What are the limitations of, and errors in the three doctrines of Gorgias?
In examining Gorgias summary of his book, On Beingor On Nature,the reader is presented with only
surviving fragments recorded by Sextus Empiricus. In these fragments, Gorgias presents his
Rhetorical paradox. First, that nothing exists, second, that if anything exists it is incomprehensible,
and third, that even if anything is comprehensive it is incommunicable.
Although these statements have been classified by some of his critics as satirical, the work of Tim
Rohrer offers a more interesting interpretation. Given Gorgias's preoccupation with rhetoric, Rohrer
states that Gorgias could be hinting that rhetoric is simply not all it is made up to be. It may not be the
argument that should decide an argument — why not look at the process of inquiry. Whether Gorgias
was a true Sophist or not, he displayed their attitude of doubting the possibility of discovering
anything that was really true. If as the Sophists advocated, that knowledge is in the strict sense
unattainable, then Gorgias may be suggesting that the individual must consider that reason itself and
logic are but human ways of thinking. This demonstrates for Gorgias that the individual may or may
not have any objective validity concerning reality. One can conclude that there is no valid way of
discerning that rational is better or truer than irrational thinking in proving one's conclusion. It is
experience, that which is derived by the sense, that organizes the principles of our minds.
This organization then is the result of our thinking experience. One needs to go beyond the
boundaries placed by rhetoric and reason to the essence of the ideas of reality. That essence is
revealed by the senses where there are no fixed conclusions, but only inquiry. Inquiry, which cannot
decipher the externally existing objects by words or language. Since no one thinks the same as
another, language cannot communicate to another. What Gorgias sees is a conflict between the
limitations of words and the expression of reality. This position resembles the deconstructionism
applied to literary criticism, that the work in question should not be considered for its objective worth,
but for what it represents in human thought to the perceiver. Gorgias was dealing with Epistemic
Rhetoric, which according to Covino, maintains that truth is not conveyed by either the text nor is it
conveyed by the individual. Truth is born in the transaction between the mediums, whether this is the
reader, speaker, writer or listener. In the final analysis, it is the communication that constructs the
truth and therefore Knowledge. To bring this to fruition, the what and why of Knowledge must be
known to the individuals. This knowledge is subjective, developed through the construction of
knowledge through the interaction of the individuals in their use of language. In modern terms, this
can lead to a deconstruction or complete subjectivism, leaving no way of assessing the truth except
by the agreement of individuals in a given exchange of language. Yet even in this agreement, there is
no way of confirming the validity of the statements.
The major flaw of the doctrines that one would need to address is, if nothing exists then why go to the
length to set out a series of doctrines which have no meaning to begin with.