How to use Sophists in a sentence
He is known as the first of the Sophists, i.e.
His most important work was 11Epi cuo ew (De natura), of which considerable fragments are extant (chiefly in Simplicius); it is possible that he wrote also Against the Sophists and On the Nature of Man, to which the well-known fragment about the veins would belong; possibly these discussions were subdivisions of his great work.
The Sophists and the Sceptics, Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics and the Epicureans took up the question, and from the time of Locke and Kant it has been prominent in modern philosophy.
A famous problem concerning the cube, namely, to construct a cube of twice the volume of a given cube, was attacked with great vigour by the Pythagoreans, Sophists and Platonists.
The Sophists were the first in Greece to dissolve knowledge into individual and momentary opinion (Protagoras), or dialectically to deny the possibility of knowledge (Gorgias).Advertisement
The prominence given by most of the Sophists to rhetoric, their cultivation of a subjective readiness as the essential equipment for life, their substitution of persuasion for conviction, all mark the sceptical undertone of their teaching.
But with these insignificant exceptions it holds true that, after the sceptical wave marked by the Sophists, scepticism does not reappear till after the exhaustion of the Socratic impulse in Aristotle.
Thus Cyrenaicism goes beyond the critical scepticism of the Sophists and deduces a single, universal aim for all men, namely pleasure.
After the manner of the sophists of the period, Bion travelled through Greece and Macedonia, and was admitted to the literary circle at the court of Antigonus Gonatas.
The Lives of the Sophists gives the praenomen Flavius, which, however, is found elsewhere only in Tzetzes.Advertisement
The fact that the author of Apollonius is also the author of the Lives of the Sophists is confirmed by internal evidence.
We must be content to assume two Lemnian Philostrati, both sophists, living in Rome.
For nearly a hundred years the sophists held almost a monopoly of general or liberal education.
Further, since Socrates and the Socratics were educators, they too might be, and in general were, regarded as sophists; but, as they conceived truth - so far as it was attainable - rather than success in life, in the law court, in the assembly, or in debate, to be the right end of intellectual effort, they were at variance with their rivals, and are commonly ranked by historians, not with the sophists, who confessedly despaired of knowledge, but with the philosophers, who, however unavailingly, continued to seek it.
With the establishment of the great philosophical schools - first, of the Academy, next of the Lyceum - the philosophers took the place of the sophists as the educators of Greece.Advertisement
The sophistical movement was then, primarily, an attempt to provide a general or liberal education which should supplement the customary instruction in reading, writing, gymnastic and music. But, as the sophists of the first period chose for their instruments grammar, style, literature and oratory, while those of the second and third developments were professed rhetoricians, sophistry exercised an important influence upon literature.
It was only natural then that some of those who professed to prepare young Athenians for public life should give to their teaching a distinctively political direction; and accordingly we find Isocrates recognizing teachers of politics, and discriminating them at once from those earlier sophists who gave popular instruction in the arts and from the contemporary eristics.
To this class, that of the political sophists, may be assigned Lycophron, Alcidamas and Isocrates himself.
For, though that celebrated personage would have liked to be called, not " sophist " but " political philosopher," and tried to fasten the name of " sophist " upon his opponents the Socratics, it is clear from his own statement that he was commonly ranked with the sophists, and that he had no claim, except on the score of superior popularity and success, to be dissociated from the other teachers of political rhetoric. It is true that he was not a political sophist of the vulgar type, that as a theorist he was honest and patriotic, and that, in addition to his fame as a teacher, he had a distinct reputation as a man of letters; but he was a professor of political rhetoric, and, as such, in the phraseology of the day, a sophist.
Indeed, the sophists generally had a special predisposition to error of this sort, not only because sophistry was from the beginning a substitute for the pursuit of truth, but also because the successful professor, travelling from city to city, or settling abroad, could take no part in public affairs, and thus was not at every step reminded of the importance of the " material " element of exposition and reasoning.Advertisement
Finding in the cultivation of " virtue " or " excellence " a substitute for the pursuit of scientific truth, and in disputation the sole means by which " virtue " or " excellence " could be attained, he resembled at once the sophists of culture and the sophists of eristic. But, inasmuch as the " virtue " or " excellence " which he sought was that of the man rather than that of the official, while the disputation which he practised had for its aim, not victory, but the elimination of error, the differences which separated him from the sophists of culture and the sophists of eristic were only less considerable than the resemblances which he bore to both; and further, though his whole time and attention were bestowed upon the education of young Athenians, his theory of the relations of teacher and pupil differed from that of the recognized professors of education, inasmuch as the taking of fees seemed to him to entail a base surrender of the teacher's independence.
With these resemblances to the contemporary professors of education, and with these differences, were Socrates and the Socratics sophists or not?
