The Founding Fathers: Deism & Christianity

As was traditional of the time period, the Founding Fathers did have a Christian upbringing. For instance, in Virginia, founders such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Patrick Henry all grew up under the influence of the Anglican Church. Further north, in New England, founders John Adams and Benjamin Franklin emerged from a Puritan rearing. Each of the Founding Fathers had a religious background — though it may have varied in denomination — which was an influence many of them would carry forward into their adult life. All of the previously mentioned men, with the exception of Franklin, would continue to attend church (however sporadically), marry under church law, entrust their children to its care, and be buried by members of the clergy.

Additionally, whether or not they agreed with all of the religious doctrines, most of the Founding Fathers recognized the vital role religion played in defining a nation’s, and a people’s, morality. Religion, they believed, was necessary for morality, and morality was necessary for a republic to operate free from corruption. Therefore, religion was needed for the correct function of a republican form of government. Even if they themselves did not practice, or believe in all that the Christian church taught, the Founding Fathers still recognized the importance of religion.

However, around the same time Deism was gaining momentum and unseating Christian orthodoxy in institutions of higher learning, several of the Founding Fathers were enrolled, or about to enroll, in college. Since Deism was, at the time, considered a novelty, and taking into account the fact that young, college-enrolled individuals are more willing to embrace novelty, it is not far-fetched to assume that many of the Founding Fathers were influenced by Deism.

Interestingly, believing in, or having Deistic tendencies, did not mean that one had to completely reject the Church and its teachings. Nor did it mean that an individual did not believe in the Christian God. In fact, the main principles of Deism stated that there is a God, that he should be worshipped, that humans should repent their sins, and that there is a life after death where good is rewarded and evil is punished, all of which are beliefs synonymous with Christianity. However, the way that Deism differs from Christianity lies in its renunciation of revelation, and its belief that virtue, not God (or “Nature’s God, as Deists called him), is the principal element of worship.

The Founding Fathers never completely abandoned their Christian roots — under the influence of Deism, several began to examine them with a more critical eye, applying reason and logic to Church doctrine. When a sacrament or teaching did not uphold the test of reason, like communion or the Resurrection, many of the Founding Fathers rejected it. For instance, George Washington, who regularly attended church, always left the service before communion because he did not find it logical that the bread and wine was converted into the body and blood of Christ.

In fact, most of the founders can be divided into three categories, depending upon the degree to which they embraced Deism or rejected their Christian upbringing. First, Non-Christian Deists were the ones that embraced Deism the most — founders who fall into this category stopped attending church, and were extremely critical of all biblical revelations. Second, Deistic Christians regularly attended church, were active in some of the church sacraments, and believed in some Church doctrine. Finally, orthodox Christians were active church-goers, and adamant believers in all Church doctrine.

The Founding Fathers, in their establishment of this nation, carried with them the influences of both Christianity and Deism — neither holds precedent over the other.

The Happiness of an Aristotelian

To be happy is, arguably, one of the greatest challenges, and greatest adventures, of life. For happiness is the end, the complete end, in which everything else is done for. It is praised as “one of the most divine things,” as “the prize and end of virtue,” as “the best thing in the human world,” making it seem as though it belongs only to the gods (I.9 1099b17, I.9 1099b12-13). But even if happiness was “sent by the gods,” or if mankind attained it “through virtue” or “some sort of learning or training,” it nevertheless remains the one phenomenon mankind, without fail, never ceases to strive for (I.9 1099b15, I.9 1099b16).

The school of thought headed by Aristotle is propelled by the belief that happiness, while being “both divine and blessed,” is attainable through the actions and standards one holds themselves to (I.9 1099b18). For, as Aristotle iterates, “happiness is pretty much a kind of living well and acting well,” which suggests that in order to achieve happiness, there is, indeed, a correct way of living (I.8 1098b23). From there, the advocacy of the Aristotelian definition of happiness continues, with Aristotle stating that “in life it is those who act rightly who will attain what is noble and good,” and “happiness. . . is the best, the noblest. . . thing” (I.8 1099a6-7, I.8 1099a24).  Furthermore, as Aristotle advances his argument, he states that “our account of happiness is in harmony with those who say that happiness is virtue or some particular virtue” (I.8 1098b30-31). Thus, Aristotle draws the conclusion that happiness is virtuous activity, or activity that causes one to act well, and therefore live well.

