my eyes, my eyes


“It was a practical rather than just a theoretical knowledge, and Protagoras never disregarded its study or its dissemination. “Mastery”, he maintained, “is the synthesis of natural predisposition and constant exercising.” He was the first person to have taken up the study of the importance of words, metaphors, anti-logics, aphorisms, and the methods of argumentation using non-ordinary logic. He was a pupil of Democritus, the scholar who studied particles in nature. Democritus was the first to speak about the atom and its application to the study of linguistic particles and their use in the dialogue. Unfortunately, almost nothing is left of his writings, because his works, which numbered up to a hundred, were burned in the main square of Athens when he was accused of impiety (Diels & Kranz, 1934–1937). The accusations made led to the statement that man is the measure of all things; and that nobody could confirm whether or not the gods existed (Diogene Laerzio, IX). It was considered an unprejudiced philosophy because it was radically relativistic in nature and was in opposition to any form of orthodoxy or revealed truth. Protagoras had taught and practised a revealing relativism and not a moral relativism. He maintained that the wise man, when armed with the discourse and the dialectic, would manage to lead a person towards what was right and useful for his being and his becoming. His fine technique was alleged to be an illicit desire to lead a forged investigation of physical and moral problems. It was viewed as a source of religious scepticism and as an instrument of dishonest manipulation by means of sophistic artifice. However, what had happened to Protagoras had also happened to even his most famous rival, Socrates. The irony of fate would lead the two thinkers, though rivals in great contrast to one another, to the same condemnation: sentenced to death for impiety. As affirmed by Gorge, another great sophist, the Protagoran dialogue was a useful instrument to convince the interlocutor of whichever thesis the Sophist desired. It was Socrates who first proposed the dialectic. The dialectic is a dialogue orientated towards the search for the “truth”, and this is quite independent of the individual’s point of view. His technique consisted of embracing the argument of the interlocutor in a hypothetical form, and then using questions and answers to come to prove how these led to nothing, or to some absurd conclusion. The intent was to throw the interlocutor into confusion, while highlighting the invalidity of his argument and thus inducing him to search for the “truth”. And yet, according to the ancient testimonies, when a young Socrates was invited by a friend to assist with one of Protagoras’s performances, he ran out of arguments during the dispute and came close to physically attacking Protagoras. It is easy to understand why Socrates later began using the rhetorical techniques of Protagoras, even though he never really cited him, always professing great opposition to his ideas. While Protagoras and the Sophists were erased from history, accused of having been mystifiers of the word, the Socratic method persisted and influenced Western thought. Nearly all philosophical thinking follows Socrates, since he was the initiator of the investigative method based on thinking. His famous affirmation “know thyself” endures as the foundation of the idea that to change something one needs to get to know it. Thus began the historical–philosophical period of Rationalism. With it came the hypothesis that it is possible, through logical–rational procedures, to understand phenomena, to explain them, and, consequently, to intervene in them. This gave rise, together with Nietzsche, to what we could call “the rationalist illusion”. However, it might seem grotesque to reveal that it was actually Socrates who gave rise to the rationalist tradition. He is said to have been visited by a “demon” that inspired him with new arguments; in other words he heard “voices” which guided him: thus, his reasonableness was stirred from unreasonableness (Cioran, 1993). As a consequence, he was either a “madman” believed to be a genius, or an impostor capable of using subtle stratagems to convince the Athenian people to give him credit that his thesis came from idolized divinities in the hereafter. So, Socrates took up the rhetorical techniques of Protagoras, and transformed them into something totally different: a research instrument of truth within his own experience. The Socratic dialogue in this way became a “Maieutic” art (from the Greek word for midwife), for, just as the midwife helps mothers give birth to their children, the dialectic helps the individual get to know himself and the reality that surrounds him. In line with the notion of the art of the Maieutic rather than the rhetorical, Socrates gave up writing in order to emphasize the unrepeatable nature of dialectic research. Socrates’ literary silence was echoed by the writings of his disciple, Plato, who none the less wrote in the form of a dialogue. The Platonic dialogues held a persuasive force that influenced the philosophies that followed him. Even though Plato officially claimed to be a loyal disciple and follower of Socrates’ teachings, in his dialogues he did not hesitate to go beyond the doctrinal legacy of his Master. He wrote that he did this in the name of broadmindedness, but this declaration is in itself an expedient of persuasive rhetoric. In his dialogues, thirtyfour in all, Plato