Again, as the Socratics - Plato himself, when he established himself at the Academy, being no exception - were, like their master, educators rather than philosophers, and in their teaching laid especial stress upon discussion, they, too, were doubtless regarded as sophists, not by Isocrates only, but by their contemporaries in general; and it may be conjectured that the disputatious tendencies of the Megarian school made it all the more difficult for Plato and others to secure a proper appreciation of the difference between dialectic, or discussion with a view to the discovery of truth, and eristic, or discussion with a view to victory.
As for Socrates, he ranked himself neither with the philosophers, who professed to know, nor with the sophists, who professed to teach; and, if he sometimes described himself as a cbtX6a040s he was careful to indicate that he pretended to no other knowledge than that of his own limitations.
Lapse of time and change of circumstances brought with them not merely changes in the subjects taught, but also changes in the popular estimate of sophistry and sophists.Advertisement
Of the two conflicting sentiments, the favour of the young, gaining as years passed away, naturally prevailed; sophistry ceased to be novel, and attendance in the lecture-rooms of the sophists came to be thought not less necessary for the youth than attendance in the elementary schools for the boy.
As has been seen, it was just at this pe.iod that philosophy and art ceased to be available for educational purposes, and accordingly the literary sophists were popular precisely because they offered advanced teaching which was neither philosophical nor artistic. Their recognition of the demand and their attempt to satisfy it are no small claims to distinction.
That, whereas before the time of Protagoras there was little higher education in the colonies and less in central Greece, after his time attendance in the lecture-rooms of the sophists was the customary sequel to attendance in the elementary schools, is a fact which speaks for itself.
The education provided by the sophists of culture had positive merits.
Despairing of philosophy - that is to say, of physical science - the sophists were prepared to go all lengths in scepticism.
Accordingly the epideictic sophists in exposition, and the argumentative sophists in debate, one and all, studied, not matter but style, not accuracy but effect, not proof but persuasion.
To literature and to oratory the sophists rendered good service.
Themselves of necessity stylists, because their professional success largely depended upon skilful and effective exposition, the sophists both of culture and of rhetoric were professedly teachers of the rules of grammar and the principles of written and spoken discourse.
Whereas, when sophistry began, prose composition was hardly practised in central Greece, the sophists were still the leaders in literature and oratory when Plato wrote the Republic, and they had hardly lost their position when Demosthenes delivered the Philippics.
In fact, it is not too much to say that it was the sophists who provided those great masters with their consummate instrument, and it detracts but little from the merit of the makers if they were themselves unable to draw from it its finer tones.
From the days of Protagoras, when this hostility was triumphant and contemptuous, to the days of Isocrates, when it was jealous and bitter, the sophists were declared and consistent sceptics.
It may have been that the sophists' preference of seeming to reality, of success to truth, had a mischievous effect upon the morality of the time; but it is clear that they had no common theory of ethics, and there is no warrant for the assumption that a sophist, as such, specially interested himself in ethical questions.
In short, the attitude of the sophists towards inquiry in general precluded them, collectively and individually, from attachment to any particular theory.
Yet among the so-called sophists there were two who had philosophical leanings, as appears in their willingness to be called by the title of philosopher.
Plato's criticisms of the sophists are then, in the opinion of the present writer, no mere obiter dicta, introduced for purposes of literary adornment or dramatic effect, but rather the expressions of profound and reasoned conviction, and, as such, entitled at any rate to respect.
In this place it is sufficient to say that, while Plato accounts no education satisfactory which has not knowledge for its basis, he emphatically prefers the scepticism of Socrates, which, despairing of knowledge, seeks right opinion, to the scepticism of the sophists, which, despairing of knowledge, abandons the attempt to better existing beliefs.
Again, it is certain that the theoretical and practical morality of the sophists, regarded as a class, was " neither above nor below the standard of the age."
But, above all, it is antecedently certain that defection from the ordinary standard of morality would have precluded the success which the sophists unquestionably sought and won.
In fact, public opinion made the morality of the sophists, rather than the sophists the morality of public opinion.
Nor can we regard " Plato and his followers as the authorized teachers of the Greek nation and the sophists as the dissenters."
On the contrary, the sophists were in quiet possession of the field when Plato, returning to Athens, opened the rival school of the Academy; and, while their teaching in all respects accommodated itself to current opinion, his, in many matters, ran directly counter to it.
The paid teachers - whom modern writers set down as the sophists, and denounce as the modern pestilence of their age - were not distinguished in any marked or generic way from their predecessors."
Now it is true that before 447 B.C., besides the teachers of writing, gymnastics and music, to whom the young Greek resorted for elementary instruction, there were artists and artisans who not only practised their crafts, but also communicated them to apprentices and pupils, and that accordingly the Platonic Protagoras recognizes in the gymnast Iccus, the physician Herodicus, and the musicians Agathocles and Pythoclides, forerunners of the sophists.
