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Plato vs Isocrates Essay

Plato encouraged in his writings that the view that sophists were concerned with was “the manipulative aspects of how humans acquire knowledge. ” (Lecture) Sophists believed that only provisional or probable knowledge was available to humans but both Plato and Isocrates did not agree with a lot of what the Sophists had to say. They both believed in wisdom and having a connection with rhetoric but vary in defining wisdom in itself. Wisdom for Socrates and Plato is having an understanding of speech, knowledge of truth and being able to question the speaker in order to seek and reveal truth.

Isocrates defined wisdom as having a sense of integrity and character along with the ambition and ability to speak well with others. Socrates said, “He who is to be a competent rhetorician need to have nothing at all to do, they say, with truth in considering things which are just or good […] whether by nature or by education. ” (164) This statement shows that Socrates did believe that one who speaks must speak of truth, whether the speaker learned truth through education or through life experiences does not matter. Socrates wanted absolute truth and knowledge within speech and not all people speak in that way.

He is claiming that wisdom is being able to recognize what is truth and not manipulation or flattery of words. That is what makes one wise: being able to see through persuasive and manipulative wording and language to find ultimate truth. Socrates advises Phaedrus that someone that is wise needs certain things when interacting and speaking with others. Socrates’ said “[that] the student of rhetoric must, accordingly, acquire a proper knowledge […] and then be able to follow them accurately with these senses when he sees them in the practical affairs of life.

”(163) This quote explains precisely how powerful language can be, so one must be able to recognize the truth in which people speak. Flattery and cookery of words can be used to make speech seem just or true. Socrates suggests that wise people can see through that cookery of language. He stated that “rhetoric in its entire nature [is] an art which leads the soul by means of words, not only in law courts and the various other public assemblages, but in private companies as well. ” (157) This statement is also recognizing the power of language.

By recognizing how powerful language can be, a wise person is able to control the way he is impacted by language and persuasion in which only the just and truthful speech can sway his soul. The soul of the wise does not want flattery to influence the mind, only truth and justice. ”The word which the wise speak must not be rejected, but we must see if they are right. ” (156) Socrates is saying that the wise must question the speech, question the integrity and understand if the concept of the speech is just or not. The wise person can see through the persuasion by ways of questioning and understanding and that is how the Socratic method came in play.

The Socratic method is a conversational “method employed in putting in question” (64) – thus reaching the truth. By asking question after question and receiving answers for those questions, it produces a gain of knowledge and truth, putting the persuasive language aside. Socrates “wished to present no arguments himself, but preferred to get a result from the material which the interlocutor has given him. ” (64) Socrates asks questions to find the ultimate truth hidden within speeches and conversations. He believed that wisdom is understanding, knowledge and questioning.

Through the chain of logic and reasoning of the Socratic method and having understanding of speech and knowledge of truth by questioning the speaker, is how wisdom and truth is revealed. Plato and Socrates also believe language can be used to come to a solution when making difficult decisions. Rhetoric can be used for people who have truth and who distribute that truth to other people by ways of communication without cookery, flattery or persuasion. “The name ‘philosopher,’ that is, ‘the lover of wisdom’ or something of that sort would be more fitting [for me],” said Socrates.

(167) One who knows knowledge, more so, one who loves wisdom, delivers their wisdom, knowledge and understanding to others. Since wisdom is the understanding of speech, knowing truth and questioning credibility, rhetoric does not produce knowledge. It delivers the knowledge to others. Being wise is being able to recognize and acknowledge the hidden truth of speech and creating a sense of understanding with that knowledge. Socrates and Plato differ from Isocrates by believing that rhetoric, which distributes wisdom, comes from the soul.

“The man whose rhetorical teaching is a real art will explain accurately the nature of that to which his words are to be addressed, and that is the soul. ” (163) Ones soul is affected by decisions made by the human form and also by those interacting with the soul. The wise man’s soul contains wisdom, truth and intelligence. Thus, by interacting with a bad soul or a soul with bad intent lowers to soul of a just and wise man. Since rhetoric is distributing knowledge to others, the soul should be used when making hard and uncertain decisions.

