Thursday, February 13, 2014

Plato - The Phaedrus

The Phaedrus begins as a speech on erotic love; whether such passion is necessary for “friendship” or perhaps even detrimental to it.  However, it eventually pivots on that controversial theme into a discussion on the goal of speeches in general and finally to a discourse on writing and the dialectic and their relation to knowledge itself.  I begin by quoting from John M. Cooper’s introduction to the dialogue and then move on to present the words of Socrates, Lysis and their friend, Phaedrus.

As a debate coach for some eleven years, I particularly enjoyed Socrates’ dissertation on giving speeches.  In light of the dissimulation and deception so common in politics today, it might be particularly worthwhile to carefully read and consider 8, 10, and 16 below.

1. Knowledge can only be in the mind:  Socrates- “Writings cannot contain or constitute knowledge of any import matter.  Knowledge can only be lodged in a mind, and its essential feature there is an endless capacity to express, interpret, and reinterpret itself suitably, in response to every challenge – something a written text once let go by its author plainly lacks: it can only keep on repeating the same words to whoever picks it up.”  p. 507

2. The danger of explaining away the myths- science a dangerous answer: Socrates-  Anyone who does not believe in them [“monsters” of myth], who wants to explain them away and make them plausible by means of some sort of rough ingenuity, will need a great deal of time. 

But I have no time for such things; and the reason, my friend, is this.  I am still unable, as the Delphic inscription orders, to know myself; and it really seems to me ridiculous to look into other things before I have understood that.”   p. 510

3. Lovers are poor judges: Socrates-“A lover will praise what you say and what you do far beyond what is best, partly because he is afraid of being disliked, and partly because desire has impaired his judgment.”  p. 512 

4. To whom should we give our love: Socrates- “. . . not to people who will take pleasure in the bloom of your youth, but to those who will share their goods with you when you are older; not to people who achieve their goal and then boast about it in public, but to those who will keep a modest silence with everyone; not to people whose devotion is short-lived, but to those who will be steady friends their whole lives; not to the people who look for an excuse to quarrel as soon as their desire has passed, but to those who will prove their worth when the bloom or your youth has faded.”  P. 513

5. On Eternity, “the Source” has no beginning: Socrates-That is because anything that has a beginning comes from some source but there is no source for this, since a source that got its start form something else would no longer be the source.”   p. 524

6. Knowledge of what really is, of the Truth: Socrates- “Still, this is the way it is—risky as it may be, you see, I must attempt to speak the truth, especially since the truth is my subject.  What is in this place is without color and without shape and without solidity, a being that really is what it is, the subject of all true knowledge, visible only to intelligence, the soul’s steersman.  Now a god’s mind is nourished by intelligence and pure knowledge, as is the mind of any soul that is concerned to take in what is appropriate to it, and so it is delighted at last to be seeing what is real and watching what is true, feeding on all this and felling wonderful, until the circular motion brings it around to whether it started.  On the way around it has a view of Justice as it is; it has a view of Self-control; it has a view of Knowledge—not the knowledge that is close to change, that becomes different as it knows the different things which we consider real down here.  No, it is the knowledge of what really is what it is.”  p. 525

7. Earthly beauty reminds us of truth and is the source of love: Socrates- “Now this takes me to the whole point of my discussion of the fourth kind of madness [possession of our  soul by some higher force]—that which someone shows when he sees the beauty we have down here and is reminded of true beauty; then he takes wing and flutters in his eagerness to rise up, but is unable to do so; and he gazes aloft, like a bird, paying no attention to what is down below—and that is what brings on him the charge that he has gone mad.  This is the best and noblest of all the forms that possession by god can take for anyone who has it or is connected to it, and when someone who loves beautiful boys is touched by this madness he is called a lover.”  p. 527

8. On speeches and the power of persuasion: Socrates- “Well, then, we ought to examine the topic we proposed just now: When is a speech well written and delivered, and when is it not?

Phaedrus: Plainly.

Socrates: Won’t someone who is to speak well and nobly have to have in mind the truth about the subject he is going to discuss?

Phaedrus: What I have actually heard about this, Socrates, my friend, is that it is not necessary for the intending orator to learn what is really just, but only what will seem just to the crowd who will act as judges.  Nor again what is really good or noble, but only what will seem so.  For that is what persuasion proceeds from, not truth.”  p. 536

9. On the “art” of rhetoric: Socrates- “Well, then, isn’t the rhetorical art, taken as a whole, a way of directing the soul by means of speech, not only in the lawcourts and on other public occasions but also in private?  Isn’t it one and the same art whether its subject is great or small, and no more to be held in esteem—if it is followed correctly—when its questions are serious than when they are trivial?”  p. 537

10. On debate and the “adversarial” legal system manipulated by rhetoric:  Socrates- “Answer this question yourself: What do adversaries do in the lawcourts?  Don’t they speak on opposite sides?  What else can they do?

Phaedrus: That’s it, exactly.

Socrates: About what is just and what is unjust?

Phaedrus: Yes.

