Throughout the conversation occurring between Socrates (Plato) and the small group of sophists, he is clearly using dialectic speech. Socrates prompts each sophist with a series of questions and answers and it becomes evident that they each have differing views on rhetoric. Gorgias explains the nature of rhetoric as an art form and he defines rhetoric as a means of influence and persuasion. He also uses analogies to support his claims and goes on to explain how powerful rhetoric is (p.67a), and how it can be used for justice by judges in the court of law (p.64b). Polus comes to Gorgias’ defense and views rhetoric as a means of persuasion and achieving great power and wealth (p.70a). As for Callicles, he infers that the nature of rhetoric is a means of acquiring power and the smart people ruling over the uneducated masses (p.84b). He has a political view on rhetoric and also assumes the audience has limited intelligence and will be easily persuaded (p. 87b). Callicles is the antithesis of Socrates and would be considered as an example of using rhetoric for evil (p. 88b). On the contrary, Socrates describes the nature of rhetoric as a “made art” and a form of flattery. He defines rhetoric as a habitude and refers to it as unjust means of deception (p.71a).
There are distinct differences between rhetoric and dialectic explained in Plato’s Gorgias. Socrates infers that 1) dialectic is a discussion by “alternate question and answer” (p. 62b). On the contrary, rhetoric would be referred to as a lengthy style of speech. Throughout the discussion, Socrates prompts each Sophist with series of questions whilst they respond with short answers. Socrates explains that Polus’ refutation is quite worthless and “…one party is supposed to refute the other […] whilst the opponent produces one or none” (p. 76b). Another difference is that 2) dialectic uses a logical process of reasoning by discussing conflicting ideas to reach a consensus of truth, whereas rhetoric is a producer of persuasion for masses to accept a probable truth (p. 70b). Socrates also infers that 3) rhetoric corrupts the soul of the rhetor, whereas dialectic cares for the soul of the rhetor (p. 82a-b). According to Socrates, rhetoric appeals more to emotion rather than the “rational part of the soul”. Socrates mentions that rhetoric is not a form of art and it is a habitude that produces gratification (p. 70b).
The difference between absolute truth and relative truth is that absolute truth is always true no matter the circumstances, whereas relative truth is only true under certain circumstances. Sophists’ view on truth is that humans cannot obtain absolute truth (p. 85a). The Sophists have indicated that individuals are not capable of being completely objective. Socrates believed that Sophists use of rhetoric induced a subjective truth that was deceiving. Socrates believed dialectic brought absolute truth and it exists through the use of dialogue. He believed question and answer helps the followers’ arrive at absolute truth, or a consensus (p. 86b). The similarity that exist between their beliefs is that truth does exist, but they clearly have different perspectives on truth.
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