Philosophy Seminar 2016

I no longer intend, as I did last year, to write a book called Aims and Ideals, because, important though both aims and ideals are, they and other aspects of moral philosophy (ethics, if you like) need to be set within the framework of an adequate answer to Plato’s central question, best translated as “In what way should one live?”.

I shall therefore make that my title, and the title for 2016 of our seminar.  It was in fact the title of the first chapter of my Ph.D. thesis of 1969 “Ends, Motives and Principles: A study in Plato’s moral philosophy, with special reference to the Gorgias”.

This year the seminar will begin on March 21st, and again be on the third Monday of a month, concluding probably in September.  It will meet at 23 Fallon St, Brunswick (Victoria 3056).  There is no charge: those who wish may make a donation to Learningguild.  Corresponding members are welcome.

I ask members to have their own copy of an edition of the Gorgias.  (Let me know if you would like me to purchase for you a copy of the Penguin Classics revised edition, 2004.)  I’ll distribute initially the first twelve pages of my thesis, with transliteration of the Greek and translation of the Greek and Latin used in some of the footnotes, and later the rest of that first chapter, and after that perhaps more.  A small charge will be made to defray the cost of photocopying.

I invite members to prepare written responses to at least three of the following.  Often an answer of less than 100 words would suffice.

  • Explain why you think the question “In what way should one live?” does, or does not, need an explanation and/or a defence.
  • If you think it does, provide what you think is needed.
  • What would you like to ask, or say, about the opening of the Gorgias (447a-9c)?
  • What would you like to ask, or say, about the first four parts (pp. xiii-xxiv) of Emlyn-Jones’s Introduction to the Penguin Classics revised edition?      

John Howes, January 2016

FROM MARCH 21 TO APRIL 26

(Please note that in April, because Margaret and I are to be in Adelaide from the 14th to the 20th, the seminar will not meet as usual on the third Monday.  Because the fourth Monday is Anzac Day, we shall meet on the Tuesday.)

At our first meeting, on March 21, I said that the seminar’s main focus this year should be on the Gorgias, and that our scope is therefore wider in that respect than pure consideration of our central question, already familiar to us, “In what way should one live?” (which is rightly said by Socrates at 500c to be “our subject”).  I invited members to make their own study of the dialogue helped by critical attention to what Emlyn-Jones has to say.  (He provides an Introduction, a commentary on each subsection, and notes.)

We agreed that “In what way should one live?” would be a silly question if it implied that there was some one pattern of life that suited everyone, and that no one should be advised to adopt a particular pattern by someone who has no understanding of his or her particular situation.  On the other hand, if, as with Plato in the Gorgias and the Republic, the question involves especially “Should I be set on being just, or ready to be unjust?” then it is at least to that extent relevant to everyone who can understand that question.

Apart from such emphasis on the choice between justice and injustice, we need to ask what other areas of choice might valuably be attended to if we are asking “In what way should one live?”  For example, are mental development and physical and mental energy reasonably recommended for all or most people capable of them?  What about the quality called by Plato sōphrosunē (moderation)?  What else?  And on what basis or bases?

I drew attention to two features of the opening subsection.  Socrates looks for conversation rather than any impressive-sounding speech (447a-c).  Consider the relevance of that to common assumptions, still prevalent today, about the indispensability of lecturing, or preaching, or political speech-making.  He seeks precision about what it is that Gorgias practises, not a panegyric of it (448c-9b).

In preparation for the next meeting, I asked members to take in all of the Gorgias section, i.e., the section of the dialogue labelled A by Emlyn-Jones and ending at 461b, in which the main speakers are Socrates and the respected orator and teacher of rhetoric whose name is Gorgias.  I offered four questions: here they are, with slight modifications and a supplementary question.

  1.  Which remarks or passages in the first section of the Gorgias would you especially like to discuss?
  2. What would you say Plato is doing in this first section?
  3. What answers to his central question might be said to stem from this first section?  (Why say ‘might be said to stem from’ and not ‘are given in’?)
  4. Is Socrates’ treatment of rhetoric more unfavourable than it ought to be?

