The Logic and Validity of Emotional Appeal in Classical Greek Rhetorical Theory
Plato's Theories of Rhetoric
by Bryan Register
Date: 1 May 99
Forum: University of Texas at Austin
Copyright: Bryan Register
This chapter covers the transition from sophistic to Aristotelian theories of rhetoric. The early Plato, in his debate with Gorgias, is simply the other side of a counterfeit coin. The two agree on a number of basic premises, such as that the emotions are non-cognitive and that there are no logical norms governing rhetorical practice. But the Plato of the middle period has a much more subtle approach. As a part of his overall movement toward valuing the phenomenal world in a moderately positive way, Plato sees that the emotions are cognitive phenomena and that rhetoric, then, is not necessarily abusive trickery. He moves toward the assimilation of rhetoric to broader epistemological theory.
Section 1: The Early Plato's Rejection of Rhetoric
The first passage of Plato's Gorgias is a discussion between Socrates and Gorgias on the definition of 'rhetoric'. Many early dialogues deal with the attempt to define some word. However, these dialogues typically fail to define their subject matter and function only as object lessons in philosophical methodology. There is an object lesson here as well which I will address presently, but the word does end up getting defined by Gorgias twice. He says that rhetoric is "the power to convince by your words the judges in court, the senators in Council, the people in the Assembly, or in any other gathering of a citizen body" (452e1-3) and later that it is "The kind of persuasion employed in the law courts and other gatherings... and concerned with right and wrong." (454b5-7)
Gorgias is thrilled with the power of rhetoric, because, along with allowing experts to speak skillfully, it also allows the ignorant to triumph over the knower in any conflict between them. He asks "But is this not a great comfort, Socrates, to be able without learning any other arts but this one to prove in no way inferior to the specialists?" (459c4-6)
As we might expect, Socrates is not happy with this. Let us look to Socrates's characterization of rhetoric from his talk with Polus. Socrates believes that there is a distinction between the body and the soul, and that each of these has a condition of health and a condition of seeming healthy while being in fact unhealthy. Medicine and gymnastics are the arts of sustaining real health in the body, while justice and legislation are the arts of sustaining real health in the soul. However, there are certain tricks which one may employ to create the condition of seeming healthy without in fact being healthy. Corresponding to each of the four arts of health there is a knack for creating the false appearance of health: cookery for medicine, cosmetics for gymnastics, rhetoric for justice, and sophistry for legislation. (464b2-465d1)
These four knacks are the parts of 'flattery'. (464c6-9) Socrates says that "Having no thought for what is best, she [flattery] regularly uses pleasure as a bait to catch folly and deceives it into believing that she is of supreme worth." (464d2-4) Rhetoric is a form of flattery, and flattery uses pleasure to achieve its ends.
Another telling comment appears in the categorization of rhetoric. Socrates says that
...if the body was under the control, not of the soul, but of itself, and if cookery and medicine were not investigated and distinguished by the soul, but the body instead gave the verdict, weighing them by the bodily pleasures they offered, then the principle of Anaxagoras would everywhere hold good... and all things would be mingled in indiscriminate confusion, and medicine and health and cookery would be indistinguishable. (465d1-8)
Socrates is building a model of manipulation and flattery, but several parts of the model must be provided for him.
Socrates has not told us how, exactly, flattery works. The above quote, however, gives a suggestion. The body, operating without the guidance of the soul, would probably choose cookery and cosmetics over medicine and gymnastics. Cookery and cosmetics are easier and less painful; they would be chosen by the body according to the pleasure principle. But the pleasure principle is active in the example only when the body is considered in abstraction from the soul. How then do the arts of bodily flattery trick real people, whose bodies are ensouled?
For that matter, how do those forms of flattery which are directed at the soul trick us? Body flattery is explained to us by considering the body in isolation from the soul and claiming that the body is easily flattered without the guidance of the soul, but we cannot consider the soul in isolation from itself and show that, without the soul, the soul would act according to its pleasure principle and accept flattery. Socrates's example of how bodily flattery can manipulate the body is incoherent when applied to soul flattery. The point of asking this question is to find out just how it is that rhetoric works to persuade.
Socrates does provide another example of flattery: "...if a cook and a doctor had to contend in the presence of children or of men as senseless as children, which of the two, the doctor or the cook, was an expert in wholesome and bad food, the doctor would starve to death." (464d6-9) Now it is not only the pleasure principle but the senselessness of the victim of flattery which is played upon by the flatterer. So there are two parts to flattery: appeal to pleasure and appeal in the context of ignorance. (Of course, we can flatter the knowledgeable, but only insofar as we are not flattering them into believing something they know to be false. I could appeal to someone's knowledge by saying "Surely someone as well-educated as yourself will realize...", and might persuade them to believe what I tell them, but if they know that what I am trying to persuade them of is false, my persuasion will fail.)
We can now better understand the passage which led up to Gorgias claiming that the rhetor need not know anything about the topic of persuasion. In this passage, Socrates asks Gorgias "...you said just now that a rhetorician will be more persuasive than a doctor concerning health." (459a2-3) Gorgias replies, "Yes, I said so, before a crowd." (459a4) The rhetor will defeat the one who knows when disputing before a crowd. Socrates then points out, and Gorgias agrees, that "...before a crowd means before the ignorant..." (459a5)
Moreover, Polus does not disagree when Socrates characterizes rhetoric as a "routine... that produces gratification and pleasure..." (462c3-7) Rather, he gets defensive: "Then you do not think rhetoric a fine thing, if it can produce gratification among men?" (462c8-9) Here, Socrates and Polus have established that rhetoric makes its appeal through pleasure. Thus rhetoric is already known to match both criteria of flattery, appeal to pleasure and appeal in the context of ignorance, before Socrates lays out his model of flattery and the true arts of bodily and spiritual health.
But to say that rhetoric makes its appeal through flattery to the ignorant is not to say how it makes its appeal. (Recall that even the knowledgeable might be 'ignorant' in the relevant sense: they don't know about what they're being persuaded of.) How does rhetoric flatter? How does it make use of the ignorance of the audience? There should be a logic of pleasure and confusion, but such a logic is absent in the Gorgias .
However, we should know better than to expect such a logic. Socrates argues that rhetoric is "no art at all." (462b8) Rather, he explains that rhetoric is "not an art but a routine, because it can produce no principle in virtue of which it offers what it does, nor explain the nature thereof, and consequently is unable to point to the cause of each thing it offers. And I refuse the name of art to anything irrational." (465a3-6) Rhetoric does not have a logic according to which it works; it is a knack or routine rather than an art. There is no knowledge according to which we can speak to best effect and there is no way to predict the outcome of our rhetorical acts. Thus Plato would agree with me when I argued, in the second section of chapter one, that the historical Gorgias's claims about the power of rhetoric in the Encomium to Helen are not to be accepted because Gorgias does not show how rhetoric manipulates the emotions; if rhetoric's power rests on its capacity to manipulate emotions, then our use of rhetoric's power rests on our knowledge of how to manipulate emotions, but Gorgias does not provide such knowledge.
