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 is wrong when he speaks of ‘the unqualified denunciation of Rhetoric in the Gorgias’, for in the Gorgias Plato speaks of true rhetoric. He uses the expression only once, when he maintains that neither Cimon, nor Themistocles, nor Miltiades (516d-e) – famous politicians of the Athenian past – ‘practised the true rhetoric’ (tê̢ alêthinê̢ rêtorikê̢ echrônto, 517a5). The discussion that follows indicates what is meant by it.
Callicles: ‘But no (Alla mentoi), Socrates – surely no one now will achieve such works (polloû ge deî, o͒ Sôkrates, mê pote tis tôn nûn erga toiaûta ergasêtai) as any one you like of those previous men (hoîa toutôn hostis boulei eirgastai).’ – Socrates: ‘My friend (Ô daimonie), I’m not reproaching them any more than you are (oud’ egô psegô toutous), as servants of the city (hôs ge diakonous ei͒nai tês poleôs). No; I think they proved to be better servants than the present people (alla moi dokoûsi tôn ge nûn diakonikôteroi gegonenai), and more capable of supplying the city (kai mâllon hoîoi te ekporizein tê̢ polei) with what it had an appetite for (hôn epethumei). But for bringing about change in their appetites (alla gar metabibazein tas epithumias), not indulging them (kai mê epitrepein), persuading (peithontes) and forcing them (kai biazomenoi) towards what will make the citizens better (epi toûto hothen emellon ameinous esesthai hoi polîtai) – here they were virtually no different from people now (hôs epos eipeîn ouden toutôn diepheron ekeînoi) – and that’s the only work for a good citizen (hoper monon ergon estin agathoû politou). But ships (naus de), walls (kai teichê), dockyards (kai neôria), and many other things (kai alla polla toiaûta) – I too agree with you (kai egô soi homologô) that the previous people were cleverer than the people now at supplying them (deinoterous ei͒nai ekeinous toutôn ekporizein).’ (517a7-c4) Translation is Irwin’s, with one correction; he wrongly introduces ‘forcing’ when he renders Plato’s alla gar metabibazein tas epithumias ‘But for forcing change in their appetites’. These words indicate what Plato means by the true rhetoric: it transforms the appetites of the citizens, persuading them towards what will make them better. This concept of rhetoric is introduced in an earlier discussion.
Socrates: ‘What about rhetoric addressed to the Athenian people (ti de hê pros ton Athênaiôn dêmon rêtorikê) and the other peoples of the cities (kai tous allous tous en taîs polesin dêmous), the peoples composed of free men (tous tôn eleutherôn andrôn), exactly what do we find this is (ti pote hêmîn hautê estin;)? Do you think that rhetors always speak with an eye on what is best (poteron soi dokoûsin pros to beltiston aei legein hoi rêtores), and aim (toutou stochazomenoi) to make the citizens as good as possible (hopôs hoi polîtai hôs beltistoi esontai) by their speeches (dia tous hautôn logous;)? Or do they too (ê kai hoûtoi) concentrate on gratifying (pros to charizesthai) the citizens (toîs politais) [as the writers of dithyrambs, of tragedy, of poetry do – 501e-502d], despising the common interest for the sake of their own private interest (kai heneka toû idiou toû hautôn oligôrountes toû koinoû)? Do they approach the people in cities as children (hôsper paisi prosomiloûsi toîs dêmois), trying only to gratify them (charizesthai autoîs peirômenoi monon), with no concern about whether they will be better or worse from it (ei de ge beltious esontai ê cheirous dia taûta, ouden phrontizousin;)?’ – Callicles: ‘That’s not just one question you’re asking any more (Ouch haploûn eti toûto erôta̢s). There are some (eisi men gar) who care about the citizens (hoi kêdomenoi tôn politôn) when they say what they say (legousin ha legousin), and others who are as you claim (eisin de kai hoious su legeis).’ – S. ‘That’s all right (Exarkeî). For if there are really two types here (ei gar kai toûto esti diploûn), I presume one type is flattery (to men heteron pou toutou kolakeia an eiê), and shameful public oratory (kai aischra dêmêgoria), while the other is fine (to d’ heteron kalon) – trying to make (to paraskeuazein) the souls of the citizens as good as possible (hopôs hôs beltistai esontai tôn politôn hai psuchai), and working hard in saying what is best (kai diamachesthai legonta ta beltista), whether it is pleasant or unpleasant to the audience (eite hêdiô eite aêdestera estai toîs akouousin). But you’ve never yet seen this kind of rhetoric (all’ ou pôpote su tautên ei͒des tên rêtorikên); or if you can mention a rhetor of this type (ê ei tina echeis tôn rêtorôn toioûton eipeîn), why haven’t you told me as well who he is (ti ouchi kai emoi auton ephrasas tis estin;)?’ (502d10-503b3, tr. Irwin)
