Category: Ideas
Genres: Philosophy
Level 10.43 4:16 h
In Gorgias, Socrates discusses rhetoric with guests at a dinner party. It is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato sometime around 380 BC. In the story, the men discuss sophism, the art of persuasion, and cultural sophistication, among other topics. Socrates was Plato's mentor before being put to death by drinking poison for not believing in the gods. In his dialogues, Plato uses his former teacher to explore philosophical topics.




Persons of the dialogue:





Scene: The house of Callicles

Callicles. The wise man, as the proverb says, is late for a fray, but not for a feast.

Socrates. And are we late for a feast?

Callicles. Yes, and a delightful feast; for Gorgias has just been exhibiting to us many fine things.

Socrates. It is not my fault, Callicles; our friend Chaerephon is to blame; for he would keep us loitering in the Agora.

Chaerephon. Never mind, Socrates; the misfortune of which I have been the cause I will also repair; for Gorgias is a friend of mine, and I will make him give the exhibition again either now, or, if you prefer, at some other time.

Callicles. What is the matter, Chaerephon — does Socrates want to hear Gorgias?

Chaerephon. Yes, that was our intention in coming.

Callicles. Come into my house, then; for Gorgias is staying with me, and he shall exhibit to you.

Socrates. Very good, Callicles; but will he answer our questions? for I want to hear from him what is the nature of his art, and what it is which he professes and teaches; he may, as you [Chaerephon] suggest, defer the exhibition to some other time.

Callicles. There is nothing like asking him, Socrates; and indeed to answer questions is a part of his exhibition, for he was saying only just now, that any one in my house might put any question to him, and that he would answer.

Socrates. How fortunate! will you ask him, Chaerephon — ?

Chaerephon. What shall I ask him?

Socrates. Ask him who he is.

Chaerephon. What do you mean?

Socrates. I mean such a question as would elicit from him, if he had been a maker of shoes, the answer that he is a cobbler. Do you understand?

Chaerephon. I understand, and will ask him: Tell me, Gorgias, is our friend Callicles right in saying that you undertake to answer any questions which you are asked?

Gorgias. Quite right, Chaerephon: I was saying as much only just now; and I may add, that many years have elapsed since any one has asked me a new one.

Chaerephon. Then you must be very ready, Gorgias.

Gorgias. Of that, Chaerephon, you can make trial.

Polus. Yes, indeed, and if you like, Chaerephon, you may make trial of me too, for I think that Gorgias, who has been talking a long time, is tired.

Chaerephon. And do you, Polus, think that you can answer better than Gorgias?

Polus. What does that matter if I answer well enough for you?

Chaerephon. Not at all: — and you shall answer if you like.

Polus. Ask: —

Chaerephon. My question is this: If Gorgias had the skill of his brother Herodicus, what ought we to call him? Ought he not to have the name which is given to his brother?

Polus. Certainly.

Chaerephon. Then we should be right in calling him a physician?

Polus. Yes.

Chaerephon. And if he had the skill of Aristophon the son of Aglaophon, or of his brother Polygnotus, what ought we to call him?

Polus. Clearly, a painter.

Chaerephon. But now what shall we call him — what is the art in which he is skilled.

Polus. O Chaerephon, there are many arts among mankind which are experimental, and have their origin in experience, for experience makes the days of men to proceed according to art, and inexperience according to chance, and different persons in different ways are proficient in different arts, and the best persons in the best arts. And our friend Gorgias is one of the best, and the art in which he is a proficient is the noblest.

Socrates. Polus has been taught how to make a capital speech, Gorgias; but he is not fulfilling the promise which he made to Chaerephon.

Gorgias. What do you mean, Socrates?

Socrates. I mean that he has not exactly answered the question which he was asked.

Gorgias. Then why not ask him yourself?

Socrates. But I would much rather ask you, if you are disposed to answer: for I see, from the few words which Polus has uttered, that he has attended more to the art which is called rhetoric than to dialectic.

Polus. What makes you say so, Socrates?

Socrates. Because, Polus, when Chaerephon asked you what was the art which Gorgias knows, you praised it as if you were answering some one who found fault with it, but you never said what the art was.

Polus. Why, did I not say that it was the noblest of arts?

Socrates. Yes, indeed, but that was no answer to the question: nobody asked what was the quality, but what was the nature, of the art, and by what name we were to describe Gorgias. And I would still beg you briefly and clearly, as you answered Chaerephon when he asked you at first, to say what this art is, and what we ought to call Gorgias: Or rather, Gorgias, let me turn to you, and ask the same question what are we to call you, and what is the art which you profess?

Gorgias. Rhetoric, Socrates, is my art.

Socrates. Then I am to call you a rhetorician?

Gorgias. Yes, Socrates, and a good one too, if you would call me that which, in Homeric language, “I boast myself to be.”

Socrates. I should wish to do so.

Gorgias. Then pray do.

Socrates. And are we to say that you are able to make other men rhetoricians?

Gorgias. Yes, that is exactly what I profess to make them, not only at Athens, but in all places.

Socrates. And will you continue to ask and answer questions, Gorgias, as we are at present doing and reserve for another occasion the longer mode of speech which Polus was attempting? Will you keep your promise, and answer shortly the questions which are asked of you?

Gorgias. Some answers, Socrates, are of necessity longer; but I will do my best to make them as short as possible; for a part of my profession is that I can be as short as any one.

Socrates. That is what is wanted, Gorgias; exhibit the shorter method now, and the longer one at some other time.

Gorgias. Well, I will; and you will certainly say, that you never heard a man use fewer words.

Socrates. Very good then; as you profess to be a rhetorician, and a maker of rhetoricians, let me ask you, with what is rhetoric concerned: I might ask with what is weaving concerned, and you would reply (would you not?), with the making of garments?

Gorgias. Yes.

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