However, one who abides by Aristotelian thought readily admits that one’s happiness does not solely rely on virtue, or virtuous activity. In this particular account of happiness, there is a place and a role for both external and material goods. Unabashedly, Aristotle admits that “happiness obviously need the presence of external goods as well, since it is impossible, or at least no easy matter, to perform noble actions without resources” (I.8 1099a31-33). Additionally, as Aristotle is quick to identify, “in many actions, we employ, as if they were instruments at our disposal, friends, wealth, and political power,” indicating that we use things, or external goods, to help us carry out and complete certain behaviors (I.8 1099b1). The virtuous activities that we are meant to execute in order to achieve happiness require certain resources, equipment, materials, and opportunities. As Aristotle states, “there seems to be an additional need for some sort of prosperity” (I.8 1099b7). External goods, according to Aristotle, serve as a mean for one to carry out virtuous activities – they enable us, they help us, they are a springboard on which we can catapult ourselves from towards virtuous activity, towards happiness. As Aristotle eloquently states, “for the generous person will need money for doing generous actions. . . and the courageous person will need power, and the temperate person opportunity, if they are to accomplish any of the actions that accord with their virtue” (X.8 1178a29-34). Therefore, Aristotelian happiness can be more thoroughly defined as virtuous activity, which is enhanced and enabled by the presence of external goods.

In tandem with the aforementioned theory, there is another concept, which is interconnected with external goods, that Aristotle asserts as having the ability to impact happiness. Simply put, that concept is fortune, or one’s luck in life. Fortune, and a change in it, encompasses and includes external goods – a stroke of good fortune is often complementary with an increase in external goods, while a stroke of bad fortune is often complementary with a decrease in external goods. However, while fortune does have the capacity to impact happiness, it is not the sole determinant of it, for, according to Aristotle, “to entrust what is greatest and most noble to chance would be quite inappropriate” (I.9 1099b23-24). For how cruel it would be to have happiness, “one of the most divine things” in life, rely on chance, on fortune’s roll of the die (I.9 1099b16).

Aristotle states “many things, however, both large and small, happen by chance,” and that these things have the potential to “affect the balance of life,” presumably either for better or for worse (I.10 1100b23, I.10 1100b24). Additionally, a “many great events, if they are good, will make a life more blessed, since they will themselves naturally embellish it, and the way a person deals with them can be noble and good” (I.10 1100b25-27). Thus, good fortune, if reacted to in a good way, has the ability to embellish, to add to, the happiness in a life. However, given the previously stated truth, it therefore must also be true that many great events, if they are bad, will make a life unblessed, since they will themselves detract from the happiness in one’s life. Thus, if great events “turn out the other way” from good fortune, making it bad fortune, “they will oppress and spoil what is blessed, since they bring distress with them and hinder many activities” (I.10 1100b27-29). For bad fortune to have the power to oppress, spoil, distress, and hinder is to suggest that the mere occurrence of misfortune does have the power to diminish one’s happiness. As Aristotle clarifies, “no one calls someone happy who meets with misfortunes. . . and comes to a wretched end” (I.9 1100a9).

Furthermore, Aristotle states that one “will not be shifted easily from happiness. . . not by ordinary misfortunes, but by many grave ones,” and that one “would not recover from these to become happy again in a short space of time” (I.10 1101a9-11, I.10 1101a11-12). These two statements are concrete support of the idea that one can move in and out of happiness due to a significant change in fortune. Therefore, even if one is wise about the matter of virtuous activity, the chance of circumstance still retains the power to make one unhappy. Consequently, it is possible, according to the definition of Aristotelian happiness, for a wise person to be unhappy. For, as Aristotle concludes, “the happy person is the one who, adequately furnished with external goods, engages in activities in accordance with complete virtue” (I.10 1101a14-16).

However, Aristotle does not condone the idea that one’s happiness should depend entirely on a change in fortune or an amount of external goods – for the things that “really matter for happiness are activities in accordance with virtue” (I.10 1100b9-10). Aristotle is adamant in his conviction that an individual’s happiness arises from committing virtuous activities, and that fortune and external goods are “complementary” goods to a human life (I.10 1100b9). Therefore, in light of the question of whether or not the Aristotelian version of happiness strengthens or weakens one’s commitment to virtue, it can be stated that this account of happiness does not lessen one’s moral resolve. Even if one is presented with the opportunity to better one’s fortune, the individual who abides by an Aristotelian version of life “always does the noblest thing in the circumstances” (I.10 1101a2). Thus, no matter the circumstance faced, whether it be dangerous, tempting, or full of misfortune, an Aristotelian shall do the “noblest thing” (I.10 1101a2). Instead, what is unique about this approach to happiness, and perhaps what causes the question of a lesser moral resolve to even arise, is the notion that this approach acknowledges and accounts for the adversity an individual will face when trying to act with the correct, the appropriate, amount of virtue. “Anyone can get angry, or give and spend money,” Aristotle states, for “these are easy; but doing them in relation to the right person, in the right amount, at the right time, with the right aim in view, and in the right way – that is not something anyone can do, nor is it easy” (II.9 1109a27-30). “This is why it is hard to be good, because in each case it is hard to find the middle point,” Aristotle declares, and that “only the person with knowledge” of how to, is able to do so (II.9 1109a24-26).

