-True rhetoric must know the nature of things and their ultimate purposes. If we recognize that the body and soul have a purpose and a final end, rhetoric is that which continually persuades us to pursue that end with all are heart, soul, and might. Rhetoric of this kind which persuaded us by logos in word and deed to live according to justice is a rhetoric which must continually speak the truth in love, even unto and beyond death.
Socrates prophetically remarks, several centuries before Christ, that “this rhetoric you have never yet seen (503b, cf. 480a-481b; 504d-504e).
-The Gorgias (and the Republic) present an argument concerning Justice that Nietzsche would later espouse. The claim is that Justice is the weak and inferior use to control the superior. Plato uses both dialogues to show that justice is good for every human being, both the so called superior and inferior, and that anyone without justice is ultimately miserable. The Gorgias shows this last fact. The Republic displays the ill-treated but just man as happy and that justice alone is not enough but needs insight into the Good.
-Therefore we must make it our discipline to be like those Socrates describes in the Meno “those priests and priestesses who have made it their concern to be able to give an account about those things they have taken in hand” (17 Berns). We do this by becoming more and more persuaded of the Word of God and we do this so that we may pass on the message which we have heard (1st John 1:1-5; Romans 12:1-2).
-We become able to give an account not simply by memorizing scripture, which we unabashedly do also do here at New College, but by becoming skilled handlers of God’s word. Such can only become so in word and deed when one has tested and relied upon God. When one has experienced not simply that his word is true, but that his Word is sufficient, that He will bare us through good times and bad, in all occasions (as Paul is persuaded in Romans 8:38-39). Thus we become not more and more convincing speakers or personalities, but more and more convinced in our very being that God is good
-Are we afraid we will fail, be misunderstood, not get the respect we ‘deserve’…If we do not risk these things, we cannot effectively communicate the gospel, for the gospel is the power of God for salvation of which we are not to be ashamed and this power is made perfect in weakness Therefore both our words and deeds and in our very person we are called to a kind of vulnerability. The vulnerability of love. We become prepared to suffer for the Word’s sake in some small manner that He so greatly suffered for us.
-We are mistaken if we limit our words to speech alone. God was the Word before there was speech. We proclaim words, not only with our mouths but by our very lives. All that we do is proclamitory.
-True rhetoric, as the dialogue explicitly says, must recognize that the pleasant is not always good. That we do not always desire that which is good for us…that we are need of healing.
-The desire to be able to defend oneself against every injustice ultimately cuts oneself of from justice and the true power of God.
-None of the interlocutors can fully extricate themselves from the need for justice. Though they are rhetors, self-proclaimed persuaders in speech, they themselves fail to be persuaded deeply and thoroughly, they fail to speak in a manner that is ultimately convincing to those who care about justice and truth.
Both Polus & Callicles claim that a rhetor is happy whether or not he is just or even knows what justice is. They claim that the art of rhetoric is entirely self-sufficient to make a person happy. Rhetoric can do this, so they think, because it gets someone what they want. But they fail to prove that getting what we want means being happy. Polus and Callicles try to defend their amoral or immoral approach, but find they cannot do so without contradicting themselves.
These masters of the logos, of words, when forced to speak plainly, find that the logos itself betrays them. The dialogue demonstrates that no matter hard one tries, if one is not to end up talking nonsense, it appears that the logos will never separate justice and happiness.
That is, no matter how hard one tries to defend the life of power through persuasion, it seems one will ultimately be miserable if such power is unconstrained by justice. One must come to distinguish pleasure from the good.
This dialogue is not simply an exercise in definitions, and if it were we would all grow quickly weary with it. Instead, we discover in the Gorgias, that our most common notions and experiences lead us to proclaim that that which lacks truth and goodness, that which is unjust is ultimately undesirable.
I would feel I am being very tiresome in reporting this to you, except for this: that we are a people who believe this very thing and yet need constant reminding that what we want and what we need are truly different. We are a people who continually need to be persuaded that righteousness is glorious, now and forever, that it is better thing, as Christ affirms, to suffer injustice ourselves than to commit an injustice. This is precisely Plato’s claim
Socrates not only shows the goodness of justice, which is no real shock, but that a man who is unjustly punished is yet happier than one who does an injustice…that such a life is truly more desirable than a wicked man who escapes punishment. He goes on to show that even the wicked who are punished…that is who suffer justice are yet better off than those who get away without paying the penalty. For he chastiseth whom He loves. And those who are not chastised are not his children
This display of logos, of persuasive speech and confidence in justice is truly beautiful.
First, we are reminded in his speeches that the commands of God are not only just by divine fiat by mere command, but in accord with all the structures of His creation and are reflected in the speeches and beliefs of ordinary men, even despite ourselves.
