Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Rhetoric, Philosophy, Plato, Life, Power, Education, Socrates, Knowledge

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/14

During the Greek classical period, having the skill to speak cleverly was an essential tool to possess. Clear speech was an important tool for individuals. The sophists possessed this skill and rhetoric teaching was essential in their search for knowledge and democracy. Gorgias takes a look into the nature of rhetoric and touches on issues such power, justice and art. Plato’s own positions on the issues are represented through Socrates, who was his teacher and as usual with Plato, he aimed at underlining his definition of respectable and most acceptable human life.
The first portion of the dialogue is concerned with the nature of rhetoric. Here, Plato tries to paint a certain picture of oratory through Gorgias definition of rhetoric. Gorgias describes rhetoric to be all about speech. This kind of speech is meant to persuade the audience; the kind of persuasion that arises from rhetoric is however not based on gained knowledge but rather on the belief arising from the speech. Plato writes that “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?” 449-453). Rhetoric, in this case, is used in law courts and therefore in matters of justice and injustice. According to Gorgias, an oratory teacher should not be blamed if the student uses the skills being taught to indulge in unjust activity. Plato in response to this shows a sense of inconsistency in Gorgias words. By saying that a rhetoric person knows justice and should, therefore, live justly; while at the same time giving the student of rhetoric an avenue to be unjust, contradiction sets in. According to Plato that is not the way to live.
The next issue here is knowledge. Socrates here in engaging Polus makes the point that rhetoric that is held in high esteem by the sophists is a knack but not a craft. Here, he makes the distinction that a craft has its basis on knowledge with a focus on the good thus its respectability. On the other hand, a knack is based on an opinion with the focus being on presenting what is pleasant thus its shamefulness. Socrates draws an allegory of medicine and various forms of cooking. While medicine is truly concerned with the well-being of the body, cooking is just out to offer gratification. Cooking here represents rhetoric that according to him is just a form of flattery. Polus states that “Then are cookery and rhetoric the same?” (Plato 463) Polus, who is a student of Gorgias, rises to highlight the power of rhetoric. According to him, rhetoric is an important aspect of art since it gives one the ability to get what they desire. The person is able to obtain this desire which is power by getting the people to support him through his speech. Polus portrays a strong belief that the ideal sort of life that everyone yearns for is that of absolute power resulting in all kind of pleasure. He gives the example of the Tyrant Archelaus, who he views to have lived the happiest and best life by doing whatever he wanted. Polus: How not regarded? Have they not very great power in states? (Plato 466). Plato, however, disagrees with this notion; noting that power is good, and rhetoricians do not have power. Given that rhetoric lacks knowledge and intelligence, it is wrong to assume that sophists in doing what they want results to good. They actually end up doing what is bad, and since power is good, they ultimately lack power. Socrates states “And would you maintain that if a fool does what he thinks best, this is a good, and would you call this great power?” (Plato 468).
The two also continue to debate about the morality of actions. Socrates is of the idea that a person who does unjust acts is less happy than the one who suffers because of the unjust acts. The same principle applies to one who suffers the wrongs he does who is happier compared to one who escapes punishment. Plato’s view, therefore, is that the worst life is that where one does what he pleases while acting unjustly and escaping punishment for wrongdoing (Plato 479).
Plato is therefore for the idea that discipline is essential and good to a man. Therefore, living justly and accepting just discipline protects the man from badness that is brought by living in an unjust manner. By doing away with the said badness, one is able to achieve happiness. Rhetoric, on the other hand, is harmful and useless since it allows and enables one to act without justice and not be punished, which results to badness.
Callicles then gets involved in the debate and comes out attacking Socrates and his pursuit of philosophy. He first comes to the defense of his two compatriots, Gorgias and Polus who he said were not bold enough to speak out their true thoughts. Callicles states that “in consequence of this admission, Gorgias was compelled to contradict himself, that being just the sort of thing in which you delight” (Plato 482). To him, living a life of injustice is better and superior to living in justice. In order to support his postulations, he brings up the debate of nature and convention. According to nature, everything done is foul but not necessarily evil. Therefore doing wrong is only evil when looked into in the view of the convention.