But the forerunners of the sophists are not to be confounded with the sophists themselves, and the difference between them is not far to seek.
Nor is it altogether correct to say that " the persons styled sophists had no principles common to them all and distinguishing them from others."
Various as were the phases through which sophistry passed between the middle of the 5th century and the middle of the 4th, the sophists - Socrates himself being no exception - had in their declared antagonism to philosophy a common characteristic; and, if in the interval, philosophical speculation being temporarily suspended, scepticism ceased for the time to be peculiar, at the outset, when Protagoras and Gorgias broke with the physicists, and in the sequel, when Plato raised the cry of " back to Parmenides," this common characteristic was distinctive.
Further, it may be doubted whether Grote is sufficiently careful to distinguish between the charges brought against the sophists personally and the criticism of their educational methods.
When the sophists are represented as conscious imposters who " poisoned and demoralized by corrupt teaching the Athenian moral character," he has, as has been seen, an easy and complete reply.
Grote's note about the eristical sophists is perhaps the least satisfactory part of his exposition.
That " there were in Athens persons who abused the dialectical exercise for frivolous puzzles " he admits; but " to treat Euthydemus and Dionysodorus as samples of ` the Sophists ' is, " he continues, " altogether unwarrantable."
It would seem, then, that, while he regards rhetoric as the function of normal sophistry, taking indifferently as his types Protagoras, Gorgias and Isocrates, he accounts Euthydemus and Dionysodorus (together with Socrates) as sophists, but as sophists of an abnormal sort, who may therefore be neglected.
In particular he allows that " there was at any rate enough of charlatanism in Protagoras and Hippias to prevent any ardour for their historical reputation," that the sophists generally " had in their lifetime more success than they deserved," that it was " antagonism to their teaching which developed the genius of Socrates," and, above all, that, " in his anxiety to do justice to the Sophist, Grote laid more stress than is at all necessary on the partisanship of Plato."
That Plato was not careful to distinguish the Megarians and the Cynics from the eristical sophists, and that the disputants of the 4th century affected some of the mannerisms of the greatest disputant of the 5th century, he willingly concedes.
Nor is Grote altogether just in his account of Plato's attitude towards the several sophists, or altogether judicious in his appreciation of Plato's testimony.
While he emphasizes in the later sophists the consequences of the fundamental error of sophistry - its indifference to truth - he does honour to the genius and the originality of the leaders of the movement.
In a word, the present writer agrees with Grote that the sophists were not a sect or school with common doctrine or method; that their theoretical and practical morality was neither above nor below that of their age, being, in fact, determined by it; and that Plato and his followers are not to be regarded as the authorized teachers of the Greek nation, nor the sophists as the dissenters, but vice versa.
For lists of treatises upon the life and teaching of particular sophists, see Ueberweg, Grundriss d.
Perhaps Grote's most distinctive contribution to the study of Greek philosophy is his chapter in the History of Greece on the Sophists, of whom he took a view somewhat more favourable than has been accepted before or since.
In this way the Presocratics and Sophists, and still more Socrates and Plato, threw out hints on sense and reason, on inferential processes and scientific methods which may be called anticipations of logic. But Aristotle was the first to conceive of reasoning itself as a definite subject of a special science, which he called analytics or analytic science, specially designed to analyse syllogism and especially demonstrative syllogism, or science, and to be in fact a science of sciences.
The sophists have other claims to consideration than their service to the development of logic. In the history of the origins of logic the sophistic age is simply the age of the free play of thought in which men were aware that in a sense anything can be debated and not yet aware of the sense in which all things cannot be so.
The sophists furthered the transition from dialectic to logic in two ways.
The result is a selflimiting dialectic. This higher dialectic is a logic. It is no accident that the first of the philosophical sophists, Gorgias, on the one hand, is Eleatic in his affinities, and on the other raises in the characteristic formula of his intellectual nihilism' issues which are as much logical and epistemological as ontological.
Other sophists, of course, with more practical interests, or of humbler attainments, were content to move on a lower plane of philosophical speculation.
The search for a deeper hidden meaning beside the literal one had been begun by Democritus, Empedocles, the Sophists.
For his philosophical opinions see Sophists and Scepticism.
The natural reaction against the metaphysical and ethical dogmatism of the earlyg Y thinkers had reached its climax in the Sophists.
The education given by the Sophists aimed at no general theory of life, but professed to expound the art of getting on in the world and of managing public affairs.
The Greek conception of society was such that the life of the free-born citizen consisted mainly of his public function, and, therefore, the pseudo-ethical disquisitions of the Sophists satisfied the requirements of the age.
