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In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By schmee
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In Gorgias both Socrates and Callicles believes that they are the true statesman. Socrates thinks that you should be respected and respect your people, while Callicles thinks that the strong should rule and the weak do not matter because they are weak. It comes down to selfish or selfless ideas of statesmanship. Throughout the years there have been many debates between those who practice different forms of statesmanship. Many of these debates have been between those who practice philosophy and those who are rhetoricians. One such debate between a philosopher and a rhetorician may be found in the Gorgias in which a debate between Socrates represents the philosopher and Callicles represents the rhetorician. Now it has been said that most, if not all of the what is believed to be radical thinking in the ways of politics, is instead merely the same things which philosophers were speaking of in the past. It seems that all political thought is just a case of the politician stealing the good ideas of change from the philosopher. A career in politics requires the use of the principles, categories, and metaphors of political philosophy. By acknowledging this it is understood that to be a successful politician one must also use the ideas of political philosophy. One may attempt to attain political power without the aid of political philosophy however; it is likely that this attempt will fail.

In Gorgias Socrates is engaged in a debate, which begins in the streets and eventually ends up in the setting of a home. Within this book there are many things of which debate arises such as what art is Gorgias a master. When Socrates asks such questions he receives answers which are clearly not satisfactory to him. Answers which were provided sounded very eloquent, however did not succeed in answering the question, which was asked, of the rhetoricians seemed to be the theme of the beginning of this work. Why is it that Socrates believes himself to be the only true statesmen in Athens? Socrates believes that an ordered life is happier than a life of chaos. The ordered life which Socrates is speaking of is at odds with what Callicles calls "A man who is going to live a full life must allow his desires to become as mighty as may be and never repress them"(Plato, Gorgias). For while Socrates is saying that a man should not let his desires control him, he should instead have control over his desires. While Callicles believes that by fulfilling all of one's desires, one shows control and true manhood. From the perspective of Socrates a true statesman would have to lead this life of order, which he believes he was leading. Socrates believes that his life, which was spent, largely immersed in philosophy is the life that is to be emulated by others. The life, which was spent examining thoughts and ideas is the one of the most worth and value. Rather than a life in which ones time is devoted to speaking in public, practicing rhetoric, engaging in politics in the current fashion. This life of spending ones time speaking in public and practicing rhetoric etc. would seem to be a waste of one's time to Socrates. For in so doing one does not possess a true knowledge one merely is a manipulator of words, rather than a true scholar or statesman. Socrates believes that the practice of philosophy actually makes a man better. He asked Callicles, if by the practice of rhetoric the rhetorician actually takes time to make sure that their “Fellow citizens may receive the maximum improvement through their words? Or do they, like the poets, strive to gratify their fellows and, in seeking their own private interest, do they neglect the common good, dealing with public assemblies as though the constituents were children, trying only to gratify them, and caring not at all whether this procedure makes them better or makes them worse?" (Plato, Gorgias) Here Socrates is questioning the true motives of his rhetorician counterpart, and whether he has in his mind the constituents whom he is supposed to be representing in the assembly. Or if instead of his constituents he is thinking only of his own selfish desires. For a statesman always has in mind the highest good for all, not just what is beneficial for himself, such would be the case with the philosopher, Socrates would say. Socrates who based his decisions on philosophy and the highest good would never let public opinion sway his decision one way or the other as Callicles would. For Socrates' love of philosophy is "far less capricious than any other love." Given this Socrates' decisions would always be for the better. Rather than Callicles' which may sometimes be to appease the masses or what would be worse to appease his love Demos. Socrates says that it is due to him, being the only Athenian who has attempted the true art politics that, "I never carry on my view to gratification, but with my eyes fixed on the highest good, not on that which is merely pleasant"(Plato, Gorgias). This shows again how Socrates believed that the idea of doing things only for the reason of satisfying one's desires is the improper way in which to make decisions. Rather one should instead be concerned with the highest good, if some sort of gratification is achieved through this, it is purely by coincidence and entirely unintentional. Keeping