However, when one has the liberty to compare the Aristotelian viewpoint to other viewpoints that also allege that happiness is derived from virtue, for instance, the Stoic viewpoint, there arises fundamental differences. Concentrating specifically on the Stoic and Aristotelian perspectives, one finds that while they both believe happiness is congruent with virtue and virtuous activities, the two schools of thought differ in how they interpret virtue, which causes the individuals from each school to come to different conclusions as to what virtuous activity is.

In the case of courage, both a Stoic and an Aristotelian would agree on the proclamation that courage is a virtue, and that to act in a courageous manner is to carry out virtuous activity. However, it is to the extent that one should act with courage, or any other virtue, that the two viewpoints conflict. For instance, in presenting a Stoic and an Aristotelian with the situation of a person trapped inside of a burning building, which is liable to collapse at any moment, an individual who abides by Stoic philosophy would not hesitate to run inside, while an individual who abides by Aristotelian philosophy would have the capability of choosing not to run inside. For a Stoic adamantly believes that happiness is derived solely from virtue, and no matter the change in fortune that may occur from acting virtuously, the virtuous action is what should be done. However, for an Aristotelian, happiness is only partially derived from virtue, since this perspective accounts for the impact of both fortune and external goods on happiness. While an Aristotelian “always does the noblest thing in the circumstances,” they will also do what is “the most strategically appropriate thing,” for themselves and for others (I.10 1101a2-3). Since Aristotelian philosophy emphasizes the idea that fortune, or circumstance, has a part to play in happiness, what is considered virtuous to a Stoic may not be considered virtuous to an Aristotelian in a particular circumstance.

Concerning the case of the burning building and the virtue of courage, it was stated previously that a Stoic would not hesitate to enter the building, while an Aristotelian had the ability to choose not to enter the building. Fundamentally, this difference between the two schools is derived from them putting different amounts of emphasis on the consequences of virtuous activity – a Stoic disregards any consequence, no matter how severe it may be, while an Aristotelian regards the consequence as a factor to be considered in deciding what a virtuous activity is. For an Aristotelian will always consider whether or not “he is losing the greatest goods” when determining the virtuous course of action, while a Stoic will not, which results in the two philosophies having different accounts for what virtue and virtuous activity consist of (III.9 1117b14).

To summarize, as the happiness of an Aristotelian is outlined, there remains the need for an individual to partake in virtuous activity. Nevertheless, no matter how crucial virtue may be in the definition of Aristotelian happiness, Aristotle is keen on making clear that it is not what happiness solely relies on – there are other things, such as fortune and external goods, that act as fundamental components of happiness. However, accounting for those other things does not lessen an individual’s moral resolve, or make them less virtuous – simply, it means that Aristotle’s interpretation of happiness has the capacity to encompass the circumstantial. At its core, what makes the Aristotelian version of happiness unique is its rigidness to accommodate a sense of virtue, yet its pliability to allow for the chance occurrences of life.


Works Cited

Aristotle, and Roger Crisp. Nichomachean Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2014. Print.

News Analysis of Josh Hawley’s Senate Campaign

To: Kyle Plotkin

From: Remy Berinato

Re: Online Campaign Strategy

Date: October 31, 2018

As we enter the homestretch of this election cycle, we must increase our efforts, doing everything to propel Josh Hawley, the Republican candidate for the 2018 Missouri Senate race, to victory. It is my intention, in examining Hawley’s social media presence on Twitter and YouTube, to evaluate the strengths and weakness of Hawley’s online campaign, and thus be able to present recommendations that will be beneficial to his campaign in the final days of this election.

Beginning with Hawley’s Twitter account, we will start by analyzing the photographs. Similar to Dahmen’s discovery about Twitter profile pictures, Hawley used a family picture, featuring his two sons, for his profile picture. However, Hawley deviated from Dahmen’s findings with header images, using another family picture rather than campaign graphics or a landscape photo. Additionally, both images had good quality and sharp resolution, lending to the pleasing aesthetic quality also discussed by Dahmen.

