This assignment asks you to enter into the debate between Plato and the Sophists, and think about how it is relevant to some contemporary public issue. The differences between the Sophistic principles of rhetoric and Plato’s criticisms of rhetoric as seen in the Gorgias dialogue are most apparent when it comes to rhetoric’s relationship to knowledge, belief, truth, and power. How can understanding these differences help us to become more insightful consumers of public discourse?
Identify a current public issue that is significant or interesting to you, and on which there is some disagreement about “what we know to be true” about that issue. Ideally you would refer to a couple of published sources that illustrate this disagreement. (Provide citations at the bottom of the essay, MLA or APA style.)
Explain how we should make sense of this disagreement in light of the debate between Plato and the Sophists. In these paragraphs, you should clearly identify one or two of Plato’s criticisms of the Sophists in the Gorgias dialogue, and one or two of the Sophists’ principles, that are useful for thinking about the current disagreement. This should be mostly in your own words, but feel free to quote from these authors to illustrate the criticisms. For clarity I’d suggest focusing on Plato in one paragraph and the Sophists in another.
Summarize your argument. Whose approach—the Sophists’, or Plato’s—provides a better way of approaching this disagreement? In general, how should we apply their ideas when trying to make sense of public discourse and disagreements on public issues?