The Question of Temperance and Hedonism in Callicles

Leeds International Classical Studies (2011)
Callicles, Socrates’ main interlocutor in Plato’s Gorgias, has traditionally been interpreted as a kind of sybaritic hedonist, as someone who takes the ultimate goal in life to consist in the pursuit of physical pleasures and, further, as someone who refuses to accept the value of any restraint at all on a person’s desire. Such an interpretation turns Callicles into a straw man and Plato, I argue, did not create Callicles only to have him knocked down in this easy way. Plato’s construction of Callicles’ position is much more formidable and not reducible to any simple classification. In the first part of this paper, I challenge the traditional interpretation of Callicles. In the second, I speculate as to why Plato has attributed this much more formidable position to Callicles, one which Socrates is never really made to get at the heart of.
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