Misleading antilogiké: A response to James Murray's “Disputation, Deception and Dialectic: Plato on the True Rhetoric (Phaedrus 261-266)”

[This text, written as a response to another paper and presented at the 16th Atlantic Philosophical Association Conference at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton (3-5 October 1985), has not previously been published.]


My function here is vestigial in a double sense. The response to a conference paper might be said to stand in approximately the same relation to that paper as the appendix to the gut: the appendix can cause discomfort, even peritonitis, but provides no special help in the process of digestion. Moreover, the practice of offering an oral response to an orally presented argument is itself a vestige, bequeathed to us by the universities of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, of the scholastic arts faculty tradition of the disputatio.

One may suspect, incidentally, that this tradition is in part responsible for that identification of antilogiké with eristiké which James Murray, following G. B. Kerferd, so ably undoes. For the disputatio amounted to a training in what was called dialectic, but seems more often to have consisted of eristic combat. Logos was challenged by antilogos, and the subjects under discussion included such questions as the following (paraphrased from the Sophismata of Jean Buridan): “If Socrates says, 'Plato should be cursed if he curses me, and not otherwise,' and Plato says, 'Socrates should be cursed if he does not curse me, and not otherwise,' does Socrates curse Plato?”1

Predictably, given that such exercises in modal logic were aimed at boys in their early teens, this antilogistic tradition resulted in an effective devolution of logic into rhetoric.2 As Peter Ramus, one of its most famous products, wrote in the mid-sixteenth century, “Bene disserere est finis logices”: “Logic's chiefest end is, to dispute well.” It may be significant that this definition is derived from Cicero, who stands at the end of another antilogistic tradition, that of the Platonic Academy.3 These historical devolutions of dialectic into dogmatic scepticism in one instance, and into an art of rhetoric in the other, may have some bearing on Plato's attempts to assimilate antilogiké into a true rhetoric which will advance the cause of (his) philosophy. Or are they merely misleading irrelevancies (apatemata)?

My function, I have said, is vestigial: an unflattering situation. And to compound my problems, James Murray's paper, with understated skill, wedges its respondent into a position reminiscent of the conditional curses of Buridan's sophism, or perhaps of the paradox of the Cretan Liar. In order to properly discharge my antilogical function in this vestigial disputatio, I should, after some initial gestures of insincere praise, oppose his argument by (for example) demonstrating a convergence of antilogiké with eristiké in Plato's text—thus, effectively, playing Socrates to his Lysias. But since his argument includes the claim that antilogiké, properly used, is part of the true philosopher's equipment, my antilogistic reasonings would, at the same time, define me as a rhetorician rather than a philosopher, as Lysias to his Socrates—or, in language suggested by Plato's Sophist,4 as a magician, a poisoner, a pharmakeus, rather than a doctor of souls.

Which gives rise to a further paradox. For on the one hand, I believe Murray's argument to be accurate and solid—while on the other, I am in fact a rhetorician rather than a philosopher. If I have not already given sufficient evidence of sophistic leanings, I can cement the point by confessing that my quotation of Ramus was at second hand: my source for it is Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, a pharmakeus if there ever was one—and who, by the way, pretended to be reading from Aristotle when he quoted Ramus.5

The fact that in the same scene of Marlowe's play Faustus also makes Aristotle appear to be the author of the Gorgian phrase on kai mé on can serve as my pretext for making a vaguely similar claim about the passage from the Phaedrus that James Murray discusses.6 Plato seems here to be re-writing Gorgian rhetoric, and Socrates to be practising it; the Gorgian echoes in this passage may be strong enough to complicate our acceptance of the way in which Plato is deploying the terms antilogiké and apaté.

Gorgias regarded persuasion as a quasi-magical art which works on people by molding a false argument (de pseudé logon plasantes). It rests upon deceptions or misleadings of opinion (doxis apatémata), but is apparently morally neutral, both because Gorgias contrasts it to another magical art that rests upon errors or sins of soul (psuches hamartémata), and because doxai are all that are available to us.7 Gorgias said of tragedy, which he presumably regarded as a species of persuasive discourse, that it produces “a deception (apaté) in which the deceiver is more justly esteemed than the nondeceiver and the deceived is wiser than the undeceived.”8 I am not sure that this is radically different from the meaning of apaté that Murray finds in Plato's argument, or from what we may conclude about the deployment of apatémata in the splendid rhetoric of Socrates's second oration.

“Speech is a powerful lord,” says Gorgias (logos dunastis megas estin).9 The case of Helen shows persuasion to amount to the same thing as force: 'misleadings' of opinion are a matter less of seduction than of abduction. This assimilation of peitho to bia is clearly an example of the kind of misleading that Socrates is talking about at 261d and onwards. But what are the results of Socrates's own oration (how much of which is epistéme and how much doxa I leave you to judge)? Will young Phaedrus return to his friend Lysias, or have his affections been transferred? Has Socrates effectively abducted him?

