Plato’s Gorgias is one of the later of the ‘early dialogues’. In it, Socrates enters into conversation with the orators. Chief among them is Gorgias, whom the first third of the dialogue features. The text can be seen moving through layers: the first conversation with Gorgias deals mostly with definitional issues. But behind these definitional endeavors, Plato/Socrates hold the full weight of their assumptions, that will only be made more and more apparent as each interlocuter gives way to the next. In this way, the entire dialogue is surveyed in its beginning.
What’s at stake here is the nature of knowledge’s relation to its object, and how action proceeds from this. The orators pride themselves on appearing knowledgeable enough to convince others of a course of action, and look down upon what we today would call scientists for their inability to move the hearts of the masses with dry theorizing. Plato/Socrates turns this around, revealing the impossibility of the orator’s, here Gorgias’, position. If oratory is to be seen as an art, then its must proceed from the knowledge it possesses of the object it discusses: right and wrong. But insofar as orators may do wrong, Plato/Socrates argues that even accomplished orators do not know what they are talking about. If oratory is a true art concerning right and wrong, its practitioners should be versed in right and wrong, and being so versed, it should be inconceivable for them to do wrong and not right. Something’s got to give.