On Plato’s ‘Gorgias’​ — The Art of Persuasion

‘This scepticism reached a much deeper point in Gorgias of Leontium, in Sicily, a man of great culture, and also distinguished as a statesman. During the Peloponnesian war he was, in 01. 88, 2 (427 B.C.), a few years after Pericles’ death in 0l. 87, 4, sent from his native town to Athens. And when he attained his object, he went through many other Greek towns, such as Larissa in Thessaly, and taught in them. Thus he obtained great wealth, along with much admiration, and this lasted till his death at over a hundred years of age’.

‘He is said to have been a disciple of Empedocles, but he also knew the Eleatics, and his dialectic partakes of the manner and method of the latter; indeed Aristotle, who preserves this dialectic, in the work De Xenophane, Zenone et Gorgia, which has indeed only come to us in fragments, deals with them together. Sextus Empiricus also gives us in full the dialectic of Gorgias. He was strong in the dialectic requisite for eloquence, but his pre-eminence lies in his pure dialectic respecting the quite universal categories of Being and non-being, which indeed is not like that of the Sophists. Tiedemann (Geist. der Spec. Phil. vol. I. p. 362) says very falsely: ‘Gorgias went much further than any man of healthy mind could go’. Tiedemann could say of every philosopher that he went further than healthy human understanding, for what men call healthy understanding is not Philosophy, and is often far from healthy. Healthy human understanding possesses the modes of thought, maxims, and judgments of its time, the thought-determinations of which dominate it without its being conscious thereof. In this way Gorgias undoubtedly went further than healthy understanding. Before Copernicus it would have been contrary to all healthy human understanding if anyone had said that the earth went round the sun, or before the discovery of America, if it were said that there was a continent there’.

- Hegel, ‘Lectures on the History of Philosophy’.

[Dietrich Tiedemann, (1748- 1803), German philosopher and historian of philosophy]

Gorgias, (483 BC — 375 BC), a Sophist, author of ‘On What Is Not or On Nature’, in which he argues that nothing exists, now lost, but as Hegel mentions the gist of his reasoning has been preserved by Sextus Empiricus, (fl. mid-late 2nd century AD), in ‘Against the Logicians’:

‘Gorgias of Leontini belonged to the same troop as those who did away with the criterion, [i.e. the ultimate criterion of all things is the senses], but not by way of the same approach as Protagoras. For in the work entitled On What Is Not or On Nature he sets up three main points one after the other: first, that there is nothing; second, that even if there is [something], it is not apprehensible by a human being; third, that even if it is apprehensible, it is still not expressible or explainable to the next person. That there is nothing, then, he reckons in the following way. If there is anything, either there is what is or what is not, or there is both what is and what is not. But neither is there what is, as he will establish, nor what is not, as he will explain, nor what is and what is not, as he will also teach. Therefore there is not anything. Now, there is not what is not. For if there is what is not, it will both be and not be at the same time; in so far as it is considered as not being, it will not be, but in so far as what is not is, it will on the other hand be’.

Hegel depicted Gorgias as a profound thinker whose high repute was not the result of his flourishes of rhetoric but rather his pure dialectic respecting the quite universal categories of Being and non-Being. Hegel’s treatment of the Sophists generally challenged a characterization of them that had persisted down the centuries, intellectual frauds, albeit his rehabilitation so to speak of Gorgias, Protagoras, (c. 490 BC — c. 420 BC), and the like had the consequence of familiarising Sophistical rhetoric to the point whereby it lost some of its capacity to fashion public discourse, and furthermore, the effect of Hegel’s historical analysis was to characterize Sophistical rhetoric as speculative philosophy, (thinking beyond dichotomies and either/or, and instead reconciling oppositions), his endeavour to normalize the Sophists working more to render their rhetoric somewhat less effective. ‘The Sophists came on the scene’, said Hegel, ‘at a time when the Greeks had begun to grow dissatisfied with mere authority and tradition and felt the need of intellectual justification for what they were to accept as obligatory. That desideratum the Sophists supplied by teaching their countrymen to seek for the various points of view under which things may be’. And furthermore:

‘… ‘sophistry’ is a slogan used by ordinary common sense against educated reason, just as the expression ‘visionary dreaming’ sums up, once and for all, what philosophy means to those who are ignorant of it.-Since the man of common sense makes his appeal to feeling, to an oracle within his breast, he is finished and done with anyone who does not agree; he only has to explain that he has nothing more to say to anyone who does not find and feel the same in himself. In other words, he tramples underfoot the roots of humanity. For it is the nature of humanity to press onward to agreement with others; human nature only really exists in an achieved community of minds. The anti-human, the merely animal, consists in staying within the sphere of feeling, and being able to communicate only at that level’.

