Sophists Greek philosophy 4 The meaning ofthe term sophist 24 I. Title 5 The individual sophists 42 '. The present study of the soph istic movement is the fruit of many years of study and reflection, of teaching and of argument, and was com- pleted in all essentials in What I have attempted is in no sense a comprehensive treatment of individual sophists and their doctrines - this would require much more space and much more technical detail. I have simply tried to provide an overall re-interpretation and re- assessment of the nature of the movement as a whole, in the belief that this is now a matter of some urgency.

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Sophists Greek philosophy 4 The meaning ofthe term sophist 24 I. Title 5 The individual sophists 42 '. The present study of the soph istic movement is the fruit of many years of study and reflection, of teaching and of argument, and was com- pleted in all essentials in What I have attempted is in no sense a comprehensive treatment of individual sophists and their doctrines - this would require much more space and much more technical detail.

I have simply tried to provide an overall re-interpretation and re- assessment of the nature of the movement as a whole, in the belief that this is now a matter of some urgency. My thanks are due to many over the years, but most recently to the readers and staff of the Cambridge University Press, and above all to Professor G.

Kirk without whose help publication might well not have taken place, at least in its present form. Naturally I alone am responsible for the particular views expressed, and no-one but myself is to be taken to task if any of these views are judged to be unacceptable.

Details of the books and articles to which reference is most fre- quently made will be found in the select bibliography. The standard collection of surviving texts relating to the sophistic movement is that of Oiels, re-edited by Kranz abbreviated OK for which see bibli- ography p.

Texts concerning individual authors are divided into two sections lettered A and B, ofwhich the first contains testimonia or statements in later writers concerning the life, writings and doctrines of the sophist or thinker in question, and the second collects passages which in the opinion of the editors constitute actual quotations from their writings. So for example the fourth fragment attributed to Prota- goras is referred to as OK 80B4. References to particular ancient writers whose works do survive are abbreviated in standard form and it is hoped that these abbreviations will not cause any difficulties.

Not one barrier but two stand in the wayofanyone who seeks to arrive at a proper understanding of the sophistic movement at Athens in the fifth century B. No writings survive from any of the sophists and we have to depend on inconsiderable fragments and often obscure or un- reliable summaries of their doctrines. What is worse, for much of our information we are dependent upon Plato's profoundly hostile treat- ment of them, presented with all the power of his literary genius and driven home with a philosophical impact that is little short of over- whelming.

The combined effect has been fairly disastrous. It has led to a kind of received view according to which it is doubtful whether the sophists as a whole contributed anything of importance to the history of thought.

Their major significance, it has often been said, was simply that they provoked their own condemnation first by Socrates and then by Plato. In all the essentials of this quarrel it was Plato who was judged to be right and the sophists who were in the wrong. Even the revulsion from Plato felt by those to whom Plato has tended to appear as a reactionary authoritarian has done little for the sophists. Condemned to a kind of half-life between Presocratics on the one hand and Plato and Aristotle on the other, they seem to wander for ever like lost souls.

This result is paradoxical. The period from to B. It was a period of profound social and political changes, in which intellectual and artistic activity was intense. Established patterns of life and experience were dissolv- ing in favour of new patterns. Beliefs and values of previous gener- ations were under attack. The sophistic movement gave expression to all of this. We whose fortune it is to live at the present time, it might be supposed, are particularly well placed to understand what was likely to happen in such a situation, and to proceed to investigate and, so far as may be, establish by scholarship what actually did happen.

First, philosophic problems in the theory of actual interpretations along these lines, it will however be helpful, I knowl edge and of perception - the degree to which sense-perceptions judge, to deal at some slight length with two preliminary topics - the are to be regarded as infallible and incorrigible, and the problems that history of past attempts at assessing the sophistic movement, essential result if such is the case.

The nature of truth and above all the relation for an understanding of why its significance has been so underrated up between what appears and what is real or true. The relation between to now, and the social and historical situation which produced the ac- language, thought and reality. Then, the sociology of knowledge, tivities of the sophists. This opened the way for the first time to the possibility of a genuinely historical approach to the understanding of human culture, above all through the concept of what has been called 'Anti-primitivism', namely the rejection of the view that things were much better in the distant past in favour of a belief in progress and the idea of an unfold- ing development in the history of human beings.

The problem of achieving any knowledge at all about the gods, and the possibility that the gods exist only in our minds, or even that they are human inven- tions needed to serve sociafneeds. The theoretical and practical prob- lems of living in societies, above all democracies with the implied doctrine that at least in some respects all men are or ought to be equal.

