Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Greek of the Week: Nomos and Physis, Pt. 2

For the character of Callicles in the Platonic dialogue Gorgias, nomos and physis are, for the most part, opposed or contrary to each other (ὡς τὰ πολλἀ δὲ ταῦτα ἐναντί᾽ ἀλλήλοις ἔστιν, ἥ τε φύσις καὶ νόμος) (482e5-6). Callicles, however, goes well beyond anything known to have been said by either Hippias or Antiphon.

For Callicles, laws are made by the majority (ὁι πολλοί), who are the weak (ἀσθενεῖς, 483b4-6). Because they fear the strong (δυνατοὺς ὄντας) they make laws for themselves and to their own advantage (συμφέρον). In order to prevent the strong from gaining an advantage (πλέον ἔχειν), the many try to frighten them by telling them that it is shameful and evil to claim a larger share (πλεονεκτεῖν), and that injustice consists of seeking (τὸ ζητεῖν) to have the advantage over others (483b7-c5). Callicles supposes that, because they are inferior, the many enjoy their "equality" (τὸ ἴσον), and that it is for this reason that they call it shameful and unjust to have advantage over them (483c5-8).

Callicles does not think, however, that this is the way that things are supposed to be:
ἡ δέ οἴμαι φύσις αὐτὴ ἀποφαίνει αὐτὸ ὅτι δίκαιόν ἐστιν, τὸν
ἀμείνω τοῦ χείρονος πλέον ἔχειν καὶ τὸν δυνατώτερον τοῦ
ἀδυνατωτέρου. δηλοῖ δὲ ταῦτα πολλαχοῦ ὅτι οὕτως ἔχει, καὶ ἐν
τοῖς ἄλλοις ζῴοις καὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐν ὅλαις ταῖς πόλεσι καὶ
τοῖς ψένεσιν ὅτι οὕτω τὸ δίκαιον κὲκριται, τὸν κρείττω τοῦ
ἥττονος ἄρχειν καὶ πλέον ἔχειν.
But to my mind nature herself shows us this: that it is right for
the better to have more than the worse, the strong more than
the weak. And it is clear in many instances that this is so
among animals and among races of men and in entire
nation states, that right has been judged in these terms:
the stronger have more than and rule over the weaker.

Although Callicles ultimately surpasses everyone in the extreme nature of his formulations, many of his ideas are indicative of a certain mood which found varying expressions in fifth century Athens...


  1. I think Callicles is right, for nothing has changed through the ages. The strong rule the weak, the smart rule the strong... Even in "democracy", it's a tug-of-war between powerful men. But the "weaks" may grow strong just by adding their numbers to a cause. Ask PRD supporters in Mexico.

  2. Usual Stuff,
    I get what you're saying. Does it being so make it good?