What dangers of rhetoric for political society are revealed in Socrates's discussions with Polus and Callicles?

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In Gorgias, Plato places Socrates in conversation with Polus and Callicles, as well as with Gorgias. The work overall is concerned with the purpose and effects of rhetoric. Polus had been a pupil of Gorgias. In the discussions with Polus, Plato tells the reader, Socrates argued about the convictions and training of the teacher. Is it necessary to be a philosopher oneself in order to teach rhetoric effectively? This makes us ask if the good qualities and failings of the teacher are passed on to the student and, by extension, how much a teacher might be responsible for the student’s using ideas improperly.

The discussions with Callicles begin with a consideration of punishment, justice, and rehabilitation. Socrates takes the position that punishment benefits those who do wrong because it restores their souls. He says that rhetoric should applied to persuade those charged with dispensing justice. Callicles counters by saying that justice is part of a natural social order, applied by force if needed, so that rhetoric and persuasion become superfluous. In this respect, as philosophy has no practical application, he thinks that Socrates’s profession is likewise not needed by society.

If Callicles were correct, then the entire legal profession also would not be needed, as justice would always be correctly applied, and no one would need to argue for or against an accusation.

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