Prudes, Perverts, and Tyrants

Prudes, Perverts, and Tyrants: Plato's Gorgias and the Politics of Shame

Christina H. Tarnopolsky
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rfv8
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  • Book Info
    Prudes, Perverts, and Tyrants
    Book Description:

    In recent years, most political theorists have agreed that shame shouldn't play any role in democratic politics because it threatens the mutual respect necessary for participation and deliberation. But Christina Tarnopolsky argues that not every kind of shame hurts democracy. In fact, she makes a powerful case that there is a form of shame essential to any critical, moderate, and self-reflexive democratic practice.

    Through a careful study of Plato'sGorgias, Tarnopolsky shows that contemporary conceptions of shame are far too narrow. For Plato, three kinds of shame and shaming practices were possible in democracies, and only one of these is similar to the form condemned by contemporary thinkers. Following Plato, Tarnopolsky develops an account of a different kind of shame, which she calls "respectful shame." This practice involves the painful but beneficial shaming of one's fellow citizens as part of the ongoing process of collective deliberation. And, as Tarnopolsky argues, this type of shame is just as important to contemporary democracy as it was to its ancient form.

    Tarnopolsky also challenges the view that theGorgiasinaugurates the problematic oppositions between emotion and reason, and rhetoric and philosophy. Instead, she shows that, for Plato, rationality and emotion belong together, and she argues that political science and democratic theory are impoverished when they relegate the study of emotions such as shame to other disciplines.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3506-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-26)

    Shame is a peculiar phenomenon. It has the potential to fracture our social ties in the very instance that it reveals them. It helps to establish the permeable and ever-unstable psychic boundary between the ‘self’ and the ‘other,’ both individual and collective, but it often does this in response to the painful awareness that this boundary has been unsettled or disrupted in some way.¹ Shame thus has a complex and ambiguous character. While it can function to help us negotiate our interactions with others in a decent and respectful manner, it can also cause us to turn away from such...

  6. Part One: Plato’s Gorgias and the Athenian Politics of Shame
    • Chapter One SHAME AND RHETORIC IN PLATO’S GORGIAS
      (pp. 29-55)

      Plato'sGorgiashas long been recognized as the most political of all of his dialogues prior to theRepublicbecause it contains an explicit discussion of a number of Athenian democratic practices and leaders, and because each of the characters in the dialogue highlights the importance of rhetoric, either by professing to teach it or by wishing to learn it so as to advance his career.¹ In the dialogue Socrates speaks with one of the most renowned practitioners and teachers of rhetoric in the late fifth century BC, Gorgias of Sicily, then with Gorgias’ Sicilian student Polus, and finally with...

    • Chapter Two SHAMING GORGIAS, POLUS, AND CALLICLES
      (pp. 56-88)

      In the last chapter, I argued that far from banishing rhetoric from theGorgias, Plato actually constructs a new and noble form of rhetoric that transcends while still preserving elements of Gorgias’ epideictic rhetoric and the Socratic shaming elenchus or political art of justice. I now want to turn to an examination of each of the three shaming refutations in theGorgiasin order to begin to articulate the peculiar character of a shame situation as well as the potentials and dangers that underlie this whole phenomenon. In other words, I want to show exactly what Plato learned about shame...

    • Chapter Three PLATO ON SHAME IN DEMOCRATIC ATHENS
      (pp. 89-113)

      In the last chapter I examined the role of shame (aischunē) in the Socratic elenchus primarily within the confines of the discussion that occurs between Socrates and his three interlocutors. But I have not addressed the ways in which Plato’s position on the salutary elements of Socrates’ shaming elenchus actually bears upon the practice of Athenian democratic politics. This is a grave oversight because, as I mentioned earlier in chapter 1, theGorgiasabounds with references to famous Athenian democratic leaders such as Themistocles, Cimon, Miltiades, and Pericles (Gorg.455e, 472b, 515e, 516d, 519a), and to specific democratic practices such...

    • Chapter Four SOCRATIC VS. PLATONIC SHAME
      (pp. 114-140)

      My account of shame in Plato’sGorgiasso far has focused on Socrates’ interaction with his interlocutors, both in terms of the ways in which some of their reactions to Socrates lead to what I have described as flattering shame, and the way in which Socrates’ shaming elenchus exemplifies a kind of Socratic respectful shame. I have said very little, however, about the relationship between Socrates and Plato on the issue of either flattering or Socratic respectful shame; and thus about what Plato might actually becriticizingabout Socrates by means of the drama in the dialogue. Shame may well...

  7. Part Two: Plato’s Gorgias and the Contemporary Politics of Shame
    • Chapter Five PRUDES, PERVERTS, AND TYRANTS: PLATO AND THE CONTEMPORARY POLITICS OF SHAME AND CIVILITY
      (pp. 143-171)

      In the previous four chapters, my discussion of shame has focused primarily on Plato’s dialogue theGorgias, and the three different politics of shame that are articulated therein: flattering, Socratic, and Platonic respectful shame. In this chapter I want to show how these three different politics of shame transcend their Athenian context, and can actually offer us helpful models for thinking about the contemporary politics of shame and civility. Specifically, I will show how Plato’s insights into the complex and ambiguous workings of shame can address some of the conceptual confusions and oversimplifications in many of the contemporary theories of...

    • Chapter Six WHAT’S SO NEGATIVE ABOUT THE “NEGATIVE” EMOTIONS?
      (pp. 172-196)

      In the last chapter I argued that a Platonic notion of respectful shame can offer us a model of civility that incorporates the kind of painful recognitions that are necessarily involved in trying to come to an agreement with others who may be quite different from ourselves. I also argued that this kind of agreement does not require the thick consensus or unitary background of shared values that are often presumed to be necessary for civility and that so often lead to a pernicious stigmatization of the other. In this chapter, I want to look at some of the other...

  8. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 197-210)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 211-218)