- Hegel, ‘The Phenomenology of Spirit’.

Hegel himself has of course been accused of sophistry, deceptive eloquence, fallacious argumentation. By Karl Marx, (1881–1883), for instance, who characterised the science of Spirit a a sophistical art of fantastical or conceptual jugglery, Hegel the master conjurer performing a miracle of rhetoric by spinning out the concrete world from abstract concepts in a sovereign exhibition of ‘sophistical mastery’, the ‘Science of Logic conjuring up a spectral world of pale phantoms and ghostly spirits beyond nature and history, the Hegelian ‘dance of skeletons’ ,as Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813–1855) put it.

‘One cannot ‘read’ Hegel, except by not reading him. To read, not to read him — to understand, to misunderstand him, to reject him — all this falls under the authority of Hegel or doesn’t take place at all. Only the intensity of this non-occurrence, in the impossibility that there be such a thing, prepares us for a death — the death of reading, the death of writing — which leaves Hegel living: the living travesty of completed Meaning. (Hegel the impostor: this is what makes him invincible, mad with his seriousness, counterfeiter of Truth: ‘putting one over’ to the point of becoming, all unbeknownst to him, master of irony — Sylviane Agacinski’.

- Maurice Blanchot, (1907–2003), ‘The Writing of the Disaster’.

[Sylviane Agacinski-Jospin, (1945 -), French feminist philosopher].

But isn’t that just rhetoric from Blanchot? Saying nothing at all?

For Marx the emergence of the sophistic movement was the ‘Shrovetide’ of ancient Greek philosophy, marking the ‘daemonic’ moment when metaphysics undergoes penance for its flight from the world and returns to the ‘mundane siren’ of the physical universe and the social cosmos of the polis. It was the sophists and not Socrates that dragged philosophy down from the heavens into the city and into the political space of appearance. Sophistry manifested the resolve of genuine philosophy which refuses to give itself over to the thoughts of others on their mere authority but to examine everything for itself, and to follow only its own conviction. Spirit is the product of human action, labour and Bildung, education, culture, and rather than transcending experience it comes into being through the social labour of people, in their ‘physical, corporate, legal, moral and political existence’. ‘One may have all sorts of ideas about the kingdom of God’, said Hegel, ‘but it is always a realm of Spirit to be realized and brought about in man’. And the Sophists played a decisive role in the history of culture and that which Friedrich Schiller, (1759–1805), designated ‘the aesthetic education of mankind’. By supplanting the teachings of the poets, priests and oracles with secular instruction in sophia the Sophists inaugurated a new culture of thought and reflection, ‘The learning of the Sophists is the opposite of ours’, said Hegel, ‘which only aspires to acquire information and investigate what is and has been — it is a mass of empirical matter, in which the discovery of a new form, a new worm, or other vermin, is held to be a point of great importance’. This new form of sophistic education and rearing prepares students for citizenship in the common Greek life of the polis by cultivating excellence ‘in philosophy as much as in eloquence’. A double Bildung in philosophy and rhetoric that taught students to examine issues from a plurality of different points of view ‘by turning subjects around and considering them in many aspects’. Echoing Aristotle Hegel defines rhetoric as the power to discover or invent the ‘manifold points of view’ on a given topic in order to ‘give force’ to a particular topic.

And yet one of the most injurious accusations made against the Sophists is that their rhetoric teaches students to how to argue all sides of an issue thus enabling them to make unjust arguments appear just. And how can we avoid the slide from logic into rhetoric, in the negative sense, the undue use of exaggeration or display, indeed, bombast?And how can we tell if such a slide has occurred? And what of sophistry too, the use of clever but fallacious reasoning, especially with the intention to deceive?

Rhetoric is the theme of Plato’s dialogue the ‘Gorgias’, the principle ideas advanced in which are as follows:

1. Socrates and Gorgias discuss the question concerning the uses of rhetoric, and Socrates initiates the discussion by describing rhetoric as the art of persuasion.

2. But Socrates argues, if the rhetorician has no knowledge of what he proclaims, it is a case of the ignorant attempting to teach the ignorant, furthermore, if he or she discourses on justice, he or she must have knowledge of justice, and if he or she has knowledge of justice, he or she is just, consequently, he or she could not tolerate the unjust, which would be talking without having knowledge of what one was talking about.

