Criticism of Socrates in Gorgias

Criticism of Socrates in Gorgias

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Criticism of Socrates in Gorgias


The phenomenon “Socrates” surrounds every aspect of politics, culture, economic and social landscape in the current world. Indeed, there are several books on Socrates on every bookshelf in the world. Most of these books written about Socrates are dialogues of which one of them is named Gorgias. As it is already known, all of Plato wrote the books on Socrates. Gorgias happens to be one of his collections of dialogues involving Socrates and other characters. This dialogue is aimed at finding the true meaning of rhetoric by trying to identify and expose the defects of sophism synonymous in Athens during the period. Classical Athens revered the art of persuasion in political and legal fields, and this is the reason for the existence of many rhetoricians at the time. Indeed, these rhetoricians converted themselves to teachers offering knowledge for these skills, perhaps to become relevant or become famous. Gorgias was one of these rhetoricians who had moved to Athens after hearing of its intellectual and cultural sophistication. In this dialogue, Socrates suggests that philosophy is art whilst rhetoric is an expertise founded on sheer experience. He seemed to assert that rhetoric should depend on philosophy if it should become moral (Latour, 1987). Therefore, Socratic believe in Gorgias is that morality is not innate in rhetoric. That rhetoric lacking philosophy is utilized for personal gain. In this regard, this paper outlines Latour’s critique of Socrates in the dialogue between Callicles and Socrates.

Review of Latour’s Critique and Socrates’ Opinions on Body Politic and Science

In one specific dialogue in Gorgias between Socrates and Callicles, the two participants disagree in a way of applying virtue in a society. According to Socrates, a virtuous person should plot any means to see that an enemy does not appear in front of a justice system when he or she finds out that that enemy has erred. Callicles wonders at the concept of morality being championed by Socrates and wonders if he is joking. In sum, this dialogue tries to give different implications of body politic and sciences, in which Socrates argues that science corrupts the politics and that science should be eliminated in order for politics to remain immoral. Latour comes with a critique of these Socrates suppositions mentioning that currently, science has been immortalized by politics.

Latour begins his criticism using the basis of the quote “If Right cannot reign, the Might will conquer.” He asserts that this is not an insignificant phrase, but a concept that has a huge historical background. A proper comprehension of this phrase, according to Latour (1999, p. 216) is sure to allow a better perception of the distinction between the new science from politics. Latour tries to present the relationship between the respect for impersonal natural laws and the battle against immorality, irrationality, and political disorder. This implies that the destiny of reason and that of politics are intertwined and that any assault on reason makes “morality and social harmony unfeasible.” Latour argues that Right is the only element that protects the society against Might is reason and that it should be protected. In sum, Socrates asserts that technology and science will kill the Body Politic but to Latour, the science is the only element that will save humanity and even politics from moral decay.

Indeed, Latour states that inhumanity can be eliminated using something that is inhuman. Socrates construction of inhuman is the geometry whose manifestation escapes human whim. This, according to Latour, can only be science and it can only protect the Body Politic against danger of becoming immoral and gang. For example, the Great Wall of China was designed to guard against an unruly mob. He terms this concept inhumanity versus inhumanity, he further stating that it has been under attack since its inception. The sophists characterized by Socrates became the first people to contest its implication (Latour, 1999, p. 217).

In truth, several people have tried to combine recent and past events and in doing so, allege that there is no link between the natural laws of the universe and the problems facing Body Politic. This happens when making politics safe for the citizens. In Gorgias, Socrates seems to suggest that science is responsible for the many problems facing the planet. Indeed, his supposition is that the addition of inhumanity to existing inhumanity raises civil strife and misery. For instance, Socrates that inhuman acts should be reciprocated with humane acts when he states that a person should protect his or her enemy from the ravages of the laws especially when they are found committing an iniquity. Socrates seems to suggest that science is the undoing of politics and that all should arise, guns blazing, to fight the vice. The bottom of this assumption is that the Body Politic rules and that its concepts of mob rules the world and should not be corrupted. However, according to Latour all the violence and the mob are the elements that contaminate “the purity of science.” Latour suggests that the constant development of science means that it grows into human every day (Latour, 1999, p. 217). Latour suggests that the science is the only thing that can keep politics moral contrary to Socrates suggestion that philosophy is the only element capable of retaining reason and morality in political rhetoric.

In Gorgias, Socrates and Callicles notions differ in that Callicles thinks that the violence in the Body Politic is capable of straightening the mob and all its soldiers and followers, including science. Conversely, Socrates thinks that politics can remain moral as long as the inhuman (science) is eliminated from the influencing it. Latour argument does not differ from Callicles in that both champion for the combination of the Body Politic and the inhuman. However, the difference arises when Callicles suggests that the violence of the body politics that can allow the two to combine. Indeed, Latour suggests that the inhuman, that is that is the science, is the only element that can make the Body Politic human and not the converse. Therefore, Latour suggests that there is a possibility that both the Body Politic and science can work together in tandem. This implies that inhuman can be used against inhuman to result in a humane outcome albeit without the use of any violence.

