Socrates’ Refutation of Gorgias: <i>Gorgias</i> 447 C–461 B


in Virtue and Happiness

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199646043
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191743368 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy

Socrates’ Refutation of Gorgias: Gorgias 447 C–461 B

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The argumentation — both ‘rhetorical’ and otherwise — of Plato’s Gorgias opens early on with Socrates requesting that Chaerephon ask Gorgias “who he is” (447c-d), thus reminding savvy readers that Socrates examines not only abstract definitions, but the lives of his interlocutors as well (cf. G. 484c-486c; Prt. 333c7; La. 187e7). After the youthful Chaerephon behaves like a true Socratic in beginning a “What is rhetoric?” examination of Polus, Socrates intervenes, prodded perhaps by Polus’ assertion that Gorgias possesses the noblest of the technai (448c). In response, Socrates criticizes Polus to his teacher for offering an account of the rhetorical craft that attends more to that very thing than to dialectic — thus slyly recommending, without any support — the latter as being superior to the former (448d). The dialogue then quickly moves into Socrates’ initial attempt to discover the true nature of rhetoric from its master-craftsman, Gorgias of Leontini. All this initial dramatic word-play can make one suspect that more such play will follow, and indeed, scholars have regarded Socrates’ subsequent elenctic examination of Gorgias at 447c-461b as methodologically questionable in varying ways; worrying about the several Socratic leads that Gorgias takes up that end with his having committed himself to the contradiction that he and other rhetoriticians both do and do not produce unjust rhetoriticians. This chapter offers an account of Socrates' refutation that critically considers various prior readings.

Keywords: rhetoric; Gorgias; Socrates; dialectic; elenctic; technai; chaerephon; polus

Chapter.  7763 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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