Speech was omnipotent to Gorgias. As a result, he spent all his time instructing exclusively in the art of Rhetoric. He claimed not to teach virtue, arete, because virtue is different for everyone. For example, political, excellence, and moral virtues differ from person to person. The focus of Gorgias is rhetoric. Plato’s views eventually work their way to the surface though his representation of characters in the dialogues. Some of the rhetorical views Plato presents in Gorgias, are the roles flattery plays in persuasion, the relationship between knowledge and truth, and a just use of rhetoric.
Gorgias taught a technique called karios, recognizing and acting at the opportune time. It involves having the right words to say at the right time and waiting for the best moment in time to make a statement or ask a leading question. In order to be a master of karios, one has to know what to say, what they are not allowed to say, and then decide between side stepping an issue and countering it. Realizing the moral fiber of the argument, in reference to the situation, is a key to having fine timing. Gorgias makes his rhetoric seem poetic by means of literary elements like antithesis and karios.
However, Socrates had a different view about rhetoric and its artistic qualities. According to Socrates, “rhetoric seems not to be an artistic pursuit at all, but that of a shrewd, courageous spirit which is naturally clever at dealing with men; and I call the chief part of it flattery” (23). Socrates sees through the artful poetry and views rhetoric as flattery. I agree that rhetoric is “smooth talk”, but it performs its purpose well. One of its purposes is persuasiveness. Using flattery can be a helpful tool for persuading.
Protagoras would probably counter Socrates’ argument by reminding him that although flattery is part of rhetoric, it is also a subject worth studying because of the need for public speaking. One must also be able to recognize an attempt to flatter and be able to counter it with the right response. Protagoras would counter Plato’s claim by emphasizing the need to study areas of rhetoric for survival in a community that is litigious, like Athens. One of the complaints Plato had with rhetoric is that a good rhetorician can persuade anything without having knowledge of the subject.
Near the beginning of the discourse, he talks about a physician that cannot convince his patient to take the medicine needed to restore the patients’ health. When the rhetorician is present, the patient is convinced. The rhetorician has limited medical understanding compared to the physician, but using skill of rhetoric, they able to assume qualifications to give advice. When Gorgias boasts that he can obtain patient obedience better than the physician, he is also saying that what he knows is more important than the knowledge of medicine.
In summary, the ability to persuade becomes more significant. Using this story, Plato manipulates that rhetoric creates belief without knowledge. Plato argues that for something to be “knowledge” it must be definite and factual. When Socrates is discussing this with Polus, he explains by saying, “truth, you see, can never be refuted” (37). I agree with the previous. Anyone can acquire information, but that is different from possessing understanding. Knowledge comes from truth. Beliefs are opinions and there fore created.
What shocks me is the potential for evil and injustice by creating false beliefs. If an excellent rhetorician can persuade someone to act certain way, without themselves having much knowledge in the area, the only thing keeping the rhetorician from persuading people through trickery are the virtues of the rhetorician. However, the Sophist Protagoras would completely disagree because one cannot know anything to be certain and true because truth is relative. Truth can be disguised because not all options are presented.
Using the apagogic method, one presents the feasible alternatives. This allows the audience to choose. Yet again, the advantage and power is on the rhetorician’s side in this case because they can choose to withhold possible alternatives to help guide or distract the audience. As a result, the rhetorician can use rhetoric unjustly to persuade and audience. Rhetoric, when used unjustly, exceeds its purpose as a virtuous art. According to Socrates, rhetoric is not an art, but a fake that deceives and misleads. “Rhetoric is justice what cookery is to medicine” (26).
In this statement, Socrates defines rhetoric as a false impression of justice and discusses what he believes are false arts, such as cookery and beatification. From his perspective, each of these flawed pursuits chases a more creditable counter part, such as medicine or gymnastics. The key distinction between the true and the false arts is that the false arts deceptively target the pleasant and create a false impression of value. Cooking tasty food is pleasant to eat, but will not cure any disease like genuine medicine will.
Just as the false routine of cookery is to the true art of medicine, rhetoric produces a vacant image of something more wholesome and real. I think that the invention of rhetoric and the influence to warp a belief that is available to the rhetorician that Plato dislikes about rhetoric. In an earlier discussion, Socrates states that, “The rhetorician, then is not a teacherbut merely a creator of beliefs” (14). Protagoras would deny his claim. He did not want to mislead, and is very notable for his desire to improve civil standards indirectly by influencing the education that significant leaders received.
He wanted to give men the education they needed to be successful contributors to civil life. Protagoras would probably argue against the way it is presented by Socrates’ biased views of rhetoric as something evil that is corrupted and abused. On the other hand, toward the end of the book Socrates gives a final address and he is says that there was another art that was overlooked. This art combines medicine and gymnastics. Socrates says, “This is the reason whythe art of medicine and gymnastic is by right their master” (96).
By now, his overall tone of rhetoric has changed and Socrates starts adapting rhetorical techniques that he disagreed with in the beginning discussions. Using rhetorical techniques, he begins to lead the conversation. His use of rhetoric become obvious at the end when Callicles says, “I don’t know how it is, Socrates, that you always manage to twist the argument around until it’s upside down! ” (87). Socrates now stars to manipulate the conversation by using rhetorical language. Callicles had good reason to question Socrates’ strategies.
Throughout the whole discussion Callicles was being pushed around by Socrates. Protagoras might say that Callicles is responding weak and irresponsible in his arguments. Plato’s Gorgias, is an interesting conversation that tackles thoughts and questions about rhetoric. Plato’s views of rhetoric are revealed through the role that flattery plays in persuasion, knowledge and truth, and the just use of rhetoric. As I read, I thought about how I would answer the questions that were presented. I realized that Plato’s claims of rhetoric are cloaked within the dialogue of the characters.