More light can be shed on Plato's view of the relation between pleasure and rhetoric by attending to the Phaedo . The Phaedo is perhaps the most dramatic of all the dialogues and the one most filled with pathos, for the Phaedo relates the final hours and final end of Socrates. Since death is upon Socrates, he tries to buoy up the spirits of his friends by convincing them that the soul is immortal and that the philosopher is the one whose soul is best off in the life to come. Along the way, he presents a view of the relation of soul to body.
Socrates asks, "Is death nothing more or less than this, the separate condition of the body by itself when it is released from the soul, and the separate condition by itself of the soul when released from the body?" (64c4-7) Socrates is postulating that the soul and body are basically separate substances. Moreover, the soul suffers through its attachment to the body: "The soul can best reflect when it is free of all distractions such as hearing or sight or pain or pleasure of any kind - that is, when it ignores the body and becomes as far as possible independent..." (65c5-8) Further, Socrates asks "Don't you think that the person who is likely to succeed in [attaining knowledge] most perfectly is the one who approaches each object, as far as possible, with the unaided intellect, without taking account of any sense of sight in his thinking, or dragging any other sense into his reckoning...?" (65e7-66a2)
Plato's epistemology, which we will discuss in greater detail below, involves the direct apprehension by the soul of the Forms, which are paradigms or structures for particular objects in the phenomenal world. Knowledge of the Forms is the only true knowledge, because phenomenal objects are unsteady while knowledge holds steady over time. The true care of the soul involves the attempt to apprehend these Forms, and the apprehension of the Forms is distorted or disrupted by bodily sensations. Thus he who most completely denies the body will most completely apprehend the Forms: "We are in fact convinced", Socrates says, "that if we are ever to have pure knowledge of anything, we must get rid of the body and contemplate things by themselves with the soul by itself." (66d6-e1)
While this is of interest in itself, just now we must attend to the relevance of Plato's psychology for his doctrine of the emotions. The Phaedo seems to make the claim that the emotions are fully caught up with the physical, which, as we have seen, is the inferior and regrettable side of human nature. Socrates says that
Philosophy can see that the imprisonment [of the soul in the body] is ingeniously effected by the prisoner's own active desire, which makes him first accessory to his own confinement. Well, philosophy takes over the soul in this condition and by gentle persuasion tries to set it free. (82e4-834)
It is desire, the tool of rhetorical flattery, which holds the soul to the body. Interestingly, Socrates says that philosophy uses 'gentle persuasion' to free the soul from the body. We will return to this comment later, but for now it will do to recognize that Socrates is not referring to rhetoric as critiqued in the Gorgias . The important point here is that desire is the connection point which chains the soul down to the body.
Socrates says in the same passage that the philosopher's soul "abstains as far as possible from pleasures and desires and griefs..." (83b6-7) Plato has placed pleasure and desire, which he has elsewhere treated as physical, in the same category with grief, which is clearly an emotion. He thus implies that emotions are to be classed with physical manifestations.
He continues to say that "When anyone's soul feels a keen pleasure or pain it cannot help supposing that whatever causes the most violent emotion is the plainest and truest reality, which it is not. It is chiefly visible things that have this effect..." (83c4-7) Here, Socrates treats pleasure or pain as violent emotions. But since Socrates has elsewhere spoken of pleasure and pain primarily in the context of the body, we can take him to be suggesting here that the emotions are also to be thought of as bodily, rather than spiritual, phenomena.
Another point from the Phaedo should establish my claim. Socrates distinguishes between the Forms and phenomenal objects on the basis of their permanence and stability: the Forms "...remain always constant and invariable, never admitting any alteration in any respect or in any sense..." (78d4-6), while phenomenal objects are "...scarcely ever in the same relation in any sense either to themselves or to one another..." (78e3-4) Truths about the phenomenal world, then, will be relative to context and time. Earlier, Socrates had claimed that "...a system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true." (69b4-5) Since these emotional values are relative, then they are to be associated with phenomenal objects and thus with the body. Further, relativist emotional morality is contrasted with "The true moral ideal... [which] is really a kind of purgation from all these emotions..." (69b6-c1) Since Socrates has been speaking of rejecting the body and avoiding physical pleasures, we may take it that the purgation he addresses is this avoidance of the physical. Thus, since we purge by avoiding the physical, and the emotions are what are purged, the emotions must be physical manifestations.
Plato's theory of emotions, then, is that they are a kind of physical manifestation. This is both similar to and different from the conception of the emotions discovered in my interpretation of the Encomium . Recall that I have interpreted the historical Gorgias as claiming that the emotions are propositionally structured messages sent from the senses to the mind, which, like a drug, dominate and overwhelm the rational and critical faculty, and which are divorced from the mental faculties of the individual. Thus our means of cognition - the senses and the mind and the connection between the two - are involved with the emotions, but the emotions are not fully cognitive. For Plato, on the other hand, the emotions are not involved with mental faculties at all. They are physical manifestations; bodily responses to the phenomenal world. Thus Plato would agree that emotions are non-cognitive (though Plato is not committed by this to denying obvious facts like that we must know something to have an emotional response toward it). Gorgias posits that rhetoric works by means of emotional manipulation, and Plato does not disagree but rather specifies this fact - rhetorical flattery - as the first part of his critique of rhetoric. Gorgias and Plato are in agreement that rhetoric functions through the manipulation of emotions and that the emotions are not cognitive. Since Plato believes that, given attention, the soul can directly apprehend the Forms and attain freedom from the body, he will reject rhetoric because it tends to tie the soul more fully to the body. Since Gorgias maintains a sceptical epistemology based on his perceptual representationalism, he does not believe that there are higher, more absolute cognitive processes which rhetoric can distort or disrupt. Thus he can make no epistemic or moral complaint about rhetoric, while Plato can and, as we will see, will.
Recall that I said at the outset that the attempt in the Gorgias to define 'rhetoric' does have an object lesson about philosophical methodology, and also that according to Socrates in the Phaedo philosophy uses 'gentle persuasion' to free the soul from bodily concerns. The object lesson and the gentle persuasion both point us to the Platonic theory of recollection in the Meno . Let me first show the object lesson.
