February 13, 2008 Plato conclusion
Gorgias 5: Socrates vs Callicles
conclusion: Microcosm and Macrocosm
I Microcosm and Macrocosm: The implications for government
Having reached the conclusion that pleasure is not the good, Socrates now goes back to his
discussions with Polus and Gorgias, recapitulates his definition and discussion of oratory, [p.78]
and takes the discussion of the responsibility of the oratory-teacher to a different level.
[“Microcosm/macrocosm” is a style of argument that generalizes from what is true in the individual
case to what is true on a larger scale. In this case, Plato argues from conclusions reached about the
soul and its proper ordering (and from the contrast between correct guidance and rhetorical
persuasion) to conclusions about government and the people governed.
It is really a kind of argument from analogy that has been developed in many ways: The
mind governs the body just as the ruler governs the people. Various parts of the body have essential
functions, just as various social groups have essential functions. Rulers rightly and naturally rule,
just as the mind naturally and rightly rules the body.
The metaphor or analogy of a group to a body occurs also in Christian literature. St. Paul
speaks of Jesus being the head of the church, and the husband being the head of the wife.
Plato develops the mind/government analogy at much greater length in the
dialogue that assigns different parts to the soul, corresponding to a working class, a military class,
and a class of potential rulers, from which Philosopher-kings are drafted.]
A) the knack of producing pleasure: from 79-82, Socrates groups oratory with amusements:
Plays, music, and fine arts are all like oratory in this respect: they are interested in gratifying people
but not in improving them.
[Plato is the first in a long line of critics who have demanded that the ARTS be justified by their
good effects. So, in the 18th century, critics praised literary works because they led to piety. In the
Victorian 19th century, a lot of critics would praise novels that would have a morally edifying
effect, and condemn those which might have bad effects. In Nazi Germany, Hitler was concerned
that art not be "decadent". Today, many English professors judge books and stories by how
wholesome the message is, and how deserving of admiration the author is. So, an oppressed and
abused author exposing an evil gets praise; and it is denied that there is any such thing as great
writing which does not make the reader better.
Plato challenged literature to show that it improved people. Improvement of people,
apparently, is the only value that is worth seeking. Those critics who accepted Plato’s assignment
had then to show something about literature and the fine arts that made them "elevating." In the
historical literature of aesthetics and in much writing about literature and fine arts to this day, we
find “justifications” of art (movies, painting, music, etc.) that claim that exposure to the arts makes