Sztuka a prawda. Problem sztuki w dyskusji między Gorgiaszem a Platonem (Techne and Truth. The problem of techne in the dispute between Gorgias and Plato)

Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego (2002)
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Techne and Truth. The problem of techne in the dispute between Gorgias and Plato -/- The source of the problem matter of the book is the Plato’s dialogue „Gorgias”. One of the main subjects of the discussion carried out in this multi-aspect work is the issue of the art of rhetoric. In the dialogue the contemporary form of the art of rhetoric, represented by Gorgias, Polos and Callicles, is confronted with Plato’s proposal of rhetoric and concept of art (techne). The ingenuous and dramatic structure of the dialogue composed of three acts, in each of which Socrates’ consecutive interlocutors emerge, is difficult to interpret. It seems, however, that even though the first conversation between Socrates and Gorgias constitutes a small part of the dialogue, it forms the foundations for the discussion. This part, dealing with such important issues as the subject of art, knowledge, power and relation between art and good, is the starting point for the conversations which follow. What do the differences between the Gorgias’ and Plato’s concepts of art consist in? Any attempt to answer the question requires presentation of the background for the discussion taking place in Plato’s work as well as the reconstruction of Gorgias’ vision of the art of rhetoric and art in general, defining the relation between art and knowledge. The latter may be undertaken on the basis of two paraphrases of the treatise “On Non-existence”, two epideictic speeches entitled “Helen” and “Palamedes” and some smaller fragments which have been preserved from Gorgias’ creative output. The treatise “On Non–existence”, very paradoxical in its philosophical meaning, testifies to new, sophistic thinking represented by Gorgias of Leontinoi. The treatise is the polemic and attack on Eleatism based on certain principles and methods elaborated by the Eleatics themselves. It also shows that Gorgias – using traditional Eleatic schemes – is opposed to this tradition. Even though the treatise does not discuss the problem of art directly, it anticipates the considerations from epideictic speeches. “Helen” and “Palamedes” constitute further stages in the development of Gorgias’ thought and concept of art combining typically epideictic elements with some philosophical convictions. Gorgias refers to the Eleatic theme considering the issues of truth, knowledge and belief, yet defining them in the empirical spirit. Solutions in the cognitive sphere determine the horizon of Gorgias’ rhetoric. The word is separated from the existence. Human cognition is limited and therefore the word and visual images affect the belief. This promotes the great importance of rhetoric, painting and sculpture, i.e. the areas which influence in a specific way – creating the “delusion” (ἀπάτη). Through idealization art provides pleasure, which is its objective. Therefore the task of art is to create delusion. The rhetor of Leontinoi discusses the issue of “how?” to use the word ‘rhetoric’. Gorgias is aware that rhetoric may be used to talk about what is unknown and that technical correctness of a rhetoric statement is not identical with the truthfulness of the proclaimed message. Mentioning it, Gorgias shows his respect to the truth as a value which should be respected in speech on the one hand, and on the other emphasizes that the truth in itself has no persuasive power. For this reason it is not enough to proclaim the truth, but, to convince the listeners, the orator should possess the skill of speaking. What is then the relation between truth and art emerging from epideictic speeches? Gorgias undoubtedly emphasizes the formal aspect of speech, as rhetoric is art, thus an ability based on certain principles. According to Gorgias, the truth is the value which should be respected in speeches. Rhetoric is able to create a fictive world, as a great range of reality remains outside direct human experience. Rhetoric does not oppose the truth but discussing not only what is directly given concerns the area outside the sphere of direct experience. This concept of rhetoric is the basis of the discussion about art carried out in the dialogue “Gorgias”. Even though the first of the discussions in the dialogue – the conversation between Socrates and Gorgias – is directly concerned with rhetoric itself, numerous remarks testify to its much wider character. This is best exemplified by the way of carrying out the conversation by Socrates, who, asking questions about rhetoric practised by Gorgias, throughout the whole conversation compares it with other skills. Additionally, the manner and the structure of the conversation prove that Plato considers the issue of rhetoric from a wider