Literature Study GuidesDialogues Of PlatoThe Meaning Of Human Life And Judgment Summary 505e 522e Summary

Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide

Plato

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Dialogues of Plato | The Meaning of Human Life and Judgment Summary (505e–522e) | Summary

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Summary

Socrates proposes that Callicles, Polus, and Gorgias interrupt him if he says something untrue. He goes on to provide a vision of human life and a story his audience will regard as a myth, but is nevertheless true.

Socrates rehearses several themes previously discussed. The meaning and purpose of life is to live well, which is to live virtuously. This means that one aims toward what is good, not necessarily what is pleasant (in common terms); everything one does is done for the sake of the good, which, in human terms, is virtue. He argues that the virtues are ultimately one, and the good man is the happy man (in this way, goodness is pleasant; the soul is well-ordered, that is, harmonious). This happiness is interrelated also with one's fellows, as the happy man works to make them as good as possible. He contends that, in fact, only he has undertaken this task, so that, were he to be tried in court, he would not be able to save himself.

This is not particularly worrisome to him because he is convinced that "the ultimate evil is for a soul to arrive at the Place of the Dead teeming with multiple injustices." Socrates closes the dialogue by relating a myth about the dead. When people die, their soul is exposed, so that a beautiful body cannot hide an evil soul and an ugly body cannot hide a beautiful soul. Consequently, "this is the best manner of life, to live and die in the practice of justice and the rest of virtue."

Analysis

Given that the dialogue is about the nature of rhetoric, it is not surprising that speeches are made, although it is atypical of Socrates's approach. In addition, Socrates is particularly strident in his expression of disdain for rhetoric and the positions Polus and Callicles endorse. By picking up Callicles's thread about being taken away to court, Plato foreshadows Socrates's ultimate fate once again. It is not hard to imagine that Plato envisions Socrates's rare display of passion as a plea for the future of Athens. His concern is not with his own life. In other words, he is not concerned with whether or not he dies, but with how well his life has been lived, which includes, as he says in the Apology, caring for the soul of Athens.

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