The novel Phaedrus by Plato consists of a series of speeches that defines love as a discussion of the proper use of rhetoric. The novel includes discussions of the soul, madness, divine inspiration, and practice and mastery of an art of rhetoric. The novel begins with Socrates meeting Phaedrus in Athens. Phaedrus then continues onto listening to Lysias speech about love. “Lysias’ speech addresses a youth, arguing that it would be more beneficial for him to accept a sexual relationship with someone such as its speaker, who does not love him, than with a lover, whose passion and madness will only lead to conflict and disappointment” (Nichols). Socrates shows interest in hearing Lysias speech; therefore, Phaedrus recited it to him. Phaedrus thinks that the speech is excellent and it offers a good argument for the topic. Socrates disagrees with Phaedrus and believes that Lysias is more interested in the style rather than the topic itself. Socrates claims that he can deliver a better speech based on the ideas of other writers.
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In Lysias’s speech, it takes a form of imagination, speaking from an older man to a younger man. Lysias have many arguments against relationships. Lysias’s first argument was that lovers will regret giving favors while non-lovers take favors like a business agreement. Second argument states that lovers will not be able to enjoy the pleasure without having to worry about the negative impact on their personal life. Lysias continues his argument by saying that lovers will treat past lovers poorly. He believes that there is no reason in giving any form of sexual favors to man that is in love. Lysias believes that it is more likely to find someone who deserves your friendship if you cannot find one that cares about your love. Lysias continues his list of arguments until the speaker finally announces that the speech does not urge boys to stop their discrimination to non-lovers.
Socrates’s first speech counters Lysias’s argument. He mentions the Muses in the beginning of his speech. In Socrates first speech, it tells a story of youths who has many lovers. Socrates states the negative effects of the lover rather than stating the benefits of the others. Socrates did not simply list reasons like what Lysias did, but begins by explaining some men are in love and some are not. Socrates states that we are all ruled by two principles: our inborn desire for pleasure and our acquired judgment that pursues what is best. Socrates believes that following your judgments are correct but following desire towards pleasure is a disgrace. In Socrates speech, it states, “Well then, that love is some sort of desire is clear to everyone; and again we know that men desire the beautiful even if they are not in love. By what then shall we distinguish the man in love and the man who is not?” Love, or eros, is a type of madness that the inborn desire for beauty overpowers one’s sense of morality and control. Socrates believes that such madness will eventually destroy the boy’s soul and body, bringing him no benefits. This concludes Socrates argument, but Phaedrus is unsatisfied with Socrates speech. Phaedrus thought that Socrates will provide the benefits of the lover rather than the negative influences. Socrates concludes his speech by stating he is influence by the Nymphs, saying that he has been possessed by them. As Socrates sets out for Athens, a divine sign appears, warning him about a premature return. Socrates think that he offended the gods therefore he created a second speech.
In Socrates’s second speech, which is also known as his Great Speech, he begins by the discussion of madness and establishing the importance of eros in life. Both Lysias and Socrates have postulated the corruptive and evil nature of madness. However, in the Great Speech, Socrates shows a more complex picture of madness. He states that there was no truth in the previous speech. He listed the four types of divine madness: Apollo, Dionysus, the Muses, and Aphrodite. Socrates used a chariot led by two horses and a charioteer to explain that love is a type of madness that is divine and beneficial. The soul represents the wings on the back of the charioteer. The charioteer is a sign for control, reasons, guiding principal, and intellect. The white horse is a symbol for real knowledge, purity, nobility, divine love, and aims for excellence. The black horse symbolizes self-interest eros, appetite, inner desire of a man, and opinions. It also represents the non-rational and impulsive side of men. Socrates states that if the soul is strong and can control its white horses, it can catch the realm of ideas of the good, the true, and the beautiful. The souls of men all have a bad horse which is also known as the black horse that will eventually fall back down to earth. Socrates then goes onto explaining the madness of love. Socrates believes that beauty is the most ecstatic thing to see beyond heaven. After that, Socrates returns to the myth of the chariot. He explains that the white horse is controlled by the sense of shame and the black horse does everything it can to go to the boy and lead him to the pleasure of sex. The bad horse will eventually wears out the charioteer and the partner, dragging them back to the boy. As this occurs over and over, the black horse will eventually become respectful and finally dies of fear.
Rhetoric is the study of the available means of persuasion. Rhetoric normally explains the three forms of art of persuasion by using logos, pathos, and ethos. Socrates uses the myth of charioteer as an art of persuasion in that in order to have a strong argument, you must appeal to both sides: the white horse and the black horse. Phaedrus claims that in order to be a good speechmaker, they do not need to know the truth of what he is making a speech on, but rather know how to properly persuade, persuasion being the purpose of speechmaking. Phaedrus claims that he is influence by the sophistic view of rhetoric, and he states that persuasion is more effective than truth in the art of rhetoric. The argument is challenge by Socrates by indicating the harmful influences of speaking without knowing any of the truth. According to Richard Weaver, “because Socrates has now made a speech against love, representing it as an evil, the non-lover seems to survive in estimation. We observe, however, that the non-lover, instead of being celebrated, is disposed of dialectically.” From a philosophic point of view, true rhetoric is directed to both the soul of the speaker and listener. In order for it to be a true art of rhetoric, it must be grounded in philosophy, with respect for truth, opinion, and falsehood.
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Phaedrus has a sophistic view on rhetoric, which means that persuasion is valued over truth. He challenges the sophistic argument with a social argument that shows the importance of philosophic reasoning. In order to define love in Socrates first speech, he divides his argument into two parts. First part of his speech addresses the dark side of madness while the second part addressed the divine side. He remains unwilling to abandon all the rhetoric devices he learned from the books he read. It is believed that in order to become a good rhetorician, one must be able to persuade the soul not just effectively, but also reasonably. To be able to understand the natures of the soul, Socratic saying of know yourself must be follow and strive to understand his own soul. Because Socrates struggles to know himself, he cannot claim himself as having mastered the art of speaking. He does not even clearly understand how his inspiration to keep him from making certain mistakes. Socrates states that his two speeches are derive from divine aspiration rather than the knowledge he have.
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