By Erich Freiberger

Erich Freiberger, Jacksonville University

Disposition to perversions of every kind is a fundamental human characteristic.

Three Essays on Sexuality (Freud, 1905: 191)


Perversion. What could it possibly have to do with philosophy and the pursuit of truth? But what if we were to call it by one of its ancient names—tyranny? Or even sophistry? What might we say about it then? As Jonathan Lear has pointed out, what is at issue in both Platonic philosophy and psychoanalysis is an account of psychic structure, a logic of the soul.1 Where psychoanalysis distinguishes the Hysteric, the Obsessional, the Pervert and the Psychotic (and possibly also phobic) structures of desire, Plato’s political philosophy similarly distinguishes four or five character types which correspond to political constitutions, which are also defined by their desire: Kingship or Aristocracy, Timocracy, the Oligarchy, Democracy2 and finally, Tyranny3—to which no constitution corresponds in as much as it is principally marked by lawlessness.4 Indeed, Lear even remarks that Plato “can be credited with the invention of psyche-analysis, at least in the sense of being the first to give a systematic account of a structured psyche.”5 My goal here, however, is not to draw out Plato’s account of psychic structure in general, but to point out a parallel between the psychoanalytic conception of perverse structure and Plato’s portrait of the sophist in the Republic, and to explore some of its implications. What I propose is that tyranny (or rather the desire to be tyrant and rule over others without limit) which is promoted and even made into a fetish by the sophist Thrasymachus in Book I of the Republic, is the ancient name of what psychoanalysis calls perversion. Just as the pervert acts to “bring the law into being,”6 because he desires a more durable, natural law that is not lacking in any way, the sophist also tries to bring a sham version of the law into being in order to demonstrate the inferiority of the conventional conception of justice because he perceives its lack of foundation. His need to make a speech7 that persuades others is, in effect, a kind of demonstration—and like the demonstration of the pervert it requires the others and their beliefs if it is to achieve its effect.

Reading sophistry through perversion sheds new light on Plato that should work as a healthy corrective to both the psychoanalytic tendency to dismiss philosophy as a university discourse in service of mastery as well as the philosophic tendency to reject in advance any claim that psychoanalysis might have anything to do with philosophy. As Lear has remarked, too often philosophy and psychoanalysis have dismissed one another through “symbolic murders” in which a single statement or position is used to dismiss any possible similarity in advance. “Each profession [has] thus worked actively to assure itself it was alright” to remain ignorant of the other, “indeed, one ought to remain ignorant. All in the name of maintaining high standards. Lear, 4-5.[/note] Such prejudices on both sides have effectively prevented an appropriate understanding of what is at stake in Plato, beyond the traditional interpretation embraced by Nietzsche and the bulk of contemporary continental philosophy, which effectively reduces Plato to Platonist metaphysics.

In what follows I propose there is a tension between Plato’s ostensibly metaphysical doctrines and his strikingly dramatic representation of the Philosophical life, and it is my hope that this paper will suggest the possibility of approaching that tension from a new direction by showing that Plato is more engaged in understanding and working through the implications of what psychoanalysis calls the lack in the law (or the lack in signifier—a Lacanian notion which names the law’s lack of foundation) than with the elaboration of the metaphysical doctrines of which he is said to be the author. After establishing that Plato’s portrait of the sophist exhibits the same structure as perverse disavowal (Verleugnung), I briefly consider what this similar structure implies for Plato’s assessment of philosophy and politics.

The Psychoanalytic Conception of Perversion

To grasp how perversion is similar to sophistry, we must first consider how psychoanalysis defines perversion. Let us begin by recalling that for Freud all human sexuality is tinged with perversion in as much as human sexuality begins with the infant’s “polymorphously perverse disposition,”8 which is normatively shaped and molded by passing through the Oedipus complex. For Freud, the pervert is someone who has only partially passed through the castration complex, and has not made it through the sexually normalizing passage through the Oedipus complex. Consider Freud’s account of infantile sexuality.9 Confronted by the enigma of sexual difference, the little boy interprets the anatomical difference between the sexes as evidence that the girl’s penis has been cut off. For the little boy, it is a sign that the father has made good on his castration threat to punish the son’s nascent sexual activities. For the girl it is a wrong she has suffered for which she must compensate. So, for the boy there is castration anxiety; for the girl the infamous penis envy. According to this account, which is written from the perspective of the child’s attempt to explain the enigma of sexual difference,10 there is only maleness because absence cannot be represented in the unconscious. The child, in other words, cannot represent lack. It can only interpret femininity as the absence of a phallus, or penis, which the child speculates must have been cut off, or otherwise lost as a result of the paternal threat.