The Sophists had studied these matters superficially indeed but with thoroughness as far as they went, and it is not remarkable that they should have taken the methods which were successful in rhetoric, and applied them to the " science and art " of civic virtues.
The ancient Greek sophists, too, knew all about what would sell.
Pericles also incurred unpopularity because of his rationalism in religious matters; yet Athens in his time was becoming ripe for the new culture, and would have done better to receive it from men of his circle - Anaxagoras, Zeno, Protagoras and Meton - than from the more irresponsible sophists.
Whereas, so long as philosophy was in abeyance Socrates and the Socratics were regarded as sophists of an abnormal sort, as soon as philosophy revived it was dimly perceived that, in so far as Socrates and the Socratics dissented from sophistry, they preserved the philosophical tradition.
That this defect was serious was dimly apprehended even by those who frequented and admired the lectures of the earlier sophists; that it was fatal was clearly seen by Socrates, who, himself commonly regarded as a sophist, emphatically reprehended, not only the taking of fees, which was after all a mere incident, objectionable because it seemed to preclude independence of thought, but also the fundamental disregard of truth which infected every part and every phase of sophistical teaching.
Thus the Protagoras brings the educational theory of Protagoras and the sophists of culture face to face with the educational theory of Socrates, so as to expose the limitations of both; the Gorgias deals with the moral aspect of the teachings of the forensic rhetorician Gorgias and the political rhetorician Isocrates, and the intellectual aspect of their respective theories of education is handled in the Phaedrus; the Meno on the one hand exhibits the strength and the weakness of the teaching of Socrates, and on the other brings into view the makeshift method of those who, despising systematic teaching, regarded the practical politician as the true educator; the Euthydemus has for its subject the eristical method; finally, having in these dialogues characterized the current theories of education, Plato proceeds in the Republic to develop an original scheme.
Regarding Protagoras, Gorgias and Isocrates as types of one and the same sophistry (pp. 4 8 7, 493, 495, 499, 544, 2nd ed.), and neglecting as slander or exaggeration all the evidence in regard to the sophistry of eristic (p. 540), he conceives that the sophists undertook " to educate young men so as to make them better qualified for statesmen or ministers," and that " that which stood most prominent in the teaching of Gorgias and the other sophists was, that they cultivated and improved the powers of public speaking in their pupils."
At the same time, in opposition to Grote, he maintains that the appearance of the sophists marked a new departure, in so far as they were the first professors of " higher education " as such; that they agreed in the rejection of " philosophy "; that the education which they severally gave was open to criticism, inasmuch as, with the exception of Socrates, they attached too much importance to the form, too little to the matter, of their discourses and arguments; that humanism, rhetoric, politic and disputation were characteristic not of all sophists collectively, but of sections of the profession; that Plato was not the first to give a special meaning to the term " sophist " and to affix it upon the professors of education; and, finally, that Plato's evidence is in all essentials trustworthy.
Manifestly Socrates' use of certain forms of argumentation, like their abuse by the sophists, tended to evoke their logical analysis.
From the Greek sophists they borrowed ingenious ways of playing off one duty against another, or duty in general against self-interest - leaving the doubter in the alternative of neglecting the one and being a knave, or neglecting the other and being a fool.
This seems to have been interpreted by its author and by the Sophists in general in a subjective sense, with the result that it became the motto of a sceptical and individualistic movement in contemporary philosophy and ethics.
Finally, the practice of rhetoric and eristic, which presently became prominent in sophistical teaching, had, or at any rate seemed to have, a mischievous effect upon conduct; and the charge of seeking, whether in exposition or in debate, not truth but victory - which charge was impressively urged against the sophists by Plato - grew into an accusation of holding and teaching immoral and unsocial doctrines, and in our own day has been the subject of eager controversy.
After Protagoras the most prominent of the literary sophists was Prodicus of Ceos.
It is plain that Prodicus was an affected pedant; yet his simple conventional morality found favour, and Plato (Rep. 600 C) couples him with Protagoras in his testimony to the popularity of the sophists and their teaching.
At Athens, the centre of the intellectual life of Greece, there was soon to be found a host of sophists; some of them strangers, others citizens; some of them bred under Protagoras and Prodicus, others self-taught.
In the teaching of the sophists of this younger generation two points are observable.
That he should do so was only natural, since his position as a teacher of rhetoric was already secure when Protagoras made his first appearance in the character of a sophist; and, as Protagoras, Prodicus and the rest of the sophists of culture offered a comprehensive education, of which oratory formed only a part, whilst Gorgias made no pretence of teaching " civic excellence " (Plato, Meno, 95 C), and found a substitute for philosophy, not in literature generally, but in the professional study of rhetoric alone, it would have been convenient if the distinction between sophistry and rhetoric had been maintained.
That the persons styled sophists " were not a sect or school, with common doctrines or method," is clear.