POLS 650: Basic Topics in Ancient Political Philosophy

Plato’s Gorgias

Northern Illinois University

Department of Political Science

Spring 2010


Professor Radasanu

Office: Zulauf 408

Phone Number: 753-7052

Email Address: aradasanu@niu.edu

Office Hours: Tuesdays 11am-12pm; Thursdays 10:00am-12:00pm; and by appointment

Class Time: Tuesday 3:30-6:10pm

Classroom: DU 466


Course Description:


This seminar will center on a close reading of Plato’s Gorgias. We will concentrate on Socrates’ defense of political philosophy and of the philosophical life against the sophists and the rhetoricians. We will consider the basis of the argument in favor of philosophy as the best life for human beings. To this end, we will reflect on some of the great Socratic paradoxes – among the most important are the claims that doing injustice is always worse than suffering injustice and that vice is ignorance– against a couple of the most strident opponents of these views.


Although Socrates has a reputation for being entirely at odds with the class of professional rhetoricians he takes on in various dialogues, any attention to the Platonic corpus makes clear that Socrates knows a thing or two about rhetoric, and that he gives much attention to the public presentation of philosophy (although his student Plato occupies himself with the public relations of philosophy more so than Socrates himself). In fact, we might profitably consider the Gorgias together with The Apology of Socrates, the latter of which is the public statement and account of Socrates’ life. In the tentative class schedule below, I have given some time to this second dialogue.


Required Texts:


Plato. Gorgias. Translated, with Introduction, Notes and Interpretive Essay, by James Nichols, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, Agora Editions, 1998.


Devin Stauffer. The Unity of Plato’s Gorgias. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.


Four Texts on Socrates: Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito and Aristophanes’ Clouds. Thomas West. Cornell, 1995.

Recommended Readings

Platonis Opera, Vol. 3. Edited by John Burnet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903. Use this edition if following in Greek.

For a list of secondary sources on the Gorgias, consult Stauffer’s bibliography. 

The only major work of interest missing from Stauffer’s bibliography (because it was published more recently than Stauffer’s book) is Joseph Sacks’ Plato’s Gorgias and Aristotle’s Rhetoric (Focus, 2008). This is a new translation of the Gorgias (and therefore useful to consult along with our primary translation) and offers an interpretive essay. If Prof. Arnhart teaches Aristotle’s Rhetoric next year, this work will be even more useful to you.

Platonis Opera, Vol. 1 Edited by John Burnet. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Use this edition if following The Apology of Socrates in Greek.

For secondary sources on the Apology of Socrates, see West’s edition.

Formal Requirements and Basis of Grading:


Š  Attendance and class participation (15%)

Š  Weekly papers (30%). Due every week except: first week, exam week, any week when we don’t have class, and weeks when other assignments are due (weeks of March 2, April 13 and April 27). Asterisks are included on the schedule below designating weeks when papers ARE due. Each paper will be on an assigned topic and CANNOT be handed in after the beginning of the class in which given paper is assigned. Papers cannot exceed 300 words. Lowest grade will be dropped, which means nine out of the ten short papers will count towards this component of your evaluation.

Š  Short Paper (15%). 1000-1500 words. Topic will be assigned. The paper will be due on March 3rd by 5pm in the main office (NOT by email).

Š  Take-home exam (15%). Exam topic will be handed out in class on April 13 and due April 15 via email by 5pm.  Exam will require an essay response between 1500-2000 words.

Š  Term paper (25%): (Topic of your own devising. Maximum 3000 words. You are encouraged to discuss your topic with the professor early in the semester.


Expectations of Students:




Attendance and participation are crucial components of this class. You are expected to attend and participate every class, or offer a very good excuse for not doing so. This means that you must read the text to be covered that day, and be prepared to discuss the text thoughtfully. Ask and answer questions, offer comments, and argue with the professor’s interpretation of the text. Without doing most of these things on a regular basis, it will not be possible to earn an A for the attendance and participation portion of your grade (15%).




To earn an A in the course, both active and thoughtful participation and excellent written work will be required. For written work, A’s are earned when compelling interpretations are provided (and expressed clearly) in response to the assigned topics or topics of your own devising.




Incompletes are given only for unforeseeable events that make it impossible to complete course work by the end of the semester. Students are responsible for informing the professor of such events, and for securing her consent for an incomplete, as promptly as possible.



Tentative Class Schedule:


The following can only be called a “schedule” in the loosest terms. If you must miss a class, it is imperative that you find out where we broke off, and what reading is required for the following class. What is certain is that you must be prepared to begin discussing the Gorgias  for the first class. You need not have completed the whole dialogue, but do read through the Gorgias section at least.



January 12


Gorgias, prelude and beginning of Gorgias section (447a1-449c8, 449c9-455a7)

January 19

Gorgias, (455a8-461b2) *


January 26

Polus (462b3-466a3; 466a4-468e9) *

February 2

Polus (468e6-470c3; 470c4-471e1) *

February 9

Polus (471e2-481b5) *

February 16

Callicles (482c4-486d1) *

February 23


Callicles (486d2-491d4) *

March 2

Callicles (491d4-499d8)

Short paper due March 3rd, 5pm, in main office

March 9

March Break


March 16

Callicles (502d10-508c3) *

March 23


Class cancelled (to be made up during exam week)

March 30

Callicles (508c4-513d1) *

April 6

Callicles (513d1-522c3; 522c4-527e7) *

April 13

Apology (Introduction, First Accusers)

Take-home exam: handed out in class this day, and due April 15th, 5pm (via email)

April 20

Apology (Delphic Quest) *

April 27

Apology (Socrates’ Just Speech)

Final Paper Due April 28, 5pm, at the main office.

May 4

Apology (Punishment, final remarks)

*Weeks when weekly papers are due.


Assignment dates are firm (unless changed by unanimous consent of students and professor).