At the beginning of the Gorgias, Chaerophon is sparring with Polus as a preview to the debate between Socrates and Gorgias. Chaerophon asks "...in what craft is he [Gorgias] an expert, and by what name should we correctly call him?" (448c2-3) This is an easy enough question, to which the answer is either 'rhetor' or 'sophist'. Polus, however, replies that
There are many arts, Chaerophon, among mankind experimentally devised by experience, for experience guides our life along the path of art, inexperience along the path of chance. And in each of these different arts men partake in different ways, the best men following the best arts. And Gorgias here is one of the best and partakes in the noblest of arts. (448c4-9)
Since Polus doesn't even come close to answering the very simple question which was addressed to him, and Plato probably wants his characters to be representative of real-world practice, we can take this answer as a demonstration of the fuzzy-mindedness inherent in rhetorical discourse. After Socrates gets a straight answer out of Gorgias, he asks "Would you be willing, Gorgias, to continue our present method conversing by question and answer, postponing to some other occasion lengthy discourses of the type begun by Polus?" (449b5-7) Socrates presses this demand elsewhere in the dialogue, such as when he asks Polus to "restrain that exuberance... which you set out to use at first." (461d7-8)
It is not immediately obvious why Socrates should be so concerned with brevity. What is clear is that Socrates prefers brevity and that the rhetors prefer lengthy discourse. We are pointed toward the Apology, the dialogue which presents Socrates's defense at his trial. In this dialogue, Socrates explains that he spent a great deal of time trying to find a wise man in an effort to disprove the oracle at Delphi, which had said that Socrates was the wisest of all men. The first person he examined to find wisdom proved not, in fact, to know anything: "...in conversation with him I formed the impression that although in many people's opinion, and especially in his own, he appeared to be wise, in fact he was not. Then when I began to try to show him that he only thought he was wise and was not really so, my efforts were resented... by him..." (21c6-d1) He has similar experiences with a great many other Athenians. The method which he employs is the method of question and answer. He asks the allegedly wise person for knowledge, and then refutes the claims of the so-called wise man. Naturally, this process cannot take place if the allegedly wise one refuses to answer Socrates's questions.
The method of question-and-answer is discussed more thoroughly and given a positive aspect in the Meno . The centerpiece of the Meno is the doctrine of recollection as an answer to what has come to be known as Meno's Paradox. Meno asks Socrates "...how will you look for something when you don't in the least know what it is? How are you going to set up something you don't even know as the object of your search?" (80d3-5) The paradox is this: If you know something, you are not in a position to learn it. But if you don't know it, you won't recognize it when you come across it, and you don't know how to search for it, so you can't learn it. So you can't learn anything.
Socrates then draws on the doctrine of the immortality of the soul which appears in the Phaedo . He says "Thus the soul, since it is immortal and has been born many times, and has seen all things both here and in the other world, has learned everything that is. So we need not be surprised if it can recall the knowledge of virtue or anything else which, as we see, it once possessed." (81c4-d1) Socrates is making the claim that the soul exists both before birth and after death, and that when it is not in the body, it inhabits the realm of the Forms and has direct apprehension of them. When it is reborn into this world, it forgets the knowledge it once had, but it can recollect this knowledge through a process of being questioned. Socrates then enters the celebrated slave boy passage (82b4-85c1) in which he claims to get a slave, who has never been taught geometry, to learn the Pythagorean theorem. Since the slave boy is able to state, after much questioning and several errors, the Pythagorean theorem, without having been taught it, Socrates concludes that "...these opinions were somewhere in him..." (85c5)
This leads to a novel understanding of what it is to learn. For Plato, learning is emphatically not the transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the student. Rather, the teacher helps the student, through the process of question and answer, to recollect knowledge on his own. Socrates says that "This knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning. He will recover it for himself." (85d3-4) For Plato, we already know everything that we will ever know, including the nature of the Good. We have only to recollect it, perhaps under the influence of some teacher who knows the proper questions to ask us to lead us to recollection.
The precondition for learning, however, is the grasp of one's own ignorance. In the midst of helping the slave boy recollect the Pythagorean theorem, Socrates asks Meno "Do you suppose then that he [the slave boy] would have attempted to look for, or learn, what he thought he knew, though he did not, before he was thrown into perplexity, became aware of his ignorance, and felt a desire to know?" (84c4-7) The process of question and answer can conclude by helping the ignorant to learn. But it must begin to stunning him to make him aware of his own ignorance. Naturally, being told that you don't know anything is uncomfortable; it was so uncomfortable to the Athenians that they executed Socrates for telling them so.
The chief lesson of the Meno for our purposes is that moral knowledge, like all knowledge, is learned through a process of question and answer - 'gentle' persuasion. Any practice which intends to help people know what is right and wrong which operates by any means other than question and answer can neither sting the student with his ignorance nor lead him to knowledge of the good.
This epistemic point is especially relevant in light of Socrates's claim that evil is done only through ignorance. Socrates says "Isn't it clear that this class, who don't recognize evils for what they are, don't desire evil but what they think is good, though in fact it is evil; those who through ignorance mistake bad things for good things obviously desire the good?" (77d7-e3) Socrates's point is that we always seek the good and never the evil, but that we may be confused through moral ignorance into choosing the evil against our will. Thus the epistemic issue of moral education through question and answer becomes crucial to our understanding of rhetoric and its flaws.
Socrates's claim that no one chooses evil knowingly brings us back to the Gorgias . We have seen that it is only through question and answer that one can be brought to recollect moral knowledge. Recollection of the good, and thus question and answer, is the answer to evil. If ignorance leads to evil, then education will prevent evil. Since question and answer is the method of education, whatever hinders question and answer must hinder education. If rhetoric, which hinders the moral education of the rhetor and his listner, also grants therhetor (who is, as a rhetor, ignorant of morality) a remarkable power to sway the ignorant masses, then abuses by powerful rhetors are on the way.
The Gorgias presents the incompetence of the professional rhetors at answering questions and their refusal to grasp their own ignorance. Polus, for instance, rattles off, at some length, a litany of the sins of a certain tyrant. By this he claims to establish that immoral behavior is preferable and that this is an argument by which "even a child could prove you [Socrates] are wrong." (470c4-5) Nothing in what Polus says has or should have the faintest effect on Socrates and his argument. Socrates thus replies, "...I praised you for being in my opinion well trained in rhetoric, though you had neglected dialectic [question and answer]." (471d3-5) Polus's attention to rhetoric has led him from the path of dialectic and thus from true knowledge.
There is a logic to this. As we saw with Socrates's cross-examination of Gorgias and Polus earlier, the rhetor seems to want to talk endlessly without ever coming to the point (though, to be sure, they do eventually answer Socrates's questions). The model of rhetoric which is under discussion is a one-way model, wherein the speaker speaks and the listener listens and there is no dialectical engagement. But for one trained in dialectic, rhetoric will be unpleasant both to perform and to listen to. Since, for Socrates, learning does not involve the transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the student, but rather the questioning of the student to help him recollect knowledge, the dialectician would know that he is wasting his time by speaking to an audience in a one-way fashion. His audience would be no closer to the truth after hearing his speech than before. Further, the trained dialectician would become impatient (as Socrates does) with listening to long-winded speeches which do not come to the point, and would desire to interrupt the speaker, pin him down, and get a conversation started. (As in Plato's dialogues, there is liable to be a teacher-student relationship, not a two-way relation between equals, but the student must be active in the process of his education.) But the student of rhetoric, who has not been stunned by dialectic into grasping his own ignorance, will not realize that he is learning nothing by attending to long speeches. Moreover, in an effort to avoid being shown up as ignorant, he will refuse to take questions or engage in dialogue. The student of rhetoric, then, is the very last person who will ever be able to know the truth.
