Friday, November 18, 2011

Celebrating World Philosophy Day: Isocrates - Great Greek Orator and Philosopher

"Our Democracy is destroying itself because it abused the rights of freedom and equality, because it taught it's citizens to consider insolence as a right, illegal acts as a freedom, rudeness as equality and anarchy as prosperity".

Isocrates (436 - 338 b.C.)

Isocrates, one of the 10 great Athenian rhetors (orators) was not known as one of Greece's famous philosophers in the strict sense of the word, but we think he was and Keith Murphy, seems to agree with us...

Isocrates professes that rhetoric is philosophic in that it teaches morals and politics. 
By "philosophy," Isocrates was describing a theory of culture.     

He believed that philosophy was the study of how to be a reasonable and useful citizen.     

Isocrates held that one should deliberate about both one 's own affairs and the affairs of the state.     

He believed that a philosophic education should arouse intense patriotism as well as constructing a personal philosophy close to the stoic ideal.     

While Isocrates did not believe that virtue could be taught, he argued that it could be strengthened through training and practice in oratory. (Against the Sophists)    

He also argued that moral argumentation encourages right action because argumentation produces a historical narrative which uses historic events as precedents for present action.   

Therefore one gains moral knowledge by studying public address both as the art of oratory and by imitating the great speakers for the lessons made by a man 's life are stronger than lessons furnished by words, as he wrote in Antidosis.    

Isocrates also saw the relationship between morality and oratory as reciprocal.     

In the Antidosis Isocrates explains that the more one wishes to persuade one 's fellow citizens, the more important it is that the orator have a favorable reputation among those citizens    

This notion served as the basis for the Roman rhetorician Quintilian 's claim that ethos, or credibility, is a good man speaking well....    

In today's context it is rare to find the two together...Where is there morality in leadership? Looking around us today, we see all the troubles foisted on the world by that small group of so-called leaders...fellow 'citizens' in name only, who looking to enormous personal gain and huge individual profit at the expense of society at large.

In his article 'Who's to blame for the implosion of Greece - and the Global Economy?' Greg Palast writes the following:

The firebombing, the mobs in the streets of Athens, mass unemployment, the empty pension funds and the angry despair that would sweep across Europe in 2010 began with a series of banking transactions crafted in the United States and Switzerland. The plan was 18 years old, and here it was played out in the streets of Greece, then Spain and Portugal, and before that in Latin America and Asia. The riot was written right into it.
When I ask, Who did it? I don’t mean the damaged fool who threw the Molotov cocktail into a crowded bank. I’m looking for the men in the shadows, the very big make-the-monkey-jump men who turned economies into explosive kindling, lit the fuse, then stood first in line at the fire sale.

The Greek philosophers had a word for it...hubris, hubris against the whole of society.

Perhaps when we do find the leader that embodies both, ethos or credibility hand in hand with the ability to speak well, to be a charismatic speaker, to be able to convince...he or she will be able to convince the rest of society to return to Isocrates' principles of being a reasonable and useful citizen of society, to reembrace our basic sense of values for equality and justice for all citizens,  then our world will surely take a turn for the better...

Food for thought? We hope so!


  1. geia sas!! na rwtisw kati?:)pou ta vrikate afta??

  2. Eyxaristoume gia to minima. Parakalo grapste mas sto GlobalGreekWorld papaki Gmail telia com na mas rotisete oti thelete.


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