From the Gorgias of Plato it is possible to extrapolate a set of rules for Socratic dialectic as it is used in the Gorgias and in the dialogues generally…A compendium of rules derivable from the Gorgias follows:
- The answers must be short. When Socrates asks Gorgias a question, he answers with a long speech; Socrates requests that he keeps his answers short (448e)
- Both participants must desire to understand what the argument is about; in this way they advance the argument (453b).
- Both parties in the dialogue must understand that the one who asks the questions is speaking on behalf of the audience, many of whom are too shy to speak. In short, the questioner is interested not only for his own sake but also for that of people in general (455d).
- Both speakers must have good will and must be consistent. If both parties are not alike in this respect, the conversation must be ended. If the answerer gets caught in a contradiction — an aporia (the Greek word means “a place of no exit”) — he must not become angry. To be caught in a contradiction is not a disgrace, if one’s answers were sincere; in fact, it is a blessing, for now he knows that what he thought was in error. And surely, Socrates says, no person wants to be in error (457d).
- Each interlocutor aims at getting the other to be a witness to what the interlocutor has said: what the other is to be a witness to is the truth of what has been said, for such agreement means that the arguments square with reality. If such an agreement is not reached, nothing will have been accomplished (472b, 474a, and 475).
- When such agreement is achieved, we have friendship. Truth has the power to unite human beings in friendship, but error and falsehooods do not (473a).
- The dialogue must be between two people only. The practitioner of dialectic must speak with only one person at a time (474b).
- Contradiction guarantees what is said is not true; if there is a choice between what is contradictory and what is not contradictory, what is not contradictory, however absurd, must be true (480e).
- There are three prerequisites of intellectual character for engaging in dialogue (487a): (1) knowledge: each participant must know something and recognize knowledge when he sees it; that is, he must recognize when words square with reality; (2) good will: that is, each participant must have his opponent’s welfare at heart; he must be arguing for truth, not victory; (3) that each must speak freely; that is, each must say what is on his mind and not hedge or equivocate or hold back (487a).
- Each participant must be aware that repetition does not invalidate truth. No matter how familiar a truth may be to a participant, no matter how trite a truism may sound, he must acknowledge its truth and not turn away out of boredom, looking for something different out of a desire for novelty (490e).
- Sincerity is essential in each interlocutor: each must say what he believes or the implied contract in the dialectical conversation is broken (495a).
- Engaging in the dialogue is the greatest good in and for life, for this is to engage in philosophy (500c).
- All people should compete in the pursuit of truth through this dialectic, for only from sincere, prolonged competition will truth emerge. And truth is a common good for humankind (505e).
- If an argument is true, one must see what follows from it. In other words, the dialogue must go on, no matter where it leads (508b).
From “Appendix B” of Plato: Gorgias, translated by James A. Arieti and Roger M. Burns, Focus Publishing, 2007.
I think it is worth the effort to meditate slowly over this list and ask why each of these injunctions are important.
By the way, my absolutely favorite translations of Greek texts are those done by Focus Philosophical Library. Arieti and Burns’ translation of the Gorgias is an exemplary edition with a nice critical apparatus. Highly recommended. I just reread Joe Sach’s volume by Focus called Socrates and the Sophists and was delighted in its profundity, particularly Sachs’ introduction to the volume.