Moving on to analyze Hawley’s Twitter images from a behavioral standpoint (evaluating the torso, arms, and face) as outlined by Dahmen, Hawley consistently scores favorably in all three categories. Concerning the torso aspect, Hawley is constantly depicted as standing or upright, which is deemed favorable behavior according to Dahmen (one digression from this pattern includes an image from October 22 where Hawley is kneeling to hold the hands of an elderly woman at one of his rallies). Concerning the arms aspect, Hawley is almost always depicted with active arms, either shaking hands with supporters, gesturing when addressing a large crowd, or holding/hugging his family, which is considered favorable. There were only a few deviations from this pattern, one being an image from October 10 in which Hawley is pictured with his arms hanging by his side. Concerning the facial aspect, Hawley is always either pictured smiling/cheerful or confident, which is favorable. However, a noticeable pattern can be seen with Hawley’s facial expressions – when he is with his wife, children, or a very small group of supporters, Hawley is always smiling, but when he is with a large group of supporters, Hawley is always depicted as serious, but extremely confident. For instance, in an image posted on October 21, Hawley is smiling with one of his sons, and in an image posted on October 12, Hawley is with a large group of supporters, and is more serious and confident. From the context standpoint also outlined by Dahmen, Hawley is also rated as favorable. In several of his images, the American flag and the colors of red, white, and blue appear extremely often – especially at Hawley’s meetups and rallies (for instance, Hawley’s campaign bus the color scheme of red, white, and blue, and appears in images posted on October 13, 15, and 23). Additionally, from the perspective aspect outlined by Dahmen, Hawley is once again viewed as favorable. The majority of the images posted are close-ups of him meeting supporters or engaging with his family (for example, the images posted on October 22, 21, and 20), and any images that depict him far away only do so in order to capture the number of supporters attending his meetups/rallies.

Progressing onwards to study Hawley’s Twitter feed using the criteria outlined by Lee and Xu, Hawley had varied results. Firstly, Hawley’s Twitter feed did align with Lee and Xu’s findings about a candidate’s tweets promoting issue agendas. Several of Hawley’s tweets, like one from October 19, address healthcare, specifically talking about the increase in premiums. Additionally, as also suggested by Lee and Xu, the majority of Hawley’s tweets dealt with his opponent’s (Claire McCaskill) problems, and attacked her character, her policies, and her beliefs (for example, Hawley’s tweets from October 19, 18, and 16). However, in deviation with Lee and Xu’s findings, Hawley’s attack tweets were not effective in drawing out voter reactions. While Lee and Xu found that voters were more likely to retweet or favorite attack tweets than positive/neutral tweets, Hawley’s number of retweets and favorites for positive, neutral, and negative tweets remained consistent. Additionally, in contrast to Lee and Xu’s study, Hawley’s use of hashtags (he only used one hashtag – #MOsen, which is neutral) and multimedia (images, links, etc.), did not have an impact on the number of favorites or retweets he received. Overall, Hawley’s Twitter account does not draw much attention from voters.

With Twitter, our candidate has a multitude of strengths. The patterns uncovered in his Twitter images – concerning favorable behavior, context, and perspective – are all strengths. When Hawley portrays himself to be actively engaged with his voters, surrounded by patriotic colors, or depicted close up and on the same level in the different images he tweets, he is giving himself an unfiltered, positive image that voters can refer to when evaluating him. This type of image is a strength to our campaign because it gives Hawley a positive public perception, which has the possibility of influencing voters. Additionally, his emphasis on his family, using them as his profile and header images, and posting images/tweets about them, is another strength. This specific aspect shows Hawley as a family man, which both personalizes and humanizes him to the general public. Furthermore, it sends the message that Hawley values family very highly, imparting that he will, as Senator, do what is best for families.

Concerning weaknesses, the only real weakness Hawley has is that his Twitter page doesn’t receive a lot of attention overall, whether that attention be in the form of favorites, retweets, or media scrutiny. For instance, the highest number of favorites Hawley received in the last month was 573, occurring on October 24. To remedy this weakness, I recommend that Hawley increase the number of people which he follows – the more people he follows, the greater the chance is that people will follow him back, increasing his follower count and therefore his potential to garner more favorites and retweets. I also recommend that Hawley begin to post more controversial statements – as we draw closer to election day, launching a Twitter attack on McCaskill will cumulate more attention from both the media and McCaskill herself, which will increase the amount of awareness about Hawley’s Twitter and give Hawley a chance to criticize McCaskill without giving her the chance to respond in time before the election.

