8.26.2009

Interlude II (on Plato's Gorgias)

In the Gorgias, Socrates gets Gorgias to admit that "persuasion is the chief end of [the art of] Rhetoric."

Is that acceptable to contemporary rhetoricians? Or would that be a "No?"

This post will be deleted after I get a few qualified comments.

5 comments:

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Casey, sorry, I've been busy getting ready for class tonight. For the quick answer--most of us would say "no," but for too many reasons to reasonably articulate.

Personally, I don't like defining rhetoric as persuasion because it frames our work as too egoist in orientation--as if I, in full possession of the truth, lure you to where I want you to be. I think rhetoric, rather than eliciting persuasion, dedicates itself to the possibility of cooperation. Drawing upon Burke, I defined the purpose of rhetoric as co-habitation in my dissertation--essentially, let's learn to live in a place without killing each other.

I've been writing on Republic VII today (I'll share later), and essentially my arguments are that, because Plato is an idealist, he cares little for political complexity. Rhetoricians, particularly Aristotle, will not afford themselves this luxury. If everyone says the world is flat, even though you "know" its round, then your knowledge isn't worth shit. Chances are, if you try to persuade them in the ways Aristotle (sometimes) argues for, then you'll likely end up in exile or dead (depending on the era in which you live). Plato's methods for integrating dialectical knowledge into the body politic just seem lacking. And every once and a while you have to convince someone that the flat might be, maybe, round. Or, at least, convince them to let you give it a sail.

Just don't enslave the "indians" once you arrive.

Casey said...

That makes sense assuming "complicated" politics are a better alternative to simple/idealist politics.

In other words, it does seem to me that you're still arguing from an egoist orientation: you prefer a complicated politics, so you persuade others to engage in complicated politics. But you haven't demonstrated that complicated politics are superior, or that "reality" demands a complicated politics. The Tories were Tories because they had too much to lose being Whigs, you know?

More directly (with apologies): I don't trust that you aren't arguing for a complicated politics because that order of things is most beneficial to you.

[P.S. -- honestly, honestly, as a point of ethics: put this conversation low on your list of priorities. I think it matters a great deal, but I think we've got plenty of time.]

Casey said...

I mean, if I were Socrates, I would've made you laboriously define "co-habitation," because I suspect you mean persuading me to behave/speak in a way that makes you more comfortable.

That is: the rhetorician wants to persuade his listener to co-operate with him [the rhetorician].

Mark said...

I think the best definition of rhetoric is Aristotle's: basically the art of finding all available means of persuasion in any given controversy. It may or may not involve peaceful co-existence or cohabitation or whatever. Whether rhetoric is peaceful will depend upon how it is employed.

So in answer to your question, essentially yes, the goal of rhetoric is persuasion.

Casey said...

Even Burke's definitions -- "The use of words by human agents to form attitudes or induce actions in other human agents." And, "The use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols." -- sound ethically suspicious to me, though (not surprisingly) they're phrased carefully enough to reveal anything damning.

Ethically suspicious. And rhetoric about ethics is doubly suspicious to me.