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The Critique of Retribution

The Critique of Retribution


(p.44) Two The Critique of Retribution
Virtue Is Knowledge
Lorraine Smith Pangle
University of Chicago Press

This chapter begins with an analysis of Socrates’ entrapment of the rhetorician Gorgias, a discussion of Socrates’ interest in and use of rhetoric, and an assessment of Gorgias’ over-estimate of the power of knowledge. It focuses on Socrates’ dialogue with Polus, in which Socrates argues that tyrants have no power and that doing injustice is worse than suffering injustice. Behind these paradoxical claims lies a compelling critique of the confusions inherent in moral indignation and the irrationality of punishment that is retributive rather than aimed at curing the offender’s unhealthy soul. Power, as something good, requires knowledge; true virtue, as the health of the soul, is incomparably valuable, and all who fail to pursue it fail to understand its value.

Keywords:   Socrates, Gorgias, Polus, rhetoric, power, justice, moral indignation, retribution, punishment

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