Where’s My Toga?

Time to break out the white sheets and sling them over our shoulders to create togas. The only way to truly understand Greek philosophers like Plato and Isocrates is to become one of them…and even then it gets difficult.

When reading Plato’s Gorgias, I found myself continually flipping back and forth between pages to remind myself who was speaking and what exactly they were arguing. Many times the speaker would begin on one thread and digress into another thread until they came back with a different opinion about the first thread. In Gorgias Socrates appeared to steal the show, at one point holding a debate with himself. His argumentation skills were superior to those present with him. Gorgias addresses the issue of morality and whether or not rhetoricians are responsible for imparting a sense of right and wrong when they teach others their oratory skill. Gorgias uses the analogy of a wrestler and how the coach cannot be help responsible for any action the wrestler takes and the instructor can only hope that the pupil will use their knowledge and skill for good instead of evil.

One question that I was struck with when thinking about this logic was if those teaching aren’t responsible for educating the student in right and wrong, then who is? When ObiWan taught Luke about the force in Star Wars, he also took it upon himself to educate Luke in the dark side and the evils that lie over there. When it came time for Luke to choose the dark side or death, he risked his life to avoid evil. I believe that it is the educator’s responsibility to teach the morals that are associated with the knowledge that is being passed on so that the students may know exactly how to use what they are being given.

In Plato’s Phaedrus the art of rhetoric and writing is addressed. In this dialogue, Socrates and Phaedrus debate over what it takes to be a good orator. Phaedrus believes that to be a good speechmaker, the truth of the topic doesn’t have to be known but rather the speaker only needs to know how to persuade properly. Socrates agrees that while a person may know the truth of a subject, they cannot present that truth without knowing the art of speechmaking. He continues by stating, “every discourse ought to be a living creature, having a body of its own and a head and feet; there should be a middle, beginning, and end, adapted to one another and to the whole.” I believe that in this line Socrates is making the statement that a good orator is not good based on his knowledge of the truth or his knowledge of argumentation, but rather is a good orator because he knows about both and can use and manipulate both as necessary.

-Jeff Greene

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