Philosophy of Plato: Podcast Lectures (Oct 27-31)

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Podcast 1

Phaedrus 257C: Rhetoric vs Philosophy. Praise of Socrates’ second speech

  • Phaedrus is excited by its emotive power; no discussion here of its argumentative structure, etc., which comes later.
    • Note that the tone of Phaedrus’ praise here, and the fact that he doesn’t discriminate fundamentally between the first three speeches, picks up an important distinction between rhetoric and philosophical dialectic; we’ve seen Socrates deploy that distinction before (for example, at Apology 17A-18A and especially in his response to Agathon in Symposium 198D): “good speaking” is either about speaking beautifully and persuasively, or about speaking the truth.
    • According to Aristotle’s classic definition in his Rhetoric, the art of rhetoric includes three factors: logos (logical soundness), ethos (the speaker’s self-characterization and credibility), and pathos (the emotional effect produced in the audience by the speaker).
    • But philosophical dialectic, which Plato and Aristotle both distinguish from rhetoric, relies only on logos: a philosophical argument could be sound and true even if the speaker isn’t personally credible or likeable, and even if it doesn’t produce an emotional result (although the speaker may be credible and the speech may be emotionally artful, that’s merely incidental).
      • As a side note, familiarize yourself with the distinction between validity and soundness in logic (logos), if this isn’t already familiar. A valid argument, in the classic Aristotelian sense, is one whose conclusion follows from its premises. A sound argument is one which is valid and the premises are true.
        • For example: the argument “(a) All birds have gills; (b) swans are birds; therefore (c) swans have gills” is valid (if (a) and (b) are true, (c) follows). But it’s not sound, because (a) is false, as we can discover by empirical investigation. The argument “(a) No mammals lay eggs; (b) Humans are mammals; therefore (c) Humans don’t lay eggs” is sound.

Podcast 2

What is good and bad speech (logos)?

