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Seeming and Being in Plato’s Rhetorical Theory

The widespread understanding of language in the West is that it represents the world. This view, however, has not always been commonplace. In fact, it is a theory of language conceived by Plato, culminating in The Sophist. In that dialogue Plato introduced the idea of statements as being either true or false, where the distinction between falsity and truth rests on a deeper discrepancy between appearance and reality, or seeming and being. 

Robin Reames’s Seeming & Being in Plato’s Rhetorical Theory marks a shift in Plato scholarship. Reames argues that an appropriate understanding of rhetorical theory in Plato’s dialogues illuminates how he developed the technical vocabulary needed to construct the very distinctions between seeming and being that separate true from false speech. By engaging with three key movements of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Plato scholarship—the rise and subsequent marginalization of “orality and literacy theory,” Heidegger’s controversial critique of Platonist metaphysics, and the influence of literary or dramatic readings of the dialogues—Reames demonstrates how the development of Plato’s rhetorical theory across several of his dialogues (Gorgias, Phaedrus, Protagoras, Theaetetus, Cratylus, Republic, and Sophist) has been both neglected and misunderstood.

240 pages | 1 line drawing, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Ancient Studies

Philosophy: Logic and Philosophy of Language

Rhetoric and Communication


“This is a masterful book. Each chapter proffers a new take on platonic dialogues that have been read and interpreted endlessly. Reames provides a fresh new view bolstered by innovative and well-supported philological arguments. Every chapter provides a new twist and original insight into Plato's texts. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I say that this book has no peer.”

Edward Schiappa, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Seeming and Being is a novel work in the rather vast literature on Platonic language and epistemology. Each one of Reames’s chapters is a fresh interpretation of the dialogues in question. Scholars will be interested not only in how they support her argument, but also in the ways that she casts new light on dialogues that might seem familiar. This is thoughtful, insightful material and a significant contribution to work on Plato’s philosophy of language."

Marina McCoy, Boston College

Table of Contents


Introduction Literacy, Dramatic Form, Metaphysics: Rereading Plato’s Rhetoric
Orality, Literacy, and Rhetorical Beginnings
Martin Heidegger and the Critique of Metaphysics in the West
Literary-Dramatic Interpretations of Plato
Sophists and Sophistry in Plato
Plan of the Book

1 The “Cosmetics” of Sophistry: Seeming and Being in the Gorgias
The Gorgias Dialogue and the Role of the Analogy
The Problem of the Double Mu
The Kommi in Kommôtikê: Athenians and Luxury
War: The Historic Context and the Thematic Unity of the Gorgias

2 The Oral Poet and the Literate Sophist: Divine Madness and Rhetorical Inoculation in the Phaedrus
Rhetorical Disunity in the Phaedrus
The Speeches in Contrast
The Palinode as Epic: Themes, Formulae, Symbols
Writing and Rhetoric

3 Heraclitean Opposition and Parmenidean Contradiction: Pre-Socratic Ontology and Protagorean Sophistry in the Cratylus, the Theaetetus, and the Euthydemus
Heraclitean Etymologies and Protagorean Relativism in the Cratylus
The “Man-Measure” Doctrine and Heraclitean Flux in the Theaetetus
The “Impossibility of Contradiction” and Parmenidean Nonbeing in the Euthydemus

4 Sophistry without Measure, Dialectic without Rhetoric: The Interpretive Dispute in the Protagoras
Antilogic, Eristic, Dialectic, and the Protagoras
Socrates versus Protagoras: Simonides’s Poem in Its Dialectical Context
Socratic Sophistry, Eristic, and Antilogic in the Interpretation of Simonides

5 The Rhetoric of Mimêsis: Sophistic Imitation and Seeming in the Republic
Mimêsis as Language
Mimêsis as Falseness
The Dubious Metaphysics of Mimêsis

6 Imitators of Truth: The Rhetorical Theories of Onoma and Rhêma in the Sophist and the Cratylus
The Stranger’s Method of Division and the Sophist’s Heracliteanism
Louis Bassett and the Problem of Onoma and Rhêma
Onoma,Rhêma, and the Logos of Mimêsis
Onoma and Rhêma, Logos and Mimêsis in the Sophist

Epilogue The Past and Future of Plato’s Rhetorical Theory


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