the highest good always in mind made Socrates the true statesman, in his own mind. Socrates tells Callicles how, "it will be the soul of a philosopher who has kept to his own business and has not meddled with others' affairs during his lifetime"(Plato, Gorgias). This passage by Socrates explains how it is the belief of Socrates that after one dies and his naked soul is before the final judges, it will be the philosopher who will be allowed to continue on to the "Island of the Blessed." This passage is telling Callicles that it matters not what your station was during your life with the living, only the truth which your soul will show will matter at the moment of judgment. So it does not matter how much power one acquires political or otherwise, the only true way to reach the Island of the Blessed is through the life of a philosopher. It is for these reasons that Socrates believes that he is the only true statesman in Athens. The question of why it was Callicles' belief that it was he who is the true exemplar of statesmanship. Callicles brings to the debate a view, which is at direct odds with the one Socrates believes. It was the belief of Callicles that laws were making the weak the majority. Thus keeping the strong from reaching the levels of power which they rightly deserve to bear. However, by obeying the laws that are created by the weak majority of the population, the strong rightful leaders are made to sneak around these unjust laws of the weak. It was due to Callicles' ability to manipulate words and persuade others to his point of view which led him to believe that the strong are better than the weak. Callicles goes so far as to say that “Justice consists in the superior ruling over and having more than the inferior"(Plato, Gorgias). Through this idea that the strong should take advantage of those who do not possess the same abilities as the strong is the core of what Callicles believes to be the way in which true statesmanship is accomplished. By Callicles being a man who is wise in the ways of rhetoric, enables him to persuade the minds of men who are less capable than he to his way of thinking. Callicles believes that by persuading men to his way of thinking he is actually achieving true justice according to nature. Callicles holds a very low opinion of philosophy referring to it as an activity which "One engages with in one's youth"(Plato, Gorgias). Such a statement cuts right to the heart of debate between Socrates and Callicles, as to which is the way of the true statesman. Referring to philosophy as the activity of a child shows that Callicles has very little respect for philosophy. Callicles believes that while rhetoric is the art of true men, philosophy is nothing more than child's play. Callicles states that the philosopher practices an art, which is "Unable to help him or save him from the gravest dangers"(Plato, Gorgias). Unlike the art of rhetoric, which could use persuasion to get out of trouble. For a rhetorician would be able through his mastery of words is be able to persuade his judges of his innocence. Where the philosopher would be unable to save himself, for his art does not enable him to have such power over his judges. These beliefs show that Callicles believes himself to be the true statesman through his mastery of words as a rhetorician. Having such a mastery of words also makes Callicles one of the strong and by the laws of nature makes him the true exemplar of statesmanship in Athens. While both Socrates and Callicles raise good points, such Callicles wanting the more capable to lead. It seems that it would a wise decision to put the more capable into positions which they will be deciding the fates of the many. However, those who are put into public offices no matter what it is that they deal with should look out for those whom they represent. Instead of only looking out for their own desires and ways in which to gratify themselves. It seems that like many things it would be more desirable to achieve some sort of medium between the two approaches to statesmanship. However, like many things it is often not possible to have it both ways, therefore the choice often comes down to the lesser of two evils. The question of which one is a better statesman matters because it is an ever present issue. The approaches are still popular or feasible in the world of politics today. There can be people that just say what people want to hear, or worse tell people what they want to want to hear if the persons rhetoric is good enough like Callicles was. If he was elected today without caring about his constituents it would be a problem. In democracies he would be representing the people, if he didn’t have faith in his people than what is the point of representing them, accept for more personal power, which Callicles would probably like. Meanwhile Socrates would better fulfill his role as a statesman by respecting his people. He would put the good of his people before his own good. So a modern politician should try to be like Socrates ideally. But as the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely, so while someone may start off as noble as Socrates, they may become Callicles underneath the surface. That is why the questions matter, because applied in the modern world we can see if statesmen are more selfish or selfless and with the fortune to be in a democracy, can pick which one to choose.

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