Political Theory


Political Theory Essay, Research Paper

The topic of discussion, which will be the focus of this paper, will center on three major questions. The first is why Socrates believes that he is the only true statesman in Athens. The second is why Callicles believes that he is the true exemplar of statesmanship. The final question that will be addressed is what Aquinas may have said to both such arguments. Finally, the paper will conclude with the authors final thoughts on the arguments.

Throughout the years there have been many debates between those who practice different forms of statesmanship. Many of these debates have been between those who practice philosophy and those who are rhetoricians or orators. One such debate between a philosopher and a rhetorician may be found in the Gorgias in which a debate between Socrates representing the philosopher and Callicles representing the rhetorician. Now it has been said yesterday s philosophy becomes today s cliches. Meaning that most if not all of the what is believed to be radical thinking in the ways of politics, is instead merely the same things which philosophers were speaking of years ago. It would seem from that, that all political thought is just a case of the politician stealing the good ideas of change from the philosopher.

A career as a politician inescapably requires the use of the principles, categories, and metaphors of political philosophy. By acknowledging this it is understood that to be a successful politician one must also use the ideas of political philosophy. One may attempt to attain political power without the aid of political philosophy however; it is likely that this attempt will end only in failure. That is if what has been said of the incorporation of political philosophy into politics through the ages holds true.

Political philosophy is a very complex idea, which to comprehend. It has been likened to love or friendship, as these are two of the most difficult subjects for the human mind to even attempt an undertaking with an end goal of complete understanding of these subjects. For unlike nuclear physics, chemistry, or rocket science there are no exact answers when one attempts to understand love or friendship. There are not any formulas, which will insure one to fall in love, nor are there any formulas, which will guarantee friendship. Love and friendship are feelings that just seem to happen on their own accord. The practice of politics is very similar to love and friendship in this manor. It is similar in that there are no formulas for becoming successful in the political realm. If there were such formulas becoming elected to public offices would be a rather simple task, to the point where anyone who understood the formula would be able to be elected to public office anytime one wished. However, as it stands there are no set formulas for reaching political office. The road to political power often varies from generation to generation, with one fact remaining the same; there are no formulas. With that we begin our discussion of why two men each believed in their own superiority in the realm of statesmanship.

In the Gorgias Socrates is engaged in a debate, which begins in the streets and eventually ends up in the setting of a home. Within this book there are many things of which debate arises such as what art is Gorgias a master. When Socrates asks such questions he receives answers which are clearly not satisfactory to him often replying in such ways as Polus seems to be well prepared to make speeches. He is not, however, fulfilling his promise to Chaerephon. Answers which were provided sounded very eloquent, however did not succeed in answering the question, which was asked, of the rhetoricians seemed to be the theme of the beginning of this work.

Why is it that Socrates believes himself to be the only true statesmen in Athens? Socrates believes that the ordered life is happier than the unrestrained. The ordered life which Socrates is speaking of is at odds with what Callicles calls A man who is going to live a full life must allow his desires to become as mighty as may be and never repress them. For while Socrates is saying that a man should not let his desires control him, he should instead have control over his desires. While Callicles believes that by fulfilling all of one s desires, one shows control and true manhood. From the perspective of Socrates a true statesman would have to lead this life of order, which he believes he was leading.

Socrates believes that his life, which was spent, largely immersed in philosophy, is the life that is to be emulated by others. The life, which was spent examining thoughts and ideas, is the one of the most worth and value. Rather than a life in which one s time is devoted to speaking in public, practicing rhetoric, engaging in politics in the current fashion. This life of spending ones time speaking in public and practicing rhetoric etc. would seem to be a waste of one s time to Socrates. For in so doing one does not possess a true knowledge one merely is a manipulator of words, rather than a true scholar or statesman.

Socrates who believes that the practice of philosophy actually made the man better asked Callicles if by the practice of rhetoric the rhetorician actually taking time to make sure,

That their fellow citizens may receive the maximum improvement through their words? Or do they, like the poets, strive to gratify their fellows and, in seeking their own private interest, do they neglect the common good, dealing with public assemblies as though the constituents were children, trying only to gratify them, and caring not at all whether this procedure makes them better or makes them worse?

Here Socrates is questioning the true motives of his rhetorician counterpart, and whether he has in his mind the constituents whom he is supposed to be representing in the assembly. Or if instead of his constituents he is thinking only of his own selfish desires. This is a question that has arisen on more than one occasion in our own seat of government in Washington, D.C. Whether the 535 some odd men and women whom are elected to public office keep in mind what is best for their constituents whom elected them into office once they arrive in Washington. For the true statesman always has in mind the highest good for all, not just what is beneficial for himself, such would be the case with the philosopher, Socrates would say.

Socrates believes that it is the very nature of Callicles to conform to the mob if you are to enter into a real bond of friendship with the Athenian people. It is this inability which in Socrates mind made him a superior statesman than Callicles. For Socrates who based his decisions on philosophy and the highest good would never let public opinion sway his decision one way or the other as Callicles would. For Socrates love of philosophy is far less capricious than any other love. Given this Socrates decisions would always be for the better. Rather than Callicles which may sometimes be to appease the masses or what would be worse to appease his love Demos.