Socrates: And won’t whoever does this artfully make the same thing appear to the same people sometimes just and sometimes, when he prefers, unjust?

Phaedrus:  Of course.

Socrates:  And when he addresses the Assembly, he will make the city approve a policy at one time as a good one, and reject it—the very same policy—as just the opposite at another.

Phaedrus:  Right.” P. 538

11. Speakers misled their listeners; think Karl Marx etc.:  Socrates- “In fact, by some chance the two speeches do, as it seems, contain an example of the way in which someone who knows the truth can toy with his audience and mislead them.”  p. 539

12. On definitions: Socrates - “Just so with our discussion of love: Whether its definition was or was not correct, at least it allowed the speech to proceed clearly and consistently with itself.”  p.562

13. Parts of a Speech: Socrates - First, I believe, there is the Preamble with which a speech must begin.  This is what you mean isn’t it--the fine points of art?  p.543

Phedrus: Yes

Socrates: Second come the Statement of Facts and the Evidence of Witnesses concerning it; third, Indirect Evidence; fourth, Claims to plausibility.  And I believe at least that excellent Byzantine word-wizard adds Confirmation and Supplementary Confirmation.

Phedrus: Your mean the worthy Theodorus?

Socrates: Quite.  And he also adds Refutation and Supplementary Refutation to be used both in prosecution and in defense.  Nor must we forget the most excellent Evenus of Paros, who was the first to discover Covert Implication and Indirect Praise and who--some say--has even arranged Indirect Censures in verse as an aid to memory: a wise man indeed!”  p. 543

14. Making the worse appear better: Socrates - “How can we leave them out when it is they who realized that what is likely must be held in higher honor than what is true; they who, by the power of language, make small things appear great and great things small. . . “  p.543

15. More on Speeches:  Socrates -  And what shall we say of the whole gallery of terms Polus set up--speaking with Reduplication, Speaking in Maxims, Speaking in Images--and of the terms Licymnius gave him as a present to help him explain Good Diction? . . . As to the way of ending a speech everyone seems to be in agreement, though some call in Recapitulation and others by some other name.

Phadrus: You mean, summarizing everything at the end and reminding the audience of what they’ve heard?”  p. 544

16. Just say what the people want to hear: Socrates - “For the fact is, as we said ourselves at the beginning of this discussion, that one who intends to be an able rhetorician has no need to know the truth about the things that are just or good or yet about the people who are such either by nature or upbringing.  No one is a lawcourt, you see, cares at all about the truth of such matters.  They only care about what is convincing.  This is called “the likely,” and that is what a man who intends to speak according to art should concentrate on.  Sometimes, in fact, whether you are prosecuting or defending a case, you must not even say what actually happened, if it was not likely to have happened--you must say something that is likely instead.  Whatever you say, you should pursue what is likely and leave the truth aside: that whole art consists in cleaving to that throughout you speech.

Phadurs: That’s an excellent presentation of what people say who profess to be expert in speeches, Socrates.  I recall that we raised this issue briefly earlier on, but it seems to be their single most important point.

Socrates: No doubt you’ve churned through Tisias’ book quite carefully.  Then let Tisias tell us this also: By “the likely” does he mean anything but what is accepted by the crowd?”  p. 549

17. The creation of writing and a challenge to its value: Socrates - “Well, this is what I’ve hear.  Among the ancient gods of Naucratis in Egypt there was one to whom the bird called the ibis is sacred.  The name of this divinity was Theuth, and it was he who first discovered numbers and calculation, geometry and astronomy as well as games of checkers and dice, and, above all else, writing.

Now the king of all Egypt at the time was Thamus, who lived in the great city in the upper region that the Greeks call Egyptian Thebes; Thamus they call Ammon.  Theuth came to exhibit his arts to him and urged him to disseminate them to all the Egyptians.  Thamus asked him about the usefulness of each art, and while Theuth was explaining it, Thamus praised him for whatever he thought was right in his explanations and criticized him for whatever he thought was wrong.

The story goes that Thamus said much to Theuth, both for and against each art, which it would take too long to repeat  but when they came to writing, Theuth said: “O king, here is something that, once learned will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memory; I have discovered a potion for memory and for wisdom.”  Thamus, however, replied” “O most expert Theuth, one man can give birth to the elements of an art but only another can judge how they can benefit or harm those who will use them.  And now, since you are the father of writing, your affection for it has made you describe its effects as the opposite of what they really are.  In fact, it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own.  You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality.  Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing.  And they will be difficult to get along with since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.” pp. 551-552

18. What is the only true value of writing?:  Socrates – “Well, then, those who think they can leave writing instructions for an art, as well as those who accept them, thinking that writing can yield results that are clear or certain, must be quite naive and truly ignorant of Ammon’s prophetic judgment: otherwise, how could they possibly think that words that have been written down can do more than remind those who already know what the writing is about?”  p. 552

19. Socrates’ prayer:  “O dear Pan and all the other gods of this place, grant that I may be beautiful inside.  Let all my external possessions be in friendly harmony with what is within.  May I consider the wise man rich. As for gold, let me have as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him.”  pp. 555-556



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