The Nature of Rhetoric
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In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates discusses the nature and uses of rhetoric with Gorgias, while raising moral and philosophical perspective of rhetoric. Socrates believes that rhetoric is a kind of false knowledge whose purpose is to produce conviction, and not to educate people about the true extent of knowledge (Plato 15). On the other hand, Gorgias argues that the study of rhetoric is essential in any other professional fields, in order to provide an effective communication (Plato 19). After their discussion of rhetoric, Socrates seems to understand the true extent of rhetoric better as compared to Gorgias, as he is able to use rhetoric appeals as a device to dominate the conversation. During their discussion, Socrates seems to have use rhetorical appeals, such as ethos appeal and pathos appeal to connect and convince the crowd of audiences, and logos appeal to support his claims. His speeches seems to have shown sarcastic aspects and constantly asking questions in order to keep Gorgias busy, at the same time preparing an ambush. Since rhetoric is the art of effective communication through the form of speaking and writing, with the appropriate knowledge and virtue, it can be used for good purposes. On the other hand, rhetoric also can be used as an act of conviction because rhetorical appeals can be defined as an act of persuasion as well. Learning the true extent of rhetoric can help an individual strengthen their verbal communication skills. Socrates uses rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos and logos appeal to win his argument against Gorgias, as he is able to get the audiences’ attention through rhetoric and cornered Gorgias into revealing the true extent of rhetoric.
Socrates have been using rhetorical devices throughout his discussion with Gorgias, and started out by using ethos appeal to draw Gorgias into his questioning, in which Polus gave an indefinite answers to Chaerephon. Ethos appeal can be described as an appeal by character of authority; it is when we tend to believe those who we respect. After Polus failed to answer the question, Socrates responded, “It certainly looks as though Polus is well qualified to speak, Gorgias, but he’s not doing what he promised Chaerephon he’d do.” (Plato 3). Socrates, who was not satisfied with the answer given by Polus, provoked Gorgias into answering for his disciple as Socrates brought Gorgias’ name into the conversation.
Socrates used ethos appeal to draw Gorgias attention, and after losing his credibility because of his disciple, he decided to answer Socrates regarding the nature of rhetoric. Gorgias declared rhetoric to be his field of expertise and admitted that no one is more concise in expressing idea other than Gorgias, in which Socrates intended to test Gorgias’ declaration of his ability to accurately answer any question that was raise for him. As he believes that rhetorician is expert in persuasion and speech, and to win an argument, he does not need the knowledge, just with rhetoric itself he would persuade others that they have the knowledge.
In the dialogue, Gorgias seems to have shown inconsistency in his answers, proving Socrates that rhetoric is the skill of speech, rather than finding the truth of knowledge. Socrates also believes that rhetoric can be misused by some people and create conviction of crimes. On the other hand, Gorgias holds a different point of view, as he believed that rhetoric could speak before a crowd more persuasively than any other fields of expert, but in a proper way. Furthermore, he added that when somebody misused rhetoric, the teachers shouldn’t be blamed because they conveyed the knowledge to be use for goodness (Plato 17). Although Gorgias states rhetoric can be used for good and bad, he also states that most fields of expert required rhetoric, such as teaching, which requires some kind of persuasion. In addition, Socrates tells Gorgias that he is one of those people who are actually happy to be corrected when they are wrong, thus applying the ethos appeals to Gorgias. Socrates believes that he’d rather be refuted than to refute someone else, as he presumed that it is better to be delivered yourself from harm rather than delivering someone else from harm. He showed Gorgias a sense of respect by allowing him to correct Socrates if he is wrong.
