When we act unjustly (in whatever large or small ways), will we be happier and better off if we manage to escape from any punishment, or if we pay the penalty for our misdeeds?
Our “Short Reads” evenings explore a focused philosophical argument or theme, by way of a short (4–6 page) paper. During this month’s gathering, we’ll step through our paper together, using the theme of punishment and penalties as the focal point for a lively and interactive conversation.
Early in Plato’s Gorgias, one of Socrates’ interlocutors, named Polus, asserts that anyone able to rise to the heights of tyrannical power would be the happiest of human beings, provided that he were able to avoid paying any penalty for his acts of theft, violence, and the like. Polus cites the case of Archelaus, who took absolute power in Macedonia by the simple expedient of murdering all those with a more legitimate claim to the throne, including a young boy whom he drowned in a well.
Socrates responds with an extended argument in three main parts. First, he contends that acting unjustly is the greatest of evils—even worse than suffering injustice at the hands of others! This is in explicit contrast with Polus’ claim that it’s only the prospect of punishment that makes acting unjustly bad for the person who performs those unjust acts. Second, building on this, Socrates argues that once someone has acted unjustly, it is actually better for that person himself if he suffers punishment, “paying the penalty” for his unjust deeds rather than avoiding such consequences. Finally, Socrates considers the value of the goods of the soul as compared to goods of the body or external possessions, in order to further corroborate the first two points, and make the case that paying the penalty for our unjust deeds is in fact one of the greatest human goods.
We’ll follow Socrates and Polus in examining each of these in turn. Learn more, view/download the paper & RSVP here: https://merlinccc.org/event/philosophy-merlin-shorts-read-ins-short-august-2023/