Callicles suggests Themistocles, Cimon, Miltiades, and Pericles. Thus challenged, Socrates outlines in greater detail what the true rhetoric and true rhetor would be all about: ‘The good man (ho agathos anêr) who speaks with a view to the best (kai epi to beltiston legôn), surely he won’t speak at random (ha an legê̢ allo ti ouk eikê̢ ereî), but will look to something (all’ apoblepôn pros ti;)? He will be like all other craftsmen (hôsper kai hoi alloi dêmiourgoi) … each of them arranges in a structure whatever he arranges (eis taxin tina hekastos hekaston tithêsin ho an tithê̢) (503d6-e7) … for the structures and orderings of the soul (taîs de ge tês psuchês taxesi kai kosmêsesi) the name is (onoma einai, 504c8) “lawful” (nomimon) and “law” (te kai nomos), from which people become lawful (hothen kai nomimoi gignontai) and orderly (kai kosmioi); and these are justice (taûta d’ estin dikaiosunê) and temperance (kai sôphrosunê) … Then won’t that rhetor, the craftsman, the good one, look to these things (Oukoûn pros taûta blepôn ho rêtôr ekeînos, ho technikos te kai agathos) when he applies all his actions to them (kai tous logous prosoisei tais psuchaîs hous an legê̢, kai tas praxeis hapasas), and when he gives whatever he gives (kai dôron ean ti didô̢, dôsei), and when he takes away whatever he takes away (kai ean ti aphairêtai, aphairêsetai)? He’ll always have his mind on this (pros toûto aei ton noûn echôn); to see that the souls of the citizens acquire justice (hopôs an autoû toîs politais dikaiosunê men en taîs psuchaîs gignêtai) and get rid of injustice (adikia de apallattêtai), and that they acquire temperance (kai sôphrosunê men engignêtai) and get rid of intemperance (akolasia de apallattêtai) and that they acquire the rest of virtue (kai hê allê aretê engignêtai) and get rid of vice (kakia de apiê̢).’ (504d1-e4, tr. Irwin)
Socrates observes that no rhetoricians of Athens, past or present, practiced the true rhetoric, but this does not mean ‘the unqualified denunciation of rhetoric’; it means the unqualified denunciation of the rhetoric practiced in Athens and in other cities (502d10-e2). This denunciation derives its power from being made against the background of the true rhetoric.
Hackorth writes: ‘In so far as the Phaedrus is much concerned with rhetoric it is natural to compare it with the Gorgias. The difference of standpoint between the two dialogues, which are separated probably by some seventeen years, is that whereas in the earlier [the Gorgias for H. & Co.] Plato is content merely to contrast rhetoric and philosophy, in the later [the Phaedrus for H. & Co.] he seeks to harness rhetoric in the service of philosophy. Rhetoric as it is actually practiced and the principles (or lack of principles) on which it is actually based are condemned as vigorously as ever: it is still no technê, no true art, for it knows nothing of dialectic, the sovereign method of philosophy; but it can, Plato suggests, become a technê by basing itself on dialectic and psychology.’ Hackforth adds a note: ‘We may believe that it is a reformed rhetoric that is allotted an honourable function in the state at Pol. 304 D: kai toûto men eoike tachu kechôristhai politikês to rêtorikon, hôs heteron ei͒dos on, hupêretoûn mên tautê̢ (‘Rhetoric seems to be quickly distinguished from politics, being a different species, yet ministering to it’, tr. B. Jowett).’ (R. Hackforth, Plato’s Phaedrus, Cambridge at the University Press, 1972, p. 11)
Richard Sorabji wrote to me in the first paragraph of his letter of December 31, 1980: ‘The “secondary literature’ is conveniently summarised in five pages in R. Hackforth Plato’s Phaedrus (pp. 3-7). So in twenty minutes I think you could know as much as I know about it. May I express the hope that you look at this? I feel that we have so much to gain from a dialogue with you.’