Socrates says that it is due to his being the only Athenian who has attempted the true art politics, that, I never carry on my view to gratification, but with my eyes fixed on the highest good, not on that which is merely pleasant. This shows again how Socrates believed that the idea of doing things only for the reason of satisfying one s desires is the improper way in which to make decisions. Rather one should instead be concerned with the highest good, if some sort of gratification is achieved through this, it is purely by coincidence and entirely unintentional. Keeping the highest good always in mind made Socrates the true statesman, in his own mind.

Socrates tells Callicles how, it will be the soul of a philosopher who has kept to his own business and has not meddled with others affairs during his lifetime. This passage by Socrates explains how it is the belief of Socrates that after one dies and his naked soul is before the final judges, it will be the philosopher who will be allowed to continue on to the Island of the Blessed. This passage is telling Callicles that it matters not what your station was during your life with the living, only the truth which your soul will show will matter at the moment of judgement. So in reality it does not matter how much power one acquires political or otherwise, the only true way to reach the Island of the Blessed is through the life of a philosopher. It is for these reasons that Socrates believes that he is the only true statesman in Athens.

The question of why it was Callicles belief that it was he who is the true exemplar of statesmanship. Callicles brings to the debate a view, which is at direct odds with that of the one, which Socrates believes to be the correct idea. It was the belief of Callicles that laws were the making of the weak, the majority by so doing keeping the strong from reaching the levels of power which they rightly deserve to bear. However, by obeying the laws that are created by the weak majority of the population, the strong rightful leaders are made to sneak around these unjust laws of the weak. It was due to Callicles ability to manipulate words and persuade others to his point of view which led him to believe that it will be stronger over weaker.

Callicles goes so far as to say that justice [has] determined: the stronger shall rule and have the advantage over his inferior. Through this idea that the strong should take advantage of those who do not possess the same abilities as the strong is the core of what Callicles believes to be the way in which true statesmanship is accomplished. By Callicles being a man who is wise in the ways of rhetoric, enables him to persuade the minds of men who are less capable than he to his way of thinking. Callicles believes that by persuading men to his way of thinking he is actually achieving true justice according to nature.

Callicles holds a very low opinion of philosophy referring to it as an activity which one engages with in one s youth. Such a statement cuts right to the heart of debate between Socrates and Callicles, as to which is the way of the true statesman. Referring to philosophy as the activity of a child shows that Callicles has very little respect for philosophy. Making it clear that Callicles believes that while rhetoric is the art of true men, philosophy is nothing more than child s play.

Callicles states that the philosopher practices an art, which is unable to help him or save him from the gravest dangers. Unlike the art of rhetoric, which enables the bearer of such an art to through persuasion avoid such a fate. For a rhetorician would be able through his mastery of words is be able to persuade his judges of his innocence. Where the philosopher would be unable to save himself, for his art does not enable him to have such power over his judges. These beliefs show that Callicles believes himself to be the true statesman through his mastery of words as a rhetorician. Having such a mastery of words also makes Callices one of the strong and by the laws of nature makes him the true exemplar of statesmanship in Athens.

What Aquinas might have said to both Socrates and Callicles will now be examined. When the question of what Aquinas might have said to Socrates the answer is that the views of Aquinas are far removed from the equality found in Plato. While Aquinas in his beliefs would be a strong supporter of philosophy, he would disagree with the idea that the philosopher is almost a god as is portrayed in the realm of Socrates. Rather than follow in the ways of the philosopher Aquinas would be much more supportive of the path that follows the teachings of the Lord.

Aquinas would have agreed with some of the beliefs, which were held by Callicles. In the statement in which Aquinas states For the human group would have lacked the benefit of order had some of its members not been governed by others who were the wiser. One gathers from that statement that Aquinas would have gotten along quite well with Callicles, due to both of their beliefs that there are wiser and stronger humans who should govern or rule over the rest.

A conversation between Socrates and Aquinas would certainly prove most interesting for one to hear or read. While both of their views of whom should rule here on Earth differs, their ideas of the final judgement and the state of the soul would be a fitting conclusion to a lively debate.

After having spent time thinking about the subject of statesmanship and reading the text of the Gorgias. It can be easy for one to find the entire work leading to even more confusion over the topic, than was known previous to dissecting the text. While both Socrates and Callicles raise good points, such Callicles wanting the more capable to lead. It seems that it would a wise decision to put the more capable into positions which they will be deciding the fates of the many. However, those who are put into public offices no matter what it is that they deal with should look out for those whom they represent. Instead of only looking out for their own desires and ways in which to gratify themselves. It seems that like many things it would be more desirable to achieve some sort of medium between the two approaches to statesmanship. However, like many things it is often not possible to have it both ways, therefore the choice often comes down to the lesser of two evils.


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