Urging righteousness and virtue: Socrates, Gorgias and the nature of moral argument
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In the Gorgias Socrates claims that it is worse to be a wrong-doer than to be the victim of wrong-doing. His adversaries, Polus and Callicles, regard this position as preposterous. In this paper, I argue that, from the viewpoint of what it is rational to urge others to do, then Polus and Callicles are the ones acting irrationally, at least when the urging takes place in a consensual, as opposed to a coercive, argument situation between autonomous and competent rational agents. They are guilty of a pragmatic practical paradox, even if what they say may be rational enough to believe when held as a theoretical view about a third party. My analysis also demonstrates that rationality favours the urging of most of the other startling judgements that Socrates endorses, with particular consideration given to the centrality of shame in showing the irrationality of urging some courses of action rather than others.