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EL336: Written VS. Oral Word. Is Anybody Right?

"..............writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches" (Plato. From Phaedrus)
Socrates spoke these words to Phaedrus, attempting to persuade him of the dislike for written word. A mere matter of opinion. The spoken word can only be carried over to so many people before it dissipates or becomes exaggerated; whereas the written word is able to go on forever, and no embellishments can be put into a text/book without the publics prior knowledge.
Socrate's passion for word can only be defined by madness. Look at history. History shows progression, from the oral to the written word. How can one person persuade an entire city-state that speech would be the mainstream for them? Possibly by isolation. But civilization was progressing at such a high rate before the plague, even after the plague there was a rebirth in the population. The written word outweighed the spoken word.
The quote from Socrates states that writing is like painting, momentary life, and then complete silence. He goes on to say the same about speeches. I feel that it is a schizophrenic approach to the matter. Socrates is attempting to defend speech, but in the same sentence, he denounces it. Maybe he felt that it would eventually become defeated by the written word.
Were Plato's WRITTEN thoughts actually Socrate's words?
How the two would have killed each other. A little bit of a contradiction. The only way to preserve the spoken word was to document it by writing it down.


Yes, that's part of the whole puzzle -- we only know what Socrates said because Plato chose to write down the words of his teacher.

but how sure can we be that what was written down was what was actually spoken? Suppose Plato had a memory problem or was hard of hearing? Unless we were standing by his side, hearing and reading everything, we cannot count the words as ABSOLUTE truth...

I think he was just nervous that his passion and profession would soon be a thing of the past. Old man couldn't keep up with the times.

Yes, this contradiction caused me to be very confused when reading this. If Socrates wants progression how could he not be about the written word. Isn't it like the saying you can't always believe what you hear?

you quote confuses me, he seems to denounce writing then speeches? Perhaps i read it wrong, but Socrates himself seems a little confused. It seems that he knows he wrongs, but is still trying to defend the art form that created his profession.

I don't think Socrates was necessarily trying to argue that all spoken words are true, but rather that they empower their creator more than the written word and require more attention from the audience and are thus inherently more powerful than writing.

When you have a book in your hands, you can read it anytime you please--but when you're listening to a speech, you are forced to immediately make the decision to listen to it or ignore it. The spoken word is more urgent, and it empowers the speaker to directly control the rhythm and flow of his message. A speaker can react to his audience's response to his message at the time of delivery, and make immediate changes to recapture their attention if they start to lose interest or become visibly or audibly confused.

Writers, though, must settle on a particular rhythm, tone, and flow before their work is published. They can't step in and provide additional information or changes if their material fails to have the desired effect. Indeed, they won't ever even get to see most readers' personal reactions to their work.

Writers can, of course, gauge public response to some degree, but it takes a while. Even worse, if there is a demand for clarification or elaboration, their audience must wait until they publish more material, by which time the audience is likely to have forgotten or lost interest in the original message.

"The spoken word can only be carried over to so many people before it dissipates or becomes exaggerated..."

Yes, I didn't even think of it that way. It's just like the game Telephone.

So in all reality, Socrates stance on oral communication being more intelligent than written would prove completely false.

It's funny how a lot of us chose this quote as our agenda items, and I think the majority of us also feel Socrates has a knack hypocrisy as well as philosophy.

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