childhood as a weapon in the struggle between rhetoric and philosophy in plato's gorgias


  • vinicius vicenzi


childhood, political struggle, philosophy, rhetoric, Gorgias


This article intends to show how the “sophists,” in their argument with the “philosophers” in Plato’s Gorgias, appropriate the concept of childhood. The goal here is to think how the imputation of the “childish” to the other's discourse, sophist or philosopher, is a key point in the establishment of a victory of one discourse over the other in the history of western thinking. The paper also intends to present the differences between the sophistic and philosophical conceptions of childhood, showing, however, that the discursive goals of these different conceptions aim at the same end point: to make the other assume a status of heteronomy and, therefore, to accept being taught by the victorious discourse—in this case, the one that presumes itself to be adult, not-childish. I begin by locating the notion of childhood in a wider conceptual context than is usual, then consider what it means to “talk like a child” from this more expansive conceptual perspective. I then turn to the Gorgias, and present the concept of childhood as representative of the disqualified argument in the political dispute in Plato’s dialogue over the place of the teacher. I then discuss two conceptions of childhood in the dialogue: the philosophical one, which intends to show how rhetoric deludes itself; and the sophistic one, which intends to show how philosophy is a form of fantasizing. I also analyze two images commonly associated with children in the dialogue’s confrontation of ideas: the image of the “bogeyman,” and the image of play and gaming--the first imputed by sophists to philosophers, and the second imputed by philosophers to sophists. Finally, I address the platonic political-pedagogical project’s need for a concept of childhood as heteronomous, and consider whether this need is or is not a mark of all political-pedagogical projects, and indeed of all political discussion between contesting discourses. Keywords: childhood; political struggle; philosophy; rhetoric; Gorgias



How to Cite

vicenzi, vinicius. (2010). childhood as a weapon in the struggle between rhetoric and philosophy in plato’s gorgias. Childhood & Philosophy, 6(11), pp. 21–39. Retrieved from