platonic works, most notably in
Republic 1, when Socrates is examining Polemarchus’ account of justice (332c5ff. and
333e3ff.), but also in such dialogues as the Charmides, Hippias Minor, Ion, and Erastae.
They evidently derive from an older repertory (cf. Dissoi Logoi 8).
Moderns normally hold the versions in Republic 1 fallacious in treating justice as an art,
offering solutions of three main kinds. Most adduce (a) a faculty of will integral to moral
action, as distinct from artistic activity, so that the arguments suggest a volitional account of
virtue. Some postulate (b) a distinction between artistic capacity or knowledge and the
habitual state underlying the moral virtues, so that Socrates’ “craft-analogy” willy-nilly
anticipates an Aristotelian solution. A few invoke (c) germane distinctions found in the
dialogues themselves or in ancient technical discussions, e.g., that an art is either specialized
or general in its competence, and always has two parts – one related to its subject, and another
for transmitting the art itself. Viewed from these perspectives, Socrates’ arguments can
assume differing aspects, but these properly distinct strains can be confused (for all three
intermingled, see Gigon 1976, 38-40). If the analogy of justice with art in Republic 1 is
faulty, it has proven hard to assign fault. Some credit a breakthrough first to Aristotle, but
others hold Plato himself conscious of the analogy’s limitations. The latter will hold
Polemarchus confused by sophistical influence, or else charge Socrates with fallacy. A
common dramatic approach thus finds a reduction of moral “intellectualism”. Either Socrates
is pointing this out to Polemarchus (and so Plato to his readers), or perhaps Plato has grown
critical of Socrates’ own intellectualism.
Here a theoretical problem arises. To assume that virtue aims at some generally
conceived good, while special arts are value-free is to suggest that an Augustinian will, an
Aristotelian state (or choice), or a superordinate art is needed before an art can be directed at
some good. The idea is regularly read into ancient treatments, despite the evidence against it.
(See, e.g., Aristotle, EN, 1094a1f.) The idea that techne is in itself value-free derives from the
modern assimilation of art to instrumental science and the related distinction between
Hayden W. Ausland 159
scientific facts and moral values (cf. Heidegger 1954, 9). The confusion occasions
imprecision even in accounts of the third kind mentioned. A higher art can illuminate a lower
art’s proper good with reference to a higher good (cf. Charmides 164a1-c6 with Aristotle,
MM 1182a32-b6 and b22-31), or the good aimed at by the lower art must yield to some higher
good. But only in the latter case does the higher art affect the practice of the lower, which
otherwise pursues its proper good. A physician does not need to be told that his aim is health
– which is exactly why he would have to be instructed to refrain from it. Justice will itself be
spoken of as an art under an internal compulsion to do what is right later on in the Republic.
One must doubt whether either Socrates or Plato means to distinguish it from art at all in
Republic 1.
A second problem is literary. The supposed general point of Socrates’ arguments
against Polemarchus is nowhere stated. If the conclusion is implicit, are the arguments
always so intended? In the Charmides, Socrates employs the argument from competence
constructively, to show temperance self-reflexive (165c1ff.). In the Hippias Minor, he argues
outrageously from ambivalence that the liar and the truthful man are one and the same
(365d6ff.). Neither dialogue is about justice; each argument serves a contextual end. But the
forms can also work together. In the Erastae, Socrates first argues from competence that
philosophers appear to be bad and useless men and then invokes ambivalence in order to
assimilate philosophy to practical virtues and the political art, as distinct from the banausic
crafts (136b3ff. and 137b7ff.). Both points recall constructive features of the Republic’s main
argument (cf. 379e9ff. and 487b1ff.) – though some will regard them a signs of an imitator.
In any case, the Erastae reveals philosophy as a special art with general application in the
practical field as an art of primary resort. It certainly does not try to show that philosophy is
no art. Order and effect are reversed in the Ion, where Socrates shows first that the rhapsode’s
ability cannot be properly technical, since he would then be able to discourse about poets
other than Homer (531a1ff., from ambivalence). Afterward he shows Ion ignorant of
Homer’s technical descriptions, concluding that he must either be superior to special artisans
or divinely inspired. (536e1ff., from competence) In this dialogue alone is there an explicit
conclusion that the activity in question is not an art. Socrates elevates Ion’s activity above the
realm of the ordinary arts, – though some will read this as Socratic irony. It is in any case
again no apt model for the usual reading of Republic 1.
What is the purpose of these arguments in the Gorgias? They can hardly exalt rhetoric
above the realm of the banausic arts (cf. Charmides), when Socrates will shortly deny that
rhetoric is an art at all, degrading it to a lowly empirical habitude. But neither do they
embody ironic praise of rhetoric as a divine gift (cf. Ion). Their function must be special to
the context. As it happens, Socrates’ subsequent definition of rhetoric as a species of flattery
itself recalls Republic 1, where Socrates begins his criticism of Polemarchus in the same
terms, making the technai of medicine and cookery paradigmatic for justice (cf. 332c7, c12
and d2). Socrates presents the three cases under a universal aspect: “art rendering what is
fitting or owing”. Polemarchus responds that, as that medicine administers drugs food and
drink to bodies, and cookery administers seasonings to meats (opsa), so justice renders benefit
and harm to friends and enemies.
Questions of definitional method here arise. Why does Socrates use techne as his genus?
And why does he suggest a specific differentia by comparing it with medicine and cookery?
To answer these for the Republic requires a longer path, but the affinity with the Gorgias is
suggestive. Socrates there makes medicine and cookery somatic analogues for justice and
rhetoric, respectively, so as to expose a key difference, so why does he treat them as parallel
analogues for justice in Republic 1? Is justice somehow comparable to the false art of
Socrates' Argument with Gorgias, the Craft Analogy, and Justice 160
preparing opsa as well as to the true art of medicine? It is to be remembered that the city of
the guardians comes about as a direct consequence of Glaucon’s demand for sweetened opsa
(cf. 372c2f. and d4f.).
The Republic’s political teaching can be construed in these very technical terms.
Cookery in its negative connotation answers to the demand that foods be sweetened beyond
what is natural. Strictly speaking, opsa are cooked meats, but more loosely they are any kind
of relish for rendering nourishment palatable. They can also serve as dessert, being sweetened
for this purpose. But these relishes (even sweetened) are integral to a healthy diet. (cf.
Hippocrates, De Diaeta Salubri 1 and 4 with Galen XV.193 Kühn). They are unhealthy if
they or their sweeteners become the mainstay of a diet. Relish thus has a legitimate function
in cooking subservient to dietetics, but where it becomes an independent focus things go
wrong (cf. Xenophon, Mem. 3.14 with Galen XI.680 Kühn). Cooking’s goal is integral to that
of the higher art of medicine – health; its own task it is to render the means to that end
palatable. When both art and activity are identified with their subordinates (as they seem
implicitly to be in Polemarchus’ answer to Socrates at 332d1), a sharp opposition like that of
the Gorgias emerges. Medicine reveals the same ambiguity by employing the confectioner’s
art, and a philosophical rhetoric does something analogous (cf. Themistius, Or. 5 [63b]).
The first examples Socrates offers Polemarchus already suggest that justice artistically
balances knowledge with experience, looking both to benefits and to means necessary to
render benefits acceptable as well as beneficial. In rhetorical terms, justice has both to
recognize the ends of deliberation and to invent probable arguments, which may require a
dose of pleasant falsehood (cf. Ioann. Sard., In Aphth. Prog. 24.12-22). Either art illuminates
justice differently. Analogous to medicine, justice seeks correctives to psychic disorders; as
cookery provides healthy nutrition as prophylaxis against disease (or deterioration after
recovery), it provides for the nourishment for the healthy soul. The pair of exempla speaks to
the curative and conservative sides of justice, remaining the principal images for these
throughout the Republic. One can see both why Socrates use these examples and why he uses
two: understanding justice means appreciating an inherent tension. And Socrates uses art as
his genus, since art always embraces such a tension.
Conversely, a theoretical distinction can illuminate the context in the Gorgias. The
ancient medical tradition distinguished art from experience, with some stressing a rational
principle as its basis, and others championing its empirical side. The dispute naturally
suggested a methodical compromise by which medical practice requires a cooperation of
both, rather than only one principle to the exclusion of the other. In the Gorgias, Socrates
concocts a similar controversy between rhetoric and justice, representing them in competition
for the title of “art of corrective tending of the soul”, and seeming to side with justice against
rhetoric. His severity in disparaging the latter’s empirical side gives pause, since he elsewhere
views rhetoric as an art compatible, or even identical with philosophy (cf. Phaedrus 270b1-10
with Olympiodorus, In Gorg. 85.15-20 W.). Moderns’ assurance of Plato’s development was
for some reason unavailable to the ancients, so that ancient writers familiar with the Phaedrus
had to wonder at Socrates’ behavior in the Gorgias. Aristides subsequently wrote a lengthy
defense of rhetoric, concluding that Plato indeed went to extremes in the Gorgias, but was in
fact there not attacking rhetoric, but flattery and sycophancy (Aristides, In Plat.13 and 454).
Plato’s speculative adherents appreciated the difficulty. In explaining the definition of
rhetoric Socrates offers Polus, Olympiodorus first sketches the senses in which rhetoric both
is and is not an art (In Gorg. 69.18-71.5 W.). He then adduces a schema not found in the
Gorgias, postulating three things: science, art, and experience (71.6-9 W.). Science differs
from art in the stability of its subject matter. Art differs from experience by having, like
Hayden W. Ausland 161
science, explanations for what it does. Art thus strikes a mean between science and
experience. It is like the former in its aetiological character; but it is like the latter in treating
things by nature changeable and unstable. It combines the strengths of a certain exactness
with an ability to meet uncertain challenges. Olympiodorus finally elevates even experience
above mere flattery, concluding that Socrates in the Gorgias is attacking popular, not
philosophical rhetoric (72.20-73.4). This political solution was rejected by Aristides, who,
like Gorgias himself, means to defend a well-intentioned ordinary rhetoric as an art as well
(Aristides, op. cit. 446ff.).
In this controversy an ambiguity about the status of rhetoric persists, for, not only is it
something commonly used as often for ill as for well (here the argument from ambivalence
can come into play), but, depending on the side one stresses, scientific or empirical, it can
appear to be, or to fall short of, an art (here the argument from competence enters). In the
Gorgias, Socrates both assimilates rhetoric to flattery and insists on its empirical nature to the
extent that he virtually collapses art together with science: rhetoric’s empirical character
becomes evidence that it is no art at all. His gambit is depicted dramatically by Plato as a
quasi-medical corrective extreme for another party’s having driven the matter to the opposite,
empirical pole (cf. Gorgias 478d1-479c4 with Phaedo 86b5-c2, Aristotle, EN 1104b13-18,
and Celsus, De Medicina 3.9.2). Plato himself thus points to a compromise by which rhetoric
is an art in the sense explained by Olympiodorus, rather than a science simply. This
interpretation is corroborated when he makes the Socrates of Republic 1 compare justice not
only with medicine, but also with an art of cookery so conceived.
Plato sketches also the larger relation dramatically in the Gorgias. Socrates introduces
the question of competence (455a8ff.) but Gorgias completes it (455d6ff.) and himself adds
that of ambivalence as a corollary (456c7ff.). Moreover, the implications of the two
arguments, as Gorgias understands these, were fundamental for the subsequent technical
tradition, recurring, e.g., at the very opening of Aristotle’s own Ars Rhetorica. Gorgias, like
Aristotle, claims an unspecialized political field of application for the rhetorical art and
stresses the crucial distinction between its proper and improper use – which Aristotle sees as
analogous to the distinction between the sophist and the dialectician, who share the same
capacity but exercise differing choices (cf. Aristotle, Ars Rhetorica 1355b8-10, 1354a1-3 and
1355 a21f. with Proclus, In Cratyl. 4). Gorgias speaks in terms of responsibility rather than
motivation, but the affinity is clear. So the argumentative and dramatic outcome of the two
arguments as they occur in the Gorgias prospectively combines the Socratic idea of an
unspecialized governing art with a Gorgian conception of moral responsibility. One reads
forward in the Gorgias expecting Plato to make Socrates hold Gorgias’ pupils responsible for
their misuse of his rhetorical teaching.
The University of Montana
Socrate e Gorgia di fronte all’insegnamento della virtù
Maurizio Migliori
Perché Platone parla di anamnesi proprio nel Menone? Spiego la domanda e la sua
legittimità:
1. La trattazione dell’anamnesi costituisce un inciso (80 D - 86 C) che non inerisce
affatto alla tematica in esame, la natura della virtù e la sua insegnabilità. La ragione di
questo inserimento è un’obiezione “eristica” (80 D-E): non è possibile fare ricerca,
poiché non si può cercare ciò che si sa e nemmeno ciò che non si sa. Ora, non solo tale
obiezione potrebbe comparire in uno qualsiasi dei primi dialoghi, e in alcuni a maggior
ragione, ma la risposta serve solo per poter procedere (86 C), cioè apparentemente
1
Platone presenta una tesi di questa importanza senza alcuna ragione specifica!
2. Nel corso di questa trattazione Platone afferma ripetutamente
2
che non c’è bisogno di
un insegnamento; poi questo dato appare, più che dimenticato, smentito dal ragiona-
mento successivo che vuole mettere in crisi l’affermazione che la virtù è sapere sulla
base dell’assenza di maestri!
In sintesi, sembra di essere di fronte a due ragionamenti contrapposti:
a) se è vero quanto affermato nell’esempio anamnestico, la scienza esclude insegna-
mento e maestri;
b) se è vero quanto sostenuto nella parte finale del dialogo, se non ci sono maestri e
insegnamento non si dà scienza.
Lasciamo per ora senza risposta il problema; vedremo alla fine di proporre una soluzione
plausibile.
1. Una strana lacuna nella memoria di Socrate e Menone
Il legame tra Menone e Gorgia è stabilito dal testo stesso: nel Menone si ricorda
l’incontro tra Socrate e Gorgia, cioè il Gorgia, con due stranezze:
1. la più rilevante è che sia Socrate (71 C-D) sia Menone (73 C, 76 A-B) sembrano non
ricordare che cosa Gorgia dicesse intorno alla virtù: si cerca la definizione gorgiana di
virtù, ma non la si trova; dobbiamo trovare una ragione di questa “stranezza”;
2. Menone dichiara che ha apprezzato Gorgia perché si propone solo di rendere abili a
parlare e non promette di insegnare virtù, anzi deride coloro che lo fanno (Menone, 95
B-C); invece nel Gorgia il sofista dichiara che gli allievi apprenderanno la giustizia da
1
Non posso in questa sede illustrare il “gioco” protrettico che ritengo centrale nella produzione scritta di Platone.
Rinvio per questo ai miei : Migliori (2000) et (2005).
2
82 A, 82 B, 84 C, 84 D, 85 B, 85 C; 85 D, 85 E.
Maurizio Migliori 163
lui, riconosce cioè la necessità di un insegnamento morale. Malgrado le apparenze, non
c’è contraddizione. In Gorgia, 456 C-D, è proprio il retore a introdurre il problema etico;
poi, posto da Socrate di fronte alla possibilità di avere un allievo che ignora che cosa sia la
giustizia, si limita ad affermare:
Ma io penso, Socrate, che, anche se non sa queste cose, le imparerà da me (Gorgia,
460 A 3-4).
Tale formula generica non smentisce, ma conferma il Menone: il retore non fa
professione di insegnare etica, ma prima sembra darlo per scontato, poi lo assume come un
frutto naturale del suo stesso operare.
Questa debolezza metodica non viene poi smentita, anzi è confermata dal contesto
dell’intero dialogo. Infatti la successione dei tre interlocutori costituisce una sorta di
“rigorizzazione”
3
da cui emerge la figura “tipica” del retore: completo disinteresse per l’etica
e attenzione esclusiva all’affermazione di sé. Lo svolgimento del dialogo risulta lineare:
Gorgia non è privo di sensibilità morale, non è cattivo come persona e come retore, ma non
può essere maestro di etica: la rigorizzazione delle sue posizioni porta a Callicle, cioè a esiti
immoralisti. Si può discutere con lui sull’insegnamento della virtù, ma gli interventi di Polo e
di Callicle mostrano nei fatti il fallimento etico-pratico del suo insegnamento.
Letta in questa chiave, l’apparentemente paradossale condizione di Menone e di Socrate,
che non ricordano che cosa Gorgia afferma in merito alla virtù (Menone, 76 A-B) acquista il
senso di un giudizio, visto che il sofista non possiede il concetto e la definizione di virtù.
2. La ricerca sulla virtù del Menone: la virtù è fronesis?
Com’è noto, il tema è posto nel Menone in modo diretto: il giovane chiede a Socrate se
la virtù a) può essere insegnata, oppure b) ha bisogno di esercizio, oppure c) non può essere
appresa in alcun modo ma è solo un dono.
Prima si sostiene che la virtù è scienza poi, aporetizzata questa soluzione, Platone
sembra arrivare alla conclusione che la virtù non è che un dono. Ma questo è uno dei grandi
giochi del dialogo, perché certamente non è così, per varie ragioni:
1. questa conclusione non vuole sostenere che la virtù è sempre ottenuta in dono, ma
solo spiegare come mai individui che non hanno scienza possiedono virtù;
2. se non si contestualizza così tale affermazione, bisognerebbe concludere che la virtù è
sempre legata alla retta opinione e non alla scienza. Certo Platone ha una “alta”
considerazione della “vera” opinione, come mostrano molti testi
4
. Tuttavia, il dibattito
del Menone verte tutto sul nesso tra scienza e virtù. Bisogna quindi verificare se gli
argomenti proposti nella parte finale del dialogo mettono davvero in crisi questo nesso.
Alla ripresa del dibattito, Menone chiede di indagare subito se la virtù è insegnabile o no
(86 C ss.). Attraverso il cedimento di Socrate il testo ci offre la formulazione di una ipotesi
forte sulla natura della virtù: la virtù o è scienza, e in questo caso può essere insegnata, o non
lo è, nel qual caso non può essere insegnata (87 C ss.). Bisogna quindi verificare se è scienza
o no.
3
Prima Polo e poi Callicle intervengono su quello che non andava concesso a Socrate. Il passaggio da un interlocutore
all’altro è mediato dall’accusa, di Polo contro Gorgia (461 B-C) e di Callicle contro Polo (482 C-E), di aver fatto
concessioni che non andavano fatte. Gorgia ha sbagliato perché non ha avuto il coraggio di ammettere che il retore
non conosce il giusto, il bello e il buono, anzi si è fatto carico di un possibile insegnamento su quei temi (461 B);
Polo ha sbagliato nel concedere che fare ingiustizia è più brutto del riceverla (482 D-E).
4
Cfr. ad esempio: Menone, 86 A, 97 B-C; Lettera Settima, 342 C-D; Simposio, 202 A.
Socrate e Gorgia di fronte all’insegnamento della virtù 164
Qui il gioco di Platone si fa molto sottile perché si basa su una continua oscillazione tra
due estremi: da una parte egli sottolinea il nesso tra fronesis e virtù in modo tanto spinto che
sembra che ci sia una sorta di identità, dall’altra fornisce una serie di segnali per rimarcare
che non è così.
La cosa paradossale è che l’argomento chiarificatore è posto, senza enfasi, all’inizio
della trattazione, là dove si dice che la virtù è certo un bene:
Allora, se c’è qualche altro bene diverso separato (c ·· y.¡.¸ µ.||) dalla
scienza (.¬.c~µµµ,) la virtù potrebbe non essere una qualche scienza
(.¬.c~µµµ); ma se non c’è alcun bene che la scienza (.¬.c~µµµ) non abbracci,
l’ipotesi che sia una scienza (.¬.c~µµµ|) è una ipotesi corretta (Menone, 87 D 4-
8).
Qui occorre sottolineare alcune cose:
1. la trattazione a quanto pare concerne l’episteme, la forma massima di conoscenza;
2. Platone usa insieme due aggettivi: diverso-separato, che non sono affatto identici;
infatti, è chiaro che, se la scienza è necessaria alla virtù, può essere diversa ma non
separata dalla virtù stessa;
3. questa ambiguità è confermata dalla seconda frase: si domanda se può esserci qualche
bene senza scienza, per poi passare ad affermare (come ipotesi) che la virtù è scienza;
tuttavia, il fatto che un bene sia dipendente e contenuto nella scienza non lo rende
identico alla scienza stessa
5
, pena dire che tutti i beni sono conoscenza.
Un’ulteriore conferma si può ricavare dall’ambiguità del passaggio precedente:
Diciamo così: se la virtù è una qualche qualità tra le realtà che appartengono
all'anima, sarà o non sarà insegnabile? In primo luogo, se è dissimile o simile alla
scienza, sarà insegnabile o no, o come dicevamo poco fa, potrà essere ricordata
(c|cµ|µc~|) – sia per noi indifferente usare l’uno o l’altro termine – ma allora
sarà insegnabile? O non è chiaro a tutti che ad un essere umano non si insegna
nient’altro che la scienza? (87 B 5 - C 3).
Rimandiamo a dopo la riflessione su questo “straordinario” rapporto di identità tra
apprendimento e anamnesi. Per ora ci interessa la questione del nesso virtù – insegnamento –
scienza, problema risolto con l’affermazione che solo la scienza, cioè la forma massima di
conoscenza, è insegnabile.
Ma i testi successivi dicono altro e presentano un continuo scorrimento semantico che
via via ci porta da una forma di conoscenza comunicabile e insegnabile ad una funzione
conoscitiva, rappresentata ambiguamente dalla fronesis.
1. Platone prima afferma (87 D - 88 A) che in forza della virtù siamo buoni e quindi
utili, per cui la virtù stessa è buona e utile, poi ricorda che le cose buone, come salute,
forza, bellezza e ricchezza
6
, sono utili solo quando se ne fa un retto uso, in caso contrario
nuocciono; quindi, si parla di utilizzo corretto di una cosa che diviene buona e utile in
conseguenza.
5
È un “errore fatto” anche nel Protagora, dove il sofista sostiene, a ragione, che perché si dia identità occorre che il
rapporto sia reciproco, cioè se A = B allora B = A. Se questa reversibilità non si dà, si ha solo una implicazione di
A con B, non una identità. Quindi, il fatto che i coraggiosi siano tali in forza della conoscenza non comporta che
sapienza e coraggio siano la stessa cosa (350 C - 351 B). E Socrate non ribatte nulla; dunque, chi dice che le virtù
sono tout court scienza dimentica l’obiezione di Protagora.
6
Si parte dai “beni materiali”, perché qui una identificazione è impossibile: non si può dire che la bellezza o la
ricchezza sono conoscenza, ma solo che non sono veri beni senza la guida del pensiero.
Maurizio Migliori 165
2. Il testo prosegue parlando dei beni dell’anima, come temperanza, coraggio, memoria;
si chiarisce che, senza intelligenza (c |.u |u , 88 B 5, B 8) provocano danno, con
intelligenza (cu | |. , 88 B 5, µ.~c |u, B 7) vantaggi.
3. Socrate ne ricava un insegnamento di carattere generale:
Dunque, tutte le cose che l’anima intraprende e compie sotto la guida del pensiero
(¦¡|µc..,) raggiungono la felicità, sotto una guida della dissennatezza
(c ¦¡cu |µ,) il contrario (Menone, 88 C 1-3).
Qui interviene non il nous ma la fronesis, che diventa il termine base di questa
trattazione e che può significare sia conoscenza, sia pensiero, cioè indicare sia un contenuto
sia una funzione conoscitiva. In questa seconda accezione è più facile attribuirgli il senso di
“guida”, opponendola ad c¦¡cu |µ~ (che altrimenti dovrebbe essere intesa come
“ignoranza”).
Se, dunque, la virtù é qualcosa insito nell’anima e le è necessariamente utile, deve
essere pensiero (¦¡|µc.|), poiché tutte le cose relative all’anima in sé e per sé
non sono né utili né dannose, mentre, accompagnate da pensiero o dissennatezza
(¦¡|µ c.., µ c ¦¡cu |µ,) diventano sia dannose sia utili. Secondo questo
ragionamento la virtù, essendo utile, deve essere una qualche forma di pensiero
(¦¡|µc.| ~.|c) (Menone, 88 C 4 - D 3).
Come si vede, il testo continuamente oscilla tra “aggiunta” e identità (sia pure in una
forma molto attenuata) di virtù con fronesis.
1. Il ruolo di guida attribuito al pensiero viene subito dopo confermato, stabilendo anche
una sorta di processualità: la fronesis agisce sull’anima e questa sulle scelte della vita
umana (Menone, 88 D-E).
2. La cosa è tanto importante che Platone sente il bisogno di schematizzarla: per l’essere
umano tutte le altre cose dipendono dall’anima, quelle dell’anima stessa, per essere
buone, dipendono dalla fronesis; quindi, il pensiero è ciò che é utile (Menone, 88 E -
89 A). Lo schema risulta chiaro sulla base della distinzione essere umano – anima:
l’anima decide la vita buona dell’essere umano, la fronesis organizza l’anima e quindi è
alla base dell’utilità di tutte le cose.
3. Non resta che trarne una conclusione:
Diciamo che la virtù é utile?… Dunque, diciamo che la virtù é fronesis o in tutto o
in qualche parte (Menone, 89 A 2-4).
Dopo tanti sforzi, Platone presenta non per l’episteme, quella che è insegnabile, ma per
la fronesis ancora due ipotesi di relazione: una forte identità o un nesso di inerenza. Ma alla
luce di quanto abbiamo visto e soprattutto del duplice rapporto: fronesis – anima, anima –
essere umano, il pensiero risulta essere un elemento necessario, la guida senza la quale la
virtù non esiste, con un nesso forte, ma che non dà identità.
3. La pretesa aporetizzazione del nesso fronesis - virtù
Ci sono varie ragioni per sostenere che questa tesi non viene affatto smentita:
1. l’argomento successivo dimostra solo che di fatto nessuno possiede la virtù con
scienza, il che non prova che nessuno possa averla;
2. il testo esplicitamente presenta l’ipotesi che ci sia un uomo capace di avere tale
scienza e lo fa con estrema enfasi: come per Omero solo Tiresia fra le ombre è saggio,
Socrate e Gorgia di fronte all’insegnamento della virtù 166
così costui, qui, sarebbe un essere vero accanto ad ombre (100 A). E Menone osserva
che Socrate ha parlato benissimo (-c ··.c~c). Quindi il filosofo, pur dicendo che ora
non c’è, ritiene che potrebbe esserci un virtuoso per scienza capace di insegnare la virtù.
3. In questa chiave è indicativa la lunga riflessione sulla retta opinione
7
(97 A - 99 A).
Colui che ha scienza e colui che ha retta opinione praticamente sono sullo stesso piano:
l’opinione retta non è meno utile della scienza. A Menone che vorrebbe accentuare lo
stacco tra le due forme conoscitive sfugge la vera differenza: la scienza è stabile, mentre
le opinioni vere non lo sono, almeno finché non sono legate con un ragionamento
causale, che le rendere “vere e stabili” conoscenze (97 C - 98 A). E Socrate, pur
riconoscendo che parla per congetture, afferma che questa distinzione la porrebbe tra le
cose che sa (98 B).
Pertanto, se la virtù richiede conoscenza ed è escluso che dipenda dalla sola natura,
diventa centrale la questione dell’insegnamento. Ma prima di affrontare questo tema occorre
capire che tipo di conoscenza è necessariamente implicata dalla virtù.
Qualche risposta a questa domanda potremmo trarla dal Menone
8
, ma è più rilevante il
contributo del Gorgia: con Callicle abbiamo l’esplicito rifiuto della filosofia come guida
dell’essere umano (484 C ss.) e uno scontro tra due visioni della vita, una incentrata sulla
politica con un comportamento basato sull’espansione delle passioni, l’altra fondata sulla
filosofia e sull’autocontrollo
9
, riproposto fin nella conclusione (527 E). In questa
valorizzazione di un sapere che diviene techne, rientra la distinzione fatta nella discussione
con Polo tra pratiche e lusinghe, basata sulla contrapposizione tra conoscenza e piacere (463
A ss.). Inoltre:
1. si separano le arti che cercano il piacere da quelle che si preoccupano del bene del
corpo e dell’anima (501 A-C);
2. il bene viene collegato all’ordine, all’armonia, alla proporzione (503 E ss.);
3. ordine e armonia valgono per le cose, per il corpo e per l’anima (503 E ss.);
4. in quest’ultima realizzano giustizia e saggezza (504 D);
5. la vita proposta da Socrate è “ordinata” (493 C-494 A);
6. la felicità è maggiore per gli uomini che seguono regole (493 C-D);
7
A Platone interessa chiarire come sia possibile che, pur non avendo scienza, alcuni politici abbiano virtù
(Menone, 99 B). La soluzione è che hanno una retta opinione, il che non comporta un giudizio negativo: questi
virtuosi sono come vati e indovini, dicono verità senza sapere quello che dicono, dovrebbero essere chiamati
divini perché posseduti da un Dio (99 C-E).
8
Ad esempio: sotto il desiderio di cose cattive (77 B ss.) c’è un errore di valutazione: nessuno vuole essere infelice e
sventurato, quindi nessuno desidera le cose cattive, se non perché crede che queste giovino, perché ritiene buone
cose che in realtà non lo sono. Tutto questo non serve ai fini della definizione: se la virtù fosse “desiderare cose
buone”, tutti sarebbero sullo stesso piano (78 B). La differenza potrebbe consistere nel potere: il virtuoso sarebbe
quello in grado di procurarsi cose buone. Ma bisogna aggiungere giustamente. Cade quindi anche questa
definizione, perché si definisce virtù con riferimento ad una sua parte. Tuttavia, questa proposta: 1) evidenzia la
questione degli strumenti di valutazione e quindi la necessaria presenza della razionalità; 2) ricorda un famoso
passaggio del Gorgia sulla differenza tra volere e desiderare. Ciò che si vuole è il Bene, che però non coincide
necessariamente con quello che sembra meglio (Gorgia, 466 C ss.): uno può fare ciò che gli pare e non fare ciò
che vuole, chi non ha conoscenza non ha potere, anche se sembra averlo.
9
A Callicle teso alla conquista del potere Socrate impone il tema del dominio di sé (491 D) che fa emergere la parola
virtù associata a felicità: questa per Callicle consiste in dissolutezza, intemperanza e licenza (492 C). Socrate
chiarisce all’opposto che: 1) il dominio fondamentale non riguarda gli altri ma è quello che la ragione esercita
sulla vita; 2) come chi non vuole subire ingiustizia deve procurarsi un potere, così deve fare chi non vuole
commetterla: non basta l’intenzione, occorre un potere e un’arte, perché chi ignora commetterà ingiustizia
(509 D-E); 3) scienza e coraggio sono diversi (495 C); 4) il male maggiore è un’anima malvagia e corrotta
(511 A).
Maurizio Migliori 167
7. la virtù è la realizzazione di un ordine intrinseco alla cosa stessa (506 D - E);
8. la virtù è connessa all’ordine e alla regola e l’anima ordinata è saggia e buona, il che
comporta anche felicità (506 D - 507 C );
9. l’uguaglianza geometrica ha grande potere sia fra gli dei sia fra gli uomini;
10. per questo si rimprovera Callicle che persegue l’eccesso e trascura la geometria (507
E - 508 A).
Dunque, se la vita buona e felice dipende dall’ordine non si può fare a meno del pensiero
e della conoscenza come guida dell’essere umano, con una sottolineatura della dimensione
matematica
10
. Questo evidentemente manca agli attuali virtuosi: essi hanno il senso della
misura, ma non la teoria che la fonda.
4. Quale insegnamento?
Tutto questo non ci consente ancora di dire che per Platone la virtù può essere insegnata,
anzi al contrario Socrate afferma ben due volte che non può esserlo (Menone, 94 B 7-8, E 2).
Il discorso sembra chiuso… se Platone stesso non lo riaprisse, formulando l’ipotesi, non
richiesta dal ragionamento, che ci sia un uomo, diverso dai suoi simili, capace di rendere
politici anche gli altri (Menone, 100 A). E noi sappiamo che questo c’è:
SOCRATE – Io credo di essere uno dei pochi Ateniesi, per non dire il solo, che
tenta la vera arte politica e il solo tra i contemporanei che la eserciti (Gorgia,
521 D 6-8).
Inoltre, non solo Platone richiama l’attenzione sul fatto che sul piano tecnico un
insegnamento si dà, citando medici e i suonatori di flauto (90 B-E), ma proprio dove sembra
negare il ruolo di “insegnamento”, dice una cosa diversa:
SOCRATE: Osserva che cosa a partire da questo dubbio scoprirà cercando insieme
a me, mentre io non farò che interrogarlo, senza insegnargli. E fa bene attenzione
se mi cogli ad insegnargli o a spiegargli, e non solo a chiedere le sue opinioni
(Menone, 84 C 10 - D 2).
L’assenza di un insegnamento diretto e “frontale” non esclude la presenza del maestro
nell’indagine, per cui in un senso il maestro opera, in un altro no.
C’è un’ulteriore conferma nei due passi di Teognide: nel primo (95 D-E) si dice che se si
frequentano i buoni si apprendono cose buone, il contrario se ci si unisce ai cattivi; in questo
senso la virtù è insegnabile, meglio si apprende per comunanza di vita; poi (95 E - 96 A) si
esclude che si possa infondere nell’uomo il senno, quasi fosse una nozione tecnica. Quindi,
Teognide indica i due sensi per cui la virtù può (nella ricerca e nella vita comune)
11
e non può
(come dottrina) essere insegnata
12
.
Siamo quindi di fronte ad una serie di dati:
1. la virtù senza conoscenza e pensiero non ha senso; solo se guidate dalla fronesis le
virtù raggiungono un felice risultato;
10
Non a caso anche l’esempio di anamnesi proposto nel Menone è di natura matematica. Tutto ciò rimanda alla
metretica, tema che qui non posso nemmeno sfiorare.
