Plato's "Gorgias" and the Power of Speech and Reason in Politics

Dissertation, The University of Chicago (1996)

This dissertation begins with the question of whether the Gorgias, as an attack on rhetoric, provides evidence that Plato was anti-democratic, by looking at rhetoric as the historical phenomenon that helped make participatory democracy possible in ancient Greece. It goes on to argue that the real object of examination, and not attack, is the claim of rhetoricians such as Gorgias that speech can be all-powerful in politics. It examines this claim in what is explicitly said by Gorgias in the dialogue and shows what shortcomings of rhetoric are revealed by what he says in conversing with Socrates. ;In Socrates' conversation with Gorgias' student Polus further claims of Gorgias' are examined, as are apparent claims of Socrates'. In this part of the dissertation the guiding question is whether Socrates' way of speaking is truly different from Gorgias', as well as whether it is more powerful in any sense. This part looks at whether Socrates' speeches are less pleasant than Gorgias' and whether he teaches any more than Gorgias does. ;The last part of the dissertation looks at Kallikles' attempt to show that by nature Socrates' life is an inferior life. This chapter examines both Kallikles' case for the natural superiority of the political life and Socrates' attempted response about the best way of life, which is finally not on the level of nature. The dissertation ends with a discussion of how the dialogue finally is an attack on shame, which is a sign of the success of the art of politics or legislation in the broadest sense. ;On the whole, the dissertation tries to show that in the Gorgias Socrates' way of speaking is shown to be no more powerful, capable of teaching, or capable of doing without pleasant speeches than Gorgias' way of speaking. Included in the Introduction is a note on reading the Gorgias in its historical context, presenting the historical evidence that Plato never meant his works to be read in historical context as that is understood today. Included in Chapter Three is a note on Gregory Vlastos's reading of Plato
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