The concept of kairos has its roots in pre-Socratic philosophy, and has obtained detailed development in theories of rhetoric, both classical and modern. In Plato’s Phaedrus, kairos means “propriety of time” and to Plato it was a device among others that lends the “finishing and perfecting touches” to the orator’s science. Similar notions of kairos persist in Aristotle, Quintilian, and Cicero, as they do in modern theory. The rhetorical implications of the platonic kairos has most profitably been explored by Kinneavy, who says that kairos, when resolved into a rhetorical skill, can be defined as that which is fitting in time, place, circumstance, which means the adaptation of the speech to the psychology of the speaker and hearer.
There is, however, a more enigmatic dimension to kairos. To the Sophist Gorgias kairos is the “instant” which triggers the persuasive force of an “irrational logos.” In this sense the idea of kairos seems to parallel Heidegger’s notion of the Augenblick, of the phenomenon of the instant–the kairos– as prompting in the right situation the creation of language itself. This study, then, offers a Heideggerian analysis of the Gorgian kairos that prompts a movement beyond the understanding of kairos as merely the adaptation of language to situation given in the Platonic interpretation. Specifically what is gained in this analysis is an understanding of kairos as an aperture through which the world of the speaker opens, of language itself exerting a claim to become manifest.