3. Since all people desire to act for the sake of some good, no person can act as he wills, if he or she acts in ignorance of the good, if a man or woman acts wrongly, he or she acts in ignorance of the evil that he or she does.

4. Consequently, punishment should aim at rehabilitation, and it is better to be punished for one’s misdeeds than to escape punishment.

5. on the basis of all of this, Socrates argues, it follows that rhetoric should be used to make people aware of injustice and of the cure for injustice.

6. Callicles argues that natural justice is the rule of the stronger, but Socrates suggests that the wise are strong, and Callicles then argues that the wise person seeks pleasure for himself, but Socrates shows that pleasure and pain are not identical with the good and bad.

‘Rhetoric’, 1650, Laurent de La Hire

The ‘Gorgia’s of Plato is an interesting if somewhat meandering dialogue, ironically given its theme, in which several issues typical of Socratic dialogue are discussed. Since Socrates himself was concerned with discussion as a means of arriving at the truth, he naturally examined the claims of others to have a vocal way to it. The sophists were the itinerant teachers of ancient Greece, teaching their pupils to debate with others any side of an issue and to win the argument, and rhetoric was their art, by persuasion, they argued, one could control the state and gain wealth. Gorgias, one of the better known sophists, engages Socrates in discussion over the merits and meaning of rhetoric. The position he presents is no so arbitrary as some of the claims made by other sophists, but nonetheless it is subjected to a scathing analysis by Socrates. Callicles, a rather ill-mannered member of the group, also joins in the debate. The larger question with which they are concerned is: ‘What is the purpose of rhetoric, and more generally any kind of discussion?’ Akin to this are discussions of justice, the role of punishment, and pleasure and pain as good and evil.

Socrates is concerned in the opening of the discussion with finding out exactly what rhetoric is as an art. It is concerned with persuasive discourse and aims at giving those who practice its power over others, and the recipients of this art, persuasion, are those present in the courts and assemblies of the land and the subject matter is the just and the unjust. Supposedly, in teaching an art, the sophists know their subject and inform others. At this, Socrates discusses learning and believing, which are intimately connected with teaching and studying. When one has learned, then one has knowledge, one cannot be mistaken. If one only believes, then he can be mistaken, for there is false as well as true belief. Both Socrates and Gorgias agree that one can persuade others without regard to belief or knowledge — rhetoric apparently has to do with persuading people to believe. But as we might surmise, although it is not brought up here, the Socratic method of dialectical discussion, rather than rhetoric, is the persuasion which leads to knowledge.

Gorgias holds that the rhetorician has a powerful tool by which men may gain much, they may sway anyone and accomplish anything. The rhetorician should be just, however, and should not use his power for evil consequences, although having taught it to others, he is not responsible for their misuse of it. The point is of dramatic interest since at his trial Socrates was held responsible for the activities of his pupil, Alcibiades. Socrates rejects the view that one can teach anything of which one is ignorant. If the rhetorician persuades only those who are ignorant, those who know need no persuading, and he or she, himself or herself, does not know, hence, is ignorant, then do we not have a case of the ignorant attempting to teach the ignorant? Gorgias has stated that the rhetorician discourses on justice, injustice, good, and evil, but if he or she is ignorant of these, then the same paradox holds. Gorgias has also stated that the rhetorician should not make bad use of his or her art, but he has admitted the possibility of his doing so. Also, under Socrates’ questioning he has conceded that if the rhetorician has knowledge of the just, then he or she cannot be unjust. Practicing his or her art badly would be unjust. It appears to be inconsistent that the rhetorician could make bad use of his or her art unless we admit that he does not know his or her art. For it is a Socratic principle that he or she who knows, knows what to do and what not to do, whereas the ignorant know neither.

‘Rhetoric’, Justus of Ghent, (active c. 1460–1480)

Socrates then questions whether it is proper to call rhetoric an art. He proceeds in the following manner. Both the body and soul may be considered under two headings: the body under gymnastic and medicine, the soul under legislative, wherein the art of politics is found, and justice. When these divisions function properly, the individual is sound in body and soul, and his or her highest good is approached, but there are sham divisions which bear a resemblance to the real ones but of which there is not knowledge as in the first case but only a seeming knowledge. Socrates believes these do not work for the best interests of the individual. They are, respectively, attiring, (dressing up) and cookery, sophistry, and rhetoric. They are based on experience (belief or opinion) rather than on reason, and make a pretense to reason.

