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Rhetoric was the inherent part of the education in ancient Greece. In the ancient world, without the contemporary mass media, the ability to affect people by means of the words sometimes was the determinative factor. In hands of the practiced orator, the art of rhetoric became a serious weapon, stimulating the humans mind and feelings, serving sometimes to the good deeds, sometimes to the ugly affairs.
The development of rhetoric in ancient Greece was stimulated by the sophism study. As a system of philosophy, the sophism denied the objective reality, doubting the ability of veracious perception of the truth. Doubting the existence of the reliable criteria of seeking the truth, the sophistic paid more attention to a more accessible object of cognition – to the human, to the humans mind, and to the humans spirit.
The definition of the rhetoric by Socrates and by Gorgios
The nature of rhetoric, and its understanding by the contemporaries, is convincingly demonstrated in Platos Gorgias. This dialogue is a vivid example of the ancient way of seeking the truth.
Gorgias was born in Sicily, the place with very strong rhetoric traditions. Though his views were rather similar to the sophistic study, Gorgias was considered to be a pure rhetorician, rather than a sophist (Dodds 7).
Socrates was a very famous person in ancient Athens, where he had spent practically all his life. Being a simple stonemason, he participated in government affairs and offered advises to the statesmen. His favorite way of knowing was the dialogue, and the questioning with anyone, who wanted to converse with him. Finally, he was unfairly convicted of the corruption of the youth and sentenced to death.
In this dialogue, by means of conversation between Socrates, Gorgias and other people, several definitions of rhetoric are given.
The first one is that rhetoric is a science of the speech composing. Socrates refutes at once this statement, by the fact that every science deals with speeches.
The next idea is that rhetoric cannot be defined, assuming that it deals with speeches, concerning the great and important things. Socrates argues that the degree of the importance everybody understands in its own way.
The debate between Socrates and Gorgios
Rhetoric is not the art of persuasion, because according to Socrates, every science tries to persuade us in the subject it teaches. Socrates distinguishes between the knowledge, which is always true, and the belief, which may be as true, as false. Thus, he makes Gorgias acknowledge, that persuasion by means of rhetoric is a product of the persuasion for belief, not for instruction in the matter of right and wrong (Lamb 451).
Gorgias is persuaded in it, and he gives a lot of examples from the history, when the mere suggestion or an advice of the ignorant persons, was of great importance. However, at the same time, it does not mean that the fair orator is responsible for the unfair usage of rhetoric by his pupils. Then Socrates proves that there is a contradiction in the understanding of rhetoric as a science. This contradiction is the fact, that rhetoric may be used with the fair purposes, but at the same time, it may be used for the commitment the wrong and unfair actions.
This dialogue, which deals with the attempt to understand the nature of rhetoric, may serve as a good example of rhetorical art as well. Though the understanding of rhetoric by Socrates and Gorgias is different, the mere conclusion forms their debates, which is that rhetoric is a part of human behavior.
Dodds, Eric. Gorgias, London, Oxford University Press, 1959.Print.
Lamb, Walter. Plato with an English Translation, New York: Puntam, 1925.Print