Since rhetoric, according to Gorgias, is "concerned with right and wrong", this is especially bad. At no point does Socrates cast doubt on the rhetor's capacity to sway an audience and get his policies adopted by the assembly. His critique is solely a moral one. Since it would be very much within the logic of the dialogue for Socrates to question Gorgias on the efficacy of rhetoric in achieving its (mistaken, confused) goals, we can take it that Socrates does not press this point because Plato is willing to give in on this point; the rhetor does have the power to sway the audience. This also points us to the Apology, in which Socrates tries to defend himself at his trial against trained rhetors by cross-examining them, and fails.
If Socrates tacitly admits that rhetoric has the power it is said to have, his interlocutors tacitly grant that it leads to immorality. Gorgias leaps, without urging, to self-defense when he is characterizing rhetoric and its power, saying that "If a man becomes a rhetorician and makes a wrongful use of this faculty and craft, you must not, in my opinion, detest and banish his teacher from the city." (457b5-c1) Apparently the sins of the students of rhetoric weigh heavily on Gorgias, else he would not volunteer this self-defense when no attack has been offered. Polus tries to establish the power of rhetoric by asking "What? Do they [rhetors] not, like tyrants, put to death any man they will, and deprive of their fortunes and banish whomsoever it seems best?" (466b11-c2) Polus is actually claiming that rhetors are powerful because of their similarity to tyrants; in democracies, rhetors have the power that tyrants have in their tyrannies. Polus does not balk when Socrates equates rhetors and dictators: "I say, Polus, that orators and tyrants have the very least power in our cities..." (466e4-5) After Socrates has established that tyranny and immorality can lead only to evil for the tyrant, he says "...if this is true, Polus, what great use is rhetoric?" (480a1-2) But if showing that tyranny is bad for the tyrant is sufficient to show that rhetoric is useless, then it has been assumed that rhetoric's only possible use could have been to establish and sustain tyranny. Polus does not disagree and Gorgias remains silent. We may take it that everyone has agreed that rhetoric is only good for gaining the power to be immoral and for protecting oneself from one's just desserts.
Indeed, Callicles takes it upon himself to defend tyranny when he says that "...in my view nature herself makes it plain that it is right for the better to have the advantage over the worse, the more able over the less." (483c8-d2) This reflects the historical Gorgias's claim in the Encomium that it is natural for the strong to rule the weak. Socrates's critique of Gorgianic rhetoric, then, is that, as a one-way mode of discourse, it disrupts dialogue and thus prevents the student from learning true knowledge of the moral good. Thus, since rhetoric prevents the student from knowing morality but also gives him a power over the assembly, rhetoric can lead to nothing but ill. The historical Gorgias's tripartite avatar in the dialogue can make no objection because they do not believe in transcendent moral standards (because rhetoric has blinded them) but do believe in the law of nature, which they claim is the rule of the stronger. Plato, however, believes in transcendent moral standards which prohibit such behavior and in an afterlife in which we will receive rewards or punishments according to how our behavior adhered to the transcendent standards. But the historical Gorgias and Plato agree that rhetoric is a powerful device for manipulating the emotions, and that resting persuasion on the emotions cannot help but lead to tyranny. They differ only in their capacity to condemn the result.
Plato's critique of rhetoric is subject to three complaints. On the one hand, he has admitted the claim of the historical Gorgias that "Speech is a powerful lord", even though he has shown that rhetoric is not an art but a knack. It is hard to see how a practice which is not understood even by its practitioners can be as effective as Gorgias claims and Plato admits. Plato could have pressed the critique that rhetoric is impractical even for establishing tyranny, because its irrationality makes it unworkable. We are left wondering why Plato's Socrates makes the point about rhetoric being only a knack at all.
Furthermore, at least in the Gorgias, Plato does not establish the transcendent norms to which he appeals. He catches his interlocutors in verbal contradictions which show that they don't know what they're talking about, but he does not prove that there is a moral law beyond the law of nature, which he tacitly admits to be the rule of strength by not opposing Callicles's characterization at 483c8-d2. To an empiricist, the transcendent moral law to which Plato makes appeal is a myth.
Finally, Plato seems to go too far in his critique. Since Plato was not an advocate of democracy, it may not have been a concern of his that there be public assemblies and thus that there be a means of persuasion in them. But a contemporary approach to rhetoric must attend to the democratic context. We need a means of persuasion in the public sphere, and allowing philosophers to carefully inculcate virtue in the masses is an impractical option (at least until the educational scheme of the Republic can be implemented). By rejecting rhetoric completely, Plato makes it difficult to try to reform the practice of rhetoric or to find a form of rhetoric which does not obscure true knowledge or lead to tyranny. One gets the feeling that the philosopher in Socrates is looking forward so much to the day when he will directly apprehend the Forms that he is unconcerned with moral reform in the phenomenal world. The world is abandoned to the tyrants in the Gorgias, while Socrates makes his transcendence in the Phaedo . This state of affairs is not satisfactory.
We will see that Plato himself follows this last critique and feels it necessary to reconsider his theory of rhetoric in the Phaedrus .
Section 2: The Middle Plato's Reform of Rhetoric
One of the main complaints which I leveled at Plato at the end of the last section is that his rejection of rhetoric seems to leave rhetoric, and thus practical politics, without practicable norms. This is only part of a larger critique of the philosophy of the early Plato. His world of Forms seems to be out of joint with the phenomenal world in the sense that the transcendent moral norms which we can know by recollection do not seem to work in the real world. Socrates, as we saw, tried to live a just life and was, as if by necessity, punished. He found solace only in the hereafter, claiming that "Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death." (Phaedo , 64a4-6) Philosophy, for the Socrates (and for the writer) of the Gorgias and Phaedo, is a preparation for death which will never find practical application in this lowly world of the body and of pain and death.
To find the transcendent norms cohering so badly with the phenomenal world might lead to a question such as "If the Form of the Good is so good, why has it no power? Why is it so impractical?" It may have been in response to this sort of disconcerting disharmony that Plato sets out to revise his rather rash rejection of all things bodily. Plato effects this revision in the Symposium, and deepens his reevaluation in the Phaedrus .
The Symposium is one of the least dialogic of the dialogues. There is very little back and forth question and answer as we are accustomed to in the other dialogues. Rather, the dialogue consists of six speeches, all on the topic of love. The speeches build on one another, each correcting certain defects of the previous ones, until Socrates provides a glittering account of love. There are two things about Socrates' speech which are interesting. The first is the form it takes, the second is its content and the relevance of that content for Plato's view of the emotions.
Unique among the six speeches, Socrates's speech is a report of a series of questions and answers. This reported dialogue was between himself when younger and an older woman named Diotima. In the dialogue, Socrates is ignorant of the nature of love and Diotima leads him, partly by question and answer, to a deeper understanding of love and beauty.
