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Do I need to read a lot of books - or even one?

Plato: Books can be your worst enemies

From: Plato, Phaedrus, translated by Benjamin Jowett  * Plato Home Page

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House  












Page 3

Phaedr. He must take this, Socrates for there is no possibility of another, and yet the creation of such an art is not easy.
Soc. Very true; and therefore let us consider this matter in every light, and see whether we cannot find a shorter and easier road; there is no use in taking a long rough round-about way if there be a shorter and easier one. And I wish that you would try and remember whether you have heard from Lysias or any one else anything which might be of service to us.
Phaedr. If trying would avail, then I might; but at the moment I can think of nothing.
Soc. Suppose I tell you something which somebody who knows told me.
Phaedr. Certainly.
Soc. May not "the wolf," as the proverb says, claim a hearing"?
Phaedr. Do you say what can be said for him.
Soc. He will argue that is no use in putting a solemn face on these matters, or in going round and round, until you arrive at first principles; for, as I said at first, when the question is of justice and good, or is a question in which men are concerned who are just and good, either by nature or habit, he who would be a skilful rhetorician has no need of truth - for that in courts of law men literally care nothing about truth, but only about conviction: and this is based on probability, to which who would be a skilful orator should therefore give his whole attention. And they say also that there are cases in which the actual facts, if they are improbable, ought to be withheld, and only the probabilities should be told either in accusation or defence, and that always in speaking, the orator should keep probability in view, and say good-bye to the truth. And the observance, of this principle throughout a speech furnishes the whole art.
Phaedr. That is what the professors of rhetoric do actually say, Socrates. I have not forgotten that we have quite briefly touched upon this matter already; with them the point is all-important.
Soc. I dare say that you are familiar with Tisias. Does he not define probability to be that which the many think?
Phaedr. Certainly, he does.
Soc. I believe that he has a clever and ingenious case of this sort:-He supposes a feeble and valiant man to have assaulted a strong and cowardly one, and to have robbed him of his coat or of something or other; he is brought into court, and then Tisias says that both parties should tell lies: the coward should say that he was assaulted by more men than one; the other should prove that they were alone, and should argue thus: "How could a weak man like me have assaulted a strong man like him?" The complainant will not like to confess his own cowardice, and will therefore invent some other lie which his adversary will thus gain an opportunity of refuting. And there are other devices of the same kind which have a place in the system. Am I not right, Phaedrus?
Phaedr. Certainly.
Soc. Bless me, what a wonderfully mysterious art is this which Tisias or some other gentleman, in whatever name or country he rejoices, has discovered. Shall we say a word to him or not?
Phaedr. What shall we say to him?

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Cf.  Rilke, Letter to a Young Poet | Kierkegaard, My work as an author
Emerson, Self-knowledge | Gibson - McRury, Discovering one's face | Emerson, We differ in art, not in wisdom

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