When it is objected that those who can sway others (the rhetoricians) control the state and have real power, Socrates replies in a manner characteristic of him by distinguishing between the way a person acts and the way he or she ought to act. He argues that without knowledge people cannot do as they will. We do things not for themselves but for some sake or purpose. In so doing we do what we will. For Socrates, ultimately all that we will is done for the sake of the good, though the good is a complicated concept in Plato’s philosophy. Although his explanation is not meant to be complete, it means, at least, that in willing one acts so that the health and harmony of the body and soul are maintained. Yet if to do good is to do that which one wills, then one cannot will to do evil. (This is another instance of the Socratic maxim that no man does wrong knowingly). But it is held that the man who can kill with impunity is in an enviable position. Socrates replies to this claim by an analysis of punishment and injustice.

Socrates holds that the person who acts because he or she knows what he or she wills is the happy person, for he or she is master of him or herself. The unjust person in ignorance knows not what he or she will, so that seeking what he or she mistakenly believes is good (no person does wrong knowingly), he or she is wretched in his or her failure to be at one with him or herself. Punishment is not primarily retributive but aims at the rehabilitation of the unjust person to prevent him or her from doing that which is bad, hence, punishment is aimed at his or her eventual happiness, for the wicked when punished are less miserable than when they go unpunished. In this view, the individual who does injustice is worse or more evil than he or she who suffers injustice, and certainly not to be envied. When properly administered, punishment is the medicine of the soul. If rhetoric has a use, it is to allow a person to become aware of his or her own injustice, and seek a proper cure for it, if he or she be not unjust, then he or she had no use for rhetoric.

It is here that Callicles enters the discussion. He accuses Socrates of intentionally turning the whole of life upside down and of telling those who listen to his prattling that they are doing exactly the opposite of that which they ought to do. Philosophy may be amusing when practised by the young, who in so doing are looked upon as precocious by their elders, but in a man or woman it is unseemly, especially for one such as Socrates, who ought to be ought earning a living instead of annoying his betters. The life that Callicles asserts is the normal one is that in which the stronger rule their inferiors by force, the better rule the worse, and the noble have more than the lowly. When this state occurs, natural justice prevails. But Socrates takes Callicles quite literally (and thus paves the way for a discussion with him since to make his position precise he has to modify his initial statement) and points out that although the many are the superior or stronger, they hold that to do injustice is more disgraceful than to suffer it. Callicles modifies his point and claims that the stronger are the more excellent, not the mob, and they are also the wiser. Socrates counters that since those who practice an art are wiser with regard to it than those who do not, trained shoemakers or cobblers ought to receive more benefits than those inferior to them in these arts. In addition, Socrates points out that the wiser may also take less than those who do not know, for example, a wise dietician may eat less food than the ignorant person. Knowledge does not always prescribe more but what is proper, and that may be more, less, or the same depending upon what is needed. Again, we encounter the Socratic principle that wisdom is knowing what to do and what not to do.

Callicles rejects this argument and brings up yet another, although related, position. The wise person knows how to satisfy him or herself, to realize his or wants, the happy life is to strive for the satisfaction of pleasures. Socrates counters that the intemperate person who is never satisfied is like a leaky vessel that cannot be filled because it empties at a faster rate. Such a person is the slave of his or her wants, he or she cannot be satisfied and hence cannot be happy, it is he or she who wants not who is happy. For Callicles, he or she who wants not is dead, it is the continual gratification of desires which leads to the full life. Socrates retorts that such an all-embracing statement permits one to draw odd consequences. The person with a constant itch who spends his or her life in scratching must then be a happy person. The point is that unless we distinguish kinds of pleasures and pains and pursue some while avoiding others, there is not much to be gained from the sort of view that Callicles offers. Furthermore, the view under examination appears to equate pleasure with good and pain with evil, whereas Socrates holds them distinct. He proceeds as follows, it will be granted that opposites cannot exist together at the same time and in the same place. Good and evil are opposites, yet it can be shown that pleasure and pain can be present in the same individual at the same time. In order to satisfy thirst, which is painful, an individual may drink water which tastes pleasant and, according to Socrates, experience pain and pleasure at the same time in the same place. If pleasure and pain were identifiable with good and evil, then the bad person would be as good or as bad as the good person, since they have about the same amount of pleasures and pains. Lastly, with regard to this idea, when a person slakes his thirst], both the the pain and the pleasure go respectively, but when a person purges evil from his or her soul and the good is with him or her, the good remains.

