Defining Gorgias

This blog post is mainly for my thoughts on Gorgias, but we”ll get to that later.

Firstly, I can’t lie and tell you that I haven’t taken a peek at some other blog posts already, but I’ve noticed that quite a lot of people are annoyed at Socrates’ constant questioning. True, I suspect that someone who did this in real life would be hard pressed to make any friends, but that’s what makes him so cool: he doesn’t give a chainsaw whether or not you like him! I admire people like that, people who go against the grain and act not out of gratification, but, as Socrates puts it, out of what is good. That’s someone who I’d like to hang out with.

Anyway, one thing that struck me almost immediately was how Socrates defines the word ‘craft’. He says that it is basically a skill directed towards some sort of common good, either intended for the benefit of those practicing or for the recipient of the particular skill. I’m not sure that’s how I would define ‘craft’. To me, a craft is a skill which involves proficiency in doing or making something–the particular intent of the skill is not necessary.

Perhaps there was an error in translation, since the text was written in Ancient Greek after all. So I did some research and as it turns out, ‘craft’ is the word used for translating the Greek technē. You may recognize it in words like technique. According to my dictionary, technē translates as ‘art, craft, profession, trade’, with no hint of there being any connection to the word ‘good’. Could Socrates have gotten the definition of craft wrong? Why does he define ‘craft’ as having two prerequisites: the skill and the intent behind it?

To me, it seems like Socrates stuck an unwarranted requirement onto the definition of the word ‘craft’. I don’t swallow his argument at all. In my humble opinion, oratory (both forms of it, at that) is a craft, something that takes a lot of time and effort to master. And it’s evident that Socrates himself is not proficient in it. Maybe that’s why he’s so bitter about it. Hmmm… do I perhaps smell a tinge of jealousy?

But hey, that’s just a theory.

Much love,



One Comment

  1. Hi Brendan: You’ve picked up on a very important issue here–Socrates makes a big deal out of oratory not being a craft, and that crafts are better than “knacks” like oratory. So it’s important to think about just what a “craft” is supposed to be, and whether there might be some issue in translating the ancient greek work techne into English.

    I’m not a deep expert in this area, but from what I’ve read Plato and other ancient Greek philosophers used the word techne in different ways, and Plato himself seems to use it in somewhat different ways between different dialogues (see, e.g., here: I *think* Plato is using “craft” in a way that supports his views of how best to live and how best to help others live well. He may just be stipulating what sorts of things are going to count as “crafts,” and that may have little or nothing to do with how we understand the word (and related words) today. These are my early, somewhat unformed thoughts on your question at the moment…

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