11
Non credo che sia strumentale ricordare la Lettera settima, 341 C 5- D 2, 344 B 1 - C 1.
12
Platone ostenta una pretesa contraddizione come gioco protrettico per costringere il lettore a scoprire i sensi diversi
nascosti sotto una stessa parola.
Socrate e Gorgia di fronte all’insegnamento della virtù 168
2. si sottolinea la rilevanza della conoscenza, ad esempio riaffermando (77 B ss.) che
sotto il desiderio di cose cattive c’è un errore di valutazione;
3. alla fine del Menone si ribadisce la possibilità che ci sia qualcuno che possiede questa
scienza;
4. se si posseggono instabili, ma utili, rette opinioni, il passaggio alla scienza stabile
implica che queste vengano legate con un ragionamento causale;
5. questo, si afferma, è la reminiscenza (97 E - 98 A)!
Il passaggio dalla retta opinione alla episteme, che rende possibile l’insegnamento,
implica una ricerca che è anche rinvio a conoscenze superiori, necessarie come cause, che
solo la reminiscenza rende possibile. Per questo Platone tratta della reminiscenza proprio in
questo dialogo!
Se non si accetta il concetto di “gioco serio” e la funzione protrettica dello scritto,
Platone sembra produrre dei non sense. Si torni al testo già citato nel par. 3, 87 B 5 - C 3, in
cui si afferma in primo luogo che insegnare (ripetuto 4 volte) e ricordare anamneticamente
(c |cµ|µc~ |) sono la stessa cosa tanto che è indifferente usare l’uno o l’altro termine!
Platone sembra voler quasi giungere ad una sorta di identità
Nulla impedisce che chi si ricordi di una cosa – quello che gli uomini chiamano
apprendimento… (Menone, 81 D 1-2).
La cosa appare ancora più paradossale, in quanto all’inizio dell’esempio anamnestico
Menone aveva chiesto al filosofo di insegnargli (o.oc çc., 81 E 5) in che senso apprendimento
è anamnesi e Socrate l’aveva subito accusato di volerlo far cadere in contraddizione. È
evidente che i termini hanno sensi diversi, un “trucco” che Platone usa spesso, a volte
esplicitandolo, a volte lasciandolo all’intelligenza del “lettore filosofo”:
In sintesi:
1. se per insegnamento si intende una spiegazione o un indottrinamento, né scienza
filosofica né virtù, che sono intrinsecamente connesse, si insegnano in questo modo,
come invece avviene per le tecniche;
2. nel procedimento dialogico c’è un insegnamento che consente, nella comunanza di
vita e di ricerca, di scoprire le cause superiori;
3. questo costituisce il vero sapere filosofico che necessita dell’anamnesi;
4. questo può e deve applicarsi anche alla virtù;
5. la virtù è un possesso dell’anima umana ottenibile con un sistema complesso di nessi,
che hanno bisogno del dominio della fronesis;
6. la virtù può essere scoperta con l’apporto decisivo di quel tipo particolarissimo di
insegnamento, fatto di ricerca comune, che rimanda a conoscenze superiori.
Université di Macerata
3
MENO
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dell’al di là?
Graziano Arrighetti
Nel complesso dei problemi che il Menone presenta, quelli del brano 81a 10-e 2, che
comunemente – anche se non da tutti – viene definito mito, si presentano come di particolare
complessità e importanza, da molti punti di vista: per prima cosa per la collocazione nel
contesto del dialogo, e poi per i contenuti dottrinali, per come sono proposti e formulati in
stringate enunciazioni – a ben guardare non sempre coerenti fra loro – che introducono
principi fondamentali dell’etica e della gnoseologia platoniche seguendo modalità inconsuete.
La presente esposizione non presume né di dare soluzioni nuove ai problemi né di indicare vie
per superare le difficoltà ma, sugli uni e sulle altre, intende proporre una riflessione condotta
alla luce di alcuni tentativi che sono stati esperiti in un passato più o meno lontano.
Com’è noto, nel contesto delle argomentazioni del dialogo questa sezione segna un
punto di profonda articolazione: i tentativi di Menone di formulare una definizione della virtù,
che del dialogo avevano occupato la prima parte, sono approdati ad un assoluto insuccesso, e
la ricerca, almeno sulla strada seguita sinora, viene a trovarsi bloccata nell’impossibilità di
procedere, e ciò per riconoscimento comune sia di Menone che di Socrate: il primo perché,
dopo le confutazioni che i suoi tentativi hanno subìto, viene a trovarsi in una situazione di
paralisi metaforicamente analoga a quella provocata dal contatto con la torpedine marina
(80a 4-8), Socrate perché finora ha insistito nella sua abituale professione di ignoranza
(80d 1). Così la ricerca sembra sia arrivata ad un punto in cui gli interlocutori sono fermi in
una situazione che nella definizione datane sia da Menone stesso – con il così detto paradosso
(80e 1-5) – che da Socrate (81e 1-5), suona come impossibilità per l’uomo di ricercare
alcunché, sia ciò che conosce sia ciò che non conosce, perché nel primo caso non ha alcuna
necessità di ricercare ciò che già conosce, nel secondo non sa che cosa ricercare.
E’ stato ripetutamente notato che questa situazione rivela forti somiglianze con altre che
si incontrano nei dialoghi aporetici, in particolare, in questo caso, nell’Eutidemo
1
; ma
nell’Eutidemo la ricerca non subisce battute d’arresto e i sofismi di Eutidemo e di
Dionisodoro relativi a chi impara, se impara chi sa o chi non sa (275d 2-276c 7), e a che cosa
impara, se impara ciò che sa o ciò che non sa (276d 1-277c 7) – sofismi che pongono in
difficoltà il giovane Clinia – Socrate li smaschera serenamente dimostrando che si tratta di
semplici trucchi verbali (277d 1-278e 2). Però qui nel Menone la reazione di Socrate è
completamente diversa: con un inatteso mutamento di tono, che si fa brusco e deciso, quasi
apodittico, rifiuta di affrontare in un modo qualunque la difficoltà propostagli da Menone col
suo paradosso, negando a questa ogni reale validità col definirla un .¡.c~.- | · ,|
1
Cfr., per es., Bluck (1961), 8-9, 271-272; Guthrie (1975), 238; Nehamas (1985), 1-30, in part. 5-9. Le componenti del
Menone che si connettono ai dialoghi aporetici sono state sistematicamente analizzate da Erler (1991), Indice dei
passi di Platone, s. v. Menone.
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dell’al di là? 174
(80e 2)
2
, abbandona, da parte sua, ogni dubbio e qualunque atteggiamento di ignoranza
inserendo nel processo di ricerca, in maniera da nessun indizio preannunziata, clamorosi
elementi di certezza nei quali è stato còlto un tono di particolare solennità
3
, così da imporre al
dialogo una svolta che è stata definita drammatica
4
. Di queste certezze Socrate dichiara di
esser venuto a conoscenza da sacerdoti e sacerdotesse, da persone capaci di garantirne
l’attendibilità, c-µ -c ,c ¡ c |o¡. | ~. -c. ,u|c.-. | c¦. | ¬.¡. ~c -..c ¬¡c ,µc~c
(81a 5-6) [...] c., µ.µ. ·µ-. ¬.¡. . | µ.~cy..¡. ¸|~c. · ,| . ., ~` .. |c. o.o |c.
(81a 11-12); a quanto costoro affermano aggiunge la testimonianza di Pindaro e di altri poeti,
c. -.. . .. c.| (81b 2)
5
. Quello che queste autorevoli fonti dicono, ¦cc. ,c ¡, è:
– l’anima è immortale
– ad essa accade talora di giungere alla fine, ~.·.u~c |, il che viene detto morire,
c¬-|µc-..|, talora di rinascere, ,. ,|.c-c.,
– ma che non muore mai, c ¬ ··uc-c. o`u o. ¬~.;
– per questi motivi – cioè, parrebbe, per il fatto che l’anima è immortale – è necessario
dunque, o.. | oµ o.c ~cu~c, vivere la vita il più santamente possibile, . , c.. ~c~c, 81b 3-
7. Di fatto, però, nonostante il valore causale di o.c ~cu~c che pare riferirsi a quanto detto
fin qui, la reale motivazione della necessità di vivere santamente Socrate la fa consistere,
introducendone la citazione con un semplice ,c ¡, nel testo del Fr. 133 Maehler di Pindaro,
probabilmente da un threnos, in cui è detto che Persefone, dopo un’adeguata purificazione,
rinvia sulla terra le anime dalle quali, . - ~c |, sono destinati a nascere illustri sovrani,
¡cc.·µ ., c ,cu. , uomini di impetuoso vigore, c-. |.. -¡c.¬|. , e di grandissima saggezza,
c¦.c µ.,.c~., i quali per il tempo futuro saranno chiamati dagli uomini puri eroi, µ ¡.,
c ,|. .
Da quanto è contenuto in queste fonti Socrate trae le conclusioni:
– l’anima, dunque, è immortale e,
– più volte rinata, c-c |c~ , ~. u cc -c. ¬··c -., ,.,|u. c, 81c 5, si trova nella
condizione di aver visto, ..¡c-u.c, tutte le cose, sia di questo mondo sia dell’Ade, ~c
. |-c o. -c. ~c . | ´A.ou -c. ¬c |~c y¡µ µc~c,
– e non c’è alcunché che non abbia appreso, u - . c~.| ~. u µ.µc -µ-.|, 81c 6-7,
– per cui non sarà motivo di meraviglia che essa sia in grado di ricordare ciò che prima
ha appreso, u o. | -cuµcc- | [...] . | ~`.. |c. cu ~µ | c |cµ|µc-µ |c. c ,. -c. ¬¡ ~.¡|
µ ¬. c~c~ 81c 7-8.
2
Il “paradosso di Menone” non da tutti viene considerato come pretestuoso: cfr., per es., Nacht (1948), 198-199;
Phillips (1948) 87-91; Moline (1969) 153-161: Nehamas (1985) passim; più recentemente è da cfr. L’ampia
trattazione che del problema fa Lee (2001), 97-108.
3
Questa caratteristica è stata messa in luce con molta forza da Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1992), 149-150, nel contesto
di una interpretazione del dialogo come manifesto programmatico proposto da Platone come maestro; a questo
proposito è da cfr. anche Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1959), 212-220, nel capitolo non a caso intitolato
“Schulgründung”. Su Wilamowitz interprete del Menone si avrà occasione di tornare in séguito. Anche da un
punto di vista strettamente formale, la parte mitica è introdotta da Socrate con modi inconsueti: cfr. Dalfen (2004),
422-423.
4
Anche per Friedländer (1964
3
), 264-265, la drammatizzazione del paradosso di Menone rappresenta uno strumento
per segnare il passaggio ad un metodo di indagine del tutto diversa da quella della prima parte del dialogo; il
passaggio è segnato dal mito con la conclusione, dal mito suggerita, della necessità della solerzia nella ricerca;
cfr. anche Schwarz (1966), 361-380, in part. 362.
5
Si pensa, oltre a Pindaro espressamente rammentato, che Platone alluda in particolare a Empedocle 146 D.K.:
cfr. Bluck (1961), 284-285.
Graziano Arrighetti 175
A tutto ciò segue, dietro richiesta di Menone, la ben nota dimostrazione di geometria
6
,
raggiunta nel dialogo con lo schiavo, a riprova della dottrina della reminiscenza.
Le novità che improvvisamente fanno irruzione in questo brano, come la dottrina
dell’immortalità delle anime con quelle connesse della trasmigrazione e del conoscere come
reminiscenza, e quanto ad esse segue, cioè le novità del metodo di ricerca, la dialettica
applicata alla ricerca matematica, prepotentemente proposte da Socrate, sarà appena
necessario ricordare che hanno esercitato una importante influenza anche sugli studi intesi a
delineare, nei limiti in cui è possibile, lo sviluppo e l’evoluzione del pensiero platonico. Nel
concluso ambito di questo dialogo, di tale sviluppo è stata identificata come una
rappresentazione condensata: la prima parte corrisponderebbe al periodo socratico, quello che
aveva visto la composizione dei dialoghi aporetici, intesi soprattutto a smascherare le false
presunzioni di conoscenza; la seconda anticiperebbe in forma sintetica i contenuti dottrinali e
i metodi di indagine più specificamente platonici; in poche parole, questa seconda parte la si è
vista come la presentazione di un abbozzo del programma della ricerca che Platone avrebbe
svolto nel successivo periodo di sviluppo del suo pensiero, più propriamente costruttivo e
originale
7
, distesamente realizzato in opere come il Fedone, con la compiuta concezione della
dottrina delle idee. Ancora: nelle due parti in cui il dialogo si articola, scandite da questa parte
mitica, si è creduto di intravedere, delineate in netta distinzione, rispettivamente le figure di
Socrate, ovviamente nella prima, e quella di Platone nella seconda
8
, si è parlato, addirittura,
della possibilità di percepire, nelle parole scritte, la loro voci
9
. Ma non solo. Di quel momento
cruciale dell’evoluzione del pensiero di Platone che avrebbe visto il passaggio dal periodo
della fedeltà nei confronti della tradizione socratica all’inizio della più libera e autonoma
costruzione del suo percorso di ricerca, il Menone, oltre a proporre la rappresentazione che si
è detto, sarebbe la testimonianza diretta e dunque, di quel momento, starebbe addirittura a
segnare la data
10
.
6
Che la dimostrazione sia condotta con un argomento di geometria e riguardi l’immortalità dell’anima con la connessa
teoria della reminiscenza è stato pensato non sia una coincidenza, ma che al fondo ci sia il pensiero pitagorico con
cui, si suppone, Platone sarebbe venuto in contatto in occasione della visita in Italia del 387 a. C.: cfr. Gulley
(1962), 11-13. Io nutro dei forti dubbi sul fatto che a Platone si siano rivelate d’un colpo queste dottrine sulla
reincarnazione solo in occasione del suo viaggio in Italia e che, pertanto, prima di quel momento gli fossero
rimaste ignote; ciò, ovviamente, senza voler negare la circostanza che la Magna Grecia ne sia stata il centro di
irradiazione: cfr. Dodds (1959), 296-298; anche Dodds, precedentemente, si era espresso in maniera decisa a
favore dell’ipotesti di un’esperienza religiosa vissuta da Platone: cfr. Dodds (1945), 16-25, in part. 24. La
tradizionale collocazione del Menone quale viene generalmente supposta nella produzione di Platone è
recisamente negata, nel contesto di un generale rifiuto della possibilità di seguire lo sviluppo del pensiero del
filosofo sulla base della cronologia dei dialoghi, da Trindade Santos (2000), 35-50.
7
Cfr. Guthrie (1975), 241: «The Meno has been described as a microcosm of the whole series of Plato’s dialogues»; a
chi risalga questa precisa formulazione e se qualcuno veramente ci sia stato che l’ha proposta esattamente in
questo modo, mi è ignoto. Certo è che l’idea del Menone come documento intenzionalmente proposto e quasi
esibito della fine del periodo socratico della produzione platonica e annunzio e anticipazione delle nuove e più
originali e costruttive vie di ricerca del filosofo, risale almeno fino a Zeller (1963
5
), 531-534; per Zeller un altro
segno delle novità platoniche che si affacciano in questo dialogo sarebbe l’introduzione del mito.
8
Cfr. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1959
5
), 214.
9
Cfr. Schwarz (1966), in part. 362; all’inizio della ricerca, Schwarz, in 361-362, riprendeva in forma condensata e con
qualche accentuazione la posizione di Wilamowitz.
10
Dunque, è anche sulla presenza di questi caratteri e contenuti che è stata proposta la composizione del dialogo o in
coincidenza con la fine del primo periodo della produzione platonica o, con ben poca differenza, dell’inizio del
periodo di mezzo. In questo senso, oltre a Wilamowitz nei luoghi rammentati (n. 3), Wilamowitz-Moellendorff
(1959
5
), in part. 212-220, e Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1992
3
), in part. 148-150, cfr. anche Friedländer (1964
3
),
265-266; più recentemente, Fine (1992), 200-226, in part. 207. Sul grosso problema della cronologia dei dialoghi
platonici cfr., di recente, i lavori rispettivamente di Kahn (2002) e di Griswold (1992), rispett. 93-127 e 129-144;
in generale sul Menone nel contesto della produzione platonica, cfr. Buchmann (1936), e la recensione di
Cherniss (1937) 497-500; Hoerber (1960), 78-102.
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dell’al di là? 176
Non è compito di questa relazione affrontare sistematicamente i difficili problemi
11
che
solleva questo modo di vedere il ruolo del Menone nel contesto della produzione platonica,
indubbiamente affascinante ma non tale da convincere; in merito si tornerà brevemente alla
fine di quanto si viene dicendo.
Torniamo ai dati contenuti del brano 81a 10-e 22.
Per prima cosa: qual è lo statuto di questo passo? In altre parole: il brano ha
caratteristiche tali da permetterne una specifica definizione?
E poi, in secondo luogo: quale e di quale misura è la congruenza dei contenuti di questo
brano con quanto altri dialoghi attestano riguardo ai medesimi temi?
Consideriamo nell’ordine questi due interrogativi.
Come si è visto, nel brano, compreso il frammento pindarico, i temi trattati risultano
nell’ordine essere i seguenti:
– le anime sono immortali, da ciò la loro reincarnazione con la connessa necessità di
vivere santamente; come si è già detto, la citazione da Pindaro, apparentemente introdotta
soltanto come conferma della necessità di vivere santamente, o.. | o.c oµ ~cu ~c . ,
c.. ~c~c o.c¡.. |c. ~ | ¡. |, propone, di questa necessità, anche la motivazione perché vi
si dice che dopo la morte le anime sono sottoposte ad un giudizio prima di tornare sulla terra
ad incarnarsi in vari tipi di uomini, per cui il brano pindarico serve anche come prova della
dottrina della reincarnazione;
– la quantità delle conoscenze acquisite nelle diverse vite, sulla terra e nell’Ade, sembra
raggiungere la totalità perché comprende ¬c |~c y¡µ µc~c, 81c 6-7;
– da ciò la conseguente teoria del conoscere come reminiscenza secondo un
meccanismo per cui, riportata alla memoria una sola cosa, . | µ || c |cµ|µc-. |~c, è
possibile ~c ··c ¬c |~c c |.u¡..|, 81d 2-3.
Ora, se si pone mente al fatto che fra le molte definizioni che sono state proposte per i
miti platonici dell’al di là c’è anche quella, che pare condivisibile, che quei miti costituiscono
un elemento di connessione fra il di qua e l’al di là, fra l’allora e l’ora, fra il là e il qua
12
,
parrebbe inevitabile attribuire al passo del Menone di cui discutiamo i tratti del mito dell’al di
là. Questa conclusione, però, non è forse accettabile incondizionatamente, certo non viene
incondizionatamente accettata. Infatti, se in studi sia di carattere generale, sia anche specifici
ma dedicati ad altri problemi, questa parte del Menone viene abitualmente definita mito
– ovviamente, e anche a ragione, senza che ogni volta si affronti l’impegno di fornirne una
motivazione
13
– accade di vedere che in ricerche anche molto importanti sui miti platonici,
comprese alcune di quelle espressamente dedicate ai miti dell’al di là, questa parte del
11
Un esempio per tutti: quando Platone parla dell’anima immortale che qui e nell’Ade, attraverso le molte
reincarnazioni, ha visto, ..¡c-u. c, tutte le cose e ne ha preso conoscenza, µ.µc-µ-.|, presupponeva già la
dottrina delle idee? Si risponde che questa ipotesi va esclusa perché la dottrina delle idee rappresenta una
costruzione talmente complessa che non può prescindere dalla elaborazione che ne viene proposta da dialoghi
come il Fedone e della quale nel Menone non appare traccia. Però Zeller (1963
5
), 534, esprimeva la convinzione
che il Menone presupponga, e in qualche modo testimoni, questa già compiuta costruzione metafisica e che qui di
tale costruzione vengano proposti solo gli elementi essenziali, i fondamenti; Zeller è seguito, nella sostanza, da
Guthrie (1975), 250.
12
Cfr. Dalfen (2002), 214-230, in part. 225; cfr. anche Dalfen (2004), 480-483.
13
Cfr., per es., Klein (1965), 95: «The theme of learning is not presented here in an argument. It is taken up in a story,
a myth.»
Graziano Arrighetti 177
Menone è per lo più ignorata
14
; e non sono nemmeno mancate sporadiche ma decise prese di
posizione contrarie all’ipotesi di considerare questo brano come un mito. Per fare un solo
esempio, è stato osservato da parte di Hackforth nella sua traduzione commentata del Fedone
che, nel contesto generale del dialogo, Socrate lascia chiaramente capire che, come prova
della dottrina della reminiscenza, nutre piena fiducia nella dimostrazione geometrica condotta
con lo schiavo, ma non altrettanta nelle dottrina dell’immortalità e della reincarnazione
dell’anima proclamate da sacerdoti e da poeti; così, la credenza religiosa si rivela bisognosa
del supporto della ragione
15
. E’ da dire che questa obiezione, così formulata, appare un po’
troppo improntata al presupposto di una incompatibilità fra mythos e logos, ma è anche da
aggiungere che, rifiutando a questo brano lo statuto di mito o negandone la funzione nel
contesto del dialogo, non si risolve il problema del perché della sua presenza. Quello che
appare certo è che l’obiezione, come minimo, rivela un non infondato disagio, come vedremo
meglio oltre.
Per il momento esaminiamo alcune caratteristiche che questo brano presenta, perché non
è difficile constatare che ne richiamano altre, queste abitualmente ricorrenti in altri luoghi di
Platone incontrovertibilmente mitici
16
; quelle più significative sono probabilmente le seguenti:
– in 81a 5-6 Socrate si rifà a fonti orali rappresentate da personaggi sapienti
17
, c -µ -c
,c ¡ c |o¡. | ~. -c. ,u|c.-. | c¦. | ¬c¡. ~c -.. c ¬¡c ,µc~c, così come da tradizione
orale derivano in genere i miti platonici; un caso esemplare, data anche la sua complessità, è
ovviamente quello del Timeo-Crizia; per di più, al pari di questi due dialoghi, anche nel
Menone il discorso di Socrate attinge a fonti sacerdotali. Inoltre, fonti orali sono addotte in
Politico 268e 8-269b 4 e 271a 4-b 3; talora possono essere rammentate con più precisione
persone che sono state le remote fonti del mito, come Er con il suo racconto in Repubblica
614b 2-4, gli antenati in Politico 271a 5-8; altre volte ci si rifà genericamente alla tradizione,
come in Fedone 107d 4-5, Gorgia 523a 1, 524a 8; ma riguardo al Menone è da aggiungere
che, come fonti, sono rammentati non solo sacerdoti e sacerdotesse sapienti, ma anche i poeti,
c. -.. . .. c.|, e fra questi è citato espressamente Pindaro
18
;
14
A puro titolo di esempio, cfr. Reinhardt (1960), 219-295, in part. 252-270; Annas (1982), 119-143; Brisson (1982);
importanti eccezioni sono rappresentate da due lavori pubblicati in Janka & Schäfer (edd.) : Most (2002), 7-19 e
Dalfen (2002).
15
Hackforth prendeva posizione nei confronti dell’opinione di Frutiger (1930), 75, che aveva definito con decisione il
carattere del brano come mitico: cfr. Hackforth (1955), 74: «It seems fair to say that Plato, while not repudiating
the earlier argument (scil. il mito) for recollection and immortality, regards that now to be expounded as far
superior [...] it is of course introduced as a religion doctrine supported by poets, or rather perhaps as a corollary of
such doctrine; but the argument for it is completely rationalist» (corsivo mio); con Hackforth consente Huber
(1964), 314. Confesso che per me restano poco comprensibili le motivazioni addotte da Zaslavsky (1981), 15, per
negare i caratteri di mito a questo brano: si tratterebbe di «a descriptive account of the experience of learning as
experienced»; questo a prescindere dalla stranezza dei criteri da Zaslavsky adottati per definire i miti platonici.
16
Queste caratteristiche sono state formulate da Most (2002) in part. 10, sulla base di un approccio che è stato definito
«discorsivo», che muove «von den konkreten Bedingungen der kommunikativen Situation der Sprecher und der
Zuhörer». Le caratteristiche che qui consideriamo sono alcune delle otto individuate da Most, 11-13, e che sono le
seguenti: i miti di Platone 1) sono pronunziati come monologhi; 2) sono raccontati da un narratore più vecchio
dell’ascoltatore; 3) si rifanno a più antiche fonti orali; 4) narrano eventi non verificabili; 5) derivano la loro
autotevolezza non da esperienza diretta del narratore ma dalla tradizione; 7) sono proposti in forma non dialettica
ma come narrazioni o descrizioni; 8) sono collocati all’inizio o alla fine di un contesto dialettico; come è facile
vedere, anche quelle che in questa ricerca non menzioniamo in maniera specifica sono anch’esse presenti nel
Menone. Most considera mito, sensa alcuna esitazione, questo brano del Menone e lo prende come testimonianza
delle caratteristiche 3), 4), 8).
17
Sulla caratterizzazione delle fonti dei miti come “sapienti”, cfr. Dodds (1959), 297; qui nel Menone questi sapienti
sono, cosa non consueta, più precisamente definiti, per la precisione come sacerdoti e sacerdotesse; i poeti sono
quelli -....
18
Sui poeti come creatori di miti, cfr. Brisson (1982).
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dell’al di là? 178
– un altro tratto abitualmente presente – si direbbe ovvio – nei miti platonici, come
questo del Menone, è che i contenuti, come accade in special modo in quelli sul destino
dell’anima, riportano circostanze non verificabili
19
, proprio come accade, ma non solo, negli
altri miti escatologici del Fedone, del Gorgia, del Fedro e della Repubblica;
– ancora: i miti hanno anche una funzione psicagogica, nel senso che esortano
all’adozione di certi comportamenti o ad accogliere precisi convincimenti; questa funzione
nel caso del Menone è triplice: il mito, prima di tutto, deve scuotere Menone dalla posizione
di scetticismo sulla possibilità di conoscere; in secondo luogo esorta ad una vita virtuosa, o.. |
oµ o.c ~cu~c . , c.. ~c~c o.c¡.. |c. ~ | ¡. | (81b 6-7); non solo: dal mito, Socrate trae
la conseguenza che chi è intrepido, .c | ~., c |o¡.., µ , e non si stanca di ricercare, -c. µµ
c ¬-c µ|µ ¸µ~. | (81d 3-4), sarà anche in grado di ben applicare il procedimento della
reminiscenza; quello che egli chiama «questo discorso», o. (·,,), è tale che, se creduto,
sarà capace di rendere gli uomini attivi e solerti, . ¡,c~.-u , ~. -c. ¸µ~µ~.-u , (81d 7-
e 1); ed anche a questo riguardo ricorrono precise analogie in altri miti, per esempio e sia pure
senza la precisazione di conseguenze così specifiche, ad una vita genericamente virtuosa
esortano i miti del Gorgia e della Repubblica
20
;
– infine, è stato notato da sempre
21
che i miti platonici sono collocati o all’inizio o alla
fine di una discussione e quelli relativi al destino delle anime la discussione la concludono
22
;
nel Menone le parole di Socrate segnano, per di più in maniera particolarmente decisa
– drammatica è stata appunto definita – la fine di un tipo di ricerca che non ha portato frutto e
ne avviano una di genere completamente diverso, quello dialettico che è propriamente
platonico.
Dunque, da un punto di vista che possiamo definire formale, saremmo autorizzati a
concludere che il brano di Menone 81a 10-e 2 rispetta alcuni importanti canoni abitualmente
in uso presso Platone per caratterizzare e proporre i suoi miti; ma, come si è anticipato, questi
dati, di carattere appunto formale, non sempre si sono imposti come abbastanza convincenti
perché al brano venisse riconosciuto lo statuto del mito, tanto che sono state avanzate riserve
a questo proposito
23
. Riguardo alla validità dei motivi sui quali alcune di queste riserve sono
fondate, come quella per cui una compatibilità di mythos e logos sarebbe inaccettabile, ho già
espresso dei dubbi: per coerenza, tanto per fare un solo esempio, il mito di Thamus e Theuth
di Fedro 274c 5-275b 2, non dovrebbe esser tollerabile accanto alla lunga dimostrazione dei
limiti della scrittura che Socrate conduce
24
.
19
Circostanza messa in luce anche da Brisson (1982), 127-128; cfr. anche Dodds (1959), 376-377.
20
Sul fatto che il mito del Menone tenda fortemente a incoraggiare verso l’attività indefessa della ricerca, ha insistito
molto Friedländer (1964
3
), 265: «Mythos ist nicht Abweg ins Traumland, sondern Aufruf zur Aktivität: das ist der
sokratisch-platonische “Pragmatismus”». Relativamente al Gorgia e alla Repubblica la circostanza era notata da
Annas (1982), 122; l’intento psicagogico del miti dell’al di là è stato messo in evidenza anche da Dalfen (2002),
225, uno dei pochi studiosi che, pur non dedicando una particolare attenzione al Menone (oggetto della sua ricerca
erano i miti dell’Apologia, del Gorgia, del Fedone e della Repubblica) hanno considerato il nostro brano come un
mito.
21
Almeno dai tempi di Zeller (1963
5
), 579 e n. 2.
22
Cfr. Dalfen (2002), 215.
23
Cfr. sopra, n. 15, a proposito di Hackfort (1955).
24
Su questi problemi ho proposto la mia opinione anche altrove: cfr. Arrighetti (1991), 13-34; per altre prese di
posizione, cfr., per es., Henrichs (1999), 223-248, in part. 224-225; Murray (1999), 251-262, in part. 261; Rowe
(1999), 263-278, in part. 278: tutti e tre questi lavori contengono riflessioni condivisibili; Rowe nega giustamente
l’esistenza di un’opposizione fra mythos e logos in Platone, ma torna a sostenere la tesi che del mito il filosofo si
serve nei confronti di «people for whom other means are inappropriate by virtue of their own inadequate degree of
rationality», cosa della quale non sono convinto. In fondo una soluzione semplice e convincente
dell’apparentemente tanto problematico rapporto fra mythos e logos era stata proposta da Dodds (1959), 376: «a
Platonic myth is a kind of ‘extrapolation’, a prolongation into the unknown of the lines established by
Graziano Arrighetti 179
Piuttosto, ed è cosa singolare, le difficoltà che possono essere addotte contro il carattere
di mito del brano del Menone sono altre ed afferiscono anche queste a tratti formali, così
come di carattere formale erano le ragioni in senso opposto, come si è visto; infatti:
– per prima cosa, il brano chiaramente non si presenta, proprio per le fonti immediate a
cui Socrate si rifà
25
, come frutto dell’invenzione platonica, un tratto, questo, caratteristico che
invece abitualmente gli altri miti presentano;
– e poi, se un mito, oltre al resto, deve essere nella sostanza costituito da eventi
strutturati in una narrazione
26
, qui nel brano del Menone, diversamente da tutti gli altri casi di
miti, platonici e no, non si ha alcuna narrazione ma una perentoria enunciazione di fatti;
– per di più, la connessione e la funzionalità di questi fatti ai fini del progredire della
ricerca che viene condotta nel dialogo appaiono così poco evidenti che ne è stata negata
addirittura l’esistenza, e con ciò affrontiamo il secondo degli interrogativi proposti sopra.
Della non funzionalità del mito un deciso sostenitore fu Wilamowitz, per il quale la
solennità con cui Platone introduce il richiamo di Socrate alla dottrina dei sacerdoti e delle
sacerdotesse sull’immortalità dell’anima, appoggiata anche all’autorevolezza di quanti fra i
poeti sono -.. ., sarebbe del tutto artificiosa, e la ragione sarebbe che Platone aveva bisogno
di enfatizzare questo passaggio dalla prima parte del dialogo, svoltasi in chiave rigorosamente
socratica, alla seconda, che doveva costituire come un manifesto di nuove vie di ricerca, le
sue, per proclamare che la verità, dopo il paradosso paralizzante di Menone, è raggiungibile, e
che lui stesso, Platone, si proponeva come capace di essere la guida sulla strada per
raggiungerla
27
; ma, concludeva Wilamowitz, per procedere su questa strada la dottrina
dell’eternità dell’anima non era affatto necessaria
28
.
La perentorietà di questa conclusione non ha avuto séguito nella storia degli studi su
questo luogo del Menone, ma la sostanza è stata di fatto più volte ripresa nei dubbi espressi
riguardo alla funzionalità del mito. E’ stata confermata, per esempio, la presenza di qualche
disarmonia nell’argomentazione di Socrate, riscontrabile fra le due parti in cui si articola la
dimostrazione della teoria della reminiscenza: la prima parte, quella mitica (con le conclusioni
di Socrate), 81a 10-e 2, muove dall’immortalità dell’anima verso la reminiscenza; la seconda,
81e 3-86c 2, contenente il dialogo con lo schiavo, procede in senso opposto
29
. Si è notato
ancora che, a rigore, il paradosso che aveva paralizzato Menone non è superato dalla dottrina
dell’immortalità dell’anima contenuta nel mito, ma dall’esame che Socrate conduce con lo
schiavo perché la reminiscenza serve solo a spiegare come quell’esame sia possibile
30
.
Ovviamente, queste difficoltà, queste disarmonie sono innegabili, ma si deve anche dire che
Wilamowitz le aveva superate con motivazioni non soddisfacenti perché fondate sul
presupposto che il mito abbia come unica funzione quella di segnare nella maniera più vistosa
philosophical argument, · ,,»; l’averla presente potrebbe aiutare a sdrammatizzare un problema che
drammatico non è.
25
Cfr. sopra, n. 17.
26
Cfr. Dalfen (2002), 214: «Mythen sind Erzählstoffe».