Freud postulates that the pervert both sees and subsequently disavows this absence of the maternal phallus.11 Indeed, the fact that he denies this absence is evidence that he sees it, for wanting to see something again is only possible on the basis of having seen.12 In other words, having first glimpsed that mother lacks a penis, the little boy wants to look again to prove that she does have one and to disavow her lack. This disavowal of what he has actually seen is a way of dealing with castration anxiety before the fact, by completely avoiding it, and represents a regression from the genital phase. Rather than restricting his nascent pursuit of sexual pleasure, the pervert will do almost anything to continue it, to the point of disavowing what he has clearly seen in a splitting of consciousness that is similar to that which occurs in repression. Thus, the pervert is someone whose sexual activity is not normalized by the Oedipus complex.

In “Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence” Freud says the usual result of castration threat, the normal one, is that boy gives way to this threat and surrenders his pleasure. The less common result is to create a substitute penis, and thus disavow reality—in a state in which he preserves his pleasure and his penis from the threat that is ascribed to the father. His calm is thus bought at the price of his disavowal:

So long as he was not obliged to acknowledge that females have lost their penis, there was no need for him to believe the threat had been made against him: he need have no fear for his own penis, so he could proceed with his masturbation undisturbed.13

Fetishism, which is in many ways emblematic of perversion,14 seizes upon some proximate association to provide a substitute for this missing maternal penis, which comes to have all the power of the missing organ. The pervert’s fetish and his disavowal function together to guarantee that the world is already full, replete with pleasure. Their function is to ensure the fetishist that his enjoyment can continue unabated and unhindered by any paternal threat of castration. His fetish is endowed with a magical power of ensuring the fetishist that there is no lack in the world and the paternal threat is ineffectual and untrue so that pleasure can continue without end. This accounts for the monstrous excess in the works of Sade—the whole point is to show that enjoyment never needs to stop, but constitutes its own law,15 which is more stable and enduring, and thus, more truly law, than the conventional, normative law it subverts.

The difficulty with Freud’s account is that he tends to equivocate between penis and phallus.16 A Lacanian approach dispels this confusion by clearly distinguishing between the domain of desire and that of physiology. Whereas Freud tends to use penis and phallus almost interchangeably, “for Lacan, the phallus represents for the child the signifier of the Mother’s desire with which the child attempts to identify.”17 Thus, Freud’s account of disavowing the sight of the maternal penis can be reinterpreted on the order of desire as a disavowal of the mother’s lack—e.g., as an inability to represent the Mother’s desire for anything other than or beyond the child itself, who attempts to incarnate her desired object. Thus, disavowal is a failure on the part of the child to symbolize adequately anything beyond the desire of the Mother. But for the child to see itself as the privileged object that fills the Mother’s lack necessarily implies that the child knows something about the order of law, which mediates the lack it proposes to fill. In other words, inasmuch as the child seeks to fill the maternal lack, it necessarily encounters the paternal law, which would require it to give up position of being the exclusive object of maternal jouissance. Thus the child is confronted by an obstacle and comes up with an ingenious solution, which permits it to continue its masturbatory pleasure. Rather than accepting the inevitable castrating force of law, the child disavows the notion that the Other is lacking, disputes the validity of the law of the father and denigrates it by promoting the idea that there is no genuine law apart form the law of enjoyment.18

The crucial point is that this law of jouissance, which the pervert promotes, is itself based on a prior acknowledgement and subsequent disavowal of the lack in the paternal law, which demands that the child give up this enjoyment. Having partially acceded to the paternal law, but without traversing the Oedipus complex, the pervert is torn between a desire for there to be law on the one hand, and the jouissance of the all powerful other from whom the pervert seeks protection on the other. The solution to this dilemma is a demonstration in which this jouissance of the other (that the pervert equates with the lack in the Other that is disavowed) is shown as filled, because nothing can be lacking according to nature. Thus, the pervert’s goal is to shift the threatening jouissance of which the other enjoys in him onto a natural foundation, which would bring a law into being that would not deceive and upon which he could depend and rely. He does this by staging a demonstration, which usurps the father’s law and the lack it imposes, showing both to be a sham in order to realize the triumph of the more natural law of enjoyment.