FROM APRIL 26 TO MAY 16

At the meeting on April 26, we agreed with John Mikuz that Socrates’ treatment of rhetoric itself was more unfavourable than was justified by the frequent use of it to advocate what was untrue or unjust.  Milan said that he had been thinking, prompted by Gorgias’s denial of responsibility on the orator’s part when a pupil misused oratorical skill he had been taught, about the responsibility that a teacher, a parent, an educational or religious institution, or a union might have for someone’s wrongdoing.  Jonathan drew attention to this sentence from Socrates at 459b: “So when the orator is more convincing than the doctor, what happens is that an ignorant person is more convincing than the expert before an equally ignorant audience?” 

That sentence is a very good example of what I call perceptive counter-description, where, in response to one person’s superficial and complacent description of some situation, another says how things really are.  Plato’s hope at this point would be that a hearer or reader of the dialogue would be moved to think about whether such contentment with ignorance, presumably obfuscation or playing-down of what an expert has said, and keeping ignorant people “in the dark” instead of informing them of the truth is something shameful.  I suspect, but cannot yet show, that there are many examples of perceptive counter-description in Plato.  It is often essential if we are to recognize what some behaviour or situation really involves.

Before going on to what we might specially attend to in the Polus part, I’ll mention a conclusion I’ve come to about the approach I’ll usually take in future to a philosophical text or a part of it.  I’ll engage in what I’ll call critical study of major questions, words and answers (MQWA) in it, and invite you to join me in that study, even though I would normally want you also to read the whole of that text or part for yourself, be able to summarize it or parts of it for yourself, and test for yourself how far you agree that the MQWA are the ones I have identified.  If it is to be a critical study, and even if you agree that these are the MQWA, you still need to ask what you are to think about them: are they ones that you can and should make your own, or at least benefit from in finding or forming similar ones for yourself?  Around 1970 I realized the importance of giving students what I called “Some questions for investigation”, and lecturing with reference to those.  I think that, if we take up the MQWA approach, that will help us all to be clearer and more active and lively in relation to any text we study.

I have written the previous paragraph after composing some of a first draft of the paper I intend to give in July, for which I want the text to be substantially what I’d have as Chapter 3 of the proposed book In what wayshould one live?.  I found that I was summarizing the three first parts of the Gorgias, with some comment, and that this took up too much space and did not secure sufficient attention to the MQWA.  Moreover, any such summarizing tends to make the student and even the teacher too inclined to rely on the summary, rather than to study and revise the text itself in a fruitful relationship with what I propose as MQWA.  I shall therefore take that approach from now on in these monthly guides too, and no doubt use some of what I write in them in the paper and book too.

In the handwritten pages I gave out on April 26, I proposed that we spend two months on the Polus part of the Gorgias (461b-481b), and that this part be read initially as whole, without too much attention to Emlyn-Jones’s extensive commentary.  As always, mark whatever you find especially impressive, interesting, repugnant, or just puzzling, and then read parts again with Emlyn-Jones’s assistance.

He has six sections in presenting this second part of the Gorgias, and I suggest we give most of our attention before the meeting on May 16 to the first three (461b-471d).

Section 1 (461b-466a)

The major question here continues to be “What is rhetoric?”, taken as equivalent to “What is the rhetoric that Gorgias practises and extols?” Plato puts into the mouth of Socrates something very unusual for him: a definite answer to a question he has asked, and, still more remarkable, a speech in explication of it.  The question has turned into “What category of human activity does this rhetoric belong to, and with what shall we contrast that category?”

Make sure that you master and understand Emlyn-Jones’s valuable chart on p.28.  Where are each of the eight first mentioned in this section?

The major word here is certainly ‘kolakeia’, which Emlyn-Jones has rightly rendered by ‘pandering’, but on which he has an inadequate and misleading note (32 on p.141), and nothing in his glossary.  It is the crucial word in Socrates’ answer to the above question.

QUESTION 1.  Is that answer clear? Is it a justified one?  How do you explain what Plato means by this word ‘kolakeia’, given that Plato gives it very wide application?  (You can get help from a good dictionary on ‘pander’ as a verb, but primarily it’s a matter of finding and thinking about what Socrates says here about kolakeiain general, as well as about examples of it.  What does kolakeia characteristically do, according to Socrates?  What does it fail to do?  Can you give present-day examples?

