RHETORIC THEN AND NOW
Great Books Discussions
1st Year: Semester 2
March 11, 2014
Gorgias, written by Plato at about 380 B.C., is a Socratic dialogue focusing mainly on the aspects of rhetoric, and how it is used. Socrates, the main speaker, is having discourse in Callicles’ home in Athens, Greece. Callicles was an Athenian political philosopher back in those ancient times. The main character of the discourse was Gorgias, who was a Sophist, which meant that he was a teacher of philosophy and rhetoric in Greece. In this dialogue, Socrates engages Gorgias in a discussion concerning rhetoric, and what its fundamental properties were, how it was used, and why. Gorgias’ view of rhetoric is that rhetoric in itself is used to persuade the multitude with the creation of belief and is spoken in civil courts of law as well as other assemblies. He said “How it is a great comfort not to have learned the other art, but the art of rhetoric only and yet to be in no way inferior to the professors of them.”1 On the other hand, Socrates’ view is that rhetoric is not art but merely flattery and persuading an ignorant audience that probably doesn't have full knowledge of the subject. Following Gorgias’ view would be detrimental because rhetoric is the artificer of persuasion. It makes people think that anything that the rhetorician says is true, and that is the rhetorician’s job. “Gorgias claims that rhetoric makes people not only capable of speaking, but also able to know (phronein) what they are speaking about. Gorgias seems to be claiming that he can teach phronesis, or practical wisdom.”2 This means he could instruct his pupils by means of persuasion and may not have to understand the foundation or basis of the subject, yet be more convincing than any who have profession in the subject. Therefore, it is unjust to for rhetorician to have influence on ordinary people and affect the trusts in their beliefs with rhetorical devices and lavish vocabulary. I tend to agree that Socrates’ view is right because it is seems that rhetoric just tricks others into persuasion. The rhetorician might not be truthful with his audience. He might fool the masses to believe something not morally just. He also speaks rhetorically not for the good of doing good, but because it pleasures his listeners which, in turn, benefits him. “In order to use rhetoric for good, rhetoric cannot exist alone; it must depend on philosophy to guide its morality. Socrates, therefore, believes that morality is not inherent in rhetoric and that without philosophy, rhetoric is simply used to persuade for personal gain.”1 If you want to convey a matter of any subject and persuade all those hearing, I believe you should be an authority on the subject and also have the intention of enlightening your audience. By doing this, you are doing something that can be considered virtuous. By this I mean that it is being done for the sake of perhaps actually educating an audience, of passing valid information and not for seeking the pleasure of impairing the beliefs of any person. You should be imparting nothing less than the truth. A lot of people in the modern world use rhetoric to converse with the public. Many presidents use it at elections to try to create belief in their points. At civil courts, it is used to convince the judge at trials. What is wrong with some of these? Their problem is that it is mostly misleading. A lot of times, it is used just to seek personal gain, to dumb down the truth or at times, just to sell another product which we can probably do without, just to make profit. If society in general accepted Gorgias’ approach to rhetoric, society would fall apart because no one would have a deeper understanding of anything. For instance, how about taking in the account of our present day culture? It seems as if people pay no heed to almost all sense of spiritual morality due to social media and advertising. In a way, advertising is linked to...
Bibliography: 1. “Gorgias (dialogue)”: Wikipedia (2011)
2. Barney, Rachel. “Gorgias ' defense: Plato and his opponents on rhetoric and the good.” PhilPapers. 2010
3. Plato. Gorgias. Edited by Robert Maynard Hutchins. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. William Benton, 1952.
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