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PLATO ESSAY: PlatoÆs Dialogues

The dialectic or question and answer method of arriving at knowledge and learning is used in PlatoÆs dialogues. Sophists, philosophers who were paid for their rhetoric, existed in PlatoÆs and SocratesÆ time and relied upon rhetoric. Plato, through Socrates, vehemently rejects rhetoric as nothing more than opinionated words in Gorgias. Plato objects to rhetoric because he believes it offers no real knowledge but only opinions. As Socrates tells Gorgias, who puts up a fierce defense of rhetoric as the highest art in Gorgias, ôEvidently oratory is a producer of conviction-persuasion and not of teaching-persuasion concerning whatÆs just and unjustàAnd so an orator is not a teacheràbut merely a persuaderö (454e-455a).

The subject of learning, virtue, and knowledge are the focus of the Euthyphro, the Apology, and the Meno. Using the dialectic manner of discourse and exchange, Socrates expresses PlatoÆs views on the nature of piety and impiety in the Euthyphro; the nature of being true to oneÆs passion in the Apology; and the question of whether or not virtue can be taught in the Meno. In all three of these dialogues, Socrates illustrates that the nature of true knowledge often remains elusive, that it can only be truly known once the soul is freed from the body, and that the pursuit of it (i.e. the good) through philosophy while alive is the only thing that approximates happiness or wisdom.

In the Euthyphro at the end, Socrates informs Euthyphro, an Athenian youth, of the following:

If you had no clear knowledge of piety and impiety you would never have ventured to prosecute your old father for murder on behalf of a servant. For fear of the gods you would have been afraid to take the risk lest you should not be acting rightly, and would have been ashamed before men, but now I know well that you believe you have clear knowledge of piety and impiety. So tell me, my good Euthyphro, and do not hide what you think it ...

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