(You may decide to concentrate almost entirely on one of these numbered questions.  However, do at least read and think about the article to which the second question refers.)

QUESTION 2.   How can we best relate to this section of the Gorgias Sarah Boseley’s article in the Guardian Weekly for the 19th of February 2016 “The chicken shop mile and how Britain got bigger”?  (What would make a better title, do you think?)

QUESTION 3.  What value do you attach to Plato’s classifying of four activities as forms of kolakeia?   Is he entirely unreasonable about what is called here cookery and beauty-culture?

Section 2 (466a-468e)

The major question here is an underlying one, whose answer is applied by Socrates to the orators admired by Gorgias, and to tyrants: “Don’t people sometimes do as they please without bringing about what they want?”

The major word is the verb ‘poiein’, which can cover both of the jobs done by, on the one hand, our ‘do’, and, on the other, our ‘make’ and similar verbs, which convey not just action but the production of something: we can speak of making a cake, effecting a change, producing a result, bringing about a new situation, and in none of these four cases could we use ‘do’.  So far I have come across no translator or commentator who has seen the need to get away from the  verb ‘do’ in this section when it is followed by ‘what … want(s)’.(Start at 466de, where the addition of ‘to’ after ‘want’ shows Emlyn-Jones’s lack of understanding, and go on to 467a and b (twice), and 468d and e.  At these points try the verb ‘effect’ or the supplemented verb ‘bring about’ in front of ‘what’, and see what a difference in intelligibility results.

QUESTION 4.    Is it true that human beings sometimes do as they please without bringing about what they want?  If so, what is or would be a clear example?  Does Plato fail to give one here?  Do you think that this distinction is of any general importance?

Section 3 (468e-471d)

Here again the major question is an underlying one, though it is applied, with an immense difference between Socrates and Polus in their answers, to Archelaus the tyrant of Macedonia and to the Great King (of Persia).  It is: “On what criteria are we to call someone eudaimōn?”  (See 470d-471d.)

The major word here is, unsurprisingly, the adjective ‘eudaimōn’, a crucial word in Greek ethics.  Although it is traditional to translate it by ‘happy’, it is also common to make the correct point, as Emlyn-Jones does by implication on p.40, that the present-day English word ‘happy’ is generally connected to someone’s feelings, whereas the Greek word is connected more with one’s “objective” state: state of fortune or state of being.  However (and this is also true of an older use of ‘happy’, prefacing a reference to a person or kind of person, as in ‘Happy is he who …’), the fundamental point, which I learnt from an essay by the acute Oxford philosopher J.L.Austin, is that to call someone eudaimōn is to “eudaimonize” (eudaimonizein) him or her, i.e., to congratulate him or her, or to say or think that he or she is worthy of congratulation.  In Plato, this congratulation is often of an “ultimate” or generalizing kind (in contrast to saying or thinking merely, for example, “Lucky fellow!”).  But, as is illustrated by Socrates and Polus here, people can be diametrically different in their criteria for bestowing such an ultimate congratulation!  Thus, to use the very valuable distinction drawn by another Oxford professor, R.M.Hare, the evaluative meaning of ‘eudaimōn’ is common to all its users, but the descriptive meanings, determined by the criteria particular people or groups of people use, vary greatly with its users.

The only answers given here are those of Polus (by implication) and of Socrates (extremely specific: where?).

QUESTION 5.  Say in your own words, on the basis of 470d-471d, what you think Polus’s criteria are for calling someone eudaimōn.  In Emlyn-Jones’s words, what are Socrates’ criteria?  Do you think Emlyn-Jones’s translation at that point is likely to be misleading?  If so, why, and what do you think might be better?  Would you make a start on considering what your own criteria are?

To end, a personal point and a general question.  In 1968-9, I wrote my Ph.D. thesis, of eight chapters, called “Ends, motives and principles: a study in Plato’s moral philosophy with special reference to the Gorgias”.  Chapter 1 is called “In what way should one live?”; Chapters 2-4 are about the word ‘happy’ and its history and about ‘eudaimōn’ and cognate words; and Chapters 5-8 are about the Gorgias, applying what was in the earlier ones.  Some of my former colleagues at Melbourne, themselves without a knowledge of Greek, were probably, and understandably, inclined to think that in teaching Greek philosophy I overdid reference to the Greek.  You can see that on this page and the previous one I have done more of such referring than I usually do.  How valuable is such explanation for the student without Greek?

