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Two Theories of Natural Justice in Plato’s Gorgias

  • Leo Catana EMAIL logo
From the journal Elenchos


In Plato’s Gorgias 482c4–484c3, Callicles advances a concept of natural justice: the laws of the polis must agree with nature, that is, human nature. Since human nature is characterised by its desire to get a greater share (pleon echein), nature itself makes it legitimate that stronger human beings get a greater share than weaker ones. Socrates objects: Callicles’ theoretical approach to civic life poses a threat to the polis’ community, its citizens, and to the friendship amongst its citizens. However, Socrates accepts Callicles’ premise, that the laws of the polis must agree with nature (again, human nature). Still, he disagrees with Callicles about the nature of human nature and proposes an alternative theory of human nature, eventually leading to his alternative concept of natural justice. The article explains the arguments underpinning these two concepts of natural justice, including the conflicting understandings of human nature.

Corresponding author: Leo Catana, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, E-mail:

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Published Online: 2021-11-29
Published in Print: 2021-12-20

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