Callicles is now willing, as Socrates suggested earlier, to differentiate between pleasures, calling some good and others bad. But then we are back to the view that it is not pleasure alone that determines how we shall act, but rather that we must know what to choose and what not to choose as pleasures before we may pursue them, knowledge is the key to our action. This fact takes Socrates back to his earlier discussion concerning true arts, flattery, and sham. Rhetoric, as discussed by its proponents, appeals only, and indiscriminately, to the pleasure of the individual and not to the good, hence it can be classified as a sham. It is the harmony and order of the soul or the body which must be aimed for, not the gratification of passions. Harmony of the soul and body is the criterion by which we must judge their fitness, when present in the body it is called health, when it is in the soul, law. From these spring the virtues of temperance and justice, he or she who would practice the art of rhetoric should aim at bringing harmony to the citizenry. When a person is sick, either physically or mentally, he seeks the services of a doctor. When the physician prescribes a cure, it may well be that he forbids the satisfaction of certain wants in order to improve the patient’s health.

The rhetorician who aims at getting what he or she wants and abusing his society is much like the tyrant discussed in Plato’s ‘Republic’. Intent on satisfying his or her every desire, a slave to his or her passions, not knowing how to control him or herself, he or she can get the best of no one, for he or she knows not what is best for him or herself. He or she who would lead others must first know how to lead him or herself. The art of rhetoric is, as we saw, no art at all. The art of ruling, on the other hand, is perhaps the most difficult and serious art of all, it calls for people who have had experience and who have demonstrated their ability, so that when entrusted with the rule of society it will be the good or benefit of the ruled which will be their primary objective. The benefit of an individual does not reside in a misdirected search for satisfaction but in that harmony of body and soul wherein lies health and law.

‘Demosthenes Declaiming by the Seashore, 1859, Eugène Delacroix. (Demosthenes was a statesman and orator who lived in Athens during the fourth century BC. To overcome a speech impediment he is said to have practised speaking with pebbles in his mouth. He also gave speeches on the seashore, projecting his voice over the sound of the waves in preparation for tumultuous crowds).

So, how about delving into some of Gorgias’ rhetoric and sophistic reasoning as understood by Hegel. Profound insights? Empty rhetoric? Well, you can be the judge.

Nothing exists.

Is not this statement self-refuting?

The statement ‘Nothing exists’ exists.

But it has its truth, according to Hegel, ‘being is nowhere present and thus does not exist’.

Being and non-being are not fixed and divided oppositions as the understanding would have it but vanishing moments of an eternal process of becoming.

Our knowledge of immediate being may seem the richest and most certain kind of knowledge, in fact it is the poorest and most abstract.

‘If it be replied that Being and Nothing are both of them thoughts, so that thought may be reckoned common ground, the objector forgets that Being is not a particular or definite thought, and hence, being quite indeterminate, is a thought not to be distinguished from Nothing. — It is natural too for us to represent Being as absolute riches, and Nothing as absolute poverty. But if when we view the whole world we can only say that everything is, and nothing more, we are neglecting all speciality and, instead of absolute plenitude, we have absolute emptiness. The same stricture is applicable to those who define God to be mere Being; a definition rot a whit better than that of the Buddhists, who make God to be Nought, and who from that principle draw the further conclusion that self-annihilation is the means by which man becomes God’.

- ‘The Encyclopedia: Logic’

Being is not and not-Being is.

Gorgias has prepared the way for modern philosophy to traverse the path of non-being (opinion, difference, becoming)

Being is unknowable.

Gorgias restricted knowledge to the field of appearances in space and time.

‘And this view’, says Hegel, ‘extends to even the most modern philosophy .. as when Kant says we know only appearances’.

Immanuel Kant, (1724–1804), argued that we can only have knowledge of the world as an object of sensible intuition, an appearance. Being as it is in itself is remains an unknowable, but not unthinkable. (‘Something = x’ .. a bit of ‘fancied knowledge’).

Gorgias’s sophistry here anticipates an important theme of modern philosophy, the inadequacy of thought and thing, the breakdown of the unity of being, thinking speaking.

As Edmund Husserl, (1859–1938), phenomenologist, put it, with the Sophistic assault upon episteme, the ‘rational substructions’ of philosophy, the ego ‘loses its grip’ on being.

