The Myth of the Afterlife in Plato's Gorgias
Scholars have given at least three reasons why we should regard the myth at the end of the dialogue as Platonic and not Socratic. One such reason is that in his own appraisal of the myth, Socrates is very clear in saying that this is the account of the afterlife he finds most persuasive and believes. But such a profession of faith, we are told, is not compatible with what he says in other dialogues that are held to be more reliable sources on Socratic philosophy. Another reason the myth is claimed not to represent Socratic views accurately is that the moral psychology it propounds and on which it relies, and especially in the way it depicts the uses and benefits of painful punishments, is not compatible with the way that other (again, putatively more reliable) Platonic dialogues represent Socratic positions. Finally, the mere fact that we find Socrates propounding a myth is taken as evidence by some that Plato has ceased to make any effort at the end of the Gorgias to represent Socratic positions accurately. In this paper we will make no attempt to argue for or against the very controversial thesis that some of Plato's dialogues (including, perhaps, at least some parts of the Gorgias) represent Socratic philosophy accurately and consistently. Because those whose arguments we criticize herein also accept this thesis, we will assume, for our purposes here, that it makes sense to take some of Plato's dialogues as reliable sources on Socratic philosophy. We argue in this paper that the three arguments for discounting the Gorgias myth as Socratic do not provide good reasons for counting anything we find in that myth as less likely to be genuinely Socratic than anything we find in any of Plato's (other) "Socratic" dialogues.
Keywords: Afterlife, Gorgias, Moral Psychology, Myth, Plato, Socrates
Nicholas D. Smith
James F. Miller Professor of Humanities, Philosophy Classical Studies, Lewis & Clark College