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Short Reads: Punishment & Penalties

August 8, 2023 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm MDT

~ When we act unjustly (in whatever large or small ways), will we be happier and better off if we manage to escape from any punishment, or if we pay the penalty for our misdeeds? ~ 

About Our Short Reads

Our “Short Reads” evenings explore a focused philosophical argument or theme, by way of a short (4–6 page) paper.  During this month’s gathering, we’ll step through our paper together, using the theme of punishment and penalties as the focal point for a lively and interactive conversation.  

View & download this month’s paper by clicking here or on the image.

Participants are encouraged, but not required, to read through the paper in advance, to begin thinking about the topic before you arrive.  


Early in Plato’s Gorgias, one of Socrates’ interlocutors, named Polus, asserts that anyone able to rise to the heights of tyrannical power would be the happiest of human beings, provided that he were able to avoid paying any penalty for his acts of theft, violence, and the like.  Polus cites the case of Archelaus, who took absolute power in Macedonia by the simple expedient of murdering all those with a more legitimate claim to the throne, including a young boy whom he drowned in a well.

Socrates responds with an extended argument in three main parts.  First, he contends that acting unjustly is the greatest of evils—even worse than suffering injustice at the hands of others!  This is in explicit contrast with Polus’ claim that it’s only the prospect of punishment that makes acting unjustly bad for the person who performs those unjust acts.  Second, building on this, Socrates argues that once someone has acted unjustly, it is actually better for that person himself if he suffers punishment, “paying the penalty” for his unjust deeds rather than avoiding such consequences.  Finally, Socrates considers the value of the goods of the soul as compared to goods of the body or external possessions, in order to further corroborate the first two points, and make the case that paying the penalty for our unjust deeds is in fact one of the greatest human goods.

We’ll follow Socrates and Polus in examining each of these in turn.

When & Where

This short reads session led by David Nowakowski will take place in the Conference Center in Reeder’s Alley on Tuesday, August 8th from 6pm-8pm.


Dates: Tuesday, August 8th
Time: 6pm – 8pm MT
Where: 101 Reeder’s Alley (Conference Center)

Registration Info

RSVP: RSVP here!
Cost: Free (Donations Welcome)
Other: Water & Light Snack provided 

Read-In Facilitator

David Nowakowski is as a philosopher and educator in the Helena area whose professional work is dedicated to helping people of all ages and backgrounds access, understand, and apply the traditions of ancient philosophy to their own lives.  David began studying ancient philosophies and classical languages in 2001, and has continued ever since.  A scholar of the philosophical traditions of the ancient Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, and North Africa) and of the Indian subcontinent, reading Sanskrit, Latin, and classical Greek, he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 2014.  His work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, including Philosophy East & WestAsian Philosophy, and the Journal of Indian Philosophy, as well as in presentations to academic audiences at Harvard, Columbia University, the University of Toronto, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and elsewhere. 

After half a decade teaching at liberal arts colleges in the northeast, David chose to leave the academy in order to focus his energies on the transformative value of these ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions in his own life and practice, and on building new systems of education and community learning that will make this rich heritage alive and available to others.


Make a Donation Here

Our philosophy shorts and other activities are FREE to the community. While donations are never expected, they are always appreciated and help to keep programs like these going. Your tax-deductible donations help to cover honorariums, logistics, materials, implementation, resource archiving, and more! For those facing more challenging financial circumstances, we ask that you please try to “pay it forward” with acts of kindness for your neighbors and community.


August 8, 2023
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm MDT
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Reeder’s Alley Interpretive & Convention Center
101 Reeder's Alley
Helena, MT 59601 United States
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Marisa Diaz-Waian
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