Opening the discussion on rhetoric in the Phaedrus, Socrates says to Phaedrus ‘that unless he engages in philosophy sufficiently well (hôs ean mê hikanôs philosophêsê̢) he will never be a sufficiently good speaker either about anything (oude hikanos pote legein estai peri oudenos, 261a4-5; translation from the Phaedrus C. J. Rowe).’ In his ‘Commentary’ Rowe remarks: ‘The Gorgias too recognises the possibility of a reformed rhetoric, united with philosophy (503 a ff.)’ And he is right in this. But if he means that the ‘reformed rhetoric, united with philosophy’, briefly outlined in the Gorgias, is then further developed in the Phaedrus – which I presume to be the case because of his late dating of the latter and the early dating of the former (cf. the ‘Introduction’ to his translation and commentary of PLATO: Phaedrus, p. 13) – then he is wrong.
The Gorgias begins with Socrates’ investigation of rhetoric as Gorgias and Polus conceive of it. Face to face with these two rhetoricians Socrates defines rhetoric as a flattery: ‘I think it is a practice (Dokei toinun moi eiani ti epitêdeuma), not of a craftsman (technikon men ou), but of a guessing, brave soul (psuchês de stochastikês kai andreias), naturally clever at approaching people (kai phusei deinês prosomilein tois anthrôpois); and I call the sum of it flattery (kalô de autou egô to kephalaion kolakeian, 463a6-8, translation from the Gorgias T. Irwin).’
Socrates returns to rhetoric defined as flattery later in the dialogue, in a discussion with Callicles: ‘What about rhetoric addressed to the Athenian people (ti de hê pros ton Athênaion dêmon rêtorikê) and the other peoples of the cities (kai tous allous tous en tais polesi dêmous), the peoples composed of free men (tous tôn eleutherôn andrôn), exactly what do we find this is (ti pote hêmin hautê estin;)? Do you think that rhetors always speak with an eye on what is best (poteron soi dokousin pros to beltiston aei legein hoi rêtores), and aim to make the citizens as good as possible by their speeches (toutou stochazomenoi, hopôs hoi politai hôs beltistoi esontai dia tous hautôn logous;)? Or do they too concentrate on gratifying the citizens (ê kai houtoi pros to charizesthai tois politais hôrmêmenoi), despising the common interest for the sake of their own private interest (kai heneka tou idiou tou hautôn oligôrountes tou koinou)? Do they approach the people in the cities as children (hôsper paisi prosomilousi tois dêmois), trying to gratify them (charizesthai autois peirômenoi monon), with no concern about whether they will be better or worse from it (ei de ge beltious esontai ê cheirous dia tauta, ouden phrontizousin; 502d10-503a1)?’
In this paragraph Socrates implicitly defines ‘a reformed rhetoric, united with philosophy’ as a technê – a craft (Irwin)/a science (Rowe) – in accordance with which ‘rhetors always speak with an eye on what is best, and aim to make the citizens as good as possible by their speeches’. This implicit definition becomes explicit in Socrates’ next entry, in which he replies to Callicles’ contention that ‘there are some who care about the citizens when they say what they say (eisi men gar hoi kêdomenoi tôn politôn hoi legousin ha legousin), and others who are as you claim (eisin de kai hoious su legeis).’ – Socrates: ‘If there are really two types here (ei gar kai touto esti diploun), I presume one is flattery (to men heteron pou toutou kolakeia an eie), and shameful public oratory (kai aischra dêmêgoria), while the other is fine (to d’ heteron kalon) – trying to make the souls of the citizens as good as possible (to paraskeuazein hopôs hôs beltistai esontai tôn politôn hai psuchai), and working hard in saying what is best (kai diamachesthai legonta ta beltista), whether it is pleasant or unpleasant to the audience (eite hêdiô ê aêdestera estai tois akouousin, 503a5-9).’