Thrasymachus’ arguments in praise of the life of the tyrant, and his subsequent reversal of the conventional law in book I of The Republic show the sophist to be caught up in just such a strategy perverse of demonstration. If the sophist praises the life of the tyrant as supremely just, it is because the tyrant is the one who is exempt and excepted from the rule of law, and the demonstration of the imagined superiority of this exemption is the sophist’s principal aim. He achieves this by persuading others that the unjust law of tyranny is naturally better, and hence, more truly law than conventional law (nomos). But this reversal can only work by appealing to the conventional standards of justice from which the unjust life of the tyrant is the exception.19

The Dutch analyst Paul Verhaeghe makes a similar point about how the pervert relates to conventional authority in his recent book On Being Normal and Other Disorders:

Disavowal is not restricted to the sexual relationship. It determines the pervert’s entire relation to the Others of sexual difference and of authority. In the pervert’s own world there is no lack and its own laws are imposed on the Other. In the conventional world, the law will apparently be followed, that is to say, the pervert acts on the assumption that others will follow the conventional rules, and he or she will make full use of this knowledge.20

Like the pervert, the sophist wants to claim that nature is superior to conventional law (that physis is superior to nomos) but this can only be demonstrated through a backhanded admission of the superiority of the conventional view of justice (e.g., of nomos), which everyone publicly professes. Thus, Thrasymachus says “What if I show you a different answer about Justice than all of these— and a better one? What would you deserve then?”21 After presenting this answer—“Listen, then, I say that justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger. Well, why don’t you praise me?” (338c)—he perversely tries to persuade the others of its truth by appealing to their desire to exempt themselves from the law and by showing the law to be without any external incentive which would justify it: “you must look at it as follows, my most simple Socrates: a just man gets less than an unjust one.”22 Thus, as Aristotle says in the Rhetoric, the sophist depends on the fact that “men appeal to one thing openly, and another in their secret thoughts.”23 And he exploits this fact to demonstrate that the law to which the others submit is a sham.

But if every law has an exception, this does not mean that every exception necessarily constitutes a law. For the sophist’s exception to be able to replace the law would require the validity of justice to be initially perceived by the sophist, but its force to be subsequently denied or disavowed. In other words, it would require that justice be something initially desired, but subsequently rejected as ineffectual, and therefore worthy of disdain.

In the Republic, this theme of initial interest followed by disaffection is echoed and intensified in the challenge Glaucon poses to Socrates at the beginning of Book II where he is asked to show that the life of the just man is superior to the life of the unjust man, even if it has no external rewards.24 The discussion is of interest to those present precisely because they are potentially in this same position of becoming similarly disaffected, and persuaded that the life of injustice is better than justice. Plato begins his dialogue on justice with the portrayal of this discussion (and the psychic structure or attitude it reveals), because the souls of those listening to this conversation, like the souls of those who read the dialogue, are potentially at risk of being persuaded that the advantages of the life of the unjust man show it to be preferable to the life of the just man. Thrasymachus’ character and his argument say something fundamental about our political and ethical situation, and our relation to law, that frames the subsequent discussion and exhibits the ethical choices made by the participants. In as much as justice is without visible reward and has no external incentives Thrasymachus expresses the fundamental challenge that must be overturned if law is to be justified, and the reason for obeying the law is to be explained. As such, his attitude, which celebrates the life of the tyrant, marks the limits of the political because it marks the point where persuasion ceases and coercion begins.

But let us look more closely at what Thrasymachus’ position or attitude involves. It is not a question of simply asserting the natural superiority of Tyranny; the sophist goes a step further, and tries to demonstrate that this superiority is just as well (i.e., he tries to show that physis, or nature, should become nomos, or conventional law); and in a way that actually avows and depends upon the force of the very conventional conception of justice that his disavowal denies. What the sophist wants is for his “better answer” about justice to be agreed upon by all as a natural standard that would (perversely) also be accepted by everyone and have the force of conventional justice. His demonstration requires the collusion of the crowd. If he could persuade the crowd that the conventional definition of justice should be “the advantage of the stronger” by appealing to their secret wish to exempt themselves from the law (a wish which can be equated with the neurotic’s fascination with the pervert, and his fantasy that the pervert has access to an unlimited jouissance), then his demonstration of the ineptitude of conventional law would, for a time, succeed.

The irony in this position is that the sophist demonstrates the very thing he finds most intolerable: the lack in the law, viz., its lack of any defensible foundation inasmuch as it shows that the just life lacks external incentives. It is this insight into the lack in the law that forms the “basis” or introduction for Glaucon’s call for Socrates to defend the life of the just man in Book II.