Switching over to Hawley’s YouTube channel, I found that the channel only consists of 51 videos, a number which is obscenely low compared to the video sample Ricke studied in 2012 concerning Obama and Romney. Out of those 51 videos, around 30 videos are attacks on McCaskill, either in the form of negative advertisements (like “Claire McCaskill for Hillary Clinton”) or soundbites of McCaskill speaking and Hawley offering commentary on her statements (like “McCaskill calls Trump Presidency ‘incomplete’” and “McCaskill lies about legislative record”). Similar to Ricke’s findings about Romney’s YouTube channel, advertisements made up most of the videos available on Hawley’s channel, with the majority of them being negative (attacking McCaskill), and only a handful of them being positive (presenting issues, or introducing Hawley’s biographical information). The remaining few videos that aren’t attacks on McCaskill or advertisements are clips of Hawley on television – whether it’s his appearance on Fox News (“Josh Hawley on the Fox News Network”) or his closing remarks during a campaign debate (“Josh Hawley Closing Statement”). Overall, Hawley’s YouTube channel does not have a lot of variety in its content – its main focus is attacking McCaskill, so the majority of videos do just that.

However, the strength of Hawley’s YouTube channel lies in is his emphasis on attacking McCaskill. In relentlessly bombarding McCaskill negatively, Hawley may be forcing McCaskill to issue responses, therefore deviating her time and effort from promotion/campaigning to responding. Nevertheless, despite that strength, the many weaknesses of Hawley’s YouTube channel outweigh it. One immediate weakness of Hawley’s YouTube channel is that a voter cannot glean much information about Hawley himself. There are very few biographical or issue ads that present Hawley’s policies, future plans, or character to the general public, making it hard for a voter to gain any knowledge about Hawley as a candidate. Additionally, there are no videos that actively engage voters – Hawley does not make it a point to address the role of voters in elections, which deviates from Ricke’s findings about Obama’s YouTube channel. Furthermore, Hawley’s YouTube channel is not linked to any of his other social media accounts, like Twitter, which makes it difficult for viewers to share, therefore promoting, any of Hawley’s videos.

In order to remedy some of these weaknesses, I recommend that the Hawley campaign immediately release a five to ten-minute video that explains who Hawley is, his stance on current issues, his plans for the future, and a message to all Missouri voters about how he needs them to make Missouri better. This will help fill the absence of positive, biographical, and issue ads, as well as convey Hawley’s desire to connect and engage with voters. Additionally, I recommend that Hawley implement links to his other social media accounts/campaign website in all of his videos, making them readily available to share. Furthermore, I would strongly advise that Hawley offers a fundraising option in each of his videos and on his homepage – none of his videos address how voters can help support his campaign, so incorporating that information would be a method of educating viewers.

Callicles and the Epicureans: A Take on Happiness

Happiness, and what it entails, is a question that has been unrelentingly tormenting philosophers throughout the ages. For however many schools of thoughts that seem to be in agreement with each other on the answer, there are just as many schools of thought that disagree, and still more that only partially agree with each other. Pinpointing a specific example, the perspectives of both Callicles (from Plato’s Gorgias) and the Epicureans both assert that the highest good is pleasure, and that pleasure is what leads to happiness, but the two viewpoints diverge in their methods of achieving pleasure. To be more precise, Callicles and the Epicureans deviate from each other in their beliefs on the role of desire and the importance of virtue.

To begin, the establishment of Callicles’ viewpoint is needed. In his lengthy discussion with Socrates, it is revealed that Callicles believes that pleasure is the highest good, and that doing what is pleasurable will lead one to happiness. Expanding on that, it is the process of doing something pleasurable that attains happiness – therefore, one should consistently do things that consist of a pleasurable process. Furthermore, Callicles regards some of the virtues, such as justice, self-discipline, and self-control, as an obstruction to achieving pleasure. “What in truth could be more shameful and worse than self-control and justice?” Callicles asks, effectively criticizing those virtues, and adamantly denying that they play a part in achieving happiness (492b). For virtues, in Callicles’ eyes, are what we use to “mold the best and the most powerful among us, taking them while they’re still young, like lion cubs, and with charms and incantations we subdue them into slavery, telling them that one is supposed to get no more than his fair share, and that that’s what’s admirable and just” (483e-484a). Virtues contradict nature in such a way that restricts one from obtaining all the pleasures they can, Callicles argues, stating that “these contracts of men. . . go against nature,” for nature “itself reveals that it’s a just thing for the better man and the more capable man to have a greater share than the worse man and the less capable man” (492c, 483d). Additionally, Callicles is an advocate of unrestrained desire. “The man who’ll live correctly,” he states, “ought to allow his own appetites to get as large as possible and not restrain them” and that “living pleasantly consists in this: having as much as possible flow in” (491e, 494b).

