Texas Tech University
Box 43092
Lubbock, TX 79409 3092

Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2000 06:20:03 -0700

Mr. Rod Welch
The Welch Company
440 Davis Court #1602
San Francisco, CA 94111 2496

Subject:   Plato, writing, oral discourse


[Responding to your letter on July 20, 2000...]

If Plato was worried that writing was taking over, and felt that orality was the stronger approach, why did he write it down? Why not just have a meeting, give a speech??

It is not that orality as such is the stronger approach. It was a question of interactive dialogue, as critically structured -- Socratic dialogue has a definite overall critical structure -- versus monological discourse functioning only to persuade. Plato was against giving speeches because it does not permit interactivity that keeps it under control. That is why he wrote only dialogues. The problem with writing is that it seems to be self-sufficient, not requiring response in order to be complete, whereas all logical control requires an on-going sequence of interactivity.

The idea is that the written word enables the writer to hide out when it comes time to be responsive. It functions as a defense for dogmatism, which is a kind of stupidity. The dialogue as written form is intended to defeat the inherently dogmatic tendencies in the written word. I don't think your view is actually in contradiction with his since your description of managerial conversation is a description of what he thinks of as the equivalent of the written word. Why? Because it is manipulative and uni-directional, no real feedback going on.

[Rod Welch wrote...]

Cognitive Science explains limited span of attention, emotional fatigue, and commingling stuff in the mind, where connections get wired incorrectly and cursory treatment is forced by information overload and limited time, all of which is a secret from the conscious mind that remains hidden by stream of conscious communication, both oral and written. These are the challenges, much more so, than are poor communication skills which might be remedied by training.

Yes, but the cog sci explanation doesn't in itself have any implications for rectification. It is not that it's wrong but that it doesn't seem to suggest much as regards what is to be done about it.


Texas Tech University
Dept of Philosophy

Joe Ransdell

Joseph Ransdell
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