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Discuss the main differences, based on the Gorgias, between rhetoric and dialogue. Which is best? Why?

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                   BOOK- Reading the World IDEAS THAT MATTER second edition.

                   ARTICLE - Plato frome Gorgias (380 BCE)


     plato (circa 428-348 or 347 BCE), one of the greatest philosophers of the ancient world, came of age during an era of almost perpetual warfare. In 431 BEC, the peloponnesian War, between his native Athens and the militaristic city-state of Sparta, began. The war lasted for twenty-seven years, during which time Plato grew up in an aristocratic family and became a disciple of the Greek philosopher Socrates. When the war ended in Athens's total defeat, the Athenian assembly tried and executed Socrates, who had been one of the war's strongest critics. Officially, Socrates was charged with impiety and corrupting the young, but Plato felt that his mentor had been executed because he had spent years engaging the city's people in conversations designed to unmask their foolishness and hypocrisy. Plato recorded Socrates' trial in his Apology.

     The war and Socrates' execution affected Plato deeply; he saw both as fruits of Athens's unwise government, in which an assembly of ordinary men made decisions that affected the entire state. Masterminded by a few very persuasive speakers who managed to build consensus within the assembly, these events made Plato especially suspicious of the art of rhetoric, which , he felt, focused on persuasion at the expense of truth. He believed that important questions should be decided by wise leaders and not be subjected to public debate and popular vote.

     For Plato, the figures that symbolized rhetoric's dangers were the Sophists, a group of teachers - most of them foreign - who had set up successful schools of rhetoric in Athens. Sophists often taught that the truth of a situation depended on one's perspective, that any argument could be effective if presented well, and that "winning" a debate was more important than discovering the truth. All of these views were anathema to Plato, who believed that the most important thing in life was to discover the truth.

     The Sicilian rhetorician Gorgias(circa 483- 376 BCE) was one of the most successful Sophists in Athens. His major discourse, On Nature or the Non-Existent, has not survived, but accounts indicate that it argued against the possibility of knowing, or communicating, anything.Although Plato's dialogue Gorgias is a debate between Socrates and Gorgias about the relative merits of philosophy and rhetoric, such a conversation probably never occurred; Plato often expressed his ideas through fictional dialogues that echoed the kind of persistent questioning for which Socrates was famous. This format is especially apt for the Gorgias, in which Plato focuses on the ultimate purpose of dialogue.

     Plato's rhetorical strategy in Gorgias, as in most of his dialogues , in to place his own argument in Socrates' mouth while summarizing his opponent's argument in the person of Gorgias. This strategy can be very effective, but Plato has often been criticized for turning characters such as Gorgias into straw men for his own rhetorical ends.


Gor. Rhetoric, Socrates, is my art. 

Soc. Then I am to call you a rhetorician? 

Gor. Yes, Socrates, and a good one too, if you would call  me that which, in Homeric language, "I boast myself to  be." 

Soc. I should wish to do so. 

Gor. Then pray do. 

Soc. And are we to say that you are able to make other men  rhetoricians? 

Gor. Yes, that is exactly what I profess to make them, not  only at Athens, but in all places. 

Soc. And will you continue to ask and answer questions,  Gorgias, as we are at present doing and reserve for another occasion the  longer mode of speech which Polus was attempting? Will you keep your promise,  and answer shortly the questions which are asked of  you? 

Gor. Some answers, Socrates, are of necessity longer; but  I will do my best to make them as short as possible; for a part of my profession  is that I can be as short as any one. 

Soc. That is what is wanted, Gorgias; exhibit the shorter  method now, and the longer one at some other time. 

Gor. Well, I will; and you will certainly say, that you  never heard a man use fewer words. 

Soc. Very good then; as you profess to be a rhetorician,  and a maker of rhetoricians, let me ask you, with what is rhetoric concerned:  I might ask with what is weaving concerned, and you would reply (would  you not?), with the making of garments? 

Gor. Yes. 

Soc. And music is concerned with the composition of  melodies? 

Gor. It is. 

Soc. By Here, Gorgias, I admire the surpassing brevity of  your answers. 

Gor. Yes, Socrates, I do think myself good at  that. 

Soc. I am glad to hear it; answer me in like manner about  rhetoric: with what is rhetoric concerned? 

Gor. With discourse. 

