Being persuasive about things you don’t actually know about

Gorgias is the Platonic dialogue for our times! Interesting distinction made here between persuasion that instills belief by means of knowledge, and that which instills belief without knowledge. Gorgias 454e:

βούλει οὖν δύο εἴδη θῶμεν πειθοῦς, τὸ μὲν πίστιν παρεχόμενον ἄνευ τοῦ εἰδέναι, τὸ δ᾽ ἐπιστήμην;

Shall we lay it down then that there are two forms of persuasion, the one producing belief without knowledge, the other knowledge? (Woodhead)

An example of persuasion with knowledge would be a teacher persuading a student that the sum of a triangle’s angles is equal to 180 degrees. An example of persuasion without knowledge would be a lawyer’s argument (as opposed to a physician’s — indeed, independent of a physician’s knowledge) that a person should wear masks or not; or, independent of a geometer’s knowledge, that a triangle’s angles in fact equaled 360 degrees.

The rhetorician’s art, says Socrates, is to be persuasive about things he doesn’t really know about.

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