Now, like Callicles, the Epicureans also upheld the belief that pleasure is the highest good, and that pleasure is what brings one happiness. However, that is where their similarities end.

The first point of Callicles’ viewpoint that the Epicureans would critique would be how Callicles believes that one’s desires (or as he called them, appetites) ought to be continuously filled and unrestrained in order to achieve happiness. The Epicureans regarded desire as a commodity which should be deliberately restricted, for “desire is insatiable: it destroys not only individuals but whole families; often it can even bring an entire nation to its knees” (I, 43). In plainer words, the Epicureans believed that too much desire was a destructive thing, liable to corrupt any being or entity. Furthermore, the statement made by Callicles that deemed “pleasant and good are the same,” meaning that all the pleasurable desires are good, is another concept the Epicureans would contradict (495d). The Epicureans perceived desire as a threefold category, believing that not all desires were natural, necessary, or good. Their division of desire consisted of the first kind of desire as something “both natural and necessary; a second kind as natural but not necessary; and a third as neither natural nor necessary” (I, 45). Stated more clearly, desires could either be natural and necessary, natural and unnecessary, or unnatural and unnecessary. This meant, according to the Epicureans, that not all pleasurable desires were actually good, and did not always contribute to achieving happiness – therefore, one cannot leave their desires unfettered and unchecked as Callicles would have them be. Thus, as stated by the Epicureans, desire “must be choked off” (I, 51).

Additionally, the Epicureans were sure to address the consequences of untamed desire, laying out what would happen if one did allow their desires to run rampant. “It is from desire that enmity, discord, dissension, sedition and war is born,” the Epicureans warned, illustrating the effect uninhibited desire could have on a nation or city-state (I, 44). Furthermore, the Epicureans cautioned that “desire not only swaggers around on the outside and hurls itself blindly at others: even when desires are shut up inside the heart they quarrel and fight amongst themselves,” which insinuated the conflict an individual can experience on a personal level (I, 44). Overall, the Epicureans firmly believed that “the inevitable result” of desire left unrestrained would be “a life of great bitterness” (I, 44). This is what will happen, the Epicureans believed, if one allows “as much as possible” to “flow in” (494b). Therefore, unrestrained desire does not lead to happiness, as Callicles said it does. Indeed, the person “who is always happy” is “one who sets desire within limits” (I, 62). Hence, one must curb their desires in order to guard themselves from its inevitable consequences.

The second point made by Callicles that the Epicureans would critique would be his blatant disregard for some of the virtues. While Callicles viewed some virtues as “contracts of men” that “go against nature” and as obstructions to one acquiring the most pleasurable desires that one is able to, the Epicureans placed great emphasis on the virtues, believing that they were a part of what enabled one to recognize and choose between the natural and unnatural desires (492c). For instance, temperance, or self-control, is “what bids us follow reason in the things we seek and avoid” and what holds us “to adhere to what we have decided” (I, 47). In using temperance, one is able to avoid becoming “defeated and debilitated by what spectre of pleasure” comes their way. It was this particular virtue, the Epicureans argued, that was crucial in restricting one’s desires, therefore avoiding “a life of great bitterness” (I, 44).

Additionally, the Epicureans believed that “the root cause of life’s troubles is ignorance of what is good and bad” and that the mistakes one makes in choosing between what is good and bad “often rob one of the greatest pleasures and lead to the harshest pains” (I, 43). So, in order to secure oneself against choosing wrongly, the fear of choosing wrongly, and undergoing “the harshest pains,” wisdom, which is a virtue, “must be brought to bear” (I, 43). It is wisdom, the Epicureans believed, that “drives misery from our hearts,” “stops us trembling with fear,” and “represents our surest guide to the goal of pleasure” (I, 43). It is with wisdom that “one can live in peace,” confidently enabled with the skills of choosing between the desires that are natural and unnatural.