What is justice? What should be the attitude of the individual to values imposed by others, above all in an organised society requiring obedi- ence to the laws and to the state. The problem of punishment. The nature and purpose of education and the role of the teachers in society.

The shattering implications of the doctrine that virtue can be taught, which is only a way of expressing in language no longer fashionable what we mean if we say that people in their proper position in society can be changed by education.

This in turn raises in an acute form the question what is to be taught, and by whom and to whom it is to be taught. The effect of all this on the younger generation in relation to the older.

Throughout all, two dominant themes - the need to accept relativism in values and elsewhere without reducing all to subjec- tivism, and the belief that there is no area of human life or of the world as a whole which should be immune from understanding achieved throughout reasoned argument.

A long list, and one may be pardoned for feeling that it represents something like the very process of transition from an earlier, tra- ditional picture ofthe world to a world that is intellectually our world, with our problems.

Yet the attempt to interpret the sophists along these lines has as yet hardly got under way. What follows in the present book is very much a first beginning. Just what Plato is trying to convey here has been a matter of controversy, but he does Towards a history of interpretations seem to regard this essentially negative function as one of the less of the sophistic movement undesirable results of sophistic activity when he labels it as 'the soph- istic which is of noble family', presumably in order to distinguish it from other aspects of the activities of the sophists.

But exactly what he says about them has not always been framing contradictions that are based on appearances and OpiniOnS described with precision.

In two places in his dialogues he provides rather than reality. In the Gorgias b3- It will be necessary to return later to what Plato has to say about e6 he distinguishes between on the one hand a range of genuinely Eristic, Elenchus and the Art of framing contradictions.

But it is clear scientific activities which he here calls technai, whose aims or objec- that his characterisations in the Sophist, which can be matched by tives are the ,highest degree of excellence in each of their proper similar statements in other dialogues, 2 constitute an outright con- spheres, and on the other hand various empirical activities. These are demnation. When we find Aristotle telling the same story - the soph- not scientific since they are not based on rational principles and are istic art, he says, consists in apparent wisdom which is not in fact unable to provide explanations, they aim at pleasing rather than wisdom, and the sophist is one who makes money from 'apparent and excellence, and do so by pandering to people's desires and expec- not real wisdom' Sophistici Elenchi a, and Metaphysics r.

They are deceptive imitations of the genuine technai. In the b25 ff. If anything the reputation of the ation of norms of behaviour, I and this he regards as a genuine techne. No fewer than seven different definitions of of Athens public and private, and encouraging their pupils to un- the sophist, with one possible exception all derogatory, are discussed scrupulous prosecution of ambition and cupidity.

There has been discussion as to whether Plato regarded them affirmed to have succeeded in corrupting the general morahty, so that all as satisfactory descriptions or not, but it is clear, I think, that he did Athens had become miserably degenerated and vicious in the latter regard each of them as expressing at least particular aspects of the years of the Peloponnesian war, as compared with what she was in the sophistic movement. They define the sophist 1 as the hired hunter of time of Miltiades and Aristeides.

On rupted between B. But the question of the nature another view, 5 the sophist is one who carries on controversies of the kind called Eristic an important term discussed further in Chapter 6 2 Well-meant attempts by some nineteenth-century scholars to show that in the earlier below , in order to make money from the discussion of right and dialogues Plato took a more favourable view ofsome sophists have not been generally wrong.

This of course IS I Nomothetike, usually translated 'law-giving', but here much wider in its meaning. At this point it may be of interest case until all that was implicit in the original starting point has been to repeat a further characterisation of the standard view of the made explicit. This movement of thought Hegel called Dialectic, and sophists obtaining before the reconsiderations of the nineteenth it proceeds by negations because each step, thesis, antithesis and syn- century, which has become a classic description: thesis, negates the step that comes before it.

It is able to do this just The old view of the Sophists was that they were a set of charlatans who because each step in itself is partly true and partly false. The first extends from Thales to art of fallacious discourse, and meanwhile propagated immoral" practical Aristotle, the second constitutes the Hellenistic period or 'Greek phil- doctrines. Within the first period exposed the hollowness of their rhetoric, turned their quibbles inside out, and Hegel saw a further three-fold or triadic division, namely 1 from triumphantly defended sound ethical principles against their plausible per- Thales to Anaxagoras, 2 the sophists, Socrates and the followers of nicious sophistries.