In contrast, in the Phaedrus a concern for making the souls of the citizens as good as possible and working hard in saying what is best does not figure as a distinctive mark of rhetoric conceived as technê, that is as craft (using Irwin’s term) or science (using Rowe’s term). Although the concern for the moral wellbeing of the audience comes to the fore when Socrates compares rhetoric to medicine, but it does not figure there as a distinguishing mark of the scientific rhetoric; the difference between the two consists in the way they pursue this concern, scientifically or unscientifically: ‘The method of the science of medicine is, I suppose, the same (Ho autos pou tropos technês iatrikês) as that of the science of rhetoric (hôsper kai rêtorikês). In both it is necessary to determine the nature of something (En amphoterois dei dielesthai phusin), in the one the nature of body (sômatos men en tê̢ hetera̢), in the other the nature of soul (psuchês de en tê̢ hetera̢), if you are to proceed scientifically, and not merely by knack and experience (ei melleis, mê tribê̢ monon kai empeiria̢ alla technê̢), to produce health and strength in the one by applying medicines and diet to it (tô̢ men pharmaka kai trophên prospherôn hugieian kai rômên empoiêsein), and to pass on to the other whatever virtuous conviction you wish by applying words and practices in conformance with law and custom (tê̢ de logous te kai epitêdeuseis nomimous peithô hên an boulê̢ kai aretên paradôsein, 270b1-9).’
In the Phaedrus dominates the finding of the truth as a precondition for the scientifically induced persuasion: ‘the man who does this scientifically (ho technê̢ touto drôn) will make (poiêsei) the same thing appear (phanênai to auto) to the same people (tois autois) at one time just (tote men dikaion), but at any other time he wishes (hotan de boulêtai), unjust (adikon) … the same things appear at one time good (dokein ta auta tote men agatha), at another the opposite (tote d’ au enantia, 261c10-d4).’ The difference between the scientific and unscientific rhetoric as Plato views it in the Phaedrus lies in the degree of certainty the one or the other enables the rhetor to instil in the audience the persuasion he wishes them to have. The scientific rhetoric founded on dialectic enables the rhetorician to do so with certainty. Socrates opens his criticism of Lysias’ speech, which figures as an example of unscientific rhetoric, by asking Phaedrus ‘Did Lysias too (alla kai ho Lusias) compel us when beginning his speech on love to take love as some one definite thing (archomenos tou erôtikou ênankasen hêmas hupolabein ton erôta hen ti tôn ontôn), which he himself had in mind (ho autos eboulêthê̢)’
Rowe’s ‘which he himself had in mind’ for Plato’s ho autos eboulêthê̢ distorts the picture of the role that the verb boulomai ‘will’, ‘wish’, ‘want’ plays in rhetorical thinking. Socrates asks Phaedrus whether Lysias compelled ‘us’ (Socrates and Phaedrus) to take love to be what he himself wished them to take it to be, that is of which he wanted to persuade them in his speech.
The discussion of the concept of boulomai plays an important role in the Gorgias, where Polus claims that rhetors ‘have the greatest power in the cities’ (megiston dunantai en tais polesi, 466b4-5), for ‘Aren’t they like tyrants? Don’t they kill whoever they want to (ouch, hôsper hoi turannoi, apokteinuasin te hon an boulôntai, 466c1), and expropriate (kai aphairountai ktêmata) and expel from the cities (kai ekballousin ek tôn poleôn) whoever they think fit (hon an dokê̢ autois, 466b11-c2)? But in response to his claim Socrates maintains that in his view ‘the rhetors have the least power of anyone in the city (elachiston toinun moi dokousi tôn en tê̢ polei dunasthai hoi rêtores, 466b9-10) … for they do practically nothing that they want to (ouden gar poiein hôn boulontai), but do whatever they think is best (poiein mentoi hoti an autois doxê̢ beltiston einai, 466d8-e1). Polus cannot but agree that ‘having great power’ (to mega dunasthai) is a good to the man who has it (agathon einai tô̢ dunamenô̢, 466e6-7)’. Socrates then asks: ‘Do you think people want the thing (Poteron oun soi dokousin hoi anthrôpoi touto boulesthai) they are doing at any time (ho an prattôsin hekastote), or the thing for the sake of which they do the thing they do (ê ekeino hou heneka prattousin touth’ ho prattousin;)? For instance (hoion), do you think that those who take drugs from doctors want what they’re doing (hoi ta pharmaka pinontes para tôn iatrôn poteron soi dokousin touto boulesthai ho poiousin), to take the drug (pinein to pharmakon) and suffer pain (kai algein), or the thing (ê ekeino) – being healthy (to hugiainein) – for the sake of which they take it (hou heneka pinousin;)?’ Polus answers: ‘It’s clear they want to be healthy (Dêlon hoti to hugiainein, 467c5-d1)’. After referring to a number of examples which all show that ‘if anyone does something (ean tis ti prattê̢) for the sake of something (heneka tou), he doesn’t want the thing he does (ou touto bouletai ho prattei), but the thing (all’ ekeino) for the sake of which he does it (hou heneka prattei, 467d6-e1),’ Socrates points out that ‘we want good things (ta gar agatha boulometha), but we don’t want the neither good nor evil things (ta de mête agatha mête kaka ou boulometha), nor the evil things (oude ta kaka, 468c5-7).’ When Polus agrees, Socrates makes his point: ‘Then since we agree on this (Oukoun eiper tauta homologoumen), if someone kills a man (ei tis apokteinei tina) or expels him from the city (ê ekballei ek poleôs), or expropriates him (ê aphaireitai chrêmata), whether he is a tyrant (eite turannos ôn) or a rhetor (eite rêtôr), thinking it better for him (oiomenos ameinon einai autô̢), when in fact it is worse (tunchanei de on kakion), he presumably does (houtos dêpou poiei) what he thinks fit (ha dokei autô̢) … Then does he also do what he wants to (Ar’ oun kai ha bouletai), if the things he does are in fact bad (eiper tunchanei tauta kaka onta;)?’ – Polus: ‘No, I don’t think he does what he wants to (All’ ou moi dokei poiein ha bouletai).’ – Socrates: ‘Then is there any way (Estin oun hopôs) such a man (ho toioutos) has great power in this city (mega dunatai en tê̢ polei tautê̢), since having great power is (eiper esti to mega dunasthai) some kind of good (agathon ti), according to your agreement (kata tên sên homologian;)?’ – Polus: ‘No, there’s no way (Ouk estin).’ – Then I was saying what is true (Alêthê ara egô elegon), when I said (legôn) it is possible for someone who does what he thinks fit in a city (hoti estin anthrôpon poiounta en polei ha dokei autô̢) not to have great power (mê mega dunasthai), and not to do what he wants (mêde poiein ha bouletai).’ (468d1-e5)
On the dating which I have proposed, Socrates in the Gorgias says his ‘no’ to the way in which the term boulomai figures in the thinking of rhetoricians, and in doing so he says his ‘no’ to the way in which it figures in the Phaedrus in the outline of rhetoric founded on dialectic. For in the Phaedrus both the conventional rhetorician and the reformed one intends to achieve with his speeches whatever he bouletai (‘wants’/’wishes). In the Gorgias the term does not play any role in the ‘reformed rhetoric, united with philosophy’, for its aim is firmly prescribed. The good rhetors, the craftsmen, speak with an eye on what is best, and aim to make the citizens as good as possible by their speeches (503a7-9).
On the conventional dating Plato wrote the Phaedrus after he had written Gorgias; on that dating he wrote it as if the Gorgias had never been written. Compare the reformed rhetoric in the Phaedrus with the one outlined in the Gorgias. In the Gorgias only ‘that rhetor (ho rêtôr ekeinos)’ can be seen as ‘the craftsman, the good one’ (ho technikos te kai agathos, 504d5-6), ‘who always has his mind on this (pros touto aei ton noun echôn): to see that the souls of the citizens acquire justice (hopôs an autou tois politais dikaiosunê men en tais psuchais gignêtai) and get rid of injustice (adikia de apallattêtai), and that they acquire temperance (kai sôphrosunê men engignêtai) and get rid of intemperance (akolasia de apallattêtai) and that they acquire the rest of virtue (kai hê allê aretê engignêtai) and get rid of vice (kakia de apiê̢, 504d9-e3).’ In the Phaedrus the project of reformed rhetoric is focussed on giving the rhetorician scientifically ascertained ability to persuade his audience of whatever he wants; if he wants to deceive (apatêsein, 262a5) the audience, the scientific rhetoric gives him the power to do so with certainty (261e-262c, 272d-273e).