27
Cfr. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1992
3
), 149: «Platon den Menon schreibt, um zu zeigen, nicht nur, daß man etwas
absolut finden kann, daß es also Wissenschaft gibt, sondern auch, daß er als Lehrer auftreten will oder eben
aufgetreten ist und vor den Welt aussprechen will, was er mit seinen Schülern treibt, und wie er es anfängt».
28
«Aber di Ewigkeit der Seele ist für diesen Dialog nicht nötig und noch weniger ihre so feierliche Einführung, in der
di Töne des Phaidon angeschlagen Werden. Verkennen wir noch, daß der Menon ein Präludium ist, auf den
Unterricht der Akademie ebenso wie auf die grossen Werke, mit denen Platon sich tragt?»: Wilamowitz-
Moellendorff (1992
3
), 150. La legittimità della compresenza di mythos e logos è opportunamente sostenuta da
Dalfen (2004), 482.
29
Il procedere dalla reminiscenza all’immortalità dell’amima è analogo a quello che si dà in Fedone, 72e 3-76a 7:
cfr. Friedländer (1964
3
) 266; Gulley (1962), 17-18.
30
Cfr. Irwin (1977), 138-140 e Note relative, 314-316; Nehamas (1985) 24 n. 41.
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dell’al di là? 180
il momento dell’abbandono del Socrate storico da parte di Platone e della presentazione di
una specie di manifesto di ricerca e di insegnamento nell’Accademia; ma bisogna anche
riconoscere che soluzioni alternative che abbiano caratteri di piena validità non è facile
trovarne né, direi, sono state trovate.
Può essere visto come un tentativo indiretto di dare un motivo alla presenza del mito nel
Menone l’attribuzione ad esso della funzione di testimonianza di una importante esperienza
religiosa profondamente vissuta da Platone e tale da fornirgli il fondamento della sua teoria
gnoseologica. Ma è anche da osservare che, seppure così motivata, la presenza del mito
rimane sostanzialmente estranea ad un coerente e conseguente procedere della ricerca
condotta all’interno del dialogo. Già sul presupposto che il mito sia anche testimonianza di
un’esperienza religiosa si fonda l’ipotesi, abbastanza diffusa, che la sua presenza nel dialogo
dipenda da conoscenze acquisite da Platone in occasione della sua visita del 387 in Italia
31
. E,
a questo proposito, una riflessione particolarmente approfondita la si deve a Gregory
Vlastos
32
. Questi, pur accettando l’ipotesi di un’influenza su Platone della credenza dei
Pitagorici nella reincarnazione e nella reminiscenza di conoscenze acquisite nelle altre vite, a
Platone rivendicava la grande originalità, partendo da questa acquisita credenza, di aver
saputo elevare l’edificio della sua dottrina gnoseologica grazie alla quale era possibile
raggiungere un’innovativa spiegazione del processo di apprendimento per la quale ogni nuova
conoscenza era una reminiscenza; e questo, asseriva Vlastos, era un prodotto del genio di
Platone e di lui solo. La credenza nella reincarnazione era per Platone il contenuto di una fede
religiosa, come tale egli la presentava quando asseriva di derivarla da sacerdoti e
sacerdotesse, e di questa, per la prima volta, dava l’annunzio nel Menone; prima, nei dialoghi
anteriori, non se ne riscontra alcuna menzione o allusione; fu solo grazie a tale credenza che
Platone poté giungere a quella scoperta epocale per la quale il conoscere non ha alcun bisogno
di conferma da parte della percezione sensoriale e non ammette alcuna refutazione che da
questa provenga
33
.
Come è facile vedere, anche con Vlastos si tornava sostanzialmente, seppure per una via
diversa, alla posizione di Wilamowitz: questi attribuiva al mito del Menone la funzione di una
interruzione, artificiosamente drammatizzata, che preparasse l’annunzio di un innovativo
programma di ricerca e, forse con qualche eccesso, almeno nel tono, ne escludeva la
funzionalità nel contesto del dialogo; ma anche Vlastos sembra non aver trovato altro modo di
attribuire una funzionalità al mito nel dialogo se non riconoscendo ad esso l’eccezionale
statuto di primo annunzio della conquista di una credenza religiosa che Platone aveva saputo
elevare a fondamento di una rivoluzionaria teoria gnoseologica. Di conseguenza si dovrà
concludere che, per Vlastos, il processo della ricerca che nel Menone si svolge di séguito al
mito ha, nel mito, soltanto il suo fondamento ultimo, una specie di presupposto ideale, non il
logico precedente immediato. Tutte e due queste conclusioni, quella di Wilamowitz e quella
di Vlastos, anche se possono avere una componente di validità, lasciano tuttavia inspiegate le
particolarità che caratterizzano questo mito, sia per la sua presenza in sé che per i suoi
contenuti.
A proposito dei contenuti, a questo punto è opportuno considerarli ancora una volta e un
po’ più particolarmente. La parte strettamente mitica, 81a 10-c 4 (in 81c 5-e 2 sono contenute
le conclusioni che trae Socrate), come si è detto, si presenta come una perentoria
enunciazione di fatti:
31
Cfr. sopra, n. 6.
32
Cfr. Vlastos (1965), reprint in Vlastos (1995) in part. 159-165.
33
Cfr. Vlastos (1965), 164-165.
Graziano Arrighetti 181
– sacerdoti e sacerdotesse, e quelli che fra i poeti sono -.. ., affermano che l’anima è
immortale, e anche se ~.·cu~c , poi, di nuovo, ,. ,|.~c.,
– per questo motivo, o.c oµ ~cu ~c, è necessario trascorrere la vita il più santamente
possibile;
– infatti, ,c ¡, da un brano di Pindaro
34
si viene a sapere che Persefone, dopo aver
accolto la ¬.|c | ¬c·c.u ¬. |-.,, rimanda sulla terra le anime dalle quali nasceranno
illustri sovrani, uomini di eccezionale vigore e uomini dotati di grande sapienza, che nel
tempo a venire sono destinati ad essere chiamati puri eroi.
Oltre ai problemi messi in luce da sempre, non è difficile accorgersi dell’esilità e della
scarsa chiarezza delle connessioni che intercorrono fra queste enunciazioni
35
:
– per quanto riguarda l’immortalità delle anime, questa dottrina, considerata di per sé,
non comporta l’obbligo di vivere santamente;
– inoltre, come si è visto, il contenuto del frammento pindarico, nonostante sia introdotto
da ,c ¡, non costituisce motivazione adeguata dell’obbligo di vivere santamente
36
perché, oltre
a lasciare nell’incertezza in che cosa consista la ¬.|c che Persefone esige e come e da chi
debba essere pagata, quanto è prescritto non appare avere un valore universale, non è rivolto
erga omnes, così come appariva essere l’obbligo di vivere santamente, almeno nella maniera
in cui è stato sancito da Socrate, ma concerne solo alcune anime, quelle particolarmente
privilegiate che si reincarnano in sovrani, in uomini vigorosi e in sapienti, destinati diventare
eroi, e quindi all’immortalità, e a trascorrere il tempo infinito della loro beatitudine forse nelle
isole dei beati o dove che sia; ma è certo che, una volta raggiunto lo status di eroi le loro
anime non sono sottoposte a reincarnazioni, e quindi in Pindaro l’infinità della catena delle
reincarnazioni – necessaria per raggiungere la conoscenza dei ¬c |~c y¡µ µc~c – non è
presupposta.
Non solo, ma nemmeno tutte le conseguenze che Socrate trae nella seconda parte del suo
discorso, 81c 5-e 2, risultano chiaramente motivate dai contenuti del mito:
– cosa può significare, sempre rimanendo all’interno di questo contesto, che, essendo la
natura tutta congenere con se stessa, ~µ , ¦u c.., c ¬c cµ, cu,,.|u , u cµ,, nulla
impedisce che, richiamata una sola cosa alla memoria, anche tutte le altre possano essere
trovate, c 9-d 2?
– e perché per poter procedere a questa riconquista delle cose conosciute l’uomo deve
essere c|o¡..,, non deve c ¬-cµ|..| ¸µ~. |, e una volta che sarà convinto che l’anima è
immortale e che ogni conoscere è un ricordare diventerà . ¡,c~.- , e ¸µ~µ~.- ,, d 5-e 2,
come è ripetuto anche in 86b 7-c 2?
– e infine il problema la cui soluzione costituisce la premessa irrinunciabile di ogni
possibilità di capire questo sistema gnoseologico così come qui nel Menone appare proposto:
come si può sostenere senza difficoltà che l’anima, nelle sue molte reincarnazioni e nel suo
permanere nell’Ade, abbia conosciuto tutto, ~c . |-c o. -c. ~c . | ´A.ou -c. ¬c |~c
34
Non è necessario in questa sede affrontare i difficili problemi che pone la dottrina del destino delle anime post
mortem enunciata da Pindaro in questo testo, non solo riguardo a cosa il poeta intenda con le parole ¬.|c|
¬c·c.u ¬. |-., del v. 1, ma anche quale sia la coerenza di quanto qui contenuto con Ol. II 56-83: cfr. Bluck
(1961), 277-286; Cannatà Fera (1990), 219-231.
35
Altre difficoltà, inerenti alla vaghezza o imprecisione delle enunciazioni di Socrate, sono state messe in luce da
Klein (1965), 95-97.
36
Di una banalità sconcertante è la spiegazione che propone Bluck (1961), 277, per il quale in Platone parlare
dell’immortalità dell’anima non era possibile senza coinvolgere una menzione delle implicazioni morali, per cui
qui avremmo nulla di più di una digressione.
Menone, 81a10-e2: un mito dell’al di là? 182
y¡µ µc~c, senza il minimo accenno all’esistenza del mondo delle idee, delle forme eterne e
immutabili, e senza che venga precisato che sono differenti sia i modi di conoscere che gli
oggetti della conoscenza propri di questo mondo rispetto ai modi di conoscere e agli oggetti
della conoscenza nell’Ade?
Certo, per ognuna di queste domande si può cercare, e si trova, nei dialoghi che al
Menone appaiono più strettamente collegati e che vengono considerati di produzione
posteriore, una risposta che in qualche modo completi, precisi e chiarisca le asserzioni di
Socrate, e con ciò passiamo a considerare il problema della posizione e della funzione di
questo brano nei confronti del resto della produzione platonica che comunemente si considera
posteriore al Menone
37
:
– per esempio, per il carattere cu,,.|µ , della natura con la conseguente possibilità che,
conosciuta una cosa possano essere conosciute tutte le altre, si può rimandare a Fedone 73c 4-
75c 6, ma il parallelo non è adeguato perché in quel dialogo la circostanza per cui l’esperienza
di un oggetto può rimandare ad un altro, simile o dissimile, è richiamata per arrivare a
dimostrare la conoscenza del concetto di uguaglianza, cioè all’idea dell’uguaglianza in sé, ma
nel Menone del mondo delle idee non c’è traccia; si può anche ipotizzare, come è stato fatto
38
,
che Platone riecheggi la dottrina pitagorica, come a noi è trasmessa da Porfirio, vita di
Pitagora 19 (8a D.-K.), relativa all’immortalità dell’anima che trasmigrando perennemente da
un essere vivente ad un altro e tornando ad incarnarsi dopo un certo periodo nel medesimo
essere, nulla per lei risulta essere nuovo; ma neanche questo parallelo è soddisfacente perché,
chiaramente, altro è quanto sosteneva Pitagora sulla conoscenza di tutte le cose, altro – e ben
più complicato – è quello che afferma Socrate che, conosciuta una cosa, tutte possono essere
conosciute grazie alla reminiscenza;
– a motivazione dell’affermazione di Socrate che la dottrina della reminiscenza rende
l’uomo c |o¡.. ,, . ¡,c~.- , e ¸µ~µ~.-, si può richiamare – e anche questo si fa
comunemente – Fedone 85c 1-d 4
39
, dove Simmia proclama la sua convinzione della necessità
di indagare senza stancarsi e con ogni sforzo sul problema della morte perché il non farlo
sarebbe proprio di un ¬c |u µc·-c-u c |o¡ ,;
– infine, riguardo ai diversi destini delle anime che si reincarnano, di cui si narra nel
frammento pindarico, può essere richiamato Fedro 248c 2-e 3
40
dove si enumera la gerarchia
delle nove reincarnazioni secondo il -.cµ , Ao¡cc~.. c,, ma occorre anche prendere atto
che molto al di là dell’analogia, appunto, di una gerarchia delle reincarnazioni, non si va: in
Pindaro sono tre, nel Fedro nove; in Pindaro queste reincarnazioni avvengono, nell’ordine, in
monarchi, in uomini -¡c.¬|., in sapienti; nel Fedro al primo posto ci sono i filosofi, gli
amanti del bello o della musica o gli esperti dell’amore, i monarchi rispettosi della legge
vengono al secondo posto, gli atleti amanti delle fatiche solo al quarto.
Arrivati a questo punto il compito che questa relazione si prefiggeva, cioè di sottoporre
ancora una volta ad esame i problemi che il mito del Menone presenta e le principali soluzioni
proposte, può considerarsi adempiuto; ma, ovviamente, è difficile sottrarsi all’obbligo di
qualche considerazione conclusiva di carattere generale, sia pure del tutto provvisoria, sulla
37
«This part of the Meno must be explained in the light of other dialogues of the middle period which no doubt were
written after it», così Guthrie (1975), 250.
38
Cfr. Gulley (1962), 9; Bluck (1961), 287-288, il quale anche richiama Pitagora e parla di questo processo di
reminiscenza come di associazione di idee.
39
Cfr. Bluck (1961), 288.
40
Cfr. Bluck (1961), 284-285.
Graziano Arrighetti 183
collocazione del dialogo nella produzione platonica, dato che le proposte avanzate in merito
tanto dipendono dalla presenza, dalla funzione e dai contenuti di questa parte mitica.
E’ forse superfluo che io dichiari che, per quanto mi riguarda, la conclusione non può
non essere aporetica. La presenza e la funzione di questo mito, con caratteri ad un tempo tanto
usuali e altrettanto anomali, sono difficili a spiegarsi, a meno che non si accetti la tesi di
Wilamowitz per la quale sarebbe stato introdotto, quasi come coup de théatre, al solo scopo
che il dialogo meglio e più chiaramente potesse assumere il ruolo di un ponte che ad un tempo
unisse e distinguesse il vecchio e il nuovo, il passato e il futuro, e si proponesse come
programma di un diverso modo di ricerca da svolgersi nell’Accademia
41
; quindi una specie di
protreptikós lógos, peraltro, va aggiunto, non molto chiaro; ma fino a che punto attribuire al
Menone questa funzione può essere conciliabile con la concezone platonica di praticare e di
guidare la ricerca? E soprattutto, questa sezione mitica, con le difficoltà, le disarmonie, le
incongruenze che presenta, può davvero essere considerata introduzione adeguata a quella
rivoluzionaria maniera di praticare la ricerca così come viene proposta nella seconda parte del
dialogo? Gli eventi enunciati e le dottrine che su questi si fondano troppo dipendono – credo
si possa dire in misura e maniera inconsuete – perché se ne capisca più precisamente il
significato e la funzione, da quanto in proposito correggono, precisano, completano dialoghi
come il Fedone, il Fedro ecc. Si tratta di disarmonie, di difformità che fanno sentire il loro
effetto proprio sulle proposte di collocazione del dialogo nel complesso della produzione
platonica: urtano sia contro l’ipotesi che al Menone fosse affidata la funzione di strumento di
cui Platone si sarebbe servito per gettare le fondamenta del suo sistema prima di innalzarlo in
una costruzione compiuta, come pensava Zeller
42
, sia contro quella, di Guthrie, che aderiva
all’idea di vedere nel Menone come un microcosmo di tutto quello che sarebbe stato detto nel
resto della produzione del filosofo
43
: il Menone, con il suo mito, rappresenterebbe una
proposta troppo sommariamente abbozzata per meritare la definizione di microcosmo.
Superare questi ostacoli, trovare una convincente soluzione di queste difficoltà confesso
che per me è impresa veramente non semplice; ma aggiungo che, anche se fosse impossibile,
non per questo io credo ci si debba abbandonare a sentimenti di frustrazione; si possono
saggiamente richiamare – e questo faccio a titolo strettamente e rigorosamente personale – le
parole di Platone stesso relative a coloro che hanno scritto o scriveranno su di lui:
~c |o. ,. µµ | ¬.¡. ¬c |~.| . y. ¦¡c ¸..| ~. | ,.,¡c¦ ~.| -c. ,¡c¦ |~.|,
c. ¦cc. | .. o. |c. ¬.¡. . | . ,. c¬uoc ¸. ... ~u ~u, u - . c~.| -c~c ,.
~µ | .µµ | o çc| ¬.¡. ~u ¬¡c ,µc~, . ¬c. ..| u o. | (Lettera VII 341 b7-c4).
Pisa
41
Cfr. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1959
5
), 212.
42
Cfr. Zeller (1963
5
), 534: «der Schriftsteller beschränkt sich hier abstichtlich auf das elementarische [...] den Grund
seines Gebäudes erst sichern will, ehe er es in die höhe führt».
43
Cfr. sopra, n. 7.
“The Theory of Recollection in Plato’s Meno”:
Against a Myth of Platonic Scholarship
Theodor Ebert
Plato’s Meno is the first Platonic dialogue in which we meet with what Plato scholars
have traditionally called Plato’s “Theory of Recollection”. The other main text in which this
so-called theory is discussed is Plato’s Phaedo (72e-77e), which for my present purposes I
shall leave out of consideration.
1
(There is also a mention, though not a discussion of
recollection in Socrates’ second oratory in the Phaedrus (249c).)
2
According to the common
understanding of this theory, Plato claims that our human learning is nothing but the
recollection of things we have come to know in existences preceding our actual human lives.
Hence, this theory entails a belief in pre-existence as well as in transmigration, the wandering
of the soul through different lives. (Let me add that I use the term “theory of recollection” in a
quite loose way, as far as ‘theory’ is concerned. Anyone who is not happy with “theory of
recollection” may replace it by the “learning-is-recollection thesis”.)
The theory/thesis I have just explained in brief outline is utterly unacceptable as an
explanation of human learning. It is blatantly false and, moreover, it is bad metaphysics. It is
false since whenever we learn something we are never aware of having recollected the piece
of knowledge we have newly acquired. It is, however, an essential feature of recollecting
something that we recognize it as something we already knew. This feature of recollection is
clearly absent from what we experience when we learn something. What is more, if every
case of learning is a case of recollecting things we came to know in previous existences, how
did we come to know what we now recollect, in those forms of existence? Presumably, by
learning them at the time, i.e. by recollecting them from even earlier phases of our existence.
Thus, taking recollection at face value, we seem to be confronted with a regress argument
similar to the third man argument. Finally, in order to accept the claim that we do recollect
things from former lives, we have to pay the price of a belief in transmigration. This is to
explain what may be obscure by something much more obscure, it is explaining obscurum per
obscurius, not a very attractive position for a philosopher.
Nevertheless, recollection in the Meno has been taken at its face value as something
seriously advocated by Plato, at least since the time of Cicero (cf. Tusc. Disp. 1.57-58), and
modern historians of ancient philosophy have followed suit. True, there have been dissenters
who wanted to free Plato from such a philosophical galimatias, Leibniz and the Neo-Kantians
are the most prominent examples: They took recollection to be about the a priori, turning
1
I have discussed the argument from recollection in the Phaedo in Ebert (1994) and Ebert (2004), 199-249. An shorter
Italian version of Ebert (1994) can be found in Ebert (2000).
2
In Ebert (1993) I have argued that Socrates’ second speech in the Phaedrus (243e9-257b6), in which recollection is
mentioned, is full of mythical material of Western (i.e. Empedoclean) origin. Even Stesichorus of Himera, to
whom Socrates at 244a2 attributes his oratory, may be meant to be a mask of Empedocles. Cf. also Weiss (2001),
186: “the Phaedrus passage is so heavily mythic that perhaps one need not see in it anything literally intended”.
Theodor Ebert 185
recollection into a simile for our capacity to use concepts and/or propositions which are not
derived from empirical perception but from our mind alone. This reading of Platonic
recollection, however, did not gain lasting favour with philologists; after all, considerable
contortion of the text is required to get this meaning out of what Plato has actually written.
I
In this paper I shall contend that Plato’s Meno does not offer any evidence for the claim
that the so-called theory of recollection was part of Plato’s philosophical creed, and that it
does offer reasonable evidence for the contention that Plato did not adhere to this theory. In
order to do so, I shall first make some remarks about the character of the dialogue’s title
figure and of how the discussion with Meno is affected by his character and behaviour. I shall
then come to the first part of the passage in the text where recollection is mentioned, Socrates
speech at 81a5-d5, and Meno’s reaction to it. Next I shall discuss the geometry-lesson with
the slave-boy (82b6-85b7), and finally shall offer a rather detailed analysis of the ensuing
discussion with Meno (85b8-86c3).
Plato characterizes Meno by depicting his behaviour in the discussion with Socrates as a
rather arrogant person and also as somewhat naive in his arrogance. Meno thinks he can
easily come forward with an answer to the question of what virtue is, and he thinks Socrates
should know as well, since he met Gorgias while Gorgias was in Athens (cf. 71c5-8). Yet,
what is even more important, Meno does not want to play by the rules of a dialectical
discussion.
3
Thus at 75b1, Meno, who is bound to offer an answer to the question put to him
by Socrates, refuses to do so and asks Socrates to answer in his stead. When Socrates has
offered him an answer to the question of what figure is, namely “that which alone among all
things always follows colour” (75b10-11), Meno thinks that this is a naive answer, since now
someone could come and ask for an explanation of colour (75c5-7). Socrates then makes it
clear to Meno that in any dialectical discussion certain terms have to be agreed on by the
participants as known (implying that colour is something everyone able to use his eyesight
properly is bound to know) (75c8-d7). He then has Meno first agree to certain terms he,
Socrates, wants to use in a different definition of figure, to such terms as limit, surface and
solid (75e1-76a3), and then brings forth a new definition, that figure is “limit of solid”
(c~.¡.u ¬.¡c, (76a7)).
Again Meno, who has promised to tell Socrates his definition of virtue after Socrates has
given his definition of figure (cf. 75b4-5), advances another prevarication: He now wants to
know what colour is (76a8); this query is quite unjustified since Socrates has not used the
word in his new definition of figure. Socrates’ reply shows that he is well aware that Meno
has been violating the rules of a dialectical discussion all along, simply in order to avoid
giving a definition of virtue (76a9-b1). When Socrates has finally given an answer to this
question as well, to the one about colour, his interlocutor is willing to come forward with a
new definition of virtue, i.e. that virtue is, “as the poet says, to rejoice in things beautiful and
be able for them” (77b2-3). Socrates then takes him to task and Meno, after a lengthy
argument, has to agree that he again has not been able to produce a definition that can stand
up to Socratic scrutiny (79c10-e4). When he is asked again to say what he “and his
companion” (i.e. Gorgias) take virtue to be (79e5-6), Meno, instead of answering Socrates’
question, first comes up with his comparison of Socrates with the torpedo fish and with a
sorcerer (79e7-80b7), and after Socrates’ invitation to search together for a definition of
virtue (80d3-4), advances his eristical argument against the possibility of search (80d5-8).
3
An analogous observation is made by Klein (1965), 62.
“The Theory of Recollection in Plato’s Meno” 186
Even after the discussion about anamnesis, which should have shown to Meno that it is
possible to search for something you do not know (86c4-6), when Socrates again proposes to
Meno a common search for the definition of virtue, Meno still sticks to his tactics of
prevarication and now wants to come back to his original question as to how virtue is
acquired (86c7-d2).
Yet there is also another side to Meno’s character: He is easily impressed by that sort of
philosophy he is acquainted with via his teacher Gorgias, i.e. with the Western philosophical
tradition.
4
This comes out most clearly when Socrates gives an answer to Meno’s (quite
superfluous) request for a definition of colour. I shall quote the relevant passage in full:
S.: “Then would you like me to answer you in the manner of Gorgias (-c~c
I¡,.c| 76c4), which you would find easiest to follow?”
M.: “I should like that, of course.”
S.: “Do not both of you say there are certain effluences of things according to
Empedocles (-c~c `Eµ¬.o-·. c)?”
M.: “Surely.”
S.: “And passages into which and through which the effluences pass?”
M.: “Certainly.”
S.: “And that these effluences partly fit into some of these passages, while others
are smaller or larger?”
M.: “That is true.”
S.: “And further, there is something you call sight?”
M.: “Yes, I do.”
S.: “So from these ‘conceive what I say’, in the words of Pindar: colour is an
effluence of figures, commensurate with sight and sensible!”
M.: “This answer, Socrates, seems to me an excellent one.”
S.: “Yes, for it is presumably put in a manner you are familiar with; and at the same
time I believe you think that it would enable you to tell what sound is, and what
smell, and many other things of a similar kind.”
M.: “Certainly.”
S.: “ For it is an answer in the style of a tragic poet (~¡c,.-µ c¬ -¡.c.,), Meno,
and therefore it is more to your liking than that about figure”.
M. : “Yes, I do like it more.”
S.: “But yet, son of Alexidemus, I for one am convinced that the other was the
better of the two; and I believe you too would be of the same opinion, if you were
not compelled, as you were saying yesterday, to go away before the mysteries, and
could stay and be initiated.”
M.: “But I should stay, Socrates, if you would give me many such answers.”
S.: “Well then, both for your sake and for my own, I will not slacken in my
endeavour to give you some answers in this style; but I may not be able to give
4
Gorgias, according to Diogenes Laertius 8.58f. and Quintilian 3.1.8, was a pupil of Empedocles.
Theodor Ebert 187
you many such answers. But come now, you in your turn must try and fulfil your
promise by telling me in a general way what virtue is (...)” (76c4-77a7)
There are several things that emerge from this little altercation. First of all, Meno does
not notice that Socrates, in this definition of colour, has made use of the very concept which
the introduction of colour was supposed to define, i.e. figure. Nor does he object to Socrates’
using such unexplained concepts, as pores and effluences. So it is not the quality of the
definition offered that makes an impression on him, but simply the use of the sort of
philosophy known to him from his revered teacher Gorgias (cp. 71c5, 73c7-8, 76b1) together
with the high-falutin style of Pindar. Notice that Gorgias in the dialogue called after him, and
his follower Callicles as well, is presented as being fond of quoting from poets like Homer,
Pindar, and Euripides (e.g. 449a7-8, 484b1-9, 484e3-7). Moreover, Meno can be supposed,
without much ado, to know about the minutiae of Empedocles’ physiology; and, by the same
token, this passage informs us that Socrates is equally well acquainted with Empedoclean
theories. Now I think it is a fair assumption that someone acquainted with Empedocles’
natural philosophy will not be ignorant of the more popular part of his system, namely its
exposition of the transmigration of the soul. Finally, when Meno asks for many such answers,
i.e. answers in the same style, and Socrates agrees to give him another answer in the same
style, that can be taken as a promise on the part of Socrates, and that is, an announcement on
the part of the author Plato, that there will be at least one (and probably not many more) other
specimen of such an answer à la Gorgias, with a similar mixture of Empedoclean philosophy
and poetry from Pindar or some other poet.
II
With these preliminary remarks, we will be in a position to interpret the passage in
which anamnesis is brought into the discussion, i.e. 81a5-86c3. Socrates’ speech at 81a5-d5 is
a countermove to Meno’s argument against the possibility of searching for things one does
not know. This argument of Meno’s is not meant to be a serious epistemological problem,
even if some commentators have tried to turn it into such a problem
5
; it is not taken as such in
the dialogue: Socrates calls it twice an “eristic argument” (80e2; 81d6), and he is right. All
that Meno wants to achieve by it is to delay the discussion and to avoid having to give another
answer to the question what virtue is. Yet although this argument is not meant to be a serious
philosophical problem, Meno’s use of it poses a serious problem within the dialogue, within
the dialectical discussion, since Socrates is now confronted with an interlocutor who has
made it clear that he is willing to use any means to avoid what for him would be a further
defeat. For that purpose Meno is willing to turn to sheer obstruction.
To overcome this deadlock, Socrates is compelled to make use of a somewhat unusual
expedient: He can rely on Meno’s knowledge of, and reverence for, the philosophical
tradition known to him via Gorgias, something Socrates has already made use of when
defining colour in terms of Empedocles’ physiology. Socrates’ speech at 81a5-d5 again
exploits this aspect of Meno’s. To his eristic argument, Meno receives a reply -c~c I¡,. c|
and -c~c Eµ¬.o-·. c, although this time neither name is mentioned. That both are present
is made clear by the form and content of what Socrates says. Here again we find him using
the same mixture as before: Empedoclean theory, i.e. the soul’s immortality and its
5
Bluck (1965), 8, although conceding that “so far as Meno is concerned, this question may be regarded as a
convenient dodge, an eristic trick”, holds that “for Plato it had important philosophical implications”. Yet Meno
and his words are, after all, an invention by Plato! Nehamas (1985), 8, even claims that “far from being a
contentious move, Meno’s raising of the paradox of enquiry is natural and well-motivated”.
“The Theory of Recollection in Plato’s Meno” 188
transmigration as well as the kinship of all nature, a lengthy quotation from Pindar, this time
used to prop up Empedoclean metaphysics, and stylistic devices typical of Gorgias,
i.e. homoioteleuta and parisa (cf. ,.,|u.c -c. ..¡c-u.c -c. ~c .|-co. -c. ~c .| A.ou
81c5-6), or the hyperbata at 81a10-b1.
Now the claim that human beings are able to recollect things from previous lives is part
of the Pythagorean tradition: in the legends told about Pythagoras by Heraclides of Pontus
according to Diogenes Laertius (cf. DL 8.4-5) Pythagoras is able to remember all the persons
he has been in earlier lives, from Aethalides through Euphorbus, Hermotimus, Pyrrhus to
Pythagoras himself. In this story, Pythagoras, when he was Aethalides, was given the gift of
remembering everything he has seen and learned in his time of life and death. This includes
memories of the plants and animals he has been as well as what he underwent in Hades. This
gift was given to (Pythagoras as) Aethalides by the god Hermes, hence as a special privilege
marking him out among other mortals.
All this may just be part of the lore surrounding the legendary figure of Pythagoras, yet
even so it shows that in Plato’s time (Heraclides is a younger contemporary of Plato) there
were stories about Pythagoras attributing to him the ability to recollect events from earlier
forms of existence. Incidentally, something to the same effect can be extracted also from
Empedocles: Empedocles too claims to have been a young man, a young woman, a bush, a
bird, and a fish (Empedocles fragm. 117 Diels/Kranz). What is more, Empedocles seems to
attribute to Pythagoras – although his name is not mentioned in the fragment – the ability to
recollect everything that happened in ten or twenty lifetimes (fragm. 129 Diels/Kranz).
Let us then see how this material that we may attribute to the Western tradition known to
Meno is used in Socrates’ speech. Socrates is very careful to point out that he is here bringing
in something he has heard from other people, something for which he relies on a religious or
quasi-religious tradition. Thus he begins by referring to the sources on which he relies for
what he wants to tell his interlocutor, and these sources are deliberately kept indeterminate:
they are “wise men and women”, then “priests and priestesses”, and eventually a definite
name is brought in: “Pindar and many other divine poets”. These references to sources that
are rather vague contrast with Meno’s insistence on being given the content of the argument:
~.|c ·,| (81a7), ~. |c ~u ~| (81a9), thus interrupting rather rudely Socrates’ oratory.
Only after Socrates has surrounded the words of his speech with a venerable halo, does he
address the message proper, what they, i.e. the wise men and women, priests and priestesses
etc. actually say, yet not without warning Meno to consider whether what they say is true
(81b2-3). They claim that the human soul is immortal and that it can never be destroyed, it
simply completes one form of existence, “what they (probably ordinary human beings) call
dying”, and comes to life again (¬c ·.| ,. ,|.c-c. 81b5). This claim is then supported by the
quotation from Pindar in which the poet talks of human souls being given back to life by
Persephone, souls which become “glorious kings and men swift and strong and great sages”
(81c1-3). Notice that this critique of human talk of dying and being born has a counterpart in
Empedocles fragm. 8 and 15 Diels/Kranz.
Yet the claim that the soul is immortal is only the premiss to the further claim that the
soul, in its long wandering through all forms of existence, has seen everything in this world as
well as in the netherworld and hence is able to recollect what it has learned about virtue and
about everything else (81c7-8). With this inference, however, Socrates has deliberately
overstepped the claims made in the Pythagorean tradition. Although, according to this
tradition, every soul is immortal, the privilege of recollecting things from a previous life is
restricted to great men like Pythagoras and Empedocles. Hence, although talk of the soul’s
immortality, and even the idea that it is in principle possible to recollect things from other
Theodor Ebert 189
forms of existence, may be known to Meno, the idea that human beings generally are able to
do so cannot be familiar to him. That is an addition by Socrates, even if Socrates imitates
Empedocles’ correction of the way ordinary humans talk when he adds to the word
“recollect” the rider “what men call learning” (81d2-3). Let us see how Meno reacts to this
speech and to the challenge to start a common search for the definition of virtue.
Meno seems to agree with the moral Socrates has drawn from his speech, i.e. that we
should not follow Meno’s eristic argument, since it makes us lazy, but rather this one, which
prompts us to look for things we do not yet know. This seems to be the meaning of Meno’s
“Yes, Socrates.” (81e3). But he then goes on to ask, if we follow the text of our modern
editions: “But how do you mean this, that we do not learn but what we call learning is in fact
recollection? Are you able to instruct me that this is in fact so?” (81e3-5) There seems to be
no point in asking for an explanation of the meaning of what Socrates has said. And this is the
usual and primary sense of the question “how do you mean?” (¬. , ·. ,..,;) What is more,
no such explication of the meaning of what Socrates has said is given in the sequel. Even
more puzzling is the fact that Meno can continue and ask Socrates to show him that what he
has said, is the case: “Can you instruct me that this is in fact so?” The “so” (u ~.,) shows
that he has quite clearly understood the meaning of the claim Socrates has made; he does not
ask for an explanation of Socrates’ words but for a proof of what Socrates seems to have
claimed with his words. This is confirmed by the repetition of his query at 82a5-6: “But if you
are able to somehow prove to me (. |o..çcc-c.) that it is as you say, please do so.”
