Historical Rhetorics/Plato's Relationship to Rhetoric/McComiskey, Bruce. "Disassembling Plato's Critique of Rhetoric in the ''Gorgias'' (447a-466a)."

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McComiskey, Bruce. "Disassembling Plato's Critique of Rhetoric in the Gorgias (447a-466a)." Rhetoric Review 11 (1992): 79-90.

McComiskey argues that despite (some of) recent scholarship's acceptance/valorization of Plato's articulation of the sophists (Gorgias in particular) Plato's manipulation of Gorgias' epistemology is disdainful, hostile, unfair - not to mention inaccurate - and results in the achievement of his intention: to discount Gorgias/sophistic rhetoric to the extent that he could attain his (largely democratic) audience's confidence in his (oligarchic) ideology. McComiskey argues that the primary reason for Plato's intentional manipulation of Gorgias' rhetoric pertains to the historical/political context (a successful writer-audience relationship could only be achieved if Plato (who espoused oligarchy) could influence his primarily democratic audience to see the error in their epistemology and adopt an oligarchic perspective). McComiskey's evidence for this argument is articulated through his analysis of the methodology Plato employs to manipulate Gorgias' epistemological ideology.

Plato's primary audience was the (democratic-minded) Adenine citizenry, which means that such an audience would undoubtedly have sided with (democratic-minded) Gorgias; therefore, Plato rhetorically manipulates Gorgias' epistemology (his art; "techne") as foundational and ahistorical so that the (democratic-minded) audience would see the error in Gorgias/sophistic relativistic ideology and adopt Plato's philosophy (i.e. rejecting rhetoric and ultimately espousing oligarchy).

Gorgias' techne versus Plato's techne:

  • For Gorgias/sophists, all knowledge is opinion - everything is relative to a kairotic moment; therefore, if rationality depends on some sort of reference to perfect knowledge in order to judge its legitimacy, no argument can ever be entirely rational (for Gorgias, techne is aesthetic)
  • Plato's Gorgias allows Socrates to claim that Gorgian rhetoric is irrational, that it does not refer to an immutable standard of truth, and that it does not quality as a techne (art) (for Plato, techne is philosophical)
  • Plato misrepresents Gorgias' perspective concerning of (aesthetic) techne as foundational (rather than critical/interpretive/creative) in an effort to delegitimize Gorgias' techne (and thus garner the audience's support of oligarchy, etc.)

Conclusion: "... since Plato's audience ... was largely democratic in political orientation, he misrepresented Gorgias' epistemology in order to ease the anticipated hostility toward the text and to make Gorgianic rhetoric appear absurd" (McComiskey 214)

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