Or Jean-Francois Lyotard, (1924–1998), post-modernist, ‘grandeur in speech is true when it bears witness to the incommensurability between thought and the real world’.

Being cannot be communicated.

If anything exists and is knowable it cannot be communicated to others.

Words, not just concepts,mediate our consciousness of the world.

The true nature of being is incommunicable because things differ from words.

‘No one speaks a sound or a colour but only a word’, said Aristotle.

Or as Hegel puts it: ‘Speech, by which the existent has to be expressed, is not the existent; and what is imparted is not the existent, but only words’.

Hegel believed that Gorgias’ insight into the gap between words and things contains a kernel of radical truth, there can be no communication of the essence of the thing, of this individual.

‘That this existence cannot be imparted’, said Hegel, ‘must likewise be held most strongly, for this individual cannot be expressed’.

While we may mean or intend some singular thing with our words language can only express the universal.

‘It is as a universal too that we utter what the sensuous [content] is. What we say is: ‘This’, i.e. the universal This; or, ‘it is’, i.e. Being in general, Of course, we do not envisage the universal This or Being in general, but we utter the universal; in other words, we do not strictly say what in this sense-certainty we mean to say. But language, as we see, is the more truthful; in it, we ourselves directly refute what we mean to say, and since the universal is the true [content] of sense-certainty and language expresses this true [content] alone, it is just not possible for us ever to say, or express in words, a sensuous being that we mean. The same will be the case with the other form of the ‘This’, with ‘Here’. ‘Here’ is, e.g., the tree. If I turn round this truth has vanished and is converted into its opposite: no tree is here, but a house instead’. ‘Here’ itself does not vanish; on the contrary, it abides constant in the vanishing of the house, the tree, etc., and is indifferently house or tree. Again, therefore, the ‘This’ shows itself to be a mediated simplicity, or a universality’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

Gorgias insight into the difference between words and things prefigures one of the most important developments in modern philosophy, the movement from ontology,or words about being, to logology, or words about words.

And for Hegel the difference between words and things is not a deficiency or lack of language but rather its divine nature:

‘When I say: ‘a single thing’, I am really saying what it is from a wholly universal point of view, for everything is a single thing; and likewise ‘this thing’ is anything you like. If we describe it more exactly as ‘this bit of paper’, then each and every bit of paper is ‘this bit of paper’, and I have only uttered the universal all the time. But if I want to help out language-which has the divine nature of directly reversing the meaning of what is said, of making it into something else, and thus not letting what is meant get into words at all-by pointing out this bit of paper, experience teaches me what the truth of sense-certainty in fact is: I point it out as a ‘Here’, which is a Here of other Heres, or is in its own self a ‘simple togetherness of many Heres’; i.e. it is a universal’.

Language is divine because it turns the mind away from the sheer immediacy of sensuous being toward the universal and the kingdom of Reason.. the logos, Spirit, the Absolute.

As Hegel pointed out this ability to argue opposing points of view on a subject, the rhetorical art of dissoi logoi (contrasting arguments) which we find again in Kant’s, antinomies, (for instance, the world has a beginning in time, and is also limited as regards space, and the world has no beginning, and no limits in space; it is infinite as regards both time and space and so on). is by no means a special quality of sophistic thought. On the contrary all argumentation, all dialectic, is a practice of sophistry, Even the most immoral act can be justified from a standpoint that is essentially real, for ‘everything can be proved by argument, and arguments for and against can be found for everything’. In fact all reflective reasoning is sophistic, reason itself is a ‘standing inconsistency’, and therefore, far from dismissing the rhetoric of the Sophists Hegel maintains that the rhetorical education or paideia of Gorgias, Protagoras, and their fellow teachers of Greece prepared the ground for the growth of Western culture as a whole, and only now could the process of philosophical history and the development of thought in the Western world get started.


‘Hudibras’ (excerpt)

by Samuel Butler (1612–1680)

For rhetoric, he could not ope

His mouth, but out there flew a trope;

And when he happen’d to break off

I’ th’ middle of his speech, or cough,

H’ had hard words, ready to show why,

And tell what rules he did it by;

Else, when with greatest art he spoke,

You’d think he talk’d like other folk,

For all a rhetorician’s rules

Teach nothing but to name his tools.

‘Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind’, 1568, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

‘And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?’

- ‘Luke’ 6:39



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David Proud

David Proud

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.