Before coming to Oxford I spent very little time with secondary literature: ‘I didn’t learn Ancient Greek to be pushed around by secondary literature,’ I thought. The following story can best illustrate my attitude of the time. When I returned from the USA to Prague in 1970 – in 1969/70 I was teaching as a Visiting Professor at The University of Hawaii – there was no place for me at Charles University and so I became a worker, a turbine operator in the Prague Power Plant. Considering myself a Marxist, the idea of combining philosophy with manual work appealed to me. In a month, I wrote an article on Aristotle and offered it to the Department of Philosophy at Charles University. Since it took the regime installed in the wake of the Soviet led invasion of 1968 quite a time before they succeeded to bring the nation to heel, my offer was accepted. I read my article, and docent (Assistant Professor) Pešek opened the discussion with the words: ‘How dare you write about Aristotle without reading secondary literature? There are at least 80 books you should read about Aristotle before even thinking of writing about him.’ I replied: ‘Rather than reading Werner Jaeger’s Aristotle, I would re-read Aristotle’s Metaphysics in the original.’ In those days, it may have been October or November 1970, the Philosophy Department was still intact. Professor Patočka, the disciple of Edmund Husserl, was there, and he expressed his full support to my approach to the Greeks.
Having received Tony Long’s rejection of my ‘Socrates in the Phaedrus’, and Richard Sorabji’s letter in which he insisted that I reject the ancient dating of the Phaedrus, I re-read Plato, could not find anything that might compel me to reject the ancient dating, and so read Hackforth. Hackforth derived almost all his arguments for the late dating of the Phaedrus from H. von Arnim. From Arnim I went back to Hermann, from Hermann back to Schleiermacher, from Schleiermacher back to Tennemann. When I got Tennemann’s System der Platonischen Philosophie, published in 1792, on my desk in the Bodleian Library, I had in my hands the first modern attempt to date the Phaedrus late. Kant – and Tennemann as his faithful follower – believed that he (i.e. Kant) discovered the truth. The only thing that remained to be done was to describe the historical journey that led to its discovery, as the closing Hauptstück of the Critique of Pure Reason, entitled ‘Die Geschichte der reinen Vernunft’ (‘The History of Pure Reason’) indicates. Tennemann began to fulfil this grand task with Plato. In the Phaedrus Plato comes the nearest to Kant’s theory of a priori knowledge of pure concepts: only those souls can be incarnated in human form that saw the Forms prior to their incarnation (Phaedrus 249b5-6). In Tennemann’s eyes, Plato progressed to the Forms through a chain of dialogues as the whole subsequent history of philosophy developed towards Kant. – A brilliant idea, which carried Tennemann on, through his work on Plato, to the many volumes of his History of Philosophy, the work without which Hegel could never have conceived his philosophy; but it could not compel me to throw away the ancient dating of the Phaedrus, just as nothing did with which I met in my descent from Hackforth to Tennemann. Still, Tennemann was a delightful read, the delight enhanced by the fact that I had to borrow a wooden knife at the service-desk; for the sheets of the book were uncut – I was the first person to read it.
But back to Hackforth; the comparison of the Phaedrus to the Gorgias, including the accompanying note, is his. Let me begin with his note: ‘We may believe that it is a reformed rhetoric that is allotted an honourable function in the state at Pol. 304 D: kai toûto men eoike tachu kechôristhai politikês to rêtorikon, hôs heteron ei͒dos on, hupêretoûn mên tautê̢.’ And let us see the quoted line in its context (typed in bold).
