In this dialogue written by Plato, Gorgias and his pupil Polus have a discussion with Socrates concerning rhetoric. Polus asks Socrates what he thinks rhetoric is. He responds with an explanation based off of four branches of expertise and their respective imitations. He says that rhetoric is more of a knack for flattery acquired by habit rather than an activity of technical expertise.

Plato describes rhetoric as a natural talent for interacting with people. The sole aim, however, is to give pleasure rather than any genuine benefit. He calls this activity “flattery” and describes it as being multifaceted in nature. Flattery is divided into four branches which impersonate the four branches of expertise (medicine, exercise, legislative process, and the administration of justice). The imitations of these branches are respectively cookery, ornamentation, sophistry, and rhetoric. Each of these imitation branches serve as the counterpart. Rhetoric, then, is to the mind as cookery is to the body. These components of flattery please but are not necessarily what is best, only what we are led to believe is best persuaded by flattery .

It is true that cookery, for example, can be misleading. Things that taste good are not always beneficial to the body. Oppositely, things that are good for the body do not always have a pleasant taste. If our body was to blindly depend upon pleasure and flattery we would think that cookery is better than medicine, which reason tells us is not true.

 

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