In earlier dialogues, especially the Apology, Socrates had insisted on his own ignorance. But at the beginning of the Symposium, Socrates says that he will participate in the series of speeches on love because "...I couldn't very well dissent when I claim that love is the only thing in the world I understand..." (177d8-e1) Why does Socrates make this epistemic exception for love? Because he was taught about love by the method of question and answer, which method uniquely moves the soul toward true knowledge.
If Socrates was taught by question and answer, then we should believe that his account of love is the true one. But more importantly, we should believe that his account is true because the process of question and answer is displayed for us in the speech. Had Socrates simply said, "Diotima and I had this conversation about love and here is what I learned", we would not be so tempted to believe him. Socrates' speech displays in its structure the structure of all true learning. It thus breaks out of the dichotomy between rhetoric and dialectic that was so important in the Gorgias . Rhetoric, when given in the form of a series of questions and answers (of the appropriate sort), has some part of the legitimacy which we are to grant to dialectic.
The second part of the speech which is interesting is the revised view of the body and the physical world. The Phaedo and the Gorgias present an unrelentingly negative view of all things physical. But in Socrates's speech in the Symposium, the body is substantially revalued.
The final success of love, Socrates says Diotima says, happens when "...there bursts upon [the lover] that wondrous vision which is the very soul of the beauty he has toiled so long for." (210e4-211a1) Diotima then proceeds to say many wonderful things about this perfect beauty. We are to take it that the beauty which lies at the end of love's road is the very Form of Beauty itself.
But what of the beginning of that road? Diotima had described several stages of a process which begins with love of the physical beauty of a boy, which led to friendship between the lover of beauty and the boy. It is through this relationship that the lover (but not the beloved) is led to higher and more universal forms of beauty until he apprehends the highest and most universal Form of Beauty. Diotima explains that "...when his prescribed devotion to boyish beauties has carried our candidate so far that the universal beauty dawns upon his inward sight, he is almost within reach of the final revelation. And this is the way, the only way, he must approach, or be led toward, the sanctuary of Love." (211b5-c2) The only way that one can move to apprehend the Form of Beauty is through initially apprehending some particular physical beauty in the face of a boy. Indeed, "...the candidate for this initiation cannot, if his efforts are to be rewarded, begin too early to devote himself to the beauties of the body." (210a7-9)
In the Gorgias and Phaedo, Socrates had announced an anti-body view which included his anti-emotion and anti-rhetoric views. He enunciated a dualism between the transcendent norms of the world of Forms and the political and psychological events of the phenomenal world. In the Symposium, he begins to break down this dualism and make it into a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is the phenomenal world, at the other is the world of Forms. But one can apprehend the Forms not through denying the phenomenal world, but rather through a special engagement with it. Attending to this new relationship between the two worlds, Plato allows that rhetoric can be of some value, but only if it incorporates dialectic in its structure.
The process of synthesis is not yet complete. Socrates's speech does qualify as a kind of rhetoric because it is a long speech without interaction with the audience. But this dialectically valid rhetoric is a private rhetoric, it seems that it is good just for philosophically-minded revelers enjoying themselves at a late private party. It is not fit for elucidating policies to the masses. For a suggestion toward such a rhetoric, we must turn to the Phaedrus after making one final observation about the Symposium .
In the Gorgias, Socrates had condemned rhetoric and had tacitly accorded with the condemnation of emotion elucidated in the Phaedo. I have been treating these two dialogues as a unit because the doctrine of the Gorgias makes little sense without the general sentiment and particular views of the Phaedo . We may say, then, that Plato's first pass at the question of rhetoric occurs when he has a profoundly negative view of the emotions, which he regards at that time as merely physical. It is important, then, to see that in the same dialogue, the Symposium, in which Plato revises his view of the emotions by making the emotion of love lead toward the world of Forms, he projects a revision of rhetoric by allowing for rhetoric which is composed on a dialectical model. Even more striking is that Plato's next pass at love and his next pass at rhetoric again occur within the same dialogue, the Phaedrus . It would seem that Plato progressively realized the connection between the emotions and rhetoric and projected this realization into the dialogues. This is a powerful argument in favor of rereading (at least Plato if not his contemporary) ancient theorists of rhetoric as highly concerned with psychological issues.
Now let us turn to the Phaedrus . The Phaedrus begins with three speeches, one written by Lysias but delivered by Phaedrus which espouses the advantages for the boy of befriending a non-lover rather than a lover, one spoken by Socrates on how destructive associating with a lover is for the boy, and one spoken by Socrates in recantation of his earlier speech and explaining the glories of love.
Lysias's speech includes a group of dichotomies. Love falls on one side of each dichotomy, while some authentic human value falls on the other side. It is through these arguments by division that Lysias shows the disadvantages of associating with the lover. For instance, Lysias says
Perhaps you feel troubled by the reflection that it is hard for friendship to be preserved, and that whereas a quarrel arising from other sources will be a calamity shared by both parties, one that follows the sacrifice of your all will involve a grievous hurt to yourself; in that case it is doubtless the lover who should cause you the more alarm, for he is very ready to take offense, and thinks the whole affair is to his own hurt. (232b7-c4)
The lover is ill-tempered, prone to jealousy. His soul is not in balance and he lacks self-control. The non-lover is coolly dispassionate and in control of himself; an argument with him will end in resolution, not panic and damage. Love is treated as a psychological imbalance or illness. Unfortunately, Lysias is terribly long-winded, so considerations of space force me to summarize rather than show a few of Lysias' other dichotomies. He makes out that love conflicts with reason, friendship, civil order, family, long-term self-interest, being selective about with whom one associations, and many other basic constituents of the good life.
Plato is laying out these dichotomies so that Socrates can critique them. But he wants to critique them because they are his own old view from the Gorgias and Phaedo . While the Symposium had revised the anti-body philosophy of the early Plato, the Phaedrus reaffirms the changes while continuing beyond them.
Socrates's first speech makes the same set of distinctions as Lysias's speech but more succinctly. Socrates says that "...within each of us there are two sorts of ruling or guiding principle that we follow. One is an innate desire for pleasure, the other an acquired judgment that aims at what is best." (237d6-9) To accept the first is to live 'wantonly', to accept the second is to live 'temperately'. Thus Socrates is affirming the duality between emotion and reason. In his speech, he divides emotions from knowledge, philosophy, friendship, family, civil society, wisdom, temperance, and reason in general. Love is thus bad for much the same reason that rhetoric was considered bad in the Gorgias ; it distracts from and impedes the pursuit of true knowledge and the salvation of the soul. Needless to say, Socrates is drawing these dualisms only to critique them later on.
