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On Plato’s Gorgias 466a-470a

P1. Socrates claims that oratory is not a craft, but rather a sort of flattery, which gives rise to his argument that orators are not intelligent. The thing is that orators in the cities, though they are powerful like tyrants are powerless in fact. The things they do and consider good and right things to do in fact are evil, and causing harm to others is the result of their own powerlessness. It is better to be subjected to injustice than to commit it in relation to another person is the real norm for rhetoric. However, such a rule is never done.
In the dialogue under consideration, Polus offers no refutation to this claim and it seems that the statement about oratory being flattery and, hence, orators being unintelligent is taken for granted by Socrates. Since he offers no solid arguments to prove this idea and shows no valid reason to claim such a thing, it may be concluded that he definitely feels sorry for orators and tyrants. He gives the most important argument describing the difference between orators and philosophers. The thing is that when the body makes some actions depending of what its soul needs this is the main characteristics of philosopher and instead when the body acts depending predominantly on body’s needs – it is the leading feature of orators. As to the problem of oratory and tyrants’ intelligence, Socrates associates them with the term flattery making a hint to the readers that their attitude to both of these groups have to be the same as to flattery. It is not true that he hates them, but has a sort of unbelief and not trusting their words, actions and thoughts.
P2. In his digression at 467c-468c, Socrates supposes that humans do something for the sake of some ultimate result, thus doing what they are doing for the sake of a thing that they want to do or achieve. Moreover, people do intermediary things, some of which are neither bad nor good, for the sake of something good that they will receive in the result. Thus, they want the end, but not the means. He offers several examples to prove this viewpoint, including the ones with doctors and patients, seafarers, murder of people, and confiscation of property. In these examples, he implies that people never want the means, they never think about what they have to do but their actions happen in such a way to bring the person to the most wanted end that they consider beneficial and good for themselves. At the same time, he fails to mention seafarers who do not want money as the end, but instead crave danger and travelling, i.e. the means. However, in order to achieve the result of feeling the danger and travelling people have to make a long line of actions they do not consider either good or bad but just leading them to their final desirable result. Yes, it is possible to agree with Socrates, as there is always be a way to argue between the terms of means and results for different people.
M1. Power is the ability to do what one wants; it is inherently a good thing. At 466a-467a, Socrates claims that having power means doing everything what one wants to do despite the consequences. For example, tyrants are powerful as they can kill people and take their houses if they think it is good and beneficial for them. Furthermore Socrates and Polus discuss what having power means and whether orators and tyrants have power and why, which leads to a conclusion that orators and tyrants have the least power in their cities.
Initially, Polus claims that both orators and tyrants have the greatest power in their cities as they can banish anyone they want confiscate any property they want, and murder any person they want by order. Socrates grounds his argument that orators and tyrants do not have any real power in cities on presentation of counterarguments to Polus’ statements. Hence, according to Socrates, having power is doing whatever one wants, but not what one sees most fit to do or needs to do for the common good. It is not possible to agree to the objection that orators and tyrants do not have enough power because they in fact can do what they want.The second argument is that, for example the tyrant wants to have his prime minister killed. This argument means that the tyrant considers that having killed his prime minister he, first realize his power and secondly benefit himself when his prime minister be killed. In such a way he can take his property and to become richer. Nevertheless, the objection is that, Socrates believes that neither orators nor tyrants have enough intelligence to do anything that is required for the public good even though the philosopher does not offer any credible and solid evidence to back such a bold statement in the dialogue under consideration. Thus, if orators and tyrants decide to do anything that they consider being best for them but without intelligence they will do something bad for them in fact. Moreover, their actions can hardly be considered as good no matter whether the latter want to do what they are doing or do that for the sake of reaching some ultimate result.
Therefore, I agree with Socrates’ respondent. Because Socrates claims that if he and Polus agree that power is a good thing whereby a person with assumed power does whatever he/she wants to do rather than doing what has to be done for the sake of some end and that orators and tyrants lack intelligence that is a prerequisite of doing good things, then it may be concluded that neither orators nor tyrants have any real power.


The next argument is that the tyrant has the ability to have his prime minister killed. This argument works as the tyrant can use services of other people that are under his control to bring the killing of prime minister to realization. He can desire it and tell somebody to do that and make an order for doing that. It is possible to agree with Socrates on this objection as no matter how many abilities the tyrant can have he can make actions despite the presence of intelligence in his mind.