Whenever we meet the phrase “how do you mean?” in Plato, it is used as an inquiry for an
explanation of the meaning of what somebody has said; to simply take the cases from our
dialogue: 73e2, 75c3, 91c6, 97c9 – in all these passages the questioner wants some further
information that would enable him to understand what his interlocutor just has said. Not so in
this passage.
Now there is good reason to believe that the text of our modern editions is not the text
Plato wrote. In fact, the text of our editions is based on a rather late manuscript (F) and on
Stobaeus. The three oldest and usually best codices (BTW), which are also independent of
each other, are unanimous in offering a different reading. Instead of
c ··c ¬. , ·. ,.., ~u ~, ~. u µc|-c |µ.|,
they read
c ·· c ¬·. , ·. ,.., ~u ~, ~. u µc|-c |µ.|.
Clearly, the reading of these manuscripts is by far the lectio difficilior. The phrase ¬.,
·. ,.., is very common in Plato, it occurs over a hundred times in the dialogues
6
; the word
c ¬·. , together with the verb ·.,..| or other verba dicendi is far less frequent. Its meaning
is state or say something simply, or without qualification. In the Euthyphro 14b2, the title
figure of the dialogue, in answering Socrates’ question as to the result of the work of the gods
states, perhaps not quite pertinently: “I say simply (c ¬·. , ·. ,.) that when one knows how
to say and do what pleases the gods, in prayer and sacrifice, that is holiness.” At the
beginning of Rep. III it is argued that poets when talking about the netherworld should “not
disparage things in Hades without qualification” (µµ ·.o¡.. | c¬·. , u ~., ~c . | ´A.ou
386b9). This is also the meaning of the word c¬·., in our passage.
If we adopt the reading of BTW in the passage discussed, the difficulties mentioned
above disappear and everything falls into place. For what Meno’s first question now
6
One could add also a stylistic observation that might make the text of our editions at 81e3 look suspicious: although
the question ¬., ·.,..,; (or ¦µ ,;) is quite often accompanied by a ~u ~, our passage would be the only one in
Plato where this phrase is followed by a ~.-clause.
“The Theory of Recollection in Plato’s Meno” 190
expresses is amazement: Do you really want to claim that the ability to recollect things from
previous lives is common to all men, not restricted to geniuses like Pythagoras or
Empedocles? And it is clear what has caused Meno’s amazement: It is Socrates’ overstepping
the claims made in the Pythagorean tradition for the recollection of previous existences. To
someone who, like Meno, is acquainted with Empedoclean philosophy, the claim that some
people can recollect things from previous lives comes as no surprise. What is surprising for
him is the claim that this is a common ability, that we can all do so. So Meno’s second
question quite logically asks for evidence for this provocative statement. And that is why
Socrates wants to demonstrate the claim which Meno has found most provocative in Socrates’
speech, using a chance interlocutor, a slave-boy chosen at random from Meno’s entourage.
7
It should be clear why most modern editors and commentators (with the exception, it
should be said, of Verdenius
8
) have preferred the reading of F and Stobaeus
9
, rejecting
overwhelmingly the better and better attested reading of BTW. They want a Meno who learns
about immortality and anamnesis for the first time from Socrates, not a Meno who has
already some inkling of the soul’s immortality and of recollection from previous lives.
Schleiermacher who used the Bipontina (not containing the reading of F) for his translation
has a better text in German than most modern editions in the original language: “aber meinst
du dies so schlechthin, daß wir nicht lernen, sondern daß, was wir so nennen, nur ein Erinnern
ist?”
10
Our modern editions show that sometimes pseudo-philosophical prejudice may
overrule the principles of sound philological text constitution. In doing so, modern editors did
a bad service to philosophy.
III
Now, of course, Socrates does not stage the famous geometry-lesson in order to
convince Meno of the truth of some Pythagorean or Empedoclean mythology. He has
something else in mind. To see what he has in mind, let us turn now to this lesson.
The content of the lesson proper will need no further commentary: The slave-boy is
asked about a simple geometrical problem, the doubling of a square, and, after some mistakes
and with some help from Socrates, finally comes up with the correct answer.
11
The
7
Although Weiss (2001), 77, goes along with the text at 81e3 in the modern editions, reading c··c ¬., ·. ,..,
~u~, she has seen that Socrates in his speech at 80a5-d5 introduces themes that are likely to be familiar to
Meno: see Weiss (2001), 67.
8
As far as I can see, among recent commentators only Verdenius (1964), 268, has advocated the reading of BTW.
Verdenius, however, takes the c¬·., to refer to cases of learning, and hence, takes Meno to ask whether any case
of learning is meant to be a case of recollection. I think that Meno, given his Pythagorean background, wonders
whether every human being is able to recollect things from an earlier existence.
9
The manuscript F, although it represents a tradition different from BTW, is marred by several omissions and faults.
See the remarks in Bluck (1965), 135-140, and Dodds (1959), 41-47. As for the reading in Stobaeus (iv, 59
Wachsmuth/Hense), the “oldest and best” manuscript, according to the editor Wachsmuth, i.e. the manuscript S,
does not have c ··c ¬.,, but only ¬.,. The agreement with the text at Meno 82e3 is due to a supplementation by
a modern editor.
10
All the editions prior to Stallbaum’s edition of 1836 adhere to the reading of the Vulgata, hence to BTW. As far as I
can see, all editions later than Stallbaum’s have adopted his reading. I argued for the reading of BTW in Ebert
(1994), 21 n. 19, subsequently in Ebert (1997), 283 as well as in Ebert (1999), 73 (now reprinted my Gesammelte
Aufsätze vol. 2, 41-64, there p. 49).
11
The mathematical reasoning is quite simple and straightforward. There is only one point where the commentators
seem to me to have gone wrong in interpreting it: they take the lines drawn by Socrates at 82c2-3 “through the
middle” (o.c µ.cu) of the figure to be transversals, not diagonals (see e.g. Bluck ad loc.). Since Socrates has
stated that the figure drawn by him has four equal sides, any figure with (only) four equal sides (i.e. a rhombus)
must have transversals of equal length. Thus this specification would not add anything mathematically useful to
what has been said so far. Only a rectangular figure, however, has two equal diagonals. Hence, only if the lines
Socrates refers to at 82c2-3 are diagonals has he given a definition of a square, and a quite elegant one at that: it
makes use only of the concept of equal length of lines. Moreover, the slave-boy will need this definition of a
Theodor Ebert 191
questioning of the slave-boy is twice interrupted by Socrates’ questions and comments
addressed to Meno (82e, 84a-d); thus, by these two interventions, this lesson is divided up
into three sections: 82b9-82e3; 82e14-84a2; 84d3-85b7). These sections lead to error,
predicament, and the discovery of the solution respectively. The first interruption (82e4-13) is
a comment upon the slave-boy’s first erroneous answer: he thinks he can double the square by
doubling its side. Socrates points out to Meno that the slave is now in a state of error: he
believes he knows while he is still in utter ignorance (cf. . .~c. .. o. |c. 82e5, . .~c. e10).
Socrates then goes on to urge Meno to “pay attention how he (the slave-boy) will recollect
step by step (. ¦.çµ ,) as one ought to do in recollection (. , o.. c |cµ.µ|µ c-.c-c.)” (82e12-
13).
This remark implies that someone who is undergoing a process of recollection will go
through a gradual process, will have to do so step by step. The commentators do not have
anything helpful to say on this point. However, the same idea is again involved in the second
comment by Socrates: after his young interlocutor has realized at 84a1-2 that he has no
answer to the problem, Socrates addresses himself to Meno again:
Do you recognize, Meno, which point he has now got to in the process of
recollection? (84a3-4)
Thus, here again we meet with the idea that recollection is a process in which certain
steps have to be taken before others. We are not told in plain terms which steps Socrates has
in mind, but the answer Socrates himself gives to this question contains a cue to the solution
of this problem. Socrates continues as follows:
He did not know earlier on which is the side of the eight feet square as he does not
know now; but then he thought he knew it and gave his answers courageously as if
he knew and he did not believe then to be in a predicament. Now, however, he
thinks he is in a predicament, and as he does not know, he neither believes he
knows. (84a4-b1)
What these remarks make clear is the progress the slave has made in his step from error
(where he was in ignorance about his own ignorance) to the realization of his own ignorance.
Socrates’ ensuing comments to Meno are meant to drive home the point that this state of
predicament is much better than the state of sheer ignorance. These comments are in fact used
quite deliberately to mirror Meno’s predicament and, incidentally, to censure him for his
evasive moves: Socrates uses the phrases Meno used to talk about himself and his
predicament: He mentions the torpedo-fish’s shock (cf. 84b5-6), which Meno used as a simile
for his predicament (80a3-5), and points out the salutary effect it had on the boy; Socrates
refers to the slave-boy’s previous condition as that of a person “who could easily talk very
well on many occasions and to many people about the doubled square that it ought to have a
square to be able to recognize the figure Socrates draws at the end of the geometry lesson as a square (cf. 84e-
85b). This figure is a square because it has four equal sides, i.e. the diagonals of the orginal square, and two
diagonals of equal length, i.e. twice the side of the original square. I do not think that Socrates’ question at 82d4-
6: “And might there not be another figure twice as large as this one, but of the same kind, that would have all its
lines equal like this one?” tells against my reading of 82c2-3. This question need not be taken to mean that all the
lines referred to so far in the original square are of equal length; it may also be read as meaning that in the square
with twice the area of the original one all the lines that were said to be of equal length to each other should also
retain the same proportion in the new square. - I have argued for this reading of Men. 82c2-3 in Ebert (1973),
181 n. 18 as well as in Ebert (1974), 100 n. 28. As far as I can see, only Ch. Mugler in Mugler (1948), 388 took
the lines at 82c2-3 to be diagonals; Mugler, however, refers to them as diagonals only in passing and without
realizing the mathematical implications: he thinks that Socrates has given a “une définition simplifiée du carré où
il renonce à faire une mention expresse des angles” (ibid.). More recently, G. J. Boter has discussed this matter
(see Boter (1988)), also championing the diagonals interpretation. This is also the opinion of R. Weiss in Weiss
(2001), 84f. with notes.
“The Theory of Recollection in Plato’s Meno” 192
side of double length” (84b9-c1), thus mimicking Meno’s words at 80b2-3. Of course, it is
quite unlikely that the slave will ever have heard (or said) anything about geometry. Later,
Meno states expressly that the slave was never taught any geometry (cf. 85e6). Hence, this
remark is sheer irony on the part of Socrates.
So much, I think, is clear. Yet how does this help us to get a cue for the idea that
recollection is done step by step, as seems to be implied in Socrates’ two earlier remarks?
Now, recollecting something we have forgotten indeed involves two steps: firstly, we have to
become aware of the fact that we have forgotten so and so; and only when we have realized
this, can we recollect the thing forgotten. Forgetfulness is a state of mind that goes unnoticed,
like the blind spot in our visual field which also escapes our visual perception. (This, I think,
is the reason why ‘to forget’ is a verb without a genuine present tense.) It should be evident
that these steps in recollecting something forgotten correspond to the steps that lead from
error to knowledge. In both processes the realization of a lack of knowledge plays a crucial
role.
Socrates, when asking Meno at 84a3-4 which point the slave-boy has got to in the
process of recollection and answering this question at 84a4-b1 in terms of knowing and
not-knowing, makes use of this similarity between realizing that you have forgotten so and so
and realizing that you are in error. The slave’s predicament, his aporia, is made to match the
step in recollection when you realize that you have forgotten so and so. Thus Socrates,
although he takes the idea of recollection from the Pythagorean-Empedoclean tradition so
well known to Meno, uses this idea in a specific Socratic way, giving it a turn that suits the
Socratic insistence on realizing your lack of knowledge as a presupposition of coming to
know the truth. In doing so, Socrates does away with the mythological implications inherent
in the Pythagorean-Empedoclean idea of recollecting things from previous lifetimes. His is a
completely rational “theory of recollection”. If one thing is evident, as far as the geometry-
lesson is concerned, it is the fact that the slave is led to the solution by a process of trial and
error supported by some useful suggestions from Socrates, and that recollection of something
he already knew does not occur at any stage of his endeavour.
12
IV
Yet how does all this square with what we find Socrates arguing after this lesson? Is he
not driving to the conclusion that the slave has indeed remembered the theorem of geometry
he discovered with Socrates’ help? Thus we have to discuss and analyse the passage 85b8-
86c3 where this result, as it seems, is achieved. Its analysis will indeed be crucial to my
interpretation.
This passage is divided into fourteen question-and-answer-altercations between Socrates
and Meno and a concluding remark by Socrates followed by a compliment by Meno.
Socrates’ first two questions (85b8-9, c2) do not pose any problem: Meno is made to concede
that the slave-boy in his answers gave only his own opinions and, furthermore, that he did not
know (the solution to the geometrical problem) “as we were saying a short while ago”
(namely 82e8-9). Notice that this addition to the second question makes it committal.
The third question, however, is problematic and it is the basis for the ensuing absurd
consequences:
Yet he had in him these opinions, had he not? (85c4)
12
So also Weiss (2001), 106.
Theodor Ebert 193
This question is non-committal and, in distinction to the preceding questions, this one
has an µ u : (“had he not”) added to it. This addition may not seem very significant to a
modern reader, but we should notice that Aristotle in his Topics tells us that the distinction
between protasis and problêma is based on this seemingly trivial difference (cf. Top. I 4,
101b28-34). This should at least make us recognize of the awareness with which such
differences were noticed in Plato’s time.
Meno replies to this question with a simple “yes”, thus committing his first and fatal
mistake. For the opinions the slave has uttered during the geometry-lesson clearly were not in
him, but they were made to develop by the questioning of Socrates. Of course, this is not to
deny that the slave-boy brings along some capabilities which allow him to realize the errors
he has committed on the way to the solution, and to see why the square with the diagonal of
the original square as basis has twice the surface of the orginal square: he is able to multiply
and to calculate and to compare the results of his calculations to one another. But this is a far
cry from the claim that the specific proposition about the square’s diagonal was somehow in
him. This mathematical truth quite clearly was discovered by him for the first time in this
lesson. If having an opinion is equivalent to, or implies entertaining the truth of this opinion
– and I for one cannot see what else ‘having an opinion’ should mean – then the slave-boy did
not have the opinion about the doubling of the square. How else could he have confessed his
ignorance at 84a1-2 after his second proposal has been proved wrong?
The next question, the fourth one Socrates is going to ask, has Meno admit a general
conclusion (cf. c¡c 85c6) from the concessions granted so far:
Thus he who does not have knowledge about any matters, whatever they be, may
have true opinions on such matters, about which he does not have knowledge?
(85c6-7)
The absurdity of this conclusion is underlined by repeating the relative clause: ¬.¡. . |
c | µµ .. oµ , ¬.¡. ~u ~.| . | u - . o.|. Meno’s answer is a rather feeble: ¦c. |.~c., “So it
seems.” (85c8) Notice that the same phrase has been used by the slave-boy at 83e7 as he was
brought to see the miscalculation implied in his second proposal.
Socrates then comes back to the case of the slave-boy, and here he commits himself to a
position:
And at present those opinions have just been stirred up in him, as in a dream; but if
he were repeatedly asked the same questions in various forms, you know that he
will eventually have knowledge about these matters as exact as anyone. (85c9-d1)
Since Socrates’ “you know” is justified only if he himself believes in what is stated in
the following that clause, Socrates is committed to the claim that after repeated questioning
the slave-boy will have knowledge, not merely opinion. This concession, however, is quite
innocuous, and, hence, can easily be granted by Socrates. Meno agrees. What Socrates has
gained by this move is the option to treat the slave’s state of mind as knowledge rather than
opinion.
His next question, question no. 6, turns to the way this knowledge has been acquired:
Meno is asked whether the slave, if he is only asked not taught, will come to know,
“recovering the knowledge out of himself”. Meno gives his assent.
Socrates’ seventh question (85d6-7) now introduces the concept of recollection into the
discussion about the geometry-lesson, using the notion of recovering knowledge out of
oneself:
“The Theory of Recollection in Plato’s Meno” 194
Is not this recovery of knowledge, in himself and by himself, recollection? (85d6-
7)
It is worth pointing out that this question, as is the preceding one, is non-committal.
Meno, when assenting to this point, has committed his second blunder: For although it is true
that recollection is a recovering of knowledge out of oneself, the reverse does not hold. And it
is to the latter that Meno has given his consent. Clearly not all acquisition of knowledge out
of oneself is a case of recollection. When someone solves a problem by himself he acquires
new knowledge and this comes out of himself, but this is not a case of recollection. – Socrates
will not use the concession here gained from Meno until his last question at 86b1-4. We may
remember the advice in Aristotle’s Topics that the questioner should ask for the necessary
premisses well ahead of the final conclusion (cf. Top. VIII 1, 155b29-31). For the reasoning
starting with the following questions, this concession is not needed.
Socrates’ next question (question no. 8) at 85d9-10 is the start of a reasoning in the form
of a dilemma. (The two conditionals belonging to this dilemma will turn up in question
no. 9.):
And must he not have either once acquired the knowledge he now has or always
been in possession of it? (85d9-10)
This seems to be a rather straightforward and clear-cut disjunction. Meno’s “yes”
(85d11) would be quite in order, were it not for his concession at 85c5, where he has agreed
to the claim that the correct opinions have been in the slave, i.e. before the geometry-lesson.
Hence, given this concession, this lesson cannot be the time when the boy acquired his
knowledge. So what (Meno’s assent to) this disjunction amounts to is the claim that either the
slave-boy must have acquired his knowledge (of geometry) before this lesson or he must
always have been in possession of this knowledge.
Socrates’ next move is to draw the consequences from the two disjuncts, thus
completing the premisses of the dilemma:
Now if he was always in possession of it, he was always in a state of knowing; if,
on the other hand, he acquired it at some time, he could not have acquired it in this
life. Or has someone taught him geometry? For he will do the same as this in the
whole field of geometry and in every branch of knowledge. Now, has anyone
taught him all this? You ought surely to know, since he was born and bred in your
house. (85d12-e5)
Notice first that this rather lengthy intervention by Socrates contains a digression in
85e1-3: The contention that the slave will be able to acquire knowledge of all geometry and
any other branch of knowledge is, strictly speaking, irrelevant to the argument. What Socrates
wants to extract from Meno is the information that the slave did not undergo any teaching in
geometry or any other science. He needs this information in order to exclude a possibility
(i.e. previous instruction of the slave in Meno’s house) that would render his second
conditional false. Yet given Meno’s reply, it holds that if the slave has acquired this
knowledge, then not in this life, and that is of course equivalent to saying: then at another
time. This consequence, so it seems, will be drawn only in Socrates’ question at 85e9-86a1
(i.e. question no. 10); Socrates, that is, does not go over to this question, but puts another one
to Meno first:
And yet he has these opinions, has he not? (85e7)
This question, which is not required by the argument, should be compared to the one at
85c4. It is, in fact, a sort of repetition of the former one. Both questions have an “or not”
Theodor Ebert 195
added to them, thus turning them, in the terminology attested in Aristotle’s Topics, into
problêmata. Both refer to the opinions of the slave-boy. The only difference concerning the
content (not the phrasing) of them is the following: the words “these opinions” in the latter
question refer to beliefs embracing every branch of knowledge (because of 85e1-3), whereas
the opinions in the former question concerned only the doubling of the square. Hence, this
latter question suggests an idea even more absurd than the former one. Socrates has
compelled his interlocutor to agree to an adoxotaton (cf. Top. VIII 4, 159a19-20).
Meno seems to have realized that this is a rather paradoxical thesis and he replies again
with a “so it seems” (¦c.|.~c.), adding this time also an “of necessity”, thus implying that
this concession follows from earlier ones: he has been compelled to make a concession.
With question no. 11 Socrates seems to come back to the reasoning of his dilemma:
And if he did not acquire them in this present life, is it not obvious at once that he
had them and learned them during some other time? (85e9-86a1)
But this only seems so, for notice, first, that the conditional suggested by this question
(and assented to by Meno at 86a2, again using a ¦c. |.~c., “so it seems”) is false and does
not follow from what has been conceded so far. It is false because even if the
knowledge/opinions the slave is said to possess are not acquired in this life, he could still
always have been in possession of them. It does not follow from the concessions granted,
since all that would follow is the conditional:
If the slave has acquired his knowledge/opinions and if he has not acquired it/them
in this present life, then he must have got them at some other time.
The mistake suggested in the question at 85e9-86a1 is the dropping of the antecedent of
the second conditional formulated at 85d12-13 on which the conditional in this question is
still dependent. This mistake is, of course, facilitated by the digression at 85e1-3 as well as by
the question at 85e7. What is lost sight of in the sequel of the reasoning is simply the fact that
this reasoning started from a disjunction. By dropping the antecedent (which is one of the
disjuncts, the first one): he has acquired his knowledge/belief, it is easy to infer by Modus
ponens from the (truncated) conditional at 85e9-86a1 and its true antecedent (granted at 85e6)
the consequent, i.e. that the slave must have acquired his knowledge/beliefs before birth.
For a moment it looks as if Socrates were going to pursue his dilemmatic reasoning: His
question no. 12 makes Meno concede the seemingly trivial point that the “other time” at
which the slave has got his knowledge is the time when he was not a human being. It might
perhaps have been more reasonable to say that it was a time when he was not this human
being. The subsequent reasoning would remain essentially the same.
It is question No. 13 at 86a6-10 which brings Meno to commit his grossest blunder:
So if in both these periods – when he was and was not a human being – he has had
true opinions in him which have only to be awakened by questioning to become
knowledge, must not his soul have had this knowledge throughout all time? For
clearly he has always either been or not been a human being. (86a6-10)
By adding the second sentence “For clearly ...” Socrates invites Meno to agree to the
consequent of the preceding question which was put in conditional form: This second
sentence is a statement of the antecedent of this (conditional) question. Hence, provided one
accepts the conditional, agreeing to its antecedent amounts to inferring its consequent by
“The Theory of Recollection in Plato’s Meno” 196
Modus ponens. Meno’s concession: “So it seems” (86a11)
13
, therefore, amounts to the claim
that the slave’s soul has had this knowledge throughout all time (~ | c .. y¡ ||). What
Meno has agreed to is, however, a clear non sequitur. For all that would follow from his
preceding concessions is the conclusion:
If the slave has acquired his knowledge he must have acquired it some time in his
previous existence.
Even if we skip the antecedent of this conditional, as was done at 85e9-86a2, we still end
up with the claim that the slave has acquired his knowledge some time in his previous
existence. That, of course, is incompatible with the actual conclusion Meno has agreed to at
86a11, namely that the slave has had this knowledge throughout all time. For in that case
there was no need to acquire it. Hence, the conclusion Meno has accepted, not only does not
follow from the premisses of the argument, but it is clearly incompatible with them.
Meno has been led in a circle: Starting from the (exclusive) disjunction at 85d9-11
(question 8) – either acquired or else always possessed – and using the first disjunct as
assumption, he has now agreed to the second disjunct, (falsely) taking it to be a consequence
of the first one! Obviously, the art of dialectical arguing as yet has not reached Thessaly!
Yet Socrates has one more blunder in store for Meno. His last and concluding question
at 86b1-4 (no. 14) invites Meno to do two things: to accept a conditional and to draw a
conclusion from this conditional. Socrates, in this question, first generalizes the point just
gained from Meno: from the soul of the slave, who after all had been chosen as a random case
to prove a general claim, he now goes over to the soul of men in general. This in itself is quite
correct, for the slave was all along only a case in point to show that what is true of him is true
of everybody. Using this last concession of Meno’s (in the generalized form) as an
antecedent, Socrates formulates the following conditional:
If the truth of all things that are is always in our soul, then the soul would be
immortal [...] (86b1-2)
To see the error in this statement, we should, as it were, expand the predicate “is
immortal” to “exists always”. We could then reformulate this statement as follows:
If the truth of all things that are is/exists always in our soul, then the soul would
always exist.
The logical error committed in this conditional consists in going from a restricted use of
“always” to an unrestricted one: The “always” in the antecedent expresses the idea that, as
long as our soul exists, the truth of all things that are exists in our soul. In other words: the
existence of the truth of all things is restricted to the (presumably limited) existence of our
soul. The consequent affirms that our soul exists always, for an unlimited period of time. If
this conditional were true, we might as well affirm: If human beings exist always with their
heads on their rumps, human beings would be immortal.
The wording of the conclusion Socrates wants to draw is such as to apply directly to
Meno:
... so that (. c~.) you should be of good cheer and, whatever you do not happen to
know at present – that is, what you do not remember – you must endeavour to
search out and recollect. (86b2-4)
13
The translations “evidently” (Lamb) or “obviously” (Jowett) do not render the real force of this reply: the Greek
¦c. |.~c. conveys the idea of concession rather reluctantly given.
Theodor Ebert 197
Although this was a question directed to Meno, he does not answer yes or no to it.
Instead he compliments Socrates’ well spoken words:
You seem to me to speak very well (Eu µ. o-.., ·.,..|), Socrates, I know not
how. (86a5)
Meno has indeed some reason for his compliments, for Socrates, again, has switched
back to the high-flown style of Gorgianic rhetoric: Notice the hyperbata in the Greek as well
as the assonances and homoioteleuta. If I may be permitted to attempt this style in English, a
rendering might be as follows:
If now of all things the truth always dwells in our soul, then immortal would be our
soul, so that you should be of good cheer and, whatever you do not happen to know
at present – that is, what you do not remember – you must endeavour to search out
and recollect.
Meno, again, has got an answer in the style of a tragic poet, a ~¡c,.-µ c ¬ -¡.c.,. Yet
here as in the earlier passage, Socrates is keen on keeping his distance from Meno:
So I seem to myself, Meno. All the other points I have made in support of the
argument are not such as I can confidently assert; but that, if we are convinced we
should inquire after what we do not know, we should get better and braver and less
lazy than if we believe that we are neither able nor obliged to inquire after things
we do not know – this is something for which I am determined to fight, so far as I
am able, both in word and deed. (86b6-c2)
Again, Meno compliments Socrates on his well-spoken words. Hence, all that Socrates
wants to stick to is the last conclusion, the one at 86b2-4, that is, the statement, that we should
endeavour to search for things we do not yet know, and not, as Meno’s lazy argument
claimed, drop every such search. As to the premisses leading to this conclusion, Socrates (and
here we may add: Plato) is not willing to accept them either. Hence, all the claims about the
soul and its ability to recollect are, as it were, cancelled by Socrates. This should come as no
surprise to whoever has realized the poor logic tried out on Meno by Socrates.
14
V
So what have we got here? A proclamation by Socrates of his belief in the soul’s ability
to recollect things from previous existences? I do not think so. What Socrates does when he
comes forth with his speech at 81a5 f. is to use a a stratagem meant to work with his
interlocutor. And it is meant to work with Meno because it presents him with certain tenets of
the Pythagorean-Empedoclean tradition he knows so well via Gorgias. Socrates is justified in
using such a stratagem because he has to fight Meno’s eristic argument which is introduced
by Meno for the sole purpose of avoiding further discussion about the definition of virtue.
15
Socrates speech is a means to break Meno’s obstinacy and wilfulness by exploiting his
reverence for what he knows about Western philosophy. The geometry lesson is a case of
learning, not a case of recollecting something. Its main purpose is to drive home the point to
14
I have argued for this interpretation of recollection in the Meno first in Ebert (1973) and (1974), 83-104. At the time
I was not yet aware of the import of the definition colour at 76c4-77a5 for Meno’s ‘Empedoclean’ background;
nor had I seen the relevance of the variant reading of BTW at 81e2-3. – Since the publisher did not send me any
galley-proofs of Ebert (1973), there are a lot of misprints in this article, especially in the Greek quotations. An
errata list was published in the first issue of Man and World 7 (1974).
15
A remark in Aristotle’s Topics could be read as a comment on what Socrates is doing here: “for with a person who
tries every means to seem to avoid defeat it is just to use every means to reach your conclusion, although this is
not an elegant proceeding.” (Top. VIII 14, 164b10-12)
“The Theory of Recollection in Plato’s Meno” 198
Meno that a predicament, an awareness of one’s own ignorance, is an essential step on the
way to knowledge. The ensuing discussion with Meno makes it plain to the reader of the
dialogue that it is Meno who is forced to accept the claim that everybody is able to recollect
things from his former existences, but he is forced to do so because he is unable to see
through the logical traps Socrates has prepared for him. I suppose that Plato expects his
readers to be somewhat cleverer than Meno.
This picture does not change when we come to the passage in which anamnesis is once
again mentioned in our dialogue, i.e. at 98a. There Socrates explains to Meno the difference
between true belief and knowledge, which consists in the fact that true beliefs can be
overturned, they can run away, whereas knowledge is something stable, something which
remains forever. So true belief has to be bound by the “reckoning of the reason” (c. ~.c,
·,.cµ. ) (98a3-4). And Socrates continues: “This is, Meno my friend, recollection as was
agreed between us earlier on.” (98a4-5). Now this certainly does not support the idea that
what we learn whenever we learn something comes to us by recollection. The passage
Socrates seems to refer to here is 85c9-d1; there it has been agreed to that a true belief like the
one now engendered in the slave-boy can be turned into knowledge by further questioning,
what one has to add is the fact that by this process of questioning the reason for the
geometrical theorem will be found.
What we find in the Meno is a Socrates/Plato quoting, as it were, from the Pythagorean
tradition of his time, yet without endorsing it. This quotation from Pythagoreanism has been
turned into a dogma of a Pythagoreanizing Platonism, due mainly to an interpretation of Plato
championed by the Neo-Pythagoreans and, later, by the Neo-Platonists. It is this interpretation
that is, in the last resort, responsible for what to my mind is a myth of modern Platonic
scholarship. I for one think that Plato scholars owe it to Plato’s genius to part company with
this reading of the Meno as soon as an interpretation is available that fits the text at least as
well, if not better than the reading of the Meno that has thus far been in favour with most
Platonists. If Plato is the great philosopher we all think he is, then we should no longer saddle
him with this so-called “theory of recollection”.
16
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Institut für Philosophie
16
During the Würzburg conference I was able to profit from discussions with Terry Penner and Michel Narcy, helping
me to clarify some of the issues involved in my paper. I am grateful to my Erlangen colleague David Heath for
deleting mistakes and inelegancies from my English.
La réminiscence dans le Ménon (81c5-d5)
Luc Brisson
En réaction contre l’interprétation dominante aujourd’hui, je voudrais montrer que le
passage du Ménon (81c5-d5) que je vais analyser ne prend tout son sens que si on le lit en
parallèle avec un passage du Phédon (72e-77a), même si le contexte dialogique qui est celui
du Ménon reste très différent de celui que l’on trouve dans le Phédon.
1. Ménon 81c5-d5 et son contexte
Le dialogue commence par la question suivante posée par Ménon: “Peux-tu me dire,
Socrate, si la vertu s’enseigne? ou si elle ne s’enseigne pas, mais s’acquiert par l’exercice? Et,
si elle ne s’acquiert point par l’exercice ni ne s’apprend, advient-elle aux hommes par nature
ou d’une autre façon?” (Ménon 70a1-4). Pour répondre à un argument mettant en cause la
possibilité de toute acquisition de la vertu, Platon évoque ce que disent des prêtres et des
prêtresses relativement à l’immortalité de l’âme, mais il situe leurs dires dans un contexte
philosophique très différent de la tradition religieuse à laquelle ils se rapportent.
Puis donc que l’âme est immortelle et qu’elle a eu plusieurs naissances, et
puisqu’elle a vu et les choses d’ici-bas et celles de l’Hadès, c’est-à-dire toutes les
réalités, il n’y a rien dont elle n’a pas pris connaissance. Par voie de conséquence, il
n’est pas du tout étonnant qu’elle soit en état de se remémorer, concernant aussi
bien la vertu que le reste, ce dont elle a déjà fait l’expérience dans le passé. En
effet, dans la mesure où l’âme est apparentée à la nature dans son ensemble et où
elle a appris toutes choses, rien n’empêche que, en se remémorant une seule chose
– ce que précisément nous appelons apprendre –, on ne redécouvre toutes les
autres, à condition d’être vaillant et de ne pas perdre courage au cours de la
recherche. Par suite, le fait de chercher et le fait d’apprendre, cela en effet équivaut
au total à une réminiscence. (Ménon 81c5-d5)
Il s’agit là du premier passage dans le corpus platonicien où il est parlé de la
réminiscence.
Par ailleurs, dans le Phédon, Cébès rappelle la doctrine de la réminiscence (72e7-73a2)
avant de la justifier par le propos suivant.
Une preuve suffira, dit Cébès, qui est remarquable entre toutes: quand on pose des
questions, si les questions sont bien posées, ceux que l’on interroge donnent par
eux-mêmes toutes les réponses qui conviennent. Or s’il n’y avait pas en eux une
science (.¬.c~µµµ), c’est-à-dire (-c. ) un jugement droit (¡-, ·,,), ils ne
pourraient le faire. Et si par exemple on dirige leur esprit vers les figures de
géométrie (~c o.c,¡c µµc~c) et les autres objets du même ordre, la preuve est
donnée de la façon la plus évidente, qu’il en est bien ainsi. ” (Phédon 73a7-b2).
La réminiscence dans le Ménon (81c5-d5) 200
Dans le Phédon, la réminiscence se trouve associée d’une part à la séparation entre l’âme et le
corps, et d’autre part à la séparation entre le sensible et l’intelligible. Or, dans le passage du
Ménon que je vais analyser, les réalités intelligibles ne sont pas évoquées de façon explicite.