This speech is methodologically superior to Lysias's speech. Lysias merely postulates a set of dichotomous relations between love and anything good, while Socrates begins by defining love and then deriving the dichotomies from the definition. According to Socrates, "When irrational desire, pursuing the enjoyment of beauty, has gained the mastery over judgment that prompts to right conduct, and has acquired from other desires, akin to it, fresh strength to strain toward bodily beauty, that very strength provides it with its name - it is the strong passion called love." (238b7-c4) In this speech, love is the irrational pursuit of physical beauty. It is tacitly affirmed that love is a kind of madness or wild disharmony of the soul.
Socrates bases his second speech, which defends love, on a revision of this tacit premise. Here he says that he would have been right "...if it were an invariable truth that madness is an evil, but in reality, the greatest blessings come by way of madness, indeed of madness that is heaven-sent." (244a7-b1) Socrates distinguishes between two kinds of madness; ordinary madness which is bad, and divine madness which is good. Divine madness is the madness of poets, prophets, and lovers.
Socrates continues to approach the question by noting that "...our first step in attaining the truth of the matter is to discern the nature of soul, divine and human, its experiences, and its activities." (245c4-6) There may be a very subtle and ambiguous message here. Socrates is obviously addressing himself to the question of love. But philosophy is the 'love of wisdom', and, as Socrates has argued in the Symposium, love is a lack. Thus Socrates's love of wisdom is attendant on his ignorance. Lysias, however, represents the approach of the sophists, who claim to already have wisdom. Since the sophists already have wisdom, they cannot be lovers of wisdom. By trying to persuade his students (such as Phaedrus) to prefer the companionship and tutelage of the non-lover to that of the lover, Lysias is trying to attract young men from the dialectical education of Socrates toward the sophists' rhetorical education. Socrates is trying not only to refute a speech by Lysias but to woo Phaedrus (and the reader) to the love of wisdom; to the admission of ignorance. Now, if the first step of the speech involves an understanding of soul, Socrates needs this understanding for two reasons: first, to inform his proof that the lover is superior; second, to inform his speech on why the lover is superior. For the first purpose, knowing the nature of the soul provides certain premises which will help Socrates move toward his conclusion. For the second purpose, knowing the nature of the soul provides Socrates with the understanding of how to move Phaedrus toward philosophy by the structure of the speech and its words. Thus the investigation of the emotions serves a dual purpose; to prove a thesis about love and to structure a speech to make it successfully persuasive. This is a rather baroque argument and hardly establishes its conclusion with certainty, but further considerations below will enhance its plausibility.
Whether Socrates has just announced a methodological principle for the construction of speeches or not, he has announced the first topic of his speech: the nature of the soul. After affirming the doctrine of the Phaedo that the soul is immortal, Socrates provides the famous chariot analogy to describe the soul:
Let it [the soul] be likened to the union of powers in a team of winged steeds and their winged charioteer.... With us men... it is a pair of steeds that the charioteer controls; moreover one of them is noble and good, and of good stock, while the other has the opposite character, and his stock is opposite. Hence the task of our charioteer is difficult and troublesome. (246a7-b5)
Later in the speech, Socrates gets more specific about this analogy. The soul, apparently, has three parts. The charioteer is at least nominally in control, but the motive power of the soul stems from the horses.
The good horse is "...upright and clean-limbed, carrying his neck high... a lover of glory, but with temperance and modesty... and needs no whip, being driven by the word of command alone." (253d4-e1) The good horse is the part of the soul which strives for things which are rational and orderly. The bad horse, however, is "...crooked of frame, a massive jumble of a creature... hot-blooded, consorting with wantonness and vainglory... hard to control with whip and goad." (253e1-5) The bad horse is the passionate side of the soul. The two horses together provide the energy for moving the soul, while the charioteer provides the guidance required to move it aright.
Socrates affirms the doctrine of the Meno and Phaedo that the soul subsisted in the world of Forms before it was embodied. Now, however, he explains further that the reason the soul fell from the world of Forms was that, "...though all are eager to reach the heights [of the hierarchy of the Forms] and seek to follow [the gods], they are not able; sucked down as they travel they trample and tread upon one another, this one striving to outstrip that." (248a7-1) The consequence is that these souls fall from the world of Forms to the phenomenal world and become embodied.
This is an intriguing story. The chariots of the gods never fall to earth, because it is "...the heaviness of the steed of wickedness..." (247b4) which weighs down the souls of we non-gods. The bad horse is thus the one which is attached to the body. However, there is no unambiguous rejection of the bad horse. The type of person one will be is determined by the closeness one achieved to the highest Forms before one tripped and fell: "...the soul that hath seen the most of being shall enter into the human babe that shall grow into a seeker after wisdom or beauty..." (248d2-4) The soul of the philosopher is the soul which rose highest before falling.
Now, there must be some reason that the philosopher's soul rose higher than that of the non-philosopher. If the philosopher is the lover of wisdom and love is the irrational pursuit of beauty, then the philosopher is the one who has the most irrationality in his pursuit of beauty (in the form of the Forms). But this one is the one with the strongest bad horse - it is specifically the untamed irrationality of this horse which allows the philosopher's soul to get so close to the Forms before it loses the race. If the philosopher's bad horse were more tame than those of the others, then either they would remain in formation and never fall, but this would make them gods, or else they would be the last to break formation and thus the ones with the least close glimpse of the Forms, but this would make them unphilosophical. If this is true, it would explain why the philosopher's soul rose highest in the pursuit of a glimpse of the Forms: the philosopher's steeds are stronger because the philosopher's bad horse is stronger, and it is this strength which carried the philosopher's soul higher than that of the non-philosopher. The logic of Plato's myth of the fall implies that the philosopher is the most passionate of men. Again, this argument is tenuous and non-conclusive, but it is provocative and plausible.
However, the account of love does yield some conclusions about which we need not be so hedging. Socrates claims that, "...when the driver beholds the person of the beloved, and causes a sensation of warmth to suffuse the whole soul, he begins to experience a tickling or pricking of desire..." (253e6-254a1) Since the word 'soul' in Greek is feminine, we may take it that the 'he' who is tickled and pricked is the driver himself, not the soul as a whole. Moreover, it is the driver's beholding the beauty of the beloved which causes the warmth to creep into the whole soul, including the horses. Socrates continues to say that the bad horse, "...heeding no more the driver's goad or whip, leaps and dashes on, sorely troubling his companion and his driver, and forcing them to approach the loved one and remind him of the delights of love's commerce." (254a3-6) Though it is the driver's initial awareness of the beauty of the boy which warmed the horses, the horses seem now to have a will of their own. There follows an explanation of a kind of negotiation between the bad horse on the one hand and the good horse and the driver on the other. Such discourse implies a kind of intelligence in each of the horses, beyond mere stupid will. Should the lover approach too close to consummating the relationship with the beloved, the driver is wont to stop the whole operation in a manner which makes the bad horse "burst into angry abuse" (254c6), again suggesting intelligence in the bad horse. The lover is liable to make many approaches, and each time the driver stops the affair in a manner more painful to the bad horse until finally "...the evil steed casts off his wantonness... and when he sees the fair beloved is like to die of fear." (254e7-9) Now the bad horse sees the beloved on its own, without requiring the intercession of the driver. Socrates has through this passage built a picture of even the bad horse as intelligent and as seeking the beautiful.
