Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Plato's Mistake: Rhetoric, Propaganda, and the Fate of Public Discourse

Sean Patrick O'Rourke, Ron Manuto.

This paper argues that Plato's attack on rhetoric in the Gorgias represents a fundamental mistake. While he correctly identifies many of the abuses of public persuasive discourse, he fails to account for differences of type. Even if we consider his reassessment in the Phaedrus, Plato's strict dichotomy between dialectic and rhetoric provides students of contemporary, mediated public discourse a thin and misleading theory of rhetoric.

We describe Plato's well-known attack, assess its strengths and weaknesses, and suggest several ways in which Plato's indictment can form the basis of a more useful approach to public persuasive discourse.


Sean Patrick O'Rourke  (United States)
Associate Professor of Rhetoric
Department of Communication Studies
Furman University

Ron Manuto  (United States)

  • Rhetoric
  • Propaganda
  • Persuasion
  • Communication
Person as Subject
  • Plato

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)