Callicles next issue is drawing a distinction between the weak and the strong. To him, the strong prefer to follow the nature and have disregard for convention or law. In this case, nature dictates that the strong possess the natural right to rule over the weak. It does not matter in this case if they do something wrong in the process since it is naturally just to rule through every possible way. According to Callicles, terms such as justice and fairness are coined by the weak in an effort to control or impede the impact of the strong. Rhetoric, however, comes into play hers in order to ensure that those who are naturally strong are empowered enough to rule those who are naturally weak. Callicles is of the opinion that “according to the law of natural right, and that the oxen and other possessions of the weaker and inferior properly belong to the stronger and superior” (Plato 483).
Next, Callicles launches an attack on Socrates interest in philosophy. He actually proposes to Socrates to cease the interest in philosophy which is a youthful venture but rather follow rhetoric and politics that represents the physical and real world. Callicles asserts that “there is no disgrace to a man while he is young in pursuing such a study; but when he is more advanced in years, the thing becomes ridiculous, and I feel towards philosophers as I do towards those who lisp and imitate children” (Plato 500). He points out at the weakness Socrates has which is ignorance in public matters. Callicles even predicts that if somebody was to accuse Socrates falsely, he would be unable to defend himself due to lack of rhetoric. Callicles is of the view that true power is found in freedom. This freedom allows one to do whatever they want in order to pleasure. Rhetoric to him is the only way to arrive at this.
Callicles view on what is good and pleasurable is observed. According to him, the two words represent the same thing. Plato, however, disagrees with this by offering an explanation of how the two are different. He gives an illustration that scratching the head gives pleasure to someone, but a life of scratching the head cannot be equated to a good life. To this, Callicles responds by noting that in some instances, pleasures are good to people while some are bad. The good ones result in different benefits to people while the bad ones are harmful. He notes that it takes craft for a man to distinguish between good and bad pleasures. Rhetoric is focused in activities that will bring pleasure to a person while avoiding ones that may bring harm. Plato’s view on this is that pleasure differs from good and that in order to achieve goodness; one has to live orderly and just.
Plato’s critique of oratory has some valid points, but I tend to disagree with some of his implications. For a start, his description of oratory is faulty. He sees it as an art which one indulges in without proper knowledge of what they are talking about. By lacking knowledge, oratory is therefore not an art since requires knowledge on the issue being talked about. He also ties knowledge to morality therefore portraying oratory in all its features to be immoral. This is a wrong generalization.
Plato views oratory as a venture focused on persuading people in order to achieve what the orator wants. He holds this against the good that is achieved through philosophy and education. He portrays rhetoric to lack reason and evidence which is faulty. Oratory is driven by some reason and used to drive an idea whether good or bad. It is not empty talk like Plato puts it.
Plato views indulgent behavior as generally immoral. This is due to the assumption that orators lack knowledge on the issues they are talking about. He, however, fails to take into consideration instances where the orator believes in what they say to be true. It is difficult to paint such a person as acting immorally since their honest belief is that what they are saying is true. His failure is not considering the problem to lie with individuals rather than on oratory as a whole.

Works Cited

Plato. Gorgias. Arc Manor LLC, 2008.

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WePapers. (2020, November, 14) Plato’s Gorgias Essay Sample. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/platos-gorgias-essay-sample/
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"Plato’s Gorgias Essay Sample." WePapers, Nov 14, 2020. Accessed November 29, 2022. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/platos-gorgias-essay-sample/
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Plato’s Gorgias Essay Sample. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/platos-gorgias-essay-sample/. Published Nov 14, 2020. Accessed November 29, 2022.

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