What I am proposing is that Plato’s portrait of sophistic disavowal is tantamount to the analytic insight into the lack in the signifier—or the structural absence of foundation of the law that the Lacanian analyst Willy Appollon has called the Infonde, or the unfounded aspect of the symbolic law’s representation of authority.25 Indeed, Appollon also makes the point that the social representation of authority is “grounded” on and conceals this groundlessness: “It is on the ground of such a lack that any society has to build the representation of its authority, as a solution to the void and the emptiness men and women face when they confront the absence in the signifier.”26 Plato uses the sophist’s disavowal of the law’s lack of foundation in a similar way to show that the just life is without any external foundation. Whatever its force, our motive for adhering to the law can never be a question of incentives, and this is what the philosopher learns from the sophist’s disavowal.

In an essay entitled “La femininite: D’une complicte a la perversion a une ethique de l’impossible,” Lucie Cantin, an analyst who works with Apollon at GIFRIC27 says something similar about the pervert’s grasp of the law’s lack of foundation that applies equally well to the sophist:

Le pervers s’en tient donc à l’absence de fondement de l’ordre symbolique, à la dimension rompeuse et arbitraire de l’ordre du signifiant pour fair apparaitre que la perte de jouissance impose au nom de cet ordre, est non seulement injustifiable, mai qu’elle a pour fonction de recouvrir et de refouler le defaut même du significant (the pervert thus limits himself to the lack of foundation of the symbolic order, to the deceptive and arbitrary order of the signifier, to make manifest that the loss of jouissance imposed in the name of that order is not only unjustifiable, but that it has the function of covering over and repressing that very lack in the signifier.28

In other words, for the sophist and pervert alike, anyone who surrenders jouissance to the conventional law is simply a dupe, for that very surrender is simply designed to cover over the law’s lack of foundation. Plato beings his dialogue on justice with this challenge for by revealing the lack in the law it dramatically portrays the motive for the inquiry that Republic undertakes.

Socrates’ response to this challenge, in the sequel of the dialogue, is to show a different stragegy of dealing with this lack, a strategy that resotres the lack to its proper place by making loss and lack into the very principle of his response by proposing what is lacking as the objecdt of a perpetual inquiry. If the sophist perceives the law’s lack of foundation and tries to fill it with something more stable, the philosopher grasps this lack of foundation, too, but he tries to keep it open and maintain an awareness of its effects. He seeks to reverse the effects of the sophist’s occlusion of the lack in the law, by inviting his interlocutors to a task of a continual inquiry that keeps what is lacking constantly in view. The philosopher thus inaugurates a search into the possibility of a different kind of “natural” standard for political life beyond both the conventional law of the city (in which cultural norms are in a state of crisis, and badly in need of shoring up), and the sham “law of nature” that is promoted by the sophist and the so-called “political realist” alike.29 But to articulate this standard, the philosopher, like the analyst, must grasp what the sophist knows, and oppose the confusion he promotes. As Cantin says, “the pervert confuses the loss of enjoyment required by the law, and the structural lack introduced by language” to propose there need be no loss of enjoyment.30 The same can be said of the sophist. What this similarity suggest is that Socrates treats the confusion between these two lacks—the limitation of enjoyment (or castration) demanded by the law and the structural lack mediated by language—by mercilessly submitting Thrasymachus to the logical order of language through an elenchus (e.g., a refutation) that reverses his sophistic reversal of the conventional law.31

While speaking to Glaucon of the difference between Thrasymachus’ style of public speaking and his own, Socrates characterizes this lack in language as the difference between seeking agreement and persuading a jury:

“Did you hear all the good things Thrasymachus listed a moment ago for the unjust life?” Glaucon: I heard but I wasn’t persuaded.” Socrates: “Do you want us to persuade him, if we’re able to find a way, that what he says isn’t true? Glaucon: “Of course I do.” Socrates: If we oppose him with a parallel speech about the blessings of the just life, and then he replies, and then we do, we’d have to count and measure the good things mentioned on each side, and we’d need a jury to decide the case. But if, on the other hand, we investigate the question, as we’ve been doing, by seeking agreement with each other, we ourselves can be both jury and advocates at once.”32

If it is a question of speeches, then one can only add up incentives, or “the good things on each side” but if it is a matter of an investigation in which both parties are willing to test their statements according to the rule of logic, then a path is opened towards a standard beyond any external incentive. Incentives may hold sway in the realm of speeches, but the realm of persuasion is ruled by a higher standard which makes it possible for one to advocate for justice while simultaneously deciding on the validity of one’s argument “by seeking agreement.” In other words, Socrates uses “the structural lack in language” to reverse Thrasymachus’ reversal of the conventional law in order to uncover the lack of foundation that Thrasymachus’ disavowal tries to conceal. What he reveals again through this reversal is that persuasion and mutual investigation into this lack of round are the only possible standards of political life, short of the tyrannical force Thrasymachus advocates.