Gorgias claims that a rhetorician is not only an expert in speech, but also morality and that he can also teaches others to be moral experts. Later, he explained that teachers are not to be blamed for the students’ misusage of rhetoric if the students use it to serve their own interest (Plato 17). Socrates used pathos, ethos and logos to argue against Gorgias regarding morality, which related to Gorgias previous claim that rhetorician can make conviction out of their expertise. Logos appeal is persuasion by appealing to rationality and reasons. Socrates used logos appeal to persuade both the audiences and Gorgias, by elaborating his speeches and providing argument that only has a fix answer. In addition, Socrates also uses ethos appeal by persuading Gorgias to limit his choice of words when answering to Socrates’ questions. With the use of ethos appeal, Socrates is able to influence the audience to picture him as someone that level with Gorgias, who was an expert and can make Gorgias to agree with Socrates’ explanations. In addition, Socrates use ethos appeal by asking questions that relates to the real world situation, gathering more attention from the audiences. In which after getting the audiences’ attention, the audiences started to view in other point of views and question Gorgias regarding his field of expertise.
Socrates tends to be more competent in involving the audience in the argument and developing emotion towards them, raising their questions to Gorgias’ field of expertise, rhetoric. “You should bear in mind our present situation and realize that I have your best interests at heart. It's quite possible that there are people here in the house with us who'd like to become students of yours . . . yes, I can see a few candidates--well, quite a lot, in fact. They might be too embarrassed to subject you to questioning, so as I put my questions, you should imagine that it's actually they who are asking you, 'What will attending your courses hold for us, Gorgias? What will we be able to advise Athens on? Only matters of right and wrong, or the subjects Socrates mentioned just now as well?' What do you have to say in reply?” (Plato 15). Socrates also seems to have display his ability of using pathos appeal, by developing connection with the audiences, he was able to represent the crowd, in which he spoke on their behalf in order for them to learn about the truth of rhetoric. Pathos appeal is persuasion by appealing to an individual’s emotion. Socrates went for the audiences’ attention and once he had it, he then started to exploit rhetoric to the audiences. Socrates would build up Gorgias’ confidence by flattering Gorgias that there are a lot of people who would like to be Gorgias’ students. Thus, Gorgias started to feel arrogant and stating that there’s no one better in expressing ideas better than Gorgias, in which he will be very embarrassed when he lose.
Socrates also shown to use pathos appeal in his argument against Gorgias by making use of Gorgias’ emotions and using sarcasm to embarrass Gorgias. In the dialogue, Plato suggested, “ I thought you were being inconsistent and so I said what I said about how our discussion would be worthwhile if you were like me and saw the profit in being proved wrong, but that otherwise we should just forget it …” (Plato 22). With this, Socrates concluded that Gorgias is not better than him and his inconsistency in answering Socrates’ questions. In addition, Socrates indirectly proved to Gorgias that he is not a great rhetorician, as Gorgias shows incapability to provide the definite answers and Gorgias is no longer interested on being pointed out wrong. Furthermore, pathos appeal affects the audiences to side with Socrates, in which Socrates proved to them that Gorgias, who claimed to be an expert in rhetoric, showed to be inconsistent in his own expertise and failed to describe the purpose rhetoric to Socrates. Gorgias who was feeling arrogant before, is embarrassed after losing the argument.
Socrates believes that true extent of knowledge is something that will benefit
Everyone and rhetoric seems to be skills that only benefit individual interest. Socrates seems to have shown the nature of rhetoric and declares that the skill is a flattery, and only ignorant crowd can be convinced with rhetoric. On the other hand, Gorgias believes that rhetoric can help an individual to strengthen their verbal communication skills. In this conversation, Socrates seems to be able to use rhetorical appeals to win his argument with Gorgias by proving him wrong. In addition, he also believes that truth is a matter of belief and persuasion, unlike Socrates who believes that the truth is a matter of knowledge and truth. Rhetoric can be said to improve the quality of speech through the appropriate usage of words and without realization, Socrates win the argument by using rhetorical appeals to corner Gorgias and trapped him into answering Socrates’ questions with limited usage of words. Moreover, Socrates wins the audience over and makes them realize that Gorgias’ claims are wrong.
Plato. Gorgias. Trans. Robin Waterfield. OXFORD. OXFORD UP, 1998.Print