Comment dès lors rendre compte de cette absence?
2. L’analyse de Ménon 81c5-d5
En Ménon 81c5-d5, Socrate veut établir les deux points suivants: apprendre, c’est se
remémorer et se remémorer implique un effort de recherche. Le premier point développe deux
idées: l’âme a déjà vu toutes les réalités et la connaissance de l’une peut mener à la
connaissance des autres.
La première phrase comporte d’abord une subordonnée causale (81c5-7) introduite par
un c ~. qui commande les trois participes suivants: un participe présent u cc, car
l’affirmation suivant laquelle l’âme est immortelle
1
est une vérité générale indépendante de
toute temporalité; et deux participes parfaits, ,.,|u. c et . .¡c-u. c réunis au premier par un
~. -c. qui se prolonge en un -c. , car les actions qu’ils décrivent font intervenir le temps.
L’âme est immortelle, mais cette immortalité est scandée par plusieurs “naissances”
(¬··c -., ,.,|u. c) qui se sont déjà produites, comme l’indique l’usage du parfait. Il
convient de préciser que le verbe ,. ,|.c~c. fait référence à une naissance qui doit être
interprétée non comme un commencement absolu de la vie, mais comme la venue de cette
âme immortelle en un nouveau corps susceptible d’être détruit
2
. Le verbe . .¡c-u. c, lui aussi
au parfait, décrit une action de l’âme, qui a déjà eu lieu. Et cette action fait référence non pas
à une connaissance propositionnelle, mais à une intuition entendue comme connaissance
immédiate, sans intermédiaire.
Les objets dont l’âme a eu l’intuition sont de trois sortes, comme l’indiquent les trois -c.
qui suivent.
– L’expression -c. ~c . |-c o. fait référence aux objets vus par l’âme qui se trouve dans
un corps, au moyen des organes des sens
3
.
– Au cours de ses pérégrinations, l’âme, a aussi vu d’autres objets désignés par
l’expression -c. ~c .| ´A.ou. On peut interpréter ces mots de deux façons, suivant qu’on
leur donne un sens propre ou un sens figuré. Au sens premier, l’Hadès désigne le royaume des
morts, là où va l’âme après avoir été séparée d’un corps. La mention ici faite de l’Hadès
s’explique de toute évidence par la citation de Pindare qui précède et elle est probablement
destinée à faciliter la compréhension de Ménon qui en reste à ce premier niveau. Si on se situe
dans une perspective exclusivement religieuse, on peut dire que l’âme qui est immortelle a vu
l’ensemble des réalités aussi bien celles d’ici-bas, lorsqu’elle était dans un corps, que celle du
monde d’Hadès quand elle était séparée de tout corps. Cette interprétation s’impose à un
premier niveau; elle s’inscrit dans la représentation traditionnelle de la mort, et elle suffit pour
expliquer que la connaissance est remémoration. Mais chez Platon, dont les idées sur la mort
s’écartent de la tradition, les choses se compliquent. Dans le Cratyle, Socrate, jouant sur les
mots, associe A.oµ, à c .o., (invisible) dans les deux passages suivants à tout le moins
d’abord en 403a3-8, puis en 404b3-4. Or c’est en insistant sur l’invisibilité que, dans le
Phédon (80d5-8), Socrate associe le royaume de l’Hadès au domaine de la réalité intelligible.
Socrate n’est pas aussi explicite dans le Ménon, mais tout porte à croire que la même idée se
1
Le thème de l’immortalité de l’âme apparaît souvent dans l’œuvre de Platon: Phédon 73a, 106d; Banquet 207a, 208b;
Phèdre 246a, c; République X 608d, 611e; Timée 90c; Lois IV 713e, 731b, c; V 739e, XII 959b.
2
Comme cela est expliqué dans le Phédon (et notamment en 77d)
3
On peut le constater en relisant Gorgias 527b et République II 366a.
Luc Brisson 201
trouve à l’arrière-plan; il serait curieux en effet que l’âme ait eu connaissance de réalités
mathématiques dans l’Hadès.
– Cette interprétation semble être confirmée par le -c. ¬c |~c y¡µ µc~c qui suit. En
effet, y¡µ µc~c peut présenter le sens général de “choses”; mais chez Platon et chez les
Platoniciens, y¡µ µc~c en vient naturellement à désigner les réalités intelligibles comme on
le constate en Phédon 66e1-2
4
. Si on s’en tient à l’interprétation de premier niveau, la
conclusion est simple: l’âme a vu l’ensemble des réalités, aussi bien celles d’ici-bas,
lorsqu’elle était dans un corps, que celles du monde d’Hadès quand elle était séparée de tout
corps. Si on fait intervenir l’interprétation de second niveau, il faut comprendre que,
lorsqu’elle était dans un corps, l’âme a vu les réalités sensibles, tandis que, quand elle était
séparée de tout corps, elle a vu les réalités intelligibles, ou plutôt incorporelles, auxquelles
ressortissent les mathématiques dont, chez Platon, le statut est mal défini, y compris dans la
République. En d’autres termes, pour le Platon du Ménon, l’âme se souvient non pas de tous
les événements empiriques auxquels elle a été mêlée dans ses vies antérieures, mais des
choses sensibles et des réalités intelligibles qui échappent à nos sens comme celles qui se
trouvent dans le monde des morts.
La proposition principale (81c7) dont dépend la causale qui précède conforte cette
lecture. On notera le parfait µ.µc -µ-.|. Il y a donc équivalence entre “avoir vu” et “avoir
appris”. Tout processus d’apprentissage trouve son terme dans une connaissance qui est une
intuition s’apparentant à une vision. Parce qu’elle a vu toutes les réalités, il n’y a donc rien
que l’âme n’ait appris. Par suite, elle peut se souvenir de tout ce qu’elle a vu et donc appris.
C’est exactement ce qu’explique la phrase suivante (81c7-9). La conjonction .c~.
exprime la conséquence de ce qui vient d’être dit: apprendre, c’est être en mesure de se
souvenir (. | ~` .. |c. c|cµ|µc-µ |c.) des choses que l’on connaissait auparavant. Mais
quels sont les objets de ce souvenir? On notera que le seul objet ici spécifié est c ¡.~µ , qui est
aussi l’objet sur lequel portait la question qui ouvre le dialogue (Ménon 70 a1-4). Or, dans le
Phédon, les vertus sont rangées aux côtés des réalités intelligibles: “En effet, notre discussion
présente ne porte pas plus sur l’Égal que sur le Beau en soi (¬.¡. cu ~u ~u -c·u ), le Bien
en soi (¬.¡. cu ~u ~u c ,c-u ) le Juste, le Pieux, et d’une façon générale, pour le dire en un
mot tout ce que nous marquons au sceau de l’être” (Phédon 75c10-d2). Par ailleurs, le -c.
¬.¡. c ··.| qui suit -c. ¬.¡. c ¡.~µ , vient généraliser l’affirmation, et ne peut être
interprété qu’en fonction du statut donné à c¡.~µ, c’est-à-dire à mes yeux celui de
l'intelligible; l’âme a vu les vertus et les autres réalités intelligibles.
La suite insiste sur cette généralisation sur laquelle se fonde le processus de
réminiscence. Elle s’ouvre sur une subordonnée causale (81c9-d2) construite une fois de plus
avec un c~. qui gouverne un génitif absolu qui peut être construit de deux façons différentes.
Ou bien on considère ~µ , ¦u c.., c ¬c cµ, cu,,.|u , u cµ, comme un segment
indépendant, à la façon de Burnet qui imprime une virgule après u cµ,, et que l’on
coordonne à l’aide du -c. à µ.µc-µ-u. c, ~µ , ¦uyµ , c ¬c|~c. On obtient alors la
traduction suivante: “En effet, dans la mesure où dans la nature toutes choses sont apparentées
et dans la mesure où l’âme a pris connaissance de toutes choses.” C’est là une construction et
une traduction très fréquentes. Du point de vue de la grammaire, rien ne s’oppose à cette
construction et à cette traduction; mais on ne voit pas bien ce que peut signifier “dans la
mesure où dans la nature toutes choses sont apparentées”, car c’est là une affirmation trop
générale et donc banale. En revanche, les choses deviennent bien plus claires si l’on considère
que ~µ, ¦uyµ, est le sujet logique à la fois des verbes ucµ, -c. µ.µc-µ-u.c,. En
construisant ainsi on arrive à cette traduction qui me semble beaucoup plus claire: “Dans la
4
Sur les différents sens du terme ¬¡c,µc, voir Hadot ([1990] 1998), 61-92.
La réminiscence dans le Ménon (81c5-d5) 202
mesure où l’âme est apparentée à la nature dans son ensemble et où elle a appris toutes
choses”. On retrouve ici l’idée que le semblable est connu par le semblable
5
. Or comme l’âme
occupe une position intermédiaire entre le sensible et l’intelligible, elle est apparentée aux
deux; c’est ce qu’indique l’expression ~µ , ¦u c.., c ¬c cµ,. C’est d’ailleurs son
apparentement à l’intelligible qui rend compte de l’immortalité de l’âme dans ce passage du
Phédon
6
. Dans le Ménon, il s’agit de montrer que l’âme peut se souvenir de toutes les choses,
parce qu’elle les a déjà toute apprises. Par suite, il faut donner à ¦u c., son sens le plus
général: tout ce qui existe. C’est parce qu’il y a une parenté, c’est-à-dire une relation forte
entre l’âme et toutes les choses qui constituent la nature, sensibles ou intelligibles, qu’il lui est
possible de toutes les connaître. Suivant cette interprétation, le c¬c|~c reprend par ailleurs le
~µ , ¦u c.., c ¬c cµ, et le ¬c |~c y¡µ µc~c.
Puis vient la proposition principale (81d3-4) à laquelle se rattache la causale. On passe à
une autre idée; en se souvenant d’une seule chose on peut découvrir toutes les autres. Cela
n’est possible que dans la mesure où l’âme est apparentée à la nature dans son ensemble,
sensible aussi bien qu’intelligible. Voilà, me semble-t-il, ce qui est expliqué, dans le Phédon
(73c-75a) par un Socrate qui vient de définir le savoir (. ¬.c~µµµ ) par la réminiscence
(c |c µ|µc.,). Il commence par prendre un exemple qui reste dans le monde sensible: à la vue
d’un vêtement, d’une lyre, l’amant se souvient irrésistiblement de son aimé. La vue de
Simmias fait penser à Cébès. Puis il fait intervenir un autre niveau. La vue de morceaux
égaux permet de faire penser à l’Égal. Et de l’Égal, il passe au Beau, au Juste et plus
généralement “à tout ce que nous marquons au sceau de l’être”. Bref puisqu’elle est
apparentée à toutes les réalités, sensibles aussi bien qu’intelligibles, l’âme peut les connaître
toutes, qu’elles se trouvent au même niveau ou à un niveau différent. C’est ce double
mouvement qui est décrit dans le Phédon en 76a1-7. Mais s’il est vrai que l’acte d’apprendre
(µc -µc.,) est une réminiscence (c |c µ|µc.,), cela implique qu’il faut faire un effort pour
chercher ce qui a été oublié.
Voilà ce que met bien évidence la fin du passage (81d4-5). En un premier temps en effet
on se demande ce que vient faire là le terme c|o¡.. ,, car il ne s’agit pas d’hostilité. Pour
comprendre ce que Platon veut dire, il faut en revenir à ce qui est dit des différents sens du
“courage” dans le Lachès (191d-e) par exemple: être courageux c’est non seulement affronter
la peur ou la douleur, mais aussi résister aux désirs et aux plaisirs. C’est en fait au second type
de courage que fait ici allusion Socrate, comme l’indique l’usage du verbe c ¬-c µ|µ qui
évoque l’idée d’effort, de peine, de travail, et auquel est relié .c | ~., c |o¡.. , µ . La suite le
prouve amplement: “Il ne faut donc pas se laisser persuader par cet argument éristique. Il
risque de nous rendre paresseux (c ¡,u ,) et, parmi les hommes, ce sont les mous (µc·c-. ,)
qui se plaisent à lui prêter l’oreille, tandis que l’argument que je viens de tenir exhorte au
travail et à la recherche.” (81d5-e1) La même idée est reprise un peu plus loin en Ménon 86b-
c. La conclusion (81d4-5) reprend ce qui a été dit plus haut. “Apprendre (µc|-c |..|), cela
revient à chercher (¸µ~.. |), car l’âme a déjà tout vu, et il n’y a rien qu’elle n’ait appris”
(81d5-7). Par suite, savoir c’est se rappeler ce qu’on a déjà appris (81c7-9).
L’argumentation se laisse ainsi reconstruire. 1) Il n’y a rien dont l’âme n’a pas déjà pris
connaissance. L’objet de cette connaissance préalable est l’intelligible qu’elle a contemplé,
lorsqu’elle était séparée de tout corps: la chose est évidente dans le Phédon, mais reste
implicite dans le Ménon, où pourtant l’allusion à l’Hadès et la référence à la vertu ne prennent
un sens à la fois simple et satisfaisant que dans l’hypothèse de l’existence de réalités
intelligibles. 2) Et il en va de même pour la mention de la nature qui dans son ensemble
5
Protagoras 337d1, voir Banquet 192b5.
6
Phédon 86b1 et République X 611e2.
Luc Brisson 203
appartient à une même famille, à un même genre: les choses sensibles et les réalités
intelligibles entretiennent respectivement des relations entre elles, et surtout les choses
sensibles participent de réalités intelligibles. 3) Par voie de conséquence, s’il est bien vrai
qu’apprendre c’est se ressouvenir de réalités intelligibles, il est possible de découvrir toutes
les autres choses. Mais dans la mesure où il s’agit là d’un exercice consistant à partir du
sensible et à s’en détacher en vue d’arriver à l’intelligible, cela demande du courage et de la
vaillance, de l’effort et de la peine.
Reste la question posée au point de départ. Dans la mesure où il est impossible de parler
de réminiscence sans parler d’une part de la séparation de l’âme et du corps et de leurs liens,
et d’autre part de la séparation du sensible et de l’intelligible et de leur participation, pourquoi
n’est-il pas question de réalités intelligibles en Ménon 80e-81e? La réponse s’impose, me
semble-t-il. Pour répondre à la question posée par Ménon, Socrate, dans le Ménon, n’avait pas
besoin de parler des réalités intelligibles. Il lui suffisait de prendre en compte la séparation de
l’âme d’avec le corps, l’immortalité de l’âme et sa transmigration. De surcroît, parler de
réalités intelligibles à un aristocrate comme Ménon qui identifiait la vertu à la réussite
militaire et politique eût été contre-productif. En revanche, dans le Phédon, au cours de sa
discussion avec Simmias et Cébès qui sont des “philosophes”, Socrate sent le besoin
d’évoquer les réalités intelligibles; c’est en effet son apparentement à ces réalités immuables
qui explique que l’âme soit immortelle.
Bref, ce passage du Ménon doit, me semble-t-il, être lu conjointement avec celui du
Phédon sur la réminiscence. La discrétion du Ménon relative à l’existence de réalités
intelligibles s’explique par une différence entre les objectifs des deux dialogues, et par la
nature des interlocuteurs. Mais, comme j’ai tenté de le montrer, ce passage du Ménon (80e-
81e) ne devient intelligible que si l’on discerne à l’arrière-plan du passage l’existence de
réalités intelligibles.
Paris – CNRS
Anamnesi e dialettica nel ‘Menone’
Linda M. Napolitano Valditara
In memoria di Mario Mignucci
A. Da dove partire.
Per cogliere il legame fra anamnesi e dialettica nel Menone, parto dalla frase di Socrate
che chiude la presentazione dell’anamnesi stessa, prima del test geometrico: secondo quanto
appena ammesso, «cercare ed imparare sono nel complesso reminiscenza»
1
. Anamnesi non è
solo l’imparare, la µc -µc.,, come ogni manuale su Platone insegna: anamnesi è anche la
ricerca, o meglio la µc -µc., lo è se sia tutt’uno con la ¸µ~µc.,. L’imparare è anamnesi se è
cercare: ma questo pare compromesso dal dubitare di Socrate, torpedine paralizzante sé stessa
(80 A-D), e dal «paradosso di Menone», che nega si possa cercare ciò che già si sa e ciò che
non si sa (80 D-E)
2
. Se imparare è anamnesi poiché è uno col cercare e se la via euristica per
eccellenza è in Platone la dialettica, l’anamnesi, µc -µc., e ¸µ ~µc.,, deve avere – nel
Menone e in generale – un legame, da chiarirsi, con la dialettica
3
.
Ammetto altri due presupposti: uno riguarda proprio la dialettica, figurante poco prima
nel dialogo – è una delle prime volte nel corpus platonicum e delle poche sedi di comparsa
del termine greco –: «più mite e più dialettico» (o.c·.-~.-. ~.¡|, 75 D 4) di quello invalso
fra gli eristi, si è detto, è il metodo per discutere «fra amici», rispondendo la verità e con
termini ammessi da entrambi i dialoganti.
Per dialettica, qui, intendo certo la pratica socratica dell’interrogare e confutare, quella
che per Aristotele (Metaph. 1078 b 23-7; Soph. El. 34, 183 b 6-8; Eth. Nic. 1127 b 22-6) è
ancora debole, perché priva di una teoria dei contrari e perciò – quando, con l’. ·.,y,, pure
segnali il contraddittorio come falso – incapace d’indicare anche l’unico vero che a quel falso
per contraddizione si oppone e lo esclude
4
. Oltre alla dialettica confutativa di Socrate, intendo
però anche la dialettica matura di Platone, quella che, dal Fedone in poi, diviene, da domanda
e confutazione del falso, anche trattazione delle ipotesi proposte nel dialogo e, tramite l’uso
positivo del loro opporsi per contraddizione, ricerca e scoperta del vero
5
.
Nel Menone tale dialettica completa emerge in nuce: il Socrate del dialogo, alla fine del
test geometrico, esprime fiducia che lo Schiavo, che finora ha acquisito solo opinioni sul lato
del quadrato doppio, possa, «se lo si interrogherà spesso, sugli stessi temi e in molti
modi,…avere su di essi scienza esatta (c -¡.¡., . ¬.c~µc.~c.)» (85 C 11-12)
6
. Tale fiducia
1
81 D 4-5; la trad. dei passi greci è mia.
2
Sul «paradosso di Menone» cfr. § B. Bluck (1961), ad 81 D 5: «Inquiring and learning may both be described as
recollection. Recollecting, in fact, is a process: it is not…fully achieved only in a moment».
3
Già Paisse (1967) lega anamnesi e cu|c,.,µ partendo dal Fedro (249 B-C, citato infra, prima della nota 25).
Cfr. Narcy (1969), e Meattini (1981), 37-40.
4
Cfr. Berti (1987), 76, rispetto a Parm. 135 E-136 A.
5
Cfr. Socrate e Platone in Berti (1987), e Napolitano (2004b), 229-30, nota 5.
6
Il termine o çc ricorre a 85 B 7; C 3; C 7; C 10. Che lo Schiavo ricordi solo opinioni (cosa non sempre chiara agli
interpreti) mostra che vi sono livelli diversi del processo anamnestico: in Phaed. 73 A 9-10 l’anamnesi, risultato di
Linda M. Napolitano 205
non può riferirsi solo all’interrogare e confutare socratico e necessita delle integrazioni che
Platone apporta a tale metodo, facendone una procedura di ricerca e scoperta del vero. La
dialettica di cui cerco il legame con l’anamnesi è dunque anche quella completa di Platone,
per quanto in embrione si trovi in quello reputato primo dei dialoghi della maturità.
Un presupposto formale legge poi la sezione da 80 A (Socrate torpedine marina) a 86 C
(dov’egli riflette sugli esiti del test maieutico) come unico contesto problematico. Vi figurano
4 temi importanti: Socrate torpedine marina, cioè il dubbio; il «paradosso di Menone» o
· ,, . ¡.c~.- , sulla ricerca; la presentazione dell’anamnesi, prima religioso-poetica e poi
«filosofica»; infine il test con lo Schiavo che prova la validità dell’anamnesi stessa. Temi
cruciali, che hanno indotto gli studiosi a sezionarli al microscopio, spesso trascurandone il
contesto comune: chi studia la torpedine in genere ne ignora il legame con il test sul quadrato
e chi esamina questo scorda il richiamo a poeti e sacerdoti nella presentazione dell’anamnesi.
Va invece tenuto insieme l’unico contesto di fondo, quello della possibilità stessa della
ricerca: tema in taglio sia con l’argomento base del dialogo (l’acquisibilità ed insegnabilità
della virtù), sia con il ruolo ad esso ascritto di manifesto dell’Accademia.
B. Il problema della ricerca
Socrate accetta il paragone che Menone – zittito su ben quattro ipotesi circa la virtù – fa
di lui, come torpedine paralizzante chi la tocchi, ad un patto: esso funziona se si ammetta che
la torpedine per prima subisca gli effetti della sua scarica. Egli infatti fa dubitare gli altri
paralizzandoli «nell’anima e nella bocca» (80 B 1), ma non perché sia sicuro, bensì essendo
lui per primo in istato di dubbio (80 C-D)
7
.
Menone ora è scettico sul proseguire la ricerca: come potrà Socrate, così dubbioso,
cercar ciò che non sa per nulla che cosa sia? Quale delle cose che non sa cercherà e come
potrà, trovatala, riconoscerla per quella cercata? Socrate risponde formulando lui il paradosso
di solito ascritto al suo interlocutore
8
: non vede Menone che · ,, . ¡.c~.- , stia portando?
Non si potrebbe cercare né ciò che si sa – non occorre, se lo si sa –, né ciò che non si sa, non
sapendo neppure che cosa cercare (80 D-E).
Vi è però incongruenza tra il modo in cui Menone formula il problema – visto tutto dalla
parte della cosa cercata – e la generalizzazione di Socrate: egli invece guarda alla
motivazione alla ricerca, dalla parte del soggetto, delle ragioni per cui e del modo in cui
questi può cercare. A suo dire, e contro il · ,, . ¡.c~.- ,, cercare è possibile se non si dà in
un ambito statico, dove gli stati cognitivi siano distinti per tagli netti, dove appunto o si sa e
dunque non si cerca, oppure non si sa e dunque non si sa che cercare. La ricerca si dà in un
ambito cognitivo sempre dinamico, lo stesso ribadito poco dopo come proprio della stessa
anamnesi, quando si dirà possibile che «chi ha ricordato una sola cosa…trovi da sé anche
tutte le altre» (.| µ || c |cµ|µc-. |~c ... ~c ··c ¬c |~c cu ~ | c |.u¡.. |) (81 D 2-3),
purché però «sia coraggioso e non smetta di cercare» (81 D 3-4). Oltre che dinamicità, la
ricerca esige allora attività gnoseologica e positività comportamentale da parte del soggetto.
un «buon interrogare» (73 A 8), è detta possibile del pari per «scienza e retta ragione». L’anamnesi delle idee,
esemplificata nel Fedone, è dunque solo l’acme di una procedura più ampia. Cfr. Bluck (1961), 11-12 e 15-17, e
Paisse (1967), 235, rispetto a Men. 98 A: «le opinioni vere…non vogliono restar ferme a lungo e fuggono
dall’anima, finché non le si leghi con un ragionamento circa la causa.. Ma ciò…è anamnesi, come prima
convenuto» (corsivo mio).
7
80 C 9-D 1. Il passo è basilare per la filosofia socratico-platonica: Luigi Stefanini lo scelse come esergo per la
monografia su Platone (anast. 1991).
8
E’ rilevante che sia Socrate a formulare il paradosso: è difficile perciò che Platone gli metta in bocca una questione
reputata artificiosa, non importante o senza risposta. Cfr. Scott (1991), O’ Brien (1991), Canto-Sperber (1991a);
già Bluck (1961), 8 ss., e Canto-Sperber (1991), 66-74.
Anamnesi e dialettica nel ‘Menone’ 206
Basilare per essa e nella dinamicità gnoseologica che la fonda è l’aporia ammessa per sé
da Socrate stesso, lo stato in cui, dubbioso più di tutti, egli non sa sì, ma anche sa di non
sapere: solo tale stato – né sapienza che rende vano cercare, né cecità che fa ignorare il
cercato stesso, ma stato intermedio, come quello di Eros nel Simposio – spinge a cercare e lo
rende possibile.
Ciò è ribadito. Nel test con lo Schiavo, dopo che 2 volte costui ha errato sul dato cercato
e ha detto di non saper come procedere («…proprio non lo so!»; 84 A 1-2), anche allora
Socrate nota che è stato bene farlo dubitare: ora egli «cercherà volentieri, poiché non sa»
(84 B 10-11), mentre non «si sarebbe messo a cercare ed imparare [ancora il nostro
binomio!] ciò che riteneva di sapere non sapendolo» (84 C 4-5), non «prima di cadere
nell’aporia di pensar di non sapere e di desiderare (. ¬-µ c.|) di sapere» (84 C 4-6)
9
.
La riflessione di Socrate alla fine del test geometrico conferma che è questo il cuore
dell’intera sezione: «E per gli altri tratti non lotterei molto a difesa del mio discorso; sul fatto
che invece, consci di dover cercare ciò che non si sa, siamo migliori, più coraggiosi e meno
pigri, rispetto a quando crediamo impossibile e non necessario cercare le cose che non
sappiamo, su ciò lotterei fino in fondo, se potessi, con le parole e coi fatti» (86 B 6-C 1,
corsivo mio)
10
.
Il contesto in cui, in tutta la nostra sezione del Menone, l’anamnesi è presentata è dunque
quello della ricerca, della sua condizione fondante per il soggetto: basilare è il dubbio,
l’aporia di saper di non sapere e desiderar di sapere. Cercare è possibile in un ambito
gnoseologico dinamico: da quell’aporia e da quella sola cosa nota (il nostro stesso non sapere
e desiderio di sapere), possiamo scoprir da noi ogni altra cosa
11
. Tale dimensione dinamica
non può essere che quella dialettica, siglante in Platone il moto formale del cercare e
conoscere. Se, come dice la frase di partenza, cercare ed imparare sono anamnesi, vi è un
legame non solo fra cercare ed imparare e fra questi ed anamnesi, ma fra anamnesi e
dialettica, che caratterizza in Platone la dinamicità del conoscere e rende possibile cercare ed
imparare.
C. Il detto di sacerdoti e poeti.
La presentazione poetico-religiosa dell’anamnesi nel Menone ha fatto discutere, per
identificare i sacerdoti (Orfici o Pitagorici?) cui Socrate ascrive le tesi «vere e belle»
dell’immortalità e metensomatosi, e la paternità dei versi (di Pindaro, 81 B 7-C 4) che
ascrivono le stesse tesi «ai divini fra i poeti» (81 B 1-2). Non torno su questo
12
: un problema
– rispetto al tratto filosofico preteso per un’anamnesi legata alla dialettica – è quanto i
contenuti tratti da religione e poesia fondino teoreticamente l’anamnesi, risultando essenziali
per la sua tenuta filosofica. I nodi della tradizione poetico-religiosa qui di rilievo sono tre:
sacerdoti e poeti dicono che l’anima è immortale (81 B 3-4); che talora essa finisce la vita in
9
Figura qui il verbo ¬-. ., indicante il desiderio nostalgico, di ciò che si possedeva, o si dovrebbe possedere per
natura, e che ci è tolto: così avviene con quanto visto nella Piana della Verità, per l’oblio indotto dall’acqua del
fiume Lethe (Resp. 621 A 6-B 1); cfr. Phaedr. 249 E, e, per ¬ -,, Chantraine (1980), ad v.
10
Corsivo mio. Cfr. Bluck (1961), 11-12: Socrate, in armonia col Fedone, non crede di aver provato l’anamnesi
completa, non avendo parlato di anamnesi delle idee, possibile solo al filosofo: lo Schiavo ha ricordato solo
opinioni e non è conscio del processo anamnestico.
11
Il saper di non sapere e del proprio desiderio di sapere è la cosa nota da cui metodicamente partire per cercare. Più
oltre – quando emerge il tratto associativo dell’anamnesi come ricerca – la cosa nota da cui partire diverrà
contenuto specifico, che, per somiglianza o dissomiglianza, rende possibile inserire il cercato nella rete dei
rapporti fra le cose: qui opera la dialettica.
12
Bluck (1961), 61-75; Canto-Sperber (1991a), 76-9; Paisse (1967), (1969) e (1970); Brisson (1999), e al Symposium
di Würzburg Arrighetti, Brisson, Cornelli e Szlezàk.
Linda M. Napolitano 207
un corpo – fenomeno detto «morte» – e talora rinasce, senza distruggersi mai (81 B 4-6);
infine che per tali ragioni occorra vivere santamente (81 B 6-7).
Le prime due tesi risalgono ai filoni preplatonici aderenti alla metensomatosi, mentre la
deduzione, da esse, di prescrizioni morali è più rara (vi sono versioni naturalistiche della
metensomatosi): certo è conseguenza a cui Platone mostra sempre interesse nel riferirsi alla
ruota delle nascite, in Repubblica, Fedro e Timeo
13
.
Sono essenziali tali tesi a fondare l’anamnesi? Chi reputa questa prima presentazione
base teoretica per essa giunge a ridurre il suo peso filosofico: essa non sarebbe credibile, se
basata su premesse, teologiche o poetiche, non dimostrate. Non credo però – e non sono la
sola – che questo sia il caso: Platone in genere non si accontenta della parola di sacerdoti e
poeti per fondare l’immortalità (ne fornisce prove e prove in Fedone, Fedro e Repubblica) ed
anche dove – non qui nel Menone – fonda l’immortalità sull’anamnesi, non si accontenta, per
essa, della parola di sacerdoti e poeti
14
.
Neanche qui se ne accontenta: prima di citare le tesi di sacerdoti e poeti, Socrate invita
Menone a «guardare se gli pare che essi dicano il vero» (81 B 2-3). Di più, se il detto
religioso e poetico bastasse a fondar l’anamnesi, Socrate non inizierebbe il test con lo
Schiavo: certo, è Menone – allievo del materialista Gorgia e insoddisfatto forse di prove
tradizionali – a chiedergli «in che modo» (81 E 3) egli dica che la µc -µc., è anamnesi, e a
spingerlo a darne dimostrazione (. |o..çcc-c., 82 A 6). La cosa non è facile (82 A 7), ma
Socrate ci proverà a vantaggio di Menone. Inizia subito il test con lo Schiavo, che è – esso e
nient’altro – la prova empirica del valore teoretico dell’anamnesi.
Tale test è citato nel Fedone, come «unico discorso…bellissimo» che gli uomini, se ben
interrogati, da soli dicono ogni cosa com’è: «se poi qualcuno li pone davanti a figure o a cose
simili, da qui si ha la manifestazione più evidente (cc¦. c~c~c -c~µ,,¡.. ) che le cose
stanno come detto» (Phaed. 73 B 1-2).
La presentazione religioso-poetica dell’anamnesi è richiamo retorico all’autorità della
tradizione; evocazione protrettica per ben disporre Menone verso la nuova tesi; contenuto
interessante per la religiosità di Socrate e di Platone stesso; presupposto storico, culturale,
religioso dell’anamnesi: ma certo non ne è il fondamento teoretico
15
.
E’ il test con lo Schiavo ad esserne, secondo il Fedone, prova «più evidente»: esso non
dice tutto sull’anamnesi, nulla di quella delle idee, ma solo che uno schiavo sa ricordare
opinioni (rette) su un problema geometrico; è introdotto però proprio per provare
(. |o..çcc-c. 82 A 6; . |o..çc., 82 A 6; . ¬.o.. ç.µc., 82 B 2) l’anamnesi, a fondar la quale
perciò non basta il detto di sacerdoti e poeti.
D. La presentazione filosofica: nel tempo, fuori del tempo.
Il cuore filosofico dell’anamnesi – coi cenni alla dialettica – figura fra 81 C 5 ed E 6: lo
stesso linguaggio essenziale indica lo sforzo di Platone per trasporre i contenuti
13
Sulle due versioni, naturalistica e moralizzata, della metensomatosi preplatonica (per la prima l’uscita dalla ruota
delle nascite è indipendente da meriti e colpe), Vegetti (1986), 87-95.
14
Nel Menone si darebbe circolarità fra immortalità ed anamnesi: prima (81 C-D) si dedurrebbe l’anamnesi
dall’immortalità sostenuta da sacerdoti e poeti, poi (86 B 1-2) si fonderebbe l’immortalità sul fatto che la verità è
da sempre nell’anima. Ma il dialogo, teso a chiarire le condizioni di possibilità della ricerca, non ha interesse a
sondare il rapporto fra i due concetti o a provare l’immortalità. Cfr. L. Brown (1991), 604-8.
15
Neppure per Brisson (1999), 39, attento a trovare le radici culturali – religiose – dell’anamnesi, queste ne sono una
premessa teoretica: non si può parlare di «échec de la pensée». Socrate nel dialogo si stacca poi dalla tradizione
religiosa, traendone solo la preesistenza dell’anima (Canto-Sperber (1991a), 76-8). Anche nel Fedone (73 A 4) il
riferimento al test geometrico vale come risposta alla domanda di Simmia su quali siano «le dimostrazioni» che
conoscere è ricordare. Su tutt’altra linea, Ebert (2000), 63-73, e la relazione da lui presentata al Symposium di
Würzburg.
Anamnesi e dialettica nel ‘Menone’ 208
dall’originaria sede religioso-poetica a quella filosofica
16
. La torsione cui egli sottopone le
nozioni in gioco emerge nelle improprietà concettuali e verbali: egli non parla più il
linguaggio della tradizione – e dunque dice cose per questa inammissibili –, e non parla
ancora del tutto il proprio – e dice cose non ortodosse nel suo stesso pensiero –.