Most of the dialogue between Callicles and Socrates is about Might and Right. Indeed, both Callicles and Socrates try to state that Right should rule over Might but Might always triumphs over Right. For instance, Callicles provides an example of the Slave and their owner. Although the slaves have greater physical power than their owner does, the owner possesses the nobility, which is the Might, greater than the physical power that the slaves possess. Latour disagrees with Socrates for critiquing Callicles stating that they both imply the same thing, especially in the dialogue where Socrates criticizes the way many witnesses can help someone a case against another one who has no witnesses. Socrates suggests that the weight of the evidence should matter in the case rather than the quantity of evidence. Latour suggests that this notion is the same as Callicles in that Callicles suggests that the mighty should not just possess the might but the brains. Socrates echoes his suggestion when he states that one intelligent person is on top of a hundred fools (Latour, 1987). A comparison with Latour’s claim about science provides one of the best conclusions. Although, Socrates disagrees with science, he agrees with the importance of intelligence or precisely, the quality of intelligence in every aspect of life. In other words, Socrates is agreeing with the utilization of science without realizing it. In his argument, Latour is criticizing Socrates character because he takes too much importance in his ideas to an extent he fails to realize that he is suggesting the same ideas as others. In sum, Latour tries to show Socrates’ character by comparing his words with Callicles’ in their conversation.

In another perspective, Might is seen as one man entering the stage against hordes of people; might is seen as one element. Conversely, when the Truth enters, it cannot be viewed as one element but rather as “an impersonal, transcendent natural law. The element is not against the crowd, but an element revered by most people in that crowd. This poses an implication that it is a “Might, mightier than Might.” According to Latour, the concept of Might against Right can be defined in two ways. For instance, Right can be viewed as the legal system of a particular society. It can also be looked at as Science and Reason. Socrates words involving the court betray his intelligence when it comes to the concept of “inhumanity versus inhumanity” of more specifically using science to rid the Body Politic of its evil and conserve its moral standard. Indeed, Socrates champions for the Right when he criticizes Callicles using the court’s scenario. However, he does not realize that Right can mean Science and Reason or Logic. In essence, Socrates is campaigning for the same thing he is campaigning to be eliminated. Latour shows that Socrates is contradicting his statements. Science and Reason are the only elements that can be adjoined to the Body Politic to keep it from falling pure immanence.

All of the Socrates dialogues are geared to showing his opponents that they are inferior in knowledge than him. Indeed, all his arguments are a contest, which only he can win. In the conversation with Callicles, Socrates used mathematical knowledge to beat his opponent and win the hearts of the crowd. In fact, according to Latour, Socrates used the tyranny of numbers to win the argument. As much as his mathematical arguments forced everyone to side with him, nothing makes this approach of politics and the society adaptable to the excessively harsh conditions of the Agora (Latour, 1999). Callicles arguments angered the crowd. The fact that he alluded to the masses as fools made him an enemy of the crowd he is facing. However, Socrates can be viewed as having the same suppositions as Callicles when he says that it there is no implication if no one else other than him agrees with his ideas. This is a contradiction to his earlier assertion about politics where he alluded that one should care about the opinions of others in politics.

Another perspective of the same scene is that Socrates used mathematical logic to beat Callicles during their argument even though he discounts the usefulness of science in politics. Indeed, taking the Agora as a political scene and the argument between Callicles and Socrates as a political contest it is clear that Socrates used Science to beat his opponent. A proper description of mathematics defines it as a science of numbers. Moreover, the fact that mathematics utilizes logic and reason means that it is one of the Truths defined by Socrates and Latour in their respective responses.

In truth, Latour criticism of Socrates in Gorgias is on point especially when one considers various scenarios during the conversation with Callicles. For instance, Socrates tells Callicles that if he “concurs” with his ideas then what he believes “is the very truth” (487a). This statement is a contrary to his previous statement that “politics entails caring for what everyone thinks (476a).” His supposition that political rhetoric should be adjoined to philosophy to conserve its morality. Socrates statement above does not assure one of the positive influences that philosophy has on political rhetoric. Moreover, it is inherent that Socrates thinks of himself alone contrary to his supposition that he is a philosophical politician who cares about the opinions of everyone else. He states, “I am the only true practitioner of politics…” (521d).

In another part of the dialogue, Socrates explains the importance of statesmanship the goes forward and destroys its elements one by one. Indeed, he states that a statesman “always finds ways for integrity, righteousness and self-control using intelligence” (504d). However, he contradicts his opinion when he states, “There is no expertise involved…” (501a). At first, both Callicles and Socrates that it needs intelligence to become a political leader then after a while Socrates disputes this statement with another statement. In essence, expertise and knowledge are similar and the main foundations of science. Socrates recognizes their importance in politics but does not want to identify with them. All these statements from Socrates in Gorgias are a clear revelation that Latour criticisms over his character are founded.

Latour criticism of political concepts, as portrayed by Socrates in Gorgias, has become a basis of science in politics in the modern society. Indeed, the political landscape has evolved from that founded and relying on philosophies to one reliant on concise statistics; this is called political science. Politicians rely on using scientific methods in gauging the perception of their character in public, their fame, and even the opinions of the masses that have more power than they do during elections in the modern society.


Socrates idealism has no place in a modern political atmosphere where politicians fight for might rather than for the right. His notion, which political rhetoric can only be kept morally upright by philosophy, is also farfetched evidenced by his failure to keep his premises about politics alive. This however does not imply that science is the saviour of political morality. This is because it has been used badly in some sectors of the modern political world. However, the knowledge and expertise provided by science has been very important in politics. This is the reason Latour is right when he recommends the combination of science and politics for the greater good of both disciplines.


Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s hope: Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Plato (1997 [4th C-BCE]) Gorgias. Translated by Zeyl, J. Donald. In Pluto. Complete Works. Ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub.