February 11, 2008 Plato Gorgias 4:lecture 5 Socrates and Callicles page 1
Socrates vs Callicles (start page 51)
A) Callicles' position
B) Socrates' reply:
1) preliminary clarification
b) more of what?
c) superior should rule
a) Callicle's ideal: good = maximum pleasure
b) Socrates' model of pleasure
3) Two arguments that pleasure is not the good:
a) simultaneity of pleasure and pain
b) Cowards and fools
B) Callicles' position
[One parenthetical remark about Socrates and Callicles: Socrates has two loves: Alcibiades
and Philosophy. Callicles has two loves, the demos =
the Athenian population, and Demos, a
youth. Socrates basically accuses Callicles of saying whatever will please his loves, telling them
what they want to hear. (This, of course, is what this kind of politician does. I can't think of any
As you may have inferred from your reading, the Greeks had rather different ideas about
sexuality from modern Western ideas on the topic. They did not regard sexual preference as usually
exclusive, and did not have our category of "homosexual." A category like “gay” or “homosexual”
is not a natural category, but a category that is historically constructed by social practices and
attitudes. Member of different cultures and societies “define themselves” in different ways,
according to different traits and practices they take to be central to what it is to be a person. The
Greeks liked sex, but they didn’t treat taste in sex as a person-defining trait.
One way to put this: they did not think that their sexual tastes defined them in an important
way, any more than you define yourself by your preferences in pizza. That is, you may prefer
anchovy, but that doesn't mean you don't like pepper and onion pizza also sometimes. You
wouldn’t identify WHO YOU ARE in any important way with your pizza preferences. That’s sort
of the way the Greeks thought about sex.
So, Socrates and Callicles both have youthful boyfriends and also both have wives. At this
particular era, fondness for teenage boys seems to have been an upper-class phenomenon ridiculed
by the masses, but not condemned. Alcibiades, for instance, becomes an Athenian leader.
As in some other cultures, male-male sexual relations were part of military bonding.
Spartan soldiers would go into battle as pairs of lovers. An elite brigade of Theban soldiers
similarly consisted of couples. Given the association of the military with the manly, male-male sex
relations were by no means thought of as effeminacy. Of course, all of these soldiers would either
already have wives and children or expect to marry and have children.