Discuss the main differences, based on the Gorgias, between rhetoric and dialogue. Which is best? Why?
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BOOK- Reading the World IDEAS THAT MATTER second edition.
ARTICLE – Plato frome Gorgias (380 BCE)
plato (circa 428-348 or 347 BCE), one of the greatest philosophers of the ancient world, came of age during an era of almost perpetual warfare. In 431 BEC, the peloponnesian War, between his native Athens and the militaristic city-state of Sparta, began. The war lasted for twenty-seven years, during which time Plato grew up in an aristocratic family and became a disciple of the Greek philosopher Socrates. When the war ended in Athens’s total defeat, the Athenian assembly tried and executed Socrates, who had been one of the war’s strongest critics. Officially, Socrates was charged with impiety and corrupting the young, but Plato felt that his mentor had been executed because he had spent years engaging the city’s people in conversations designed to unmask their foolishness and hypocrisy. Plato recorded Socrates’ trial in his Apology.
The war and Socrates’ execution affected Plato deeply; he saw both as fruits of Athens’s unwise government, in which an assembly of ordinary men made decisions that affected the entire state. Masterminded by a few very persuasive speakers who managed to build consensus within the assembly, these events made Plato especially suspicious of the art of rhetoric, which , he felt, focused on persuasion at the expense of truth. He believed that important questions should be decided by wise leaders and not be subjected to public debate and popular vote.
For Plato, the figures that symbolized rhetoric’s dangers were the Sophists, a group of teachers – most of them foreign – who had set up successful schools of rhetoric in Athens. Sophists often taught that the truth of a situation depended on one’s perspective, that any argument could be effective if presented well, and that “winning” a debate was more important than discovering the truth. All of these views were anathema to Plato, who believed that the most important thing in life was to discover the truth.
The Sicilian rhetorician Gorgias(circa 483- 376 BCE) was one of the most successful Sophists in Athens. His major discourse, On Nature or the Non-Existent, has not survived, but accounts indicate that it argued against the possibility of knowing, or communicating, anything.Although Plato’s dialogue Gorgias is a debate between Socrates and Gorgias about the relative merits of philosophy and rhetoric, such a conversation probably never occurred; Plato often expressed his ideas through fictional dialogues that echoed the kind of persistent questioning for which Socrates was famous. This format is especially apt for the Gorgias, in which Plato focuses on the ultimate purpose of dialogue.
Plato’s rhetorical strategy in Gorgias, as in most of his dialogues , in to place his own argument in Socrates’ mouth while summarizing his opponent’s argument in the person of Gorgias. This strategy can be very effective, but Plato has often been criticized for turning characters such as Gorgias into straw men for his own rhetorical ends.
Soc. And will you continue to ask and answer questions, Gorgias, as we are at present doing and reserve for another occasion the longer mode of speech which Polus was attempting? Will you keep your promise, and answer shortly the questions which are asked of you?
Soc. Very good then; as you profess to be a rhetorician, and a maker of rhetoricians, let me ask you, with what is rhetoric concerned: I might ask with what is weaving concerned, and you would reply (would you not?), with the making of garments?
Gor. Because, Socrates, the knowledge of the other arts has only to do with some sort of external action, as of the hand; but there is no such action of the hand in rhetoric which works and takes effect only through the medium of discourse. And therefore I am justified in saying that rhetoric treats of discourse.
Soc. As to the arts generally, they are for the most part concerned with doing, and require little or no speaking; in painting, and statuary, and many other arts, the work may proceed in silence; and of such arts I suppose you would say that they do not come within the province of rhetoric.
Soc. But there are other arts which work wholly through the medium of language, and require either no action or very little, as, for example, the arts of arithmetic, of calculation, of geometry, and of playing draughts; in some of these speech is pretty nearly co-extensive with action, but in most of them the verbal element is greater-they depend wholly on words for their efficacy and power: and I take your meaning to be that rhetoric is an art of this latter sort?
Soc. And yet I do not believe that you really mean to call any of these arts rhetoric; although the precise expression which you used was, that rhetoric is an art which works and takes effect only through the medium of discourse; and an adversary who wished to be captious might say, “And so, Gorgias, you call arithmetic rhetoric.” But I do not thinkthat you really call arithmetic rhetoric any more than geometry would be so called by you.
Soc. Well, then, let me now have the rest of my answer:-seeing that rhetoric is one of those arts which works mainly by the use of words, and there are other arts which also use words, tell me what is that quality in words with which rhetoric is concerned:-Suppose that a person asks me about some of the arts which I was mentioning just now; he might say, “Socrates, what is arithmetic?” and I should reply to him, as you replied to me, that arithmetic is one of those arts which take effect through words. And then he would proceed to ask: “Words about what?” and I should reply, Words about and even numbers, and how many there are of each. And if he asked again: “What is the art of calculation?” I should say, That also is one of the arts which is concerned wholly with words. And if he further said, “Concerned with what?” I should say, like the clerks in the assembly, “as aforesaid” of arithmetic, but with a difference, the difference being that the art of calculation considers not only the quantities of odd and even numbers, but also their numerical relations to themselves and to one another. And suppose, again, I were to say that astronomy is only word-he would ask, “Words about what, Socrates?” and I should answer, that astronomy tells us about the motions of the stars and sun and moon, and their relative swiftness.
