Speakers Series

11/09/2018 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Main 005
Speaker(s) / Presenter(s): 
Mary Louise Gill (Brown University)
Mary-Louise Gill (Brown University), Socrates’ Critique of Writing in Plato’s Phaedrus
Plato’s Phaedrus has two official themes—love and rhetoric—and one unofficial: philosophy. In this paper I examine Plato’s conception of true rhetoric (rhetoric used by someone who knows the truth, but can use it to persuade an audience of truth or falsehood) and philosophy, and I shall do so by discussing two sorts of compositions in the Phaedrus. The first is Socrates’ conversation with Phaedrus when they walked together into the countryside and then sat and talked under a plane tree. This is a living conversation with a particular audience on a particular occasion, an exercise in true rhetoric. The second composition is the beautifully flawed free-standing written work—the dialogue Phaedrus—which stands before us like a picture to be viewed by readers again and again down through the ages, a work of Platonic philosophy. This second composition does not merely image the first in writing: In addition it repeatedly goads us—its audience—to ask questions, and thus lures us into Platonic philosophy. Although I cannot definitively prove my thesis, I shall prod my own audience to distrust Socrates’ critique of writing at the end of the dialogue and give reasons to think that it is an instance of true rhetoric by someone who wrote nothing, faulting our author, who wrote the dialogue. 
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