Workshop in Ancient Philosophy (Thursday - Week 1, MT20)

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy

The Gorgias is a work in which discussion becomes a battleground. The interlocutors appear to become increasingly hostile, little agreement seems reached, and Socrates nearly abandons discussion with all three discussants (458a-b, 461e-462a, 506a-b). It is not just that interlocutors are unpersuaded by arguments; conversation itself breaks down and Socrates has to go it alone (506aff.). Furthermore,non-rational forces, by which may be included, pleasures, pains, epithumiai, the pathos of eros, come to the fore at various points.These twin factors have led to a growing consensus that what is demonstrated (if not yet theorised) in the Gorgias, is that “rational argument alone cannot sway [those] in whom non-rational forces – eros or non-rational desires in general - are strong” (Moss). This view is sometimes tethered to a related claim, which is that the Gorgias anticipates the Republic, where theoretical attention is given to moral psychology, and the intellectualism which drives the effectiveness of the refutational dialectic on display here is dropped (Book IV). Early years education where non-rational desires are trained by stories and myths is to the fore (II-III) and the scope of dialectical discussion is restricted to a few well-trained participants (VII).

This paper reconsiders the consensus view. I track first where desires enter the business of argument, what desires might be needed, and why. I then turn to Socrates’ remark that Callicles is unpersuaded by argument because of eros for the demos (513c) and consider its implications, and whether Callicles makes progress in the final discussion with Socrates. I suggest that there are reasons to share Socrates’ optimism about the possibilities of rational argument, which may be unsettled, but not fundamentally thwarted, by non-rational forces, such as desire.


The Seminar will take place via Microsoft Teams. By clicking this link you will be redirected to a page in which you will be prompted to sign in with your Oxford SSO.

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy Convenors: Ursula Coope, Simon Shogry and Luca Castagnoli