Magazine article The Spectator

Socrates on TV Debates

Magazine article The Spectator

Socrates on TV Debates

Article excerpt

Lord Hennessy has been arguing that, as a result of TV debates between party leaders prior to elections, 'the plausible tart bit will play too powerfully in [parties'] choice of leader and therefore rule out the decent but non-tarty people.' It is good to see the modern world finally catching up with Socrates on the question of rhetoric and persuasion.

Socrates is in conversation with Gorgias, the famous teacher of rhetoric, about what he thinks he is teaching. The skill of persuasive speech, Gorgias replies, whose purpose is to produce conviction. But, Socrates asks, conviction about what? Right, or wrong? Right, obviously, says Gorgias, which the orator will be able to teach.

Socrates demurs: why should an orator, simply by being an orator, know the difference?

When Gorgias' youthful pupil Polus (Greek for 'colt') objects, Socrates argues that rhetoric, far from being a skill, is rather a sort of knack, which is nothing but a form of flattery, pandering to people's desires. Like cooking and cosmetics, he goes on, it produces bogus gratification and pleasure but does no real good. …

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