FROM MAY 16 TO JUNE 20

At our meeting on May 16, Milan and John Mikuz each drew attention to two things they had noticed in the first three sections of the part of the Gorgias in which Socrates is in conversation with Polus.

Milan said he was interested in Socrates’ idea of the health of the soul (464a), and was surprised that Socrates seemed to recognize only four arts.  In fact he was not attempting any complete classification of what could count as an art (technē), but identifying four particular arts that had counterpart “pandering” activities claimed spuriously to be arts, one of which was the kind of oratory that Gorgias practised and glorified (see, for example, 456 a-c).

Psuchē’ has a wider meaning than our word ‘soul’, which is its usual rendering in translations.  At 464a ‘mind or soul’ would be appropriate.  Socrates considers that, just as physical training and medicine are genuine arts that are concerned with developing or restoring the health of the body, so legislation and justice are political arts concerned with developing or restoring the health or highest welfare of the minds or souls of citizens (464bc).  Because we think of good legislation and justice as outcomes of fair and competent procedures, it would be clearer if Socrates spoke here of the arts of the true legislator and of the true seeker for justice (who might be a judge or juryman).

John Mikuz asked, quite understandably, what Socrates meant by saying at 466c “you are asking me two questions at once”.  The two questions implicit in Polus’s words so far are “Don’t orators have great power, where I mean by ‘power’ something good to have?” and “Can’t orators kill whoever they want to, etc.?”  The distinction Socrates has in mind ought to become much clearer at 466d, but Emlyn-Jones, as I explained in the last Guide under the heading “Section 2 …”, fails to make it clear.  The sentence there that begins in his translation “They do practically nothing …” should be translated in some such way as this: “They effect nothing, one might say, that they want, though they do whatever they think best.”  Thus the two questions are “Do orators have great power, i.e., power to effect (bring about) what they really want?” and “Can orators do whatever they think best?”  Socrates’s answers are “No” and “Yes” respectively.  Milan gave the vivid example of Hitler: he could do whatever he thought best, but could not bring about the state of affairs that he (in this case mistakenly) wanted.  It is crucial to distinguish two meanings of the verb ‘poiein’, and so not to make the important distinction unintelligible.

John also noted, and was surprised by, Socrates’ remark at 470a “And being punished is an evil?”.  That is not a statement of Socrates’ own view (for that, see section 6 of the conversation with Polus), but, in its context, a seeking of confirmation of what Polus’s own view is.  It would be better translated “And being punished is bad?” where the meaning is “And you consider that being punished is a bad thing?”

I spoke at length about the crucial adjectives in the crucial passage 470de ‘eudaimōn’ and ‘athlios’, and the noun ‘eudaimonia’, translated, as is usual, by Emlyn-Jones with ‘happy’, ‘miserable’ and ‘happiness’.  (It is useful to bear in mind the French ‘miserable’, a bit like our ‘wretched’ or ‘in a bad way’, but understood as describing an unlovely or corrupted state of a person or “soul”.)  I invited members to consider what might aptly fill the “gaps” if we replaced those three words with, respectively, ‘blank’, ‘antiblank’ and ‘blankitude’.  ‘Enviable’ is near to, but not accurate enough for, what we might say at ‘blank’; see the last Guide under the heading “Section 3 …”.  In my thesis, to avoid the misleadingness of the common English renderings, I proposed Greek-based words I coined in which ‘trop’ comes from the noun ‘tropos’, which Plato uses at 500c (as at Republic 352d) to mean a way (of living): ‘eutropic’ and ‘eutropy’, ‘dystropic’ and ‘dystropy’ (the last for the rare noun ‘athliotēs’).

We had little time left to consider the Guardian Weekly article in relation to pandering (see QUESTION 2 in the last Guide).  Let’s do that before and on June 20.  Who is doing the pandering in relation to obesity?  How can pandering in this case be best resisted or cured?  (Think of the school in Stirling, Scotland, that is mentioned in column 2 of p.28 of the article.)

