CriticaLink | Plato: Phaedrus | Terms

rhetoric

The formal study of means of effective verbal communication developed in response to the importance of public speaking in Greek public life. Politicians gained favor and power through speeches, and litigants in courts of law had to make their own cases in person. The Greek word for orator is rhetor; the techniques of the orator are the rhetorike techne. These terms give us our word rhetoric.

Professional rhetoricians--logographers who wrote customized speeches for hire and sophists who included rhetoric in the skills they claimed to be able to impart to their students--often presented rhetoric as a means of manipulating audiences, persuading them to accept arguments that were not necessarily based on the truth. In the Phaedrus, Socrates launches a criticism of this use of rhetoric to "lead souls" to conclusions without regard for the truth. Socrates himself is a highly accomplished speaker who does not dismiss rhetoric, but rather insists that it work in the service of the truth and of philosophy.