Speechmaking vs. Oration
In Plato's dialogue, Gorgias, Socrates raises the issue of speechmaking. He asks his interlocutors to refrain from making speeches in their usual drawn on manner, and to simply answer his questions. While, for the most part, the three sophists avoid long speeches, Socrates himself often makes comments at length. His questioning, while usually short and to the point, at times takes on aspects of the same methods that he chastises his conversationalists for. Socrates' speeches, however, avoid the use of oratory and rhetoric language. While he does make extended statements, he does not attempt to use his speeches to push his opinions, but rather, to explain his thoughts in greater detail. Unlike the sophists, his goal is not to gain himself power, but rather, to show his interlocutors the truth.
Socrates' follower, Chaerephon, asks Polus at the beginning of the discussion, "What is the art in which Gorgias is expert, and what would be the corresponding right name to give him?" (448) In response, Polus responds in the typical rhetorician's manner, using glossy language and seemingly educated structure. Ultimately, however, not answering the question at all. Socrates is quick to point this out, however, and asks that the interlocutors avoid using the tactics again.
Soon thereafter, Gorgias takes up the conversation. He explains to Socrates that he will answer all the questions in as much brevity as possible. He claims, "Nobody can express a given idea more concisely than I." (449) Happy with Gorgias' promise, Socrates proceeds to question him on the subject of rhetoric. Gorgias stays true to his promise, never speaking more than a few words; Socrates, however has trouble keeping his tongue. After only a short discussion Socrates begins a lengthy speech. There is a lack of rhetoric in his monologue, however, and he seems merely to be using examples for Gorgias to better understand. He poses questions to himself, such as "Tell me Socrates, what is the art of arithmetic?" (451), merely to show Gorgias what type of answers he expects.
Hypothetical questioning is a reoccurring theme in Socrates' many speeches during the dialogue. He does so during his conversations with all three interlocutors and it is this subtle difference that distinguishes his speeches from those of Polus and Callicles. By stating his beliefs in the form of hypothetical questions, as he does with Gorgias (451-2), and then later with Polus (469) and Callicles (493), Socrates avoids making forcefully opinionated statements. When he does choose to push his opinions, he invites his interlocutors to "hear what I have to say and then raise objections if you like." (478) For the most part, Socrates' speeches are based solely upon further explaining his points, rather than all at once forming and concluding his opinions.
In the case of Polus and Callicles, it is evident that their training as sophists is used throughout their dialogue....