Soc. What sort of discourse, Gorgias?-such discourse as  would teach the sick under what treatment they might get  well? 

Gor. No. 

Soc. Then rhetoric does not treat of all kinds of  discourse? 

Gor. Certainly not. 

Soc. And yet rhetoric makes men able to  speak? 

Gor. Yes. 

Soc. And to understand that about which they  speak? 

Gor. Of course. 

Soc. But does not the art of medicine, which we were just  now mentioning, also make men able to understand and speak about the  sick? 

Gor. Certainly. 

Soc. Then medicine also treats of discourse? 

Gor. Yes. 

Soc. Of discourse concerning diseases? 

Gor. Just so. 

Soc. And does not gymnastic also treat of discourse concerning  the good or evil condition of the body? 

Gor. Very true. 

Soc. And the same, Gorgias, is true of the other arts:-all  of them treat of discourse concerning the subjects with which they severally  have to do. 

Gor. Clearly. 

Soc. Then why, if you call rhetoric the art which treats  of discourse, and all the other arts treat of discourse, do you not call  them arts of rhetoric? 

Gor. Because, Socrates, the knowledge of the other arts  has only to do with some sort of external action, as of the hand; but there  is no such action of the hand in rhetoric which works and takes effect  only through the medium of discourse. And therefore I am justified in saying  that rhetoric treats of discourse. 

Soc. I am not sure whether I entirely understand you, but  I dare say I shall soon know better; please to answer me a question:-you  would allow that there are arts? 

Gor. Yes. 

Soc. As to the arts generally, they are for the most part  concerned with doing, and require little or no speaking; in painting, and  statuary, and many other arts, the work may proceed in silence; and of  such arts I suppose you would say that they do not come within the province  of rhetoric. 

Gor. You perfectly conceive my meaning,  Socrates. 

Soc. But there are other arts which work wholly through  the medium of language, and require either no action or very little, as,  for example, the arts of arithmetic, of calculation, of geometry, and of  playing draughts; in some of these speech is pretty nearly co-extensive  with action, but in most of them the verbal element is greater-they depend  wholly on words for their efficacy and power: and I take your meaning to  be that rhetoric is an art of this latter sort? 

Gor. Exactly. 

Soc. And yet I do not believe that you really mean to call  any of these arts rhetoric; although the precise expression which you used  was, that rhetoric is an art which works and takes effect only through  the medium of discourse; and an adversary who wished to be captious might  say, "And so, Gorgias, you call arithmetic rhetoric." But I do not think that you really call arithmetic rhetoric any more than geometry would be  so called by you. 

Gor. You are quite right, Socrates, in your apprehension  of my meaning. 

Soc. Well, then, let me now have the rest of my answer:-seeing  that rhetoric is one of those arts which works mainly by the use of words,  and there are other arts which also use words, tell me what is that quality  in words with which rhetoric is concerned:-Suppose that a person asks me  about some of the arts which I was mentioning just now; he might say, "Socrates,  what is arithmetic?" and I should reply to him, as you replied to me, that  arithmetic is one of those arts which take effect through words. And then  he would proceed to ask: "Words about what?" and I should reply, Words  about and even numbers, and how many there are of each. And if he asked  again: "What is the art of calculation?" I should say, That also is one  of the arts which is concerned wholly with words. And if he further said,  "Concerned with what?" I should say, like the clerks in the assembly, "as  aforesaid" of arithmetic, but with a difference, the difference being that  the art of calculation considers not only the quantities of odd and even  numbers, but also their numerical relations to themselves and to one another.  And suppose, again, I were to say that astronomy is only word-he would  ask, "Words about what, Socrates?" and I should answer, that astronomy  tells us about the motions of the stars and sun and moon, and their relative  swiftness. 

Gor. You would be quite right, Socrates. 

Soc. And now let us have from you, Gorgias, the truth about  rhetoric: which you would admit (would you not?) to be one of those arts  which act always and fulfil all their ends through the medium of  words? 

Gor. True. 

Soc. Words which do what? I should ask. To what class of  things do the words which rhetoric uses relate? 

Gor. To the greatest, Socrates, and the best of human  things. 

Soc. That again, Gorgias is ambiguous; I am still in the  dark: for which are the greatest and best of human things? I dare say that  you have heard men singing at feasts the old drinking song, in which the  singers enumerate the goods of life, first health, beauty next, thirdly,  as the writer of the song says, wealth honesty obtained. 