That they thus, after a brief success, fell into well-merited Socrates, and 3 Plato and Aristotle. The first of these subdivisions is contempt, so that their name became a byword for succeeding generations. In non-Hegelian language we might say that the sophists were not serious thinkers and had no role in the history of these determinations are viewed as merely objective, as stating scien- philosophy, and secondly that their teachings were profoundly tific facts about the world which we are perceiving and studying.

So immoral. Both these contentions had to face a certain degree of recon- Thales and the other Ionians grasped Universal Thought in the form sideration with the growth of new approaches to history in the first of natural determinations ofit, as water and air, outofwhich they sup- half of the nineteenth century.

The second subdivision con- it will be convenient to treat them to some extent separately. The history of the study of Greek philosophy according to which it is supposed that it is the thinking and perceiving has been profoundly influenced in modern times down to and includ- subject himself who determines his own thoughts and perceptions. For Hegel their subjectivism was a necessary Hegel saw the history of philosophy as the progressive unfolding of stage in the self-determination ofThought which is what the history of the Universal Mind or Spirit.

The movement of its thinking follows philosophy was. It was a necessary stage despite its negative character the pattern that is universal for all thought: it begins by laying down a because negation was an integral part of the movement of Universal positive thesis which is then negatived by its antithesis.

Further Thought. But throughout the nineteenth century and for the first third thought produces a synthesis of thesis and antithesis and the process of the present century the tradition ofidealist philosophy continued to dominate the minds of students of Greek philosophy.

An English translation was published at London in Plato and Aristotle. Truth and reality were objective, not subjective. Paradoxically the traditional view it difficult to attack them. Nowhere A different path was followed in the influential history of Greek was this more strongly felt than in the sphere of morals.

Here to many philosophy by Eduard Zeller. He minable was fundamentally to deny the validity of moral values accepted the idea of a kind of internally generated development of altogether.

Greek philosophy - this was reflected in the title of his work Die Phil- The next stage in the story is reached with the famous sixty-seventh osophie der Griechen in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung.

He in- chapter of George Grote's History of Greece. For a period he was a member of the House ferences that we were justified in treating them as all representing the of Commons, and from its beginnings he was associated with the same educational discipline.

He argued persuasively against attempts movement to set up the then new London University in Gower Street, to divide or distribute the sophists in any fundamental way into early later to become University College, London. As a reformer and utili- and later kinds, or into different schools, and proceeded to attempt to tarian hewashimselfmuch concerned with attacking the dead handof characterise the movement as a whole.

He did so very much in the way tradition. It was no accident that he set himself to revalue the sophists. Hegel had done it. First the negative side. Their calling things into He saw them as the champions of intellectual progress and rejected question destroys all scientific endeavour at the root, their Eristic has crucial features of the traditional assessment of their work.

In particu- as its final result only the bewilderment of the interlocutor, their lar he argued first of all that they were not a sect or school but a pro- rhetoric is concerned with appearance and serves the cause of wrong fession, and that there was no community of doctrine. So, if one as well as truth, their views of scientific knowledge are that it is worth doctrine put forward by an individual sophist was objectionable, this little, their moral principles are dangerous.



Access options available:. The Sophistic Movement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Even serious readers of the dialogues of Plato and the works of Aristotle are apt to think of Socrates as not only not influenced by the "Sophists", but even as their deadly enemy. They are apt as well to think of the Sophists as, at best, unscrupulous but clever linguistic tricksters who have no place in serious philosophy. Kerferd's book, though short, is, as he says, "the fruit of many years of study and reflection, of teaching and of argument" p. It is, as one might expect from earlier publications of Kerferd, devoted to radical correction of the standard image of Sophists and Socrates' relation to them.


The Sophistic Movement (G. B. Kerferd. Cambridge University Press, 1981)

Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? This book offers an introduction to the Sophists of fifth-century Athens and a new overall interpretation of their thought. Since Plato first animadverted on their activities, the Sophists have commonly been presented as little better than intellectual mountebanks - a picture which Professor Kerferd forcefully challenges here. Interpreting the evidence with care, he shows them to have been part of an exciting and historically crucial intellectual movement.


The Sophistic Movement

The sophistic movementG. Sophists Greek philosophy I. What I have attempted is in no sense acomprehensive treatment of individual sophists and their doctrines -this would require much more space andmuch moretechnical detail. Ihave simply tried to provide an overall re-interpretation and re-assessment of the nature of the movement as a whole, in the belief thatthis is now a matter of some urgency. My thanks are due to many overthe years, but most recently to the readers and staff of the CambridgeUniversity Press, and above all to Professor G.

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