For the reader of the dialogue this Socratic treatment of Thrasymachus opens up a path to an un-imageable third, beyond the dyadic, imaginary opposition: rule or be ruled that determines both positions. By evoking the law’s lack of foundation at the same instant it tries to fill it, the argument of the sophist becomes emblematic of the political problem—the problem of ruling and being ruled—as such, and this is what makes it a fitting introduction to a book about Justice.


Works Cited

Apollon, Willy. “A Lasting Heresy, The Failure of Political Desire” in Lacan, Politics and Aesthetics. Ed. Willy Apollon and Richard Feldstein. New York: SUNY P, 1996.

Aristotle. The Rhetoric of Aristotle. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1960.
Cantin, Lucie. “La féminité: D’une complicité a la perversion à une éthique de l’impossible.” Savoir:

Psychanalyse et analyse culturelle (2: 1 et 2): mai 1995.
Feher-Gurewich, Judith. “Perversion” in The Cambridge Companion to Lacan. Ed. Jean-Michel Rabaté.

Cambrige: Cambridge UP, 2003.

Fink, Bruce. A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1997.

Freud, Sigmund. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth, 1961.

Jurainville, Alain. Lacan et la Philosophie. Paris: Quadrige, Presse Universitaires de France, 1984. Learn, Jonathan. Open Minded: Working out the Logic ofthe Soul. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998. Plato, Republic. Tr. G.M.A. Grube. New York: Hackett, 1992.

Verhaeghe, Paul. On Being Normal and Other Disorders: A Manual for Clinical Diagnostics. New York: Other P, 2004.