Furthermore, justice, in the eyes of the Epicureans, is not used to “mold the best and the most powerful among us, taking them while they’re still young, like lion cubs, and with charms and incantations we subdue them into slavery” as Callicles believed it to be (483e-484a). Instead, the Epicureans regarded justice as a proponent in choosing what pleasures are natural, good, and right. “Not only does justice never harm anyone,” the Epicureans say, “but on the contrary it also brings some benefit” (I, 50). This belief of the Epicureans, that justice is an asset, is in stark contrast with what Callicles advocated. While Callicles would shun justice as a method of subduing “the best and the most powerful among us” in slavery, the Epicureans state that justice and the threat of what it will bring, “bad conscience, legal entities, and the hatred of one’s fellow-citizens,” is enough to outweigh “any contribution that wicked deeds can make to lessening the discomforts of life” (483e; I, 51). Justice is not suppression, as Callicles would say it is. Instead, justice is a method of determining between what is good and what is bad under the Epicurean ideology.

The virtues, the Epicureans insist, are the things that enable us to choose well and correctly among the countless pleasurable desires that exist, and are therefore vital in achieving happiness through pleasure. Thus, the Epicureans would criticize Callicles’ view that some of the virtues serve as unnatural obstructions, saying instead that they are what empowers one to accurately choose amidst the plethora of options.

Superficially, both Callicles and the Epicureans appear to be in agreement about their take on happiness. Simply put, the two put forth answers that revolve around the importance of pleasure in achieving happiness. However, while Callicles and the Epicureans both use the same word, pleasure, to define happiness, the two viewpoints do not attach the same meaning to it. For the Epicureans, it is the pleasure achieved through virtue that will lead to happiness. For Callicles, it is the pleasure derived from doing a pleasurable act that will lead to happiness. Hence, to the Epicureans, happiness is a state of being, while to Callicles, happiness is an emotion one feels, leading to the conclusion that the two viewpoints never were in accordance with each other.


Works Cited

Cicero, Marcus Tullius, and Julia Annas. On Moral Ends. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

Plato. Gorgias. Translated by Donald J. Zeyl, Hackett Pub. Co., 1987.

Socrates & Callicles: The Discussion of a Rascal

Plato’s Gorgias is an interesting text in the way that it captures both the relevance of the philosophical ideas being presented and the interpersonal dynamics that occur between each of the intellectuals involved. For instance, the moment where Socrates states, “what a rascal you are” in reference to Callicles, can be viewed as a pivotal occasion in both the intellectual atmosphere and the relational atmosphere – the implication of this statement goes deeper than it, superficially, appears to (499c). So, in order to elucidate the true meaning of Socrates’ rascal statement in reference to Callicles, one must thoroughly examine the denotation, the opposition of ideas, the tone, the relationship that exists between Socrates and Callicles, and Socrates’ level of sincerity, for all of those elements play a key part in the explanation.

By definition, a rascal is one who is mischievous or cheeky, and is usually called so by someone in an affectionate manner. However, Socrates is doing much more than affectionately calling Callicles a rascal – there are several other elements that must be studied in order to grasp the true connotation of Socrates’ sentence, and what he actually means by calling Callicles a rascal.

To begin, one must first examine the surrounding context in which the statement “what a rascal you are” appears (499c). Socrates and Callicles find themselves to be on intellectually opposite sides of their discussion, with the main difference being this: Socrates believes that “we should do all things for the sake of what’s good,” and that “good things are not the same as pleasant ones,” while Callicles believes that “pleasant and good are the same” (499e, 497d, 495d). Examining Socrates’ beliefs first, it can be surmised that Socrates is in favor of a lifestyle where one commits acts, whether pleasurable or painful, in favor of what is good, and that what is good may not necessarily be what is pleasant. Shifting to Callicles’ view, one can conclude that he encourages a lifestyle that pursues pleasantness and pleasure, for, in Callicles’ eyes, what is inherently pleasing to one must also be inherently good for one.

Each of the lifestyles that Socrates and Callicles are promoting are extremely distinct, with one in pursuit of pleasure, and the other in pursuit of what is good. Ultimately, these two lifestyles, however different, can be related back to the idea of happiness, and how one can live a life that will bring one happiness. According to Socrates, one achieves happiness by doing what is good, but according to Callicles, one achieves happiness by doing what is pleasurable. So, throughout their discussion, each participant is trying to convince the other that they are correct in their interpretation of what is good, what is pleasant, and what is best for achieving happiness.

Eventually, the dialogue reaches a point where Socrates has backed Callicles into a corner, and has him at a point of defeat, stating, “Doesn’t it then turn out that the bad man is both good and bad to the same degree as the good man, or even that he’s better? Isn’t this what follows, along with those earlier statements, if one hold that pleasant things are the same as good things?” (499a-b). However, Callicles has figured out, perhaps a split second before Socrates states it, that this is what all of his previous declarations actually amount to.

