Criticizing Rhetoric with Rhetoric by Nina G Hernandez
Plato's critique on the Sophists " practice of teaching virtue is a crucial moment for the study of rhetoric . Sophists were the most controversial rhetoric at the time in Athens, and thus a perfect target for Plato. Plato's Gorgias was part of Plato's thirty-year-long atta ck on rhetoric . Plato starts a battle of philosophy vs rhetoric , as he focused on attacking the morality of the S o phistic rhetoric . Plato addresses the major issues that attend rhetoric and its association with power, manipulation, and truth. The significance o f my proposed topic lies in its relevance today. Plato's concerns about the corrupt nature of democratic ideals are still relevant to our current political situation . I will a ddress these methods of manipulation and truth a ddressed in Gorgias to study Plato 's view of the problem with the rhetorical practices and educati on of his time.
Plato not only builds a case against sophists in Gorgias but to anyone making a living out of persuading audiences. He s aw rhetoric as a tool for both harm and good, recognizing the moral responsibility. Plato sees morality as a universal good that must be discovered through language. There is an irony in Plato's arguments. He 's attempting to convince the reader use rhetoric themselves. of the manipulation tools used by rhetoric. Plato's main concerns the sophistic manipulation of the public opinion that used with persuasion. This concerns Plato which ultimate goal beyond persuasion is to discover true knowl edge.
For Sophists, power allows them to control the audiences. For Socrates, power helps you control your grounds to receive knowledge, which has justice as an ultimate goal.
As   Plato asks in Gorgias what concerns rhetoric concerned and what does it produce. Gorgias 's rhetoric claims to be concerned with words and to offer truth as well as dominance over others . Plato claims that Sophists are interested only in the beliefs and opinions on justice but not justice itself. Plato's concerns about the sophists is that they te a ch about justice while not having real knowledge about it, since it requires deep study and dedication; He claimed that the understanding of the justice required virtue and scholarship rather than just the conjuring of the words to make up a context, or as sophists would claim, manipulation with words. Yet, as Corey says in The case against teaching virtue for pay: Socrates and the Sophists , we must consider that there's no real definition for virtue, therefore it is not clear how and if it can be taught. Regardless, Sophists c ould deceive audiences to commit injustices , claiming to be doing a good. "One who truly knows justice will be incapable of injustice," this is a refutati on of the previous claim from the sophists about the use of rhetoric as a tool for manipulation.
Gorgias' answer s are still more eloquent than substantive, however, we could also attribute Plato's dislike for the idea of manipulation might be due to his belief that leadership should be limited only to the elite. By making rhetoric available and thus the power of manipulation, this leadership could be achieved by anybody who studied under the sophists at the time. Plato's concern is reasonable because the power of manipulation could be misused by a tyrant rather than a philosopher to draw people to the truth. On the other hand, truth is relative and is it not manipulation if the philosopher is leading people into a truth that might not necessarily be a truth? D oesn 't all teaching require the use of persua s ion ?
Furthermore, Plato considers sophistic rhetoric as a skill that comes naturally rather than through the study of truth. Although this sophistic rhetoric is designed not to find the truth of justice , it can still help promote a relative good from the dominant speaker. Considering the implications, the difference between Plato and the Sophists could be the same as absolutism and relativism. Gorgias accepts the definition of rhetoric as a field not yet define d.
It is only after we've understood Plato's criticisms of the sophists that