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Gorgias (The Penguin Classics, L94)

by Plato, Plato., Walter Hamilton

Buy the book: Plato. Gorgias (The Penguin Classics, L94)

Release Date: June, 1971

Edition: Paperback

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Buy the book: Plato. Gorgias (The Penguin Classics, L94)


A great translation

Nichols' translation of Gorgias is indeed impressive. I have heard and read other translations of Gorgias- but the word choice of those other translation is too unadmirable(like "knack"-a word that is not fitted with Platonic dialogues). Nichols keeps consistent and easily understandable words. He doesn't go about saying "smart" words- unlike others who seem to try and exhaust their vocab. before they finish the work.

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A great introduction to Plato's philosophy

This is one of my favorite Socratic dialogues. The evidence suggests that Plato wrote it soon after the execution of Socrates, and while I would not say there is a bitter edge to this Gorgias dialogue, I can definitely say that the exchanges do get a little lively at times. At one point, I could almost hear the voices of Socrates and Polus being raised as they argued. Another positive aspect of this dialogue is the fact that it is comparatively easy to understand. Socrates does not start spouting ideas about true Forms or using geometry to prove his points; the more esoteric, more advanced Platonic ideas are to be found in Plato's later writings. In many ways, this dialogue also serves as an introduction to Plato's masterpiece The Republic. Socrates' ideas on some things seem nascent at this point, and he actually contradicts some points he would later make, but the heart of Socratic thought lies within easy grasp in the pages of this dialogue.

The dialogue begins as a discussion about the true nature of oratory. The famed orator Gorgias is in town, and Socrates is most anxious to have a discussion with him. At first, Gorgias' younger friend Polus desires to speak for Gorgias, but he proves little match for Socrates. When Gorgias enters the discussion, Socrates treats him very well, as a respectable man with whom he disagrees, and Gorgias for his part is never flustered by Socrates' description of his art as a knack and as a form of pandering. Later, Callicles bravely jumps into the mix, and things really get interesting. Socrates seemingly admires Callicles' courage to state what he means without shame, yet he winds up getting Callicles to agree with his points in the end. What is it all about? The main points that Socrates makes are that it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong, and that it is better for a man to be punished for his wrongs than to escape punishment. Implicit in his argument is the belief that all wrongdoing is the result of ignorance; following up on this idea, he declares that dictators and politicians who hold vast powers are the most miserable men of all. He goes so far as to describe Athenian heroes such as Pericles as bad men because the state was less healthy when they left office than when they took office, the proof being that such men eventually lost power and were even ostracized.

For Socrates, happiness comes from being virtuous and self-disciplined. The orator can make a great speech and convince his peers that he is right, but he does this by inculcating belief rather than knowledge in the minds of his audience; he requires no knowledge to win such a debate, and as a result he tells the people what he knows they want to hear rather than what is truly best for them. Right and wrong are immaterial to the orator, Socrates charges. Callicles urges Socrates to give up his immature fixation on philosophy and become a public speaker; were he to be brought to court and charged with a wrong, Callicles tells him that he would be unable to defend himself. Much of the concluding pages consist of a wonderful defense by Socrates of his way of life. He agrees that a court could rather easily try and execute him, but if that were to happen, only his accusers would suffer for it. His thoughts are for the next world, and he has no fear of death because he believes a man with a clean, healthy soul such as his will be given immediate access to the isles of the blessed. The execution of Socrates was clearly on Plato's mind as he wrote this particular discourse.

I would recommend this dialogue to individuals seeking an introduction to Plato's philosophy. The entire discussion is clear throughout and easily comprehensible, and it proves interesting to see how some of Plato's thoughts changed between the years separating this dialogue and The Republic.

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