The final argument sounds like, so, the tyrant has the ability to do what he/she wants, that is he/she has power. The moment one can do whatever he wants and has ability to do something that means that a person has a freedom of actions. At the same time, having freedom of thoughts and actions this person is not necessarily has ability of doing something, so they do not have power. According to Socrates, only those who have ability to do what they want have power. This is a true saying, as it does not contradict any logical rule of the existence.
M2. Socrates uses the digression at 467c-468c to reject that orators and tyrants have true power since they do not do what they want to do, but rather do what seems best and most fit in any given situation, thereby contradicting the assumption that power is doing what one wants to do. At the first glance, Socrates’ way of thinking and reaching conclusions that he has initially set to reach through his arguments seems to be quite complicated and intricate, but Polus sees logic and agrees with Socrates. Hence, in the digression under consideration Socrates gives several examples from life prior to moving to tyrants and orators.
Due to Polus’ convictions of power being a good thing, Socrates builds all his further arguments on the above assumption since Polus fails to refute any of the conditions mentioned herein. Socrates convinces his interlocutor that having power means doing whatever one wants, but most people and orators and tyrants first of all do what they are doing not because they want, but rather because they have to if they want to achieve a desired result. Thus, the end prevails over the means and allows stating that the expected envision appears in the final result and the means for reaching it are not necessary what a person is eager to do.
Socrates adds that this is so because neither orators nor tyrants banish and murder people, as well as confiscate their property not because they really want to do that and get some pleasure from the action, but because they need to do that for the sake of some higher common good of the public and the city. Hence, it means that they never do what they want to do, therefore leading to a conclusion that they do not have any power.
In turn, if they did all those things to people willingly, i.e. wanted to murder, banish, and confiscate property, then these actions could be deemed bad and immoral, thereby contradicting the initial assumption that power is an inherently good thing and depriving tyrants and orators of the real power discussed by Socrates and Polus. In such a way, Socrates presents his argument that both orators and tyrants lack real power in their cities.
Therefore, Socrates rejects the claim that power is the ability to get what one wants, moreover, due to his arguments tyrants have the least of power in their cities. He concludes in a rather logic from his perspective way that if to agree that orators and tyrants do not banish and murder people, as well as confiscate property, which are the basic descriptors of power in the city. Just because they want these things, but rather as intermediary things on a way to some ultimate beneficial result, then they do not really have any significant power and are not able to do what they want.
Of course, Polus as probably any other person could object Socrates’ argument in four steps mentioned above, i.e. defining power as the ability to do what one wants, assuming that the tyrant wants to have his prime minister killed. Acknowledging that the tyrant has the ability to have his wish fulfilled, and concluding that the tyrant has the ability to do what he wants and, thus, that he has power. In turn, Socrates could block these objections based on arguments he presents throughout the dialogue.
First, he would not object to the first step as he agrees with Polus that power is the ability to do what one wants even though adding that it is also inherently good. Second, Socrates would probably agree that it could happen that the tyrant could want to have his prime minister killed. However, Socrates would want to know why the tyrant has developed such a wish. If the tyrant wants to do that for some ultimate good, then the situation is fine and one could move on to the following steps. Nonetheless, if the tyrant wants to have his prime minister killed just for the sake of killing, then Socrates could claim that it is a bad action and the tyrant thus has no power that is inherently good. In the latter case, Socrates would see no reason to continue this discussion.
Third, Socrates would not object to a claim that the tyrant has the ability to have his prime minister claimed, of course, if it benefits for him and would satisfy his initial wish. Finally, Socrates would object to the fourth step on a premise that it has already been proven that the tyrant has the ability to have his prime minister killed not because he wants this, but because he has power and has the ability to have his prime minister killed. Therefore, killing the prime minister would not mean fulfilling the true wish of the tyrant, but doing that due to the circumstances of having the ability and power of doing that, thus, becoming the victim of circumstances.
Thus, Socrates would object to the claim that the tyrant has power. Withal, based on the analysis of the dialogue under consideration, it may be concluded that Socrates’ objections to Polus’ attempts to offer counterarguments to the initial argument that tyrants and orators do not have power would manage to convince Polus.
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