  • Part 1: 257C-258D: Speechwriting is nothing shameful in itself: i.e., there’s such a thing as good speechwriting. Here, the dialogue transitions from the theme of love (erōs) to a discussion of speechwriting, by way of Lysias’ potential shame at being called a mere “speechwriter” (logographos, from logos “speech, argument,” and graphein, “to write”), or “sophist”. (For those who read the Gorgias, note that “shame” of sophistry in the light of hostile public opinion was also a factor for Gorgias as a professional teacher).
    • The two terms “speechwriter” (logographos) and “sophist,” were not rigorously distinct in Athenian popular consciousness, since sophists were viewed as training politicians to deliver persuasive speeches in the Assembly, and private individuals to deliver persuasive speeches in court.
      • logographos was the closest thing to a lawyer in classical Athens: defendants and prosecutors were required to represent themselves, but they were able to memorize or read speeches produced for them by logographoi.
      • The historical Lysias was a particularly successful logographos, and several of his speeches survive.
    • 257E: Compare Symposium 209C-E on the theme of “immortality” through writing, including the writing of laws and poetry.
    • 258A: The writings discussed here are legislative “bills” or laws (“be it resolved by the council”, etc.; their “speechwriters” are legislators and politicians).
  • Part 2: 258D: How to distinguish good from bad speechwriting (1): Pleasure?
    • Part 1: 258E: Phaedrus describes the pleasure of discussion as a nobler kind of pleasure than most physical forms of pleasure, which are “satisfaction” of a preceding absence (e.g. quenching thirst, satisfying hunger or sexual desire), and so can not be enjoyed without a counterbalancing pain (compare Phaedo 60B-C and especially Gorgias 493A-494A for this point)Recall that Phaedrus takes an almost superhuman pleasure in speeches (logoi), mentioned both in Symposium and Phaedrus.
      • 259B-D: Socrates playfully responds with a myth: the cicadas were once humans who became so enamoured of the song of the Muses that they forgot to eat and drink (neglected the nourishment of physical pleasures). And today, they sing all their lives and then report to the Muses who among humans is honouring them.
  • Part 3259E-260A: How to distinguish… (2): Persuasiveness?  Phaedrus has “heard” that one doesn’t need to really know the truth of one’s subject to write good logoi – one must just be persuasive for one’s audience, so one needs to know only how things seem (to one’s audience). (See comments on rhetoric and philosophical dialectic above). Socrates’ reply (“anything that wise men say…”) suggests that this view was current among sophists.
    • Note here that Plato was, in “real life,” locked in a debate with a contemporary teacher named Isocrates (who is named at 278E – he is presented as having been a young associate of Socrates, although we can’t verify the truth of this). Plato and Isocrates offered divergent views of the nature of philosophy and the virtue that it could teach. Compare the following two passages from Isocrates’ speech Antidosis:
      • Those who are engaged in philosophia offer to their students a detailed analysis of all the forms in which language is used [in rhetoric]… in order that they may grasp them more securely and that they may get closer to the proper measurement and moment for action by means of conjecture (tais doxais). For it is not possible to get hold of these things by way of scientific knowledge (tōi… eidenai), since in all cases they elude scientific knowledge. —Antidosis 183-4.
      • Since it is not in the nature of man to attain a scientific knowledge (epistēmē) by which, once we possess it, we should know what to do or say, I consider those persons wise who are able by means of conjecture (tais doxais) to hit upon, for the most part, what is best; and I call those persons “philosophers” who are engaged in the studies from which they will most quickly achieve this kind of wisdom (sophia). —Antidosis 271.
      • That is precisely what Plato himself denies (e.g., in Socrates’ speech at the opening of Republic 7 following the allegory of the cave). For Plato, one must have definite knowledge (epistēmē) in order to ensure that one is doing the right thing.
  • Part 4: 260B-D: How to distinguish… (3): Truth?: Socrates contests the view that the orator must only know how things seem: he must really know the truth (philosophical dialectic).
    • It would be silly if an orator persuaded his audience of what was false (e.g., this donkey is a noble horse – and by extension, this bad thing is good): they would hardly wind up doing the right thing, and instead would yield “a crop of really poor quality”. (Consider that sophists were often engaged in persuading people about questions like “should the polis go to war”, or for that matter, “is Socrates harming the youth [to the degree that he should be executed]”).
    • 260E-261B: Socrates advances the view familiar from the Gorgias that rhetoric is a knack and not a proper art or craft (tekhnē), and in order to really develop a proper art of speaking, one must study philosophy (i.e. pursue knowledge of the truth first, before persuading anyone – again, compare Isocrates above).
      • 261E: In fact, even if the orator really wanted to conceal the truth from his audience (as a sophist might), he still ought to know the truth first in order to be a better liar, because he can then disguise his lie as barely different (262A, etc.)

Podcast 3

What is collection & division?

  • 262D and following: Examination of Lysias’ speech and the first speech of Socrates
    • Lysias’ speech is not organized like a living being, ‘carved at the joints’
    • Socrates’ first speech was organized, but only took one half (part) of its subject – love as a harmful kind of madness
    • The second speech took up the other half – love as a beneficial kind of madness
    • 265E: “How was the speech able to proceed from censure to praise?” – The answer is, by collection (one part of the art of collection and division)
  • 265E and following: Introducing collection and division (philosophical dialectic proper, a true art of logos)
    • Collection = comparing different species to arrive at the genus by induction. 
    • Division = dividing up the genus to arrive at its species.
    • These terms (genus and species) are Aristotelian; he often uses biological examples, but anything that can be named by a universal term can work with collection and division. 
    • E.g., (1) collect by comparing humans and dogs (two species) to arrive at the properties of the genus: mammal. (For example, notice that mammals rear their young). Then, (2) divide by recognizing further species of the same genus: e.g., cats. Again: (1) collect by comparing harmful and beneficial madness to arrive the genus of madness as a whole. Then (2) divide to look at the different kinds of madness (beneficial, harmful), then again (3) divide the beneficial kinds into those dealing with prophecy, etc.

One response to “Philosophy of Plato: Podcast Lectures (Oct 27-31)”

  1. More hints

    Iain, as an Ashtanga practitioner for the past 17 years, I can concur with so much of what you say here. When done wisely and without grasping to get “more”, in my experience, the Ashtanga practice as it has been traditionally taught is healing and life sustaining.

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