Plato’s Tough Guys and Their Attachment to Justice
Peter J. Hansen
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Belletristik / Essays, Feuilleton, Literaturkritik, Interviews
This book challenges the assumption that self-interest is the basis of our actions. It does so through examining two Platonic characters, Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic and Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias , both of whom attack justice and champion thoroughgoing selfishness. The author argues that by following the subtleties of Plato’s presentation, we see that both characters unwittingly display a kind of devotion to their selfish principles, and more broadly a combination of contempt for justice and unselfconscious attachment to it. They thereby offer surprising support for the proposition that human beings are not simply self-interested. Moreover, the author argues that the attachment to justice that Thrasymachus and Callicles display is in many respects akin to the attachment to justice that most people feel. The book also presents a distinctive approach to reading Platonic dialogues, taking questionable arguments offered by Socrates not as indicating his or Plato’s views, nor as tricks by which Socrates refutes his interlocutors, but as revealing beliefs held by those interlocutors. Finally, the author considers “tough guys” portrayed by Dostoevsky, Gide, and Shakespeare, and finds that these portrayals suggest similar conclusions regarding self-interest and attachment to justice.