Gor. Yes, I know the song; but what is your  drift? 

Soc. I mean to say, that the producers of those things which  the author of the song praises, that is to say, the physician, the trainer,  the money-maker, will at once come to you, and first the physician will  say: "O Socrates, Gorgias is deceiving you, for my art is concerned with  the greatest good of men and not his." And when I ask, Who are you? he will reply, "I am a physician." What do you mean? I shall say. Do you mean  that your art produces the greatest good? "Certainly," he will answer,  "for is not health the greatest good? What greater good can men have, Socrates?"  And after him the trainer will come and say, "I too, Socrates, shall be  greatly surprised if Gorgias can show more good of his art than I can show  of mine." To him again I shall say, Who are you, honest friend, and what  is your business? "I am a trainer," he will reply, "and my business is  to make men beautiful and strong in body." When I have done with the trainer,  there arrives the money-maker, and he, as I expect, utterly despise them  all. "Consider Socrates," he will say, "whether Gorgias or any one-else  can produce any greater good than wealth." Well, you and I say to him,  and are you a creator of wealth? "Yes," he replies. And who are you? "A  money-maker." And do you consider wealth to be the greatest good of man?  "Of course," will be his reply. And we shall rejoin: Yes; but our friend  Gorgias contends that his art produces a greater good than yours. And then  he will be sure to go on and ask, "What good? Let Gorgias answer." Now  I want you, Gorgias, to imagine that this question is asked of you by them  and by me; What is that which, as you say, is the greatest good of man,  and of which you are the creator? Answer us. 

Gor. That good, Socrates, which is truly the greatest, being  that which gives to men freedom in their own persons, and to individuals  the power of ruling over others in their several states. 

Soc. And what would you consider this to  be? 

Gor. What is there greater than the word which persuades  the judges in the courts, or the senators in the council, or the citizens  in the assembly, or at any other political meeting?-if you have the power  of uttering this word, you will have the physician your slave, and the  trainer your slave, and the money-maker of whom you talk will be found to gather treasures, not for himself, but for you who are able to speak  and to persuade the multitude. 

Soc. Now I think, Gorgias, that you have very accurately  explained what you conceive to be the art of rhetoric; and you mean to  say, if I am not mistaken, that rhetoric is the artificer of persuasion,  having this and no other business, and that this is her crown and end.  Do you know any other effect of rhetoric over and above that of producing persuasion? 

Gor. No: the definition seems to me very fair, Socrates;  for persuasion is the chief end of rhetoric. 

Soc. Then hear me, Gorgias, for I am quite sure that if  there ever was a man who-entered on the discussion of a matter from a pure  love of knowing the truth, I am such a one, and I should say the same of  you. 

Gor. What is coming, Socrates? 

Soc. I will tell you: I am very well aware that do not know  what, according to you, is the exact nature, or what are the topics of  that persuasion of which you speak, and which is given by rhetoric; although  I have a suspicion about both the one and the other. And I am going to  ask-what is this power of persuasion which is given by rhetoric, and about what? But why, if I have a suspicion, do I ask instead of telling you?  Not for your sake, but in order that the argument may proceed in such a  manner as is most likely to set forth the truth. And I would have you observe,  that I am right in asking this further question: If I asked, "What sort  of a painter is Zeuxis?" and you said, "The painter of figures," should  I not be right in asking, What kind of figures, and where do you find  them?" 

Gor. Certainly. 

Soc. And the reason for asking this second question would  be, that there are other painters besides, who paint many other  figures? 

Gor. True. 

Soc. But if there had been no one but Zeuxis who painted  them, then you would have answered very well? 

Gor. Quite so. 

Soc. Now I was it to know about rhetoric in the same way;-is  rhetoric the only art which brings persuasion, or do other arts have the  same effect? I mean to say-Does he who teaches anything persuade men of  that which he teaches or not? 

Gor. He persuades, Socrates,-there can be no mistake about  that. 

Soc. Again, if we take the arts of which we were just now  speaking:-do not arithmetic and the arithmeticians teach us the properties  of number? 

Gor. Certainly. 

Soc. And therefore persuade us of them? 

Gor. Yes. 