  1. Jonathan Lear, Open Minded: Working out the Logic of the Soul (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998), 9, 58.
  2. Plato, Republic, tr. G.M.A. Grube (New York: Hackett, 1992), 544d-545d.
  3. Ibid, 571a.
  4. Ibid, 571a, 572e and following.
  5. Lear, 58.
  6. Bruce Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1997), 165.
  7. Republic, 343b-344e, and 350e.
  8. Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 7:125-244 (London: Hogarth, 1961), 171.
  9. S.E. 7, 195.
  10. Sigmund Freud, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis 1938 [1940]a, Standard Edition 23:141-207 (London: Hogarth Pr, 1961), 188.
  11. Sigmund Freud, “Fetishism” (1927), Standard Edition 21:149-157 (London, Hogarth Pr, 1961), 154.
  12. Alain Jurainville, Lacan et la Philosophie (Paris: Quadrige, Presse Universitaires de France, 1984), 264.
  13. Sigmund Freud, Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defense (1940 [1938])b. Standard Edition 23:273-278 (London: Hogarth, 1961), 277.
  14. In An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, Freud tells us fetishism is not an exceptional case of the splitting of the ego, just a favorable case for studying it (Freud, 1938 [1940]a: 203).
  15. Jurainville, 259.
  16. In “Fetishism,” for instance, first he says the fetish is a substitute for the penis (Freud, 1927: 153). Then he says it is a perception of the lack of a penis, and then he says that disavowal is a preservation of the belief in the maternal phallus in spite of the child’s observation of its absence (Freud, 1927: 152). Although Freud appears to be trying to reserve the word “phallus” for the imaginary substitute for the missing penis, his tendency to slip from one term to the other promotes possible confusion between the domain of physiology and the domain of desire.
  17. Judith Feher-Gurewich, “Perversion,” The Cambridge Companion to Lacan, ed. Jean-Michel Rabaté, (Cambrige: Cambridge UP, 2003), 195.
  18. Jurainville, 259.
  19. Aristotle’s Rhetoric treats this relation to convention as one of the topoi (e.g., places, regions or lines of argument) for which the skilled rhetorician can employ stock arguments: “Another topos comes from the fact that men appeal to one thing openly, and another in their secret thoughts. In public they make a great show of praising what is just or noble; but inwardly they prefer what is to their own advantage. From the premise of your opponent you must try to draw the inference he does not. (If he assumes a moral tone you appeal to the inward self-interest of the audience. If he assumes that men act from self-interest of the audience; if he assumes that men act from self-interest alone, you appeal to the motives of justice and nobility that they openly profess.) No other topos of paradox is as effective as this.” (Aristotle, 1960: 167).
  20. Paul Verhaeghe, On Being Normal and Other Disorders: A Manual for Clinical Diagnostics, (New York: Other P, 2004), 412.
  21. Republic, 337d.
  22. Republic, 343d.
  23. Aristotle, The Rhetoric of Aristotle (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1960), 167.
  24. Republic, 357a-362d.
  25. Willy Apollon, “A Lasting Heresy, The Failure of Political Desire,” Lacan, Politics and Aesthetics, ed. Apollon and Feldman (New York: SUNY P, 1966), 35.
  26. Ibid, 35.
  27. Groupes interdisciplinaire freudien de recherche et d’interventions cliniques et culturelles in Quebec. GIFRIC is an analytic organization that is best known for its success in working out a detailed program for the psychoanalytic treatment of psychotics.
  28. Lucie Cantin, “La féminité: D’une complicité a la perversion à une éthique de l’impossible,” Savoir: Psychanalyse et analyse culturelle (Vol. 2, nos 1 et 2, mai 1995), 54, my translation.
  29. Because the sophist and the philosopher both propose to fill the law’s lack of foundation (the sophist with a “better law” that fetishizes tyranny, and the philosopher with the forms), from a psychoanalytic perspective both responses suggest that philosophy exhibits a perverse structure. The difference between the two of course is goal of the philosophic discourse, which is the reverse of sophistry. In spite of this difference of strategy, however, the structural problem they solve is the same. Where sophistry and perversion conceal the lack in a way that exploits the gullibility of others, philosophy makes it into a puzzle that engages the interlocutor and the nascent philosophical reader in a seemingly endless task of inquiry and the improvement of oneself and one’s fellow citizens. If we get over our conventional offense at the notion that such a noble enterprise as philosophy could be implicated in something as apparently base as a “perverse structure” and take seriously the Lacanian notion that to say one possesses a structure of desire says nothing about the nature of one’s ethical choice (indeed, for Lacanians it is perfectly intelligible to speak of a perverse desire which is wholly ethical), then one finds that philosophy, as Plato proposes it, is indeed a perverse discourse to the extent traps the reader in this perpetual task (in a way that constrains him to adopt Plato’s own “better answer” about justice). This trap, however, is a sublime one that reverses the ill effects of the sophist’s discourse on the souls of those who hear it by countering it with the therapeutic discourse of philosophy. If the discourse of the sophist conceals the lack in a way that makes those who hear it worse, the philosopher’s discourse reveals itself to be a sublimated sophistry, which reverses this effect. Like the sophist, Socrates also relies upon and exploits his interlocutors’ beliefs, but he does so in a way that educates them and prepares them (or prepares the reader at least) to deal with the insight that the law is without any genuine foundation. By using an indirect strategy to provoke this engagement, Socratic conversation in the Republic (and Plato’s writing in general) uses the sophist’s tricks to reverse the effect of the sophist’s discourse on the soul of his listeners. On this interpretation, the Philosopher” would essentially be the “sophist of noble lineage” described in the Sophist (231b), in as much as he practices a sublimated form of sophistry that purifies.
  30. Cantin, 59, my translation.
  31. Cf. Thrasymachus’ long speech at 344a-344d. He claims complete injustice is more advantageous than justice. The claim is repeated again at 348c, and then at 348e he says that injustice is to be classed with virtue and wisdom and justice with their opposites.
  32. Republic, 348a-b.

Erich Freiberger

Erich Freiberger is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Jacksonville University. He has a long- standing interest in the relation between psychoanalysis and Socratic ethics and he has published a number of articles exploring the points of contact between psychoanalysis and philosophy that address thinkers as diverse as Plato, Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Spinoza, Sartre, and Heidegger. He is a regular participant in the GIFRIC (Groupe Interdisciplinaire Freudien de Recherches et d’Interventions Cliniques et Culturelles) Clinical Seminar for English speakers in Quebec City, and he is currently working on a book that shows how Lacan’s central categories emerge as a precise response to the existential psychoanalysis Sartre proposes in Being and Nothingness. [email protected]