Literature Study GuidesDialogues Of PlatoSocrates And Callicles Summary 481b 505d Summary

Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide


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Dialogues of Plato | Socrates and Callicles Summary (481b–505d) | Summary



Callicles expresses disbelief that Socrates is serious. If Socrates is correct, then "life would be turned upside down." Most people think it's worse to suffer than to commit injustice. He agrees. Being a victim of wrongdoing is terrible. Moreover, mere convention dictates that doing evil is shameful. By nature, there is nothing wrong with it.

Callicles continues to berate Socrates for wasting time with philosophy. It surely does him no good. In fact, he says, if someone were to wrongly accuse Socrates of something and haul him off to jail, Socrates would be at a loss as to what to do or say. Worse yet, if the death penalty were exacted, Socrates would die. Surely, Callicles maintains, this is not reflective of wisdom.

Callicles returns to his claim about natural justice, in which the strong rule the weak. Only the weak value characteristics just as temperance because they are unable to challenge the strong. Socrates counters that it is not only convention that privileges doing justice over injustice, but nature, too. That is because the appetites of the 'strong' man are forever driving him, so he is insatiable and, consequently, always unhappy. In sum, the 'strong' man who commands many may not be in command of himself.

Socrates asserts that pleasures and pains are different from the good and the evil. He brings this observation back to his earlier claims about the flattery of pastry making and of rhetoric. As a sick man should be restrained from doing what he wants and enjoined to do what is good for him, such as taking medicine, Socrates argues, "Correction is therefore better for the soul than lack of restraint."

At this point, Callicles is so infuriated that he proposes Socrates simply carry on by himself, asking and answering his own questions.


Over the last two sections of the dialogue, Plato has worked at distinguishing the difference between the immorality of committing injustice and the morality of suffering it. In other words, Plato has Socrates consistently maintain the position that morality is a condition associated with a good life and a pure soul (character, or in various contexts, mind). Doing wrong is being wrong. On the other hand, there is no wrong done by the one who suffers injustice. Most people are upset, for example, when someone has been wrongly convicted of a crime because that person is not responsible (and, tangentially related to the immediate discussion, because the one who is responsible is not identified as such and so not held accountable). The conviction is not consistent with the truth, and the wrongly convicted person is treated poorly without cause.

What Plato wants the reader to see is that being treated poorly without cause cannot corrupt the soul. He may be wrong on this point, but, he consistently maintains that one cannot be made bad by another person's bad action, only by one's own. This is in keeping with his position that the soul (mind) governs the body; a suffering soul is unhealthy because it is not doing good things, whereas a healthy soul cannot be affected by a suffering body.

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