Soc. Then arithmetic as well as rhetoric is an artificer  of persuasion? 

Gor. Clearly. 

Soc. And if any one asks us what sort of persuasion, and  about what,-we shall answer, persuasion which teaches the quantity of odd  and even; and we shall be able to show that all the other arts of which  we were just now speaking are artificers of persuasion, and of what sort,  and about what. 

Gor. Very true. 

Soc. Then rhetoric is not the only artificer of  persuasion? 

Gor. True. 

Soc. Seeing, then, that not only rhetoric works by persuasion,  but that other arts do the same, as in the case of the painter, a question  has arisen which is a very fair one: Of what persuasion is rhetoric the  artificer, and about what?-is not that a fair way of putting the  question? 

Gor. I think so. 

Soc. Then, if you approve the question, Gorgias, what is  the answer? 

Gor. I answer, Socrates, that rhetoric is the art of persuasion  in courts of law and other assemblies, as I was just now saying, and about  the just and unjust. 

Soc. And that, Gorgias, was what I was suspecting to be  your notion; yet I would not have you wonder if by-and-by I am found repeating  a seemingly plain question; for I ask not in order to confute you, but  as I was saying that the argument may proceed consecutively, and that we  may not get the habit of anticipating and suspecting the meaning of one  another's words; I would have you develop your own views in your own way,  whatever may be your hypothesis. 

Gor. I think that you are quite right,  Socrates. 

Soc. Then let me raise another question; there is such a  thing as "having learned"? 

Gor. Yes. 

Soc. And there is also "having believed"? 

Gor. Yes. 

Soc. And is the "having learned" the same "having believed,"  and are learning and belief the same things? 

Gor. In my judgment, Socrates, they are not the  same. 

Soc. And your judgment is right, as you may ascertain in  this way:-If a person were to say to you, "Is there, Gorgias, a false belief  as well as a true?" -you would reply, if I am not mistaken, that there  is. 

Gor. Yes. 

Soc. Well, but is there a false knowledge as well as a  true? 

Gor. No. 

Soc. No, indeed; and this again proves that knowledge and  belief differ. 

Gor. Very true. 

Soc. And yet those who have learned as well as those who  have believed are persuaded? 

Gor. Just so. 

Soc. Shall we then assume two sorts of persuasion,-one which  is the source of belief without knowledge, as the other is of  knowledge? 

Gor. By all means. 

Soc. And which sort of persuasion does rhetoric create in  courts of law and other assemblies about the just and unjust, the sort  of persuasion which gives belief without knowledge, or that which gives  knowledge? 

Gor. Clearly, Socrates, that which only gives  belief. 

Soc. Then rhetoric, as would appear, is the artificer of  a persuasion which creates belief about the just and unjust, but gives  no instruction about them? 

Gor. True. 

Soc. And the rhetorician does not instruct the courts of  law or other assemblies about things just and unjust, but he creates belief  about them; for no one can be supposed to instruct such a vast multitude  about such high matters in a short time? 

Gor. Certainly not. 

Soc. Come, then, and let us see what we really mean about  rhetoric; for I do not know what my own meaning is as yet. When the assembly  meets to elect a physician or a shipwright or any other craftsman, will  the rhetorician be taken into counsel? Surely not. For at every election  he ought to be chosen who is most skilled; and, again, when walls have  to be built or harbours or docks to be constructed, not the rhetorician  but the master workman will advise; or when generals have to be chosen  and an order of battle arranged, or a proposition taken, then the military  will advise and not the rhetoricians: what do you say, Gorgias? Since you  profess to be a rhetorician and a maker of rhetoricians, I cannot do better  than learn the nature of your art from you. And here let me assure you  that I have your interest in view as well as my own. For likely enough some one or other of the young men present might desire to become your  pupil, and in fact I see some, and a good many too, who have this wish,  but they would be too modest to question you. And therefore when you are  interrogated by me, I would have you imagine that you are interrogated  by them. "What is the use of coming to you, Gorgias? they will say about  what will you teach us to advise the state?-about the just and unjust only,  or about those other things also which Socrates has just mentioned? How  will you answer them? 

Gor. I like your way of leading us on, Socrates, and I will  endeavour to reveal to you the whole nature of rhetoric. You must have  heard, I think, that the docks and the walls of the Athenians and the plan  of the harbour were devised in accordance with the counsels, partly of  Themistocles, and partly of Pericles, and not at the suggestion of the builders. 

