The Ethical Function of the Gorgias' Concluding Myth

In J. Clerk Shaw (ed.), Plato's Gorgias: a critical guide. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press (2024)
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Abstract

The Gorgias ends with Socrates telling an eschatological myth that he insists is a rational account and no mere tale. Using this story, Socrates reasserts the central lessons of the previous discussion. However, it isn’t clear how this story can persuade any of the characters in the dialogue. Those (such as Socrates) who already believe the underlying philosophical lessons don’t appear to require the myth, and those (such as Callicles) who reject these teachings are unlikely to be moved by this far-fetched tale. This raises the question of who the myth is told for and what function it is meant to serve. This chapter argues that the myth is aimed, not at Callicles, but Socrates and those who aspire to follow him. There are uncertainties about the philosophical life that are due to the nature of embodiment, as well as reasons to doubt the connection between happiness and virtue. The myth assists with the former by presenting an image that draws a philosopher away from the goods of the body toward the goods of the soul. The story assists with the latter by presenting an image of cosmic justice, thereby securing happiness in proportion to virtue.

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Nicholas Baima
Florida Atlantic University

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