Soc. And now let us have from you, Gorgias, the truth about rhetoric: which you would admit (would you not?) to be one of those arts which act always and fulfil all their ends through the medium of words?
Soc. That again, Gorgias is ambiguous; I am still in the dark: for which are the greatest and best of human things? I dare say that you have heard men singing at feasts the old drinking song, in which the singers enumerate the goods of life, first health, beauty next, thirdly, as the writer of the song says, wealth honesty obtained.
Soc. I mean to say, that the producers of those things which the author of the song praises, that is to say, the physician, the trainer, the money-maker, will at once come to you, and first the physician will say: “O Socrates, Gorgias is deceiving you, for my art is concerned with the greatest good of men and not his.” And when I ask, Who are you? hewill reply, “I am a physician.” What do you mean? I shall say. Do you mean that your art produces the greatest good? “Certainly,” he will answer, “for is not health the greatest good? What greater good can men have, Socrates?” And after him the trainer will come and say, “I too, Socrates, shall be greatly surprised if Gorgias can show more good of his art than I can show of mine.” To him again I shall say, Who are you, honest friend, and what is your business? “I am a trainer,” he will reply, “and my business is to make men beautiful and strong in body.” When I have done with the trainer, there arrives the money-maker, and he, as I expect, utterly despise them all. “Consider Socrates,” he will say, “whether Gorgias or any one-else can produce any greater good than wealth.” Well, you and I say to him, and are you a creator of wealth? “Yes,” he replies. And who are you? “A money-maker.” And do you consider wealth to be the greatest good of man? “Of course,” will be his reply. And we shall rejoin: Yes; but our friend Gorgias contends that his art produces a greater good than yours. And then he will be sure to go on and ask, “What good? Let Gorgias answer.” Now I want you, Gorgias, to imagine that this question is asked of you by them and by me; What is that which, as you say, is the greatest good of man, and of which you are the creator? Answer us.
Gor. What is there greater than the word which persuades the judges in the courts, or the senators in the council, or the citizens in the assembly, or at any other political meeting?-if you have the power of uttering this word, you will have the physician your slave, and the trainer your slave, and the money-maker of whom you talk will be foundto gather treasures, not for himself, but for you who are able to speak and to persuade the multitude.
Soc. Now I think, Gorgias, that you have very accurately explained what you conceive to be the art of rhetoric; and you mean to say, if I am not mistaken, that rhetoric is the artificer of persuasion, having this and no other business, and that this is her crown and end. Do you know any other effect of rhetoric over and above that of producingpersuasion?
Soc. Then hear me, Gorgias, for I am quite sure that if there ever was a man who-entered on the discussion of a matter from a pure love of knowing the truth, I am such a one, and I should say the same of you.
Soc. I will tell you: I am very well aware that do not know what, according to you, is the exact nature, or what are the topics of that persuasion of which you speak, and which is given by rhetoric; although I have a suspicion about both the one and the other. And I am going to ask-what is this power of persuasion which is given by rhetoric, and aboutwhat? But why, if I have a suspicion, do I ask instead of telling you? Not for your sake, but in order that the argument may proceed in such a manner as is most likely to set forth the truth. And I would have you observe, that I am right in asking this further question: If I asked, “What sort of a painter is Zeuxis?” and you said, “The painter of figures,” should I not be right in asking, What kind of figures, and where do you find them?”
Soc. Now I was it to know about rhetoric in the same way;-is rhetoric the only art which brings persuasion, or do other arts have the same effect? I mean to say-Does he who teaches anything persuade men of that which he teaches or not?
Soc. And if any one asks us what sort of persuasion, and about what,-we shall answer, persuasion which teaches the quantity of odd and even; and we shall be able to show that all the other arts of which we were just now speaking are artificers of persuasion, and of what sort, and about what.
Soc. Seeing, then, that not only rhetoric works by persuasion, but that other arts do the same, as in the case of the painter, a question has arisen which is a very fair one: Of what persuasion is rhetoric the artificer, and about what?-is not that a fair way of putting the question?
Soc. And that, Gorgias, was what I was suspecting to be your notion; yet I would not have you wonder if by-and-by I am found repeating a seemingly plain question; for I ask not in order to confute you, but as I was saying that the argument may proceed consecutively, and that we may not get the habit of anticipating and suspecting the meaning of one another’s words; I would have you develop your own views in your own way, whatever may be your hypothesis.
Soc. And your judgment is right, as you may ascertain in this way:-If a person were to say to you, “Is there, Gorgias, a false belief as well as a true?” -you would reply, if I am not mistaken, that there is.
Soc. And which sort of persuasion does rhetoric create in courts of law and other assemblies about the just and unjust, the sort of persuasion which gives belief without knowledge, or that which gives knowledge?