Stranger: ‘You mean to say that the science which judges whether we ought to learn or not (Tên ei deî manthanein ê mê), must be superior to the science which is learned or which teaches (tês manthanomenês kai didaskousês ara su ge apophainê̢ deîn hêmîn archein;)?’ – The younger Socrates: ‘Far superior (Sphodra ge).’ – Str. ‘And the science which determines whether we ought to persuade or not (Kai tên ei deî peithein ara ê mê), must be superior to the science which is able to persuade (tês dunamenês peithein;)?’ – Y. Soc. ‘Of course (Pôs d’ ou;).’ – Str. `Very good (Eien); and to what science do we assign the power of persuading (tini to peistikon ou͒n apodôsomen epistêmê̢) a multitude (plêthous te kai ochlou) by a pleasing tale (dia muthologias) and not by teaching (alla mê dia didachês)?’ – Y. Soc. ‘That power, I think, must clearly be assigned to rhetoric (Phaneron oi͒mai kai toûto rêtorikê̢ doteon on).’ – Str. ‘And to what science do we give the power of determining whether we are to employ persuasion or force towards any one, or to refrain altogether (To d’ eite dia peithoûs eite kai dia tinos bias deî prattein pros tinas hotioûn ê kai to parapan hêsuchian echein, toût’ au poia̢ prosthêsomen epistêmê̢;)?’ – Y. Soc. ‘To that science which governs the arts of speech and persuasion (Tê̢ tês peistikês archousê̢ kai lektikês).’ – Str. ‘Which (Eiê d’ ouk an allê tis), if I am not mistaken (hôs oi͒mai), will be politics (plên hê toû politikoû dunamis)? – Y. Soc. ‘Very good (Kallist’ eirêkas).’ – Str. ‘Rhetoric seems to be quickly distinguished from politics (Kai toûto men eoike tachu kechôristhai politikês to rêtorikon), being a different species (hôs heteron eidos on), yet ministering to it (hupêretoûn mên tautê̢). – Y. Soc. ‘Yes (Nai).’ (Pol. 304c4-e2, tr. Jowett; his translation is very loose, but not misleading.)
Pace Hackforth, the reformed rhetoric of the Phaedrus is as far removed from the one of the Statesman as can be. What underlies the discussion of the reformed rhetoric in the Phaedrus is the implicit unity between the philosopher, the politician, and the master of the reformed rhetoric. Plato closes his outline of the reformed rhetoric in the Phaedrus with Socrates’ imaginary discussion with the rhetorician Tisias:
‘Unless the aspirant to oratory can on the one hand list the various natures amongst his prospective audiences (ean mê tis tôn te akousomenôn tas phuseis diarithmêsêtai), and on the other divide things into their individual kinds (kai kat’ eidê te diaireîsthai ta onta) and embrace each individual thing under a single form (kai mia̢ idea̢ dunatos e̢͒ kath’ hen hekaston perilambanein), he will never attain such success (ou pot’ estai technikos logôn peri) as is within the grasp of mankind (kath’ hoson dunaton anthrôpô̢). Yet he will assuredly never acquire such competence (taûta de ou mê pote ktêsêtai) without considerable diligence (aneu pollês pragmateias), which the wise man should exert not for the sake of speaking to and dealing with his fellow-men (hên ouch heneka tou legein kai prattein pros anthrôpous deî diaponeîsthai ton sôphrona), but that he may be able to speak what is pleasing to the gods (alla toû theoîs kecharismena men legein dunasthai), and in all his dealings to do their pleasure (kecharismenôs de prattein to pân) to the best of his ability (eis dunamin). For you see, Tisias, what we are told by those wiser than ourselves is true, that a man of sense ought never to study the gratification of his fellow-slaves (ou gar dê ara, ô Teisia, phasin hoi sophôteroi hêmôn, homodoulois deî charizesthai meletân ton noûn echonta), save as a minor consideration (hoti mê parergon), but that of his most excellent masters (alla despotais agathois kai ex agathôn). So don’t be surprised that we have to make a long detour (hôst’ ei makra hê periodos, mê thaumasê̢s): it is because the goal is glorious (megalôn gar heneka periiteon), though not the goal you think of (ouch hôn su dokeîs). Not but what those lesser objects also, if you would have them, can best be attained (so our argument assures us) as a consequence of the greater (estai mên, hôs ho logos phêsin, ean tis ethelê̢, kai taûta kallista ex ekeinôn gignomena).’ (273d8-274a5, tr. Hackforth)
The Statesman of Plato’s Statesman is neither a ‘fellow-slave’ (that is a ‘fellow-citizen’) nor a god to whom Socrates refers in the Phaedrus. In the Phaedrus Plato’s thought moves within the framework of the Athenian democracy, in the Statesman it moves within the framework of a wished-for state governed under his guidance by Dionysius in Sicily. The rhetorician in such a state is fully subservient to the Statesman, the ruler; he says what he is ordered to say. In the Phaedrus, the rhetorician says of what he wants to persuade his audience. The aspirant of the reformed oratory must master dialectic, he must ‘make a long detour’; in other words, he must become a philosopher.
Hackforth is wrong when he says that Plato in the Phaedrus ‘seeks to harness rhetoric in the service of philosophy’. In the Phaedrus Plato seeks to harness philosophy in reforming rhetoric.