In Gorgias by Plato, Socrates has a discussion with Polus and Gorgias on their contradictory views on what the use of rhetoric truly intends. Polus, on the one hand, like Gorgias, believes rhetoric requires technical expertise to be used properly and effectively, while Socrates finds the use of rhetoric to be nothing but a simple knack that produces flattery.
During their discussion, Socrates refutes Polus’ claim that rhetoric requires knowledge to be used in an effective manner, as well as the claim that expertise are involved when it comes to the subject. He does not agree with Polus or Gorgias that it is a trait to be admired. Rather, Socrates sees rhetoric as a something that is not so much an admirable skill, but as experiential knack whose only purpose is to provide pleasure and gratification. To explain his ideas further, Socrates then compares rhetoric to cookery, saying that, although they are not the same, they are both branches of the same activity. They are activities that don’t require expertise, but only need “a mind which is good at guessing, some courage, and a natural talent for interacting with people”. No knowledgable skill is needed in rhetoric or cookery, for they fall under the branches of activities that are solely knacks acquired through repeated and practiced habits.
This passage particularly caught my attention, because during my time in high school, I took an English class in which the main curriculum for the entire year was based on learning how to effectively use rhetoric. I had always thought that learning to be able to use rhetoric successfully was the product of skills and expertise learned over the course of time. I considered this skill to be newfound knowledge, but after reading Socrates’ take on the matter, I understand his point about it merely being an illusion of true knowledge, as well as how rhetoric is to be considered a learned habit used for flattery. Still, I do not think this different understanding of what rhetoric is changes how admirable or useful it can be. It just simply changes the deeper meaning and categorization of the concept.