On Sugar, Sickness, and Feminism (Or, Why Plato Hates Rhetoric)

If you’re sick, eating candy won’t actually make you sicker.  Dead serious.  I know, I know, everyone says to stay away from sugar when you’re sick, but actually, it’s purely a placebo effect–once you’re sick, sugar can do no more immediate harm to your body.  You’ve already caught the sickness, haven’t you?

I had you going, didn’t I?  Just a little bit?  (Come on, humor me.)  I have no idea whether sugar makes you sicker or not if you’re already sick.  I’m inclined to believe that it can at least ruin your already sore throat.  But that right there is why Plato hates rhetoric.

In my last blog post, illusions (in conversation with Plato, Protagoras and Gorgias) take center stage.  This time, I get to focus a little more on truth itself, as opposed to what hides truth.

Plato, and his mouthpiece, Socrates, bash rhetoric because it’s all about convincing, as opposed to being about truth.  In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates tells Gorgias that “…there is no need for rhetoric to know the facts at all, for it has hit upon a means of persuasion that enables it to appear, in the eyes of the ignorant, to know more than those who really know.”  He’s speaking of the ability of words to persuade, whether or not a person knows what he/she is talking about.  For example, my knowledge of the immune system is pretty rudimentary.  I know what white blood cells are, and I know that vitamin C boosts your immune system (somehow), and that you shouldn’t run around in the snow without shoes (side note: I legit saw someone walking to church today in Michigan barefoot.  Come on, people.  There’s still snow on the ground!  What are you doing with your lives??), but frankly, that’s about it.  However, because I am a fairly articulate person with a moderate command of language, I might be able to convince you that, for example, sugar can’t hurt your body if you’re already sick.  Basically, if I’m a decent rhetorician, you might believe me over that thing you overheard your nurse friend say a couple of months ago.

Plato had this theory I mentioned in my last blog post about our world–that it’s actually just a shadow of the real world, the world of forms.  Only in the world of forms is there real truth.  It makes sense, therefore, that he doesn’t appreciate “empty” rhetoric–words that make you sound good, no matter what you know or don’t know.

Several months ago, a friend of mine posted this video on why its creator wasn’t a feminist, clearly agreeing with it.  While I don’t have time to go into detail about all the ways this video makes me angry (because it does.  It really, really does), I was mostly upset that an intelligent friend of mine had accepted this young woman’s opinion of feminism without researching what feminism really is, simply because she’s convincing in front of a camera.  My friend has a college degree.  She’s currently working as a nurse, and was recently married.  And if I sat her down now and explained what feminism means and attempts to do, she would probably agree with me.

But she believed the rhetorician, without consulting an expert.

Again, the emphasis comes down finding truth amid the often empty words we hear–about doing research and learning what we believe and why we believe it, so that we can be truly educated, informed members of society.  So while I don’t agree with Plato’s outright hatred of rhetoric–I think it’s plenty useful–I do understand his aversion to an art which lends itself just as easily to deception and illusion as it does to truth.

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