Socrates and Establishing Good

This paper seeks to lay out the argument that Socrates offers against Callicles at 495e-497a of Plato`s `Gorgias` published by Oxford[1], in establishing that the good and the pleasant are not the same. In the process, this paper will attempt to evaluate Socrates’ premises and conclusions on whether his arguments are valid or sound. In addition this will discuss the importance of Socrates’ trying to establish that achieving the good – understood as living well, or being happy (eudaimon) – is not the same as having pleasure.

For Socrates establishing that the good and pleasure are not the same because there could be something good in pain which is the opposite of pleasure. Moreover, distinguishing the good from pleasure will set clearly about Socrates definition of what is good. According to Socrates, the good is the end of every man’s actions, and that all man’s actions are to be done for the sake of the good, and not making the good for the sake of actions.[2]  Based on this, it is but proper for Socrates to defend the correct meaning of what is to be good. Since Socrates is obliged to defend his position that man’s actions are to be done for the sake of good, it follows any anything that confuses the definition must be cleared of impurities of or doubtful connotations. Equating therefore pleasure with good is on one of the wrong arguments used by Callicles that must be overcome by Socrates in convincing the latter that not all seeking pleasures may accomplish what is good.

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In the dialogue between Socrates and Callicles[3], about the difference between pleasure and good, Socrates wanted to satisfy his own philosophical goals that good are the end of all things and to appease Callicles, be proceeded by focusing on the nature of justice. In making his argument with Socrates,  Callicles, equates justice to natural justice, thus according to him,  the more powerful control of a person, the less would be the means of force, and the better would said person’s rule be over the weak. Callicles considers the powerful and the better to be equivalent, in addition to his agreement with Socrates about the majority of humans as having accepted as true that justice means equal shares for all.[4] Callicles believes that equal shares comprise equality of opportunity, safety, and even punishment. In explaining his point to oppose Callicles’ definition of justice as natural justice (the powerful rule the weak), and in the context of renewed verbal abuse directed at him by Callicles, Socrates illustrates his argument by using  a slave to be better than his or her owner or lord  as a result of possessing greater strength. Certainly, Callicles could not agree that a person as lowly as a slave should rule over their weaker slave owner in using as basis what is natural and common upon men. He pointed out the fact that the slave will normally extend difficult physical labor normal to sustain daily existence. This caused also Callicles to revise his definition of natural justice, by saying that the better and wiser will rule over and possess more than the inferior.

Callicles’ position caused Socrates to shift into a study of whether such rulers (and all other humans) are in control of themselves, hence, bringing about the concept of temperance which could imply being in control over one’s own pleasures and appetites.  Callicles did not agree with temperance but instead argued that happiness and power result from elimination one’s desires of all restraint, and consenting to them to grow without limitation. For him, temperance is a sign of weakness.[5]  To counter him, Socrates used the metaphor of a leaky jar, by pointing out that a soul with unrestrained desires will definitely necessitate more and more just like a jar with large holes which could never remain full.[6] Proceeding from an argument that justice is the temperance of the soul and its desires, Socrates tried to convince Callicles. For Callicles, a full jar permits no room for more pleasure, and hence inferring that temperance and restraint need not be desired. Socrates, seeing the weakness of equation of the good with pleasure by Callicles explained that that an appetite or deficiency such as in the case of hunger or thirst is painful, but eating could satisfy this deficiency and thereby creates a pleasure. He added that a person who eats satisfied his hunger, thus the possibility simultaneous experience of both pleasure and pain. But Socrates argued that it is impossible to be both faring well and faring poorly at the same time.[7] The first one is good while the second one is evil. Proceeding from the argument that as a person eats, one can have bodily pleasure and pain to exist concurrently, which is very much different from the fact that one cannot at once fare both well and poorly. Based on these premises, it could be deduced that pleasure is not equivalent to the good, nor is pain synonymous with evil. With this Callicles could only agree.

Callicles conception of justice appeared to represent an established definition of that view within Plato’s Athenian society. It may recalled that since the corrupt government in power at the time contemplated by Plato served as a model of the strong and aggressive governing the weak. Given the long period of noteworthy internal strife, the resulting power vacuum of Athenian caused those with the proper force and requisite assertion of said force to govern and implement their crafted laws of engagement within the group of people.  Given the nature which seems to translate power into law and authority makes one to notice Socrates contextual outlining of what is justice. Such was however not much far from what happened after the Peloponnesian War[8], when there were advantage takers seizing authority for own gain. Thus, by using the argument Callicles in building the case, Socrates wanted to point out the flaw of the Callicles’ position equating good with pleasure. Socrates use of the leaky jar imagery manifested a succinct and stunning disclaimer from the wrong claim that that happiness comes from freedom of one’s desires to grow without restriction. Socrates countered what intuition appears to indicate with his line of reasoning, as it is but normal to observe that human instinct almost automatically desires ultimate pleasure. But in making a deeper analysis the argument of Callicles could actually be reduced to what is whether good and pleasant are the same. Socrates was able to convince Callicles that pleasure is not the same as good.

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