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Plato's 'Gorgias'

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This dialogue concerns the nature and purpose of rhetoric, which flourished in 5th-century BC Athens just as it does today. Socrates provocatively claims it is just flattery. But Gorgias, a famous orator and sophist, and his two young admirers Callicles and Polus, think rhetoric is necessary for the good life. But what is the good or just life? A life of power and freedom, and thus unbound licence and pleasure, as Callicles claims? Or a life where doing wrong makes us more miserable than suffering wrong, as Socrates suggest?

The Gorgias is probably Plato’s most acerbic work. It is replete with impassioned speeches, occasionally contradictory arguments, and powerful ideas; all arranged with great dramatic effect. In short: a great text. We read the entire dialogue and think it through in discussion. The text is a suitable introduction not only to Plato’s philosophical thought, but also to ancient philosophy in general.

Date created:

2018-10-09 11:49
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Resources for this course

Displaying 1 - 11 of 11
Type Resource Description People Full details
Document First Coursework Sheet

A sheet with leading questions for the first part of the Gorgias, with some general comments about coursework.

Peter Wyss
Document Plato: life, works, sources

The notes from the first session: background, sources, and influences.

Peter Wyss
Document Further note on sources, the characters

The notes from the second session: the characters sketched.

Peter Wyss
Document Reading 'Gorgias' 449–461

Worksheet to prepare the reading for the third session: an invitation to be questioned like Gorgias.

Peter Wyss
Document Reading 'Gorgias' 454c–461a

An overview of the line of thought, with some remarks on the elenchus and four visualizations.

Peter Wyss
Document Second Coursework Sheet

Twenty questions and selected background information for 461–481, i.e. 'Polus'.

Peter Wyss
Document A Brief Note on Shame

Notes from our fourth meeting: on shame and a further visualization.

Peter Wyss
Document Refuting Polus

Notes about the refutation of Polus, from our fifth meeting.

Peter Wyss
Document More on Socratic Method

Background information about dialectic, midwifery, and irony from our sixth meeting.

Peter Wyss
Document Gorgias 488b–499b: Power, Leaky Jars, and Pleasure

The argumentative structure(s), discussion questions, and a visualization from our seventh meeting.

Peter Wyss
Document Gorgias 499b–509c

Notes for our eighth meeting: afterthoughts on the dialects up to 499, and how things are coming together now.

Peter Wyss