isocrates in platos phaedrus
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DESCRIPTIONPlato mention Isocrates in The Phaedrus. This article comments on this matter
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A tincture of philosophy, a tincture of hope: Theportrayal of Isocrates in Plato's phaedrusMaureen Daly Goggin a & Elenore Long aa PhD candidate in the Rhetoric program , Carnegie Mellon University ,Published online: 21 May 2009.
To cite this article: Maureen Daly Goggin & Elenore Long (1993) A tincture of philosophy, a tincture of hope: The portrayal ofIsocrates in Plato's phaedrus , Rhetoric Review, 11:2, 301-324, DOI: 10.1080/07350199309389008
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07350199309389008
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MAUREEN DALY GOGGIN AND ELENORE LONGCarnegie Mellon University
A Tincture of Philosophy, A Tincture of Hope:The Portrayal of Isocrates in Plato's Phaedrus1
Over the last century, a range of contradictory representations of Isocrateshave emerged through critical scholarship. At one end of the spectrum, he has beencontemptuously characterized as a naive and ineffectual politician (Bonner 194),as an intellectual wimp (DeVries, "Isocrates" 389), and as a conceited windbag(Howland 152; Thompson 182). At the other end, he has been regarded as the hoodornament on the newest model of rhetorical chic, as a strong proponent of democ-racy (Jaeger 3:66), as a pedagogical genius (Benoit 109; Forster 15), and as aprophetic visionary for rhetoric across time (Cahn 134-44). Of all the polarizeddebates pertaining to Isocrates, one of the longest standing concerns Plato'sdepiction of him in the Phaedrus. The debate generally hinges on the question:Does Isocrates represent the central cancer in a malignant rhetoric, or does hesymbolize the potential for a reformed rhetoric?
In addressing this Isocratean question, many scholars point to the followingpassage from the end of the Phaedrus:
It seems to me that his [Isocrates'] natural powers give him a supe-riority over anything Lysias has achieved in literature, and also that inpoint of character he is of a nobler composition; hence it would notsurprise me if with advancing years he made all his literary predeces-sors look like very small fry; that is, supposing him to persist in theactual type of writing in which he engages at present; still more so, ifhe should become dissatisfied with such work, and a sublimer impulselead him to do greater things. For that mind of his, Phaedrus, containsan innate tincture of philosophy. (279A)
A corpus of literary criticism interprets these lines as underhanded and sarcastic(Cope 31ff; Howland 159; Hudson-Williams; Robin 173). This pejorative inter-pretation is largely inherited from W. H. Thompson's 1868 critical edition of thePhaedrus, the first and indeed only English commentary on the dialogue until R.Hackforth published an edition nearly a century later in 1951 (cf. Hackforth ix).In his edition Thompson claims that Plato's prophecy for Isocrates is a backhandedcompliment "passed upon him [Isocrates] at the conclusion of the Phaedrus [sic]
Rhetoric Review, Vol. 11 ,No.2, Spring 1993 301
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. . . as but poor amends for the stinging sarcasm showered so profusely on his art. . . in other parts of the dialogue" (173).2
For many scholars an assessment of Plato's regard for Isocrates hinges on yetanother, and larger, concern: Plato's regard for a true art of rhetoric as posited inthe Phaedrus. Numerous critics argue that Plato is deeply skeptical of the possi-bility that a true art of rhetoric can ever be achieved.3 For instance, Everett LeeHunt contends that just as Plato's Republic can never be realized, neither can truerhetoric (46-47). Similarly, Oscar Brownstein suggests an ironic spin to Plato'streatment of the topic: "this ideal rhetoric is the Platonic counterpart of Aristo-phanes' Cloud-Cuckoo Land" (398). Peter Schakel (131), William Kelley (78), andThomas Conley (12) agree, contending that, according to the Platonic Socrates inthe Phaedrus, true rhetoric is clearly outside the reach of mortals; all that is withintheir grasp is a perversion of such rhetoric, equally corrupt as a lover who caresnothing for the well-being of his partner but only for his own physical pleasure.
We contend, however, that scholars who claim that Plato spumed rhetoric andwho, as result, view Isocrates as the target of the Phaedrus have done so largelybecause they have read the Phaedrus in terms of strict dichotomies: rational/irra-tional, philosophy/rhetoric, Truth/Falsehood. Such readings miss the nuances andcomplexities of Plato's dynamic view of rhetoric in this dialogue. By contrast, ourreading of the Phaedrus finds a spectrum along which both rhetors and rhetoriccan be located, a spectrum that recognizes the dynamism of discursive practices.This spectral vision opens up a space for locating Isocrates and his rhetoric.4
Both Plato and Isocrates were confronted with a moral/epistemic dilemma:Faced with the inaccessibility of certain knowledge, how is one to take moralaction? Our essay argues that it is at this point of tension between morality andepistemology that Plato's and Isocrates' views of a dynamic rhetoric converge. Webegin with a reading of the Phaedrus, focusing the explication on the Myth of theSoul. Then we turn to two other constructs from the dialogue that resonate withthe myth: the three mythical pairs of lovers and the three love speeches. Theseturns permit an extensive analysis of the moral/epistemic dilemma and the vitalrole of rhetoric in coping with it. Finally, we demonstrate a convergence of Plato'sand Isocrates' ideas on rhetoric to argue that this intersection permits a view ofIsocrates and Isocratean rhetoric as the tincture of hope for a reformed philosophi-cal rhetoric.
The Phaedrus is comprised of three speeches on love, one ostensiblycomposed by Lysias and the other two by Plato's Socrates. The first is adeceptive, dispassionate, and selfish discourse that argues for taking a nonloveras paramour. The second is also a deceptive discourse, but one that is passionateand well-intentioned, purporting to argue for taking a nonlover as paramour inan effort to protect the beloved. The third is a well-reasoned and passionateargument that demonstrates why lovers and beloveds should be paired. Takentogether, these three speeches reverberate on complex levels. This dynamism
A Tincture of Philosophy, a Tincture of Hope 303
has provided material for rich debates concerning, for instance, the subjects andpurposes of the Phaedrus (Hackforth 8; Stewart 116-17). While it is not ourintention to score the notes and chords that play throughout the dialogue, we willfocus on that which resonates most clearly with Isocrates: the topic of rhetoric asconceptualized in the work. Because the Myth of the Soul most vividly portraysPlato's vision for a reformed philosophical rhetoric designed to grapple with themoral/epistemic dilemma, we begin with a close reading of this myth.5
The Myth of the Soul
The Myth of the Soul brings into focus three images that converge to intersectwith Isocrates' view of rhetoric, thus distinguishing him as a potential reformer ofrhetoric.6 First, the myth introduces the tripartite soul that illuminates the respon-sibility of reformed rhetoric to harness, not banish, emotional forces to comple-ment rational ones.7 Second, the portrayal of the variegated souls teaches that truerhetors need to leam how to control the dual reins of passion and rationality, notonly within themselves but also within the diverse personalities of their interlocu-tors. Third, in delineating various personality types on earth, the myth sketches adualistic controlling force, partly innate, partly self-governing. The latter forcemakes possible the reform of rhetoric. The myth clearly distinguishes betweenthose orators with a depraved nature who were flagrantly practicing rhetoric inPlato's day and those with a nature touched by philosophical inspiration. More thanmerely locating these orators along a hierarchy, some innatel