perspective determined by the issue of art. The specific feature of the conversation is ordering it around main issues – such notions as πρᾶγμα, ἐπιστήμη, δύναμις, each of which has its own meaning in Plato. In the first part of Gorgias Plato presents the principles previously occurring in other dialogues in a certain order, thus constructing the structure of the conversation with Gorgias. The notions are not novum in Plato but the fact that he clearly wants to systematise them and present a certain concept of art is a new and significant aspect. This tendency is of paramount importance for the discussion because Gorgias’ answers are evaluated by Plato from the perspective of this clearly set concept consisting of not only established notions but also certain principles. The discussion between Socrates and Gorgias introduces a theme which is crucial for the dialogue: the relation between art and good, i.e. the technical and ethical spheres. The issue is introduced by Gorgias, who mentions that rhetoric may be used for evil purposes. On this basis Socrates proves that if rhetoricians can use rhetoric for evil purposes, they have no knowledge concerning the subject of their art – justice, because one who knows what is just, always acts justly. Thus the relation between the technical and ethical spheres transpires to be the main point of contention. The question is whether a technician following the principles of the art he practices may act against good. This paradoxical statement based on the well-known Socrates’ principle "nemo sua sponte peccat" acquires philosophical foundations in the dialogue. In its remaining two parts Plato presents a justification, placing the principle within the framework of a certain concept of art, as a result of which not only rhetoric but also many other skills are criticised. The notions on which the conversation with Gorgias focuses are more precisely defined in the subsequent parts of the dialogue. Additionally, Plato presents twice the conditions which art should fulfill. They oblige the “technicians” to know the nature and purpose of the art and to know the causes of undertaken activities and to be able to justify them. These conditions determine the relation between the two spheres – technical and ethical. According to Plato, art may not act against good because it should be the objective of its activities. Certain concepts of good and knowledge outlined in the dialogue are the guarantees of “technicality”. Good, which should be respected by every art, is understood objectively and is contrasted with subjective pleasure. Knowledge, which should be the basis of art, opposes experience, which uses observation and recollection. Additionally, the definition of knowledge, significance of order in the world assuming the form of “geometrical equality”, significance of mathematics becoming the ideal of exactness indicate that Plato’s concept of knowledge is formed in Gorgias. These conclusions render it impossible that the results of any activity deserving the name of art should oppose good. And this is Plato’s main reproach of Gorgias’ concept, who wrote about false speeches possessing the power of conviction because they were written according to the principles proof of art or who defined tragedy as “a deceit, where he who cheats is more just than he who does not and the cheated is wiser than he who was not cheated”. Such determination of the relation between the technical and ethical sphere resulted from Gorgias’ concept of the world and fundamental philosophical principles. The whole concept of art described by Plato in the dialogue opposes the view presented by Gorgias. According to Plato, every technical activity has a defined object (ἔργον), is based on knowledge (ἐπιστήμη) and is always aimed at the good of human soul or body. The danger revealed and presented in the dialogue by Plato exists in the very concept of art presented by Gorgias, i.e. in its empirical foundations and the resulting understanding of the relation between art and good. Gorgias’ concept of art based on empirical cognition, which concerns the world of phenomena and rejects the possibility of perfect knowledge, leads, according to Plato, to a dangerous falsification of the relation between art and good. Plato proves that this weakness of Gorgias’ concept is revealed when confronted with these representatives of “the magnificent art” who are not protected against radicalism by the adherence to the moral tradition. The comparison of two, completely contrasting concepts of art based on different philosophical understanding of knowledge and good is decisive for the criticism of rhetoric in Gorgias. The concept presented by Plato criticises contemporary rhetoric and sophistry but determines the direction of research of the real art of rhetoric.

Author's Profile

Zbigniew Nerczuk
Nicolaus Copernicus University


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