Plato vs Isocrates

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Plato encouraged in his writings that the view that sophists were concerned with was “the manipulative aspects of how humans acquire knowledge.” (Lecture) Sophists believed that only provisional or probable knowledge was available to humans but both Plato and Isocrates did not agree with a lot of what the Sophists had to say. They both believed in wisdom and having a connection with rhetoric but vary in defining wisdom in itself. Wisdom for Socrates and Plato is having an understanding of speech, knowledge of truth and being able to question the speaker in order to seek and reveal truth. Isocrates defined wisdom as having a sense of integrity and character along with the ambition and ability to speak well with others.

Socrates said, “He who is to be a competent rhetorician need to have nothing at all to do, they say, with truth in considering things which are just or good […] whether by nature or by education.” (164) This statement shows that Socrates did believe that one who speaks must speak of truth, whether the speaker learned truth through education or through life experiences does not matter. Socrates wanted absolute truth and knowledge within speech and not all people speak in that way. He is claiming that wisdom is being able to recognize what is truth and not manipulation or flattery of words. That is what makes one wise: being able to see through persuasive and manipulative wording and language to find ultimate truth.

Socrates advises Phaedrus that someone that is wise needs certain things when interacting and speaking with others. Socrates’ said “[that] the student of rhetoric must, accordingly, acquire a proper knowledge […] and then be able to follow them accurately with these senses when he sees them in the practical affairs of life.”(163) This quote explains precisely how powerful language can be, so one must be able to recognize the truth in which people speak. Flattery and cookery of words can be used to make speech seem just or true. Socrates suggests that wise people can see through that cookery of language. He stated that “rhetoric in its entire nature [is] an art which leads the soul by means of words, not only in law courts and the various other public assemblages, but in private companies as well.” (157) This statement is also recognizing the power of language. By recognizing how powerful language can be, a wise person is able to control the way he is impacted by language and persuasion in which only the just and truthful speech can sway his soul. The soul of the wise does not want flattery to influence the mind, only truth and justice. ”The word which the wise speak must not be rejected, but we must see if they are right.” (156) Socrates is saying that the wise must question the speech, question the integrity and understand if the concept of the speech is just or not. The wise person can see through the persuasion by ways of questioning and understanding and that is how the Socratic method came in play. The Socratic method is a conversational “method employed in putting in question” (64) – thus reaching the truth. By asking question after question and receiving answers for those questions, it produces a gain of knowledge and truth, putting the persuasive language aside. Socrates “wished to present no arguments himself, but preferred to get a result from the material which the interlocutor has given him.” (64) Socrates asks questions to find the ultimate truth hidden within speeches and conversations. He believed that wisdom is understanding, knowledge and questioning. Through the chain of logic and reasoning of the Socratic method and having understanding of speech and knowledge of truth by questioning the speaker, is how wisdom and truth is revealed.

Plato and Socrates also believe language can be used to come to a solution when making difficult decisions. Rhetoric can be used for people who have truth and who distribute that truth to other people by ways of...
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