06 April 2010

Justice and medicine

"The soul and body being two, have two arts corresponding to them: there is the art of politics attending on the soul; and another art attending on the body, of which I know no single name, but which may be described as having two divisions, one of them gymnastic, and the other medicine. And in politics there is a legislative part, which answers to gymnastic, as justice does to medicine; and the two parts run into one another, justice having to do with the same subject as legislation, and medicine with the same subject as gymnastic, but with a difference." Plato, Gorgias

Socrates notes the close connection between justice and medicine because both justice and medicine are only necessary in a world that is already out of balance. Since I have previously suggested that the essential difference between dialectic and sophistry consists in the manner in which dialectic brings justice to discourse, I might also suggest the analogue, which is: if the city was ruled by philosophy, there would be no need for Socrates' habit of questioning everyone. Though Socrates identifies himself as a midwife, perhaps we may more appropriately say that he was a doctor who sought to cure the city of its ills. This would also explain the consistent contrast that Socrates draws in Gorgias between the relative strengths and weaknesses of the doctor and the sophist. Though Socrates as the spiritual doctor of the polis is the only person truly qualified to save Athens, the sophists' superior capacity to convince the ignorant that they have all the answers renders Socrates unable to stop them. While Socrates (as he demonstrates in Phaedrus and other places) is capable of using sophistic techniques of speechifying, he refuses to use them to save the city since such an action is inherently impossible, since the salvation of the city could not consist just in right action, but in right thinking. This is the one virtue that no rhetorician can properly teach his disciples.


Amos Johannes Hunt said...

"Though Socrates identifies himself as a midwife, perhaps we may more appropriately say that he was a doctor who sought to cure the city of its ills."

I don't see how this understanding can be reconciled with your insightful refusal of "Socratic irony." If Socrates' aim is to teach, is it not an act of irony for him always to present himself as a student?

Sebastian said...

There certainly are dialogues where Socrates does seem to actively assume the role of the teacher, and Gorgias is one of them (I think we can place Pheadrus and others in this category as well). Regardless, I'm not ready to agree that I refused "Socratic irony" in general, though I readily admit that I do not think the phrase applies to the context you brought it up in originally.