Volume 92, 2018
Philosophy, Catholicism, and Public Life
Scott J. Roniger
Philosophy, Freedom, and Public Life
Plato’s Gorgias as a Protreptic
I argue that one of the fundamental conflicts between Socrates and his interlocutors (Gorgias, Polus, and Callicles) in the Gorgias concerns the nature of human freedom. Against the increasingly grandiose and aggressive claims of his interlocutors, Socrates sees true freedom as requiring discipline in speech and deed. Plato has Socrates argue for a concept of human freedom that finds its fulfillment in happiness only by being channeled through the funnels of philosophy and justice. Central to this Platonic understanding of freedom is the role of eros and imitation. Socrates’s love of truth is the foundation for freedom because it motivates the search for a vision of the true good and therefore provides a formation in justice, creating the space for friendship in community life, that is, for civilization. By contrast, Callicles’s love of the dēmos is an extension of disordered self-love, impelling him to seek the means to placate the masses so that he can enlarge his appetites and continually fill them. Such love enslaves Callicles, corrupts political life, and vitiates the possibility of friendship. Finally, I connect these Platonic insights to central themes in Catholic Social Teaching.