September 7

Monday, September 7, 2020
Plenary – Chapel

The Challenge of Callicles

Given that we have these desires, what do we do with them? Would fulfillment of those desires amount to your vision of the good life? How should one pursue one’s desires? As a starting point, we will look at an example of the view of a group of people in ancient Greece called Sophists and Rhetoricians, particularly a character in Plato’s Gorgias named Callicles. Callicles seems to view happiness in terms of the fulfillment of one’s desires, and extends this to claim that we are happier if we have stronger desires (so long as we are able to fulfill them). Power is the ability to get what we desire, to accomplish what we purpose, and rhetoric (the ability to persuade others to do what one wants) is the most powerful tool for gaining and exercising power. Socrates raises a number of critical questions about this vision, and claims that the fundamental choice in life is between this Sophistic attitude and that of the philosopher.

  • Be familiar with Callicles’ view of the good life, and aware of two alternative views (Plato, Kongzi).
  • Understand Socratic challenges to Callicles’ position, the issues they present, and what they reveal about the sophistic/rhetorical orientation.
  • See how to make explicit objections and arguments out of dialog text.
  • Appreciate why Plato views the choice between philosophical and rhetorical/sophistic lives as the fundamental choice in how to live.

Before Class

  • Complete the Desire Mapping exercise.  Email an image of your map to your section leader by 10am the day of class.  Bring your desire map and the text to class.
  • Try to summarize, in a sentence or two, Callicles’ view of the good life.
  • Enumerate the concerns Socrates brings up about Callicles’ view.
  • Read the passage about the scratcher and the catamite. What seems to be the point of these examples?

After Class