Socrates, Polus and the Two Miserable Dwarves
History of Ancient Philosophy
Christopher P. Camp, Jr
February 18th, 2013
In part of Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates begins a debate with a student of the orator, Gorgias, named Polus. Polus and Socrates argue about if someone who commits unjust acts and is not caught is more miserable than someone who was caught for their unjust acts. Socrates argues for the position that the person is less miserable if they are punished. Polus finds this absurd and Socrates shows his reasoning. In this paper I will go through and evaluate the main points of their argument and discuss whether or not I support them. I will be explaining how Socrates position flows logically from the points he makes and show how Polus’ position goes from very strong to weak.
Socrates states, “a man who acts unjustly, a man who is unjust, is thoroughly miserable, the more so if he doesn’t get his due punishment for the wrong doing he commits, the less so if he pays and receives what is due at the hands of both gods and men.” Socrates is arguing that tarnishing one’s own virtue with unjust acts is worse than any earthly punishment that could be put before him. This point seems to be contrary to what most people would normally choose rationally. Polus deems Socrates’ statement absurd and refutes it well by asking if a man would be happier if he had not been caught doing something unjust if the punishment for his action is to be tortured then have his family tortured in front of him before he is executed. Personally, I believe Polus’ objection here to be his strongest refutation in the argument and it creates a worst of both worlds scenario. If you are not caught for your unjust behavior then you are tarnishing your virtue and the punishment is most severe in your soul. While if you are caught for unjust behavior then you are punished in a physical earthly way among your fellowmen, but just because you are caught for unjust behavior does not necessarily mean you are not harming your soul. To reiterate, if your actions are unjust, whether or not you are caught, you will be punished in some way or another. I believe if you are caught being unjust then you will be punished by your fellowman then there is the possibility that your soul is still harmed. Unless the gods consider the act of the punishment given to the unjust person adequate justice for these unjust behaviors. Socrates follows with, “In that case neither of them will ever be the happier one… For of two miserable people one could not be happier than the other. But the one who avoids getting caught and becomes a tyrant is the more miserable one.” Socrates’ does a poor job attempting to explain his statement and actually just reintegrated it into the discussion. As a reader this makes Socrates seem confused about the reasoning behind his statement. He seems to not actually give any reasoning, but objects to Polus’ statement of who is happier. Socrates defends his original point by getting Polus to admit that doing wrong is more shameful than the punishment that comes as a result of committing injustice. This point is important because Socrates will build on this to prove his original point. Mainly by using an example of the opposite of ‘shameful’ in this case he thought of ‘admirably.’ He states that what makes something admirable is the pleasure or benefit it produces. If one of two admirable things is more admirable than the other it is because it surpasses the other in pleasure or benefit. I would not have necessarily agreed to this because of the subjectivity of ‘admirably.’ Although, I would not be surprised if admirably in ancient Greek is slightly different than how we define it in English. To me trying to define admirably is similar to how Socrates tries to define virtue; it is not all that distinct. Socrates said something is admirable if it results in pleasure or benefit, but I don’t believe that if something is more pleasurable or beneficial...
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