Week 1: “This post will fill your mind with wonder! Read it, it will make you better” . . . Rhetoric: The art of persuasion, not of truth.

Now that I have grasped the reader’s attention through the employment of rhetoric, though I am no famous rhetorician like Gorgias , I will use the aforementioned attention to discuss Plato’s Gorgias.  Having one-half of the class title (i.e. History of Rhetoric) steeping in my brain upon beginning the text, I could not help but think the discussion would be one focused on “the art which is called rhetoric”.  In Athens in the 4th century, persuasion was of uttermost importance.  In a political environment where all male citizens were given the opportunity to partake in the democratic process, the ability to speak eloquently and persuasively was effective in attaining political success or failure.  Thus, Plato and others’ attention to the subject of rhetoric is justified.  However, although the dialogue on rhetoric is clearly present in the text, defining virtue and exploring human nature is the more important, underlying subject (in true Plato fashion).

Discovering this underlying subject is why Gorgias, written thousands of years ago, is still important today.  According to Socrates, rhetoric is “flattery”.  Because it is flattery, it has the ability to transform, holding different shapes.   Although we do not have as much political power (or as much as we think we do) as the Ancient Greeks, rhetoric is present in our daily lives as forms of flattery.  As discussed in class, the media is littered with rhetoric.  Advertisements explaining that Mac is better than PC are persuading you to purchase Mac.  If one has no facts about Mac and PC but views the advertisement by the modern rhetorician Mac, they will think Mac is better and purchase a Mac.  Thus, what I believe rhetoric is in the context of Gorgias is that its aim is not at the truth, but at belief.  When Gorgias is asked specifically “what is rhetoric?”, he is unable to provide a thorough, convincing answer.  Upon which, Socrates concludes that it is a skill rather than true knowledge.  A great rhetorician will get another to believe something regardless of truths (although some of the greatest rhetoric is convincing truths).  This is why the dialogue on rhetoric sways to human nature: because rhetoric can be untrue and because rhetoricians are very persuasive, will the truth in the individual or the untrue in the rhetorician seep to the masses?  Although Socrates is aware that rhetoric is powerful, it is not “real” power and that only the truth will conquest.

To study rhetoric and be able to recognize its varying forms is very important in modern society.  When one can recognize the forms of persuasion and reflect upon them, one is able to make better decisions.  Basically, there may be jobs for us liberal art students after-all, in the field of advertising.


p.s. I just reread this post and am confused . . . Any help?

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