) is a Socratic dialogue
written by Plato
around 380 BC. The dialogue depicts a conversation between Socrates and a small group of sophists
(and other guests) at a dinner gathering. Socrates debates with the sophist seeking the true definition of rhetoric
, attempting to pinpoint the essence of rhetoric and unveil the flaws of the sophistic oratory
popular in Athens at the time. The art of persuasion was widely considered necessary for political and legal advantage in classical Athens
, and rhetoricians promoted themselves as teachers of this fundamental skill. Some, like Gorgias
, were foreigners attracted to Athens because of its reputation for intellectual and cultural sophistication. In the Gorgias
, Socrates argues that philosophy
is an art, whereas rhetoric is a skill based on mere experience. To Socrates, most rhetoric is in practice merely flattery. To use rhetoric for good, rhetoric cannot exist alone. It must depend on philosophy to guide its morality, he argues. Socrates therefore believes that morality is not inherent in rhetoric and that without philosophy, rhetoric is simply used to persuade for personal gain. Socrates suggests that he is one of the few Athenians to practice true politics (521d).
Socrates interrogates Gorgias to determine the true definition of rhetoric, framing his argument in the question format, "What is X?" (2). He asks, "…why don’t you tell us yourself what the craft you’re an expert in is, and hence what we’re supposed to call you?" (449e).
Throughout the remainder of the dialogue, Socrates debates about the nature of rhetoric. Socrates believes there are two types: "…one part of it would be flattery, I suppose, and shameful public harangue, while the other—that of getting the souls of the citizens to be as good as possible and of striving valiantly to say what is best, whether the audience will find it more pleasant or more unpleasant—is something admirable. But you’ve never seen this type of oratory…" (502e). Although rhetoric has the potential to be used justly, Socrates believes that in practice, rhetoric is flattery; the rhetorician makes the audience feel worthy because they can identify with the rhetorician’s argument.
Socrates and Polus debate whether rhetoric can be considered an art. Polus states that rhetoric is indeed a craft, but Socrates replies, "To tell you the truth, Polus, I don't think it's a craft at all" (462b). The dialogue continues:
"POLUS: So you think oratory's a knack?
SOCRATES: Yes, I do, unless you say it's something else.
This page was last edited on 17 June 2018, at 19:11.
under CC BY-SA license.