Plato was one of the most important Greek philosophers in our time. He founded the Academy in Athens, an institution devoted to research and instruction in philosophy and the sciences; the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. His works on philosophy, politics and mathematics were very influential and laid the foundations for Euclid’s systematic approach to mathematics.
Gorgias is a dialogue in which Plato sets the rhetorician Gorgias in opposition to the philosopher Socrates; Plato’s mentor. Gorgias was a Sicilian philosopher, orator, and rhetorician. He is believed by many scholars to be one of the founders of sophism ; a movement traditionally associated with philosophy that emphasizes the practical application of rhetoric toward civic and political life.
The dialogue begins right after Gorgias had given a speech at an exhibition where he answered questions put forth to him however Socrates missed this. Socrates was offered to visit Gorgias and was allowed to question him as long as he liked. Socrates wanted to “hear from him what is the nature of his art, and what it is which he professes and teaches”.
Socrates initiates by asking Gorgias what he is and what rhetoric is and Gorgias replies in a typical rhetorician’s manner, using smooth language and seemingly sophisticated structure and not really answering the question at all. Gorgias is referred to rhetoric as an ‘art’. Rhetoric signifies ‘The art or study of using language effectively and persuasively’. Even though Gorgias practices rhetoric, he was not very convincing when answering questions done by Socrates. He gave short answers and was instantly refuted by Socrates in a very convincing fashion. Polus is also not very convincing as he is being accused by Socrates of speechifying rather than answering questions: “Polus has been taught how to make a capital speech”
Interestingly, Socrates did not accept rhetoric as an art yet he was practicing this ‘art’ while asking Gorgias questions. He was trying to convince the three speakers that rhetoric was rather an experience rather than an ‘art’.
Gorgias claims that rhetoric is an art which treats of discourse but says that all the the other arts which work fully through the means of words is not considered to be rhetoric. The question is: What is so different about rhetoric that uses its power of persuasion and all the other arts that also use this power?
The dialogue moves on to talk about power, evil & happiness. According to Polus rhetoric equals power and that power is a good thing but Socrates on the other hand says that rhetoricians have no power; “for them so literally nothing which they will, but only what they think best”. One can say that all the enjoyable things are done because it is enjoyable to do it but Plato means to put emphasis on that any such action is not done for the reason of itself and its own performance, but rather for the very sake of the pleasure which comes with it. This also holds for a true art, an action which is good not only on its own but also what good comes out of it. That explains why Plato thinks that the true rhetoric is only which is done for the sake of the good. For Socrates, rhetoric should be used to do good things, to punish the bad and not the good. ; Or rhetoric is no use to us.
As Callicles enters the dialogue with Socrates he begins to undermined philosophy .Not only does he undermines the very nature of philosophical inquiry and its marked focus on words but Callicles also makes some quite harsh statements of his own against any man such as Socrates who continues the chase of philosophy as a main focus into adulthood. By using this matter of discouragement on philosophy on the “disgrace” of Socrates’ lifetime of philosophical study he proves to Socrates that he is not being that good of a friend, after Socrates felt that Callicles had knowledge,good-will and outspokenness.
Socrates believed that no matter what the price was, total honesty and truth was the only choice in order for one to live a happy, fulfilling life.
As he said that doing wrong is much more evil than suffering wrong, that rhetoric should only be used for the sake of the good and that every wrongdoer should be justly punished.
Interestingly, Socrates understand that the majority of the people will not understand his theories and he does not try to convince everyone with his beliefs, he just uses a method “is to call in support of my statements the evidence of a single witness, the man I am arguing with, and to take his vote alone; the rest of the world are nothing to me; I am not talking to them.” This is what makes him an interesting person that he not trying to win sympathies of people but only tries to make his antagonist understand his points.
Callicles’ speech is that of a typical sophist. He raises no questions in his speech, and does not attempt to use logic to prove his points. In the end, Callicles speaks about his own opinions for quite some time, and as his proof, quotes three lines of an ancient poem. That’s not to say that some of Callicles’ theories aren’t valid, just that he does not allow for discussion, and therefore loses a chance to perhaps prove his point to Socrates or the other interlocutors.
Jennifer Richards has not mentioned in her book that Socrates did not convince Callicles of the ‘true rhetoric’ I think it is interesting that he convinced Polus and Gorgias but with Callicles he had no such luck. “The way which you in mistaken confidence are urging upon me; it is quite worthless, Callicles”
Eventually, Socrates remains mostly true to his method of discussion. His use of speeches as ways of expanding his opinions, rather than force them is quite successful for him. Despite a few digressions, he refrains from using oratory or rhetoric unlike the interlocutors, and although he is unable to convince Callicles of the “truth”, he is not unsuccessful in the sense that he defended himself against the methods of the sophists.