In todays society, Plato’s portrayal of Socrates would disapprove with the inappropriate practices of rhetoric amongst contemporary culture, while John Peters’ first chapter from his book Speaking Into The Air shows us that writing and other dissemination-oriented media forms of communication may be acceptable despite the views of Socrates. The Phaedrus introduced a debate between two philosophers, Socrates and Phaedrus. They argue over a speech from a third philosopher, Lysias, regarding love.
Three speeches were delivered in a dialogue pertaining to the idea that love is supported by the soul, madness, divine inspiration, and the importance f mastering the art one practices. The first part of the Phaedrus was filled with debate over the speech of Lysias and the discussion of love. However, in the second part of Plato’s work, “Discussions of Rhetoric and Writing”, Eros (love) was not discussed. Instead, they use the speeches from part one as a catalyst to discuss the true nature of communication.
They discuss the knowledge an orator should have to execute a concise argument, the proper way to compose a speech, and writing. Socrates said that, “every speech must be put together like a living creature, with a body of its own; it must be neither without head or without legs; and it must have a middle and extremities that are fitting both to one another and to the whole work” (Plato, 264C). Socrates believed that a speech was subject to organic change and composition. Socrates explains to Phaedrus that rhetoric is an art, and more importantly, a means to direct the soul in both public and private discourse.
Rhetoric is the art of effectively persuading an audience or listener through dialogue or written script. It is used to form a concise argument that is persuasive and exempts flashy words that dilute an effective argument. Dialogue that masks the truth and skews away from a persuasive argument is against Socrates’ belief in rhetoric. Socrates references Lysias’s speech to elaborate on the contrast of artfulness in rhetoric, he states that an argument with less ambiguity will make one’s speech more impactful.
Socrates explains to Phaedrus that rhetoric can be an artless practice if the speaker focuses on opinion rather than truth. Having the belief that one does not need to know the truth, Phaedrus believes that one can master the ability to portray specific ideas through broader dialogue. This form of communication is alled dialectic. Dialectic is very useful but has the potential to be used improperly. Socrates acknowledges those who practice the improper use of the skill. A speaker who uses dialectic as a way to benefit themselves at the expense of others is what Socrates would call a sophist.
An example of a sophist could be a speaker who would appease an audience with misleading information solely to benefit their argument and encourage the audience to identify with the speaker. Since presenting false information is an unfair advantage over the audience, it is a discouraged method amongst Socrates and Plato. There are many examples of this that occur in pop culture today. Tyler, the Creator, is a wealthy and successful rap artist from Los Angeles with a growing cult following called “Wolf Gang’. His followers are intrigued by his bizarre behavior and aggressive lyrics.
Subjects like drug use, violence, and homophobia are predominant subjects in the “gangster” style rap, which Tyler’s lyrics heavily embody. Even though his behavior and lyrics are suggestive of these topics, Tyler is sober, non-violent, and accepting of all sexualities. The purpose behind this is to fabricate an illusion f rebellion to his fans, which subsequently draws him to a populous audience. An example of this can be seen in his song Jamba where he raps “Let’s smoke weed, that shit I need, be the shit that’s green, a little purple and pink” (Tyler, the Creator). He seems to condone this behavior when he doesn’t do it himself.
The New York Times wrote about Tyler and his rap collective Odd Future and asked interesting questions provoking this argument like “Are the group’s lyrics reports of literal desires? The goofs of misguided kids? Does the difference matter? ” (Caramanica). Socrates would see this as misleading because he is appeasing to an audience and also to the norm of gangster rap to benefit his image as an artist. Phaedrus and Socrates continue their conversation to discuss and determine the basis for effective writing. Socrates explains to Phaedrus the myth of Theuth and Thamus.
Theuth was an Egyptian deity and Thamus was the Egyptian king at that time. The myth explains that when Theuth grants the ability of writing to the King, he tells him to integrate and disseminate the art of writing with the population. Thamus rejects this request on the basis that instead f helping his people, writing would only serve as a “remedy for reminding, not remembering” (Plato, 275A). Thamus’ thought was that being gifted in writing only results in temporary wisdom. Plato is trying to communicate that the only way to truly know something is through conversing, asking questions, and exchanging ideas in a dialectic manner.
Socrates believes this because writing does not use the fundamentals of expression that are delivered in a speech. Writing is a general practice with a broader audience than in a speech, which allows the audience to criticize, question, or respond. Platonically, it is better to hear and explain the argument than to subjectively read. This is because the ability to defend or elaborate itself beyond the words written. Writing during Plato’s time was a new and versatile form of communication. It granted those who knew how to read the access to a plethora of written information.
Evidence in Socrates’ beliefs that writing is a restricting form of communication can be seen in todays society. Forbes would argue that the social media outbreak of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. hinders our ability to efficiently contextualize our thoughts in a face-to-face situation. For example, a Facebook format is bodied with a main page of mutual friends posting feeds about their life and opinions. This is a form of restricted writing because this format is accompanied by a social pressure where one is restrained to fully rebuttal or emote due to one’s personal image.
The posts on Facebook are crafted from the user’s portrayal of themselves and endless time to collect a formulated post. The article from Forbes claims that, “social approval and derision are the most powerful forms of influence” (Grenny). Facebook feeds into this offsetting form of communication through shared ialogue and interface. Forbes also conducted a study amongst Facebook users and found that, “one in five (users) had shunned a former colleague because of an online conversation-gone-bad” (Grenny).
Socrates would feel that the instant reciprocation of dialogue would lack the cleverness and internalization of a dialogue shared between people. Although Plato feels that writing is an inefficient form of communication, some may see writing as useful form of one way communication. Writing is the foundation for all recorded knowledge which must bear some resourceful value. Dissemination, or the spreading of nformation, is dependent on contextualized dialogue. Writing may restrict the writer from a specific audience, but it grants the text to be read by any person exposed to it.
This difference gives more freedom to the writer where the audience cannot respond. If the writer thoroughly contextualizes his argument he may be able to sway a broader audience as effectively as a speech. Dialogue is a valued form of communication because it permits a reciprocation of shared ideas. John Durnam Peters, author of Speaking into the Air, would insist that dissemination through writing is an effective alternative form of communication ecause the reader does not need to reciprocate, yet the message is still portrayed.
Peters alludes to dissemination through his comparison of Jesus and Socrates. He considers them both philosophers and analyzes their methods of communication. Peters explains how Socrates delivers his ideas through reciprocated dialogue, while Jesus disseminated his ideas through his followers and disciples. Peters’ article states that, “parables attributed to ‘Jesus’ by the synoptic gospels provide a countervision: invariant and open dissemination, addressed to whom it may concern” (Peters 35). Invariant and pen dissemination are responsible for the spread of Christ.
The Bible and widespread Christianity in todays society is supporting evidence to Peters’ belief in dissemination. Jesus disseminated his message through those who identified with his message. The Bible was written by those affected by the message of Christ, creating further dissemination for those interested in the message. Peters argues that dialogue is practical but insufficient compared to dissemination. Writing and other dissemination-oriented media may be acceptable after all because it allows the mass sharing of knowledge without reciprocation.
If communication were formed by dialogue only, we would be unable to share and record the abundance of information we are constantly disseminating. The history and foundations of communications would not be the same with Plato’s composition of the Phaedrus. Socrates’ and Phaedrus’ elaboration of the responsible practice of rhetoric and writing was thoroughly argued by Peter’s emphasis on dissemination. Effective communication was the goal of these rhetoricians. They believed that using these skills in a sensible manner could be very effective and powerful to an individual, and audience, and society.