In the Phaedrus, Plato allows the use of artful rhetoric ‘to the extent that nature allows it,’ in the service of truth. He has Socrates say (Phaedrus 227b-c, Cooper’s edition):
- First, you must know the truth concerning everything you are speaking or writing about; you must learn how to define each thing in itself; and, having defined it, you must know how to divide it into kinds until you reach something indivisible
- Second, you must understand the nature of the soul, along the same lines; you must determine which kind of speech is appropriate to each kind of soul, prepare and arrange your speech accordingly, and offer a complex and elaborate speech to a complex soul and a simple speech to a simple one.
However, he immediately heavily qualifies this by suggesting that any written discourse, in verse or prose, is at best an exercise in amusement. True knowledge comes from dialectic – or dialogue – with the wise. This puts Socrates himself in the heroic position, as one who instils knowledge through dialectic, rather than writing speeches. But what about Plato, the author? To me, Plato seems to fit somewhere in between Socrates and the Speechwriters – he is a writing philosopher, who co-opts the ‘complex and elaborate’ art of the rhetorician in the service of dialectical philosophy.