Argument, Rhetoric, and Philosophic Method: Plato's "Protagoras"

Philosophy and Rhetoric 25 (3):222 - 252 (1992)
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Abstract

The greatest rhetorical display (έπιδείξις) of Plato's Protagoras is apparently not Protagoras's famous myth cum démonstration1 about the teachability of excellence (αρετή),2 but rather the dia logue as a whole. The Protagoras exposes key différences between the methods and presuppositions of Socrates and those of the Sophists - thus defending Socrates against the charge of being a Sophist himself - and in so doing clarifies the conditions and princi ples of ethical argumentation.3 The display of the Protagoras oc curs on two levels. In the drama, Socrates puts the Sophists on exhibit for the benefit of Hippocrates, an Athenian boy who as pires to a sophistic éducation. In reading the dialogue, however, we become spectators to Plato's display. The pervading irony is that Piato uses the Protagoras to critieize the techniques of display and debate - and to contrast them with dialogue. But the Socratic/ Platonic display in the Protagoras is literally a showing forth, a manifestation of what a Sophist is and does, whereas a sophistical display is a showing off, that is not intrinsically related to his beliefs and aims. In order to see thèse thèmes at work in the Protagoras , however, it must first be examined from a rhetorical point of view

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Rick Benitez
University of Sydney

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