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RHETORIC AND MORALITY
: THE RHETORICIANS OF "VIRTUE"
Arete for Socrates was
moral arete ( not just excellence but moral excellence) - moral virtue, which
had nothing to do with power or prestige but a (special) kind of knowledge which
distinguishes good from evil, and which explains why something is evil. Arete or
virtue is the knowledge of how to act well and rightly. Only moral wisdom is
good by its very nature.
"It seems likely that the whole collection- health, wealth and good looks that we (presume to be ) good things are not good by nature (themselves) but rather it looks as if any of them are led by ignorance then they are greater evil than their opposites in as much they are are more able to serve an evil leader. But if intelligence and wisdom guide them they are greater goods. In themselves they are of no value.".....Socrates. Goodness is thus not intrinsic in heath wealth and good looks but they are good only if they are used correctly - which in turn requires moral wisdom.
.....................from( Knowledge Products ).
What the Platonic dialog does is not only to show us how to refute the sophistic relativist, but also the dialog forces us to look within ourselves : what is it that we really want ? We learn who we are because who we are is constituted by what we want......TTC.. D. Roochnik
The term Sophist here refers to those professional people of Greece who taught "virtue" through the art of persuasive writing or speaking called rhetoric. The Sophists who's speculations were more of the mythical and poetical kind, went the other way by not having anything to do with absolutes or paradoxes, and in order to avoid paradoxes or contradictions, took only one side of any issue ( usually the one that they liked, or that which gave them better remuneration ) and made persuasive speeches in favor of that side. But naturally, they rejected the idea of absolutes, and promoted the idea that "everything is relative". Although they propounded the profound idea that "man is the measure of all", their lack of articulation, and more importantly, lack of intellectual development of this idea left it hanging on one sentence only, and makes people assume that they were only implying relativism, in opposition to the absolutism of the earlier philosophers. Anyway, the Sophists by their reliance only on rhetoric, tends to exclude them from philosophical inquiry since they were only evoking the poetic use of language for the study and teaching of beauty ( but not the beast ), but they themselves used a much wider term "arete" or "virtue" to describe their pursuit, which came under repeated questioning by Socrates which always led them to contradictions about "virtue" to the point that the Sophists were forced to concede that they were themselves ignorant about "virtue". The problem of the Sophists was that they never realized that "virtue" ( which also included ethics, or ethical behavior ) was more than just an art of speaking about what is beautiful and good, because they had of from their one-sided view of everything, excluded other aspects of "virtue", especially "truth", and were therefore totally ignorant about those aspects. Their rhetoric recognized no other's point of view except their own, and the label of relativism is mostly justified, something that is contradictory to ethics, since there can be no ethics of just one person ( or one kind of person ) in total disregard to others. The even more serious and a major flaw of the Sophists was their utter disdain and disregard for "truth" in their discourse, because their rhetoric was oriented towards winning an argument - for that was the art they were teaching. An example of their ideas is as follows in which Protagoras is trying to prove to Socrates that "virtue" is not only teachable but can only be taught by people like himself :
"....but when honesty is in question, or some other political virtue, even if they know that he is dishonest, yet, if a man comes publicly forward and tells the truth about his dishonesty, then, what in other case was held by them to be good sense, now they deem to be madness. They say that all men ought to profess honesty whether they are honest or not, and a man is out of his mind who says anything else. The notion is, that a man must have some degree of honesty, and that if he had none at all he ought not to be in the world" (Protagoras in Plato's "Protagoras")
If Protagoras is to be believed that truth is relative, why not study with a baboon? Protagoras therefore cannot ground his own claim to knowledge. He makes a claim simply by charging a very large fee for instruction.. TTC.. D. Roochnik
Apart from the absence of logical coherence ( the deduction that a man cannot be totally dishonest rests upon the presumed myth that all men were given equal share of "virtue" or political wisdom by the gods ) , which of course the Sophists never bothered about, the ideas in the above passage wants to "persuade" us to believe that to hide or conceal our dishonesty in public affairs is "virtuous" simply because popular opinion is that to confess dishonesty is a sign of madness ( the logic is : a man who admits dishonesty is being honest about his dishonesty, and therefore contradicting himself and therefore has to be insane (or has to be declared insane for rhetoricians cannot be caught in a contradiction) ). It follows quite conveniently and logically for those who are good at politics or public speaking to completely ignore the "truth", especially about their own dishonesty, and be as dishonest as is convenient to them ( for their own ends to power or wealth). Such a statement in public affairs gives a blanket license to everyone to never speak the "truth" about themselves or even their society or nation, as long as it serves their own ends.
Such a mindset is the perfect recipe for dropping all scruples in public affairs and makes men, at best, drop all shame and inhibition in pursuit of their own happiness, and at worst, unleashes unlimited greed for wealth and power. And such is indeed the state of affairs in the politics of almost every nation on this earth today. Dishonesty is therefore not only a necessary "virtue" in political affairs for Sophists, it's concealment by fine speech was their art of rhetoric.
Rhetoric in monologue is an artist's privilege : it is every man's right to express himself in any manner available, but when that expression has direct bearing upon the fundamental rights of man and all living creatures ; when other being's conduct in public is the issue ; when justice and law are being talked about, it is then that rhetoric ceases to be a monologue for it has come to an arena where another person can retort, question, respond to or oppose in a dialog ; whether it is called rhetoric or dialectic.
Now it is possible that no proper dialog actually take place, it can result only in squabbles without any outcome, but that is not the failure of the method of proper dialog or dialectic, but a failure of the parties involved to lay down the objectives of the dialog : what it attempts to accomplish, and whether the parties are actually willing to engage in a common objective, because if all the parties in a dialog have divergent ends or objectives, there can be no constructive outcome of any dialog. It can only be called a verbal riot, not rhetoric, not dialectic.
This analysis of rhetoric in dialog is not intended to debase rhetoric, but to improve it by clearing the ground on which it becomes essential, and those are the grounds where the dialectic is insufficient or inapplicable.
Rhetoric has the potential to excel when the dialectic has led to further obscurity or a stuck position where the dialog has got bogged down in extreme positions or breakdown of communication.
The dialectic does indeed comes before rhetoric in any dialog by first laying out the grounds and terms of discourse and its objectives - and this is what Socrates was attempting to achieve - define your terms, he said. But most of what he wanted to achieve could not be consolidated, and that is why not only the dialectic has failed again and again in the political affairs of men, but because of the failure of the dialectic, rhetoric instead of finding the right grounds for it to thrive, has instead gone into the hands of crooks, rouges, manipulators, and professional sophists masquerading as intellectuals writing speeches for tyrants.
The other danger of rhetoric is that it tends to throw both the persuader and the persuaded off balance or to an extreme position by creating an illusion of clarity, whereas in any enquiry doubt or uncertainty is a necessary component and clarity is extremely rare in any given social or political context.
Let the fear of a danger be a spur to prevent it; he that fears not, gives advantage to the danger. (Francis Quarles)