Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Technically Correct

I wonder if Plato believes that Socrates's speech A (preferring non-lovers) is technically equal to Socrates's speech B (preferring lovers). That is, I wonder if Truth is not only a moral but also a technical necessity. John C. Adams argues that Socrates's speech A is "technically correct, but morally depraved as far is it celebrates the virtue of being an evil lover in a more rhetorically effective manner than Lysias' speech" (8). And while I find this language useful, I wonder whether the issue is not morality--that Plato is not simply claiming that Socrates would be impious to deliver the speech preferring non-lovers to lovers, but additionally that he would be a poor rhetor.

Truth is not a side issue for Plato, as far as I can tell. Socrates in fact asks Phaedrus if a rhetor needs to "know the truth about the matters of which he is to speak" (156). Phaedrus has heard otherwise, but Socrates seems to make the point that rhetoric needs Truth even to be technically good. I cannot truly say that an argument is good if it comes to a conclusion I know to be false. It might be interesting or pretty, but to be rhetorically good it must also be True.

Works Cited

Adams, John C. "The Rhetorical Significance of the Conversion of the Lover's Soul in Plato's Phaedrus." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 26.3 (1996): 7-16.

Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. H. N. Fowler. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Ties to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001. 138-168.


Landis said...

Amy, I think your hunch is right. The way to pinpoint the technical superiority of an argument that is technically equivalent to another argument but that is not true is to look at the logical appeals. Though a speech that contains evidence that is not true may be logically valid and coherent, it simply isn't going to be as plausible as the other argument. And the more implausibilities contained in the evidence, that is, the more discord between claims made in the speech and what we know to be true, the worse the speech is. This is all to say that the technical superiority of a speech is not dependent alone on the speech itself but also on the relationship between that speech and the outside world. Now, the only context in which the two speeches would be technically equivalent would be if the audience were completely ignorant about any of the evidence presented, in which case, because all of the evidence would appear logically valid, it would all also seem plausible (since the audience wouldn't know anything to contradict the claims).

EditorialEyes said...

This is an interesting topic, Amy, which brings more questions to mind. I don't know whether or not truth is a necessary element of "good" rhetoric, although I would personally aspire to it.

Presently, we regularly observe politicians, attorneys, and sales reps -- just to name a few professionals actively involved in creating rhetoric -- who are very skillful at "pitching" their products. When they present to us what appears on the surface to be good rhetoric, we accept what they tell us and often act as they prescribe. Many of these rhetoricians sincerely believe they are promoting what is right and good; others are NOT so concerned with what is right and good. How can we know if these people are actually telling us what they honestly consider to be truth?

I've often wondered whether certain politicians caught red-handed in committing crimes deny their actions without feeling pangs of guilt; how a defense attorney who KNOWS his client is guilty can, in good conscience, plead his defendant "not guilty"; how a salesperson who is aware of a product's defects proceeds to sell that product to unsuspecting consumers. Have they no qualms? Do they ever feel dishonest? Do they believe in the end justifying the means, thus, they are assuaged by the notion they may use whatever rhetoric it takes to accomplish their goals, and truth be damned? When the less-than-honest communicators succeed in winning us over, I suppose their brand of rhetoric could be considered "good" at achieving their desired results but "poor" in the area of truth or morality.