This means we see that a true logos is itself persuasive and trustworthy. If we follow a word where it leads, we will discover that it consistently leads us to God. Socrates uses no clever rhetoric, flashy rebuttals, or sophistical or fallacious logic. He simply shows that the speeches of his interlocutors is ultimately self-refuting…that no one can ultimately believe and speak coherently about an unrighteous happiness
The Allure of Rhetoric
There is court we hold in our mind, and in that courtroom we put others and ourselves on trial. We replay the things people have said or done to us and then mount a case against them. We think of the things we would say to put them in their place, to show them how ridiculous or wrong they were, and that ultimately they never should have even thought of doing what they did.
The allure of rhetoric is akin to the allure of putting people in their place and exonerating ourselves from guilt. It is the allure of self-justification. It means being in control, in charge, and getting what we want. Most of all it means becoming invulnerable to shame, defeat, rejection and criticism. Therefore, it tempts us with that most demonic of desires and sins: superbia.
Superbia is one of the Latin names for pride. In this form of pride, we cease to be of the ordinary class of humanity, and rise above them in our total self-sufficiency. We have the answers, the resources, and the justification. This is pretty much what I thought of as cool when I was in high school. I don’t need, you, I don’t care, because I have and I am what I need.
Needless to say, superbia is the artificial divinization of the individual in which a person ceases to live as a person. Even God himself in his triune nature is relational and interdependent. Created in his image we are not only interdependent on one another but dependent upon the creator. We are anything but self-sufficient in wisdom, in justice, or in resources of any kind.
For this reason, the deep allure of Gorgias’s rhetoric is demonic and dehumanizing. It isolates the individual and disconnects them from everything that makes them most truly human. The promise is that in power we need not feel need, or want, or shame, or rejection, but the reality is we will miss out on gratitude, fulfilment, love, or acceptance.
Superbia or rhetoric in this sense is the opposite of dialogue, friendship, freedom, wisdom, mature personhood and communion. But rhetoric has a larger range of meaning than heedless persuasion
When we demonize our enemies, that is our neighbors, we end up experiencing this paradoxical guilt and shame. This is because we have set ourselves up as judge and jury over our fellow human being. The natural consequence of this is to feel the guilt of the judgement we have decreed, having set ourselves apart from our neighbor who ultimately is no more or less guilty than we are. And in judgement we stand apart from God and neighbor. It is this most of all which is uncomfortable. And indeed it is partly our desire for unity and acceptance which began the whole process.
This is why we are told by one who did not cast the first stone, though he had the right, by one who suffered accusation punishment and misunderstanding without justification that:
Judge and we shall be judge
Forgive and we shall be forgiven.
If we truly desire freedom we must set our captives free.
How did we get here? If rhetoric is the art of victory, the art of being successful and persuasive, than it is an art which may leave us most miserable, an art by which we gain the world but forfeit our soul.
It is this argument in all of its terrible shamelessness which puts the logos on display. Without anything fancy or without even attacking insult to Callicles Socrates shows that conevention cannot ultimately or utterly conflict with nature, that indeed the same justice is better both for the weak and the strong, for the good and even the bad, and that ultimately, one who persues what he or she wants without knowing what is better, is ultimately a slave to the mob without and the mob of passions within.
Callicles is disgusted at this point and grudgingly continues to follow the disgussion, even suggesting Socrates must answer for him. Because he becomes too recalictant? To partake of the speeches. Part of what discusts Callicles is that Socrates has shown that it is better to be unprovided with all powers and abilities. That it would be better to fail in protecting oneself or winning an argument than commit an injustice. That is, it is not the place if any one person to know an art which would save him from every circumstance.
This is not such a strange thing. After all, don’t all of our dreams of victory, our imagings of success, our fears and hurts depend upon how we manage to provide for ourselves. Do I know the right thing to say hear, how will I get myself out of this fix, how can I prove to them or him or her that I was right to say or do….
Rather, it is not our place to learn to argue and defend our selves to the very best of our abililt. Such an art of self defense and self-justification is ultimately the art of pride and fear, an art which threatens make us invulnerable not only to harm, but to truth itself.
Socrates suggests that our vulnerability to the truth is far more precious than some sort of imperviousness to world and word. The pursuit of such an imperviousness was described in the middle ages as a form of pride referred to as Superbia… in which we attempt to surpass our humanity our nature as social creatures, as dependent as imperfect and become utterly self-sufficient.
shame, provided vs unprovided
We are mistaken if we limit our words to speech alone. God was the Word before there was speech. We proclaim words, not only with our mouths but by our very lives. All that we do is proclamitory.
Platos dialogues are imitative dramas and discussions which are best understood when they are put in dialogue with one another and with ourselves. With that said:
- Dialogue and personhood
- Dialogue as courageous
- Dialogue as human
- Dialogue as contemplation
- Courage vs shamelessness
- Knowing when not to speak
- Exposing the shame speaking
- Christ and the Pharisees, from whom the baptism
- Willingness to suffer, to be defeated, to speak the truth in love
- Do we believe what we say we do
- Rhetorician lacks a logos
Shamelessness if it means to lack shame means to be full of shame …to live without the boundaries proper to humanity. But to not be full of shame is proper and good when God produces this.
One thought on “The Gorgias: Notes”
Amazing. Thank you for taking the time to put all this together.