Tuesday, January 31, 2017

4b1 Dating of the Phaedrus – doctrinal arguments (with references to Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Plato’s Gorgias)

Sorabji’s fourth objection against my dating of Plato’ Phaedrus: ‘There is a right way of teaching Rhetoric according to the Phaedrus, but it must be combined with Psychology. I had previously accepted the view (Jaeger’s?) that Aristotle put this into practice in his Rhetoric, of which Book II is in large part a psychological study. Both his Rhetoric and (on this view) Plato Phaedrus would then come later than the unqualified denunciation of Rhetoric in the Gorgias. Does Diogenes Laertius’s different order make equally good sense?’

Sorabji’s fourth objection points to rhetoric as a factor indicating that the Phaedrus was written after the Gorgias. In my first two responses I argued that the discussion of rhetoric in the Phaedrus points to its having been written in the days when Plato’s dominant desire was to embark on a political career as soon as possible, which was in the closing months of the Peloponnesian War, when Athens was under siege and the aristocratic revolution was on the cards. Plato prepared himself for it by studying rhetoric, which was the key to success in politics in Athens. He attempted to make it scientific, so that by mastering it one could attain the proposed political aims with certainty.

With the two entries devoted to this task, marked 4 and 4a on my blog, I thought I answered the objection without touching on Aristotle’s Rhetoric. I spent a lot of time with it in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, which left me with a feeling that Aristotle saw the Phaedrus as a failed attempt, and that he had to start anew to transform rhetoric into a scientific discipline, not like with metaphysics, where he could build on generations of philosophers who contributed to its development. I saw no point in responding to Sorabji’s objection with hazy memories of my past thoughts. And even if it could be shown that Aristotle built his Rhetoric on the foundations laid by Plato in the Phaedrus, why could he not have done so if the Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue?

In the end I did read several pages of Book II, to which Sorabji refers. I could not find there any correspondence with Plato’s insistence that anyone who seriously proffers a scientific rhetoric will describe the soul very precisely, and let us see whether it is single and uniform in nature or, analogously to the body, complex, and then will classify the types of discourse and the types of soul, suggesting the type of speech appropriate to each type of soul, and showing what kinds of speech can be relied on to create belief in one soul and disbelief in another, and why (cf. Phdr. 271a-b). It reinforced my intention to leave Aristotle’s Rhetoric aside. But although my reading was quick and perfunctory, it must have worked on my subconscious; I simply had to look at the first few chapters of Book I. As a result, I wrote my preceding post, and I have resolved to read Aristotle’s Rhetoric from alpha to omega. Furthermore, Aristotle’s covert references to the Gorgias in the first two chapters of his Rhetoric made me realize that I must begin with Plato’s Gorgias.

Looking for a text which might indicate why I found Book II to be miles away from Plato’s Phaedrus, I found its very first paragraph relevant. As I typed the translation available to me, I could not but note a ‘discrepancy’ between the English text and the original:

‘Since rhetoric exists to affect the giving of decisions (epei de heneka kriseôs estin hê rêtorikê) – the hearers decide between one political speaker and another (kai gar tas sumboulas krinousi), and a legal verdict is a decision (kai hê dikê krisis estin) – the orator must not only try to make the argument of his speech demonstrative and worthy of belief (anankê mê monon pros ton logon horân, hopôs apodeiktikos estai kai pistos); he must also make his own character look right and put his hearers, who are to decide, into the right frame of mind (alla kai hauton poion tina kai ton kritên kataskeuazein).’ (1377b20-23).

In my preceding post I took issue with Grimaldi’s remark that Aristotle offers ‘an explanation (56a25-30) why rhetoric does legitimately “slip into the guise of” politikê. Plato in his attack at 463e-466a would deny such legitimacy.’ Against Grimaldi, I insisted that Aristotle in the given passage indorses the view that rhetoric illegitimately “slips into the guise of” politics. As I was typing ‘the hearers decide between one political speaker and another’, a thought ran through my mind: ‘Was I wrong in what I wrote in my post, or did Aristotle change his mind?’ In fact, as the original can show, Aristotle avoids any ‘political’ connotations in what he says: people make judgements ‘concerning the advices’ (tas sumboulas) they are given. I was similarly surprised when I came across ‘mind’, for translators often use ‘mind’ where Plato speaks of ‘soul’. But again, it is the translator’s contribution to Aristotle’s text, whose ‘he must also make his own character look right and put his hearers, who are to decide, into the right frame of mind’ stands for Aristotle’s alla kai hauton poion tina kai ton kritên kataskeuazein, which means that the orator should ‘make (kataskeuazein) himself (hauton) and the judge (ton kritên) to be in a certain way (poion tina)’. Kataskeuazein means ‘to construct’, ‘to build’, ‘to furnish fully’; the orator should by his speech construct himself to be in a certain way and his audience to be in a certain way. Aristotle avoids any mentioning of human soul, its nature, and the types of human souls.

