Plato's View of Rhetoric

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Plato's View of Rhetoric

By | April 2008
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Plato’s view of rhetoric—Ability and deception versus the genuine art Both written by the famous Greek philosopher Plato, Gorgias and Phaedrus share a recurring theme -- the discussion of the art of rhetoric. Through the discussions among Socrates, Gorgias, Chaerephon, and Polus in “Gorgias”; and Phaedrus and Socrates’ heated dialogue in Phaedrus, I noticed Plato’s favour towards the art of rhetoric and his disapproval against the deceptive rhetoricians. In this essay, I will explore Plato’s positive stance on rhetoric as an art and his disapproval towards the rhetoricians who, according to Plato, either lack the knowledge of identifying the truth, or are too obsessed with seeking pleasure instead of presenting the truth, and prove the argument that Plato thinks highly of rhetoric as an art, but this particular art is degraded by the incapability of the orators to carry out the art effectively.

To present my argument clearly, several terms need to be defined. Rhetoric “is one single art that governs all speaking” (Plato, Phaedrus 261E). To perfect the art of Rhetoric, one needs to master dialectic and oratory skills. Dialectic skills include the breaking up of arguments into smaller parts, making the contents clear and consistent, and building up the small bits into a whole argument again. Oratory skills incorporate the appeal towards the audience.

Many people argue that Plato is not in favour of rhetoric. Indeed, Plato spent large parts of his speeches criticizing rhetorical speakers. In Phaderus and Gorgias, Plato accused the rhetoricians for having two major faults in tainting the true art of rhetoric. They are: the deception they practice and the lack of understanding of the material and the audience. Deception is present mainly because of three things: Rhetoricians’ aim towards pleasure over truth, the difficulty to draw the line between two similar concepts, and the ignorance of the audience. An example to demonstrate the complexity of...
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