What are the main philosophical arguments of Plato's Gorgias?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Plato's Gorgias is divided into three main sections. In the first, Socrates' interlocutor is Gorgias, in the second Polus, and in the third, Callicles. The first section discusses the nature of rhetorical persuasion and whether it can be taught as a purely technical art or whether the teacher of rhetoric must also teach virtue. In the Polus section, the discussion of rhetoric extends to also include the argument that in order to teach rhetoric well, the teacher must be one who knows the virtues and thus a philosopher. Both the explicit arguments and the background of Polus being Gorgias' pupil raise the question of whther the teacher is responsible for misuse of teachings by pupils.

In the final section the interlocutors discuss justice. Socrates makes the paradoxical claim that you should use rhetoric to persuade judges to punish you when  you have done wrong. This is corollary to the argument he raises that it is worsed to commit than to suffer injustice, because the former harms the soul but the latter only affects one's external circumstances.


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