Aristotle goes on: ‘Particularly in political oratory, but also in lawsuits, it adds much to an orator’s influence that his own character should look right (polu gar diapherei pros pistin, malista men en taîs sumboulaîs, ei͒ta kai en taîs dikais to te poion tina phainesthai ton legonta) and that he should be thought to entertain the right feelings towards his hearers (kai to pros hautous hupolambanein pôs diakeîsthai auton); and also (pros de toutois) that his hearers themselves should be in just the right frame of mind (ean kai autoi diakeimenoi pôs tunchanôsi). That the orator’s own character should look right (to men ou͒n poion tina phainesthai ton legonta) is particularly important in political speaking (chrêsimôteron eis tas sumboulas estin); that the audience should be in the right frame of mind (to de diakeîsthai pôs ton akroatên), in lawsuits (eis tas dikas).’ (1377b20-31, tr. W. Rhys Roberts)

As can be seen, the same ‘discrepancy’ between the original and Roberts’ translation effects the rest of the paragraph.

And so I have decided to read the Gorgias, reading it it aloud to myself, for only thus I can get the most out of it. Consider it physiologically. Every sentence involves my eyesight, the corresponding neural pathways, and the visual brain centre; it involves my hearing with its neural pathways and auditory brain centre, and it involves the motor cortex, which receives commands from the visual centre and is controlled by the auditory centre, commanded as it is ‘to do better’ whenever I make a mistake, be it by wrongly accentuating this or that word or collocation of words, or if I feel I did not properly express the meaning of this or that sentence. – These nerve activities are mediating – not producing – my understanding of the text, which no nerve cells, no brain centres can produce, as I have pointed out in ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ on my website.

Socrates says to Callicles, Gorgias’ host, that he would like to talk to Gorgias: ‘For I want to learn from him (boulomai gar puthesthai par’ autou) what the power of the man’s craft is (tis hê dunamis tês technês toû andros, 447c1-2, tr. T. Irwin).’ Irwin notes: ‘”Power” (dunamis; adjective dunatos, “powerful” or “capable”) is an important term in the Gorgias. Here the question just means “What is his craft capable of?”, which amounts to asking for a definition of the craft. “Craft” (technê) is the normal term for any systematic productive skill, such as carpentry or shoemaking, but it is also applied to less obviously productive abilities, such as arithmetic or geometry, so that it is virtually interchangeable, in Plato’s early dialogues at least, with epistêmê (“knowledge”, “science”). Socrates treats a craft as something more than a tendency to perform efficiently. He associates craft-knowledge with systematic teaching and instruction, reliably successful performance, and the ability to explain the actions of the craft and their over-all point … Socrates’ first question assumes that rhetoric has some power or capacity, and that it is a craft. Both of these assumptions are soon challenged, 462b, 466b.’

I shall use Irwin’s translation in the forthcoming posts, for which his explanation of ‘craft’ is essential. But I cannot agree with him that Socrates’ question ‘what the power of the man’s craft is’ ‘just … amounts to asking for a definition of the craft’. For when Socrates asks ‘what the dunamis of the man’s technê is’, his forthcoming questioning of Gorgias is ‘present to his mind’ (there is a good German word for it: vorschweben).

Gorgias: ‘I’ll try to reveal clearly the whole power of rhetoric to you, Socrates (egô soi peirasomai, ô Sôkrates, saphôs apokalupsai tên tês rêtorikês dunamin hapasan). For you showed the way well yourself (autos gar kalôs huphêgêsô). I take it you know (oi͒stha gar dêpou) that these dockyards (hoti ta neôria taûta) and the Athenians' walls (kai ta teichê ta Athênaiôn) and the harbour equipment (kai hê tôn limenôn kataskeuê) have come from Themistocles’ advice (ek tês Themistokleous sumboulês gegonen), some from Pericles’ (ta de ek tês Perikleous), but not from craftsmen (all’ ouk ek tôn dêmiourgôn) … you see (hora̢s) that the rhetors are those (hoti hoi rêtores eisin) who give advice (hoi sumbouleuontes), and who prevail with their opinions (kai hoi nikôntes tas gnômas) about these things (peri toutôn).‘ – Socrates: ‘Yes, that’s what amazes me (Taûta kai thaumazôn), Gorgias (ô Gorgia), and that’s why I’ve been asking all this time (palai erôtô) just what the power of rhetoric is (tis pote hê dunamis estin tês rêtorikês). For it seems to be some superhumanly great power (daimonia gar tis emoige kataphainetai to megethos) when I look at it like this (houtô skopoûnti).’ – G. ‘Yes, and if only you knew the whole of it (Ei panta ge eideiês), Socrates (ô Sôkrates) – that it practically captures all powers and keeps them under its control (hoti hôs epos eipeîn hapasas tas dunameis sullaboûsa huph’ hautê̢ echei).’ (455d6-456a8)

With his palai at 456a4 Socrates points to the initial question he asked at 447c1-2. Irwin’s ‘all this time’ misses Socrates’ referring by palai to that initial question, but it renders well Socrates’ keeping it ’present to his mind’ (vorschwebend) during the whole discussion. This is an example of Socrates’ ‘bringing a dispersed plurality under a single form, seeing it all together’ (Eis mian te idean sunorônta agein ta pollachệ diesparmena, Phaedrus 265d3-4). If Irwin means that this is what Socrates’ definition means, this intensity of mental presence of this or that concept throughout any philosophic discussion he enters into, mental presence of concept defined, to be defined, or in the process of being defined, then I fully agree. But this is not what we normally regard as ‘just a definition’.

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