Gorgias' defense: Plato and his opponents on rhetoric and the good

Southern Journal of Philosophy 48 (1):95-121 (2010)
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This paper explores in detail Gorgias' defense of rhetoric in Plato 's Gorgias, noting its connections to earlier and later texts such as Aristophanes' Clouds, Gorgias' Helen, Isocrates' Nicocles and Antidosis, and Aristotle's Rhetoric. The defense as Plato presents it is transparently inadequate; it reveals a deep inconsistency in Gorgias' conception of rhetoric and functions as a satirical precursor to his refutation by Socrates. Yet Gorgias' defense is appropriated, in a streamlined form, by later defenders of rhetoric such as Isocrates and Aristotle. They present it as an effective reductio against a critique of rhetoric that depends on the "harm criterion." This is puzzling, since Plato 's own critique of rhetoric does not depend on the harm criterion. On the other hand, Plato does seem to embrace the harm criterion as a more general principle—as if pre-emptively embracing the reductio —in his arguments about the good in the Meno and Euthydemus. Nonetheless, Isocrates and Aristotle seem to be deliberately misreading Plato on rhetoric: where he intends to criticize its intrinsic nature, they respond as if he were merely complaining about its contingent effects
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