acknowledges numerous important philosophers by giving them a voice to speak out, but in his way. In the dialogues he exalts Socrates, who is nearly always the main protagonist, and he puts forward arguments against the Sophists by attributing to them extreme and depreciable statements. He was the first to make deliberate use of the “rhetorical dialogue” as a persuasive literary expedient (Boorstin, 1983). In his most mature and enriched dialogues, he explicitly presents and defends the strengths of his own thoughts. Plato used a series of “minor” dialogues to clear the ground of all the earlier theses, while indirectly suggesting something that he would only later present and demonstrate in an explicit way. In other words, Plato used his dialogues to bring forth declarations, in the persons of numerous thinkers who had preceded him, including Protagoras, Gorge, and Socrates, which were in reality his. Such work so greatly influenced the theories that followed that it led Whitehead (1947) to declare that “All the philosophy throughout nearly twenty centuries has been nothing but a series of footnotes on Plato’s affirmations”. Therefore, the first great “impostor of written thought” has determined nearly two thousand years of philosophy thanks to his explanatory ability based on the use of the communicative stratagem of the dialogue. In the Menone, Plato formulates the theory of reminiscence for the first time. In this famous Socratic dialogue, Plato cleverly used a series of appropriate questions to get a geometry-naïve servant to demonstrate the Pythagorean Theorem of his own accord. Now Plato maintained that this was possible by virtue of the fact that man contains within him “reminiscent” knowledge that the philosopher can bring out by using his Maieutic art. He did not see it as due to the wise use of language that can persuade anyone of any belief, as declared by the Sophists. Therefore, knowledge itself once more regained an absolute value and ceased to be relative to man and to the arbiter. In Platonism, it is no longer man who measures the truth, as desired by Protagoras and the Sophists. Nor is it man who exposes the truth through reasoning, as shown by Socrates; but it is the metaphysical truth, the “absolute idea” that “measures” man and supplies him with the rules of thinking and of living. It seems evident that Plato betrayed his own master and his master’s search to be free from dogmas, and introduced his own absolutist ideology (things-are-as-they-are). Interestingly, when proposing ways to impose “absolute ideas”, Plato does not refute the Sophists’ rhetoric: rather he makes use of it, by stating that a clear and perfect discourse is determined by four aspects: what is needed to be said; how much needs to be said, taking into consideration the addressee and the time necessary to do so; what needs to be said should seem useful to whoever is listening; what should be said should neither be more nor less than what is sufficient in order to be understood. One should take into serious consideration the addressee, and regarding time, it is necessary that one speaks in the right moment, neither before nor after. Otherwise one will not speak well and will encounter failure (cited in Roncoroni, 1993). It seems that in order to demonstrate the truth one should not be so tied to the truth. The great majority of us were introduced to the sublime and ethereal idea of platonic love; however, Plato was not an exemplar of his own ideal—his loves were anything but platonic. Nevertheless, he still managed to portray this image of himself. It is the form through which something is presented, be it true or false, that renders it true. The efficient persuasion of the platonic dialogues is the most disarming example of this precept. Thanks to all of this, Plato has managed, through the use of his explanatory art, to present to humanity something totally his own as something universal. His dialectic consisted in moving from one sentence to another, from one concept to another, to the most general form of truth, to principles, to “ideas”, until reaching metaphysics. This is why various religious people, believers in the most absolute truth (i.e., God), have always appreciated this philosopher. In fact, he was the one who first introduced the idea of absolute truth in the history of philosophy. Philosophy and faith are joined. Plato proposed in the Republic that those who do not conform to the truth should be locked up in rehabilitation centres, away from the citizenry. There, they should be re-educated until they come to accept the truth. Only then they can be brought back and integrated into the city. In one of his Unpopular Essays (1950), Bertrand Russell very critically condemns the everlasting political “admiration” of Plato’s work as a true “scandal”. But the author underestimates the persuasive impact of the essays of this great philosopher in his examination, where, besides the technique of the dialogue, one can also find a sort of manual of the influencing ideology. This is why, by means of writing, Plato came to be considered as the master of persuasive philosophy. In fact, it was thanks to the success of Plato’s work that the literary artefact of the dialogue became the rhetorical stratagem of the great Greek historians such as Plutarch, Herodotus, and Lucian (Boorstin, 1983). In the wake of this, Aristotle, Plato’s pupil, developed a dialectic based on the logic of “true–false” and “the excluded middle”. From then on the persuasive rhetoric of both logic and science became relegated to a mere process of explanation by means of syllogisms or, better, by means of rigidly reductive, deductive processes. For example: “If something is white, it is not black”, or else “All dogs have four limbs, so if something has four limbs it is a dog . . .”