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Aristotle on Rhetoric

According to Plato, society has little or not need for a class of useless professionals whose only benefit is to talk about what others actually do.

Throughout Gorgias, Socrates refutes the concept that the greatest good is "the ability to persuade by speeches judges in a law court, councilors in a council meeting, and assemblymen in an assembly or in any other political gathering that might take place" (Plato, 1997, 799). If oratory is a producer of persuasion like Gorgias maintains, Socrates argues that other disciplines like painting and mathematics are also forms of persuasion - and they may be no more or less suited to serve as a means of determining what takes place in a city-state than oratory. Therefore, it is only through struggling together in common discussion that informed men in pursuit of the good will be able to approach that good. From there they can translate the good into civic policies and action.

Socrates maintains that rhetorical methods of persuasion are most likely to be full of conviction but little knowledge. Oratory may have the power to move others by shaping opinion, but it does not inform opinion. A dialogue in which the particulars of a case or a situation are explored and identified through trial and error, questions and responses, is the only route to achieving wisdom and knowledge. Such a process, unlike rhetoric, enables one to eliminate what is false and, more importantly, to know what is false and reject it as useless. High-flown rhetoric may persuade, says Socrates, but it does not teach (Plato, 1997, 803). The goal of the dialectic is to teach individuals to arrives at a reasoned conclusion that is much more likely to be truthful than any conclusions produced by rhetoric.

In Gorgias, Plato also makes the point that oratory or rhetoric can be little more than flattery, that it can be addressed to (and stir the emotions and not the intellect of) women, slaves, and others and become l...

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Aristotle on Rhetoric. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 03:15, November 27, 2015, from
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