The soul of a wise person holds ultimate truth and its human form knows how to seek out knowledge and understanding to find ultimate truth by ways of questioning. To the contrary, Isocrates believes that wisdom has nothing to do with the soul and the heavens, for he claims that the gods in the heavens have disputes. Homer, who is considered to have the highest reputation for wisdom, “has pictured even the gods at times debating among themselves about the future. ” (72) “[I] contemn them [Plato’s School] for such studies and regard them as stuff and nonsense, and not as a true discipline of the soul.

”(73) Furthermore, Isocrates suggests that wisdom is having a sense of integrity and character along with the ambition and ability to speak well. Having a natural speaking ability and by also holding oneself to a higher standard of integrity, Isocrates says, is only empowered by the wise. “I hold that man to be wise who is able by his powers of conjecture to arrive generally at the best course. ” (77) Isocrates in this statement is referring to decision-making and the process in order to make the best decision. A man assuming the best course for the best possible outcome and using good judgment to make good decisions is wise.

Isocrates also suggests that wise people are honorable, just and sincere and use those virtues to decide which path to take in decision making. “The power to speak well and think right will reward the man who approaches the art of discourse with love of wisdom and love of honor. ” (77) Wisdom is within admirable, honest and appropriate speakers who are capable of understanding the process of decision making. Not only does a wise men evaluate the process of decision making properly, according to Isocrates, but a wise man must know that experience, training and natural ability all contribute to being a superior orator.

“I do hold that people can become better and worthier if they conceive an ambition and speak well, become possessed of the desire to be able to persuade their hearers, and if they set their hearts on seizing their advantage. ” (77) The most important concept of being wise and having the ability to naturally speak in an acceptable manner is built upon with experience and training: experience in writing and presenting speeches and training of being effective and appropriate for specific occasions.

Not only does experience, training and natural ability have to do with wisdom to Isocrates but rhetoric plays a role as well. In Isocrates’ vision of wisdom he says that one who is wise has to use speech at the most fitting place in the most appropriate and effective way. He said, “what has been said by one speaker is not equally useful for the speaker who comes after him. ”(73) Isocrates is implying that rhetoric is being appropriate in the way that one speaks and to whom they are speaking. “Oratory is good only if it has the qualities of fitness for the occasion.

” (73) Wise men use their ability, training and experience to be able to decipher what it fit for such occasion. A speaker cannot just speak about anything they may want to speak about. That particular speech may not be suitable for a specific audience or for the event itself. A wise man can use his wisdom to speak with originality and effectiveness in order to build on his character of an orator. Isocrates says that “the study of political discourse can help more than any other thing to stimulate and form such qualities of character.

” (75) The study of rhetoric is a way to build on one’s character to establish credibility and to ensure that experience of the speaker and audience is beneficial. The difference that rhetoric has on the idea of wisdom for both Plato and Isocrates are very powerful. “It is most honorable to have knowledge, and most disgraced to lack it,” (103) A wise and honorable man has knowledge. With that knowledge that lies within the soul, one can seek and find truth. Rhetoric delivers knowledge to others and with that knowledge, the wise can seek ultimate truth and justice, thus creating a sense of reality.

That is the difference that rhetoric makes on wisdom for Socrates and Plato, rhetoric delivers knowledge that wise men use to seek truth. Dissimilarly, Isocrates says that rhetoric is our guide and is most used by those who are wise, concluding that without wisdom rhetoric has no use. “The discourse [of speaking] is true and lawful and just is the outward image of a good and faithful soul. ” Rhetoric raises a wise man’s character and integrity and appropriateness of speech. Since only the wise are honorable, appropriate and effective, without the wise, rhetoric would not exist.

Wisdom is an understanding of speech, knowing truth and questioning credibility. Wisdom can also be defined as being an honorable, praiseworthy and moral orator. Either way, both Plato and Isocrates had a thorough grasp on what wisdom was, therefore they were abundantly wise themselves. Works Cited • Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzberg. The Rhetorical Tradition : Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/Saint Martin’s, 2000. • Dickinson, Greg E. Lecture. Colorado State University, Fort Collins. 16 Sept. 2008.


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