For the pre-June 20 period, apart from distributing copies of the abstract for my proposed paper in July at the annual conference of the Australasian Association of Philosophy, I’ll leave you to Emlyn-Jones for assistance with the second half (471d-481b) of the conversation with Polus.  Read Emlyn-Jones critically, as I wish you to read what I say.

Aim to make a least one written contribution at or for our meeting on June 20, perhaps of the form “I’d like to ask a question about …”, or “I’m impressed by Socrates’ saying that …”, or “I’m unimpressed by Socrates’s saying that …” ­ but adding “because …”!

FROM MAY 16 TO JUNE 20

At our meeting on May 16, Milan and John Mikuz each drew attention to two things they had noticed in the first three sections of the part of the Gorgias in which Socrates is in conversation with Polus.

Milan said he was interested in Socrates’ idea of the health of the soul (464a), and was surprised that Socrates seemed to recognize only four arts.  In fact he was not attempting any complete classification of what could count as an art (technē), but identifying four particular arts that had counterpart “pandering” activities claimed spuriously to be arts, one of which was the kind of oratory that Gorgias practised and glorified (see, for example, 456 a-c).

Psuchē’ has a wider meaning than our word ‘soul’, which is its usual rendering in translations.  At 464a ‘mind or soul’ would be appropriate.  Socrates considers that, just as physical training and medicine are genuine arts that are concerned with developing or restoring the health of the body, so legislation and justice are political arts concerned with developing or restoring the health or highest welfare of the minds or souls of citizens (464bc).  Because we think of good legislation and justice as outcomes of fair and competent procedures, it would be clearer if Socrates spoke here of the arts of the true legislator and of the true seeker for justice (who might be a judge or juryman).

John Mikuz asked, quite understandably, what Socrates meant by saying at 466c “you are asking me two questions at once”.  The two questions implicit in Polus’s words so far are “Don’t orators have great power, where I mean by ‘power’ something good to have?” and “Can’t orators kill whoever they want to, etc.?”  The distinction Socrates has in mind ought to become much clearer at 466d, but Emlyn-Jones, as I explained in the last Guide under the heading “Section 2 …”, fails to make it clear.  The sentence there that begins in his translation “They do practically nothing …” should be translated in some such way as this: “They effect nothing, one might say, that they want, though they do whatever they think best.”  Thus the two questions are “Do orators have great power, i.e., power to effect (bring about) what they really want?” and “Can orators do whatever they think best?”  Socrates’s answers are “No” and “Yes” respectively.  Milan gave the vivid example of Hitler: he could do whatever he thought best, but could not bring about the state of affairs that he (in this case mistakenly) wanted.  It is crucial to distinguish two meanings of the verb ‘poiein’, and so not to make the important distinction unintelligible.

John also noted, and was surprised by, Socrates’ remark at 470a “And being punished is an evil?”.  That is not a statement of Socrates’ own view (for that, see section 6 of the conversation with Polus), but, in its context, a seeking of confirmation of what Polus’s own view is.  It would be better translated “And being punished is bad?” where the meaning is “And you consider that being punished is a bad thing?”

I spoke at length about the crucial adjectives in the crucial passage 470de ‘eudaimōn’ and ‘athlios’, and the noun ‘eudaimonia’, translated, as is usual, by Emlyn-Jones with ‘happy’, ‘miserable’ and ‘happiness’.  (It is useful to bear in mind the French ‘miserable’, a bit like our ‘wretched’ or ‘in a bad way’, but understood as describing an unlovely or corrupted state of a person or “soul”.)  I invited members to consider what might aptly fill the “gaps” if we replaced those three words with, respectively, ‘blank’, ‘antiblank’ and ‘blankitude’.  ‘Enviable’ is near to, but not accurate enough for, what we might say at ‘blank’; see the last Guide under the heading “Section 3 …”.  In my thesis, to avoid the misleadingness of the common English renderings, I proposed Greek-based words I coined in which ‘trop’ comes from the noun ‘tropos’, which Plato uses at 500c (as at Republic 352d) to mean a way (of living): ‘eutropic’ and ‘eutropy’, ‘dystropic’ and ‘dystropy’ (the last for the rare noun ‘athliotēs’).

We had little time left to consider the Guardian Weekly article in relation to pandering (see QUESTION 2 in the last Guide).  Let’s do that before and on June 20.  Who is doing the pandering in relation to obesity?  How can pandering in this case be best resisted or cured?  (Think of the school in Stirling, Scotland, that is mentioned in column 2 of p.28 of the article.)