Allora l’anima – poiché è immortale ed è rinata più volte e ha visto le cose di
questo mondo e quelle dell’Ade, cioè tutte le cose – non c'è nulla che non abbia
imparato; perciò non sorprende che possa ricordare quanto anche prima sapeva,
sulla virtù e tutto il resto (81 C 5-9).
Vera l’immortalità, l’anima dunque sarebbe «rinata più volte» (81 C 5 ¬··c -.,
,.,|u. c), prima improprietà, poiché il linguaggio platonico ortodosso non rende la
metensomatosi come un «rinascer più volte» dell’anima, ma semmai di questa nel corpo. Nel
«rinascer più volte», l’anima, avendo visto (. .¡c-u. c, 81 C 6) tutto, le cose «di qui» (81 C 6,
~c . |-c o. : altra improprietà, poiché per Platone anamnesi non è il ricordo dei vissuti
empirici), come quelle «di là», ha imparato (µ.µc -µ-.|, 81 C 6) tutto: non è strana dunque
la sua capacità di ricordare quanto già prima – inconsapevolmente – sapeva
17
.
Il linguaggio, da un lato, narra la vicenda temporale dell’anima, che, per la lettera della
metensomatosi, viaggia fra mondo sensibile, infero e celeste, potendo – secondo quanto
Platone ne deduce – «vedere» e dunque imparare tutto ciò che, appreso prima (¬¡ ~.¡|
µ ¬. c~c~, 81 C 9) e scordato, è dopo, nella vita sensibile, oggetto d’anamnesi e via di
possibile fuga dalla vita fisica
18
. Ma esso allude anche ad un’eccedenza dell’anima rispetto al
mondo sensibile, se non tutto quanto essa sa viene da qui: ciò la sottrae all’ambito spazio-
temporale e dà un altro senso, non più proiettabile in un contesto temporale,
all’apprendimento «pregresso» e a quanto l’anima sa «ricordarne». Emergono qui,
nell’anamnesi, le stesse, congenite, abilità cognitive dell’anima e la sua capacità di cogliere le
eterne strutture del tutto. Ma non si tratta più – il Fedone lo chiarirà – di una memoria
dispiegata fra passato e presente: l’anamnesi inizia a divenire qualcos’altro.
Il Menone poi, riflettendo sul test geometrico, pone un’opzione fra aver acquisito le
conoscenze ora «ricordate» «in un certo tempo», o il possederle «da sempre» (85 D 9-10:
µ ~. . ·c¡. | ¬~. µ c .. .. y.|). Quanto lo Schiavo, ignaro di geometria, ha mostrato di
conoscere lo deve aver acquisito «in qualche altro tempo» (. | c··. ~.|. y¡ |. , 86 A 1), in
cui non era uomo. Che però questo si sottragga alla temporalità, lo prova – anche lì –
l’ c ou |c~| verbale, quasi intraducibile dal greco, che Platone usa: è evidente, si conclude
infatti, che lo Schiavo ora è uomo, ora no, «rispetto al tempo dell’eternità» (~ | c .. y¡ ||,
86 A 7); ma questo «tempo dell’ c .. », fuori della vita incarnata, non è strictu sensu un
tempo
19
.
16
Per Brisson (1999), 39, Platone opera una «transposition philosophique» di contenuti religiosi. La costruzione stessa
da 81 C 5 (´A~. u | µ ¦uyµ c-c |c~, ~. u cc -c. …) non fa pensare solo ad una prosecuzione del detto di
sacerdoti e poeti (Bluck (1961), 286): Socrate esporrebbe qui una sua tesi, pur ispirata a quelle religioso-poetiche
precedenti (Canto-Sperber (1991a), 258, nota 122).
17
Differenza base rispetto alla tradizione religiosa è che Platone non reputa oggetto d’anamnesi i dati empirici: ciò che
si ricorda è quanto visto nella Piana della Verità o nell’Iperuranio prima dell’incarnazione (Brisson 1999). Solo
caso in cui il ricordo di dati empirici passati è criterio di scelta della vita futura è quello del mito di Er: a ribadire il
diverso tratto standard dell’anamnesi, Untersteiner (1966), 229, parla in merito di un’anamnesi al contrario
(cfr. Napolitano (2001), 152, note 9 e 10).
18
Che l’anima abbia visto e imparato tutto lo deduce Platone stesso dalla metensomatosi, ma è difficile ascrivere tale
conoscenza del tutto ad esponenti preplatonici di questa.
19
L’espressione è tradotta «in ogni tempo» («for all time», «de tout temps», «per omne tempus»), dato il valore
distributivo di c .. fra articolo e sostantivo: ma «the c .. there must be include the past as well the future» (Bluck
(1961), ad loc.). di c.. ¦¡c.
Linda M. Napolitano 209
La memoria di «ciò che era, che è, che sarà» serbata dal canto di Esiodo ed Omero, la
fonte Mnemosyne cui l’iniziato beve per valersi rinascita, nella laminetta orfica di Petelia,
simboleggiano semmai un eterno sottratto al tempo, nella scansione temporale
imperfettamente rappresentato, come il Chronos del Timeo, scandito dal moto perenne dei
pianeti, è «immagine mobile dell’eterno» (37 D 5)
20
. In sede cognitiva, l’anamnesi inizia a
divenir altro dalla rammemorazione del passato: tematizzazione di conoscenze possedute da
sempre in forma latente
21
.
E. Anamnesi e dialettica.
Dato poi che la natura tutta è congenere e l'anima ha appreso ogni cosa, nulla vieta
che chi ricordi anche un’unica cosa – processo che gli uomini dicono
apprendimento – trovi da sé anche tutte le altre, se sia coraggioso e non si stanchi
di cercare; cercare e imparare, allora, nel complesso sono reminiscenza (81 C 9-
D 5).
Se volesse riferirsi solo alla ripresa di nozioni acquisite in un «tempo» prenatale, perché
Platone fa queste precisazioni? Che c’entrano col recupero di nozioni passate l’esser
cu,,.|µ , della ¦u c., e la connessa capacità, da una cosa «ricordata», di richiamar da sé le
altre? Ora che la pretesa µc -µc., si mostra come ¸µ ~µc., (è un ritrovar (c|.u¡..|) da
sé) –, è qui che entra in gioco la dialettica, intesa sì come disposizione dinamica – già nota –
alla ricerca, ma ora anche come capacità di cogliere i legami interni del tutto, i rapporti,
orizzontali e verticali, fra le cose e fra queste ed i loro paradigmi eterni. Quanto si dirà su
anamnesi e dialettica dal Fedone in poi, fino ai dialoghi dialettici e al Timeo, trova qui
anticipazione concentrata: queste righe si spiegano, ma non rispetto al passato poetico-
religioso, bensì al futuro imminente dello stesso pensiero platonico.
L’esser cu,,.|µ , della natura è stato variamente inteso
22
: si concorda però che,
comunque si legga, esso si giustifichi quale condizione fondante la capacità dell’anima di
trovar da sé ogni altra cosa (~c ··c ¬c|~c cu~| c|.u¡..|, 81 D 3), a partire da quella sola
che abbia ricordato (. | µ || c |cµ|µc-. |~c, 81 D 2). Se il riferimento serve a questo,
sono ancora generici i legami storici indicatine, o alla parentela pitagorica, fondativa della
metensomatosi, delle parti della natura, o all’ . | ¬c | senofaneo nel Sofista
23
. Il riferimento
20
Per la formula ~c ~` . |~c, ~c ~` .ccµ.|c ¬¡ ~` . |~c, Il. I 70; Theog. 32 e 38; cfr. Detienne (1983), 5;
Vernant (1978), 99, e Napolitano (1994), 8, e 159, nota 13. Per la laminetta orfica, cfr. Pugliese-Carratelli (2001),
e Brisson (1999), 33. Problematici anche i riferimenti al «tempo» prenatale dell’apprendimento nel Fedone: 72 E
6-7; C 2; 75 A 1; 75 D 4-5; la sezione da 76 A 4 a C 13, dove l’alternativa, pure ipotizzata, di un possesso innato
delle conoscenze (76 A 4-5) è smentita perché non tutti, poi, ricordano quanto dovrebbero saper da sempre: perciò
è accolta, pur non parendo definitiva, l’alternativa, che l’anima conosca – e dunque esista già – prima della nascita
(76 C 11; E 2-3). Ma ciò è, rispetto all’immortalità, solo dimostrazione della «metà del dovuto» (77 C 1). Per le
letture della temporalità nell’anamnesi – lettura innatista forte, innatista minimalista, anamnesi come conoscenza
integrale, ma virtuale (Cartesio e Leibniz) –, Canto-Sperber (1991), 82-7; L. Brown (1991), e Brague (1991).
21
Canto-Sperber (1991a), 82-7, e già Vlastos (1965). Per Brisson ((1999), 28, e 2004) in sede morale la memoria e
dunque la storia temporale dell’anima servono a fondarne l’individualità e perciò il sistema, cui essa è soggetta, di
meriti e colpe, premi e punizioni (cfr. Paisse (1967) per il carattere personale della conoscenza come anamnesi).
Non a caso però, nel mito di Er, Platone ribalta il processo anamnestico: le anime ricordano i vissuti empirici e
usano questi – non il ricordo delle Idee – per scegliere la vita futura. La struttura cognitiva, come dotazione innata,
apparterrebbe a tutti (pure diversamente attualizzata dall’uso ed esercizio), ma la storia morale è e dev’essere
peculiare di ognuno.
22
Tigner (1970): riferimenti a Thompson (1901), Bluck (1961), Klein (1965), nonché a Gulley (1954), Allen (1959),
e Moravsick (1971).
23
Porph. VP 19=DK 14 A 8a: «[Pitagora] diceva che l’anima è immortale, poi ch’essa passa anche in esseri animati
d’altra specie, infine che bisogna considerare come appartenenti allo stesso genere tutti gli esseri animati»
(trad. A. Maddalena in Giannantoni (1986), corsivo mio). Soph. 242 D per Senofane. Cfr. Canto-Sperber (1991a),
259, nota 124.
Anamnesi e dialettica nel ‘Menone’ 210
certo è cursorio e casuale
24
: non allude però a una natura genericamente coesa, ma che lo è sì
da esser conosciuta da un’anima che ne colga e percorra i rapporti interni, usando i criteri di
connessione ed esclusione che quella stessa ¦u c., ammette. La ¦u c., che consente
all’anima, memore di una cosa, di trovar da sé le altre è sì coesa ed organica, ma in modo da
permettere all’anima proprio quell’operazione. E’ allora doveroso il riferimento a sedi
successive al Menone, dove tale congruenza fra mondo ed anima si espliciterà come
competenza dialettica di questa a muoversi per conoscer quello secondo i suoi stessi criteri di
strutturazione interna.
Primo riferimento è al Fedone: «ricordo» vi è non solo se si conosca (o riconosca)
qualcosa di cui già si era avuta sensazione, ma se, oltre a conoscer la cosa, se ne pensi
«un’altra, che richiede una scienza diversa» (73 C 7-8) da quella della prima e che a questa si
lega. Esempi son quelli della lira o dell’abito la cui vista fa «ricordare» il proprietario, di
Simmia che richiama Cebete, o ancora del ritratto di Simmia che fa «ricordare» Simmia
stesso
25
. L’anamnesi, come il Menone anticipa, è dunque abilità cognitiva di tipo associativo e
per questo può, da una cosa nota, «ricordar» le altre ricostruendo la rete che lega ad esse la
prima. La rete vale in orizzontale, fra conosciuti di pari grado ontologico – la lira e il
proprietario, Cebete e Simmia –, oppure in verticale, fra conosciuti di grado ontologico
diverso: lo indicano l’esempio – non casuale rispetto al legame, ontologicamente
significativo, fra modello e copia – di Simmia e del suo ritratto e la trattazione degli uguali
sensibili rispetto all’uguale in sé (Phaed. 74 A-75 C).
E’ qui che la capacità associativa si specifica come dialettica (via all’in su o cu|c,.,µ )
chiarita poi nel Fedro: «L’uomo deve comprendere in rapporto a quella detta Idea, muovendo
da molte sensazioni a un’unità colta col pensiero; ma ciò è anamnesi delle cose che un tempo
la nostra anima ha visto»
26
.
Di più: nel Fedone la rete che lega le cose fra loro ed alle idee marca rapporti associativi
(fra simili, come gli uguali e l’uguale in sé, o Simmia e il suo ritratto), ma anche dissociativi
(fra dissimili, la lira e il proprietario, ma anche – non più per la somiglianza, ma per un suo
difetto – gli stessi uguale in sé ed uguali e Simmia e il suo ritratto). L’anamnesi infatti «viene
e da simili e da dissimili» (c ¦` µ. .| ... -c. c ¬ c |µ. .| ; 74 A 3): anzi la si descrive
facendo perno proprio sul suo essere abilità ad associare i simili e distinguere i dissimili:
«ogni volta che vedendo una cosa, da tale visione tu giungi a pensarne un’altra, simile o
dissimile, è necessario che questa sia anamnesi» (74 C 12-14).
24
Così Tigner (1970), 2. Egli però reputa non persuasivi i tentativi di vedere in tale cu,,. |..c «the world as a whole»
(Klein (1965)), «an interrelated field» (Moravsick (1971)), o «some intimate and necessary connections» fra le
cose (Allen (1959)). Essa non alluderebbe a «strong logical connectives», perché, se Platone intendeva questo,
non avrebbe fatto un riferimento così casuale. Esso sarebbe generico: Platone intenderebbe solo che le cose
«belong to the same ontological family», o «need to be of one ontological kind». La cu,,. |..c, se è solo questo,
avalla però qualunque tipo di approccio conoscitivo, non specificamente quello che da una cosa fa «ricordar» le
altre. Cfr. Bluck (1961), ad loc., e la relazione di Szlezàk a Würzburg.
25
Pare qui informazione inutile il riferimento a una capacità degli innamorati (73 D 5) di legar la lira o l’abito al
proprietario: di tale associazione è capace chiunque (non solo l’innamorato) e per chiunque (non solo per l’amato),
come mostra l’esempio di Cebete e Simmia (benché l’amicizia maschile fosse in Grecia spesso di tipo
omosessuale). L’anamnesi pare frutto di una disposizione cognitiva emozionalmente connotata, l’inclinazione
amorosa del dèmone Eros nel Simposio, che, nel Menone, si specifica come esser coraggiosi e non stancarsi di
cercare, mutando in forza positiva il proprio desiderare (supra, nota 9) di sapere. Cfr. la relazione di Gonzalez a
Würzburg.
26
249 B 6-C 2, trad. e corsivo miei; cfr. supra la nota 3. Nel Fedone, dove vale quest’associazione per similitudine fra
sensibili ed idea fondante, s’indica anche come trattare le ipotesi dialettiche: esse vanno verificate rispetto alla
consistenza delle conseguenze deducibili (99 E-100 A), cioè verso il basso, ma anche formulando un’altra ipotesi,
posta più alto di quelle in esame e da cui esse possano dedursi (101 D-E) (Berti (1987), 78-9.)
Linda M. Napolitano 211
F. Anamnesi, mondo ed anima. I «ricordi» dello Schiavo.
La cu,,. |..c della natura che, nel Menone, da una cosa fa «ricordar» le altre si precisa
dunque nel Fedone come abilità orizzontale e verticale ad unire per somiglianza e dissociare
per dissomiglianza: anamnesi questa che da una sa «ricordar» le altre cose, e quella che
«ricorda» unendo simili e scindendo dissimili.
L’anamnesi del Menone allude allora in embrione anche ai dialoghi maturi, alle norme
dialettiche regolanti i rapporti, d’inclusione ed esclusione, fra cose ed idee e fra le idee stesse.
Contiene in nuce le tesi del Fedro (265 D-E) non solo sulla cu|c,.,µ (detta dunque
esplicitamente anamnesi) dei sensibili in un’unica forma, ma anche sulla o.c. ¡.c., di questa
nelle specie per natura non adatte all’unione. Contiene in nuce la trattazione dei criteri
universali fondanti i rapporti d’inclusione ed esclusione fra le idee stesse – generi sommi,
soprattutto identico e diverso del Sofista (254 C-259 D) – e della stessa costituzione del
mondo, della sua Anima – ancora identico e diverso del Timeo (35 A-B) –, e delle nostre
individuali (41 D-E).
La cu|c,.,µ della natura del Menone prelude a tale mappatura interna dell’universo
platonico per somiglianze e differenze; perciò l’abilità anamnestica, che da una cosa fa
«ricordar» le altre, associando e dissociando, annuncia le precisazioni metodiche fatte poi
sulla capacità dialettica: anzitutto il suo saper trattare i contrari, riconoscendo e usando la
norma che ne vieta la compresenza nella stessa cosa, nello stesso tempo e rispetto (Resp. 436
E-437 A), che Aristotele poi eleva a principio di non contraddizione e che già nel Parmenide
(135 E-136 A) è criterio dialettico di verità per proposizioni opposte per contraddizione
27
.
Il Menone è solo l’archetipo problematico di tutto ciò: addita la possibilità di cercare
nella coscienza di non sapere e nel desiderio di sapere, prescrive tenacia nel cercare, segnala,
nel test con lo Schiavo, gradi diversi dell’anamnesi, come vi sono fasi diverse del processo
dialettico. Lo Schiavo non le percorre tutte e dunque non «ricorda» quanto potrebbe: ben
interrogato, sottoposto all’ . ·.,y, socratico, egli elimina le false opinioni che gli
precludevano la soluzione del problema, matura un’utile coscienza della propria ignoranza e
infine giunge ad un’opinione retta sul rapporto fra lato del quadrato dato e lato di quello
doppio. Ma ha «ricordato» solo opinioni, solo in parte e «come in sogno» (85 C 9), non solo
perché non sa di aver «ricordato», ma perché ha avuto anamnesi solo inconsapevole di molte
delle nozioni che pure ha usato dall’inizio del test (uguale, maggiore-minore, parallelo,
trasversale, doppio-metà, quadruplo, etc.) e che l’hanno fatto progredire dall’ignoranza alla
retta opinione rispetto al problema trattato
28
.
Ma Socrate ha fiducia che un’interrogazione ripetuta valga vera scienza, se leghi le
opinioni instabili col saldo vincolo del riferimento alla causa (Men. 98 A 1-3): ciò perché
l’anamnesi, diversa dalla µ|µ µµ, è capacità di recuperar «da sé in sé» (Phil. 34 C 1)
sensazioni e intellezioni scordate per il tempo trascorso, o perché mai, prima, considerate
(Phaed. 73 E 2-3), è competenza dinamica alla ricerca quanto lo è la dialettica. Forse non vi è
anamnesi che non operi come dialettica, né vi è procedura dialettica che non sia anche atto di
anamnesi.
Università di Trieste (Italia)
27
Ancora, per la trattazione degli .|c|~. c nella dialettica platonica, Berti (1987), 80-4.
28
Sull’uso inconscio che anche il non filosofo fa delle idee, Allen (1959), 172: esse sono usate atematicamente, da
tutti, per leggere ogni realtà sensibile e valgono ad operatori formali, necessari all’avvio dell’anamnesi; questa
solo però, alla fine della ricerca e solo per il filosofo, si traduce in «ricordo» tematico delle idee.
Requirements of Knowledge according to the Meno
Jan Szaif
The Meno is one of the dialogues that introduce the principle that you can’t know
anything about a Form as long as you don’t know its essence. One can call it the principle of
epistemic priority of the definition or essential clarification:
1
A
1
: As long as one does not know what the essence of a Form <F> is, one cannot
know which properties are connected with <F>.
Interestingly, this principle gets connected in the Meno with the idea that definitional
knowledge of an essence (ousia) is a kind of identifying knowledge which can – to a certain
extent – be compared to identifying knowledge about a concrete object.
The aim of my paper is, first, to discuss a passage in Meno 71B as evidence for Plato’s
approach to definitional knowledge as a sort of identifying knowledge. In the second section I
want to explain how Plato understands identifying knowledge in the case of concrete objects
and why he takes it to be a prerequisite for all other knowledge about such objects. Thirdly, I
shall indicate very briefly some of the implications of the analogy between identifying
knowledge of concrete objects and of Forms for Plato’s general conception of the knowledge
of Forms.
I
Let us have a closer look at the passage in Meno 71b. Its context is that Socrates
pretends not to know if knowledge is teachable since he – like all the other Athenians –
doesn’t even know about virtue what it is. He goes on to say:
P-1 “(1) And if I do not know what something is, how could I know what that
thing is like? (2) Or do you think it possible, if someone doesn’t know who Meno
is at all, that this person should know whether he’s beautiful or rich, or whether
he’s well-born, or whether he’s the opposite of all these?” (71b)
2
The first sentence in this quotation suggests the general principle: You cannot know what
something is like as long as you don’t know what it is. The second sentence adds an epagogic
argument as support for this principle. But the example for primary knowledge given in
sentence (2) is not a case of definitional knowledge. Whereas the “what” – phrase in sentence
(1) can certainly be understood as a question referring to an essence, the question who Meno
is doesn’t ask what his essence is. For an essence would be a Form in Plato’s view, and a
1
On this much discussed principle cf. Benson (2000), 112 ff, who rightly defends its validity in Plato’s early dialogues.
2
For the translations I have used J. Day’s English text (Day (1994)).
Jan Szaif 213
Form can be participated by more than one object at a time. It couldn’t be the exclusive
property of an object like Meno.
3
The ‘is’ in the who-question correlates with an identity relation. Hence, if the transition
from the what-phrase (ti esti) to the who-phrase (tis or hostis esti) is not simply an obvious
logical blunder on Plato’s part – which I think is unlikely –, he must have an understanding of
the what-phrase that allows him to see it too as a sort of identity question. Otherwise the
example used in sentence (2) could not be an exemplary instance of the primary kind of
knowledge which sentence (1) refers to in general terms.
Since the what-question, when applied to Forms, asks for a definition or essential
clarification, the implication is that definitions are to be understood as identifying statements
with regard to Forms.
4
Accordingly, we have to rephrase the general principle expressed in
passage P-1 as follows:
A
2
: As long as one does not have identifying knowledge of an entity E, one
cannot know which (additional) properties are connected with E.
This principle is meant to apply equally in the cases of knowledge about Forms and of
knowledge about concrete, perceptible objects. Principle A
1
is not falsified by it. It can be
understood as a specification of A
2
for the case of knowledge about Forms.
The claim that definitions are identifying statements presupposes that Forms are entities
that can become objects of reference. Already in some of the earlier dialogues Plato’s
Socrates tries to convince his interlocutors that a Form is in some way an object of a different
kind and sustains its identity through the many items that have a share of it. The Meno
contains some very good examples of this, one being the passage where Socrates draws a
comparison with the different sorts of bees that share in one common essence. Applying this
to the case of the different types of virtue, he goes on to say:
P-2 “Then it’s the same with the virtues too: even if they are many and various,
they must still all have one and the same form (eidos) which makes them virtues.
Presumably it would be right to focus on this in one’s answer and show the
questioner what virtue actually is.” (72c)
Up to the Meno, Plato does not suggest a separate mode of existence for the Forms. They are
described as something subsisting in and through the multitude of the particular types or
tokens that participate in them. This is illustrated by P-3:
P-3 “Once again, though in a different way from last time, we’ve found many
virtues while searching for one. But as for the one virtue which extends through all
of these (hê dia pantôn toutôn estin), that we can’t discover.” (74a)
5
The reification of definable content results in an ontology of Forms. But it doesn’t yet imply
the claim that Forms, or some Forms, exist separately. Hence the interpretation of definitional
statements as identifying statements about Forms, although compatible with it, does not
presuppose the separate existence of the Forms – an idea strongly suggested in the Phaedo,
the Republic and the Timaeus, but not yet in the Meno.
A definitional formula can serve as identification in the case of a Form, because the
identity condition of a Form consists solely in a certain descriptive content, and the
3
One could understand the question who Meno is also as asking who he really is – namely a soul, not a visible body.
But that doesn’t seem to be the relevant meaning in this context. The very same passage talks of Meno as being
rich, beautiful and well-born, which is not a description of his transmigrating soul.
4
Of course I take it for granted that the definitions Plato aims at are clarifications of essences supposed to be features
of reality, not descriptions of merely conventional word meaning.
5
For a similar formulation see Lach. 192b-c.
Requirements of Knowledge according to the Meno 214
definitional formula should express this very content.
6
Is such a definition the only way to
identify a Form? It seems that a Form can also be identified indirectly, i.e. by giving a
description that is not definitional but still sufficient to single out the Form in question. We
can take an example from the Meno: If it is actually true that all knowledge and only
knowledge is teachable (87c), then knowledge could be identified as, say, “the state of the
soul that can be brought about by the activity of a teacher”. But this certainly does not
formulate the essence of knowledge but rather something like an idion, as Aristotle was later
to baptise it (Top. I, 102a18ff.).
7
So there can be identifying beliefs with regard to a Form that
don’t identify the Form through its essential content. But this doesn’t threaten to invalidate
the analogy of identifying cognition about concrete objects and about Forms. On the contrary,
we will see that in the case of concrete objects one can similarly distinguish between – to give
it some provisional label – “direct” and “indirect” ways of identification.
8
II
In the next part of my talk I want to discuss how Plato conceives identifying knowledge
in the case of concrete objects.
“Identifying knowledge” is the sort of knowledge that enables one to single out an entity
and distinguish it from other entities that are numerically different but could be mistaken for
it. However, this sort of knowledge can be conceived in two different ways:
1) Somebody can be said to have identifying knowledge if s/he knows facts about the
entity in question that single it out uniquely. For example: if we know – as we do – that Meno
was a citizen of Larisa, a former student of Gorgias, took part in the expedition of the younger
Cyrus against Artaxerxes, perished in the course of these historic events, and figures in the
dialogue of Plato that bears his name, we have a description that doesn’t fit any other person
and hence singles him out uniquely.
2) Somebody can be said to have identifying knowledge because s/he is able to
recognise this entity when encountering it. In this sense of identifying knowledge, we cannot
be said to have such knowledge with regard to the person Meno since we wouldn’t be able to
recognise Meno if – per impossibile – we encountered him somewhere. We could not
recognise him because we have never seen him before. This sort of knowledge is, hence, a
sort of knowledge by acquaintance.
How does Plato understand knowing-who-Meno-is?
Prima facie it seems to me more likely that he has in mind the ability to recognise. But is
there evidence for it?
6
The well-known method of synopsis and diairesis, as demonstrated and explained in some of his later dialogues
(Phdr., Soph., Polit., Phil.), can be understood as a method for obtaining such definitional identifications
regarding Forms. It proceeds by first locating the Form in question in a broad genus and then adding differences
until a description has been reached that uniquely singles out this Form. Although the Meno does not yet show any
signs of Plato’s awareness of this method, one can at least say that the exemplary definition of schêma in 76a
displays the structure of genus-cum-specifying-difference.
7
Cf. also the two definitions of schêma in Men. 75b and 76a: the former gives only an idion, not the essence.
8
The claim that definitional statements are identifying statements about Forms can have significant repercussions for
the famous topic of the “self-predicaton” of Forms in Plato (cf. Vlastos (1973), 252 ff., 404 ff., e. a.) and for the
connected question of the sense of “being” in the auto ho estin-formula (Phd. 75b1f., d1f.; cf. Men. 72c9-d1)
which serves to indicate an exemplary mode of being. I think it points toward an interpretation of Plato’s
understanding of being that differs, at least in focus, from the results of Kahn’s important enquiry on this issue
(cf. Kahn (1981)). But note that I don’t wish to suggest that for Plato the “is” simply means identity in definitional
statements. – This topic can’t be further developed in this paper.
Jan Szaif 215
Passage P-1 is inconclusive in this regard. But in a later passage (Meno 96e-97c) we get
an important hint as I will show instantly. This later passage also adds the point that the
ability to identify does not need to be based on knowledge. It can be based on true opinion as
well. The example he uses is the road to Larisa. – Please note that knowing the road to Larisa
is a kind of identifying knowledge: One knows the road to Larisa if one knows which road out
of Athens one has to take and which way one has to turn at each of the following
intersections. In the process of walking down this road one is successively identifying this
individual object >The road from Athens to Larisa<.
In passage P-4, Plato contrasts the two epistemic modes of being able to identify this
object, but also points out that these two modes – knowledge and correct opinion – are
equally useful in practical terms. In this connection he also gives us a hint about what the
different cognitive foundations of identifying knowledge and identifying opinion are in the
case of concrete objects.
P-4 “S.: ... If someone who knew the road to Larisa, or wherever else you like,
went there and guided others, he’d guide them rightly and well, wouldn’t he? /
M.: Yes indeed. / S.: And what if someone who had a right opinion as to what the
road was, but had never been there and didn’t know it? Wouldn’t he too guide
aright? / M.: Yes indeed.” (97a-b)
This passage seems to imply that the knowing person is somebody who has already
walked down this road, whereas the person with the opinion hasn’t yet made this trip.
9
Hence,
this passage can be understood as suggesting that this is the crucial difference between the
two cases. The correct opinion may be derived from an exact description or a good map
drawn by someone else. But s/he can’t be said to know it as long as s/he hasn’t seen it by
herself. – Further evidence for the epistemic priority of having seen by oneself can be
gathered from a passage in the Theaetetus, 201b-c, which does not talk about identifying
knowledge regarding concrete objects (cf. Tht. 208aff. on that) but at least clearly states the
epistemic priority of eye-witnessing in the case of concrete things or events. Because of
constraints of space I can’t dwell here on these passages.
These passages are evidence for my claim that Plato understands identifying knowledge
about concrete objects as the ability to recognise the object based on visual acquaintance with
this object.
Now, if this is the kind of identifying knowledge Plato has in mind in the case of
concrete objects, principle A
2
will have the consequence that we can’t know anything about
objects of this kind as long as we are not visually acquainted with them. But isn’t that view
utterly implausible? Can’t we know a lot of things about Meno even though we are not
visually acquainted with him and wouldn’t be able to recognise him if we encountered him?
Don’t we know, for example, that Meno was beautiful and rich – because Plato is telling us so
and can be considered a trustworthy witness for this?
10
The suggestion that we can’t have knowledge about perceptible objects as long as we are
not perceptually acquainted with them is not so absurd as a philosophical viewpoint as it
might seem at first sight. I take it that the general point of this theory is that knowing
something, as opposed to merely believing something correctly, requires the right kind of
evidence – namely direct evidence of the object itself. In the case of perceptible objects the
direct evidence it through perception of the object, and through vision in particular. This sort
of evidence is contrasted with indirect evidence, especially with those instances of
9
The kai in the clause that I have put in italics would have to be read as an epexegetic kai (cf. Sharples (1985), 182
ad loc.).
10
Cf. Fine (1992), 226, n. 42; Kahn (1996), 159 f.
Requirements of Knowledge according to the Meno 216
“information” when we rely on what other people tell us. The opinions of others, even the
knowledge of other people, can’t be the foundation of our own knowledge but are only a
source of doxa, because all genuine knowledge has to be self-acquired through the right kind
of direct evidence.
In the case of concrete objects and events this means that only the eye-witnesses can
know because they alone have seen it by themselves. But it is not enough to be in the
presence of Meno in order to witness what he is like or what he is doing. One might be
mistaken about his identity. Therefore one needs to be able to recognise him as Meno.
Otherwise one couldn’t be sure who it was one was looking at. And it doesn’t suffice to
identify him on the basis of correct opinion, since knowledge can’t be derived from mere
opinion.
To be sure, Plato is well aware of the fact that perceptual judgements can be erroneous,
due either to unclear or deceptive perception or to unclear and unfounded concepts. The latter
source of error should be removed by the efforts of dialectic. But the application of dialectical
knowledge to concrete objects can deliver some sort of knowledge about these objects
11
only
when they are present – which they are when they are being perceived.
III
Let me conclude by indicating very briefly how all this relates to Plato’s conception of
the knowledge of Forms. – One point has already been argued for: that Plato takes
definitional knowledge to be a kind of identifying knowledge and that such identifying
knowledge is the prerequisite of all other knowledge that can be gathered about a Form. But
how is this definitional knowledge to be acquired?
Somehow Plato wants to distinguish between direct and indirect access to truth and to
restrict proper knowledge to what has been gained through “direct” access. The ability to
identify the person Meno is based on “direct” cognitive access if one has met him before.
Does Plato want to suggest to us that definitional knowledge of Forms also has to be gained
through some sort of direct presence and acquaintance?
One might believe – and many interpreters do believe – that he construes this kind of
knowledge as a faithful equivalent to the visual presence of concrete objects, i.e. as a kind of
pure mental vision.
12
But this might be a case of over-stretching an analogy. It is certain that
Plato means to contrast knowledge and true belief gained from hearsay. Knowledge must
always be self-acquired. – That is one of the things that Plato wants to tell us by his theory of
learning as recollection. – In the case of perceptible objects self-acquired knowledge is
knowledge acquired through the visual presence of the object. In the case of Forms, however,
self-acquired knowledge cannot have the character of some pure mental vision disconnected
11
There are some central passages in Plato where he seems to deny the possibility of knowledge (epistêmê) about
concrete material objects, e.g. in Phd. 83a-b, Rep. V, 476eff. and VI, 509dff. (the “Line”, see also Tim. 37AB). I
have suggested elsewhere (Szaif (1998), 183-324) that this has to do with a concept of object-cognition according
to which a cognitive state is a state of knowledge (epistêmê) of its object only if it amounts to a cognitive grasp of
this object which is complete, reasoned and lasting, and that Plato thinks that such a cognitive grasp can’t be
sustained in regard to concrete material objects because of their specific ontological nature. On the other hand,
there are passages where Plato seems to allow for knowledge, as opposed to true opinion, regarding such concrete
individuals (e.g. the passages in Men. 97A-C and Tht. 201A-C). In these contexts his conception of knowledge
seems to be pretty much that of true (propositional) belief justified in the right way or by the right sort of
evidence. The priority principle A1 / A2 seems to hold for both conceptions of knowledge.
