Monday, September 13, 2021Plenary
The Challenge of Callicles
Given that we have these desires, what do we do with them? Would fulfillment of your desires amount to your vision of a good life? How should one pursue one’s desires? As a starting point, we will look at an example of the view of a group of people in ancient Greece called Sophists and rhetoricians, particularly a character in Plato’s Gorgias named Callicles. Callicles seems to view happiness in terms of the fulfillment of one’s desires, and extends this to claim that we are happier if we have stronger desires (so long as we are able to fulfill them). Power is the ability to get what we desire, to accomplish what we purpose, and rhetoric (the ability to persuade others to do what one wants) is the most powerful tool for gaining and exercising power. Socrates raises a number of critical questions about this vision, and claims that the fundamental choice in life is between this Sophistic attitude and that of the philosopher.
- Be familiar with Callicles’ view of the good life, and aware of two alternative views (Plato, Kongzi)
- Understand Socratic challenges to Callicles’ position, the issues they present, and what they reveal about the sophistic/rhetorical orientation
- See how to make explicit objections and arguments out of text from a Platonic dialogue
- Appreciate why Plato views the choice between philosophical and rhetorical/sophistic lives as the fundamental choice in how to live
- Plato’s Gorgias, Great Speech of Callicles and initial elenchus with Socrates. Read in Perusall, making at least five comments, questions, or replies to someone else’s comment or question. Bring to class (via electronic device or printout as you prefer).
- Trevor Newton, “A Summary of Plato’s Gorgias.” This is required background reading; you do not need to comment on it in Perusall.
- Optional: read entire dialogue from beginning – warning, it’s long!
- Optional: Soccio, “The Sophist: Protagoras“
- Complete the Mapping Desires Exercise and e-mail an image of your map to your section instructor before 10am on the day of today’s class (September 13); you’ll be considering your desire map further in your breakout class later this week.
- Try to summarize, in a sentence or two, Callicles’ view of the good life.
- Enumerate the concerns Socrates brings up about Callicles’ view.
- Read the passage about the scratcher and the catamite. What seems to be the point of these examples?
- Alasdair MacIntyre, “Socrates and the Sophists,” from A Short History of Ethics
- Alasdair MacIntyre, “The Gorgias,” chapter from A Short History of Ethics
- Video on the Sophists
- How to cite passages from a Platonic dialogue (and what those numbers in the margins are): Stephanus numbers
- Slides for today’s class