For the pre-June 20 period, apart from distributing copies of the abstract for my proposed paper in July at the annual conference of the Australasian Association of Philosophy, I’ll leave you to Emlyn-Jones for assistance with the second half (471d-481b) of the conversation with Polus.  Read Emlyn-Jones critically, as I wish you to read what I say.

Aim to make a least one written contribution at or for our meeting on June 20, perhaps of the form “I’d like to ask a question about …”, or “I’m impressed by Socrates’ saying that …”, or “I’m unimpressed by Socrates’s saying that …” ­ but adding “because …”!

FROM JUNE 20 TO JULY 18

I apologize that this report and guide is being written as late as July 9th.  After our meeting on June 20th I was completing my paper “Plato’s response in the Gorgias to his central question”.  I finished it on July 2nd.  The annual conference of the Australasian Association of Philosophy, this year at Monash University’s Caulfield campus, began on the 3rd, I gave that paper on the 4th, and from then to the 7th I went to numerous sessions andtalked with many people, especially teachers in other countries and overseas postgraduates.

Copies of my paper, whether as a booklet or as an email attachment or both, may be obtained on request.  I intend to post or leave them for members tomorrow.  I don’t ask, expect or want them to read the whole before our next meeting.

On June 20th, we began with some discussion of Plato on pandering (see Sec. 2 of the paper).  Jonathan expressed some sympathy for the Athenian orator or politician who considered he’d get nowhere unless he “pandered” to popular attitudes, and, if I remember rightly, he expressed the view that the fascinating variety of the scene in Athens was not sufficiently appreciated by Plato, who was so unimpressed by the Athens of his own time.  (For Plato’s exaggerated portrait of an undisciplined democracy such as he thought Athens to be, see Republic 557-8c.)

I raised the question how, in education and elsewhere, children and older people might be encouraged to want to be at their best, and so to have concern for “what is best”, not for “whatever is most pleasant at the time” (see 464d and Sec. 2 of the paper).

There was some discussion of the last part of the Polus section, on punishment.  We agreed that punishment does not necessarily make a person better.  Here is a passage from Dodds’s commentary (p.254) at 477e-479e; let’s discuss it on the 18th (I am not entirely satisfied by it: consider the use here of ‘must’).

The argument depends on the assumption that punishment always has a remedial effect (and that no alternative treatment has).  This is unfortunately far from being the case even today: most social workers would, I think, agree that punishment intensifies the delinquent’s resentment against society more often than it removes it.  Plato’s implicit reasoning seems to be: punishment is a necessary institution in all societies; but it can be justified morally only if it is remedial; therefore it must always be remedial.  This confuses what is with what ought to be.

Sir Walter Moberly drew on more than fifty years of reflection on punishment in his The Ethics of Punishment (Faber, London 1968).  Ch. 5, which begins from Plato’s argument in the Gorgias and puts a view similar to Dodds’s, includes discussion of the reformatory effects that may be effectually promoted during a period of punishment.  I’d gladly make photocopies available, and we could discuss the chapter at our last meeting for the year, probably in September.

I offer another apology: this time for not remembering other things said on June 20 which I’d have liked to report.

We turn to the Callicles part of the Gorgias, longer than the earlier parts put together (too long?), and full of passion and eloquence.  I have asked members to read the first of Emlyn-Jones’s six sections from 481b to 505b.  Would you also read Section 6 and 7 of my paper, and note anything at all where you’d like to make a comment or ask a question?  (You’ll see that I revised and added to the list of questions.)

Here are two questions I would like you to think about, with reference more to your own reading of this part of the Gorgias than to those two sections of mine or to Emlyn-Jones’s comments.

QUESTION 1.  Explain why you do or don’t agree with an imaginable view that Plato makes Callicles a memorable but not a credible character.  (Thrasymachus in the Republic is a credible character.)  Is Callicles’ presence as important for the discussion of the question in what way one should live as Plato supposes it to be?

QUESTION 2.  Which English words or set of words, and which examples, would you choose as enabling or helping you to communicate your conception of the quality Plato calls sōphrosunē?  (On this use of the noun ‘conception’, see the second paragraph of Sec. 1 of my paper.)  Does Socrates exaggerate its importance?  Does this quality make people dull?

