Figurative Essay- Gorgias
28 November 2016
Gorgias: The Phenomena of the Leaky Jar
Through Socrates’ metaphor of the leaky jar, I will demonstrate how Socrates employs the figures of metaphor and juxtaposition in Plato’s Gorgias to delineate the definition of justice as temperance; in his attempt however, Gorgias unravels by the end into sobering revelations about the limitations of philosophy in comparison to rhetoric.
In the beginning of Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates and Callicles debate over the failure of philosophy in face of rhetoric and power. Callicles asserts the rule of justice is the rule of the stronger; in their luxury and self-indulgence are virtue and happiness. Gratified by his frankness, Socrates however rebuttals Callicles’ claim by offering a metaphor:
“The life of self-contentment and self-indulgence may be represented respectively by two men, who are filling jars with streams of wine, honey, milk,—the jars of the one are sound, and the jars of the other leaky; the first fills his jars, and has no more trouble with them; the second is always filling them, and would suffer extreme misery if he desisted” (493b).
Socrates uses the metaphor of the leaky jar to present the lives of two people. For those whose life is full of unrestrained desires, they will always require more and more, yet never be satisfied, just as a jar with holes will never remain full. On the other hand, for those whose life can be satisfied with humility, voluntary self-restraint, and modesty, their lives will be sated and quenched, just like a jar being filled once to the brim. A virtuous life for Socrates is one that is consequentially entrenched in temperance.
By juxtaposing a sound jar with a leaky jar, Socrates accentuates the prior by offering the latter as the counterfactual. To Socrates, Callicles’ sense of justice (justice is the rule of the stronger) will inevitably result in an establishment reigned by those whose hearts emulate a leaky jar. Just like how the liquids leak off of a jar filled with holes, the effects of self-indulgence will trickle to the livelihood, relations, and consequential actions on others. With the juxtaposed counterfactual, not only is the person with the sound jar living with an opposite moral bible, but their consequential actions are also of polar opposite. All scenarios regarding the leaky jar and sound jar, whether stated or unstated, are treated as opposite by implementing a juxtaposition in the metaphor.
Extending the metaphor, Callicles rebuttals Socrates with:
“…pleasure and pain are simultaneous, and the cessation of them is simultaneous; e.g. in the case of drinking and thirsting, whereas good and evil are not simultaneous, and do not cease simultaneously, and therefore pleasure cannot be the same as good” (494b).
According to Callicles, Socrates’ metaphor of the leaky jar is faulty because good and evil do not operate similarly to pain and pleasure. Pleasure and pain can operate simultaneously; for example, you can feel slight pain while experiencing an even greater feeling of pleasure. Socrates’ use of alliteration with “pleasure and pain” furthermore cements the two as not only being synonymous in nature, but synonymous rhetorically in rhythm. Good and evil on the other hand are mutually exclusive; as such, it is improper to equate pleasure with justice and good. In parallel, it is also improper to equate pain with injustice and evil. With the lack of alliteration, there is a rhythmic dissonance, making the comparison jarring in more ways than one. Rather than making claims about the character of people who live according to excessive self-indulgence or temperance, Callicles asserts that we should take the metaphor for what it is at face value.
In conclusion, while Socrates and Callicles’ arguments regarding the leaky jar is grounded as an ad hominem directed at each of the two, it also presents the exact precarious position Socrates is in—his impeding death resulting from the use of his own philosophy in the public sphere. Living a life of temperance—living a life with a heart of a sound jar—has serious consequences for philosophers trying to handle themselves in society. In the case of the leaky jar metaphor, Callicles asserts that your desire for pleasure or pain—your character—does not dictate whether you are a good politician or an evil politician. In extension, a formidable politician is one that does not pursue and attain knowledge like a philosopher, but mobilizes it to make decisions like a rhetorician. As we read by the end of Gorgias, operating like a philosopher is what ultimately resulted in Socrates’ failure as a political figure and his death.