The flow of the dialogue largely determines how the conversation ends. Rhetoric provides the individual with persuasive techniques and tactics to deliberately control its flow in a direction that is beneficial to them. According to experts, “rhetoric refers to the study and uses of written, spoken and visual language.” (What is rhetoric? n.d., para. 1). The rhetorical approach is applied in many contexts where human interaction is crucial for a positive outcome, such as management, education, and politics. This work will explore Plato, one of the founders of rhetoric, and the ideas he put in the discipline.
Plato’s Long and Exciting Life Path
The legendary antique thinker was born into an influential aristocratic Athenian family. According to Meinwald (n.d.), “his father’s side claimed descent from the god Poseidon, and his mother’s side was related to the lawgiver Solon” (para. 3). Plato also had three brothers, whom he mentions in his philosophical writings; he refers to them as “interlocutors” (Meinwald, n.d., para. 3). During his adolescence and young adulthood, Plato was one of the followers of Socrates and was a member of his philosophical circle (Meinwald, n.d.). The frequent debates that Socrates arranged and his oral reflections significantly influenced Plato’s own philosophical thinking. After the death of his teacher, Plato embarked on a long journey through the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean.
One can also mention the other great influencers of Plato’s philosophical and rhetorical perspective. They were Pythagoras, another antique scholar, and Dion, a significant political figure of the ancient Syracuse kingdom (Meinwald, n.d.). Returning to Athens, Plato founded his famous Academy, which became a major center of philosophy, rhetoric, and research in ancient Greece and all over the Mediterranean (Meinwald, n.d.). Its members included such legendary academics as Theaetetus, Aristotle, and Eudoxus of Cnidus (Meinwald, n.d.). His journey and work at the Academy are when he developed his fundamental and major concepts and wrote his philosophical treatises. There is little knowledge about Plato’s death, and the only reliable fact is that he died while sleeping at an old age.
Plato’s Contributions to Rhetoric
Plato’s most remarkable contributions to rhetoric are Socrates’ dialogues he recorded and his own perspective on this discipline. His teacher was one of the earliest known and most talented rhetoricians of the pre-Christian world (Griswold, 2020). His many intriguing and ambiguous questions and intricate inferences today have formed the basis of the art of persuasion and several modern philosophical movements. Nowadays, concepts such as eloquence, rhetoric, and sophistry are directly associated with Socrates.
Plato’s opinion of rhetoric coincided with those of the general public of Athens at that time. Simply put, Plato disrespected rhetoric and contrasted it with philosophy. He thought of it as a superficial human activity driven by the goal of achieving personal materialistic desires (Griswold, 2020). According to Griswold (2020), “in Plato’s dialogues there is unquestionably an ongoing quarrel between philosophy on the one hand and rhetoric and sophistry on the other” (para. 7). It is thanks to Plato that the words sophistry and sophist have a negative connotation today (Griswold, 2020). Plato also viewed rhetoric and poetry as similar and even identical concepts (Griswold, 2020). His perspective has dramatically contributed to the development of eloquent approaches and persuasive techniques and methods.
Plato’s Place in the History of Rhetoric
Socrates and Plato were people who sculptured the concept of rhetoric and built the foundation of this branch of art. More specifically, his understanding and perception of rhetoric have shaped the modern critical approach and reflective practice in the discipline. As Griswold (2020) notes, Plato set “the agenda for the subsequent tradition” (para. 1). However, Plato is also the reason why the public treats rhetoric and rhetoricians with both frivolity and suspicion.
Nowadays, politics is the field where rhetoric is valued most. Politicians use rhetorical techniques and strategies to attract voters, convince the public and other politicians, win debates, and gain an edge in global competition. What Plato’s view of rhetoric has taught society is political distrust. It is safe to say that his disrespect for discipline is the core of any modern “citizen distrust towards political institutions, politicians, and … the entire political system” (Bertsou, 2019, p. 213). He is the person who brought public self-awareness and skepticism into politics.
This work explores Plato’s skeptical perspective on rhetoric and his dual influence on it. It also provides a brief description of his life journey, including his apprenticeship under Socrates, traveling through the ancient world, and founding Plato’s Academy. His impact is called dual here because he brought in both the foundational and critical bases of rhetoric. It was found that Plato’s critique of the discipline also contributed to the development of political skepticism in society and citizens’ distrust. This inquiry poses the question of how Plato’s inferences about rhetorical art impacted current media where persuasion is also widely applied. Another intriguing topic is the influence of Aristotle’s thoughts on rhetoric in Western and global politics.
Bertsou, E. (2019). Rethinking political distrust. European Political Science Review, 11(2), 213-230. Web.
Griswold, G. L. (2020). Plato on rhetoric and poetry. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web.
Meinwald, C. C. (n.d.). Plato. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web.
What is rhetoric? (n.d.). San Diego State University. Web.