Rhetoric and Philosophy in Plato's Phaedrus

Greece and Rome 57 (1):21-46 (2010)
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One of Plato’s aims in the Phaedrus seems to be to outline an ‘ideal’ form of rhetoric. But it is unclear exactly what the ‘true’ rhetorician really looks like, and what exactly his methods are. More broadly, just how does Plato see the relation between rhetoric and philosophy? I argue, in light of Plato’s epistemology, that the “true craft (techne) of rhetoric” which he describes in the Phaedrus is a regulative, but also an unattainable ideal. Consequently, the mythical palinode in the dialogue is not (as some have claimed) an example of the true techne—and indeed it could not be. But neither is dialectic. Rather, dialectic is the closest approximation of the true techne of rhetoric which can be had; that is to say, dialectic is the best and highest kind of psychagogia (a ‘leading of the soul through words’). Plato’s purpose in describing the “true techne of rhetoric”, then, is not to reform or to rehabilitate rhetoric, but to urge us to abandon it in favor of the philosophical life. One implication of this is that Plato is just as hostile toward rhetoric as he is in the Gorgias.



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Daniel Werner
State University of New York (SUNY)

Citations of this work

A Multiform Desire.Olof Pettersson - 2013 - Dissertation, Uppsala University
[Review] TRABATTONI, Franco, Essays on Plato’s Epistemology. Ancient and medieval philosophy.Nicholas Zucchetti - 2017 - Plato Journal: The Journal of the International Plato Society 17:103-111.

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References found in this work

The Platonic Functions of Epideictic Rhetoric.Bernard K. Duffy - 1983 - Philosophy and Rhetoric 16 (2):79 - 93.

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