Socrates and Coherent Desire (Gorgias 466a-468e)

In Clerk Shaw (ed.), Plato's Gorgias: A Critical Guide. Cambridge, UK: (forthcoming)
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Polus admires orators for the tyrannical power they have. However, Socrates argues that orators and tyrants lack power worth having: the ability to satisfy one's wishes or wants (boul─ôseis). He distinguishes wanting from thinking best, and grants that orators and tyrants do what they think best while denying that they do what they want. His account is often thought to involve two conflicting requirements: wants must be attributable to the wanter from their own perspective (to count as their desires), but wants must also be directed at objects that are genuinely good (in order for failure to satisfy them to matter). We offer an account of wanting as reflective, coherent desire, which allows Socrates to satisfy both desiderata. We then explain why he thinks that orators and tyrants want to act justly, though they do greater injustices than anyone else and so frustrate their own wants more than anyone else.

Author Profiles

Eric Brown
Washington University in St. Louis
Clerk Shaw
University of Tennessee, Knoxville


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