Soc. And the rhetorician does not instruct the courts of law or other assemblies about things just and unjust, but he creates belief about them; for no one can be supposed to instruct such a vast multitude about such high matters in a short time?
Soc. Come, then, and let us see what we really mean about rhetoric; for I do not know what my own meaning is as yet. When the assembly meets to elect a physician or a shipwright or any other craftsman, will the rhetorician be taken into counsel? Surely not. For at every election he ought to be chosen who is most skilled; and, again, when walls have to be built or harbours or docks to be constructed, not the rhetorician but the master workman will advise; or when generals have to be chosen and an order of battle arranged, or a proposition taken, then the military will advise and not the rhetoricians: what do you say, Gorgias? Since you profess to be a rhetorician and a maker of rhetoricians, I cannot do better than learn the nature of your art from you. And here let me assure you that I have your interest in view as well as my own. For likely enoughsome one or other of the young men present might desire to become your pupil, and in fact I see some, and a good many too, who have this wish, but they would be too modest to question you. And therefore when you are interrogated by me, I would have you imagine that you are interrogated by them. “What is the use of coming to you, Gorgias? they will say about what will you teach us to advise the state?-about the just and unjust only, or about those other things also which Socrates has just mentioned? How will you answer them?
Gor. I like your way of leading us on, Socrates, and I will endeavour to reveal to you the whole nature of rhetoric. You must have heard, I think, that the docks and the walls of the Athenians and the plan of the harbour were devised in accordance with the counsels, partly of Themistocles, and partly of Pericles, and not at the suggestion of thebuilders.
Gor. A marvel, indeed, Socrates, if you only knew how rhetoric comprehends and holds under her sway all the inferior arts. Let me offer you a striking example of this. On several occasions I have been with my brother Herodicus or some other physician to see one of his patients, who would not allow the physician to give him medicine, or apply a knife or hot iron to him; and I have persuaded him to do for me what he would not do for the physician just by the use of rhetoric. And I say that if a rhetorician and a physician were to go to any city, and had there to argue in the Ecclesia or any other assembly as to which of them should be elected state-physician, the physician would have no chance; but he who could speak would be chosen if he wished; and in a contest with a man of any other profession the rhetorician more than any one would have the power of getting himself chosen, for he can speak more persuasively to the multitude than any of them, and on any subject. Such is the nature and power of the art of rhetoric And yet, Socrates, rhetoric should be used like any other competitive art, not against everybody-the rhetorician ought not to abuse his strength any more than a pugilist or pancratiast or other master of fence; because he has powers which are more than a match either for friend or enemy, he ought not therefore to strike, stab, or slay his friends. Suppose a man to have been trained in the palestra and to be a skilful boxer-he in the fulness of his strength goes and strikes his father or mother or one of his familiars or friends; but that is no reason why the trainers or fencing-masters should be held in detestation or banished from the city-surely not. For they taught their art for a good purpose, to be used against enemies and evil-doers, in self-defence not in aggression, and others have perverted their instructions, and turned to a bad use their own strength and skill. But not on this account are the teachers bad, neither is the art in fault, or bad in itself; I should rather say that those who make a bad use of the art are to blame. And the same argument holds good of rhetoric; for the rhetorician can speak against all men and upon any subject-in short, he can persuade the multitude better than any other man of anything which he pleases, but he should not therefore seek to defraud the physician or any other artist of his reputation merely because he has the power; he ought to use rhetoric fairly, as he would also use his athletic powers. And if after having become a rhetorician he makes a bad use of his strength and skill, his instructor surely ought not on that account to be held in detestation or banished. For he was intended by his teacher to make a good use of his instructions, but he abuses them. And therefore he is the person who ought to be held in detestation, banished, and put to death, and not his instructor.
Soc. You, Gorgias, like myself, have had great experience of disputations, and you must have observed, I think, that they do not always terminate in mutual edification, or in the definition by either party of the subjects which they are discussing; but disagreements are apt to arise-somebody says that another has not spoken truly or clearly; and then they get into a passion and begin to quarrel, both parties conceiving that their opponents are arguing from personal feeling only and jealousy of themselves, not from any interest in the question at issue. And sometimes they will go on abusing one another until the company at last are quite vexed at themselves for ever listening to such fellows. Why do I say this? Why, because I cannot help feeling that you are now saying what is not quite consistent or accordant with what you were saying at first about rhetoric. And I am afraid to point this out to you, lest you should think that I have some animosity against you, and that I speak, not for the sake of discovering the truth, but from jealousy of you. Now if you are one of my sort, I should like to cross-examine you, but if not I will let you alone. And what is my sort? you will ask. I am one of those who are very willing to be refuted if I say anything which is not true, and very willing to refute any one else who says what is not true, and quite as ready to be refuted as to refute-I for I hold that this is the greater gain of the two, just as the gain is greater of being cured of a very great evil than of curing another. For I imagine that there is no evil which a man can endure so great as an erroneous opinion about the matters of which we are speaking and if you claim to be one of my sort, let us have the discussion out, but if you would rather have done, no matter-let us make an end of it.