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  • The Rhetoric of Plato's "Republic": Democracy and the Philosophical Problem of Persuasion by James L. Kastely
  • Arthur E. Walzer
The Rhetoric of Plato's "Republic": Democracy and the Philosophical Problem of Persuasion by James L. Kastely. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. 280pp. Cloth $35.00, e-book $10.00–$35.00.

In chapters on the Gorgias and the Meno in his 1997 From Plato to Postmodernism, James Kasterly argues that an important point made in the Gorgias is that Socrates fails to persuade Callicles. Its lesson is that philosophers will never succeed in persuading nonphilosophers if they rely on dialectic, with its premises grounded in epistemology (32, 34), and in the Meno, he finds a type of dialectic that functions rhetorically (67). In this new book, The Rhetoric of Plato's "Republic": Democracy and the Philosophical Problem of Persuasion, Kastely builds on his earlier work. He reads the Republic as Plato's effort to address the implicit challenge posed by Socrates' defeat in the Gorgias. Plato's purpose in the Republic, he claims, is to set forth and enact an alternative to dialectic, an alternative that he identifies as a philosophical rhetoric (that is, a rhetoric for philosophers), that would enable philosophers to persuade nonphilosophers to value justice and morality above all else. The Republic, on his reading, not only (if obliquely) argues for a rhetorical alternative to dialectic but also practices it and thus attempts to constitute interlocutors and engaged readers as the moral, justice-loving subjects of a new republic.

The crucial passage that generates Kastely's reading occurs at the beginning of book 2, when Glaucon enters the conversation after Socrates' exchange with Thrasymachus in book 1 has stalled. Thrasymachus, exhausted and frustrated by Socrates' dialectic interrogation and by Socrates' refusal to allow him to state his opinion directly (350e), has withdrawn from genuine engagement; instead, he placidly agrees with whatever Socrates proposes [End Page 228] (351c). Glaucon challenges Socrates: does he want really to persuade them or just give the appearance of having persuaded them (357a–b)? Kastely argues that here Glaucon is referring to the kind of "persuasion" that Socrates has practiced on Thrasymachus—a nit-picking (from Thrasymachus's point of view) dialectic that wins on technical points but that changes few people's minds and hearts. Yet there is a potential problem with Kastely's interpretation, namely, that Glaucon does not state that the distinction he intends is between two types of persuasion (artificial and real); rather he states that the distinction is between two types of arguments on behalf of justice—arguments that propose behaving justly as prudent for the benefits that treating others well confers and arguments for living justly for its own sake, without reference to benefits. However, Glaucon may indeed mean both, as Kastely maintains. And in support of Kastely's interpretation, there are other references in the Republic to dialectic as a problematic way of convincing nonphilosophers: most noteworthy (among several) is Adeimantus's insistence that although philosophers can as a result of their training often defeat nonphilosophers in dialectical argument, this "victory" does not mean they have really persuaded their opponent or anyone (487b–d).

For Kastely, the development and enactment of a rhetoric for philosophers is at the heart of the Republic: "Is it possible, then, for a philosopher to discover a rhetoric that would permit philosophy to have some sort of purchase on public opinion and persuade an audience of the truths philosophy has discovered? The Republic is aware of the importance of this question and has chosen to foreground it dramatically. It understands that, as a dialogue, it must provide an answer to that question, if philosophy is to be anything other than a deeply limited and esoteric activity. . . . For this dialogue simply not to self-destruct, Socrates has to make the case for a viable philosophical rhetoric" (122).

The title of chapter 4, "Confronting Obstacles to Persuasion," captures the major theme in much of the rest of Kastely's argument. The most formidable obstacle that the philosopher who would persuade nonphilosophers confronts is ideology, though Kastely does not use this term, perhaps regarding its usage in this context...


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