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Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy

Volume 16, Issue 2, Spring 2012

Eric C. Sanday
Pages 197-216

Challenging the Established Order
Socrates’ Perversion of Callicles’ Position in Plato’s Gorgias

In this article I argue that Socrates sees one important truth in the position Callicles represents in the Gorgias: it is necessary in the case of extreme philosophical provocation to be able to overthrow completely the received order and to maintain oneself in the face of unimagined possibility. Without this faith in the power of wisdom to overturn and destroy received wisdom, philosophy would not be able to shepherd the good into the world in Socratic fashion. Interpreters are generally correct to view Callicles as a threat to the Socratic ehtical position, but they generally fail to see that Socratic wisdom cannot operate without drawing substantially on the destruction of received order that Callicles promotes to a position of unique value in his competing ethical stance. Thus I read the conversation between Socrates and Callicles as an opportunity for Socrates to stand face to face with that aspect of his own philosophical wisdom that seems at first glance hostile to his own position.