12
For a useful discussion that sympathizes with intuitionism, see Gonzales (1998). Intuitionist readings of Plato have
been attacked e.g. by Sorabji (1983) and Fine (1990). Intuitionist approaches to Plato’s epistemology usually rely
heavily on the philosophical part of the 7th Letter. But we have good reasons to doubt the authenticity not only of
the philosophical (Tarrant (1983)) but even of the historical part of this letter, as has been shown by Trampedach
(1994), 102 ff., 255 ff.
Jan Szaif 217
from argumentative and discursive thinking. This is a point Plato drives home in a number of
passages, not least in Meno 98A where he names the aitias logismos as the requirement of
knowledge. Whatever the aitias logismos may be, it certainly isn’t a pure act of mental vision
disconnected from discursive enquiry.
13
However, there remain serious problems. What does aitias logismos mean in the case of
grasping the essential content of a Form, or what would be the equivalent of aitias logismos in
this case? Does not every kind of reasoning presuppose conceptual understanding, and don’t
we therefore have to presuppose some sort of basic, intuitive conceptual grasp that cannot be
reduced to propositional knowledge in a non-circular way?
Before embracing intuitionism, one needs to distinguish between (at least) two aspects
of non-propositionality: Take the example of someone who suddenly understands a
complicated argument after having pondered over it for a while. The mental event of
understanding is not a proposition, and it does indeed invite metaphors of seeing and
touching. But all the same it is not a case of non-propositional knowledge, because its
intentional content is propositional, and the criterion for propositional knowledge is whether
or not it is an instance of knowledge specified by a content that could be fully articulated in a
propositional utterance. Now, one possible suggestion in favour of non-propositional
knowledge relates to the case of elementary concepts, i.e. concepts that cannot be analysed in
a non-circular way. If one were to suggest that such concepts can be known and understood
only by way of an intuitive grasp, that would indeed be a type of non-propositional
knowledge. Yet the knowledge of Forms whose content can be expressed in a definitional
formula would be a type of propositional knowledge by this criterion.
As far as the Meno is concerned, Plato presupposes that Forms can be identified through
definitional formulae. He also shows, however, that for knowledge to obtain it is not enough
to believe something true. One needs to grasp some explanatory reason (Men. 98A) as well
– at least in the case of that abstract and universal knowledge which is not dependent on
perception but only on the soul’s own rational resources. So definitional knowledge that
identifies a Form would have to be belief about what this Form is, accompanied by the right
kind of reasoning. In later dialogues he shows by what sort of reasoning definitions can be
achieved. But he also indicates that not all Forms are definable (Tht. 201dff.). But even in this
context he doesn’t seem to embrace pure mental vision as the source of knowledge but rather
to hint at an epistemological conception according to which the full epistemic grasp of an
elementary Form requires an understanding of the complete conceptual structure to which it
belongs.
14
So even if an elementary Form is not identifiable through a definition, it is still
indirectly identifiable through its position in the entire structure. I am saying: “indirectly
identifiable”, because I don’t believe that for Plato the essence of an elementary Form could
be reduced to its position in this conceptual structure. But that is a different issue that would
lead us far beyond the Meno.
University of California at Davis
13
This is also indicated by the fact that Plato considers the ability to give an (argumentative) account (logon didonai) a
necessary condition of knowledge about Forms, e.g. Phd. 76b5f., Rep. 534b3ff.
14
He develops this point by comparing knowledge of Forms to the cognitive state of knowing or understanding the
system of phonetic values in one’s language (Tht. 207Aff., Soph. 252e-253e., Pol. 277e-278d, Phil. 18b-c); on the
possible epistemological implications of these passages see e.g. Burnyeat (1990), 187 ff., D. Frede (1997), 146 ff.;
on epistemological holism in Plato’s Politeia e.g. Szaif (2000); on the “holistic” meaning of Men. 81c9-d4
cf. Moravcsik (1994), 119 f.
Goodness, Desire and Thought in Plato’s Meno (77b-78b)
Yuji Kurihara
Gregory Vlastos once formulated one of the Socratic principles as “the Eudaemonist
Axiom”, according to which “happiness is desired by all human beings as the ultimate end
(telos) of all their rational acts.”
1
Every action is rational, insofar as it is produced by a
rational desire based on a belief that the action is good, that is, conducive to the agent’s
happiness. This account is interwoven with two other Socratic views, that everyone desires
good things and that virtue is knowledge. For what one desires is invariably what one knows
or believes to be good, and if one knows what is good, by virtue of which one can be
successful, then one can be happy eventually. Many Platonic scholars believe that this line of
reasoning is manifest in Gorgias 467a-468e and Meno 77b-78b, as was shown as “the
prudential paradox” by Gerasimos Santas.
2
More recently, however, Terry Penner opposed
this standard account, trying to show that what one desires is what is “really” good, not what
seems good. After his convincing paper about Gorgias 467a-468e,
3
Penner (with Christopher
Rowe) discussed Meno 77b-78b and Santas’s interpretation of it, maintaining that the Gorgias
and the Meno are not inconsistent.
4
This controversy is extremely important, not only because it concerns the central tenets
attributed to Socrates, but also because it is quite philosophical to clarify how desire and
belief are related to the good. So I aim to engage in this controversy, offering a new reading
of Meno 77d7-e3, about which both Santas and Penner and Rowe are arguing for their theses.
The Greek text of this “crucial passage” reads as follows:
5
Ou -u | oµ ·| ~. u ~. µ. | u ~. | -c-. | . ¬.-uµu c.|, 77d7
. c ,|u |~., cu ~c , c··c .-.. |.| c . |~ c ,c-c .. |c., e1
. c~.| o. ~cu~c ,. -c-c, . c~. . c,|u |~., cu ~c e2
-c. . µ.|. c ,c-c .. |c. oµ ·| ~. ~. | c ,c-. | . ¬.-uµu c.|. µ u : e3
I analyze this passage from three points of view-grammatical, philosophical, and
contextual.
Before moving to my reading, let us glance at Santas’s interpretation, followed by
Penner and Rowe’s. Santas’s worry is that Socrates might contradict himself in saying both
that the people in question do not desire bad things and that they desire things that they
thought to be good though these things are in fact bad. To save Socrates from this
contradiction, Santas introduces the distinction between intended and actual object of desire.
Suppose a boy reaches for a salt shaker, without expressing reservations or showing
reluctance in doing so, and we say, “He wants the salt shaker”, then the object of his desire
can be called “the actual object of desire” on reasonable evidence for making such a
1
Vlastos (1991), 203.
2
Santas (1979), 183-9; cf. Bluck (1961), 257-9; Sharples (1985), 137-9; Nakhnikian (1994), 129-51; Segvic (2000), 14;
Weiss (2001), 38.
3
Penner (1991).
4
Penner-Rowe (1994), 1-25.
5
Burnet (1903).
Yuji Kurihara 219
statement. Suppose, however, the boy mistook the salt shaker for the pepper mill, then what
he intended to take can be called “the intended object of desire”. Just like this, according to
Santas, the people in question, mistaking bad things for good things, do not desire bad things
(but desire good things) as intended object of desire, but do desire bad things as actual object.
Here, there is no contradiction.
In criticizing Santas’s reading in terms of “the apparent good”, Penner and Rowe
emphasize the Meno’s consistency with the Gorgias where Socrates claims everyone desires
the real good, not the apparent good. They read the crucial passage in a quite ingenious way.
First, (1) the people in question do not desire really bad things; but (2) “[y]ou might think the
object of desire is, not ‘bad things’, but ‘things thought good’. But those very things in fact
are bad things” (their italics).
6
Now, (3) (really) bad things have already, by (1), been ruled
out as the objects of desire, so (. c~.) what is desired must be (really) good things, which
they wrongly think possession of the bad things is a means to.
Regarding these two interpretations, there are three significant points I assume in
examining the crucial passage. First, as both parties insist, we must be careful lest Socrates
commit himself to contradiction. Second, in relation to the Gorgias, I agree with Penner and
Rowe that Socrates maintains everyone desires really good things, not really bad things, even
thought good. Third, I take Santas to be correct in stressing the case of mistaking bad things
for good things, though they are really good and bad things. Assuming these three, how can
we interpret the passage coherently?
From a grammatical perspective, to begin with, I shall shed light on demonstrative
pronouns, by appealing to the overall structure. On seeing 77d7-e2, we notice that the “u...
c ··c” structure is dominant there in such a way that the people in question desire not bad
things but those things. To free Socrates from contradiction, “those things” (“~cu ~c” e2)
must not refer to bad things (. -.. |.| e1). Since “.c~.” (e2) denotes a consequence of what
is stated before, provided that Socrates’ inference is somehow valid, there must be some
common element before and after “. c~.”, which is to say that the people desire good things.
So “. -.. |.|” must refer to good things (~.| c,c-.| e3).
“Obviously” (oµ·|) natural as this reasoning about pronouns seems to me, to my
knowledge, no one has thus far understood the crucial passage this way. One of the reasons is
that Platonic scholars suppose “~cu~c” (e2) refers back to “c” (e1), for “the introduction of a
demonstrative to pick up a relative pronoun is usual where, as here, there is a change of
case”
7
. If so, “~cuta” must refer to the same thing as “ . -.. |.|” (e1) as antecedent of “c”,
by which the scholars incline to the view that all the pronouns here have the same referent.
Despite the consensus of opinion, I entertain doubts about this grammatical remark. In
addition to that it does not explain why the subject of “.c~.| o. ~cu ~c ,. -c -c” (e2) must
be the same as the antecedent of “c”, it is not certain at all why Socrates picked out
“. -.. |.|” instead of “~u ~.|” or its equivalent after “cu~c” (e1) and “~cu~c” instead of
“. -.. |c”. I think it important to investigate his reason for choosing “. -.. |.|” and “~cu~c”
Let us first focus on “o.” (77e2) which Penner and Rowe stick to.
8
Although “. c~.| o.
~cu~c ,. -c-c” is usually regarded as parenthetical and unemphatic as Santas’s translation:
“even though these things are in fact bad”, Penner and Rowe take “o.” with “,.” so emphatic
as to separate the “o.” clause from the preceding clause, changing the usual comma into a full
stop.
9
Regardless of their intention, if the “o.” clause is independent of and contrasted with
6
Penner-Rowe (1994), 20.
7
Sharples (1985), 139; cf. Bluck (1961), 258; McKirahan (1986).
8
Penner-Rowe (1994), 20.
9
For this punctuation, see Buttmann (1822), 22; Ast (1827), 215; Aristippus, in Klibansky, ed. (1940), 17.
Goodness, Desire and Thought in Plato’s Meno (77b-78b) 220
the preceding clause, what contrast can we find here? Clearly, the “o.” clause speaks of
~cu~c with which the people in question are concerned here and now, while the preceding
clause “u ~. … .. |c.” (77d7-e2) concerns their mental state such as desire or ignorance of
~cu~c. So this is a contrast between “mind” and “reality” (µ. | … o. …),
10
in which reality
discloses the people’s error of judgment in mind. The “o.” clause, stated explicitly, serves to
clarify the people’s ignorance that they do not know ~cu ~c is bad.
Let us now recall the contrast between ~. | -c-. | and . -.. |.|, which is embedded in
the clause expressing a mental state. Since ~cu ~c is bad, it turns out that ~cu ~c and . -.. |c
(that is ~c c ,c-c ) contrast sharply. Thus, this argument attempts to refute Meno by showing
that those who appeared to him to desire ~cu~c (bad things) turn out to be desiring . -.. |c
(good things). In general, “~cu~c” is used to refer to something near in place, time, or
thought.
11
Presumably, Socrates picked out “.-.. |c” to refer to these bad things the people
are facing here and now. What about “. -.. |c”? Why did Socrates use “. -.. |.|” which is
to refer to something more remote in place, time, or thought? What does “. -.. |.|” stand
for?
To answer this, we must take up another question we have ignored so far: “What
functions does Socrates attribute to thought and ignorance in the crucial passage?” My
discussion about demonstratives suggests that “. |~” (77e1) and “.µ.|.” (77e3)
function differently, for the content of the former is “those [good] things that they thought to
be good”, while the latter means the false belief that these [bad] things are good. Scholars
have made no distinction between these two thoughts, taking all pronouns to refer to the same
thing. As for the tense of “.|~”, some scholars take it as a philosophical imperfect
– imperfect of a truth just recognized at 77c3 – translatable as the present.
12
It seems,
however, that the contrast between ~cu ~c and . -.. |c urges us to interpret the imperfect as
referring to something remote in time. In other words, there must be some thought of . -.. |c
being good prior to the false belief that ~cu ~c is good. Specifying this preceding thought on
. -.. |c, I shall offer an alternative reading of this passage.
Let us start discussing philosophical points here, since it is a matter of philosophy how
thought and desire are related to good and bad things. I turn first to 77c7-d1 where Socrates
aims to clarify “the grammar of desire”, asking “What do you mean by ‘desiring’? (T.
. ¬.-uµ.. | ·. ,..,: µ ,.|. c-c. cu ~. : )”
13
Correcting our inclination to say that one desires
X, Socrates points out that one desires X being for oneself (µ ,.|. c-c. cu ~. :
14
), which
means that one desires one’s becoming Y by way of the possession of X (cf. Symp. 205e-
207a).
15
This grammatical remark on desire enables Socrates to make good use of the
concepts of “benefit” and “harm” in the subsequent discussion. In the early dialogues,
roughly, in using “. ¦.·.µ| / .¦.·..|” and “¡·c¡.¡ | / ¡·c ¬~..|”, Plato has in mind the
context of teleological ethics in such a way that “X is .¦.·.µ| (or ¡·c¡.¡ |)” means “X is
(or is not) conducive to Y, something good for one.” Three points should be noted. First,
whereas X is internally related to Y and the possessor in value, X itself is neither good nor
bad, which belongs to “intermediate things” (~ µ.~cçu Grg. 467e2-3, 468a5). Second,
while Y is “good” relative to its kind (such as health relative to body, wealth to real estate),
16
10
Pace McKirahan (1986), 16; Penner-Rowe (1994), 18.
11
Smyth (1956), 307, 309; Kühner & Gerth (1898), 641, 648-9; Cooper III (1998), 517-8.
12
McKirahan (1986), 16; Penner-Rowe (1994), 27 n. 19.
13
Cf. Santas (1979), 136, 315 n. 14; Apelt (1922), 31; Reich (1972), 25; cp. Sharples (1985), 55; Day (1994), 43;
Merkelbach (1988), 40.
14
For cu ~.. cf. Bluck (1961), 258.
15
Santas (1988), 30-2.
16
Cf. Guthrie (1975), 554; Ross (1930), 65-7; Santas (1979), 274, 326 n. 19.
Yuji Kurihara 221
the same Y can be taken “beneficial” (or “harmful”) teleologically, in which case Y is (or is
not) conducive to Z, some other good for one. So there can be a case in which Y is both good
(relative to its kind) and bad (in the sense of “harmful”) (cf. Euthd. 281b-e). Third, it is
noteworthy that the teleological structure of value concerns one’s happiness ultimately, as
Penner and Rowe also stress.
17
This discussion applies to the crucial passage. If Socrates uses “c ,c-c” and “-c-c” in
the sense of “beneficial” (cf. 77d1, 3, 6) and “harmful” (cf. 77d2, 4, e6, 7, 78a1, 2), we
encounter a certain means-end structure of desire here. To take an example: when someone,
say, who is sick, desires to be cured, she may desire some medicine; but it is only when the
medicine does lead to her health that she desires it. If not, she wouldn’t desire it. For she
desires something beneficial. This hierarchical structure of desire implies that prior to her
desire for this concrete medicine, logically she must have desired “something beneficial” that
contributes to her health as good in itself – the original object of desire.
18
End: <recovery from disease> = health = the good
| ↑ <– internal / conceptual relation
B: <that which cures disease> = something beneficial
| | <– external / accidental relation
S Means: <medicine>
From this hierarchical structure of desire, we can infer that there are two levels of
thinking process that result in taking medicine. At the first level, desiring health, she begins
to think what she desires, which prompts her to think of what is beneficial to her end. On the
basis that she knows what her end is, health, she comes to desire something beneficial (B),
that is beneficial to her health. At the second level, then, she considers concretely what B is,
namely, medicine in this case. If she finds what is in fact beneficial, she becomes healthy
eventually; but if she mistakes something harmful for B, she cannot achieve her end. The
relation between B and concrete means is accidental, for what is beneficial or harmful
depends on particular conditions in each case. There are imaginable cases, for example, in
which she should undergo surgery instead of taking medicine.
This analysis of desire and thought helps us understand Socrates’ uses of “. -.. |c”,
“~cu~c”, and the imperfect “.|~”. Desiring an end (unwritten in the text) and thinking
what it is, the people grasp what is beneficial to their end, which is meant by “. -..|.| c
. |~ c ,c-c .. |c.” (77e1-2). Then, by way of their grasp, they come to desire what is
beneficial (u ~. µ. | u ~. | -c-. | . ¬.-uµu c.|, … . -.. |.| d7-e1), based on their desire
for the end. Next, while thinking concretely what is beneficial, they come to judge
(mistakenly) that these things are good or beneficial, without knowing (. c ,|u |~., cu ~c
e1) these are in fact bad (. c~.| o. ~cu ~c ,. -c -c e2). Accordingly, not knowing them (e2)
and thinking them good (.µ.|. c,c-c ..|c. e3), what they really desire is not these bad
things (u ~. | -c-. | . ¬.-uµu c.| d7-e1) but those good things (~.| c,c-.|
. ¬.-uµu c.| e3). This is why the imperfect “”.|~” is used to refer to the thought about
. -.. |c prior to the judgment of ~cu~c here and now.
This is my reading of this passage. Making it clearer, I shall go on to evaluate Santas’s
and Penner and Rowe’s reading in a broader context. First, Santas was correct in bringing
17
Penner-Rowe (1994), e. g. 21-2, n. 33.
18
Cf. Kurihara (1997), 40-2; Santas (1988), 30-2.
Goodness, Desire and Thought in Plato’s Meno (77b-78b) 222
into discussion the concept of “the intended object of desire”, though he did not elucidate it
fully. As I understand, .-.. |c is the intended object of desire in the sense that the boy
reaches for a salt shaker (~cu ~c), desiring a pepper mill (. -.. |c) that is beneficial to his
meal. As for the ontological status of intended object of desire, Penner and Rowe may blame
Santas as if he were alluding to “non-existent objects”
19
, but the fundamental point is that
. -.. |c is really beneficial or good, regardless of whether it has subcelestial existence or not.
On the basis of knowledge, no mere belief, the boy desires the pepper mill, insofar as it is in
fact beneficial to his meal, even though he might make a false judgment here and now. In
contrast, I cannot admit Santas’s notion of “the actual object of desire”. Santas needed this
notion, as I presume, just because he wanted to explain our action in terms of thought and
desire, according to which “S does X, because S desires X, which arises from S’s knowledge
or belief that X is good.”
20
Our passage, however, has no evidence for this view, not stating
that action is produced by desire, nor that desire arises from false belief.
Penner and Rowe, on the other hand, were correct in claiming what one desires is what
is really good, not what seems good, but failed to see that the intended object of desire is
nothing but what is really good. Besides, given that our passage is consistent with Gorgias
468c2-8, “~.| c,c-.|” (77e3) in the conclusion, unlike Penner and Rowe’s claim, cannot
stand for ends, for the parallel passage of the Gorgias concerns means (cf. 468d3, 4, 7) as “~
µ.~cçu ”: “So we don’t desire to kill anyone or expel him from the cities or confiscate his
property, simpliciter (c ¬·. , u ~.,; for their own sake), but if these things are beneficial
(. ¦. ·.µc) we desire to do them, but if harmful (¡·c ¡.¡c), we don’t desire to” (468c2-5).
Moreover, when they characterize ends as “the benefits the people in question (wrongly)
think they will get from possessing the bad things”
21
, how can we know ends themselves are
not “thought goods”?
22
Finally, I suggest that both parties depend on a tacit assumption that Socratic
intellectualism concerns above all the instrumental reason for means, not for the ultimate end,
happiness. For Santas, rationality has to do with the thought of an action being good, which
(supposedly) gives rise to desire for the action. Rationality, as it stands, does not (at least
directly) deal with the goodness of life – happiness or well-being.
23
As for the other party,
Penner’s remark that “[r]ational desires adjust to the agent’s beliefs”
24
seems to come from
their hidden assumption that desire is produced by belief. As I pointed out, desire for ends
comes down to desire for means, not through belief but only through knowledge. In the case
of health, we can rely on medicine to attain the good of its kind, of the body; in the case of the
good of human life, however, unlike the god, we do not know what happiness is, which
makes it difficult for us to choose particular actions correctly. Human wisdom Socrates
aspires to possess must be the power of inspiring us to investigate the good of human life,
happiness. This is how Socratic intellectualism has more to do with human excellence and
wisdom concerning our effort in life rather than in actions.
25 26
Tokyo Gakugei University
19
Santas (1979), 316-17 n. 22; Penner-Rowe (1994), 2 n. 2.
20
Santas (1979), 187; cf. Gulley (1968), 91-2; Irwin (1977), 300 n. 51; Scott (1999), 29-32.
21
Penner-Rowe (1994), 22.
22
For other critical discussions, cf. Anagnostopoulos (2003).
23
Cf. Santas (2001), 149.
24
Penner (1992), 128; cf. 159 n. 42.
25
Cf. Gulley (1968), 92; Penner-Rowe (1994), 17-8, 17 n. 22; Penner (1992), 135.
26
I wish to thank Terry Penner, Gerasimos Santas, Dominic Scott, and the audience of the original version of this paper
for their helpful comments and criticism.
Comment acquérir la vertu?
La tripartition phúsis, áskesis, máthesis dans le Ménon
Benoît Castelnérac
Quatre manières (trópoi) possibles d’acquérir la vertu sont énumérées dans l’ouverture
in medias res du Ménon (70a1-4)
1
:
Peux-tu me dire, Socrate, si la vertu s’enseigne? Ou bien, si elle ne s’enseigne pas,
est-elle l’objet d’un entraînement? Ou bien, si elle ne s’acquiert ni en s’entraînant
ni en l’apprenant, advient-elle alors aux hommes par la nature ou de quelque autre
façon (álloi tinì trópoi)?
Ces quatre moyens sont la nature (phúsis), l’exercice (áskesis), la connaissance
(máthesis) et une participation au divin (theîa moîra). Cette dernière possibilité est en effet
évoquée par Socrate lorsqu’il introduit la doctrine de la réminiscence (81a-c); elle sera
explicitement nommée à la fin du dialogue (en 99e6, cf. 99c sq.). Socrate reçoit la question de
Ménon sur la manière d’apprendre la vertu en témoignant du scepticisme de ses concitoyens
(70c3-71a7; 71b3-4). Les Athéniens disent ne rien savoir au sujet de la vertu et ignorer si elle
s’enseigne. Une voie sûre semble pourtant s’ouvrir devant Socrate et Ménon, dont
l’énumération des manières de devenir vertueux laisse supposer qu’ils pourraient réussir à
identifier au moins un des éléments indispensables à l’acquisition de la vertu.
L’introduction par Ménon du paradoxe de la recherche, à savoir : « il n’est pas possible à
un homme de chercher ni ce qu’il sait ni ce qu’il ne sait pas » (80e2-5), complique cependant
la tâche de Socrate qui tente de démontrer que la connaissance de ce qu’est la vertu est un
élément indispensable de la réponse à la question de Ménon. Le recours à cette formule
éristique forcera Socrate à recourir aux trois autres manières d’acquérir la vertu: la nature, à la
fois divine et humaine, ainsi que l’effort (81c5-d5). Socrate pense ainsi se tirer de l’impasse
en montrant qu’apprendre suppose la pratique d’un exercice (áskesis) adapté à la nature
(phúsis) propre de celui qui apprend.
Platon reprend dans les premières lignes du Ménon une question chère aux auteurs de
l’ancienne sophistique (« La vertu est-elle l’objet d’un enseignement? ») et une tripartition
fonctionnelle de l’éducation
2
déployée par ses prédécesseurs
3
. L’histoire de ces sources est
1
Nous traduisons les textes cités.
2
Parce que ces éléments semblent susceptibles de résumer l’ensemble des actions de la paideía, nous disons qu’ils sont
l’expression d’une « tripartition fonctionnelle de l’éducation ». Cette terminologie s’inspire des travaux de
Georges Dumézil (cf., entre autres, Dumézil (1968
4
)).
3
P. Shorey n’hésite pas, et avec raison, à faire de cette réunion des trois notions un lieu commun de la pensée antique.
Il donne plusieurs exemples à l’appui (cf. Shorey (1906)). E. Dupréel consacra plusieurs études minutieuses aux
parallèles entre la pensée sophistique et la philosophie de Platon, et notamment à la reprise par Platon de la
question « peut-on enseigner la vertu? » (Dupréel (1922) et (1948)). L’avis général sur le rôle de ces éléments
dans le Ménon conclut pourtant à la disparition de la nature et de l’exercice dans le cours de l’entretien. Reuter
écrit récemment à propos de l’áskesis dans le Ménon: « it has silently fallen out of the discussion […].
La tripartition phúsis, áskesis, máthesis dans le Ménon 224
très bien documentée et il n’est pas possible d’en reprendre ici le détail. Nous souhaitons
cependant souligner l’interdépendance de ces trois notions dans la constitution d’une théorie
platonicienne de l’éducation qui se démarque des théories précédentes.
Des exemples historiques de cette tripartition permettent de constater, tout d’abord, que
le recours à la connaissance de la nature mène à une aporie lorsque sa réussite n’est garantie
par aucune pratique efficace de la recherche (Héraclite). La notion d’exercice présente en
revanche un moyen possible de diriger l’éducation grâce à un discours bénéfique (ce que la
technique rhétorique de Gorgias laisse apercevoir). Le modèle de la médecine privilégié par
Platon dans sa théorie de l’éducation indique enfin que l’éducation nécessite la participation
de la nature, de l’exercice et de la connaissance de manière conjuguée. Il est à déplorer que
l’étude des rapports entre ces notions dans les œuvres de Platon ne soit jamais allée au-delà
du simple fait d’en constater la présence ou l’absence. À la lumière des exemples historiques
présentés ici, la fonction de l’exercice dans l’échange avec le jeune esclave de Ménon
apparaîtra cependant clairement. La résurgence du thème de l’effort et de l’exercice
intellectuels dans plusieurs autres textes de Platon montrera en quoi le Ménon contribue à
préciser un élément central de l’épistémologie platonicienne. L’apport de Platon à l’histoire
de ces trois notions consiste à organiser leurs rapports en fonction d’une recherche du savoir
oscillant entre un déficit de connaissances et la possibilité de dire vrai. Il formule ainsi en
quoi la philosophie recourt à un exercice de la raison et du discours qui lui est propre.
Héraclite, Gorgias et le traité Du régime (II, 1-3)
Ces trois exemples tirés de la littérature du V
e
siècle démontrent comment la possibilité
de constituer un savoir pratique dépend d’une mise en relation des trois fonctions de
l’éducation.
Il semble tout d’abord que, pour Héraclite, la connaissance véritable du principe
rationnel qui guide le monde soit possible (DK22B41), mais rien ne semble assurer à qui que
ce soit la possibilité d’en avoir l’intelligence. La simple pratique de la recherche ne peut
suffire pour que se réalise la conformité entre la pensée du sage et le lógos vrai. En effet,
« ceux qui cherchent de l’or remuent beaucoup de terre et en trouvent peu » (B22). La
recherche de tous les savoirs, qui est, pour Héraclite, autant le fait des amoureux du savoir
que des poètes (B35), n’enseigne pas nécessairement la manière dont il faut réfléchir (B40:
nóon ou didáskei). En outre, elle ne garantit en rien que l’on trouvera ce que l’on cherche,
parce que l’homme a besoin, pour connaître, d’envisager des objets dont il peut avoir à la fois
la sensation et la compréhension (B55). La recherche reste ainsi nécessaire, mais elle ne mène
à aucun résultat sans la possibilité préalable d’une saisie directe du lógos vrai. Le discours
vrai du sage doit ainsi se charger lui-même de la tension propre à une vérité qu’il faut
s’efforcer de saisir d’emblée dans son énonciation complète. Les prescriptions propres à
l’exercice de la recherche ne garantissant en rien sa réussite, Héraclite laisse donc le
Furthermore, the issue is never really touched on within the dialogue » (Reuter (2002), 81). R.G. Hoerber
mentionne quelques textes où Platon et ses contemporains ont envisagé la réunion des trois éléments de
l’éducation (cf. Hoerber (1960), 83-4: Platon, Phèdre 269d; Aristote, Éthique à Nicomaque 1179b20 sq.; Politique
1332a38-b6; Xénophon, Mémorables III 9 §§ 1-3; Isocrate, Contre les Sophistes §§ 17-8, etc.). Il fait des
remarques intéressantes sur la présence de l’exercice dans la deuxième partie du Ménon (p. 88) et dans l’échange
avec l’esclave. Il ne concentre cependant pas toute son attention sur le rôle de cette notion dans la démonstration
de Socrate; il en attribue la disparition à un manque de rigueur dans les raisonnements de Ménon. Ryle (1991),
153-4, et Bluck (1991), 165-7, expriment leurs réserves à l’égard de l’interprétation de Hoerber. Enfin, selon
Thomas (1980), 73, à part dans la première phrase, ni la nature ni l’exercice ne sont envisagés comme manières
d’acquérir la vertu dans le Ménon.
Benoît Castelnérac 225
philosophe aux prises avec une pratique énigmatique du discours sur lequel il doit exercer sa
raison.
Gorgias est, à l’opposé d’Héraclite, un représentant d’une pratique de l’exercice
bénéfique. Deux textes peuvent être cités à ce propos: l’épigramme gravée sur le socle de sa
statue à Olympie (DK82A8(b)
4
) et un passage de son Oraison funèbre (B6).
Dans l’exercice de l’âme aux luttes pour la vertu,
Nul ne saurait trouver plus bel art que celui de Gorgias
[Les Athéniens] se consacrèrent surtout à l’exercice de deux choses qu’il faut
pratiquer: le jugement et <la force>.
Deux sens complémentaires d’exercice sont employés dans ces deux extraits. Parce qu’il
confère au discours une force de persuasion, l’exercice du jugement et de la rhétorique est
comparable à l’entraînement du corps. Il semble que, selon Gorgias, la valeur du discours
repose entièrement sur les fins de l’orateur, car, dans l’impossibilité de tenir un discours vrai
sur la réalité (Du non-être, § 86), la vérité du discours se limite aux effets qu’il produit sur
celui qui l’écoute. Toute forme de discours est par conséquent affaire de mensonge (B11, 8-
11), car, pour créer ses effets, le discours doit s’exprimer dans une langue créatrice de peithó,
qui recourt au mensonge (pseûdos) et à la tromperie (apáte). Aucune morale ni aucune
politique ne seraient possibles sans une pratique efficace du discours à même de les défendre
(ce que signifie la comparaison avec le pugilat dans le Gorgias).
L’idée d’un effort bénéfique qui est développée dans le traité Du régime (II, 1-3) fournit
enfin un excellent exemple d’une compréhension articulée des capacités de la phúsis, de
l’áskesis et de la máthesis
5
. À chaque étape de sa démonstration, l’auteur parfait l’art du
médecin par un élément qui soutient la possibilité d’une pratique médicale efficace. La
connaissance de la nature de l’homme ne suffit pas, et il faut lui ajouter celle de la nourriture
et des remèdes, qu’ils soient liquides ou solides. Mais cette connaissance est elle-même
insuffisante, car elle doit se compléter d’une intervention dans les activités physiques du
patient de la part du médecin qui en dirige les efforts (pónoi: § 2). Le médecin règle alors
l’ensemble de la vie de son patient, en équilibrant son régime selon chacune des journées de
la convalescence (LXIX, § 1 sq.). C’est ainsi que se fait sentir la nécessité d’un traité sur le
régime, car l’équilibre des nourritures et des exercices implique idéalement une direction de
tous les gestes du patient. La manière dont un médecin guérit un malade peut par conséquent
servir de modèle pour décrire les effets bénéfiques de l’éducation
6
. La comparaison avec
l’éducation permet d’assigner un rôle dans l’apprentissage de la vertu à chacun des trois
éléments de l’éducation (exploitation de connaissances théoriques, participation des natures
particulières du patient et de son environnement, effet salutaire des exercices).
4
Cité par Dodds (1959), 216-217.
5
L. Brisson (2000) a étudié les traces de l’idéologie des trois fonctions dans les opérations de la médecine, à partir
d’une lecture du passage médical du Charmide.
6
Chez Platon, la médecine sert régulièrement de modèle à l’éducation; le Ménon en offre un exemple parmi d’autres
(90b7-c2).
La tripartition phúsis, áskesis, máthesis dans le Ménon 226
Fonction de ces éléments dans le Ménon
Confronté au paradoxe de la recherche qui remet en question la possibilité d’apprendre
quoi que ce soit, Socrate propose un exercice dialectique que justifie la théorie de la
réminiscence fondée sur la parenté naturelle de l’âme et des idées. Socrate, pour trouver les
conditions selon lesquelles il serait possible de répondre à la question « qu’est-ce que la
vertu? », présente la théorie selon laquelle « chercher et apprendre, c’est, dans l’ensemble,
l’action de se remémorer »
7
. La présence d’un exercice spécifique et la description de la
nature dans la démonstration de Socrate assurent que certains progrès intellectuels ont une
connaissance pour résultat, mais se font toutefois sans un enseignement qui communique
directement un savoir (Ménon, 85d3).
