Judging on Aspiration not Failure

Aelius Aristedes, Reply to Plato 259-260

“Some of them certainly corrupted people while others blasphemed the gods; there were those who gave speeches which would have been better unsaid and others who produced more audacity than good sense. But it may not be the best to say that if some people use the excuse of philosophy and become scoundrels who are no better than most people or, by Zeus, even more clever at doing evil, then we should dishonor philosophy, provided that philosophy is not doing these sorts of things. Instead, we must use these things as evidence against them, that they have failed at philosophy.

In the same way, it does not make oratory worse if some people use blandishment or abuse, but we must recognize in this that they are bad at rhetoric just as the other people fail at philosophy, they all use the excuse of the noblest action to furnish themselves with the opportunity to do evil.

It would be odd if we were to judge actions of cobblers and carpenters not from their mistakes but instead from examples where they did as well as humanly possible, but we evaluate oratory not just from its greatest accomplishments, but instead according to those who do the opposite of what oratory intends.”

ὧν οἱ μὲν διέφθειραν δήπου τινάς, οἱ δ’ ἐβλασφήμησαν περὶ θεούς, οἱ δὲ λόγους ἄλλους τινὰς εἶπον, οὓς οὐκ ἄμεινον ἦν ὅλως, οἱ δὲ αὐθαδείας πλέον ἢ φρονήσεως εἰσηνέγκαντο. ἀλλὰ μὴ οὕτω βέλτιον ᾖ λέγειν, ὅτι οὐκ, εἴ τινες φιλοσοφίας προβλήματι χρώμενοι φαῦλοι καὶ μηδὲν βελτίους τῶν πολλῶν γεγόνασιν, ἢ νὴ Δία καὶ δεινότεροι κακουργεῖν, οὐ διὰ ταῦτα ἀτιμαστέον φιλοσοφίαν, ἕως ἂν φιλοσοφία μὴ τὸ τὰ τοιαῦτα ποιεῖν ᾖ, ἀλλ’ αὐτοῖς τούτοις τεκμηρίοις χρηστέον κατ’ ἐκείνων, ὅτι διημαρτήκασι φιλοσοφίας. οὐδὲ εἴ τινες, οἶμαι, κολακεύουσιν ἢ συκοφαντοῦσιν, χείρω τοῦτο ποιεῖ ῥητορικήν, ἀλλ’ ἡμαρτηκότας αὐτοὺς ῥητορικῆς ταύτῃ γε ταῦτα δεῖ δοκεῖν, ὥσπερ ἐκείνους φιλοσοφίας, ἐπὶ τῷ τοῦ καλλίστου προσχήματι τὴν τοῦ κακουργεῖν ἄδειαν ἑαυτοῖς ἐκπορίζοντας. ἄτοπον δ’ ἂν εἴη, εἰ τὰ μὲν τῶν σκυτοτόμων καὶ τῶν τεκτόνων ἔργα μὴ ἐξ ὧν ἂν διαμάρτωσι κρινοῦμεν, ἀλλ’ ἐξ ὧν ἂν ὡς δυνατὸν μάλιστα τύχωσιν, ῥητορικὴν δ’ οὐ μόνον οὐκ ἐκ τῶν κάλλιστα αὐτὴν ἀποτελεσάντων κρινοῦμεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐκ τῶν αὐτὰ τἀναντία πραττόντων οἷς ἡ ῥητορικὴ βούλεται.

 

Image result for medieval manuscript cobbler
Ott Norlinger (1476) from the Hausbuch of the Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung (Neurenberg, Germany). Folio 96 recto

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