The Post-Truth About Philosophy and Rhetoric
Abstract

abstract:

This fiftieth anniversary reflection begins by recalling a debate on its pages about the origins of rhetoric, which queried the relationship between Plato and the Sophists. I argue that contrary to the shared assumption of the scholars in this debate, Plato and the Sophists differed less over what counts as good philosophical/rhetorical practice than over whether its access should be free or restricted. An implication of this proposed shift in interpretation is that Plato and the Sophists are both reasonably seen as "post-truth" thinkers, concerned more with the mix of chance and skill in the construction of truth than with the truth as such. Focusing on Plato's hostility to playwrights, I argue that at stake is control over "modal power," which is ultimately about defining the sphere of what is possible in society. I end with a brief discussion of the problematic of public relations as an ongoing contemporary version of much the same story.


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