La reprise par Socrate des doctrines « des prêtres et des poètes illustres » définit l’âme
comme une chose immortelle par nature (81b3-4 et 81c5). Il existerait, en vertu d’une parenté
naturelle entre l’âme et les réalités qu’elle contemple dans l’au-delà, une connaissance
parfaite et directe (81c6; 81c9-d1). Pour l’humain, qui n’est pas sous le régime de cette
connaissance parfaite et directe (86a3-4) et qui ne peut par conséquent revendiquer un
discours où connaissance et nature seraient parfaitement conformes, apprendre nécessite de se
soumettre à des exercices intellectuels. Une fois que l’homme est incarné, connaître est
toujours l’effet d’un effort
8
. Et, en effet, l’exercice répété des questions et des réponses peut
mener à la constitution d’un savoir (85c9-d1).
Quelques parallèles avec les exemples historiques développés plus haut nous font voir
quelle est la portée épistémologique de ce passage. Cette pratique du dialogue rappelle tout
d’abord la nécessité pédagogique d’une pratique du raisonnement, et pointe dans la direction
de l’exercice du jugement dont Gorgias faisait l’éloge. Les effets positifs de cet exercice
peuvent de plus être inversés et mener à la réfutation des opinions fausses. Socrate dirige un
exercice de purgation de l’ignorance qui s’adapte aux connaissances du jeune esclave. Il
opère ainsi selon une pratique du discours que Platon assimile à un geste thérapeutique
(Sophiste 226b-231c). Joint à l’exercice de répétition des opinions vraies, ce double exercice
fait enfin de l’acte de savoir un changement psychologique semblable au passage du sommeil
à l’état de veille (Ménon 85c9 et 86a7)
9
. Dans le Ménon, Platon semble donc s’être concentré
sur les impasses formulées par Héraclite en identifiant une pratique du dialogue susceptible
d’éveiller la partie rationnelle de l’âme. Cet exercice, qui possède la double capacité
d’affermir des opinions ou de les réfuter, sera tout à la fois encensé et critiqué par Platon au
cours de son œuvre. Autant susceptible d’ouvrir la voie à un apprentissage efficace (comme
on le constate dans le Ménon) que de mettre à mal les opinions les plus fermes (République
VII 539c-d), sa valeur est déterminée par les fins de son utilisation. La distinction entre un
exercice bénéfique de la discussion et le mode éristique est donc d’une importance cruciale
pour Platon qui fait reposer la possibilité de connaître sur un exercice dont la valeur
correspond à la nature de celui qui le pratique.
La proposition, dans le Ménon, de faire reposer la possibilité d’apprendre sur un
entraînement intellectuel s’adapte par ailleurs aux critiques que Platon adresse à une
conception strictement intellectualiste de la connaissance selon laquelle la connaissance ne
reposerait que sur une diffusion dogmatique du savoir. Un tel savoir, « par contact », est
explicitement critiqué dans le Banquet (175d3-7). Selon Platon, le seul apprentissage possible
est celui qui se conforme autant aux capacités qu’aux limites de la nature humaine. Il suppose
un effort similaire à l’entraînement du corps et est impossible en tant que vision directe et
7
Ménon 81d4-5 et 81e4.
8
Ménon 81d3-4; 86b2. Mener une recherche requiert ainsi du courage : 86b6-c2.
9
Ce qui n’est pas sans rappeler la distinction héraclitéenne entre les dormeurs et les éveillés.
Benoît Castelnérac 227
parfaite de la vérité. De telles conditions de connaissance appartiennent à une autre nature, ou
à un autre état de l’âme propre aux dieux et aux âmes désincarnées. Les limites du modèle
épistémologique de la vision sont évoquées dans Ménon (81c6-d1). Connaître nécessite une
forme d’éveil, car l’humain doit apprendre: il n’est pas, ou n’est plus, sous le régime d’une
connaissance parfaite et directe (« ce temps, n’est-il pas le temps où il n’était pas homme ? »,
86a3-4) et ne peut par conséquent revendiquer une connaissance immédiatement et
parfaitement conforme à la réalité. La possibilité, pour l’humain, d’apprendre ne disparaît pas
entièrement, mais connaître dépend d’une activité qui lui est propre et qui s’adapte à sa
nature. Il faut ainsi distinguer le modèle de la vision de celui de la réminiscence. Selon ce
dernier modèle, qui s’apparente étroitement à la pratique de la dialectique, les types de
connaissance s’enchaînent en un cycle naturel oscillant entre l’état de veille (souvenir et
connaissance) et le sommeil (oubli et ignorance).
Ces critiques du modèle de la vision pointent en direction d’un passage de la
République: Socrate souligne que l’éducation ne consiste pas à « déposer la science dans
l’âme » comme on donnerait la vision à des yeux aveugles (VII 518b-c), mais en un
entraînement pédagogique (518e1-2). C’est pourquoi le philosophe est aussi philóponos
(535b-d; 536b2); il doit aimer l’effort. L’image de l’effort et de la douleur dans la République
(VI 503e et VII 515e) et celle de l’entraînement dialectique dans la première partie du
Parménide (135c-136c) soulignent la nature philosophique de cet exercice. La partie
rationnelle de l’âme, pour parvenir à se détacher des réalités corporelles afin de saisir la
vérité, doit entreprendre un exercice de recherche qui rend manifeste l’absence de
connaissances fermes. Ce n’est qu’une fois débarrassée des opinions fausses, et après avoir
identifié celles qui résistent à l’examen, que le savoir peut se constituer à partir d’opinions
vraies.
La théorie de la réminiscence qui semble, à prime abord, soutenir que la connaissance
est entièrement innée, exprime plutôt la différence fondamentale qui existe entre l’idéal
surhumain d’une connaissance aussi parfaite qu’immédiate et l’expérience humaine de la
recherche du savoir. Le mode philosophique de l’agir humain, qui constate à la fois les limites
de la connaissance et qui exploite la nature bénéfique de la recherche, détermine ainsi en quoi
chercher à connaître se révèle possible et profitable. Reste maintenant à savoir si, appliqué au
domaine de la morale, cet exercice dialectique de la raison complète les qualités naturelles par
l’acquisition de la phrónesis, composante intellectuelle indispensable afin d’en faire de
véritables vertus (Ménon 88b-89a; 97b9 sq.).
Université de Sherbrooke
Die Bedeutung der phronêsis für die Erläuterung der aretê
im Menon
Aleš Havlíček
Platons Dialog Menon, der den Untertitel peri aretês (über die Tugend) trägt, beginnt
mit der Frage, ob die aretê lehrbar (didakton) ist oder ob sie eingeübt werden kann bzw. ob
sie, wenn sie weder angeübt noch angelernt (mathêton) werden kann, dem Menschen dann von
Natur oder auf irgendeine andere Art innewohnt. Im Dialog finden wir verschiedene, auch
einander widersprechende Behauptungen über die aretê. So gelangt z.B. Menon nach der sog.
Geometriestunde aufgrund der Annahme, dass das Wissen lehrbar ist, zu dem Schluss, dass
auch die Tugend (aretê) lehrbar ist (vgl. 89c). Sokrates lehnt solch eine Schlussfolgerung
jedoch ab, weil die Voraussetzung, dass die Tugend ein Wissen ist, nicht erfüllt sei. Eine
andere Behauptung, dass nämlich die Tugend durch göttliche Schickung den Menschen
zukommt, finden wir im Schlussteil des Dialogs, wo Menon in seinen Antworten nicht mehr
den Standpunkt der Lehrbarkeit der Tugend vertritt, noch die Tugend als phronêsis verstehen
möchte (98d-e), und wo er auch seine zuvor angenommene Voraussetzung, dass das Wissen
(epistêmê) lehrbar ist, dahingehend modifiziert, dass die phronêsis lehrbar ist.
Neben den verschiedenen Äußerungen darüber, was und wie beschaffen die Tugend ist,
stoßen wir im Dialog auf das Problem wechselnder Grundbegrifflichkeiten. Schon in der
einleitenden Frage werden die Ausdrücke didakton (lehrbar) und mathêton (erlernbar) von
Menon ohne nähere Erläuterung gleichsam austauschbar verwendet. Dies scheint auf den
ersten Blick nicht wichtig zu sein, da Platon auch in anderen Dialogen keine einheitliche
Terminologie einhält. Einen ersten Hinweis auf die möglicherweise unterschiedliche
Bedeutung der beiden Termini finden wir in der sog. Geometriestunde, denn hier wird von
der Anamnesis gesagt, dass die Leute sie als ein Lernen (mathêsin, 81d) bezeichnen, während
Menon in diesem Zusammenhang davon spricht, dass Sokrates sie ihn gelehrt habe (didaxai).
Ein weiteres Indiz für die mögliche Unterschiedenheit dieser Termini ist die Verbindung des
Lernens (manthanein) mit der phronêsis (88c) und des Lehrens (didaskein) mit der epistêmê.
Unklar ist auch die wechselnde Verwendung von phronêsis und epistêmê in den Passagen
89a-e und 97a-99d.
Aber auch die Tatsache, dass es um einen Dialog geht, in dem der Autor nirgends
auftritt, stellt bestimmte Ansprüche an eine Interpretation. Wir müssen uns nämlich die Frage
stellen, welche der Figuren des Dialogs die Auffassung von der Lehrbarkeit der Tugend bzw.
von der Tugend als göttlicher Schickung vertritt, welche von ihnen zwischen den Ausdrücken
epistêmê und phronêsis nicht unterscheidet, und inwiefern dies jeweils die Intention des
Autors des Dialogs wiedergibt. Falls es sich um Absicht handelt, müssen wir uns die Frage
stellen: Auf welche Folgerungen, die sich aus der terminologischen Austauschbarkeit
ergeben, will der Autor damit aufmerksam machen, und wie stellt sich im Zusammenhang mit
Aleš Havlíček 229
dem Wesen der Tugend das Verhältnis von epistêmê und phronêsis dar? Wenn es dagegen
keinen Unterschied zwischen epistêmê und phronêsis gibt, dann unterbleibt der Widerstreit
zwischen den vorgetragenen Behauptungen über die Tugend, andererseits ist aber auch der
Schluss von der Tugend als phronêsis nicht mehr möglich, denn das Wissen macht die
einzelnen Tugenden der Seele nicht dauerhaft nützlich (vgl. 88a).
Ich glaube, dass Platons Inszenierung des Dialogs auf eine Unterscheidung dieser zwei
Begriffe zielt. Dies scheinen u.a. Sokrates’ Zweifel an Menons Überzeugung zu belegen, dass
die aretê eine epistêmê ist (vgl. 89c-d), aber auch seine Unterscheidung von richtigem Meinen
und Wissen (vgl. 98b). Was für eine Beziehung gibt es also zwischen epistêmê (Wissen) und
phronêsis (Klugheit)
1
im Textstück 86d-100c? Dies wird das Thema unserer Interpretation
sein, und zwar zuerst in der Passage 87c-89c, wo man eine Antwort auf die Frage sucht, ob
die Tugend ein Wissen ist, und dann in der Passage 96d-100c, wo die Tugend in den
Zusammenhang des richtigen Meinens gestellt wird.
Tugend als phronêsis (87c-89c)
Zu Beginn der Passage 86d-100c kehrt die Diskussion zur Eingangsfrage zurück, ob die
Tugend lehrbar ist und ob sie den Menschen von Natur aus oder auf andere Art zuteil wird.
Die Suche nach einer Antwort wird bedingt von der Annahme, dass das Wissen lehrbar ist.
Damit die Tugend lehrbar wäre, müsste also auf der Grundlage dieser Annahme gezeigt
werden, dass sie ein Wissen ist (87c10). Der Dialog über dieses Thema mündet aber in einen
Widerspruch zwischen der Behauptung Menons, die Tugend sei lehrbar (89c2), und Sokrates’
Einwand, dass die Tugend nicht lehrbar ist, da sie kein Wissen ist. Sokrates stützt sich dabei
auf Menons vorangehende Zustimmung zu der These, dass “die Tugend eine Art Klugheit ist”
(tên aretên phronêsin dei tin’ einai, 88d2-3) – nicht aber epistêmê – und “dass die Tugend
eine Klugheit ist, entweder die ganze oder ein Teil von ihr” (phronêsin ara phamen aretên
einai, êtoi sympasan ê meros ti; 89a3-4). Was jedoch Menon von der Tugend verkündet, dass
sie nämlich lehrbar sei, ergibt sich daraus, dass er nicht zwischen phronêsis und epistêmê
unterscheidet. Nach der Diskussion des Sokrates mit Anytos, in der sich zeigt, dass es keine
Lehrer der Tugend gibt, kommt Sokrates mit Menon darin überein, dass die Tugend nicht
lehrbar ist. Menon widerlegt so seine eigene Behauptung von der Lehrbarkeit der Tugend und
erweist die Gleichsetzung der epistêmê mit der phronêsis als falsch. Was nun in dieser auf
den ersten Blick unübersichtlichen Situation Menons Auffassung der Tugend darstellt und
welche Haltung dazu der Autor des Dialogs einnimmt, versuchen wir im folgenden Teil des
Textes zu klären.
Beginnen wir zunächst damit, welche Aufgabe die phronêsis hat und in welcher
Beziehung sie in diesem Teil des Dialogs (87d-89d) zur aretê steht. Die Tugend wurde
bislang nur im Zusammenhang des Wissens oder Meinens diskutiert. Mit der Frage der
Lehrbarkeit der Tugend wird der Begriff phronêsis neu in die Diskussion eingeführt. Über die
phronêsis spricht man im ganzen Dialog nur an zwei Stellen, zuerst in unserem Abschnitt
87b-89d, besonders 88b-89b, und dann in der Passage 96d-100c, besonders 97a-99d. Der
Diskussion über die Rolle der phronêsis geht eine Auslegung der Nützlichkeit (ophelimon)
voraus.
Dass die Tugend (aretê), die das Gute selbst (agathon auto, 87d) ist, notwendigerweise
auch nützlich ist (87e3, 88c5), wird für selbstverständlich gehalten. Aber nützlich können
1
Das griechische Wort “phronêsis” übersetzen wir nur in Zitaten als “Klugheit” und “phronimos” im Text als “klug”.
Die Bedeutung der phronêsis für die Erläuterung der aretê im Menon 230
auch solche Dinge wie z.B. Gesundheit, Stärke, Schönheit oder Reichtum sein.
2
Deren
Nützlichkeit ist jedoch nicht dauerhaft, da sie einmal Nutzen bringen, ein andermal schaden.
Alles hängt davon ab, wie wir diese einsetzen, wodurch sie geleitet werden (hêgêtai, 88a3).
Wenn rechter Gebrauch (orthê chrêsis, 88a) von ihnen gemacht wird, nutzen sie uns, im
entgegengesetzten Fall schaden sie uns. Aber was bedeutet es, rechten Gebrauch von ihnen zu
machen? Hängt die Richtigkeit von irgendwelchen gegebenen Regeln und Maßstäben ab oder
hängt sie gänzlich von unserer Willkür oder vom Zustand unserer Seele ab?
Die Antwort ergibt sich aus einer Erläuterung der seelischen Eigenschaften (ta kata tên
psychên, 88a8). Hierzu gehören Gerechtigkeit, Tapferkeit, Besonnenheit, Edelsinn usw. (88a).
Keine dieser Tugenden ist an sich nützlich. Von der Tapferkeit wird gesagt, dass sie nur dann
nützlich ist, wenn sie mit Vernunft (syn nô, 88b6) ausgeübt wird. In diesem Falle wird die
Tapferkeit Tapferkeit sein, nicht nur irgendeine Kühnheit (tharros ti, 88b5).
3
Ähnlich verhält
es sich mit den übrigen aretai: Nützlich sind sie, wenn sie mit phronêsis ausgeübt werden.
4
Überhaupt endet alles, was die Seele unter Leitung der phronêsis unternimmt oder
durchmacht, in Glückseligkeit (eudaimonia, 88c3).
Und gerade die phronêsis in der menschlichen Seele gibt Antwort auf die Frage, worin
jene “Richtigkeit” des Gebrauchs solcher Tugenden wie Reichtum oder Stärke besteht. Von
der Nützlichkeit dieser “äußerlichen” Dinge – äußerlich in Bezug auf die Seele – wurde
gesagt, dass sie von der Seele, von deren richtiger Leitung abhängt. Das Ergebnis der Leitung
durch die Seele ist es, dass diese Dinge – außer nützlich zu sein – auch gut (agatha, 89a1)
sind. Sie sind aber nicht deshalb gut, weil sie nützlich sind, sondern nützlich, weil sie gut
sind. Die umgekehrte Sichtweise, also die Behauptung, dass wir geleitet von einem Meinen
ohne Vernunft durch nützliches Handeln gut werden können, lässt ein wichtiges Moment für
die Konstitution eines guten Menschen, nämlich die phronêsis, außer Acht.
Die Seele vermag also genau dann richtig zu leiten, wenn sie emphrôn ist bzw. wenn sie
selbst von der phronêsis geleitet wird. Als Folge davon ist dann das Handeln des Menschen
gut und auch nützlich. Was die Tugend anbelangt, so ist diese in der eudaimonia unter der
Leitung der phronêsis enthalten, was bedeutet, dass die Tugend eine phronêsis ist, entweder
als ganze oder als ein Teil von ihr (87d-e).
5
Die Tugend, die der Mensch durch die phronêsis erlangt, stellt ein wichtiges Moment
dar, denn sie ist die Antwort sowohl auf die Frage, wie beschaffen die Tugend ist, als auch auf
die Frage, welches der “Maßstab” der Nützlichkeit oder des richtigen Gebrauchs der Dinge
ist. In beiden Fällen ist nämlich der gemeinsame Nenner die phronêsis. Im Falle der
“äußeren” Dinge wird deren Gebrauch dirigiert von einer klugen Seele, nicht aber von
irgendwelchen Kriterien, auf die man sich geeinigt hat; was die Tugend betrifft, so wird der
Mensch allein dadurch tugendhaft, erlangt allein dadurch die Glückseligkeith, dass seine
Seele von der phronêsis geleitet wird. Die phronêsis ist somit nicht nur ein theoretisches
Räsonieren, sondern sie hat einen praktischen Einschlag. Die kluge Leitung der Seele ist
immer die Gewähr für den richtigen Gebrauch der äußeren Dinge. Anders gesagt: ein
“Maßstab” der richtigen Leitung ist allein die Seele des Menschen, die von der phronêsis
geleitet wird.
2
Eine ähnliche Aufzählung finden wir an der Stelle 72d. Diese “Güter” – angeführt z.B. auch in Euthydemus, 279a-c,
Hippias minor, 291d, Gorgias, 451e – stehen in Opposition zur kardinalen Tugend, wie man von ihr z.B. in der
Politeia spricht.
3
Vgl. Protagoras, 351a: die Kühnheit ist hier keine Tapferkeit, weil zu ihr noch die rechte Leitung der Seele hinzutreten
muss; im Dialog Menon ist dies die Leitung durch die Vernunft.
4
Menon, 88c2: hêgoumenês men phronêsôs.
5
Hier unterscheiden sich häufig die Übersetzungen; wir neigen einer Übersetzung zu, wo die aretê das Subjekt ist, da es
inhaltlich darum geht, dass der Mensch nur durch phronêsis tugendhaft ist.
Aleš Havlíček 231
Menons Verständnis von der Deutung der Tugend als phronêsis zeigt sich bald in seinen
nachfolgenden Antworten. Sokrates kommt zunächst mit Menon darin überein, dass ein
Mensch, der gut ist durch phronêsis, dies nicht von Natur aus ist. Danach fragt er Menon, ob
wir also durch das Lernen (ara mathêsei, 89c1) gut werden, worauf Menon erwidert, dass dies
notwendig so sein muss, da man die Tugend, wenn sie ein Wissen (epistêmê) ist, auch lehren
könne (didakton estin, 89c4). Von der Tugend wurde aber gesagt, dass sie eine Leistung der
Seele ist, die durch phronêsis verwirklicht wird, von der phronêsis wiederum, dass sie eine
Sache des Lernens ist, nicht aber ein Wissen, das man weitergeben kann (vgl. 88b6-8).
Daraus folgt für die Tugend, dass man sie nicht lehren, sondern bloß lernen kann. Menon
jedoch gelangt aufgrund der behaupteten Identität von phronêsis und epistêmê sowie von
Lernen und Lehren zu dem Schluss, dass jemand uns lehren kann, tugendhaft zu sein. Das
steht allerdings im Widerspruch zu der von Platon angestrebten Demonstration, dass wir
durch das Lernen tugendhaft werden. Aus diesen Gründen lässt der Autor des Dialogs
Sokrates den Gedanken ablehnen, dass die Tugend ein Wissen und somit lehrbar ist. (89c).
In der identischen Verwendung von phronêsis und epistêmê sieht die Mehrheit der
Interpreten nichts Wesentliches, bloß den Wunsch, abwechselnd andere Begriffe zu
verwenden, so z.B. Thomson, Hoerber, Bluck, Goldschmidt. Jacob Klein hingegen erkennt
darin in seinem Kommentar zum Menon einen entscheidenden Schritt und eine
Verschiebung,
6
weshalb er auch beide Ausdrücke inhaltlich unterscheidet. Ähnlich begreift
Schaefer das Problem in seinem Buch Phronesis bei Platon.
7
In der Diskussion ist somit die
Antwort auf Menons Eingangsfrage enthalten – tugendhaft wird man unter der Leitung der
phronêsis –, aber der Dialog geht trotzdem weiter. Der Grund dafür ist Menons Identifikation
der phronêsis mit der epistêmê, die in dem Abschnitt 98b-100c in eine Auffassung der
Tugend mündet, die im Widerspruch zu den hier erzielten Schlüssen steht, dass die
Nützlichkeit in der phronêsis der menschlichen Seele gegründet und dass die Tugend eine
phronêsis ist.
Tugend als richtiges (nützliches) Meinen (96d-100c)
Zum Schluss der Passage 96d-100c kehrt die Diskussion zur Frage der richtigen Leitung
zurück. Diesmal geht es nicht mehr um eine Deutung des Wesens der richtigen Leitung,
sondern darum, ob eine richtige Leitung nur der phronêsis zukommt oder ob z.B. auch ein
richtiges Meinen (orthê doxa) diese Funktion übernehmen kann.
Aufgrund der vorangegangenen Überlegungen wird konstatiert, dass wir dann, wenn wir
gut sind, der Gemeinde nützlich sind, da wir die Angelegenheiten anderer richtig zu leiten
vermögen. Dann wird der Gedanke der richtigen Leitung der Dinge von Sokrates korrigiert,
was Menon aber nicht genau versteht. Sokrates versucht ihm das Problem am Beispiel des
Weges nach Larissa zu erklären: Nicht nur der vermag auf diesem Weg richtig zu leiten, der
das Wissen von diesem Weg hat, sondern auch der, der eine richtige Meinung hat. Daraus
folgt für die richtige Meinung, dass sie um nichts weniger nützlich ist als das Wissen. In einer
zusammenfassenden Formulierung wird dann gesagt, dass sowohl der richtig handelt, der von
der phronêsis geleitet wird, als auch der, der von einem richtigen Meinen ohne phronêsis
geleitet wird (97b7).
Vom nützlichen Handeln war zuvor schon gesagt worden (88d-e), dass es von der
richtigen Leitung der Dinge abhängt, was bedeutete, dass die Dinge von einer klugen Seele
geleitet wurden. Jetzt geht es aber darum, dass man dasselbe Ergebnis auch mit einem
6
Klein (1965), 213 f.
7
Schaefer (1981), 108, Anm. 371.
Die Bedeutung der phronêsis für die Erläuterung der aretê im Menon 232
richtigen Meinen erzielen kann. Gegen diese Ergänzung des Sokrates lässt sich nichts
einwenden. Problematisch wird es aber dann, wenn wir – ähnlich wie Menon an der Stelle
97d – behaupten, dass die richtige Meinung dasselbe sei wie epistêmê bzw. phronêsis. In 98b
weist Sokrates den Menon auf die unterschiedliche Bedeutung zwischen orthê doxa und
epistêmê hin, wenn er sagt, dass er insgesamt nur wenig wisse, dass er sich aber dieses
Unterschiedes als eines der wenigen Dinge ganz gewiss sei.
Menons Zustimmung dazu, dass der Mensch ebenso gut sein kann durch richtiges
Meinen wie auch durch das Wissen, ist ein Schritt hinaus aus dem Rahmen dessen, was
Sokrates behauptete, als er darauf aufmerksam machte, dass auch ein richtiges Meinen das
Handeln des Menschen richtig zu leiten vermag. Dieser Schritt steht auch im Widerspruch zur
Hauptthese der vorangehenden Passage (88d-89a), dass nämlich die Tugend eine
Angelegenheit der phronêsis ist. Vom Gesichtspunkt des Autors des Dialogs geht es aber um
einen Hinweis darauf, dass zwischen richtigem Meinen und Wissen kein Unterschied besteht,
sofern wir mit der Richtigkeit des Handelns nur seine Nützlichkeit meinen; gleichwohl gibt es
hier aber einen Unterschied, wenn wir uns mit der Richtigkeit des Handelns auf das beziehen,
was wir heute das Handlungsmotiv nennen würden, auf das also, was das Handeln leitet. Im
Falle des richtigen Meinens ist das Motiv oder die Leitung des Handelns zufällig, im Falle des
Wissens hingegen liegt das Handeln in den Händen des Menschen, woraus zwingend eine
Konsequenz des Handelns resultiert.
Unter der Voraussetzung aber, dass es tugendhafte Menschen gibt und dass auch die
richtige Meinung richtig zu leiten vermag, und unter der Voraussetzung, dass die Tugend
weder durch phronêsis noch durch epistêmê möglich ist, folgt hiermit, dass die Menschen
allein durch die richtige Meinung gut oder tugendhaft werden. Solche Männer, die in ihrem
richtigen Handeln nicht von der Vernunft geleitet werden, nennt Menon göttlich, und von der
Tugend verkündet er, sie entstehe durch göttliche Schickung. Menon begreift die Tugend also
ausgehend vom Ergebnis, das die Handlung herbeiführt, nicht auf der Grundlage dessen, was
zu diesem Ergebnis führte. Deshalb wird der Mensch seiner Auffassung nach durch göttliche
Schickung tugendhaft.
Abschluss
Abschließend möchten wir darauf hinweisen, dass Platon im Dialog nicht zu einer
“positiven” Definition der Tugend gelangt, dass er keine detaillierte Deutung der phronêsis
liefert, dass er aber versucht, die Schlussfolgerungen zu ziehen, die sich aus einem
Verständnis der aretê in Verbindung mit dem Wissen oder dem richtigen Meinen ergeben.
Warum also und in welchem Sinn unterscheidet Platon zwischen phronêsis und
epistêmê? Aufgrund der durchgeführten Analyse meinen wir, dass die aretê für Platon keine
Sache ist, die man lehren, also einem anderen weitergeben und sich dafür bezahlen lassen
könnte – wie dies die Sophisten taten –, sondern dass dies eine Angelegenheit des
vernünftigen Lernens und der phronêsis ist, d.h. einer phronêsis, die vor allem ein Suchen,
nicht aber ein belehrtes Wissen ist. Eine Tugend, die übertragbar wäre, würde uns – so die
eristische Idee des Menon – “träge machen”, und sie wäre “nur den weichlichen Menschen
angenehm zu hören”. Allein eine Tugend als suchendes Lernen kann uns “tätig und forschend”
machen (Menon, 81d).
Gerade darin – so meinen wir – besteht die Aufgabe der phronêsis, nämlich in der
Leitung der menschlichen Seele, die uns von niemandem gelehrt wird, sondern die wir
lernend selbst erwerben müssen. Das Wissen kann man weitergeben, die phronêsis niemals.
Der kluge Mensch kann für uns bloß zu einem Vorbild oder Beispiel werden, anhand dessen
wir lernen können, ebenfalls klug und tugendhaft zu werden. In diesem Sinne werden im
Aleš Havlíček 233
Menon die Verse des Dichters Theognis zitiert: “von den Guten ist Gutes zu lernen” (Menon,
95d) bzw. “allein durch Belehrung schaffst du den schlechteren Mann nimmer zum Guten dir
um” (Menon, 96a1-2). Und in dieser Hinsicht war nach Xenophon auch Sokrates keine
Ausnahme, da er sich nämlich niemals als Tugendlehrer ausgab, sondern Nachfolge
wünschte in dem, was er tat (Memorabilia, I,2).
Karls Universität Prag
A Lesson from the Meno
Edward C. Halper
Socrates’ contention that “learning is recollection” is probably the best known doctrine
of the Meno, and there is a great deal of literature on the slave boy sequence (82a-86b) that is
supposed to justify it. The focus of this paper is not on the arguments for it, but on the
consequences the doctrine has for the central issues of the dialogue, what virtue is and
whether virtue can be taught. These are not consequences that Plato explicitly draws:
following his own notion of learning, he leaves them for us to find by reflecting on the
arguments in and structure of the last third of the dialogue (86b-100b). This paper argues that
the lesson we should derive from this section is that this epistemic doctrine is also an ethical
doctrine: recognizing the truth of “learning is recollection” provides a person with just the
sort of guidance he needs to live a good life. As such, this doctrine, along with the
philosophical inquiry into virtue it fosters, serves as a kind of practical substitute for the
knowledge of virtue that Socrates and Meno seek unsuccessfully.
I
Socrates introduces the “learning is recollection” doctrine (81c-d) to answer a paradox
that seems to show that inquiry is impossible. The problem is how the inquirer can recognize
the truth when he finds it (80d-e). To say, as Socrates does here, that a person can recognize
the truth because his soul has encountered it before birth hardly amounts to more than a bare
assertion that we just have an inborn ability to recognize truth. However, Plato gives the
doctrine real force by having Socrates walk one of Meno’s slave boys through steps that show
how to construct a square of double the area of a given square. The boy, as well as the reader,
comes to see that this construction will indeed produce a square of double area. He, and we,
also see that sides of different lengths could not produce a square of double area.
1
By coming
to recognize these particular mathematical truths, we see that it is possible to recognize truth.
This ability is what makes inquiry possible.
In order that the sequence show the possibility of inquiry, Plato must assume that the
slave boy’s coming to learn a truth already known is the same as an inquirer’s discovering a
truth not yet known and, accordingly, that Socrates plays no necessary role in the slave boy’s
discovery. One common objection is that the slave boy learns only because Socrates asks him
leading questions. In my view, the point that Plato wants to make here is that no questions or
assertions from Socrates or anyone else could ever force more than a verbal assent: Socrates’
suggestions could hardly be more than meaningful sentences before the slave boy can
1
Nehamas (1994) would exclude falsehoods from recollection. But Socrates clearly refers to the slave boy’s
recognitions of falsehoods as “recollections” (82e12-13; 83a3-4). Nehamas also says that the resolution of Meno’s
paradox is “dialectical rather than logical” because it is through questioning that the slave boy comes to know
(pp. 239-40). Since the falsehoods are brought out through questions, Nehamas’ point would be strengthened by
recognizing the ability to recollect that falsehoods are false.
Edward C. Halper 235
recognize, on his own, their truth or falsity. Plato makes this point by having Socrates suggest
false notions to the boy, such as the idea that he might double the square’s area by doubling
its side (82d-e); the boy initially agrees but then comes to recognize the falsity. His, and our,
ability to recognize falsity is as inborn as his ability to recognize truth.
According to a common interpretation, the slave boy passage serves to show Socrates’
special method of teaching.
2
But, again, this misses the point: the passage can only show,
against Meno’s paradox, that inquiry into the unknown is possible if the slave boy’s discovery
of a mathematical truth does not require Socrates’ knowing it already. The passage is
supposed to exhibit Socrates inquiring jointly with the slave boy. While Plato often has
Socrates say that virtue cannot be taught – the reason given later in this dialogue is that there
are no teachers of it – the slave boy sequence shows the possibility that virtue can,
nonetheless, be learned by an inquirer.
3
If this is right, then Socrates is not a teacher, even if
he can sometimes, through joint philosophical inquiry, help a person “recollect.”
II
The reader is surprised that Meno has so thoroughly missed the point that he spurns
Socrates’ injunction to inquire for himself into what virtue is and, instead, asks Socrates to
answer his original question, whether virtue can be taught (86c-d). Meno’s repeated insistence
throughout the dialogue that Socrates answer his questions and his refusal to engage in
inquiry with Socrates serve as dramatic illustrations of the claim that knowledge of virtue
could only come through recollection: unwilling to engage in his own philosophical inquiry,
Meno can make no progress towards either recollecting virtue or becoming virtuous, nor can
he even grasp, from Socrates’ words, that he would need to engage in inquiry to come to
know virtue. Meno’s recalcitrance to philosophy serves as a kind of dramatic proof that
Socrates cannot teach virtue. Even so, it comes as a surprise that Socrates now takes up the
question of the teachability of virtue, an issue he had said to require understanding the nature
of virtue. He seems to ignore the results of the slave boy sequence that learning is
recollection “from oneself” (85d) and that, consequently, there could be no teachers of virtue.
There are, however, good grounds to read the final third of the dialogue as continuing
the inquiry into the nature of virtue while also addressing questions that remain open after the
slave boy sequence. First, the doctrine of recollection does not answer all Meno’s objections
to inquiry into virtue. If true, the doctrine implies only that some subjects can be recollected.
It does not show that everything knowable can be recollected nor, most importantly, that
virtue is among those subjects to which our soul has been exposed earlier and which could,
therefore, be recognized again.
4
Second, to show that inquiry is possible, at least in some
cases, is not to show that it is necessarily valuable. Why should one suppose that inquiry into
virtue will make a person virtuous? This question is particularly important to Meno who, as
we know, identifies the virtue of a man with ability to rule over other men (73d). We can
understand his reluctance to engage in philosophical inquiry as plausible skepticism that
2
For example: Devereux (1978), 214; Wilkes (1994), 215. I do not deny that, with suitable qualifications, Socrates
could be said to teach the slave boy mathematics or that the Meno pr