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Dangerous CounselAccountability and Advice in Ancient Greece$
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Matthew Landauer

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226654010

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226653822.001.0001

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Demagoguery and the Limits of Expert Advice in Plato’s Gorgias

Demagoguery and the Limits of Expert Advice in Plato’s Gorgias

(p.149) 6 Demagoguery and the Limits of Expert Advice in Plato’s Gorgias
Dangerous Counsel

Matthew Landauer

University of Chicago Press

Plato’s Gorgias offers competing visions of the power of rhetoric, from Gorgias’ claim that orators can enslave their audiences to Socrates’ warning that orators only gain power in democracies by effectively enslaving themselves to the demos. The chapter argues that, far from endorsing either view, Plato subverts both. Socrates develops an account of power linked to knowledge of the good, one which radically undermines almost all claims to exercise political power, whether made on behalf of orators, the demos, or an individual tyrant. Yet this argument proves unpersuasive to nonphilosophers. Socrates thus offers a second series of arguments addressed to orators and partisans of popular power that attempts to show that neither orators nor ordinary citizens will get what they think they want from the practice of democratic politics. Socrates’ inability to persuade his interlocutors of the value of philosophy makes the dialogue appear fundamentally pessimistic, underscored by its foreshadowing of Socrates’ failure to persuade the jurors at his own trial. Yet Socrates’ second line of argument leaves open the possibility of a persuasive mode of Platonic advice that could work in real politics.

Keywords:   demagoguery, Gorgias, Plato, power, rhetoric

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