Note also that Socrates had earlier said that, of all the Forms, "...for beauty alone has this been ordained, to be most manifest to sense and most lovely of them all." (250d8-9) Further, Socrates had said that "...when one who is fresh from the mystery, and saw much of the vision, beholds a godlike face or bodily form that truly expresses beauty, first there come upon him a shuddering and a measure of that awe which the vision inspired..." (251a1-5) The reason the lover loves the beloved is that the beloved resembles the form of Beauty.
We are now in a position to understand Plato's new conception of the emotions. Recall that in the Phaedo and by implication in the Gorgias, emotions were a physical manifestation devoutly to be denied and rejected. But now in the Symposium and more thoroughly in the Phaedrus, the emotions are caused by the bad horse. But the bad horse, while it is the connection to the body and does present a problem for our spiritual advancement, is a part of the soul which evidently displays intelligence and can independently recognize and seek out the Forms (and their instantiations). Socrates has made of the emotions a means of cognition. His complaint about the emotions is not that they are mistaken or confused; to the contrary, the philosopher, who is the least confused of all people, has the strongest emotions (he is the only professional lover of something). The problem with the emotions is that their motivational component does not recognize rational constraints on the pursuit of their legitimate goal. The emotions pursue the right objects, and so are intelligent in their choice of goal. But their pursuit of those objects is ignorant. Plato's new view of the emotions, then, is much more sophisticated than his earlier view (and most contemporary views).
Let me summarize this new theory of the emotions. The soul consists of three elements, one of which is supposed to give orders and the other two of which are supposed to follow orders. One of these components does indeed follow orders and is in harmony. The other part is wilder, more visceral. Nevertheless, each part is capable of independent recognition of the Forms. The difference between the two follower parts of the soul is that one does and one does not recognize the necessity for moderation in the pursuit of the apprehension of the Forms. The apprehension and pursuit of the Forms by (e.g. Beauty) by the bad horse is emotion. Emotion is thus a kind of cognition, of knowing the presence of the Forms in things, but is not capable of the self-control which makes possible the proper apprehension of the Forms. Despite this, only those with strong emotions are liable to attain this apprehension, because these strong emotions pull the soul toward the Forms more than the weaker emotions of others. Philosophy emerges as the most passionate of all disciplines, and we can see why the philosopher is called the 'lover of wisdom'.
It is against this backdrop that Plato revises his theory of rhetoric. Now that, rather than rebel against the passions, we are to engage with and discipline them, it is possible to justify a form of speech which gains part of its power from its emotional appeal. But, just as the emotions and the body are not to be yielded to without attempt to control, so rhetoric is not to be engaged in without discipline and guidance.
Socrates begins by critiquing the Gorgianic view of rhetoric, which Phaedrus summarizes: "...what I have heard is that the intending orator is under no necessity of understanding what is truly just, but only what is likely to be thought just by the body of men who are to give judgment..." (259e8-260a3) Socrates deals this a swift blow which is reminiscent of the moral critique of the Gorgias . He asks Phaedrus what would be the prospects for soldiers who had heard a speech on the benefits of horses but who were told that donkeys were horses. Naturally, Phaedrus replies that the speaker who gave that speech would be ridiculous. We know that the consequences to those soldiers would be disaster. Then Socrates makes his critique:
Then when a master of oratory, who is ignorant of good and evil, employs his power of persuasion on a community as ignorant as himself, not by extolling a miserable donkey as being really a horse, but by extolling evil as being really good, and when by studying the beliefs of the masses he persuades them to do evil instead of good, what kind of crop do you think his oratory is likely to reap from the seed thus sown? (260c7-d2)
Obviously, this Gorgianic rhetoric has bad effects regardless of the opinions of the people. But Gorgianic rhetoric is no longer the only possible kind of rhetoric. Socrates has a little mental dialogue with rhetoric, who says
Why do you extraordinary people talk such nonsense? I never insist on ignorance of the truth on the part of one who would learn to speak; on the contrary, if my advice goes for anything, it is that he should only resort to me after he has come into possession of truth; what I do however pride myself on is that without my aid knowledge of what is true will get a man no nearer to mastering the art of persuasion. (260d5-11)
This kind of rhetoric is different from Gorgianic rhetoric. This kind of rhetoric is a tool of persuasion for the one who knows good and evil, not for the philosophical sceptic and moral relativist.
Can there be such a rhetoric? Socrates alludes to his claim in the Gorgias that rhetoric is merely a knack, not an art. But here he makes good on this argument. I had complained at the end of the first section of this chapter that Socrates's claim that rhetoric was merely a knack seemed irrelevant because Socrates did not hammer home the practical inefficacy of a rhetoric which is not understood by its practitioners. Now Socrates will argue that Gorgianic rhetoric, that rhetoric which is merely a knack, is not as effective as a device of persuasion as that rhetoric which is an art based on dialectic.
Socrates begins by assuming that the rhetor is attempting to deceive the community. How would he be most successful at so tricking them? If rhetors seek to deceive, then they must try to make the audience believe that something is what it is not; that is, to confuse them. Socrates thus makes out rhetoric to be the art "...which enables people to make out everything to be like everything else, within the limits of possible comparison, and to expose the corresponding attempts of others who disguise what they are doing." (261e2-5) He continues to explain that it is easier to make out one thing to be another thing if the two things are in fact similar or if one or both things has a nature which is unknown or always in dispute. Thus, we will find it easier to confuse love with mental illness because they are both forms of madness and thus quite similar in important ways, though different in other ways. Moreover, since 'love' is a concept inherently in dispute, it will be easy to confuse love with other phenomena, such as mental illness. Lysias's speech had made both errors, because it did not define love, leaving it confused and thus easy to make out as mental illness. Socrates's first speech defined love, but did not sufficiently distinguish it from similar phenomena, such as the kinds of madness which are mental illness. Socrates's second speech is such a success because it clearly delineates different kinds of madness.
The method which makes it possible to know the fine delineations of concepts and the essence of disputed concepts is the method of dialectic. Dialectic is not now, however, the method of question and answer, but the method of collection and division. The method of collection "...is that in which we bring a dispersed plurality under a single form, seeing it all together - the purpose being to define so-and-so, and thus to make plain whatever may be chosen as the topic for exposition." (265d4-7) The method of collection is the method of surveying particular phenomena and noting the essential similarities between them, so that we can integrate our knowledge of them into a single mental unit. However, what is interesting is that when "we bring a dispersed plurality under a single form" we are not dealing with transcendent Forms, but rather the common structures of things in the world. The example concept for the dialogue is the concept of love, but there is no indication that there is a Form of Love. Indeed, if love is a striving for something the lover lacks, then for there to be a Form of Love would be for there to be a Form which was sorely lacking and needed to go beyond and above itself, an implausible situation. The method of collection is thus not for knowledge of transcendent Forms but of the essences of phenomenal things.