And so, to avoid losing face and proving Socrates right, Callicles backpedals, insisting that what he truly believed was “that some pleasures are better and others worse” and not that “pleasant is the same as good” (499b, 495d). Socrates recognizes that this is what Callicles has done – that he has switched his position to avoid embarrassment – and then chooses to seize upon the moment in order to subtly, and intellectually, jest with Callicles for no other reason than to let Callicles know that he understands exactly what has transcribed. “Oh, Callicles! What a rascal you are,” Socrates exclaims, pausing the discussion for the sake of drawing attention to what Callicles has done. (499c). For both Socrates and Callicles know and understand the sudden change of Callicles’ position to be an admittance of defeat on Callicles’ part – Callicles understood that he was about to be proven wrong, so switched his claim, and Socrates knew that he was about to prove Callicles wrong, so retaliates Callicles’ switch by throwing jabs. “You treat me like a child,” Socrates accuses, which portrays Callicles as one who does not consider Socrates worthy enough to be taken seriously (499c). “At one time you say that things are one way and at another that the same things are another way, and so you deceive me,” Socrates continues on, further emphasizing that Callicles has been treating the discussion thus far as undeserving of his sincerity and therefore, undeserving of his honesty (499c). Then, as one last jab, Socrates forges on to say that he has been “deceived intentionally” by Callicles (499c).

Yet, Socrates is fully aware of the fact that Callicles did not begin this conversation with the intention of purposefully deceiving him – in fact, Callicles was completely sincere in his previously stated belief that “pleasant and good are the same,” and entered the discussion, in part, to convince Socrates that his view was the correct one (495d). However, in addition to Callicles’ wish to honestly convince Socrates of his way of thinking, Callicles has another reason in entering the debate. More than anything, this discussion can be considered as an intellectual match, and Callicles makes no effort in keeping his intent to claim victory a secret, with his quip, “tell me, Socrates, are we to take you as being in earnest now, or joking?” being proof of that (481c). This then presents the idea that honest persuasion and victory of an intellectual contest are the two main themes Socrates and Callicles are grappling with, in which each of the two men are aiming to outperform the other in both areas. It is in this instance that illustrates that Socrates is not being entirely straightforward in what he is saying and in what he is accusing Callicles of doing. Because Socrates is fully aware that Callicles began with the intention of presenting an honest case in order to persuade him, his remarks about being “deceived intentionally” and treated “like a child” are erroneous (499c). But, since this discussion is an intellectual contest of sorts, with each participant vying to win by proving the other wrong, Socrates wants to take full advantage of Callicles’ backpedaling – and so he does. Socrates drags out the moment, making Callicles squirm, for each jab made in jest that Socrates throws towards Callicles is synonymous with a victory point.

Then, after Socrates has had his bit of fun, he goes on to state that he has “no choice but to ‘make the best with that I have,’ as the ancient proverb puts it, and to accept what I’m given by you” (499c). At this moment in the dialogue, Socrates is responding to the challenge that Callicles has now put forth by changing his position – for a challenge has been silently issued. Although Callicles has admitted his defeat by changing his stance, he presents Socrates with the difficulty of proving him wrong, of making his point, while they appear to be in agreement on the matter. Nevertheless, despite this dilemma, Socrates is enjoying himself immensely during this moment, for none of the other intellectuals he talked with, including Gorgias and Polus, presented him with such an entertaining fight. Regardless of the fact that Callicles did indeed do a rascally thing by renouncing his earlier stance, Socrates takes it in stride, thinking, perhaps, that his victory over a challenging and worthwhile opponent will be that much sweeter.

Overall, while Socrates may have used the word rascal in jest as a way to make fun of and call out Callicles, he is being entirely sincere with his usage of the word. To put it simply, it is the culmination of everything aforementioned: Socrates and Callicles beginning their discussion under the guise of possessing opposite views, that Socrates’ immediate victory was snatched away, that Callicles switched positions, and Callicles’ posture as a challenge. This explains why Socrates had legitimate reasoning in calling Callicles a rascal. Everything is an element that backs Socrates’ position, even though most of these reasons are not explicitly expressed in the sentence itself. Yet, as the discussion concludes, it is with the subtle nuance of the different characters that Plato chooses to incorporate in contradicting Socrates that truly exhibits the mastery of the Gorgias in presenting the different perspectives on what is good, what is pleasant, and what is best for achieving happiness. For, truly, what is good is not what is pleasant, and what is good is what should be pursued in one’s journey to achieve happiness.


Works Cited

Plato. Gorgias. Translated by Donald J. Zeyl, Hackett Pub. Co., 1987.