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Socrates’ View of Persuasion

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Socrates' View of Persuasion I do not believe Socrates would agree with the following statement: "Persuasion is about getting what you want from others, without using force." Socrates believed in bringing the truth out of people through questions. Words are a powerful instrument, whose use can be directed toward various ends. One end is persuasion. Arguments are used to induce belief in the audience. Socrates and Plato held that some beliefs are better than others: true belief is always the most desirable outcome of argumentation. Thus, they clashed with the Sophists, who taught their students how to argue without concern for whether true belief is produced as a result. The concept of true belief is itself a difficult one, with which Plato and philosophers to the present day have wrestled. The Sophists abandoned science, philosophy, mathematics and ethics. What they taught was the subtle art of persuasion. A Sophist was a person who could argue eloquently - and could prove a position whether that position was correct or incorrect. In other words, what mattered was persuasion and not truth. The Sophists were also relativists. They believed that there was no such thing as a universal or absolute truth, valid at all times. Everything is relative and there are no values because man, individual man, is the measure of all things. ...read more.


It is not so much that we "learn" things in our daily experience, but that we "recollect" them. In other words, this knowledge is already there. This may explain why Socrates did not give his students answers, but only questions. His job was not to teach truth but to show his students how they could "pull" truth out of their own minds. It is for this reason that Socrates was considered a midwife in the labor of knowledge. This is the point of the dialogues. For only in conversation, only in dialogue, can truth and wisdom come to the surface. Gorgias took pride in rhetoric rather than sophism, wanting to teach the ability of persuasion, as Plato shows in the dialogue Gorgias, where to the question from Socrates of what art he is skilled in, Gorgias bluntly replies: "Rhetoric, Socrates." And he goes on to admit proudly that he is able to teach others the same - in essence: "the ability to persuade with speeches." This power of persuasion was not necessary to hold the truth, but to make believable - something abominable to Socrates, as the unusual arrogance and harshness of his words in this dialogue indicate. In the Gorgias, Socrates defines rhetoric as a "knack" that is akin to cooking and cosmetics. While arguing with the sophist Gorgias and his students Polus and Callicles, Socrates claims that the study of rhetoric only helps people use persuasion to do wrong. ...read more.


Both Socrates and the Sophists taught the art of persuasion as a way to gain more knowledge and become more aware. The difference lies in their views of knowledge and awareness. Socrates saw it getting closer to those ideals, becoming aware of those transcendent points of reference. The Sophists saw it as being able to outwit and out-argue the rest and becoming aware that knowledge is power, and those with the most power rule. The persuasion that Socrates represents, true persuasion, involves a presentation of the best arguments in an attempt to persuade using the truth. A person is persuaded when they "listen" and can by reflecting on the arguments come to their own conclusion. Socrates' reasons or the reasons that come out in the course of the Socratic conversation become their reasons. In between these two extremes of force and true persuasion are intermediate forms of persuasion that all involve some measure or other of force. I can get you to do something, persuade you, by threatening to use force. One can be persuaded by manipulation of emotions and be induced to join the crowd. It may not seem like force, but if it is not you deciding to do something or believe something for your own reasons, it may be viewed as a subtle form of force. This philosophical activity of persuading using the truth becomes the model of Platonic education. ...read more.

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