Rhetoric and the Defence of Philosophy in Plato's Gorgias

Polis 20 (1-2):62-84 (2003)

In his Gorgias, Plato is not merely concerned with criticizing Sophists, tyrants, or immoral uses of rhetoric. Rather he explores the harmful consequences of living without loving wisdom. A large part of the dialogue is devoted to pointing out the difficulties associated with practicing philosophy as a way of life. These difficulties are so great that the best way of arguing for its practice is to dramatize the harmful consequences inherent in rival ways of life that deny the need for wisdom. Thus the Gorgias explores the harmful effects of Callicles' denial of his need for wisdom. Socrates shows that Callicles does not know what he wants or needs. Instead of letting his awareness of ignorance blossom in love of wisdom, however, Callicles pursues power. Yet this love of power leads to disharmony and turmoil. In the Gorgias, Plato's rhetorical defence of philosophy amounts to this: the only thing more difficult than living with the love of wisdom is living without it
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