. But even in such cases, the reader becomes decidedly ambivalent in reading The Rhetoric to Alexander. In this book, which starts off with the most inquisitive accusations made against the Sophists, whom he defines as dishonest liars in his Sophistic Refutations, Aristotle proposes to his prince a series of communication techniques, decisively “Sophistic”; for example, “if you need to persuade somebody, use his own arguments”. One has to jump ahead to the founding of the Catholic church and its first medieval university to find another excellent example of the use of the dialogue as a form of persuasive rhetoric, in both texts and verbal disputes. In fact, the dialogue, the debate, and the discussion of theses through their oppositions and their alternatives are the bases of the search for knowledge and the truth of the “Scholastic Philosophy”: medieval Christian philosophy. Consequently, numerous rhetorical strategies were developed to successfully uphold intellectual arguments; structured in this way the dialogue became the instrument that brought man to accept the “truth” revealed in sacred writings. In this way the “religious dialogue” flourished: in verbal disputes between theologians about the church dogma and in the writing of ecclesiastical treatises. In addition to this, we find the literary form of dilemmas to be solved; the insolubilia dialogues between God and the devil. In the dialogue between the demonic figure that is always evil, that manipulates underhandedly, and the figure of God, that is always magnanimous, the scholars propose “insoluble” dilemmas to arrive at the conclusion that there are two possibilities: both good and bad exist, which side are you on? What might come as a surprise is the persuasive game created by the scholars and its use in many of their dissertations: the illusion of alternatives, the alternative between good and bad. A specific dialogue that holds all the truth within its two possibilities, yet it implicitly proposes one choice: good. However, even back then somebody had rebelled against the “absolute truth” and was led to this conclusion through learned reasoning. He did so by using the same weapon as his enemies: the paradoxical dialogue. He is anonymous, since he was branded a heretic for proposing the dilemma in which the devil nails his rival, God, with an unsolvable request: “if you are omnipotent, then create a boulder so big that not even you can lift it”. If God cannot lift the boulder, then he is not omnipotent, but he if he cannot create it, then he is also not omnipotent. Even beyond this irreverent example, medieval scholars promoted a unique persuasive work through the use of dialogues comprising an illusion of alternatives. Furthermore, from their debates, the first university, the University of Paris, arose, with all the other universities in Europe following in its wake. St Thomas Aquinas is probably the most brilliant interpreter of this tradition. He developed the scholastic art of rhetoric in a firstclass manner. The proof of this is his incredible Summa Theologica, where he guides the reader through “questions that create answers” to follow an itinerary that enhanced the thesis of the Catholic church. Like a funambulist of argumentation, he did not propose dogma but rather “interrogatives” through a literary dialogue constructed to lead the reader to predetermined answers. In the medieval period, the “scientific dialogue” was developed in parallel with the religious dialogue. Therefore, even the virtually neutral field of science required and made use of a persuasive rhetoric to make the newly discovered thesis known and accepted by the common public. Galileo Galilei understood that scientific truth would not concern all men, the entire society, in both the present and the future. Unlike other scientists of his time who preferred not to challenge the ecclesiastical authority, he wrote coarse language in the Dialogue that went beyond the two dominant systems of the world: Ptolemaic and Copernican. And he did so without explicitly affirming which of the two he eventually preferred. In reality, the intentions of Galileo were to show the unsustainable nature of Aristotelian physics and the truth of Copernican cosmology. He proposed the existence of a true physical proof, the tide phenomenon, that supported the Copernican theory of rotating bodies and the revolution of the earth. He attempted to explain the tides as the result of the complex motions between the earth’s daily rotation and its annual revolution around the sun (an explanation which is nowadays known to be erroneous). To do so, he made use of the expository expedient of a dialogue between three persons with diverse complementary characteristics: the scholar, the religious person, and the ignorant man.”




Alaycı kadınlar ve Diyojen, ressam John William Waterhouse, 1882


“He criticized Plato, disputed his interpretation of Socrates, and sabotaged his lectures, sometimes distracting listeners by bringing food and eating during the discussions. Diogenes was also noted for having mocked Alexander the Great, both in public and to his face when he visited Corinth in 336 BC.”


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