I think that, if (as I expect and hope) I continue to lead the seminar next year, I shall again work with members’ assistance towards a paper in July that concerns Plato, which would, substantially, be the text of a fourth chapter of the proposed book.  I think the seminar should be on the ethics and psychology of the Republic, with reference to later writers, not all of them philosophers.  My paper might be entitled “Plato on justice, three elements of human nature, and their reconciliation”.  Parts I, V and IX in any Penguin edition that has the revised translation of 1974 would be our text: intending participants could read those Parts before we began.  I helped Sir Desmond Lee in that revision in the ways he describes, and enjoyed our cooperation, but further revision, in which I want to engage, is needed to make the translation as accurate as, say, Lindsay’s Everyman edition.  The Penguin is more helpful to the reader than the Everyman.

FROM JULY 18 TO AUGUST 15

We did not reach a conclusion on whether Callicles is a credible character; he is certainly a memorable one, in whom Plato presents an ideal of aretē and eudaimonia utterly different from Socrates’ and his own.  It would not be surprising if someone keen to advocate the maximization of pleasure in relation to strong and multiple desires did not realize, until pressed with examples, that he did in fact recognize that there were better and worse pleasures (499b).

Jonathan suggested that “meeting challenge is [Callicles’] true end”.  Plato’s reply would be, I think, that it could only be one valuable end when related to others worth pursuing, such as the development of a community of friends.

Jonathan compared Callicles with Nietzsche on “the will to power”.  Copies of Dodds’s Appendix “Socrates, Callicles, and Nietzsche” are available from me.

Concerning sōphrosunē, Margaret made a link with appropriate behaviour.  The sōphrōn does not behave wildly or unreasonably, or go to extremes.  I drew on my own experience of mental ill-health due to anxiety to say that I consider sōphrosunē fundamental to mental health.  One may have to discover, with or without help, and with a view to developing a mind both peaceful and active, what it really has been that has caused the stress and distress, and, specifically, how that can be dealt with and avoided or overcome.  ‘Moderation’ is probably a better rendering than ‘self-control’ for the noun ‘sōphrosunē’: both suggest gentleness, sensitiveness and balance in a person who is self-controlled.  The adjective ‘moderate’ can, but need not, be misleading: there the addition of ‘and self-controlled’ may be useful.

This time I invite you to identify (with references) and discuss two themes from the second half (505c-527) of the Socrates-and-Callicles part of the Gorgias.  I hope the last three sections of my paper “Plato’s response in the Gorgias to his central question” will be helpful, but check what I say there against the text.

We are not in this seminar doing ancient history, so it is not our concern here how far Socrates’ criticisms of particular politicians are just.  Only Aristides is mentioned with admiration (at 526b: see Emlyn-Jones’s note 133).

FROM AUGUST 15 TO SEPTEMBER 19

(Our last meeting for the year is scheduled for the latter date.)

Milan raised two valuable questions at our August meeting.  One was on the use of ‘excellence’, as when I write, on p.11 of my paper “Plato’s response in the Gorgias to his central question”, in fact translating Plato at the end of that work (527e), “practising justice and the rest of excellence”.  Stephen also, in Canberra, has asked me what I mean there by ‘the rest of excellence’.  It seems a perplexing phrase because ‘excellence’ for us normally means being extremely good at some activity that varies with the context (mathematics, cricket, etc., etc.).

It helps as a first explanatory move if we take ‘excellence’ to be equivalent there to ‘human excellence’, i.e., ‘excellence as a human being’.  The fundamental point, however, is that we have to make a choice in seeking the best of three renderings for ‘aretē’, none of which is entirely satisfactory.  The three are ‘virtue’, ‘goodness’, and ‘excellence’.