Gorgias seems to be present here in other ways as well. Socrates is mockingly self-aware, in his first oration, of the degree to which his style “is already not far from dithyrambic” (238d); Diodorus Siculus quotes these very words in describing the declamatory style of Gorgias.10 But I am thinking more particularly of Socrates's response, at 261b-c, to Phaedrus's profession of ignorance as to the more general applications of rhetoric: “'What? Are you acquainted only with the 'Arts' or manuals of oratory by Nestor and Odysseus, which they composed in their leisure hours at Troy? Have you never heard of the work of Palamedes?' PHAEDRUS: 'No, upon my word, nor of Nestor either, unless you are casting Gorgias for the role of Nestor, with Odysseus played by Thrasymachus, or maybe Theodorus.'”11

If Guthrie is right in suggesting that sophistic technai, or manuals of rhetorical instruction, “may have consisted largely of models to be learned by heart,”12 then Socrates's joke appears to refer to a practice of using the speeches of Homer's heroes as though they were technai like Gorgias's Encomium of Helen or Apology of Palamedes—to the latter of which Socrates is clearly referring. The allusion is a resonant one, since as Guido Calogero has shown, Plato's Apology of Socrates both echoes the wording of Gorgias's Apology of Palamedes and rests upon the same ethical principle of nemo sua sponte peccat; moreover, Socrates names Palamedes as the first of the unjustly condemned heroes whom he hopes to meet in Hades (Apology 41b).13 In this context, Phaedrus's association of Gorgias, the author of Palamedes' defence, with Nestor, and of Thrasymachus with Odysseus, the accuser of Palamedes, may have some significance.

Is there, then, a certain doubleness to this dialogue? Do its argumentative and its mythic structures mesh with one another, or pull in different directions? And while moving beyond Gorgias in certain respects, does it yet remain profoundly Gorgian in others?

But perhaps my own barefooted splashings in the Ilissus have deafened me to the voices of Plato's interlocutors. Having, then, sufficiently muddied the waters, let me conclude by thanking James Murray for his most stimulating paper, and by lapsing into the role of Lysias, the last words of whose speech I now repeat: “I think I have said all that is needed; if you think I have neglected anything, and want more, let me know” (234c).




1  John Buridan, Sophisms on Meaning and Truth, trans. T. K. Scott (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1966), pp. 221-22.

2  See Walter J. Ong, S.J., Ramus: Method and the Decay of Dialogue (1958; rpt. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983).

3  Ong, pp. 160, 347-48 notes 41 and 42, and pp. 178, 350 n. 39.

4  Sophist 230b-c, 234e-235a, in Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, eds., Plato: The Collected Dialogues (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 973, 977-78.

5  See Marlowe's “Doctor Faustus” 1604-1616: Parallel Texts, ed. W. W. Greg (1950; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 164 (1604 text, lines 36-38).

6  Ibid., 1604 text, lines 38-42: “Is, to dispute well, Logickes chiefest end? / Affoords this Art no greater myracle: / Then reade no more, thou hast attaind the end: / A greater subiect fitteth Faustus wit, / Bid Oncaymeon farewell....” See Sextus Empiricus, Adversus mathematicos, VII. 66, for the Gorgian expression; the text is reprinted in Hermann Diels, ed., Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (4th ed.; 3 vols.; Berlin, 1922), vol. 2, p. 243 (Gorgias, fr. 3).

7  I am paraphrasing and quoting from the Encomium of Helen (Diels, fr. 11. 8-11, vol. 2, pp. 251-52). Our confinement to the realm of opinion is implicit throughout this text and argued in Gorgias's On the nonexistent or on Nature (fr. 3).

8  Diels, fr. 23; the translation is that of George Kennedy in R. K. Sprague, ed., The Older Sophists (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1972), p. 65.

9  Diels, fr. 11. 8, p. 251; Sprague, ed., The Older Sophists, p. 52.

10  Diels, “Leben und Lehre,” 4, p. 237; Sprague, p. 33.

11  The translation is that of R. Hackforth, in Hamilton and Cairns, eds., Plato: The Collected Dialogues, p. 506.

12  W. K. C. Guthrie, The Sophists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 270. Guthrie is here speaking of the technai of Gorgias.

13  Guido Calogero, “Gorgias and the Socratic Principle nemo sua sponte peccat,” in Carl Joachim Classen, ed., Sophistik (Darmstadt, 1976), pp. 408-21, esp. 413-16.