Soc. Such is the tradition, Gorgias, about Themistocles;  and I myself heard the speech of Pericles when he advised us about the  middle wall. 

Gor. And you will observe, Socrates, that when a decision  has to be given in such matters the rhetoricians are the advisers; they  are the men who win their point. 

Soc. I had that in my admiring mind, Gorgias, when I asked  what is the nature of rhetoric, which always appears to me, when I look  at the matter in this way, to be a marvel of greatness. 

Gor. A marvel, indeed, Socrates, if you only knew how rhetoric  comprehends and holds under her sway all the inferior arts. Let me offer  you a striking example of this. On several occasions I have been with my  brother Herodicus or some other physician to see one of his patients, who  would not allow the physician to give him medicine, or apply a knife or  hot iron to him; and I have persuaded him to do for me what he would not  do for the physician just by the use of rhetoric. And I say that if a rhetorician  and a physician were to go to any city, and had there to argue in the Ecclesia  or any other assembly as to which of them should be elected state-physician,  the physician would have no chance; but he who could speak would be chosen  if he wished; and in a contest with a man of any other profession the rhetorician  more than any one would have the power of getting himself chosen, for he  can speak more persuasively to the multitude than any of them, and on any  subject. Such is the nature and power of the art of rhetoric And yet, Socrates,  rhetoric should be used like any other competitive art, not against everybody-the  rhetorician ought not to abuse his strength any more than a pugilist or  pancratiast or other master of fence; because he has powers which are more  than a match either for friend or enemy, he ought not therefore to strike,  stab, or slay his friends. Suppose a man to have been trained in the palestra  and to be a skilful boxer-he in the fulness of his strength goes and strikes  his father or mother or one of his familiars or friends; but that is no  reason why the trainers or fencing-masters should be held in detestation  or banished from the city-surely not. For they taught their art for a good  purpose, to be used against enemies and evil-doers, in self-defence not  in aggression, and others have perverted their instructions, and turned  to a bad use their own strength and skill. But not on this account are  the teachers bad, neither is the art in fault, or bad in itself; I should  rather say that those who make a bad use of the art are to blame. And the  same argument holds good of rhetoric; for the rhetorician can speak against  all men and upon any subject-in short, he can persuade the multitude better  than any other man of anything which he pleases, but he should not therefore  seek to defraud the physician or any other artist of his reputation merely  because he has the power; he ought to use rhetoric fairly, as he would  also use his athletic powers. And if after having become a rhetorician  he makes a bad use of his strength and skill, his instructor surely ought  not on that account to be held in detestation or banished. For he was intended  by his teacher to make a good use of his instructions, but he abuses them.  And therefore he is the person who ought to be held in detestation, banished,  and put to death, and not his instructor. 

Soc. You, Gorgias, like myself, have had great experience  of disputations, and you must have observed, I think, that they do not  always terminate in mutual edification, or in the definition by either  party of the subjects which they are discussing; but disagreements are  apt to arise-somebody says that another has not spoken truly or clearly;  and then they get into a passion and begin to quarrel, both parties conceiving  that their opponents are arguing from personal feeling only and jealousy  of themselves, not from any interest in the question at issue. And sometimes  they will go on abusing one another until the company at last are quite  vexed at themselves for ever listening to such fellows. Why do I say this?  Why, because I cannot help feeling that you are now saying what is not  quite consistent or accordant with what you were saying at first about  rhetoric. And I am afraid to point this out to you, lest you should think  that I have some animosity against you, and that I speak, not for the sake  of discovering the truth, but from jealousy of you. Now if you are one  of my sort, I should like to cross-examine you, but if not I will let you  alone. And what is my sort? you will ask. I am one of those who are very  willing to be refuted if I say anything which is not true, and very willing  to refute any one else who says what is not true, and quite as ready to  be refuted as to refute-I for I hold that this is the greater gain of the  two, just as the gain is greater of being cured of a very great evil than  of curing another. For I imagine that there is no evil which a man can  endure so great as an erroneous opinion about the matters of which we are  speaking and if you claim to be one of my sort, let us have the discussion  out, but if you would rather have done, no matter-let us make an end of  it.  

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