Plato’s Dialogue Gorgias Gets Adapted into a Short Avant-Garde Film

The word sophis­ti­cat­ed may sound like praise today, but it orig­i­nat­ed as more of an accu­sa­tion. Trace its ety­mol­o­gy back far enough and you’ll encounter the sophists, itin­er­ant lec­tur­ers in ancient Greece who taught sub­jects like phi­los­o­phy, math­e­mat­ics, music, and rhetoric — the last of which they mas­tered no mat­ter their osten­si­ble sub­ject area. Their rep­u­ta­tion has passed down to us our cur­rent under­stand­ing of the word sophistry as “sub­tly decep­tive rea­son­ing or argu­men­ta­tion.” A sophist may or may not have known what he was talk­ing about, but he knew how to talk about it in the way his audi­ence want­ed to hear.

It is in the com­pa­ny of sophists that Pla­to places Socrates in the dia­logue Gor­gias, a sec­tion of which has been adapt­ed into the short film above. An “exper­i­men­tal video essay from Epoché mag­a­zine,” as Aeon describes it, it “com­bines some­what cryp­tic archival visu­als, a haunt­ing, dis­so­nant score, and text from an exchange between Socrates and the tit­u­lar Gor­gias on the nature of ora­to­ry.” The lat­ter describes ora­to­ry as his “art,” which serves “to pro­duce the kind of con­vic­tion need­ed in courts of law and oth­er large mass­es of peo­ple” on the sub­ject of “right and wrong.” Socrates, in his ques­tion­ing way, leads Gor­gias to hear his objec­tion that ora­to­ry pro­duces con­vic­tion with­out knowl­edge, mak­ing it a mere pseu­do-art or form of “flat­tery” akin to bak­ing pas­tries or beau­ti­ful­ly adorn­ing one’s own body.

“For some­one with no knowl­edge of the objects involved,” writes Epoché’s co-edi­tor John C. Brady, “the arts and the pseu­do-arts appear per­haps indis­tin­guish­able. But, inso­far as the pseu­do-arts focus on gen­er­at­ing belief first and fore­most (as opposed to ratio­nal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion) they have an advan­tage. In front of an audi­ence of chil­dren, the chef will beat the doc­tor when it comes to demon­strat­ing prowess in prepar­ing ‘whole­some’ foods.” To that extent, Socrates’ basic obser­va­tion holds up still today, more than 2,400 years after Gor­gias. The sit­u­a­tion may even have wors­ened in that time: “far from us mod­erns hav­ing a more ‘sci­en­tif­ic’ (i.e. ‘art­ful’) approach to our action,” haven’t the pseu­do-arts just “added to their reper­toire the lan­guage of ‘knowl­edge’?”

Such enlight­ened twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry men and women “clip on a Fit­bit to track the minu­ti­ae of move­ments, down­load a ‘Pomodoro’ sys­tem app to record the when and the what of their work through the day,” use “calo­rie-count­ed food diaries, bud­get apps, online track­ers that tell them how much time they are spend­ing on Twit­ter vs. e‑mail.” Their eyes are on the prize of a bal­cony, a work-life bal­ance; there’s often a carafe of wine air­ing in there some­where too.” We believe that, in order to real­ize this dream, “we need to be sci­en­tif­ic, ratio­nal, col­lect the data, work smarter not hard­er etc., etc. But haven’t we just here fall­en into the ora­tors’ trap?” All this “bet­ter liv­ing through data” starts to look like sim­ple per­pet­u­a­tion of “the ease and plea­sure of being ‘con­vinced’ by the many pseu­do-arts, rather than grap­pling with the real objects that con­sti­tute the con­crete­ness of our lives.” Want­i­ng is fun; know­ing exact­ly what we want and why we want it is phi­los­o­phy.

via Aeon

Relat­ed con­tent:

Lit­er­ary The­o­rist Stan­ley Fish Offers a Free Course on Rhetoric, or the Pow­er of Argu­ments

Jon Hamm Nar­rates a Mod­ern­ized Ver­sion of Plato’s Alle­go­ry of the Cave, Help­ing to Diag­nose Our Social Media-Induced Nar­cis­sism

The Drink­ing Par­ty (1965 Film) Adapts Plato’s Sym­po­sium to Mod­ern Times

Why Socrates Hat­ed Democ­ra­cies: An Ani­mat­ed Case for Why Self-Gov­ern­ment Requires Wis­dom & Edu­ca­tion

How to Speak: Watch the Lec­ture on Effec­tive Com­mu­ni­ca­tion That Became an MIT Tra­di­tion for Over 40 Years

How Pulp Fic­tion Uses the Socrat­ic Method, the Philo­soph­i­cal Method from Ancient Greece

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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