Exhibit A: Irony.

In Plato’s “Gorgias,” the rhetorician Gorgias is answering questions freely about his profession, and the philosopher Socrates approaches with plenty of questions to ask, ones about what the art of rhetoric is, whether it is in fact an art, and what use it has in the world. Socrates, as a philosopher, is doubtful of the usefulness of rhetoric and seems to think the only use for rhetoric is convincing the ignorant of ideas for which there is little to no proof.
I took extreme issue with Socrates’ approach. Am I the only one who sees definite irony in a supposed philosopher using persuasive rhetoric to convince rhetoricians that rhetoric is useless?
Socrates uses examples that he himself comes up with, forcing the crowd to assert the truth about certain qualities of those examples, almost exactly like an attorney would in a courtroom with exhibits for a given case, before proving some sort of point from said example. Though Socrates mentions earlier in “Gorgias” that rhetoric is the type of useless diction used in courtrooms and that witnesses are unreliable, he himself seems to be playing a sort of court role in his defense of philosophy and relentless attack on rhetoric.
The way he talks to his colleagues and the examples he chooses—it’s obvious that Socrates has more in mind when he asks questions. He’s leading them, forcing them into traps of wordplay to make their speech look less intelligent. Ironically, he’s using persuasive rhetoric to do it, too. Essentially, Socrates dominates the conversation (his speeches are considerably longer than that of the other characters, and they do indeed seem to be speeches), and he ultimately finishes out the dialogue with a very long-winded speech, ending the dialogue of “Gorgias” on a sophist philosopher note, reminding the rhetoricians through some impressive rhetoric of the unworthiness of the very art that they practice.

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