Socrates later tells us how to know the essences of concepts of phenomenal objects. We are to ask
...whether the object... is simple or complex; secondly, if it is simple... what natural capacity it has for acting upon another thing, and through what means; or by what other thing, and through what means, it can be acted upon; or, if it is complex, to enumerate its parts and observe in respect of each what we observe in the case of the simple object, to wit what is its natural capacity, active or passive, consists in. (270d2-10)
The primary concerns of the method of collection are the internal structures (forms) and causal powers of things. Things with the same structure or causal power are suitable for collection under a single form.
The method of division is "...the reverse of the other [method; that is, of collection], whereby we are enabled to divide into forms, following the objective articulation; we are not to attempt to hack of parts like a clumsy butcher..." (265e1-3) Things which have been collected may be different, though still within the range of difference which permits them to have been legitimately collected. Some questions will turn on these detailed differences, and thus we must be ready to divide our concepts carefully according to objective differences between different kinds of things. For example, 'love' seems to refer both to the possessive insanity which Socrates condemned in his first speech and to the soul-enhancing ecstasy which he extolled in the second speech. But the analysis of love will be distorted if it fails to divide the two kinds of love.
It is by employing the methods of collection and division that the rhetor can know the relations between concepts, and it is only by knowing the relations between concepts that he can successfully confuse people into believing that something is what it is not. But Socrates says of those who can employ dialectic that "...I follow 'in his footsteps where he leadeth as a god.'" (266b7-8, internal quote is from the Odyssey, 5.193) Now, we can take it that Socrates would not follow someone like a god who was not worth following, and Socrates would regard someone as worth following only if he led to the apprehension of the Forms and the care of the soul. The dialectician, then, is the one who seeks or has true knowledge; the philosopher. Socrates has argued that philosophers will make more effective rhetors than sceptics will, because they know the conceptual relations which the sceptics must confuse. But, since philosophers wish to follow the transcendent moral norms and would not therefore desire to confuse the audience, the philosopher is also the best rhetor in the moral sense. Plato has now made knowledge of the Forms and adherence to the transcendent norms practical.
I have leveled two complaints at Plato's theory which have now been dealt with. At the end of the last section, I complained that Plato was leaving the world to the sophists and tyrants, while the philosophers make their escape to a better state of affairs in death. Now, though, Plato has given the philosopher a fighting chance to make the phenomenal world a better place. Practical politics is no longer abandoned but is a realm where the philosopher will naturally excel. I have also noted in this section that Socrates's speech in the Symposium, which displayed a dialogue (and was thus dialectical in the sense of involving question and answer) was not an appropriate form of rhetoric for political uses. It would be absurd for a politician to try to win an election by relaying some of his most philosophically enlightening conversations to a mass audience. Now, however, Socrates has demonstrated and justified a form of rhetoric which is not dialectic, but which is dialectically valid. The most successful form of rhetoric is the kind which rests on the method of collection and division; on the method of dialectic. But the speech itself does not display the process of dialectic but only its results. Thus Socrates did not spend hours in his speech examining the minute differentiae between the madness of the poet and the madness of the lover in order to assure the validity of the distinction. He has, however, no doubt examined the question before the speech and is now only displaying the results of the process. Thus the third speech is dialectically valid, though it does not take on a dialectical form.
Plato moves the dialogue on to further questions about the relationship between rhetoric and psychology. Socrates says that "Rhetoric is in the same case as medicine..." (270b1) Now, since rhetoric had been a paradigm of flattery in the Gorgias and medicine a paradigm of art, this claim is quite stunning and shows the complete reversal of fortune of Plato's conception of rhetoric. Note also that Socrates is employing the method of collection, grouping together medicine and rhetoric. Now, according to the criteria for conceptual essences laid down earlier, he must now give an account of the causal or structural similarities between medicine and rhetoric which allow them to be legitimately collected. And so he does: "In both cases there is a nature that we have to determine, the nature of body in the one, and of soul in the other, if we mean to be scientific and not content with mere empirical routine..." (270b4-6) Rhetoric relies for its success not only on an understanding of conceptual relations, but also on knowledge of the soul. And moreover, this knowledge is 'scientific' even though it is not of the Forms (for there is no Form of Soul, for a similar reason that there can be no Form of Love; since souls apprehend the Forms, the Form of Soul would be a Form which reached beyond its empty self toward the other Forms - an implausible prospect).
Socrates later notes that "...anyone... who seriously proffers a scientific rhetoric, will, in the first place, describe the soul very precisely, and let us see whether it is single and uniform in nature or, analogously to the body, complex. For to do that is, we maintain, to show a thing's nature." (271a5-9) This is because it is the soul which rhetoric seeks to persuade, and we can hope to move only that whose motions (causal powers) we understand. This supports my earlier argument to the effect that Socrates' discussion of the soul in the third speech had the purpose not only of making clear the nature of love, but also of laying the psychological ground for the study of rhetoric.
Socrates continues, in a very long passage, to lay out a wide variety of things which the student of rhetoric must know. He must know the different kinds of souls, which modes of speech are most persuasive for which kinds of soul, and he must have the skills to quickly identify the kinds of souls of audience members. One part of this passage is worth quoting: "...and when, on top of all this, he has further grasped the right occasions for speaking and for keeping quiet, and has come to recognize the right and the wrong time for the brachylogy, the pathetic passage, the exacerbation, and all the rest of his accomplishments... has he well and truly achieved the art." (272a4-9) Note that two of the three examples of the rhetor's 'accomplishments', the pathetic passage and exacerbation, are necessarily emotionally oriented. (While there is no reason to believe that Gorgias would not believe that these kinds of knowledge as necessary for effective rhetoric, the sceptic Gorgias of the Encomium would not be able to attain them.)
If Plato believes that such persuasive tools are intrinsic to rhetoric - which he has never denied and has always implicitly affirmed, from the Gorgias on - then his view of the validity of rhetoric must change to match his theory of emotion, which itself is attendant on his general view of the phenomenal world. After the Phaedo, Plato apparently took it upon himself to make the transcendent moral norms of the world of Forms relevant to the phenomenal world, rather than abandon that world to Callicles and Gorgias. By dedicating himself to the happiness of humankind not only in the life to come but also in this world, he revises the duality between the phenomenal world and the world of Forms and replaces that view with the spectrum view on which the phenomenal world is, while inferior to the world of Forms, a necessary means to that world. Rather than reject the body as he had in the Phaedo, Plato will make engagement with the body the means of transcendence. Love, an emotion, becomes a basic means of lifting oneself from the phenomenal world to the apprehension of the Forms. The emotions, while still involved with the body and potentially dangerous, are now treated as a means of knowing and seeking the Forms. Rhetoric, which persuades through the emotions, can now be a legitimate way to exhort the masses toward the morally good.
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