The objection to the first two is that they seem to imply the possession of moral qualities likely to be approved by those who greatly value justice and fairness, so that the use of either for ‘aretē’ in Callicles’ summing-up “luxury and indiscipline and freedom, if they have the wherewithal: that’s aretē and eudaimonia” seems out of place and almost incomprehensible.  We should not have the same reaction if at 527e we read “practising justice and the rest of virtue”, but that would be at the cost of losing the “openness” of ‘aretē’ whereby Callicles can make the remark just quoted from him without being accused by Socrates of making any linguistic mistake.  It seems to me so important to preserve that linguistic openness to different sets of criteria for the application of the noun ‘aretē’ (as for the noun ‘eudaimonia’) that I am ready to stretch the application of ‘excellence’ so that it is paraphrasable by ‘the set of qualities that it is most important for a human being to have’, and, in that sense, by ‘human excellence’ or ‘excellence as a human being’.

Socrates and Plato would think first (but not only) of wisdom, courage and moderation as “the rest of excellence”, i.e., constituents of aretē they would name along with justice, and be ready to explain and argue for: these are the four “cardinal virtues”, but the supreme question is “What is the nature of each, and is it indispensable?”  Hence Plato’s consideration of them in turn and together at Republic 441c-5b, which, along with the preceding passage on the components of our mental being, I expect to be prominent in our discussions next year.  (The pair ‘dikaiosune and aretē’ occurs at 445b, and was originally translated by Lee as ‘justice and virtue’, but he changed to ‘justice and excellence’ in the revised version, with which I assisted.)

Milan’s other question related to Plato’s conception of “the democratic man” (presented in the Republic at 558c-562a).  Milan said that he thought that a person so described would be one who respected others and their needs and opinions, and found it strange that Plato used the description as he does, for a person who “lives from day to day, indulging the pleasure of the moment”, so that “there’s no order or restraint in his life” (561cd).  This part of the Republic needs to be read in the context of what precedes it (557a-8c), where Plato has Socrates describe the democratic state as “an agreeable anarchic form of society, with plenty of variety, which treats all men as equal, whether they are equal or not” (Lee at 558c).  When we talk of democracy, we need to consider different forms of it: are we, for example, thinking of government by elected representatives and skilled public servants, i.e., “Westminster” at itsbest, or of rule by referenda, or by mass meetings?  Plato was very critical of what he knew as demokratia, fundamentally because of its lack of attention to real expertise (understanding) and to such qualities for its leaders as justice and moderation.  Thus he implies no moral qualities when he speaks of the typical “democratic man”.

I drew attention to the prominence given by Socrates at 506e to “order” and “arrangement”. Consider “Then the excellence (aretē) of a thing depends on its having a certain organization and order which is the result of arrangement.”  I raised the question what kinds of order and arrangement were most valuable (not normally ones imposed by others, especially if they dominated one’s life), and said that, whereas I had often thought that setting aims to spend (and count) certain amounts of time in particular activities (e.g., writing) was needed, I had come (once again) to think that it is better not to be clock-related in that way (while certainly seeking to make early starts), but to set oneself to do certain things on a particular day.  One is freer, more relaxed, and more open to others in that way.  Agenda (the word is Latin for things needing to be done) can also be decided upon and listed for weeks and/or months and/or years.  Of course some flexibility is needed.

We gave brief attention to the question of the relations between religion and moral goodness.  Milan thought that often religion was based in prudence, and I had given a reason for rejecting theism in the third-last paragraph of my paper.  Nevertheless, I said, some of the people I had most admired had had a religious basis to their lives.  This is a matter that obviously deserves further attention.

The agenda for our final meeting has two parts.  (There I am using the word as an NC, a noun for something countable with that noun, a list of things needing to be done, though I feel a little uneasy about using the plural ‘agendas’!)  First, come with one or more questions or comments on the Gorgias and/or my paper.  Secondly, bring at least one question or comment on the pages from Sir Walter Moberly’s The Ethics of Punishment (Faber, 1968) that I have distributed, pp. 121-3, 147, and 379-381.  On the first of those pages, Moberly criticizes as at least an oversimplification Socrates’ view in the Gorgias (at 480) that, in Moberly’s words, “The punishment of wicked acts is to be regarded as a moral medicine, unpalatable but wholesome.”

Please consider this question about two questions: is it better (or not) to ask “How can reform be fostered in a person guilty and imprisoned?” than to ask the question Moberly uses as the title of his fifth chapter “How can punishment reform?”?

What place can a requirement of work and the encouragement of hope and of ambition valuably have in the promotion of reform in prisoners?

John Howes, August 2016