I am confused by a very simple point in Plato’s Gorgias.
If Gorgias claims that what oratory is is simply being able to persuade a person or crowd without knowledge that he is knowledgable in something he actually isn’t, then what does he use to persuade the crowd? I’m sure the lengthy style of speech Polus gives when trying to answer Socrates gives an idea of how he does it, but then this brings me to a similar conclusion to what Socrates said: he isn’t really answering the question, just making it sound nice and grand. In the end, it’s kind of like a bluff… no?
What kind of persuasion would it be if the basis of it is simply on the words of one person without knowledge? To a person lacking knowledge, it would sound perfectly fine and seem rational, I presume, as long as someone seems to knows what they’re talking about, but it does not provide any solid ground for a claim. This leads me to question how much we actually trust other people’s words, and how much we believe what we hear. People lacking knowledge seem to be blindingly trusting in what they hear from the orator, because he appears to be knowledgable, at least in how Plato portrays the unintelligent population. Does this not mean that whoever speaks persuasively can move those lacking knowledge, even if it may be completely false and inaccurate? I guess so, but I think this also downplays humanity’s intelligence and complexity in someways, as I do not think it is as simple as Socrates rationalizes that “a man who has learned what’s just [is] a just man too” (pg, 19, 460b)
Then again, maybe what Plato portrays is true. Words can move people, as demonstrated by many great historic speeches (Martin Luther King, Hitler, etc). But do people believe in these words simply because it aligns with their motivations and goals, or is it maybe because the speaker has a certain charisma? Successful speakers certainly seem to have both, however, what I’m trying to question is how much can we believe a person based on their words without knowledge or facts backing it up? Or, as Socrates describes, how much can people be swayed by “conviction – persuasion” as opposed to “teaching – persuasion”? Doesn’t providing evidence and teaching with facts and knowledge lead to a more solidified and grounded claim? Am I just veering towards rationalism in regards to knowledge? Maybe? Regardless, given our progress in technology and availability of information, it is hard to imagine an argument or persuasive speech without at least a hint of factual evidence to support an argument. Perhaps this is just my instilled process of thinking and therefore cannot understand a “conviction – persuasion” Socrates and Gorgias is referring to.
Either way, I would like to end this post by claiming this: I don’t really have anything to back up what I’m saying.