Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Eric Sanday


This dissertation argues that the substantial differences in Plato’s accounts of virtue in the Gorgias and Phaedrus are best understood as adjustments that Socrates makes in order to have the most pedagogically and ethically valuable impact on the different interlocutors (each of which represents universal type of person) with whom he speaks. While Plato has Socrates give arguments about virtue, love, happiness, and so on that are strong when taken on their own, he also depicts Socrates tailoring these arguments with the aim of persuading his interlocutors to pursue a more virtuous life. The central example I focus on is the key differences between Socrates’ accounts of moderation (sōphrosunē) in the two dialogues. In the Gorgias, Socrates’ discussion of moderation emphasizes the importance of restraining one’s own desires, because in that context, he speaks with Callicles, who argues that the key to happiness involves letting one’s desires grow as large as possible and constantly fulfilling them, regardless of how many laws one must violate to do so. It makes sense for Socrates to defend this notion of moderation as self-restraint to Callicles, since souls like him must first value and cultivate the civic virtue of self-restraint in order to transition toward the pursuit of genuine moderation. In the Phaedrus, by contrast, Socrates speaks with a very different interlocutor. Unlike Callicles, Phaedrus does not reject Socrates’ conception of virtue, but he has not yet committed himself to it either. He has philosophical talents and inclinations, but he also feels attracted to the average rhetorician's way of life. Given Phaedrus’ interests, talents, and openness to philosophy and virtue, Socrates criticizes the view that sōphrosunē is simply self-restraint, and he gives a richer, more multifaceted account of genuine sōphrosunē. He argues that this virtue is rooted in reverence and the activity of becoming like the divine in the context of a philosophical relationship and a philosophical life more broadly. Genuine sōphrosunē enhances our self-knowledge, our intimate relationships, our self-harmony, and it can provide illuminating insight into Being. Importantly, interpreting Plato’s dialogues from this perspective has contemporary relevance. My dissertation interprets Plato’s characters not only as his depictions of concrete persons (either real or fictional), but also as symbols for types of people who are common in both ancient and contemporary societies. In my view, the pedagogical dynamic between Socrates and his interlocutors mirrors the relationship between the dialogues themselves and their readers. That is, Plato constructs his discussions of virtue with the aim of pedagogically benefiting his readers, especially those who share at least some similarity with Socrates’ interlocutors.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)