Rivals in Persuasion: Gorgianic Sophistic Versus Socratic Rhetoric

Polis 23 (1):46-73 (2006)
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According to Plato and Aristotle, the confusion of sophistry and philosophy in the opinion of Socrates' fellow citizens in Athens ultimately led to his trial and execution. This essay seeks to highlight and clarify the resemblance and the fundamental distinction between sophistry and philosophy, especially with respect to the art of rhetoric articulated by Gorgias in his Encomium of Helen and interrogated by Socrates in Plato's Gorgias. Rivals in their use of persuasive speeches, Gorgias and Socrates embody the quarrel between two competing modes of discourse and the ways of life that ineluctably result from their practice. Their public dispute centres on the aim or purpose of an art of rhetoric. This essay argues that Gorgias, though moved to silence by his conversation with Socrates in Plato's dialogue, disclosed to his inquisitor the true power of rhetoric, and thus the necessity to constrain rather than reject its use



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