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Socrates’ Antithesis

During the apprenticeship this year we are going to read Plato’s Gorgias and discuss it on our retreats and in phone calls. It’s not an easy read, but we’ll be taking our time and enjoying it.

One reason Gorgias is so great is because Gorgias is the counter self of Socrates. Socrates believed that the world was real and that it was knowable and that you could communicate your knowledge to others.

Gorgias, in a book called On Not Being, argued that the world is not real, that we cannot know it, and that even if we could know it we can’t communicate what we know.

Socrates believed in what came to be called a logos. He believed that the Logos was the unifying principle of all things, that it inhabited language, and that it inhabited the world with which language is concerned. Therefore the logos links the mind to the world outside the mind, making it knowable.

So far as I know Socrates does not use the word “logos” to make this point, but the idea flows through his thought. He probably would call it an eidon or form, but I’ll get back to you on this (unless you can get back to me and tell me!).

Therefore the discussion/argument between Gorgias and Socrates is one of the most important discussions in world history. It’s particularly important today, because it is not much of a stretch to say that Gorgias’s philosophy governs our schools.

If we can understand Socrates discussion with Gorgias, we’ll gain every manner of insight into how to respond to the demands placed on us by the education establishment.

The dialogue begins when Socrates visits Gorgias with his friend Chaerophon and they almost immediately launch into a discussion about the nature and definition of rhetoric. I’ll have more to say over the coming weeks as I continue to read, but I want to throw out an invitation right now to throw in your suggestions about how to approach Gorgias.

Have you read it? What did you learn? Where does he wander off the path of truth? What can we learn about communication and teaching?

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